Crash Bag, Vol. 17: Sokath, His Eyes Uncovered!

College football season started last night as my South Carolina Gamecocks escaped with a 17-13 win at Vanderbilt. I have a strange relationship with football. As a  total package, football probably ranks fourth on my list of favorite sports, behind soccer, ice hockey and, of course, baseball. But nothing gets me angrier than college football. I don’t know why. I think part of it is that I know less about football than I do about baseball, so where I can step back and have some perspective when the Phillies lose, I panic and scream and break things when the Gamecocks even give up a first down. Add to that the inherently visceral nature of the game and I felt like I should tell you that in case I accidentally severed an artery punching through a window during the USC-UGA game. I should probably will the Crash Bag to someone in that case.

But USC won, and I live. So let’s get on with it, shall we?

@4Who4What: “Describe the 2012 Phillies season as if you’re explaining it to the Tamarians from ‘Darmok’ “

Excellent question. This is one of my favorite episodes of television ever. Not because it’s so entertaining, or moving, or well-written, though I might list those sometime later on. It’s because the conflict of this episode is so creative: the Enterprise encounters a race whose language is built on cultural references, and when no one gets the references, they can’t understand each other. If you’d like to know more go here.

Anyway, I identify with these folks–many of my friends and I have abandoned traditional methods of communication and resorted entirely to movie references: Independence Day, Tombstone, Shawshank Redemption, Apollo 13 and Spy Game foremost among them. When people ask what we’re talking about, I’ve said more than once, “We communicate entirely using cultural references, like that episode of Star Trek…

Anyway, the Tamarians have an appropriate saying: “Shaka, when the walls fell!” to indicate failure. I think that tells us everything we need to know.

@Giving_Chase: “What’s your favorite movie? Which movie do you hate that everyone else likes?”

Up front: “Favorite” is not the same as “best.” I said for years and years that my favorite movie was Independence Day. But last winter, Jeff Marek and Greg Wyshynski started talking up a hockey movie called Goon on their eponymous podcast, and in the months that followed, Goon became 1) the first movie I ever saw in a theater alone 2) the first DVD I ever pre-ordered 3) my favorite movie of all time. It’s absurdly funny, self-aware, topical (because it addresses violence in sports, specifically fighting in hockey) and sweet. It’s completely unrealistic about the on-ice aspects of hockey, but it understands what we love about sports perhaps more than any other sports movie I’ve seen. Maybe Friday Night Lights gets it better. But it’s smarter than any movie starring Seann William Scott and Jay Baruchel has any right to be. I love it so much that I made Xavier Laflamme my Twitter background. I love him so much.

As far as a movie I hate that everyone else likes…I like the Coen brothers a lot, but The Hudsucker Proxy didn’t do it for me. Not outright hatred–more of a “meh.” But I did hate both Adaptation and Being John Malkovich with a passion rivaled only by my own hatred for FC Barcelona and the Atlanta Braves. I love playing around with first-person narration, but that can’t be the whole ballgame. I don’t know how Charlie Kaufman rode that gimmick so long, but it makes me want to hit him with a snow shovel.

@_magowan: “the Yankees can’t be serious with their choices for the AAA SWB team re-naming, can they?”

I meant to get to this one last week. For those of you who care about such things, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees are in the process of changing their name. As much as I love the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, something just feels wrong about the Phillies’ triple-A affiliate being anything other than the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons. I don’t know if it was that way forever, but it was that way when I started following baseball and it seems weird to be otherwise.

But given that, and given that we’re not changing them back to the Red Barons, we need something quirky because it’s a minor league team. I’m really over the idea that names for sports teams having to be somehow menacing, as if the San Diego State Aztecs, for instance, were going to build a huge pyramid and sacrifice an opponent on it. We’re not seven-year-old boys. We can have descriptive nicknames.

And naming the minor league team is at best lazy (I guess Scrantonites are still “Yankees”) and at worst misleading (people in Reading are not “Philadelphians” any more than Port St. Lucie, Fla., is “Metropolitan). But still, we’re afraid to go off the beaten path with or major league teams, which is a shame. I’d have loved to see the unstoppable radiation monster of outrage that would have been unleashed had the Seattle Supersonics rechristened themselves the “Bombers” when they moved.

But, yeah, the list is stupid. The only one I like even a little bit is the “Fireflies.” Anything that lights up fits with the “Electric City” and it has a little bit of that mountaintop wilderness feeling, which might be unfair. Really, the only places in Pennsylvania I don’t view as weird, rural and otherwise Upstate-New-York-like are Philadelphia, Pittsburgh (which is an assortment of nasty people who love bridges but are afraid of tunnels) and Easton (which I associate with crayons). But Scranton? It’s either a place you pass on the way to the Poconos or the home of Parade Day.

Given my experience in Scranton, I’d change the team name to the “Blur,” because that’s all I saw the past couple times I’ve been there. Apparently Scranton has a massive St. Patrick’s Day parade every year, and since I moved back to the area, Paul (who went to U of S) has taken me up there to partake in the festivities. I say “apparently” because I’ve never actually seen the parade. The first year I went up there, I woke up on the day of the parade at 7:30, changed into my green Halladay t-shirt and went outside to call my girlfriend. When I came in, I was handed breakfast: one pancake and a shot of bourbon. And so it went from there.

So to me, Scranton is what people tell me New Orleans is like on Mardi Gras, except cold. And while “Scranton/Wilkes-Barre River of Vomit and Green Paint” does have a certain panache, I doubt you’d be able to fit that on a uniform. I’d be okay with “Fireflies” if they did some sort of black-white-and-yellow color scheme, maybe if the buttons on their jerseys glowed in the dark. I guess the only thing I can say about the other nicknames is that there are no Dunder-Mifflin jokes. I think we can all be grateful for that.

@soundofphilly: “who would win in a fight: Buster the BlueClaw or the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor”

Crazy Hot Dog Vendor by default. Buster does not have claws. Your mascot is a crab, and yet your mascot is some amorphous Youppi knockoff. I get that it has to be kid-friendly and furry, but you need a claw. In all fights, the claw is the tie-breaker.

@lexuhbooz: “How many pimples do you think the girl with the lipstick all over her face woke up with the next morning?”

