Crash Bag, Vol. 20: A Disturbing Lack of Patriotism

I watched the middle innings of the Great Britain-Canada WBC qualifier yesterday afternoon. Which brings us to our first question, which wasn’t intended as a Crash Bag question, but it warrants answering.

@loctastic: “can’t you just watch normal baseball like a normal person?”

No. I watch international baseball and college baseball because I’m a massive sports hipster. I want to know who Nolan Fontana is before anyone else and lord it over you that I hated Robert Refsnyder before hating Robert Refsnyder was cool. This is why I watch oodles of curling during the Winter Olympics and develop strong opinions about Louisa Necib. I like being exposed to new things, and I like showing off to people how much I know. So screw you.

Plus Michael Roth pitched. I love Michael Roth, not only because he led my South Carolina Gamecocks to two straight national titles and a third appearance in the College World Series finals. But because he’s so obviously smarter than the hitters he befuddles with his seriously average stuff. It’s what I love about watching athletes like Greg Maddux and Peyton Manning, that they not only outplay but outthink their opponents. Plus, as I said in last week’s Crash Bag, I want to be Michael Roth’s best friend.

So how did Roth, who’s from a suburb of Greenville, South Carolina, wind up pitching for Her Majesty’s Base Ball Team? This is where I’ve got a bone to pick. His mother is English, which entitles him to dual citizenship, so he can play for Team GB, which he does, despite being thoroughly American.

This is patent nonsense. Most of the European teams (except the Netherlands, whose roster mixes Dutch players with the Kenley Jansens and Jurickson Profars of the Netherlands Antilles) are made up primarily of Americans and Caribbeans with some ancestral link to the mother country. Plus the Dutch call it honkbal, which is awesome, so they get to do what they want. I get the appeal for athletes, like Roth, who want to play international baseball but don’t have a prayer of cracking Team USA. But I don’t condone it.

Oh, and while we’re on the topic of overseas territories, why does Puerto Rico compete as its own country in international sports? Aren’t Puerto Ricans American citizens? I know there are some national identity issues for Puerto Rican-Americans, but when I’m dictator of the world, you don’t get to have your own Olympic team unless you have your own military and your own welfare state.

Anyway, Dustin Parkes, a Canadian, wrote today at Getting Blanked about how he doesn’t get patriotic about international sports, which is fine, and would probably change if he lived in a country that was worth being proud of. I’m an intensely patriotic person, and sports kicks that drive into a xenophobic mania that has led me to say some things I’m not proud of about the Chinese, Russians, Italians, Mexicans and whoever else might be athletically inconvenient at the moment for the United States. I will watch golf if it involves a USA-versus-Dirty-Europeans angle.

So I view Americans playing for other countries in any sport as a betrayal of seditious proportions. It’s one thing for Roth, knowing Team USA doesn’t want him, to ply his trade elsewhere. But Giuseppe Rossi (of Teaneck, NJ), Alex Rodriguez (Miami), Manny Ramirez (New York City) and others who turned their back on their country for some reason or other have urinated on the banner of freedom and I won’t stand for it. I am terrified of the possibility that Israel might make the WBC finals, and that the best Jewish American ballplayers might flock to play for a country with no established baseball tradition whatsoever rather than the country that, you know, they live in and whose services they enjoy. It might make me stop liking Ian Kinsler, a possibility I had never even considered.

Maybe I feel this way because my family has been here for more than 100 years, or because insofar as I have foreign ancestral origins, they’re primarily Swiss and German, and no one’s really proud of being German-American the way people are proud of being Irish-American or Italian-American. Though when I switched my Twitter handle to my real name, I discovered how many Swiss and German guys are named “Michael Baumann” or “M. Baumann.” It’s a ton. We won the war–I want my name back.

But going back to the whole Italian-American pride thing, growing up in New Jersey around people who wear “Italia” t-shirts and pretend that their knowledge of their “culture” extends beyond being vaguely darkly-complected and having a grandmother who makes good pasta sauce has probably colored my perception of Americans who take a little too much pride in their family origins. Maybe if I’d grown up in Minnesota, where everyone’s of Swedish extraction and no one cares, things would have been different. But that doesn’t change my point– we’re American. Be proud of it or get out.

@gberry523: “if you are the Phillies, do you let Utley, Rollins, or Halladay play the WBC?”

More WBC. Rollins yes, Utley no, Halladay maybe. I get more of a sense of there being a limited number of miles left on the odometer from Utley than I do from Rollins. Though if Ian Kinsler plays for Israel instead of the United States, I might send Utley and have him slide in extra hard on double play attempts.

As far as Halladay goes, I think I’d prefer he rest his shoulder given the season he’s had, but if he wants to play for Team USA, I’d consider letting him go. But considering that he was left off both the 2006 and 2009 rosters, when he was healthier and in his prime, I doubt he’d volunteer. Frankly, I’d consider Halladay to be at best the fifth-most likely Phillies pitcher to be tapped for WBC duty, after Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon for the USA and Phillippe Aumont for Canada. I’d actually be less surprised to see Antonio Bastardo on the Dominican Republic team than Halladay on Team USA.

@JFSportsFan: “Who is the most 2012 Phillie?”

That’s a good question. We’re looking for someone who’s vaguely weird and kind of unfamiliar. My dad was complaining to me a couple weeks ago about all the new guys in the lineup, that he’d just gotten used to the old guys and now everything’s changing.

I’d go for someone who’s had a disappointing season, but that’s just depressing. Let’s go for a newcomer, someone who’s at once maddening and bizarrely played very well. Someone who embodies the approach that got the Phillies into this pickle in the first place.

