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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Your World Frightens And Confuses Me

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I feel like Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer.

I see the new rules and regulations for pitchers and can’t help but wonder whether little elves have whispered them into the ears of those in command of the nurturing of such talents as Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Stephen Strasburg.

It makes me want to run off into the woods, hide and long for the halcyon days of experience, analytical observation and allegorical techniques rather than paranoia and failed strategies masquerading as “development”.

Is this divine intervention or a glitch in the “process”?

I don’t know.

But what I do know is that Chamberlain’s development was stagnated; Strasburg is out for most, if not all of this year; and Hughes is on the disabled list, headed for the MRI tube and everyone involved with the Yankees is in a panic as to what the issue is that’s causing Hughes’s lost velocity and now inability to complete a bullpen session.

The spin doctoring is reaching ludicrous proportions. A few weeks ago, an expert in the realm of all things baseball—none other than Michael Kay—paraphrased manager Joe Girardi when he explained why Hughes wasn’t undergoing a precautionary MRI to see if something was amiss in his arm by saying, “we don’t do MRIs for the sake of them” or something to that affect.

Why?

Given the rampant paranoia and anal retentiveness which has permeated the so-called “development” of the Yankees’ young pitchers, was a medical exam including a check of the innards of Hughes’s valuable right arm such a ridiculous notion? Or were they skirting the issue because they were petrified as to what they might find?

Now there’s more garbage coming from the mouth of GM Brian Cashman as he self-justifies by citing cases like Brett Cecil of the Blue Jays and Hughes with the possibility that the diminished velocity isn’t due to a lack of throwing enough, but because their innings jumped too far too quickly.

In this NY Times piece, Girardi was quoted with the following:

“Guys have taken steps back after being extended more than they’re accustomed to doing,” Girardi said, adding: “Because everything was going so well, we felt pretty good about it. But as I said, I don’t feel so good about it now. I mean, we’re concerned about it.”

Yes, well…

But what about pitchers like Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain who weren’t treated as delicate flowers; were allowed to do something novel for a pitcher: PITCH?

I don’t want to hear this after-the-fact, self-righteous idiocy. The fact is that the pitchers upon whom the Yankees banked their future have not come close to living up to the hype in theory nor practice and a large chunk of that is due to the way they’ve (mis)treated them.

The “obvious process” has failed. Don’t cry about it now; and don’t wallow in a retrospective fantasy world in which they “know” they did the right thing.

They didn’t do the right thing. They hindered their evolution with these rules that yielded nothing close to what was intended. In fact, the rules might very well have destroyed them.

Most of the participants are hoping there’s nothing physically wrong with Hughes; I take a different tack: they’d better hope there’s something wrong with Hughes; if there isn’t, there’s no answer to the question as to why he can’t throw a fastball anymore.

I go back to Steve Avery of the Braves—a lefty pitcher with star status and a blazing fastball; Avery lost that fastball for seemingly no reason whatsoever; he had surgery and never recovered. There was no explanation; they tried to alter his mechanics; he bounced around for a few years and receded into retirement at age 33.

Avery wasn’t babied; Hughes was. But we have the same result.

Was it worth it?

It’s weirdly ironic that on the same night as the Hughes catastrophe became public, Ian Kennedy—failed Yankees prospect whom they shipped out of town in equal parts because of his mouth, his hard-headedness and that he was awful for them—pitched a masterful 3-hit shutout over the Phillies.

The next generation of Yankees homegrown stars—Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos—are coming; the Yankees are doing the same things with those hot prospects as they did with Hughes, Kennedy and Chamberlain.

They should probably be prepared for the same results too.

Your world frightens and confuses me.

If you’re a Yankee fan, “Brian’s World” should frighten and confuse you too because it’s degenerating into a “B” horror movie the type of which would’ve come from Ed Wood.

And 30 years from now, it won’t be a campy classic that’s so bad, it’s good. It’ll just be bad.

But what do I know?

I’m just a caveman.

A caveman who was right.

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