Crash Bag, Vol. 13: White Flannel Trousers

Credit where credit’s due: I think Ruben Amaro did the right thing this past week. I know everyone loved Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence (and by “everyone” I mean largely teenage girls) but it takes serious balls to trade away one of the signature players of the best period of success in franchise history, as well as arguably the team’s best offensive player outside of Carlos Ruiz. No matter how bad the team is this season.

Let’s think about that for a second. Carlos Ruiz is the best bat on the Phillies this season, and Hunter Pence was No. 2. If I were a time-traveler and went back to 2008 to tell you that Carlos Ruiz would be, by far, the Phillies’ best hitter in 2012, and that Hunter Pence would be the second-best hitter, how many games would you say this team would win? 30? 40?

Though let’s be honest, if I were a time traveler, the last thing I would do is go back in time to deliver such silly messages. I’d be too busy buying the crap out of Google stock back in the late 1990s.

Anyway, well done, Rube, for recognizing the obvious and trading two older, expensive players for what actually looks like a decent haul of prospects. And even though I’d rather Wigginton, Blanton and Pierre had been cashiered as well, let’s not get greedy. After all, we’re dealing with a GM who excites the fan base by making an obvious correct decision.

@TonyMcIV: “After D. Brown’s throw last night, who do you think has the strongest arm in our outfield?”

Yeah, I’d say so. Victorino had a cannon for an arm…well, I suppose he still does, because he isn’t dead, he’s just moved to California. But the “Dom Brown’s Hose” phenomenon has been well-documented, particularly when compared to Juan Pierre, who, I’d wager, would be in roughly the 50th percentile of high school pitchers in the USA.

It’s interesting that the Phillies, it seems, have had more than their fair share of outfielders who have had brilliant arms recently. Victorino is famous for his, as were Jayson Werth and Bobby Abreu. Raul Ibanez had a decent arm and Pat Burrell was always among the league leaders in baserunner kills, if only because that’s the result of everyone running on him all the time. Plus Mark Whitten. I don’t know if the Phillies actually have had a lot of outfielders with good throwing arms or if I just think that’s the case because I don’t remember Marlon Byrd and Doug Glanville being completely noodle-armed.

But you’re right. Brown is an awesome athlete, including being possessed of a throwing arm reminiscent of the Paris Gun. Boy am I glad he’s up.

@ClarkePatrone: “Who is John Galt?”

As far as I can tell, a character from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, which is a massively famous book with a really awesome title that, from what I understand, attempts to justify selfishness as a philosophy of life. I’ve never read that book, though I did read The Fountainhead as a teenager. Not because I was drawn to the story or the narrative, but because it’s a book about architects, so my parents (both of whom are architects) each own a copy. That might be the only book my parents didn’t bother to pare down to one copy for the family, apart from the Bible.

Anyway, the hero of The Fountainhead is an architect named Howard Roark who, according to the novel, thinks he’s a brilliant architect, but no one else seems to think so. So he keeps designing ugly buildings and instead of recognizing his own professional failings, he thinks it’s a problem with the rest of the world. All of this is done without a trace of irony or self-awareness. This may be literally the most absurd thing I’ve ever read.

Anyway, I’ve got a dream of writing a book of essays on topics ranging from the bizarre relationship the United States seems to have with the Southeast to why Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” is the most perfectly catchy pop song ever written to a polemic on the idiocy of The Fountainhead, and the title of the whole book was going to be Howard Roark is a Bad Architect. Anyway, if any of y’all run publishing houses and find this interesting, feel free to hit me up.

And if you’re an objectivist and you think I’ve got Ayn Rand all wrong, feel free to keep that to yourself.

Anyway–BASEBALL!

@MichaelStubel: “Could someone lock Amaro in a room without a phone this off-season and let Scott Proefrock make moves?”

I’m sure someone could. Though there’s no guarantee that Proefrock would be any better a GM than Amaro. He is, however, far more likely to wear white flannel trousers and walk upon the beach. He has heard the mermaids singing, each to each. He’s like John Mayberry in that respect.

Though our next contributor finds your lack of faith disturbing.

@hdrubin: “Can you envision (and describe) a realistic offseason that enables the Phillies to be champs in 2013?”

