Crash Bag, Vol. 5: Takk…ing About Cliff Lee

I’ve defended Chad Qualls all season. I thought he was a good pickup in the offseason, a scrap heap guy who was once dominant and, for the price of a tryout, was probably worth sticking in a setup role for a while. And when he struggled a little early, I said we should be patient and try to let him find his groove by moving him to a lower-leverage role and handing the eighth back over to Antonio Bastardo.

I’m through being patient. They tried. It didn’t work. It’s time the Phillies cashiered Chad Qualls, or at the very least gave him a spin in the boo box.

@Estebomb: “Why does Cliff Lee not have any of teh winzzzz?”

I ordinarily don’t give a tinker’s damn about pitcher wins. They’re kind of like RBI–kind of useful for telling the story of one or two individual games, but on a seasonal level, they don’t tell you a whole lot about how a pitcher performed. For evidence of this, see Ben Sheets, 2004, when he went 12-14 but pitched 237 innings with a K/BB ratio north of 8-to-1 and an ERA under 3, so he gobbled up 8 fWAR. It’s one of my favorite seasonal statistical lines of all time, including anything Barry Bonds ever did. (Note: I think it says something about a baseball fan when he openly admits admiration for the artistry of a particular seasonal stat line. I’m not sure it’s good, but I know I’m not the only person who does it.)

Anyway, apart from a one-game shorthand, I find myself paying attention to wins in two other ways, and the first gets back to @Estebomb’s original question: when something absolutely improbable and hysterical is happening, which I think we can officially say about Cliff Lee. He’s been one of the best pitchers in baseball and has now managed to go the first two full months of the season without registering a win. It’s a running joke on Getting Blanked that Lee might finish the season with more WAR than actual wins, a sentiment articulated by Eric Seidman of FanGraphs and Brotherly Glove. I was going to see if that had happened before, but the Getting Blanked post on the subject already features Seidman’s research on the topic: Apparently Jerry Koosman posted a 3.3 WAR season in 1978 while going 3-15. So well done there.

Anyway, I’m rooting for this to happen to Cliff Lee. I hope the modal outcome for him is eight innings, 10 strikeouts, leave with the game tied 0-0 or 1-1, then have the Phillies push one across in the ninth or 10th and have Tony No-Dad or People Barn vulture the win. Imagine Lee with, like, a 6-10 record and a 2.80 ERA. It’s be hysterical. The only way you’re going to enjoy this season, I’m coming to realize, is if you view it as a sort of ethereal post-rock weirdness that ultimately comes together into a coherent, if not particularly uplifting, message at the end. In short, think of 2012 as the Phillies’ Sigur Ros phase, and you’ll be fine.

The last point about pitcher wins: they were a convenient shorthand. Back before our innocence was stolen by enlightenment, we said “20-game winner” like it meant something, and it was comforting, even though being a 20-game winner means bugger-all, we know now. I think Cliff Lee is helping to debunk the idea that pitcher wins mean anything, which is great. I just want a new shorthand. I think we’re getting there with WAR, but with multiple flavors and the trickiness of defensive metrics, we’ve got a long way to go.

We’re going in-house here with the next one

@Phylan: “should I see Prometheus in regular or 3D tonight?”

I’m more excited about Prometheus than any move since the last Star Trek. It’s a return, I hope, to the form of the original, which is one of my ten or so favorite movies of all time, despite it falling in two categories I usually can’t stand: horror movies and Ridley Scott’s “durr I want to be Stanley Kubrick durr” phase that caused him to make Blade Runner. But somehow he pulled off a movie of such great contradictions: a claustrophobic thriller set on a literally interstellar scale, and an understated sci-fi epic. It’s a movie that, for all the space travel and fighting for your life, reads a lot like the first five minutes of a Tarantino movie for most of its run. I’ve never seen a movie quite like it since, and I hope that Prometheus does what Danny Boyle tried and failed to do with Sunshine: make a movie with the deft coolness of Alien with modern special effects and a greater scope of story, without having the latter to considerations overrun the former. I’m cautiously optimistic.

And see it regular. Some people like 3D. I’m not one of them. I think it’s needlessly expensive and is either tacky (if it isn’t originally shot in 3D) introduces the temptation to do cheap camera tricks (if it is).

@euphronius: “please compare the 2012 Phillies to famous Hollywood disasters. For example: Ishtar”

I refuse.

Ishtar, man? Even I have some principles.

@Wzeiders: “If RAJ quit/was fired tomorrow, and you were appointed GM, what would you do with the Phils short term/long term?”

Ah, a serious baseball question. You’re a good egg, William.

The question to end all questions with this team is whether or not to re-sign Cole Hamels. If my military coup of the Phillies had taken place at the end of 2009, this would be a really easy question to answer, even at the time. Nowadays, not so much. The first thing I’d do is try to clear some payroll for a Hamels extension. To do this, one would need to explore the market for Papelbon, Pence, and Victorino, who, between the three of them, represent $31.9 million in 2012 salary, according to Cot’s Contracts. If I could clear all of their salaries and get even middling prospects back, I’d do it instantly. It’s not that any of those guys–or Ryan Howard, for that matter–aren’t useful. It’s just that Papelbon is a relief pitcher making mid-rotation starter money, and Howard is an average position player making superstar money, as Pence and Victorino soon will be once they hit free agency. You can survive one contract like that, but not four.

It’s also not inconceivable that the Phillies crawl back into the pennant race before too long. I’d ride it out another month to see if they make up significant ground, and if not, start the fire sale a couple weeks before the deadline.

In the short term, Juan Pierre gets his unconditional release and Domonic Brown gets the starting left field job until further notice regardless of team record or defensive performance.

