Crash Bag, Vol. 7: Baseball a la Luhrmann

The Phillies took two out of three from the Rockies this week, and could easily have swept. It’s the most fun I’ve had watching the Phillies in a long while. I’m sure there’s a larger meaning to this, but the best I can do is to comment that baseball is a lot more fun when the Phillies play a team that’s even more clueless than they are.

@tiff1001: “Who would Paul FMK out of you all, and how did he feel about everyone wanting to F him before?”

Binary Tiff is referring to one of the more awkward Crash Pod moments (we’ll get another one going soon, I promise). Back when we were doing game threads, I’d occasionally put up an F/M/K poll about opposing players to amuse the chat folk. For those of you who have never interacted with a sorority girl, you get a list of three people, and you have to choose one to marry (M), one to kill (K), and one to do the F-verb that happens between when you marry a person and when you kill him.

Anyway, Paul wasn’t on the pod, so Ryan, Bill, and I all said we’d F Paul. This is for two reasons: 1) he’s by far the most attractive of the five of us and 2) We knew that saying so would make him really uncomfortable. But take him out of the equation, and this question gets really interesting, because you have your choice to F/M/K either a floating brain in a jar (Bill or Bradley) or an embittered, boozy, sardonic shell of a man (Ryan or me). Anyway, this is an important question, so I didn’t want to speak for Paul, so I asked him. Here’s what he said:

“Yep, this is about as awkward as it gets. My reflexive answer is ‘daw, I can’t answer this and risk tainting a beautiful friendship,’ but since we’re all going out of our way to make you, dear readership, feel as oddballish as we are, I guess I’ve got no choice but to dive in.

First thing’s first: Tiffany, I hate you for this question. That being said, I’ll start with the one-night stand, and that’s Baumann. He’s clearly the life of our party, wouldn’t be regrettable and would almost certainly leave you with a good story to tell around the bar. Ryan’s the one to settle down with. He’s the most level-headed among us, and a gnashing, biting sense of sarcasm goes a long way. That and he retweets lots of funny stuff.

Bill, I’m only killing you because that opens up the throne. Nothing personal. I’ll even make it painless and not subject you to watch any more of this Phillies season as I do it. See? I’m merciful!

Bradley will take pictures for the scrapbook.”

Thanks for chiming in, Paul. I’m sure your desire to F me and tell stories about me while never calling me back will in no way damage our friendship.

I was going to say something about how Paul was too pretty to be funny, but apparently that’s not true. And remember, ladies, he’s single.

@bhayes5: “did you cot for choice?”

Gotta explain this one too. A couple weeks ago, Ryan Howard publicly endorsed Carlos Ruiz for the All-Star Game:

Now, his iPhone autocorrected “vote” to “cot” and “Chooch” to “choice,” which I totally feel him on, because my phone’s autocorrect is a cruel and domineering mistress whose whims are as capricious as a spring breeze and rule with the force and anger of an active volcano. Anyway, this kind of took off, and now #cot4choice is something of an unofficial campaign slogan. I like it.

But, no, I have not Coted for Choice, nor will I. The simple fact of the matter is that it’s not rational to cot for choice, or even to vote for Chooch. I feel like I’ve riffed on Downsian voter theory way too much here, but it applies. Besides, I spent seven years of college and grad school studying political science, and I only learned one thing, so damn if I’m not going to repeat it every time I get the chance. Anyway, the theory goes that R = (P*B) – C, where P is the probability of casting the deciding vote, B is the benefit of a preferred candidate winning, and C is the cost of voting. It’s rational to vote, then, if and only if R is positive. Because the probability of casting the deciding vote is almost always minuscule (in this case, it’s next to impossible that one of my 25 maximum allowed votes will put Chooch over the top), Downs argued, it was never rational to vote, even if the benefits were great and the cost was small.

In this case, not only is P tiny, but B is tiny for me, because while I’d like to see Chooch make the All-Star game, I really don’t care that much if he does, and I care even less if he starts. Plus, even if he doesn’t get voted in to start, he’ll probably make it as a reserve. So the five minutes it’d take me to cot for choice aren’t worth my time, particularly if, as they did last time, it ends in me getting spam from the Kansas City Royals and being too lazy to find the unsubscribe button.

The good news is that if Chooch wins, we get validation that he’s one of the best catchers in the game, and if he doesn’t, we get to laugh at the stupidity and irrationality of the Giants fans who wasted their time voting for Buster Posey.

