H-Town Sports

Houston Sports Blog - Real sports cities have TWO Conference USA teams

Wednesday, May 31, 2006


It's wonderful for the Astros and their fans (like Katy Tim) that Roger Clemens is coming back. Clearly, adding the Rocket to your starting rotation is going to provide a tremendous upgrade. And for all of the doomsdayers, the Astros, despite their open sores, are only 6.5 back in the Central and 3.5 back in the NL wildcard. There is plenty of time to make a run at the postseason, and the Cardinals are clearly more mortal than in years past (save that pesky first baseman). However, adding the Rocket is not going to by itself put the 2006 Astros in contention for the postseason.

The Astros are already averaging six innings per start from their rotation, and their starters have posted a serviceable 4.55 ERA thus far in 2006. For argument's sake, that means through 53 games, their starters can be counted on for six innings and three runs allowed every night, which is certainly good enough to win games. They have allowed more HR than any rotation in the NL so far (47), but the main culprit has surprisingly been Andy Pettitte (12), whose spot in the rotation will not be affected by the Rocket's arrival. The rotation has made 30 quality starts in 53 tries, which is a solid, though not spectacular, ratio. Even with the Rocket, the rotation needs Pettitte to improve and Wandy and Buchholz to continue their decent starts, which are fairly considerable question marks.

For all of its highly-publicized struggles, the bullpen has also not been the biggest reason for the Astros' struggles. The bullpen ERA is 4.83 and its WHIP is 1.44, both of which are in the middle/bottom of the NL, but that is as much the result of the terrible pitchers in the pen getting thomped in meaningless situations (Zeke, Gallo and Miller have a combined ERA of 6.78 in 33+ IP) as the struggling studs (Lidge, Wheeler and Qualls) blowing close games. At least it can be said that the studs are deviating from their career norms. If those three get back on track, the bullpen is in good shape. Nieve could also prove to be a solid contributor in the pen with the Rocket returning, taking some of the pressure off of the Big Three.

In the end, as with last season, the Astros' hopes are pinned on their pathetic offense. The Astros have the third-lowest slugging percentage as a team in the NL and the third-lowest team OPS. Their bench has been weak, posting a .232 avg in 69 ABs. Only the Padres and Cubs have lower Isolated Power numbers (SLG - BA). Preston Wilson has a .303 OBP and an even more disturbing .383 SLG. Jason Lane's travails at the plate have been highly publicized, but please note that J-Lane has scored more runs, hit more HR, walked more, struck out less and posted better OBP, SLG and OPS than Wilson, all while playing a very good defensive RF. Lane should not be the man who sits as long as Preston Wilson occupies a roster spot. My personal punching bag, Adam Everett, has posted incredible offensive numbers (.206/.261/.306) - 'incredible' meaning, "It's incredible that this guy is still an everyday major league position player". I'm not intending to put steroids on the guy, but his offensive numbers have continually decreased since 2004, when he was merely terrible at the plate. Only Clint Barmes has a worse OBP, SLG and OPS among NL shortstops, and the average SS is putting up about a .350 OBP and a .440 SLG, both of which are numbers that Everett has never even approached in his career.

For the time being, it appears that the Astros are going to pin their hopes on the Rocket's return alone, hoping that it serves to ignite a lifeless squad. Such hopes are as faint as the skin tone on my rear end. Tim Purpura and Phil Garner have to scrap their laissez-faire management styles and do something to drastically shake up this team's offensive roster, or else they'll be better off fielding July 31 phone calls from the Rangers, Red Sox and Yankees for the Rocket's services than jockeying for postseason position.

It's Official--The Rocket Rides Again!

After pacing my office all morning, the Chronicle has finally confirmed what Newsday reported yesterday:


Sweet Mariah. All this eager anticipation has made me tired. I need a nap.

Uncle Drayton Just Made Me Change My Pants Again...

This little tidbit from the Chronicle just popped up on my radar:


Looks like the the ol' grocer is about to come through for his loyal subjects once again. But asking the Astros fans to "sit tight"? No chance. I feel like a kid on Christmas Eve.

PSSSSSSTTT! The Rocket Is Coming Back!

After Newsday broke the story that Roger Clemens had agreed to sign with the 'Stros yesterday afternoon, both the club and his agents issued strong denials that any such deal had been made. After I changed my pants, I spent the rest of the night feverishly watching ESPN, praying for a morsel of new information. Although Peter Gammons seemed to think that such a signing would become official in 48 hours, I still didn't have the confirmation I so desperately needed. Until this morning's Chronicle, that is:


In the glorious afterglow of last night's inspirational win over the Cards, Andy Pettitte had this to say:

"Before (Tuesday), like I said, I had no clue what's going on," Pettitte said. "I've been talking to Rog. I'll leave it up to him to let him share whatever he's going to share whenever it's time to share. Before, when you all would ask me, I didn't know anything. I do know now. But again, it's not my place to say anything about that anyway."

