Must-Click Link: Inside the Astros front office

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The other day we teased the cover from this week’s Sports Illustrated in which the Astros are touted to be the 2017 World Series champs. That was just a grabber, of course. The content behind it is this in-depth story by Ben Reiter about the inner workings of the new Houston Astros.

The big story you know: it was an awful team that had a bare cupboard in the minors when new ownership took over and installed Jeff Luhnow as the GM who, in turn, hired Sig Mejdal as the team’s Director of Decision Sciences. It’s still a pretty bad team at the major league level, but now some top prospects are starting to make an impact and hope seems to be around the corner.

But how are they getting from that terrible A through this currently promising but still unsuccessful B and on, hopefully, to the Championship C? By consuming all of the data they possibly can, be it statistical, scouting and everything in between. Making decisions based on probabilities, subjective judgments, objective judgments and human tendencies alike — filtered through Mejdal’s decision sciences methodology — to come up with all of the answers teams have struggled to reach since the beginning of baseball history:

To that end Mejdal and his analytics team—which has grown to four and occupies an area in the Astros’ offices that they have named the Nerd Cave and decorated with a Photoshopped image of scientists examining Vladimir Guerrero in mid-swing—created an evaluation system that boils down every piece of information the Astros have about prospects and players into a single language. The inputs include not only statistics but also information—much of it collected and evaluated by scouts—about a player’s health and family history, his pitching mechanics or the shape of his swing, his personality. The system then runs regressions against a database that stretches back to at least 1997, when statistics for college players had just begun to be digitized. If scouts perceived past players to possess attributes similar to a current prospect, how did that prospect turn out? If a young pitcher’s trunk rotates a bit earlier than is ideal, how likely were past pitchers with similar motions to get hurt?

The end result is expressed as a numerical projection which roughly translates into how many runs the player can be expected to produce compared with what the team is likely to have to pay him.

The first image I get is the Deep Thought computer from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” tasked with finding the answer to life, the universe and everything. And maybe it is like that in more ways than merely its attempt to take in all possible variables in an effort to get a single answer. Maybe, because baseball is filled with so many uncertainties and unexpected developments, it will yield the right answers but the Astros will find they have been asking the wrong questions. There will always be limits to data, be it numerical or subjectively collected data. There will always be unexpected developments.

Maybe that means the Astros do win the 2017 World Series. Maybe they do it sooner. Maybe they plod along for a decade never quite getting where they’re wanting to go. We can’t know that from where we sit and, if they’re being honest, the Astros brass can’t know that too terribly much more than we do.  But it’s very cool to see the inner workings like this, and it’ll be quite fun to watch it all unfold.

And That Happened: Sunday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Orioles 10, Marlins 4Mark Trumbo had three hits including a solo home run, scored three runs and knocked in two. Jace Peterson knocked in four, including two with a two-run homer as the Orioles snapped a nine-game losing streak. It was the O’s first win at home in over a month as well. Dylan Bundy got his fifth win. The Orioles have only 20 total wins, giving him [mashes hands on old-timey adding machine) 25% of all of his team’s wins. That may seem like a big percentage but in 1972 Steve Carlton won 27 games for a 59-win Phillies team. That’s the gold standard for such things and ain’t no one touching that mark ever again.

Blue Jays 8, Nationals 6Randal Grichuk hit two solo homers and drew a bases loaded walk and Teoscar Hernandez and Yangervis Solarte hit back to back bombs in the eighth inning to break a 6-6 tie and give the Jays the win and the series sweep. Michael Taylor stole four bases for Washington. That’s kinda cool. Sadly, “kinda cool” doesn’t get you anything in the standings. Washington has lost five of six.

Indians 4, Twins 1: Shane Bieber allowed ten hits over five and two thirds but somehow only gave up one run and somehow got his first big league win. Not bad for a guy who was in Columbus the day before. I mean, I was in Columbus the day before and all I accomplished on Saturday was cleaning some bathrooms and making a Costco run. Which, hey, is pretty good, but it’s not like winning a game in the show. Yan Gomes hit a three run-double to break a 1-1 tie and that was that.

Braves 4, Padres 1: Julio Teheran tossed six no-hit innings and struck out 11. If he wasn’t just coming off the disabled list — and if it hadn’t taken him 95 pitches t get through those six innings — I suppose he would’ve had a chance to go longer. Of course if ifs and buts were candy and nuts we’d all have a happy Christmas. Tyler Flowers hit a two-run homer. He wouldn’t have even been in the game if it was not for Kurt Suzuki getting clocked in the noggin, so let’s just call all of that a bag of mixed nuts.

Reds 8, Pirates 6: Billy Hamilton went 3-for-4, stole two bases, scored three times and did this:

Eugenio Suarez homered, Joey Votto went 2-for-4 with two RBI and Scott Schebler homered and knocked in three.

