The Goldstein Project: In Search of the Run Tool Bell

Curves. They’re all kinds of good. Whether a well thrown hook induces an embarrassing swing and miss, a fine, Italian sports car hugs them on a mountain road or Scarlett Johansson is wearing something tight, curves are a beautiful part of life.  The curve that thrusts itself into my existence most often is this one:

 

That’s a graphical representation of the normal distribution that makes up the 20-80 scouting scale.  I doubt the readership of this site needs an elaborate explanation of this so I’ll be brief. Scouts grade the tools of players of all ages and skills from 20 to 80 in increments of 5 or 10 (I know of at least one team that splinters it even further than that) with a score of 50 representing the major league average and every 10 away from 50 represents a standard deviation away from that mean.  So, when scouts talk to one another about players, these numbers help to paint a picture of his skill set even if the inquiring scout hasn’t seen the prospect at all.

“Haven’t seen Ben Revere yet, Hank? He’s about 5’9”, 160lbs, 65 hit, 20 power, 70 runner at least. I don’t know if I’d go so far as to put an 8 on the glove but it’s a magnificent 7 while the arm is a 3 at best, and I’m being generous, Hank, he can’t throw worth a shit.”

Now I grade everything on this scale. I saw Looper on Wednesday night, comfortably put a 50 on it. The water coming out of the fountain at the theater was a 30 but the Neapolitan coconut candy I snuck in was a delicious 60. Branch Rickey is generally credited with its creation (the 20-80 scale, not the coconut candy) but we’re not totally sure where it comes from.

Scouts, who are not the xenophobic, math-hating dipshits they’ve been made out to be lately, communicate their evaluations to their bosses and each other with these numbers.  Most of what scouts are grading they are grading subjectively, using skills honed over years of keen baseball observation. There are, however, a few things evaluators can quantify and grade objectively. Two that come to mind are fastball velocity and, of course, speed.  Mostly, speed is measured by hand with an Accusplit stopwatch, the timer ignited when the hitter makes contact with the ball and snuffed out when he makes contact with first base.  Here are the times and their corresponding grade on the scale, the way it has been since….. forever:

Grade                   Time (R)/Time (L) in seconds

80                           4.0/3.9

70                           4.1/4.0

60                           4.2/4.1

50                           4.3/4.2

40                           4.4/4.3

30                           4.5/4.4

20                           4.6/4.5 and the Molinas

 

My stopwatch and I just sort of accepted this reality and the measurements within it and went happily about scouting minor leaguers and high schoolers all over the place until the dulcet voice of Astros Pro Scouting Director, Kevin Goldstein, blew it straight to hell.  Goldstein, on several occasions in several mediums, has stated that this scale, especially at the major league level, is likely incorrect.  Guys get to the big leagues mostly because they can hit, and speed is just icing on the cake of major league relevancy.  As such, “average” or better runners are rarer than the curve states they should be, according to Goldstein’s hypothesis.  At Baseball Info Solutions this past season I watched baseball for about 7 hours a day and timed every full effort sprint to first I could to see if Kevin is right and, if he is, what the curve actually looks like.  This is what I found:

Right handed times were more copious because balls hit to the left side of the infield led to more infield hit chances.

 

Left handed times were a little harder to come by

 

There are a few differences.  First, the results aren’t distributed in a beautifully even curve, they’re skewed.  Second, the .1 second buffer built into the scale to separate right handed hitters from left handed ones (since the lefty batter’s box is closer to first base) is a little light.  Third, left handed hitters are, on average, a little faster than the scale would indicate while righties are a little slower.

