Does the Future Include Carlos Ruiz?

Elite catchers are hard to come by these days. Teams that manage to find one hold on to them for dear life, as the Minnesota Twins did with Joe Mauer, the St. Louis Cardinals with Yadier Molina, and the San Francisco Giants will with Buster Posey. The Phillies have one of their own in Carlos Ruiz and yesterday chose to pick up his $5 million club option for 2013, meaning that he could potentially be playing out his final year in Philadelphia.

According to FanGraphs, Ruiz was the third-most valuable catcher in baseball at 5.5 WAR. Baseball Reference was less flattering, putting him at 4.4, but still in third place. Going by offense only, Ruiz had the second-highest wOBA at .398, just a hair behind Posey and well ahead of Mauer in third place. It was quite clearly a career year as Ruiz hurdled his previous career-high in isolated power, finishing at .215. For the offensively-lacking Phillies, Ruiz was their backbone for most of the year until he succumbed to plantar fasciitis. Among Phillies with at least 300 trips to the plate, Ruiz was by far the most productive. Utley, with his .342 wOBA, was the second-most productive hitter, a far cry.

Ruiz has become an integral part of the roster, but where does he fit in for the future? He turns 34 in January and will be 35 if the Phillies choose to bring him back after next season. Expectations for the Panamanian should be centered around 2009 or 2011 levels, not 2012 levels. But even so, 35-year-old catchers rarely put up above-average offensive numbers. Since 1950, only six catchers have qualified for the batting title and posted an adjusted OPS (OPS+) of 100 (average) or better:

Player OPS+ Year Age Tm
Elston Howard 127 1964 35 NYY
Carlton Fisk 134 1983 35 CHW
Carlton Fisk 115 1985 37 CHW
Carlton Fisk 103 1987 39 CHW
Carlton Fisk 134 1990 42 CHW
Benito Santiago 103 2002 37 SFG
Jason Varitek 103 2007 35 BOS
Jorge Posada 153 2007 35 NYY
A.J. Pierzynski 118 2012 35 CHW
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 10/30/2012.

Even if you clamp the range down to 1991-2012, only four catchers qualify — an average of one every five years. There may be a few reasons for this. My hypotheses include:

  • Older catchers tend to get injured more often
  • Older catchers are on the decline, thus are not given enough playing time to qualify for the batting title
  • Older catchers retire earlier, or shift positions

The Phillies saw the rise and fall of a homegrown catcher in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s in Mike Lieberthal. His last full season was in 2004 at the age of 32. He took 529 trips to the plate. At 33, he logged 443 PA, then followed it up with just 230 in 2006. The Phillies finally parted ways with Lieby, and he signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers for his final season at 35.

Even when they are able to stay on the field, catchers in their mid- and late-30’s just haven’t been all that productive. The following list shows all catchers 34 years old or older that logged at least 200 plate appearances and started 75 percent of their games at catcher since 2010.

Player OPS+ PA Year Age Tm
A.J. Pierzynski 118 520 2012 35 CHW
Ramon Hernandez 113 328 2011 35 CIN
Ramon Hernandez 112 352 2010 34 CIN
Rod Barajas 97 337 2011 35 LAD
A.J. Pierzynski 97 500 2011 34 CHW
Rod Barajas 97 339 2010 34 TOT
Jason Varitek 92 250 2011 39 BOS
Jose Molina 80 274 2012 37 TBR
Rod Barajas 75 361 2012 36 PIT
Matt Treanor 75 242 2011 35 TOT
Ivan Rodriguez 73 421 2010 38 WSN
Jason Kendall 71 490 2010 36 KCR
Bengie Molina 68 416 2010 35 TOT
Matt Treanor 57 272 2010 34 TEX
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 10/30/2012.

The curve is skewed very much to the left in terms of OPS+. While there are three within 20 points to the right and four within 20 points to the left of 100, there are seven others further left than that. If you’re a betting man, the odds are higher that Ruiz goes the way of Matt Treanor rather than Ramon Hernandez.

This doesn’t mean that the Phillies should just kick Chooch to the curb after 2013. It just means that they shouldn’t rush to sign Ruiz to a multi-year extension because he has been so good in recent years. Six catchers have been signed to a multi-year contract in the last two years:

  • Victor Martinez, DET (4/$50M): 131 OPS+ in 2011 (age 31), missed all of 2012 due to injury
  • John Buck, MIA (3/$18M): 87 OPS+ in 2011 (age 30), 75 OPS+ in 2012
  • Miguel Olivo, SEA (2/$7M): 81 OPS+ in 2011 (age 32), 75 OPS+ in 2012
  • A.J. Pierzynski, CHW (2/$8M): 94 OPS+ in 2011 (age 34), 118 OPS+ in 2012
  • Yorvit Torrealba, TEX (2/$6.25M): 86 OPS+ in 2011 (age 32), released in August 2012 with a 69 OPS+
  • Ramon Hernandez, COL (2/$6.4M): 49 OPS+ in 2012 (age 36)

Of the six, only Pierzynski has been a good value. The rest declined or suffered an injury. If the Phillies are interested in having Carlos Ruiz around for just a little while longer, it should be on a year-by-year basis. Doing so would also allow them to bring along prospects Tommy Joseph, Sebastian Valle, and Cameron Rupp at a more comfortable pace. While Ruiz has gone far above and beyond anything we could have ever hoped for when he made his Major League debut in 2006, the Phillies have to be prepared to turn the page if necessary after the 2013 season.

Crash Bag, Vol. 25: Going All-In with The Juggernaut

I know y’all don’t really care about my own personal sports landscape, but I’m going to lament a little bit anyway. It sucks right now. We’re a week into that terrible part of the year where you can go 5 1/2 months without seeing meaningful, San Francisco Giants-free baseball, and I’m already sick of it. The Eagles are starting to get too depressing to watch. The NHL is gone for the foreseeable future. My South Carolina Gamecocks dropped (literally, in last week’s case) two straight winnable games to ease themselves not only out of the national title race but the SEC title race (which, let’s face it, are more or less the same thing), so now the Flying Spurriers are only playing for pride. The Union’s been done for months and Arsenal’s already bowing out of the Premier League race before Halloween…there’s so little interesting sports left this year that I’m starting to worry about how little time is left in the NASCAR schedule.

With no NHL and football and soccer on the suck as far as my teams are concerned, I have the NBA and the NBA alone to sustain me until college baseball starts in February. Which would be fine, but it’s not enough. I need constant sports stimulation. I am the Galactus of sports–even when baseball rules the summer, I consume international soccer, the Olympics and cycling to sate my hunger.

I bring all this up because this oppressive red-leaved, gray-skied ennui brings us to the first question.

@leokitty: “ugh i am too tired to think of annoying things to flood you with”

I totally get that. I imagine there will be many non-baseball questions to come. But seriously, let’s have a question.

@leokitty: “why is the wawa across the street from the convention center the nexus point for all crackheads on the east coast?”

Because it’s in New York? I’d probably start doing crack if I had to live in New York.

@tigerbombrock: “your 5 favorite books”

I’ve actually read a lot more non-fiction than fiction recently, so I’ll give you a top five for each.

Non-Fiction:

  • The Blind Side, by Michael Lewis. Yes, I know, they turned it into a Disney sports movie schmaltz-fest, but the book, which I read before the movie came out, was excellent, exhaustively researched and well-written as you’d expect from the writer of Moneyball and Liar’s Poker, and the story, frankly, was so remarkable that it couldn’t help but be turned into a Disney sports movie schmaltz-fest. This is the kind of book that you can be cynical about, but if you take that route it makes you feel like a real asshole.
  • Football Against the Enemy, by Simon Kuper. This is the best book about soccer I’ve ever read, the best sports book that I’ve ever read, the best book about globalization and the post-Cold War world that I’ve ever read, maybe the best non-fiction book of any kind I’ve ever read. And it was all researched and written independently, for about $7,000 by a journalist in his early twenties. Almost a decade later, Franklin Foer came out with How Soccer Explains the World, another book that uses soccer as a metaphor for different issues in world culture and politics. I read that book first and revered it. A few months later, I read Football Against the Enemy, and since then, I haven’t touched my copy of How Soccer Explains the World, because it seems so facile and trite. I’d take Kuper over any sportswriter working today, and this book is the main reason why.
  • Strong Democracy, by Benjamin Barber. I read this for a political theory class in grad school, and I think it’s great for two reasons: first, it anticipates and attempts to solve the problems of modern American democracy, and second, Barber is unlike most political theoreticians in that he can write. Most political scientists write like they hold the reader in a contempt second only to clarity of meaning. Barber writes very felicitous, straightforward prose that actually betrays human emotion. From what I’ve read, you have to go back to Thomas Paine or Machiavelli to get that combination really interesting political philosophy and good writing.
  • A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, by David Foster Wallace. Apparently, parts of it are embellished or fabricated, but I don’t care, because this is about as fun a read as I’ve ever had.
  • The Right Stuff, by Tom Wolfe. Not exactly non-fiction, but I consider Tom Wolfe to be one of my greatest writing influences, and the subject matter (the early American space program) is of particular interest to me. I’ve long said that if someone made a TV channel that aired nothing but documentaries about NASA from 1958 to 1975 or so, I’d watch nothing else.

Fiction:

  • The Twenty-Seventh City, by Jonathan Franzen. Franzen is my favorite writer, of any nationality, in any genre, living or dead, and while I think The Corrections and Freedom are better books, his debut novel, a political thriller set in mid-1980s St. Louis, is my favorite.
  • Starship Troopers, by Robert A. Heinlein. They don’t make thought-provoking, high-nutritional-value sci-fi like this anymore. Heinlein might have been a right-wing loony, but this is, if nothing else, a fun adventure story. I’d have chosen the more celebrated A Stranger in a Strange Land, but, like Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, it falls into the trap of being awesome to start, then getting too weird to live by the end.
  • A Long Way Down, by Nick Hornby. Four strangers try and fail to kill themselves, and hilarity ensues. I don’t classify Hornby as a “great” writer, the way I do Franzen, Wolfe, Wallace and Richard Ford, but he’s tons of fun. This is, for my money, the best of his books. It’s also coming out as a film next year, starring Aaron Paul and Pierce Brosnan. Considering that the movie adaptations of High FidelityAbout a Boy and Fever Pitch (the original, starring Colin Firth and Mark Strong, not that insipid and opportunistic Jimmy Fallon remake) were, I’m looking forward to it.
  • The Sportswriter, by Richard Ford. It’s about a sportswriter. I don’t know that I enjoy reading Richard Ford, but he makes me emote like nothing else. If you want to feel feelings, you should read this book.
  • Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card. When I’m dictator of the world, this book will be required reading for all high school students. Of all the messianic teenager sci-fi and fantasy (Star Wars, Dune, Harry Potter) this is probably my favorite from storytelling standpoint.

