.gifs from Last Night

Last night was a good one for Phillies fans: their favorite baseball team came from behind to win for the second night in a row and Cole Hamels was signed to a six-year, $144 million contract extension. Aside from the comeback, though, last night’s game was very interesting.

Cliff Lee had a mediocre start, allowing four home runs in seven innings. One of those home runs was hit by Ryan Braun, who decided to wink at someone for some reason.

And the Phanatic threw himself into racing hot dogs for some reason.

But the best part was when Cliff Lee decided to play games with Martin Maldonado at third base.

Then, this happened:

A few innings later, the Phillies would score six runs on four hits and four walks in one inning against Brewers relievers Jose Veras, Manny Parra, and Kameron Loe. Baseball is a funny game.

True Love and a Hamels Extension

According to Ken Rosenthal, Rumor Geyser, the Phillies and Cole Hamels are about to sign a 6-year contract extension  worth “more than” $137.5 million. (UPDATE: The official number is $144 million). In addition, Rosenthal predicts Hamels’ contract extension will set in motion “a series of trades to help the club not only reduce payroll, but also retool.” These could be heady days, my friends.

I’m not going to lie–I’ve been advocating, with my head, that the Phillies should trade Hamels, but now that he has (reportedly) been locked-up long-term, I’ll admit that I wept openly when Rosenthal broke the news.

We’ll have more analysis as the deal becomes official, but for now, enjoy a re-creation of the final negotiation between Hamels and Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.

Phillies General Manager Ruben Amaro, Jr.: I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, and the thing is, I want to re-sign you.
Cole Hamels: What?
Amaro: I want to re-sign you.
Hamels: How do you expect me to respond to this?
Amaro: How about you want to resign with me too?
Hamels: How about I’m leaving!
Amaro: Doesn’t what I said mean anything to you?
Hamels: I’m sorry, Ruben. I know it’s near the trade deadline. I know you need starting pitching. But you just can’t show up here, tell me you want to re-sign me and expect that to make everything all right. It doesn’t work this way.
Amaro: Well how does it work?
Hamels: I don’t know, but not this way.
Amaro: Well how about this way: I love that you can get the better of both left-handed and right-handed batters. I love that you won us a World Series. I love that you hit a home run off Matt Cain. I love that after I spend a season with you I can still see your change-up in the air. And I love that you’re the person I want to pitch Game 7 of the World Series for us. And it’s not because I need pitching, and it’s not because it’s the trade deadline. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your career with someone, you want the rest of your career to start as soon as possible.
(“Auld Lang Syne” begins playing in background)
You see? That is just like you, Ruben–you say things like that and you make it impossible for me to sign with the Dodgers! And I want to sign with the Dodgers, Ruben! I really want to sign with the Dodgers….(signs contract)
Amaro: What does this song mean? My whole life, I don’t know what this song means. “Should old band contracts be forgot?” Does that mean that we should forget old bad contracts or that if we happen to forget them we should remember them, which is not possible because we already forgot them?
Hamels: Well maybe it means that we should remember that we forgot them or something. Anyway, it’s about great pitchers.

Someone hold me.


The Purge

A few weeks ago, a rumor popped up that the Cincinnati Reds were interested in Juan Pierre. Nothing ever came of it. Last night, a second rumor popped up that the Baltimore Orioles were interested in trading for Placido Polanco. Both teams’ interest is well-founded. Pierre, at least for the moment, is hitting .305/.346/.370, a combination of OBP and speed (don’t tell the Reds he’s actually an awful baserunner) that would look good atop a lineup that has, more often than not, featured Zack Cozart (.292 OBP) and Drew Stubbs (.289 OBP) batting first and second.

For the Orioles’ part, their third basemen have hit .233/.291/.383 this season, and while Polanco wouldn’t be much of an upgrade offensively, the difference he’d make with the glove over Mark Reynolds and Wilson Betemit is enormous. Both the Reds and Orioles are within sight of a playoff spot and could use any help they can find.

Of course, the Phillies don’t really care whether the Orioles or Reds make the playoffs. But it still begs the question: if the Reds or Orioles asked about Polanco or Pierre then why the hell haven’t they been traded already?

As far as the playoffs are concerned, the Phillies are done. They’re 11 games under .500, with playoff odds below 1 percent, closer in the standings to the Houston Astros, who have the worst record in baseball, than they are to the Dodgers, who currently hold the second Wild Card place. With 2012 over, there is one reason and one reason only why the Phillies should refuse to trade any free agent-to-be is if they intend to re-sign him. Both Polanco and Pierre are in the mid-30s and obviously in decline. Whereas Cole Hamels would be a huge cog in the Phillies in 2013 and beyond, Polanco and Pierre are easily replaceable. There is nothing more to gain by their continuing to play them every day, except maybe winning a couple of games that would drop the Phillies in the draft order. Their trade value, as would-be free agents whose careers are nearing a close, is minimal–any return, whether it’s salary relief or even minor-league depth, would have to be seen as a fantastic return.

For Shane Victorino, that question is a little more complicated. Victorino is a good enough player that he could have a significant influence on a pennant race, so he doesn’t fit the same profile as Pierre and Polanco (and probably Joe Blanton as well) where literally any return is a good return. But with the new CBA having changed the rules for free agent compensation, the only intelligent thing for the Phillies to do with Victorino is trade him. Almost 32 years old, and in line for a significant payday, Victorino just doesn’t make sense anymore for a team that has more important things to do with its payroll.

Up until this season, there would be an argument to keep a would-be Type A free agent like Victorino and just take the compensation picks if no one made a compelling trade offer. However, nowadays, the Phillies would need to make a qualifying offer equal to the average of the top 125 contracts, likely in the neighborhood of $12 million a year, in order to even get one pick back. Given Victorino’s stated preference to play here, odds are he’d sign such a contract offer. Again, the Phillies aren’t going anywhere this season, and thus have nothing to gain by keeping Victorino on, particularly when they could pick up a prospect of some kind by trading him.

