Tag: Houston Astros

What Carlos Correa Must Do to Reach Superstar Offensive Potential in 2017

The Houston Astros may have disappointed in 2016 after their big coming-out party in 2015, but don’t worry. They could be a juggernaut in 2017 if everything goes right.

That entails a lot of things, of course. But perhaps the most pressing matter at hand is Carlos Correa living up to his potential with the stick.

That might read like a segue into a finger-wagging segment in which Correa is derided for having a bad sophomore year after winning the American League Rookie of the Year in 2015. But the thing is, he was mostly quite good in 2016.

Correa played in 153 games and put up an .811 OPS with 20 home runs and 13 stolen bases. Per FanGraphs‘ WAR stat, he was a top-five shortstop. Per Baseball-Reference.com’s WAR stat, he only narrowly missed being the best shortstop in the league:

  1. Corey Seager: 6.1
  2. Carlos Correa: 5.9

By this measure, the 22-year-old already owns 10.1 career WAR. That’s the fourth-most in history for a shortstop in his first two seasons. This is all happening just a few years after Correa was the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft. Nobody can say the dude’s been a bust.

But if you feel like you still need to see more from Correa going into 2017, know this: You’re not alone.

While his 2016 season was a success on the whole, it did fall short of expectations in the one area where Correa showed the most potential as a rookie. After posting an .857 OPS with 22 home runs in only 99 games in 2015, it was a letdown to watch him hit two fewer home runs with an OPS 46 points lower despite playing in 54 more games.

The bright side is that Correa didn’t get reality checks across the board.

His batting average stayed roughly the same, and his on-base percentage actually got better. Two related stories involve him sticking with an advanced approach and making even harder contact. According to Baseball Savant, Correa‘s average exit velocity went from 90.8 to 91.8 mph.

In light of that, it raises one’s eyebrows that power is where Correa took the biggest step backward in 2016. He went from a .512 slugging percentage to a .451 slugging percentage, a 61-point downturn.

Some of that was caused by circumstances beyond Correa‘s control. Although he played in all but nine of Houston’s games, he hinted in September that he wasn’t a picture of health throughout 2016.

“Some of those things people don’t know,” Correa told Eno Sarris of FanGraphs. “Some parts of the body are hurting so you have to lay off some things and deal with some things. It’s something that people don’t know, but obviously you know.”

Sarris compared the timing of Correa‘s two most notable injuries—a rolled ankle in June and a sprained left shoulder in September—with how well he was driving the ball. He found that Correa‘s injuries correlated not just with downturns in his exit velocity but also with downturns in his launch angle. Put simply: His injuries made it difficult for him to drive the ball.

Knowing this, Correa reversing the power decline that marred an otherwise successful season in 2016 could be a simple matter of staying healthy in 2017. So there’s that, anyway.

But since suggesting a ballplayer not get hurt in a 162-game season is like suggesting a rock star not get wasted while on tour, let’s look at some real-world solutions to Correa‘s power conundrum.

It’s a good sign that Correa upped his overall exit velocity in 2016 despite occasional injury-related downturns. However, he couldn’t do the same with his average launch angle. It was 6.5 degrees in 2015 and 6.5 degrees in 2016.

For perspective, Rob Arthur of FiveThirtyEight found the sweet spot for power hitting to be around 25 degrees. Some power hitters (i.e., Kris Bryant, Brandon Belt and Chris Carter) averaged fairly close to that mark in 2016. Correa, however, was on the opposite side of the spectrum.

One of the effects of Correa‘s low launch angle is that much of his hard contact is wasted on the ground. Correa hit ground balls 50.1 percent of the time he put the ball in play in 2016. That’s not an ideal rate for such a powerful hitter.

Fixing this won’t be simple, as this actually points to the true nature of Correa‘s swing. Even in praising him for having plus raw power back in 2015, Baseball America‘s Vince Lara-Cinisomo also noted his swing lacked loft and could potentially struggle to produce consistent power from season to season.

Still, never say never.

It’s not unheard of for a hitter to make changes that improve his launch angle. Jose Altuve, Correa‘s double-play partner in Houston, did it last year. Ditto Mark Trumbo, who led baseball in home runs. And Freddie Freeman, who had a long-awaited power breakout.

If Correa makes an effort to alter his swing mechanics in a way that would make it easier to get under the ball, he could follow in those guys’ footsteps in 2017. 

