4/29-5/1 Series Preview: Houston Astros

(Scott Halleran/Getty)
(Scott Halleran/Getty)

The Yankees are fresh off a four-game sweep of the division rival Blue Jays, and I’m not sure the schedule could have worked out any better to help continue the winning streak as the Astros are coming to the Bronx for three games. Then again, this has classic “trap series” potential.

What Have They Done Lately?
Lose, unsurprisingly. The Astros were just swept by the Red Sox in a four-game series, getting outscored 28-10. They did win two straight against the Mariners before that though. Overall, Houston is 7-18 with a -50 run differential, both the worst marks in the AL.

Offense
The Astros average 3.9 runs per game with a team 97 wRC+, both a touch below the league average. They are missing two important right-handed platoon bats in OF J.D. Martinez (92 wRC+) and former Yankees property OF Justin Maxwell (87 wRC+) due to a knee sprain and a broken hand, respectively.

(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)
The littlest hitter. (Getty)

Manager Bo Porter’s best full-time hitter is also his leadoff hitter, 2B Jose Altuve (121 wRC+). LF/DH Chris Carter (101 wRC+) and 1B Carlos Pena (86 wRC+) both play everyday as well, and both guys can hit the ball out of any park despite their massive strikeout issues. C Jason Castro (94 wRC+) and slick-fielding 3B Matt Dominguez (81 wRC+) are the team’s only other everyday guys. Marwin Gonzalez (138 wRC+) and Ronny Cedeno (116 wRC+) split time at shortstop.

The rest of the Houston lineup is filled by platoon players, including right-handed hitters OF Brandon Barnes (178 wRC+ in limited time) and former Yankee 1B/3B Brandon Laird (129 wRC+ in limited time). Lefty bats OF Rick Ankiel (112 wRC+ with a 58 K% (!)) and OF Fernando Martinez (64 wRC+) start against righties. OF Robbie Grossman (-20 wRC+ in limited time) has taken over in center following Maxwell’s injury while C Carlos Corporan (90 wRC+) backs up Castro. It’s not a great lineup obviously, but they aren’t total pushovers.

Starting Pitching Matchups

Monday: LHP Andy Pettitte vs. RHP Lucas Harrell
The Astros struck waiver wire gold with the 27-year-old Harrell last year, as he pitched to a 3.76 ERA (3.75 FIP) in 193.2 innings after being selected from the White Sox. He owns a 4.08 ERA (5.54 FIP) through five starts this year even though his strikeout (6.28 K/9 and 16.3 K%) and ground ball (54.7%) rates are basically identical to last season. His walk (4.71 BB/9 and 12.2 BB%) and homer (1.57 HR/9 and 22.7% HR/FB) numbers have jumped a ton though. Harrell is a big time two-seam fastball guy, throwing the low-90s pitch roughly 60% of the time. He’ll also throw a low-90s four-seamer and upper-80s cutter on occasion, and his array of offspeed pitches includes a mid-80s slider, a low-80s curveball, and a low-80s changeup. He doesn’t throw any of those pitches more than eight or so percent of the time, however. That two-seamer is his bread-and-butter. Harrell has never pitched against the Yankees in his career and only three players (Brennan Boesch, Jayson Nix, and Travis Hafner) on the roster have ever faced him before.

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

Tuesday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. RHP Phil Humber
Baseball has not been kind to Humber since his perfect game last April. The 30-year-old has pitched to a 7.54 ERA (~5.99 FIP) in 111 innings since making history, including a 7.99 ERA (4.69 FIP) in five total starts this year. He hasn’t struck anyone out (4.94 K/9 and 11.5 K%), but he has done an okay job of limiting walks ( 3.04 BB/9 and 7.1 BB%) and getting grounders (45.5%). Either way, he’s been pretty close to the worst starting pitcher in baseball so far this year. Humber is very offspeed heavy, throwing his upper-80s two- and four-seamers a combined 41.2% of the time. Upper-70s curveballs and mid-80s sliders are his top secondary pitchers, and he’ll also throw a mid-80s changeup. The Yankees have faced Humber twice before, both times when he was having success with the White Sox back in 2011.

Wednesday: RHP David Phelps vs. LHP Erik Bedard
Bedard, 34, has managed to stay healthy in the early going after years and years of injury trouble. The results haven’t been very good (7.98 ERA and 6.47 FIP) so far, which isn’t terribly surprising given his walk (4.91 BB/9 and 11.4 BB%), ground ball (33.3%), and homer (3.07 HR/9 (!) and 23.8% HR/FB) rates. He is striking out plenty of batters though (11.66 K/9 and 27.1 K%), which is something he never really stopped doing even while battling all the physical problems. Bedard’s money-maker remains a knockout mid-70s curveball he can throw for a called strike or bury in the dirt for a swing-and-miss. He’ll also throw an upper-70s changeup and set things up with three fastballs: upper-80s/low-90s two-seamer, four-seamer, and cutter. The two-seamer is the most used by far. The Yankees saw Bedard a bunch during his Orioles days, but he hasn’t started a game against them since May 2008.

(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)
(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

Bullpen Status
Despite the beatdown in Boston, Porter’s bullpen is in decent shape because Bud Norris threw six innings yesterday before RHP Jose Cisnero (2.08 FIP) followed with two innings to wrap things up. The team carries three long man types out of necessity, with RHP Paul Clemens (6.48 FIP) and LHP Travis Blackley (7.16 FIP) doing the honors alongside Cisnero.

