Via Jon Heyman: The Astros have hired Trey Hillman to be their new bench coach. Hillman returned to the Yankees last offseason and spent this year as a special assistant in the player development system. He was a coach in the minor league system from 1990-2001 and was considered a candidate to replace the retiring VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman, but Heyman says Hillman wanted to get back in uniform and on the field. Between Newman’s retirement and both Hillman and Gordon Blakeley leaving, there’s been a lot of change in the front office these last few weeks.
After a six-game turned five-game because of a rainout road trip, the Yankees are back home in the Bronx for a six-game homestand. They’re going to face two really bad teams and winning four of the six is the bare minimum at this point if they want to get back in the postseason race. The Astros are in town for three games starting tonight. The Yankees lost two of three in Houston way back in April, the very first series of the season.
What Have They Done Lately?
Like the Yankees, the Astros were off on Monday. They split a four-game series with the Red Sox up in Fenway Park over the weekend and have lost eight of their last 13 games overall. Houston is 52-73 with a -91 run differential in 2014, both the third worst marks in baseball. To their credit, Houston has already won more games this year than they did last year (51-111).
Manager Bo Porter’s club averages 4.01 runs per game with a team 97 wRC+, so they’re just a touch below-averageoffensively. Better than the Yankees (3.94 and 92, respectively), anyway. The Astros are currently without OF George Springer (125 wRC+) and OF Alex Presley (82 wRC+) due to quad and oblique injuries, and neither will return this series. Bummed we won’t see Springer. UTIL Jesus Guzman (56 wRC+) is out with a back problem but could be activated off the disabled list sometime this week.
The Houston lineup revolves around 2B Jose Altuve (131 wRC+), who leads the league in average (.339) and steals (46). His reputation outweighed his production the last few years — I’m convinced it’s because he’s really short, similar to how Melky Cabrera was overrated while with the Yankees because he had a cool name — but he is definitely performing like a true star right now. 1B/OF Chris Carter (127 wRC+) strikes out a ton (30.4%) but he has ten homers and a 186 wRC+ over the last 30 days. OF Dexter Fowler (129 wRC+) just came off the disabled list a week ago. Altuve, Carter, and Fowler are the stars of the show with Springer injured.
The rest of Porter’s lineup includes former first rounders C Jason Castro (94 wRC+) and 3B Matt Dominguez (72 wRC+). Castro has had a disappointing follow up to last summer’s breakout year. OF Robbie Grossman (94 wRC+) and OF Jake Marisnick (53 wRC+) both see time in the outfield and 1B Jon Singleton (87 wRC+) plays first. He signed a five-year, $10M extension before ever playing in a MLB game. I bet the lefty swinger takes advantage of the short porch at least once this week. IF Gregorio Petit (100 wRC+ in very limited time) and IF Marwin Gonzalez (96 wRC+) share time at shortstop. 1B/OF Marc Krauss (78 wRC+) and C Carlos Corporan (88 wRC+) fill out the bench.
Oberholtzer, 25, has gone down to Triple-A a few times this year despite a solid 3.87 ERA (3.68 FIP) in 17 starts and 104.2 innings at the MLB level. He excels at limiting walks (1.89 BB/9 and 5.0 BB%) and does keep the ball in the park (0.77 HR/9 and 5.9 HR/FB%), but both his strikeout (5.68 K/9 and 14.9 K%) and ground ball (37.0%) numbers are unimpressive. Righties (.326 wOBA) have hit him a bit harder than lefties (.300 wOBA), and he’s been more successful on the road (.305 wOBA) than at home (.330 wOBA). Oberholtzer is a classic finesse southpaw, sitting right around 90 mph with his fastball while throwing both his changeup and curveball in the low-80s. He held the Yankees to three runs in 5.2 innings back in April.