Yes, I’m looking at you, Juan Pierre.

Jim from Philly: “If you were at the Mets game right now as a Mets fan, should you have an argument if you walked to the window and demanded a refund?”

Boy, that was a rough night for Mets fans, wasn’t it? I missed the first half hour of the game and expected the game to be scoreless or maybe 1-0 in the second inning. Then Juan Pierre was up for the second time, up to slap the eighth of nine singles in an eight-run inning.

So I’d say that after your team goes down 8-0 in the first, you should be kind of mad. But let’s say you get your refund–then you’re out on the street in Queens, surrounded by New Yorkers, with no baseball to watch. Isn’t that worse?

@AntsinIN: “can we officially start calling Aumont the Pont à Paps?”

I’d go with Pont à Papelbon and spell it out, but yes, I believe so. Anthony created this nickname a couple weeks ago, and I like it. There’s nothing like coming up with a nickname and having it stick–I’ve done this twice, by my count, with Tony No-Dad for Antonio Bastardo last year and Exxon for Wilson Valdez in 2010 (yes, that was me, and anyone who tells you different is a liar), and it’s a great feeling, so I get why you’re so excited.

Anyway, it plays off the Ryan Madson “Bridge to Lidge” thing, which is good, it’s French, which is a plus for Phillippe Aumont, and it’s alliterative. I think it checks all the buttons. Consider him so nicknamed.

@soundofphilly: “if the Phillies miss the playoffs by a game or two, how much second guessing of the first half is healthy or necessary?”

I think we beat that to death in the first half. I, for one, would rather move beyond it for the sake of our collective mental health. Honestly, a lot of what went wrong was bad luck and injury, two things that you can’t really count on. All in all, I think the Phillies are about where they deserve to be–around .500 and hanging around the fringes of the playoff race. If there’s anything this season has taught me, it’s that dwelling on the negative when the team is good is cool and edgy and contrarian, but dwelling on the negative when the team is mediocre will just drive you up the gorram wall. So let’s be cool, brothers.

@andymoney69: “if you had to fight one sportswriter in a steel cage match who would you chose”

I know you want me to say Jon Morosi but I’m not taking the bait. I can tell you who it would not be–Rob Maaddi of the Associated Press’s Philadelphia bureau. That guy is absolutely ripped and I get the impression that he’d have no compunctions about literally tearing my limbs off. Not because he seems like a particularly nasty or violent guy, but you don’t get to have muscles that big unless you have a monomaniacal devotion to physical fitness, a devotion that includes, if necessary, pounding the living daylights out of doughy nerds who don’t know when to shut up. He is one sportswriter I would not trifle with.

My real answer has less to do with hating the writer than it does actually standing a chance at beating the writer. I’d pick Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo!’s Puck Daddy, because 1) I don’t think I could take him but I don’t think he’d literally kill me and 2) I’d bet my life that if I suggested that instead of fighting we just have beer and pizza delivered to the octagon and just sit and chat about hockey until one of us passed out, he’d be totally down. That way we’d be full, drunk and happy, with no severe injuries of any kind. Seems preferable to fighting, and I think beer and pizza with Wyshynski sounds like a blast. Other guys I’d challenge for the same reason: Sam Miller of Baseball Prospectus, Jonathan Wilson of The Blizzard and Jonah Keri of Grantland. If any one of them is in South Jersey and wants to get sloppy drunk and talk about sports, let me know and I’ll buy the first pitcher.

@magoplasma: “My friend asks me for all the baseball related answers to his crosswords. Is this not cheating somehow? He claims gathering friend knowledge is fine, looking it up is cheating. And I have to know it off the top of my head.”

I’ll allow it.

There’s a longstanding tradition of asking friends for help with the crossword, reinforced by movies and TV, which is the only place people do crossword puzzles anymore, apart from the back of college lecture halls. And what’s the loss from your perspective if you help out? You get to conclusively prove your intellectual superiority–it’s like beating him in Trivial Pursuit in a fraction of the time.

In college, I was the king of helping people with their crossword puzzles, and I was happy to be of help. It was the only way I could impress girls. So phone-a-friend is acceptable in all cases for crossword puzzles.

@tiff1001: “polka dots, argyle, houndstooth, plaid. Assign a uniform pattern to each of the 4 main Philly sport teams.”

I’ve long been of the opinion that American sports teams are far too conservative with their uniform design. The first team to really deviate from established norms was the University of Oregon football team, and look what happened to them. There’s a place for the simple and the iconic: the Yankees, the Red Wings, Penn State football, and so on–all of those uniforms look great and have barely been altered in the past 50 years. But there’s room to experiment with patterns, I think.

Anyway, here’s what I’d go with:

  • Phillies: Polka dots. I don’t think it’s possible to make polka dots look good on any of these sports’ uniforms, so we’re just writing this one off. It’s going to look stupid, but it will be an improvement over the current home alternate uniform.
  • Eagles: Plaid. Not like the full Al Borland, but something subtle like the current Manchester United kit would actually look unbelievably cool in black and dark green.
  • Flyers: Argyle. I think the Flyers’ current uniforms are as close to perfect as you’ll get. Retro without being obvious or dated, referential to the team’s period of greatest success and bold without being obnoxious. I wouldn’t change them for anything. However, if I had to, I think argyle could work. When I think of argyle in sports, I think of early jerseys for the Garmin cycling team. Bold, eye-catching and easily-identifiable. Work something like that out in orange, black and white and we might be on to something. I think of all these patters, argyle is by far the most promising.
  • Sixers: Houndstooth. Does Houndstooth have to be black and white, or do I just think that because of Bear Bryant? I don’t know. Anyway, maybe you could get a red-and-blue houndstooth look going for the Sixers. I don’t really think this could work, not the way I do with the plaid Eagles, but I had to pick something.

