Crash Bag, Vol. 22: Find a Happy Place

I’m going to start with some shameless self-promotion. Are you worried that the baseball season’s end will also deprive you of my particular brand of prosaic solipsism? That your appetite for obscure cultural references and strained historical metaphors will go unsated? Well

As Bill mentioned on the last Crash Pod (which was lost in a tragic chemical fire that also claimed the life of Jon Bernhardt’s beloved pet guinea pig Baboo, so you’ll have to take my word for it), I’m going to be writing about basketball this winter at Liberty Ballers, SB Nation’s Sixers blog. My first post, a season preview of Kwame Brown, is up now. I’m a little nervous, because while I’ve been a Sixers fan since I was a kid and I’m joining a fantastic writing crew, I’m really not as experienced in writing about basketball as other sports–in fact, in all of my published sportswriting, I’ve written about as many articles/columns/posts/essays about collegiate women’s equestrian as I have about basketball (though in my defense, you would have too if, while you were in college, your equestrian team took home a national title and your basketball team was coached by Darrin Horn). Basketball definitely outweighs equestrian, but it’s closer than I’m really comfortable with it being. So if you’re a basketball fan at all, you can follow my work there, as well as the work of about a dozen other worthwhile writers. We’d appreciate the support. Well, I’d appreciate the support.

Boy, I hope no one from Liberty Ballers reads that–it’s going to seriously undermine my credibility.

Let’s start with a question from one of my Liberty Ballers co-authors.

@JFSportsFan: “Triple Crown aside, what argument does Miguel Cabrera have for AL MVP over Mike Trout? Does he even have one?”

Simply put, there isn’t one that 1) passes a logical laugh test 2) doesn’t rely on either Detroit homerism or Cabrera’s veteran status and 3) doesn’t make a quantitative argument that relies on stats that are (though not entirely worthless) severely outmoded and/or flawed. Anyone who says different is either delusional or guilty of such tremendous mendacity as to validate election results in the former Soviet Union.

The closest I’ve ever seen anyone come to pulling that off is actually actually Ryan Sommers’ thought experiment. Essentially, it’s based on the extreme unreliability of advanced fielding metrics, which give Trout a significant advantage. It’s relatively short (about a tenth as many words as I’d use to make the same argument), so if you’ve got a second, check it out. But even that argument strains credibility. There’s no possible way I can say with a straight face that Cabrera had a better season than Trout. And I can say a lot of things with a straight face.

@mcenroe73: “What is the Phillies’ all-time “gritty” team?”

C: Mickey Morandini 1B: Mickey Morandini 2B: Mickey Morandini 3B: Mickey Morandini SS: Mickey Morandini LF: Mickey Morandini CF: Mickey Morandin RF: Mickey Morandini P: Mickey Morandini

Lenny Dykstra, Dave Hollins, Pete Rose and Darren Daulton are eliminated because they were actually good. Juan Pierre gets the axe because you can’t be gritty if you’re black. And everyone before 1993 gets eliminated because I can’t remember any farther back than that and anyone bad enough to be called gritty probably sucked too bad to be passed down through our institutional memory. My apologies to Granny Hamner.

@Living4Laughs: ” Who is your pick for AL MOY? Why?”

Well “manager of the year” is really Latin for “team that surpassed its preseason expectations by the widest margin.” Under that consideration, I’d have to pick Buck Showalter, who led a baseball team to the playoffs that, in April, I wouldn’t have accused of being particularly likely to beat a team of garden furniture.

That said, I actually like a lot of what Buck did–he managed his bullpen very well, and while he’s not entirely responsible for some of the overachievement by the likes of Chris Davis, Jason Hammel and Nate McLouth, you have to give him at least some credit for getting the best out of his men.

That I’d vote for Showalter is a big statement, because if I had an AL Manager of the Year ballot, I’d write “Joe Maddon” in the top spot on April 1, put a stamp on it and mail it in. Maddon’s the best manager in the game by an unfathomable margin.

@Major_Hog: “What do you predict will be the best and worst things done by RAJ this off season?”

Long have I been of the opinion that Ruben Amaro, like God, works in mysterious ways. When he makes moves you see coming, they’re usually good ones. But he’s really able to sneak by you with the real nut-punch transactions. Though, with that said, I did spill a lot of ink complaining about Hunter Pence and Jonathan Papelbon before either of them actually showed up, so maybe that’s changing.

