Houston Astros v Pittsburgh Pirates

Who, exactly, expects the Astros to be good?


A silly column from Danny Knobler of CBS Sports.com today. In it he looks at the Astros who, I think anyway, everyone expects to be a really bad team who will finish in last place.  Knobler, though, is reading people I haven’t read yet:

Someone’s going to be wrong about the Astros. Someone’s going to be very wrong.

Maybe it’s us. Maybe it’s them. Maybe it’s the baseball bloggers who love them. Maybe it’s the traditional baseball men who hate them.

To illustrate this alleged dichotomy, Knobler cites some scouts who, perhaps jokingly, predict 40 wins for the Astros. Or less. The best he can do in citing a “blogger” who “loves” the Astros is his CBS colleague Dayn Perry. Except what apparently qualifies as “love” is saying that the Astros will be terrible now but in four years they won’t be laughingstocks.  That’s the “love.”

At this point it’s probably worth noting that the last historically-awful team was the 2003 Detroit Tigers. They lost 119 games! Three years later they were in the World Series. As such, I don’t think saying the Astros won’t be comic relief in four years is the sort of irrational bloggy love Knobler makes it out to be.

And make no mistake, he is clearly of the view that there is irrational love on the part of we Internet people when it comes to the Astros. Why? Tribalism!

Luhnow was an easy target for traditional baseball types, and the way he built the Astros front office has only fed the perception he wants to change everything about how the game is run … They even hired writers and bloggers to help work in baseball operations … No wonder the bloggers love them.

I love the Braves, and they run their front office on moxie and Commodore 64s as far as I can tell. But if I’m wrong about that it’s no more wrong than Knobler is about the Astros’ big “bloggy” front office moves:

“I think a lot of people out there think it’s a lot of guys with spreadsheets making baseball decisions,” Kevin Goldstein said. “It’s just not true.”

Goldstein came to the Astros from Baseball Prospectus, and there were certainly eyebrows raised when he was named the team’s pro scouting coordinator. But in his first seven months on the job, Goldstein has proven to be a lot more scout-friendly than some in baseball (and in the blogger world) would have expected.

Kevin Goldstein has been writing from a scout’s perspective for years. When he was with Baseball Prospectus he scouted. And his biggest sources were scouts. He even wore a bad scout fedora years before he was hired by the Astros. And the Astros hired him to, you know, run their friggin’ scouting department. The dude is legit. In light of all of that, the only people who find Goldstein to be more “scout-friendly” than expected never read his work before and assume that anyone who writes on the Internet is informed by some outdated (if it ever was true) idea of a computer baseball enthusiast stuck in his mother’s basement. It’s funny. Knobler’s whole column is about how two camps have competing narratives but the whole thing itself is an exercise in narrative.

A phony one, really. I’d love to see links to any bloggers who think the Astros are actually going to be good this year. I’d love to hear how saying “they’re going to stink, but they probably won’t set all-time records for futility because such teams are really, really rare” constitutes “love.”

Which teams improved and declined the most in 2015?

Joe Maddon

I was curious about which MLB teams changed their fortunes the most this season compared to last year, so I crunched the numbers.

First, here are the biggest win total improvements from 2014 to 2015:

+24 Cubs
+21 Rangers
+16 Astros
+15 Diamondbacks
+13 Twins
+11 Mets
+10 Blue Jays
+10 Cardinals
+10 Pirates

The top five teams on the biggest-improvement list all had managers in their first season on the job, led by Joe Maddon joining the Cubs after tons of success with the Rays. Also worth noting: Of the nine teams with the biggest win total improvement, eight made the playoffs. Only the Twins improved to double-digit games and still failed to make the playoffs.

Now, here are the biggest win total declines from 2014 to 2015:

-20 Athletics
-16 Tigers
-15 Orioles
-14 Brewers
-13 Nationals
-13 Angels
-12 Braves
-12 Reds
-11 Mariners

Not surprisingly, a whole lot of those teams have changed managers, general managers, or both. And a couple more may still do so before the offseason gets underway. Oakland retained manager Bob Melvin despite an MLB-high 20-win dropoff and just promoted Billy Beane from general manager to vice president of baseball operations.

MLB games were six minutes shorter this year

Pitch Clock
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According to STATS, INC., the average game in 2015 was 2 hours, 56 minutes. That’s six minutes faster than games in 2014.

The gains came in the first half, when games averaged 2:53. Second half games averaged three hours even. One can probably thank the expanded rosters in September for that, as games then see many more pitching changes. Of course, it’s likely that second half games were faster in 2015 than 2014 as well given the rules changes.

Those changes: agreement to enforce the rule requiring a hitter to keep at least one foot in the batter’s box and the installation of clocks timing pitching changes and between-inning breaks in ever ballpark.

It remains to be seen if MLB stays satisfied with that modest improvement or if chooses to go the way Triple-A and Double-A leagues did. They installed 20-second pitch clocks and started penalizing violators with balls and strikes. Triple-A’s two leagues, the International and Pacific Leagues, saw game-time decreases by 13 and 16 minutes, respectively.