Today: Draftstreet.com $350 Free Fantasy Baseball Challenge

One Day FREE Fantasy Contest – $350 in cash prizes

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Crash Bag, Vol. 14: I Am Defending Kyle Kendrick Because No One Else Will

@bxe1234: “If you could, with no repercussions, punch one US Olympian in the face, who would it be and why?”

Does it have to be a U.S. Olympian? Under no circumstances would I do something so unpatriotic as to punch someone who represents what is, by these primitive sporting standards, the greatest country that ever was or will be.

The other problem is that the two U.S. Olympians I find the most punchable are both women. And while I’m sure Hope Solo and Misty May-Treanor could each tear me limb-from-limb if need be, I still find something distasteful about the idea of socking a woman in the face, no matter how tired I am of hearing about her, and how much I wish she’d shut up and go away so I can either enjoy (in Solo’s case) or ignore (in May-Treanor’s case) her sport in peace.

Congratulations to both, by the way, on their gold medals in the past two days.

So left to punch one U.S. Olympian in the face, I’d probably take a shot at…Rafalca, Ann Romney’s horse.

One note: the breakout star of these games for the U.S., at least as far as I’m concerned, is gymnast McKayla Maroney. As creepy as I find the idea of watching teenage girls flop around in spandex, Maroney was more entertaining than I could possibly have imagined. First of all, she won a silver medal in an individual gymnastics event for a trick she didn’t even land, and when she got the silver medal, she made a face that has already become as much a part of U.S. Olympic legend as Michael Johnson‘s gold shoes, Mark Spitz’s mustache and Michael Phelps’ bong.

But it was during the team competition that Maroney was at her best. Not only on the vault, where she competed for about 90 seconds and walked away with two medals, but on the sidelines, where she exhibited an 80 smug tool on the traditional scouting scale. Put her in a room with Ruben Amaro Jr. and neither would say a word–they’d just sort of smirk at each other. So I wouldn’t punch her, but I would like to give her a high-five. Or rather, offer a high-five and be left hanging.

BASEBALL.

@uublog: “(a) Why is Kendrick so much shittier as a starter than as a reliever? (b) Is Tyler Cloyd the cure for all that ails us?”

I’ll answer your questions in reverse order. Is Cloyd the answer? Of course not. He’s most likely neo-Kendrick. Keith Law talked about Phillies fans having prospect Stockholm Syndrome, where our prospects are so bad that we assume that someone, anyone is going to be worth a crap. Well I’ve got news for you, folks. There is no rule that says that every team has to have good minor leaguers. Tyler Cloyd and Brody Colvin are both probably back-end starters. If Darin Ruf was worth a crap as a prospect, he’d have taken at least one at-bat above A-ball before he turned 25! Such are the wages of frittering away first-round draft picks on relief pitchers and Raul Ibanezes as a matter of institutional philosophy for years upon years, all the while trading away highly-touted prospects for the likes of Hunter Pence, AND using what few high draft picks you have to reach for guys with physical talents but no consistent track record of…what’s the word I’m looking for here…YES! ACTUALLY BEING GOOD AT BASEBALL.

So because Tyler Cloyd is one of the better minor league prospects the Phillies have does not, by extension, make him a good minor league prospect in absolute terms. This is a dreadful minor league system. There were grumblings after the Hunter Pence trade that the Phillies had loaded up too heavily on catching prospects. With Sebastian Valle, Tommy Joseph and Gabriel Lino, three of the Phillies’ better position player prospects are now catchers. Of course, three of the Phillies’ better position player prospects are a guy with 25 walks since the start of the 2011 season, a catcher who might have to move to first base (in which case, whatever value he might provide offensively would be reduced to minuscule proportions) and a child in short-season A-ball. If you gave me even odds, over/under 0.5 career All-Star appearances for those three players combined, I would take the under in a heartbeat. In fact, if you gave me even odds on over/under 0.5 career All-Star appearances for all of the players currently in full-season ball in the Phillies’ minor-league system, I’d think long and hard about taking the under.

