4th and a mile with Paul Muth

Houston's sideline untouchables

Photo courtesy of Gallery Furniture

Nothing makes sense anymore.

This is already an insane start for a year by any measure. Well it seems Chaos heard our cries of bewilderment and had a "hold my beer" moment in the sports world on Monday night.

In a shocking move, famed director (and likely final Knicks fan) Spike Lee announced he would no longer be returning to Madison Square Garden for the remainder of the regular season to watch the Knicks after a run in with employees and security.

There are conflicting stories, but sometimes in life, even if you're right...you're not right.

Short of an actual crime, there is little that Lee shouldn't be able to get away with in that building. He's cemented him self as someone as analogous to the Knicks as he is to the film industry. And when you spend close to $10 million to watch a team as Lee claims he has over the years, then yeah, special treatment is probably expected.

The whole debacle got me wondering though. If a similar situation occurred, are there certain Houston A-listers (that never played) that deserve the same benefit of the doubt? Who out there would fans storm the battlefields of Twitter to defend if they were ever treated improperly inside the confines of Houston's hallowed(ish) sports venues? Here are my candidates.

Minute Maid Park: Jim "Mattress Mack" McIngvale

In 2017 Mattress Mack rolled out his "Win it all, Get it all" promotion where anyone who bought a mattress during the Astros season would have their bed fully compensated if the Astros won the Won the World Series. After the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Harvey, Mack opened the doors of his massive showroom to displaced refugees, and continued paying his employees while they served instead in a volunteer capacity. When the Astros won the World Series that year, not only did Mack throw out the first pitch to game three, but he also kept his word to everyone that bought into the promotion back in the beginning of the season. The bet set him back roughly $12 million, but that's a drop in the bucket for a guy who simultaneously cemented his legacy in Houston lore. Also, I'm fairly certain I haven't seen Mattress Mack without an oversized Astros jersey on in two and a half years.

If you need an idea of how big of a deal he is, I watched grown adults peel away from our playoff game group this past season to take pictures with a man who sells couches. When I got to my seats and people asked where the lost party was, I explained that they were trying to get a picture with Mattress Mack and everyone accepted that as a viable excuse for missing first pitch.

Runner up: George and Barbara Bush.

Toyota Center: Travis Scott

Locally sourced, and global hip-hop phenom Travis Scott owns Toyota Center. On game nights, he's the closest thing the Rockets have to a Lakers Jack Nicholson or Knicks Spike Lee. He's done promos for the team, he's collaborated on custom jerseys, he name drops them in his albums. Scott is all in on the Rockets (and Houston in general), and it's apparent enough that the Rockets reciprocated the appreciation just this past month:




Fans arrived seven hours before tip-off to get in line, and the bobble head is currently running $150-$200 on the resale market.

Runner up: Beyonce, she just doesn't come to enough games.


NRG Stadium: Simone Biles

Look, there just aren't a ton of over the top, ride or die celebrity Texans fans to be completely honest. You've got big names like Dennis Quaid, Jim Parsons, and Rico Rodriguez ("Manny" from "Modern Family"), sure. I don't think anyone would boycott a game over them though. Then there's Joel Osteen, but I think there's a decent crowd that might pay extra to watch him get tossed. Nope, it has to be Houston's adopted daughter, world's greatest gymnast, and honorary Houston Texans cheerleader for a day, Simone Biles. She exudes charm just as effortlessly as she dominates her entire sport, and if anyone did anything to her I would personally expense the torches and pitchforks for everyone that accepts the mob group invite I would inevitably be sending on Facebook.

Runner up: Every local Houston Rapper

4 Downs of the Week

1st Down - Super Tuesday.

Look, I don't exactly care what your political leanings are on a sports website, but I think we can all agree that the fact that we got through Super Tuesday and don't have to deal with anymore political ads and unsolicited texts is something to be pumped about.

2nd Down - 21 days: amount of time left until the start of the Astros' baseball season. In this house there are two seasons: baseball season, and baseball offseason.

3rd Down - Let's talk dedication. And lack of awareness:


Her rubber duck is probably alive and well also.

4th Down - This week's edition of Minor League Baseball Marketing Genius goes out to the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, specfically their chiropractor themed night, "Say Yes to Crack."

Fly high, marketing eagles. Fly high.

