O Batter, Where Art Thou?

I don’t know if you guys were aware, but Cliff Lee is really good at throwing baseballs. We seem to have forgotten this in the hype over the frankly insane notion that it might be wise to trade Cliff Lee to…some other team for some other ballplayer. But that has not come to pass, thank God. Tonight? Seven innings, no runs, five hits, one walk, seven strikeouts, and with the bat, 1-for-3 with a stolen base, a run and an RBI. A “screw you for even thinking about trading me” performance if ever I saw one.

We’ve all wondered how Cliff Lee became so good at baseball.  When Lee rejoined the Philliesin 2011, he caught a ride to Spring Training with Cole Hamels, Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard. Lee told Hamels, Rollins and Howard during that car ride.


Cliff Lee: You folks going past Clearwater?
Cole Hamels: Sure, hop in.
Jimmy Rollins: How you doin’, son? Name’s Jimmy. These two soggy sons of bitches are Cole and Ryan. Keep your fingers away from Ryan’s mouth, he ain’t eaten for 13 years, ‘cept Subway footlongs, cheese steaks and grooved fastballs.
Cliff Lee: Thanks for the lift, sir. My name’s Cliff. Cliff Lee.
Hamels: How you doin’, Cliff? Say, I haven’t seen a ballclub here for miles. What’re are you doing out in the middle of nowhere?
Cliff Lee: I had to be at that crossroads last midnight. Sell my soul to the devil.
Rollins: Ain’t it a small world, spiritually speakin’? Cole and Ryan just been baptized and saved. I guess I’m the only one still unaffiliated!
Hamels: This ain’t no laughing matter, Jimmy.
Rollins: What’d the devil give you for your soul, Cliff?
Lee: Well, he taught me to throw this here baseball real good.
Hamels: Oh, son, for that you traded your everlasting soul?
Lee: Well, I wasn’t usin’ it.
Howard: I’ve always wondered, what’s the devil look like?
Rollins: Well, of course, there are all manner of lesser imps and demons, Ryan, but the great Satan hisself is red and scaly with a bifurcated tail and he carries a hayfork.
Lee: Oh, no, sir. He’s half-Mexican, half-Jewish. With empty eyes, and a big hollow ego.  And he travels around with an enormous sack of money and no grasp of the long-term consequences of his actions.
Howard: And he told you to go to Clearwater?
Lee: Well, no, sir. That was my idea. I heard there’s a man down there–he pays folks money to pitch for his baseball team. They say he pays ‘em extra if’n they pitch real good.
Rollins: Clearwater, huh? How much he pay?

 

Overall Thoughts on the Phillies at the Deadline

With potentially six players on the move, the Phillies ended up dealing only two today prior to the 4 PM deadline: Shane Victorino to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants. In return for Victorino, the Dodgers sent to Philadelphia reliever Josh Lindblom, pitching prospect Ethan Martin, and a player to be named later or cash. The Giants sent outfielder Nate Schierholtz, catching prospect Tommy Joseph, and another pitching prospect Seth Rosin. Also as a response to losing Pence, the Phillies have recalled former top prospect Domonic Brown from Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

There are two things to keep in mind when analyzing the Pence trade: one fewer year under team control with the Giants than the Phillies did when they acquired him from the Astros. Not only that, but the Giants will have Pence’s most expensive and final year of arbitration, when he is projected to earn around $14 million. Second, clearing Pence’s projected salary from the ledger is the biggest net benefit for the Phillies, not the players the Giants sent over. The Phillies have close to $130 million committed to just seven players going into 2013. That the Phillies got a decent, projectable prospect in return is icing on the cake.

Joseph is a good get for the Phillies with the downfall of catching prospect Sebastian Valle. Scouts have soured on him as he hasn’t made any strides in his first year at Double-A Reading. In 325 plate appearances, Valle has a .281 on-base percentage backed by an 83-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio, which is just abysmal. While Joseph isn’t worlds ahead, his on-base issues are tied more to his low batting average and made up for with his prodigious power — he hit 22 home runs last year as a 19-year-old with Single-A San Jose.

The Victorino deal was to be expected, especially since the Phillies had been hot on Lindblom’s trail for a few days. He has, like so many Phillies relievers this year, had trouble limiting home runs, but otherwise, he has an above-average ability to miss bats and he has time on his side as he is only 25 years old. He’ll be under team control for a while, giving the Phillies a lot of cost certainty at the back end of their bullpen.

As for Martin, he still has an opportunity to blossom, but as a 23-year-old in Double-A, he is running out of time to harness his control issues. In 118 innings with Chattanooga this year, he has averaged just under five walks per nine innings. Although he has been used exclusively as a starter this year, it seems like he would profile best as a reliever should he ever make it to the Majors.

Now onto the moves the Phillies didn’t make… Joe Blanton, Juan Pierre, and Ty Wigginton stayed put despite reported interest in all three players. Blanton seemed like the best bet to be moved, but the Phillies were hung up on paying a certain percentage of his remaining salary. The Baltimore Orioles were very interested in acquiring him and the two teams nearly made a deal, but it never went through. As a result, Blanton will be put on waivers in August, or will otherwise leave the Phillies via free agency after the season. The Phillies don’t have a lot of leverage in negotiations involving Blanton anymore, but if they get nothing for him before he becomes a free agent, it will be considered a failure.

Interest on Pierre and Wigginton was more faint, but the Phillies should have jumped at any opportunity to ship them out of town. Pierre has had a great season, but he doesn’t fit into the team’s long-term plans and will become a free agent after the season. Perhaps GM Ruben Amaro sees Pierre accepting a one-year Major League deal to stick around for 2013, but otherwise, the Phillies passed on several opportunities to move him. Likewise, the Phillies ignored interest in Wigginton, particularly from the Yankees, who were looking for a third baseman to replace Alex Rodriguez. The only reason not to move Wigginton is if Amaro is considering picking up his $4 million option for 2013, but we should all hope that isn’t the case.

Overall, this trading season for the Phillies went about as well as they could have reasonably hoped. It would have been great to move Blanton, Pierre, and Wigginton, but there will still be time for that in August. Otherwise, the Phillies were able to clear some money off the books and lightly restock their mediocre Minor League system. The 2013 squad will need a new center fielder and a new third baseman and neither issue was addressed with their deadline deals, so it seems as if Amaro will address those via waivers in August, or via free agency and trades in the off-season. We saw the Phillies play the role of sellers for the first time since 2006 and it was certainly a weird experience, but they came out of it all right.

Related links:

  • I talked about the Phillies at the deadline on the Getting Blanked podcast [Link]
  • I answered a few questions for Sound of Philly [Link]

Phillies Send Hunter Pence to San Francisco

In a move considered a counter to the Los Angeles Dodgers acquiring Shane Victorino, the San Francisco Giants have acquired right fielder Hunter Pence from the Phillies according to Jon Heyman. The Phillies acquired Pence from the Houston Astros at the deadline last year in exchange for prospects Jarred Cosart, Jonathan Singleton, Josh Zeid, and Domingo Santana. That price was paid for Pence’s presence in a 2011 post-season run, as well as two extra years under arbitration — his third and fourth. The Giants will get Pence for the final two months of this season, and then have him in his final and most expensive year of arbitration, when he will get a raise on his $10,400,000 salary for 2012.

