Weighing the Pros and Cons of IF Trade Targets

With Chase Utley sidelined and Freddy Galvis slated for an Opening Day start, it is no secret that the Phillies are looking to acquire an infielder via trade. Despite a barren farm system, the Phillies do have two trade chips in Joe Blanton and Kyle Kendrick. Blanton, earning $8.5 million in the final year of his contract, is recovering from an elbow injury, but has looked sharp in ten inning this spring. Likewise, Kendrick signed a  a two-year, $7.5 million deal during the off-season and looks ready to go. The one object in a trade involving one of the two is the money — the Phillies would have to cover about $6 million with Blanton and likely at least $2 million in both 2012-13 for Kendrick.

What infielders might be available for the Phillies? Let’s take a look.

Alberto Callaspo, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Pros

  • Versatility. Callaspo can play second and third base, which would cover Chase Utley and Placido Polanco. He can also play shortstop in a pinch, but only 195 of his 4,568 career defensive innings (four percent) have been at shortstop.
  • Defense. He has been a plus defender in two out of his three full seasons according to UZR, and in all three according to Baseball Reference.
  • Gets on base. He posted a .366 on-base percentage last year with a career-high 11 percent walk rate.
  • Makes contact. He struck out in less than eight percent of his career 2,208 plate appearances.
  • Arb-eligible. Callaspo will enter his third year of arbitration in 2013, meaning the Phillies could have control of him for two seasons. However, this also makes him more expensive to acquire in a trade.

Cons

  • No power. His career .080 ISO over the last three seasons puts him in the same company as Jack Wilson, Skip Schumaker, and Emilio Bonifacio.
  • Doesn’t steal bases. He has stolen a measly 18 bases in 26 attempts (69 percent) in his career, despite hitting 416 singles and drawing 173 walks in his career.
  • Too many fly balls. For a hitter with so little power, he puts too many batted balls in the air, which explains his .295 career BABIP.
  • No shortstop. As mentioned above, Callaspo can play shortstop, but it doesn’t mean he’ll do it well. To quote a scouting report from Royals Review:

Unfortunately, his defensive abilities at shortstop are underwhelming at best. He simply doesn’t possess good enough instincts, arm, or glove to truly be relied upon as a force on the left side of the field.

Maicer Izturis, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Pros

  • Doubles. Izturis doesn’t possess much power, but he does hit the ball in the gaps. He doubled 35 times last year, bringing him up to 135 in his career (21 percent of his hits).
  • Speed. He is no Vince Coleman, but he can steal bases in the double-digits while surpassing the 70-75 percent break-even rate.
  • Versatile. Izturis can play second and third base as well as shortstop, and he’s about equally as good at all three positions. UZR has him at a +5.0 at second (1,775 innings), +4.7 at third (2,015 innings), and +6.2 at shortstop (1,332 innings).

Cons

  • Money. Izturis is making $3.8 million in 2012 before becoming a free agent.
  • Pop-ups. Nearly ten percent of his fly balls have failed to leave the infield over the course of his career, cutting into his production.
  • Injured. He missed about two weeks of spring training due to leg tightness, which may have some lasting effects during the season.

Mike Aviles, Boston Red Sox

Pros

  • Makes contact. He struck out in just over 13 percent of his plate appearances in his brief career.
  • Versatile. He can play at second, third, and short.
  • Light power. The right-hander’s career .131 ISO isn’t earth-shattering, but he would be good for 25-30 doubles in 600 PA.
  • Steals bases occasionally. 28 steals in 37 attempts (76 percent) in each of the past two seasons.
  • Cheap and under control. He will earn $1.2 million this year, avoiding his first year of arbitration. The Phillies would have control of him through 2014.

Cons

  • Swings away. He has drawn walks in only four percent of his plate appearances.
  • Defense. Aviles is versatile, but doesn’t play any position particularly well.

Robert Andino, Baltimore Orioles

Pros

  • Defense. The samples are relatively small, but most reports  and stats indicate that Andino plays above-average at both second base and shortstop.
  • Speed? Prior to last year, Andino was an unimpressive 6-for-10 stealing bases with 66 singles and 28 walks. However, he stole 13 bases in 16 attempts last year alone.
  • Price and control. Andino is earning $1.3 million and will be arbitration eligible for the second and third time in 2013-14, respectively.

Cons

  • No offense. He doesn’t hit for average, he doesn’t get on base, and he has no power. His career batting line is only marginally better than what Michael Martinez posted last year.
  • Whiffs. Andino has struck out in over 19 percent of his 951 career plate appearances.

Blake DeWitt, Chicago Cubs

Pros

  • Versatile. DeWitt can play second, third, and left field.
  • Marginal power. In 600 PA, he could be good for 10 HR and 20 doubles.
  • Walks. He has drawn walks in about nine percent of his plate appearances.

Cons

  • Defense. Although he is verstile, he doesn’t play any position at even an average level.
  • Bad contact skills. Career .260 average and 16 percent strikeout rate. He has a career 15 percent infield fly ball rate, the 12th-highest rate in the National League since 2008.
  • Reverse platoon split:
  • vs. LHP: .290 AVG, .373 OBP, .440 SLG in 228 PA
  • vs. RHP: .254 AVG, .318 OBP, .373 SLG in 985 PA

Chris Getz, Kansas City Royals

Pros

  • Fast. 62-for-74 stealing bases over his career spanning 1,099 PA.
  • Cheap. Earning under $1 million and is arbitration-eligible in each of the next two seasons.

Cons

  • No offense. A complete inability to make quality contact has led to a carer .290 wOBA.
  • Second base only. 2,349 of his career 2,384 defensive innings have come at second base.

There is no clear-cut target on the list and some pieces need to fall into place for any deal to get done. For instance, the Red Sox would need to be convinced that prospect Jose Iglesias can hold down the everyday job at shortstop in Aviles’ absence. Currently, that doesn’t appear to be the case. Additionally, the Angels don’t have a pressing need for Blanton, so the Phillies would need to give them another reason to relinquish Callaspo or Izturis. It is just not a great time to be shopping around for infield help if you’re the Phillies.