These men are not Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt. And just because someone else has prospects of that magnitude does not mean that the Phillies do. This is a fundamental truth that baseball fans seem not to understand.

So, to answer your question: No. The Phillies’ minor league system is bad. And so too, in all likelihood, will Tyler Cloyd be.

What was the first half of the question?

Oh, Kendrick being better in the bullpen. It’s kind of accepted that everyone pitches better out of the pen than the rotation. In fact, almost every relief pitcher in the game, up to and including Mariano Rivera, was a failed starter. It’s just a matter of when you wash out, whether it’s in the low minors, after a cup of coffee in the majors (Rivera, Ryan Madson, Antonio Bastardo) or after a while in the majors (Eric Gagne, Darren Oliver, Dennis Eckersley). As a rule, relief pitchers are either failed starters or failed position players. Almost no one goes from the college bullpen to the major league bullpen (except Huston Street), and almost absolutely no one goes from the high school bullpen to the majors.

Why is this? Well, it’s easier to pitch out of the pen, because you’re throwing between 40 pitches an outing at the absolute most, so you can put a little extra on every pitch without worrying about getting tired late in the game. Ryan Madson sat around 90 with his fastball as a starter, but after a couple years in the bullpen, he could count on mid-90s heat, with the ability to reach back and hit triple digits from time to time if he absolutely needed it. Shorter outings have another effect: that you don’t need to turn over a lineup. On the second or third time through an order, if a hitter has you timed, you need to figure out how to get him out two or even three or four ways. If he’s seeing you for only a handful of plate appearances in a season, often one knockout pitch is enough to do it. Hence Roy Halladay‘s six-pitch arsenal, versus Rivera’s one-pitch arsenal. Finally, a reliever’s workload allows guys whose arm motion or body mechanics wouldn’t hold up for 200 innings a season to stay healthy.

The last way it’s easier to pitch out of the bullpen is that you wind up playing matchups a lot. If you’re death to lefties but meat for righties (Jake Diekman high-fives J.C. Romero), the manager can play matchup tiddlywinks to hide an ugly platoon split. If you need to go three times through the order, come Hell or high water, that’s simply not possible.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that The Kendrick was more effective as a reliever, particularly when you consider the vagaries of sample sizes as small as 20 innings.

@Wild_Phils: “is talent:contract disparity is worse in the kendrick contract or the howard contract?”

Howard. Kendrick is mildly overpaid. He’s a swingman, a commodity that is very useful when you consider the frequency of pitcher injuries, but is probably not worth three-and-change million dollars a year. Your swingman ought to, ideally, be a guy making the league minimum or close to it, because you essentially just need a dude to chuck about 130 replacement-level innings and not complain when he gets sent to the bullpen. Earl Weaver was fond of using the swingman/spot starter role as a sort of apprenticeship for young starting pitchers, a way to get a prospect major-league exposure without throwing an unproven commodity into the rotation. That’s not a bad strategy. So Kendrick, as a guy who will give you a little better than replacement level over 130 innings a year and never get hurt, is useful in that role, but probably moderately overpaid.

Ryan Howard, on the other hand, has the fourth-highest AAV of any contract in major league history. Howard can still take a walk, but his power is slipping, and his contact skills, defense and athleticism are so bad that they play when he’s cranking 50 home runs a year, but not so much when he’s *only* hitting 30 home runs a year. Other first basemen in his pay bracket include: Albert Pujols, who may one day retire as the greatest right-handed hitter of all time; Joey Votto, who is, for my money, the best hitter in the game right now; Prince Fielder, who is younger than Howard, better in just about every category, and still ludicrously overpaid; and Mark Teixeira, who is a switch-hitter who strikes out less than Howard, plays superb defense, and is still ludicrously overpaid.

Ryan Howard is a pretty good hitter whose value is dragged down by his being anchored to playing first base, where you can get a .350 wOBA for a pittance from Bryan LaHair or Adam LaRoche, and his inability to contribute with his legs or with his glove. It’s an overpay the like of which we may never see again, a contract that rivals Barry Zito‘s or Vernon Wells‘ for the worst in the game today.