After I read that, I had to change my knickers again. To paraphrase George Costanza, "HE'S BACK, BABY!" Obviously, the rotation has just improved dramatically. But the Katy Rocket's return will be felt far more than every fifth day. Watch for him to whip our pathetic middle relief into shape with a series of head games and negative physical reinforcement. Then watch for the first World Series title to arrive in Houston around October of 2006. Finally, be ready for he and Lefty to get married on top of a mountain, with flutes playing and trombones and flowers and garlands of fresh herbs. And they will dance...until the sun rises! And then their children will form a family band, and they will tour the countryside, and the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rangers won't be invited!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Lights Out for Lidge?

With four million pitching coaches crawling the streets of metro Houston these days, Brad Lidge only has to read the paper, surf the web or click on talk radio to discover one thousand quick fixes that would enable him to return to his old "Lights Out" form. I will not play amateur pitching coach, but I will simply post a few numbers that explain why he is not being successful, since I think that can be clearly and quickly explained.

From Yahoo:

Lidge's situational WHIP so far this season:

if Lidge gets ahead 0-1 in the count, then his WHIP is 1.29 (4 BB, 15 K)
if Lidge gets behind in the count 1-0, then his WHIP is 2.82 (12 BB, 9 K)
if Lidge gets behind in the count 2-0, then his WHIP is 7.80 (10 BB, 3 K)
If Lidge gets behind in the count 3-0, then his WHIP is 18.00 (5 BB, 1 K)
If Lidge gets ahead in the count 1-2, then his WHIP is 1.00 (4 BB, 14 K)
If Lidge has a count of 2-2, then his WHIP is 1.11 (6 BB, 11 K)

I'm no pitching coach, but it seems pretty simple to me. Lidge can't locate either pitch for strikes right now. That means he's falling behind, and while hitters may still not be able to hit Lidge's slider, they can just lay off of it a time or two each at-bat because as long as they've got less than 2 strikes. That enables hitters to sit and wait for a fastball, which he's also missing with (often belt high and over the heart of the plate).

By the way, in 2005, the situation was not much different:
0-1 count: 0.64 WHIP (5 BB, 78 K)
0-2 count: 0.38 WHIP (1 BB, 60 K)
1-0 count: 1.79 WHIP (18 BB, 25 K)
2-0 count: 8.25 WHIP (15 BB, 4 K)

Lidge needs to throw strikes, period. Then he'll be back to "Lights Out" status.

So Close...

In its notes section accompanying the story of Phil Garner's public emasculation of Brad Lidge (a separate post will follow on that topic), the Chronicle reports Trever Miller's impending return means either Zeke Astacio (he of the 11.12 ERA) or The Worst Player in the History of Major League Baseball will be sent down to Round Rock:


It seems the Chronicle has joined the writers here by virtue of its observation that "Against Gallo, lefthanders are hitting .412 and righthanders are hitting .474 this year." Zeke is awful, but he's not even in the same zip code as The Rooster. This is a no-brainer. Do the right thing, T-Poo.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Charley Casserly: Scapegoat or Satan?

The following discussion was recorded earlier today between an admitted Casserly apologist (Scott) and a bitter Texas Ex (Tim):



After reading the Chronicle this morning, I was inspired. The new poll on H-Town Sports should give people a chance to choose the move they will remember Charley Casserly the most for. My choices?

A. Drafting David Carr with the first overall pick in franchise history.
B. Trading a second and third round pick for the corpse that is Phillip "Showtime" Buchanon.
C. Drafting an undersized, part-time collegiate back named Domanick Davis in the fourth round.
D. Crapping upon an entire city's hopes, dreams, and collective intelligence by taking Mario Williams first overall in last month's draft.
E. Tony Boselli. 'Nuff said.



That would not be quite as fun as you like to think. Would you rather have had Harrington than Carr? No way any expansion team is going to draft a defensive lineman with their first overall pick. Carr was the only pick. The Buchanan trade was an unmitigated disaster, but understandable when you consider how terrible their secondary is. Plus, P-Buck may breakout this year and reach his potential. The undersized, part-time collegiate back of whom you speak has averaged > 1000 yards per season in his 1st three years in the league, despite horrendous offensive coaching. Mario Williams was the correct pick, since Bob McNair was not going to allow Casserly to get rid of David Carr. Tony Bosselli is and was one of the greatest O-lineman in history, and you also got Gary Walker and Seth Payne by agreeing to gamble on Boselli. Clearly, that was a no-brainer as well. Face it, Cassery built a team that steadily improved year over year until last year, when one of the worst coaching jobs in the history of organized sports dragged the team to the depths of ineptitude. Casserly’s built winners all over the NFL, Capers has not won as much as a Monopoly game and McNair is a fool with an open wallet.