@Ben_Duronio: “Why are the Phillies no longer as good as the Braves”

Because Atlanta’s finally had a chance to rebuild after the Fire Sale of 1864.

@andymoney69: “which are you most looking forward to, the heat death of the universe or another giants World Series title?”

You know, I’ve accepted that the eventual champion is not the best team. But there’s something about the San Francisco Giants that reminds me of the guy who goes all-in with The Juggernaut, catches runner runner for the straight, and thinks he’s good at poker all of a sudden. It’s infuriating. Watching teams lose to San Francisco in the playoffs is like watching a month-long stage reenactment of the book of Job. I can’t stand it. The hell with the World Series.

@CM_rmjenkins: “F the WS. Which Phils prospects should I be excited about in 2013? Whose stock will rise?”

Great question. For the record, we do have a Prospect Impresario on staff, in Eric Longenhagen, who can be reached via Twitter at @longenhagen. Which is not to say that I am unwilling or unable to answer prospect questions, but he might prove to be a somewhat more prospicient voice than I.

Anyway, the stock definition of “prospect” excludes young players who are not rookie-eligible, but the first place I want to direct your attention for this question is to the Phillies’ bullpen. We won’t know for sure, of course, until the season starts, but I have a suspicion that the Phillies’ bullpen will be peopled largely by young guys who can throw hard. If we’re looking at rising stock, the first place I’d go is to the likes of Justin De Fratus and Le Pont Au Papelbon himself, Phillippe Aumont.

But in the minor league system, there are some interesting longer-term guys to look at. Now, before y’all get too excited, because I know the tendency with prospects is to be overly optimistic, let me say that if you gave me the Phillies’ entire minor league system and set the over/under for total number of future All-Star appearances at 1 1/2, I’d take the under. With that said, even though Trevor May is looking more and more like an eventual reliever, Ethan Martin looks like something of a bargain for the price of Lame Duck Shane Victorino, and between him and recent bloomer Adam Morgan, it looks like the Phillies have two mid-to-back-end starters solidly in the pipeline in the high minors.

As you all know, around mid-2009, the Phillies’ farm system was rated among the best in baseball, but since then, it’s been raided for Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Hunter Pence, while some top prospects, namely Domonic Brown, have been slower to develop or have flamed out entirely. In the meantime, the Phillies have drafted primarily raw, toolsy players instead of polished college players, a strategy I bemoan every night before I fall alseep as I close my eyes and imagine Jackie Bradley, Jr., blossoming like a beautiful daffodil in Boston, while Larry Greene indulges his inner Merrill Hess in the minor league equivalent of the Reman dilithium mines.

As a result, for the past year or so, the book on the Phillies’ farm system has been that it’s got some interesting raw prospects in the low minors, but is shallow and short on major-league-ready talent. But as that raw talent matures, we’re starting to see the first bits of hope from the current system.

Based on absolutely nothing, I think this is Tyson Gillies‘ year. I’m not saying he’ll step right in and start in center on Opening Day, but I’ve got a good feeling about him finally putting it together. Odds are we’ll have at least a look at him playing for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic, and we’ll see where he goes from there.

There are also a pair of exciting third base prospects in the pipeline. Maikel Franco, 20, is an international free agent from the Dominican Republic, who in three seasons in the low minors, has shown good athleticism and hitting potential, though that talent comes with the caveat that he is still extremely raw. Cody Asche, 22, is a little closer. A second-rounder in 2011, he hit .300/.360/.513 in half a season in Reading last year, but no one noticed because he had the second-best season of Reading Phillies who went to college in Nebraska, after Darin Ruf. Asche, because of his position and age, is the far superior prospect to Ruf.

It is possible, however extremely unlikely, that Asche comes to spring training, sets the world on fire, grabs a major league roster spot and hangs on for dear life. It is more likely that he goes back to Reading or Lehigh Valley, gets another season under his belt, and grabs the third base job sometime between Opening Day 2014 and Opening Day 2015.

But my favorite up-and-comer is Roman Quinn, a waterbug shortstop the Phillies drafted out of a Florida high school with one of their compensation picks for Jayson Werth, 66th overall in 2011. Quinn, as I understand it, is a favorite of Phillies Nation minor league correspondent Jay Floyd, and it’s hard to argue. From a personal standpoint (i.e. Do I want to root for this guy?), Quinn is of that cut of Phillies minor leaguer–pioneered by Vance Worley, but carried on by Trevor May and Jiwan James–who carries a charisma that actually him interesting to follow on Twitter. For instance, Wednesday night, he betrayed a talent for amateur philosophy and theology by restating, essentially, Pascal’s Wager.

Now, I know liking a player’s personality doesn’t, and shouldn’t, matter as much when evaluating him as a prospect, but I’ve rooted for Disco Hayes and Michael Roth too long not to notice. On the field, however, Quinn posted a .370 OBP and 30 steals in half a season in the New York-Penn League last year, which is good, but as a 19-year-old in short-season ball, I don’t know how much that tells us. He’ll get his first full season of professional baseball this summer, and if he continues to develop, I’m sure we’ll hear more from him. If you’re looking for the heir presumptive to Chase Utley or Jimmy Rollins, I think it’s more likely to be Quinn than Freddy Galvis.

@scottdkessler: “Is there a way for the Phillies to get better at CF and 3B without getting scumbaggy through trades with the Yankees?”

What do you mean “scumbaggy through trades with the Yankees?”

Oh.

That’s a professional baseball writer? Who thinks 1) that a trade of Curtis Granderson for Darin Ruf is fair and 2) that the Yankees would benefit from such a trade? Lord Child. My favorite part of that column is that he gets all the knocks on Ruf as a prospect: that he’s too old and might not be able to stick as a left fielder, and then essentially throws his hands up and says “Yeah, but still.” Considering that Granderson, while highly-paid, and not the defender and runner he once was and a massive strikeout risk, is coming off consecutive 40-home run seasons at an up-the-middle position, I’d say the best way for the Phillies to get better in center is to get scumbaggy through trades with the Yankees. Yeah, trade Curtis Granderson for Darin Ruf, and then see someone about your overreliance on laudanum.

Center field is easy. With Josh Hamilton, Michael Bourn, Angel Pagan, Melky Cabrera, B.J. Upton and Shane Victorino all hitting free agency, it’s a buyer’s market. I’ve made it clear over the past few months that I am firmly in the B.J. Upton camp because I believe him to be the best combination of performance and value, but the point is, the Phillies have options here. And that’s not even opening up trade possibilities. I’ve heard Peter Bourjos‘ name floated in trade rumors, but I don’t know if there’s anything to that.

Third base is another story. As much as center field is a buyer’s market, third base is a seller’s market–it’s not even a matter of not having any players of good value on the free agent market–I don’t even think there’s anybody who’s worth a crap out on the market at any price. If David Wright‘s option gets picked up, who’s next in line? Scott Rolen‘s retiring–maybe Kevin Youkilis? Can he play third anymore? I guess the best-case scenario is that Asche has his Albert Pujols moment, but it’s not realistic to expect that. I’d be okay keeping Kevin Frandsen, not because I think he’s any good long-term, but because I’d rather punt and go with a replacement-level third baseman at the league minimum than spend any money or any trade resources without really getting much of value in return.

@patchak21: “Best nickname in baseball? In all sports? Both all-time and currently”

I think we need to go back to old nicknames, which we’re kind of doing by calling Mike Trout the Millville Metor (harkening back to Mickey Mantle, the Commerce Comet). Baseball used to have awesome nicknames, and while we probably can’t call everyone “Whitey” or “Dummy” or “Irish” anymore, why can’t we go back to Puddin’ Head Jones? My personal favorite nickname is probably Sliding Billy Hamilton, not because it’s particularly clever, but because it rolls off the tongue so easily while evoking a stirring and yet entirely descriptive image. It’s like a line from Yeats.

My favorite current nickname for a player is “Mini-Keg” for Manny Machado. Which doesn’t really count, because Ryan’s sister came up with it a couple weeks ago and only about ten people use it, but it’s awesome, and we ought to try to make it happen. More on that later. As far as legitimate nicknames go, I’m sure I’m going to forget something, but “Fat Ichiro” is pretty good for Pablo Sandoval. Ideally, a good nickname ought to be descriptive, mellifluous and a little weird. That checks all the boxes. If anyone’s got anything better, or wants to propose an old-timey please, chime in. I’m all for fun-sounding and bizarre nicknames, and while Dayn Perry’s doing yeoman’s work over at NotGraphs, we can do better. Maybe not better than calling Dan Uggla “Stainless Steel Meat Hammer,” but we can try.

@chongtastic: “What are the Crash-team’s favorite off beat food dishes?”

  • Bill: I’m a very picky eater, so I don’t eat any off-beat foods really, unless you consider hot sauce on everything weird
  • Ryan: is a Monte Cristo non-mainstream? I fuckin love a Monte Cristo
  • Paul: Phô and lima beans. Not together, though.
  • Mike: This is only non-mainstream depending on where you live, but I love Indian food. I also like good Italian food, which I note because there’s a law down South that makes it illegal to serve anything but crap like Olive Garden south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Not as involved as the music question, but we’re not a really foody bunch of guys, to be honest. I for one am comfortable with a plate of grilled chicken, a baked potato and a bucketful of Frank’s Red Hot. Wait…oh, I almost left out our resident Prospect Impresario Eric Longenhagen. Take it away.

“There are a lot of parallels between producing quality cuisine and acquiring and developing homegrown talent in baseball, which is probably why I like making food more than I like eating it.  I won’t get into that now but I will give you two twisted recipes I love.  First is a chili recipe I was given recently. No, it’s not a Tennorman Chili recipe. Instead this recipe comes from Baseball Prospectus prospect writer, Jason Parks, who has very strong thoughts on what chili should be. He’s from Texas so there are NO BEANS in his chili. Here’s the link to Jason’s recipe, copied word for word from his own dictation. Warning: this chili recipe contains adult language and sexual content. I’m not kidding. longenhagen.blogspot.com/2012/10/jason-parks-chili-recipe.html

For dessert, a Pennsylvania Dutch Funny Cake.  It’s a cake-pie hybrid invented in the Lehigh Valley area, where I’m from and will stay until the end of time. I’m forbidden from publishing my family’s version of the recipe but I can show you a picture of what it’s supposed to look like when you’re done and let you do the hunting from there:
Two courses. Way to not overdo it, New Guy.