If not for the Dodgers’ horrific signing of Darren Dreifort a decade ago, Howard’s contract would be within a shout of the worst of all time.

But I feel like we’ve been over this already.

@Eric_Lindros: “Why does KK get so indignant when called out for his awfulness?”

(Note: I realize you might be joking, but I’m going to treat this question as if it’s serious because I have a point to make.)

Well, it might have something to do with the fact that he’s been trying as hard as he can to succeed, and he’s been publicly pilloried without stop for the past 5 years. I dunno, I might get a little brusque with folks under similar circumstances. People tell me I’m a horrible baseball blogger from time to time, and I’ll admit it bothers me a little bit, even though 1) This isn’t my day job 2) I don’t hear it all the time in every medium imaginable the way Kendrick must 3) I haven’t been hearing it all the time for the past 5 years and 4) I know it isn’t true.

So I’m guilty of laying on the Kendrick hate as much as anyone, but considering how much crap he takes, I think he’s handled himself with grace and professionalism the vast majority of the time, and if he wants to get a little tetchy now, I think he’s entitled to it. Because if I’m going to hurl abuse at a guy, I find it disingenuous to get outraged when his feelings get hurt. If he wants to snipe back, I think he’s earned it. I’ll even lend him my monkfish to hit people with if he wants.

@Estebomb: “If Ruben Amaro Jr were to attempt to fix the Phillies’ problems via time travel, what would he use to travel to the past?”

Well, he’s not, to my knowledge, an irritating and pretentious Anglophile, so the TARDIS is probably out. Neither would the man who runs one of the most anti-intellectual front offices in baseball be caught dead in the extraordinarily nerdy Heart of Gold (though I’m not certain, on reflection, that it’s capable of time travel).

I think Amaro would appreciate the lone wolf aspect of Doc Brown’s DeLorean, and I think he’d be impressed by the scrappy grit and hustle showed by the HMS Bounty, the stolen Klingon Bird of Prey that then-Admiral Kirk and his band of merry men used to rescue whales from the 1980s in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

But I can’t see how the answer could be anything other than H.G. Wells’ time machine, the star contraption of the legendary sci-fi novel of the same name. It’s classic, no-nonsense, and above all, old. And we know Ruben Amaro loves old stuff, particularly when there’s a newer, better option out there.

@DashTreyhorn: “Jason Knapp. Thoughts?”

Sadness. Jason Knapp was my favorite Phillies prospect back in 2009, when he was the kicker in the deal that netted the Phillies Cliff Lee for the first time. Knapp was a Jersey kid and a teenager with a triple-digit fastball, and I was too young and naive at the time to know that throwing hard and being young wasn’t necessarily going to translate to major league success.

Since the trade, Knapp has had two shoulder surgeries and hasn’t pitched in a regular-season game since 2010. The Indians released him on Wednesday, likely signaling the end of his baseball career at the age of 21, if it wasn’t over already. It’s a shame, considering his potential, but it was always a danger. Pour one out for Jason Knapp tonight, because his story is a real heartbreaker.

Okay, enough negativity.

@Billy_Yeager: “Use your abilities to figure how much longer it took the US women to win gold for soccer than it did for Bolt to win 100m Gold”

Well, if, by, “Your Abilities” you mean Wikipedia and a calculator, sure.

Usain Bolt ran the 100 meters three times in London, once in the heats, once in the semis, and once in the finals, each time in under 10 seconds. We’ll call it 29 seconds total. The U.S. women’s soccer team played 6 matches in London, at 90 minutes each, for a total of 540 minutes, plus, let’s call it 6 minutes of stoppage time a match, bringing the total to 576 minutes. On top of that, there was extra time with (I believe) 4 minutes total of stoppage time in the semifinal match against Canada, so we’re up to 610 minutes. That’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 36,600 seconds, or 1,262 times as long as it took Bolt to run his three races.