Pence’s brief stint in Philly ends, but he remains in rare territory. He is one of five Phillies outfielders since 1950 to take at least 600 trips to the plate with the club and post an OPS+ of 125 or greater, right behind old friend Jayson Werth.

Player OPS+ PA From To BA OBP SLG OPS Pos
Bobby Abreu 139 5885 1998 2006 .303 .416 .513 .928 *9/8D
Greg Luzinski 133 5321 1970 1980 .281 .363 .489 .852 *7/39
Jayson Werth 130 2114 2007 2010 .282 .380 .506 .885 *9/783
Hunter Pence 126 676 2011 2012 .289 .357 .486 .842 *9
Wes Covington 126 1544 1961 1965 .284 .343 .471 .814 *7/98
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/31/2012.

In return for Pence, the Phillies get outfielder Nate Schierholtz, 20-year-old prospect Tommy Joseph, and another player. Schierholtz is a 28-year-old left-handed hitter who has played part-time in the outfield for the Giants since 2009. He has come on strong in the last two years, posting a .325 wOBA, right around the league average for a corner outfielder. Everyone raves about his defense though, as he has played a strong right field in San Francisco — one of the toughest outfields to traverse — and has one of the best outfield arms in baseball. Schierholtz earned $1.3 million in his first year of arbitration this past off-season and will be arbitration-eligible in the next two season as well. Relative to Hunter Pence, Schierholtz is much cheaper and gives the Phillies much more financial flexibility.

One issue with Schierholtz is that he absolutely cannot hit left-handed pitching. Over the last two years, he has a .232 wOBA against southpaws compared to .355 against right-handers. The Phillies simply must use him in a platoon, likely with John Mayberry, who has posted a .294 wOBA against RHP and .370 against LHP over the last two years.

Joseph was taken in the second round of the 2009 draft. A catcher who can play first base, Joseph ranked #2 in Baseball America’s top-10 prospect list for the Giants, and #4 in Kevin Goldstein’s top-11 prospects list. Goldstein  concludes that Joseph has good power potential, but doesn’t have a great game plan at the plate. With Double-A Richmond, Joseph was under-performing with only eight home runs in 335 plate appearances with a .705 OPS, but he is young for the level and has plenty of time to adapt and grow. The Phillies may see him as the heir to the 33-year-old Carlos Ruiz in a couple years, or he could be used in a future trade.

The biggest component of the deal for the Phillies, though, is clearing Pence from the books. He is owed $3.5 million for the final two months (the Phillies are sending money to the Giants to cover some of this) and is expected to earn $14.3 million in arbitration in the off-season. The Phillies have roughly $113 million committed already, so having another $14 million free gives the organization a lot of breathing room.

UPDATE: The third player in the Pence deal is Seth Rosin, a 23-year-old pitcher who has spent the year with Single-A San Jose. Rosin has shown good command and an ability to miss bats, but he has to repeat it at higher levels before any excitement is warranted.

Phillies, Dodgers Agree on Deal Involving Shane Victorino

The Phillies and Dodgers have agreed to a trade involving Shane Victorino, according to Todd Zolecki. The Blue Crew, of course, would get the mercurial center fielder while the Phillies are receiving young right-handed reliever Josh Lindblom and Double-A right-hander Ethan Martin. That Victorino is headed elsewhere is no surprise as he is a free agent after the season and will not be signed to a contract cheaply. Getting value for him now makes a lot of sense for the Phillies.

Lindblom is a 25-year-old right-hander who has worked exclusively out of the bullpen for the Dodgers. His Minor League resume is less than impressive (4.30 ERA), but has shown his ability to strike out hitters persists even at the Major League level. In terms of raw swings and misses, Lindblom ranks 16th among all National League relievers with 96, right ahead of Jonathan Papelbon with 95. For the Phillies, the most attractive feature is Lindblom’s relative cheapness and his lack of service time. With under a full year of service time, they’ll have one pre-arbitration year left with him before his four years of arbitration-eligibility.

Like his new Phillies colleagues, Lindblom has had a lot of trouble keeping the ball in the yard, even at pitcher-friendly Chavez Ravine. In 47.2 innings, the fly ball-prone right-hander allowed nine home runs, accounting for more than 16 percent of his fly balls allowed. But, thanks to a low BABIP (.266) and very unsustainable base runners stranded rate (93 percent) his 3.02 ERA is well under the retrodictors such as FIP (5.05) and xFIP (4.33). SIERA, however, likes him, putting him at 3.66.

Per FanGraphs, Lindblom is almost all fastball-slider, as they account for 91 percent of his pitches thrown this season. Here’s where he typically throws his fastballs towards right- and left-handed hitters:

And the sliders:

As you can tell, Lindblom lives on the outside edge of the plate. Opposing hitters have posted a .281 wOBA against him on pitchers on the outer-third of the plate, .254 on pitches in the middle (surprisingly!), and .370 on pitches on the inside-third of the plate. Four of the nine home runs he has allowed this year have been on the inside corner.

Lindblom is already a serviceable reliever good enough to handle the seventh or eighth inning for the Phillies, but he has plenty of room — and, most importantly, time — to grow. The Phillies will have him for potentially five more years after 2012, so there is a distinct possibility he blossoms into a valuable late-innings reliever like Ryan Madson did.

The second player coming over to Philadelphia, 23-year-old Ethan Martin, has spent this season with Double-A Chattanooga. The Dodgers’ first round pick in 2008, he has battled control issues in his professional career as his 14 percent walk rate signifies, but still has some potential if he can ever battle those demons. His fastball-slider combo profiles best as a relief pitcher, but assigning him to a specific role is putting the cart before the horse.

The Dodgers get a fast, switch-hitting outfielder in Victorino. Lately, he has had problems hitting from the left side (.282 wOBA vs. RHP), but is about average in a typical year. He can hit anywhere in a lineup, which is a feature that some managers still value, and he’s still a very efficient base-stealer (24-for-28, 86% this year). Reunited with Davey Lopes, the Dodgers are hoping for even more production on the bases.

To keep their outfield fresh, the Phillies have recalled on-again, off-again outfielder Domonic Brown. Once the top prospect in the system, Brown has battled injuries and sky-high expectations amid his inability to hold down a MLB roster spot. However, he had been tearing up Triple-A pitching since returning from his latest disabled list stint as Twitter friend Michael Stubel pointed out:

twitter.com/MichaelStubel/status/230072336756379648

Overall, the Phillies came out okay with this trade. It’s likely they could have gotten something more valuable than a relief pitcher and a Minor League throw-in, but it’s better than nothing and Lindblom should eat up high-leverage innings for years to come. The added bonus is regular MLB playing time for Brown, who has yet to have a fair shake at the opportunity. And Victorino’s departure, obviously, signifies a new chapter in the Phillies’ history as they move further and further away from the 2007-11 “golden era”.

