Dave Dombrowski Takes Over as New Red Sox President of Baseball Operations. GM Ben Cherington Departs.

Dave Dombrowski Takes Over as New Red Sox President of Baseball Operations. GM Ben Cherington Departs.

The Detroit Tigers parted with long time GM Dave Dombrowski a few weeks ago. I had suspected that Dombrowski wouldn’t be a part of the organization beyond this season, but I never suspected that he would be gone mid-season. Dombrowski was in a contract year and the Tigers are already in a decline. Emptying the farm system and signing aging veterans to long, high-priced contracts was never going to be a good long-term strategy. Any analyst, myself included, could see as early as 2-3 years ago that the Tigers were going to turn into the Phillies. The team was clearly going to enter a rebuilding phase, or a phase of complete futility if owner Mike Ilitch won’t allow it, and Dombrowski had an out coming, so I was sure that he was going to take it.

When the news of his departure from the Tigers came, besides being shocked because of the timing, my initial reaction is that any team should consider itself extremely fortunate to land him. I believe him to be the best GM of my lifetime and easily worthy of the Hall of Fame. It’s hard to predict whether or not he’ll get in, mostly because he has “only” one World Series championship, the 1997 Marlins. Even though he wasn’t the GM at the time, he deserves a lot of credit for the 2003 championship as well. He was a significant contributor in the pieces that went towards that team. The Veteran’s Committee is responsible for electing non-players, and they’re worse at the job than the BBWAA1. It’s likely the members that will consider his election won’t understand that the playoffs are a crapshoot.

Regarding the odd manner in which Dombrowski departed the Tigers organization, new information has come to light. Former Tigers pitcher Denny McLain went on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench and said that Dombrowski “got caught talking to too many teams.”2 I assume McLain meant that Dombrowski was talking to too many teams about future employment, which he’s not allowed to do without the approval from his superiors. If that is indeed what happened, his abrupt termination becomes more understandable. If MLB finds out the identity of any of these teams, they’re going to get hit with tampering charges.

There are a few misconceptions surrounding Dombrowski that need to be cleared up. First, although he comes from a scouting and player development background, he is not anti-analytics. He has said himself that he values the information that analytics can provide. The reason why the Tigers didn’t have a big analytics department is likely the because of Ilitch. He probably didn’t see much value in it, so he didn’t want to pay for it.

I also don’t believe that it’s fair to expect Dombrowski to cash in the treasure trove of prospects in the Red Sox farm system. While I would expect him to trade some prospects during the offseason, I don’t expect him to strip it barren like he did in Detroit. Again, that was the result of Mike Ilitch. He’s very, very old, and wants to see the Tigers win a championship before he dies. You can understand why waiting for prospects to develop didn’t appeal to him. He forced Dombrowski to constantly be in win-now mode.

In fact, all of Dombrowski’s questionable moves were likely the result of Ilitch’s interference. The Prince Fielder contract? Ilitch, though Dombrowski brilliantly salvaged it by trading him for Ian Kinsler and salary relief. Víctor Martínez? If not Ilitch the first time then definitely the second. The horrific, unnecessary Miguel Cabrera extension which may dethrone ARod, Ryan Howard, or Albert Pujols as the worst contract in history? That wreaked of Ilitch. The Justin Verlander extension which may turn out to be almost as bad? Ilitch again.

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Hall of Fame Actually Enacts Sensible, Beneficial Rule Change

The Hall of Fame recently made a change to the voter eligibility rules. BBWAA members who have been away from the game for over ten years are no longer eligible to vote for the Hall of Fame. Before this rule change, anybody who was a member of the evil empire BBWAA for ten consecutive years got a vote for life. Even if you’ve moved on to other sports or retired, you’d still get to vote, regardless of how long you’ve been away.