Though if we’re talking about man-hours, the USA had 11 players on the pitch at all times, so we’re actually looking at about 13,882 times as many man-hours in game-time to win a gold medal in women’s soccer than in the men’s 100 meters.

I have no idea why you wanted to know that, or why I didn’t just make you Google it yourself.

@brendankeeler: “favorite phil in each of the last four decades. one per each decade and one overall”

I love this question. So are we talking back to the 2010s, 2000s, 1990s and 1980s? Or the 2000s, 19990s, 1980s and 1970s?

Let’s do the latter, because my answer is the same for the past two decades.

  • 2000s: Jimmy Rollins. I love Jimmy Rollins. He’s my favorite Phillie of all time. I was okay with Curt Schilling, Scott Rolen, Bobby Abreu and Jayson Werth leaving. I’m okay with Shane Victorino leaving, and I was steeling myself for coping with Cole Hamels leaving before he re-signed. I will be okay with Roy Halladay leaving if it comes to that, and we’ll see about Chase Utley, though I’m praying he retires before it becomes untenable for the Phillies to keep him.
    But when Rollins’ contract was up last winter, I was a nervous wreck. I put more of my heart into a blog post about the personal connection I felt to him as a fan than perhaps anything else I’ve ever written about sports. I’ve never bought more than one bit of player apparel for any athlete except Rollins, and I’m on my third No. 11 shirsey in four years. He runs, he’s flashy in the field, and he’s taken a vocal leadership role without being the best player. I love everything about his game, no matter how much he pops up. If there’s one player I love too much to be objective about, this is the one. Chase Utley and Cole Hamels might be my second-and-third-favorite Phillies of all time, but they played in the wrong decade for me.
  • 1990s: Lenny Dykstra. Lenny Dykstra was my first favorite player. My first Phillies t-shirt, back when I was six, was a Dykstra shirsey. He was nasty and he was completely unsubtle in every conceivable way. He was the perfect counterpart to those pressed-and-polished Braves teams I hated so much as a child. I loved watching Greg Maddux in his prime in spite of how much pain he caused me, but Maddux was an intellectual hero. Dykstra was visceral. He was, in a way, kind of a spiritual predecessor to Chase Utley, with his compact power stroke, superb batting eye and furious intensity. And he was always on base. For one season in 1993, he seemed to assemble a season that finally gave Phillies fans too young to remember Classic Schmidt a position player to pull for in the MVP race. Where Bonds and Griffey were too slick, too West Coast, Dykstra was anything but. He was manifestly unpolished, but he was manifestly ours. Too bad he’s not very good with money.
  • 1980s: Darren Daulton. He didn’t really come into his own until the 1990s, but I’m too young to remember anything from the 1980s anyway. I just wanted to honor him here for two things: first, he’s the first man I remember being aware of other people saying how handsome he was. I couldn’t figure it out, partially because as a kindergartener I guess I hadn’t developed an appreciation for male beauty, but also because even then I wasn’t sure why people thought a mullet was a good look.
  • 1970s: Steve Carlton. I don’t think I really need to explain this one, except maybe to say why I didn’t pick Mike Schmidt. Schmidt, while the greatest player ever to suit up for the Phillies, never resonated with me the way Carlton did. I think this is because, all things being equal, I like run prevention better than run scoring, in addition to my admiration for Carlton’s decade-long grudge against the sports media. Carlton had the best slider of his generation to go with incredible longevity, but more than anything, he understood at its barest essence what an athlete owes his fans and the media. An athlete doesn’t owe us anything apart from his best effort. He doesn’t need to be polite, or charitable, or friendly. It’s nice if he is all those things, but Carlton’s steadfast refusal to make his game about anything but his pitching (which was superb, I might add) makes me love him as a historical figure.

@SoMuchForPathos: “Which American athletes do you want to poach to play for the national handball team at Rio 2016?”