@JossMurdoch: “Bit dull, but, Is there anyone you think the Phillies could/should move for before the trading deadline?”

Don’t apologize for being dull, Joss. It’s an important question. Rather than dull, I’d characterize you as curious and incisive. Own your dullness and make it an asset.

Anyway, should? No. This team isn’t close enough to the division lead that it makes any sense to add pieces, and it’s not like any of their problems can be smoothed over with one move. The Phillies have the deficiencies they have because of decisions that were made months or years ago, and those same decisions prevent them from smoothing those deficiencies over. I’ve been harping on this for months.

Could they? Absolutely. It’s eminently possible that the Phillies trade Sebastian Valle and Phillippe Aumont for Joel Hanrahan to “fix” the bullpen and flip Trevor May for Ryan Ludwick to fix the offense. I might have picked the wrong season to quit sniffing glue.

@DashTreyhorn: “Pop quiz, hotshot: Hamels wants 10 years at $250MM with full NTC. What do you do?”

Tell him to get it elsewhere. It was lunacy to give that kind of money to Albert Pujols, and it was probably a little nuts to give that money to Alex Rodriguez, who was a 25-year-old shortstop coming off a 10 bWAR season. We baseball nerds like to geek out about Barry Bonds‘ FanGraphs page, but given positional considerations, I’d submit that Rodriguez’s career is every bit as remarkable as Bonds’, especially when you consider that A-Rod’s prime was compared to one of the greatest collections of shortstops ever: Jeter, Early Nomar, Tejada, Renteria, and the end of Barry Larkin and Cal Ripken, Jr. That’s two Hall-of-Famers, one guy who will be in (Jeter) one guy who had a Hall of Fame peak but was rendered ineffective by injuries at age 30 (Nomar), and two very very good players with fringe Hall of Fame cases.

I bring this up because 10-12 years later, we’re talking ourselves into Elvis Andrus and The Aged Marco Scutaro as very good major league shortstops. Back then, a replacement-level shortstop meant Tony Womack or Rey Ordonez. Nowadays, replacement level at shortstop is the kid who plays Joffrey in Game of Thrones. Respect A-Rod is what I’m saying. He may be a centaur self-portrait-owning fool, but we’ll never see the like of him again on the diamond.

What were we talking about? Oh, Hamels and that absurd contract. No, the only way he’s get 10 and 250 is if he puts a bomb on a bus and makes Sandra Bullock drive it more than 50 miles an hour or else it will blow up. Oh, Cole Hamels, quel méchant.

By the way, Sandra Bullock’s character’s beloved Arizona Wildcats are in the College World Series championship series, to be joined by the victor of tonight’s game between the nefarious Arkansas Razorbacks and my South Carolina Gamecocks, two-time defending national champions and protector of whatever is good and just in this world. So tune in, tonight, ESPN2, 9 p.m. If Arkansas wins, there will be no Crash Bag next week due to my having died in a noisy explosion of orange paint and glitter.

Speaking of which…

@seanmkennedy: “Joey pankake”

Joey Pankake indeed! He’s reached the public zeitgeist! On basic cable every night in prime time! My dad made a joke about Pankake being offensively flat. That’s when you know someone’s gone mainstream–when your parents are in on the joke.

Unfortunately, Joey Pankake has done absolutely nothing offensively this College World Series. Pankake singled in the sixth inning against Florida on Saturday, in a game in which he went 1-for-6 and left six runners on base. In 15 plate appearances since, he’s 0-for-14 with a sacrifice bunt. But Michael Roth (did you know he studied abroad in Spain and has been really good in the College World Series the past three years?) and “Hold me closer” LB Dantzler (did you know he has a beta fish named Reptar that’s been the team’s good luck charm this season?) have picked up the slack. So no worries.

@patchak21: “Will we ever see Dom Brown in the majors in the near future?”

No. Never. He’s dead. Juan Pierre is hitting over .300, so who needs Brown? He’s just a defensive liability with attitude issues who will never learn to hit major league pitching, which we know for a fact despite never pitting him against major-league pitching for an extended period of time. Let’s talk about how awful he is and try to trade him before everyone else realizes how awful he is.

But seriously, I’ve sort of compartmentalized Brown. I’ve told myself the Phillies aren’t ever going to give him a shot enough times that I’m starting to believe it. It’s the only way I’ve been able to cope. I suggest you do the same.

@jrobs7777: “Are there (and if so, what) reasonable moves that can be made for a ’13-14 run (without tearing it down completely)?”

