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It’s Ryan Howard Day! I must admit, I did not expect Ryan Howard Day to come under these circumstances: namely, that it would happen before the All-Star break (if only by a couple days) and that it would happen with the Phillies 10 games under .500 and 13 games out of first place.
I’ve always wondered why we’ve used full games for standings intervals and half-games for position relative to .500. I suspect it’s because that’s the number of games it would take to make up that deficit. You know, as in the earliest the Phillies could possibly get back to .500 is July 20, which is 10 games from now.
Anyway, I think that even in spite of last night’s horrific loss to the Mets, and in spite of the Phillies’ precarious position in the standings (1.8 percent playoff odds going into tonight’s game, according to ESPN.com), today ought to be a good day. I mean, Ryan Howard is coming off a devastating soft-tissue injury and all, and he is an extremely large man who’s getting into his 30s, but just seeing him in the lineup ought to bring a smile to your face. Even if there’s an outside chance that he could hurt himself again (speaking of that injury, here’s David Beckham describing the same injury on Letterman. Fast-forward to about 4:25 for pictures from his surgery), even if Howard posted the first sub-.500 slugging percentage of his career last season and is only getting older, and even if the Phillies are so far out of first place as to render any player movement completely irrelevant.
Perhaps the most positive effect of Howard’s return is that everyone can get off Ty Wigginton‘s back. The poor guy has taken a lot of crap (and deservedly so) for untimely errors and untimely situational hitting. The fact is that Wigginton is not a first-division starter anymore. He’s a guy who can play in either an infield or outfield corner a couple times a week and provide a little bit of right-handed power off the bench. Unfortunately, due to Howard’s injury, John Mayberry‘s horrific season and for a time, Placido Polanco‘s injury, he’s been pressed into everyday service and has not done particularly well.
On a serious note, that’s really been the story of the 2012 Phillies: guys being asked to do more than they’re capable of doing and coming up short. It’s not just Wigginton–it’s Mayberry, Mike Fontenot, Michael Martinez, Freddy Galvis, Polanco, Chad Qualls, and Hunter Pence. Looking back on it, asking that group of players to contend was always unrealistic.
Still, Ryan Howard is coming back today. Today is going to be a good day.
@Fantusta: “Call Me Maybe?”
I take it back. Today sucks.
@JakePavorsky: “If you had to send the Phillies into the business world, who would be the most (and least) successful?”
I don’t know about the business acumens of various Phillies, so this is all speculation. For most successful, the obvious answers are John Mayberry (Stanford-educated!) and Chase Utley, who has the scowling, determined, not-here-to-make-friends attitude that I’d imagine would make someone an extremely effective and cutthroat entrepreneur. But truth be told, I’d bet huge on Cole Hamels. From what I understand, his charity, the Hamels Foundation, is a rousing success, well beyond the scope of your average athlete’s charity. I figure that if you can run a nonprofit (even nominally, as I’m sure les Hamels do), you’d probably be pretty decent in business. And moreover, I think Hamels, in addition to seeming like a pretty bright guy, has the kind of easygoing, good-humored demeanor off the field that would make him an absolutely killer salesman. I’ve never met the guy, and I like him and I’d trust him immediately.
For least successful, I don’t think the thousand-yard stare you see on Kyle Kendrick in the midst of a five-run inning would inspire much confidence in the troops on the eve of a soft opening or an IPO. So I’ll dump on Kendrick a little more.
@SJHaack: “Who do you think is the Phillies’ Catcher of the Future, and can you relate that in any way to coffee?”
I’ll take your questions one at a time. Barring something unexpected, the answer to the first question is almost certainly Sebastian Valle. He’s been the Phillies’ top position player prospect since they traded Jonathan Singleton, though that’s more an indictment of the Phillies’ minor league system than an endorsement of Valle. Valle is struggling a bit in AA, though he turns 22 in two weeks, so it’s not like he doesn’t have time to grow as a hitter, particularly given the Phillies’ proclivity for keeping position players in the minors until they’re 26 or 27. Plus he’s a year removed from playing in the Futures Game, which should tell you that he’s pretty well-regarded as a prospect. He’s got decent bat speed and power as a catcher, but his biggest issue is plate discipline, as in it’s Juan Pierre bad.
Still, given his age and where he’s at, there’s reason to be optimistic about Valle. I haven’t heard anyone say he’s going to be a superstar, but he ought to be coming into maturity about the time Carlos Ruiz starts to drift into his dotage.
One interesting about Valle is that he’s from Mexico, which is the 8th-biggest coffee producer in the world, though a quick scan of Wikipedia shows that Valle’s home region of Sinaloa is not exactly a coffee-producing hotbed. Which is unfortunate, because as painfully twisted as that angle was, I can’t think of another that isn’t more painful and more twisted.
Unless Valle picks up the pace in July and August and earns himself a cup of coffee with the Phillies when rosters expand. Too forced? Okay, screw it. Moving on.
@SpikeEskin: “please tell me what the baseball equivalent of the Sixers re-signing Spencer Hawes is. That’s my question.”