Yes. But it’ll be less about this offseason than what breaks go their way next season. I think they have to be very judicious about where they spend their money this winter. I think they can pay for a good center fielder, but while I’d rather invest in Michael Bourn going forward than any other option (including Josh Hamilton), I really hope he’s not the guy. Bourn has pretty firmly established himself as the guy (and there’s at least one every year) that gets overpaid when the music stops and some team with money burning a hole in its pocket finds itself left without Zack Greinke. If the Phillies do spend on a center fielder, I’d rather go a little cheaper and make a run at B.J. Upton.

Apart from that, the Phillies can’t afford to spend money on middle relief and bench help. I’m looking at you, Jose Contreras and Laynce Nix. They should go ultra-cheap wherever possible and out minor-league invitations like campaign flyers on Election Day. For the price of a uniform and a hotel room, a team can possibly end up with a guy who surprises and contributes, as Juan Pierre has this season. Barring something unexpected, they need to just punt third base and accept that there is no production to be had from that position without overpaying.

They also need to keep at least some payroll in reserve so that they can pounce if the dust settles and a significant free agent, having failed to get the multi-year deal he was looking for, will settle for a one-year deal to try his luck next season. This worked extremely well for the Nationals and Edwin Jackson this past offseason, and would have been critical for the Reds if Ryan Madson hadn’t blown out his arm before throwing a pitch for them.

Beyond that, it’s all about the things that went wrong for the Phillies this season going right next year. They need Carlos Ruiz to have a good season next year, if not quite the one he’s having now. They need a full year from Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay and at least 120 games from Chase Utley. They need Domonic Brown and Phillippe Aumont to be contributors next season, and they need to assemble a bullpen of young, cheap guys who throw hard that doesn’t get lit up like the laser show at a Muse concert.

That’s a lot of ifs, even assuming the Phillies don’t do anything overtly idiotic this offseason. So yes, it can happen. But the rest depends on how you define “realistic.”

@euphronius: “Do you think the Phillies learned this year that playing bad players leads to more losses than wins? Or are they blaming injuries”

I actually think it’s fair to blame injuries, at least to a certain extent.

Maybe expecting a full season of Chase Utley is unrealistic going forward, but Ryan Howard missed almost half the season, which hurts, and Roy Halladay has either been out of the lineup hurt or pitching like someone who all of a sudden realized how old he is. Placido Polanco has been in and out of the lineup as well, which might not sound like that big a deal, but while his  So between those injuries, Cliff Lee‘s weirdness and a well-constructed bullpen working out about as badly as you might have hoped, the Phillies have cause to feel like they’ve been hard done by this season.

However, this was an object lesson in what happens when, in 2012, you construct a team entirely of players who could have voted for Al Gore for President. They slow down, they get hurt more, and eventually you find yourself completely out of one of the most wide-open National League wild card races in history. So my answer to your question is both: yes, I think they’ve learned that playing bad players is bad, and yes, I think they’re blaming injuries.

@brendankeeler: “which correlates more strongly with playoff/world series success: hitting or pitching?”

There’s an adage that pitching wins championships, or defense wins championships, but the reverse is true as well. And for clarity’s sake, I’m taking “pitching” to mean “run prevention,” which includes defense, and “hitting” to mean “offense,” which includes baserunning.

Anyway, I don’t think either one is more important than the other. You can win with more offense than run prevention, like the 2008 Phillies and 2009 Yankees, or more run prevention than offense, like the 2005 White Sox. Me? I’d rather have lots of both. I will say that you need at least a modicum of each in order to go far, because while Yankees and Phillies back in the day could both mash, it helped that the Phillies had a No. 1 starter in Cole Hamels, three other good starters and a great bullpen, and it helped that the Yankees had CC Sabathia and Mariano Rivera. Whereas in 2007, the Rockies stopped winning every game when they got to the World Series and realized their best pitcher was Jeff Francis.

I think it looks like run prevention will win you more postseason games than offense because the norm for an offense is failure, and when the offense doesn’t fail, you notice. This is based on absolutely nothing. Above all, though, you need to be hot at the right time and catch a couple breaks. Assuming you’re good enough to make the playoffs in the first place, luck is the great equalizer.

Michael (via email): “Does Chooch genuinely have a shot for MVP? It’s every night that he’s taking over the game offensively and defensively.”

No. Because lots of people still think you need to make the playoffs to be the MVP, that if your team doesn’t make the playoffs your contributions don’t have value. Which is every bit as idiotic as saying that the $100 bill I’m holding is worthless because it can’t buy me a car.

But if I had a vote, I’d go to the two main WAR leaderboards and get a general idea of who’s having the best season, then try to decide among the leaders. Because WAR is an inexact statistic, it doesn’t make sense to just go down the leaderboard and vote based on one statistic. So for differences, I’d say, of up to a win in value, I’d consider qualitative arguments. But those should be a tiebreaker, not the whole story.