It was a strange practice, not just because it’s illogical, but because the BBWAA has much stricter rules when it comes to membership eligibility. To become a member, you must be affiliated with a BBWAA-approved outlet, and once approved, you cannot be away from an approved outlet for more than two years. They care about quality control in the present, but not for deciding the most prestigious, exclusive honor in baseball.

Whatever. Since when has the BBWAA ever made any sense? They’re an organization that’s always thought way too highly of itself and has always put itself above the game, the players, etc.. They’d rather do right by themselves then by the game. To quote Craig Calcaterra of NBC Sports:

“No organization I know of outside of baseball — including historically-minded organizations — would continue to grant special and influential status to people who have no reason to keep up with advances in the field while eschewing fresher voices, yet the BBWAA does this with the Hall of Fame.”

To be fair, there are people who are currently covering the game who believe there is no reason to keep up with advances in their own field. Apparently they finished learning about baseball when they were 5 years old. In any other career that belief would get you fired.

The funny thing is that the BBWAA deserves little credit for this. Who is eligible to vote for the Hall of Fame is a decision that completely belongs to the Hall of Fame itself. MLB doesn’t even have a say in it. The Hall of Fame, BBWAA, and MLB are all separate entities1. There are some BBWAA members who advised the Hall to enact this rule change, but they never had any power to do this all by themselves. My guess is that if they did have this power and put it to a vote by its members, it would get defeated easily. The BBWAA has always been too self-important to do what’s right for the historical accuracy of the telling of the game. They’ve always been more interested in describing the game the way they want it to be instead of the way it is. The good news is that it’s getting better, but it has a long way to go.

Unlike the Hall’s last rule change, this one is actually logical and has been sorely needed. It doesn’t make any sense to allow people who haven’t covered the game in over ten years to vote. Besides the fact that it’s common sense, these people tend to be the voters who turn in the worst ballots. They eschew all the advancements that have been made in our understanding of the game in favor of archaic, valueless stats, narratives, and high amounts of subjectivity and intellectual dishonesty.

They also tend to be the strongest voice in the anti-steroids crowd, regardless of what the actual data says about their ineffectiveness with regards to baseball performance. Nowhere is this demonstrated better than in a recent article by Philip Hersh, a hack for the Chicago Tribune. It serves as an excellent example of why this rule change was necessary. Let’s take a look at some of what he said:

“That move will delight the anonymous Twitter trolls who have hectored me every year to give up my vote because they apparently are upset that I roundly dismiss the candidacies of players like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, whose use of PEDs was apparent, admitted or both.”

While I don’t doubt that there were some, or even plenty of people who were overtly rude to Mr. Hersh on Twitter, calling them trolls is the pot calling the kettle black. When you tweet something like this…

…and this…

…then you are a troll yourself. Hersh kept his vote just to troll the Hall of Fame and those with the intelligence and intellectual honesty to treat the honor correctly. He’s dismissing worthy Hall of Fame candidates because they used a substance that has never been scientifically proven to enhance baseball performance. That’s intellectually dishonest. The whole belief that steroids make baseball players better is a myth propagated by the media and is based solely on wild assumptions, misunderstandings, and anecdotal information. He also dismisses those with “apparent” use of steroids. That’s the epitome of intellectual dishonesty. It’s guessing at who used a substance that has never been scientifically proven to enhance baseball performance. What a brilliant man this Mr. Hersh is.

“My only regret in losing the vote now is not having a further voice in shutting that crowd out of Cooperstown until their 15 years of eligibility is over.

Mr. Hersh continues to show his genius by not knowing that, starting last year, a player can only be eligible for 10 years. He doesn’t know the rules, but wants to keep his vote.

“Truth be told, excluding those who are not covering Major League Baseball on a regular basis seems a reasonable move, even if many of us in that category devoted considerable time and thought to the task.

“To me, voting was a serious responsibility, often requiring double-digit hours of internal debate, statistical study and consultation with people whose knowledge of the game was peerless.”

