The Guys Hardly Anyone Talks About

Hey, a non-Phillies column. Whaddaya know? I was perusing highlights on MLB.com and happened upon this home run hit by Josh Willingham last night. There was nothing particularly special about it — it was a solo shot and his Twins were down 2-0, and it wasn’t hit particularly far. But it was hit by Willingham, a player for whom I’ve had a soft spot for a while, even dating back to his days as a Florida Marlin and as a known Phillies-basher. The 33-year-old is earning $7 million this year, the first of a three-year, $21 million deal signed last December, and he has a .382 weighted on-base average (wOBA). That ranks 13th-best in the Majors, sandwiched between Adrian Beltre and Carlos Gonzalez, two players who get way more publicity than Willingham.

In researching the surprisingly productive year of Willingham, I came across a slew of players who are having fantastic seasons and are generating almost no buzz. I’d like to highlight them and do my small part in bringing attention to their fantastic years.

For the non-stat-savvy, here are links to reading material on the stats I will commonly cite:

Position Players

Edwin Encarnacion – 1B/DH, Toronto Blue Jays

Is Edwin Encarnacion the next Jose Bautista — a player who has a mediocre start to his career, goes to Toronto, and transforms into one of baseball’s most prolific power hitters? EE has 40 home runs on the season, second-best in baseball behind Josh Hamilton‘s 41, and he’s only 29 years old. The Cincinnati Reds gave up on him in July 2009, sending him to Toronto in the Scott Rolen trade. His first two and a half seasons in Canada were more of the same slightly above-average offense, below-average defense and poor base running.

2012 is a completely new ballgame. Spending a majority of his time as a first baseman for the first time in his career, Encarnacion’s power has blown through the roof. His current .287 isolated power is easily a career-best, surpassing 2010′s .238 mark. He is drawing walks at a career-best rate (12.5%) and striking out at a career-low rate (14.5%). Just for good measure, he’s added 13 steals in 16 attempts as well. His WAR, 4.4 per Baseball Reference and 4.2 per FanGraphs, is the best among first basemen, surpassing even Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols. Playing in the same league as Mike Trout, Encarnacion’s MVP award hopes are dashed as the Angels outfielder is close to lapping him for a second time in WAR, but EE’s fantastic season shouldn’t be lost in the shuffle.

Dexter Fowler – CF, Colorado Rockies

Rockies players are easy to overlook. They’re 57-85 in the cellar of the NL West and their numbers are inflated by the very, very hitter-friendly nature of Coors Field. The roster is comprised of injured stars (Troy Tulowitzki), washed-up veterans (Todd Helton, Jason Giambi), and Major League flame-outs (Jeff Francis). Quietly, though, the 26-year-old Dexter Fowler is having a break-out season. His .386 wOBA is a 40-point improvement on last year thanks in large part to a .402 BABIP, a 50 point again over last season’s output. And he does have a substantial home-road split, but so too did Matt Holliday back in 2007 and he turned out all right.

Fowler gets very poor defensive grades from both Baseball Reference and FanGraphs, though I wonder if the extraordinarily spacious outfield at Coors Field makes him look worse than he really is. Additionally, despite the speed and the .396 on-base percentage, Fowler has only stolen 12 bases in 16 attempts, so a large majority of Fowler’s 3.6 fWAR and 3.0 rWAR come from his offense.

As shown here several weeks ago, a hitter’s high BABIP one year is likely to regress the next year even though hitters have a lot of control over their own BABIP compared to pitchers. Fowler’s 2012 is likely very fluky and unable to be repeated, but it doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy what he has done so far anyway.

Aramis Ramirez – 3B, Milwaukee Brewers

Entering 2012, his age-34 season, Aramis Ramirez had played in more than 125 games just once in his previous three seasons. Nevertheless, the Brewers gambled on him when they signed him to a three-year, $36 million contract in the off-season. So far, it has worked out very well. The third baseman has played in 131 of his team’s 143 games while posting a .380 wOBA, 20 points above his career average. According to FanGraphs, the only third basemen to have been more valuable to their teams than Ramirez has to the Brewers (5.5 fWAR) are David Wright, Chase Headley, Miguel Cabrera, and Adrian Beltre. As mentioned here many times, third base is a very, very shallow position nowadays, so having one of the top-five best at that position is a nice thing to have.