As an aside, the first obvious question when discussing any Shane Victorino trade is “Who would play center field in his absence?” My answer to that is: “Who cares?” Maybe they get a young outfielder back in the trade and stick him in center. Maybe John Mayberry and Jason Pridie fill in. I know they’re both awful, but what’s the worst that can happen–the Phillies don’t make the playoffs?

As for the risk that fans will stop showing up if the Phillies trade Polanco, Blanton, Victorino and Pierre, I doubt anyone is coming to the park to see any of those players specifically, with the possible exception of Victorino. And if you’re convinced that the fans that are buying tickets to see a team that will most likely have its first losing season in a decade will stop doing so, en masse, because Shane Victorino goes…well, I guess you’re welcome to believe that. I find the notion completely absurd, but I guess we won’t know for sure until he’s traded. The Marlins just did this with Anibal Sanchez, trading the free agent-to-be to Detroit in a package that netted them pitching prospect Jacob Turner, a massive return for a pitcher like Sanchez. The Seattle Mariners, who are only scarcely more out of it than the Phillies, just sent Ichiro to the Yankees yesterday afternoon. They didn’t get much back, but they saved some money and removed any pressure to re-sign the franchise’s biggest star. If trading Victorino is an admission of defeat, it’s because the Phillies have indeed been defeated.

Hunter Pence is a more complicated story. He’s got another year’s worth of arbitration left, and so could help the Phillies in 2013 if they think they can return to playoff contention. However, that year of arbitration makes Pence a more valuable trade chip than any other asset they could dangle, except, possibly, Cole Hamels. Scuttlebutt is that the Phillies are listening to offers in an attempt to avoid giving Pence an eight-figure arbitration payout. They won’t get a package as good as the one they sent to Houston for two reasons: Hunter Pence wasn’t worth anything close to what they paid in 2011 and being a year older and a year closer to free agency, Pence is worth less now than he was then anyway.

What they can do is get a legitimate prospect or young major leaguer back, someone who could start at a position of need either immediately or in the near future. People say the Phillies should “retool” or “reload” rather than “rebuild,” and by trading these five players, the Phillies would net a noteworthy, if not franchise-altering, return in young talent, but most importantly, it would free up enough money in salary to re-sign Cole Hamels long-term and add another free agent on top of him.

Purging the roster might seem like a cynical move, but it’s not. This season cannot be punted because the Phillies don’t have even a remote hope of making the playoffs–trading Pierre, Victorino, Polanco, Blanton and Pence isn’t giving up. It’s acknowledging reality. Then, in 2013, with Hamels re-signed, Domonic Brown in the outfield, the bullpen shored up with another wave of young reinforcements, a healthy Roy Halladay, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard and some money to play with on the free agent market, the Phillies can get back to where they want to be rather easily. And with a top-10 draft pick and some newly-acquired talent developing in the minor leagues, they’ll have the potential to stay there well into the future.

But they can only do this if they’re pragmatic about where they stand in the next seven days. Otherwise, we may very well be in for more of the same for a long time.

Losing to the Brewers is Not an Option

Responding to adversity. Timely hitting. An offense that simply would not give up an out, chipping away at a seemingly insurmountable lead, batter by batter, man by man. It was just like the good old days. And it was all thanks to an impromptu team meeting led by Charlie Manuel and Chase Utley before the ninth inning.

Flight Director Charlie Manuel: So you’re telling me you can only give our guys one more run of support? That brings them to about there. (Taps loss column on standings.) Gentlemen, that is not acceptable.
Engineer Roy Halladay: Charlie! Charlie! We gotta talk about run support here.
EECOM Chase Utley: Whoa, whoa, guys!  Run support is everything. Run support is everything.
Halladay: What do you mean?
Utley: Without it they don’t pitch for us,  they don’t pitch easier with men on, they don’t turn our season around…We gotta start scoring runs. Now. We’re not going to make it to the ninth inning.
Manuel: What do  you mean scoring runs?
Utley: With Halladay’s start, the Brewers scored six runs. At that rate the team is dead in two innings, not four or five. We gotta get this team to score four more runs.
MOCR Engineer Carlos Ruiz: How many? You could win a Kendrick start with four runs, Chase!
Utley:  We’ve got to Rollins on base, Pierre, Howard, Pence, Ruiz, the whole smack.
FIDO John Mayberry: Whoa, put Pence on? What if he needs to run the bases? Charlie, he won’t even know which way he’s pointed!
Utley: The more time we talk in here the more outs they waste out there. I’ve been looking at the data for the past inning.
Manuel: That’s the deal?
Utley: That’s the deal.
Manuel: Okay, Chase. The minute Savery finishes his inning, we’ll start putting men on base. (Utley leaves, Manuel turns to address the team.) Now in the meantime, we’re going to have a frozen offense out there. In a couple minutes we’re going to have to power it up using nothing but Francisco Rodriguez‘s inability to find the strike zone.
Juan Pierre: It’s never been tried before.
Ty Wigginton: Hell, we’ve never even simulated it before, Charlie.
Manuel: Well we’re going to have to figure it out. I want people in our on-deck circle timing breaking balls. I want you guys to find every pitch: every slider, every fastball and every change-up that Rodriguez throws up there, then I want you to talk to the scouts we sent ahead to chart the things. Find out how to squeeze every baserunner out of this goddamn pitcher. I want that scoreboard to tick all the way to seven with time to spare. We’ve never come from behind in the ninth inning and we’re sure as hell not going to lose another one on my watch! Failure is not an option!


Jonathan Papelbon in Freefall?