That’s probably better than a lot of voters can say, but how much time you devote to the task is irrelevant if you’re not qualified for the task in the first place. Heaven forbid that a baseball writer learn how to get better at something he or she actually gets paid to do. If you’ve never learned how to properly and objectively evaluate players, then how much effort one puts forth in deciding for whom to vote is wasted.

Covering baseball as a reporter does not qualify you to vote for the Hall of Fame, or even on awards. There are reporters who cover other subjects such as economics and science, but would you want them to participate in the peer-review process? No, of course not. The skills involved in reporting are completely different from the ones involved in conducting and understanding good science, for example. It’s no different in baseball. Covering the game doesn’t mean that you understand it, despite what the BBWAA would have you believe. Those who have dedicated themselves to understanding modern baseball analysis are the ones who should be voting on awards and the Hal of Fame, regardless of how long they’ve covered the game, or whether they’ve covered the game at all.

“That one can make a more knowledgeable decision while watching a player regularly affected my consideration of the late Mark Belanger, whom I covered for four years with the Baltimore Evening Sun.”

Of course, I completely agree that you actually need to watch the games. However, when you’re a beat writer you see the players that you cover way more than any other players, and that can cause biases. It’s a much bigger problem with award voting2 than the Hall of Fame, though.

Hersh’s reasoning for voting for Belanger is terrible. Yes, he was a fantastic shortstop who combined with Brooks Robinson to from the greatest defensive left side of the infield the game has ever seen3. I’d even go as far as saying that Belanger was very underrated, but he was absolutely, positively, not a Hall of Famer. A career 71 wRC+ is too much for even Belanger’s elite defense to overcome, and he didn’t provide any baserunning value. Ozzie Smith was better defensively and on the basepaths, not to mention that his 90 wRC+ was way better than Belanger’s. Luis Aparicio was not quite the defender that Belanger was, but he was still excellent. He was better offensively with an 83 wRC+ and was an outstanding baserunner4.

As good as Belanger’s glove was, Hersh saying that he was the best defensive shortstop that he had ever seen is embarrassing. Even if he isn’t watching enough baseball nowadays to see that Andrelton Simmons is clearly better, what’s his excuse for not knowing that Ozzie was better5?

“Looking only at his numbers was uninformative but undoubtedly the reason why Belanger got just 3.7 percent of the vote during his one year on the ballot. That low total means even writers actively covering the game find it hard to assess players they see infrequently.”

To be fair, that was probably true back then. It’s not like we had easily accessible databases back then that could be used to evaluate players whom we’ve never seen. Obviously, in the age of Baseball Reference and Fangraphs, that’s no longer true. We’re also increasingly getting more access to footage of players.

“And there is a delightful irony in my losing the chance to vote on who makes baseball’s Valhalla.”

Therein lies the biggest problem with voters of Hersh’s ilk. The Hall of Fame is not Valhalla, the Elysian Fields, or Heaven. It’s a frickin’ museum. Yes, it’s the greatest honor that can be bestowed upon a player, but a museum is all that it is. The hagiographical context that older writers put on the Hall of Fame tends to inhibit objective, intellectually honest evaluations of its candidates. They ignore what the facts say if it disagrees with their biased, subjective, pre-drawn conclusions of a player. In their eyes, nobody will rival the legends of players such as Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron, not because of how good those players were, but because of how they’re perceived. Regardless of talent, it’s incredibly difficult for a player to compete with that.

That perception is what drives the anti-steroids agenda of these writers, which is why I’m strongly in favor of the rule change. I can’t say for sure what percentage of the anti-steroids voters come from the crowd that just lost its vote, but I’m sure they consisted of a big chunk of it. I will be eager to see how much better the candidates affected by their association with steroids do on the next ballot. I’ll also be interested to see how Tim Raines, Edgar Martínez, and Mike Mussina do on the next ballot. I suspect that they were getting undervalued by the older crowd.