Ramirez got off to a slow start, finishing April with a .645 OPS. Many thought he was cooked, but Ramirez pressed on and finished the first half with a respectable .821 OPS. Since the All-Star break, he has been on fire, finishing the months of July and August with an OPS north of 1.000 each. He is a big reason why the Brewers, like the Phillies, have gone on a tear recently (25-15 since August 1), surpassing .500 and getting themselves back into the chase for the second Wild Card.

The remainder of Ramirez’s contract remains a question mark (not unlike Raul Ibanez after 2009 with the Phillies), but there is no doubt that many teams — including, perhaps, the Phillies — are kicking themselves for not pursuing his services in the past off-season.

Austin Jackson – CF, Detroit Tigers

Austin Jackson finished second in AL Rookie of the Year voting in 2010, losing to Neftali Feliz of the Texas Rangers. Jackson’s .293 batting average was heavily buoyed by a .396 BABIP and Saber-types correctly wrote him off in 2011. Jackson’s wOBA dropped from .333 to .309 and his fWAR from 4.1 to 2.9, still respectable nonetheless.  In 2012 at the age of 25, older and wiser, Jackson has returned to his high-average, high-BABIP ways (.309, .385) but has brought along some tools to go with it. His 11.5% walk rate is a career-best and a significant improvement on last year’s 8.4%. His strikeout rate is down to 21.8% from 27.1% as well, illustrating his much-improved strike zone judgment. (He is still striking out roughly two times for every one walk, so there is still a lot of room for improvement in this regard.)

The power, though, is where Jackson has made his biggest stride. He already has a comparable amount of doubles, triples, and home runs this year as he did last year, but in 130 fewer trips to the plate. His ISO is up to .183 from .125, which may not put him in the Trout-Hamilton echelon, but is still above average for a centerfielder as the Major League average is .148. Saberists will call for him to regress again in 2013 because of that BABIP, but because of the marked improvement in plate discipline and power, he will still be a very valuable part of the Tigers roster in the coming years, especially as he enters his late 20′s.

David Murphy – LF, Texas Rangers

No, not the Phillies beat writer for the Daily News. Since joining the Texas Rangers in 2007, Murphy has established himself as a valuable player in that he hits at about the league average and plays decent defense in a corner outfield spot. In those five years, he posted a 105 OPS+ while the Rangers paid him under $4 million. Comparatively, Raul Ibanez posted a 111 OPS+ with below average defense for the Phillies, earning $31.5 million over three years.

2012 has made Murphy vital to the Rangers, who hope to return to the World Series for a third consecutive season. His .377 wOBA is easily a career-best, as is his 11% walk rate. His strikeout rate, at 14.3%, is only a hair above last year’s career-low of 13.9% as well. He has been the third-best hitter for the Rangers this year behind Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre as his team paces the American League in batting average, on-base percentage, and OPS. Perhaps because of his common name and his not-so-common teammates, Murphy isn’t getting any airtime this year, but he is having himself a very nice season.

Pitchers

Greg Holland – RP, Kansas City Royals

Many have been correctly obsessing over Aroldis Chapman‘s impressive numbers and in the process are overlooking some of the more human arms out there, like that of Greg Holland. The right-handed Holland is coming off a 2011 season in which he posted a 1.80 ERA in 60 innings as a 25-year-old, painting a very rosy picture for the coming years. Despite a 110-point BABIP increase (.250 to .359), Holland’s ERA sits under 3.00 and he is striking out one in every three batters he faces, the 11th-highest strikeout among qualified relievers in the Majors.

Holland recently moved into the closer’s role, taking over for Jonathan Broxton, who was traded to the Cincinnati Reds. Since August 1, Holland has a 1.74 ERA with 28 strikeouts and eight walks in 20.1 innings. It looks like the Royals have found their future closer, one who will be with the team for a while as he isn’t eligible for arbitration for the first time until 2014.

Kyle Lohse – SP, St. Louis Cardinals

Kyle Lohse is infamous in Philadelphia for the grand slam he surrendered to Kazuo Matsui in Game Two of the 2007 NLDS against the Colorado Rockies. He then became a fixed part of the Cardinals’ rotation, having mixed results under pitching coach (or, more accurately, pitching guru) Dave Duncan. Although Duncan hasn’t been with the Cardinals this year due to spending more time with his family, his tutelage has paid off as Lohse has a 2.81 ERA in 30 starts, something that might earn the 33-year-old some back-end Cy Young award votes as he approaches free agency — potentially for the last time in his career.