Yeah, I hear Sixers fans are pretty cheesed off about this one. I must admit that all I know about the NBA nowadays is what I stumble onto by accident on ESPN and Deadspin, so if this isn’t completely spot-on, I apologize. Okay, here’s what I know about Hawes: he’s a big gawky white guy with limited athleticism, and if anyone loves big gawky white guys, it’s…well, the Pacers, a team that’s actually had to answer questions about the potentially racist undertones of its player personnel strategy. But no, the Sixers, the team of Shawn Bradley, Eric Montross and Matt Geiger, that’s a landing spot for a huge white dude with limited athleticism. But from what I understand, Hawes doesn’t rebound or block shots, which is fine for a 7-foot white guy if you’re Dirk Nowitzki or Andrea Bargnani and possess…what’s the word I’m looking for….oh, yes, offensive game. Oh, and Hawes doesn’t appear to know 1) anything about economics or 2) what “communism” means. Though Hawes’ politics are a secondary concern. If he were pulling down 15 rebounds a game, he could be a member of the Khmer Rouge for all I care.
Anyway, the Sixers re-signed Hawes to a two-year, $13 million contract extension this week, and boy did people get pissed. From what I understand, Hawes isn’t that good, and bringing him back represents the reconstitution of a team that barely made the playoffs without trying to 1) grab a big-name star by trade or free agency or 2) grab a potential big-name star by tanking into a top-3 draft pick. In the NBA, it seems, you can’t win a title without at least one superstar, which is why sportswriters who think sports are some sort of moral test eat basketball up, and also, incidentally, one of the reasons why I find basketball hard to watch. But anyway, the Sixers seem to be stuck in an endless cycle of barely making the playoffs, getting bounced in the first or second round, and bringing back the same mediocre players the next year.
A couple people on my timeline (who responded to Spike’s question directly because he’s much more famous than I am), offered Kyle Kendrick’s extension and Placido Polanco’s upcoming mutual option. I like both of those answers, but if I was going to pick a recent similar baseball transaction, we’re looking for a mediocre team overpaying to keep a mediocre player. I think we’re going to have to go with the San Francisco Giants re-signing Aubrey Huff after the 2010 season.
Huff was worth a total of -2.0 bWAR from 2008 to 2009, and since 2004 had only put up one season of more than a full win above replacement. But when, in 2010, he posted a 5.5-WAR season, Giants GM Brian Sabean concluded that when a 33-year-old first baseman posts a .388 wOBA after not having been worth a crap in six years, he’s a safe bet for a 2-year, $20 million contract that would keep top prospect Brandon Belt in AAA, who’s going through his own West Coast Domonic Brown Saga with Huff in the role of Raul Ibanez. It was a phenomenally stupid and shortsighted move that explains why most of my Ryan Howard trade fantasies involve Sabean and the Giants.
Now it’s time for a little insider trading. First up, this from Ryan’s girlfriend:
@ChasingUtley: “Chase Utley: great player, or the GREATEST?”
An incisive question to be sure. He’s probably not literally the greatest player ever, or even of his own time, or even the greatest second baseman of all time. For me, the top two are Joe Morgan and Eddie Collins, then Rogers Hornsby, who was overrated due to the inflated hitting stats of his era, then Nap Lajoie, ditto, and might have gamed the fielding stats in such a way that massively overrated his defensive value. But after that, you’re into sort of a second-level Hall of Fame territory, with Craig Biggio, Robbie Alomar, Ryne Sandberg, Jackie Robinson and others. I was hoping that Utley could maintain his pace into his mid-30s and reach that level, but it’s looking less and less likely that that will be the case. Not only was he hamstrung by not becoming a major league regular until partway through his age-26 season, but injuries will likely cut his career short.
If Utley doesn’t make the Hall of Fame, I won’t be particularly miffed, because the Hall of Fame is perhaps more out of whack at second base than any other position. Even leaving Utley out of it, Bobby Grich and Lou Whitaker, perhaps two of the ten greatest second basemen of all time, didn’t get a sniff of Cooperstown, while Bill Mazeroski made it in on a combination of the logical reaches that you’d need to put both J.T. Snow and Bucky Dent in the Hall of Fame. I love the Hall of Fame–it’s a fantastic museum on the kind of street in the kind of town that gives life to the kind of baseball mythology that at once makes me weep with joy and makes me want to carpet-bomb upstate New York. (Not that anyone would notice the difference if you did.)
In short, the Hall of Fame is like Disneyland for middle-aged white men in khaki shorts, which is great. But if we’re using it as some sort of measuring stick for player value, let’s put some people in charge of it who know what the hell they’re doing.
Oh, yeah, Chase Utley. Awesome. I’ll call him the greatest Phillies player I’ve ever seen (Mike Schmidt retired when I was two years old). I’ll call him the most exciting non-Iverson, non-Lindros Philly athlete of my lifetime, which is a massive compliment for a baseball player. If I see his like in red pinstripes again before I die, I’ll consider myself lucky.
Now a question from our leader:
@CrashburnAlley: “Crashburn writers as House characters. Go.”
When the boss asks a question, you answer. In alphabetical order, with the caveat that I didn’t watch the last season.