Another benefit of this rule change is simply that it reduces the number of voters. Without it, we’d have ~650 voters in the upcoming election. Now it’s cut down to ~520. That’s still way, way, way too much, but it’s an improvement. If it were up to me, I’d probably go with 10-20% of that number. When there are that many voters, it barely matters that you have a vote.

I was at my first ever Hall of Fame induction this year, and I had an amazing time. It made it very easy for me to forget all the problems with the Hall. If this rule change is a sign for things to come, and it improves the results next year, it’ll do wonders in improving my perception of the Hall. It can do the same for others, too.

I will be at the Saberseminar in Boston this weekend. It’s really easy for me to get to since I live in the area, and I can park at my place of employment which is a short walk away from the location. Feel free to say hi! I love talking baseball. We all have name tags at the event, but I’ll be the big Puerto Rican guy so I may stand out!

  1. Which brings up a lot of confusion when it comes to Pete Rose. Even if his lifetime ban never gets lifted, the Hall of Fame can decide to make him eligible whenever they want. If you want Rose in the Hall, your beef isn’t with Rob Manfred. 
  2. The most recent example of this was in the 2013 NL MVP voting. The only two first place votes that didn’t go to Andrew McCutchen went to Yadier Molina. While not completely indefensible, it looked really bad when those two votes came from Derrick Goold and Rick Hummel, both of whom are Cardinals beat writers from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Either they were victims of groupthink or they wanted to suck up to the team from which they need quotes. 
  3. You replace Belanger and Robinson with average defenders, and Jim Palmer probably has a harder time getting into the Hall of Fame. No pitcher ever got more help from his defense than Palmer did. 
  4. Aparicio’s Hall case isn’t a strong one. I wouldn’t have voted for him, but he’s close enough that I don’t have a problem with his inclusion. 
  5. In terms of shortstops who were better defenders than Belanger, those two names are arguably as far as the list goes. Some may say Omar Vizquel, but he’s significantly overrated. He was very good, sure, but he doesn’t hold a candle to Smith, Simmons, or Belanger. Belanger himself was better and for longer. 

About That Whole Buster Olney RBI Nonsense…

I mostly think this is too stupid to write about. Why I’m writing about it, I don’t know. I just feel compelled to because I believe that a lot of people are oversimplifying the situation. The silliness started with this tweet from ESPN’s Buster Olney:

I don’t follow Olney on Twitter because I tend to only follow analytical and prospect writers, but I found out about the tweet because it blew up baseball twitter. A lot of analytically minded people, mostly fans but some writers, were ripping Olney for citing the RBI stat in 2015. To be fair, he did deserve criticism. Citing RBIs in this day and age after everything we’ve learned about baseball in the past few decades is inexcusable1. Given that it was cited from the most prominent baseball writer at the biggest sports outlet in the world makes it worse.

Had I come across Olney’s RBI tweet on my own, I probably would’ve just rolled my eyes and moved on. I did roll my eyes, but his subsequent tweet to somebody calling him out stopped me from moving on:

These were very odd responses. As Olney mentioned himself in the ensuing Twitter argument, he loves advanced stats. I know he loves advanced stats. Anybody who reads his content and follows him on Twitter knows that he loves advanced stats. He has cited WAR in his articles. He has cited WAR in his tweets. He once even cited the NBA analog of WAR in a tweet about Anthony Davis!

Why cherry-pick WAR, too? His argument was to use stats with which most people are familiar, but he went with one of the most well-known advanced stats in the game. It may be the most complicated, but the 2012 and 2013 AL MVP debates (that never should’ve been) heavily publicized WAR. Why not go with lesser known stats like wOBA, or BsR, or the brand spanking new DRA? Actually, Deserved Run Average would’ve been perfect. It’s pretty complicated, new, and I have yet to see it used outside of Baseball Prospectus, so it’s relatively unknown.

The subsequent argument contained some uncharacteristic behavior from Olney. He was frequently guilty of the personal incredulity logical fallacy. He also shot down perfectly good one-tweet summations of WAR which were given in response to his challenge.