Lohse isn’t doing anything particularly different, benefiting from a .261 BABIP. He has, however, made strides in limiting his walks (4.3%, a career-low) and striking out more batters (15.8%, his best rate since 2006). His 4.04 xFIP is identical to that of 2011, when his ERA was nearly 0.60 higher. Nevertheless, Lohse has been exactly the type of pitcher good teams have at the back of their rotations to get to the post-season. Lohse’s incredible 2012 has been crucial to the Cardinals, who are desperately clinging to a two-game lead for the second Wild Card.

Wade Miley – SP, Arizona Diamondbacks

At 71-72, the Diamondbacks aren’t out of it yet, but they will have to hurdle five other teams if they hope to fight their way into the post-season. Should that happen, it will no doubt be on the arm of one of their most impressive — and youngest — pitchers in Wade Miley. At 25 years old, Miley has a 3.05 ERA, heavily dependent on his pristine control. He has walked fewer than one in 20 batters this year at 4.4%, the sixth-lowest walk rate among qualified pitchers. Miley isn’t overpowering as his 18.3% strikeout rate is right at the league average, and he doesn’t have any amazing batted ball skills, nor is he benefiting from unsustainable luck. Miley has simply been himself, steady and consistent, all year long.

Miley’s 3.5 WAR is the second-best among rookies in the National League according to Baseball Reference, trailing only Bryce Harper at 3.8. Due to Harper’s pre-season hype and the startling success of his team, Miley is likely a long shot to take home the NL Rookie of the Year award, but a strong finish to the 2012 season and perhaps a surprise late-season surge by his Diamondbacks, could push him into prominence.

Hiroki Kuroda – SP, New York Yankees

Hiroki Kuroda doesn’t get any respect. Quietly, the 37-year-old pitcher from Japan has been one of baseball’s best pitchers this season, currently the author of a 3.17 ERA. It marks the third consecutive season he has posted an ERA of 3.40 or below. When the Yankees picked him up as a free agent this past January, many thought that the small confines of Yankee Stadium and Kuroda’s advanced age would lead to a disaster, but 2012 has been anything but that. Kuroda simply succeeds by inducing ground balls (52.6%), striking out hitters at an average rate, and limiting the walks (5.3%). He is eligible for free agency once again after the season. Given how good he’s been, it’s hard to see the Yankees letting him go anywhere, but in the event Kuroda hits the open market, he will generate more interest than was present this past off-season, even at the age of 38.

Wilton Lopez – RP, Houston Astros

Phillies fans saw this guy last night when he closed out a 6-4 victory for his downtrodden Astros. On Twitter, I was very surprised by Lopez’s stats:

twitter.com/CrashburnAlley/status/246450721778724866

Lopez’s 8.5 strikeout-to-walk ratio is the best among all relief pitchers in baseball, even better than Craig Kimbrel (7.0). 26 years old and under team control through 2015, you have to imagine the smart minds that have populated the Astros’ front office recently (e.g. Jeff Luhnow, Mike Fast, Kevin Goldstein) know what a treasure they have in this right-hander. Relievers who can both strike out hitters at an above-average rate and limit walks to such a staggeringly-low point are very rare and very valuable. Of the 13 qualified relievers with a K/BB of 5.0 or better, only two — Joel Peralta and Chris Perez — have an ERA above 3.00. Two — Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman — have an ERA below 2.00. If the Astros can put together a roster that can somehow bring leads of one to three runs to the late innings, they should have considerably better success going forward with Lopez ready to turn off the lights for opposing teams.

Crash Bag, Vol. 19: How to Name Your Keg

It’s getting cold again, which excites me to no end. I love the change in weather, as would anyone who sweats as much as I do. If I could find a place where it’s in the low 60s all the time, I’d move there in a moment. Unfortunately, Philadelphia and South Jersey have the worst of all the seasons: horrific heat and humidity in the summer, bitter cold and snow in the winter, with only a few weeks of breezy, sunny weather in between.