Jamie Moyer Defying Expectations with Rockies

Once thought to be headed into retirement, Jamie Moyer is on the comeback trail with the Colorado Rockies. The veteran lefty missed the entirety of the 2011 season and the final ten weeks of the 2010 season due to an elbow injury.  In nine spring training innings thus far, Moyer has a 1.00 ERA backed by seven strikeouts and zero walks.

While Moyer’s style of pitching seems like a bad fit for Coors Field, there is a chance the match works out. Moyer induces a lot of infield flies — his 12 percent pop-up rate since 2007 is tied with noted DIPS-anomalies Matt Cain and Shaun Marcum. Moyer also has excellent control, averaging 2.6 walks per nine innings since 2007, so any damage inflicted by the hitter-friendly tendencies of Coors Field will be done with fewer runners on base than the average pitcher.

Moyer could become just the fourth pitcher since 1901 to complete a full inning in the Majors at the age of 49 or older, joining Satchel Paige (58!), Hoyt Wilhelm, and Jack Quinn.

Rk IP Year Age Tm
1 Satchel Paige 3.0 1965 58 KCA
2 Hoyt Wilhelm 25.1 1972 49 LAD
3 Jack Quinn 15.2 1933 49 CIN
4 Hoyt Wilhelm 20.0 1971 48 TOT
5 Jack Quinn 87.1 1932 48 BRO
6 Phil Niekro 138.2 1987 48 TOT
7 Kaiser Wilhelm 8.0 1921 47 PHI
8 Hoyt Wilhelm 82.0 1970 47 TOT
9 Jack Quinn 64.1 1931 47 BRO
10 Phil Niekro 210.1 1986 47 CLE
11 Jamie Moyer 111.2 2010 47 PHI
12 Nick Altrock 2.0 1924 47 WSH
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/23/2012.

If Moyer is able to stay healthy in each of the next two seasons, it is possible that he will join the illustrious 300-win club. He currently has 267, thus would need to average 16-17 in 2012-13 to make the cut. Many conversations fixating on the next player to join the 300-win club bring up Roy Halladay and C.C. Sabathia while omitting Moyer. With good health, good fortune, and good run support, it is possible that Moyer makes history at the ripe age of 50.

Phillies Still the Favorites in NL East

With the rash of injuries undercutting the Phillies’ entrance into the 2012 regular season, it has become trendy to pick against them. The Marlins and Nationals made some significant acquisitions during the off-season, and the 89-win Braves of last year stood more or less pat during the off-season. As a result, we’re seeing a lot of hipster-ish picks against the Phillies. “I picked the Phillies to miss the playoffs before it was cool.”

Remember, though, that most people who make these predictions are trying to gain something personally or professionally. By making outlandish positions, one of two things can occur: you can miss wildly and no one remembers (unless you’re Steve Berthiaume, who may never live down his Astros prediction), or you can hit three cherries and everyone proclaims you a genius. If you’re doing the math to find the expected value, it’s always worthwhile to make the crazy prediction. Additionally, calling out the susceptibility of the Phillies is a good conversation-starter — it’ll get you more page views, more Facebook likes, and more Twitter followers. This is especially true with the hyper-sensitive Philadelphia fan base.

I say this because I don’t believe anyone who is picking against the Phillies in the NL East is speaking completely honestly. Without Chase Utley last year, the Phillies went 18-8 in April and 10-10 in May before his return on the 23rd. In those 46 games, they averaged just over 3.8 runs per game. Of course, they had Ryan Howard in the lineup, a feature missing from the 2012 Opening Day lineup. They replaced Utley with a combination of Wilson Valdez (replacement level) and Michael Martinez (-0.4 WAR). Freddy Galvis should fit somewhere between the two offensively, while offering a lot more with his glove and on the base paths. A realistic scenario in which the Phillies acquire an infielder via trade (e.g. Mike Aviles, Alberto Callaspo) makes up even more ground.

Meanwhile, Howard posted a career-low .354 wOBA at first base with 1.6 WAR. The Phillies can, believe it or not, match that with smart use of platoon match-ups: John Mayberry has a career .399 wOBA against LHP (in a very limited sample, however), Jim Thome has a career .430 wOBA against RHP, Laynce Nix posted a .317 mark vs. RHP, and Ty Wigginton .352 against lefties. In a perfect world, Mayberry and Thome would get the vast majority of plate appearances, but RHB/LHP match-ups are rare (18 percent of PA last year) and Thome’s age and health will limit his playing time. Still, the Phillies should match or at least come close to matching Howard’s production without losing much, if anything, defensively.

PECOTA, the projection system found at Baseball Prospectus, is not particularly fond of the 2012 Phillies. Still, it projects the Phillies to have the second-best run differential in the division, five runs behind the Atlanta Braves. The Braves are expected to be 48 runs better than the Phillies on offense and 43 runs worse with pitching. Last year, the Braves were 72 runs worse offensively and 76 runs worse with pitching. I’m a bit more optimistic — I don’t see the Braves gaining 12 wins on the Phillies offensively and three on the mound.

The Marlins had a flashy off-season. Along with opening up a new stadium, they will begin the season with newcomers Jose Reyes, Heath Bell, Mark Buehrle, and Carlos Zambrano. It’s easy to buy into the hype, but remember that the Marlins finished 30 games behind the Phillies last season. The Fish scored 88 fewer runs with the bat and allowed 173 more. All in all, the Phillies’ +261 run differential advantage last year is expected to turn into a modest +2. Most other projection systems will tell a similar story.