All season long, the Phillies have been vying for the Worst Bullpen championship. At first, their strategy involved not using their best reliever, Jonathan Papelbon, in high-leverage situations, but then relief corps stalwarts started to pitch in by allowing obscene amounts of home runs. Chad Qualls, for instance, allowed seven home runs in 31.1 innings before being shipped to the New York Yankees. After that, there was a motley crew of young arms ready to surrender winnable games at a moment’s notice. Just in recent memory, Antonio Bastardo (July 6), Michael Schwimer (July 13), and Jake Diekman (July 18) have done their part.

It can be argued, though, that a lot of that was to be expected. Many warned of Qualls’ eroding skill set when he was signed before the season, and bullpens rife with kids aren’t all that reliable to begin with anyway. The most surprising and disappointing part of the Phillies’ bullpen lately has actually been Papelbon himself, the prize of the past off-season. The Phillies signed him to a four-year, $50 million contract expecting him to replace Ryan Madson, but he has been anything but reliable lately. Since June 20, Papelbon has appeared in 11 games, allowing runs in six of them to the tune of a 6.57 ERA. To that point, he was 17-for-17 in save opportunities, but is 4-for-7 since.

The good news is that Papelbon isn’t in disrepair. Since June 20,  he has a K/BB ratio in excess of 4.0, striking out 17 in 12.1 innings. The issue appears to be BABIP-related, especially towards right-handed batters. The following table shows Papelbon’s BABIP against left- and right-handed batters as well as the number of plate appearances (in parentheses).

BABIP Up To 6/20 Since 6/20
vs. LHB .300 (50) .391 (35)
vs. RHB .212 (52) .583 (25)

The sample sizes are small, so there isn’t anything monumental to find here — just bad luck in general. The .091 BABIP difference to lefties only accounts for three extra hits in 35 PA, while the .371 BABIP difference to RHB accounts for nine extra hits in 25 PA. Where are these hits landing?

First, the LHB:

And the RHB:

In the fourth hit chart, the right-handed batters have a cluster of hits down the right field line. That’s neither an area to which Papelbon has traditionally allowed hits, nor is it an area that indicates that Papelbon has been getting shelled. These two well-struck baseballs are included:

Papelbon’s numbers on the season overall are right in line with his career averages, except for one thing:

2012 Career
K% 29.6% 29.5%
BB% 5.6% 6.6%
K/BB 5.33 4.49
BABIP .323 .279

With a 3.03 xFIP and 2.36 SIERA, Papelbon should simply continue pitching the way he has been and the chips should start falling back in his favor. His last month has simply been the latest straw in the Phillies’ bale of 2012 problems, but it is also easily correctable.

Crash Bag, Vol. 11: Four Cheese Halladay

Boy, yesterday was more fun than a barrel  of monkeys, amirite guys? First, Paul Holmgren covers Nashville Predators GM David Poile’s house with toilet paper with that insane Shea Weber offer sheet, then we get word that, from a contractual standpoint, the Phillies and Cole Hamels have gone from passing notes in class to playing The Comfortable Game on the band bus. Thursday involved lots of guys in their twenties being offered almost inconceivably large sums of money to play games in Philadelphia, and boy was it titillating. Add in Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome’s curbstomping of Vincenzo Nibali in the Tour de France and you wind up with a pretty busy sports day for the Phillies and Union not playing and everyone else being in the offseason.

Oh, and Paul Holmgren, I know you’re facing sending some draft picks to the Predators if they match the offer sheet. Well, if you want to just tell Poile I’m the physical personification of a future third-rounder and just send me to live in Nashville, I’d totally be cool with that. I’m a team player that way.

On to your questions. Since this is at least nominally a baseball mailbag, let’s start with a baseball question.

Daniel (via e-mail): Do any of the inexperienced relievers currently in the Phillies bullpen (Joe Savery, Jake Diekman, Michael Swimmer, B.J. Rosenberg, etc.) have a chance to eventually develop into reliable major league relievers?

I apologize to Daniel for not getting to this sooner, but I was unaware people were still writing in via e-mail. And it was worth it, because earlier in the message he said Crashburn Alley was his favorite Phillies blog, which was very nice of him to say and I appreciate on behalf of the guys. I’ll tell you what, Daniel–you’re now my favorite reader.

Anyway, sure. The Phillies’ area of greatest farm system depth is in future middle relievers, which is about the worst thing you can say about a team’s farm system. Short of Phillippe Aumont actually plowing a field or something.

Speaking of Aumont, he should actually be really good. I think my irrational love for Aumont is one of the reasons I’m still kind of okay with the Phillies having traded Cliff Lee away the first time, but he’s got closer stuff. Prospect king Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus told us, when he was a guest on the Crash Pod, that Aumont has closer stuff. Of course, Bill deleted that episode by accident before it went to air, so you’ll have to take my word for it. Aumont throws everything hard, which is why he hasn’t had the control or  health out as a starter, but he could be a very good bullpen arm when he comes up.

Justin De Fratus is probably the next-best bullpen prospect of the bunch, a fastball-slider guy who got a cup of coffee last season but is just now returning to minor league action after an injury wiped out the start of his 2012. Apart from that, Diekman’s low arm slot and velocity should make him a pretty effective LOOGY, but the arm slot makes it easier for right-handed batters (particularly right-handed Matt Kemps) to pick up his pitches. And then there’s the control, or rather lack thereof. If he strikes out 10 batters per nine innings as a major league pitcher, there’s a pretty good chance he’ll walk seven or eight, which is not good at all.

Apart from that, Schwimer and Rosenberg both throw pretty hard, so there’s a decent chance one or both could turn into a good middle-innings, low-leverage guy, which is something. Or both could turn into pumpkins. Such is the life cycle of the low-leverage middle reliever.

Savery is probably the worst pitching prospect of the bunch, but here’s the rub, he can hit and pitch. A crappy left-handed reliever isn’t worth a whole lot, and neither is a crappy left-handed pinch hitter/first baseman. But a guy who can do both essentially represents a free roster spot, so if Savery is even passable as  a two-way player, I’d like to see the Phillies use him, if only for the novelty.