@petzrawr: “Would you rather get kicked in the balls by Garo Yepremian or punched in the face by Mike Tyson? Assume both are in their prime.”

Garo Yepremian? Really? I’m not sure it’s possible to pick a less relevant athlete.

Okay, I’ve been legitimately punched in the face. I’m not sure I’ve ever been legitimately kicked in the balls, and I’d still take being punched in the face. Being kicked in the balls sucks. There’s nothing dignified about it, it seems like a direct attack on one’s manhood, and the pain not only lingers but resonates throughout your entire body. It sucks. On principle I’d rather be punched in the face than kicked in the nuts.

A quick trip to Google shows that elite soccer players kick the ball with about 1,200 pounds of force. One would expect Yepremian, as a proxy for an average NFL placekicker, to match that, if not exceed it. A heavyweight boxer maxes out at somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,300 to 1,400 pounds. From a sheer physics perspective, you’d want the kick rather than the punch.

But is Iron Mike wearing gloves? If so, the padding and added surface area make it a no-brainer to take the punch to the face, particularly if Garo Yepremian is wearing cleats. If it’s a bare-knuckle punch, it’s a tougher decision.

So if we’re assuming the force of the blow to be roughly equal, it all comes down to what’s being hit. Garo is kicking exposed soft tissue protected by nothing but nerve endings. Tyson is punching bone. And it’s only one blow, which is key, so even if Tyson breaks some combination of my jaw, orbital bone, cheekbone and nose, he doesn’t keep hitting me until I’m literally dead. And since I’ve never had a concussion before, I’m at a lower risk for CTE even if I do get knocked out. A couple weeks’ worth of eating through a straw and I’m as good as new, ideally with a Bond Villain scar from the plastic surgery.

But if Garo Yepremian kicks me in the junk, that would hurt more and possibly cause permanent damage. I’d take the punch to the face in a heartbeat, because, yes, I value the safety of my manparts more than I value the safety of my brain.

@bxe1234: “If you were a ‘creative sentencer,’ how would you punish Yunel Escobar for his eye-black idiocy?”

In reality, I’d suspend him for the rest of the season and fine at least John Farrell and probably the Blue Jays organization for a massive failure of institutional control. I’m willing to buy Escobar’s contention that there’s a cultural/linguistic issue, or that he’s dumb enough or homophobic enough to think that there’s nothing wrong with wearing a gay slur on your face on television. It’s not an excuse, but that doesn’t shock me.

What does shock me is that no one stopped him. How do Farrell and his coaching staff, to say nothing of the other players, see Escobar put that on his eye black (one of the douchiest acts of personal style in sports, no matter what you write) and let him leave the clubhouse? It’s an astounding statement either of tacit support for that kind of hate speech, or of cognitive dissonance, or of naivete or of being asleep at the wheel–in any case, not something you want from your team.

I think we need to attack homophobia in sports for the same reasons we need to attack racism in sports commentary–it’s there, it’s hurtful, it’s outmoded and it gets well-meaning people sucked into attitudes that are more dangerous than they realize, to say nothing of allowing people who are actually prejudiced or bigoted to slide by without being confronted. Some have taken this opportunity to condemn the idiotic crossdressing stunts rookies have to go through as contributing to a culture of homophobia, and while I think there’s something to that, the larger problem I have with that is the hazing itself, not what form it takes.

I’d be content for now stomping out such obvious acts of homophobia as Escobar’s eye black booboo. I MLB found the right approach to stomping out established and undesirable behavior with its PED suspension policy: want people to stop doing something? Overreact massively. Announce that any overtly racist or homophobic language from MLB players or other on-field personnel will be met with fines and suspensions, escalating with each offense. If you start meting out five-game unpaid suspensions for calling an umpire a “cocksucker,” you might start hearing it less. Again, I’d like to get to the root of the problem, but for the time being I’ll settle for getting people to keep their bigotry to themselves.

I’m sorry, you asked for a joke and you got a lecture. I hate people who do that.

Ummm…I’m all for the Ludovico technique in this case: drug Yunel Escobar up and make him sit in a chair and talk to Luke Scott for 24 hours. That should cure his homophobia.

@DashTreyhorn: “The Phillies as characters from Brick.”

Okay, it’s been long enough that we can do one of these, particularly if it’s about such an awesome movie as Brick. If you haven’t seen it, you should, because it’s awesome.

  • Chase Utley as Brendan Frye: Constantly getting beat up, constantly one step ahead of everyone else, unable to quit when quitting is the smart thing to do.
  • Jimmy Rollins as Brain: Doesn’t get as much credit, but an indispensable part of the good guy winning.
  • Domonic Brown as Emily: Deeply loved, but can’t seem to catch a break.
  • Cole Hamels as Laura: Because Hamels kinda looks like Nora Zehetner.
  • Hunter Pence as Dode: I know Pence is gone, but this comparison is too perfect.
  • Carlos Ruiz as Brad Bramish: Distributes acts of terrific violence first, asks questions later.
  • Jonathan Papelbon as Tugger: Influential but with a head full of sawdust. This one’s pretty easy too.
  • Ryan Howard as The Pin: This was going to be Cliff Lee for his dispassionate, mysterious awesomeness, but I couldn’t get over the fact that both Howard and The Pin walk with a limp.