Failing that, he could always go back to what worked in 2015.

While Correa‘s overall swing rates basically remained static from 2015 to 2016, there was a noticeable change in his plan of attack. Courtesy of Brooks Baseball, these were his swings in 2015:

And these were his swings in 2016:

The difference isn’t subtle. As a rookie, Correa covered the whole strike zone. Last season, he went hunting on the zone’s inner half.

Not surprisingly, this made Correa vulnerable to whiffs on pitches away. That would have been an acceptable trade-off if his new approach brought the expected benefit of more pull power. But it didn’t. While he did pull the ball more, upping his pull percentage from 35.5 to 39.0, his slugging percentage to his pull side decreased from .721 to .587.

This wasn’t an exit-velocity problem. Correa‘s average exit velocity on the zone’s inner two-thirds and beyond shot up from 91.0 to 93.0 mph. But since his launch angle in these areas didn’t budge, that didn’t translate into more slugging in those areas.

Going into pull-power mode also resulted in Correa neglecting one of his primary strengths at the plate: his opposite-field power. 

The Baseball America report mentioned above noted Correa earned comparisons to Albert Pujols for his “ability to hammer the ball to the opposite field.” That ability remained alive and well in 2016 but was used sparingly:

Bottom line: Correa didn’t necessarily have the wrong idea in chasing more pull power in 2016, but it did more harm than good. If he’s not going to drive more balls by upping his launch angle, he should at least recalibrate his power approach to all fields rather than just one.

Of course, Correa could change nothing from 2016 and still be a well above average hitter. His .811 OPS from this past season equated to an adjusted OPS+ of 123, meaning he was 23 points better than the average hitter.

And yet there’s also no question Correa can be significantly better than that. He’s proved he’s an advanced hitter capable of working good at-bats and making consistent hard contact. All he needs to do is make his power show up more consistently. There are a number of avenues to that end available to him.

If he finds any one of them in 2017, just watch his numbers rise.


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.comFanGraphs and Baseball Savant unless otherwise noted/linked. 

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Carlos Beltran Signing Puts Astros One Step Away from AL Favorites

The last time Carlos Beltran was in a Houston Astros uniform, he was punishing baseballs left and right as he led the team deep into the postseason.

It could be deja vu all over again 11 months from now.

After parting ways back in 2004, Beltran and the Astros reunited Saturday. Buster Olney of ESPN.com was first to report the Astros had signed the 39-year-old switch-hitter to a one-year, $16 million contract. According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, Beltran’s contract also features a full no-trade clause.

Go ahead and score another one for an Astros lineup that has reached full ignition this winter.

The Astros already had a core of Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer, Evan Gattis, Alex Bregman and Yulieski Gurriel. Now they have Brian McCann and Josh Reddick in addition to Beltran. Per Brian McTaggart of MLB.com, here’s how they could line up on Opening Day:

The only major changes I’d make are sliding Reddick over to his natural right field position, Gattis to left field and Beltran into the designated hitter spot.

That’s where he belongs these days. Beltran was still a darn good center fielder when he played for the Astros in 2004, but age and mileage have taken a toll on his legs. The advanced metrics make it clear that he can’t play even average defense as a right fielder.

Fair warning: Beltran’s also not going to be the hitter he was the last time he was in Houston.

After he was acquired from the Kansas City Royals in a June trade, he boosted the Astros with a .926 OPS and 23 home runs in 90 regular-season games. He then posted an absurd 1.557 OPS and hit eight homers in leading the Astros to Game 7 of the National League Championship Series. Asking him to do that again would be like asking Altuve to dunk on Hakeem Olajuwon.

But while numbers reminiscent of 2004 may not be in store, old age has only slowed Beltran’s bat down so much.

He’s put up an .830 OPS and hit 48 home runs over the last two seasons. Most of that damage came in 2016, when he had an .850 OPS and cranked 29 home runs in 151 games with the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers.

The Astros could have benefited from production like that at a number of different positions. As ESPN Stats & Info will vouch, DH was one of them:

Beltran’s arrival should make for better fortunes at that position in 2017. And the news is nothing but good elsewhere too.

Reddick’s arrival gives the Astros another bat for an outfield that, Springer aside, struggled offensively in 2016. McCann has been a more consistent hitter than the guy he’s replacing behind the plate, Jason Castro. Full seasons from Bregman, a former No. 1 prospect, and Gurriel, formerly a Cuban superstar, could also yield impressive results.