@mferrier31: “So after our nice little debate, do you still think the Pence trade was not good? Remember Hunter’s watching!”

He is not watching. Roz, however? That’s another story.

This is in reference to an argument Other Michael and I had on the internet the other night over the Pence Trade. He apparently thinks that Jonathan Singleton, Domingo Santana and Jarred Cosart were a small price to pay for a corner outfielder with a 120 OPS+ who can’t field or run the bases. I disagreed.

Then, in a bourbon-enhanced euphoria, I told Other Michael that I took it all back when Thunderpants delivered go-ahead RBI in consecutive games.

Now that y’all’re caught up, let me say this. No. It was still an awful trade, and when Singleton comes up to the majors and goes .300/.400/.500 as the Astros’ DH for ten years, I will hire a man to go to your house every day and knock on your door. When you open, he’ll take out a trombone and play “Brand New Key” by Melanie–ALL THREE VERSES–for you. When he’s done, he’ll give you a sealed envelope containing a handwritten note that says only “I TOLD YOU SO,” urinate in your bushes, and go on his way.

Every. Day. Of. Your. Life.

@lexuhbooz: “Phillies players as pizza toppings”

Coulda said please, at least.

  • Antonio Bastardo: Mushrooms. No one else seems to like them, but they’re my favorite. When I was in college I worked in the admissions office my senior year, and occasionally they’d order pizza for us, and they’d send around a sign-up sheet so we could get the toppings we wanted. One night, I just asked out loud if anyone would go on a mushroom pizza with me, and one girl said yes. And we had mushroom pizza. Best night of my life. I love mushroom pizza.
  • Chase Utley: Bacon. However good you think it is, it’s better.
  • Roy Halladay: Quattro formaggi. I did a study abroad in Brussels when I was in college, and let me say that any civilization founded on beer, french fries, soccer and intergovernmental politics is a civilization worth having. Anyway, while I was there, I had the greatest pizza of my life. For six euros, a 12-inch pie with mozzarella, gorgonzola and two other cheeses I can’t remember. It was, without exaggeration, the best pizza I’ve ever had. It stimulated every sensation I’m capable of tasting or smelling and left me with a full stomach, a fulfilled spirit and a pleasant fizzing feeling in my innards. It was glorious, a pizza worthy of Roy Halladay.
  • Cliff Lee: Pepperoni. Solid. Tasty. Dependable.
  • Cole Hamels: ham and pineapple. I bet you thought I’d say Shane Victorino was ham and pineapple. Racists. The lot of you. Speaking of which….

@TonyMcIV: “With SHANF evolving into VICTORION, what are the odds that we could trade him? Preferrably for a half-way decent reliever?”

So Ryan Sommers accidentally misspelled “Victorino” as “Victorion” yesterday afternoon. I’ve tried to stick Phillies with nicknames for years. “Exxon” took pretty well for Wilson Valdez. Ditto “Tony No-Dad” for Antonio Bastardo. “Pineapple Express” didn’t stick on Victorino, which is just as well because I heard he doesn’t like that moniker, and despite two years of my referring to the Phillies as La Furia Roja, no one else seemed to like it.

I bring this up because we need to make VICTORION stick on Shane. Apparently there’s a character in the George R.R. Martin series (Game of Thrones on TV) named Victorion, and that’s the image I want to conjure. Fur coats, claymores, magic. Victorion, the hero of Canton! Victorion, the fire-type Pokemon! Victorion, the magical Elvish sword that turned the tide at the battle of Helms Deep!

VICTORION makes “Cot for Choice” the second-best Phillies-related Twitter misspelling of 2012, and that’s saying something. It also makes Shane Victorino (the man, not the legendary Roman general) immensely valuable in a trade. I’m certain the Rangers would give up Jurickson Profar for him.

@PhreshPhillies and @CitizensBankers: “Phillies players as Batman characters”

And I bet both of you thought you were being so clever. Full disclosure, I’ve seen 3 episodes of the animated TV series, never read a comic book, and never seen any of the Burton or Schumacher movies. So to me, Robin is only a thing I’ve heard about. So based only on the first two Christopher Nolan movies, here it goes.

  • Cole Hamels: Batman. An awesome force for good, and arguably the guy who got the whole thing started, but what an irritating voice.
  • Chase Utley: The Joker. Undeniably the best part of the whole operation.
  • Michael Martinez: The Scarecrow. Utterly useless.
  • Domonic Brown: Harvey Dent. What a promising future, but ultimately disfigured and driven to insanity by the forces of randomness and evil.
  • Ryan Howard: Rachel Dawes. Boy, I really want the original version back.

@Billy_Yeager: “Take 5 Phils and liken them to historical figures. Explain your answer.”

Awfully demanding there, Bill. I thought I was done showing my work when I finished high school calculus.

Okay, here goes.

  • Chase Utley: Jesus Christ, the Only Son of God. Revolutionized everyone’s lives when he appeared. Possessed of supernatural powers. And it seems like all we do nowadays is sit around and wait for him to return.
  • Kyle Kendrick: Andrey Kozyrev. As the first foreign minister of the Russian Federation, Kozyrev embarked on a campaign of Atlanticism, which essentially meant that from 1991 to 1996 he kissed NATO’s ass whenever possible in the vain hope that the West would give the former Warsaw Pact some sort of Marshall Plan-like assistance to rebuild Russia into a modern country after 80 years…actually, more like 10,000 years of managing a country with attitudes 50 years or more behind the rest of the civilized world. It didn’t work, and to this day, Russia remains a country whose biggest music star wears a mullet, no thanks to Kozyrev. (NOTE: I don’t think Dima Bilan still wears a mullet, but it helps my point so pipe down.) In a moment of crisis, Kozyrev was the worst possible thing to happen to Russia, and he stuck around long after he was useful. I think you can see where I’m going with this.
  • Cliff Lee: Dylan Thomas. The man writes beautiful, beautiful poetry with a baseball. And if the Phillies don’t start giving him some run support, I’m pretty sure he’s going to contribute to at least one whiskey-related death.
  • Roy Halladay: Witold Pilecki. This is my favorite Wikipedia page ever. Just read it–your life will never be the same. The biggest badass in history. We’ll never see his like again.
  • Erik Kratz: King George III. He was just sort of…around…for a while. And never really did much of anything. Sort of sat on the sidelines while his generals lost the Revolutionary War. That seems appropriate.