Losing Utley indefinitely is a terrible blow to the Phillies, and they will be missing Howard’s thunderous bat in the meantime as well. However, they will have a full season of Hunter Pence, an easy schedule in the first two months of the season, and will be riding on the back of baseball’s best pitching staff. They can prevent losing even more runs to the great baseball ether by giving Domonic Brown some time in left field assuming he shows defensive improvement. As mentioned recently, the recent turn of events is a bit of a nightmare scenario for the Phillies, but the rest of the division still isn’t that impressive. A crippled Phillies team is still better than any other challenger in the NL East — and don’t forget, the Phillies are still under the $178 million luxury tax threshold, so they have money to plug any leaky holes between now and the end of July.

Tune in to 94 WIP Tonight!

I will be speaking with Spike Eskin on 94 WIP tonight around 11:20 PM ET to talk about the Phillies and my book “100 Things Phillies Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die”. Make sure you tune in!

UPDATE: You can listen to my spot by clicking here. It starts at about 21 minutes.

The Bus to Galviston

First, the news came out (and was investigated thoroughly by our blogging overlord here) that Chase Utley, the best Phillies position player since Mike Schmidt and, for the last half of the 2000s, the best position player on Earth not named Albert Pujols or Joe Mauer, would not be ready for Opening Day.

For some reason, I wasn’t particularly disturbed by the news and couldn’t figure out why. After all, if the Phillies are the Death Star, Chase Utley is the main reactor that powers the station, and his rapidly degenerating lower body joints are the thermal exhaust port, a direct hit on which could start a chain reaction and destroy the station. I think John Lannan is Luke Skywalker in this metaphor, which makes me a little uncomfortable, but we can iron out the particulars later.

Particularly for a team that’s going to be without its biggest power threat (Ryan Howard) for a significant part of the season, the loss of Utley could be catastrophic. The Phillies don’t stand to score a ton of runs anyway, and replacing Utley with either Freddy Galvis, Ty Wigginton, or Michael Martinez won’t do much to help that. Dave Cameron, Grand Duke of FanGraphs, was characteristically honest on the issue. And while I appreciate Cameron’s candor, saying “the Phillies are considering using a guy who posted a .315 OBP in Triple-A last year as their 2B?” doesn’t exactly generate a warm, fizzy feeling in my bowels.

Then, this afternoon, the news came out that Michael Martinez, last year’s Rule 5 project and one of the major fallback options at second base, would miss several weeks with a broken toe. This didn’t bother me either, though for more readily explainable reasons. I’m reminded of the classic and moving scene in Broadcast News, where Albert Brooks’ Aaron delivers the memorable line: “I know you care about him. I’ve never seen you like this about anyone, so please don’t take it wrong when I tell you that I believe that Tom, while a very nice guy, is the Devil.”

Well, Michael Martinez, while being a very nice guy, is a dreadful major league infielder. Martinez, for his entire major league career, has a .198/.258/.282 slash line in 234 plate appearances. He hasn’t played enough at any position to generate meaningful defensive statistics, but it’s not like the Phillies brass is out there telling everyone he’s the second coming of Bill Mazeroski. And on the basepaths, Martinez is 82-for-124 in career stolen base attempts in the minors, a 66 percent success rate, which is low enough to actually hurt the team. If it’s possible for a major leaguer to possess none of the traditional five tools, Michael Martinez is that man. But anyone who’s reading this watched enough Phillies games last season to know that anyway.

Which leaves Ty Wigginton, who is a second baseman by the same logic that if you leave a fish in a birdcage overnight once a week, it will turn into a cockatoo. Plus, odds are he’ll be busy minding first base in Howard’s absence.

Which leaves Freddy Galvis. Cameron’s snarky comment aside, I’m actually rather excited about Galvis. I’ll concede the eminent possibility that Galvis could grade out offensively somewhere between Wilson Valdez (we’ll get back to him later) and a four-foot-high pile of potatoes. People with a career .613 minor league OPS generally don’t get to the majors and start raking. But by all accounts, Galvis is a fantastic defensive shortstop, a quality that should be even more evident at second base. Even assuming that any OPS mark above .600 would be a victory for Galvis, he’s still the second base option I’d have over any other, not only because of his defense, but because he’s a 22-year-old unknown. Rather than reaching for an off-the-shelf utilityman (Wigginton) or a career minor leaguer (Martinez or Valdez), the Phillies are plugging a hole with a young, homegrown player, and giving him a chance to impress. With Howard, Utley, Placido Polanco, Jimmy Rollins, and even Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee all approaching their athletic dotage, it’s a habit I’d like the Phillies’ brass to get into. And at the risk of tempting fate, there’s no way Galvis can be worse than Martinez over the course of a full season. All told, I’m pretty pumped about Galvis, enough to gas up a bandwagon in his honor. So you’re on notice, Phillies fans–Freddy Galvis is officially in his indie phase, so hop on the train before it fills up.

But back to the original point. Why isn’t Utley’s injury causing mass panic? After all, Bill’s been going on about how Utley is the most important player in baseball for weeks now. I think Eric Karabell of ESPN’s Baseball Today hit it on the head in yesterday’s Baseball Today (the March 19 episode, for those of you who want to give it a listen). To paraphrase, Karabell pointed out that the Phillies won 102 games last year, despite Utley only posting 454 plate appearances, and when he did play, he was hardly the .300/.390/.520 player he was during his Joe Morgan phase from 2005 to 2010. For most Phillies fans nowadays, the expectation for Utley is probably a little better than 103 games played and a .259/.344/.425 triple slash line he posted last year, but it can’t really be more than that. Karabell went on to say that even a Polanco/Rollins/Galvis/Wigginton infield isn’t that scary a prospect, because the Phillies have Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels. Add in Vance Worley (even if he regresses some, as I expect him to) and Joe Blanton, and I struggle to imagine a pitching staff in the majors pitching more and better innings this coming season. And those five starters will hand off to a bullpen that includes Antonio Bastardo and Jonathan Papelbon.