UPDATE: The Phillies will get a player to be named later or cash along with Lindblom and Martin.

Stop Saying That or I’ll Hit You In the Face With a Fish

This is going to make me sound naive, but I dream of a well-reasoned, thoughtful internet. The internet of baseball is an interesting internet, one as likely to produce a moment of comedic genius as it is to foster an echo chamber of half-cocked hysteria. It’s a wonderful place.

So it’s with the greatest severity that I say that while I love 90 percent of what Phillies fans have been saying, there are a couple themes to the Twitter conversation, as well as comments on this and other blogs, that convey a laudable passion for the game and the team, but also a startling level of delusion and/or ignorance. And yes, I realize there are probably things I say that y’all find irritating, but that’s a different conversation. This isn’t about irritating–this is about wrong. One man’s irritating is another man’s hilarious, as has been proved conclusively by the continued popularity of Diablo Cody as a screenwriter.

But irritating is not misguided, and I’m here to educate. In that spirit, I’ve developed a machine that allows me to appear in real life whenever someone trips one of these Phillies-related keywords. This is a monkfish. With my machine, I will travel the city, appearing out of nowhere like Batman, wielding a monkfish as my sword of justice. Why a monkfish? Well, according to Official Crashburn Alley Fish Correspondent @erhudy, the monkfish has a large surface area area to better create the satisfying slapping sound we’re after.

So here are a few things that you can say that will guarantee that I materialize out of the ether, tap you on the shoulder, and hit you as hard as I can across the face with my monkfish. If it should come to pass that you meet the concussive force of my smelly, rubbery, disgusting bludgeon, don’t be mad. I do this out of love.

“So You’re Telling Me There’s A Chance…”

I’ve been fond of posting daily updates on the Phillies’ record relative to both .500 and the playoff race, as well as the earliest date they could have a .500 record, and their playoff odds. Today, July 30, if you’re curious, the Phillies are 12 games under .500, 16 1/2 games out of first place, and 12 1/2 games out of the Wild Card. The earliest they can return to .500 is August 12, and their playoff odds stand at 0.1 percent.

Whenever I post this, I’m greeted by the famous line from Dumb and Dumber, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance…” While I imagine this is usually said in jest, I’d like to note that it doesn’t take a whole lot of creativity anymore to make reference to the “Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By’.” of Farrelly Brothers quotes.

It’s more the spirit of not having given up that, I hope, has been beaten out of us as fans by now. It’s over. It’s been over for about six weeks, and, looking back on it, it was frankly never even that close. I’m not telling you there’s a chance. If anything, I’m quoting those odds to tell you that there isn’t a chance. Even a week ago, when the Phillies were in the process of sweeping the Brewers, they’d have needed a comeback on par with the 1951 Giants to make the playoffs. You know, the Giants who walked off against the Dodgers on Bobby Thompson’s home run and needed to close out the season 50-12 to even get to that three-game playoff. And needed to cheat to get there.

After getting kicked in the privates by the Braves, however, I think the Phillies are far enough out of it that no one will be saying “Yeah, but the Cardinals last year…” ignoring the fact that the Cardinals were tied for first place in the division in the last week of July last season.

But I think we’re done with this whole hope thing, which is good. I hope we don’t need to have this talk again, because if we do, I’m bringing my fish next time.

Mike Olt!”

Apparently we’re doing the “Trade Cliff Lee” thing again. Because apparently people, including Ruben Amaro, if the scuttlebutt is to be believed, think that’s a good idea. Because trading a No. 1 starter who’s signed to a below-market deal at the nadir of his trade value is a no-brainer. Particularly when that value has been depressed by factors outside his control.

But the fans are on board because the prevailing opinion, based on absolutely nothing, is that 1) the Phillies will trade Lee 2) too the Texas Rangers 3) for third base prospect Mike Olt and 4) that it will be worth it. I think Olt is a nice player, and if the Phillies had traded the last two months of Cole Hamels‘ contract to Texas for him, it would have been a coup.

Olt is purported to be one of the top third base prospects in the game, a low-risk guy who plays good defense at third and hits for power. People hear these things and immediately rack their brains for other good defensive third basemen with power to associate him with. A list of good defensive third basemen with power: Mike Schmidt, Scott Rolen, Brooks Robinson, Adrian Beltre…Olt is not those men.

Mike Olt has never played a major league game. Few, if any, of the people advocating that Lee be traded for him, have seen him play in any venue apart from this year’s Futures Game, and of those, I doubt more than a handful have the scouting acumen necessary to draw any meaningful conclusions. Few, if any, of us had even heard of Olt six months ago, and now he’s the Pause that Refreshes, the King in the North, the Hero of Canton, the man who can rescue this team from years of shortsightedness and mismanagement.

Olt strikes out a lot. Last week, on Baseball Today, Keith Law speculated that Olt, promoted to the majors tomorrow, would hit about .240/.330 with 20-25 home runs in his first full season. He should improve some from there, but that’s an assumption, to say nothing of the original baseline being based on speculation in the first place. Expert speculation, but speculation nonetheless. The probability is that Olt will be a good major league third baseman. But I have no idea where the idea came from that he’d become a star.

This is the time of year when everyone falls in love with prospects. In the past week, I’ve heard Phillies fans crying out for not only Olt, but Starling Marte of Pittsburgh and Gary Brown of San Francisco, as if those guys are sure things, as if this fan base hasn’t lived through Tyler Green, Mike Grace, Gavin Floyd, Wayne Gomes, Travis Lee, Domonic Brown, Joe Savery and Anthony Hewitt. We of all people should know better.

A prospect is a lottery ticket. Some have better odds and higher payouts, but all have the distinct possibility, even the likelihood, of failure. Remember the last can’t-miss corner infielder the Rangers traded for Cliff Lee? I think the Phillies should collect as many as they can, but not at the expense of valuable long-term commodities like Lee. And what prospects they do collect are uncertain. So let’s stop pretending we know more than we actually do.

And one last note on Olt. It appears that part of his popularity involves the potential to raise our hands and should “Mike Olt!” whenever he does something good, in the style of Arrested Development‘s Steve Holt. I’ll admit that this is very cool, and very funny, and even that I’ve done so on our podcast before. But if he makes his Phillies debut August 1, and that gag hasn’t gotten old by Labor Day, I’ll hit myself in the face with my monkfish.

“Baby Aces”

This was cute during the “Four Aces” heyday, when someone started referring to the Phillies’ minor league starters the Baby Aces. Adorable, but inaccurate. The Phillies haven’t really had a prospect with true No. 1 starter potential since Cole Hamels. Jarred Cosart and Kyle Drabek were close, but concerns about Cosart’s delivery have turned him into more of a closer prospect than a starter prospect, and Drabek has had trouble staying healthy and finding the plate when he is.