Best thing: I think he’s going to get a good deal on a center fielder. It’s a buyer’s market, with B.J. Upton and Angel Pagan likely to go for far less than they’re worth, and considering how far Melky Cabrera‘s stock has fallen, he might be an option too. And I don’t think the Phillies have the free cash on hand to make a run at Michael Bourn or Josh Hamilton. And now that I think about it, the Phillies haven’t really gone for top-tier position players in free agency under Amaro anyway. They’ve preferred to settle on second-tier guys in the field and spend top dollar on pitching (with the exception of Ryan Howard–and when Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder signed for roughly the same AAV as Howard last season, I think Amaro took notice and may have changed his ways). Mostly I’m saying that, I think, to keep the idea of Bourn or Hamilton inking a nine-figure deal in Philly and trotting out to center to decompose before our very eyes like Dick Clark on the New Year’s Rockin’ Eve set. Happy thoughts.

Worst thing: It’s gonna be something small. Overpaying, either in years or money or both, for an easily-replaceable asset. Big money for a closer in Papelbon. Multiple years for Laynce Nix. Multiple millions of dollars for Kyle Kendrick. That sort of thing. Maybe he pays big money for Mark Reynolds or something. Who knows?

@soundofphilly: “what do you like to wear while answering crashbag questions?”

Right now I’m wearing a polo shirt and cargo shorts. Usually that or something like that–this is lounging-around-the-house time, so it’s not like I put on three-inch heels and a dress to write or anything.

@loctastic: “hi michael you having a good day?”

Not really, no, but things will get better. They always do. Or to put it better, I’m not really interested in considering the possibility that they won’t. Like I said, happy thoughts.

@Gourbot3000: “What does the SABR triple crown consist of? (Pitchers and Batters)”

Here’s the thing–all the stats I like tend to be more correlated, like, for instance, FIP goes directly into fWAR. Maybe winning the three major player value stats (Baseball Prospectus’ WARP and both the FanGraphs and Baseball Reference versions of WAR), but you’d see an overlap too often for it to be really interesting. Part of what makes the traditional Triple Crown so remarkable is how rarely it happens anymore.

The real Holy Grail, at least for position players, would be leading the league in runs added in all three facets of the game: hitting, fielding and baserunning. The problem with that is that the only player in my lifetime with even a remote chance of hitting all three of those marks in the same year would be Mike Trout, and even that’s unlikely. I don’t know if anyone’s ever done this in my lifetime, but if it were, I’d imagine it would have to have been, like, Honus Wagner or something. Maybe Willie Mays. So let’s aim for something rare, simple and achievable. And for simplicity’s sake, let’s make this a hitting-only thing and leave baserunning and fielding out of it.

I’ll tell you what–this isn’t the most sophisticated way of looking at hitters, and it doesn’t reward quantity as well as quantity the way a counting stat does, but why not just use the triple slash line categories? Lead the league in batting average, on base percentage and slugging percentage–it’s got a simplicity to it that I find elegant.

For pitchers, there are a couple ways of looking at it–Keith Law said something last summer on the Baseball Today podcast that I really liked about pitchers. I don’t know if it’s original, but I heard it from him. Essentially, there are three things a pitcher can do: throw strikes, miss bats and get ground balls. Do one and you can play in the majors. Do two and you can be a good starter. Do all three and you’re Roy Halladay. So we could reward highest K/9, lowest BB/9 and highest ground ball rate, but that’s essentially just making an ERA estimator, plus there’s nothing inherently better about being a ground ball pitcher than a fly ball pitcher if you get guys out. Just ask Matt Cain.

So what I’d take are K/BB ratio, FanGraphs WAR and ERA+. And here’s why I’d take ERA+ over FIP or SIERA: we’re measuring results with this, as well as the peripherals. Looking back on a season, I don’t know if it’s fair to credit, say, Cole Hamels in 2009 with a mean that he never regressed to. This is all about fun, anyway, so in this one case I think it’s okay to value performance over process.

I know these are arbitrary, but so are the actual Triple Crowns. If you’ve got a better idea, please feel free to say so. It’s why we’ve got a comment section.