@ETDWN: “MLB’s twitter feed is terrible. How do we go about destroying it?”

Y’all know Paul works in MLB Advanced Media, right? Now, he’d never do anything himself to undermine his employer, nor should we ask him to. But we could capture him and replace him with an operative in disguise. That operative could then chloroform the current MLB Twitter engineers, tie them up and get to work.

But seriously, MLB, your social media is awful. MLB.tv and At Bat are so great–why can’t you get out of your own way when it comes to technology? The Twitter feed bears an uncanny resemblance to something written by a committee of Duke frat boys and your parents and their friends. Hire me, and I will do it all myself. I will be funnier, more informative and less thoughtlessly offensive. And most importantly, it will stop being as painted-on fake cool as your youth pastor’s goatee.

@LonettoMB: “I’m going to the movie theater tomorrow, what should I see?”

I’ve been a little delinquent this summer seeing movies–I haven’t caught a film in a theater since The Expendables 2. I have had it in my head to go spend a day at the theater this week, because there are several films either out now or coming out soon that I’d like to see. So here’s my list for the next three weeks or so.

  • LooperWriter/Director Rian Johnson and lead actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt worked together fantastically well in Brick, a subtle, pitch-perfect gangster film that not nearly enough people saw when it came out a few years back. They team up again for another gangster film with a bigger budget here, and I’m really excited.
  • Seven Psychopaths: Writer/Director Martin McDonaigh and Colin Farrell worked out fantastically well in In Bruges, a subtle, pitch-perfect gangster film that not nearly enough people saw when it came out a few years back. They team up again for another gangster film with a bigger budget here, and I’m really excited.
  • Argo:  It’s an espionage thriller that’s getting Best Picture buzz. So, yeah, I want to see that. It’s become chic in recent months to express amazement at Ben Affleck’s transition from bro/stoner airhead to really good writer/director of action movies with both entertainment and artistic value, but he has, and it’s kind of amazing. I liked The Town enough to want to see this one his next effort, though I’ve literally never seen a heist movie I didn’t like, so I’m not the best person to judge.
  • Cloud AtlasHere is the comprehensive list of movies that have made me break out in hives months in advance of their release, since I turned 18: Star TrekPrometheus and Cloud Atlas. The first two I wanted to see so badly because they were continuations of favorite science-fiction franchises of mine, and both were, in one way or another, supremely disappointing, though I didn’t notice at the time, because I was sitting in the theater, stuffing my face with Sour Patch Kids, nittering about how cool it was that I was seeing a new Star Trek movie or a new Alien movie.
    Cloud Atlas is different. It’s based on a novel that I haven’t read, co-directed by Tom Tykwer (of whose films I have not seen one frame) and Wachowski Starship, whose films I’ve enjoyed, but not in the way I enjoy Peter Berg or Danny Boyle (or Ben Affleck, Martin McDonagh and Rian Johnson, for that matter), at least not since the first Matrix movie. It does have a sunburnt Tom Hanks, but that’s not the selling point. No, what hooked me is the trailer.

I have no idea if this movie’s going to be any good, but given the cast, running time (2 hours, 52 minutes) and the scope, I’m fascinated. Since that trailer came out in July, I’ve spent more time with it than I have with most of my friends, which is sad on multiple levels. I can’t even really tell what it’s about–my best guess is that it’s going to be some kind of epic cross-time historical/sci-fi love story, essentially The Fountain if someone had taken final cut away from Darren Aronofsky and given it to someone with more than a tenuous handle on reality. Anyway, no matter what you do, I’m going to the movies tomorrow, and I’m seeing this movie.

@CrashburnAlley: “If the Phillies played a best-of-seven series with the Tigers and Giants each, how many would they win? (ignore rest)”

Well certainly no more than eight games between the two series.

Seriously? I think the Phillies, with a healthy Ruiz/Utley/Worley/Halladay/Howard, could take either of these teams. The thing about the Phillies is that with the importance of run prevention in the playoffs, they could probably at least throw Lee and Hamels out there four times in a seven-game series and expect to get three wins no matter who the opposing starter was. Of course, I have  to point out the caveat that all things are possible in a short series, so they could sweep the 1927 Yankees or be swept by the 1927 Yankees. But if you want predictions? I’d say Giants over Phillies in 7, because the Phillies’ advantage in starting pitching is negated by the Giants’ bullpen, and I like San Fran’s lineup a little better than the Phillies’. And as a result of having at least two hitters (Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera) who are better than anything the Phillies can throw at them (except maybe Carlos Ruiz) and a starting rotation equal to the Phillies’ own, I’d expect the Tigers to dispatch the Phillies in five or six games. Though because of the Phillies’ advantages in bullpen and defense, the Phillies could probably more easily beat Detroit than San Francisco, particularly if the games tended to be close.

@MCGetting: “for more alternate reality fun, how would the 2012 Phils fare against the 2008 Phils in a best-of-seven?”

The ultimate “unstoppable force vs. immovable object” serious would be 2007 Phillies against 2011 Phillies, matching an insane run prevention team with an iffy offense against an insane offensive team with iffy run prevention. But 2008 vs. 2012 would probably be similar, if more lopsided. I think the starting pitching advantage (2012 Hamels over 2008 Hamels, Cliff Lee over Brett Myers, and so on) would allow the current Phillies to steal at least one game, but prime Utley, Howard and Rollins, plus Pat Burrell, Jayson Werth, Geoff Jenkins and Shane Victorino…2008 would mash 2012 into submission, even when you consider Carlos Ruiz’s evolution. I think Lee or Hamels could steal a game or two, but I like 2008 Ryan Howard‘s chances against Cliff Lee a lot better than I like 2012 Howard’s chances against 2008 Brett Myers. I’d take 2008 Phillies in five.

@tholzerman: “Compare the Phillies options at centerfield in 2013 to items on a typical casino buffet”

I’ve never eaten at a casino. Can I get something else?

“hrm… how about the Taco Bell menu?”

Now we’re talking. Fourthmeal it shall be.

  • Michael Bourn: The Cantina Bowl. Listen, I like Lorena Garcia as much as the next guy. But no matter how you dress up Taco Bell, it’s still Taco Bell. And no matter how much you pay Michael Bourn, he’s still Carl Crawford without the bat.
  • Angel Pagan: The Doritos Locos Taco. Very cool and trendy as a cheap option nowadays, but it might not live up to the hype.
  • John Mayberry: Fire Sauce. It’s good, but it doesn’t work on its own. You need something to pair it with.
  • B.J. Upton: Beef Burrito. The best bang for your buck. Might seem a little passe now that we’ve got the Crunchwrap and the Doritos Locos Taco, but it’ll fill you up for about $4.
  • Josh Hamilton: Taco 12-Pack. It costs more, and it represents the most you can get, but try to eat it all and your innards will turn to clay. Then carbolic acid. Then back to clay.

@magoplasma: “Now that I have a new Manny what should I do with the empty Manny? Make him into a giant vase? Wear him as a helmet on gamedays?”

Not only is Manny Machado the Mini-Keg, but mini-kegs are also Manny Machados by the transitive property of nomenclature. I will say that it’s good that the original Manny was replaced, because nothing’s sadder than having had good beer and not having any more. My suggestion is to continue to consume Mannys, then, once you’ve got a few, cut off the top and bottom of each Manny, then weld them together to make a column, or an umbrella stand.

Other uses for spent Mannys include:

  • Pontoon for the raft you’ll use to escape the island.
  • Get enough of them and find a friend who aced metal shop and you can build your own Iron Throne.
  • Dog food bowl.
  • World’s largest beeramid.
  • World’s largest Wizard’s Staff.
  • Mannyhenge.
  • Suit of Manny armor.

Or you could just wear Manny as a helmet on gamedays.

That’ll do it for this week’s edition of the Crash Bag. Go Tigers, boo Giants.

Last Year’s Reliever Market As A Cautionary Tale

There has been some talk about the Phillies signing a veteran reliever to bolster what was a lackluster bullpen for much of the 2012 season. After marquee signing Jonathan Papelbon, the Phillies relied on a corps of young arms and seemed to always have the revolving door to the bullpen spinning. Although the contract given to Papelbon was, from every perspective, too rich and too lengthy — the largest contract ever given to a closer — they still got the performance they expected. Papelbon finished the year with a 2.44 ERA in 70 innings, continuing to be one of baseball’s best and most reliable closers.

Talk of the Phillies’ off-season plans tend to take on an open-and-closed tone. Many urge that the Phillies should add a “veteran eighth-inning guy” as if it is A) easy to pick out the ones who will give you what you pay for; and B) a wise allocation of resources. Last year’s reliever market is a great illustration of why the relief pitcher market is more or less a roulette wheel.

25 relievers signed deals with an average annual value greater than $1 million. Five of them signed multi-year deals. The results were… mixed. First, the multi-year deals:

  • Jonathan Papelbon, PHI (4/$50M): 2.44 ERA, 70 IP, 38 SV
  • Heath Bell, MIA (3/$27M): 5.09 ERA, 63.2 IP, 19 SV
  • Joe Nathan, TEX (2/$14.5M): 2.80 ERA, 64.1 IP, 37 SV
  • Frank Francisco, NYM (2/$12M): 5.53 ERA, 42.1 IP, 23 SV
  • Javier Lopez, SFG (2/$8.5M): 2.50 ERA, 36 IP, 7 SV

Three were quite good, two were very bad, and one did not even play in the Majors. In total, the six relievers combined to earn in $120.4 million over 15 total years, an average annual value exceeding $8 million. Of course, that is a bit top-heavy towards Papelbon, but a 50 percent success rate is less than impressive.

Here is a look at how the other relievers fared on one-year deals:

Player Team Amount ($M) ERA
Jose Valverde Tigers $9.00 3.78
Ryan Madson Reds $8.25
Francisco Rodriguez Brewers $8.00 4.38
Jeremy Affeldt Giants $5.00 2.70
Matt Capps Twins $4.75 3.68
Francisco Cordero Blue Jays $4.50 7.55
Darren Oliver Blue Jays $4.50 2.06
Jonathan Broxton Royals $4.00 2.48
Jason Frasor White Sox $3.75 4.12
Octavio Dotel Tigers $3.50 3.57
Jon Rauch Mets $3.50 3.59
Kyle Farnsworth Rays $3.30 4.00
LaTroy Hawkins Angels $3.00 3.64
Kerry Wood Cubs $3.00 8.31
Fernando Rodney Rays $2.00 0.60
Takashi Saito Diamondbacks $1.75 6.75
Todd Coffey Dodgers $1.30 4.66
Chad Qualls Phillies $1.15 5.33
George Sherrill Mariners $1.10 27.00

Of the 19 relievers listed, only four can be considered to have had great seasons: Affeldt, Oliver, Broxton, and Rodney. Eight finished with an ERA in the 3.50-4.50 range. As with the multi-year deals, it was more or less a coin flip with the expensive one-year deals — not much better than if GM’s had randomly picked names from a hat.

