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Off the Top of My Hat - Christmas Music Edition

For those on the nice list, you are treated to mhatter106’s opinions on baseball and Christmas music. Unless you don’t like the opinions, in which case you are subjected to them for being on the naughty list.

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Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Detroit Tigers Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images

As we near end of 2019, let’s conspire as we dream by the fire Fiers hot stove, to face unafraid the plans the Astros have made, walking in a Hatter Wonderland (of random opinions.)

Astros fans, is everyone simply having a wonderful Christmas time? Of course not. In the last two months, the Astros have found themselves at the center of a PR disaster with assistant GM Brandon Taubman, lost the World Series after holding a 7th inning Game 7 lead at home, been made the focus of a sign stealing accusation and investigation, and watched ace pitcher Gerrit Cole go to the New York Yankees in free agency. For Astros fans, this offseason sucks.

Also, Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time sucks. Paul McCartney has written his fair share of great tunes, and is undoubtedly a better human being than John Lennon was, but let’s face it: he’s not the greatest lyricist.

“The choir of children sing their song; they practiced all year long”

Lies. Nobody’s practicing “O Come All Ye Faithful” any earlier than November.

I have been critical about the Astros acquiring Martin Maldonado in the past, but I actually like this most recent signing. The way that the catcher free agent market has been going, a $3.5 million AAV for a catcher that’s shown he can handle a workhorse load is a bargain any way you cut it. Two years is not unreasonable for a 33 year old. For $7 million, the Astros might not have been able to have even gotten one year out of Robinson Chirinos or Jason Castro. After the 2019 seasons they had, both former Astro catchers stand to do well in free agency.

Maldonado, on the other hand, did not have a good 2019. He had his worst framing year in the majors in 2019, and close to his worst throwing year. I expect both of those to rebound next to what he has historically done, making this a great value for the Astros. 2019’s potent Astros offense returns almost unchanged, so an offensive hole in the 9-spot shouldn’t be too big of a deal.

I’ve never ridden in a one-horse open sleigh, but I want to. I keep hearing about what fun it is.

I also think too much is being made of Maldonado’s chemistry with Gerrit Cole. Sure they worked well together, but Cole was already dominating the league for two months in June and July before Maldonado came back to the team in August.

I don’t think the Who-ville Whos ever even noticed that the Grinch took all their stuff. They had no idea they were standing in a circle around nothing, singing “Dahoo Dores”. After all, Cindy Lou was the only person in Whoville who ever had her eyes open for longer than half a second, and she was a freaking idiot.

Speaking of Gerrit Cole, I’m glad he got his $324 million payday, but I’m also glad Houston didn’t pay it. Cole won’t be worth $36 million in 2027 and 2028. The argument is that he will be worth much more than $36 million a year in the front end of the contract. But if the Astros had announced they had signed Cole to a 2 year, $125 million contract, would you feel that was a good deal?

I’ve always liked the song “Even a Miracle Needs a Hand” from ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. The clockmaker hurries, plans, labors, stands, whittles and dries, while the children hope, pray, love, sit, wish and drip (which seriously makes you question if they understand what “giving a hand” means). But remember, the clockmaker wasn’t told until after the song why his Christmas clock broke, and he didn’t have access to the clock. So while it seemed like he was being very industrious, what the hell was he hurrying on, planning, laboring on, standing for, whittling and drying?

A lot has been discussed recently about why Jim Crane needs to spend into the luxury tax threshold in 2020. But I find it hard to find fault in owners for not spending more money just to increase their chances of winning slightly, especially when the Tampa Bay Rays with a 2019 payroll of $62 million took the AL champion Houston Astros to a Game 5 in the ALDS.

Sure, you could spend $220 million as an owner and have a better shot of winning the World Series. Or you could spend $100 million and still have an okay shot if the money is spent wisely. And if it doesn’t work out, you have a $120 million savings as a consolation prize. $120 million would certainly take the edge off of losing, but the fans won’t see any of that consolation prize.

Listening to Christmas music on the radio, there seems to be an unspoken competition within the recording industry to perform the absolutely slowest versions of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas Song” and “The Christmas Song”. I’m not sure if a winner has been declared, but the general public is definitely the loser. And metronomes.

Even without Cole, I think the Astros rotation will still be fine. The Astros started 2019 with two aces and a serviceable back 3 of the rotation. They’ll start 2020 the same way, but with Verlander and Greinke instead of Verlander and Cole. Fans have expressed concerns over Greinke, but Greinke had a great year last year. Astros fans are just just used to seeing outs come from blazing heat with Verlander, Cole and Morton, but that’s not how Greinke pitches. Greinke has shown he can get the outs without overpowering velocity. I’d be more concerned about Verlander, given his October performance, as fireballers have a shelf life that Verlander has continually defied. At the same time, I’m not actually that concerned about a pitcher coming off two seasons in which he placed second and first in Cy Young voting.