Anyway, I’m staggered that a good defensive catcher with a .407 wOBA isn’t the most valuable player by WAR, but that’s attributable to a few things: first, the absurd seasons that David Wright and Andrew McCutchen are having at fairly tricky defensive positions, and second, that Ruiz, because of the demand that catching places on the body, isn’t playing as much. McCutchen has about 70 more plate appearances than Chooch, and as the season wears on, that gap will only grow. Again, whether you think catchers ought to get a little more credit because they play less is one of those qualitative decisions to make while casting a hypothetical MVP vote.

Any chance Chooch had of taking the MVP probably disappeared, however, when he developed plantar fasciitis, which, as I’ve said, sounds less like an ailment of the foot than a right-wing authoritarian farming collective. He’ll probably finish in the top 10, maybe in the top 5, but this is definitely going to be one of those stat lines we look back on in 25 years and wonder how the hell it happened.

@gvntofly1021: “How dumb was hitting for Dom last night? Or are those of us who lost our shit last night being a bunch of babies?”

It was, and you are. The whole point of bringing up Brown is to play him every day. So let him hit with the game on the line and a righty on the mound. It’s the only way to get experience. So it’s mildly frustrating when Domblywombles gets pulled back for Ryan Howard, who in addition to suffering the usual drop in effectiveness that comes with pinch hitting has been cooler than being cool in recent days.

That said, who cares? It’s one at-bat and one game in a season that’s already been lost. As long as Brown plays five or six times a week and gets three or four plate appearances a game, that’s fine by me.

@threwouttime: “honestly why the hell is mini-mart still in the majors, let alone starting? Rule 5 that sexy?”

You’ll love the forthcoming Crash Pod, which starts with me screaming my head off to no one in particular because Michael Martinez is back on the roster. And I worry, as Andy Greenwald speculated on Grantland’s Triangle podcast earlier this week, that the Phillies hitting an all-time Rule V jackpot with Shane Victorino has led them to make some questionable decisions in that area in recent years, not least of which is Mini-Mart. One might say that he’s like a bad penny, in that he keeps turning up. I prefer to think of him like a back injury, that will let you forget about it for months on end, then flares up and sends you into excruciating pain for long periods of time.

@CurseOfBenitez: “What approach should the Phillies have with respect to the draft over next 5 years? Will this differ from reality, and if so, how?”

Get guys who will become major league contributors soon. That means well-polished (read: college) position players, which I was rooting for in the past two years with Jackie Bradley and Nolan Fontana, but did not get. The Phillies seem to have a standing philosophy of swinging for the proverbial fences at all times, drafting good high school athletes. It’s not necessarily a bad strategy, because if you take enough high-risk picks, some of them will pay off and pay off big. But it’s not the one I’d choose, because it’s failed enough that the upper levels of the Phillies’ farm system are pretty much bare. It’s like they took Pat Burrell, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley in the draft and said, “You know those great young hitters we’ve been drafting? Let’s not do that anymore. In fact, let’s do precisely the opposite.”

I can only assume that they’ll stay the course. Which means that in June of 2013, I’ll have fallen in love with some SEC player who’s fallen to the Phillies and they won’t draft him, instead preferring some child who’s wandered in from the rain, somewhere in the backwoods of Arkansas. And by the time he washes out, the college guy I wanted in the first place will be in his fifth season of being on base all the time.

@CurseOfBenitez is this week’s Crash Pod guest. He’s a very funny Giants fan, so give it a listen when it comes out.

@TheBridgerBowl: “[You are] appointed world sports czar. Decides on three sports to add to and remove from the summer Olympics. What would you pick?”

This is an excellent question, not only because it allows me to imagine myself as being in charge of the world’s sports.

There is, in fact, a U.N. Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Sport for Development and Peace. Wikipedia tells me his name is Willi Lemke, thogh I don’t imagine he’s very powerful.

Anyway, the first thing I’d do is restore baseball and softball (which we’ll consider as “women’s baseball” for these purposes) to the program. International baseball is far more competitive than international basketball, and just as popular as international rugby sevens, for instance, which is coming to the program in 2016. Eliminating baseball from the Olympics was puzzling at the time, and no doubt motivated by the self-interest and anti-American sentiment of the French-speaking international sports bureaucracy. In fact, when I’m world sports czar, I’ll clean house at the IOC and FIFA and sentence Sepp Blatter to a life sentence at a Siberian labor camp.