And both have been traded anyway, so it doesn’t matter. But Jesse Biddle and Trevor May, if everything works out well, are probably more mid-rotation guys than aces, and I’ve yet to hear anyone in the know characterize Brody Colvin or Tyler Cloyd as anything more than a fifth starter. This one isn’t of paramount importance, but given how much disappointment we’re going to experience over the coming months anyway, let’s not make it worse by artificially raising expectations.

I guess the point of all this is: let’s not freak out about prospects for no good reason. It only ends in heartbreak.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go see the fishmonger.

MEGA SALE! NEXT TWO DAYS ONLY!

The Phillies are out of it and are looking to get rid of everything, but you only have two days to act! They have everything from shoddy old relief pitchers to shoddy old position players to shoddy old starting pitchers. Everything you could possibly want is here and at the lowest prices possible. Everything must go!

Need an outfielder with one year of arbitration left? How about Hunter Pence? All you need to bring with you is your signature, no credit check required!

How about an outfielder who can bunt and steal bases? Juan Pierre fits the bill and he’s IN STOCK now!

What would you pay for a starter who leads the Majors in K/BB ratio? How about Next-To-Nothing? Come on down and grab Joe Blanton before he’s gone.

Ty Wigginton may not be any good at anything, but he can do that at multiple positions. Just bring money!

Shane Victorino loves the UFC and he has post-season experience. Come on in and say “Mahalo”!

Placido Polanco is injured and old but when he’s not injured and old which is never he plays a mean third base. If he’s not taken, he gets put in the dumpster!

This sale won’t last forever — it ends on Tuesday at 4 PM Eastern. Pick up the phone right now and get yourself a capable Major League player for bargain bin prices. Everything’s gotta go!

Crash Bag, Vol. 12: Last Call at Red Hot Tomatoes

I have a confession to make: As I write this, I’ve been up more than 24 hours straight, so this might make even less sense than usual. Which, I suspect, is how y’all like it.

Sleep deprivation is a fascinating experience. Two years ago, when I was in grad school, I wrote two 25-page research papers in four days, each in one massive sunset-to-sunrise binge, one on Thursday night and one on Sunday. I woke up around 11 a.m. on Thursday and went to sleep at about 2 in the morning on Saturday, then woke up around 10 a.m. on Sunday and went to sleep at around 1 in the afternoon on Monday. Pulling a 39-hour waking period and a 27-hour waking period in one long weekend does bizarre things to the mind, believe you me. While at the train station on Monday morning, on my way to turn my final paper in, a bird flew overhead and its shadow passed over me. I believed I was under attack and flipped out, nearly punching an unsuspecting stranger in the face. Hardly a Great Moment in Baumannian Savoir Faire.

Suffice it to say, I’m a little punchy. Almost punchy enough to trade Cliff Lee.

@SJHaack: “What shape would you have your money topiaries made into if you were Cole Hamels this week?”

We start with this week’s big story. Cole Hamels got paid. Big time. Now, I’ve already gone on the record as saying that if I were to come into nine figures’ worth of David Montgomery’s money, I would not be one of those tasteful, discreet rich people. I would be as vulgar as my means and the boundaries of human decency would allow. I’d hire Clemson’s starting defensive line to carry me about on a litter, because they’re certainly no good at actually playing football. I’d drive my Ferrari to get the mail–no, better yet, I’d pay my manservant to drive my Ferrari to get the mail. I’d install a curling rink in the basement of my palatial manse. And the money topiaries? In the shape of the Euro symbol, because it looks cooler than the dollar sign.

Cole Hamels appears to have more sense than I. Much of his absurd salary will go toward good works. The balance, I imagine, will pay for dog backpacks.

But in all seriousness, I, for one, am thrilled that Cole Hamels will be with us six more years. When I’m griping about his contract in 2018, remind me that I wept like a child when he re-signed.

@SpikeEskin: “I would like to see an ‘unlucky’ rankings. A combination of stats that suggest bad luck and the worst luck hitters/pitchers. Also, I would love to know if there is a way to know if if you can quantify a certain skill level that overcomes bad luck. Like this: I could never imagine Roy Halladay in his prime being 1-6 in August, regardless of his bad luck.”

Spike, in case you hadn’t noticed, is a big shot. He hosts a radio show on WIP (which he’s been gracious enough to invite me on), so he thinks he can spend three tweets asking a Crash Bag question. He thinks he’s that important.

But this is a good question. Baseball is perhaps the only area of life in which I am a determinist. There might be free will, but it’s dwarfed by the randomness and the whimsy of the fabric of space-time. The broken-bat blooper is a double. The line drive crushed to the warning track is an out. So it goes. If a foreigner asked me to describe baseball, I’d say: “Life sucks, then the Yankees win.”

Because so much of baseball is luck (or random variation if you prefer), it’s important to recognize where that pops up. Follow me to FanGraphs.com, where I’ll take you to a set of player pages to illustrate these points. (I realize that the readership of this blog is, in large part, more statistically savvy than even I, so feel free to skip ahead to the next question.)

The prevailing study of pitchers right now involves defense-independent pitching statistics, or DIPS. The theory is that pitchers can control how many batters they strike out, how many batters they walk and how many home runs they give up. Any ball put in play is subject to factors outside their control, including defensive quality, weather, stadium design and physics. There are some qualifications to this. To some degree, home runs are subject to luck as well, so some DIPS-based ERA estimators take that into account. There’s evidence to suggest that pitchers can control what type of hit they give up. Sinkerballers give up more ground balls, guys who throw hard and up in the zone give up fly balls, and guys who just suck give up lots of line drives. It’s also been speculated that pitchers can control, to a certain extent, how hard the ball is hit. To my knowledge, this hasn’t been empirically proven, but it seems plausible logically.

Anyway, for a pitcher, you’ve got options. There have been several DIPS ERA estimators that try to show what a pitcher’s ERA would have been using only the things he can control and holding all other variables constant. I give you Cole Hamels’ FIP. In 2008, he posted a 3.05 ERA, won NLCS and World Series MVP honors, and was the toast of the town. A year later, he fell on hard times, his ERA spiked to 4.32, he melted in a playoff game with his wife in labor and the fans who had adored him a year earlier turned on him in favor of J.A. Happ, who we’ll talk more about in a moment. Hamels’ 2009 woes were largely the result of bad luck. How do we know this? His strikeout rate, walk rate and home run rate stayed more or less constant and his FIP was literally identical in 2008 and 2009, 3.72. So look at one of the ERA estimators (FIP, xFIP, SIERA, I don’t care), and if it’s higher than a pitcher’s ERA, usually he’s getting lucky. If it’s lower, he’s unlucky.

