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Monday's Three Astros Things

Talking about James Shields, pitch sequencing and Rob Manfred on steroids...

Some things to talk about while we mourn the loss of the Fan Cave...

1) James Shields signs with Padres

Dangit. Another fifth starter candidate signed.

The Padres have agreed to sign free agent right-hander James Shields to a four-year contract that includes a club option for a fifth season, according to major-league sources. The deal is currently pending a physical, and is likely to be announced early in the week. Shields will receive $75 million guaranteed, and the fifth-year option is for $16 million.

Seems like a lot of money, especially this late in the process. This may also get the Cole Hamels ball rolling again. Are there any dominoes left to drop?

2) Pitch sequencing stuff

Some very smart, interesting stuff going on in this piece over at Baseball Prospectus on pitch sequencing. The article breaks down Jordan Zimmerman's approach with Christian Yelich.

This is a great way to visualize so many of the cutting-edge things baseball research is doing. You've got visuals of the pitch locations. You've got heat maps and usage patterns of those pitches for Zimmerman. Yet, the conclusion is far from...conclusive.

Which is why one of the new Hilbert Problem-style questions posed by Dan Turkenkopf in Extra Innings ("What is the most effective way to sequence pitches?") is likely to go unanswered. It doesn't help our odds that Turkenkopf wasn't after a backward-looking model. He wanted something that informed choices rather than explained them. Some three years (and a few valiant efforts) after Turkenkopf asked his question, we still don't have a worthwhile response.

The truth is, we probably never will. Zimmermann's efforts against Yelich give you a good idea of why. There are too many variables locked away in strangers' minds, the world's finest black boxes, to know when we're looking at a bigger plan than throwing your best pitches over and over. If "Jaws" taught us anything, it's that you need to be certain you caught the right shark-or the left shark, as the kids say these days-and we'll never be sure we can make the distinction.

If anything, this shows the finite limit of quantitative analysis in baseball. There are so many things happening over the course of a season, statistical analysis done at a high level is the only way to suss out some trends. Yet, there will always be things that just can't be defined by the numbers.

That's a good lesson for anyone who either is a full-on subscriber to advanced metrics or people who are skeptical of them. Look at what we can do. Look where we can't ever go.

3) Manfred on steroid suspicions

This summer will be glorious, no matter how well or poorly the Astros play. It could be 100 degrees for all of June, July and August and things will still be bearable.

Craig Biggio will wear an Astros hat in Cooperstown.

But, Astros fans can't completely celebrate. Longtime Biggio teammate Jeff Bagwell arguably has a better Hall of Fame case than Bidge. Yet, he hasn't come close to the 75 percent of the vote needed for induction.

Part of that could be due to his shortened career, thanks to that arthritic shoulder, but part of it has to do with being a power hitter in the prime of the Steroid Era. New baseball commissioner Rob Manfred talked about steroids recently and his quotes should be heartening for Bagwell supporters.

Here's the money quote from Manfred, provided by SB Nation's incomparable Grant Brisbee:

"I think it's unfair," Manfred said, in answer to a follow-up question, "for people to surmise that Player A did X, Y or Z, absent a positive test, or proof that we produced in an investigation, or whatever. I just think it runs contrary to a very fundamental notion in our society, that you're innocent until somebody proves you're guilty."

That's all I want. I want a Hall of Fame where guys are judged against their peers, without unsubstantiated rumors. I want a Hall of Fame that reflects the history of baseball, as grimy and imperfect as it is.

We will never know who used and who didn't in this arbitrary time frame. There were guys who used before the 1990's and early 2000's. There will be more guys who use and don't get caught.

None of that should diminish Bagwell's career, which was about as good as any career a first baseman ever had. Let's hope Manfred's words find the ears of those Hall voters. Let's hope they have an impact.