@Wzeiders: “Which two Phillies are most like Bo and Luke Duke from The Dukes of Hazzard?”

Vance Worley–who has a well-documented affinity for muscle cars–is the only Phillies player I could imagine driving an orange Dodge Charger, much less jumping it off of something. He’s got to be one of them. I could imagine Mike Fontenot being the other. He’s from Louisiana, which means he could probably countenance putting the Confederate battle flag on anything without meaning actual racial malice, and he seems like the type who’s not afraid to fight the law, run moonshine, speak with an outrageously faked Georgia accent or get dirty doing it.

@gvntofly1021: “what is the most annoying ‘Phillies roster as:’ you’ve gotten yet, and how tired of them are you?”


But seriously, if you want to eliminate this kind of question from the Crash Bag, there’s an easy way to do it–write in with different questions and encourage your friends to do the same. Whatever goes up in this space, good or bad, is at least partially a function of the questions that are asked. So if you’re unhappy with it, address your questions (serious baseball-related or otherwise) over Twitter to #crashbag or by email to crashbaumann@gmail.com. Spread the word.

@JakePavorsky: “Which current member of the Phillies roster would be most likely to commit a felony?”

I’m about 99 percent sure answering this question would expose me to some sort of legal liability. Conspiracy or libel or something. So I’m going to pass, if it’s all the same to you, Jake.

Though between you and me, Laynce Nix is in the process of stealing $2.5 million from the Phillies over the next two years.

@SoMuchForPathos: “Any baseball players who have cooler names once they’re spelled backwards?”

Uerba Ybbob is pretty good. Sounds like the bad guy in an episode of Star Trek where no one faces mortal danger. And Jordany Valdespin‘s name is even sillier backwards than forwards, if that’s possible. Ditto Jurickson Profar. And Dan Uggla‘s name backwards (Alggu Nad) might not more dignified than his real name, but it’s more dignified than the way he fields second base. Adam Dunn‘s name backwards sounds very similar to “Nude madam” when you sound it out, which is rather exciting.

But as far as just having a cooler name backwards than forwards, Chase Utley’s name backwards is Yeltu Esahc, which sounds pretty cool to me. That Utley is just as cool in reverse should surprise no one.

@uublog: “Which Phillies would you most and least want to get drunk with?”

If I were single, I’d ignore your Phillies stipulation and say Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Joffrey Lupul. But since I’m not, I’m looking for someone I can just have a couple beers with and enjoy some good, clean fun. And to that, I’ll give the same answer I’ve given whenever someone asked me which Phillies player I’d like to hang out with most in any circumstance: Ryan Howard. He seems gregarious, affable and laid-back. And while a small part of me wants to see what a night on the town with Pat Burrell is really like, I mostly just want Ryan Howard to be my best friend forever. (sigh)

As far as the Phillies ballplayer I’d least like to get drunk with, I imagined a night out at a bar with Jonathan Papelbon. Like, immediately. He seems like the kind of guy who’d order a bunch of shots right off the bat and get uncomfortably drunk and friendly with passersby while you’re still on your first beer.

And this isn’t as awkward as a Night Out With Papelbon, but I think “Getting Drunk” with Ty Wigginton would involve something like sitting down in a living room, having one beer while watching Lou Grant, then going to sleep. Which sounds pleasant enough.

@gvntofly1021: “you can put one member of the Phils org(NOT RAJ) in an oubliette. Who, and to what end?”

A real question, now that we’re done antagonizing the other readers. I’m of two minds on this one. Part of me wants to send Michael Martinez down the oubliette for its primary purpose: so I can forget about him.

Either that, or I’d send Freddy Galvis down there with rock climbing gear so Domonic Brown can get out of the oubliette and start playing left field for the Phillies.

@hangingsliders: “How will Phillies fans taunt Lincecum tonight? Who will make the more frustrating moves this series: Manuel or Bochy?”

Well I’ve had that photo saved on my desktop for about two years now so I can note how much Tim Lincecum looks like Mitch Kramer from Dazed and Confused. Considering that I’ve cluttered my desktop with a file that I only use to mock Lincecum, I imagine at least one Phillies fan will make a crack about O’Bannion coming with his paddle. Otherwise, I’m sure we’ll get at least one weed joke and at least one dirty hippie joke. And by “we’ll get” I mean “I will make.” It’s gonna be good. I’m making popcorn. And to reference an earlier question, “Tim Lincecum” spelled backwards is “Mucecnil Mit,” which sounds like a Mormon fiber supplement. So I guess the takeaway lesson from that is that Brian Sabean built his team around a Mormon fiber supplement.

And as far as who will make the most maddening moves? Bochy, and it’s not even close. Uncle Cholly’s defining characteristic as a game manager is that he’s hands-off, which made him the perfect man to lead the Phillies the past few years. If you’ve got a lineup like the 2007 Phillies had and you don’t let everyone just swing away, you’re a lunatic.

Bochy, however…let me put it this way. You know how movies portray the world as it’s about to end? Not with Tea Leoni standing with her dad on the beach as the cataclysmic tsunami rushes toward them. But looting and bacchanalia. People acting like there’s no tomorrow because they’re pretty sure there won’t be. Bruce Bochy seems to be acutely aware of the possibility that the city he lives and works in could fall into the sea at any moment, and he manages like it. It’s truly fascinating, what goes on in that enormous head of his.