That’s quite something. It’s possible that she’ll get several pimples, though having no idea how lipstick interacts with skin (I’ve worn women’s clothing before but never gone for the makeup) I suspect I might be the wrong person to ask about this.

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of painting one’s face. I’ve done it a few times in college (I joked at the time that SEC football games are the only place where one would fit in wearing either a cocktail dress or jorts and full-torso paint), and most recently at the USA-Turkey soccer match that took place at the Linc the day of the Roy Halladay Perfect Game. I had a little red-white-and-blue on my face, but a friend of mine had a star drawn on her face that covered, if I remember correctly, one cheek from her mouth to her eye. And as a relatively pale person who spent most of the day in the searing sun, she got a paint tan line. In the shape of a star. On her face.

So given the choice between pimples or a funny tan line on my face, I’d take the pimples. Don’t wear partial face paint to afternoon games when it’s sunny.

@hdrubin: “Question: Should the next Phillies manager be a badass dirt-kickin’ rabble-rousin’ rageball? Or another grandpa?”

I’d rather have a nerd. Joe Maddon is, for my money, the best manager in the game and it’s not even close. I’d rather have someone who’s unafraid to think outside the box and evaluate the game through rational rather than normative means. I think there’s a greater chance of getting such a manager with a phlegmatic ex-jock than a choleric ex-jock. So considering that often the best course of action for a manager is to do nothing, I’d rather have a grandpa than a “badass dirt-kickin’ rabble-rousin’ rageball” as you so artfully described him. Whoever’s going to be more chill.

@threwouttime: “what color is a mirror?”

Whoa. Reflective? Is “reflective” a color? (bong hit)

@Caoimhin89: “Why is Kyle Kendrick such an enigma?”

Well, he’s not. Because he’s neither a Nazi code machine nor a Russian hockey player. Kendrick has been really good this season, particularly in the past two months. Given the small sample size and arbitrary endpoint caveats, Kendrick has posted a .585 OPS against, a K/BB ratio greater than 3:1 and a 2.09 ERA. That’s not bad. On the broadcast yesterday, they were talking about how Kendrick has changed his approach to the cutter, and that might have something to do with it, or it might be small sample size and arbitrary endpoints. But as much as I gripe about his contract, you don’t have to be that good to beat the value on 2 years, $7-and-change million. Kendrick is striking more guys out than ever, and the difference between a 4.6 K/9 guy (2011) and a 6.4 K/9 guy (2012) is the difference between being a taxi squad guy and a decent back-end starter. We’ve been so spoiled by having eight different starting pitchers post good seasons since 2008–three of whom made Cy Young noise–that I think we lose a little bit of perspective. A guy who can throw 180 innings with a 4.50 ERA and never get hurt isn’t that bad out of the back of a rotation, and if Kendrick can be that, we should be happy.

@JonCheddar: “what is your opinion of the best movie line ever? Non- “You Knew Marcus Aurelius?” division, obviously”

Gladiator has a bunch of them. This is a tough question. Anything Malcolm Tucker says in In the Loop  has to be up there, because anytime you create a political farce as an excuse for a skinny Scottish man to yell at people for 90 minutes, you’re going to have some good lines. Ocean’s Eleven has a few good ones, as well, but most of those are the Clooney/Pitt back-and-forth. I’m also a big fan of the “Fuck me? Fuck you, you redneck sonofabitch!” from Primary Colors.

But the line that popped into my head is from Serenity. You’ll find funnier lines, or even more emotionally significant lines in that film, and compared to the entire Firefly oeuvre, it doesn’t stick out. But “No more running. I aim to misbehave,” always resonated with me. I’m not sure why.

@treblaw: “if this season were a rock opera, what songs would be featured to tell the story?”

I hate jukebox musicals. Whenever you twist the plot and characters to fit the songs, your plot and characters will suffer. Glee found this out in a hurry, as did Across the Universe, the Ludovico Treatment of 21st century cinema.

But for the Phillies, we have the following:

We end with some topical humor.

@Billy_Yeager: “Who would you put in an invisible chair and what would you ask them?”

I’d like to put Ruben Amaro in an invisible chair and I’d like to ask him to stay there and not move until the Phillies find a better general manager.

@bxe1234: “Are you more or less likely to see the new Eastwood baseball flic now that we know he has dimentia?”

No. I wasn’t going to see a movie about a nasty old man who’s unable to adapt to the changing world around him before and I’m certainly not going to see it now. In case you were wondering, this is what he’s talking about:

I don’t really enjoy watching cranky old people do anything, and the combination of lionizing old-school baseball, what looks like a ham-fisted love story between two actors I actually like and the involvement of the Atlanta Braves…well those three things constitute three strikes.

Have a happy Labor Day weekend. Save me a burger and a beer wherever you wind up grilling–I will return and you do not know the day or the hour.

Despite Hustle Concerns, Rollins Still Among Elite

Jimmy Rollins found himself back in the headlines again yesterday when he once more did not go 100% down the first base line on what should have been a routine out. With the Phillies clinging to a 3-2 lead over the New York Mets in the bottom of the sixth inning in the series finale, Rollins hit one of his patented infield pop-ups. Four Mets — pitcher Jonathon Niese, first baseman Ike Davis, second baseman Daniel Murphy, and third baseman David Wright — converged towards the pitchers mound. It seemed as if Niese assumed one of his infielders would grab it, so he did not take charge. Instead, everyone backed off and Niese made a last-second attempt to snag the sinking pop-up, but to no avail. The ball dropped and Rollins was safe at first base. However, had he been busting it down the line, he may have ended up at second, though there was certainly no guarantee.

After the inning ended, manager Charlie Manuel took Rollins out of the game for pinch-hitter Laynce Nix. Michael Martinez eventually went out to Rollins’ spot at shortstop. Immediately, the hot issue we thought had deflated was blowing up again. Rollins refused to speak to the media after the game, and immediately the Internet and talk radio was abuzz with criticism of the shortstop. Having addressed the issue and its sociological impact previously, I don’t wish to broach that subject at this time. I would, however, like to remind Phillies fans that Rollins hasn’t had anything close to a bad 2012 as many seem to think when they criticize the franchise shortstop.

