March 2011

Do spring records foreshadow regular season success? Most of the time — no.

Got this question from one of our more loyal Twitter followers, @Jaylen1182: What would you tell the fringe fans to have them not write this team off before the season starts based on Spring Training starts?

That issue has always been an interesting topic of conversation during Spring Training, because on one hand, you want your team to win as many games as possible, no matter what season it is. On the other hand, there may be nothing less telling than a team’s Grapefruit League win-loss record, mainly because most of the players who start the games are long gone by the time they’re over.

The first week of exhibition games could very well feature 50-60 players between the two teams. The starters get their two at-bats, play their three or four innings and are showered, dressed and gone several innings before the game actually ends. As the month wears on, players stay in longer and by the end, the box score looks similar to something you’d see on Opening Day. But for a good three weeks, players are shuffled in and out, and looking for any kind of trend or continuity is simply wasted time.

I’ve never cared about the final results as much as I scrutinize the individual performances of players who are either expected to make the team or are right there on the bubble and could make the team, depending on how they fare during Spring Training. I check the starting pitcher’s line, then look at how many hits the regular position players recorded, and finally, how the handful of relievers projected to comprise this year’s bullpen performed.

If the regular players were in the game for, say, five innings and after the fifth the Astros are ahead 5-2, but end up losing 7-5 because of a bunch of miscues that happened after their exit, am I worried? Not really.

On my way to the ballpark this morning, I started to think back to past springs and tried to remember what the final records were before some of the Astros’ best and worst regular seasons. Of course, I had no recollection, so I checked the media guide.

The 1998 team, which won a club record 102 regular-season games, recorded a very comparable 17-10-2 mark during Spring Training. But check this out: the 1986 Astros were 9-18-1 during Spring Training — and went on to win the NL West division. The 1991 Astros,
comprised of hugely talented but young, raw and not-yet-ready-to-win players who recorded the most losses in club history with 97, were a sparkling 17-10 during Spring Training.

The 1980 Astros, a playoff team, were 8-11 in spring. The 2000 Astros — a big, huge flop at 72-90, cruised through a 19-12 Grapefruit season.

Other notable years:
1999:    Reg. season: 97-65   Spring Training: 14-15
2004:    Reg. season: 92-70   Spring Training: 14-14-1
2005:    Reg. season: 89-73   Spring Training 13-14
2007:    Reg. season: 73-89   Spring Training: 18-11-1

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Enough of that. Let’s get to the fun stuff. Who needs to talk about on-field performance when clay molds of Brownie and J.D. bobbleheads are currently cookin’ in the oven and almost ready for paint?

The J.D. and Brownie Bobblehead, presented by Coca-Cola, will be given to the first 10,000 fans on Saturday, June 11 when the Astros host the Braves. Thanks to our marketing folks, we have this sneak peek of the bobblehead in its pre-packaging state. Should be a fun
keepsake. Did I mention you can order tickets for that game here?

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Players getting benched already? Heck, no.

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Mark it down: position players who are projected to be on the Opening Day 25-man roster are going to leave Florida with 55-65 Spring Training at-bats. This means two things: a) even the projected starters aren’t going to play every day and b) like pitchers, they have to slowly build up their strength throughout the spring season so they can be in acceptable playing shape when the bell rings on April 1.

I’ve already heard from a number of fans who have expressed concern when Chris Johnson and/or Brett Wallace aren’t in the lineup one day after they play. This is all by design, planned out ahead of time, and it absolutely does not mean they’re being benched. Rather, it simply means they’re staying on schedule.

Pretty soon, and throughout the Grapefruit season, you’ll notice a trend with a bunch of the position players expected to be regulars this season. They’ll play three days in a row and have a day off, and their at-bats per game will jump from two to three and eventually, by the end of the month, they’ll make the four plate appearances that are pretty typical during a regular-season nine-inning game.

There’s a difference in being in shape and being in playing shape. No matter how much conditioning a player does during the offseason, there is a period of “baseball soreness” that grabs him in the early stages of spring games. Michael Bourn may be the most well-conditioned athlete on the team, but when he first started working out on the fields at the Astros’ complex, he was sore. Really, really sore. That’s to be expected.

That “baseball soreness” won’t last as long if a player is already in shape when he gets to Spring Training. But there’s no way to prepare during the offseason for the long periods of time players have to spend running and fielding their positions on the hard infield dirt and the grassy outfields. By the end of Spring Training, their legs have readjusted to the elements. But this process does not happen overnight.

Subsequently, manager Brad Mills and his coaching staff map it out so that players can properly progress as the month of March wears on. They also have to find playing time for 63 players on the spring roster. This requires some crafty maneuvering and careful planning. No players play every day during Spring Training, and the Astros aren’t the exception.