In short, scoring runs will not be easy for the Phillies this season, and the more at-bats Galvis and Wigginton have to take over from Utley and Howard, the more true that will become. But unlike the Phillies teams from four or five years ago, a few runs will do in most cases. If Halladay or Hamels goes down, or Worley turns into Tyler Green 2.0, then it’s collar-tugging time. But for now, remember: the Phillies were going to win 90+ games without scoring many runs even if Utley played 150 games. And while it’s fun to spend the spring bigging up the Marlins, Nationals, and Braves, all of those teams have weaknesses too. The Phillies are still the odds-on favorite to win the NL East, and unless they lose a top pitcher, that’s probably still the case. So sit back and enjoy the Galvis.

But I still haven’t answered the truly salient question, the “should have kept” question. With the attrition rate for Phillies second basemen sitting somewhere around the attrition rate for ANZAC soldiers at Gallipoli, isn’t this the perfect time to second-guess the trade that sent fan favorite Wilson Valdez to Cincinnati? Exxon, the man who gamely stood his post in relief of an injured Utley for two years? Wouldn’t we be better off with the 2010 team MVP at the keystone, rather than some unproven rookie?

Absolutely not. Let’s not say things we can’t take back.

Nightmare Scenario

Last month, when I was on ESPN’s Baseball Today podcast with Eric Karabell (@KarabellESPN), I mentioned two things: Chase Utley was the Phillies storyline I would be most interested in going into spring training, and the Phillies will be in trouble if the four members of their infield are unable to stay healthy throughout the season.

With just a couple weeks left in spring training, it looks like that nightmare scenario may be coming to fruition. Per David Hale:

The sum total of Freddy Galvis’ endless work on his offensive game last season was a .716 OPS and eight home runs between Double-A and Triple-A.

For a 22-year-old heralded for his glove, that represented significant progress.

As a potential replacement for All-Star Chase Utley in the lineup of a team with World Series aspirations, it represents a huge question mark.

With a little more than two weeks remaining before opening day, Galvis is now the starter at second base for the Phillies, and when it comes to his bat, even he’s not quite sure what to expect.

[...]

The Phillies continue to try to put an optimistic spin on Utley’s situation, but he won’t be ready for opening day, and there’s at least a chance he won’t be ready any time soon after that. Amaro wouldn’t speculate on whether it might be a career-threatening injury.

That means the future is now for Galvis. Whether he’s ready remains to be seen, but the Phillies are prepared to give him a chance.

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Matt Gelb predicts Utley won’t start on Opening Day, opening a window for Galvis or a trade acquisition. While Galvis plays smooth defense and hasn’t looked inept at the plate, PECOTA is very pessimistic about the 22-year-old’s ability to handle Major League pitching, projecting him at a .206 true average (TAv, the league average is .260). ZiPS isn’t hopeful either, projecting a .290 wOBA compared to the .316 league average last year.

Galvis doesn’t have anything more than slightly above-average speed and he hasn’t displayed premier base running smarts (career 67 percent success rate in the Minors). He lacks on-base skills (career .246 average, .292 OBP, and 5.6 percent walk rate in the Minors) and has very little power (career .075 ISO, set a benchmark at .114 last year). There is just no way around it: downgrading from Utley to Galvis is a huge loss in production and the Phillies will be scrambling to replace it.

Meanwhile, around the infield, the Phillies will be plugging other holes. In Placido Polanco‘s absence, Ty Wigginton will get more playing time. Wigginton’s defense leaves a lot to be desired and his spotty offense barely meets the league average at the hot corner. In the event both Utley and Jimmy Rollins are sidelined simultaneously, Michael Martinez will get some playing time at second base. The Rule 5 acquisition exceeded expectations with a .247 wOBA last year, which tells you all you need to know about the guy.

Finally, the Phillies are dealing with the loss of Ryan Howard with a patchwork first base platoon. Jim Thome, who has played 28 defensive innings since 2006, is expected to get a weekly start to get his legendary bat in the lineup. Otherwise, the Phillies will be using some combination of Wigginton, John Mayberry, and Laynce Nix. Neither of the three have great TAv projections, at .257, .270, and .263, respectively (Thome projects at .293). The more hopeful among us expect Howard back before June, but realistically, Phillies fans should be thrilled if he’s back at any time before the All-Star break.

As far as spring trainings go, 2012 has not been the best. Fortunately, the Phillies are blessed with an easy schedule early in the regular season. The Phillies open against the Pittsburgh Pirates and later have series throughout the month of April with the New York Mets, San Diego Padres, and Chicago Cubs, all teams that finished significantly below .500 last year. May includes more games against the Mets and Padres, as well as the Houston Astros. If ever the Phillies were going to stay afloat amidst crashing waves of adversity, it is in the first two months of the 2012 regular season.

Tutorial: Making an Animated .gif

Per a request on Twitter, I’m going to put together a simple tutorial on creating an animated .gif.

You need two programs:

  • A program to record your screen area
  • A program to convert the video into a .gif

I use HyperCam and Adobe ImageReady, respectively. There are many programs that will do the same job, often better, but I use those out of familiarity. ImageReady is discontinued software, so you will have to find something more current most likely. My instructions will be specific to these programs, but likely have a lot of applicability no matter what you’re using.

You need to set up your options in HyperCam. I’ll go through the various tabs and tell you what to focus on.

Screen Area

The only thing I focus on here is “Select Region”. This allows you to drag a box over the screen area you want to record. So if I wanted to record my entire desktop, I’d click in the very top left corner and then again in the very bottom right corner. Because I tend to record from MLB.tv, I just drag a box around the screen area in the smaller browser window.

Hot Keys

Again, only one thing I focus on here, which is the Start/Stop hotkey. I set it to F2, but you can change it to whatever is most convenient for you.

AVI File

Set up where you want your video files to go when you’re done recording. I’m lazy, so I send everything to my desktop (C:Users”UserName”Desktop).

There are some technical options here. Generally, you won’t need to touch them, but my settings are as follows:

  • Rate in frames per second, Record: 20; Playback: 20
  • Cursor / Full frame capture ratio: 1
  • Key frame every 100 frames
  • Video compressor: Full frames (uncompressed)
  • Frame compression quality: 85%

Sound

Ignore this, since animated .gifs don’t have sound.

