The Houston Astros Are Different


Jose Altuve (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)

At this point, that headline should not be surprising. Not even a little bit. It stands out more because the results on the field have actually gotten worse, and at times it is difficult to watch the Houston Astros.

Frustrating moments are abundant, and there is only so much we can hear about this “plan” and the future. But, what we do know is that it is there. We also must try to keep in mind that it is not a finite plan, and adjustments must be made.

Two areas where this stands out, is the tandem starting pitching in the minor leagues and defensive shifting at the major league level.

On paper, on a computer, or in a board room, the ideas and theories might make sense. But that is not where baseball is played. Therefore, adjustments must be made.

Yes, the Astros must do everything they can to gain a competitive advantage. Especially now at this point their in development. But when is it too much? That has to be a question that Jeff Luhnow is asking himself everyday.

Luhnow still has a grace period before results are required from him and he is judged on wins and losses on the field, but as Ken Rosenthal learned, he does have a plan and answer for everything.

With respect to the defensive shifts, the Astros are doing it a lot so far this season. In fact, the argument could very well be made that they are doing it too much. I think that this is something Houston’s decision makers will begin to realize and work to correct.

There really could be such a thing as over shifting, and while the computer model may tell you one thing, the results on the field at times have told a different story.

"“When we’re talking about our infielders, we focus on the ground-ball distribution,” Luhnow said. “In general, we’ve been aligning ourselves as an industry (in a way) that covers real estate proportionally. That may not be the best way to do it. It’s not the best way to do it. I think we’re proving that.”"

In general, the Astros really are a grand experiment in a sense. They have truly broken down an organization and are building it up again from the ground floor. Trial and error is a by-product of this and has to be expected.

Another area where we have seen this is in the use of tandem pitchers in the minor leagues. Here starters pitch more often but for less innings. There have been some questions about this system and some complaints as well, but overall I do think it has its benefits.

Last year’s first round pick Mark Appel entered 2014 with lofty expectations. Instead Appel has gotten off to a rocky start, and the tandem system was blamed. Although I’m not sure I totally agree with it in all cases, this is not to blame in the case of Appel.

Instead the issue is more to the fact that Appel did not have a normal spring to build up velocity and his stamina. So instead, Luhnow shouldered the blame, righted the mistake, and sent him to extended Spring Training. That is a good trait to have.

"“It was really my fault,” Luhnow said. “I made a decision to send him out to Lancaster to have him try and build up there, to try to catch up for the time he missed in Florida. He ended up pitching twice on a four-day cycle and then he skipped a start and pitched on an eight-day cycle. It wasn’t like he was in the tandem for a month and couldn’t handle it.“I happened to be there last week. I watched his start. I talked to him afterward. You could just tell he was not in the flow of pro ball, irrespective of five-day, four-day, six-day. He hasn’t gotten conditioned to throwing and resting, throwing and resting, the way you need to get conditioned in order to be in a five-man rotation, much less a four-man.”"