The most exciting team in the NL Central: The Houston Astros?

The most exciting team in the NL Central: The Houston Astros?

Posted on 14 May 2012 by Ryan Bohlen

Ahh, the NL Central.  Home of the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals.  Home of Superstars Ryan Braun, Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips.  Mancave for upcoming stars Starlin Castro and  Andrew McCutchen.  Lots of intrigue here, but perhaps the most exciting team in the division is the one no one talks about; the team everyone wrote off for 100 losses, last place in the division, and no hope in the near future.  The Houston Astros.  I understand if you stop reading now..but if not, you may be surprised.

This division is one I have been and will continue to watch closely for the rest of the season (no bias here, avid Braves fan) because of the consistency of the Cardinals, Brewers, and Reds and the up and coming stars sprinkled throughout. However, as I have followed baseball this year and this division, it’s the fightin’ stros that have really caught my attention.

I understand your initial thought process here.

Various people I talk to about this reply:

“It’s the Astros!” or “They have nobody.”

I get that.  And maybe “having nobody” is a good thing. Manager Brad Mills is letting the kids play and their loose attitude has helped them put up some pretty impressive albeit surprising numbers.  Houston is currently sitting in 4th in the National League in runs scored, and 11th overall.  Most would have predicted 11th in the National League.  They also sit at 9th in the majors in stolen bases with a total of 23.  In case you are wondering, the running ozzie’s in Miami currently lead the race with 34 thefts.  Bottom line is the team “that has nothing” has been putting some runs on the board and they aren’t afraid to run.  On a side note, I understand it is early, but the young Astros currently sit in third in the NL Central ahead of the Brewers and Cubs.

Let me get more specific as to why these Astros have been and can continue to be exciting for the baseball season and your fantasy season.

They won’t lie down easy this year

They are not all exciting (sorry to catchers Jason Castro and Chris Snyder this is not your plug) but there are a few worth watching and plugging into your fantasy lineup.  Hitting leadoff, Jordan Schafer.

Schafer was a third round pick for the Atlanta Braves back in 2005, with the Braves hoping he would fill the void in center field and one day man the depths of Turner Field with Jason Heyward.  However, in 2008 Schafer tested positive for HGH use and was suspended 50 games.

After a few years of injury, spotty playing time, and minimal performance, the Braves shipped Schafer to the Astros for Michael Bourn at the 2011 trade deadline.  Now with a full time starting job and a manager with nothing to lose, Schafer has gotten to run wild.  He began the season reaching bases in the first 24 games, and has tallied 11 stolen bases to date.  He is also tied for the league lead in SB attempts (15).  He’s going to steal 50 bases, so if you need speed and he is in your free agent pool, now is the time to pounce.

The next bright spot in this lineup is second baseman Jose Altuve. Currently 8th in total hits in the majors with 40, and posting a cool .333 batting average, this 5’5” 150 pound powderkeg is making serious contact this season at 93%.  While his BABIP is an inflated .373 thus far, I see no reason why the speedy second baseman can’t have a season similar to Starlin Castro’s 2011 campaign. He may not lead the NL in hits, but between 175-190 is certainly within reach. And as fantasy players know, at 2B a player with 175 hits who is on pace for 25 steals makes you smile.

Houston, he’s happy to be here

Another very surprising and productive player for the Astros is 3B, SS Jed Lowrie.  Similar to the makeup of Schafer, a former top prospect finally shining in a change of scenery, Lowrie has shown why the Red Sox were hoping he would eventually become their everyday shortstop and why the Astros wanted him.  For Lowrie, his biggest hurdle has not necessarily been hitting or fielding, rather staying on the field.  Thus far, Lowrie has been on the field every day and has thrived.  So far, he has posted a .301 batting average while hitting four homeruns and driving in twelve Schafers and Altuves.  Remember, this is your Houston Astros third hitter in the order (remember, “they have nothing!.”  For fantasy baseball, them having nothing is a good thing in this case as Lowrie is still available in most fantasy leagues.  He’s not your ideal 3 hole hitter, (23 career homeruns) but barring injury, Lowrie could post .275/65/20/80 like numbers.

While the Astros will not be making the playoffs this year, with a young core of talent, a manager with no limitations, and valuable trade pieces Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers (8/8 save opps), these Astros are going to put up some numbers and be fun to watch.

Think I’m crazy about saying anything good about the Houston Astros? Have an Astro on your fantasy team?  Please feel free to comment.  Follow me @indy8818 on Twitter.

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Factors and Indicators of Luck vs. Skill

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Factors and Indicators of Luck vs. Skill

Posted on 09 May 2012 by Ryan Bohlen

With the first month of statistics under our belt, it is a good time to start looking at a few different factors and to understand three things: those who are lucky, those who are unlucky, and those who are just plain good.

I myself am a big fan of indicators of future performance for both pitchers and hitters.  For pitchers, I generally look at a pitcher xFIP. Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP) is a regressed version of FIP, developed by Dave Studeman from The Hardball Times. It’s calculated in the same way as FIP, except it replaces a pitcher’s home run total with an estimate of how many home runs they should have allowed. This estimate is calculated by taking the league-average home run to fly ball rate (~9-10% depending on the year) and multiplying it by a pitcher’s fly ball rate.  I know, I know.  Scary stuff, I can hear you saying, “I just love to watch baseball, I don’t get this in depth.”  Or perhaps, “I just want to hear about what can help my fantasy team.” I hear you.  Let’s call xFIP a teaser for another time.  But trust me, it can help you predict future success and failure for both real life pitchers and your fantasy pitchers.  Nevertheless, on to hitting!

When it comes to hitters, there are three categories I find crucial to deciphering between those who are lucky and unlucky: BABIP, Contact% and Line drive %.