When they do actually have a lead, the Astros use former Yankee Jose Veras (1.86 FIP) to slam the door in the ninth inning. The setup crew is some combination of matchup guys RHP Rhiner Cruz (6.48 FIP), LHP Wesley Wright (3.08 FIP), and RHP Hector Ambriz (3.45 FIP). The Yankees have relied on their late-game arms pretty heavily of late, which could limit their availability in this series. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for the exact details. There aren’t a ton of Astros blogs out there, but Crawfish Boxes is the best of the bunch.

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Yankees claim Sam Demel off waivers from Astros

The Yankees have claimed right-handed reliever Sam Demel off waivers from the Astros, the team announced. Fellow righty Dan Otero was designated for assignment to clear a 40-man roster spot. Otero was claimed off waivers just yesterday.

Demel, 27, owns a 4.95 ERA (4.75 FIP) in 63.2 career big league innings, all with the Diamondbacks over the last three seasons. He got absolutely hammered in camp — ten hits, eleven runs, four homers, three walks, and one strikeout in 2.1 innings — but the Yankees are clearly hoping he can miss bats like he has in Triple-A going forward (24.6% in 138 IP). Demel is a low-to-mid-90s fastball/slider guy with an option left, so again, just another depth arm.

Astros claim Mickey Storey off waivers from Yankees

The Astros have claimed right-hander Mickey Storey off waivers from the Yankees, the team announced. The Yankees had originally claimed the right-handed reliever off waivers from the ‘Stros last month, so I hope he hasn’t sold his place in Houston yet. Storey was designated for assignment last week to clear a 40-man roster spot for Mariano Rivera after he re-signed with the club.

Roster Moves: Rule 5 Draft, Storey, Herndon

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

In addition to agreeing to re-sign Hiroki Kuroda, the Yankees made a series of roster moves today. Let’s recap…

Six added to 40-man roster

The Yankees added six minor leaguers to the 40-man roster: LHP Manny Banuelos, RHP Brett Marshall, LHP Nik Turley, OF Ramon Flores, RHP Jose Ramirez, and LHP Francisco Rondon. Midnight tonight is the deadline to set the 40-man for next month’s Rule 5 Draft, and all six guys would have been eligible had they not been protected.

Banuelos will miss pretty much all of next season due to Tommy John surgery, so the club is losing a pre-arbitration year of team control. That really bites. The annual lolwut addition is Rondon, a 24-year-old southpaw who had a good but not great year at three levels in 2012 (3.93 ERA and 10.1 K/9 with 5.3 BB/9 in 71 relief innings). The Yankees now have five (!) lefty specialists on the 40-man. Marshall, Turley, and Flores were no-brainer adds and some team could have hid Ramirez’s big arm in long relief next season.

Mickey Storey claimed off waivers from Houston

The Yankees have claimed 26-year-old right-hander Mickey Storey off waivers from the Astros. He had a phenomenal season in Triple-A this year and made his big league debut in the second half: 3.86 ERA (2.80 FIP) with 10.09 K/9 (26.8 K%) and 2.97 BB/9 (7.9 BB%) in 30.1 relief innings. He also missed a few games after taking a line drive off the face.

Despite the gaudy peripherals, Storey isn’t a power pitcher. He’s a four-pitch reliever in the Cory Wade mold, throwing an upper-80s four-seamer, a mid-80s cutter, an upper-70s slider, and a mid-70s curveball. The curve is his bread and butter. I believe he has two minor league options remaining, but don’t hold me to that. That stuff is hard to verify. Here’s some video.

Yankees re-sign David Herndon

According to agent Josh Kusnick, the Yankees have re-signed David Herndon to a split contract. He had elected free agency after the team outrighted him off the 40-man roster and I assume it’s a minor league deal. The 27-year-old reliever will received $750k in the big leagues ($50k in incentives) and $180k while in the minors. Herndon is coming off Tommy John surgery and won’t be ready until June. The Yankees claimed him off waivers from the Blue Jays earlier this month.

* * *

After all of today’s moves, the 40-man roster is at 39. The Yankees will be able to make one selection in the Rule 5 Draft unless they remove more players from the 40-man between now and midnight. Catcher Eli Whiteside is the obvious candidate to be removed, but one empty spot is plenty. If Herndon’s contract is a big league deal, the 40-man will be full and the Yankees won’t be able to make any picks in the Rule 5 Draft.

Astros claim Brandon Laird off waivers

Via LoHud, the Astros have claimed Brandon Laird off waivers from the Yankees. New York designated the infielder for assignment when they re-acquired Steve Pearce from (who else?) the Astros earlier this week, so think of it as a straight one-for-one trade.

Laird, 24, hit .254/.307/.414 with 15 homers while repeating Triple-A this season. He’s a .256/.295/.409 career hitter at the level in nearly 1,200 plate appearances, and last season he had four singles and three walks in 25 big league plate appearances in New York. This is a real good opportunity for Laird, who should get a chance to claim an everyday job with a team that epitomizes rebuilding at the moment.

Astros claim Justin Maxwell

Via Brian McTaggart, the Astros have claimed Justin Maxwell off waivers. The Yankees designated him for assignment last week when they had no room for him on the Opening Day roster. Maxwell had a nice spring, so it’s not a surprise that he was claimed. At least the Yanks got to keep Chris Dickerson for outfield depth. Both guys were out of minor league options and I figured they’d lose both.

Astros claim Lance Pendleton

Via MLBTR, the Astros have claimed Lance Pendleton off waivers. The Yankees designated him for assignment earlier this week to make room on the 40-man roster for George Kontos. Remember, the Astros have the righty a look in Spring Training as a Rule 5 Draft pick, but they eventually send him back. Pendleton is from Houston and went to Rice (also in Houston), so he’s right at home. Good luck, I’ll miss you Pants Lendleton.