2016 Trade Deadline Rumors Open Thread: Monday

Bye, Carlos? (Hannah Foslien/Getty)
Bye, Carlos? (Hannah Foslien/Getty)

The 2016 non-waiver trade deadline is 4pm ET this afternoon, and the Yankees have already been very active. One of the most active teams in baseball, really. Within the last week they traded Aroldis Chapman, traded Andrew Miller, and added Tyler Clippard. Chances are they aren’t done either.

“Stay tuned. A lot more things could happen,” said Brian Cashman to reporters during a conference call following the Miller and Clippard trades yesterday. “If you want to become a super team, there are ways you have to go about it. We’re trying to get back to a situation where we can build an uber-team, and a sustainable one.”

Here are Sunday’s rumors. Once again, we’re going to keep track of the day’s Yankee-related rumors right here in this post. I’m going to be running around a bit today — bad timing, I know, but family first — and will do my best to update things promptly. All time stamps are ET.

  • 9:00am: The Astros, Red Sox, Indians, and Rangers are all in on Carlos Beltran. He has not yet been asked to waive his limited no-trade clause and, unsurprisingly, a trade with Boston is considered unlikely. I’m sure the thought of Beltran helping the BoSox win the World Series makes ownership squeamish, even if it means making the best possible deal. Some clubs want the Yankees to eat money to facilitate a trade. [Buster Olney, Mark Feinsand, Jon Heyman]
  • 9:00am: The Yankees continue to listen to offers for Brian McCann, Brett Gardner, Nathan Eovaldi, and Michael Pineda. They also want to unload impending free agent Ivan Nova prior to today’s deadline. [Joel Sherman]
  • 12:03pm: McCann remains a possibility for the Braves. They want the Yankees to eat a bunch of money and the Yankees want good prospects in return, so there are some things that need to be worked out. [Mark Bowman]

Reminder before you comment: Your trade proposal sucks.

Yankeemetrics: Raise or lower the white flag? [July 25-27]

Be Like Mike. (Photo: Getty)
Be Like Mike. (Photo: Getty)

No Chapman, no problem
Despite making their first significant “sell” trade-deadline move in more than two and a half decades, the Yankees continued to remain on the fringes of the playoff race with a 2-1 win over the Astros on Monday.

With the win, the Yankees moved to three games above .500 for the first time this season. This is the deepest into the season they’ve gone without reaching that mark since 1991, when they never got more than a game above .500 the entire season. They finished that forgettable campaign with a 71-91 record, their fifth-worth winning percentage in franchise history.

A victory did not look promising less than a minute after Michael Pineda took the mound in the bottom of the first inning; George Springer deposited the first pitch into the right-field seats for a quick 1-0 Astros lead.

It was the first time a Yankee allowed a first-pitch homer to the first batter of the game since the Jose Reyes took Hiroki Kuroda deep in Toronto on June 25, 2014, and just the 11th occurrence since pitch data became available in 1988. Of the 10 other instances, the only other Yankee pitcher who allowed no other runs besides that leadoff homer — like Pineda — was Jack McDowell on July 13, 1995 versus the Twins.

Austin Romine played the unlikely role of hero with a tie-breaking RBI double in the eighth inning. That was the first career go-ahead hit in the eighth inning or later for the backup catcher, who is hitting a robust .375 (12-for-32) with runners in scoring position this season, the best mark on the team through Monday.

Milestone alerts! Carlos Beltran’s double leading off the seventh inning was the 524th of his career, passing one Hall-of-Famer (Willie Mays) and moving into a tie for 44th place with another Hall-of-Famer (Ken Griffey Jr.). Up next is Ted Williams with 525 doubles.

Chase Headley’s game-tying single in the fifth inning was his 1,147th career hit, breaking the major-league record for most hits by a Colorado-born player. He surpassed Roy Hartzell, a Golden, CO native who played 11 seasons with the St. Louis Browns (1906-10) and the Yankees (1911-16). According to a 1914 New York Times article, Hartzell was the “handiest utility man the Yankees ever had…he has played every position on the club except battery positions.”

That was easy. (Photo: AP)
That was easy. (Photo: AP)

All aboard the win train
The Yankees sure are making it tough for Prince Hal to push the SELL! button. For a team that’s defined inconsistency, they’ve somehow caught an incredible wave of positive momentum at the most critical juncture of the season, beating the Astros again on Tuesday night. It was another comeback win fueled by dominant starting pitching, some timely hitting and a shutdown back-of-the-bullpen performance.

CC Sabathia posted his best start in more than a month, giving up two runs on four hits while pitching into the seventh inning. He snapped a six-game winless streak during which he allowed at least four runs in each outing. That matched the longest such streak of his career, which he also did in 2002.

Although Sabathia had posted an ugly 7.46 ERA in his previous six turns, it wasn’t like he was getting crushed every night. He still entered Tuesday’s game with the lowest average exit velocity allowed (85.8 mph) among pitchers with at least 200 batted balls in play, and then nearly matched that number against the Astros (86.8).

