January 13, 2004
ROCKETS IN HOUSTON
ROCKET’S IN HOUSTON
NOTE - I play in a co-ed volleyball league on Monday nights. Fun times! Knowing that, I asked a friend of mine to come up with a title for today’s posting, and using it, I would write up a couple of paragraphs. So, here’s what we’ve got. I hope you enjoy. If you have any ideas for future postings, or any comments or questions, send me an e-mail.
I guess this wasn’t the topic I was expecting, but hey, I’ll go with it. This is primarily a Twins and other baseball-related site, but I write about a broad range of topics, basketball being one of them. So, let’s talk.
Coming into this season, I think the expectations for the Houston Rockets success in the 2003-04 was higher than it has been since the days of Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and Charles Barkley. This year’s version consists of Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley and Yao Ming, and with the retirement of Rudy Tomjonovich, Jeff Van Gundy was brought in to lead the team.
As a rookie last season, it seemed as though Yao was phased into the offense. He never really played a lot of minutes, and it looked like he received a lot of coaching. He averaged 13.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and almost two assists and blocks a game, playing just 29 minutes. He was the team’s third leading scorer, behind Francis (21.0) and Mobley (17.5).
So, my assumption was that this season, the offense would go through Yao more often, which would increase his numbers, but also open things up for Francis and Mobley. So, what has happened. Yao is averaging slightly more points (15.3) and rebounds (8.9) each game, while his blocks and assists are basically the same. But, Steve Francis’s points (17.5) are down, as are Cuttino Mobley’s (15.5). However, they are getting double-digit scoring from Maurice Taylor (11.8 and 5.6 rebounds) and Jimmy Jackson (11.3 and 6 rebounds) as well as 8.3 rebounds from Kelvin Cato. And that is why the Houston Rockets are 20-16 thus far this season.
Now, what does that mean for the Rockets? Well, they finished 43-39 last year and out of the playoffs. At their current pace, they will finish 46-36, 10 games over .500. If they were in the Eastern Conference, their fans could be talking home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. However, in the far-superior Western Conference, they will be fighting for the 8th playoff spot.
That said, I would suspect that with Jeff Van Gundy leading them, they will play very well the rest of the season, and put themselves in a position to fight for the 6th or 7th spot in the playoffs. I think that their offense will continue to improve as the players get more adjusted to each other and to Van Gundy’s system. I think that, if nothing else, they will provide a lot of competition to any team in the Western Conference. Simply put, they can beat any team on any given night.
The Timberwolves are on their schedule. They will match up on Saturday afternoon at 2:30 on ABC. Check it out. (by the way, the Timberwolves are on National TV tonight against the New Orleans Hornets, so be sure to check them out!)
E-mail me if you have any thoughts on the Rockets, or the N.B…. WAIT!!! I bet that isn’t what the friend was talking about… Let me start over:
ROCKETS IN HOUSTON
Now this is a topic far off the standard track of this website, but I will write a little about it. I hope you enjoy it.
One of the most famous lines in movie history, and in history in general is, “Houston, we have a problem.”
Houston is the home of the NASA Johnson Space Center which is where much of the communication with the astronauts in space occurs. Be sure to consider a visit to Space Center Houston. From their website:
Space Center Houston is the only place on Earth that gives guests an out-of-this-world journey through human adventures into space.
Sounds like fun, however, I think I’ve finally got figured out what my friend was talking about with the title of today’s posting. Here is my final try:
ROCKET’S IN HOUSTON
Punctuation and apostrophes are so important in writing!!!
In quite possibly the least surprising occurrence of this offseason, Roger Clemens decided to come out of retirement before even really trying it. Yesterday, he signed a one year deal with his hometown Houston Astros.
I really think that Clemens was planning on retiring, but when his best friend and Yankee teammate Andy Pettitte decided to sign in Houston, that made his decision an easy one. Actually, let’s be honest for a second, when Pettitte made the decision to leave the Yankees for Houston, I bet he had insider information that Clemens would come back. They talk. Pettitte knew. Clemens just needed the time to make it look like he really was going to retire.
The Yankees gave Clemens a Hummer H2 in recognition of his retirement. Fortunately, they have said that he doesn’t need to give it back. The reason for Clemens retirement was to spend time with his family. His family includes his wife Debbie and sons Koby (17), Kory (15), Kacy (9), and Kody (7). Clemens has had season tickets at Minute Maid field for years and his sons have gone to many of their home games.
So, I think it is more than fair to say that his family is all of this decision. Here’s what Clemens said after his eldest two sons handed in a present on Christmas Day, a Houston Astros cap:
"They've never handed me a present, ever in their life. I've always had to go out and pick them from under the tree. But they handed me this and grabbed the video camera and started videoing when I opened it. I knew that was a little hint to start maybe jogging and lifting a bit."