One last weather note: I’ve spent the past eight or nine years wearing either flip-flops or suede sneakers. It’s an occupational hazard of being a student, not having to wear grown-up shoes. The problem is that these shoes don’t do well in the rain, which I guess is no one’s fault but my own, but I really wish it were acceptable from a fashion standpoint for men to wear galoshes. Walking around campus on rainy days, I’d see girls stomping through the monsoon in galoshes and just wish that there were some sort of similarly acceptable casual waterproof shoe for men. I guess the upside of wearing flip-flops in the rain is that you don’t get your socks wet. Or something.

We’ll begin with a request for Real Life Advice.

@magoplasma: “Am I a traitor for naming my mini keg Manny Machado?”

I went back and asked, and the keg is full of Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale. I think if you’re drinking Bell’s beer, you can name your keg anything you like. I went to a combination Bell’s Brewery tasting and screening of The Big Lebowski last January, and it was fantastic. Their Hopslam is among my favorite beers, and I had the privilege of tasting their limited-run Expedition Stout. Let me tell you about Expedition Stout. There’s beer, and then there’s this. It’s dark and comforting and makes you feel warm. It’s like being in the womb. It was so good it literally moved me to tears. I think that given his recent run of success in the Orioles’ bizarre siege of the AL East, his is a name worthy of Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale.

But this brings up a larger question–is it okay to fall in love with another team’s prospects? Is it like baseball adultery in a sense? I say no–my own sports bigamy is well-documented. I am a Philadelphia sports fan through and through, but I also keep up with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Houston Texans for various reasons. If you can identify one favorite team, and you don’t cross rivalry lines, root for whoever you want.

Most importantly, I think it’s the hallmark of an enlightened a sports fan when you can enjoy the game for its own sake, and not just because of shallow partisan attachments. One of my friends is a big baskeball fan, and when he talks about a player he likes, he says “I like his game.” That speaks to appreciating the beauty or effectiveness or both in the skill set of a particular player–for whatever reason, you take joy in the manner in which an athlete plays the game, not just the result. It’s a fun way to consider baseball, or any sport.

I rag on Paul a lot for being such a big Mike Trout fan, but if you’ve got a pulse and even  passing interest in baseball, why wouldn’t you be a huge Mike Trout fan? He’s waging a campaign of destruction the like of which we’ve never seen, and his age leaves open the possibility that he could get even better. My own love for Red Sox minor leaguer Jackie Bradley Jr. is well-documented, and I’ve got my on list of non-Phillies major leaguers whose games I like: Dexter Fowler, Clayton Kershaw, Adrian Beltre, Ben Zobrist, and more. I even find myself pulling for players on rival teams from time to time. I’ll even root for Giancarlo Stanton and David Wright, because while I hate their teams, I love their games.

There’s nothing wrong with loving Manny Machado enough to name your keg after him. Want any more Real Life Advice while I’m here?

“should I drop Evolution of Vertebrate Life?”

Yes. Drop all your classes to spend more time with Manny Machado. Though if you drop this class, it sends the message that you’ve got no backbone.

@mferrier31: “if you could take any current never had MLB experience minor leaguer from any team, who would it be”

If I could take any minor leaguer…where? To do what? For what purpose? This is a very open-ended question.

The obvious meaning is “to play baseball.” If that’s what you mean, now that Jurickson Profar is in the majors, I’d probably have Orioles pitcher Dylan Bundy. He’s the class of a 2011 draft that ranks among the best and deepest of all time, and considering what a phenomenal rookie class we’ve had this year, Major League Baseball is set up to introduce a truly outstanding set of young players in the coming years. Anyway, Bundy is chewing through the minor leagues, and while he hasn’t been truly dominant at AA, there are two good reasons for that: 1) the Orioles decided that the cutter, arguably Bundy’s best pitch, is bad for you and have forbade him from throwing it. Imagine if someone told Cliff Lee to just ditch his curveball. 2) Bundy is 19 years old. I know we’ve been spoiled by Kershaw, Trout and Bryce Harper, among others, coming up to the majors and playing well at a young age, but at age 19, most future major leaguers are either in short-season or A-ball at the very highest, or finishing up their freshman year of college and trying to sneak into sorority mixers. Bundy has multiple-Cy-Young potential.