This the proxy for all the trade deadline questions this week. For the record, I have no inside sources in MLB, and so if I know more than you do about the inner machinations of the Phillies’ front office, it’s because I read more. Though it’s fun to speculate on what I’d know if Ruben Amaro’s mistress were one of my agents. Maybe running a Road Beef Mata Hari would be the new market inefficiency.I would not be surprised one bit if the Rays were actually doing this–makes you wonder what secrets Brian Cashman’s stalker/side piece told Rays GM Andrew Friedman.

Anyhoo, I bring that up because I don’t like doing fake trades. I would trade Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence immediately, but I don’t know to what team and for whom, because not only am I not in Ruben Amaro’s mind (or bedroom), but I am not in the mind of 29 other MLB GMs. Or rather, 28 MLB GMs and the man who lives in Dan O’Dowd’s finger who tells him what to do. So anyway, I’d trade Victorino and Pence for whatever near-MLB-ready prospects I could get in return, call up Domonic Brown and Phillippe Aumont immediately, and float Jonathan Papelbon‘s name in trade rumors. Someone’s going to get desperate and try to grab him, and getting his salary off the books, in concert with clearing Placido Polanco, gives you enough money to re-sign Cole Hamels. Which I’d also do immediately, even if it means paying more than would have been necessary two years ago, because all it takes is one idiot owner (see Mike Ilitch of Detroit, in the Prince Fielder saga) to ruin everyone’s fun with a free agent.

But the fact of the matter is that 2013 is a lost cause. The Phillies could have contended pretty much continuously and indefinitely if any thought whatsoever had been given to what would happen in 2012 and 2013 back in 2010.

@euphronius: “Do Charlie and Amaro lose their jobs after this disaster? Why or why not.”

No. Absolutely not. I don’t think Uncle Cholly should, because he seems to be keeping everyone happy more or less (which is easier to do for, say, Hunter Pence than, say, John Mayberry), and his in-game managing is 1) relatively insignificant when compared to the composition of the roster and 2) a reaction to trying to squeeze blood from a stone. Ruben Amaro has dealt him a crap hand and he knows it, and he’s trying like crazy to extract any value from it. I betcha he’s just as frustrated as we are.

Amaro should lose his job, but he won’t, because You Can’t Fire a General Manager Until the Team Has Been Bad For a Long Time. He should have been fired when he suggested trading for Hunter Pence last year, but the results were still good, so no one in upper Phillies management cared to think about the process. As it stands, he’s going to keep trying to contend until it’s obvious the Phillies are broken, then he’s going to get a chance to rebuild, then he’s going to fail, and then he’s going to lose his job.

The fact of the matter is, disasters like this one (or the Mets or Dodgers) are the result of a long history of bad decisions, and it’s going to take even longer for things to get bad enough to warrant his firing. To take the Mets example, Omar Minaya overspent to build three really good teams in 2006, 2007, and 2008. But he wasn’t fired until the Mets had 1) gutted their farm system 2) run up a phenomenal bill on contracts to players who were either too old or too injured to perform, effectively pricing them out of the free agent market 3) engaged in a series of embarrassing off-field incidents involving his handling of Tony Bernazard and Willie Randolph and 4) had missed the playoffs for four consecutive seasons, the last two by humiliating margins.

So there’s about a five-year lag between when Minaya really screwed the Mets up and when he got fired. Because when a GM saws off a team’s leg, either through ignorance, short-sightedness, or blind self-preservation, it takes a couple years for the team to fall apart, then a couple more years for it to become clear he can’t rebuild it. And even after that, it takes a couple more years for the new general manager to fix everything. And that’s assuming you hire the right guy, as the Mets did with Sandy Alderson, and not a Ned Colletti, like the Dodgers did. I believe Ruben Amaro will pay for his mistakes with his job, but not for another three years or so. And by the time the Phillies rebuild, we might not get another set of playoff runs until the 2020s. That scenario is probably on the pessimistic side of realistic.

Let’s end on a note that doesn’t make me want to drink bleach. On to this week’s edition of Absurdity with Tim.

@SoMuchForPathos: “Would you still watch baseball if the telecast was directed by Baz Luhrmann?”

Almost certainly yes. I watched basketball despite it being narrated by Billy Packer for years, and I don’t even particularly like basketball. You’d have to hand the telecast over, to, like Uwe Boll or something before I stopped watching baseball.