Dellin Betances pulled off another crazy Houdini act, getting out of a two-out bases-loaded jam in the eighth inning to help seal the win. Hitters are just 2-for-27 (.074) with ducks on the pond against Betances in his career, the second-lowest batting average allowed in that situation among active pitchers (min. 25 at-bats), behind only Pirates lefty Tony Watson (.069).

Aces down
The Yankees desperate playoff push hit a speed bump on Wednesday night as the Yankees squandered a golden opportunity to move within three games of the second Wild Card spot after losing to the Astros, 4-1.

Still, even with the disappointing defeat, the Yankees are 11-5 (.688) all-time at Minute Maid Park, their third-highest winning percentage at any ballpark, behind only Atlanta’s Turner Field (.857, 12-2) and Minnesota’s Target Field (.760, 19-6).

Rotation ace Masahiro Tanaka — who entered the game with a league-leading 1.50 ERA in nine road starts — allowed four runs in five innings and lost for just the third time in 21 starts this season.

The loss also snapped a streak of seven straight Yankee wins in games started by Tanaka, the team’s longest such streak since winning 12 games in a row with Ivan Nova (!) on the mound in 2011. Tanaka has now been tagged for 10 runs and 14 hits in 10 career innings at Minute Maid Park.

Prior to Tanaka’s sub-par performance, Yankee pitchers had allowed just 17 runs in their previous 10 games, their best 10-game stretch of run prevention since July 1998.

Brian McCann drove in the lone Yankee run in the fourth inning with his 15th home run. This is the 11th time in his career he’s hit than many homers in a season, a feat matched by only seven other catchers in MLB history: Carlton Fisk, Johnny Bench, Mike Piazza, Lance Parrish, Yogi Berra, Jorge Posada and Gary Carter.

7/25 to 7/27 Series Preview: Houston Astros

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees are out on the road for the first time in the second half. They’re opening an eight-game road trip in Houston tonight, with the first of three against the red hot Astros. These two teams met in the very first series of the season back in April. The Yankees took two of three at Yankee Stadium.

What Have They Done Lately?

Goodness are the Astros hot. They started the season poorly, going 17-28 in their first 45 games, but they’ve gone 37-16 in 53 games since. The ‘Stros were ten games back in the AL West as recently as June 28th. Now they’re only 2.5 games back. Houston just swept the lowly Angels and they’ve won four straight overall. They’re 54-44 and only a half-game back of the second wildcard spot. If the Yankees are going to make a miraculous run at a postseason spot, beating the Astros this series is essential.

Offense & Defense

Reigning AL Manager of the Year runner-up A.J. Hinch has a comfortably above-average offense (in terms of runs scored) at this disposal. The Astros are averaging 4.61 runs per game with a team 100 wRC+, and their 126 homers are sixth most in the league. Houston has two players out with day-to-day injuries: C Jason Castro (99 wRC+) and UTIL Marwin Gonzalez (86 wRC+). Castro has a hand contusion and Gonzalez has an ankle sprain.

Altuve. (Stephen Brashear/Getty)
Altuve. (Stephen Brashear/Getty)

Hinch has a fairly set lineup. RF George Springer (126 wRC+) leads off, Gonzalez typically hits second, 2B Jose Altuve (166 wRC+) hits third, SS Carlos Correa (127 wRC+) cleans up, and 3B Luis Valbuena (116 wRC+) bats fifth. Altuve is very much in the early AL MVP mix right now. He’s hitting .360/.428/.575 with 26 doubles, 17 homers, 25 steals, 44 walks, and 40 strikeouts. Goodness. C/DH Evan Gattis (92 wRC+) and LF Colby Rasmus (82 wRC+) are regulars as well. (Yes, Gattis has been catching lately.)

C Carlos Gomez (59 wRC+) has been pretty terrible both this year and since coming over at least year’s trade deadline. Not the best year for the impending free agent. OF Jake Marisnick (49 wRC+) and OF Preston Tucker (74 wRC+) are on the bench. And finally, the Astros announced they are calling up top prospect IF Alex Bregman (174 wRC+ between Double-A and Triple-A) today. Bregman, the No. 2 pick in last year’s draft, is arguably the best prospect in the minors. He’s expected to play short, third, and even some left field.

In the field, the Astros are excellent in the outfield and on the middle infield. They have good to great defenders at all five of those positions. Gonzalez has been playing first base of late and is okay there. So is Valbuena at third. Gattis is a disaster behind the plate; he’s 8-for-18 (44%) throwing out runners this year, which is out of line with his career average (23%). Bregman’s a good defender at short, though he’s going to end up playing out of position somewhere.

