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

Posted By Michael Baumann On August 24, 2012 @ 12:43 pm In Crabshurn Urly,Crash Bag,MLB,Philadelphia Phillies,Potpourri | 10 Comments

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.


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