Mailing List

Sign up for email updates from Hot Corner Harbor any time there's a new post!

    Friday, July 14, 2017

    2017 Champions? Revisiting the Famous Astros Sports Illustrated Cover, and How Well My Prediction of Their Plan Has Held Up

    Three years ago, Sports Illustrated published a notable* cover in which they declared the Houston Astros “Your 2017 World Series Champs”. It got some derision at the time, seeing as the team was then in the middle of a 92-loss season coming on the tails of three straight 100-plus-loss seasons (all of which saw them finish with the worst record in the majors). Some writers, myself included, defended the call, though.

    *and pretty cool-looking

    And then immediately after that, the Astros started the next season on a hot start and rode that all the way to the Division Series. In fact, they came a bad eighth inning away from going even further. In any case, the people who had been critical of the original cover mostly shut up at that point. However, the cover is getting renewed attention lately, partially because it’s the year Sports Illustrated originally gave, and partially because this year’s stellar Astros team is looking like Galactus, devourer of punier baseball teams, in turn making SI look like a bunch of prophets. So with that, I wanted to go back and look at my original take on the article and see how much of it came true to get the Astros to where they are today

    The first thing I noted back in 2014 was the strength of the Astros’ farm system: they had six prospects in Baseball America’s Top 100 rankings from that year. I noted that it wasn’t realistic to expect all of them to hit their best-case scenarios, and that certainly happened. Mark Appel (now with Philadelphia) still hasn’t reached the majors at 25, Jon Singleton saw some time at the Major League level back in 2014 and ’15 but is back at AA, and Mike Foltynewicz is with Atlanta now* (but finally putting together his first above-average season, so good for him at least).

    *Folty and Rio Ruiz, who I also name-dropped in my original piece, were part of the package to bring Evan Gattis and another key 2017er to Houston. Part of the upside in prospects though is being able to trade them for things you need, so it’s probably fair to call this one a success for the Astros as well, even if Foltynewicz isn’t himself an ace.

    Monday, July 10, 2017

    Is It Time for Dan Duquette and the Orioles to Part Ways?

    The Orioles have felt like they’re in something of a tenuous position over the last few years. That may seem odd, given that no other team in the American League won more games in the previous five seasons. Indeed, from 2012 to 2016, the Orioles’ 444 wins were surpassed only by the Cardinals (461), Dodgers (455), and their Beltway Buddies, the Nationals (458). They’ve also managed three playoff appearances in that five-year span, more than 22 other teams and behind only the Dodgers and Cardinals at four apiece.

    So why did it always feel like they were teetering on the edge of disaster? Maybe because there was a decent amount of luck involved; the Orioles have regularly beaten their projected record based on runs scored and allowed (even this year, which has been rather miserable thus far, they’re running five games ahead). Maybe it’s how they’ve pretty routinely outplayed even the best projection systems.

    You’d think after years of stuff like that, their position would feel a little more stable, but it doesn’t. The closest comparison I can think of is to a few years ago, when Dave Duncan was the Cardinals’ pitching coach and they would regularly enter the season with a patchwork rotation: you’d know things would look bad on paper, but there would be faith that things would turn out okay. The only issue is, it’s a lot harder to feel like things are under control when that’s the approach for the entire roster instead of the 3 through 5 slots in the rotation.

    And of course, on top of that, it's always hard to separate out how much of that overperformance is the result of Duquette's moves and how much is from other factors, like Buck Showalter's in-game management skills. It's worth separating out how much Duquette himself is responsible for in evaluating his performance, at least to the extent that it's possible to do so.