Options

You can ignore this as well.

License

Ignore.

The next step is to record our video. So get whatever you want to record ready. Start your video, then start recording by pressing your hotkey. When you feel you’ve captured everything, press your hotkey again to stop. Your video is recorded and went into the directory you specified above.

Now, you need to convert the video into an animated .gif file. Open your video editor of choice and select your video file. I like to resize it down to 500 pixels wide (or smaller if it is a long .gif). You should be able to edit each frame individually. I tend to delete frames at the beginning and end of the .gif to cut down on the file size, so the video captures only what you’re trying to display. For instance, if I recorded a few seconds of a pitcher getting set before pitching, I will delete those frames.

Save the file as a .gif. In ImageReady, this is achieved by going to File > Save Optimized As…

(Note: There are some specific AVI-to-.gif software and web-based applications. I have not used them, but advise caution nonetheless.)

Finally, you need to upload your .gif file. If it is small, you can use Imgur or Tinypic. I prefer to use Picasa Web since there isn’t a cap (or at least not one I’ve hit yet).

Here’s a video illustrating how I make an animated .gif in less than two minutes:

I’m sure there are some different ways to achieve the same goal, but this is the method I use. If you have alternative methods, feel free to post them in the comments.

Miscellany

A few notes pertaining to your neighborhood Phillies blog.

1. The four of us will be putting out a weekly podcast about the Phillies starting in April. Tentatively, we will be recording on Sunday evenings and you should be able to download it the next day. We will figure out the specifics as we go along in terms of duration, topics, segments, etc. Expect the same high level discourse you’re used to reading on the podcast with all of the usual nerdery. I’m very new to the podcasting game, so I apologize in advance for any hiccups.

Music will be provided by Dirty Ghosts (@DirtyGhosts), whose album Metal Moon is available now. We will try to add more music variety throughout the year. If you’re a musician looking for exposure, or know someone of the sort, please contact me. We’re all open-minded when it comes to music, so don’t be bashful.

If you run a business, or know someone who does, and would benefit from advertising, we are looking for podcast sponsors (as well as blog sponsors). This helps pay for storage space, equipment, etc. so it is not coming directly out of my pocket. You can support us otherwise by tuning in every week and thanking Dirty Ghosts and any sponsors by email, on Twitter, or on Facebook. You can reach me via email — crashburnalley [at] gmail [dot] com with any inquiries or suggestions.

2. We will be accepting guest posts throughout the year. I can’t guarantee every article will be used, but if they pass the smell test, it is a great way to get some exposure on blogs and social media. Email them to the address listed above with details of everything you’d like to plug (blog, Twitter, Facebook, etc.). The only criteria I have is that your work cannot be cross-posted elsewhere.

3. Your input requested: What would you like to see more of on the blog during the season? What would you like to see less of? Anything new you would like to see? Remember, YOU (yes, you) are the reason we write, so your feedback is essential to us.

Around the Web

There’s been a lot of action here at Crashburn and elsewhere, so here are a few links to keep you up to date.

  • Michael Baumann wrote nearly 4,000 words on why he doesn’t like the designated hitter. You would be doing yourself a disservice not to check out the article if you haven’t already. [Link]
  • There’s no reason to panic about Roy Halladay’s less-than-stellar spring training to date. [Link]
  • Chase Utley is the most important player in baseball. [Link]
  • The Phillies made a few spring training cuts. What that means and who benefits. [Link]
  • At ESPN Sweet Spot, I wrote about why Jeremy Hellickson isn’t the regression candidate many Saberists expect him to be. [Link]
  • At The Score, I created a hilarious .gif of Chien-Ming Wang falling down on a play at first base. [Link]
  • I spoke with Dan Stamm of NBC Philadelphia’s Philthy Stuff, talking about my book “100 Things Phillies Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die“. [Link]
  • On Wednesday, I spoke with friend of the blog and guest contributor Thomas Holzerman (@tholzerman) about the Phillies and the upcoming season on his podcast. Look for that to be available next week.
  • I should be making an appearance on 94 WIP at some point during the week. Details to follow.

An Emotional Diatribe Against the Designated Hitter in the National League

I sort of knew it was coming. The increase in number of interleague games after the Astros move to the American League next year all but assured it. It’s at times like this when I’m reminded of Abraham Lincoln’s famous utterance, during his legendary debates with Stephen A. Douglas during the 1858 Illinois Senate campaign:

“A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.”

I have a very good friend who believes strongly in the ethic of Jefferson’s yeoman farmer, and that the true sovereignty of government rests with the municipalities and the states. I’ve long derided his view as outdated and naive, and when he pressed me for a reason why, intrinsically, his 18th-Century states’ rights ethic was inferior to the centralized and (ultimately, but coincidentally) communitarian politics I favor, I was only able to offer the following: “Because you lost the war.”

Friends, I come to you today in a moment of great historical import, because, if Sports Illustrated‘s Tom Verducci is to be believed, baseball has reached its “house divided” moment: the designated hitter is coming to the National League, and soon. And in the face of overwhelming evidence not only of its inevitability but of its potential benefit to the game, I find myself clinging to an antiquated and childish ideal, having lost the war.

Conservatism, Change as Progress, and Replacing Your Dead Cat

“Prejudice is of ready application in the emergency; it previously engages the mind in a steady course of wisdom and virtue, and does not leave the man hesitating in the moment of decision, sceptical, puzzled, and unresolved. Prejudice renders a man’s virtue his habit; and not a series of unconnected acts. Through just prejudice, his duty becomes a part of his nature.” 

–Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, 1790

Using the word “prejudice” the way Burke does, to mean “tradition” or “established practice,” we confront another change in the way we conceive of baseball. Up to a point, we can think of change as progress. Integrating the game, for instance, flies in the face of prejudice in both the common and Burkean conception of the word, and yet it was undoubtedly the single most positive step taken in the history of the sport. Similar positive judgments can be made about the internationalization of the sport, the statistical revolution, the democratization of baseball writing through the internet, medical and physical fitness advancements, expansion to new markets, the evolution over time of stadium design, and countless other innovations that have changed the game of baseball from the child’s game it was 200 years ago to the intellectually stimulating, all-engrossing, multi-billion-dollar enterprise it is today.