Apart from that, the great thing about the summer Olympics is that it already has almost every sport you can imagine, so we have to go a little bit off the beaten path. Lacrosse and football aren’t truly competitive internationally, though I’d love to see another hockey-style game, either bandy or ringette, at the winter Olympics.

I think some sort of obstacle course would be really interesting on the Olympic level. Not necessarily Ninja Warrior, because part of the charm is that you compete against the course in Ninja Warrior, not the other athletes, and in the Olympics, someone has to win. But a Ninja Warrior-style obstacle course could be really cool, as would a longer obstacle course like those 5K mud runs. Either one would be a really interesting test of athleticism and would make for fascinating TV.

For my third sport, I’d take capture the flag. Can you imagine capture the flag being contested by teams of the most athletic people on the planet on a specially-designed course? Because the prospect is so awesome that I’m having a hard time processing it.

Three sports to eliminate: Equestrian. A sport nobody understands, designed for the ultra-rich, that’s barley even contested by humans. Pass. Next, fencing. I have no particular objection to fencing as a sport, but the first actual event I watched this Olympiad was a fencing match that involved an Italian woman who, after every point, took off her helmet to yell and celebrate like she’d just won the gold medal. After. Every. Point. While her opponent just stood there in the vain hope that at some point she’d stop screwing around and get the match back underway.

Not only is this behavior obnoxious, it’s the action of an athlete who’s more interested in influencing the officials than actually competing. It’s why I can’t watch FC Barcelona. Or any Italian soccer, for that matter. So while fencing is a fine sport, it goes, if for no other reason than to get this woman out of the Olympics.

The last sport to go should be women’s artistic gymnastics. It’s exploitative of underage girls, both physically and emotionally, and we really ought not to be encouraging kids to undergo what those athletes, who are among the most impressive in the world, have to undergo, particularly if, when they fail we’re going to zoom in on them crying on international TV. But I’ll keep it because the U.S. is really good at it.

Instead, I’ll eliminate table tennis. Table tennis is played in every country on Earth, but the only people who win are Chinese. It’s very important that the Americans maintain their dominance in the medal count, so this game gets the axe, if only to screw over the Chinese.

@loctastic: “what’s your preferred outfield rotation for the remainder of the season?”

Brown in right, Nix in left. I think a Mayberry/Schierholtz platoon could actually be pretty decent, and Schierholtz is a good enough defender in the corners that he might be playable in center. Maybe you keep Pierre in left, since he gets on base more than Nix. As of right now, I think Nate Schierholtz is the Phillies’ best all-around outfielder right now, so I’d play him as much as possible, and the goal of the next two months has to be to develop Dom Brown, so I’d play those two every day. I don’t really care who gets the rest of the at-bats as long as it isn’t Mini-Mart.

@Sainthubbins: “My friend keeps talking about how Victorino “stands for stupid baseball”. Help me convince him he’s dumb.”

I’m not sure I know what that means, exactly, but I think Victorino got a lot better in the past couple years at eliminating those circuitous outfield routes and becoming a more efficient baserunner. Bill James once put together a “smart player” index, using stolen base rate, defense, plate discipline and a couple other metrics to try to judge baseball IQ. I think Joe Morgan came out on top by a mile. Anyway, VICTORION isn’t Joe Morgan, but neither is he as careless and absentminded a player as he once was. At any rate, it’s not polite to speak ill of the recently-traded.

Great handle, by the way.

@SJHaack: “What is your favorite Domonic Brown twitter meme? Can you anticipate future memes about him (good or bad)?”

I know this is kind of unimaginative, but my favorite by far is “Free Dom Brown” being parsed as “Freedom Brown.” When I write my book about failed baseball prospects, I’m calling it Freedom Brown. (And again, if any of you are publishing tycoons and want to fund and publish this endeavor, my email address is at the top the page.)

As far as future memes go, I anticipate many poop jokes playing on his last name, as well as (I hope) the expansion of “Domonator” as a nickname. Beyond that, I can only say that Twitter memes are not really my forte, and that you should probably go ask Danger Guerrero.

@Scarlet_Fire: “I just ate lunch. Why am I still hungry?”

Probably because you didn’t eat enough lunch. Either that or you’re pregnant. Mazel tov.