Pitching Matchups

Monday (8:10pm ET): RHP Michael Pineda (vs. HOU) vs. LHP Dallas Keuchel (vs. NYY)
Keuchel is the AL West version of David Price. Whenever the Yankees play a series against his team, he’s going to pitch. They can’t escape him. Keuchel, 28, is not having a very good follow-up to his Cy Young winning season a year ago. He owns a 4.70 ERA (3.94 FIP) in 20 starts and 126.1 innings, and his strikeout (20.5%), walk (7.5%), grounder (56.8%), and homer (1.07 HR/9) rates are all quite a bit worse than they were in 2015. He’s also getting hammered by righties. Keuchel has never been a hard thrower and he typically sit 88-90 mph with his trademark sinker. A mid-80s cutter and an upper-70s slider are his go-to secondary pitches. He’ll also throw a low-80s changeup, though for some reason he’s not throwing it as much this year. Weird. The Yankees saw Keuchel on Opening Day and scored two runs in seven innings.

Tuesday (8:10pm ET): LHP CC Sabathia (vs. HOU) vs. RHP Doug Fister (vs. NYY)
The Astros signed Fister to a one-year “prove yourself” deal over the winter, and for the first few starts, it looked like a disaster. He allowed 14 runs in his first four outings and 22.1 innings before settling down and getting into a groove. The 32-year-old has a 3.42 ERA (4.63 FIP) in 19 starts and 118.1 innings, and while his underlying numbers stink (15.2 K%, 8.2 BB%, 47.3 GB%, 1.14 HR/9), Fister is quite good at getting soft contact when things are going right. Lefties have hit him a ton harder than righties. A ton. Load up that lineup with lefties tomorrow night. These days Fister sits 85-88 with his sinker and 69-72 mph with his curveball. Those are his two main pitches. He’ll also mix in some mid-80 cutters, low-80s sliders, and upper-70s splitters per start, but not many. The Yankees did not see Fister in the first series with the Astros this season.

McCullers. (Maddie Meyer/Getty)
McCullers. (Maddie Meyer/Getty)

Wednesday (8:10pm ET): RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. HOU) vs. RHP Lance McCullers Jr. (vs. NYY)
Over the winter, when the Yankees were fielding offers for Andrew Miller, they reportedly wanted McCullers from the Astros. Houston wouldn’t give him up, and now the 22-year-old has a 3.33 ERA (2.74 FIP) in 12 starts and 70.1 innings after starting the season on the DL with a minor shoulder issue. He’s got fantastic strikeout (29.3%), grounder (57.2%), and homer (0.26 HR/9) numbers, but he walks way too many (13.7%) and lefties can give him a hard time. McCullers sits in the mid-90s with his four-seam fastball and in the mid-80s with his power curveball. A mid-80s curveball! Not only does it sit in the mid-80s, but McCullers throws it a ton too. A whopping 48% of the time, in fact. He’s thrown more curveballs than fastballs in ten of his 12 starts, including each of his last four. That’s insane. In. Sane. McCullers also throws a low-90s cutter and upper-80s changeup, but very rarely. Less than 10% of the time combined this season, on average. Lance Sr. played for the Yankees from 1989-90, by the way.

Bullpen Status

At +6.1 fWAR, the Astros have the most productive bullpen in baseball this season. (The Yankees are second at +5.6 fWAR.) Houston’s relief crew ranks third in bullpen ERA (3.06) and first in bullpen FIP (3.00), so yeah, they’re good. Here is Hinch’s eight-man bullpen:

Closer: RHP Will Harris (1.76 ERA/1.85 FIP)
Setup: RHP Luke Gregerson (3.27/2.44), RHP Ken Giles (4.08/3.07)
Middle: RHP Chris Devenski (2.27/2.75), LHP Tony Sipp (4.91/5.48), RHP Pat Neshek (2.64/3.86), RHP Michael Feliz (4.04/3.10)
Long: RHP Scott Feldman (2.40/3.79)

Giles was expected to be the closer, Gregerson started the year as the closer, and Harris went to the All-Star Game as the closer. Bullpens, man. Nothing ever goes according to plan. Giles has already allowed more homers (five) and nearly as many earned runs (18) in 39.2 innings with the Astros than he did the last two seasons with the Phillies (three and 20, respectively). He had a disaster start to the season but has been much better of late.

Houston’s bullpen has a ton of different looks. Harris is a cutter pitcher, Giles and Feliz are the hard-throwers, Gregerson is the slider specialist, Neshek is the funky delivery guy, and Feldman is the finesse veteran. Hinch has all sorts of options in his bag of tricks. Feldman threw 30 pitches in yesterday’s blowout win over the Halos. No other relievers had to pitch, so the ‘pen is fresh. Our Bullpen Workload page can keep you updated on the status of Joe Girardi‘s relief crew.

Trade Deadline Notes: Nats, Sabathia, Blue Jays, Pineda

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The trade deadline is now only nine days away, and according to FanGraphs, the Yankees have a 9.6% chance to make the postseason. That’s not very good. Buster Olney (video link) said yesterday Aroldis Chapman could be dealt as soon as this weekend, though I’m not sure I buy that. “The Yankees are playing it smart and will likely take it to the end to get the most,” said an official with another team to George King. Here are the latest trade rumblings.