But even granting that change is usually synonymous with progress, can we say that change is always or even (to avoid creating a straw man) almost always beneficial? Does new almost always equal better? I would say no, at least, not often enough to accept any change as an improvement over the status quo without questioning it.

The designated hitter has been an important factor in increasing offense over the past few decades. Considering the offensive advantages it grants the American League compared to its rival, it is possible (though having no empirical evidence to support this theory, I’m inclined to say it’s unlikely) that the designated hitter is responsible in part for the dominance of the American League over the National League in interleague play. So are these the embittered ramblings of a fan of the National League’s best team, upset that an imbalance in the rules has prevented his team from getting the respect it deserves? Hardly.

What bothers me about the designated hitter is that it was a gimmick. The DH was instituted for the first time in MLB in 1973, as a gimmick. It was a response, by the American League, to ramp up offense in what was, at the time, the weaker league. Remember, this was around the time that the Oakland A’s were subjecting the world to Herb Washington, to say nothing of uniforms and facial hair that made Carnival look like a production of The Crucible. This was the age of Disco Demolition Night, and artificial turf, innovations that seem as antiquated to us now as Saturday Night Fever and Logan’s Run.

What sets the designated hitter apart? It’s a gimmick, as Verducci notes, that’s become tradition. There are practically no players who remember life before the DH. As the DH enters its 40th season, there are precious few writers, coaches, and managers who remember what life was like before baseball existed, to paraphrase Lincoln, half DH and half free. The designated hitter, a clumsy solution to a phantom problem, has become the subject of Burkean prejudice, as not only the American League but almost literally every inferior league in North America, from high school to the organized minors, adopted the rule as gospel.

Baseball changed fundamentally, with surprisingly little thought given to more than a century of established practice, in response to a set of circumstances brought about through its own propensity to overreact. After the offensive explosion of 1961, highlighted by Roger Maris’ 61 home run season, baseball expanded the strike zone, and thanks to a bumper crop of star pitchers, the next 10 years became the Dark Ages for scoring runs. We all know the stats: Bob Gibson’s 1.12 ERA, Don Drysdale’s 58 2/3 inning scoreless streak, Denny McLain’s 31 wins, and Carl Yastrzemski winning the batting title with a .301 average, all in 1968. Even if you accept that higher-scoring baseball is better baseball (which I don’t), or even more entertaining baseball (which I also don’t), the prudent thing to do would have been to return the strike zone to its previous state and police the height of the pitchers’ mound, which, to their credit, MLB did, starting in 1969.

I’m a cat owner. I love my cat, even if she doesn’t love me back, but such is life. If, God forbid, something were to happen to her, I’d be very upset. I’d probably be sad for quite some time, but I’d try to adjust. If, after a sufficient mourning period, I still felt lonely or lost without a cat, I’d get another. Now imagine that, upon the improvement of my mood, I decided that more pets would make me feel even better.

And imagine that I went out and bought a Neapolitan Mastiff.

I’ve never owned a dog. Now, I can believe that, over time, I might grow to love a 150-pound slobber machine. Maybe give him an ironic name, like “Tinkerbell,” and enjoy his jowly company. But I’m not sure my life would be better off. I do know that, over time, I’d forget what life was like when it was just me and a cat that ignored me.

The designated hitter is Tinkerbell, the Neapolitan Mastiff who eats four cubic feet of Kibbles ‘n Bits each week, thinks he owns the couch, and likes to sit on your head when you sleep. The designated hitter is a gimmick designed to fix a problem that 1) was caused by an overreaction by organized baseball in the first place and 2) probably would have cycled itself out over time. The only difference is, it’s been around long enough for us to learn to love it.

Debunking the Strategy Argument

“It’s the American League! They have the DH! How hard can it be?”

Little Big League, 1994

Verducci, like me, doesn’t like the DH. But I don’t think I’d go as far as he does when he says: “There is no question that the style of NL baseball is more interesting and nuanced than AL baseball. Yes, it’s a better game, the way chess is a better game than checkers.” In the end, baseball with the DH isn’t all that different from baseball without the DH. It’s not like the American League is playing with a square ball or anything. In fact, in 2011, the AL posted a collective OPS only 20 points higher than the NL.

So failing the complete dissolution of pitching and defense in the American League, how does strategy differ? Well, there’s almost no double switch with the designated hitter, which eliminates a fun, if sometimes chaotic, arrow from the quiver of the manager when it’s late and close. With that said, I’m not sure that I could live with myself if I were the kind of person who wanted to reverse 40 years of baseball evolution to increase the number of double-switches. Eliminating the need to pinch hit in late innings makes it easier for an AL manager to manage his bench. And perhaps one might alter one’s strategy during a rally knowing that the pitcher’s spot is coming up. But you also eliminate a big ol’ mess of sacrifice bunts with the DH, the positive effects of which can hardly be overstated. The sacrifice bunt is to baseball as hitting your point guard’s toe with a ball-peen hammer is to basketball.

Objectively, and taking the DH as a thing that is, and not as a band-aid that overstayed its welcome, I think the strategy argument is the strongest argument in favor of scrubbing the DH. With that said, it’s not that strong an argument. We still see strategic decisions in the American League, and given the propensity of field managers to meddle until they can meddle no more, more managing doesn’t necessarily mean better managing.

Ultimately, I’d compare National League baseball to Tom Wolfe’s 1979 book The Right Stuff, and American League baseball to Philip Kaufman’s excellent 1983 film adaptation. In the book, you get more detail, more nuance, but sometimes it drags. You lose some of that detail in the film, but no so much that you miss it a ton, though sometimes having a story visualized for you takes the fun out of it. And let’s say that eliminating the sacrifice bunt is like the movie adding one of the greatest soundtracks in film history (and yes, I know Bill Conti ripped off Holst).