Rollins’ triple-slash line, at .243/.303/.407 does not seem impressive, and for a lead-off hitter, the on-base percentage could use some improvement. And his propensity to hit infield pop-ups isn’t charming, either as he leads the league with 42, nine ahead of Zack Cozart and J.J. Hardy in second place. Shortstop, though, is an offensively-light position, so his .710 OPS is actually slightly above the league average .697. In terms of wOBA, his .313 mark hovers above the .301 league average. The power has been the main contributor as his .164 isolated power is the highest it has been since 2009, not coincidentally his last full, healthy season.

While the leg injuries he suffered in previous seasons have affected his agility and mobility, he is still among the best defensive shortstops in baseball. Between 2010-12, which includes two injury-plagued seasons, Rollins compiled a 6.9 UZR/150 over 3,000 defensive innings, meaning that he made about seven plays more than the average shortstop over 150 defensive games. And it’s worth remembering that shortstop is one of the most defensively-demanding positions on the diamond this side of the catcher.

The other big part of Rollins’ game, understated lately, has been his base running. He is 24-for-29 stealing bases this year (83 percent) and even went 47-for-56 (84 percent) in 2010-11 combined. He has been a net positive in all five areas Baseball Prospectus considers when cobbling together their Base Running Runs statistic: base stealing, advancement on ground balls, advancement on fly balls, advancement on hits, and advancement on outs. He has the team lead in BRR, even ahead of noted speed demon Juan Pierre.

Putting it all together, Rollins has contributed 3.3 wins above replacement according to FanGraphs. Only Carlos Ruiz has contributed more (5.1) and the now-departed Shane Victorino sits in third place at 2.1. Among Major League shortstops, only Elvis Andrus (4.1), Ian Desmond (3.9), and Jose Reyes (3.4) have compiled more WAR this season. It’s scary to think about how much worse the Phillies would be had they instead let Rollins move elsewhere as a free agent last year and ushered in the Freddy Galvis era. The team now primed for a push above .500 might have had more in common with the Cubs and Rockies than the Mets and Diamondbacks.

Rollins’ perceived lack of hustle will be a persistent topic of conversation in the coming days, but make no mistake that few players give as much effort on a daily basis than Rollins, whose uniform is frequently dirty from diving for ground balls in the hole, or sliding to avoid a tag on a stolen base attempt. And in denigrating his so-called lack of hustle, many will attempt to write off Rollins’ season as a failure, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. At the ripe age of 33, Rollins still ranks among baseball’s elite shortstops and is a major reason to retain your interest in the Phillies as they play out the rest of their now-meaningless regular season schedule.

Tyler Cloyd Makes MLB Debut (.gifs!)

After much anticipation, 25-year-old Tyler Cloyd made his Major League debut last night against the New York Mets. Listed at 6’3″, 190, the right-hander accrued a 15-1 record with a 2.26 ERA between Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley — much of it coming with the latter team. Although he never showed a great ability to miss bats, he showed marked improvement last year, jumping from Clearwater to Reading, and again this year in taking yet another big leap upward in the Phillies’ system.

Cloyd’s opportunity arose after Vance Worley‘s disappointing start on Tuesday night in the series opener. Having been diagnosed with loose bodies in his elbow previously, Worley was battling through the ailment but wasn’t having much success. Since the start of July, Worley posted a 5.80 ERA in 11 starts spanning 59 innings with significantly fewer strikeouts. The Phillies and Worley agreed that shutting him down was the best option, and they announced yesterday he will be having surgery on that elbow shortly. Thus, Cloyd was immediately recalled and took Cole Hamels‘ spot, who had come down with a stomach sickness.

Overall, Cloyd looked decent in his Major League debut. In six innings, he allowed three runs on seven hits, including a two-run home run by Lucas Duda, while allowing two walks and striking out five. For a look at his arsenal, click the link below to reveal a few animated .gifs.

Reveal Cloyd .gifs

Eric Longenhagen (@Longenhagen), a friend of the blog and video scout at Baseball Info Solutions, posted this detailed scouting report prior to his debut yesterday. I’d like to highlight a few of his points regarding Cloyd’s pitch usage:

Cloyd’s fastball sits in the upper 80s (86-89mph, might touch 92 tonight with the adrenaline pumping) and is mostly straight, though it does exhibit some natural cut when he locates it to his glove side.

[…] his best offering, a cutter, which he tosses in anywhere from 83-86mph.  Cloyd’s cutter moves quite a bit and he uses it as a multi-tasker even Alton Brown would be proud of.  To left handed hitters, he’ll back door it for strikes or run it in on hands to induce weak contact.  He’ll run it away from righties to garner swings and misses or throw it early in counts for called strikes.

[…]

Cloyd’s secondary stuff in underwhelming.  His curve, which has 11-5 movement and sits in the mid 70s, will flash average but it’s mostly a liability.  He didn’t work with his changeup enough for me to slap a grade on it.

In the Cloyd intro post from Ryan yesterday, he quoted Bradley Ankrom saying as much on Twitter.

Heat maps will follow, but note that because of the lack of familiarity with Cloyd, there will be some classification errors. In looking at the pitch-by-pitch data on MLB.com, they made a few errors, but overall, you should be able to get the general feel for how Cloyd works.

First, where Cloyd pitched right-handers. “Hard” generally refers to four-seam fastballs and cutters. “Soft” refers to curves and change-ups.

Cloyd against left-handed hitters:

Lefties had the most success against Cloyd last night, accounting for four of the Mets’ seven hits, including Duda’s two-run home run. Three of those hits were solid line drives, and of the six outs he recorded against lefties, five were in the air. One of Cloyd’s walks and his only hit batter were also against lefties.

Cloyd fell behind early, but it could have been attributed to the butterflies. In the first inning, he started off 1-0 against Ruben Tejada and Daniel Murphy, and he went to 3-0 on Ike Davis before battling back to 3-2 and eventually surrendering a line drive single. He did much better getting ahead in the second inning, starting 0-1 or inducing a first-pitch swing to four of the six batters he faced. It continued in the third against five of the seven batters he faced.