@houcktc: “Letter grade on Dom’s performance this year”

I think he’s been fine. I think he’s proved that he can hold down an outfield corner full-time, which is nice. I’d like to see him reach a little more of that power potential, but I think that will come. Mostly I’m just relieved that he wasn’t a total train wreck both offensively and defensively, which would have sent me into a depressive stupor of self-mutilation and watching film of Michael Martinez hitting. I’ll give Brown a B+ for his efforts so far: satisfying, but still leaving something to be desired.

@brendankeeler: “What would eighth grade Baumann think of Baumann today?”

He’d probably consider me fat and morally depraved above all else. Probably a little disappointed that I didn’t follow through with sportswriting as a career. But he’d probably be impressed with my awesome beard, so that’s something.

Wow, I am so overwhelmed by how massively I’ve underachieved since eighth grade that I’m losing my will to live. Time to go sit in a corner and cry.

@TBOHBlog: “Chipper Jones is a swell player, but how will the Phillies honor him while recognizing all of his stupid dumbness?”

I’d make a list of suggestions, but I don’t want to trample on future topics in case someone asks me “What are the 10 most horrific, painful, humiliating ways a person can die?” later on.

Let me acknowledge that Chipper Jones is one of the greatest third basemen of all time, a surefire Hall of Famer, an inspirationally great baseball player. Now let me say that I may not hate any baseball player more than I hate Chipper Jones. Actually, I’ll make a bulleted list of things I don’t like about Chipper Jones.

  • His stupid smile. The kind of unassuming, infantile aw-shucks expression that screams “I know I’m trying to grope your girlfriend at a party but you can’t be mad at me because I’m a good ol’ boy.” You know, that Brett Favre “I’m’a text you photos of my penis and try to sell you jeans anyway” face. No, Chip. I can be mad at you and I will hit you in the face.
  • His nickname. Congratulations, Chipper, you’re the only person to have a given name as stupid as “Larry Wayne” and somehow find a nickname to go by that’s even stupider. What kind of stunted intellect must you have to go by “Chipper” into your 40s?
  • He’s from Florida. I hate Florida. I wish they could take the Kennedy Space Center and Disney World and move them someplace that wasn’t so manifestly terrible, like South Dakota.
  • He’s an Atlanta Brave. I hate the Atlanta Braves.
  • He’s the last remaining remnant of that time in the mid-90s where not only were devastatingly great, but maintained a kind of veneer of smug superiority to them. I call this Atlanta’s “Hitler Youth” period. Thoroughly evil, but thoroughly vanilla. Like everyone is supremely confident in his own greatness but no one is either interesting or likeable. Imagine a room full of Mitt Romneys. I hated that team–the sooner Chipper retires the sooner I can start forgetting about the mid-90s Braves.
  • Hooters Waitress Baby. I’d bet large that at least one Phillies player has cheated on his wife, and while I certainly don’t encourage marital infidelity, it just seems so much more awful when Chipper’s doing it. I think this because I’m a spiteful person blinded by partisanship.
  • He bowhunts. Maybe he thinks that hunting with a bow makes him a more credible brave?
  • His Twitter account. I can’t read it without being driven to knock heads together. It’s a pastiche of overexuberant, approval-seeking bro-ishness with a patina of overexcited church youth group leader–that obvious effort to exude coolness and foster camaraderie that falls short because it’s so obviously trying too hard. We’re talking about a grown man who refers to strikeouts as “punchies” and home runs as “#cranks” and “#jerks” WITH THE HASHTAG. This coming from a man who has children–I weep for those children.

I don’t like the practice of giving gifts to opposing players in the first place, but maybe the Phillies should buy Chipper a watch or something. And then hire Garo Yepremian to kick him in the balls.

That’ll do it for this week’s episode of This Old House. On a personal note that may be of interest to those of you who like basketball as well, I’ll be writing about the Sixers for SB Nation’s Liberty Ballers this coming season, so you can find my work there, along with the work of several other quality writers. Feel free to check out the site.

Bastardo Should be in Phils’ Future Plans

Todd Zolecki posted a report on the Phillies’ 2013 bullpen wishes, including quotes from Charlie Manuel and Ruben Amaro. I was surprised to read that Jake Diekman, Jeremy Horst, and/or a free agent lefty reliever “could bump [Antonio Bastardo] out” of the ‘pen, but was then relieved to read this from Amaro:

“I think [Bastardo is] part of our club. Obviously he’s going to have to continue to prove himself, but I believe he’s going to be part of our club. [...] I think he’s a much better pitcher than he’s shown.”

Bastardo has had a rough 2012, but has certainly shown a lot of promise as well. His 36 percent strikeout rate is sixth-best among all qualified relievers, trailing only Craig Kimbrel (50%), Aroldis Chapman (45%), Kenley Jansen (39%), Ernesto Frieri (39%), and Jason Grilli (37%). Each pitcher has a sub-3.00 ERA. Bastardo also excels at inducing weak contact as his infield fly ball rate, at 17 percent, is the 11th-highest among qualified relievers.

That isn’t to say Bastardo doesn’t have any obvious flaws. His 12 percent walk rate is among the 20 highest. Of the 16 pitchers with a higher walk rate, only four have a sub-3.00 ERA. Additionally, as his infield fly rate might allow you to infer, Bastardo is very ground ball-averse. His 51 percent fly ball rate is the fourth-highest among all relievers, trailing only Louis Coleman (58%), Tyler Clippard (57%), and Joel Peralta (52%). Lots of fly balls along with a home run problem (13.5 percent of Bastardo’s fly balls allowed were home runs) and you have a bloated ERA.

