I FEEL SO bad writing about the woebegone Houston Astros today, if at all possible I will refrain from mentioning any of their players.(Why shine a harsh spotlight on those poor, anonymous souls? They are not public figures - granted, they're on public display daily, but none of them is recognizable unless striking out, misplaying grounders or giving up three-run homers in an Astros uniform - so they should not be subject to public scrutiny. I also feel bad for the fine people of Houston, a city without a Super Bowl title or World Series champion in its history.)The Astros have a little-known first-year manager - I looked online and could not find his name anywhere - and a roster so young, Chuck E. Cheese's caters the team's training table.In an attempt to mask the team's misery, Major League Baseball had the Astros switch leagues this season, but that's like transferring Charles Manson from San Quentin to Rikers Island - no matter the color of his prison garb, you still know he's bad news.
This being baseball, numbers tell the story:The Astros - 10-27 at the moment - are plunging toward a third straight 100-loss season.The Astros have an MLB-worst 5.62 ERA.The Astros have the lowest payroll in baseball.
Back-to-back 100-loss seasons are actually pretty commonplace in MLB history. This century alone, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays did it in 2001-02 (62-100, 55-106), the Detroit Tigers in 2002-03 (55-106-43-119) and the Washington Nationals in 2008-09 (59-103, 59-102).But the Astros - 56-106 in 2011 and 55-107 in 2012 - are trying to join even more elite miserable company. The Kansas City Royals, from 2004 to 2006, had three consecutive 100-loss seasons (58-104, 56-106, 62-100), and the New York Mets lost at least 100 games in their first four seasons, starting in 1962 (40-120, 51-111, 53-109, 50-112).**Even though this is pre-ESPN, it still counts in the record books.Of course, we could go back further - and discuss the Philadelphia Phillies' run of five straight 100-defeat seasons that began in 1938 - but I see no reason to depress another tormented metropolitan area.How do the Astros do it? They can't get anybody out.Their pitching staff reminds me of the 1930 Phillies, whose team ERA of 6.71 was the highest in MLB history, and the 1912-17 Keystone Cops, who couldn't capture any crooks.(Frankly, I can't indulge this deluge of dreariness any longer, so let's take a second to celebrate the Astros' sole 2012 all-star, second baseman Jose Altuve, 23, who is hitting .336 this season. The shortest player in the majors at 5-foot-5, he sometimes is confused for the batboy, although, as it turns out, I don't think the Astros can even afford a batboy.)
Which brings us to the much ballyhooed Alex Rodriguez-vs.-Houston Astros salary comparison. In 2013, A-Rod is earning more than the Astros' entire 25-man roster - $29 million to $22 million; in A-Rod's defense, he has a lot of auxiliary expenses.This raises the question: Who is getting more bang for their buck, the Yankees with A-Rod or the Astros' penny pinchers?To answer this, in cooperation with the New York Times' FiveThirtyEight blog and the American Enterprise Institute - me and Nate Silver were holed up in his Manhattan crib for nearly two days, crunching the numbers - I have calculated each team's "adjusted victories per player dollar," or AVPPD.(Of course, A-Rod may not play this year, but our statistical model does not account for this.)Through a complicated formula that I cannot possibly explain within the context of this column, we are projecting the Yankees for 89 victories this season and the Astros for 57. This translates to A-Rod having a 3.1 AVPPD, while the entire Astros roster will produce a 2.6 AVPPD.Conclusion: Remarkably, this makes A-Rod a relative bargain. As expected, the Astros lose again.
Ask The SlouchQ. Would you give an athlete the finger? (Kevin Morgan; Indianapolis)A. When I was 16, I gave the finger to a fellow motorist, who then followed me to where I was going, got out of his car with a baseball bat and screamed through the driver-side window, "Don't ever flip the bird to someone unless you're prepared to face the consequences, dude." Other than the occasional typo, that would be the last time I misused my middle digit.Q. Redskins owner Daniel Snyder says his team will "never" change its nickname. Isn't "never" a long time? (John Wagner; Rockville, Md.)A. Actually, sources tell me Snyder is considering changing the team's nickname to "Redskinettes" to reflect his diminutive stature.Q. First, Angel Hernandez and his umpiring crew blow a home run call on replay. Then Fieldin Culbreth, and his whole crew, forget a basic rule. When is MLB going to get rid of the replacement umps? (Stephen Pappas; White Plains, N.Y.)A. Pay the man, Shirley.You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just e-mail email@example.com and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!