I don’t understand the behavior of either side in this silly argument. The side arguing against Olney was mostly in the right, but they wasted their time arguing. You could tell from the beginning that Olney never had any intention of giving in, regardless of what anybody said. This isn’t a criticism of Olney, per se, it’s human nature. Psychology refers to it as the backfire effect. It’s why you can never win an argument on the internet. You can make a brilliant counterargument to an intelligent, rational, open-minded person and still fail to convince that person of anything. There are extremely intelligent people out there, who are way smarter than I am, who don’t understand this concept.

Think about it: Have you ever seen anybody win an argument and fully convince the other side of his or her views on Facebook? Twitter? A comment board? Exactly. I’d be lying if I said I’ve never been suckered into an online argument, but I’ve never been happy that I did so. I usually just remind myself about how much of a waste of time it is.

The funny thing is that Olney tweeted this out last month:

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The Philadelphia Phillies Succeed at the Trade Deadline (Part 2): Jonathan Papelbon and Ben Revere

The Philadelphia Phillies Succeed at the Trade Deadline (Part 2): Jonathan Papelbon and Ben Revere

For Part 1 on Cole Hamels, click here!


The Jonathan Papelbon acquisition was a bit odd. He’s not nearly as good as he was in his prime. He’s doing well this year, but hopefully I don’t have to tell you that his 1.59 ERA on the Phillies this season is not at all representative of his true talent. By total runs allowed, he had a 2.04 RA9. Right now he has a 2.46 DRA. Like with Hamels, DRA credited Papelbon for pitching in front of the terrible Phillies defense, Carlos Ruiz’s poor pitch framing, and the hitter-friendly ballpark. However, his 86 cFIP only rates him at above average, partially because of the weak competition he’s faced in the NL East. He’s also not striking people out like he used to, though to his credit his walk rate has improved. It’s tough when your fastball velocity has been slowly declining since 2011. Right now he only averages 92 MPH on his fastball. He has adjusted to his lost velocity by incorporating his slider more.

This season, Papelbon has benefited from a .254 BABIP and a high strand rate. ZiPS measures his true talent right now as a 2.92 ERA, 3.02 FIP pitcher. He’s clearly not the elite reliever he was in his prime anymore. He’s still a good, solid reliever, but nothing more than that.

The Nationals bullpen ranks a lowly 21st in DRA but a solid 13th in FIP- 1. Blake Treinen and Aaron Barrett have performed well, though Treinen’s walk rate is way too high. I wonder if the Nationals front office underrated those two. They’re strikeout machines who have suffered from very high BABIPs.

Drew Storen has been the Nationals best reliever. Yes, he’s better than Papelbon and it’s not even that close. His strikeout rate shot up this season to an excellent 30.1%. He has a 2.25 DRA and 76 cFIP. The big difference has been his slider. He’s using it more than ever because it’s better than ever. I also use the term “slider” loosely because it looks more like a cutter. I was going through Storen’s Pitch f/x data on Brooks Baseball and found that his slider has less sink but more tilt than it used to. He’s likely using a different grip on the pitch. If you want to learn more, Fangraphs Owen Watson has a great analysis of it here.

Papelbon upgrades the bullpen, but definitely not Storen. It would be a mistake to use him instead of Storen in the highest leverage situations, but that’s what the Nationals agreed to. That buffoon they have managing the club has no idea what he’s doing with his bullpen management anyway. Papelbon is likely only worth a few extra runs to the Nationals through the rest of the season, but will likely be worth a 1-win upgrade next year. He’ll be paid a little over $11 million through next season, so the Nationals are paying a lot for that modest upgrade. In addition, they also traded away RHP Nick Pivetta, who is expected to be a back-end starter but is at risk of ending up in the bullpen. I would’ve preferred to have not done the deal if I were GM Mike Rizzo, but with such a strong starting rotation, the Nationals traded from a position of depth. You can never have too much pitching, though, and I don’t believe that Papelbon was worth Pivetta and $11 million. Hey, at least it’s not as bad as the Tyler Clippard trade, where the Mets paid a higher price for only two months of a lesser pitcher than Papelbon.