At the least, Houston’s offense is due for a major improvement from its place in the American League in 2016, in which it finished eighth in runs and ninth in OPS. As FanGraphs’ Jeff Sullivan highlighted, it could even be the best offense in the league as things stand now.

And the 2017 Astros should do more than just hit.

A defense that finished second to only the Chicago Cubs in defensive runs saved in 2016 is arguably just as good now as it was at the end of the season, if not better. And despite losing Pat Neshek in a salary-dump trade, the Astros have largely retained a bullpen that, by FanGraphs‘ calculation, led baseball in wins above replacement in 2016.

The only part of the team that looks like an Achilles heel is the starting rotation. It put up a 4.37 ERA without good peripherals in 2016. The only upgrade it’s gotten this winter is Charlie Morton, a 33-year-old whose health and productivity have been easy-come, easy-go.

This is the part that makes me hesitant to buy into the early projections at FanGraphs, which have the Astros pegged as the AL’s best team with a 2017 projection of 91 wins. Of course, there’s also the fact the Astros are just about done with their offseason shopping while most other teams haven’t even started theirs.

However, there is the possibility that the Astros will get bounce-back seasons from 2015 Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh. There’s also the possibility that Lance McCullers will stay healthy and dominate with his electric stuff—Castro, now with the Minnesota Twins, won’t soon forget it.

There’s also the possibility that the rotation is next in line for a major upgrade. Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports has the latest on that:

According to Heyman, the Astros have their eyes on Chicago White Sox ace Chris Sale and Tampa Bay Rays ace Chris Archer. It could require taking Bregman out of the picture, but they have enough young talent to acquire either one of them. Even after dropping tens of millions on their offseason acquisitions to this point, they should also have the funds to take on Sale’s or Archer’s contract.

“We’re going to have the resources to go out and sign some players,” Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow promised in October, via Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle.

The Astros will have nothing to complain about if they get Sale or Archer. They’ll have taken a team that, though flawed, was good enough to win 84 games in 2016 and outfitted it with a lineup, rotation and bullpen worthy of a World Series chase.

This is unfinished business for both Beltran and the Astros. Beltran hasn’t won a World Series in his 19-year career, and the Astros have played in one and won none in their 54-year history.

It’s all too easy to imagine either party saying three magic words as soon as Saturday’s deal was done: Let’s do this.


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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McCann, Reddick Give Houston Strong Vets to Help Push Young Astros Over the Hump

On Thursday, the Houston Astros sent a message to their fanbase, and it was loud and clear: We want to get back.

Back on track. Back to the postseason. Back into position as one of baseball’s up-and-coming contenders.

The message was delivered with a pair of moves. The ‘Stros engineered a trade with the New York Yankees, flipping pitching prospects Albert Abreu and Jorge Guzman for veteran catcher Brian McCann, per the Yankees PR staff. They also inked right fielder Josh Reddick to a four-year, $52 million deal, per Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan.

With that, Houston plugged holes behind the dish and in the outfield and added a pair of solid veteran pieces to bolster the club’s youthful core.

Let’s start with McCann. The 32-year-old backstop became superfluous for the Yankees after the emergence of rookie sensation Gary Sanchez. While he isn’t the player who made seven All-Star teams between 2006 and 2013 with the Atlanta Braves, he still has value.

McCann hit 20 home runs in 2016 despite ceding playing time to Sanchez down the stretch and rated as the American League‘s third-best pitch-framer, per StatCorner.

He’ll replace free-agent catcher Jason Castro, also a lefty swinger, and represents an offensive upgrade across the board:

McCann is owed $17 million in each of the next two seasons, but the Yankees will pay $5.5 million of that, per ESPN The Magazine‘s Buster Olney. In turn, the ‘Stros surrendered some talent. Abreu became the No. 10 prospect in New York’s loaded farm system, per MLB.com.

It takes something to get somethingand Houston got something.

“Brian McCann is a great fit for the Astros, as he is not only a good defensive catcher, he is also a left-handed hitter with proven run-producing ability,” general manager Jeff Luhnow said in a statement, per the Houston Chronicle‘s Jake Kaplan. “His experience and his ability to impact his teammates will be a significant benefit to our team.”