Nats make top prospects off-limits

Despite their interest in Chapman, Barry Svrluga reports the Nationals will not trade top prospects Lucas Giolito, Trea Turner, Victor Robles, or Reynaldo Lopez for the hard-throwing lefty. Every team says they’re unwilling to trade their top prospects this time of year, so I wouldn’t make too much of this. It’s just posturing.

If the Nationals are serious about getting Chapman (or Andrew Miller), they’ll have to put one of those guys on the table. Lopez seems most likely, mostly because he’s the lowest rated prospect of the bunch. He’s not bad — Baseball America had him 48th in their midseason top 100 — the other guys are just really, really good. Based on what Miller fetched two years ago, I think Lopez would be a fair return for Chapman.

Blue Jays scouted Sabathia

The Blue Jays had a scout watching CC Sabathia‘s most recent start, reports Jon Heyman. George King says the Astros, Mets, Marlins, and Cubs also had scouts on hand Thursday. It’s worth noting Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro was in the Indians’ front office all those years Sabathia was in Cleveland, including most as GM. There’s a bit of a connection there.

We heard Sabathia has been drawing some interest the other day, though I have a hard time believing it’s serious interest. I’m guessing it’s more “if you eat a ton of money we’ll take him off your hands” interest. Also, an intradivision trade with the Blue Jays probably isn’t happening, even though you could argue trading Sabathia to an AL East rival would be good for the Yankees.

Giants, Astros, Cubs among teams to scout Pineda

The Giants, Astros, Cubs, and “a ton” of others were on hand to see Michael Pineda‘s most recent start, report Jon Morosi and Chris Cotillo. Pineda had his first scoreless start of the season Wednesday, and he had maybe his nastiest slider of the season too. As Katie pointed out in Yankeemetrics, Pineda generated 18 swings and misses with his slider that game, the most by any pitcher in baseball in 2016.

The Yankees are at the point where they have to figure out what they want to do with Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi. Do they want to keep them long-term? If so, they should start thinking about extensions. If they don’t want them long-term, then they should trade them soon to get as much back as possible. I understand waiting and hoping they rebuild value in the second half, but I think it’s more likely they’ll lose value going forward between the injury risk and being closer to free agency.

Yankeemetrics: Welcome back, baseball (April 5-7)

(AP Photo)
Just call me Starsky. (AP Photo)

Deja Boooooo
After nearly five months of waiting for meaningful baseball games, the Yankees’ 2016 season started in familiar fashion with a loss to the Astros and Dallas Keuchel at Yankee Stadium, the same way the 2015 campaign ended.

The good news is that they managed to score against Keuchel, who entered the game with a 1.12 regular-season career ERA against the Yankees — the third-lowest by any pitcher in the last 100 seasons (min. three starts) — and riding a 28-inning scoreless streak versus the team. The bad news is that the end result was the same: another frustrating loss to open the season.

For the fifth year in a row and the seventh time in eight tries, the Yankees dropped game No. 1 on the schedule, matching the franchise record for most consecutive losses in season openers. The mark was set nearly eight decades ago, when they lost five straight Opening Day games from 1934-38.

Still, there were some notable highlights midst the carnage. Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorius made history when they took the field as the first Yankee middle infield duo to start on Opening Day at age 26 or younger since Willie Randolph and Bucky Dent in 1978.

Castro then doubled in the first two Yankee runs of the season, becoming the first Yankee second baseman with a multi-RBI game on Opening Day since Alfonso Soriano in 2003 (Robinson who?). Gregorius completed the scoring with an eighth-inning homer. The only other shortstops in franchise history to homer on Opening Day were Derek Jeter (three times) and Bucky Dent (1981).

This is the first time in the last 100 seasons of Yankee baseball that both of the team’s middle infielders each had an extra base hit and an RBI in a season opener.

Sweet Sixteen
The temps were still chilly on Wednesday night but the Yankee bats heated up as they crushed the Astros, 16-6, in the middle game of this series.

Castro stole the show for the second straight day, delivering four hits while driving in five runs. The only other Yankees with at least four hits and five RBI in a game this early into the season were Bill Dickey (1934), Yogi Berra (1956) and Tino Martinez (1997).

His seven RBI in the first two games are the most by any Yankee in his first two contests with the team, and matched the franchise record for most RBI in the team’s first two games of the season. The three other guys to do that each have a plaque in Monument Park: Babe Ruth (1932), Berra and Martinez.

Mark Teixeira chipped in another two hits and four RBI, giving the team a rare offensive explosion from the right side of the infield. The last time the Yankees had their first baseman and second baseman each record at least two hits and drive in four or more runs in the same game was July 7, 1935. A couple Hall of Famers, Lou Gehrig and Tony Lazzeri, combined for six hits and 11 RBI against the Senators.