If there was  a focus on the more immediate future, I’d take Wil Myers, a center fielder in the Royals’ system. He and Bundy are widely regarded as the top two players yet to see major league action, and given how bad Jeff Francoeur has been, Myers is probably a couple months overdue in Kansas City. He’s a monster offensive prospect with some speed, no doubt the result of the weight he saves by taking a letter off his first name. If you want a prospect, Myers and Bundy are pretty much the ballgame right now.

But what about for other purposes? There’s Stetson Allie, a former pitcher the Pirates are trying to convert to play third base. Allie touches triple digits with ease, but he’s got as bad a case of Steve Blass Disease as you can have. If I were going to pick someone to drive two hundred head of cattle from Kansas City to Fort Worth, I’d pick Allie, because he’s named after a hat.

If I could be friends with any minor leaguer, I’d take Angels farmhand Michael Roth, a first baseman-turned-greatest-college-pitcher-of-all-time, honors business student at South Carolina, and, by all indications, one of the most interesting and thoughtful players in the game. Roth, 22, has roughly the same repertoire as Jamie Moyer, so he doesn’t have much of a chance at pro stardom. But when I asked Kevin Goldstein about his chances of making The Show as a LOOGY, Goldstein described him as an “80 makeup guy.”

For a trip to a Chinese buffet, I’d take Tigers prospect Bruce Rondon, who may be the first athlete in any sport to play at double his listed weight (190 pounds). So depending on the purpose, the answer changes.

As I’ve proved already, if you ask two good questions I’ll answer them both. And this one needs answering.

“I need this settled once and for all. No matter which makes playoffs, who wins AL MVP, Trout or Miggy? I think Trout by a mile”

You are correct to think that. WAR is not the be-all and end-all of player evaluation, but it’s supposed to be consistent across leagues, teams, positions and eras, so that’s where I’d start. If I had a vote, I’d look at the WAR leaderboard, then use all the intangible/storyline /positional nonsense to break ties, in essence. Like last year, for NL MVP, Matt Kemp led the league in WAR, but Ryan Braun was close enough that I didn’t have a problem with his selection.

This is not the case with Trout. In 20 fewer games than most of his competitors, Trout has 8.7 fWAR. His nearest competitors, Cabrera and Robinson Cano, are at 6.1. That’s an enormous gap. There is no discussion. Cabrera, Cano, Beltre and others are having great seasons, but Trout’s bending the laws of physics. It is, as you said, Trout by a mile.

@uublog: “What is the optimal umpire/instant replay usage?”

Interesting question. There should be more instant replay for sure, but you’ve got to take care how to implement it, or else you’re going to wind up like the NFL, where we spend more time waiting for calls than actually watching the action. College football gets a lot of it right: they take the replay initiative out of the hands of coaches, which elevates it beyond the NFL level of high-tech arguing with the umpire. Also, they take the replay decision out of the hands of the on-field officials and place that responsibility in the hands of an official in the booth. Because what good is replay if 1) It takes 5 minutes to reverse a call and 2) the efficacy of instant replay is based on the current crop of MLB umpires announcing they’re wrong on live TV. Yeah, okay, that’s going to happen.

Nevertheless, I am for expanded replay. Here’s how I’d do it.

  • No replay on balls/strikes unless we go full robot-ump and let Pitch f/x or a similar system call balls and strikes in the first place. There are probably 100 borderline strike zone calls every game. Start reviewing the strike zone and baseball will become as boring as critics say it is. Either leave it alone or get rid of the home plate umpire entirely.
  • All replays are initiated and judged by a fifth official, either in the press box or at the league offices in New York. Give the crew chief a microphone and an earpiece. Keep the umpires on the field at all times, and keep the managers out of it. Any borderline call gets reviewed immediately in a minute or less and we move on with our lives. No strategy, no missing a call in the 8th because the manager wasted his last challenge in the 4th. If we’re just going to give the managers and umpires another chance to grandstand, I’d rather just keep getting calls wrong.
  • I’d put fair/foul, catch/trap, fan interference and safe/out on the table. But whatever the call, the play needs to be allowed to play itself out to whatever conclusion, and the first call on the field should stand until the play is over. We saw a couple weeks ago against the Reds what happens when you change the rules on the baserunners in the middle of the play. Sort out the mistakes later.
  • If on-field calls are going to be fair game, there needs to be a public, specific and unchanging set of rules for where to put baserunners if the call gets reversed. I don’t care what it is, but the whole point of this exercise is to get things right. I had a journalism professor who was fond of saying that AP style is “arbitrary but not capricious,” meaning that the rules may have been picked for no good reason, but once they’re in place, they remain so to eliminate confusion.
  • If we’re doing the robot/umpire juxtaposition, let’s have these guys take a go at Joe West and Bob Davidson:

@Tigerbombrock: “updated Mini-Mart feelings?”