Cloyd made heavy use of his cutter throughout the game, as CSN’s Leslie Gudel noted:

twitter.com/lesliegudel/status/240962013449318400

Of the 103 pitches he threw, 42 were sliders (41 percent). Here’s a look at where he threw them:

In last night’s game, Mets hitters collectively posted a .353 wOBA against Cloyd’s cutter, but it is of course just one game consisting of a sample of 42 pitches. Still, though, expectations should be tempered. The Minor League record and ERA were impressive, but pitchers like Cloyd (right-handed with low fastball velocity and an inability to miss bats) tend not to have sustained success at the Major League level. I think Kevin Goldstein has it right:

twitter.com/Kevin_Goldstein/status/240838186392252417

Graph of the Intermittent Time Period

The graph above charts the number of pitches Roy Halladay has thrown at each velocity along the spectrum in which his cutter and sinker sit, from 2009-2011. On top of that, colored lines indicate his average velocity for the two pitches for the entirety of 2012 (yellow), his pre-DL stint (red), and his post-DL stint (blue).

This is another way of visualizing what we already know, but I thought it was worth looking at. While Halladay’s results have been undeniably better since his return (in particular, his strikeout to walk ratio has jumped back up to a Doc-ian 7.5), the underlying issue hasn’t necessarily been fixed. By itself, the fact that his velocity is lower after the DL stint shouldn’t be sounding any alarms. Splitting up the sample like this in the first place is nudging us toward Mike Fast no-no territory. More importantly, though, it’s only natural to expect flagging velocity when you drop a 6 week rehab period into the middle of a 35 year-old veteran starter’s season. Still, it would be comforting to the more worry-prone of us to see some immediate improvement, if only for the assurance that next season will be another 200 or so innings of the usual Doc.

There is also the possibility that the nagging lat injury is hampering Roy’s command. In comparison to previous seasons, Halladay has had problems getting his cutter down and in against left-handed batters, and his sinker down and in against right-handed batters (click for larger):

In the case of the cutter, lefties in 2012 are chasing less (21.1% in 2012 to 33.3% in 2011, putting it in play more (47.9% to 44.2%), and managing a .336 wOBA as compared to .209 in 2011. For the sinker, righties in 2012 are swinging more (49% to 43.1%), missing less (6.8% to 13.9%), and posting a .309 wOBA as compared to .219 in 2011. In all of these cases we’re talking about a sample of around 500 pitches, and we can’t say for sure that it’s linked to his back issues, but it’s not a comforting picture. Given where the Phillies are in the standings, having just decided against pushing Vance Worley any further, it’s still worth considering the merits of giving Halladay the extra rest, in the effort to dial his velocity back up to previous levels by opening day of 2013.

Phillies Call Up Tyler Cloyd

September has arrived a few days ahead of schedule. Fresh off of winning the International League’s Most Valuable Pitcher award and being named to the league’s postseason All-Star team, 25 year-old right-hander Tyler Cloyd has been called up to start in place of Cole Hamels, who is suffering from a stomach bug.

The Phillies’ 18th round pick from 2008 has dominated IL competition in 22 starts, posting a 2.35 ERA over 142 innings pitched. This is despite a precipitous drop in strikeout rate associated with his transition to AAA baseball; he’s whiffed a career-low 16.9% of the hitters he’s faced in 2012, compared to 23% in his near-equally successful stint with Reading in 2011. His walk and home run rates have also more than doubled, but his outcomes obviously haven’t suffered for it. Baseball Prospectus writer and Crashburn Alley cohort Bradley Ankrom summarized him thusly:

twitter.com/BradleyAnkrom/status/240841903652888576
twitter.com/BradleyAnkrom/status/240842207022702592

Kevin Goldstein added that Cloyd had “not much stuff,” but “tons of moxie, chance to settle [as a fifth starter].” Cloyd’s fringy fastball is supplemented by a change up and a curve, neither of which appear to have raised any eyebrows in the scouting world. In lieu of stuff, Cloyd reportedly can locate — Baseball America rated him as having the best control of the International League for 2012.

Hamels will presumably be back for his next start, unless we’re talking about F. buski, but even so, Cloyd may still have a shot at remaining with the big league club. The Phillies’ starting rotation isn’t exactly in dire need of reinforcement, having endured Roy Halladay’s back issues, Cliff Lee’s misfortune, and Joe Blanton’s departure and still leading the league in xFIP and SIERA (3.57 in both cases). But Vance Worley, who is having trouble missing bats and is coming off of an abortive 4 and 1/3rd inning, 4 runs allowed outing against the Mets last night, may be facing a premature shutdown. He was diagnosed in May with loose bodies in the elbow, and while doctors have assured him their removal can wait until the offseason, the Phillies are out of playoff contention and stand to lose little by moving up the procedure and slotting Cloyd in his stead.

Even failing that, Cloyd, by all accounts, profiles to be a serviceable swing man or long reliever, and could find some footing in that role as the season winds down. Hopefully we’ve learned enough by now to dial back our expectations knob from “baby ace” to “hey, a cheap fifth starter, neat.” And hopefully this profile is familiar enough to the front office that we won’t be griping about how much he’s making in arbitration a few years from now, or, say, giving him 2 years, $7.5 million. Hopefully.

UPDATE As you’d have guessed:

twitter.com/philaphillies/status/240883112249286657

On The Future of Baseball Research

Earlier this morning, Adam Felder and Seth Amitin posted, in part, the results of a much-awaited study on the potential understated bias of the language of baseball television coverage at The Atlantic. When I made my thoughts on the subject clear here a few days ago, I was wishing desperately that this study had already been published, but now that it has, you can go read a little empirical justification for that thesis.

I don’t know Felder at all, and my interactions with Amitin have been limited to trading Dodgers jokes on the internet, so I’m not saying this out of a desire to pump up a friend, but you need to read that article. It’s important not only because of what it says, but because it represents of an underserved portion of baseball writing.

Most of you probably know this about me, but I spent three years as a political science grad student, and in that time I probably learned more about statistics, game theory and research methods than I actually did about politics, but I learned a great deal about what separates actual research from conjecture and speculation.