The other dugout featured a young slugging phenom, too, as 21-year-old Astros shortstop Carlos Correa went 4-for-5 with two homers in the losing effort. Correa became the youngest player with four-plus hits, including at least two homers, in a game against the Yankees over the last 100 years.

Eight is enough
The Yankees took the opening series of the season after beating Houston, 8-5, in the rubber game on Thursday.

The offense has stolen the headlines in the first week of the season. This is now the seventh time the Yankees have scored at least 27 runs in the first three games combined. They won the AL pennant in five of the six previous seasons it happened, and the World Series three times.

The team’s seven homers are tied for the fourth-most through three games in franchise history, while their .962 OPS is the second-best by a Yankee team in the Wild Card Era this early into the season.

The pitching, on the other hand, has been less than good (mild understatement, yes!). They’ve allowed at least five runs in each of the first three games, making their 2-1 start even more impressive. The last time the Yankees gave up five-plus runs in three straight games to begin the season — yet still emerged with a winning record — was 1962.

Teixeira had the biggest hit of the game, a tie-breaking three-run homer in the bottom of the seventh inning that gave the Yankees a 8-5 lead. It was his 396th career home run, tying Joe Carter for 57th place on the all-time MLB list, and it was his 193rd with the Yankees, passing Tino Martinez for 17th on the Yankees leaderboard.

Castro, too, continued his scorching-hot start with another multi-hit game and a homer. His 1.250 slugging percentage and 1.833 OPS are both the best marks by any Yankee middle infielder with at least 10 plate appearances in the team’s first three games.

4/4 to 4/7 Series Preview: Houston Astros

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

I guess it’s fitting the Yankees will begin the 2016 season the same way the 2015 season ended: at Yankee Stadium against the Astros. The Yankees and Astros are playing on Opening Day for the second time in three seasons — they also finished the 2013 season against each other — even though they are not AL East rivals. Kinda weird. Blame the computer that generates the schedule. Anyway, let’s get to the first series preview of the new season, one day later than originally scheduled.

What Did They Do Last Year?

The ‘Stros went 86-76 with a +111 run differential in 2015, good enough to earn the second wildcard spot. As you know, they shut the Yankees out 3-0 in the wildcard game. Houston was actually in first place for most of the season before coughing it up the AL West lead late to the Rangers. Manager A.J. Hinch’s squad limped to the finish with an 11-16 record in September. Also, they went 53-28 at home and 33-48 on the road.

Offense & Defense

Overall, the Astros ranked sixth in baseball with 729 runs scored last year. They were second with 230 homers and fourth with a team 105 wRC+. Houston added no one to their lineup this past offseason. Not one notable position player addition. They will have a full season of OF Carlos Gomez, who came over at the trade deadline last year.

The Astros are currently without DH Evan Gattis (hernia) and backup catcher C Max Stassi (wrist), both of whom recently had surgery. They’re both on the disabled list, so we won’t see either guy this series. Since the season is just starting, here is each player’s 2015 performance and 2016 ZiPS projection. There’s nothing else to look at right now:

2015 Performance 2016 ZiPS
C Jason Castro .211/.283/.365 (76 wRC+), 11 HR, 0 SB .231/.303/.389 (89 wRC+), 12 HR, 1 SB
1B Tyler White .328/.443/.509 (163 wRC+) at AA/AAA .251/.336/.381 (99 wRC+), 10 HR, 0 SB
2B Jose Altuve .313/.353/.459 (120 wRC+), 15 HR, 38 SB .309/.346/.432 (112 wRC+), 11 HR, 40 SB
SS Carlos Correa .279/.345/.512 (133 wRC+), 22 HR, 14 SB .273/.340/.492 (126 wRC+), 25 HR, 23 SB
3B Luis Valbuena .224/.310/.438 (105 wRC+), 25 HR, 1 SB .238/.330/.425 (107 wRC+), 18 HR, 1 SB
LF Colby Rasmus .238/.314/.475 (115 wRC+), 25 HR, 2 SB .244/.316/.461 (111 wRC+), 21 HR, 3 SB
CF Carlos Gomez .255/.314/.409 (96 wRC+), 12 HR, 17 SB .259/.317/.433 (105 wRC+), 17 HR, 23 SB
RF George Springer .276/.367/.459 (129 wRC+), 16 HR, 16 SB .248/.341/.459 (120 wRC+), 23 HR, 17 SB
DH Preston Tucker .243/.297/.437 (100 wRC+), 13 HR, 0 SB .246/.299/.414 (94 wRC+), 19 HR, 2 SB
BENCH
C Erik Kratz .192/.214/.269 (28 wRC+), 0 HR, 0 SB .228/.283/.394 (87 wRC+), 7 HR, 0 SB
IF Marwin Gonzalez .279/.317/.442 (108 wRC+), 12 HR, 4 SB .257/.295/.385 (85 wRC+), 8 HR, 4 SB
IF Matt Duffy .294/.366/.484 (127 wRC+) at AAA .242/.297/.388 (87 wRC+), 16 HR, 2 SB
OF Jake Marisnick .236/.281/.383 (80 wRC+), 9 HR, 24 SB .244/.292/.380 (82 wRC+), 11 HR, 24 SB

That’s too many numbers for Monday morning. Sorry. Duffy — that’s not the Giants’ Matt Duffy, it’s a different Matt Duffy — is going to play against lefties, either for Valbuena at third or Tucker at DH. Actually, Tucker probably isn’t married to that DH spot. Hinch will probably rotate players in and out at DH while Gattis is on the DL.

