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Critical Theory, Episode 2: Performing an Appelectomy

Critically examining and updating the curious case of the Houston Astros and Mark Appel.

I've got your enigma right here.
I've got your enigma right here.
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Good day to you all and welcome to the second edition of Critical Theory, a weekly series in which I critically examine the critics of the Astros and their front office using a level head,  lots of pop culture references, and outlandishly amateurish Venn diagrams.

In last week's inaugural episode, I took a look at the out-of-all-proportion early season angst caused by a 1-2 start. That's right - in case you've forgotten, there was a brief point in this still very young season when some fans of the Houston Astros were all but dipping into the emergency cyanide and walking into oncoming traffic due to the despair caused by three entire games of sub-par baseball. (A baseball season, to remind everyone involved, is 162 games long.) So one of my concerns in creating this series has effectively been erased - there is apparently never going to be a shortage of heartfelt complaints in these parts to examine.

This week I'm revisiting and updating one of the more interesting ongoing controversies - Mark Appel, and everything about him. Appel has been a lightning rod since the 2012 draft. Crawfish Boxes has been all over this controversy from the get-go. Perry's inaugural post for the Starting Nine series, for example, asked the writers how worried fans should be about Appel. (I was the most worried, chiming in with a highly-qualified "moderately".) And earlier this week in the same feature, Perry used the ongoing Appel v Bryant debate to ask when you can judge a draft pick. Suffice it to say that for going on three years now, Appel has been controversial.

People didn't like that he held out, refusing to sign with the Pirates at 1-8, choosing instead to go back to Stanford to finish his degree and roll the dice for the 2013 draft. Then people didn't like that Luhnow chose him that year with the 1-1 over Kris Bryant, among others. Then people didn't like that he was too cerebral, didn't have a killer instinct, and talked too much about God. They wanted a dumb, fiery blasphemer, a pitcher who's not afraid to either plunk a guy in the head or take the Lord's name in vain. In short, they wanted this guy. Or maybe this guy.

Then they didn't like that it took him a bit too long to recover from an appendicitis. Fiery guys don't do that. They heal through action, not rest and rehab. Rehab and rest is for ballet dancers, celebrities, and geriatrics, not top of the rotation pitchers. They wanted a fiery blasphemer who could have a vital (or non-vital) organ ripped out through his throat in the bottom of the 4th and come back to strike out the side in the top of the fifth. In short, they wanted this guy. Or maybe the guy on the right in a pinch.

Then they didn't like it that he was getting special treatment from the front office. He was said to have received special exemptions from or alterations to the tandem system, which he reportedly didn't much like. That was followed by the Great Bullpen Fiasco of July 2014, when the front office was criticized for arranging for Appel to throw in the Astros' bullpen on an offday. This was, at the time, treated by local and national media, as well as anonymous players, as something akin to the Iran Contra scandal.

Meanwhile, they didn't like it that he was stinking up the joint at Lancaster, arguably the nation's ballpark with atmospheric conditions most closely resembling those found on the moon. Prior to being promoted to Corpus Christi, his professional ERA was approximately 27. Somewhere during that nadir, Appel gave a heartfelt, thoughtful and humble interview, addressing his struggles, during which he said:

I’ll come back and I’ll respond. Don’t know exactly when that will be, I hope it’ll be next game and I’m going to work and prepare like I have every other game to be able to be my best, but I think the draft is definitely a starting point, and when you lose sight of that, you can — it could really get you. I think I lost sight of that a little bit, and I think I felt entitled to certain things, and you know I’m actually really gracious and really appreciative of this kind of desert time that I’m going through right now because I know it’ll make me that much better in the end. (Emphasis mine.)

Here's a good example of what was done with that:

And since being promoted to Corpus Christi he has settled down, exactly as he and most of the writers predicted he would, and succeeded (including his winter stint in Arizona) with an ERA much closer to Blutarski's combined GPA. And a funny thing happened: things have gone quiet. His recent gems have been consistently met with something approaching silence. Oh, ho hum, just Appel pitching up to his potential. No story here.

So who, after all is said and done, is this enigmatic man, Mark Appel? Let's start by looking for a comp. While most would prefer to select comps from past and current starting pitchers, I am going to trod heavily off the beaten path. Because, you see, the best comp for Appel isn't a starting pitcher. He's not even a pitcher. Nor is he even a baseball player. He's not even real. I'm going with Dean Forester, star hockey player for Gilmore High and the first love of Rory Gilmore's life.

Dean Forester Gilmore Girls

Dean Forester

Yes, Dean Forester. Mr. Clean. A big-framed athletic kid with a great work ethic, great attitude and willingness to change. The guy whose biggest strike against him was being too good and loving Rory too much. (And also cheating on his wife with Rory and getting caught just about red-handed. I guess adultery still counts as a sin, technically.)

But everybody knows that Dean was a better guy than Jess or that rich Logan Huntzberger kid from Yale. While it's certainly true in love and war that nice guys sometimes finish last, that doesn't mean they won't make great starting pitchers. And thus it goes with Appel and thus ends this week's critical look at an ongoing controversy in Astrosland.

Now for this week's Venn diagram. I received a lot of helpful, constructive criticism on my last one, which I've tried to incorporate and address here. For one, I've chosen this week to keep it simple and clean.  Let me know what you think and I'll see you next week for more of ... whatever you want to call this.

Venn Week 2