I think one of the best things about the advanced analytics movement in baseball is that it’s brought the rigor of social science research to sportswriting. It’s not perfect, but the average baseball fan knows way more about how to read statistics than he or she did ten or even three years ago. We’re slowly stamping out falsehoods based on preconceived notions whose factual underpinnings are either obsolete or nonexistent, and the positive effects of this movement cannot be overstated.

As scouting information gets democratized, as we debunk concepts like “clutch” and “small ball,” we’re replacing mythology with empirical study. I think this is, in part, why many former athletes and traditional sports media personalities hate advanced metrics and bloggers–they know the mythology and we’re killing God, so to speak. As someone who believes religion and science can co-exist in the real world, I think that creates a false choice when it comes to baseball, but that’s another story.

So why is this study so important? Because it’s empirical baseball research based on something other than game data. You can find enormous amounts of research based on game statistics, pitch f/x and BIS coding. And as much is out there, and as many conclusions as have been drawn by the public, you can bet that teams have even more.

But where we’re lacking, in my mind, is in qualitative analysis. Felder and Amitin’s study is still qualitative, but it’s based on coding of commentary, not box scores. That’s how we’re going to effect change–if media analysis is backed up with large-sample data from which we can draw meaningful conclusions.

Now, this study isn’t perfect. Even if all the concerns I have about their methodology (which is detailed in the post enough for a magazine article but not for a work of social science) are unfounded, what happens when you expand the sample? Or when you turn your attention to print media? Pre-game and post-game analysis? I buy the basic premise (partially, I fear, because I believed in their conclusions before the study), but it raises more questions than it answers. Which is kind of the point–you want knowledge that’s going to generate more knowledge.

So why don’t we have more work like this? Well, it’s absolutely not cost-effective. Game data leads to research that’s either valuable commercially (to ESPN, FanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus or whoever) or competitively to a team. But the only kind of qualitative data or media data that’s valuable (that we know of) is scouting data, and as much as I respect people who can evaluate young players and write coherently about them, I don’t think we’re drawing any scientifically rigorous conclusions there.

On the other hand, doing this kind of research right is expensive (it took upwards of $3,000 to fund this study) and requires people who know what they’re doing. As often as not, those people are doing real social science instead, or their work is stuck in academic journals and either unavailable to the public or off the beaten path. Make no mistake, it exists, but its effects aren’t showing up in places the average baseball fan is going to see it. I’m not sure what the solution is, but even though baseball produces more and better numbers than any other sport, we shouldn’t restrict serious baseball research to what we can count.

The Kevin Frandsen Illusion

Kevin Frandsen went 2-for-4 with two singles in yesterday’s series finale with the Washington Nationals, raising his average to .351 in his short time in Philadelphia. Spending all of 2011 with Triple-A Lehigh Valley and brandishing a career 68 OPS+ in his 626 Major League PA, the 30-year-old agreed to another Minor League contract with the Phillies, hoping to perform well enough to earn a promotion. He did just that, hitting .302 in 418 PA with the Iron Pigs, and the Phillies added him to the roster at the end of July. Since then, he has been one of the Phillies’ most productive players along with Erik Kratz.

I covered Frandsen briefly in a post on Wednesday, and Baumann did the same on Friday, but he is causing quite a stir and I figure explaining his performance is worth its own post.

As you may infer from his high batting average, Frandsen is sitting on a sky-high BABIP as well: .364. His career average BABIP is .272. While hitters have a lot more control over their BABIP than pitchers, they are still prone to the single-season flukes. Of the eight qualified MLB hitters with a .360 or higher BABIP in 2011, seven of them had a lower BABIP in 2012.

Name ’11 BABIP ’12 BABIP DIFF
Michael Young .367 .295 .072
Hunter Pence .361 .296 .065
Adrian Gonzalez .380 .327 .053
Emilio Bonifacio .372 .325 .047
Alex Avila .366 .322 .044
Miguel Cabrera .365 .325 .040
Michael Bourn .369 .361 .008
Matt Kemp .380 .387 -.007

In 2010, only four MLB hitters had a .360 or better BABIP: Austin Jackson, .396; Josh Hamilton, .390; Carlos Gonzalez, .384; and Joey Votto, .361. Each regressed the following year: Jackson, .340; Hamilton, .317; Gonzalez, .326; and Votto, .349. So you can bet on most if not all of the players at the top of the hitter BABIP leaderboard to regress the following year, Frandsen included.

Relative to his career averages, Frandsen hasn’t changed his batted ball splits all that much. The big difference is he has hit 7.5 percent fewer fly balls and six percent more line drives. The latter fall for hits about 60 percent more often than the former, so that’s explains a lot of Frandsen’s BABIP. But he’s also been lucky on fly balls and ground balls too.

 BABIP LD FB GB
2012 .688 .250 .267
Career .624 .128 .208
NL 2012 .712 .139 .236

If he had his career average BABIP this season rather than .364, he would have two fewer line drive hits, three fewer fly ball hits, and two fewer ground ball hits for a total of seven fewer hits. That would drive his average from .351 all the way down to .252, which says a lot about his luckiness but also about the small sample — 103 plate appearances.

It isn’t like Frandsen has suddenly made incredibly good contact with a majority of the pitches he’s swung at, either. Most of the balls he is putting in play are in front of the outfielders as his hit chart illustrates:

The idea of Frandsen at third base in 2013 has been thrown around a lot lately, but his production thus far is almost entirely a fluke and very unlikely to be repeated next year. He will go back to being a guy with an OPS in the mid-.600’s and the Phillies will still be left looking for a legitimate third baseman. Placido Polanco‘s combined OPS in 2011-12, by the way, is .658. He and his Gold Glove-caliber defense have a $5.5 million mutual option just begging to be picked up in the face of an abhorrent free agent class.

Hopelessness and You

The Phillies are on a four-game winning streak coming off of a three-game series sweep of the Washington Nationals at home, just their second sweep of the season. They may be 16.5 games out of first place in the NL East, but they are 9.5 games back of the second Wild Card. With memories of the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals, who memorably went on a late-season rampage into and through the post-season, Phillies fans are finding a small glimmer of hope in what has long been considered a failure of a season.