One note, if you’re the kind of person who likes to see what the enemy is up to, Wendy Thurm (who wrote this question) is a good person to read.

Let’s end with a pair of Carlos Ruiz questions.

@jonathanbietz: “Ruiz’s option at $5 million next year is a no-brainer even if offense declines. What do you do in 2014+? Valle might not be ready.”

Boy, that’s an understatement. According to Baseball-Reference, Chooch has been worth at least 2.5 WAR in each of the past four seasons, including this one, and while I doubt very much that he’ll continue to post a 1.000 OPS, even until the end of this year, he’ll be worth a damn sight more than $5 million. Just to put that in context, Chooch is having literally one of the best two-way seasons ever by a catcher. Piazza and Mauer have hit this well, but neither was as good defensively as Ruiz is. For precedent of a good defensive catcher mashing like this, we’re looking at Roy Campanella’s MVP seasons. After that, you can stretch the odd Johnny Bench year or Carlton Fisk year, but that’s it. It’s amazing.

A good defensive catcher who posts a .424 wOBA, as Chooch is doing this season, would literally be the most valuable player in baseball every year. I don’t think we can count on that going forward, and to their credit, Phillies fans seem to understand this by and large. But even a good defensive catcher who posts a .332 wOBA, as Chooch did last year, is quite valuable.

The good news is that when he’s asking for an extension, Chooch will be entering his age-35 season, and no one is going to shell out big money long-term for a 35-year-old catcher. So if Valle isn’t ready, I say the Phillies just keep paying Ruiz. Keep signing him to one-or-two-year deals until he stops hitting or Valle is ready, whichever comes first. Nevertheless, I’m glad I don’t have to make that decision. All I have to do is churlishly mock Ruben Amaro when whatever road he picks goes wrong.

@SJHaack: “Would you say Chooch is more “huggable” or “lovable”?”

Good question. I’m convinced that up until this season, when he traded in his bat for the grav hammer from Halo 3, everyone loved Carlos Ruiz so much because he’s proportioned roughly like a teddy bear. He’s very small, but mostly torso with a huge head and little stumpy arms and legs. And the voice doesn’t do much to dispel the notion that he’s actually a 33-year-old man and not a stuffed animal. For that reason, I find Chooch more huggable than lovable. Though I do love him too.

I find all of you huggable as well, dear readers. We’ll have our regularly-scheduled Crash Baggery one week from today.

Crashburn Alley Podcast Ep. 7: Requiem for a Team

Paul couldn’t make it this week, but Bill, Mike, myself, and Ryan Petzar from ESPN 97.3 (@Petzrawr) talk Cole Hamels, what makes a successful 2nd half, the usual Twitter questions, and York, PA. The delay on this one is entirely my fault, because I’m terrible at editing. I swear we’re trying to get on a regular schedule with these. For now, enjoy!

Click here to download the mp3.

Music was again provided by Local Wizards (Bandcamp page). If you dig it, please let him know. If you enjoy the podcast, make sure you’re following all of us on Twitter, and you rate us/leave comments on our iTunes page.

The next time we’re ready to do a podcast, we’ll let you know on Twitter so you can use the hashtag #crashpod to send in questions.

Jimmy Rollins and Revisionist History

Providing an update on the market as the trading deadline nears, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports had a funny quip from an unnamed baseball executive, talking about the three-year, $33 million contract Jimmy Rollins signed in the off-season:

Rollins, 33, theoretically would make sense for any number of teams that would benefit from an upgrade at shortstop — the Dodgers, Giants, Pirates, Athletics and Diamondbacks all come to mind.

But as one rival executive says, “That contract, boy oh boy . . .”

Rollins’ contract then became a subject of debate, with many believing that the Phillies’ inability to clear his salary from the books will act as a deterrent to signing Cole Hamels to a contract extension. When the deal with Rollins was reached back in December, it was done unceremoniously with a shrug of the shoulders. No dissent, no debate. But as I pointed out last week, losing colors everything. Now that the Phillies are losing, now that Rollins is perceived to have been mediocre offensively, and now that the Phillies have struggled to get Hamels locked up, it seems most now view Rollins’ contract unfavorably.

David Murphy of the Philadelphia Daily News compared Rollins’ contract to that of other shortstops, concluding:

The question isn’t even which one of those hitters you would rather have, because Furcal and Reyes were the only ones available this offseason. The question is who is going to take the place of Rollins if you trade him away. And we haven’t even mentioned the elite level defense he continues to provide.

But even Murphy goes a step further than I would have, stating that “you sometimes have to overpay at premium positions”. I would be willing to argue that, when the end of the 2014 season comes around, Rollins will have been paid fairly, more or less. There are several reasons why.

Offense Is Down

It seems like Rollins is still measured against his 2006-07 seasons, when he posted an .811 and .875 OPS, respectively. Rollins, of course, won the NL MVP award in ’07 and was still very productive in ’08 as he helped lead the Phillies to a championship. He had a down year in ’09 before succumbing to injury in the next two seasons. What many don’t realize occurred in that span of time was a precipitous decline in offense. The NL average OPS in 2006 was .761, but it is now .718. In terms of wOBA, it was .328 in ’06 and is now .313. And in terms of overall runs, 12,337 runs were scored in the NL in ’06 while the league is on pace for 10,860 this season.

Let’s use a comparison with Rollins himself. He currently has a .739 OPS, good for a 99 OPS+, meaning that his OPS is about one percent under the league average. In 2006, he had an .811 OPS, good for a 101 OPS+, meaning his OPS was about one percent above the league average. Despite being more than 80 points of OPS behind his 2006 self, he is really only about two percent back. This simply means is that we need to be cognizant of the decline in offense across baseball before we can analyze their production, past and present.