Rays 3, Yankees 1: The Rays avoided a sweep in the four-game series by deploying Johnny Wholestaff effectively and shutting the Yankees’ offense down. Wilmer Font led the bullpen brigade, allowing one run in four and two-thirds, Matt Duffy drove in two and Carlos Gomez had an RBI double. All that came in the third inning. Other than that CC Sabathia was fantastic, pitching into the eighth and striking out ten. Unfortunately for him, all innings count.

Tigers 3, White Sox 1: Nicholas Castellanos hit a two-run homer and Blaine Hardy and the Tigers’ pen limited the White Sox to a Matt Davison homer and nothing else doing. Five wins in a row for the Tigers who, between a massive rebuild and a season-ending injury to Miguel Cabrera, are supposed to be terrible but somehow . . . aren’t. Playing nine games so far against Chicago has been helpful for that. Detroit is 8-1 vs. the Chisox.

Phillies 10, Brewers 9: Maikel Franco has been riding a lot of pine lately, but he started this one and homered and drove in four. Rhys Hoskins and Odubel Herrera also homered as the Phillies took two of three. Eric Thames hit two homers in a losing cause for the Brewers, whose late rally fell short. In other news, Brewers reliever Adrian Houser barfed behind the mound while warming up in the eighth inning. While for you, me and most people, barfing is a get-out-of-work-free card, Hauser stayed in the game and faced two batters before barfing a second time. Then he STILL stayed in the game, faced three more hitters and finished the inning, having given up one run on an RBI double to Scott Kingery.

Gabe Kapler after the game:

“I have a lot of respect for anybody who would step behind the mound and throw up and step back on the mound and pitch”

It’s Kapler’s team but I, personally, think that people who are literally vomiting while on the mound shouldn’t be in the game and that a guy who barfs twice while giving up a run in a game you end up losing by a run might’ve been better served not in the game. But hey, what do I know?

Astros 7, Royals 4: Houston just refuses to lose. Carlos Correa hit a game-tying solo home run in the eighth and then got RBI singles from Evan Gattis and Marwin Gonzalez that same inning to keep the momentum rolling. That’s the Astros’ 11th win in a row. Ten of those wins came on their 10-game road trip and now they get a nine-game homestand against the lowly Rays, Royals, and Blue Jays. Methinks this is the portion of the year that’ll appear in the year-in-review video that comes out next November under a heading like “The Turning Point” or some such.

Rangers 13, Rockies 12: Texas rallied for four runs in the bottom of the ninth, winning on a Jose Trevino two-run single. It was only Trevino’s third big league game and it came on Father’s Day, just a few days after he became a dad. Most of us go our whole lives wondering what is good in life and whether it will ever get better. Trevino may very well have had the best week of his life and he may very well know it, all at the tender age of 25. For the Rockies, it was yet another blown lead — their 21st loss after leading, which leads the bigs — this by their high-priced closer Wade Davis.

Athletics 6, Angels 5: Jonathan Lucroy hit a walkoff, bases-loaded RBI single in the 11th inning to give the A’s the win. It was a comeback win for Oakland, thanks to Mark Canha game-tying single with two outs in the ninth. He hit a two-run homer earlier. Mike Trout reached base five times for the Angels in a losing cause, but what else is new?

Red Sox 9, Mariners 3Rafael DeversJackie Bradley Jr., and Xander Bogaerts all homered and the Sox scored five in the third to put this one away early. Eduardo Rodriguez allowed two over six to pick up his ninth win on the year. The Red Sox are 13-1 in Rodriguez’s starts this season.

Giants 4, Dodgers 1: San Francisco salvages the series and avoids the sweep thanks to two-run homers from Nick Hundley and Brandon Belt and one run over six from Chris Stratton, who normally gets roughed up pretty badly by Los Angeles. The Giants end a long, not-so-great road trip. They’ve had a lot of road trips so far this season and they’ve all been pretty not-so-great in fact. Now they get 20 of their next 26 at home and, following the All-Star break, begin just across the bridge in Oakland, which may as well be a home game. A nice respite for them, but they probably still wonder who the hell made this schedule.

Mets 5, Diamondbacks 3Brandon Nimmo and Asdrubal Cabrera homered to rally the Mets for four-runs in he ninth inning and bring them back from a 3-1 deficit for the win. You don’t see this kind of moxy from New York very often. The Mets split the four-game series in Arizona and won consecutive games for the first time since May 20-21.

Cardinals 5, Cubs 0: Jack Flaherty and four relievers combined for a four-hit shutout which helped the Cardinals avoid being swept at home by the arch rival Cubs. I wish I had an arch rival. I think it’d make life more interesting. Heck, I’d settle for a moderate nemesis.