That’s quite enough of that. Moving on.

Why the DH is Good

“I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter.”

–Crash Davis, Bull Durham, 1988 

The most common argument against the designated hitter (apart from the cranky old man argument I’ve been making: I just don’t like it and I want things to stay the way they are) is that not requiring pitchers to hit somehow diminishes their wholeness as ballplayers. This is total nonsense. Not requiring pitchers to hit diminishes their wholeness as ballplayers just as much as not requiring infielders to pitch diminishes their wholeness as ballplayers. On Monday’s Hang Up and Listen podcast, NPR’s Mike Pesca argued that pitchers are like placekickers in football: specialists whose skills in one area excuse them from being required to participate in other aspects of the game. All this makes perfect sense. I certainly don’t want to watch Matt Prater try to play boundary corner for the Broncos.

Others trumpet the DH as an injury prevention method for pitchers. After A.J. Burnett broke his face while trying to bunt last week, and after Chien-Ming Wang suffered a career-altering foot injury while running the bases in 2008, advocates for universal adoption of the designated hitter came out in droves, saying that for the sake of player safety, we should take pitchers off the basepaths and out of the batter’s box forever. I’m not sympathetic to this line of reasoning at all. Baseball is intrinsically dangerous. Batting is dangerous, even for experts. Ask Tony Conigliaro, or David Wright, or even Chase Utley. Baserunning is dangerous. Just ask Justin Morneau.

Moreover, pitching is dangerous. In addition to the innumerable soft tissue injuries to arms, shoulders, backs, and every other muscle, ligament, and tendon that goes into the incredibly violent motion of throwing an overhand pitch, there’s the danger of the line drive back through the box. Such an incident ended Dizzy Dean’s career. A Roberto Clemente line drive broke Bob Gibson’s leg in 1967. In 1998, a Sandy Alomar line drive nailed Orioles pitcher Mike Mussina in the nose. In 2000, Red Sox pitcher Bryce Florie, in one of the most graphic baseball injuries of all time, was defenseless when Ryan Thompson lined a ball back through the box, leaving him sitting on the mound with multiple facial fractures and bleeding that looked less the product of a baseball play than a scene from Hobo with a Shotgun. Then there’s the 2005 line drive that caromed off of Matt Clement‘s head and nearly into the seats by the left field foul line.

The point is, I have a hard time believing that implementing the designated hitter in the National League is really about player safety first and foremost. Preventing injuries to guys like Wang or Burnett by adopting the DH is no more of a solution than putting a screen in front of the mound to prevent injuries to guys like Mussina or Florie. From a player safety argument, it’s just not worth the hassle to prevent a major injury once every three years. There are dozens of innovations, from mandating the Great Gazoo-style batting helmet to padding all outfield walls to biometric analysis of pitcher mechanics that will make the game safer without significantly impacting the way the game is played.

The real argument, which I heard for the first time from ESPN’s Keith Law on the Baseball Today podcast last year, is that it’s just no fun to watch pitchers bat. To combine his argument with Pesca’s, would you find an NFL game more exciting if placekickers had to play offense or defense? Why not restrict the competition to those who specialize in a certain field, be it hitting, pitching, or punting?

I’m probably in the minority here, but I actually do find it fun to watch pitchers bat. And for the record, I think it would be very interesting to see how NFL strategy changed if placekickers were required to play on offense or defense. I imagine a generation of soccer players becoming combination placekickers/slot receivers. But that’s not the point.

While I concede the point that watching someone come up to the plate almost guaranteed to make an out can be disappointing sometimes (or when you’re watching Michael Martinez, all the time) I can’t follow that logic all the way to being convinced that universal adoption of the designated hitter is a good thing. Again, I’m something of a traditionalist on such issues, so your mileage may vary.

Caveats aside, the fish-out-of-water element actually appeals to me a great deal. It’s the same reason that seeing Wilson Valdez pitch in person last year was the greatest live fan experience of my life. When a pitcher hits a home run, or even reaches base, the rarity of the even makes the payoff all the greater when it happens. When a pitcher, particularly a good one, happens to be anything other than a catastrophic incompetent at the plate, every plate appearance is cause for excitement and anticipation. The Phillies, in Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, happen to have two such players. What Phillies fan doesn’t remember Joe Blanton‘s home run in the 2008 World Series with fondness? Letting the pitcher bat adds an element of chaos to a game that can, from time to time, be a little too orderly.

Why Good Baseball is Bad Baseball

“[B]aseball is supposed to be played by young guys who can run, rather than old fat guys who can hit home runs.”

–Bill James, The New Historical Baseball Abstract, 2001

We all know the stereotypical Moneyball player by now: a guy who gets on base, and ideally can hit for power, batting average be damned. All things being equal, it’s better to have the .250/.400/.500 guy than the .300/.340/.430 guy. This is not, of course, the be-all and end-all of sabermetrics, because, like all baseball analysts, stats guys would rather have the guy who does everything well, including speed and batting average. The Phillies, who won a World Series in large part because of the contributions of Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell, two men whose mobility is measured on a geological scale, know this well.

Burrell and Howard are two men who played the field because they had to. Given the opportunity to remove one or both of their gloves from the field, it’s likely that the Phillies would have done so (I’m ignoring Chris Coste and Greg Dobbs DHing during the 2008 World Series). One of the most attractive aspects of expanding the DH to both leagues, from a player union perspective, is that it extends the careers of, as James put it, “old fat guys who hit home runs.” That’s 15 more full-time jobs for the likes of Jason Giambi and Jim Thome, both relegated to spot duty and pinch-hitting on National League teams. And with big power numbers and big RBI totals come big money.

From a team’s perspective, Verducci mentions in his article, it takes some of the risk out of giving long-term, big-money deals to guys who either have only patience and power as virtues (Prince Fielder) or guys who will have only patience and power as virtues (Albert Pujols). If you can provide nothing but walks and home runs, and you don’t have to play the field, you can still be quite valuable, provided you produce lots of walks and home runs, as I’m sure Fielder will, well into his lunar phase.