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The numbers show a concerning trend. Composite image by Brandon Strange

Michael Brantley signed a two-year, $30M deal with the Houston Astros prior to 2019 to little fanfare. The then 32 year-old was coming off of yet another injury riddled season with the Cleveland Indians, and the signing was seen as a safe gamble (if there is such a thing). Brantley would produce if healthy, but would he ever be healthy?

Brantley went on to have two of the healthiest seasons of his career, putting up big numbers for the Astros. Across two seasons, Brantley slashed .309/.370/.497 with a 134 wRC+. The Astros got the best version of Brantley, who had slashed .295/.351/.430 with a 114 wRC+ during his tenure with the Indians.

Brantley is set to hit the market once again, and the Astros face a couple of questions. One, is Brantley worth bringing back? Two, is Brantley worth a qualifying offer?

Hard Hit % - 37.3%

Barrel % - 4.9%

K % - 15%

BB % - 9.1%

Chase % - 20.1%

(All numbers from 2020)

Brantley's greatest skill is controlling the strike zone. He forces pitchers to come to him, and he's only getting better at it. His chase % was the best of his career, and it was 6% better than his 26% mark in 2019. Brantley was t-19th in MLB in chase % with Ronald Acuña Jr. and Yasmani Grandal. Brantley combines this enviable level of plate discipline with another enviable trait: he doesn't swing and miss. His 16.4% whiff % was in the 93rd percentile of MLB. By comparison, Acuña and Grandal were in the 29th and 26th percentiles respectively. Those two don't chase often because they keyhole one spot that they know they can drive. Brantley forces pitchers to come in the zone similar to those two, but he usually doesn't swing and miss when the pitchers do come to him.

However, there are some alarming trends for a hitter now well onto the wrong side of 30.

His 15% K% was the highest it's been since 2011, when he was a 24-year-old in his first full big league season. It was a 4.6% increase in K% over last season. Brantley's 16% whiff % is far and away the worst it's been in his career, and it's 5.6% worse than it was in 2019. That 5.6% is the difference between swinging-and-missing the second least in MLB and swinging-and-missing the 11th least. That's a steep drop over one season. Remember, Brantley chased pitches outside the zone the least he ever had in his career. That increase in whiff % mostly came on strikes. His contact % on strikes dropped 4.8% from 2019.

A big indicator of age is the inability to catch up with the fastball. Brantley's 13.2% whiff rate against fastballs in 2020 was the worst it's been in his career. The second worst? 7.5% back in 2011. On the surface, Brantley performed fine on fastballs in 2020. He batted .295 with a .438 SLG against them. But it gets a little uglier just one level deeper. Brantley's xBA on fastballs was .242. His xSLG was .410.

Compared to his 2019 performance against fastballs, it was quite the downturn. Brantley batted .320 against fastballs in 2019 with a .311 xBA. He slugged .501 with a xSLG of .506. Lastly, Brantley had an 89.3 average exit velocity on fastballs in 2019 compared to 87.4 in 2020. The downturn in fastball productivity is alarming.

Brantley performed great against breaking balls and offspeed pitches in 2020, but once pitchers realize that he can't stay on the fastball like he used to, Brantley will be setup for failure, not success.

Brantley doesn't run well either. His average sprint speed of 26.2 ft/s was in the 34th percentile in MLB. Brantley did perform well defensively by nearly every metric, but he was in the 39th percentile in outfielder jump. He really can't afford a downturn defensively, and with Yordan Alvarez returning as the full time DH next season, they won't have the ability to give Brantley the occasional day off his legs at DH

The qualifying offer has been set at $18.9M for the 2020 offseason. Considering Houston's lack of draft picks due to their punishment for technological sign-stealing, recouping some of that draft capital would be helpful for the club. $18.9M would represent a $3.9M raise for Brantley, which is exactly the price of not being able to bring back Brad Peacock.

It's unlikely that Brantley will regress so quickly that he'll be unplayable in 2021. He will likely be a productive ballplayer. Considering that the Astros can afford to pay the raise in salary if he accepts the qualifying offer, it is worth giving it to him. If he declines the QO, however, it isn't worth giving him a multi-year deal. There are too many signs of regression, and anything more than one year is a risk. If Brantley demands a multi-year deal, the Astros should let him walk and take the draft pick compensation.

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