If the Phillies drop out of the race, I’d trade Papelbon, Victorino, and Pence for whatever I could get, so long as I could clear their salaries. Like I said before, the Phillies would probably get some decent prospects back for them. Then, assuming that’s done, re-sign Cole Hamels before he hits free agency. It likely wouldn’t be much of a discount, if any, but I’d rather not bid against the Dodgers, Red Sox, Yankees, and Cubs (and God knows who else) for the clear-cut No. 1 free agent on the market. Once the offseason comes, I’d go to any lengths to offload Ryan Howard’s contract. I love Vance Worley. I love Domonic Brown. I would trade both of them in a heartbeat if it meant clearing all four years, $100 million left on Howard from the books. If things got bad enough, I’d consider trading Carlos Ruiz, whose value will never be higher, and no matter how much we all love him, is a catcher heading into his mid-30s.

You’ll notice that I’ve now relieved the Phillies of their closer, a starting pitcher, and five significant position players. But importantly, the Phillies would now have as much as $60 million to play with, after I’ve let Joe Blanton walk, as well as a few decent prospects from the Victorino, Pence, Ruiz, and Papelbon deals. Ideally, at least a couple of those guys would be ready to step into the lineup, plus Freddy Galvis and Tyson Gillies. Phillippe Aumont probably deserves a shot as a back-end bullpen guy at this point.

The point is, if you blow the whole works up, and even if you give up some young pieces like Brown and Worley you’ve still got three legitimate No. 1 starting pitchers and a phenomenal amount of money to throw around. The 2013 Phillies could probably be a fringe contender, just like the 2012 Phillies have turned out to be, and for half the cost.

I’d take those savings and pour them into amateur scouting. The Phillies have to draft better, particularly considering how perilous the free agent market is becoming, and considering how depleted their farm system is. The Braves have made amateur scouting into an art form, owning every decent high schooler in Georgia, northern Florida, and the Carolinas for a generation now, to the tune of Adam Wainwright, Jason Heyward, Brian McCann, and Chipper Jones. This region isn’t a similar hotbed of talent, but my Phillies would get the next Mike Trout if he’s there to be had. Finally, that depletion of the farm system means the Phillies need to get high-probability college players in the early rounds. That was the bread and butter of their draft success around the turn of the century–Pat Burrell, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard were all college bats–and while I really don’t want to go back to the Bradley/Greene complaint, that’s exactly the kind of change I’d make to draft strategy, at least until the farm system is flush enough at the higher levels to take some risks.

So I’d trade everybody, in short, and start over. It was possible to salvage this core and rebuild while contending if the right decisions had been made two or three years ago. That’s simply not the case anymore.

Oh, and I’d draft Joey Pankake in the first round in 2014.

@Seagars: “Can we start the season over?”

Afraid not. I’m not sure how much good that would have done anyway.

@DisplacedPhan: “Why do the Phillies crush my will to drink?”

I don’t know. In my experience, there are two kinds of sports drinking. No, three. One is where you get together with friends and booze up to watch a game regardless of outcome. This is a social situation where, often, the sporting event is secondary to the fellowship, but sometimes, this devolves into seven nervous guys sitting around a table at a bar nursing their beers and not talking as Michael Leighton whiteknuckles the Flyers past the Blackhawks, but sometimes this gets rowdy and fun. The second is when your team wins and you go out to find a party, no matter what the cost. I was a senior in college in the fall of 2008, and when the Phillies won the NLCS, I ran around looking for other Phillies fans at what was probably about 11:30 on a Wednesday. In South Carolina, where nobody cares about baseball, and anyone who does is a Braves fan. And even in the biggest city in the state, with tens of thousands of college students, there was no one out that night. It was supremely disappointing. I don’t think I’ve ever recovered.

The third type of sports drinking happens when you’re in situation No. 1 and things start to go horribly wrong. College football does this a lot to me, because the games are on Saturday nights, when as often as not, I’m out with friends anyway. This year’s ACC title game was particularly bad.

Anyway, I guess the point is that if you can’t find a sports-related excuse to have an adult beverage or two (or, when Kyle Kendrick pitches, 13 or 14), then it’s probably your fault. When sports are involved, you can rationalize any kind of depravity.

@ChasingUtley: “Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?”

Okay, so I went back and listened to this:

and tried to figure out a pattern. Now, if you take out the places that don’t exist anymore (namely Czechoslovakia), you can plot something of a round-trip path from Africa to the United States, via various South Pacific and Indian Ocean locations (Perth, Bali, Thailand, and so on). But given the passage of time since the song was written, and the fact that the only country she visited more than once was the United States, it seems like she’s a good bet to return here at some point. I’d put my money on Austin, Texas, but when I tried to make the arrest, I was informed I didn’t have a warrant and she got away again. Good job, gumshoe.

And if you don’t think I spent at least 20 minutes with the song lyrics and a map of the world in front of me while writing that, you don’t know me very well.

I, however, will not be in Texas, but in Baltimore this weekend, so come say hi if you see me out and about. I’ll be the guy with the shotgun, whistling “The Farmer in the Dell.” Have a pleasant weekend, everyone.

Today: Draftstreet.com $350 Free Fantasy Baseball Challenge

If you missed it Wednesday, you still have time to sign up for Draftstreet.com’s $350 fantasy baseball freeroll, exclusive to Crashburn Alley readers. The top 12 places will earn cash. All you have to do is set up a fantasy baseball roster for tonight’s games. Setting up your team isn’t as easy as it sounds, as you’ll have to balance your roster within a $100,000 budget. Grabbing Stephen Strasburg at $16,000 means you may have to sacrifice quality elsewhere on your roster, so choose wisely.

Have fun with it, and feel free to share your results here in the comments.

CLICK HERE TO PLAY