The Astros finally decided to spend some money this past offseason, and most of it went to the 31-year-old Feldman. He got three years and $30M. Feldman has a 4.45 ERA (4.40 FIP) in 22 starts and 129.1 innings this year — he missed time with a biceps injury — even though his walk (2.78 BB/9 and 7.1 BB%), homer (0.84 HR/9 and 8.4 HR/FB%), and ground ball (44.7%) rates are more or less in line with his career norms. His strikeout rate (4.94 K/9 and 12.6 K%) is way down though, plus he has minimal platoon and home/road splits. Feldman is primarily a low-90s sinker/upper-80s cutter/mid-70s curveball pitcher, though he will throw the occasional mid-80s splitter that serves as his changeup. The Yankees did not score in 6.2 innings against the right-hander on Opening Day.
Keuchel, 26, has broken out in a huge way this season, pitching to a 3.11 ERA (3.31 FIP) in 23 starts and 156.1 innings. His strikeout (6.91 K/9 and 18.8 K%), walk (2.30 BB/9 and 6.3 BB%), and homer (0.58 HR/9 and 10.6 HR/FB%) rates are lower than the league averages, and his 61.8% ground ball rate is the highest in baseball by roughly five percentage points. Also, as Mark Simon notes, Keuchel has the tenth lowest hard-hit ball rate in baseball, so he’s getting a ton of weak contact on the ground. That’s a great way to keep runs off the board. Righties (.311 wOBA) are a bit more successful than lefties (.286 wOBA), though he does not have a significant home/road split at all. Keuchel gets all those weak grounders with upper-80s two and four-seam fastballs, plus he’ll mix in some mid-80s cutters. An upper-70s slider is his top secondary pitch and he’ll also throw a handful of upper-70s changeups per start. He’s basically a two-seamer/slider pitcher who will show a four-seamer and changeup. The Yankees did not see Keuchel when these two teams met in April.
The Astros spent some money on relievers this year, and ex-Yankee RHP Chad Qualls (3.11 FIP) has taken over as closer. RHP Jesse Crain has not pitched at all in 2014 due to continued arm problems and RHP Matt Albers has missed most of the season with a shoulder issue. Veterans LHP Tony Sipp (2.87 FIP) and ex-Yankee RHP Jose Veras (4.92 FIP) are Qualls’ primary setup men, though RHP Josh Fields (2.17 FIP) will see important innings as well.
The rest of Porter’s bullpen includes RHP Jake Buchanan (4.36 FIP), LHP Kevin Chapman (7.88 FIP in very limited time), LHP Darin Downs (3.29 FIP), and RHP Mike Foltynewicz (5.26 FIP in very limited time). Foltynewicz is a top prospect who was called up not too long ago and he throws very, very hard. Like every other team these days (it seems), the Astros are carrying eight relievers at the moment. Both of these teams were off Monday, so the bullpens are as fresh as it gets in mid-August. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for details on Joe Girardi‘s bullpen, then check out Astros County and Crawfish Boxes for the latest and greatest on the Astros.
Update: The Astros activated Guzman off the disabled list and sent Downs to Triple-A, the team announced. There you go.
According to information allegedly leaked from the Astros’ proprietary “Ground Control” database, the Yankees offered to eat $4.5M of Ichiro Suzuki‘s $6.5M salary in order to facilitate a trade with Houston at some point before the season. They also called to ask about a trade involving Chris Stewart before sending him to the Pirates. The leaked info was posted on Anonbin and dug up by Deadspin.
We heard the Yankees were willing to eat salary to move Ichiro all winter, so this isn’t a surprise. Now we just know exactly how much. More importantly, holy crap someone leaked a bunch of trade chatter from a team’s internal database. It reads like a fantasy league message board too — we’ll trade our okay veteran for your top prospect, stuff like that. Here’s the link again. Make sure you check it out. This kind of leak should never ever ever happen.
The Yankees designated Eduardo Nunez for assignment on Tuesday, giving them ten days to trade him, release him, or slip him through waivers. That is down to eight days now, and considering the waiver process takes three days, it’s really more like five days. This situation could be resolved before the start of next week.
According to Marly Rivera, the Astros and Mariners* are among the teams with interest in Nunez. The middle infield bar is pretty low around the league right now, especially at shortstop, so I figured there would be some interest. That the Yankees couldn’t work out a trade before designating him suggests interest isn’t that high though. For what it’s worth, George King hears Nunez is expected to wind up elsewhere, either through a trade or waivers.