BABIP King

Let’s start with the basic concept of Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP). As each hitter puts a ball in play only two outcomes are going to occur; the player either reaches safely or is out.  Please note, home runs do NOT factor in. While it is true that batters can reach base via an error or fielder’s choice, but the simple fact is that he is still safe.

BABIP indicates the rate of success (reaching base) after putting the ball in play. Generally speaking a high BABIP (above .310) will lead to a higher batting average. In addition, guys with speed will tend to have even higher BABIP numbers on average.

Contact Percentage (contact%) is simply the rate at which a player makes contact with the ball. The higher the percentage of contact equals more at bats where balls are put in play (instead of striking out). Interesting to note, players with higher contact rates (above 80%) tend to have greater fluctuation in the batting average based on their BABIP.

Line Drive Percentage (LD%) indicates the number of line drives that are hit by a particular batter. Simple enough.

Once you mix BABIP with Line Drive Percentage (LD%) you can begin to gauge how lucky, or unlucky, a particular batter is. Sure, there are other factors to consider, but let’s keep this simple.

  • Unlucky Batter = Low BABIP with high LD%
  • Lucky Batter = High BABIP with low contact%

Which Players Have Been Lucky?

Here are the top 10 hitters (ranked by BABIP) with at least 50 at bats this year(as of May 1st):

Name

Team

BABIP

LD%

Contact%

Bryan LaHair, 1B Cubs

0.600

25.70%

65.90%

Jason Kubel, OF Diamondbacks

0.460

39.60%

80.40%

Ryan Sweeney, OF Red Sox

0.455

30.90%

88.30%

David Wright, 3B Mets

0.450

31.70%

82.10%

Matt Kemp,    OF Dodgers

0.444

21.20%

69.00%

Kirk Nieuwenhuis, OF Mets

0.436

28.10%

73.00%

Derek Jeter,   SS Yankees

0.424

19.30%

85.60%

Jose Altuve,   2B Astros

0.421

25.00%

93.50%

Jon Jay, OF Cardinals

0.415

29.60%

90.80%

 

Bryan LaHair, and his .600 BABIP is a big reason why he is currently posting a .390/.478/.779 line this season.  The .600 BABIP is absolutely unsustainable, and with a strikeout rate of 31.6%, it appears LaHair is getting ready to fall off considerably.  However, last year in AAA Iowa for the Cubs, LaHair did post a cool .361 BABIP, leading to a .331 batting average with 31 homers. It appears he may have turned his luck into a skill.

Fantasy spin: Though most websites and writers suggest sell, sell, sell on LaHair, even if his BABIP comes back to earth around .340 or .350 he should still be able to produce a .290-.300 batting average with 25-30 homeruns.  Not bad for a guy not drafted or drafted in the later rounds of most drafts.  Advice: Hold

This list also features a handful of stars who are obviously in the world of just being very good, no luck needed.  You know the Wrights, Kemps and Jeters of the world. The rest of this list strikes me as getting lucky with the exceptions of Jose Altuve and Jon Jay.  Both are making contact over 90% of the time and both have proven in the minors that making contact has not been a problem.  Fantasy wise, I would recommend Altuve in all leagues as he will absolutely play every day in a lineup that is desperate for production. Not to mention, a .351 batting average. He is for real kids.  As for Jay, my only concern is the return of Allen Craig and the impending return of Lance Berkman.  Playing time is my only quarrel here.

The Unlucky Ones..

The top 10 players currently with the lowest BABIP with at least 50 at bats (as of May 1st).

Name

Team

BABIP

LD%

Contact%

Eric Sogard,   3B Athletics

0.139

30.60%

90.90%

Casey Kotchman,      1B Indians

0.143

17.20%

86.70%

Geovany Soto, C Cubs

0.146

19.00%

71.70%

Xavier Nady,  OF Nationals

0.154

25.00%

72.30%

Eric Hosmer,  1B Royals

0.155

17.30%

79.10%

Clint Barmes, SS Pirates

0.157

17.30%

73.70%

Brendan Ryan, 2B Mariners

0.163

18.20%

78.50%

Jose Bautista, OF, Blue Jays

0.169

16.00%

81.60%

J.J. Hardy,     SS Orioles

0.173

13.00%

83.70%

 

For me, the two names that will stand out to most are Eric Hosmer and Jose Bautista.  Both players were expected to post strong numbers heading into this season and thus far it’s been ugly.  Hosmer is sporting a

Still trying to find his swing

.179/.252/.357 line after posting an impressive .293/.334/.465 line in 128 games last year for the Royals.  This year, his walk rate is up (8.9 compared to 6.0), while his strikeout rate is down (13.0 compared to 14.6) and his contact rate is right with all of his career averages.  So what gives?  Bottom line, Hosmer is getting extremely unlucky and a breakout is coming.

Fantasy spin: Hosmer is an extremely patient hitter who makes a lot of contact.  With a BABIP of .155 and a career BABIP (minors and majors) of .316, I fully expect Hosmer to return draft day value and finish with a batting average in the .280-.290 range with 25-30 homers.

Advice: Hold, buy low.

As for Bautista, he is a bit more concerning. Thus far, his walk rate has plummeted from 20.2% to 14.8%, showing that his patience has not there as compared to years past.  While he is making contact at a decent clip, he has been swinging at “pitcher’s pitches.” I do think Bautista will regain his patient eye and keep mashing homeruns, getting back to his .302 average from last year seems unreachable as it was inflated due to an inflated .309 BABIP. His previous three years, he never exceeded .275.  Look for the homers, not the average.

Think I’m crazy about a keeping LaHair or believing in a Hosmer turnaround?  Believe in the batting average side of Bautista? Feel free to comment.

 

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