The Astros Reality Is Beginning To Sink In

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We’ve come a long way in a month. On opening night in Texas, the Astros beat up on the Rangers 8-2. Following the preseason prognostications as to how bad the Astros would be (I had them at 45-117), that one game inspired an absurd belief that they wouldn’t be all that bad. There were orgasmic reactions to GM Jeff Lunow’s in-game interview on ESPN with the response being, “He has a plan!!! He…has…a…plaaaannnnnnn, ohhhhhhh!!!!”

Owner Jim Crane made some arrogant and obnoxious statements in a Wall Street Journal article that went largely unreported and uncriticized (except for me); he was lauded for providing every player with an I-Pad like his players were a group of Unfrozen Caveman Lawyers given a “frightening new information machine.” Luhnow made an absurd projection that manager Bo Porter might be managing the club for decades. On and on.

From the time Luhnow was hired, the media has squealed in pre-teen girl delight as if they were at a Justin Bieber concert at the new metrics permeating the organization from top to bottom. They’re a pure stat guy club complete with the bizarre titles (Sig Mejdal—Director of Decision Sciences); multitudes being hired from various stat guy sources (Baseball Prospectus); a mutually beneficial “interview” of Keith Law for a position in the front office in which the ESPN “expert” made a great show of “choosing” to stay at ESPN when a job may not have even been offered; and the new, unapologetic manner in which the Astros are shunning any and all old-school techniques preferred by veteran baseball people.

There won’t be any inter-organizational squabbles and questioning of Luhnow’s credentials as there were while he was with the Cardinals and Tony LaRussa played sharp-elbowed politics to mitigate Luhnow’s influence and win the turf war. He’s in charge. It’s his baby and, admirably, he’s doing it his way and hiring people who will implement his vision.

In the end, it’ll work or it won’t. If it does, it will have more to do with the team accumulating years and years of high draft picks because they were so historically awful than because of any undervalued finds on the part of the front office. That’s just reality. It was so with the Rays, will be so with the Astros and is a fact that those looking to anoint the next “genius” will conveniently brush to the side when embarking on an archaeological dig for reasons to twist the narrative in their preferred direction—exactly like Moneyball.

Now the mainstream media—especially those who are unabashed stat guys who defend Bill James’s most ludicrous statements regarding Joe Paterno and think Billy Beane’s bowel movements are objects of worship—are not only catching on as to how bad the 2013 Astros will be, but are speculating as to whether they can rival the 2003 Tigers and 1962 Mets in terms of historic awfulness. The Astros are this bad with a few useful veterans on their roster. Imagine what they’ll look like in August once they’ve dealt away Bud Norris, Lucas Harrell, Wesley Wright, Jose Veras and maybe even Jose Altuve. They’ll have a legitimate chance to reach the depths of the Cleveland Spiders of 1899. And I’m not kidding.

The media can present the contextualized explanations as to what the Astros are doing (“What’s the difference between winning 40 games and 60 games?”) and they’ll kindasorta be right. It doesn’t make much difference. But to the fans of the club who’ll have to endure this and listen to the mantra of “trust us, we’re smart” from Crane, et al., it’s going to get tiresome quickly as they’re being abused. Crane is going to need a thick skin to get through the amount of cow refuse he’ll have flung at him as the season moves along. As a loud and brash Texan, he talks like he’s ready to withstand the criticism, but when it starts coming from those who were supportive as part of their own personal agenda and they leap from the plummeting rocketship in self preservation, we’ll see if he lashes out or stays the course. I have a hunch that it will be both. Then there will really be some good stuff to write about as Crane is saying derogatory things to critics/fans because his team is so dreadfully, embarrassingly bad. He’s used to people kissing his ass and they’ll be kicking it instead. That adds up to an explosive response that will come sooner rather than later.

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4 thoughts on “The Astros Reality Is Beginning To Sink In

  1. What’s the difference between 40 and 60 wins? As a fan, it’s the difference between rooting for a team that might occasionally do something interesting versus wanting to burn all your gear and never go to the stadium again.

    I’ve been a Nats’ season ticket holder since they arrived in DC. In 2008, they had a horrifically bad, virtually unwatchable team featuring “stars” such as Lastings Milledge, Austin Kearns, Elijah Dukes and Paul LoDuca, and had they continued on in that vein I might have cancelled my season tickets and given up. That offseason they picked up Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham to go with Ryan Zimmerman in an attempt to at least make the offense watchable. They still stunk that year thanks in no small part to a really bad bullpen, but with the protection Zim had his best ever season at the plate and at least some of the games were fun to attend.

    1. I meant in the overall scheme of things when I said it doesn’t make much difference between 40 and 60 wins, but I know what you’re saying and I absolutely understand a season ticket holder expecting to be compensated somehow for enduring what the Astros are doing. The Nats were significantly different from the Astros in that they still tried to at least bring in a few players that people would recognize and give a product that was at least big league caliber—horrific or not. The Astros are not big league caliber. I keep referring to them on Twitter as the Junior Varsity because that’s what they are. It’s going to be interesting to see if they’re conciliatory with their fans as it grows worse and worse. Luhnow’s definitely going to clear out the remnants of big league caliber players. The fans need to see some discounts out of that or promotional devices (buy 1 ticket get 1 free, etc.) for people to show up at all for the rest of this season and the beginning of next season.

  2. Whatever else the Astros do to rebuild, they are going to need arms, and lots of them. Their pitching is the worst in MLB by a very large margin. They’ve actually scored more runs than anyone expected them to, but because their pitching is so inept they have a run differential of -74, which is -26 worse than the second worst RD, the Marlins’. Ouch.

    Will they jump on Mark Appel as their #1 overall, since the Pirates didn’t nail him down last year? (Damn them for costing us Bourn for doing that.) He’s gonna be expensive, that’s the whole reason he’s still out there, but it’s possible they could get him cheaper if they promise him he’ll get to pitch in the majors this year, and thus have more draft pool money to redistribute elsewhere. But then they’re taking the risk of rushing him to the majors. So how much emphasis do you put on nailing down one guy when you’ve got an entire system to build?

    1. I’m not speculating on the draft. Who knows? Since they’re building for the long-term, I wouldn’t be surprised if Luhnow does what he did last year and drafts a 17-year-old bat rather than Appel. I really wish they’d let clubs trade the picks like in the NFL. It would make it interesting to pay attention to what teams like the Astros and Rays do to stock up on picks rather than hold onto their own.

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