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Initially, I was unfazed by the number of JBs, JTs, CJs and TJs wearing Houston Astros uniforms this spring. Then I actually started counting the number of people throughout the organization whose nicknames are designated by two letters and I have to wonder if this
would make it into the Big Book of Meaningless Stats and Unconfirmed Records.

By my count, the Astros have five players whose first names are simply initials: T.J. Steele, J.R. Towles, J.B. Shuck, J.D. Martinez and J.A. Happ (although his is pronounced “Jay”). Chris Johnson probably fits into this category too, because everyone pretty much
just calls him C.J.

The front office is also represented, thanks to media relations specialist M.J. Trahan. Don’t forget about the broadcast team either: our very own Jim Deshaies is probably referred to as “Jim” by his wife and, well, that’s about it. The rest of us know him simply as “J.D.

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Our old friend Moises Alou is in town, visiting with his old friend, Jeff Bagwell. Just like old times:

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Pics from pregame fun at Lakeland:

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Mix in a salad: Astros focus on nutrition.

Today’s ballplayers are arguably more fit and health-conscious than players of any era that preceded them, but that doesn’t mean they can’t use a little friendly supervision in the nutrition department every now and again.

The Astros have hired Sports Dietician Consultant Roberta Anding to help players maintain a healthy lifestyle throughout the season, which isn’t always such an easy thing once they reach the big league level.

Anding, the Sports Dietician for the Houston Texans and Rice University (where she’s also a professor), met with the entire squad before workouts Tuesday morning and stressed the importance of eating well, staying hydrated and staying away from supplements that could contain, unknowingly, banned substances.

In addition to working in healthier food choices inside the clubhouse, Anding will also work with Continental to come up with better options when the club is flying from city to city. In the past, players were greeted with dozens of food items as soon as they walked onto the plane, from the healthy (bananas, apples, oranges) to the relatively harmless (cheese and crackers, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Lunchables), to the sinful (Snickers bars, Dove ice cream bars, Hershey bars).

Additionally, “appetizers” served before the main meal were often fried and accompanied by creamy sauces.

The Astros aren’t looking to overhaul the entire operation in one fell swoop. Rather, they want to slowly work in healthier choices that players can adapt to seamlessly without feeling like they’re missing anything. Although today’s athletes are well-conditioned and disciplined, temptation is everywhere.

(Speaking from personal experience, sometimes it’s hard to reach for the apples when you’ve got Peanut M&Ms staring you in the face.)

Meanwhile, Anding hopes to add a Smoothie station to the clubhouse kitchen. She also encouraged players to work in a healthy diet with their strength and conditioning routine and to stay hydrated.

“Fruits and vegetables are the water you chew,” she said, adding that dehydration can affect performance by “15 to 20 percent.”

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A lot of you have asked how many Major League players are on Twitter. Thanks to @MLB, we can view the entire growing list with one click of the mouse. Here’s the most recently updated verified list, including the Twitter profiles of a couple of Astros players: @HunterPence9 and @hyphen18.

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The first Florida-based Astroline will take place on Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET/7 CT, live from the ESPN Club at the Disney Boardwalk. Hosted by Milo Hamilton, this week’s Astroline show will feature manager Brad Mills. The show can be heard on KTRH 740 and Astros.com.
You can tweet me your questions for the skipper at http://www.twitter.com/alysonfooter.

Astroline will air four times this spring: March 2, 9, 16 and 23.

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Speaking of Milo, a few weeks ago, he was inducted into the Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame. In perfect double-play form, he also picked up the Pinky Primrose Long and Meritorious award.

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Notables: Fernando Abad was sent home Tuesday morning after the lefty checked in with a temperature of 101. Wesley Wright took his place took his place on the projected list of pitchers scheduled to appear during the home opener with the Braves. …congratulations to @dailyfudgeround for giving the correct answer during the second #TwitterTuesday contest. The question: What was Bill Hall’s favorite musician when he was a kid? Answer: Tupac Shakur. #TwitterTuesday takes place every Tuesday at noon CT throughout the spring and asks a question about a player that cannot be found through an online search. The first person to tweet the correct answer wins two free tickets to any home game this season, with the exception of Opening Day, the Red Sox series and the final homestand of the season. …the Astros will play two games on the road Wednesday — one in Lakeland (Tigers), one in Tampa (Yankees). J.A. Happ will start in Lakeland, Bud Norris in Tampa.

Some pregame images from the home opener:

Hanging on the field, waiting for the anthem…Bogusevic, Johnson…

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…etc….
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Brett Myers warms up

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Jeff Bagwell, in town for a few days, strides to the dugout

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Astros are on Facebook
Follow Alyson Footer on Twitter
Check out Astros witticisms at AstrosOneLiners 

Questions? Send to afooter@astros.com  

Astros lineup 3/1 vs. Braves now posted: Barmes, Lee, Hall, Pence, and on and on.

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