Positional Scarcity

Rollins currently has a .322 wOBA, a mark surpassed by only two other shortstops in the National League (min. 250 PA): Ian Desmond (.356) and Jed Lowrie (.348). Shortstop is not a very deep position, and as a result, it is also the worst-performing. NL shortstops have the lowest OPS of any other position at .694 (next-lowest: second basemen at .714). Comparatively, 14 qualified right fielders have an equal or better wOBA as Rollins, but he of course does not play right field.

When Rollins was testing the market last year, asking for as many as five years in his next contract, he had the leverage to do so because he was still a top-performing player at a very weak position. If he were a right fielder, he would have been out of his mind to even hint at a five-year deal.

Defense and Base Running

Offensive stats are, for the most part, figured out at the moment, with newer stats like wOBA simply evolving older methodologies. We have yet to figure out defensive stats and to a lesser degree, base running stats. Many issues abound such as the quality of play-by-play data, human subjectivity, and sample size, all of which make the popular stats like UZR come with a high degree of uncertainty. Adding to the muddied waters, the “traditional” defensive stats like fielding percentage are incredibly misleading.

Rollins currently has a .980 fielding percentage, the lowest it has been since 2003. He is on pace for 12 errors in 600 chances, which would be the most he’s had since 2005. We also know that Rollins is older (33) and has suffered injuries to his lower-half, so many simply assume that Rollins’ defense is on a precipitous decline. However, in the 2010-12 seasons (over 2,700 defensive innings), which include both of the injury-plagued years, Rollins ranks second in UZR (13.1) and first in RZR (.849). While those stats don’t prove anything even close to definitively, it is a stretch to say that Rollins’ defensive is anything but above-average still.

As for base running, Rollins probably won’t ever steal 40-plus bases again, but he is no slouch, even after suffering so many injuries lately. In 2010, he produced 0.3 base running runs per Baseball Prospectus. That was followed up by -0.1 in 2011 and 1.2 so far this year, totaling 1.4. FanGraphs, which has a different methodology, agrees that Rollins has been above-average, though more so than BP, putting him at 4.5 runs over three seasons.

Freddy Galvis

If you didn’t like watching Galvis in his short time with the Phillies this year, you were simply not a fan of fun. Unfortunately, he left a lot to be desired at the plate. He went on the disabled list with a .267 wOBA. In my experience, most fans know Galvis was bad offensively, but not that bad. We can drill down their production to runs and find the difference in runs over 600 plate appearances with the following formula:

( ( Player’s wOBA – League average wOBA ) / 1.15 ) * Player’s PA

  • Rollins: ( ( .322 – .298 ) / 1.15 ) * 600 = 12.5 runs
  • Galvis: ( ( .267 – .298 ) / 1.15 ) * 600 = -16.2 runs

In a world where the Phillies didn’t re-sign Rollins and both players performed exactly as they have so far this year, the difference between the two would amount to about 30 runs in 600 plate appearances. Since 10 runs roughly equates to one win, there’s a staggering three-win difference between the two players offensively. Galvis may now be better than Rollins defensively (still debatable, though), but no amount of defense would have been able to make up for his awful offensive capabilities. The Phillies would have been severely behind if they had gone with Galvis at shortstop instead of Rollins.

The Value of a Win

Putting together all of the above, we are able to not only compare Rollins’ production to other players at his position, but against a theoretical replacement-level player. That allows us to price everything that Rollins brings to the table. There are two additional steps:

  • Positional Adjustment: WAR doesn’t inherently adjust for positional difficulty, so that is done by crediting or debiting a player with runs depending on his position. A first baseman will lose 12.5 runs because he does not play at a premium defensive position. A shortstop will be credited with 7.5 runs.
  • Replacement Level Adjustment: We know how productive a replacement level position player would be (20 runs below average per 600 PA), so this makes for a very easy and normal baseline. This adjustment also accounts for playing time, so if Rollins was injured and the Phillies had to use a replacement-level shortstop (think Freddy Galvis), that substitute would likely be 20 runs below average on a scale of his PA total (i.e. 4 runs in 150 PA).

FanGraphs has Rollins at 2.6 wins above replacement (fWAR) already in 89 games. Across baseball, teams have paid slightly more than $4.5 million per one fWAR. If you buy FanGraphs’ valuation of Rollins, he has been worth about $12 million already, surpassing his $11 million salary. If he keeps it up, he will likely finish in the neighborhood of 4 fWAR.

Personally, I’m not completely on board with FG’s WAR since it includes single-season UZR, which is inherently unstable. They credit him with 3.3 fielding runs. Zeroing that out (i.e. assuming the league average) simply takes Rollins from 2.6 to 2.2-2.3 WAR. They also credit him with 2.7 base running runs. Just for fun, we can zero that out, too, taking him down to 2.0 WAR. In other words, Rollins’ offense, league-average defense, league-average base running, positional adjustment, and replacement level adjustment makes him worth two wins above a replacement-level player so far, on pace for about 3.0.

The debate isn’t just about 2012, however. There are two more years on Rollins’ contract in which he will be paid $22 million. In other words, Rollins has to be worth about five wins above replacement in the next two years in order to have lived up to his contract. Baseball Prospectus, which uses their own WAR stat called WARP, projects Rollins at 4.2 WARP in 2013-14. Considering the dearth of quality shortstops in both the last free agent crop and the upcoming harvest, the Phillies will have paid for and received market value production at the shortstop position, something not many teams can accurately claim. Consider that the Miami Marlins got the premier free agent shortstop Jose Reyes with a six-year, $106 million contract, but have 1.4 WAR from him so far. The Phillies could have also gone with someone like Nick Punto (0.0 fWAR), who ended up signing a two-year, $3 million deal with the Boston Red Sox in the off-season.

Considering what options they had, the Phillies will likely end up breaking even when all is said and done when Rollins’ contract is up, assuming his 2015 option does not automatically vest. The biggest variable is Rollins’ health as he played in only 71 percent of his team’s games in 2010-11 (but has been in all but three so far this year). If Phillies fans are looking for a contract to scapegoat, there are several that are better targets, such as this or this.