That said, baseball directed by Baz Luhrmann would be quite something. I’ve only seen two Baz Luhrmann joints: Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge!, and while I thought both were completely overwrought, I can’t say I disliked either. In fact, Moulin Rouge! made me cry the first time I saw it. Though my own personal taste in film direction is more along the lines of Peter Berg or Ridley Scott–capable of doing the big, sweeping epic but in a completely personal style. Low lighting, understated music, muted dialogue, lots of handheld cameras. In fact, the polar opposite of Baz Luhrmann.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Luhrmann, this is a pretty understated scene for him:

If you want him at his full, unabashed lunacy, go watch the trailer for The Great Gatsby or this scene. Or this scene. At his best, Luhrmann is fun, whimsical, and adventurous. At his worst, his movies look like an episode of Glee on PCP. Imagine Zack Snyder for women.

Anyway, baseball a la Luhrmann would be fun in a lot of ways. It would be the brightest sporting event ever televised. It would involve lots of dancing and big musical numbers, exciting flashing lights and big, expensive CGI effects. He’d probably dye the turf turquoise, and force T-Mac and Sarge to wear satin suits with big floral headdresses. Baseball tends to have lots of earth tones, so a dash of color would be good now and then. Plus, you get John Leguizamo.

On the downside, I imagine Luhrmann would spend innings at a time cutting between Shane Victorino smiling and Bryce Harper dealing with a facial tic, and we’d see home runs from a vantage point that starts from an aerial shot, then zooms down to ground level, eventually snaking along the infield dirt until we’re looking up at the home plate umpire, legs spread like the Colossus of Rhodes, holding his mask high above his head in triumph and ecstasy, with a demure yet flirtatious and sexually inviting expression on his face.

The seventh-inning stretch would involve flashing lights and a cabaret number starring Jacek Koman, who for some reason was invited back to Gatsby after his star turn in Moulin Rouge! as a narcoleptic tango dancer. In short, it would be like a combination of Baseketball and a Cher concert.

Though if I’m honest, the Miami Marlins are pretty close to this already. Let’s just stop fooling ourselves and go Full Luhrmann down in South Florida.

That’ll wrap it up for this week. Write in for next Friday to crashbaumann@gmail.com or on Twitter to @atomicruckus using the #crashbag hashtag. And fair warning: if you ask me about the Phillies’ short-term or long-term future, I’m going to depress the living daylights out of you.

 

Mourning Ryan Howard

Phil Sheridan published a fantastic piece of stathead troll bait yesterday, lamenting Ryan Howard‘s absence and fantasizing about what his presence in the lineup could have meant to the Phillies. Some choice quotes:

Howard’s extended absence this season won’t settle anything. Probably nothing will. But the state of the Phillies offense without Howard – and, yes, without Chase Utley, too – certainly has provided a bit of credence to the argument that Howard’s impact is far-reaching.

[…]

The presence of Jim Thome in the lineup for a nine-game interleague trip helped support the point. In 60 games under National League rules, going into Wednesday’s sweaty meeting with the Colorado Rockies, the Phillies scored a total of 244 runs. That’s 4.1 runs per game.

In nine games with Thome as the designated hitter, the Phillies scored 53 runs. That’s 5.9 runs per game. Add nearly two runs per game to those other 60 and maybe the Phillies aren’t chasing anybody in the NL East.

[…]

This is not pure science. Granted, there were other variables in play here besides Thome. But there’s no getting around it. The lineup just felt different with Thome’s bat in the middle of the order.

[…]

Howard’s critics dismiss the RBI as a primitive statistic, one that says less about a hitter than about the on-base percentage of the hitters in front of him. Watch the Phillies strand runners on base every night and the good old RBI doesn’t seem so worthless and quaint.

Howard, in the worst season of his career last year, posted a .253/.346/.488 line. Bad for him, of course, but not terrible. It put him near the positional average, as fellow Sweet Spotter Jack Moore pointed out.

twitter.com/jh_moore/status/215913844550279168

Could the Phillies use an average player? Absolutely. Among Phillies with at least 70 plate appearances, only Juan Pierre, Hunter Pence, and Carlos Ruiz have been better than the league average offensively. And Pierre has the gaudiest sub-.750 OPS you’ve ever seen. Phillies first basemen — a combination of Ty Wigginton, John Mayberry, Hector Luna, Laynce Nix, and Jim Thome — have posted a .265/.325/.425 line, so the power has certainly been missed but that’s about it.