Altuve, Springer, Correa, Rasmus, and Gomez occupy the top five spots in the lineup, usually in that order. The 6-9 spots are a bit more up in the air. The Astros have a pretty strong lineup. They are very strikeout prone; this largely unchanged lineup had a 22.9% strikeout rate last year, second highest in baseball. Altuve, who is an extreme contact hitter, is the only regular ZiPS projects to strike out at a rate lower than the league average. They hit homers and they strike out. That’s what they do.

Defensively, the Astros are very good in the outfield but surprisingly questionable on the infield. Sean Dolinar at FanGraphs put together some really cool defensive visualizations recently, so here’s the ‘Stros:

Astros defense

Blue is good, red is bad. The numbers are the projected runs the player at that position is expected to save (or cost) the team this season. Pretty cool, no? The eye test tells me Altuve is better than the numbers, for what it’s worth. I have a hard time buying him as a below-average gloveman. Either way, don’t hit it to Gomez. He’s incredible in center. Hit it to someone else.

Pitching Matchups

Tuesday (1pm ET): RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. HOU) vs. LHP Dallas Keuchel (vs. NYY)
Last season Keuchel was deservedly named the Cy Young Award winner after ranking either first or second in the AL in wins (20, 1st), innings (232, 1st), ERA (2.48, 2nd), ERA+ (162, 1st), WHIP (1.02, 1st), ground ball rate (61.7%, 1st), soft contact rate (25.2%, 1st), hard contact rate (21.3%, 1st), and bWAR (7.2, 1st). He was third in fWAR (6.1), fifth in FIP (2.91), seventh in strikeout rate (23.7%), and tenth in walk rate (5.6%). Keuchel also allowed zero runs in 17 innings this spring. Dude’s good, but you knew that already.

Keuchel, 28, is not going to blow hitters away. He sits right around 90 mph with his trademark sinker and a notch below that with his cutter. Sliders and changeups right around 80 mph are his two secondary pitches. Keuchel throws strikes with all four pitches, and like I said before the wildcard game last year, the best way to attack him may be swinging early in the count. (That’s worth doing a little more this season overall.) He’s not someone who will beat himself by falling behind in the count. The Yankees aren’t going to wait him out. Keuchel dominated the Yankees last season, but last season is last season. It means nothing now.

Wednesday (7pm ET): RHP Michael Pineda (vs. HOU) vs. RHP Collin McHugh (vs. NYY)
The Astros grabbed the 28-year-old McHugh off waivers from the Rockies during the 2013-14 offseason, and he’s since turned into a very good rotation piece. He had a 3.89 ERA (3.58 FIP) in 203.2 innings a year ago, with strikeout (19.9%) and grounder (45.4%) rates that were about average. His walk (6.2%) and homer (0.84 HR/9) rates were good though. McHugh had a reverse split for the first time last summer and he didn’t add a pitch or change his pitch selection, so I’m inclined to believe it’s a one-year blip for now. He’s not a guy with a big fastball — McHugh averages 90 mph with his four-seamer and 87 mph with his cutter, which he throws a lot — but he keeps hitters off balance with a slow and loopy low-70s curveball. A while back Crawfish Boxes put together a cool look at how McHugh uses high fastballs and curveballs together:

Collin McHugh fastball curveball

The high heater and curveball look the same out of McHugh’s hand and come in on the same plane until the curve falls of the table. That’s the ol’ Ben Sheets approach and it can be really effective. That’s why hitters will look silly on 90 mph fastballs and loopy curves. The pitches look the same for so damn long.

Thursday (4pm ET): RHP Nathan Eovaldi (vs. HOU) vs. RHP Mike Fiers (vs. NYY)
Last year the Astros picked up Fiers from the Brewers as part of the Gomez deal. Fiers, 30, had a 3.69 ERA (4.03 FIP) in 180.1 total innings in 2015, including a 3.32 ERA (4.39 FIP) in 62.1 innings for Houston. He threw a no-hitter with the Astros as well. Overall, Fiers had a good strikeout rate (23.7%) and an okay walk rate (8.4%) last year, but he’s generally fly ball (37.6%) and home run (1.20 HR/9) prone. Like McHugh, he had a reverse split last season that was out of line with the rest of his career. We’ll see if it sticks going forward. Fiers is a three-pitch pitcher who throws five pitches. Let me explain. His main pitches are a four-seamer right around 90 mph, a low-80s changeup, and a low-70s curveball. He throws those pitches a combined 90% of the time or so. Fiers will also mix in a handful of mid-80s cutters and low-80s sliders per start. (I wonder if the cutter and slider are actually one pitch with a wide range of velocities.) Enough that hitters have to be aware of them. Generally speaking, fly ball prone righties and Yankee Stadium do not mix.