Well, not for that express purpose, but you know what I mean.

@DrakeCCampbell: “should we care that we have a whole new coaching staff? Can Henderson make Howard hit lefties?”

I don’t think Christopher Lloyd and all his angels could make Howard hit lefties at this point.

I think you should care insofar as this all but cements Ryne Sandberg as Charlie Manuel’s heir presumptive, and because having Greg Gross as your hitting coach is like having Lars von Trier as head of standards and practices at your television network. But will this get back the 21 wins the Phillies lost from 2011 to 2012? No.

As much as the manager matters little, the coaching staff matters even less so. The only one who really makes a difference is the pitching coach, and even then only if you have a really good one like Dave Duncan, Mike Maddux or Don Cooper. I think it’s unfair to blame the Phillies’ disappointing season on Pete Mackanin. I will say that I’ll miss his gorgeously-appointed lineup cards.

@JossMurdoch: “If you could take 1 player from the 2012 roster out back and ‘add them to the permanent disabled list’, who would it be and why?”

Does contract matter? Because if it does, it’s Ryan Howard, no question. Even though he’s one of my favorite Phillies, that contract really outweighs all other concerns.

If not, it’s gotta be Michael Martinez. This is for two reasons. Even though Mini-Mart’s been spectacularly bad this season, I feel like I’ve taken personal ownership of how truly and entirely dreadful he’s been as a hitter, the way I did with Wilson Valdez in 2010. We’ve entered a symbiotic relationship, Mini-Mart and I. There’s a scene in Goon where Doug’s talking to Xavier Laflamme about they’ve got matching stomach lights, like Elliot and E.T. in Drew Barrymore’s breakout film. That’s how I feel about Michael Martinez. People write in week after week asking me to design creative and entertaining ways to deprive Martinez of his life or liberty, knowing that they’ll get a rise out of me. I’m not proud of it, but hatred is one of my vices.

So that’s one reason, because, as Robert Redford so famously said in Spy Game, “Why would I ask someone else to kill a horse that belongs to me?”

The other reason is that I’d like to come up with creative and entertaining ways to put one Michael Martinez on the permanent DL, as Joss Stone and Rupert Murdoch so artfully put it. Perhaps by using The Albino’s machine from The Princess Bride. Or dramatic and radical exsanguination. Or re-enacting The Toadies’ seminal classic “Possum Kingdom.” The possibilities are endless.

@Tigerbombrock: “top five bands/artists from whole staff?”

Oh, so my opinion alone isn’t good enough for you? Considering how much I’ve listened to B*Witched “C’est La Vie” in recent months, you are wise not to trust me. The links are all favored videos from these bands.

My five:

  • The NationalSerious music for adults with feelings. I hate concerts, and The National is the only band I’ve ever seen live more than once.
  • Florence + the Machine: It’s not really rock and roll, but it’s big, bombastic and evocative. I like something that’s just far enough outside the established norms to tickle it under the arms some.
  • Electric Six: Totally obscene, totally infectious, and demonstrating a greater level of musical and lyrical sophistication than anyone gives them credit for.
  • Arcade FireBack when Pitchfork had its “Rank your favorite albums from 1996 to 2011” thing a couple months ago, Funeral ranked No. 1 on my list. If you only watch one of the five videos I linked to, make it this one. No other video has ever changed my opinion on a band so much.
  • MuseMy favorite band in the world from 2003 to 2008 or so. Then, with The Resistance, they jumped the shark harder and more immediately than any other band I’ve ever seen. They went from pop-prog gods to mass-market detritus with such emphatic authority–let me just say that Black Holes and Revelations was the only album I’ve ever stood outside a record shop for the day it was released, and The Resistance was so soul-crushingly disappointing that I’ve all but stopped buying more than one album from any given band since then. You can consider this endorsement for their first four studio albums only.

But Paul’s the ranking music guy on this blog, so let’s ask him.