Relax, big guy. The purpose of the poll was to offer people the chance to opine on what move they will most remember Casserly for. It does not mean to suggest that all the choices were bad moves. Some of the choices were absolutely the right call.

For the record, Carr was the right move in 2002. Boselli was the right move as well; the Texans picked him as part of a handshake agreement with the Jags that taking Boselli off their hands would result in them leaving both Walker and Payne unprotected (instead of pulling one back). And on the off chance that Boselli can anchor your line for the next five years, you make that move in a heartbeat. To say that Boselli was one of the greatest offensive linemen in NFL history, however, seems rather ridiculous. Lay off the Casserly kool-aid.

His professional statistics have shown that Davis in the fourth round was a great pick. No one can argue that. Giving up a second and third round pick for a DB coming off a horrific season is inexcusable, and Buchanon's complete worthlessness since the trade has only compounded the mistake. Easily the worst move of Casserly's tenure. Well, maybe not. Time will tell if taking Super Mario over VY and Bush was the disaster I think it is. It's too early to string Casserly up for that, although I think it very well could dwarf the Buchanon trade as the albatross of his career in Houston.

Finally, "Casserly's built winners all over the NFL..." Unbelievably ridiculous statement. He's worked for two teams--Washington and Houston. He built a winner in Washington and did not do so in Houston. Period. "Capers has not won as much as a Monopoly game..." Didn't he reach the NFC Championship Game in his second season as a head coach? He didn't get the job done here, but the guy has won a playoff game or two. Try as you might, you cannot blame everyone but Casserly. He is just as responsible for the team's shortcomings as anyone.


Casserly must be culpable to a degree for the team’s failure simply because of his position in the organization. I agree. From hearing McClain talk about the splits in the organization and the degree to which the coaches were given personnel decision-making authority, I really get the picture that Casserly was squeezed out. My take is that slowly but surely, Capers and Fangio got McNair’s ear and convinced him to approve certain moves and decisions (the Greenwood signing, the Babin trade) that Casserly felt were incorrect, but Casserly’s a class act and refused to go public with his complaints. Then came the Dan Reeves hiring, and eventually I think that Casserly realized that the Texans’ GM position was possibly the most powerless in NFL history, so he told McNair to find someone else.

I certainly don’t think Casserly’s infallible, but I do think that it is difficult to point the finger at him when you had a 7-8 team going into the Browns game in 2004 that appeared to be on the cusp of contending for a wildcard slot that suddenly spirals downhill the next year into a laughingstock. That’s got to be coaching, to me, because the personnel changes were not all that significant and there were no massive injury outbreaks, unless the 2004 Texans played out of their skulls, which I don’t believe to be the case. I get the impression that there was a pretty big disconnect between Capers and Casserly, and McNair sided with Capers, which proved to be an ill-fated decision. Then McNair brought in Reeves, who told McNair that Capers was the one to blame for the bad decisions on and off the field (for the most part), and then McNair had no choice but to fire his main man Dumb. Then Casserly smirked at McNair, agreed to stay on through the draft and follow McNair’s orders (a/k/a keep Carr) and then depart for another job after the draft under his own terms.

The biggest thing that I can’t believe at the end of the day is the irony that the Texans were publicly blowing up their coaching staff and front office but chose to pass on VY, which seemingly would have been the easiest, most understandable ‘starting over’ decision that a pro sports team could have ever made.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A Walk through the Minors: High-A Salem

After 32 games, the Salem (Va.) Avalanche sit at the bottom of the Carolina League Southern Division at 13-19, 9.5 games behind the Kinston Indians. Run production has been a struggle for the Avalanche, now that sluggers like Hunter Pence and Ben Zobrist have made the jump to Corpus Christi. C Lou Santangelo is the only Avalanche regular with a SLG over .400 (.402). Guys like Beau Torbert, Scott Robinson, Santangelo and Francisco Carabello who all had success at Lexington in 2005 have gotten off to slow starts this season in Salem.