Bradley Ankrom as Martha Masters: The latecomer. Possessed of an impressive intelligence and, I’m told, an affinity for dark stockings.
Bill Baer as Dr. Lisa Cuddy: The leader. Does most of the thankless work that keeps the lights on. Trying to keep everyone happy all the time and failing because she (he in Billbear’s case) has assembled a staff that, while talented, is composed largely of weirdos, sociopaths, and malcontents. Plus Bill always wears his skirts a little too short.
Michael Baumann as Dr. James Wilson: The weeping, bleeding emotional center of the team. Easily frustrated and constantly waging an internal battle between the rational and the moral. Doesn’t really do the same sort of diagnostic (or sabermetric) heavy lifting as the rest of the characters, but is still lovable in kind of a sad sack hangdog kind of way. And I’ve got a huge man-crush on Robert Sean Leonard, so sue me.
Paul Boye as Thirteen: Very much about keeping the stiff upper lip. Did a spell in jail. Seems extremely well-grounded in the midst of a whirlwind of chaos. Devoid of fear and guided by a strong, if slightly unorthodox, ethical compass. A fan favorite.
Ryan Sommers as Dr. Robert Chase: We could go on about Ryan’s dashing good looks, his Australian accent, or his surgical prowess. We could go on about his kindness towards his patients, and the fact that he once had a threesome with two beautiful women whose names he didn’t remember the next day. Okay, that never happened. But while his biting sarcasm would more closely align him with half a dozen other characters better than Chase, one moment stands out. If I had to pick one of us who would kill James Earl Jones-as-Robert Mugabe in cold blood, it would be Ryan.
I’m not going to be so presumptuous as to say any of us is like House. If Bill can persuade, say, Kevin Goldstein to come join the blog I might reconsider.
@seanmkennedy: “looks like your Jackie Bradley love is being verified by prospectors. Also my Ottoneu team thanks you”
It is. Baseball America just bumped him up to 32nd on their prospect ranking list. Sean added him to his Ottoneu team on my recommendation earlier this season and will soon reap the benefits. Apart from “Fire Ruben Amaro,” my most common Phillies refrain is “they should have drafted Jackie Bradley over Larry Greene.” While I have been steadfast in my belief that the Phillies should have drafted Bradley since…oh, June of 2010, I don’t want to make it sound like I’m rooting against Greene. I was in love with Bradley because 1) I’m a massive South Carolina homer and 2) he was projected to go top-15 or maybe top-10 and fell because of an injury that healed by the time he ever took the field as a pro. What Bradley experienced last season was a lesser version of what Luc Giolito went through in this draft, and just as the Nationals got a top-5 talent in the late teens this year, the Phillies could have had a top-15 talent in the late 30s last year.
I think Bradley will be a star, or at least a solid regular, because I thought he was massively undervalued at the time and because I’m biased. I don’t think Greene will be a star because, all other things being equal, the 39th overall pick usually doesn’t turn into a star. It’s not helping that Bradley went one pick after the Phillies–I doubt I’ll be making the same fuss about Nolan Fontana (who I wanted for the Phillies at 40 overall) and Shane Watson because Fontana doesn’t play the same position as Watson and didn’t go one pick later.
Anyway, my Bradley-Greene comparison has almost nothing to do with Greene himself–he’s just the sorry sot the Phillies took instead, and I’m enjoying massively that the early returns are good on Bradley, considering how much I hyped him up. I’m not rooting against Greene, and I’m aware that Bradley, an elite college player, has a head start on Greene, who likely won’t show up in Philly for several years yet. I hope Greene gets called up, plays for 15 years, and hits 500 home runs. I really do. I just still think the Phillies should have drafted Bradley.
@MikeMcGoo: “Which Phillies player would be the most fun to spend a day with at a water park?”
You know, I’d been thinking that we’d gone a while without a completely silly question. I’ve got two answers. The first is Juan Pierre, and I’ll tell you why. When I was a freshman in high school, my marching band did a parade in Williamsburg, Virginia, which was really just an excuse to spend a long weekend at Busch Gardens and Water Country USA. At Water Country, there’s a massive waterslide that you go down, four people to a raft. The group I went down with included two friends of mine: Dave, who weighed about 100 pounds, and Brandon, who weight about three times that. So we get to a particularly steep curve, and by chance, Brandon’s side of the raft takes the inside and Dave’s takes the outside. The weight difference between the two caused us to take this turn with the raft completely vertical relative to the slide, the action of which sent Dave airborne, and had he not grabbed the handholds, would likely have thrown him over the side of the slide and sent him tumbling about 50 feet to his death.
Or so it seemed at the time to the terrified 15-year-old me.
Anyway, if we could somehow game it so that Juan Pierre got pitched out of the raft and over the edge of the waterslide, that’d be cool.
But if I’m just there to wear colorful shorts and ride the log flume or drink frozen beverages in the lazy river, I’d take Ryan Howard. For as much as we rag on his game and his contract, I can’t imagine ever interacting with the Big Piece in a social situation and not having an excellent time.
That will do it for this week’s Crash Bag. Thanks for writing in as always, and if you care to do so next week, send a tweet with the #crashbag hashtag and I’ll find it and answer it.