Okay, so is anyone else in love with team handball? It’s the weird niche sport that has the potential to do for the Summer Olympics what curling does for the Winter Olympics: use cable TV to captivate America with a sport they only think about once every four years.

I’ll allow NPR’s Stefan Fatsis, perhaps team handball’s foremost proponent in the American sports media, to explain the appeal:

“[T]eam handball is a seven-on-seven court sport that embodies all things American. You run, pass, dribble, throw (fast), block, jump and set picks. There’s strategy, finesse, power and speed. It’s violent and high-scoring. Yet handball — only the insecure feel compelled say “team” — is one of only three sports in which the U.S. has never won an Olympic medal.”

There’s kind of a joke movement to poach athletes from other sports, namely basketball, to play for the USA in four years’ time to rectify this whole not-winning-a-medal problem. So let’s pick a team.

  • Tim Howard: The USA has long produced some of the best goalkeepers in the world, in both soccer and ice hockey. I figure we get Howard, who is 6-foot-3 and has arms like a spider monkey, to move over to the smaller nets. Howard’s strength as a goalkeeper has always been his shot-stopping, and with the insane speed and short ranges of the handball court, his reflexes will serve him well.
  • John Wall: I want a guy with his ups on this team. Most shots in handball are taken from midair, and if Wall can get above the defense as well in handball as he can in basketball, he should be electrifying.
  • Robert Griffin III: The throwing arm, court vision and courage under fire of an NFL quarterback with the speed of someone who was a better hurdler than football player in high school. I would have picked Mike Trout as well, but even at a listed 6-foot-1, he might be a little too small to cope with the size of the international game. Even if he could, Griffin is only 6-foot-2, and having two players that short might be a liability. Either he or Wall can run the proverbial point for this team. The height thing is huge, because it pretty much eliminates hockey players from the equation, as nice as it might be to have Patrick Kane or Zac Parise on the team.
  • Sidney Rice: Massive South Carolina football homer pick, but I’ll explain. Rice is as good at catching the ball in traffic as anyone I’ve ever seen, and there’s a lot of catching the ball in traffic. He’s 6-foot-4, so he can jump for the ball with anyone.
  • LeBron James: If you’re going to poach any American athlete, might as well poach the best one.
  • Thaddeus Young: Okay, bear with me. He’s tall and lean without being skinny, which is good for a handball player. But most importantly, he’s a lefty. Handball isn’t like soccer or hockey, where there are benefits to being left-or-right-handed playing either wing. The corner guys have to be opposite-handed, because all they do is catch the ball, run along the baseline and jump like a berzerker at the goalie, shooting before they land. You need to be a lefty to get anything approaching a decent angle on a shot from the right baseline. So far (to my knowledge) everyone on the list is a righty, and most of the really athletic lefty center fielders are too short.
  • Danny Hultzen: Needed another lefty. Would have picked C.J. Wilson (who was an outfielder in college) if he were taller and wouldn’t be 35 by 2016. Hultzen is relatively young, stands 6-foot-3 and has the athleticism to have played both ways in college. He’s not one of those guys who can get on a mound and pound strikes, but if you ask him to so much as field his position, falldowngoboom. Though to be honest, this is really the first young, relatively athletic lefty I could think of, because I’ve spent far his long on this question already.

As indeed I’ve spent far too long on this Crash Bag. Enjoy the 236th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence reaching London, because while these are a fantastic Olympics, screw the monarchy.

Don’t Give Up On Antonio Bastardo

Over at The 700 Level, there is a video of one of Ricky Bottalico’s patented post-game rants for Comcast SportsNet. In a scathing criticism of reliever Antonio Bastardo, Bottalico described the lefty as “pretty much inconsistent” and called for his ouster from the eighth-inning role. It’s a bit premature to bring out the pitchforks for several reasons:

1. Bastardo has pitched fewer than 100 innings since the start of 2011

2. The final two months don’t matter

3. Bastardo hasn’t performed nearly as bad as his results indicate

Points 1 and 2 are self-explanatory. Small sample sizes, especially when we’re talking about 58 innings one year and 36 the next, can yield wildly aberrant results. For instance, if Bastardo allowed one fewer home run this year, his HR/FB rate (currently 13 percent) drops by more than two percent, halfway to his career average at nine percent. To the second point, as mentioned yesterday, we don’t really care what happens in the final two months as long as players iron out their flaws and no one else gets injured, so it’s okay for Bastardo and others to experiment, work on mechanics, and fail in the process.