I think that the clauses in his contract make it an even easier decision for Clemens. The one year, $5 million contract is broken out like this; he will receive $1.5 million this year, and $3.5 million in 2006. Also, he was given a 10 year “personal services” clause, meaning that when he does retire (again), he will be able to work for the Astros. There are other clauses such as when Clemens is not scheduled to pitch on a road trip, Clemens does not need to travel with the team. On days when his sons play and he is not scheduled to pitch, he will be able to watch them.
So, Clemens is getting a pretty good deal just from the standpoint of the contract clauses and his pitching at home. But I think something else that is important to remember is that , even though he is 41 years old, Clemens still pitched very well last season. It was never physical issues that “forced” a retirement; he was going out on his own terms. Last season, Clemens went 17-9 with a 3.91 ERA. Most impressively, the Rocket pitched 211.7 innings. His strikeout rate did drop down to 8.1, which is still really impressive. He averaged giving up just one HR per 9 innings pitched, a very solid rate. Of course, playing in Minute Maid Park, that number will certainly increase.
So, to summarize, I think that this is really a good move for everyone. Clemens gets a very “user-friendly” contract for fair money and gets to spend more time with his family. The Astros get a very solid starting pitcher who will be able to proved them with a lot of quality innings pitched. Not only that, but they can boast the final season of one of the five greatest pitchers of all-time. They will be able to market him. Their fans have to be absolutely thrilled.
So, how will this affect the Astros? First, here is their current starting rotation:
1 - Roy Oswalt
2 - Andy Pettitte
3 - Roger Clemens
4 - Wade Miller
5 - Jeriome Robertson/Brandon Duckworth
That is a pretty strong rotation 1-4. Oswalt was one of the game’s most dominant starting pitchers the past few years. A groin injury plagued him most of last season. Andy Pettitte is another good innings eater. Things will be different for he and Clemens pitching in homer-friendly Minute Maid Park, but they should get good run support by the Astros hitters as well. Wade Miller was a very solid pitcher his first couple of seasons, but really struggled last year. He should come back to form in ’04. The fifth spot is up in the air. The Astros received Duckworth as part of the Billy Wagner trade. He has been in the Phillies rotation the last two seasons. Robertson was 15-9 in 160 innings for the Astros last season, although his ERA was 5.10.
The loss of Wagner does create some problems in the bullpen. What will the new role of Octavio Dotel (Bermanism attempt - Octavio Dotel me dat… what do you think?)? Will he become the new closer? He has been so dominant as a set up man for years. The rest of the bullpen will consist of the likes of the starter not given the 5th spot, Brad Lidge, Dan Micelli, Brandon Backe, Carlos Hernandez, Kirk Saarloos and maybe more.
We do know that the Houston offense will be able to score some runs. Here is how I would project (guess!) the Astros regular lineup:
CF - Craig Biggio (future Hall of Famer)
SS - Adam Everett (good bat control and bunting. Good NL style #2 hitter)
1B - Jeff Bagwell (future Hall of Famer)
LF - Lance Berkman (overcame slow start to put up strong numbers again)
2B - Jeff Kent (possible Hall of Famer, fought injuries a lot last year)
3B - Morgan Ensberg (split time with Geoff Blum last year, job is his now!)
RF - Richard Hidalgo (had a strong year last year again, but $15 million next year???)
C - Brad Ausmus (can’t hit, but not everyone in a lineup can, and he is a good catcher)
Three through seven, that’s a strong lineup. And, don’t forget that Clemens will be playing in the National League for the first time in his career. Should be interesting to see if he can hit… or bunt at least, and if there is any retaliation by any teams!
As of now, I think that the Astros have put themselves in a position to compete with the Cubs in the NL Central. If the Cardinals are able to sign Greg Maddux, the division could come down to the wire, just like it did last year!
For thoughts on the Astros regarding the Clemens deal and their upcoming season, check out Astros Daily.
What do you think of the Clemens signing or the Astros, or anything baseball? E-mail me.
I want to also send you to a few great sites for some articles well worth the read.
First, I mentioned that Aaron Gleeman spent last week in Las Vegas celebrating his 21st birthday. Monday, he wrote up a great article discussing all of the splendor of Las Vegas, from the gamblings to the shows to the flights and everything in between. Check out his thoughts here. Very fun and interesting!
The Twins Geek wrote a great article today called Jonesing for a Trade, where he discusses trade possibilities that have been discussed and others that he just speculates. He definitely thinks that the Dodgers would be a great fit for Jacque. Be sure to check out his article, and then go to the Dickie Thon Fan Forum posting and let him know what you think. There are some excellent thoughts already on there.
Finally, Rich Lederer has another great interview this week. He was able to interview Joe Sheehan, a co-founder and author of Baseball Prospectus, a great baseball site. Some very interesting thoughts on baseball, baseball history, baseball stats, baseball media and much more. Rich’s Weekend Baseball Beat is one of the great sites out there! Check it out!
Well, that is it for today. If you have any questions or comments, please e-mail me!
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