Bullpen Status

The Astros made only two notable additions this offseason. They signed veteran RHP Doug Fister, who won’t start this series, and they traded a huge prospect package to the Phillies for RHP Ken Giles. Giles is one of the best relievers in all of baseball. He’s not at the Dellin Betances/Andrew Miller level, but he’s not far off.

Hinch announced yesterday RHP Luke Gregerson, not Giles, will be his closer this season. That’s probably a smart move. Maybe suprising, but smart. Here is the club’s bullpen with their 2015 performance and 2016 ZiPS:

2015 Performance 2016 ZiPS
RHP Luke Gregerson 3.10 ERA (2.86 FIP), 24.7 K%, 4.2 BB% 3.36 ERA (3.34 FIP), 23.4 K%, 5.7 BB%
RHP Ken Giles 1.80 ERA (2.13 FIP), 29.2 K%, 8.4 BB% 2.75 ERA (2.70 FIP), 29.0 K%, 8.3 BB%
RHP Pat Neshek 3.62 ERA (3.94 FIP), 22..9 K%, 5.4 BB% 3.38 ERA (3.25 FIP), 24.8 K%, 4.6 BB%
LHP Tony Sipp 1.99 ERA (2.93 FIP), 28.7 K%, 6.9 BB% 2.96 ERA (3.02 FIP), 30.8 K%, 7.6 BB%
RHP Will Harris 1.90 ERA (3.66 FIP), 24.6 K%, 8.0 BB% 3.41 ERA (3.77 FIP), 24.5 K%, 7.9 BB%
RHP Josh Fields 3.55 ERA (2.19 FIP), 32.1 K%, 9.1 BB% 3.52 ERA (3.19 FIP), 28.1 K%, 9.2 BB%
RHP Michael Feliz 2.17 ERA (3.11 FIP) at AA 5.17 ERA (4.84 FIP), 17.8 K%, 9.1 BB%

The Astros have a very strikeout heavy bullpen. Gregerson also has a history of getting a lot of ground balls, though last season’s 60.4% ground ball was easily a career best. He gets a lot of grounders, but usually not that many.

The addition of Giles pushes Neshek and Sipp into middle innings roles regardless of whether he closes or sets up. Sipp added a splitter two years ago and is now much more than a lefty specialist. From top to bottom, this is a really good staff. There’s a reason the Astros allowed the fewest runs in the AL (618) last season. Giles (and Fister too, I guess) will only help that.

The Rest of MLB [2016 Season Preview]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The new season is upon us. Opening Day is Monday, which means it’s time to wrap up our annual Season Preview series. As always, we’ll end the series with a quick look around the league. Some of this is serious, most of it isn’t. Enjoy.

Arizona Diamondbacks
Why They’ll Suck: The middle infield is a mess and their corner outfield defense is going to be pretty bad if Yasmany Tomas plays left everyday. Also, they’ll probably trade some good players to unload a bad contract again.
Bold Prediction: Shelby Miller actually pitches well. I have no idea why so many analysts think he’s bad.

Atlanta Braves
Why They’ll Suck: Because they are trying to suck. Rebuilding is just a nice way of saying tanking.
Bold Prediction: Nick Markakis beats his ZiPS projection and slugs .370.

Chicago Cubs
Why They’ll Suck: They’re going to strike out way too much. It’s also only a matter of time until someone gets bit by some wild animal Joe Maddon brings into the clubhouse.
Bold Prediction: Adam Warren is their best starter. Boom!

Chicago White Sox
Why They’ll Suck: They lost their leader, Drake LaRoche.
Bold Prediction: We find out Adam LaRoche was the one who complained about Drake LaRoche being in the clubhouse all the time.

Cincinnati Reds
Why They’ll Suck: Their rotation is Homer Bailey, Anthony DeSclafani, Michael Lorenzen, Jon Moscot, and John Lamb. No, wait, that’s the list of their injured starters. Now they have to turn to the B-team.
Bold Prediction: Joey Votto finally loses his mind, but in a polite, Canadian way. He’s already doing this between pitches:

Joey Votto

Cleveland Indians
Why They’ll Suck: In all seriousness, their entire starting outfield is either hurt (Michael Brantley, Lonnie Chisenhall) or suspended (Abe Almonte). They’re a Corey Kluber or Carlos Carrasco injury away from 85 losses. Beware.
Bold Prediction: Francisco Lindor leads all shortstops in WAR.