Reddick is coming off an injury-shortened year in which he played just 115 games with the Oakland A’s and Los Angeles Dodgers.

In 2015, however, he hit .272 with 20 home runs, and he’s a plus defensive outfielder who could slot into left with George Springer the unmovable incumbent in right.

Reddicklike McCannrepresents an upgrade over his predecessor, free agent Colby Rasmus, who posted a .206/.286/.355 slash line in 2016. Reddick hit .281/.345/.405.

A four-year commitment north of $50 million may raise a few eyebrows, but it could end up being below market value in a weak free-agent class.

In 2015, the Astros finished 86-76, slid into the postseason as a wild card and pushed the eventual champion Kansas City Royals to five games in a division series.

Last year, they missed the dance with an 84-78 mark and wore the scarlet “R” for regression.

Still, Houston boasts an enviable offensive core, headlined by second baseman Jose Altuve (.338 average, 24 HR, 30 SB), shortstop Carlos Correa (.274 average, 20 HR, 96 RBI), Springer (.815 OPS, 29 HR, 82 RBI) and 2015 No. 2 overall pick Alex Bregman.

Astros starting pitchers ranked in the middle of the MLB pack in 2016 with a 4.37 ERA, with 2015 Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel taking a big stumble. The bullpen is a strength, but Houston could use more pitching, even after signing sinkerballer Charlie Morton to a two-year, incentive-laden deal Wednesday, per Kaplan.

The ‘Stros, though, are squarely in the mix in the wide-open AL West. The defending division champion Texas Rangers are nominal favorites, but Houston is a few key moves from vaulting over the hump.

McCann and Reddick count as key moves. They may preclude other high-profile machinations, including the intriguing rumored trade for the Detroit Tigers‘ Miguel Cabrera.

The takeaway, however, is that the Astros are being aggressive early. They’re filling needs. They want to get back.

Message received.


All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and MLB.com unless otherwise noted.

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Josh Reddick to Astros: Latest Contract Details, Comments, Reaction

Veteran outfielder Josh Reddick has reached an agreement with the Houston Astros, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reported Thursday.

Passan noted the deal is for $52 million over four seasons.

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports confirmed Reddick will sign with the Astros, pending a physical.

Reddick is a streaky player, but his net impact on a team has almost always been positive. He’s accumulated 15.9 WAR across eight seasons, and he’s rated above replacement level every year except 2009, when he played just 27 games for the Boston Red Sox in his debut campaign, per FanGraphs.

The 29-year-old Georgia native split the 2016 season between the Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Dodgers. He posted a career-high .345 on-base percentage in 115 games but racked up just 10 home runs, his lowest total since 2011.

His up-and-down play was on full display after he joined the Dodgers in a midseason trade. He hit just .161 with a miserable .395 OPS in August before rebounding with a strong September to help the club clinch a playoff berth by winning the National League West.

Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times highlighted the type of production the outfielder can provide when he’s in a zone at the plate:

Interestingly, Reddick told Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register the resurgence wasn’t about making changes but rather sticking to his normal routine until he broke out of the slump.

“I learned that probably last year,” he said. “For the most part, when I’m going well, my cage work is limited to almost none at all. Pregame, right before the game, I go in there and do my routine.”

Another thing he didn’t spend much time thinking about was his impending foray into the free-agent market. He explained his mindset early in the season, per Jon Paul Morosi of MLB.com.

“I’m one of the guys that doesn’t think about that,” Reddick said. “I’m not going into the box thinking, ‘If I don’t get this run in, or I don’t get this amount of home runs, I’m not going to be the free-agent player I need to be.’ That’s just something I’ve put very far back in my mind.”

The plan worked. Even with the drop-off in the power department, Reddick’s overall performance allowed him to maintain his value.

In the end, Reddick is heading to his third team in the past year. The upside is that going through the transition of joining the Dodgers should make the latest change of scenery easier to deal with during spring training.

Now the question is whether Reddick can put everything together. He’s shown the ability to hit for power, with 32 homers in 2012, and he recorded a strong on-base percentage this past season. If he combines those, he could be a bargain.

It’s a risk worth taking for the Astros. Even if he doesn’t have a huge year at the plate, he’ll likely be a solid hitter who plays plus defense, and that combination carries plenty of value.


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Miguel Cabrera Would Transform Astros into an AL Power

Houston, we have a rumor.