If you will, allow me to be a wet blanket. Baseball Prospectus still has the Phillies’ playoff odds at zero percent and they haven’t had a non-zero chance since July 26. After the division-leading Washington Nationals, Cincinnati Reds, and San Francisco Giants, there are four teams with significant playoff chances eyeing either of the two Wild Card slots beyond their division crown: the Atlanta Braves (87 percent), St. Louis Cardinals (63 percent), Los Angeles Dodgers (46 percent), and the Pittsburgh Pirates (25 percent). Two other teams have a small but non-zero shot: the Arizona Diamondbacks (3 percent) and the Milwaukee Brewers (0.1 percent).

Here’s a look at the standings:

Team W L PCT WCGB WCE # G Left
ATL 73 55 .570 - - 34
STL 70 57 .551 - - 35
LAD 69 59 .539 1.5 34 34
PIT 68 59 .535 2.0 34 35
ARI 64 64 .500 6.5 29 34
PHI 61 67 .477 9.5 26 34
MIL 59 67 .468 10.5 26 36
NYM 59 69 .461 11.5 24 34
SDP 59 70 .457 12.0 23 33
MIA 58 71 .450 13.0 22 33

The Phillies would have to topple all but one of those teams just for a shot at a one-game Wild Card playoff. They are 61-67 now, and let’s assume that 89 wins gets you in the second spot since the Cardinals’ .551 winning percentage yields 89 wins over 162 games. The Phillies would need to win 28 of their remaining 34 games, an .824 winning percentage. Even the red-hot 2011 Cardinals, to which many point as evidence of hope for the Phillies, went 18-8 in September, a meager .692 winning percentage. In 2007, the Phillies impossibly went 13-4 to close the season and steal the division crown from the New York Mets, yielding a .765 winning percentage. Just to have a realistic shot at making the playoffs, the Phillies would have to go on a historically-great month-long run.

But wait, that’s not all. All but one of the teams ahead of the Phillies would have to falter, finishing at 88 wins or below. Let’s assume the 73-55 Braves get the first spot. That means that the Cardinals would have to win no more than 18 of their remaining 35 games, the Dodgers 19 of 34, the Pirates 20 of 35, and the Diamondbacks 24 of 34. Additionally, none of the teams behind the Phillies could go on a historically-great run either, with the Brewers and Mets maxing out at 29 remaining wins. So you’re betting on the Phillies winning at least 82 percent of their games and the Cardinals less than 52 percent, Dodgers 56 percent, Pirates 58 percent, and the Diamondbacks 71 percent. You’d have a better time trying to make four of a kind on the river in Texas Hold’em.

It’s great that the Phillies have found their way up to third place in the division while rattling off three separate winning streaks of at least three games since August 12 (going 10-5 in the process), but it is too little, too late. They fell too far behind early, particularly with a 9-19 June that caused them to sell on Shane Victorino, Hunter Pence, and Joe Blanton. Besides, even if the Phillies were to somehow win a Wild Card spot, they would simply be put into a one-game playoff that is essentially a coin flip. And then if the Phillies won that, they would have to beat a team like the Reds, Giants, Dodgers, or Nationals, a tall task despite the recently-completed three-game sweep of the Nationals. It will be a while until the Phillies face mathematical elimination, but they are for all intents and purposes practically eliminated.

Crash Bag, Vol. 16: Very Little Baseball, Lots of Digressions

Ding-dong-string-strong-bing-bong:

I was thinking the other day about how funny I thought Homestar Runner was back in the day. Then I started thinking about how only a very special set of very nerdy people born between, say…1984 and 1989 probably even know what that is. [EDIT: A bunch of people born before 1984, led by All-Pro commenter LTG, have written to management to express their displeasure at my insinuation that people born before 1984 wouldn’t know Homestar Runner. This is not the case. I was wrong, and I apologize.] Which is so bizarre. For me, there are at least three  Strong Bad Emails (the real gold standard in mailbag columns, whatever you may say about Katie Baker or Drew Magary) that are still indelibly part of the public lexicon: techno, dragon, and death metal. Maybe more depending on your own experience. But then I realized that there are college students who don’t remember the Clinton presidency.

This isn’t so much about me feeling old as it is a statement on how internet culture has taken the process of pop culture obsolescence and given it a big heaping spoonful of methamphetamine. So while some pop culture fads stuck around for years, now they fade into distant memory after a few weeks. Or so it seems to me, at least. I could be completely off-base. This was mostly an excuse to work Strong Bad into the post, so I’ll stop screwing around now.

But if I’m right, I have some good news: at this rate, we’re, like, 6 months away from forgetting Danys Baez ever existed at all.

Here I go once again with the email. Every week, I hope it’s from a female.

Chris (via email, edited slightly for formatting): “First time, long time.. my question is about how the SS/3B lineup construction could look next year. 

  • Option A: SS: Jimmy Rollins/3B: Poo poo platter of Frandsen/Polanco or some other slightly above average option available vs. 
  • Option B: SS: Galvis 3B: David Wright
 Assume you could unload Jimmy (and all his salary) and sign Wright at a standard RAJ overpay (~20 million a year). How would you evaluate Option A vs. Option B? Assume that Jimmy would have a “rebound” year and the poo poo platter at 3B would give you a solid combined ~3 WAR for the year. 
 
Thank you very much. If this is a crappy question please let me know. I’d prefer not to ask bad questions in the future.”

Aww, man, not from a female. Actually, “Chris” could be a girl, as in Chris Evert, who I must confess is still rather attractive in my mind even as she approaches 60. What were we talking about again?

Oh, yeah, the left side of the infield next year. It’s not a crappy question, and I like your creative thinking. However, I don’t think this is a realistic one-or-the-other choice, the first of which is cost. Rollins makes $11 million next year, and if you keep Galvis and sign two scrub third basemen to minor league and/or ML minimum deals (whether they’re Placido Polanco and Kevin Frandsen or Placido Domingo and Jonathan Franzen doesn’t matter to me), that totals about $13 million for a starting shortstop, a capable defensive backup in Galvis, even if he can’t hit, and 650 plate appearances’ worth of taxi squad dreck at third. Figure a shade under 4 fWAR for Rollins (which is what he did last year and what he’s on pace for this year), and maybe a win or two between Galvis (who, for all his defense still can’t hit worth a damn) and the Tibble Twins at third. So let’s call it somewhere between four and six fWAR for that left side of the infield.