If you’re manning a DH spot with someone who walks and hits home runs, and you’re judicious about your basestealing as a team, that’s smart. And while the DH makes it easier for fan favorites like Manny Ramirez and Thome to stick around, which is nice, allowing such players to extend their careers is the most underrated negative impact of the designated hitter.

Saying this borders on sabermetric apostasy, but from a spectator’s perspective, walks and home runs are spectacularly overrated. I’d much rather see close plays on the bases, singles, doubles, triples, stolen bases, spectacular defensive plays, all the things that slap-and-run speed merchants can do but full-time DH types can’t. I like a tape measure blast as much as the next guy, and the ability to turn a game on its ear on a single pitch with a three-run bomb is…well…titillating.

But what’s the cost? Last season, Jim Thome came to the plate 324 times. He produced no triples and no stolen base attempts, and he hit 15 home runs, drew 46 walks, and struck out 92 times. That’s 324 times to the plate, and 153 of those (47.2 percent of his plate appearances) resulted in one of the three true outcomes. The defense might as well go pee and get some popcorn when Thome comes up. Put another way: it takes at least 10 men on the field at one time to play baseball, more if you’ve got baserunners. But in nearly half of Thome’s plate appearances, at least 70 percent of the men on the field were doing bugger-all. That’s an unacceptable amount of inactivity, even for baseball.

Consider Thome’s Twins teammate Ben Revere. Revere came to the plate 481 times in 2011, and posted an OPS more than 200 points lower than Thome’s, though as a center fielder, Revere was worth about the same as Thome above replacement, at least on a per-plate-appearance basis. Revere was hit by two pitches, drew 26 walks, struck out 41 times and did not hit a home run. By contrast, he hit five triples and attempted to steal 43 times. The defense was inactive when Revere batted only 14.3 percent of the time. When Revere hits, everyone plays. When Thome hits, everyone watches.

Considering Revere’s defensive ability, I’d rather watch him play than Thome, regardless of how much Jim Thome makes me wish I had a genial Uncle Gus who took me trap shooting on weekends and made his own hot sauce for fun. For my money, the most exciting (and only truly electrifying) baseball player of the past 20 years has been Ichiro, a guy who never walked, but was tons of fun to watch on defense and slapped and ran his way to a Hall of Fame career. Not only are strikeouts boring and fascist, but so are walks and, to a lesser extent, home runs. Baseball is at its most fun (if not at its optimal strategy) when stolen bases are attempted often and with reckless abandon, when fly balls and line drives are dived for, and when the extra base is taken. With every team that adopts the DH, another lead-footed retread takes a job away from a potentially exciting (and usually new and young) player.

Divided We Fall

Forgive me for being reactionary, traditionalist, and anti-intellectual, but if baseball is once again to be united under a common flag, it should be a flag under which pitchers bat. The DH represents everything that’s wrong with baseball: the sedentary, the path-dependent, the risk-averse.

I accept that the designated hitter is coming to the National League, and I’m resigned to that, because, considering how old the Phillies are getting, it might benefit them. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it. The designated hitter is, and always will be, a gimmick solution that no one had the presence of mind to reject as short-sighted and ham-fisted. And it’s the only form of baseball our children and grandchildren will ever know.

I don’t expect anyone to be persuaded by this little outburst, and I don’t really care. I just really hate the designated hitter, and everything it represents. And I thought y’all might like to know.

Panic! At Bright House Field

After a disappointing 70-pitch performance that spanned two and two-thirds innings Wednesday at Bright House Field, Phillies ace Roy Halladay lumbered to the clubhouse with a 10.57 spring ERA. He allowed seven hits, including two home runs — his fourth and fifth in two weeks — to the Minnesota Twins, creating some tension with Opening Day on the horizon.

By now, you’ve heard the warnings: disregard spring training stats, no matter how enticing. Still, it is hard for some to refrain from drawing conclusions from very small, biased samples. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports writes, in an article titled “What’s up with Halladay?“:

Halladay, the Phillies’ ace right-hander, has not missed time this spring. But two scouts following the Phillies expressed concern Wednesday about the pitcher’s lack of velocity and sharpness in Grapefruit League play. 

One scout said Halladay topped out at 89 mph Wednesday against the Minnesota Twins, threw from a lower arm angle and lacked bite on his changeup and sinker. Another said that Halladay does not resemble the same pitcher who comes out “like gangbusters” every spring.

Earlier, I did some digging and found Halladay’s spring stats as a Phillie:

twitter.com/CrashburnAlley/status/180014394082729985

Overall, Halladay has a 3.42 ERA with an 8.6 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 in spring as a Phillie. That’s about what you’d expect from him, especially coming off of a four-month break. He has only come out “like gangbusters” once, but as the saying goes, “never let facts get in the way of a good story.”

Rosenthal notes that GM Ruben Amaro is not concerned and neither is Halladay. Matt Gelb reports that Halladay was specifically working on his change-up, choosing not to pay any mind to the results.

Halladay didn’t have the feel for his change-up.

“I told Chooch, ‘Keep calling it as much as you can,’” Halladay said. “See if we can figure out how it feels when it’s off. We have some ideas and things I can play with in my next bullpen.”

Spring stats don’t have any correlation to regular season performance. I found no correlation in a very hastily-done study two years ago and there have yet to be any more rigorous studies showing a stronger connection.

In 2010, Kyle Kendrick had a 1.46 ERA in spring training. Cole Hamels had a 6.00 ERA. Greg Dobbs had a .311 batting average. Carlos Ruiz hit .182.

In 2011, Joe Blanton had a 3.19 ERA in spring training. Cole Hamels had a 6.67 ERA. Ben Francisco had a .361 batting average. Carlos Ruiz hit .182.

Fans and writers must learn to shrug at these numbers. There is no reason to panic about Halladay.