For readers in the Houston area, why is Sunny 99.1 FM KODA-FM so determined to be a Christmas music station that makes no religious references whatsoever? Here’s a playlist of two hours of airtime from last week:

Sunny 99.1 is more intent on hushing up discussion of a Messiah than the Pharisees were in the New Testament. Are they worried about offending listeners who don’t want to hear about Jesus’ birth? Exactly how big do they think that demographic is? If you’re someone who would get upset at hearing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”, you’re probably not tuning into an All-Christmas-Music radio station.

2020 needs to be the year of Forrest Whitley. Really, 2019 ought to have been that year, but Whitley’s struggles threw a major wrench in the Astros’ plans. Not just their 2019 plans, but also the plans for the years ahead. I think the Astros expected that Whitley would be ready to call up and join the rotation around Super-2 time, the same time that Yordan Alvarez came up, and that he would be a force in the rotation the way Walker Buehler was for the Dodgers when he came up.

But he didn’t, and Whitley’s delay (along with Collin McHugh, Brad Peacock and Corbin Martin not being able to step forward) necessitated the Greinke trade at the deadline. That trade made the payroll budget tighter and weakened the farm system, issues the Astros now find themselves having to work around.

Houston is in the same spot at the start of 2020 as they were in 2019: A rotation with two aces and a hope that Whitley will be able to join them by midseason.

The top five Christmas songs of all time are:

  1. “O Holy Night”
  2. “The Carol of the Bells”
  3. “Snoopy’s Christmas” (not the Vince Guaraldi songs, but the one where Snoopy fights the Red Baron)
  4. “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”
  5. “Chiron Beta Prime”

Come at me.

I didn’t think this was possible, but Rob Manfred seems like he might be moving closer to Roger Goodell’s throne of worst sports commissioner. In the span of a year, he’s been the focus of suspicion of intentionally altering baseballs, proposed elimination of 42 minor league teams, and then threatened to sever ties with the minor leagues altogether.

When faced with the task of investigating the Astros’ electronic sign stealing charges that originated in a report that in the headline stated it was part of a much broader issue for major league baseball, Manfred elected instead to announce that he had no reason believe it extended any further than the Astros. While it may certainly be true that the Astros’ methods were beyond that of other teams, these practices are certainly occurring in other organizations. That was the headline of the article that broke the scandal. But rather than admit he might have majors-wide cheating problem, he chose the narrative of a single rogue organization.

Still, with the way Roger Goodell has handled domestic violence and CTE in the NFL, he still has a sizeable lead. But the gap is closing. Manfred and Goodell make Gary Bettman seem tolerable, and make Adam Silver seem like Atticus Finch.

You’re not familiar with “Chiron Beta Prime” by Jonathan Coulton? Well, then Merry Christmas. Enjoy:

Speaking of “robot overlords”— I mean “protectors”, I was happy to see as part of the MLB-Umpire labor agreement that MLB umpires are going to cooperate with MLB in implementing an electronic strike zone.

I’ll take this opportunity to plug my article from last month on The Effect of an Electronic Strike Zone on Catching again.

With an electronic strike zone being used in the minors in 2020, it’s possible an electronic strike zone could be in the majors as soon as 2021. That’s not good news for the Chicago White Sox who just paid $72 million for 4 years of Yasmani Grandal. Potentially 3 of those years Grandal won’t be able to frame and have the kind of impact he could have without an electronic strike zone.

It’s great news for the Chicago Cubs though. Willson Contreras’ offensive prowess will no longer be offset by his terrible framing.

“Do You Hear What I Hear?” is my wife’s personal favorite Christmas song, but the lack of logic the shepherd boy shows the king is just astounding.

“A child, a child shivers in the cold, let us bring him silver and gold.”

Great. You know what would be better than silver and gold? Blankets. He’s shivering in the cold. The boy literally just said it. And it’s not a monetary issue either. The reason they’re in the stable isn’t because they couldn’t afford a room. They could. But there was no room at the inn. And before you suggest that the gold and silver could be used to buy blankets, let me remind you: It’s Christmas. Nothing’s open on Christmas.

To build on Theo’s excellent writeups on the Hall of Fame elections, so far less than 1 in 5 publicly made ballots are including center fielder Andruw Jones. That seems absolutely ridiculous to me. There’s too much focus on cumulative career WAR and not enough focus on the brilliance of a sustained peak. Jones’ career fWAR isn’t even that bad, but how good Andruw Jones was his twenties should be ticket enough for induction.

Andruw Jones’s season by season fWAR in his 20’s:

20 - 3.7
21 - 7.0
22 - 6.9
23 - 7.7
24 - 4.9
25 - 6.3
26 - 5.2
27 - 5.3
28 - 7.9
29 - 6.0
Total fWAR for age 20-29 seasons - 60.9

Yes, he fell off a cliff after age 30, but for a full 10 years, Andruw Jones averaged more than 6 fWAR a season and played some of the best baseball the sport has to offer. He was arguably the greatest defensive center fielder in baseball history. He belongs in Cooperstown.

You know who must really be enjoying this trash can signaling scandal? Waste Management Inc.

That’s all for now. I’m just glad I made it through this article without a Little Drummer Boy/Jose Altuve with-a-trash-can quip. Until now. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!