Two of the Astros' most prized arms are pitching in Salem to start the season. Jimmy Barthmeier, the Pitcher of the Year for the Legends in 2005, is 2-3 with a 4.46 ERA thus far in 2006. He has allowed only 1 HR in 36 innings pitched, but he is struggling with his command (19 BB). Most importantly in the eyes of most fans is young Troy Patton, who is currently 0-4 with a 4.73 ERA. Much like Barthmeier, Patton has kept the ball in the park but had trouble finding the plate (1 HR and 15 BB in 26+ innings pitched). Chad Reineke has been the stud of the rotation so far, going 3-1 out of the gate in six starts with a 1.77 ERA. Reineke has a WHIP of 0.95 and has struck out 37 batters in 35+ innings of work. Reineke is a 24 year old RHP out of Miami (OH) University who pitched very well at each of his first two stops, Tri-City in 2004 and Lexington in 2005. He may very well be the first of the three horses at Salem to get the call up to Double-A.

One Reign of Terror Is Over!

In a move that came about four months too late, Charley Casserly has apparently stepped down as general manager of the Houston Texans:


In a related story, Jabar Gaffney, Charles Hill, Benny Joppru, and Jason Babin all still suck. Thanks for the memories, Carlos.

Gallo with the Ladies

Not surprising that Gallo seems to relish interaction with the fans, since any person with a semblance of baseball intelligence recognizes that he has no more business than I do of donning an Astros uniform that was not purchased at The Shed. I imagine that these babes are actually spouses/girlfriends from the Astros opponent that afternoon who wanted their pictures taken with the pitcher who allowed their mates' longest HR ever.

Gallo Update

As part of our relentless effort to monitor Houston's least-favorite no-talent assclown, Mike Gallo can at least brag that his meatballs proved to only be the appetizer in the Dodgers' 8th inning feast on the Astros' bullpen Tuesday night. The Astros' ace lefty specialist was brought on to face lefty OF Kenny Lofton, who promptly singled to center field. That brings Lofton's numbers this year to a clean 2-for-2 against Gallo. Lefties as a group are now batting .438 against Gallo. Gallo has now failed to retire a single batter two times in his last three outings. Only Lofton's baserunning mistake prevented Gallo from picking up an earned run in his zero innings of work, which would have merely rocketed the Rooster's ERA to yet another level of the far reaches of the stratosphere.

Much has been said and written by the mainstream media about the struggles of Lidge, Qualls and Wheeler, who all have clearly been performing below their career averages for the first month of this season. Gallo has been likewise performed below his career averages so far in 2006. However, the difference lies in that Lidge, Qualls and Wheeler have all established themselves as quality relief pitchers in the years leading up to this season, whereas Mike Gallo has never done this. There is hope for Lidge, Qualls and Wheeler. The only hope for Gallo is that he has a Brokeback moment with Wandy and contracts that vicious throat-blister syndrome, which would ideally sideline him for months, if not years.

For his career, lefties have hit .282 against Mike Gallo. That does include seven home runs in 56+ innings, but it does not include the additional 20 walks that lefties have drawn against him. Hitters in general have posted a .289 batting average against him. His career WHIP is 1.50. For a situational reliever, that is an especially important stat, and one which illustrates just how absurd it is that Phil Garner continues to rely on Gallo in key situations.

Even if Gallo rights himself and returns to his career norms for the remainder of the season, he is still a flat-out poor pitcher. Garner is to certainly to blame for continuing to turn to Gallo on a regular basis. Purpura may not have the authority and/or the guts to make a blockbuster deal to shake up this team, but each day that passes with Mike Gallo occupying a spot on the major-league roster is equivalent to T-Poo handing Garner the matches and the gasoline, rendering the GM guilty of nothing less than conspiracy to commit arson.

Keep in mind that while Mike Gallo continues to participate, Chris Burke continues to sit. That's a whole issue in and of itself, which will be addressed at a later date.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

A Walk through the Minors: AA Corpus Christi

After 30 games, the AA Corpus Christi Hooks are 17-13 and 0.5 games behind Midland (Oakland) in the South Division of the Texas League. Offensively, all eyes are on OF Hunter Pence, who has destroyed every level of pitching leading up to this season, but many felt that Double-A would be Pence's first true test. So far, Hunter has earned an A+. In 125 ABs at Corpus, Hunter has put up splits of .344/.399/.656 and leads the Hooks in doubles, triples, home runs and RBI. SS Ben Zobrist and C J. R. House are also hitting the ball very well. Additionally, CF Josh Anderson is having his best season to date (.346/.387/.449 with 10 steals and 27 runs scored). The Hooks' offense is certainly an exciting one and provides Astros' fans with hope for a couple of years down the road.

The pitching staff has been solid as well, led by Sugar Land's own Matt Albers, a 23 year-old RHP who was a 23rd round pick in 2001 by the Astros. Albers is 4-1 with a 2.19 ERA through six starts, and among his most impressive numbers are a 1.19 WHIP, a 30:12 K/BB ratio and a HR allowed rate of only 0.24/9 IP. The other notable is closer Jailen Peguero, a 25 year-old RHP from the Dominican Republic. Peguero was very good for the Hooks in 2005 (2.94 ERA in 50 appearances, 12 saves and 63 K in 64+ IP), but was a little bit wild (25 BB). Jailen has been even better thus far in 2006 (1.32 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 10 K/2 BB in 13+ IP). If Peguero continues to pitch near his current pace, the Astros should be moving him up to Round Rock mid-summer.