To look at it from another perspective, look at the 2012 ERA leaderboard for relievers and count the number of names that weren’t acquired via free agency. In particular, pay attention to the young players like Craig Kimbrel, Wilton Lopez, Jake McGee, Ryan Cook, Kenley Jansen, and so forth. Why gamble millions of dollars on players when your rate of success doesn’t significantly improve compared to relying on younger, cost-controlled players? Recently, I explained why the Phillies should rely on their young bullpen again, and this is part of the reason.

Veteran players such as Jeremy Affeldt, Octavio Dotel, and Ryan Madson are being cited as potential targets for the Phillies, but they can take a similar gamble for significantly less money and without unnecessarily taking on a multi-year contract. Four Phillies relievers posted a SIERA (Skill Interactive ERA) below 2.80 in 2012: Papelbon, Antonio Bastardo, Jeremy Horst, and Raul Valdes. Dotel and Affeldt had a 2.65 and 3.06 SIERA, respectively. SIERA has been shown to be an accurate predictive tool. Probabilistically, you likely will not be getting significantly better performance out of either veteran compared to the youngsters either.

In other words, the upside of relying on the younger players is that they pitch well and they help you save money, which you can then allocate elsewhere. The downside is that they fail — as they did in 2012 — but at least you aren’t stuck with expensive, lengthy, unmovable contracts. Why would a team that opened 2012 with a $172 million payroll care about a few million here or there? They may not reach the luxury tax threshold in the off-season, but the extra financial flexibility could allow GM Ruben Amaro to make another one of his typical mid-season trades to bring in a quality player (the utility of which is an entirely separate discussion).

To sum it up briefly, signing relief pitchers to multi-year and/or multi-million-dollar contracts is just about the most inefficient, ineffective way for a team to spend money, and it can effectively hamstring them in other areas. The Phillies, who brazenly backed up an armored truck full of money in front of Papelbon’s house last off-season, would do well to recognize this and focus their attention and resources in other, more important areas. A veteran reliever would be nice, but such an asset is far down on the list of priorities.

Reminder: Chase Utley Is Still Good

The Phillies have operated without superstar second baseman Chase Utley for large chunks of each of the past two seasons. In 2011, Utley played in 103 games, making his season debut on May 23 after recuperating from his patellar tendinitis injury. His other knee became a bother going into 2012 due to chondromalacia. As a result, Utley’s season debut was even later, occurring on June 27. He finished the season having appeared in 83 games, the fewest of any full season. The Phillies were fine without him in 2011, but as even more injuries piled up and fewer players provided exemplary production, Utley’s absence hit hard in 2012 as his team scrapped its way to .500.

Going into 2013, it seems like fans are writing Utley off, hoping for this chapter of Phillies baseball to end, not unlike the Placido Polanco era at third base. Polanco, like Utley, spent a lot of time on the disabled list, and the time he did spend on the field did not live up to the standards we had set for him previously. I think we need to recalibrate our expectations for Utley for a few reasons.

Offense Is Down League-Wide

Utley’s prime coincided with the waning day’s of MLB’s offensive era. After the 2009 season, for a litany of small reasons (unrelated to drug testing), offense declined across the league. Second base was not left unaffected. The average second baseman’s wOBA ranged between .321 and .327 between 2005-09, dropped to .316 in 2010, then .306 and .302 in the following two seasons. To put that in perspective, in 2007, Luis Castillo and Mark Loretta finished with a .326 mark. In 2012, they would have tied as the eighth-best-hitting second basemen, narrowly trailing Ian Kinsler at .327.

As a percentage of the league average, Utley’s wOBA was between 19 and 28 percent better than the positional average between 2005-09. In the past three years, it has been 17, 10, and 13 percent better, respectively. Yes, Utley has declined a bit offensively, but not nearly as much as it appears before adjusting for the shifting positional averages.

Utley Is 34 Years Old

It seems like just yesterday we were watching Utley hit a grand slam off of Aaron Cook for his first Major League hit. Utley turns 34 years old in December. His propensity for hustle has left him weathered and beaten down. 34 year olds this side of Barry Bonds rarely match the production of their youth, and that needs to be taken into account when we set our expectations for Utley. The 7-8 WAR seasons are over, as are the .200-plus isolated power seasons.

There is some good news, though — not all is lost. Going by wOBA, Utley was the fifth-best-hitting second baseman in all of baseball in 2012 (min. 350 PA). He walked exactly as often as he struck out (43 times; 12%). His .173 ISO ranked fourth among all second basemen, ahead of names like Rickie Weeks (21 home runs), Ian Kinsler (19), and Dan Uggla (19). Pitches he hit for weak fly balls last year (down to 36% from 46%) turned into line drives (up to 21% from 13%). Despite the line drives, though, he was a bit BABIP-unlucky as his .537 hit rate on liners trailed the league average .705.

The signs indicative of a good hitter are all still there for Utley. This isn’t a case like Ryan Howard where he can’t hit to a particular side of the field, against a certain type of pitcher (e.g. left-handers), or against a particular pitch (e.g. sliders low and away). No, he will never hit 30 home runs again. Hell, he may never hit 20 again. But that doesn’t mean he can’t be a productive hitter going forward.

Multi-Talented

Let’s say Utley’s bat is worse than I give him credit for having. Even so, few players bring as much to the field non-offensively as Utley. He has arguably been the best defensive second baseman of the 2000’s. The knee injury certainly saps him of range and agility, but Utley’s defensive value has been linked more to his and his coaching staff’s ability to utilize scouting information:

Now for the Left-Handed Batters side of the chart. It’s the whole key to Chase Utley. What appears to be clear from this chart is that both players are shifting left against left-handed batters, but Utley is going further. Phillips is missing plays to his right, but gets a few extra to his left. Utley is missing even more plays to his right, but is really making up for them on plays to his left. To the tune of +37, 30 more extra plays than even Brandon Phillips is making. That’s huge.

So what makes Utley so good? Simple answer: Positioning. And more specifically, positioning against left-handed batters.

Now keep in mind that not all left-handed batters are created equal. If you look at Defensive Positioning System in the Fielding Bible, you’ll see that. Utley has to vary his positioning by batter, even against different lefties, to maximize his performance. But, in general, the key appears to be that he is moving closer to first base against lefties than virtually any other second baseman in baseball. BIS Video Scouts, who watch every game and chart nearly everything you can imagine, have said the same thing. Utley has a strong tendency to position himself towards hitters’ pull side.

Unless, for some strange reason, Utley has stopped doing this, then we shouldn’t expect his defense to tank as precipitously as we would for a normal second baseman.

How about base running? Utley is the all-time leader in stolen base success rate at 89.6%. Even with his knee injury, Utley stole 14 bases in 14 attempts in 2011, and 11 in 12 attempts in 2012. That prorates to about 20 stolen bases in a full season. Only five second basemen stole 20 or more bases in 2012 and none match Utley’s efficiency. As for overall base running, Utley was still the Phillies’ second-best runner in 2012 despite the half-season, according to Baseball Prospectus. He finished ahead of Juan Pierre!

Let’s imagine a world where the Phillies put Utley in the lineup every day, but he is physically unable to swing a bat. No problem. Well, kind of a problem, but not as big of a problem compared to other players, anyway. Utley got on base about as often after being hit by a pitched baseball (11) as he did hitting doubles (15) or home runs (11). It’s one of Utley’s many underrated talents. His 151 career HBP’s tie for the 21st-most in baseball history. Overall, they account for about three percent of his plate appearances. Add to that his great ability to work counts and draw walks — his 12% walk rate was third-highest among qualified second basemen in 2012 — and you have a quality player who doesn’t always need to make great contact to contribute to his team’s offensive attack. But, as we learned above, Utley is still quite potent with the bat.

All told, Utley was worth 3.2 wins above replacement per FanGraphs and 2.9 per Baseball Reference. That’s in a half-season, 362 plate appearances. Imagine how good he would have been with a full season and slightly improved physical function. Fortunately, Utley will have that going into 2013, potentially his last hurrah as a Phillie. Utley is one of the players you should be least concerned about in terms of actual production. Just hope that the baseball gods who have so angrily pillaged the Phillies’ 25-man roster in recent years are merciful and spare the second baseman any further misfortune.

Five-Year Trends with the Phillies Offense

I don’t need to tell you that the 2012 season was a disappointment. The Phillies failed to reach the post-season for the first time since 2006, thanks to several big reasons — injuries befell the team like a plague, the young bullpen didn’t meet expectations for most of the year, and the starting pitching regressed. Today’s chart will focus on the effect that first reason had on the offense.

Injuries, of course, force a player to sit on the bench, but they also cause lesser players to get a larger share of the playing time. For instance, while Ryan Howard was out, Ty Wigginton played 62 games at first base with a total of 208 plate appearances. Likewise, Freddy Galvis got the lion’s share of the playing time at second base (50 games, 178 PA) in Chase Utley‘s wake before suffering an injury himself. Neither replacement held a candle to his predecessor offensively, which drastically affected the Phillies’ offense.

The following chart shows the amount of runs above average per 600 plate appearances the Phillies got from each position over the last five years.

Since ten runs roughly equates to one win, each horizontal line signifies about one win.

The runs above average data:

PHI C 1B 2B 3B SS LF CF RF
2008 -5 8 31 -17 1 -1 10 1
2009 8 17 23 -15 -2 6 11 17
2010 19 7 9 -9 -11 5 5 20
2011 1 -2 -5 -11 7 2 23 1
2012 26 -9 -5 -9 10 -5 -4 -1

Runs above average was calculated by finding the difference between the Phillies’ positional wOBA and the National League average, dividing by 1.15 (that number is used to put wOBA on the same scale as on-base percentage), and multiplying it by 600 (plate appearances).

The Phillies received above-average offensive contributions from just two positions — catcher and shortstop — after having no fewer than five such positions qualify in the previous four years. Let’s look at each position one at a time.

Catcher

Carlos Ruiz‘s 2012 season was the culmination of expectation-defying season after season. He moved into the upper echelon of catchers, joining names like Buster Posey and Yadier Molina before succumbing to a foot injury. In fact, among catchers with at least 400 PA, Ruiz had the second-highest wOBA at .398, trailing Posey at .406.

