Some things to talk about while I dust off an unused column idea...
1) Ken Arneson on analytics
Lots of traction this morning for a piece by Ken Arneson on how we think about statistics and analytics. His main point? That we're doing it wrong.
To which I ask: what if the reason the number-pulling-out tools can't find any cause for the problem is because those number-pulling-out tools themselves are the problem?
I have no evidence of that. But it's something I believe might be true, even though I can't prove it.
Arneson isn't some Murray Chass wannabe, who's rocking the boat and lamenting how sabermetrics ruins the love of the game. His critiques are valid and we can all learn something from them. In particular, this line stood out to me as much as it did to Craig Calcaterra here.
But I do know that if I were to build a technology for analyzing baseball, this is where I would begin, right at the core of the game, the engine that drives the sport: what pitch the batter is expecting from the pitcher, and what happens when the pitch he gets conforms or deviates from that expectation.
Look, we're already on the path to this. In talking about Collin McHugh's breakout season, Brooks and Chris broke down how "pitch tunnelling" works for him. He's essentially throwing a curve that looks like a fastball until the last minute, when it breaks and it's too late for a batter to react.
How do you measure that? It's at the core of what Houston did with a pitcher, yet doesn't adequately show up on the stats. That's why I'm more confident that McHugh will not be a one-year wonder than I was about Lucas Harrell. It's process-related more than evidence-driven.
That explanation also gets at what Arneson is discussing. Analytics doesn't work for many coaches, because it doesn't fit easily into what they do. How do you coach a guy how to have a better batting average on balls in play? How do you tell a guy to improve his WAR?
You fix the things you can fix, like when he throws a certain pitch or the kind of contact he's making. It's why you hear coaches talk about players making "solid contact" and why that means something.
Bookmark this article. Next time I say something dumb, go read it, call me out on it and bludgeon me over the head with it. If analysts inside baseball are five years away from what the public is doing, it may very well be on understanding stuff like this.
2) Astros continue to build bullpen
We talked about this before. How do you build a better bullpen? Rarely do teams succeed at this through free agency alone. Usually, it's through an alchemical blend of low-cost free agents, waiver claims and homegrown guys moved to the back end.
It does not mean laying down a four-year deal for David Robertson. It does mean picking up guys like Will Harris, who Houston plucked off waivers from Arizona.
Harris has maintained sterling walk and strikeout rates for pretty much his entire career, both in the minors and during three stints with the D'Backs. He consistently outperformed his ERA and could have fallen out of favor simply because he doesn't feature a 96 mph fastball. His more pedestrian heater checks in around 91 mph and he features a curve and a changeup as well.
But, not all heaters are made alike. In Brent Strom's system of effective velocity, could Harris become more effective? Worth a claim, right?
Add a few more pieces like this, maybe splurge on a guy like Sergio Romo (who Keith Law likes in this piece) and Houston could have a very good bullpen next year. They can do that without spending a ton of money, too.
3) Could Astros add another front office type?
Last week, I speculated that Houston bringing in special assistant Charlie Gonzalez could have been for a few different reasons. Of course, I also said up front that he's likely being brought in to bolster a scouting department that has lost a few high-level people and could use some experience.
My point was that Houston may be able to use a guy in a couple different positions. Whether it's as a front office/managerial office or as an outside voice to audit the system they have in place, another experienced hand could be valuable.
Drellich mentioned in this article that Houston may add a "recognizable name."Who could it be? We could speculate on many names. What about Gerry Hunsicker?He certainly has ties to Andrew Friedman that could help him stay in L.A., but it'd be nice to bring him back to Houston. What about Dan Evans? He's a special assistant in Toronto, but you know Houston's connection to Baseball Prospectus. His name can't be discounted (okay, maybe it can).
No, I'm asking. Who's out there? Anyone with ties to Arizona or San Diego still need a job? Any former Cards execs out of work? Any analytics-friendly broadcaster who might catch their fancy?