However, Bastardo hadn’t been a homer-prone pitcher in his previous 100 innings, indicating that his 2012 woes are either a fluke or a fixable problem. Either way, Bastardo will spend the five months between October and February to tie up the proverbial loose ends and go into 2013 smarter and stronger. The Phillies would be unwise to give up on Bastardo, who turns 27 years old today and is averaging 14 strikeouts for every nine innings pitched. The list of relievers who have posted such a season before the age of 28 (dating back to 1990) is small, but populated with names you’ve come to know and respect:

Player SO/9 IP Year Age Tm
Craig Kimbrel 16.48 57.1 2012 24 ATL
Kenley Jansen 16.10 53.2 2011 23 LAD
Carlos Marmol 15.99 77.2 2010 27 CHC
Aroldis Chapman 15.83 67.2 2012 24 CIN
Eric Gagne 14.98 82.1 2003 27 LAD
Billy Wagner 14.95 74.2 1999 27 HOU
Brad Lidge 14.93 94.2 2004 27 HOU
Craig Kimbrel 14.84 77.0 2011 23 ATL
Armando Benitez 14.77 78.0 1999 26 NYM
Billy Wagner 14.55 60.0 1998 26 HOU
Ernesto Frieri 14.42 58.2 2012 26 TOT
Billy Wagner 14.38 66.1 1997 25 HOU
Byung-Hyun Kim 14.14 70.2 2000 21 ARI
Antonio Bastardo 14.07 47.1 2012 26 PHI
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/20/2012.

Describing his wishes for next year’s bullpen, Zolecki quotes Manuel as saying, “I think we need at least one good piece. And when I talk about pieces, I mean someone that’s very, very good. First-class good.” Bastardo is no Billy Wagner, but his mediocre season shouldn’t compel the Phillies — currently committing $125 million to seven players in 2013 — to frivolously spend money on relief pitching in the off-season. With a 3.16 xFIP and 2.48 SIERA, Bastardo can be a dominant late-innings reliever just as he is now, and he  has the potential to be one of the game’s most-feared lefties if he continues to get better with age. With Horst and Phillippe Aumont behind him, the Phillies will be just fine in the bullpen.

Small My Nose? Why Magnificent, My Nose!

In case you missed it, Ryan Howard hit a home run. Against a left-handed reliever. To put the Phillies ahead against the Mets in the top of the 9th inning. It was awesome. It did this to the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

The reaction from Mets fans, however, was less than warm. Thanks to the official Twitter account of The Good Phight, it has come to our attention that not only are Mets fans generally (and justifiably) upset at The Big Piece himself, but more specifically at his notoriously large nose. The level of discourse, however, has been disappointing–not much beyond hurling expletives at Ryan Howard and declaring his nose to be big.

Boy, a bunch of uncreative, boorish villains making obvious and dull comments about a hero’s large nose? I feel like I’ve seen this one before.

Ah, yes! That’s right. So this is the part where Ryan Howard takes up the challenge:

What? How? You accuse me of absurdity? Small my nose? Why magnificent, my nose! You pug, you knob, you button-head, know that I glory in this nose of mine, for a great nose indicates a great man: Genial, courteous, intellectual, virile, courageous as I am and such as you poor wretch will never dare to be even in imagination. 

 Of course, in the play, Cyrano de Bergerac finds the man who says his nose is “rather large,” coins several more clever insults, then challenges the man to a duel and stabs him to death while composing a poem.

So because Howard is not here to defend his own nasal integrity, allow me to play the surrogate Cryano to Mets fans’ Vicomte de Valvert. Here are twenty better insults about Ryan Howard’s nose.

  1. Spatial: Ryan Howard’s nose is bigger than Jon Rauch.
  2. Aesthetic: Ryan Howard’s nose is uglier than Jon Rauch’s tattoos.
  3. Narcotic: Dwight Gooden would have died long ago if his nose were as big as Ryan Howard’s.
  4. Financial: Fred Wilpon would have spotted Ryan Howard the cash for a rhinoplasty, but then Bernie Madoff came along.
  5. Rhetorical: I betcha Ryan Howard’s nose expels more hot air than Mike Francesca.
  6. Zoological: Between Ryan Howard’s nose and David Wright‘s ears, we’re halfway to building an anteater.
  7. Biomechanical: Ryan Howard’s nose is so big Oliver Perez could hit it with a baseball.
  8. Lovesick: Ryan Howard’s nose is as big as the hole Jose Reyes left in the Mets’ infield.
  9. Comparative: Sure, that home run was out of Citi Field. It wouldn’t’ve been out of Ryan Howard’s nose.
  10. Literary: Ryan Howard must have said the Mets were good an awful lot.
  11. Anatomical: Ryan Howard’s nose is longer than Daryl Strawberry’s neck.
  12. Regretful: Bobby Bonilla’s contract is almost as sad as Ryan Howard’s nose.
  13. Analytical: Ryan Howard’s nose is so fat, even Steve Phillips wouldn’t have traded Kevin Appier for him.
  14. Romantic: Ryan Howard’s nose is so ugly, even Jeromy Burnitz wouldn’t have talked to it at a bar.
  15. Respiratory: Jon Niese could have just swapped.
  16. Facial: Ryan Howard couldn’t have a beard like R.A. Dickey‘s–there’s just not enough room left on his face.
  17. Aromatic: The Mets stink. Ryan Howard was the first to know.
  18. Athletic: What’s the only thing that runs worse than Ryan Howard’s nose? Jason Bay.
  19. Sabermetric: Ryan Howard’s nose’s fWAR is higher than Johan Santana‘s this season.
  20. Inquisitive: Someone ask Ryan Howard’s nose what it feels like to be a bigger waste of space than Omar Minaya.