Erik Kratz was also a pleasant surprise, coming up from the Minor Leagues to become one of the best back-up catchers in baseball — at least, before September hit. The Phillies, like most teams around baseball, rarely got anything out of their back-up catchers, so 2012 was a pleasant surprise with Kratz’s arrival. Going forward, however, we should expect both players to regress offensively.

The Phillies will pick up Ruiz’s $5 million option for the upcoming season. As a result, 2013 will be Ruiz’s last year before free agency, who will be 35 years old entering 2014. The Phillies will use the season to judge catching prospects Tommy Joseph, Sebastian Valle, and Cameron Rupp. The 32-year-old Kratz has a good shot at becoming the team’s back-up catcher when the regular season begins.

First Base

In the first year of Ryan Howard’s five-year, $125 million contract extension, the big left-hander missed the first three months of the season. Many felt he returned from his injury too early, as his defensive mobility and ability to run the bases both lacked severely, and his offense was nothing to write home about as well. Of the 47 first basemen who logged at least 250 trips to the dish in 2012, Howard’s .303 wOBA ranked 38th. The biggest disappointment was the loss of Howard’s pull-side power. Howard broke his toe at the end of the season, but should be ready to go when spring training begins in February.

There aren’t too many changes the Phillies can make at first base unless they can, through some stroke of black magic, find a team to take on some portion of Howard’s massive contract. However, I recently suggested that the Phillies consider utilizing a platoon at first base, letting Howard face only right-handed pitchers while pairing him up with a right-handed hitter (John Mayberry, Darin Ruf, etc.) to take care of the lefties. While the Phillies should expect some improvement after Howard has an entire spring to get himself in the flow of things, they shouldn’t expect any more than league average offense unless they get creative and open-minded.

Second Base

It has been disappointing to see Chase Utley miss so much time over the last two seasons. Utley had been baseball’s best second baseman by far between 2006-10. According to FanGraphs, Utley’s 37.2 WAR is nearly double that of runner-up Dan Uggla‘s 19.5. Baseball Reference paints a similar picture, putting Utley at 37.0 WAR and second-place Robinson Cano at 20.2. In Utley’s absence during the 2012 season, the Phillies relied on the light-hitting Freddy Galvis. Of the 51 second baseman to accrue at least 200 PA, Freddy’s .267 wOBA was the eighth-lowest.

Like Howard, the Phillies are expecting Utley to have a full spring training and enter 2013 ready to go. Unlike Howard, however, Utley can still contribute in other ways when his bat isn’t all there by playing superb defense, running the bases well, and making excellent decisions. Next season will potentially be Utley’s last in a Phillies uniform, though. With his age, injury history, and salary expectations, the Phillies may feel they are best suited moving on with Utley. A lot of that will depend on the improvements Galvis makes in one of the many roles in which the Phillies can utilize him going forward.

Third Base

Ever since Scott Rolen left, third base has been a veritable offensive black hole for the Phillies. There was David Bell, then Abraham Nunez, then Pedro Feliz, then Placido Polanco. The Phillies will likely buy out Polanco’s contract for $1 million rather than pick up his $5 million mutual option for 2013. As a result, they are looking at a rather barren market for third basemen. It is not going to be easy to put them back in the green, so to speak (referring to the above data table). Many speculate that Kevin Frandsen could be a part of their plans, at least for the coming season, while others are interested in seeing Galvis handle the hot corner. There are, realistically, no great solutions to the Phillies’ third base situation, so it is going to be by far their biggest concern going into the off-season.

Shortstop

“Welcome back Jimmy Rollins,” we say, wiping our brow. The Phillies could have ended the Rollins era in Philadelphia when he became a free agent after the 2011 season, but the two sides agreed to a three-year, $33 million contract to keep him around through 2014. Rollins’ 2009-10 seasons were disappointing and injury-plagued (respectively), which prompted the idea that the Phillies might have been able to put Galvis at shortstop and move on. Thankfully, Rollins had a very successful season. His .177 isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average) was the fourth-best among all everyday shortstops, and it was his highest since 2007 when he won the NL MVP award. His 4.9 WAR, per FanGraphs, was also the third-best in the Majors behind Ben Zobrist and Ian Desmond.

Shortstop is now the least of the Phillies’ concerns going into 2013. Barring an unfortunate injury during the off-season or spring training, the Phillies can write Rollins’ name in pen and focus their attention elsewhere.

Left Field

For as good as Juan Pierre appeared throughout the season, his offensive contributions still fell below the league average and failed to recapture the offense provided by Raul Ibanez. Pierre hit .307, but 86 percent of his hits were singles. With 37 stolen bases in 44 attempts (84%), he was able to effectively extend singles into doubles (27 steals of second base) and triples (10 steals of third base). Overall, though, the lack of power from a corner outfield position was a concern all year.

Domonic Brown came up late in the year and spent his time in both left and right field. However, with the Phillies looking both internally and externally for right fielders (e.g. Nate Schierholtz; Nick Swisher, et. al.), Brown has a good shot to be the everyday left fielder on Opening Day. Brown didn’t do anything particularly impressive, but it makes more sense for the Phillies to rely on the 25-year-old than to bring back the 35-year-old Pierre. A full season with regular at-bats, which Brown has gone without in each of the past two seasons, might help him reach his potential as well.

Center Field

The Phillies’ offense declined the steepest in center field for two reasons: Shane Victorino regressed heavily from a career-best 2011, and John Mayberry didn’t hit well when he took over center field after Victorino was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in late July. Victorino posted a career-high .368 wOBA in 2011, but could only muster a .317 mark in his four months with the Phillies and .297 in two months with the Dodgers. Mayberry didn’t help much with his .303 wOBA.

With a giant question mark in center field, the Phillies are expected to be players for one of the many free agent center fielders, such as Michael Bourn. Even beyond the free agents, there will be various options that may become available via trade, such as Denard Span, which was discussed here recently. Victorino could even be brought back on a short, team-friendly deal if he ends up drawing little or no interest in free agency. With the lowered expectations at catcher, first, and second base, as well as the question mark at third base, the Phillies need to play their cards right in bringing aboard a center fielder.

Right Field

Like Victorino, Hunter Pence had a great 2011 (.377 wOBA) but regressed heavily in 2012 (.340). The Phillies sent Pence to the San Francisco Giants in late July, replacing him mostly with Domonic Brown (.309). The Phillies have a number of ways to address the right field situation, such as acquiring a free agent (Nick Swisher), utilizing an in-house platoon (Nate Schierholtz, Mayberry), or using Brown in right field while addressing left field in another way. Right field is not as high a priority as third base or center field, so don’t expect the Phillies to swing for the proverbial fences here.

The Future is Unwritten: Adam Morgan

Since we’re lite on content right now because there’s so little happening in the world of Phillies baseball, I’ll keep churning out my notes on Phillies prospects from this past season.  Today I want to bring your attention to someone you may not know much about, the player who raised his stock more than anyone else in the organization this season, left handed pitcher Adam Morgan.

Adam Morgan didn’t come into the 2012 season with much heat on him at all. He wasn’t on Keith Law’s organizational top ten, he wasn’t on Kevin Goldstein’s Future Shock top twenty and he barely made it on to Baseball America’s top thirty, sneaking onto the Phillies’ list at number twenty nine, seven spots behind his Crimson Tide rotation mate, Austin Hyatt. Something changed. No longer is Morgan, a third rounder from the 2011 draft, being described as a “soft tossing, command and control guy.” He started missing bats, more than one per inning, and forced his way up from Clearwater into a really fun, prospect laden rotation at Double-A Reading where he was just 45 minutes away from me for 2012’s home stretch.

What was cool about the first scouting trip I took to see Morgan was the clean slate on which I could conduct my analysis. I didn’t accidentally stumble upon any opinions or reports on Morgan because there just weren’t any yet, and I didn’t actively seek any out before I saw him because I wanted to be surprised, uncontaminated by anyone else’s ideas. I hopped in the car not knowing if Adam Morgan was right handed, short, fat, black, handsome, blonde or cross eyed. It made me all the more excited to see him and drink everything in from scratch.

The twenty two year old Morgan is not a jaw dropping physical specimen. He’s in fine shape, but his 6’1” frame offers no positive projection. What you see is what you’re going to get for several years.  If Morgan’s physique is going to change, it will change horizontally. Let’s hope it does not because sometimes guys who gain weight have a hard time maintain the athleticism in their delivery, which right now for Morgan is just fine. Morgan lands hard on a stiff front leg and there’s a little bit of effort as he fires but nothing is so violent that I’m concerned about repeatability or sustainable health. You can see the torque Morgan generates with his hips during delivery when you observe him from the side.  It’s beautiful.  These sound mechanics help produce above average control and average command of a slightly above average fastball (I’ll put a 55 on it, 89-92mph) that plays up thanks to terrific movement.  That movement, however, is inconsistent and Morgan’s heater will get flat and straight at times while it dances at others.  His somewhat diminutive stature prevents him from getting natural downhill plane on his fastball which he leaves up more than you’d like. He got away with it while I was in attendance because, hey, it’s Double-A, but that won’t fly in the big leagues and Morgan will have to continue to hone in on the lower third of the zone to avoid becoming homer prone.

The fastball is complimented by a plus changeup (60 but flashed even better three or four times), a true swing and miss pitch which made Double-A hitters look both uncomfortable and ridiculous.  It is clear this is where Morgan has made strides this year as his changeup was previously just a footnote on his scouting report. The pitch sits in the upper 70s with lots of fade and action and, most importantly, Morgan maintains his fastball’s arm speed when he throws it. It’s a weapon that I think will miss some bats in the big leagues one day.

Morgan has two breaking balls, a slider and a curve.  The two can overlap a little (both in shape and velocity) but the hook (30) will usually sit mid to upper 70s while the slider (45), which I like much better, hangs out in the low 80s.  Further development of one of these pitches is crucial to Morgan’s future.  He has an idea what to do with the slider, getting some swings and misses with some back foot work against righties, but it needs refining and I’d like to see him pitch backwards with it later in his starts to get ahead of hitters with something new.

I think the Phillies have stumbled upon a nice backend starter who has a chance to be a solid mid-rotation guy if he improves on his current deficiencies.  Stick a feather in the cap of the Phillies’ player development staff.

Crash Bag, Vol. 24: His Father is the District Attorney!