  • The NationalMoody songs about being an adult, at once making you feel nostalgic, mature and maybe a bit insecure. Their concerts are religious experiences, and their album “Boxer” is my all-time favorite album of any genre. There’s no better band going today.
  • Arcade FireThe best Canadian band going today. You might recall them winning a little thing called a “Grammy” for Album of the Year for “The Suburbs” in 2011, but their best album, “Funeral,” was released in 2004. They put on majestic shows of grand scale and have the sound to fill arenas with ease.
  • The New PornographersAnother Canadian band, this time a supergroup – featuring Dan Bejar, Neko Case and A.C. Newman, who each have impressive solo/side work catalogs – that has perfected power pop. They slow it down pretty well, too, but the magic lies in the hooks.
  • Fleet FoxesTransported from a time where pastoral music was all the rage. The harmonies are top-notch, and Robin Pecknold’s voice is one of the more instantly recognizable ones in music today.
  • Grizzly BearOf the 5 on my list, this group is probably the most “difficult” to get into, as their music tends to lack much in the way of instantly-captivating hooks (beyond Two Weeks, which many may recognize). But the craftsmanship on display in and the atmospheres created by each song reward patience and careful listens. Lots of gorgeous music in their catalog.

Longenhagen! New guy’s up.

  • The BeatlesI know it’s boring but they were terrific. Except for John, who was vastly overrated.
  • Smoking PopesSomewhere along the line these Chicagoans got weird but I love their earlier stuff. Josh Caterer’s vocal sensibilities speak to me.
  • Led ZeppelinI don’t care that they kinda maybe “sampled” things from other bands or that Robert Plant wasn’t a good live singer, no other band had a more impressive sonic range than Zep.  Go listen to The Lemon Song right now. Do it.
  • Brand NewIntroduced to me by my 6th grade art teacher, their music has evolved parallel to my tastes.  If only they actually enjoyed making it.
  • The ClashThe only band that matters.

Bill, in a vain effort to convince us all that he’s not a computer plotting the destruction of the world, submits the following:

  • Aesop Rock: I hope, in the not too distant future, that students will be assigned Aes lyrics to study. His songs are lyrical masterpieces.
  • Dirty Ghosts: They were kind enough to let us use their music for the podcast. Would have loved their music even if they said no and made a mean face.
  • El-PAnother lyrical genius with impeccable delivery.
  • Coheed and CambriaI always find something new to obsess over every time I go on a C&C album binge. The storylines stand on their own, beyond the music.
  • Between the Buried and MeHated screaming vocals until BtBaM. Look up “musicianship” in the dictionary and you see a picture of these guys. “Selkies: The Endless Obsession” two of the best guitar solos of all time. Click the link. Have you ever heard a crowd that silent in awe at a metal concert? Listening to these guys play music is like watching Chase Utley play baseball. I should stop before I write an entire blog entry on this.

Ryan denies us both samples and explanations because he’s contemptuous and aloof.

  • The National
  • Radiohead
  • Arcade Fire
  • The Decemberists
  • Sigur Ros

@jcamaratta: “How can your worst nightmare not involve RAJ signing Mini-Mart to a 5 year contract to play 3B??”

That’s in reference to a question from last week, Well, as much as I hate that scenario, there are things that scare me more than Michael Martinez. Bees, for instance. I have a paralyzing fear of bees. I got stung by a bee just about every time I went to the zoo when I was a kid. I hate bees. I wrote a column in college about how much I hate bees. They terrify me.

Spiders, too. I mentioned that last week. I hate spiders.

But most of all I hate heights. I don’t know why, but I developed a paralyzing fear of heights when I was a kid. I can’t stand on a chair without feeling dizzy. This spring, I was in Washington alone and I went to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy center, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum’s annex out by Dulles Airport (along with the Baseball Hall of Fame, one of two museums I needed to see in order to die happy). I’m a massive aerospace geek, and when I called Kate, the Long-Suffering Fiancee to tell her how unbelievably honored I felt to have seen a Messerschmitt Me 163 (the only operational rocket-powered military aircraft, designed by Alexander Lippisch, one of the most influential aerospace engineers in history) in person, I could hear her rolling her eyes at me through the phone. It’s good that I went to this museum alone because I don’t have any friends who would have tolerated walking through it with me. But seriously, it’s out of the way but it’s a must-visit for any plane geek. Apart from the atrium, there’s nothing at the museum on the Mall in Washington that comes close to what they’ve got at the Udvar-Hazy Center.