Go Phillies. Screw the Mets. Go read Cyrano de Bergerac. Or watch Roxanne. But seriously, screw the Mets.

Mike Trout and False Equivalence

I love it when I wake up and The Internet, or at least that very small, strange, baseball-related corner of The Internet that I inhabit, has chosen a topic of discussion for the day. I got online this morning to see that today’s topic du jour was whether or not thinking Miguel Cabrera‘s potential Triple Crown run made him a better AL MVP candidate than Mike Trout makes you an idiot.

I want to focus on the position taken by ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick in this debate, because he makes several points that, purposely and otherwise, speak volumes

 

 

 

Caveats:

  • I’ve always respected Crasnick a great deal as a writer, and because of that, I feel like I can discuss what he said honestly without implying that I don’t like him.
  • I’m picking out four tweets–there’s more context here, and I’m eliminating a lot of nuance from this argument for simplicity’s sake.
  • Crasnick was just the first person I picked out–I could have commented on any number of other writers.

Okay, now for my thoughts:

  • Trout deserves to win, and I’ve yet to see a convincing argument to the contrary. Bill from The Platoon Advantage wrote astutely on that topic this morning. I believe the evidence for Trout is so overwhelming that I do question anyone who thinks otherwise.
  • Could there be more civility from the statistically inclined? Yes. Absolutely. NBC’s Aaron Gleeman objected immediately to Crasnick’s characterization of Trout supporters, and frankly, I think he overshot the mark. Gleeman is not just a blogger but one of the founding fathers of internet baseball writing, but he’s got the legitimacy of a major media outlet behind him. I’ll admit that I had to go back to last Friday’s Crash Bag, the only place I’ve written about Trout, to make sure I hadn’t done exactly what Crasnick accused (not me in particular, but people like) me of doing. When you’ve got nothing but your prose to make you stand out, you can easily overcook your rhetoric.
  • The combination of the Fifth-Column Blogger Ethic, Youthful Bravado and training in mathematics, statistics, philosophy or social science is a volatile one. That describes not only me but a large segment of the latest wave of sports bloggers: we’re sure we’re right and we’ve got no qualms about telling you so. It’s the same patricidal instinct that fuels revolutions. We’ve got to make sure it doesn’t make us impolite.
  • Mainstream writers are getting better at understanding advanced stats. I don’t know if we appreciate this enough, but in less than a decade we’ve gone from complete innumeracy to WAR, BABIP and FIP being mainstream. If there’s a way to applaud this progress without 1) being patronizing and 2) stunting faster progress by praising foot-dragging incrementalism, we should.
  • I wish there were a shorthand for questioning someone’s methods or understanding without questioning his mental fortitude. There’s a difference, but there’s no one word for “Your argument is specious and/or unfounded.”

Here’s where I do have to criticize Crasnick:

You can’t do that. I don’t think he meant it like this, but “Just Saying” is one step above “You can’t disprove it” or “Coincidence? I Think Not” on the snake oil salesman scale. If you’re just trying to stir the pot with an argument that you know to be faulty, just to get people excited, you’re not an idiot or a moron, you’re a troll. Now there are two kinds of trolls: the ones who bait people into exposing their own ignorance (there may be no better example of this than Yahoo!’s Ryan Lambert, though we in Philadelphia Sports Internet are no stranger to this type of troll ourselves) and the ones who just try to piss people off. I don’t think this is what Crasnick meant to do with his statement about September OPS, but that was the effect. And while his larger point about the civility of discourse is right, I do take issue with his dropping the “Just Saying” line, then hiding behind that particular shield.

Which brings me to my main point: there are multiple viewpoints on every issue. This does not mean that there are multiple valid viewpoints on every issue, or that every viewpoint should be treated with equal weight. This is known as false equivalence, and it’s my biggest beef with mainstream journalism. We’re being suffocated by the fetishization of even-handedness, and we’re only now starting to realize that it’s a problem. This extends beyond sports to politics and culture in general, but I think Bill would be more comfortable with my limiting the scope of the discussion to baseball.

You can claim that Cabrera is more valuable than Trout. I’ll disagree, and with a mountain of empirical evidence on my side, I don’t have to consider your argument as legitimate unless your empirical evidence beats my empirical evidence. My responsibility is to consider your argument in good faith and treat you with civility until your behavior warrants a different reaction. I am not responsible for acting like your evidence is as good as mine when it’s not.

From a Phillies-centered perspective, that’s where the Monkfish stuff came from. I have overwhelming mathematical evidence that the Phillies aren’t going to make the playoffs. If you’re going to talk me off of that evidence, you’re going to have to come up with something better than “Stop being a stick-in-the-mud.” I have overwhelming empirical evidence that Darin Ruf will not be a good major leaguer. If you’re going to talk me off of that viewpoint, you’re going to have to come up with something more compelling than “I think you’re wrong.”

Not every argument is so one-sided as Trout/Cabrera, and it’s possible that reasonable, intelligent people can look at evidence and draw different conclusions–I’d argue that most baseball arguments end up in this bucket. And when people don’t get the evidence, it’s our job to educate them if they want to be educated. Jerry Crasnick is right–there’s no need to be an asshole when you think somone’s wrong. But let’s not fall into the trap of believing that different perspectives are equally valid.