I tried something last weekend. I watched the end of the Tigers-A’s game on Thursday, and then I stopped watching sports. I watched a couple minutes of NLCS Game 1, the last couple minutes of Monday Night Football, but none of the 12-hour sports binge watching that usually comes with first-round baseball or college football on Saturdays. I can’t say I totally took the weekend off from sports, because I watched a lot of Friday Night Lights and played a lot of NHL 12, but it’s an interesting experience, going from being as integrally connected to sports as I am to just going off it, cold turkey, the way I did last weekend. If you’re the kind of lunatic I am, the kind that sets up ESPN alerts for 18 teams across 10 leagues in six sports the way I do, I recommend unplugging and detoxing every so often. Because after a while you’ll get bored and remember why you can’t stay away.

I meant for this to be something of a truncated Crash Bag, but it wound up being the longest ever, so what do I know? On to your correspondence.

@andbaskin: “Worst/most annoying playoff commercial”

I’ve been partial to those Cougar Town spots. I must say, they’re starting to convince me to watch the show. I’m not sure I’ve seen a commercial that so clearly broadcasts that the program is absolute dreck, at least not since the Napoleon Dynamite cartoon from a couple years ago. I didn’t watch Cougar Town when it was on ABC, and if Courteney Cox weren’t in it, and Abed on Community didn’t like it so much, I’m not sure I’d have ever known that it existed. But I’m starting to turn on Cougar Town. It’s like Stockholm Syndrome.

I will say this–the show does seem to have a little bit of charming self-awareness, which is important for a comedy. But piling on the “we like wine” angle in the promos is almost certainly ill-advised. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with wine, or liking wine. I’m more of a bourbon man myself, but I do enjoy the occasional glass of pinot grigio in certain situations. I’d even say that a healthy appreciation for social drinking is an attribute I like in a person, because if you go to a bar or a friend’s house, you’re either strengthening existing relationships or forging new ones, which is healthy for obvious reasons.

With that said, if you lead off with liking wine, you’re kind of saying that’s the most interesting thing about you. Which is kind of sad. Like, you don’t have other hobbies? Or skills? Or interesting stories? What kind of booze you like should be at most, the third or fourth-strongest self-identifier. Drew Magary wrote this week at Deadspin about people who lead off their Twitter bios with “Husband. Father.” and so on, and he hits the nail on the head–yes, that’s important, but it’s probably not something that’s going to make you sound interesting to other people.

I will say, however, that the wine fixation was far from the most interesting thing about the Cougar Town promos, at least to me. I had previously been unaware that Christa Miller was on that program. I have a heart-rending, paralysis-inducing crush on Christa Miller. Like, I hadn’t watched Scrubs in years, then started watching it again after channel-surfing into an episode she was in. I am completely unable to explain it, but it’s my cross to bear, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to start watching Cougar Town that I know she’s in it.

One last note. For some reason the MLB playoffs are particularly conducive to commercial oversaturation by TV promos, and there’s one every year that stands out. But if you surveyed 100 baseball fans over the age of 20 to name the greatest bad playoff TV promo of all time, I bet at least 80 of them would name Fox’s ill-fated 2003 drama Skin.

Need your memory jogged?

HIS FATHER IS THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY!

I know it’s been almost ten years, but I’ll sometimes ride the subway on weekends for hours, just sipping Diet Pepsi and screaming “HIS FATHER IS THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY!” at selected passersby. That line is “To be or not to be” for the boy band generation–it’s inspired.

And yes, that was the young Olivia Wilde, grabbing that role with both hands and choking it within an inch of its life.

So anyway, apparently Skin was supposed to be a modern-day Romeo-and-Juliet story between the daughter of a porn tycoon and a boy who…what, what was the thing about him? Oh, yes–HIS FATHER IS THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY!

One thing I never got–the production of pornography is, I’m pretty sure, perfectly legal in the United States, given the appropriate licensures. So why is Bruno Gianelli from The West Wing locked in a life-or-death struggle with the DA? Sure, there might be drugs or underage girls in this porn ring, but then wouldn’t he be the drugs guy or the underage girls guy and not the porn guy?

But because of that line, and because Fox showed that ad about once every 15 minutes during perhaps the most exciting tandem LCS round in the Wild Card era, I probably saw more of Ron Silver yelling that wonderful, immortal and completely idiotic line during the 2003 playoffs than I saw of Mark Prior.

Can you imagine how bad a pilot script must be in order for a producer somewhere to circle “HIS FATHER IS THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY!” and say to himself, “Yes, yes. This is the line that we’ll use in our trailer. This is the line that will prove our show to be thoughtful, current and engaging. This is the best line in our show!” Wow.

Anyway, I never watched the show, and apparently neither did anyone else, because Fox canceled it after three episodes, most likely because it made Crossing Jordan look like The Wire. If there’s one thing I want people to remember about baseball in the early 21st Century, it’s “HIS FATHER IS THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY!”

Damn, that’s fun.

@uublog: “Is there a correct rooting interest for Phillies fans in the NLCS, and why is it seppuku?”

No, that’s about right. I don’t think there’s anything else to add here.

@mferrier31: “if the offer existed, would you pull the cord on the Lee for J Upton deal? Y/ y not”

It depends on a ton of things. What kind of salary gets eaten, what ancillary prospects get tossed one way or the other, what the long-term plan is for the Phillies. We all know that a Lee for Justin Upton deal would probably involve the Phillies eating at least a little bit of Lee’s salary, plus some minor leaguers or spare parts changing hands (in that case, I’d love to get my hands on a minor-league center fielder named Evan Marzilli…), but both teams are dealing from a position of strength. The Diamondbacks can certainly field a competent major league outfield of Gerardo Parra, Chris Young and Adam Eaton, and the Phillies, I’m sure, can cobble together a starting rotation of Cole Hamels and the top-billed cast of Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, much less Roy Halladay, Vance Worley, Kyle Kendrick and Tyler Cloyd.

Yes, I’d do it.

What trading Lee for Upton represents is a bet.

Cliff Lee has been, over the past five years, either the best pitcher in baseball or close to it. Justin Upton, while he’s supposed to be coming into his prime at age 25, has a kind of average year on his resume in 2012, backing up a year in 2011 where he would have made a convincing argument to be the best player in the National League had Matt Kemp and Ryan Braun not been possessed by the spirit of Fuzzy the Avenger, Nordic god of hits. So Lee’s a sure thing, and Upton might be a perennial MVP candidate or he might be a league-average corner outfielder.

But Cliff Lee is nine years older than Justin Upton. And, though their remaining contracts are of the same length, Lee makes more than twice as much as Upton. And Upton’s having his fWAR cut by two thirds this past season is due in large part to roughly a full win’s worth of UZR noise. I say that because Upton has been pretty consistently an above-average defender in right throughout his career, through he was -2.1 runs this season. UZR is fluky from time to time, particularly in the outfield corners, and I’m willing to bet on Upton’s intelligence and athleticism rather than some narrative-driven damnation of one of baseball’s greatest young talents based on one of the most insane scorched-earth policy interviews in the history of lunatic things said by owners. Not on the level of Marge Schott Nazi armband crazy in the real world, but it was certainly that crazy from a baseball operations point of view.

So what’s the bet? Will Justin Upton be half as good as Cliff Lee over the next three years? Yes. Justin Upton is coming off the worst season of his life, and he’s 25. Cliff Lee is coming off what is, superficially, his worst season since 2007, and he’s 34. And he makes twice as much money. Yes, I’d trade Cliff Lee straight up for Justin Upton.

@DashTreyhorn: “What kind of Major League career would Merrill Hess (Joaquin Phoenix) from “Signs” had if he didn’t wash out?”

I don’t feel qualified to answer this question. I can’t judge mechanics or anything like that–I’m a writer, not a scout. But lucky for you, I do know someone who can. Please welcome, in his return to guest Crash Baggery, Crashburn Alley prospect impresario Eric Longenhagen.

I have a problem answering this question head on since it deals with an interpolated hypothetical. I don’t like to play the “What if this guy didn’t suck” game. It opens up too many other “what ifs.” All the “what ifs”, really. He did wash out. Despite that, it is interesting to think about Merrill Hess’ career, however short it may have been, and think about what sort of post-playing career he may have had after the events that unfold in Signs took place.  We can do this by making inferences based on dialogue from the movie and even by evaluating the swing mechanics Hess displays in the movie’s climax. Let’s learn what we can one chunk at a time.

Who did Merrill play for?

The movie was set and shot in Bucks County, PA.  We know Hess played close to home since the Army recruiter talks about being at some of his games. The three closest minor league teams to Bucks County? Lehigh Valley (not in existence for the film), Trenton and Wilmington.  We know Hess had insane raw power (he hit several 500 ft home runs) but zero approach and serious issues with swinging and missing.  How far does a player like that get? Ask Anthony Hewitt. I doubt Hess got to Double-A which eliminates Trenton and means he spent time in Wilmington, which has almost always been Kansas City’s High-A affiliate.  Merrill Hess was a Royals prospect.

Why did Merrill fail?

Look at the swings he takes at the giant alien and it’s not hard to see why Merrill had strikeout issues.  A high leg kick (which I think can cause timing issues with offspeed stuff) a pronounced arm bar and noise from the shoulders up when he swings…..these are all things that I’d see as red flags when scouting a prospect.

Did Merrill have a post-playing career?

Yes. In fact, Merrill Hess became the Pirates’ Assistant Scouting Director.

Everyone give Eric a warm round of applause.

“Sub question: What’s the all-movie MLB All Star team?”

I’m going to piss some people off with this, I know, because I haven’t seen every baseball movie ever made.

I have, however, tackled this question before. I was bored a lot in class when I was in undergrad, and because I can’t draw, I never really found a lot of use in doodling in the margins. I did make lists. Sometimes, I tested my own knowledge, like naming the 27 member states of the European Union and the contesting teams in every World Series (which I could do) or the 100 members of the U.S. Senate (which I could not). Other times, I made predictions, like trying to pick the U.S. roster for the next World Cup, or choosing a team to win the next World Series (a question that I’ve answered formally since).

I also tried to pick an all-time fictional baseball team. Unfortunately, I threw that sheet out at the end of Political Science 341 my senior year, so we’ll never know what I picked. So here are the 25 players I’d take. Also, I’m including all baseball movies (I know the question says MLB, but if you’ve got a problem with a list of baseball movies that excludes Bull Durham and The Sandlot, you’re welcome to start your own column) so instead of absolute skill, I’m taking this team based on skill relative to league. And as much as I’d like to build my rotation around Anthony Michael Hall’s Whitey Ford from 61*, and even though Ken Griffey Jr., Carlos Baerga and Randy Johnson were in Little Big League, and even though Barry Bonds was in Rookie of the Year, I won’t use real players. Though major-leaguers playing fictional characters (Kevin Elster, Leon Durham, John Kruk) are eligible.

