How to Blow it Big-TIme in Houston

Jeff Luhnow has done a fantastic job building a team basically from scratch in Houston, stockpiling a wealth of great, young talent. However, he made a mistake in firing manager Bo Porter during the season, and compounded it much further by his decision today to let interim manager Tom Lawless go, and to hire A.J. Hinch as the team’s new manager going forward.

From the outside, it seemed that last season Porter slowly built a cohesive unit from a roster with little talent or experience, and the development and improvement continued this year, as new, talented youngsters continued to be added to the team. Then, with little

warning, Porter was let go on September 1, replaced by interim manager Lawless. Under Lawless, the team's improvement continued, even more significantly. In 2013, Porter's first season, the team was clearly baseball's worst, going 51-111, a .315 winning percentage. Under Porter this season, the team's record improved to 59-79. a .428 winning percentage. Under Lawless, the team won 11 of its last 24 games, for a .458 percentage. Early in the second half of the season, it was clear that the Astros were not only no longer the worst
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team in baseball, but not even the worst in their division, those distinctions going to the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Texas Rangers, respectively.

But now, Luhnow has seen fit to terminate the team’s commitment to Lawless, and bring in Hinch, who failed miserably in his first managerial position. He became manager of the Diamondbacks in early 2009, and the team was 58-75 (.436) under him. The team was far less successful the next season, and Hinch was fired around midseason, with a 31-48 (.392) record. That Diamondbacks’ team featured an array of power, hitting 180 homers and with four players (Adam LaRoche, Kelly Johnson, Mark Reynolds, and Chris Young) hitting between 25 and 32 each. The team was not bad defensively, especially in the outfield, and had good team speed. The starting staff featured young veterans who should

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have been just beginning the prime of their careers: Dan Haren, Joe Saunders, Ian Kennedy, and Edwin Jackson. No one ever took charge, however, of the very poorly managed bullpen, and they did not have a dependable closer. But, the team was far from an under .400 team, and it did improve slightly under new manager Kirk Gibson (34-49, .410).

Hinch was a scouting director for the Padres since being fired by Arizona, so he does not figure to have picked up much over the last four years that could serve to improve his meager managerial skills. So, despite all that
great, young talent in Houston, their future does not appear too bright. Dust off that cellar seat, Texas, the next occupant is ready.

With Lawless now looking for work, and with the news today that the Twins have fired long-time manager Ron Gardenhire, who had a competitive team taken away from him by penny-pinching management, there are three really top candidates available for any of the major league teams who are or will be looking for a new boss in the dugout. I would not be surprised to see Tony La Russa and Dave Stewart go after Gardenhire for the vacant Arizona job. Hopefully Lawless and Porter will both be running the show somewhere next season as well.

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