You want details? Here you go, courtesy of MLB Network’s Jon Morosi:

Let’s unpack the particulars.

First, the Houston Astros are planning to increase payroll. That’s a positive development for Houston fans after their club crashed the postseason party with a wild-card berth and advanced to the division series in 2015 but fell to a third-place finish in the American League West last season.

The Astros want to get back to October glory. They want to topple the Lone Star State-rival Texas Rangers, who have won the last two division crowns.

Miguel Cabrera or Edwin Encarnacion would move the needle toward that end, but let’s focus on Cabrera.

He is, after all, one of the best hitters of his generation with 446 home runs and 1,533 RBI in his career. And the Detroit Tigers are ready for a fire sale, as they should be, per Kurt Mensching in a special to the Detroit News.

Add Cabrera to Houston’s lineup, and you could be looking at a new power in a wide-open American League.

The Astros fell exactly in the middle of the pack in 2016 with 724 runs scored and were No. 24 in baseball with a .247 average. 

Houston, however, has an enviable offensive core, including second baseman Jose Altuve (.338 average, .928 OPS, 24 home runs, 30 stolen bases), shortstop Carlos Correa (.274 average, 20 home runs, 96 RBI), right fielder George Springer (.815 OPS, 29 home runs, 82 RBI), catcher/designated hitter Evan Gattis (.826 OPS, 32 home runs, 72 RBI) and 2015 first-round pick Alex Bregman.

Now, imagine Cabrera in the mix. The 11-time All-Star and two-time MVP hit .316 with a .956 OPS, 38 home runs and 108 RBI for the Tigers in 2016. He’s a future Hall of Famer riding out his peak.

Plus, as MLive’s Evan Woodbery pointed out, Cabrera and Altuve “both hail from Maracay, a hotbed of baseball on Venezuela’s Caribbean coast.”

That could inspire Miggy to wave his no-trade clause. 

The Astros would likely need to part with legit prospects to land Cabrera. They have a loaded system, though, ranked No. 3 by Bleacher Report’s Joel Reuter

The bigger hurdle might be Cabrera’s contract, which will pay him a minimum of $212 million through 2023. Even if the Tigers toss in some cash, that’s a hefty investment for a guy who’ll turn 34 on April 18. 

On the other hand, as Morosi noted, Houston appears willing to nudge the budget northward and has few payroll commitments beyond next season. 

In all likelihood, Cabrera will be a financial drag before he’s off the books. Sometimes, though, you pony up now and worry about the future when it arrives. 

This is workable. With a shallow free-agent pool, it could be one of the winter’s most impactful moves.

“We can be better, and we’re going to keep trying to be better,” manager A.J. Hinch said at the end of August, per Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle

Hitting isn’t the Astros’ only need. Their starting rotation finished 2016 with a mediocre 4.37 ERA, with ace Dallas Keuchel (4.55 ERA) falling disconcertingly shy of his 2015 AL Cy Young Award-winning peak.

Keuchel, however, showed signs of recovery in the second half, shaving 25 points off his first-half ERA and winning three of his last four decisions.

The bullpen, meanwhile, finished 10th in baseball with a 3.56 ERA and boasts ample depth even after Houston traded right-hander Pat Neshek to the Philadelphia Phillies on Nov. 4.

This club is capable of contending. It pushed the eventual-champion Kansas City Royals to five games in the division series in 2015 and, despite a stumble back last season, remained relevant.

The Rangers are a threat. The Cleveland Indians desperately want to get over the hump after their devastating seven-game World Series defeat. Out East, the defending division champion Boston Red Sox and up-and-coming New York Yankees are forces, with the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays there, too.

There’s no obvious powerhouse. With the right machinations, the ‘Stros could be as safe a pick as any.

Having Cabrera protect the likes of AL MVP finalist Altuve and Correa would count as the right machination. 

It’s not reality. Far from it.

But it’s a rumor, and a titillating one at that.


All statistics courtesy of MLB.com and Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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Ken Giles Injury: Updates on Astros Pitcher’s Wrist and Return

Houston Astros closer Ken Giles suffered a right wrist injury during batting practice Saturday and had to be carted off the field. X-rays came back negative, according to Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle

It is uncertain when he’ll return to the mound. 

Continue for updates.

Giles Injury Details Revealed 

Saturday, Sept. 24

Giles’ wrist injury is being called a contusion, per Kaplan. 