Back to J.A. Happ. A crude way to tell if a pitcher’s skating by on good fortune is his BABIP. Generally, pitchers tend to have a career BABIP of .300, demonstrable by the fact that Roy Halladay’s career BABIP is roughly equal to Adam Eaton‘s. Some pitchers (including Hamels) tend to sit lower. But as a rule of thumb, .300 is the norm. If a pitcher, in a small sample, even a season-length sample, posts a BABIP lower than .300, he’s probably getting lucky. Happ, in 2009, posted a 2.93 ERA, which was nearly a run and a half lower than his FIP. This was thanks in part to a .266 BABIP. Now that Happ’s BABIP (which is a fun phrase. I was in a folk-rock band called Happ’s BABIP for a while) rose to roughly .300 the past two seasons, he’s fallen on hard times. Poor guy. I always liked him.

For hitters, that’s not the case. There is a certain measure of skill in a hitter’s BABIP. For instance, fast guys who hit ground balls tend to have high BABIPs because 1) grounders tend to turn into hits at a higher rate and 2) they leg out a lot of infield singles, while the reverse is true for slower fly ball hitters. For instance, Ichiro’s career BABIP is .347, and was higher before he posted back-to-back career lows in 2011 and 2012. On the other hand, Jose Bautista‘s career BABIP is .270.

For a hitter, it’s best to compare BABIP to his career average, particularly if he’s built up something of a track record. Hunter Pence, for instance, is not one man, but two: The High-BABIP Lion of Judah and the Low-BABIP Salieri of Outfielders. In 2007, Pence’s rookie year, his BABIP was .377. In 2011, his BABIP was .361. Pence’s wOBA in those years? .384 and .378. Superstar stuff.

However, in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2012, Pence’s numbers have been more pedestrian. His BABIPs over that span: .301, .308, .304, .299. His wOBAs in those years: .334, .351, .341, .338. All fine numbers, even for a corner outfielder. But not worth trading Singleton and Cosart for. And yes, I’m watching you @mferrier31. Don’t you think I’ve forgotten about my trombone promise. So if prime Ichiro clubs out a .370 BABIP for a season, that’s no big deal. But if someone like Pence does it, that’s a different animal. There’s a lot of nuance to using hitter BABIP to gauge luck. If a guy’s BABIP is up over a full season and so is his line drive rate, that’s probably more an indication of him becoming a better player than being lucky.

I could go on, of course, but this answer is already way too long. There’s strand rate, HR/FB rate, and a host of other ways to find out what’s real and what’s an illusion. But above all else, beware small sample sizes, or even sample sizes that last months. Even Michael Martinez can look like Barry Bonds, and vice-versa if the sample is small enough.

Simply put, there’s no omnibus luck stat, though Cliff Lee this season is a special case. I’ll say this much: enough bad luck can overwhelm just about any amount of skill. His peripherals are slightly worse than last season, plus he’s taken a little bit of a beating in just about every luck-related stat, from BABIP to HR/FB rate to strand rate, even to run support, plus he hasn’t exactly had the cooperation of his bullpen. Add in that he’s only won one game and every Lee start is watched with a hyperbolic intensity. We try to assign meaning to too much in sports, writing about an individual game as if it’s a morality play. Better to sit back and embrace the randomness.

Remember, Spike, “Life sucks, then the Yankees win.”

1,171 words, that response, and I didn’t really even answer the question. We might have to dedicate a book to this topic. And by “we,” I mean someone who’s got a better handle on the cutting edge of baseball statistics than I do.

@Estebomb: “Why is fat Ryan Howard better than the trimmer version? Does it have something to do with gravitational pull?”

I can only assume so. It’s possible that his girth is actually affecting the break on the 57-foot offspeed pitches he usually gets himself out on. But I have an alternative hypothesis. Fat equals happy.

I used to be skinny. But then I went to college and Chick-fil-a was on the meal plan (back in 2005, before they became the third rail of American culinary politics, so relax. Those were the days when a man’s choice of junk food wasn’t taken as a political statement, or as I like to call them, The Days When Men Were Free and Life Was Worth Living). Anyway, then I stopped playing organized sports. Then I graduated and didn’t have to walk everywhere. Now I’m the opposite of the narrator of Stone Temple Pilot’s “Creep.” I’m twice the man I used to be. And I’m okay with that because getting skinny means not eating the food I like and exercising a lot. Or at all. Ryan Howard and I are in a similar situation in that respect–both of us are bigger than usual, but engaged to be married, and thus, if all goes according to plan, will never need to impress strange women again. No need to make myself unhappy, and I suspect the Big Piece feels the same way.

The way I see it, a fat Howard is a happy Howard. And a happy Howard is a productive Howard. He’s like a Soviet coal miner in that respect. You wanna know why Nick Frost is so hilarious and jocular and Kristen Stewart is a grouch and has never smiled, on screen or off, in her life? Because fat people are happy and fun and skinny people are miserable and mean. That’s why Fat Howard is more productive than Skinny Howard.

@Framed_Ace: “If not Chase Headley who WOULD you like to see as the Phils 3B next year? Both dreaming and realistically.”

Yes, I wrote a hit piece on Chase Headley two day ago, essentially saying that Headley’s a nice player at a position the Phillies need, but Ruben Amaro would have to be a lunatic to trade for him. Which he probably will, because Ruben Amaro is a lunatic. Also, it appears that the comment section on that post has gotten away from us in the past 36 hours. 46 comments…yeah, I’m never going back there. Who knows what’s going on in that darkness?

But that’s a fair question that I meant to answer in the original post but frankly forgot to. If I’m dreaming, the Phillies find some sort of rejuvenation machine and return, like, George Brett to factory spec. If I’m actually dreaming and not hallucinating, the Phillies find a way to get their hands on Mike Olt without giving up Cliff Lee, which would be even more insane than trading for Chase Headley. That, too, is unlikely. I like Olt, but I’m not convinced enough that he’s going to be a star to give up four years of Cliff Lee, even if he is aging and unlucky. Maybe I’d take a flyer on the guy behind Headley on the depth chart in San Diego, James Darnell, who, at 25, hasn’t broken into the majors full-time yet, but has shown some patience and pop in the minors. He’d be a low-risk, moderate-upside type of player and almost certainly better than Ty Wigginton.

So failing Olt or some other young up-and-comer, I’d just as soon see the Phillies punt third base entirely as try to reach for a minor upgrade. Third base is completely barren, and I’m okay with them playing some yannigan there full-time until an obvious answer comes along. I’m going to tell a parable to illustrate my point.

Back when I was in college, the place to be on weekends was Five Points, where all the cheap college bars were. Now, most of those places tended to shut down between 1 and 2 on weekends, but there’s a place called Red Hot Tomatoes. It stayed open until 3 a.m. I went there, I believe, twice in the three semesters in which I was 21. I hardly ever went there for two reasons. First, it was a dancing club, and I, like Kompressor, do not dance. The second is that it’s the last-ditch hookup central, and I had a girlfriend all 4 years of college. But Red Hot’s used to fill up around closing time for the other bars full of sloppy drunk kids in their early 20s trying desperately to find someone to hook up with. It was a spectacle. And according to a friend who’s been in Columbia more recently than I, it’s only gotten worse.