Colorado Rockies
Why They’ll Suck: The Rockies exist in a perpetual state of suck. Fun Fact: They have never once won a division title. They’ve finished as high as second place only three times in their 23 years of existence.
Bold Prediction: They finally trade Carlos Gonzalez. I’m thinking … Orioles.

Detroit Tigers
Why They’ll Suck: They’ve punted defense at the four corner positions and, inevitably, the relievers they acquired this winter will stink.
Bold Prediction: Justin Verlander bounces back and finished in the top five of the Cy Young voting.

Houston Astros
Why They’ll Suck: Karma for doing very little in the offseason outside of adding a new closer and fifth starter. The rebuild is supposed to be over.
Bold Prediction: Carlos Correa is more Alex Gonzalez than Alex Rodriguez.

Kansas City Royals
Why They’ll Suck: They replaced Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist with Ian Kennedy and Christian Colon. Like, on purpose.
Bold Prediction: Kennedy wins 18 games and Colon hits .310. Eff the Royals, man.

Los Angeles Angels
Why They’ll Suck: The Angels have surrounded Mike Trout with as little position player talent as possible in an effort to make him look even greater by comparison.
Bold Prediction: Jered Weaver’s fastball hits 84 mph once or twice.

Los Angeles Dodgers
Why They’ll Suck: The Dodgers have surrounded Clayton Kershaw with as little pitching talent as possible in an effort to make him look even greater by comparison.
Bold Prediction: It becomes clear Yasiel Puig peaked early.

Miami Marlins
Why They’ll Suck: The fans and players are doomed to pay for Jeffrey Loria’s evil villian-ness. Fun Fact: They’ve never won a division title either. They’ve also never lost a postseason series.
Bold Prediction: Christian Yelich breaks out and puts up Andrew McCutchen numbers. I’m serious about that one.

Milwaukee Brewers
Why They’ll Suck: They’re another team that is going to suck on purpose. Before long they’re going to trade Jonathan Lucroy too.
Bold Prediction: Ramon Flores hits 15 dingers with a .350 OBP.

Minnesota Twins
Why They’ll Suck: I don’t know, but I’m sure Twins fans will blame it on Joe Mauer.
Bold Prediction: Miguel Sano plays right field better than Torii Hunter did last year.

New York Mets
Why They’ll Suck: They’re still the Mets. Case in point: the recent Matt Harvey bladder story. Last year’s pennant didn’t change anything in that regard.
Bold Prediction: They have to trade for a starting pitcher at the deadline.

Oakland Athletics
Why They’ll Suck: No joke, I can name only one A’s starter (Sonny Gray) and one A’s infielder (Marcus Semien). Is Bobby Crosby still playing?
Bold Prediction: Josh Reddick gets traded for a holy crap package at the trade deadline. I’m thinking … Royals.

Philadelphia Phillies
Why They’ll Suck: Still reeling from the 2009 World Series, obviously.
Bold Prediction: Someone not named Maikel Franco or Ryan Howard hits a home run.

Pittsburgh Pirates
Why They’ll Suck: The baseball gods will not let John Jaso’s hair go unpunished.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Bold Prediction: Mark Melancon is traded at the deadline. I’m thinking … Dodgers.

St. Louis Cardinals
Why They’ll Suck: The Cardinals will never suck. The only thing they suck at is sucking. Their ace made four starts and their highest paid position player hit four home runs last season, and they still won 100 games. The Cardinals, man.
Bold Prediction: Three years after learning to play second base and one year after learning to hit for power, Matt Carpenter picks up pitching and saves 46 games.

San Diego Padres
Why They’ll Suck: I’m not entirely convinced the Padres exist at this point. Are we sure MLB still lets them into the league? What an amazingly nondescript franchise.
Bold Prediction: Someone throws the first no-hitter in franchise history. I’ll go with Colin Rea, who is a real player and definitely not someone I just made up.

San Francisco Giants
Why They’ll Suck: They buy into the “even year trend” a little too much and give Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner weeks off at a time this summer.
Bold Prediction: Bumgarner out-slugs the starting outfield.

Seattle Mariners
Why They’ll Suck: I don’t know how it will happen exactly, but they’ll suck. The Mariners are the Wile E. Coyote of MLB. Every time they looked poised for success, they crash into the mountain with a tunnel painted on the side of it.
Bold Prediction: Bob Cano mashes 30 taters and finishes in the top three of the MVP voting. I’m expecting a big year from Robbie.

Texas Rangers
Why They’ll Suck: They won’t suck. They’ll be just good enough to get thisclose to winning something meaningful before having it ripped away again. Think Game Six of the 2011 World Series, or the seventh inning of Game Five of last year’s ALDS. That’s how the Rangers roll.
Bold Prediction: Josh Hamilton leads the team in home runs.

Washington Nationals
Why They’ll Suck: They’re the NL version of the Red Sox. They have talent and everyone buys the hype. It should work! But it doesn’t.

Homer Simpson

Bold Prediction: Bryce Harper is even better this year.