Starting Lineup
SS: Kelly Leak, The Bad News Bears. 
Deadspin ran an article last year that essentially makes Jimmy and Rade from Hoosiers out to be the greatest fictional athletes of all time. Kelly Leak is close behind them.
LF: Benny Rodriguez, The Sandlot. He made the major leagues, which, relative to league, makes him far and away the best player in his pickup game. On a side note, Mike Vitar, who played The Jet, had essentially a three-film acting career: The Sandlot and two Mighty Ducks movies. Well done going all in on the Disney sports movies for kids in the mid-1990s. Wikipedia says he’s now a firefighter in L.A. So that’s cool.
CF: Bobby Rayburn, The Fan. Man, this was a terrible movie, but Bobby Rayburn was made out to be the Ken Griffey Jr. of his time. He’d surely inspire similar devotion from me as from Robert de Niro.
RF: Roy Hobbs, The Natural. Go ahead and argue.
C: Jack Parkman, Major League II. I love David Keith. Not sure why. But I do.
3B: Ray Mitchell, Angels in the Outfield. Anyone who’s good enough to be an All-Star *before* Christopher Lloyd shows up is okay in my book. He gets the nod over Roger Dorn for actually playing defense.
1B: Lou Collins, Little Big League. Probably the most likeable movie athlete I can think of. Plus he went on to, along with Allison Janney, play out the greatest romance in television history. Great team leader, great contact hitter, great defensive first baseman.
2B: Marla Hooch, A League of Their Own. Second base is by far the weakest position, and having a bat like Marla’s here, particularly down in the lineup, is huge.

Bench
C: Crash Davis, Bull Durham.
 To mentor our young staff ace. I wish I could carry three catchers, just to get Dottie Hinson on the team, but there’s not room.
C: Dottie Hinson, A League of Their Own. Okay, fine. I can’t quit you, Geena Davis.
OF: Willie Mays Hayes, Major League. Yes, two different outfielders played by Wesley Snipes are on this team. No, I’m not sure how that’s going to work.
1B/OF: Pedro Cerrano, Major League. Like you wouldn’t want that power off the bench. Plus he’s a good clubhouse guy.
IF: Danny Hemmerling, Angels in the Outfield. Need a good glove off the bench, plus this gives us six Oscar winners. Woulda been seven, but Alan Arkin was really good in Little Miss Sunshine. 
2B: Mickey Scales, Little Big League. Screw you, Tanner Boyle.

Starting Rotation
Amanda Whurlitzer, Bad News Bears. So you’ve got the best pitcher in the league, and she throws a complete game every time out and pitches every game. You bet I’m going to add her. Though I really hope Bobby Rayburn doesn’t get as pissy when she doesn’t give up No. 11 as he did when Juan Primo held onto it. I would pay big money, by the way, to see her argue with Crash Davis on the mound.
Nuke LaLoosh, Bull Durham. I own a Nuke LaLoosh shirsey. So he makes it, even if Tim Robbins had the least convincing delivery this side of Freddie Prinze Jr. Ha! And you thought I’d forgotten about Summer Catch!
Kenny DeNunez, The Sandlot. Solid commitment to the fastball.
Eddie Harris, Major League. Chelcie Ross, I’m pretty sure, copied his delivery from Jamie Moyer, even if Major League came out 20 years before Jamie Moyer old jokes were funny.
Chet Stedman, Rookie of the Year. I want it on the record that a Gary Busey character wound up not being even close to the craziest pitcher on this team.

Bullpen
Whit Bass, Angels in the Outfield. If I managed a major league team, I’d give this speech after every game.

And while I know he was a starter in the movie, every bullpen needs a class clown, and Bass makes Roger McDowell look like Roy Halladay.
Jim Bowers, Little Big League. Jonathan Silverman’s performance in this film is perhaps my favorite in any sports movie. Though Kurt Russell comes pretty close in Miracle.
Rick Vaughn, Major League. I haven’t forgotten about Wild Thing, though I kind of like the idea of him throwing max-effort in high-leverage situations rather than trying to manage him over the course of a season.
Duke Temple, Major League. Any reliever who leads the league in hit batters is okay in my book.
Henry Rowengartner, Rookie of the Year. Funky butt-lovin‘.
Mel Clark, Angels in the Outfield. Better him than Blackout Gatling. Hold me closer, Tony Danza.

And I’m sure that we can cobble together a coaching staff out of Billy Heywood, Lou Brown, Jake Taylor, George Knox, Larry Hockett and Jimmy Dugan.

@kgeich67: “Kyle Kendrick, Laynce Nix, and Ty Wigginton. Marry, F—, and Kill. Why?”

Well, I can tell you this for sure–Laynce Nix is a quivering ball of muscle. Even though he’s by far the least objectionable of the three options on the field, we’re not talking about baseball here. Laynce Nix is built like a fire hydrant, or at least he would be if fire hydrants were constructed not of metal but of taut, bulging sinew. He’s so muscular he has no neck. Football players are so muscular they have no neck. Baseball players have necks, or at least a series of chins that connects the head to the torso, as was the case with Tony Gwynn.

Laynce Nix is not built like a baseball player. He’s built like a cartoon horse made out of concrete reinforced with steel. There are no doors in his house, only holes in the wall where he had to punch through like the Kool-Aid guy in order to get from room to room. He looks like someone squished Ivan Drago.

I bring this up because I can’t make him the F option, or the M option (which, in a healthy M, would involve more than a little F), because I’m terrified that he’d hurt me. Gotta kill him.

I’d rather go with Ty Wigginton for the F, because while he’s not particularly attractive, he seems like he’d be a kind and gentle lover.

Which leaves Kyle Kendrick to marry. For all the crap I’ve talked about him as a player–and he did his best to blow up that reputation this season–he seems like a decent guy. This is my relationship advice to those of you looking for a mate: prioritize kindness above all else. Everyone’s going to be ugly at some point, so you might as well stick with the person you get along with best. I think Kyle Kendrick seems like just such a man.

@gvntofly1021: “You must endure 1 of these on repeat for a week: ‘The Resistance’ or Mini-mart game footage. Which, and why?”

Mini-mart. Because he’s so bad you can start to enjoy it after a while if you know the outcomes have been predetermined. And because perhaps the worst thing about The Resistance is how quickly the novelty wears off upon repeated listening. That album went bad faster than a glass of milk left outside on a hot day. In Florida. Under the drainage line from a factory that produces paint thinner.

And because I’d make a series of jokes about being forced to listen to an album on repeat, but I’ll never do better than this.

@elkensky: “Do TS Eliot-Scott Proefrock jokes get old? I have a bullpen one set to “Should I, after tea and cakes and ices…” ready to go.”

Never. Proefrock jokes are always fun. Whenever the Phillies’ assistant GM is mentioned, I threaten to wear white flannel trousers and walk upon the beach.

Feel free to make your own John Mayberry jokes, vis-a-vis “I have heard the Mermaids singing, each to each/I do not think they will sing to me.”

@fotodave: “which rivalry is nastier: UGA/SC or phillies/mets? Who’s the most vile fanbase in baseball? In college?”

South Carolina-Georgia is kind of a rivalry, in that the Gamecocks and Bulldogs are in the same division, are in relatively close geographic proximity and have been fairly close competitively over the past decade, leading to some rather entertaining games. But let’s not kid ourselves–it’s a circle-the-calendar game every year, but it’s not even close to the nastiest rivalry in college football, or even the nastiest rivalry for either team. Both Carolina and Georgia have much greater antipathy for their respective ACC in-state rivals (Clemson and Georgia Tech, respectively) and Florida than they do for each other. There is one person, and one person only, for whom USC-Georgia is the rivalry game to end all rivalry games, and that’s me. I acknowledge my own weirdness and freely admit that I am completely out of step with Gamecock fan orthodoxy.

That said, it’s a much nastier rivalry than Phillies-Mets because it’s college football, and SEC football in particular. The idea that any baseball rivalry is as heated as even a middling college football rivalry is so laughable as to be offensive. Listen, I’m all for the domination of American culture by Northeastern Ivy League elitists, but saying that Yankees-Red Sox is the most heated rivalry in American sports? I think people say that because it’s kind of awkward to walk around on the street wearing a sandwich board that reads: “I AM THOUGHTLESS AND IGNORANT.”

Red Sox-Yankees is a media narrative. Sure, it’s a rivalry, but it’s a baseball rivalry, which means that any hatred is diluted over 19 games a season, plus playoffs, and not distilled into its purest form: four hours of unfettered physical violence once and once only every season, fueled by alcohol and repressed Confederate nationalism, expressed by crazy-eyed personages who have little to live for apart from college football. Red Sox-Yankees is bourgeois, soft, all bark-no-bite, a fraud perpetuated upon the American sporting public by insecure New Yorkers who realize their supposed cultural hegemony is a house of cards and insecure New Englanders who think their grating, drinking-orange-juice-through-a-tenor-saxophone accent is somehow charming, and think that you still get to bemoan years of futility from what has been, by far, America’s most blessed sports city over the past decade. Go take your affected everyman attitude and dump it in the Charles River, you insufferable, sniveling attention-mongers. But I still hope you love me one day, Bill Simmons.

We’re being bamboozled, America, into watching the baseballing equivalent of reading Oscar Wilde’s assorted quotations on his own cleverness. It’s boring, there’s too much of it, and for some reason we’re all too concerned with looking smart and cultured and with it that no one seems willing to call it out for the self-indulgent flotsam that it is. I’d sooner watch a cow try to lean its way through a barbed-wire fence. I’d sooner try to lean through a barbed-wire fence myself.

So I’d say that Yankees fans are probably the most vile in baseball–they’re everywhere, they’re loud, they’re ignorant and prone to absurd groupthink that reduces a game of random events to a morality play.

As far as college football, I’m going to have to with Florida. My fiancee had a roommate who referred to them as Jean Shorts Nation, which made me giggle every time. They’re loud, they’re self-entitled, they’re either rednecks or douchebag frontrunners, and for some reason, they never found it within themselves to condemn Brandon Spikes as the jockitch of a human being that he is. I would have said Miami or Southern Cal, but they don’t have any fans anymore now that it’s been more than 2 years since the last national title. I also would have said Penn State or Notre Dame, but I can’t mock them anymore–Penn State because I feel bad for the fans after the Sandusky Affair and Notre Dame because their fans are all in hospice care by now anyway. It’s just not sporting. LSU is up there too, but their obnoxiousness is so entirely insane it’s almost admirable.