It’s almost worse now that he’s hitting well. Watching him play baseball makes me feel like a disapproving grandmother. Every time he botches a grounder I want to tell him to go out into the woods behind the house and pick out a switch off that sassafras tree yonder. And then beat him with it until he cries and yells, “No, Grandma, I won’t steal the pie off the windowsill anymore! I promise! Honest!” It makes me want to act out the fingernail removal scene in Syriana.

So no, my feelings remain the same.

@sellar_door: “What do you guys think of the 2013 schedule?”

The Phillies play the Braves too much. I don’t like it when the Phillies play the Braves.

I also don’t like the additional interleague games. I hate interleague play. I hate the designated hitter, and the even leagues and expanded interleague play is just another sign of the inexorable transformation of the game I love into a gerontocratic, sedentary game for people who lack the creativity to engage in even two-dimensional thinking. I’ll spare you another jeremiad on the subject and direct you to my previous writings on the designated hitter. But congratulations, MLB, you’re enthusiastically and consciously turning baseball into the Arizona of sports: an inhospitable, arid haven for unthinking old people. A plague on both your houses.

@MikeMcGoo: “Cold pizza or hot pizza?”

Both. Next question.

@Gourbot3000: “How annoying will the Eagles chants be at remaining games when the Phillies don’t pull this off?”

Eagles chants are annoying all the time, not just during Phillies games. You know, the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that all this nonsense about Philly fans being boorish rubes who promote violence against people whose only crime is having different geographical origins is the fault of Eagles fans. Now I’m an Eagles fan, but I’ve never even been to a football game at the Linc (four soccer games, but never a football game). But I can’t stand Eagles fans the same way I can’t stand sports talk radio hosts.

Not all sports talk radio hosts are what I’m about to accuse them of being. I believe the future of audio sports commentary is in podcasting, but even in traditional broadcasting, I can name (in Philadelphia alone) Pat Gallen of 97.5 and Spike Eskin of 94.1 as great dudes who actually care about discussing sports in an intelligent fashion, which, though there are others like Pat and Spike, is rarer than it should be. But too often we see ill-informed rabble-rousers (at best) and blowhards who take almost as much pride in their own ignorance as they take in their horrific disrespect for women and non-Americans. These men are too busy writing Donnie Brasco fan fiction and articulating some antiquated, warped view of masculinity to view sports in anything but a childishly normative lens. They’re responsible, in large part, for the behavior that caused the aforementioned reputation, and they should be shouted down.

Anyway, as much as the thermonuclear optimism and innumeracy of many Phillies fans irks me, y’all’re a good bunch. Given the choice between hanging out with people whose ranking of sports teams places the Phillies over the Eagles and hanging out with people whose preferences are reversed, I’ll take the Phillies any day. Call me a snob if you like, but judging by how turgid my prose has become recently, I think I’ve figured that one out for myself.

@TonyMcIV: “Who starts the one game playoff against the Braves in your opinion? Also- how awesome would an A’s Phillies WS be?”

Dude. I don’t want to sound like a naysayer, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Considering how much I hate the Braves, I might start that game with some sort of analgesic, with the intention of waking up again sometime around Thanksgiving. If the Phillies were to lose the Braves in the playoffs, I’d probably just start hemorrhaging and die on the spot. Better not to be conscious for that I think. For that matter, if the Phillies come all the way back from 1,000-to-1 odds just to lose in a one-game playoff, I might move to Croatia or something. What a resounding affirmation of nihilism that would be. Such an outcome is enough to make a man give up all his hobbies and live out his days in a windowless room with a continuous supply of vodka and a Bible, doing nothing but reading the first half of Ecclesiastes over and over and over.