Anyway, as far as third basemen go, it’s last call at Red Hot Tomatoes. Everyone wants one, and everyone who already has one has gone home long ago. Anyone left on the dance floor when the lights go up and the last A Chi O who can’t stay upright in heels eats pavement is stuck with limited selection and the mistaken impression that leaving with anything is better than leaving with nothing at all. It’s not.

The kingdom of third base is like last call at Red Hot Tomates. Value is scarce at third base right now. Even average third basemen are expensive. Why would the Phillies overpay for value at third now when value could be had cheaply elsewhere? Just accept that you’re going to get replacement-level third base play for the next year or two until a better solution presents itself. I don’t believe that every team with designs on a playoff spot needs to fill every vacancy with a quality player right the hell now. That’s how bad trades get made. So let’s accept that it’s a seller’s market at third, accept a less-than-optimal outcome there for the time being and exercise a little bit of patience. You know, like grown-ups do. The Phillies are going to stink on ice at third. So will everyone else. We’ll all live.

@SoMuchForPathos: “Who is the last dragon? Who possesses the power of the glow?”

Well, according to the song, you are, and you do. In baseball terms, I’m pretty sure Cole Hamels will be the last player from this team to remain on the Phillies. Which makes him the last dragon. And I think that we can all agree that he possesses the power of the glow.

Though if he doesn’t, I’m sure he can buy it with $144 million.

@JakePavorsky: “Bigger folk hero: Sal Fasano or Eric Kratz”

I’m going to say Fasano, still, for now, if only because of his glorious mustache. Though if Kratz participates in a few more game-winning rallies, we could see that change in a hurry.

@jtramsay: “Dear #crashbag, say we trade our starting outfield. Who replaces them this season?”

I want to apologize to those of you who wrote in asking me to speculate on what trades the Phillies will make this week. I know we’re coming to the trade deadline, but I can’t answer those questions. I don’t have the first clue who the Phillies will trade, if anyone, or what, if anything, they’ll get in return. One day, I hope, I’ll be in the know about such things, and I promise I’ll tell you. Until then, I’d rather not contribute to a public panic that could cost lives.

With that said, I think the Phillies really should trade their entire starting outfield. Pierre offers them nothing beyond this season. Nor does Victorino. Pence could help next year, but with his likely arbitration award and the sudden urgent need for payroll flexibility with Cole Hamels’ contract extension, the Phillies would be best served dumping him for prospects when his value is highest. Which is to say, now. So the Phillies would find themselves with three outfielders–a pretty decent outfield, if I’m honest–on July 27 and a totally different one on August 1. What an interesting turn of events that would be.

Left field would probably be a Laynce Nix/John Mayberry platoon. Nix can hit against righties, and Mayberry can’t hit against anyone, but he’s right-handed so we’ll run him out there against lefties anyway. In right, I hope, we’d find a healthy Domonic Brown, the way finally cleared for him to make his big impact. In center, however, we reach a moment of indecision. The only current Phillie capable of playing center anywhere close to competently is Mayberry. And I’d rather not hand over a starting outfield spot to a guy with a .276 OBP. So where do we turn? Well, we could pull Jason Pridie off a landscaping crew again, or sign some similar quad-A guy with wheels to hold down the fort until the offseason comes and the Phillies can get their hands on what’s actually a pretty deep free agent crop in center. Maybe a young outfielder comes back in a trade. Who knows?

Though really, if it is Mayberry, what’s the worst that can happen: the Phillies miss the playoffs?

@cwyers: “If you sleep, will clowns eat you?”

Well not now, because I don’t think I’m going to be able to sleep with the threat of flesh-eating clowns hanging over my proverbial head. Thanks, buddy.

@skyboner: “is there an ideal place to take a dump at CBP? (besides batters box w. RISP)”

Well, I’ve never pooped there myself, but I believe the bathrooms would be the preferred place from a stand point of pubic health….oh. Jokes. Nice job. Hunter Pence doesn’t think it’s funny. He’s standing in the corner with his head hanging and expression on his face like a puppy who just, well, pooped in the batter’s box.

My eyes have stopped focusing, so this is going to have to be the last one.

@nicksaponara: “How would you like to see a return to 80’s unis? Cole looked pretty suave in them last year”

I wouldn’t like it at all. I don’t care how suave he looked. And this is coming from someone who’s on his second powder blue Steve Carlton shirsey. I went 12 rounds with a couple friends in Baltimore because they loved the white front panel on the Orioles’ cap and really got behind the orange alternate jerseys. I couldn’t stand them.

In order to wind up with such a uniform, the following exchange must have happened somewhere.

“Hey, let’s redesign the uniform to look like something from our history.”
“Great idea. When do you want to pick from.”
“Well…wait! It just came to me!”
“What?”
“You know when fashion was really great?”
“When?”
“The late 70s and early 80s.”

Someone must have thought that and he should be found and executed right now. Please, let’s not encourage Stagflation Nostalgia. Yes, the late 70s and early 80s, when cinema was at its peak, producing Saturday Night Fever. When Reagan and Brezhnev were in a race to see who could bankrupt his country first by overspending on the military. I’m feeling my heart go pitter-patter.

Seriously, I think the Phillies have great uniforms as-is. They’re classic: white with pinstripes at home, gray on the road. No fuss, no drama, just some good old-fashioned shut up and play baseball. I’d make two changes. First, ditch the hideous home day alternates. I know everyone likes that uniform but I can’t for the life of me figure out why. It’s like it was designed by a committee of eight-year-olds, a hodgepodge of eras and colors. I’m all for getting more blue in the uniform, but there’s got to be a way that doesn’t make Ty Wigginton look like a family of four that’s gone camping at Ocean Grove.

Second, I’d change the “Phillies” across the front of the road grays to “Philadelphia.” Just about every team that wears words on the front if the jersey puts the city name on the road uniforms. It’s time to join the party. And if you can fit “Baltimore” or “Los Angeles,” you can fit “Philadelphia.”

Thanks everyone who wrote in. This was the most bountiful harvest of tweets yet, and I look forward to to being able to say that again next week. Keep writing in, and we’ll resume our regularly-scheduled crashbaggery in seven days’ time. Enjoy the weekend.

Please Don’t Trade For Chase Headley

We don’t disagree with each other much here at Crashburn Alley. It’s nice most of the time, because we get along much better and agreeing with each other makes us feel smart. I bring this up because, for the first time in ages, I don’t agree with something Bill said.