@CitizensBankers: “The All-Time Phillies August Waivers Team “

First of all, everyone needs to stop freaking out about this Cliff Lee waivers thing. Everyone goes on waivers all the time. He’s not going anywhere. And everyone needs to read Eric Seidman’s waiver wire primer, posted this morning to Phillies Nation, rather than embracing ignorance and panic.

But to the original question, I don’t think I can make an entire 25-man roster, or even a lineup and a rotation, out of good players the Phillies have claimed in August. So I’ll just give you my top 5 Phillies waiver claims in any month since 2000.

  • Greg Dobbs: His streak as the Sixth Man of the 2008 Phillies makes him by far their best waiver wire pickup. Pity that a truly dreadful 2010 erased those good memories here.
  • Jason Boyd: A relief pitcher whom the Phillies originally drafted, then lost to the Diamondbacks in the expansion draft. He was the player to be named later in a trade that netted the Diamondbacks Tony Womack, so well done Arizona. Anyway, Boyd eventually found his way back to Philadelphia, where, in 2000, he posted a 6.55 ERA in 34 1/3 innings, by way of 6.3 BB/9. He was dreadful, but threw hard enough to be a useful relief pitcher in MVP Baseball 2005.
  • Aaron Fultz: Had one very good year for the Phillies in 2005, which is more than you can say for any other recent waiver wire pickup. I also thought that he pitched in the first Phillies game I ever went to while a member of the San Francisco Giants, but I appear to have gotten him confused with Chad Zerbe.
  • Brian Reith: Not because of anything he did on the field, but because the Phillies picked him off waivers on July 11, 2002. On August 6 of that year, the Reds claimed him right back on waivers. Thanks for playing.
  • Brian Hunter: The Phillies had the distinction of employing both Brian Hunters, both the tall, skinny outfielder who could run like the wind but couldn’t really do much else, and the stumpy first baseman who could neither run like the wind nor really do much else. This was the latter.

@uublog: “which player’s name anagrams best?”

Juan Pierre’s name can be rearranged to say “Pea Injurer.” If you think you can do better, again, please, feel free not to tell me.

Last question.

@sports_j: “With Victorino gone, who’s in charge of shaving cream pies?”

Don’t shaving cream pies usually come after exciting wins, particularly those that follow late-inning comebacks? I don’t think we’ll be needing any of those.

Thanks for writing in, everyone, and we’ll see you next week.

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13 comments

  1. nik

    August 03, 2012 12:55 PM

    Ibanez and ‘decent arm’ hahah…haha.

  2. Sainthubbins

    August 03, 2012 01:31 PM

    I’m the patron saint of quality footwear.

  3. Kyle

    August 03, 2012 01:31 PM

    God, do I enjoy reading these.

  4. mratfink

    August 03, 2012 01:41 PM

    wasn’t Moyer a waiver pickup? i mean we traded for him but it was in august right? therefore he passed through waivers

  5. Michael Baumann

    August 03, 2012 01:56 PM

    A waiver wire pickup is different from a trade. That’s the list I made, though August trades probably would have been a more fun list to make. I might do one of those later.

  6. BradInDC

    August 03, 2012 03:53 PM

    Am I wrong that JC was a waiver pickup? He was badass for a while. Also why do I always confuse Brian Hunter (the stumpy one), with Brian Jordan?

  7. simpsone4

    August 03, 2012 04:37 PM

    Really, MB? Given the chance to kill both synchronized swimming AND synchronized diving, you choose fencing instead???

  8. Michael Baumann

    August 03, 2012 05:21 PM

    Simpsone4-

    Shit. Gotta be honest, I completely forgot synchronized swimming existed. That’s a mistake on my part and I apologize.

  9. hk

    August 05, 2012 07:57 AM

    On the best arm in the OF thing, I have read a lot about Nate Schierholtz having a great arm. Also, according to Fangraphs, Nate’s ARM rating from 2010 to 2012 is better than any current Phillies’ rating (and better than Victorino’s FWIW). Admittedly, I don’t know how they calculate this stat or even if it is a rate stat or a counting stat, but either way (and especially if it is a counting stat of some sort) it is impressive that Nate > Shane.

  10. KH

    August 07, 2012 12:15 PM

    Thats a pretty simplistic summary of Atlas Shrugged. If believing the indivual is pretty much the most sancrosanct element of society is being selfish then color me, and many many other people, selfish. You can keep your collective.

  11. LTG

    August 07, 2012 01:39 PM

    The individuals that cooperatively constitute this ‘collective’ you speak of are wondering whether you are treating them as sacrosanct individually.

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