* As you surely remember, the Mariners wanted Nunez as part of the failed Cliff Lee trade a few years ago, so their interest now is not surprising.
Since he’s been designated for assignment, Nunez has pretty much zero trade value. He had very little trade value before being removed from the 40-man roster, but this clinches it. The Yankees forced their own hand with the move and other teams know they have to move him. That’s the way the DFA game has been and always will be. If they were to ship him to the Astros or Mariners, the likely return would be a nondescript non-40-man minor leaguer, cash, or a player to be named later. Don’t get your hopes up.
Nunez, 26, has hit .267/.313/.379 (86 wRC+) in parts of four seasons, in a league where the average shortstop put up a … wait for it … 86 wRC+ from 2010-13. His offense isn’t the problem, especially since he can steal bases on top of the league average-ish production. The issue has been and always be his defense, which hasn’t improved after years and years of work. This has been a career long problem and his career started in 2005.
The Yankees are short on shortstops right now, especially with Brendan Ryan hurt. Derek Jeter appears to be healthy and is moving fine in the field, but at age 39, he’s not someone who can play the position day after day. Joe Girardi‘s going to mix in some DH days every once in a while. He has to. Dean Anna is the backup shortstop, Yangervis Solarte the emergency backup, and the Triple-A starter is Carmen Angelini according to Chad Jennings. (Addison Maruszak was released yesterday according to Donnie Collins.) The 25-year-old Angelini had a 73 wRC+ at Double-A Trenton last year, so yeah.
Even though his defense is nightmarish, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if Nunez slipped through waivers and went to Triple-A (he can’t elect free agency since it would be his first outright assignment), at least until Ryan returns. The Astros and Mariners and whoever else probably won’t give up anything of value for him in a trade, so keeping Nunez around as an emergency backup plan is better than losing him for nothing. Especially with no shortstop at Triple-A. If he doesn’t stick around, they’ll have to find someone just like him to stash in the minors.
After more than four months of offseason and six weeks of Spring Training, meaningful baseball is back. The Yankees open the 2014 season later tonight in the same place they ended last season, at Minute Maid Park in Houston. The Astros will honor Derek Jeter with a ceremony prior to tomorrow’s game, according to Evan Drellich. Former Yankees and former Astros Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens are scheduled to attend. Neato.
What Did They Do Last Year?
Stunk, mostly. The Astros went 51-111 with a -238 run differential, the worst marks in baseball by eleven games and -64 runs, respectively. Terrible. They made a few moves to add legitimate MLB caliber players over the winter but not nearly enough to right this ship. Houston went 12-15 during Grapefruit League play.
The Yankees were terrible offensively last season thanks to the injuries, and the Astros were just as bad. The two clubs were nearly identical on a rate basis (86 vs. 85 wRC+), though New York did a better job of actually pushing runs across (4.01 vs. 3.77 runs per game). Houston did add one notable position player in OF Dexter Fowler (106 wRC+ in 2013), who they stole from the Rockies for pennies on the dollar.
The Astros’ best hitter and best all around player is C Jason Castro (130 wRC+ in 2013), who broke out last summer and lived up to the hype of being the 10th overall pick in the 2008 draft. 1B/DH Chris Carter (113 wRC+) has huge power (29 HR and .223 ISO) and was the club’s only other comfortably above-average hitter in 2013. 2B Jose Altuve (85 wRC+) has become one of the game’s most overrated players the last year or two. His production is on par with the Yankees version of Melky Cabrera, except instead of having a cool name, he’s really short.
3B Matt Dominguez (89 wRC+) quietly swatted 21 homers a year ago. Guys like OF L.J. Hoes (98 wRC+) and OF Robbie Grossman (97 wRC+) had strong showings after being called up at midseason, SS Jonathan Villar (80 wRC+) and 1B Marc Krauss (74 wRC+) less so. OF Alex Presley (career 102 wRC+ vs. RHP) and UTIL Jesus Guzman (career 130 wRC+ vs. LHP) were low-cost offseason pickups who are good platoon options. C Carlos Corporan (79 wRC+) is Castro’s seldom used backup and IF Marwin Gonzalez (55 wRC+) is essentially the 25th man on the roster. The top four hitters in the lineup (Fowler, Altuve, Castro, Carter) are MLB caliber, but it really falls off after that.