Anyway, there’s a bunch of smaller planes, aerobatics planes mostly, up near the ceiling. It’s in a converted airplane hangar, so they’ve got their planes in the main hangar and their spacecraft in another room. Most of the planes are on the ground floor, and some are suspended for viewing from the second level, which runs around the walls of the hangar. But in order to get to the third level, you have to climb up to a catwalk, suspended only by steel cables. I say “catwalk,” but it’s a walkway with guardrails, about 15 feet in width. Anyway, I got up to this third level, took one look over the edge at the first plane, and the room started spinning and I had trouble breathing. After the first plane, I looked straight down at my feet and walked as fast as I could to the other end of the walkway so I could get back down to the second level before I passed out. I am terrified of heights.

So when we’re talking about nightmares, It’s really tough to work Michael Martinez and falling to one’s death into the same dream. That’s why.

@lonettomb: “if you were to put your next attempt at “cooking” on youtube, how many millions of views would it get?”

I’ve taken to cooking breakfast and live-tweeting it recently. A few weeks ago I tried and failed badly to make egg whites, thanks in no small part to my having dropped a yolk in bowl by accident and no one having told me beforehand that you cook eggs on low heat. It was bad enough that I couldn’t salvage it with a heaping helping of Frank’s Red Hot. It was met with as much amusement and derision as I deserved. Which is to say, a lot of it. I have a lot of friends who are either professional (or expert amateur) chefs or condescending know-it-all assholes. They enjoyed the experience immensely.

But earlier this week, I successfully redeemed myself. Cee Angi of The Platoon Advantage has, at my request and over the course of the past several months, emailed me a couple recipes that, I hoped, would allow me to cook like the Southerner that I’ve always not-so-secretly wanted to be. So anyway, I made biscuits and gravy the other day, and it was a rousing success.

Well, actually, it wasn’t. I panicked when the grease and milk didn’t congeal right away, added too much flour, and managed to prolong the process enough that the whole thing was cold by the time I ate it, but at least I know what I did wrong and I can correct it next time.

And besides, I hadn’t had biscuits and gravy since college, and when you go that long without biscuits and gravy, even my cooking will pass.

I reject the implication that I can’t cook. I can make rather good chili, and I can cook anything that comes in 1) a can or 2) a freezer-safe plastic bag with clear cooking instructions on the side.

So anyway, I don’t think my cooking show would go that well. I’m not going to literally blow anything up–I aced AP Chemistry in high school, so I know how to mix things together without causing fire or explosions. Though I did almost turn my own hands into soap one time when it took me way too long to realize my bottle of concentrated sodium hydroxide solution had a leak. But that was just one time. And it would be a lot of a guy in a dirty t-shirt looking at a recipe on a piece of paper like it’s written in Cyrillic.

But here’s the real problem. Cooking shows are boring. That’s why you need a gimmick, like Julia Child talking like Gladys, the cow from Sesame Street, only if she were trying to eat a peanut butter and marshmallow fluff sandwich. Or Jeff Smith dressing up like Colonel Sanders on The Frugal Gourmet. Or Rachael Ray’s lack of an indoor voice. Or Giada de Laurentiis, whose gimmick needs no explanation.

No one wants to watch me stare into space in fear while my duck confit turns gray in the skillet. I don’t even know if you cook duck confit in a skillet, but my point stands. Least of all, my studio audience, who would be left with lovely parting gifts and horrific dyspepsia. So no YouTube, no Food Network.

@AntsinIN: “which Phillies do you take with you as you begin your trek on the Oregon Trail?”

I acquired a copy of the greatest elementary school computer game ever created a couple years back, and I peopled my wagon with the names of my friends, as one does when one is eight years old and playing Oregon Trail on the IBM PS/2 in the back of the classroom. Anyway, I used the same four names every game for what must have been eight games, and Paul was the first to die every time. I changed the order, and he died first every time. Usually before we even encountered a single obstacle. Banker from Boston? Dead of dysentery. Farmer from Illinois? Dead of typhoid before we even leave Missouri. Carpenter from Ohio? Drowned in the Kansas River. It was uncanny. I have never met a blogger so seemingly unsuited to settle the West in a covered wagon.

Anyway, we’re looking at people who can fill needs.

