Jeff Luhnow

Checking in on the Astros’ latest experiments

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The Astros coming to New York meant that they’re getting a lot more of a national spotlight this week. And two columns came out about them yesterday. One by Ken Rosenthal and one by Danny Knobler. Each looks at a different part of the Astros new directions.

Rosenthal’s focuses on the Astros’ use of duel starting pitchers for each game in the minor leagues. Each team carries eight starters, with the first one going abut 75 pitches, the next coming in and a closer finishing up if necessary.  GM Jeff Luhnow explains how it works and why they’re doing it. It makes an awful lot of sense for a team in the Astros’ competitive and developmental position. Actually makes a lot of sense at the lower levels for any team, I would think.

Knobler looks at the Astros’ use of defensive shifts. Shifts are all the rage these days, but the Astros are using far more of them and far more complicated ones than anyone. Coach Eduardo Perez is the shift guru in Houston, and he talks about how it has been implemented and adapted as the season has gone on and various Astros pitchers have weighed in on how they feel about it all.

I imagine some will make fun of the Astros for being unconventional. Or look at what will certainly be a poor record at the end of the year and say “see, it didn’t work!” But there is absolutely zero reason for the Astros to not try to innovate and learn as much as they can now, when the games are comparatively unimportant for the franchise. If they help them find one player or one strategy that traditional developmental methods would not have, and if it helps them win any more games when the team is truly competitive, it will have been worth it.

Josh Johnson retires from baseball

PEORIA, AZ - FEBRUARY 21: Josh Johnson #55 of the San Diego Padres poses during Picture Day on February 21, 2014 at the Peoria Sports Complex in Peoria, Arizona. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)
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Oft-injured pitcher Josh Johnson is retiring from baseball, ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick is reporting.

Johnson, 32, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2013. The right-hander underwent his third Tommy John surgery in September 2015 but wasn’t able to bounce back.

Johnson spent most of his career with the Marlins, but also pitched for the Blue Jays in the big leagues, as well as the Padres in the minors. He retires with a career 3.40 ERA, 915 strikeouts across 998 innings in the majors, and two All-Star nominations. Johnson led the National League with a 2.30 ERA in 2010, finishing fifth in NL Cy Young Award balloting. One wonders what he could have accomplished if he was able to stay healthy.

Report: Angels close to a multi-year deal with Luis Valbuena

HOUSTON, TX - JULY 08:  Luis Valbuena #18 of the Houston Astros hits a three run walkoff home run in the ninth inning to defeat the Oakland Athletics 10-9 at Minute Maid Park on July 8, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
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The Angels are nearing a multi-year deal with free agent third baseman Luis Valbuena, Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register reports. It’s believed to be a two-year contract with a third-year option.

Valbuena, 31, hit .260/.357/.459 with 13 home runs and 40 RBI in 342 plate appearances in 2016. He missed most of the second half with a hamstring injury, for which he underwent surgery in late August.

Valbuena has played a majority of his career at third base, but also has extensive experience at second base and has racked up innings at first base and shortstop as well. He won’t play every day for the Angels, as Yunel Escobar lays claim to third base and C.J. Cron first base, but he will give them flexibility and a left-handed bat off the bench.