Conversely, the Phillies did very well in the deal. They unloaded salary and got a decent pitching prospect in return.

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The Philadelphia Phillies Succeed at the Trade Deadline (Part 1): Cole Hamels (and a small rant)

The Philadelphia Phillies Succeed at the Trade Deadline (Part 1): Cole Hamels (and a small rant)

The Philadelphia Phillies did well at the trade deadline in trading away Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon, and Ben Revere. In the process of doing so, they made great strides in strengthening their farm system which will be key in advancing their rebuild.

I was a little skeptical that the Phillies would move Hamels by the trade deadline. Rumor had it that they were asking for too much, and knowing GM Ruben Amaro Jr., I find that very easy to believe. I speculated that teams might want to wait until the offseason in hopes that the price would be lower. Unless this is your first year following baseball, you’ve probably noticed that teams overpay at the trade deadline more often than they do during the offseason. Good teams see the glory of a possible World Series championship in their sights and become willing to pay big prices to further their chances of getting there. The offseason is also when free agents are available, so the increased supply of talent pushes down the price of trades. The Phillies were likely to get a lesser return for Hamels in the offseason. David Price and Johnny Cueto will be free agents. All they will cost is money. Why spend prospects when you can just open your checkbook? It’s easier for some teams than others, but in today’s game money is a much more plentiful resource than talent.

Hamels is having a deceptively good season. It may not look that way at first glance because before getting traded, he had a 3.71 RA9 and 3.23 FIP. However, the latest in advanced stats from Baseball Prospectus, Deserved Run Average (DRA) and Contextual Fielding Independent Pitching (cFIP), reveal how good he’s really been this season. Hamels has a 2.77 DRA and 85 cFIP! His cFIP has hovered in the 80s since 2008, but that is the lowest his DRA has EVER been!

DRA adjusts for many factors, among which are defense, pitch framing, strength of competition, and ballpark. The competition is one aspect that works in Hamels’ favor. Being in the NL East, he’d faced the weakest slate of opponents of any starting pitcher. That’s where the advantages end, though. Hamels pitched in a hitter-friendly ballpark. His main catcher, Carlos Ruiz, is one of the worst pitch framers in baseball. Only Nick Hundley has been worse. It’s likely been a significant factor in Hamels’ rising walk rates. The biggest culprit in Hamels having an RA9 that is over a run higher than his DRA, is the horrifically disastrous Phillies defense. They are last in the league in DRS with a shockingly bad -83! The second worst is the Yankees at “only” -43 DRS! Hamels has pitched very well this season, it’s just that his teammates could not have been hurting him more. Check out BP’s Matthew Trueblood’s article for an in-depth explanation on why DRA evaluates him so well.

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Kansas City Royals Leaving Nothing to Chance. Acquire Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist.

Kansas City Royals Leaving Nothing to Chance. Acquire Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist.

This is the definition of going all in. Even before these trades were made, the Royals had a 97% chance of winning their division according to Fangraphs. Nothing is guaranteed in the playoffs, though, since anything can happen in such a small sample size of games. The Royals are smartly leaving as little to chance as possible.

I enjoyed watching the Royals epic run last season, and that wild card game was one for the ages, but a lot of things broke right for that to happen. They had both a historically good defense and bullpen, and also excelled on the base paths. However, the 2014 Royals were only 10th in the AL in wOBA. Their isolated power was dead last in all of baseball, even when filtering out all the pitchers in the NL. The starting rotation’s 93 ERA- was tied for 5th best in the majors with the Orioles, but like the Orioles, the defense had a lot to do with that. Their 103 FIP- was tied with the Giants for only 17th in baseball. Going by one the most advanced stats that recently came out at Baseball Prospectus, only James Shields had a cFIP below 100 among starters.