However, Sheridan’s assumption that the Phillies would be significantly better is not correct. Last year, with a full season of Howard, the Phillies averaged 4.4 runs per game, about 6.5 percent better than the league average. This year, the Phillies are averaging 4.3 runs per game, three percent better than the league average. Over a 162-game season, the difference is 16 runs.

Most of the difference is attributed to Chase Utley’s absence. In 2010-11, two injury-plagued seasons and the low-point in his career, he posted a combined .267/.367/.435 line. Phillies second basemen — a combination of Freddy Galvis, Michael Martinez, Pete Orr, and Mike Fontenot — have combined for a .250/.277/.394 line. The quartet also stole just one base in three attempts, compared to the 27 bases Utley stole in 29 attempts in his most recent two seasons. And while Galvis was more than adequate defensively filling in for Utley, the playing time given to the other three certainly cut into the Phillies’ run prevention as they are nowhere near the caliber of Utley in the field.

I will give Sheridan credit for this, however: Hunter Pence hasn’t been good at driving in runners this year. The key words, of course, are “this year” because Pence otherwise has been equally as efficient on a percentage basis.

Howard:

Advances
Year Age <2,3B Scr % 0,2B Adv %
2004 24 4 1 25% 2 1 50%
2005 25 23 14 61% 19 13 68%
2006 26 41 20 49% 29 21 72%
2007 27 54 18 33% 27 6 22%
2008 28 42 23 55% 17 6 35%
2009 29 56 30 54% 30 15 50%
2010 30 44 21 48% 31 15 48%
2011 31 48 23 48% 16 7 44%
8 Yrs 312 150 48% 171 84 49%
MLB Averages 51% 56%
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/22/2012.

Pence:

Advances
Year Age <2,3B Scr % 0,2B Adv %
2007 24 23 10 43% 20 12 60%
2008 25 44 20 45% 30 19 63%
2009 26 24 10 42% 37 19 51%
2010 27 33 18 55% 27 16 59%
2011 28 43 22 51% 22 14 64%
2011 28 29 14 48% 17 12 71%
2011 28 14 8 57% 5 2 40%
2012 29 23 9 39% 15 7 47%
6 Yrs 190 89 47% 151 87 58%
MLB Averages 51% 56%
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/22/2012.

Pence is down to 39 percent driving in runners on third base with less than two outs. People hate to hear this explanation, but it’s very likely random and not meaningful in any way, especially based on his previous career numbers (see also: Howard in 2007) and the small sample size. For example, the difference between 48 and 39 percent seems large, but in 23 opportunities, Howard’s 48 percent would only account for two extra runs, or one-fifth of a win. Over a full season, it is less than half of one win. Otherwise, Pence has been Howard’s equal or better in those situations.

The last damning bit of evidence that we are still, in 2012, vastly exaggerating Ryan Howard’s impact is this: Phillies’ #4 hitters this year (mostly Pence, Carlos Ruiz, and Jim Thome) have posted a .282/.354/.513 line. Last year, Phillies #4 hitters (almost all PA belonging to Howard) posted a .250/.342/.477 line. In 2010, Phillies #4 hitters (again, mostly Howard) posted a .271/.351/.490 line. Believe it or not, but the Phillies this year have gotten more production out of the cleanup spot than they have with Howard in 2010-11.

The biggest benefit a healthy Howard would have had on the team is pushing Ty Wigginton out of a regular spot in the lineup. Wigginton has accounted for 49 percent of the Phillies’ PA by first basemen, and has a .785 OPS to show for it. That’s not terrible, mind you, but Howard’s career-low .835 OPS last year would have been much more preferable. And, say what you will about Howard’s defense, but he is definitively better than Wigginton. Additionally, Wigginton’s bat would have been used more often as a pinch-hitter, and he may have been able to be productive in that role as currently, Phillies pinch-hitters have combined for a .612 OPS, the 12th-highest in the National League.

In the end, though, if you are spending time mourning the loss of Howard and not Utley, you are poorly allocating your tears. According to Baseball Reference, Howard was worth two wins above a replacement level player in 2010-11 combined while Utley was at 9.4 WAR. FanGraphs mostly validates that, putting Howard at 3 WAR and Utley at 9.3 WAR. There is good news, though: Utley may rejoin the Phillies before the calendar flips to July. Perhaps with Utley back in the lineup, the Phillies can get on one of their patented second-half rolls and make a historic run at a sixth division title.