But to answer your question–I don’t know. It depends on how the rotation shakes out, who’s pitching well, if there are any rainouts or if anyone goes on short rest. If I had my way, it would be Cole Hamels, but it’s not like seeing Cliff Lee or Roy Halladay on the mound with the season on the line would be an uncomfortable feeling either. Let’s just try to avoid a Cloyd-Medlen matchup and I’ll be at peace.

And a Phillies-A’s World Series would be awesome, if only because it would involve the Phillies, and would not involve the Yankees or Red Sox. Or the White Sox, because screw those guys. Between the Nationals, A’s and Orioles, we’re getting a lot of new blood in this stretch run, which is pretty cool. Back in the days before MLB.tv, one of the best things about the playoffs was seeing guys you never got to watch during the year. Even though I’ve watched a lot of those teams this year, it’s still neat to watch a team make its first playoff appearance in several years. With the Yankees, Phillies, Cardinals, Tigers and (to a lesser extent) Rangers, Braves and Rays, we kind of know what we’re getting. A World Series involving the A’s would just add to what’s been a very entropy-filled year and a half for Major League Baseball.

@jackieinerita: “Why Utley at third? Is there some sweet 2B option I don’t know about”

I don’t know. I think it’s because he asked. I’ve been quite clear in my insistence that third base is not a fertile position right now, so maybe filling the spot internally makes it easier for the Phillies to improve at another position. And if Utley can play another position, it gives the Phillies some lineup flexibility, so that’s a bonus.

There are a couple downsides: first, I don’t know how good Utley would be defensively at third. And if he’s anything short of truly spectacular at third, he’s going to be less valuable. Utley is among the best defensive second basemen of the past generation, if not the best, and if he’s any less than that at third, you’re losing defensive value. And while he’s got great range and instincts, I’m not sure how good he’ll be. Because of the speed of the position compared to second, Utley will lose some of his range, and while he’s not Chuck Knoblauch, he’s conspicuously conservative with the baseball. I don’t know if I trust his arm on the longer, cross-diamond throws (or even if he does). Anyway, I have a hard time believing the Phillies wouldn’t take a defensive hit at second, third or both.

Second, it’s not like second base is full of great options right now either. If they stood a chance of signing, like, Ian Kinsler or something, that’d be one thing. But who are they going to get to play second–Freddy Galvis? I like Galvis as a pinch runner/utilityman, but if he’s going to be an everyday player for a contender, he’s going to have to become a better hitter than he’s ever given any indication of being at any point in his professional career. Please stop wishing for 600 plate appearances for a guy with a .266 career wOBA.

So if Utley wants to take some grounders at third for curiosity’s sake, he should. Take all the grounders you like. But there’s no reason I’m aware of for Utley to undertake a full-time position change.

@geatland: “If members of the 2012 Phillies each wrote a memoir regarding this season, what would the titles be?”

I think this question lends itself to a bulleted list:

  • Jimmy RollinsThe hell I don’t hustle! LISTEN KID! I’ve been hearing that crap ever since I was at UCLA. I’m out there busting my buns every night. Tell your old man to drag Walton and Lanier up and down the court for 48 minutes.
  • Tyler Cloyd: I Can’t Drive 85
  • Kyle Kendrick: The Dog that Caught the Car
  • John MayberryShane! Come Back, Shane!
  • Phillippe AumontLe Pont Au Papelbon (h/t to @AntsinIN for that one)
  • Domonic Brown: Escape from Lehigh Valley
  • Jonathan Papelbon(Vacant Stare)
  • Chase UtleyI’m Not Dead, I’m Just Resting
  • Carlos RuizThe Righteous Vengeance of an Angry God
  • Ryan HowardIt’s a Terrible Glove, and I’m Flailing at Sliders 
  • Erik KratzScrew You, Brian Schneider
  • Juan Pierre: “But hey, sometimes the batless fleck of roster garbage stumbles upon success. That’s baseball.” (ghostwritten by Ryan Sommers)
  • Cliff Lee: Runs Lift Us Up Where We Belong
  • Cole Hamels: A Truckful of Dollars
  • Kevin FrandsenStrong Motion
  • Roy Halladay: Come back… so we can be young men together again.

Okay, I think that’s enough.

@wattmilliams: “Which evil mastermind is Selig most like for sparking the madness of this Wild Card race?

