TIME FOR A MOVE

John Granato: Another plea for the Astros to bring up Kyle Tucker

This guy would look really good in an Astros uniform. Rich Schultz

Two weeks ago I wrote that it was time for the Astros to call up Kyle Tucker. It fell on deaf ears so I’m calling for it once again. But now I know how Demi Moore’s character felt in A Few Good Men when the judge overruled her objection. “Well then I strenuously object,” she said. Right now I strenuously object to this lineup. The starting rotation deserves better.

We haven’t seen this kind of production out of a starting rotation in a long time: 23 of their 32 starts have been quality starts. They have the best ERA in the league, best WHIP in the league, most strikeouts in the league and on and on and on.

It’s almost criminal what happened to Justin Verlander Tuesday night. He tied for his most ever strikeouts with 14 and pitched 8 scoreless with a no decision. But that wasn’t the first time he got ripped off by the offense. In his 3 no decisions he’s gone 21 ⅔ and given up just 4 earned runs for a 1.66 ERA in those games. He could and should be 7-0 right now.

Gerrit Cole can’t be happy either. He’s 2-1 right now. In that loss he went seven innings and gave up just 2 runs. In his 3 no decisions he’s gone 20 ⅔ and given up just 5 earned runs for a 2.18 ERA. He could easily be 6-0.

Dallas Keuchel’s first 4 starts weren’t horrible. He was actually above average with a 3.52 ERA but was 0-3. In those first four starts he gave up 3, 1, 3, and 2 earned runs. That’s not No. 2 starter quality especially on this team but it’s not terrible either.  He could have easily won a couple of those games with some timely hitting.

Charlie Pallilo was on with us this week. Someone pointed out to him that the Astros lead the league with most games scoring one or no runs. They’ve done that 10 times already. That’s absolute futility nearly once out of every three games.

I know. I know. I’ve heard it all over the past couple of weeks. “It’s early.” “How many rings do you have?” “I trust Jeff Luhnow.” “They’re 4th in the league in runs scored.” “They’re 20-11.” Blah blah blah blah.

I get it. It’s baseball. You move at a snail’s pace. We are basically just a fifth of the way through the season. You don’t make knee jerk decisions based on a small sample size. This isn’t a small sample size. We know what guys can and can’t do. My thoughts on Jake Marisnick are well known. You could have read about them two weeks ago. Nothing’s changed since then.

Derek Fisher is interesting though. He’s 4 for his last 10 with two homers but that didn’t earn him any more playing time. Last Tuesday he homered and drove in two in a loss to the Angels. He went 1 for 2 the next day. After an off day he sat against a tough lefty Sean Manaea. That was understandable. He got the start the next day and homered again with two more RBI and we didn’t see him again until Wednesday night. Hard to hit consistently when you’re not getting consistent AB’s especially against Luis Severino. That’s asking way too much of a young hitter.

You’d think AJ would jump at the chance to play anyone who’s hitting at the bottom of the order. Like I said two weeks ago, this team looks a lot like the 2015 Astros but without the power. There is no more telling stat than this one.  

George Springer has 128 at-bats and 93 of those were with no one on. That's right: 93!!! That’s 73% of his at-bats. As the leadoff hitter you naturally have no one on at the start of every game but that happens to him three times every game. He only bats with runners on just over a quarter of the time, about once a game. I’ve been arguing for the last couple of years that they’re wasting him in the leadoff spot. He’s a run producer but it’s hard to produce runs if no one is on.

As a comparison, Carlos Correa has hit third and fourth in the lineup all year. Of his 110 at-bats he’s had runners on 55 times. That’s exactly 50% of the time. Three of his four home runs have come with runners on. All six of Springer’s homers were with the bases empty. Leading off games with a home run is nice. Hitting them with runners on is better.

Last year only one player in Major League Baseball had more home runs with fewer RBI’s than Springer. That was Joey Gallo. But that’s understandable. He plays for the Rangers. They never had anyone on base because they suck.

No one is on base for George this year because no one at the bottom of the order is hitting. No one. Marwin has fallen off drastically after his breakout year last year. We know about Marisnick and Fisher. Evan Gattis has been lost at the plate all year.

Amongst those four they’ve struck out 117 times in 299 at-bats. That’s almost four strikeouts in every 10 at-bats. That’s a lot folks. Marisnick is the biggest culprit but Gattis and Marwin are catching up quickly.

What to do? What to do? What to do?

Why not shake up the lineup? We had AJ Hinch on last year and I asked him about Springer leading off. His answer was that you only lead off once a game but we’ve seen that that’s not true, not in this lineup. And there are fewer runners on base for the leadoff hitter because he follows the bottom of the order.

He also just assumed I thought Altuve should lead off. I don’t think that. I think Bregman would be a good leadoff hitter. He’s already walked 20 times this year so his on-base percentage is decent, actually better than Springer’s, and he’ll steal the occasional base which Springer doesn’t do.

Here’s what my lineup would be:

Bregman  3B

Altuve       2B

Springer   CF

Correa     SS

Gurriel     1B

Tucker      LF

Reddick    RF

McCann    C

Gonzalez  DH

Any time someone needed to rest Marwin could play their position and they could DH.

And yes, I already have Tucker in my lineup batting sixth.

Why not take a page out of last year’s Dodgers book? They brought up Cody Bellinger on April 25. That was possible because he wasn’t on the 40-man roster. You can bring him up and still get that fourth year of arbitration.  Kyle Tucker is in that same position. He’s not on the 40-man. You don’t have to wait until June to get that fourth year of arbitration.

I’m not saying Tucker is going to hit 39 homers and drive in 97 runs like Bellinger did but who knows what he can do?  You don’t get nicknamed Ted (as in Williams) if you can’t hit. He’s hitting .278 after Tuesday’s 0-5. That’s OK.

Bellinger went 1 for his first 10 last year and then exploded. Give the kid a chance to jump start this offense. Even if he fails he won’t be any worse than what you’re running out there now.

Verlander gave this team the impetus to greatness last year. They need another big boost this year.

Once again Mr. Luhnow I strenuously object to wasting any more time without Kyle Tucker on this big league team. Court is adjourned.




 

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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