Compare that to what you’d pay for Wright, who’s making $15 million this year and is likely in for a substantial raise. Given the paucity of options at third base leaguewide and the sorry state of the position (Polanco is over replacement level, thanks in large part to his defense, but he still goes months between extra-base hits and has a .278 wOBA), we might expect to pay $20 million a year or even more. Add in another million to split between Galvis and a backup and option B could cost as much as $10 million a year more than option A. $10 million next year goes a long way. Even $8 million could get you B.J. Upton (my choice for free agent center fielder) from the knees up or so. So it’s not Rollins/Galvis/3B mystery meat vs. Wright/Galvis. It’s Rollins/Galvis/3B mystery meat/Upton or Pagan vs. Wright/Galvis/Mayberry/bench bat (if it’s Upton and not Pagan). And if you’re signing Wright long-term, you’re probably getting a legitimate MVP candidate for now, but you’re also committing north of $20 million AAV to a guy with longstanding injury issues through his mid-to-late-30s. In a vacuum, I don’t think that would put me off of paying Wright big completely, but it’s just another thing that can go wrong.

Another thing: Frandsen is a replacement-level player, no matter how much everyone here (including me) has enjoyed his recent play. I’m more inclined to believe in the taxi squad player he’s been up to this season than to build my church upon the rock of 85 plate appearances at age 30. I mean, he’s had a great month, thanks to a BABIP 100 points above his career mark, but counting on him to be anything more than replacement-level next season would be foolish in the extreme.

Which is okay with me. Third base and shortstop are kind of weak positions in major league baseball at the moment, with a few stars at the top, then, to quote Ryan Sommers at his literary finest, “batless fleck of roster garbage.” Among such garbage you’ll find Frandsen, Mike Fontenot, the remains of Placido Polanco and the rest of the guys who either have or would have played third base for the Phillies this year. They will all produce roughly the same: replacement level or close to it, and if they don’t, you can cut them and find someone who will.

Anyway, because there are so few top-notch third basemen–or even average third basemen–production at that position is harder to come by than at, say, first base, where good major league hitters like Ryan Howard and Adam LaRoche are mid-level models. It stands to reason that when something is scarce (like a good third baseman), the price of the commodity goes up. Likewise, when a commodity is plentiful (good outfielders, good first basemen), the price goes down. This is why the Twins are paying only $7 million a year for Josh Willingham‘s .384 wOBA while Yuniesky Betancourt continues to do baseball-like things for major league teams. I don’t know this for sure, since I’m not an economist or anything, but I think I heard someone say something like this once and it seems to make sense.

Anyway, why pay big for production where it’s most expensive (third base) when you can punt the position and get cheaper production elsewhere? This is why paying Ryan Howard so much money is so stupid, and it’s why I think Bill is completely out of his mind to want the Phillies to trade for Chase Headley as badly as he does. So I’ll take Rollins at short, the White Stripes at third and a decent center fielder over David Wright.

IF YOU’VE ZONED OUT ALREADY COME BACK IN HERE

The previous several hundred words are useless because the Mets have an option for next season on Wright that I have to think they’ll exercise. So in all likelihood the Phillies will go into 2013 with either Headley or the cast of Dawson’s Creek at third base, or they’ll overpay some graybeard who hasn’t been good in five years, in which case I’ll start buying up canned goods. Not to eat in case of the end of the world, but so I can bash them against my forehead until my brain has turned to apple butter and the baseball doesn’t hurt so much anymore.

So when the Phillies sign Brandon Inge to a two-year, $10 million contract in December, make sure you beat me to the supermarket.

@JossMurdoch: “Is Dom Brown Great or just Wonderful?”

He is, isn’t he? Scalded three balls last night, though it would have been a cherry on top to see him drive in the winning run. But my favorite Dom Brown sequence came on Wednesday, when he lost a ball in the lights for a Jay Bruce triple, then, moments later, caught a fly ball down the line and unleashed the ultimate “screw you and go to hell” throw to nail a tagging Bruce at the plate. A GIF can be found here. My Domblywombles is growing up and it’s very exciting indeed.

@Sainthubbins: “Phillies as star trek characters.”

Big question. Surely someone must have a suggestion.

@PhilliesDoll: “So if we’re comparing Star Trek with the Phillies, would Chris Wheeler’s hairpiece be a tribble?”

No, on second thought, let’s not do this question.

@TonyMcIV: “Who should manage The Phillies in 2013?”

Charlie Manuel. I presume the alternative is Ryne Sandberg in this case, because everyone seems to want Sandberg on the Phillies’ bench as soon as possible before another team snaps him up. I can’t help but feel that the sole reason for Sandberg’s enthusiasm is his spectacular playing career. I do have few comments on that.

First of all, we have absolutely no idea how Sandberg would be as a manager. In fact, most managers were horrific players. Sandberg would be the first Hall of Famer since Frank Robinson (I’m pretty sure but don’t have the motivation to check, so if I’m wrong let me know) to manage full-time in the major leagues, and, along with Kirk Gibson and Don Mattingly, one of only three former MVPs. That’d be pretty cool, but would it be wise?

In sports, I generally think that the most important quality a manager or coach has is the quality of his team. All other considerations are secondary. As Phillies fans who watched Terry Francona stumble through three seasons here, then go to Boston and start manufacturing World Series titles like it was nothing, we know this better than most.

Apart from that, I see two general qualities in a good coach: man-management and in-game tactics. We know Charlie Manuel isn’t a good in-game tactician, which doesn’t hurt as much as it might have if half or more of the current MLB field managers weren’t worse. However, he won five division titles in a row, plus two pennants and a World Series, by not only having good teams, but, by all accounts, being a very competent leader of men. Not only that, but the tactical element matters less in baseball than perhaps any other major team sport. The coach doesn’t call plays as in football, he makes fewer substitutions than in ice hockey or basketball and unlike in soccer, there is only one formation to use and generally only one style of play, and most of the in-game tactical moves you can make (bunting, bullpen overuse) are actively destructive.