Tuesday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Scott Feldman (Career vs. NYY) (Pitcher GIFs)
Feldman, 31, was one of those legitimate MLB players the Astros added this winter, signing him to a three-year, $30M contract. I like him as a back-end starter, but not that much. Anyway, Feldman is coming off a solid season split between the Cubs and Orioles, pitching to a 3.86 ERA (4.03 FIP) in 181.2 innings. His strikeout rate (6.54 K/9 and 17.4 K%) wasn’t anything special but he limits walks (2.77 BB/9 and 7.4 BB%) and gets ground balls (49.6%). He also had no platoon split, holding righties to a .297 wOBA and lefties to a .298 wOBA. Freaky. Feldman is primarily a low-90s sinker/upper-80s cutter/mid-70s curveball pitcher, though he will throw the occasional mid-80s splitter that serves as his changeup. Feldman has been around a while and so has most of the Yankees’ lineup, so there’s some familiarity here.
Wednesday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. RHP Jarred Cosart (Career vs. NYY) (Pitcher GIFs)
Acquired from the Phillies in the Hunter Pence trade, the 23-year-old Cosart made his MLB debut last season and managed a 1.95 ERA (4.35 FIP) in 60 innings. He got a ton of ground balls (54.5%) but walked (5.25 BB/9 and 14.2 BB%) more batters than he struck out (4.95 K/9 and 14.4 K%). Eek. Command has never been his strong suit. The young righty had a reverse platoon split last year — righties had a .376 wOBA, lefties only a .236 wOBA — but that’s a sample size thing more than anything. Cosart throws very hard, sitting in the mid-90s and touching 97-98 with a four-seam fastball that he threw more than 70% of the time in 2013. An upper-70s curveball is his top secondary pitch, and he’ll also mix in the occasional mid-80s changeup. Cosart did not face the Yankees last season and players on the roster have four combined plate appearances against him, three by Jacoby Ellsbury.
Thursday: RHP Ivan Nova vs. LHP Brett Oberholtzer (Career vs. NYY) (Pitcher GIFs)
Oberholtzer, like Cosart, made his big league debut last season. The 24-year-old had a 2.76 ERA (3.65 FIP) in 71.2 innings, walking no one (1.63 BB/9 and 4.4 BB%) but not striking anyone out either (5.65 K/9 and 15.5 K%). He also didn’t get many ground balls (35.6%) or do a particularly good job against same-side hitters — lefties had a .325 wOBA, righties a .271 wOBA — though again, that’s probably a sample size thing. Oberholtzer is a classic finesse southpaw, sitting right around 90 mph with his fastball while throwing both his changeup and curveball in the low-80s. The Yankees did face Oberholtzer in Game 160 last year, but the only guy who was in the lineup that day and on the active roster right now is Alfonso Soriano. Here’s the box score if you don’t believe me.
The Astros did spend some money on bullpen help this winter, though RHP Jesse Crain (1.52 FIP in 2013) will open the season on the DL with a biceps strain. Manager Bo Porter has declined to name an closer to start the season, with RHP Chad Qualls (3.32 FIP) and RHP Josh Fields (5.10 FIP) considered the leading candidates.
Porter’s middle relief crew is solid, with veteran RHP Matt Albers (3.49 FIP) joining LHP Kevin Chapman (4.28 FIP) and RHP Anthony Bass (4.24 FIP). RHP Brad Peacock (4.98 FIP) is moving into the bullpen after a failed experiment as a starter, so he could take off in his new role as many failed starters have done before. Veteran RHP Jerome Williams (4.60 FIP) is the long reliever. Only one left-hander, so Porter will have to decide whether to save him for Ellsbury or Brian McCann. The game situation will dictate that. There aren’t many Astros blogs out there, but The Crawfish Boxes is very good.