Earlier today, our master and commander argued that, now that Cole Hamels has been re-signed, the Phillies should turn their attention to third base. Placido Polanco ticks four boxes–old, injury-prone, a free-agent-to-be and of declining effectiveness–that don’t make him an enticing prospect going forward. The Phillies don’t have an in-house option coming up through the minors or currently on the major league roster (Ty Wigginton can hit some but is scarcely better in the field than you or I, and Mike Fontenot, while a capable fifth infielder, isn’t really good enough at anything to warrant 600 plate appearances).

So with no incumbent and no credible heir in the organization, the Phillies will almost certainly have to look outside the organization for a solution  at third, and, friends, it does not look good.

I think Bill is completely right about all that. I just don’t want that external solution to be Chase Headley.

We’re in something of a dead period for offensive production among infielders, and third base was hit particularly hard. In the past five years, some of the best young third basemen (Ryan Braun and Alex Gordon) couldn’t hack it defensively and moved to the outfield. Others (Pedro Alvarez and Brett Lawrie) are undergoing growing pains. Alex Rodriguez is getting older (and odder), and the top tier (Ryan Zimmerman, David Wright and Evan Longoria) have alternately had trouble staying on the field.

Which makes someone like Headley immensely valuable. He’s a switch hitter who posted a .374 OBP last year and a .361 mark so far this season, which would have been second on the Phillies this season. He’s solid defensively, posting an 8.4 UZR/150 for his career at third base, and he’s on the right side of 30 with two more years of arbitration left.

So why wouldn’t the Phillies want him? He’d be a massive upgrade over Polanco and a valuable contributor to a lineup that could surely use his bat. In a vacuum, I’d just as soon the Phillies have Headley as anyone. But we don’t live in a vacuum, and to trade for Headley would represent the same kind of mistake the Phillies made in trading for Hunter Pence a year ago, and in re-signing Ryan Howard in 2010: paying a superstar’s price for a good player.

Headley, as Bill said, is about a 3-WAR player. That’s a solid starter. But that number is based in part on massive swings in his UZR, from 16.5 in 2009 to -2.9 last year. I’m confident that Headley can hack it at third, but not that he’s an excellent or even a good defender. This UZR fluctuation has had the same effect on Headley’s career fWAR that BABIP has had on Hunter Pence’s offensive production: when it’s up it’s up, and when it’s down it’s down. But let’s stipulate that when it’s only halfway up, it’s neither up nor down. Headley is a 3-WAR player.

If that’s the case, what would the Phillies pay for Headley? A lot. The Padres can wait to trade Headley, and because the third base offerings are so bad leaguewide, the Phillies are one of perhaps a dozen teams with designs on a playoff spot in the next 18 months and a dire need for a third baseman. It’s a seller’s market, and even if it were wise to part with multiple top prospects (most likely two or more of Larry Greene, Trevor May, Jesse Biddle or more) for Headley, the Phillies would be hard-pressed to match the offers of teams with deeper farm systems. I like Headley’s game, but is it really worth it for the Phillies to gut a weak farm system for, essentially, a good regular? I’ve seen this movie. It doesn’t end well. Someone will pay an insane price for Headley, and I would just as soon it not be the Phillies.

But let’s say they traded for Headley anyway. He’s 28 years old, and in line for two sizable arbitration paydays. That’s only young and cheap when compared to the rest of the Phillies. Headley is entering what is likely the last couple years of his prime and could cost in excess of $15 million for those last two years. Any Headley trade would best be paired with an immediate contract extension to buy out those remaining arbitration years and maybe a year or two of free agency, or else he, like Pence, will soon become very expensive and leave.

So my objection to Headley is not so much an objection with his play, but with how much it would cost in prospects to acquire him and how much it would cost in cash to keep him.

Finally, if the Phillies trade for Headley, say, tomorrow, and hang on to Pence and Shane Victorino, they’ll have the frattiest lineup of all time. They could, on days where Carlos Ruiz rests, field a starting nine of Shane, Chase, Chase, Ryan, Hunter, Jimmy, Laynce, Erik and Cole. That’s not a baseball team. That’s next fall’s rush class at the Wake Forest chapter of Sig Ep. They’d have to change everyone’s walk-up music to “Crazy Game of Poker” by O.A.R. and change the uniform to a pink polo shirt, khaki shorts and boat shoes. They’d have to outlaw any beer other than Natty Light at the CBP concessions stands. But the tailgating would probably be a little better-organized and we’d get t-shirts with big pictures and pithy slogans on the back for every game. So maybe fielding a team of frat boys wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

Probably not important from a baseball perspective, but worth noting nonetheless.

Anyway, Bill’s right–the Phillies need a third baseman going forward. It just shouldn’t be Chase Headley.

With Hamels Deal Done, Phils Must Turn Eyes to Third Base

Getting Cole Hamels signed to a contract extension was far and away the Phillies’ #1 issue and had been for over a year. It was a long and tedious process, and everyone can now breathe a long, exasperated sigh of relief now that it’s done. But the Phillies’ work is far from over as the trading deadline will be upon us in less than a week, and reports have them actively shopping many players including Shane Victorino, Joe Blanton, Ty Wigginton, Cliff Lee, Hunter Pence, and even Jimmy Rollins. The two hottest rumors at the moment have included Victorino: one suggests the Phillies wanted to ship him to the Cincinnati Reds for reliever Logan Ondrusek, and another had Victorino going to the Los Angeles Dodgers for reliever Josh Lindblom.

Relief pitching should be dead last on the Phillies’ itinerary now, especially those two names. Ondrusek is a poor man’s Kyle Kendrick, while Lindblom has had tremendous trouble keeping baseballs in the field of play. Instead, the Phillies should be staring intently at third base on their 2013 depth chart. Third baseman Placido Polanco has a $5.5 million mutual option for 2013, but it is unlikely to be picked up even though he has outproduced the $18 million he will have been paid over three years. Polanco will be 37 next year, has put up a measly .628 OPS at the hot corner this year, and has had tremendous difficulty keeping a clean bill of health. The Phillies simply can’t risk gambling on him for another year.

There is a problem, though: the free agent market for third basemen is barren. Potential free agents (ignoring those with options) include Geoff Blum, Miguel Cairo, Maicer Izturis, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Scott Rolen, and Mark Teahen. None of those names should pique the Phillies’ interest. There are, however, two third basemen that are available now via trade that should make the Phillies salivate: Chase Headley and prospect Mike Olt.

Headley is an underrated, switch-hitting third baseman for the San Diego Padres. As if the first name wasn’t enough, Headley is a lot like the third base version of Chase Utley in that he does a lot of everything very well. He hits (career .330 wOBA; .344 this year), fields (fourth among MLB 3B in UZR/150 from 2009-12 at 9.0), runs (50-for-63 stealing bases, 79%). Best of all, he can even play the outfield as he’s logged over 1,695 innings there over his Major League career, compared to the 3,471 he has played at third base. FanGraphs puts him at 12.7 WAR over the last four seasons (over 3.1 on average), putting him in the top-ten most valuable third basemen in the last four years.