So how will Sandberg do? I don’t know. I don’t know how he’ll handle a major league roster and I don’t know if he’ll be a good tactical manager. And you can’t judge by what he’s done with the Iron Pigs, because minor league managers aren’t out there to win games so much as develop players. Sandberg is a total question mark as a manager, no matter how good he was as a player. Either he’ll be one of those ex-jocks who’s so unaccustomed to failure that he’ll overmanage or he’ll be one of those ex-jocks who knows when to stay hands-off. It remains to be seen.

It appears that the organization thinks highly of Sandberg and that he is the heir presumptive to the manager’s seat, so I’m fine with giving him a chance when the time comes. But there’s absolutely no evidence–particularly in his playing record–that Sandberg will be a better manager than Manuel.

Oh, and let’s stop pretending that if Sandberg manages the Phillies it will somehow validate the Bowa-DeJesus trade.

@Framed_Ace: “So we know your feelings on last year’s first pick but can we at least all agree that Jessie Biddle is pretty fantastic?”

I will so stipulate. Jesse Biddle looks like he could be a good major league pitcher, which makes me happy.

Biddle’s a nice prospect. I’m all for accumulating big, left-handed guys who throw hard, particularly if they were local kids who grew up as Phillies fans. Though I’d rather the Phillies had extended the same courtesy to Mike Trout.

OH. And that reminds me. Go impale yourself on a pine tree, Yankees fans who think that the Yankees are somehow entitled to have Trout if and when he reaches free agency and assume that just because he’s from New Jersey, he grew up a Yankee fan.

Guess what, there’s an entire half of the state made up of people who 1) grew up either reading Philly papers and cheering for Philly sports teams or 2) live so deep in the pine barrens they’re unfamiliar with concepts like “baseball” and “New York” and “sleeves.” I can’t stand New York. Is it enormous? Yes. Is it the center of American commerce? Yes, if you’re sure that’s a good thing and insofar as in the age of the internet and online banking we need a commercial center. Are you somehow better off for purposely paying exorbitant prices to share tiny apartments to live in a dirty, noisy city that’s so overcrowded that if everyone came out of the buildings at the same time there wouldn’t be room for them on the streets?

There’s a lot of fiction nowadays that I would enjoy a lot more if it weren’t so smugly ossified into a sad, insular mindset in which Manhattan is the center of the universe and the only part of the world worth inhabiting. I’m looking at you, The Good Life by Jay McInerney, and Friends With Kids and How I Met Your Mother. Oh, are you moving to *gasp* Long Island? Oh, my word! You might as well be moving to Mogadishu!

How can anyone survive outside Manhattan Island? How *ever* will you cope without the traffic, the taxes, the racial tension, the overcrowding, the absurd cost of living? Isn’t it worth it to sacrifice financial security and comfort for the ability to feel smug about yourself based on where you live?

If you need that, that’s fine, but I want you to know you’re being had by a Rube Goldberg machine of self-aggrandizement. One day, everyone’s going to wake up, realize the emperor has new clothes and move down South like sane people, where they’ll enjoy personal space for the first time. And when that happens, I will not help you move. Screw you, your pretentiousness and self-entitlement, and the horse you would have ridden in on if there were enough space on the sidewalk to fit a horse.

I hope that answers your question.

@Living4Laughs: “At some level Mini Mart had to be good at baseball. What do you think he was good at(running, hitting, ect.)?”

Yes, he must have been. Even a major league ballplayer as obviously and pervasively bad as Michael Martinez is in the top tenth of a percent of all baseball players in the world. For all the complaining I do about him, it’s important to keep that perspective from time to time.

I imagine, given his size, position and ability to switch-hit, he was viewed as sort of a speed-and-defense guy at more suitable levels, though the dude is absolutely ripped. It seems like he should be one of those short, compact pull power guys, like Matt Stairs, who hits 25 home runs and strikes out 150 times a year. Maybe the Phillies should retool his swing and approach and see what they’ve got there. It’s not like he could get any worse.

@mferrier31: “Why does it seem Johny Cueto is under rated, and how good over the past few years has he actually been?”

Well it seems that way because he is. I think there are a few reasons:

  • We sort of figured him as one of those prospects who had kind of stopped short of his potential back in 2008 and 2009. Once that image was settled, it would take the kind of performance he’s shown since the start of 2011 to unseat the previous conventional wisdom.
  • He’s always been overshadowed by bigger names: Edinson Volquez and Mat Latos, or at least guys like Homer Bailey and Mike Leake who have gotten more press despite not really being better pitchers.
  • Even though he’s second in the majors in adjusted ERA over the past two seasons, I don’t know that we’re all buying his renaissance because of BABIP luck last year and strand rate luck this year. He’s still outperforming his peripherals by a lot.
  • The Reds, despite having been very good since 2010, don’t get a ton of coverage. I don’t know why. There’s probably something to the East Coast/AL bias bogeyman, but I neither know nor care to know the whole story.
  • Ballplayers who kick other ballplayers in the head tend not to get a lot of good press.

@SoMuchForPathos: “Say you had the combined time of the last two PHI-CIN games you attended. What’s the most grandiose thing you can do, personally?”

I’ve seen the Cincinnati Reds in person twice: once last night and once last May, when they went 19 innings and Wilson Valdez was the winning pitcher. I was terrified when the Phillies couldn’t break through in the 8th or 9th that the game was going to go 19 innings again and, considering that it took them almost four hours to even play nine innings, I would be at CBP until dawn. Last night was fun, but it was also really really tedious at times.

Anyway, those two games totaled 30 innings and 10 hours, 35 minutes official time between them. I believe that given that time I could probably, but not certainly, run a 5K. I could probably make 5 or 6 batches of chili. I could, if I really put my mind to it, write about 10,000 words’ worth of glib baseball analysis. That’s about three Crash Bags, give or take, or 20 percent of your average Kurt Vonnegut novel.

Or I could do what we all know I would actually do–watch Spy Game five times, eat a bag of Tostitos Hint of Lime chips and consume a gallon and a half of Wawa iced tea.

These are exciting times at Crashburn Alley–Paul Boye returns to the blog with an examination of Tony No-Dad and Bill GIFs some gaffes. Cherish them, because in coming days I’ll be expanding the jurisdiction of the monkfish of justice. Enjoy your freedom while it lasts, and enjoy your weekend.