Tom Kirkendall on the Astros

Tom Kirkendall is an astute fan of the Astros, and he has posted his second in a series of in-season reviews. Most interesting to me is his perspective on Lidge, which is worth a read. Maybe the legend of "Lights Out" is a little out-of-touch with reality? Tom's certainly correct that the next 16 games are critical, especially with Rocket waiting in the wings.

Astros Lineup Idea

Much has been made of the fact that the Astros are tied with Pittsburgh for last-place in the National League in stolen bases (12) so far this season. Phil Garner has admitted on the record that Wily Taveras (3 for 6 in stolen base attempts) is being prevented by the coaching staff from running as much because the Astros' braintrust does not want Berkman coming to the plate with first base open for fear that the opposing team will choose to pitch around Berkman, who is unquestionably Houston's most dangerous hitter. The result is that the Astros #2 spot in the lineup is being manned by their sixth-best OBP guy, whose only true offensive asset is his speed, which is beingly openly ignored in the event that he reaches base because of his spot in the order. This is clearly an ignorant decision, and here's the easy fix: Brad "The Family Man" Ausmus.

The Family Man is currently leading the NL with a .451 OBP but has scored only six runs. With one of the worst offensive SS in MLB, Adam Everett, hitting behind Ausmus in the order, pitchers are likely letting Ausmus swing away knowing that effectively two pitchers are slated to hit behind him in the order. One would think Ausmus might get considerably less to hit in front of Berkman, but why not try it? According to MLB.com, Berkman has grounded into only four DP so far in 2006 and has a 22:48 ground out:air out ratio, which alleviates my biggest concern - that Ausmus would clog up the basepaths. Meanwhile, Taveras in the #7 spot would be free to run wild in front of Everett, whose speed may also then become somewhat more of a factor as well. Ausmus has 725 career AB's in the 2nd spot and sported a .343 OBP there, which is quite respectable. At some point Garner & Co. are going to have to think outside the box to spark this offense because it is quite clear that there is no budding batting champ knocking down the door from Round Rock, and Miggy Tejada's window to Houston likely closed this winter.

(Note: The picture included in this post is dedicated to Tuffy.)

Monday, May 08, 2006

Now THIS I've got to see

According to the USA Today, the Sussex Skyhawks of the Can-Am League have signed a RHP named Jim Abbott to their roster. Jim pitching with his left hand while mounting his glove on his right hand until he could make the rapid switch for defense was amazing enough, but I sure hope that he has talked to his family and his insurance providers about this new venture.

Garner in Action

Thanks to loyal reader K. Vandeweghe for sending in this photo that he took at Minute Maid Park last week depicting Astros' manager Phil Garner removing Mike Gallo from the game in the seventh inning:

Gallo-wed be Thy Name

Admittedly, Astros lefty specialist Mike Gallo is the focus of much ire on this site, generally following one of his numerous outings in which he is brought on to 'take advantage' of his lefty throwing motion by dominating the opposing team's left-handed power source in a late-inning situation, only to either walk the hitter on four cowardly pitches or give up a moonshot that disappears deep into the Space City night. No matter the ending, the always-spunky Gallo is sure to spike the resin bag, kick some dirt or cuss into his glove in a way that ensures you that even if he cannot pitch like a major-league reliever, he certainly can exhibit quirky behavior like a major-league reliever.

Since we last checked in on Michael Dwain, much has changed in Astro Land. Of most importance to The Rooster is the fact that the Astros 'other' lefty specialist, TrevEr Miller, landed on the disabled list with a left elbow sprain on April 19. Acquired by T-Poo as a free agent in a highly-publicized 'splash' during the Astros' thrilling 2006 offseason with some of the surplus revenue that was wisely not wasted on that washed up gascan Roger Clemens, TrevEr followed M.D. Gallo's lead masterfully, allowing nine hits, five runs (and two home runs) in three-plus innings of work, while walking more batters (three) than he struck out (two). Hopefully, Uncle Drayton has taken out a restraining order against TrevEr because it has been printed that T-Mill thinks he's about ready to re-toe the rubber at the Juice Box.

Since T-Mill departed for the infirmary, The Rooster has bravely borne the responsibility of 'lefty' specialist solely upon his shoulders. The results?

