Some things to talk about while we realize Kansas City BBQ can't hold a candle to Killen's...
1) Are we underrating the 2013, 2014 drafts?
You may know Daren Willman. He's the smart man behind such great websites as Baseball Savant and MLB Farm. He's also a very savvy Twitter follow, constantly pointing out cool things about baseball, using the data he has on his sites.
He's also an Astros fan, which means he does occasionally talk about the hometown nine. This tweet, in particular, i found very interesting.
#Astros are in the ALDS, have one of the lowest payrolls, and statistically speaking the best 2013 & 14 draft. Good time be an Astros fan.— Daren Willman (@darenw) October 7, 2015
The 2013 draft was supposed to be horrible. Mark Appel is Mark Appel. No one liked Andrew Thurman and there just weren't any exciting prospects. It looked especially bad compared to the brilliance of 2012. In 2014, the problem was Brady Aiken. His saga colored expectations for the rest of the class, even if it appears Mike Elias and Co. hit a home run with those guys.
What I didn't realize is just how well both of those classes have performed.
The 2013 draft class has the highest batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS of any team. They have the most runs, home runs, walks and are second in doubles. The quibble with that draft is pitching, which is just middle of the pack. But, they clearly nailed the position player side.
In 2014, the Astros again lead in batting average, OBP, homers and runs and are second in OPS and slugging percentage. On the pitching side, the Astros have the lowest ERA and the second-lowest WHIP.
Anyone else realize this on such a large scale? I know we will only remember these draft classes based on how many MLB players they produce, but right now, it seems we shouldn't really view them as anything but unqualified successes.
2) On Jessica Mendoza
Since I restarted writing 3 Things, I've kept the items pretty non-controversial (at least, when I wasn't taking up for Chris Carter and Jonathan Villar). But, I'd like to touch on an issue that's set of a bit of a reaction around the baseball world.
Jessica Mendoza is a former Olympian who now calls baseball games for ESPN. If you heard her on the Astros-Yankees broadcasts, you'll know she was excellent. I especially loved her take on the George Springer double. She used a 3D model of the strike zone to illustrate where the ball was and how Springer had managed to wallop it for extra bases.
Some people do not like her on the broadcast, because she is a woman. That's hogwash. I'm not interested in debating the finer points of gender equality. Others are and it creates an interesting conversation. First, there are the people who reject a female presence in baseball at all. There's this idiot from Atlanta. He's easy to call out, like the Atlanta Falcons football team did. But others are harder to deal with and that spurred a couple of articles crystallized in Craig Calcaterra's blog post here.
In it, he talks about his critics, who complain about him retweeting a misogynistic comment from someone with few followers. Calcaterra makes the point that it's worth having the conversation, because there could be many more people out there who believe this but do not use social media or comment on a story.
Change happens slowly. It's changing around us. There will also always be reactionary types who don't like the change and will be vocal about it.
The thing is, as Drew Shirley expressed here, support for Mendoza can swing the other way. Is it patronizing? Would we have said the same for anyone who wasn't Curt Schilling, a man as reactionary as they come?
I think we would and have in the past. Fact is, I don't care who the person is in the booth. I care if they're an expert. Know what you're talking about and convey that to me.
For a long time, only a few people were allowed to talk about baseball in public forums. Former players got color analyst jobs (and still do). Newspaper reporters were few and spoke with loud voices. But, they weren't necessarily experts in the game. They also covered football sometimes. Or, if they were beat writers, they only were able to follow one team closely through the year.
The internet egalitarized sports commentary. Now, it didn't matter who you were. It just mattered that you knew what you were talking about. If you didn't, someone would call you out. Your reader base wouldn't materialize. You wouldn't have a stage.
I can't know what it's like for girls and women to hear Mendoza call a game. This piece from Meg Rowley does a good job of nailing that sentiment. I trust her. I also know that female journalists of all stripes deal with so, so much abuse online. It's ridiculous. Jenny Dial Creech was one of many female journalists to slide the curtain back and reveal some of the harassment she's received.
