The Houston Astros are rolling through the American League yet it is not a single dominant player that is leading the team, rather it is a full cast. A.J. Hinch is managing an offense that can pound opponents from different angles and a pitching staff that is above average. Put the two together and it is clear why the race for the American League West ended a long time ago.
Offensively the Astros are not a one man show, rather they are a cast of many. A quick rundown of the statistics paints a vivid picture. Houston has:
- 7 players with 100 or more hits: Jose Altuve, George Springer, Yuli Gurriel, Josh Reddick, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, and Marwin Gonzalez.
- Carlos Beltran has 94 hits.
- 4 players with .300 or better Batting Average: Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Marwin Gonzalez, and George Springer.
- Josh Reddick and Yuli Gurriel are hitting .295.
- 6 players with at least 50 RBI: Carlos Correa, George Springer, Marwin Gonzalez, Jose Altuve, Yuli Gurriel, and Josh Reddick.
- 4 players with 40 or more walks: Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, and George Springer.
- Marwin Gonzalez has 37 walks.
- 8 players with 50 or more Runs scored: George Springer, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Josh Reddick, Alex Bregman, Carlos Beltran, Yuli Gurriel, and Marwin Gonzalez.
- 11 players with 11 or more home runs: George Springer, Carlos Correa, Marwin Gonzalez, Jose Altuve, Yuli Gurriel, Alex Bregman, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Jake Marisnick, Josh Reddick, and Evan Gattis.
Houston can hit for average and power, can get a runner over and then in. The Astros have the fewest strikeouts in the Majors, they put the ball in play and good things are happening. Even with Correa, McCann, and Gattis sporting injuries, this team still has enough firepower to continue rolling along. Not relying on one or two players for their offense should prevent the Astros from running out of steam in October.
The Astros hope to continue the celebration in October. (Aric Crabb/ Bay Area News Group)
Even if the Astros offense gets hurt and/or all runs cold the pitching staff is capable to keeping the team going. While not as dominant as the offense, it’s a tough act to follow, the Houston pitching staff has a 4.24 team ERA, below the MLB average of 4.34. They lead MLB in strikeouts with 1,201 and are only slightly above average in walks allowed with 397, average is 389. The team WHIP is 1.288 against the MLB average of 1.342. None of these numbers are eye popping. They merely point out that the Astros have a serviceable pitching staff able to keep games close enough on those nights when the offense slows down a step. Despite his own injuries, Dallas Keuchel leads the starting rotation with a 2.77 ERA in 15 starts. Injuries to Keuchel, Lance McCullers, and Collin McHugh have meant the linchpin to the pitching staff’s success has been the bullpen. Set up men Chris Devenski and Will Harris have ERAs below 2.86, while closer Ken Giles has an ERA of 2.80 with 23 saves and 40 games finished. The ability to shorten a game to only six or seven innings on a given night means even in close games opposing teams have to get their offense going early otherwise the Houston bullpen can shut them down.
Houston lost a lot of games for several years to rebuild into a contender. The plan has worked. The Astros are one of, if not, the best team in baseball. The discomfort of losing season after season should result in winning season after season for the foreseeable future. A.J. Hinch’s team shows no sign of slowing down. The offense is carrying the team, yet the pitching staff is good enough to keep the success going once playoff baseball arrives. Time will tell, but for now Houston looks almost unstoppable.
This is a three-part series on how I’ve come to recapture my love for America’s favorite pastime.
So it’s been nearly two decades since I paid careful attention to baseball. When I was working in financials before the 2008 crisis, I would get the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post daily. I’d save the sports sections for my lunch break and read some highlights and box scores over coffee and cigarettes. That’s the most I would do and I was certainly more engrossed in football (college, pro, and the sport that’s called football by the rest of the world), even to the exclusion of other sports.
Some of you may have already done the math and realized that I was hardly paying attention to baseball during an important time. The creation of the “Evil Empire” of the Yankees dominating the late 90s and early 00s that led to, for me, a heartbreaking moment of witnessing the end to the Curse of the Bambino. The Yankees letting the Boston (sorry, I’m still enough of a Yankees fan that I’m not going to type their entire name) Red $%# make history by being the first team to ever come back from a 3 game deficit to win the ALCS. I also remember bits and pieces of the Subway Series, mostly because I saved a magazine issue that ran a story about it. 33% of the championships for a 15 year span for the Yankees. I wasn’t alive the last time another team in baseball could make a boast like this. Instead, I was spending most of those years studying, watching football, and guzzling beer.
The market crash taught me an interesting lesson about the notion of value. It’s an idea that’s tossed around often. Frequently interchangeable with words like price, cost, worth…but ultimately misunderstood. I started questioning what I valued. When the Yankees won the World Series again in 2009, I wasn’t paying much attention to sports at all but I watched some of the games. I always loved watching Mariano Rivera close games and he will probably forever remain my favorite Yankee of all time. But this time around, it was different. The thrill was gone…I had misplaced my values.
I’ve worked in education where I’ve taught children of all ages. I’ve taught the self-discipline and techniques of martial arts to kids as young as four and had the pleasure to watch them become fine teenagers and young adults. I’ve helped kids talk to their parents about problems and helped parents figure out how to give their kids the needed direction to straighten them out. I still have a little paper helicopter figurine an ingenious little 4th grader made me one day because he was so excited that I, an Asian man, was his substitute teacher. On the last day of a five month teaching assignment for an elementary school music teacher, the entire third grade class marched through the halls with handmade cards, placed them in a basket by my door, and gave me a hug.
