Speed Kills

The Astros wake up this morning 11 games below .500 and two touchdowns behind first place St. Louis. If you are an Astro fan, not exactly what you had in mind on opening day. One reason for hope (beyond 2005) is the play of Willy Taveras. The batting champion at AA Round Rock in ’04 is Tavares more than holding his own at the big league level. He is hitting .288 and his 17 stolen bases as of this writing are good for third in the NL. I’m not sure what the modern record for infield hits is, but Willy has 27 already and if he maintains that pace he would have to be in the ballpark. Infield hits obviously don’t have any more value than any other single.As a matter of fact, I’ve never seen anyone go first to third on a base hit to short. What all those infield hits indicates is that you have a player who should be able to hit for a decent average and contribute even when he may not be swinging the bat all that well. The old adage "speed never slumps" certainly applies to Taveras. To say that he is fast is like saying Michael Jackson is a little different. He is a good bunter and getting better. Because of his speed, there is almost no such thing as a routine ground out for him. Third basemen have to shorten up on him and if he learns to pull the ball the doubles will follow. I also believe he will develop into more than a singles hitter. He is a strong kid who should be able to split some gaps and that is when the real fun will start for him.

Perhaps the final piece of the Taveras package would be the ability to switch hit. He worked on it some last year at AA, but abandoned the idea this spring (at least temporarily) as he focused on trying to make the team. With an eye toward the future, maybe now is the time for Taveras to start working on it in BP and perhaps during winter ball. Even if he never mastered the left side, he could get a number of hits by just slapping the ball to the short-stop side and relying on his speed, which would obviously be more valuable from the left-handed box.

NO BAGGY

BagsIT SURE SEEMS WEIRD WATCHING THE ASTROS THESE DAYS WITHOUT JEFF BAGWELL IN THE LINEUP.

For so many years he’s been such a force in the batting order and on the field. Even when he struggles at the plate, he helps you win games. I’m not prepared to write him off, but if the upcoming surgery doesn’t do the trick and he is unable to return in a meaningful way he will be sorely missed.  There has been a fair amount of debate lately as to whether Jeff is a Hall of Famer or not. I believe he is. As a matter of fact I think he should be a first ballot guy. Consider that he played his first 9 seasons in the Astrodome. If he spent those years in a more neutral park, he’d likely be at 500 plus home runs which would all but guarantee enshrinement. 1991 rookie of the year, ’94 MVP [only the third player in NL history to be the unanimous pick for MVP]. He is the only 1st sacker in Major League history with at least 400 long balls and 200 stolen bases. He is one of 7 first basemen in ML history to drive in 1500 and score 1500. His lifetime average is just a notch below 300. Generally considered among the best fielding first basemen in the game, he won a gold glove in 94 and probably deserved a couple more. His baseball instincts are as good as anyone I’ve played with or watched in the last 20 years. And one other thing. He is exactly the kind of player you want your young players to model when they come to the big leagues. Smart, accountable and ultimately professional. If he spent his career in NY, LA or ironically Boston there would be no debate.

Rambling

Having just witnessed a 1-6 road trip to Atlanta and Florida it’s hard to pick a favorite in the N.L. East. The Braves are older and presumably more succeptible to injury. their starting pitching is well above average and  their offense should be okay. I like the Marlins line-up over the Braves especially with the off-season addition of Carlos Delgado. They’ve got speed at the top, plenty of sock in the middle from both sides of the plate. If there is a question mark with either club, it may be the bullpen. The Marlins rotation stacks up with any in baseball right now. I’d have to make the Marlins slight favorites.

John Smoltz is the only pitcher other than Dennis Eckersely to win 150 and save 150. I believe if he can get to two hundred wins he’ll end up in Cooperstown, and I think he’ll get those forty or so wins he needs.

Here’s my least favorite pitcher’s excuse, " I didn’t want to get beat with my second best pitch" Funny, I thought the idea was to not get beat period. I don’t find any merit in that line of thinking.  If you think about  it,if this is sound strategy then every time a pitcher was in a critical situation he’d throw his so called "best pitch." Being predictable isn’t an attribute you aspire to as a pitcher. The reality is we dwell too much on pitch selection. The execution of the pich is far more important regardless of what you pitch you select.

Maiden Voyage

This is my first foray into the world of blogging. I don’t know if that makes me a dinosaur or not, but as they say in the cliched world of sports it is what it is. I pitched for 9 seasons in the big leagues and a few more in the minor leagues. I spent six years with the astros and currently serve as the tv analyst for their road games. I’m here to talk ball and whatever else makes sense.

Clemens_1 Last night i had the pleasure of watching the Clemens- Maddux match-up at Minute Maid . It is remarkable what they have been able to do. They are not merely clinging to their past, they continue to excel and in Rogers case dominate. The rocket could easily be 5-0, but has absolutely no run support. A soccer team would put more points on the board for him. It may be that the hitters are becoming so aware of their struggles with him pitching that they are pressing and not having good at bats. "We never score for Roger" may  becoming a self fulfilling prophecy. Of course the club has struggled to score runs no matter who is on the hill, so its more likely a case of a team that is iBerkmann a funk. The return of Lance Berkman will clearly help and if the starting pitching continues to pitch at such a high level than this team can turn it around. One thing  I can say with confidence is that Garner, Bagwell and Biggio will not let this team stop competing.