Giles Carted Off the Field During BP

Saturday, Sept. 24

Mark Berman of Fox 26 relayed a video of Giles being tended to by medical personnel: 

A Healthy Giles Needed For Final Stretch of Regular Season

If the Astroswho were two games back in the American League wild-card race entering Saturday night—lose Giles down the stretch, they’ll be in a tough spot. 

Although Giles has struggled with just 13 saves and a 4.31 ERA this season, he’s a fireballer who wields a wicked two-pitch arsenal. According to FanGraphs, Giles is averaging 97.2 mph on his fastball and 86 mph on his slider this season. 

Luke Gregerson should serve as the Astros’ closer if Giles misses any time. After he racked up a career-high 31 saves last season, Gregerson notched 15 saves earlier this year before moving to a role as the team’s setup man.

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Jose Altuve Injury: Updates on Astros Star’s Oblique and Return

Second baseman Jose Altuve is the player who makes the Houston Astros offense go, but the team may be without its spark plug for a period of time after he had to leave Wednesday’s game against the Texas Rangers with an oblique injury. 

Continue for updates.

Altuve to Be Evaluated Before Friday’s Game

Thursday, Sept. 15

According to ROOT Sports’ Julia Morales, Astros manager A.J. Hinch “isn’t optimistic” about Altuve playing Friday against the Seattle Mariners

The four-time All Star is in the midst of another great campaign with a .340 average, 24 home runs and 94 RBI on the heels of a 2015 season that saw him hit .313 with a then-career-high 15 home runs and 66 RBI to go along with 38 stolen bases en route to a playoff berth.

He set career marks in 2014 as well with a .341 batting average, 225 hits and 56 stolen bases. While he hasn’t quite reached those levels since, the 26-year-old speedster has improved from a run-production perspective and been a huge part of Houston’s resurgence.

Most wouldn’t expect Altuve to be such a great player based on his size (5’6″, 165 lbs), but he is one of the best pure hitters in baseball.

Perhaps the one downside with regard to Altuve is the fact his stature could leave him susceptible to injuries. He has never missed a significant amount of games during a single season, but minor ailments piled up in 2015, causing him to miss eight contests.

The Astros may not be so lucky this time with regard to the severity of the injury, which would be a major blow to a team that is finally relevant after spending years in the basement.

Provided the injury forces Altuve to miss some time, Marwin Gonzalez—who has played 75 innings at second base this year—projects as his primary replacement. Tony Kemp could also be in line for starts at second if Altuve misses time.        

Houston has a talented team, especially at the plate, but being without a tone-setter like Altuve is something that would be difficult to overcome for an extended period of time.


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Carlos Gomez Released by Astros: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

The Houston Astros released outfielder Carlos Gomez on Friday.

Upon designating Gomez for assignment Aug. 10, Houston had 10 days to work out a trade or assign him to the minor leagues, but instead the 30-year-old is now a free agent.

The 2016 season has been the worst of the Dominican Republic native’s MLB career, as he is hitting just .210 with five home runs, 29 RBI and 13 stolen bases.

Houston acquired Gomez in a deal with the Milwaukee Brewers prior to last season’s trade deadline, and he struggled down the stretch to the tune of a .242 batting average, four homers, 13 RBI and 10 steals in 41 games.

Gomez is a couple of years removed from a pair of career seasons. He made the NL All-Star team in both 2013 and 2014, and he hit .284 with an average with 24 home runs, 73 RBI and 37 stolen bases per season over the course of that two-year span.

The former Gold Glove Award winner has experienced a steep fall from grace since then, but he is a five-tool player when he is on his game.

Joe Frisaro of MLB.com reported the Miami Marlins have shown interest in signing him. MLB Network’s Jon Morosi added the following regarding a potential fit in Miami:

With slugger Giancarlo Stanton likely out for the season due to a groin injury, the playoff-contending Marlins desperately need outfield help.

Gomez may not help much if his 2016 form persists, but he could be a value signing should he recapture some of the magic he displayed in 2013 and 2014.


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In Smaller Spotlight, Carlos Correa Has Continued Superstar Rise

Last year, Carlos Correa somehow lived up to the hype after beginning his major league career as baseball’s best prospect. After that, it was only fair that there was a huge spotlight on him coming into 2016.

If anyone out there has lost sight of Correa since then, they should know two things: One, it’s not your fault. Two, he’s still really, really good.