  • Cliff Lee: Seems good-natured and good with a gun. Will come in handy when the need arises to shoot bison on the Great Plains.
  • Ty Wigginton: So it’s clear who gets killed an eaten when we get stuck all winter in the Rockies.
  • Ryan Howard: By far the Phillies player I’d most like to spend six months with. Plus he can help carry things. He’s big and strong.
  • Carlos Ruiz: Because come on.

We end with an actually useful baseball-related question.

@dj_mofsett: “What playoff bandwagon should I desperately fling myself onto this year?”

I’m on the Texas Rangers bandwagon because I think they’re a good enough team that they deserve a World Series someday, plus Wash is awesome and Ian Kinsler and Adrian Beltre are two of my favorite baseball players to watch. I thought the Rangers were going to be my designated secondary team this year, but they wear their home jersey with blue lettering with their red cap a lot, and it makes me sick. It’s not like they couldn’t get a uniform that matches or anything.

But there are other possiblities. The Redcommunists of Cincinnati boast an electrifying bullpen and, in Joey Votto, perhaps the best hitter in the game. If you’re a fan of the unexpected, you can latch onto the Oakland A’s. They seem to be the crowd favorite around here–in fact, it’s looking like Paul’s going to need to declare them his Official Second-Favorite Team under the Sports Bigamy Act of (which I just made up, but will totally pass and enforce if you elect me President in 2024).

Then there are the Orioles, whom you can support if you like…not so much entropy as the complete and total vacation of all the accepted laws of morality and physics. The Orioles in the playoffs is the kind of scenario that Darren Aronofsky would come up with, but only after 40 days and 40 nights of fasting, and then only after a fistful of Ecstasy and a couple big hits off a gravity bong. We will be lucky to live through it.

This is a fun playoff setup. Root for whomever you like, as long as it’s not the Braves or Yankees.

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  1. nehi

    October 05, 2012 10:28 AM

    Thank you for the bands!!!! ( this is tigerbomb by the way). I was thinking about this question last night and realized how much my list has change in last 5 years. FWIW mine are, 1. Bjork, 2. The Tea Party, 3. Mastodon, 4. Kool Keith, 5. Tom Waits.

  2. Dan K.

    October 05, 2012 12:15 PM

    In regards to a player winning in runs created on offense, defense, and baserunning… Utley pre-Cano? He must have been close considering he was yearly the best defensively, he is so crazy effective at stealing bases, and he assaulted opposing pitchers with the bat before the knees started kicking in.

    Bands is a tough one…

    Queen has to be up there because of Mercury.
    Pink Floyd, too.
    Rush because Peart is a god on drums.
    Red Hot Chili Peppers is my favorite band.
    And for the last one… I guess Four Year Strong just to go with a recent obsession?

  3. Nehi

    October 05, 2012 03:08 PM

    Amending my bands list: don’t know how I left these guys off, but switch deftones with Tom waits

  4. Bill Baer

    October 05, 2012 03:10 PM

    I debated including the Deftones on my list, but they have a lot of stuff that just doesn’t connect with me. “Passenger” is one of my favorite songs though.

  5. Nehi

    October 05, 2012 03:47 PM

    2nd ammendment: clearly I am an idiot. I listen to buckethead all the time, so he must replace kool Keith.

  6. Nehi

    October 05, 2012 03:49 PM

    Bill, are you more a fan of deftones first 3 albums or their last 4? Or is it more of a album by album you dislike songs thing

  7. Nehi

    October 05, 2012 04:40 PM

    Do you guys keep up the blog in the off season? and if so, do you continue doing crashbag?

  8. chongtastic

    October 06, 2012 11:51 AM

    I have also started a recent pursuit of a well cooked breakfast. In my most recent venture, I cooked chorizo on a well seasoned cast iron pan over medium low heat. Then turn off the stove and use the residual heat (and oil from the chorizo) to fry the eggs in. One thing I learned recently is if you like runny yolk, but hate having uncooked “snot” on it, is to cover your eggs with a lid for a bit so the exposed white firms up.

  9. Brad.

    October 08, 2012 07:07 PM

    This is probably an age thing (I suspect I’m about a half-generation older than you guys), but I am struggling with this The National thing. A friend bought me _Boxer_ and I can appreciate it, but it seems especially unlovable/cold. I’ll give it another try, I guess.

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