6 G 2 IP 5 hits 1 run 1 walk 2 K (including a dastardly whiff of Todd Helton Sunday)

Gallo's ERA has shrunk from a mediocre 12.46 to a miniscule 8.59 since April 24. OK, so that's still not that great. Let's delve deeper and reveal exactly why Gallo remains on the Astros' roster.

As the proverbial book says, numbers can be deceiving for relief pitchers early in the year. Let's face it, Gallo's job is not to win ERA crowns - it's to retire challenging hitters late in ballgames. So far in 2006, here's how MDG has fared against the most dangerous hitters he's seen:

Luis Gonzalez (0-1, walk)
Adam Dunn (1-1)
Todd Helton (1-2)
J. D. Drew (0-1)
Kenny Lofton (1-1)
Prince Fielder (1-1, double)
Geoff Jenkins (0-2)
Barry Bonds (1-1)
Nick Johnson (1-1)
Alfonso Soriano (0-1)

Total: 6-12 (.500 BAA)

OK, so he's had a couple of bad at-bats. Certainly, though, his reputed prowess agaisnt lefties remains clear: .400 BAA for lefties versus .500 BAA for righties. OK, so the average LH hitter is Ted Williams against Gallo, while the average RH hitter is apparently a cleanup hitter from the SNK Baseball Stars. Must be something else.

Maybe he is being utilized in a clever home/road platoon. Nope. Unfairly, the pressure of pitching in front of his tens of fans has obviously impacted his performance at home: .550 BAA at home v. a puny .308 on the road. That's not a typo, by the way - hitters are batting .550!!! at MMP against Gallo in 2006. But there's obviously some reason that Scrapper continues to trot this accelerant out to the mound every couple of nights...

Most importantly, considering his role as a situational reliever, let's look at his splits with runners on. Surely THAT's why Garner continues to bring this talentless biscuit into games:

Bases Empty: .455 BAA
Runners on: .444 BAA
RISP: .455 BAA

We'll keep digging, and we're open to your suggestions as to why Mike Gallo remains on a major-league roster. The numbers seem to indicate that MDG has compromising pictures of a high-level Astros exec working out with Kaz Tadano, but I'm sure we're missing something here.

A Walk through the Minors: AAA Round Rock Express

The Express wrapped up their first month at 18-10, 2.5 games behind the Albequerque (Marlins) Isotopes in the PCL American South division and currently in the midst of a nine-game winning streak. Offensively, the real bright spot has been Charlton Jimerson, playing his first season at AAA. Jimerson has posted .300/.328/.592 in 120 AB's thus far, though making contact has still been an issue (5 BB, 47 K). The numbers that Jimerson is posting, regardless of the strikeouts, provide reason for optimism, as he currently leads the Express in runs scored, hits, doubles (tied with Brooks Conrad), triples, home runs (tied with Luke Scott), total bases and stolen bases. Luke Scott has also hit well of late and has shown a good eye, based on his BB/K ratio (16/24). The third catcher on the Astros organizational depth chart, Humberto Quintero (the Astros' return in the Tim Redding trade with SD), has hit six HR and six doubles in only 49 AB's.

On the mound, Chris Sampson has been the most impressive starter, going 4-1 with a 2.57 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 21/4 K/BB ratio in six starts. Sampson will turn 28 years old this summer and has been a slow developer since being drafted in the 8th round of the 1999 draft, taking his first significant shot at AA in 2005 at Corpus Christi where he went 4-12 with a 3.12 ERA with a 1.11 WHIP and 19/92 BB/K ratio. Jason Hirsh has started 1-2 in his first AAA season with a 4.83 ERA. Sidewinding Brandon Puffer is off to a good start out of the pen, allowing only one run in nine innings of relief work.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Apologist? No. Realist? Yes.

Tim and I seem to agree on most things with regard to the Texans' first round pick. We agree that the Texans blew it by choosing David Carr over Vince Young, though we are both hopeful that new additions to the O-Line and receiving corps will allow Carr to develop into the QB that many projected upon his selection four years ago. We agree that the Mario Williams pick was the correct pick from a football perspective. The Texans' "need" at running back was clearly nowhere near as desperate as the need for a pass-rusher on the defensive line, especially considering Kubes' history of obtaining above-average production from lesser-known players at that position. Combine the "need" factor, Kubiak's impressive history, Domanick Davis' presence and Bush's apparent contractual demands, and I believe that under the circumstances (and excluding Vince Young as a possibility), Mario Williams was absolutely the proper pick. So now that we've set the stage, let's tackle the argument that Tim poses, which is that the Texans botched the pick by selecting Williams #1 rather than trading down to #2.

