It’s time for the Lightning Round!
In this segment, we blast our way through news, new and old, involving the Houston Astros, using one-liners, pithy quips, and observance of sagacious observation. Here we go.
1. The Astros call up Preston Tucker‘s little brother
The Astros called up Top 10 national prospect Kyle Tucker after a rash of injuries (Carlos Correa, Brian McCann, and most importantly Jandel Gustave) opened up some playing time. This combined with the dreadfulness of 2018 Jake Marisnick and an extended slump by George Springer, probably pushed Tucker’s timeline a bit ahead of what the front office would prefer.
The lanky kid, oft compared to Ted Williams by foolish people, was batting .306/.371/.520 in the offense-friendly PCL, good for an offensive output 29% better than the average PCL batter. All things aren’t created equal, and that cliché holds especially poignant when observing the leap from Triple A into the majors.
The Steamer projection system thinks he’s a .241/.300/.407 batter in the majors right now. It’s probably not wrong. The ceiling is there, but after struggling in his debut, some (stupid) fans are already calling for Marisnick’s triumphant return.
Tucker has the goods for superstardom in major league baseball. This year, he’s probably just a guy. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
2. Tony Kemp is proving his non-doubters right.
I wasn’t ever the biggest drum-banger for Jose Altuve‘s worse-batting, less-powered, less-speedy, and less-defensively-sound doppelganger. Despite constant comparisons as Kemp toiled away in the minors, the only common denominator between he and last year’s AL MVP is a penchant for not-tallness.
But this year the twenty-six-and-two-thirds-year-old has proven he not only belongs in the majors, but he deserves a seat at the big boy table. While holding a perfectly sustainable .315 BABIP, everybody’s favorite hypothetical trade piece for Mike Trout currently wields a line of .295/.385/.410, good for a 127 wRC+. Granted, that comes with no power, speed, or defense, but it is notable. We’re probably looking at Marwin Gonzalez‘ full-time replacement starting in 2019, serving as the resident swiss-army knife that does nothing on the field well, but nothing terribly enough to warrant snide criticism.
Have a beer, Mr. Kemp. You are a good major league hitter.
3. The Astros have the best bullpen
This one isn’t debatable, and yet still on Facebook or comment boards on corporately-run volunteer-operated fan sites would lead the casual observer to believe that the Astros relief core can do nothing right.
2nd in ERA, tops in FIP, 2nd in strikeouts, tops in WALKs, 3rd in WAR (but 2nd if they pitched the same number of innings as the other guys), which is to say 3rd in WAR despite the lowest number of innings pitched in the majors, tops in WHIP, tops in K-BB%, tops in K/BB (which isn’t the same thing), tops in xFIP, tops in SIERA, tops in awesome.
4. The Astros pursuing Jose Abreu?
It’s just a rumor, but it’s mighty interesting. Where does an additional star first baseman play, with Yulieski Gurriel batting .303/.336/.439 and DH Evan Gattis hitting .257/.315/.517 with 18 home runs?
And what would he cost? Probably more than the Astros would be willing to give up, unless the Astros can swing another quality-for-quantity deal like they did with the Pirates to obtain Gerritt Cole.
It almost certainly isn’t going to happen. But it would be fun to add that bat to an already ridiculous lineup. Where would the man who hit .304/.354/.552 with 33 home runs bat in the Astros’ lineup, when healthy? Probably fifth. Or sixth. Crazy.
5. Max Stassi is pretty good, but probably not this good.
With McCann on the DL, the Astros’ current starting catcher is hitting the ball as well as anybody in the majors (and a lot better than the aforementioned Abreu, incidentally). However, he has a .356 BABIP without the contact or speed to support it.
But still, even with very expected regression, Stassi’s power could make him an above-average catcher in the majors for a good long time. ZiPS thinks .231/.310/.415. Sounds fine to me, for a #8 or #9 hitting catcher.
6. The rotation is human, but still amazing.
After shattering records in April, the Astros’ rotation has regressed back to merely being the best group of starting pitchers in all of baseball, rather than one of the best all-time.
Now, three of the pitchers have an ERA under three, instead of under two. Despite being this year’s fan pariah (for stupid reasons, by the way), Dallas Keuchel is quietly turning his season around, with a 3.53 ERA during his last six outings.
7. A.J. Reed only turned 25 in May
But truthfully, he needs to pray for a trade if he wants to get his major league career going. He has two straight years now in AAA where despite good power numbers has been looking like he has stalled out development-wise. Any thought that he could hit for a high average in the majors is pretty much gone at this point.
8. Back injuries suck
Nobody has a good back injury story. They’re always hurt doing something dumb. I threw my back out making beignets.
As anybody who has ever hurt their back knows, it’s never the same again. Being a world-class athlete helps, but reading that 23-year-old superstar Carlos Correa is on DL with a back injury is worrisome.
9. Jake from rake farm is now down ON the farm
What does it take to get the fangirls to admit that Jake Marisnick is not a good major league baseball player and does not deserve infinite chances?
In 530 major league games so far, Marisnick is batting .224/.274/.368 with a 75 wRC+. And his defense, while very good, has NOT been good enough to excuse the paltry bat. For comparison’s sake, during his career Brad Ausmus hit .251/.325/.344 (76 wRC+) but was perhaps the greatest defensive catcher of all time. Marisnick isn’t even the best center fielder in the majors right now, and lots of other guys play above-average CF and can, you know, actually hit.
If he were hitting, Kyle Tucker would still be in AAA.
10. Altuve won’t win another MVP this season, but he deserves to be in the conversation
Jose Altuve is mighty consistent. His batting averages since 2014: .341, .313, .338, .346, and now .339. His OBP since 2016: .396, .410, .406.
Consistency is remarkable in baseball, always. But consistency at a level rivaled only by Hall of Famers? Incredible.
Alas, unless there is an unforseen event leading to the offensive demise of Mike Trout, Jose Ramirez, Mookie Betts, Francisco Lindor, and Aaron Judge…Altuve doesn’t have a shot this year. What an incredible year in the AL. You have to go nine spots down in WAR to find the first National Leaguer, Nolan Arenado.
Who is seventh, right after Altuve? The Astros’ Alex Bregman. Sweet.