The Reincarnation of Jimmy Rollins

Jimmy Rollins died for his own sins on August 30 when he was pulled in the seventh inning of the series finale against the New York Mets. Rollins failed, for the second time that month, to hustle down the line on what he considered to be a routine out. The second time Rollins failed to hustle, he popped up in front of home plate, but Mets catcher Josh Thole couldn’t hold on and Rollins was able to reach first base safely. If he had been hustling under the assumption that a dropped pop-up was a possibility, he could have been on second base. After the inning, Charlie Manuel removed Rollins from the game, punishing the franchise shortstop for his repeat offense.

Rollins had a .710 OPS after that game. In the 17 games since, his OPS has risen 36 points thanks to 23 hits in 80 plate appearances, including six home runs and six stolen bases. That is the easy correlation, to trace Rollins’ hot streak back to the point at which he became Philadelphia’s pariah. The truth is, though, that Rollins’ rebirth occurred much earlier in the season.

The shortstop carried a sub-.600 OPS through most of May, hitting his effective low point on May 26 when his 201 trips to the plate yielded a .561 OPS. TV and radio talking heads declared the three-year $33 million contract, finalized in ink back in December, a failure. Freddy Galvis, 11 years Rollins’ junior, had captured the collective attention of the city with clutch hitting and flashy defense. Fans dreamed up scenarios where the Phillies could move Rollins to a West coast team like the Oakland Athletics or San Francisco Giants. Despite his falling stock, Rollins finished up the month strong, and from there, there was no turning back.

Since the end of May, Rollins has posted an .820 OPS with 19 home runs and 20 stolen bases. Despite his age and recent injury troubles, he has looked more like the 2007 NL MVP award winner than the washed-up, overpaid shortstop that had found his way into the lineup every day in the first two months of the 2012 season. Rollins’ .351 wOBA since June 1 is the fourth-best among all Major League shortstops, trailing only Ian Desmond (.395), Erick Aybar (.369), and Jose Reyes (.352). Rollins has the most home runs of the bunch as his 19 exceeds Desmond’s 15. His 25 doubles is tied for the most, and his five triples are the fourth-most.

Rollins’ transformation has occurred on both sides of the plate. Through the end of May, Rollins hit for a .186 wOBA as a right-handed hitter and a .294 wOBA as a lefty. Since June 1, Rollins has a .318 wOBA as a right-hander and .365 as a lefty. The following heat maps illustrate the difference much better than words:

ISO stands for isolated power, a statistic that subtracts batting average from slugging percentage to get a better measure of a hitter’s power. As you can easily see, Rollins is hitting for a lot more power lately and it has some relationship with better plate discipline against left-handed pitching.

Through May, Rollins had struck out in 22 percent of his plate appearances against lefties and drew walks in only two percent. Since June 1, those percentages have respectively shrunk and ballooned to 10 percent each. You can see Rollins’ shift to swing at pitches closer to the middle of the plate as well:

More specifically, you can see the difference in pitches Rollins has swung and missed at:

Most of Rollins’ whiffs recently have been over the plate as opposed to up and away.

Another interesting development has been the return of his power, which has almost exclusively come from the left side. 18 of Rollins’ 21 homers have been against right-handed pitching, including 16 since June 1. Ten of those 16 home runs have come on fastballs, and pitchers have been hitting the middle of the plate with more frequency lately.

As an additional piece of trivia, Rollins has averaged 21 additional feet on his fly balls since June 1, going from 248 feet to 269. You can see the difference in his hit charts (last use of illustrations!):

This is a lot to digest, so to sum it up briefly, Rollins has had better plate discipline and shown a lot more power since the start of June, particularly as a left-handed batter. It’s unknown exactly why this change occurred towards the end of May, whether it was simply random or a conscious change in approach, but the Phillies are very happy that Rollins caught fire. When he’s hitting like a top-five shortstop, his not running out a routine pop-up looks insignificant by comparison.

Looking across baseball and getting a sense of the dearth of quality shortstops will give you a better perspective on Rollins’ 2012 season. Along with the much-improved offense, he has continued to add value with above-average defense and smart, aggressive base running. The three-year, $33 million contract looked to be, at one point, a gigantic mistake but now appears to be arguably the best thing the Phillies did in the off-season. The tenured shortstop who turns 34 years old in November still has plenty left in the tank and plenty left to give the Phillies in the next two years.

Lessons From History: The Treaty of Versailles

One of the most elaborate and influential international accords in history was the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I. Not only did it bring an end to one of the bloodiest conflicts in human history, but it set into motion a series of events that would lead to, among other things, World War II, the United Nations, the European Union, the Cold War and the current state of international politics.

Unlike World War II, World War I didn’t really have a clear Good Guy and Bad Guy. We sort of paint the Germans as the bad guy, because 1) they were the Bad Guy in World War II 2) they were on the other side and 3) they lost.

In fact, one of the key provisions of the Treaty of Versailles was that Germany take responsibility publicly for the war, in addition to paying the equivalent of nearly half a trillion dollars in today’s money in reparations.

One thing you might not know about the negotiations is that they were influenced heavily by a member of the American delegation named Samuel Hiss. Hiss, the grandfather of future Soviet spy Alger Hiss, was an economist from Georgetown University who had been sent to France for the negotiations with the team from the State Department. The original draft of the treaty featured reparations of only 40 billion marks, roughly a third of the final total. But Hiss argued that while the original package would hamper the German economy for years, it would still allow them to remain industrialized and possibly reacquire their imperialistic ambitions.

