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3 Astros Discussion Topics (From Sponsorships to McCuller Extensions and a Look at Our Side-winders)

Houston Astros v Oakland Athletics

1.) Sponsorships on uniforms - With the CBA approaching, and the MLB owners looking for innovative ways to bring additional revenue in after COVID, I wondered how MLB fans would feel in regards to the possibility of adding sponsors to the uniforms. Admittedly, when I first saw soccer uniforms, I cringed. The uniforms in some way have lost that “classy” and traditional feel. With that said, as I’ve watched more, it’s faded into the background and admittedly isn’t something I even notice for most teams at this point.

Queretaro v Atletico San Luis - Torneo Guard1anes 2021 Liga MX Photo by Cesar Gomez/Jam Media/Getty Images

Here’s an example for those of you who don’t follow the sport closely. As a topic, this still feels wrong to me, but it could result in a massive influx of cash into the game of baseball.

If you’re wondering just how much cash we’re talking about. Manchester United earned $140 Million in exchange for their uniform sponsorships. That’s two-thirds of the salary cap with this simple change.

Would you be comfortable with the Astros adding advertising space on the uniforms if it meant the Astros would have the money for an extension with a player of your choice? What other methods would you explore for bringing more revenue into baseball?

2.) The Astros offered Lance McCullers Jr. an Extension - while the details are still not known at the time of this writing, but I wanted to take a look at his career to date and who some comparable players may be.

Across his career, McCullers has racked up a 32-25 record with a 3.70 ERA, with an excellent 10 K/9, a decent 3.50 B//9, and a 1.262 WHIP (everyone on TCB knows that any WHIP above 1, means not elite haha) for a grand total of 508.2 IP and 10.8 WAR. The advanced stats actually are even kinder to McCullers with a 3.29 FIP / 3.35 xFIP. The question on McCullers will of course come down to health and consistency. McCullers comes into Free Agency at 28 years old.

For comparison, we will use Zack Wheeler, who signed a 5 year/118 Million dollar contract ($23.4 Mil AAV) last year. Wheeler, 29 at the time of signing, has some similarities to McCullers with the tantalizing ace upside. Wheeler’s 44-38, 3.77 ERA, 8.7 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, and 1.294 WHIP all fall just a hair below McCullers results and that’s before giving any consideration to AL vs NL. The difference of course is that Wheeler through 749.1 IP (nearly 50% more) in the same number of seasons (albeit, 2020 is counted for McCullers which is unfair but it’s the data we have).

With Wheeler’s contract in mind, where would you estimate McCullers contract to come in at?

3.) Side-arm - the New Market Efficiency? Admittedly, this is something I’m extremely excited to follow. With the Astros acquiring Cishek, they have 2 funky side-arm relievers in the camp. For most, that doesn’t exactly ring bells of excitement. During my time studying Strom, I was truly curious about the differences in the approach Strom would take with this type of release.

The reason I highlight this, for pitch tunneling (as highlighted by Perry Husband’s Effective Velocity) is greatly enhanced by a lower release point. If you’re wondering, Cishek has a release point between ~3.8’ off the ground and ~4.54, with Smith coming in even lower at a range of 2.43 ft - 3.36 ft. For comparison, Greinke averages roughly 6.3 ft off the ground.

Both Smith and Cishek have been extremely effective relievers for their careers, both clocking in under 3 for their career ERA’s. With that said, for their age 35 and 37 seasons, I don’t think the expectations for either are particularly high. Nonetheless, Joe Smith had an under-rated 2019, coming in with a sparkling 1.80 ERA across the 25 innings pitched.

And while 25 innings is far from definitive, you can see the alterations that Strom made in his approach since coming over to the Astros. While Smith is one of the few pitchers still throwing his sinker, it’s dropped in usage from its peak (63.7%), all the way down to 31.1%. In its place, he’s thrown a devastating slider. In 2019, that slider was thrown 41% of the time and resulted in an absurd .099 xwOBA.

For me, Cishek making the team will provide a further glimpse into the insights and strategies given very different releases, spin, movements, etc. I would not be surprised to see them break out as “surprise” excellent bullpen assets.

Are you hopeful for Cishek to make the team? What are your thoughts on side-arm pitchers? Who fills out your bullpen?