If you're the Texans and you've decided that Mario Williams is your pick, then you know that you will most likely have to own one of the first two picks in the draft in order to assure that you will be able to get your man. Virtually every pundit pontificating prior to the draft listed Williams as one of the top two overall players (with Bush) and the number one overall defensive prospect. Even if you thought you could get Mario at #3, the Titans knew that they were going to be able to get either Vince Young or Matt Leinart at #3, so they had no reason to give up picks to move up. If Houston traded down to #4 as many had dreamed possible prior to the draft (yours truly included), then the odds that you would be able to get Super Mario seem awfully slim. As such, the Texans' only chance to obtain the best of both worlds (add a pick via trade and still get Mario) was to swap spots with New Orleans.

For argument's sake, I will agree that it seems that the Texans could have held out until the very last moment in hopes that the Saints would make a last-minute trade offer worth accepting. However, neogtiations had been theoretically possible for months and had produced nothing, and from a PR perspective, the Texans understandably did not want to be perceived as deceiving their fan base by proceeding under the perception that Bush was going to be their pick, only to then stun their trusting fanbase at 12:15 Eastern on Saturday by ripping the proverbial rug out and selecting Mario. Instead, they hoped that signing Mario on Friday night would be a sign of confidence to their fans that they were taking the man that the organization wanted most.

Here's how I think the negotiations played out. Friday night, the Texans called the Saints and said, "We're not taking Bush, but we're entertaining offers from other teams for the #1 pick. Do you have any interest?" The Saints' answer was, "No thanks. You've already proclaimed that you're going to draft either Mario or Reggie, so if you don't take Reggie, you must want Mario, and we know that you won't be trading down below #2 because you won't be able to get Mario below #2. Therefore, we'll hold out with the knowledge that we'll either be able to draft Bush #2 or dangle the chance to draft Bush in the eyes of the Jets and Niners, both of whom will certainly be interested."

If the Saints thought that the Texans were going to draft Reggie Bush, then they appeared comfortable drafting either D'Brickashaw Ferguson or Mario Williams at #2 or dealing the #2 pick to a team looking for a QB, enabling them to add picks. If the Saints thought that the Texans were not going to draft Bush, then they become able to choose between drafting Bush or dangling Bush's talents in front of New York and San Francisco. Under either scenario, it would be completely illogical for the Saints to consider giving up picks to the Texans, as appreciated as it would have been to us Texans fans. They stood to make out very well no matter what the Texans did, and that's why the Texans' only option was to take Williams #1.

Salt in the Wound

Just minutes ago, I did not think I could feel any worse about the sobering reality of VY in Nashville. I now realize I was wrong. Loyal H-Town Sports reader (and Dallas Cokeboys apologist) Ted B. opted to ratchet up my anguish via a personalized "gift" just delivered to my office.

The gift? A Tennessee Titans hat, accompanied by the following note:

"Dear Tim-

I and the fine people of Tennessee would like to thank you for your kind gift of Mr. Vincent Young this draft weekend. Please accept this small token of appreciation from a generous supporter of Houston athletics.

K.S. "Bud" Adams, Jr."

You're a dead man, Ted. I don't know how and I don't know when, but I shall have my revenge. I'll begin plotting said comeuppance as soon as I stop this infernal weeping.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Texans' Projected Starters

Now that the draft is over, the Chronicle listed what it believed to be the Texans' depth chart in today's edition:


Here's my admittedly optimistic take on the starters come kick-off on September 10th against the Eagles:


WR--Andre Johnson (given)
LT--Charles Spencer (a bit of a reach, but the thought of Seth "Swinging Gate" Wand starting again is too much to bear)
LG--Chester Pitts (finally gets to move back to guard, which everyone thinks is a much better fit than tackle)
C--Mike Flanagan (solid free agent acquisition)
RG--Steve McKinney (should be interesting to see how he does away from C)
RT--Eric Winston (will probably be Zach Wiegert, but I am officially driving the Winston bandwagon)
TE--Jeb Putzier (playing Mark Bruener is akin to displaying "It's a running play!" on the video screens)
WR--Eric Moulds (I'm positively giddy just typing that)
QB--David Carr (with VY in Tennessee, I pray for Kubiak's sake that this decision pans out)
RB--Domanick Davis (could anyone be any happier with Mario Williams' selection than this guy?)
FB--Jameel Cook (ummm...good?)