Hiss called for more draconian economic sanctions, recommending to Nigel Killeen, the British foreign ministry’s head negotiator, that the Germans be crushed into economic dust. Killeen agreed and eventually worked out the final treaty. Of course, the reparations helped send Germany into an economic depression the likes of which the industrialized world had never seen, eventually paving the way for the Nazi party to take power, rebuild the country militarily and economically, and start World War II.

By making the argument that no reparations clause could be too expensive, Hiss, in his call to Killeen, set the stage for the rise to power of the Nazi party.

Which is where this comes back to baseball, and the lesson the Phillies can take from history, in colloquial language:

Even though the big peace was extremely expensive, it doesn’t justify Hiss hitting Killeen up.

Talking Phillies-Mets with SNY.tv’s Ted Berg

I joined SNY.tv‘s Ted Berg (@OGTedBerg) to preview the upcoming Phillies-Mets series. We talk about the Phillies’ shrinking playoff hopes, Roy Halladay‘s struggles, Cliff Lee‘s resurgence, Tyler Cloyd‘s future, and Cole Hamels‘ side job as a model.

Ted’s embarrassing photos of Cole Hamels archive.

Your starting pitching match-ups for the series (Updated!):

Despite RBIs, Ryan Howard’s 2012 One to Forget

Ryan Howard went 1-for-4 with two more runs batted in yesterday as the Phillies dropped the series finale in Houston, a disappointment in their chase for the National League’s second Wild Card spot. Howard’s RBI total on the season moved up to 46 in just 61 games and 253 plate appearances. In a full season, that would put him on pace for over 120 RBI, a threshold we had gotten used to seeing Howard cross in the past. However, as usual, the RBI statistic is painting a very inaccurate picture of a player’s actual offensive contributions.

All of the signs point to a dramatic decline for Howard, some of which was to be expected after returning from his Achilles injury — some would argue too soon. Howard is walking at the lowest rate of his career, striking out at the highest rate of his career, and hitting for the least amount of power in his career.

Year PA BB% K% ISO
2005 348 9.5 % 28.7 % .279
2006 704 15.3 % 25.7 % .346
2007 648 16.5 % 30.7 % .316
2008 700 11.6 % 28.4 % .292
2009 703 10.7 % 26.5 % .292
2010 620 9.5 % 25.3 % .229
2011 644 11.6 % 26.7 % .235
2012 253 9.5 % 33.2 % .183
AVG 12.1 % 27.7 % .279

The 0.29 walk-to-strikeout ratio would rank among the worst in baseball if he had a sufficient amount of plate appearances to qualify. His 33.2 percent strikeout rate is second only to Adam Dunn‘s 33.6 percent. The next-highest strikeout rate belongs to Pedro Alvarez at 30.5 percent, painting a veritable chasm between Dunn, Howard, and the rest.

Among first basemen, Howard’s .183 isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average) ranks 24th among 44 first basemen with at least 250 plate appearances. More importantly, it signifies a drastic loss of power when compared to his marks in previous seasons. 60 percent of his hits are singles this year, the second-highest rate of his career (2010, 61.2%) and way above his normal rate, between 48 and 54 percent. Home runs account for only one out of every five of his hits in 2012, compared to between one in three and one in four previously in his career.

Weighted on-base average, a much more accurate measure of offensive production than RBI, has Howard at .302 this year. His career average is .381 and even in his less-productive seasons in 2010 and ’11, he was still up at .367 and .354. The league average for a first baseman is .330. The difference between 2011 Howard and 2012 Howard, using wOBA and on a scale of 650 PA, is 29 runs. 29 runs is equivalent to about three wins, meaning that if the 2012 Phillies had last year’s version of Howard for a full season, they would have three more wins than they do now, ignoring defense and base running. Those three wins, as we found out recently in Houston, would have been nice to have.

Why, then, does Howard have so many runs batted in if he has been performing so poorly? As always, he has had players with a great combination of power, speed, and on-base skills in front of him. Jimmy Rollins hasn’t had a phenomenal year offensively, but he has 14 combined doubles and triples along with 15 stolen bases since Howard returned on July 6. Juan Pierre, since July 6, has a .354 on-base percentage and 15 stolen bases. Chase Utley, who returned only a week before Howard, has a .374 on-base percentage with 15 combined doubles and triples, and eight stolen bases since July 6. Kevin Frandsen also spent some time batting second, contributing a .354 on-base percentage. When the hitters in front of you are able to get on base and/or advance themselves around them more quickly whether with power or speed, your job as a “run producer” is made much easier.

On the defense and base running side of things, Howard hasn’t been much better. The sample size is much too small to lend any credence to defensive statistics, but he has not had a good year at first base, whether the topic is range, making throws to second base, or scooping baseballs from third base and shortstop, there are very few positives. Howard has never been a great runner, so it is no surprise that he has been the team’s worst according to Baseball Prospectus, at negative 3.7 runs despite only 50 base running opportunities.

2012 was the first year of Howard’s monstrous five-year, $125 million contract, and it has been a disaster, though not entirely Howard’s fault — his Achilles injury can certainly be classified in the “freak injury” bin. Still, the Phillies still owe him $105 million and he turns 33 years old in November, both numbers that are now too high for their liking. In the likely event the Phillies are making golf plans in October, perhaps the five-month reprieve will allow Howard ample time to return to full strength for 2013. Otherwise, the Phillies will be left trying to hide him and hoping to dump his contract in an August in a waiver deal as the Boston Red Sox did with Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez several weeks ago.

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.