Nobody knows this better than the Minnesota Twins. Correa is a big reason why they just dropped three of four to the Houston Astros at Target Field. The 21-year-old cranked a two-run homer in a four-RBI day in a 7-5 win Tuesday, and he wreaked more havoc in both ends of a Thursday doubleheader.

In the day game, Correa helped the Astros to a 15-7 win with a long three-run dinger:

In the night game, Correa helped the Astros to a 10-2 win with an even longer solo dinger:

Like that, Correa’s sophomore season now looks suspiciously like his rookie season. In 2015, Correa hit .279 with an .857 OPS and 22 home runs in 99 games. In 111 games this year, he’s hitting .273 with an .850 OPS and 18 home runs.

It’s not a perfect match, but it’s close. Weighted runs created plus, which measures offensive performance on a scale of league average, calculates Correa has gone from being 33 percent better than the average hitter to 30 percent better than the average hitter. Offensively, the difference between his Rookie of the Year campaign and his quieter sophomore campaign is a split hair.

This is allowing the former No. 1 pick to keep a special place among his fellow shortstops. He was the best-hitting shortstop in the league last year. This year, he’s being outpaced by only Corey Seager and Aledmys Diaz. (Manny Machado has played more games at third base than short.)

And yet Correa has seemed invisible for so much of 2016. My powers of deduction lead me to believe that has something to do with the shortstop getting lost next to Jose Altuve. The 5’6″, 165-pound second baseman is a small man who’s casting a large, possibly MVP-sized shadow. It also hasn’t helped that the Astros haven’t been good and aren’t getting better. Before winning three in a row, they had lost 11 of 14.

Correa also shoulders some of the blame. There was talk in some parts (including these parts) at the outset of the year that he would contend for the American League MVP award. He fell flat in the face of those expectations. Through the end of May, he was hitting .253 and OPSing .762.

But since then? How about .291 with a .928 OPS and 10 of his 18 home runs? Pretty good, right?

Yeah, pretty good. And the difference isn’t just in the surface numbers.

Simply by comparing Correa’s 2015 to his 2016 season, it’s clear he’s used more of a measured approach this year. His chase rate on pitches outside the zone has dropped. And with it, his walk percentage has risen from 9.3 percent to 12.1 percent.

There’s a fine line between being patient and being passive, though. Correa was on the wrong side of it early on. He struck out in 24.2 percent of his plate appearances in April and May, up from 18.1 percent in his rookie season.

Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle saw what the problem was, noting in late May that Correa was “giving away pitches for strike one and putting himself in holes early.” He also wasn’t adjusting to a heavy diet of inside heat.

“I think he’s a very selective hitter and sometimes might be too selective in trying to wait out the perfect pitch,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said, per Kaplan. “I think as he matures and grows, he’ll learn when to hunt early-count fastballs or early-count strikes and maybe not wait all deep into the count until the pitcher’s in control.”

Cue the light bulb over Correa’s head turning on.

Since June, his strikeout rate has fallen to 17.3 percent. He hasn’t been swinging at more pitches, as his overall swing rate has remained stuck at exactly 43.7 percent. This has more to do with his swinging at the right pitches.

As Correa was breaking out in 2015, Brooks Baseball shows the righty swinger was at his most dangerous against inside pitches. Lo and behold, Brooks Baseball also shows his swing pattern has shifted from this in April and May:

To this since June:

Correa was doing a good job of keeping his swings confined to the strike zone in April and May but was aggressive in going after pitches in the outer third of the zone. Since June, he’s cleaned that up and played to his strength on the inner half of the plate.

This, combined with Correa’s good strike-zone judgment, helps explain the decline in whiffs. It also helps explain his increase in power. Although he had straightaway center in his sights Thursday, he’s mostly been pull-happy with a 45.4 pull percentage since June. That’s a good way to find power.

There are still things Correa can improve on. To hit for even more power, it wouldn’t hurt for him to get the ball airborne more often. And he remains a mystery on the other side of the ball. Correa can make amazing plays, but the advanced metrics continue to rate him as a below-average fielder.

The player Correa is, however, should not be taken lightly.

We now have 210 games of Correa being one of the best offensive shortstops in baseball. And now that he’s shown he has the ability to make important adjustments in addition to his insane natural talent, this is something everyone ought to get used to.

So that spotlight? It should probably be a little bigger.