@longenhagen: “Do you think it’s even possible for Ferris Bueller to have completed all those activity in one day

No. The Cubs game alone would eat up most of the afternoon, though we should assume that because they used a Ferrari, they went from place to place faster. But who cares? One day I want to have that much fun, or a girlfriend as hot as 1986-vintage Mia Sara.

By the way, Cameron Frye wearing a Gordie Howe jersey around Chicago all day is one of the all-time great underrated troll jobs of his time. I salute you, Cameron.

@fjrabon: “on a scale of 1-10 how excited are you about when the phils sign Bourn to 6 yrs 130 mill?”

Franklin is a Braves fan and should stop being such an obvious troll.

(looks for Bourn-to-Phillies rumors, buys bulk quantities of ketamine, wraps self in blanket, sobs)

@cwyers: “How much wood could a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck was a member of the 2012 Phillies starting rotation.”

Lots of it. The Phillies like to go deep into games with their starting pitchers, and if you were rolling Halladay, Hamels and Lee out there  60 percent of the time, you would too.

Interesting that you should mention it, though, because the chic pitch for the Phillies right now is the cutter, which, you know, “wood” and “cutter” and…yeah, it was funnier in my head.

@JakePavorsky: “Say the MLB added an amnesty clause to their CBA right now. One Phillies player you would amnesty and why.”

Ryan Howard. Not even close. Not eeeeeeeeeeven close. I might take a gander at Papelbon, but Howard is signed for more money and contributes less. If it’s not the worst contract in baseball, I struggle to think of one that beats it.

@pinvert: “zip hoodie or pullover?”

Depends on the occasion. For around-the-house wearing and vacation (think hoodie and shorts on the beach in September), it’s got to be the pullover. I visited Ithaca College when I was a junior in high school and bought a hoodie there that was two sizes too big then and, despite my having grown some since then, is still two sizes too big now. It’s my favorite article of clothing–it’s big, it’s warm, it’s like wearing a hug.

But if you’re going out, you should probably go with the zip-up. I myself prefer solid color zip-ups to ones with patterns or writing, though everyone’s different. It’s important to keep in mind that when you leave the house, hoodies are outerwear, so if you have to take it off when you get to where you’re going, you’re going to look like a total doofus if you have to pull it over your head. Better to just unzip. You lose a little bit in the keeping warm department, but that’s why I prefer pullovers for more casual occasions.

Fall From Ace: Scouting Trevor May

Scouting Phillies righty, Trevor May, this year was not easy. A whiff inducing howitzer one start, a frustrating, homer prone mess the next, May entered the 2012 season as the Phillies’ consensus #1 prospect and leaves it having taken an enigmatic step backward. It’s not an insurmountable retardation of the Washingtonian’s development, especially when you remind yourself that May only realistically projected as a mid-rotation starter anyway. Of course, a full page write-up and action shot in Baseball America’s annual handbook will often alter the layperson’s perception of a player, no matter how uninspiring a system for which he is the masthead.  There was more hype surrounding May this year than was warranted and, as such, his tumultuous season feels worse than it actually was.  It’s time we take a step back, forget about May’s pre-season status as the top dog in the Philly system, and have a context-free look at what there is to work with.  That’s what I’ve got for you here.

Trevor May looks mighty impressive in his uniform. A broad-shouldered 6’5″, he has the frame of an inning-eating horse.  There’s no projection left, but as May has filled out nicely.  He’s only listed at 215lbs but trust me, he’s carrying more than that and he carries it quite well. May ‘s athleticism is less impressive.  He doesn’t always repeat his delivery well and his command suffers as a result.  He cuts himself off a bit before he gets to his 3/4s delivery, an arm angle which stifles some of the downhill plane you’d like to see s 6’5″ pitcher get on the ball.  Onto the stuff…

May mostly pitches with a low-90s fastball that will touch as high as 94mph. I did see him kiss 96mph several times in a start early this season but I didn’t see that much heat again all year.  May will incorporate a two-seamer every now and then ( it usually hums in around 89mph) but it’s not much of a weapon right now.  While previous reports indicate healthy armside run, from my vantage point May’s fastball looks straight.  And boy, does he leave it up in the zone a lot.  Many of the whiffs May induces come from high fastballs that big league hitters will either scoff at or launch into orbit.  It’s been an issue of May’s for a while now and it hasn’t been corrected or even improved.

May’s stable of secondary pitches is headlined by a good looking curveball.  It’s usually sharp with good depth and breaks late.  He can bury it and throw it for strikes and he adds and subtracts from it well.  It usually sits upper-70s but he’ll take some off and throw a big, loopy curve in the low 70s once in a while. I can’t decide if I’m pleased he’s learned this little trick or concerned because he thought he had to.  There’s one HUGE problem with May’s curveball.  He throws it from a different arm slot than his other pitches.  He’s 3/4s for everything except the curve for which his arm becomes more vertically oriented upon acceleration.  As such, it’s easy to pick up out of his hand.  This needs to be corrected yesterday.

May’s changeup is bad.  In his Eastern League Semifinal start he threw just one handsome changeup through 5.1 innings of work.  He often leaves it up in the zone, same as the fastball, and it rarely exhibits the fade/action you look for en un buen cambio.  May also throws a slider/cutter type thing in the 82-86mph range.  It’s short and unrefined but it exists.

So what exactly do we have here? In short it’s a pitcher with an ideal build and above average velocity with some fatal flaws in his secondary stuff and whose control/command development has stagnated.  I wouldn’t be surprised if May began next season back at Reading, though if I were in charge, I’d send him to Triple-A where more seasoned hitters won’t let him get away with the stuff he still mostly gets away with against Eastern League bats.  Maybe adversity and failure in front of minor league baseball’s biggest crowds will catalyze development.  If he’s an abject failure next season, maybe I start thinking about penning him.  Regardless, May’s ceiling is mostly the same (folks, I saw 96mph, a plus curve and a plus change at various times this year. A mid-rotation starter is in there somewhere and it’s still his ceiling) but the chances he gets there are now minute.

I could go on forever about May because, most of the time, prospect failures are far more interesting than successes, but 800 words is enough.  You’ll see a new name atop the Phillies organizational prospect rankings next year but that does not mean it’s time to give up on Trevor May.  It’s just time to over hype somebody else.

The Bullpen Youth Movement

Despite being led by 31-year-old veteran Jonathan Papelbon, the Phillies’ bullpen featured a plethora of fresh, young arms in 2012:

The bullpen was unarguably the Phillies’ Achilles heel throughout the season. For a while, they were among the bottom quartile in the National League going by bullpen ERA. A great September (2.05 ERA) has them closer to the league average and gave us a glimpse into what the future may hold.

Relievers are notoriously volatile from one year to another which is why many Saberists suggest spending as little money as possible on the bullpen. Outside of the always-reliable Papelbon, the Phillies used a very Saber-friendly bullpen as most of the above are young, under team control for a long time, and have the ability to miss bats at a frequent rate. Now that the young relievers have some Major League seasoning, Amaro shouldn’t change a thing. Charlie Manuel recently said about the bullpen:

I think we have some real good pieces there. But 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. That’s what it takes to be a first-class team.

There will be quite a few decent relievers available, such as Mike Adams or Jeremy Affeldt, just to name a couple starting in the A’s. But would the Phillies be significantly better off paying Adams $5 million to set up for Papelbon than paying Aumont $500,000 to do the same job? Would several million for Affeldt leave the Phillies in a better place as opposed to utilizing Bastardo at $750,000? It was only two years ago that Affeldt finished with a 4.14 ERA and it was only last year that Bastardo finished with a 2.64 ERA. With relievers, you are guaranteed nothing, no matter how much money you toss around.

For 2013, the Phillies should grab Papelbon, Bastardo, Aumont, and Horst, then open up the final three spots to spring training competition. It’s the best of all possible worlds.

As you can see, the Phillies have a number of tough decisions to make between the end of the post-season and the end of spring training. It will be the most arduous time of Amaro’s career as GM of the Phillies, the author of an aging, expensive, injury-prone roster. Adept handling of the risks and rewards of the upcoming off-season will leave the Phillies ready to reclaim their throne atop the NL East; stepping on the various traps that lay beneath the surface will effectively end the Phillies’ reign as a superpower.

Check out past and future offseason coverage with the “offseason” category.

Filling Out the Starting Rotation

The image to your right was the cover of Sports Illustrated in March 2011. Depicted were the Phillies’ four aces — Roy Halladay, Cliff LeeCole Hamels, Roy Oswalt — and Joe Blanton. It was a glorious time for the Phillies, still riding the rush of sell-out after sell-out and playoff appearance after playoff appearance. Going on two years later, a lot has changed. Once with quad aces, the Phillies now have just a pair of aces in Hamels and Lee. Halladay’s 2012 season was a disaster while Oswalt and Blanton are long gone. Meanwhile, Vance Worley suffered an elbow injury, Kyle Kendrick had immense success flirting with the league average, and Tyler Cloyd has struggled to keep his ERA under 5.00.

We assume Halladay and Worley will be ready to go by spring training, but there are no guarantees and the Phillies, more than almost anyone, know the value of having too much starting pitching as opposed to too little. Unfortunately, there won’t be many reasonable, cheap starters available in free agency after the top shelf (Zack GreinkeRyan DempsterEdwin JacksonKyle LohseShaun Marcum) is harvested, a shelf the Phillies likely won’t be standing on their tips of their toes to reach.

One name to consider is Scott Baker. The Twins have a $9.5 million option on his contract that will likely be declined. In the event Baker doesn’t take a more team-friendly contract with them, the Phillies could make a play for the 31-year-old on a cheap one- or two-year deal. Before succumbing to an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery on April 17, Baker arguably had his best two years in 2010-11, posting a 3.63 SIERA with a 3.93 ERA with a slightly above-average strikeout rate and a strikeout-to-walk ratio approaching four to one.

Carlos Villanueva is another name to keep an eye on, as the right-hander looked good after moving to the Toronto Blue Jays’ rotation at the end of June. From June 29 to August 30, the soon-to-be 29-year-old posted a 3.03 ERA with 65 strikeouts and 17 walks in 65 and one-third innings. His production declined precipitously in September, however, allowing 24 runs in 26 and two-thirds innings, thanks in large part to 10 home runs allowed. Villanueva earned less than $2.3 million in 2012 in his final year of arbitration, so he would come at a relatively cheap price if the Phillies were to pursue him.

No matter who they target, the Phillies should feel uneasy going into 2013 with a rotation that includes a 35-year-old Halladay coming off of the worst season of his career since becoming an every-fifth-day starter, Worley returning from elbow surgery, and one of Kendrick or Cloyd, both needing massive amounts of magic just to post a 4.00 ERA.