LDE--Anthony Weaver (justify that $25 mil, Tony)
T--Seth Payne (with Travis Johnson waiting in the wings)
T--Robaire Smith (with Travis Johnson waiting in the wings)
RDE--Mario Williams (check that--Sam Bowie is probably happier than Domanick Davis about the Mario Williams pick)
OLB--DeMeco Ryans (could overshadow Super Mario as the best defensive rookie on the squad)
MLB--Sam Cowart (gotta have a savvy, crusty veteran in the linebacking corps)
OLB--Morlon Greenwood (look, I'm happy you're a U.S. citizen; how about you start tackling like one now?)
LCB--Dunta Robinson (if not for him, I would have thrown Molotov cocktails every time the defense took the field at Reliant last year)
RCB--DeMarcus Faggins (would've been nice to have another DB (Ko Simpson) here...what's that? We've got Phillip Buchanon? (Reaching for bleach to drink))
FS--C.C. Brown (should be an adventure)
SS--Glenn Earl (safeties are overrated anyway)

An Open Letter to Vince Young.

Dearest Vincent-

By now, you are likely taking a few days of well-deserved rest after the insanity of the NFL Draft. At the outset of this missive, allow us to congratulate you. Your accomplishments on the collegiate level have led to you being the third player taken overall in the entire draft. Kudos to you. You deserve it. You brought great joy to us throughout your time at Madison High School and the University of Texas, and we look forward to watching you on the next level.

Of course, we're not very excited about your new employer. As you know, your boss left us (and that includes you, fellow Houstonian) high and dry some nine years ago. We're fairly certain Bud Adams is the spawn of Lucifer and selected you purely to spite an entire city. Indeed, one can almost imagine him cackling maniacally, turning toward Reliant Stadium, and extending two middle fingers skyward before telling his minions to take "that Vance Youngblood feller." If you wanted to push him down a flight of stairs at the Oilers' training facility in Nashville, that'd be fine by us. Hell, it'd just add to your legend. We're pretty sure it would result in you getting the Bagwell and Biggio treatment outside Reliant Stadium, thus breaking their record of "fastest time to be immortalized in bronze during an active career."

Although we must now be on opposite sides in the AFC South, please rest assured that we will be rooting for your success fifty out of every fifty-two weeks of the year. And if you don't mind, take a knee a couple of times a game if you see Mario Williams in your vicinity. Dude's gonna need to pad those sack statistics to keep us from calling him Mike Mamula II.

Very Truly Yours,
The City of Houston

P.S. Feel free to sign a short contract with the Oilers. We're probably going to be looking for a QB in a couple of years.

What Have We Done?

Despite a city's fervent prayers to the contrary, the Houston Texans made Mario Williams the first pick of the 2006 NFL Draft on Saturday, signing him to a 6 year, $54 million deal that features $26.5 million in guaranteed money. As the news actually broke on Friday night (setting off a bout of angry drinking throughout the City of Houston), I suppose the "official announcement" on Saturday morning wasn't as shocking as it could have been. Still, I can't help but feel like the Texans just destroyed the last bit of goodwill remaining after their disastrous 2-14 campaign.

Passing on Vince Young? I think it's a mistake, but I understand that Kubiak thinks he can win with Carr. Passing on Reggie Bush? Again, I think it's a mistake, but I'm encouraged by the fact that Kubes is versed in a system where he can get 1,000 yards from almost any RB. Plus, Domanick Davis is a quality alternative. I won't rip the Texans for passing on Bush, but I still don't understand how there was allegedly so little interest in trade for the rights to select Bush with the No. 1 pick. As I posted last week, I understand if the Texans thought Mario was the best option. The vast majority of the NFL disagreed with this analysis, so why not exploit that? You're telling me you couldn't have moved down at least one spot, picked up at least one more pick, and still gotten Williams? I refuse to believe that. By all accounts, numerous teams were interested in Bush. There's no way the Texans could have swung a deal with the Jets for the No. 4 pick? Worst case scenario, a cornerstone LT would have been there. But no--instead, the Texans made the riskiest move possible.

The one who really gets screwed in all of this is Mario Williams. If he doesn't post 10 sacks every year and Bush/VY turn out to fulfill expectations (in New Orleans and Tennessee, no less), this will be the NFL's version of the 1984 NBA Draft. Reliant will echo with boos on the sole basis that Mario isn't Vince or Reggie. A good point was made by Mark Schlereth on ESPN--Williams may do things to disrupt an offense that don't show up in a box score, but the casual fan won't notice and subsequently assume he's a bust. With regard to that, I really like everything I've read about Williams' reaction to the situation. He certainly sounds like he's got his head on straight.

That said, I really like what the Texans did with the rest of the draft. DeMeco Ryans should start immediately. Charles Spencer and Eric Winston are two excellent offensive linemen who should contribute right away. I'm not sold on the selection of Owen Daniels in the fourth, especially with Ko Simpson and Darnell Bing still available. Wali Lundy and David Anderson should contribute on special teams; both are considered "sleepers," so anything more than that would be a bonus.

All in all, I'm terrified of the fallout from the first pick but feeling very confident about the rest of the selections. As long as Mario Williams is the next Reggie White, the Texans will be in great shape.