That makes me angry. Do you think Evan Drellich has to put up with that? I mean, aside from Chris' drunken SnapChats?
It's not just female journalists, by the way. It's other women in Astros Twittersphere. It's far to prevalent. Heck, it's not even women. It's anyone online who has an opinion different than yours and is sufficiently removed to dehumanize them.
Back to the issue at hand, however. Mendoza didn't cement her Broadcasting Hall of Fame legacy with one game. She was just really good, along with Rays pitcher Chris Archer. She was smart and entertaining. That's all I want out of a broadcaster, regardless of who they are. It's why Doug Glanville is so good and why Harold Reynolds is terrible.
By the time this posts, the Mendoza news cycle will have flitted past. This will be old news, which is good and bad. It shouldn't be notable that she's a female on a baseball broadcast, but it is. For ESPN, it also shouldn't be notable that she was one of their analysts showed so much knowledge, but it was. I hope both of those things change.
3) On science, critics and the Astros rebuild
Tangent No. 2: On my fairly sizeable commute right now, I have plenty of time to sit alone in my car and ponder the mysteries of the universe. While listening to podcasts, this often leads my brain to make digressions and connections on seemingly unrelated topics.
Most of these are crazy and best left alone with me in my car. In the past, I'd hit on one or two that I turned into articles here. It's been a while since I've written regularly around here, though, so my crazy thoughts have been backing up.
Here's one I had a few weeks back. I was listening to FiveThirtyEight's podcast on p-hacking in science literature. It made me think about baseball.
Every time you see one of those studies saying that "Chocolate can cure cancer," or that gogi berries can make you skinnier, it's probably from a researcher who played up a part of a research study to get published. Or it's a shameless marketing ploy, pulling a bit of research out of context. Either way, it's bad science and the podcast touches on this.
That "bad science" is the subject of that podcast. They talk about how there's such a rush to publish, that scientific methods get compromised. In a rush to talk about a small part of research and get noticed, researchers sometimes will take shortcuts to make their data viable. They want to find something and have it matter, so they can get published and move up in their careers.
This is understandable, but it's not in the best interest of science, the podcast argues. Science is as much about the failure as it is about the success.
When I heard that, I immediately thought of Jeff Luhnow's Astros. I thought about it again when I read this comment from him, on facing his critics now that the Astros have tasted postseason success.
"There's always critics along the way if you're trying to do something different or something unique. But we had confidence that we were on the right path, and I think the results are starting to show."
Over the last four years, the Astros have been freed from the constraints of "typical baseball wisdom." They have an owner who embraced a rebuild and who didn't have illusions about how baseball should be played. They had a GM who hired smart people from outside the industry and a minor league staff willing to experiment.
Some of those didn't work. The tandem pitching hasn't proven very useful, but that doesn't mean it's a failure. It doesn't mean the Astros were wrong to have tried it.
The same can be said for shifts, for playing Evan Gattis in left field, for switching Tyler White to catcher or any of the other unorthodox moves the Astros have pulled. Some of them will work out, others will not.
You can see this in how the minor league coaching staff is being redeployed. They had "development specialists" but they didn't work as well, so they're pivoting to another place. That's despite some real, tangible results from player development, both in who made the majors and who jumped levels in the minors.
The critics Luhnow refers to will always be there. Baseball isn't science and it will never be viewed that way. It doesn't mean a scientific method, an objective way for measuring data can't work.
This season does mark a turning point for the franchise. The most important distinction between science and baseball will be shown. Failure isn't acceptable in professional baseball. Failure gets people fired. The Astros had a big sandbox to play in while the franchise floundered. Now, winning will be accepted. It means full-scale experiments won't happen.
I hope, though, that the team retains it in smaller forms. By constantly testing and tweaking conventional wisdom, the Astros can stay ahead of the curve and always have an edge, no matter where baseball heads next.