Rest Is Important for 2012 Phillies

The Phillies have the oldest roster in the National League when it comes to position players, and we have seen the problems that arise from relying on older players. As documented here several times, they have lost a lot of production and money as their players have taken turns on the disabled list. That tune hasn’t changed in 2012 as Chase Utley and Ryan Howard both missed significant portions of the first half, while Roy Halladay, Freddy Galvis, Laynce Nix and others joined them on the sideline at various points throughout the season.

Despite winning their third consecutive game last night against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Phillies are virtually out of playoff contention in last place, 13 games behind the first place Washington Nationals and 10.5 games behind the second wild card-leading Pittsburgh Pirates. GM Ruben Amaro will go into the July 31 trading deadline with the mindset of a seller, looking to get something in return for soon-to-be free agents Shane Victorino, Joe Blanton, and Cole Hamels (if he can’t be signed to a contract extension).

The Phillies should be realistic about their playoff hopes for this season and utilize their players accordingly. Last night, Blanton came back out for the eighth inning even though he was just under 100 pitches. It’s generally not a big deal, but Blanton has already drawn interest from some teams like the Baltimore Orioles. Winning last night’s game doesn’t mean anything for the Phillies and there is a non-zero chance he gets injured again. Why risk spinning the wheel and landing on “bankrupt” with any of the players you’re looking to sell? This isn’t advocating disuse of those players, as they still need to compete and continuously establish their value, but the Phillies should err on the side of caution.

Similarly, the Phillies should take it easy with players that they aren’t likely to move as well. Carlos Ruiz will start again tonight, marking the 13th consecutive game in which he has started behind home plate. His previous high was six consecutive starts between June 17 and 24, and in 2011, he started nine consecutive games between April 10 and 20. Brian Schneider is currently on the disabled list and the Phillies are currently using Minor League veteran Erik Kratz as the back-up catcher. Yes, the Phillies stand to win more games with Ruiz in the lineup, but wins aren’t all that important anymore. There is a non-zero chance that Ruiz suffers an injury that can either knock him out for a significant amount of time next year (like Howard) or linger, reducing his effectiveness and durability over time (like Jimmy Rollins).

The safety concerns extend to Utley and Howard. The Phillies said they would be adhering to a “two on, one off” schedule for Utley, which they have stuck to so far. Likewise, it appears Howard will be getting rest more or less on every third day. However, there is reason to be skeptical that the Phillies will be disciplined and judicious in the use of their franchise players.  Utley returned from his injury on May 23 last year. By the end of June, when the Phillies were 20 games over .500 with a comfortable division lead, they continued to lean on their second baseman. Between June 28 and August 3, Utley started at second base in each game, resting only on scheduled off-days for the team. He finally got a day off on August 4, then went on another streak, starting every game between the 5th and September 7.

Phillies games are not all that fun to watch these days and stand to be even less so when the lineup includes Mike Fontenot and John Mayberry instead of Utley and Howard, but it is important for both the 2012 and ’13 teams. They have to be realistic about their chances this season and do everything in their power to ensure they won’t be in a similar position going forward. They can do this by being extra careful with some of their more important players, simply by giving them more rest than would normally be warranted.

Talking Phillies with Chris Branch

We were sad to see David Hale leave his Phillies beat at The News Journal as he moved on to cover college football for ESPN (@DavidHaleESPN). No one referenced The Simpsons quite like he did. However, we are also happy to welcome in a new guy into the fold, and that is Chris Branch (@ChrisBranchTNJ). Chris introduced himself on July 3 here if you’d like to learn a bit about him. I caught up with him via email over the All-Star break to get his views on a few issues pertinent to the Phillies.

. . .

1. You’re jumping right into a disastrously bad season for the Phillies. Have any of your perceptions of the team as an outsider changed now that you’ve been in the clubhouse?

They haven’t changed much. Before I got here, I knew the Phillies were having a bad season, but I didn’t know how bad. I will say my first few days I was impressed with how upbeat they tried to stay as the losses kept piling up, but any optimism vanished as they left for the All-Star break.

2. What is the general atmosphere in the clubhouse? We learned that Jonathan Papelbon had a mild tantrum after blowing Thursday night’s [July 5] save in Queens. Is this a regular occurrence?

Like I said, it was kind of upbeat before they really started sucking. There seemed to be a main troupe of guys laughing and joking before games (Victorino, Papelbon, Lee), but smiles were nowhere to be found after last Sunday’s loss. I haven’t seen any tantrums of any kind yet, but seeing Victorino that depressed before Sunday’s game was just as weird.

3. How are the younger players treated in the clubhouse, particularly the relievers who have been a big reason behind the Phillies’ troubles?

Honestly, the relievers kind of stay mum when the media’s in the clubhouse. I’ve seen Papelbon razz them a bit, but they’re normally all business when we’re around.

4. After Brian McCann‘s grand slam in the eighth inning on Friday [July 5], fans immediately filed out of the stadium in seething anger. What is your perception of the atmosphere at Citizens Bank Park as it relates to the fans?

Frustration. It’s pretty palpable that people are sick of the losing, especially in that fashion. To have Kyle Kendrick, who’s struggled most of the season, pitch seven shutout innings only to have Antonio Bastardo give up the McCann boomstick like that has to be brutal for fans to watch. You could feel any electricity built up over the course of the game evaporate the second the ball hit the brick wall in center field.

5. What do you expect the Phillies to do with Cole Hamels, who may become a free agent after the season?

I have a feeling they’re going to re-sign him before the deadline. But, if the team keeps losing, you have to think Ruben will listen to some trade calls at the deadline rather than get caught up in a Pujols-esque situation. There’s no way the front office lets the status quo remain for the rest of the season, though.

. . .

Thanks to Chris for taking the time to share his perspective as an insider. Make sure you follow him on Twitter (@ChrisBranchTNJ) and check out his work on Philled In for The News Journal.