Why would the Padres want to get rid of Headley? He earned $3.475 million in his second year of arbitration-eligibility this past off-season and his salary will only escalate in his next two years. Since 2009, the Padres have operated with an Opening Day payroll between $37 and $55 million, so they have incentive to capitalize on Headley’s value now before having to commit too much money to him. Since Headley would be under team control for two more years at a very barren position, the Padres would be able to get a lot of value for him, and that’s exactly what they’re doing according to most reports.

The other name to keep track of is Mike Olt, the exciting third base prospect in the Texas Rangers’ system, currently at Double-A Frisco. To date, he has 26 home runs in 386 plate appearances and a .978 OPS. Olt was the Rangers’ #4 prospect entering the season according to Baseball America and is drawing a ton of interest as the Rangers look to add a top-tier starting pitcher, such as Zack Greinke, for another run at the World Series. Lone Star Ball, the Rangers blog for SB Nation, had this to say about Olt in their pre-season scouting report:

The concern with a lot of power-hitting third basemen is that they aren’t going to be able to handle the hot corner long term and will have to move across the diamond to first base…Mark McGwire, Jim Thome, Jeff Bagwell, and Mark Teixeira, among others, started their careers as third basemen before getting shifted.

That’s not a concern with Olt, however. He played shortstop as a freshman at UConn, and while reports on his defense vary, just about every observer has him as no worse than average at the position, and he generally gets an above-average grade for his defense, with most pegging him as an above-average defender and some suggesting he could be Gold Glove caliber at the hot corner. Third base has traditionally been a difficult position for major league teams to fill, and a plus defender who can hit has a lot of value.

Offensively, Olt doesn’t profile to hit for a high average — he’s not a burner (his speed has been described as “fringe-average”), and he strikes out a lot, so he’s someone you figure isn’t likely to be more than a .260-.270 hitter in the majors, even if things break right for him. However, because Olt hits for power and draws walks, he doesn’t have to be a high-average hitter to be a quality offensive player.

Due to the Rangers’ specific needs and the recent extending of Hamels, the only Phillies pitcher who makes sense for the Rangers is Cliff Lee. There is no consensus yet about the availability of Lee, but there is at least some indication that the Phillies would listen to offers. The Phillies should insist that any trade with the Rangers involving Lee must include Olt. While Olt wouldn’t give them an immediate answer for 2013 — he would likely start with Triple-A Lehigh Valley — the Phillies would be satisfied with a long-term option at third base. In the meantime, they could sign a cheap veteran, pick up Ty Wigginton’s $4 million option, or go with Mike Fontenot in his final year of arbitration-eligibility.

As mentioned, third base is a position of great scarcity these days. Since 2010, only five third basemen (including Headley) have posted 10 or more combined WAR, per FanGraphs. The only positions with fewer players are catcher (four) and shortstop (three). If the Phillies can adequately address their needs here, they can set themselves up for another sustained run of post-season success for years to come. This is the biggest issue for the Phillies right now and it should be getting a majority of their attention as the July 31 deadline draws closer.

Hamels, Phillies Agree to 6-Year, $144 Million Extension

A contract extension seemed inevitable as negotiations between Cole Hamels and the Phillies picked up steam in the last week, and it finally reached a conclusion late last night at about the same time the Miami Marlins and Los Angeles Dodgers came to terms on a Hanley Ramirez trade. With a week separating the Phillies from the trading deadline, they were running out of time to decide what to do with their 28-year-old ace. In the end, though, everything went as expected: the Phillies made sure the most important part of their future will be around through at least 2018, and Hamels negotiated a contract in the C.C. Sabathia-Johan Santana-Matt Cain stratosphere.

Assuming Hamels’ contract isn’t obscenely back-loaded — we don’t know the payment distribution yet — he will become the fourth Phillie to earn $20 million or more in 2013, joining Cliff Lee ($25 million), Roy Halladay, and Ryan Howard ($20 million each). The luxury tax threshold will remain at $178 million, which means that, at an average annual value of $93 million, the Phillies will have over 50 percent of their payroll tied up to those four players. With the ability to trade any or all of Hunter Pence, Shane Victorino, Joe Blanton, and Placido Polanco, the Phillies will have plenty of holes to fill for 2013 and they’ll need to get creative trying to fit the other 21 players under the remaining $90 million or so before hitting the luxury tax.

Other than that, the Phillies should feel very good about this contract. It is true that such lengthy, expensive deals to pitchers are risky, but Hamels is about as safe a bet as you can make with a pitcher. He has a very clean injury history, with just three trips to the disabled list in his career and only one since 2008 (August 13-29, 2011; shoulder inflammation). His skill set isn’t one that will deteriorate over time as his fastball-change combination relies not on peak velocity but on the velocity differential between the two pitches. Additionally, Hamels has excellent control (career 6% walk rate) and has a naturally-suppressed BABIP (career .280).

The rate of Hamels’ deterioration will heavily influence the success or failure of this contract. At 28 years old, we assume he still has plenty of good years ahead of him, but it is clearly not a guarantee. Hamels could suffer a freak injury that abruptly ends his career, or suffer a minor one that nags at him and accelerates the rate at which he declines. No, it’s not likely, but still something that could happen and it is assumed risk when handing out lengthy, expensive contracts. Baseball Prospectus, in their ten-year forecast, projects Hamels at 3.4 WARP on average through 2017 and 2.7 in 2018. It should be noted that Hamels was worth, on average, about 3.4 WARP from 2007-11, so they don’t see him eroding very much at all over the years.

It’s easy to see why most won’t project Hamels to decline very rapidly at all. The most obvious reason is that the contract starts with his age 29 season and ends with his age 34 season. By comparison, Ryan Howard‘s five-year, $125 million deal started in his age 32 season and will end in his age 36 season. Another reason is that Hamels has been one of the most consistent pitchers in baseball going back to 2007. There are only nine other pitchers who have thrown more than Hamels’ 1,159 and two-thirds innings and 176 starts since 2007. But Hamels has also been consistently elite, posting an ERA between 2.79 and 3.39 in every season aside from his fluky-bad 2009. His xFIP has ranged from 3.02 to 3.63 and his SIERA from 3.03 to 3.66.

While at the same time being very reliable, Hamels has also made noticeable improvements. In 2010, when he added a cut fastball and improved his curve, he set a career high strikeout rate (25%). The next season, he set a career-low walk rate (5%), a career-best K/BB (4.4), and spiked his ground ball rate (52%). Who knows what tricks Hamels will pull out in the future, but we know for a fact that he is capable of evolution, which will only make his aging process even more elegant.

This contract extension is arguably the best move of GM Ruben Amaro’s career and one that will be met with near-universal praise. Phillies fans should be thrilled that Hamels will continue to don red pinstripes through at least 2018, continuing his legacy, and the Phillies will be in a prime position to attempt to compete again as soon as 2013. In a time when the Phillies are sellers for the first time since 2006, today is a very good day for the Phillies and their fans. Cole Hamels will be around for a long, long time.