It’s hard to contend with a sub-par offense and mediocre starting rotation, even with an elite defense, an elite bullpen, and good baserunning. Well, the Royals got lucky. Very lucky. They outperformed their Pythagorean Win-Loss1 expectation by a whopping five wins! They also got three extra wins thanks to cluster luck. It factored into why I wasn’t a big believer in the Royals going into this season.

I almost never care about being wrong because I’m a process-over-results guy, but I stand by my preseason assessment of the team. I was definitely wrong about Lorenzo Cain, though. I believed that his above average offense last season was the result of a .380 BABIP. Well, he has a .350 BABIP this year and ZiPS projects him as a true talent level .345 BABIP player. It appears that his speed gets him on base more. However, I’m not a believer in the power he’s showing. Coming into this season, Cain had a career .113 ISO and 5.9% HR/FB. This season he’s hitting for a .187 ISO with a HR/FB that is double his career rate. I don’t buy it. His hard-hit rate of 32% is over 5% higher than his career rate, and his strikeout rate is down 4.5%, so there’s evidence that he made some real changes since last season. The projection systems recognize this too. ZiPS currently projects Cain as a true talent .136 ISO player with a .330 wOBA. That’s a far cry from what he’s put up this season to date, but still better than I thought he was.

I don’t know who the biggest shock of the Royals is this season: Kendrys Morales or Mike Moustakas. Even though I thought that Morales would be a replacement level player, I’m going to go with Moustakas. After spending two seasons of being a well below average hitter, he finally figured it out. He stopped being a pull hitter and started hitting to all fields. He also cut down on his strikeouts. His current .334 wOBA is 50 points higher than his past two seasons! This combined with his plus defense at 3rd base has turned him from a below average player into an above average one. Nice job, Moose!

Before his injury, Alex Gordon was having a career year offensively. That’s especially good timing since it’s a contract year for him2. Eric Hosmer is also having the best season of his career at the plate, but that’s partially the result of a .357 BABIP and 15.3% HR/FB. Seeing as how he’s only 25 and his line drive percentage is up, this is at least mostly real. In fact, ZiPS sees his true talent at only 17 points below his current .367 wOBA.

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Houston Astros Excel at the Trade Deadline. Acquire Scott Kazmir, Mike Fiers, and Carlos Gómez

Houston Astros Excel at the Trade Deadline. Acquire Scott Kazmir, Mike Fiers, and Carlos Gómez

The Houston Astros have surprised everyone not just at the trade deadline, but this season as a whole. The consensus among competent baseball analysts was that the Astros were at least a year away from contending, and probably two. I was certainly among those in that camp. They are currently atop the AL West and are tied with the Yankees for the second best record in the AL. They are so much better than I expected them to be.

At the beginning of the season, Fangraphs projected the Astros to have a true talent of a 79-83 team with a 4.8% chance to win the division and a 9.8% chance for the Wild Card. Now they’re expected to be an 89-73 team with a 68.9% chance to win the division. They’re tied for 6th in all of baseball in offense when adjusted for league and park effects. They have had some HR/FB luck at 14.5%. Their pitching staff is second in the majors with a 3.83 DRA. The team’s cFIP, however, is 11th in baseball. Obviously that’s still good, but that 98 cFIP means there’s some regression coming their way. That’s probably partially the result of the bullpen’s .243 BABIP.

Other than what I just mentioned, I see nothing in the numbers to indicate that the Astros performance this season hasn’t been completely legitimate. Their batted ball data and cluster luck numbers don’t show anything especially flukish. The Houston Astros are the real deal and have arrived ahead of schedule. GM Jeff Luhnow, his scouting department, and his analytics department deserve a ton of credit. We all knew that they’d get here soon, but not this soon. Realizing that this Astros team is the real deal, Luhnow smartly decided to make big moves at the deadline to help separate the team from the Angels.

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