The third point is the one worth expanding on with regard to Bottalico’s comments. Bastardo has done two things frequently this year: struck out batters and walked batters. He is averaging more than 12 strikeouts per nine innings and more than five walks per nine innings. Both are significant increases compared to last year’s rates (10.9, 4.0) and he is overall worse this year than he was in 2011. However, his 4.01 xFIP and 3.22 SIERA indicate that his 5.45 ERA is misleading. For one, his .280 BABIP is more than 100 points higher than it was last year, creating the illusion that Bastardo has significantly regressed, when in reality his true talent level lies somewhere in-between the two points.

Whenever we talk about pitching, especially when projecting a player going forward, we want to isolate as many of the factors he directly controls. The two biggest factors a pitcher controls are his strikeout and walk rates. The following table shows players similar to Bastardo in terms of K/9 and BB/9. What you’ll notice is that most of them are exceptional relievers.

Parameters: 2011-12 combined, K/9 greater than 10.0, BB/9 greater than 4.0, min. 90 IP, at least 90% of games in relief.

Player ERA+ K/9 BB/9 IP From To Age
David Robertson 264 13.41 4.44 103.1 2011 2012 26-27
Jesse Crain 172 10.11 4.20 94.1 2011 2012 29-30
Aroldis Chapman 168 14.85 4.77 103.2 2011 2012 23-24
Jonny Venters 160 10.50 4.50 126.0 2011 2012 26-27
Ernesto Frieri 151 12.42 5.00 108.0 2011 2012 25-26
Antonio Bastardo 106 11.45 4.48 94.1 2011 2012 25-26
Carlos Marmol 93 11.88 6.65 108.1 2011 2012 28-29
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/10/2012.

When it comes to relievers, strikeouts are king. This is for many reasons: good or bad fortune on balls in play (mostly random) has a much greater impact in the eighth inning than it would in the first; a reliever only goes through the lineup once, so he can use his entire arsenal at max effort as opposed to starters who may hold back a pitch or two early and not throw their fastballs as fast as they typically could; and high-strikeout pitchers in general induce weaker contact, leading to a lower BABIP and fewer home runs.

That is why it is foolish to give up on Bastardo so early, and especially right now. His results, which include the impact of bad luck, bad defense, park factors, etc. as well as the pitcher’s skill, don’t match up with his performances, or the factors that only Bastardo himself controls. He isn’t being victimized by right-handed hitters, showing an even platoon split over his career. His pitch selection (61 percent fastball, 36 percent slider) is in line with his normal usage, with neither pitch being meaningfully more victimized than the other. And he uses them in a typical fashion: fastball up, slider down.

As a percentage of batters faced, Bastardo’s strikeout and walk rates haven’t shifted much: just a 0.2 percent increase in strikeouts and a 1.5 percent increase in walks. His batted ball splits are typical. The most obvious flaw is Bastardo’s high walk rate, but as the above table indicates, it isn’t so high as to render him ineffective. There is certainly the possibility that the stats are missing something. For instance, he is noticeably better with the bases empty than with men on base, which could be mechanical, mental, or both. CSN Philly’s Corey Seidman suggests Bastardo’s struggles can be traced to a lack of first-pitch strikes. But in the big picture, Bastardo is the same pitcher in 2012 that he was last year, just with wildly disparate results not unlike Cole Hamels in 2008 and ’09. Bottalico’s call to give up on Bastardo is not only premature, it is quite foolish as well. Bastardo is only 26 years old with plenty of time to make adjustments and blossom into a reliever worthy of the call in high-leverage situations.