I worked in the financial industry as a mortgage trader working with non-securitized whole loan packages. The sort of toxic assets that weren’t supposed to be packaged in those CDOs (Collateralized Debt Obligation) that spooked the market and brought it crashing down in 2008. Don’t blame me, I know guys that were willing to buy those things off the big banks who wouldn’t admit to the losses they needed to take. Forget supply and demand, the sky was falling. Sellers felt like what they had was worth more than the price they were hearing from the buyers – worthless.
I pretty much lost my shirt over the financial crisis and the rate I was paid to be a substitute teacher was nice while I was working except, when spread out over the year, I wasn’t making enough to get out of my mom’s house. We live in a social world, full of human interactions. Some of these interactions are emotionally fulfilling relationships that may be called friendship. Others involve exchanges in goods and labor and the relationship is labeled as business. They usually mix as well as bleach and ammonia.
There’s a really great book about human behavior called Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. If you read the excerpt I linked to, you’ll see how baseball has this element where social norms clash with market transactions in a variety of ways. If the Nationals really consider me part of their “family” and care about me, why do they charge so much (or at all) for their games and concessions? Anyway, it made me think about the human element to sports, the language we use to describe the game, the minor league system, and so much more. I’ve come to find that baseball is a fantastic analogue for life. You may want to argue that all sports are analogues to the struggle that is life. If sports are a reflection our lives and society, then I would argue that we should try to live a baseball life over any other.
Baseball has been quite reluctant to adopt instant replay to correct calls. The human element of umpiring is part and parcel of the game. We may not agree with an umpire’s strike zone but we often forget that baseball players come in various heights. So imagine…
- Wilson Ramos (6’0”) crouching behind the plate and…
- Jake Marisnick (6’4”) having just been struck out by…
- Doug Fister (6’8”) who took him up the ladder but is now going to pitch to…
- Jose Altuve (5’6”)
Is Fister really adjusting to a different strike zone? When Ramos frames the pitch down is it less believable because Altuve’s chest is about half a foot lower than Marisnick’s? Even though the ump is supposed to consider a number of things, don’t we just care about consistency? That’s the human element, the X-factor that requires the personal touch making every game just a little different.
George Carlin had an amazing part to his act where he compared baseball to football. Although I think he may have been more of a football fan than a baseball fan, I think the comparison still holds today. It also makes you think about what we value and how we place value on things. Kid acts out in class. Is it an error? Or a penalty? I suppose what I want to everyone to ask themselves is that if life is such a battle, how do we win? Is tearing down another a worthwhile act to win? What if we helped each other avoid making errors? Would this world be a better place?
Baseball is a celebration of quirks and history. If it weren’t for baseball fanatics creating the Rotisserie League, would we even have fantasy sports leagues? Fantasy is one of those ways that I’ve come back into following players and teams. A way to keep my interest going and fill out my knowledge of the game the way I used to trying to memorize the stats on baseball cards. I came back to this sport because we can all use a bit more celebration in our lives. I hope you’ve enjoyed reminiscing with me and exploring the ways that life applies to baseball. Let me know what you think and let’s discuss this beautiful game.
The Miami Marlins are in the process of dismantling a professional baseball team faster than ever thought imaginable. Less than a month after trading Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, John Buck, and Emilio Bonifacio to the Toronto Blue Jays for Yunel Escobar, Adeiny Hechavarria, Henderson Alvarez, Anthony DeSclafani, Justin Nicolino, Jeff Mathis, and Jake Marisnick the Marlins are at it again. This time the team has traded Yunel Escobar, and his giant $5 million salary, to the Tampa Bay Rays for minor leaguer Derek Dietrich. While the Marlins have gotten younger and out from under several long term deals that could end badly, they have however done little to improve their team.
The Associated Press has reported as it stands now after the Escobar trade, the Marlins opening day roster would make a combined $38 million in 2013. This would mean a Major League Baseball team would only be making $10 million more than Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees. If Rodriguez is able to hit 13 home runs this year he will receive a $6 million bonus from the Yankees for matching the career home run total of Willie Mays, taking his 2013 salary to $34 million. This closes the gap to only $4 million, unfortunately for Marlins fans, if any are left after this latest fire sale, the $38 million opening payroll is deceiving.
The projected $38 million payroll will not all be spent on players playing for the 2013 Miami Marlins. Nearly twenty percent, $7 million, will be used to pay former players to play for someone else. Toronto will be receiving $4.5 million of this money to help pay the players the Marlins traded to the Blue Jays. The pain does not end there. The Marlins will send $1.5 million to the Arizona Diamondback to help pay Heath Bell as well as an addition $1 million to cover part of the signing bonus Bell got when he signed with the Marlins. If you have been keeping track of the numbers this puts the Miami Marlins on opening day with the players on their team at $31 million. A $31 million payroll divided by a 25 man roster equals out to $1.24 million per player. The Major League minimum for 2013 will be $480,000.
If the situation was not bad enough, now the highest paid played on the team, Ricky Nolasco, and the $11.5 million he is due this season, wants out of Miami. Honestly, who can blame him. I would not be surprised if the Marlins realize how much they owe him and trade him for prospects and a cheaper major league pitcher, probably in the $1 to $3 million range. If Nolasco is traded, the Marlins opening day roster could have a combined salary of roughly $20 million. If the Marlins manage to keep their payroll under $20 million there would be 14 players who made more individually during the 2012 season than the Marlins opening day roster is due for all of 2013.
The Miami Marlins have single handedly ruined any chance for professional baseball to grow and develop in Miami. While the Rays continually have one of the lowest payrolls in baseball, they are also competitive year after year in the AL East. The Rays are a prime example of how low payrolls do not automatically mean high low totals. No one should believe this salary dump by the Marlins was about getting better. Instead it was about saving money, and not putting a quality product on the field of their new tax payer paid for stadium.