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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Jose Altuve’s Career Year Makes 2016 AL MVP Award His to Lose

When you write about the Houston Astros‘ Jose Altuve, it’s customary to bone up on synonyms for “short:” diminutive, small-statured, pint-sized.

You know what, though? Forget that.

Yes, Altuve is listed at 5’6″—and that might be in his cleats. But there has been nothing little about his production this season.

In fact, with 49 games left on the schedule, the American League MVP Award is Altuve‘s to lose.

After going 4-for-4 in a 7-5 win over the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday, he leads MLB in hits (159) and batting average (.361). He’s among the game’s top 10 defensive second basemen. He’s showing increased plate discipline and getting on base more often, having already drawn a career-high 48 walks. And the 26-year-old has added a surprising infusion of power, posting career highs in home runs (19) and slugging percentage (.570).

Add his 26 stolen bases, and Altuve has a decent shot at becoming baseball’s first 30-30 player since 2012. 

“There simply is no weakness in Altuve‘s game,” opined MLB.com’s Richard Justice, “and in a lineup that has some holes, he has at times seemed to be the only guy keeping the Astros in shouting distance of a second straight postseason berth.”

The Astros’ offense has not lit the league on fire in 2016; it ranks near the bottom third in runs scored and OPS. The starting pitching, too, has wobbled at times and sports a 4.13 ERA.

Yet thanks in large part to Altuve‘s production, the ‘Stros sit above .500 at 58-55, three games off the wild-card pace.

If Houston returns to the postseason, it’d boost Altuve‘s MVP chances since voters frequently take that into consideration when handing out individual honors.

But even if the Astros stay home come late October, there’s no denying Altuve‘s across-the-stat-sheet brilliance. As Tyler Kepner of the New York Times noted, “The last player to finish the season as the A.L. leader in average, hits, on-base percentage, steals and total bases was Ty Cobb in 1917.”

Watch your back, TyAltuve currently ranks first or second in each of those categories.

If you go by FanGraphs wins above replacement, Altuve‘s mark of 5.9 trails only Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout (6.7) and Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson (6.2). Donaldson won the AL MVP last year and Trout was the runner-up.

But if Altuve could be dinged for the Astros possibly missing the playoffs, surely Trout will be hurt by the Angels’ abysmal season.

Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz is also in the mix, as he leads MLB with a 1.013 OPS in his farewell season. Sentimentality aside, though, Ortiz’s lack of a defensive position pushes him to the edge of the conversation.

Donaldson is perhaps Altuve‘s stiffest competition, and if the Jays make the playoffs, he could become the favorite. Since 1995, however, there have been just three back-to-back (or better) MVP winners in either league: the San Francisco Giants‘ Barry Bonds (2001-04), the St. Louis Cardinals‘ Albert Pujols (2008-09) and the Detroit Tigers‘ Miguel Cabrera (2012-13).

That’s not to say it won’t happen again. But it suggests voters are more apt to select a fresh winner. If we stack up the stats, it’s impossible to ignore Altuve‘s case:

The power numbers jump out compared to Altuve‘s career OPS (.790) and previous single-season home run high (15), but they haven’t come at the expense of his other strengths, as Sports Illustrated‘s Michael Beller noted on July 19:

Altuve has not hit one homer when behind in the count this season, but that’s not a bad thing given his skill set…Altuve is, first and foremost, a hitter who makes a ton of contact and gets on base with the best of them. He’s naturally going to default to that approach when he’s behind in the count. The change we’ve seen from him this year is an increased ability to exploit plus counts to the utmost while not giving up any of his contact skills.

“He won the batting title two years ago, and he came in even hungrier the next year,” Astros infielder and fellow Venezuelan Marwin Gonzalez said of his teammate and countryman, per Kepner. “That’s what people don’t know about him. Whatever he ends the season with this year, he’s going to want more next year and he’s going to work even harder. It’s never enough for him.”

If he becomes the first Astro to claim an MVP trophy since Jeff Bagwell in 1994, that’ll be tough to top.

Altuve isn’t the Astros’ only star. His keystone combo partner, shortstop and reigning AL Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa, is one of the game’s most exciting young talents.

Right now, though, Altuve isn’t merely the best player in Houston; he’s looking like the best all-around player in baseball.

And that’s no small feat.


All statistics current as of Aug. 9 and courtesy of MLB.com, Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.

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