The Joker. I’m imagining the ferry scene from The Dark Knight except the ferries are filled with the Phillies and the Braves, respectively. That’s the insanity of a one-game playoff, though the ferry scenario, from a purely rational game theory perspective, is an extremely simple solution: blow the other ship. If the scenario is as The Joker says, and there’s no chance that he’s lying to you about what the detonators are connected to, or if the ferries will actually both explode at midnight, the purely rational thing to do is to save yourself and blow up the other ferry.

Of course, then things get complicated when you think about how you might not completely trust The Joker, and the guilt of blowing up a few hundred other folks. However, all that changes when the Braves are in the equation.

I was going to say that if the Phillies were on one ferry and the Braves were on the other ferry, I’d blow that sumbitch up without a second thought. Chipper Jones is on that ferry. I think having the opportunity to blow Chipper Jones to smithereens and not taking it is reprehensible.

However, in this scenario, I can imagine someone (Chase Utley, that cold, calculating, rational mensch that he is) taking the detonator and mashing down the button. But then, instead of the Braves’ boat blowing up, Bob Davidson magically appears and starts tossing people overboard.

Evil mastermind indeed.

@SoMuchForPathos: “There’s a murder mystery dinner in the Phillies’ locker room. What’s the scenario? Who is the murderer?”

Well, the most likely scenario is that someone tells Roy Halladay that they’re going to do a murder mystery dinner instead of running foul pole to foul pole until they black out and he gets angry and murders everyone.

But let’s imagine the actual murder mystery dinner.

It’s a dark and stormy night and everyone’s been trapped in the clubhouse after a players-only meeting goes long. Michael Martinez is found dead in the shower, his brains beaten in with a baseball bat.

Everyone gives a big cheer and goes home.

No, wait, we can’t do that. Anyway, Mini-Mart is dead, and Detective Lieutenant Cliff Lee braves the rain to examine the crime scene, dressed in a leather bomber jacket and a deerstalker hat. He examines the body and finds that Mini-Mart ran and struggled before he was murdered, so it can’t be Jimmy Rollins–killing Mini-Mart would have taken too much effort.

Mini-Mart was found with a glove on his left hand, and John Mayberry is excused because he can’t hit righties. Likewise Domonic Brown, who doesn’t swing wildly enough to deliver the multiple blows that killed Martinez. Nor can it be Juan Pierre, who can’t swing a bat hard enough to kill someone.

Out of the corner of his eye, Detective Lee notices a red splotch on Jonathan Papelbon’s uniform–could it be blood? No, it’s hot sauce from his mid-game meal of beer and fried chicken.

But there’s an imprint on Mini-Mart’s forehead–the embossed logo of a Louisville Slugger belonging to Erik Kratz, imprinted on Mini-Mart’s lifeless body…a clue! Surely Kratz is the murderer!

Before going back to apprehend Kratz, Lee goes back to look at the body one more time. Mini-Mart didn’t actually die of injuries from the bat–some of his hair has been torn out, and Martinez’s neck has been broken, as if someone was holding his head and crushed him by accident. Lee’s gaze turns back to the corner of the locker room where Kratz is comforting a sobbing Darin Ruf.

“Erik,” Ruf says, “tell me how it’s going to be.”
“Well,” Kratz says, “We’re gonna have a cow, and some pigs, and we’re gonna have, maybe-maybe, a chicken. Down in the flat, we’ll have a little field of…”
“Field of alfalfa for the rabbits.”
“For the rabbits,” Kratz says.

Clearly, Lee says to himself, Ruf accidentally killed Mini-Mart and Kratz beat up the dead body to cover for Ruf.

The end.

Phillies playoff odds at 2.7 percent right now. We’re getting into must-win territory here. See you next week.

 

Lucas Harrell Angry

The Phillies have faced Houston Astros starter Lucas Harrell twice this year, and twice they’ve sent him into fits of rage. On May 14, Harrell surrendered three runs in five and two-thirds innings as the Phillies went on to win 5-1. Last night, Harrell allowed four runs in five and two-thirds innings, but got the no-decision when the Astros hung a three-spot in the bottom of the eighth en route to a 6-4 victory. As interesting as the game itself were Harrell’s rage antics in the dugout both times. After the jump, you can check out some .gifs of the action.

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