Some important logistics stuff about how I gathered data:

We use DVRs at BIS so I was constantly rewinding, timing everything a few times to make sure I got accurate results.  I got about 280 times (not all from different players, I have multiple times for some guys) which probably isn’t enough to be statistically significant, but it’s a nice start.  Some players for which I recorded multiple results displayed inconsistent times.  David Freese, for example, has a few times in the 4.5s but one 4.23 dash that had me constantly questioning my own existence. Some players were remarkably consistent. I’ve got several times for Angel Pagan, all of them between 3.98 and 4.02. Variances like Freese’s can occur from all sorts of stuff.  Maybe the guy slipped off camera or took a poor path to the bag to slow his time.  Some players’ times are not accurate representations of their speed at all. Munenori Kawasaki has a jailbreak element to his swing that has him starting toward first much sooner than other players who take forever to get going. This alters his times in context.  Rickie Weeks’ weight transfer is so odd that he also gets out of the box very quickly.  There are plenty of caveats involved with this data but also tons of possibilities.  Are there correlations with speed and defensive metrics? Would I see trends if I sorted players by position or by the team that drafted them? I rounded everyone’s time to the nearest five-hundredths, just so you know. Ben Jedlovec, who busts his ass along with the rest of BIS’s full time staff, took time out of his day to help me with Excel so I can churn out histograms now.  I once saw Ben arm wrestle Bill James. Go buy a Fielding Bible.

Even if my curve is right and the model being used by scouting departments across the globe is wrong should we care and adjust the scale? Hell no. The value in clear communication far outweighs whatever value increased accuracy provides the scouting community.  Of course, I’m open to all sorts of debate about that.

If anyone wants to google doc with everyone’s individually recorded time or has a request for an individual’s time, drop my a line in the comments section and I’ll see if I’ve got it.

Crash Bag, Vol. 23: Kowtow to the Creeping LaRussification of Baseball

I know the Phillies aren’t in it, but boy, have we seen some baseball this week! Four Game 5′s, two of them this evening. Be sure to tune in this afternoon. I’ll tell you who and what to root for later on in this post.

Some programming notes before we get started. Ordinarily I start soliciting Crash Bag questions sometime early Thursday afternoon, write the post throughout the day and post it Friday morning. However, next week I will not be able to do this, so consider the mailbox open from the moment this goes live–I’ll take your questions and grievances via Twitter either directly (via @MJ_Baumann) or via the #crashbag hashtag.

@Wzeiders: “Who would be on your Phillies dream team? (Favorite not nec. best players of all time)”

There’s obviously going to be quite a bit of overlap here, because apart from the current era, most of the people I remember are going to be among the best players in team history.

  • Catcher: Carlos Ruiz. Particularly after the past 18 months, when he changed from kind of a well-loved tagalong into a truly top-notch major league catcher.
  • First Base: John Kruk. An on-base machine who validated the dreams of every slow-pitch softball player on the East Coast. Proof positive that you can play in the major leagues even if you look like someone’s boozy uncle if your hand-eye coordination is good enough. Plus John Kruk was murdered by Robert De Niro in a Tony Scott movie. Top that, Pete Rose.
  • Second Base: Chase Utley. Apologies to Granny Hamner.
  • Shortstop: Jimmy Rollins. My favorite baseball player on any team at any position at any time period.
  • Third Base: Scott Rolen. The first Phillies player I ever saw who really awed me with his skill. There have only really been a couple of Philly athletes in my lifetime who were conspicuously great, who made you fully aware at every moment that they were operating on a different level from everyone else: Iverson. Lindros. Halladay. Terrell Owens for that one season. Dawkins. Utley. I think Claude Giroux is close to that level, if he’s not already. Rolen was the first one of those that I saw in a Phillies uniform. Watching him play third on that quick Veterans Stadium turf was like watching a leopard track an antelope, kill it and drag the carcass up into a tree. And to those of you who would have me hanged for not choosing Mike Schmidt, this is my list. Get your own.
  • Left Field: Jim Eisenreich. One of my memories of the 1993 season was Eisenreich scalding gap liner after gap liner. I was young, so my memory might be faulty, but I’m pretty sure he hit about .700 during the playoffs. Plus, on a team made up less of men than of beards and mullets, the look of Eisenreich didn’t scare me so much. And yes, I know that he primarily played right field with the Phillies. But I had to make room.
  • Center Field: Sliding Billy Hamilton. Part of the Phillies’ all-Hall of Fame outfield in the 1890s. Stole bases at a rate comparable to that of his Cincinnati Reds namesake. Wins in a squeaker over Richie Ashburn, Lenny Dykstra and Ricky Otero.
  • Right Field: Jayson Werth. I talk a lot about liking a player’s “game,” but there may be no player whose game I like more than Jayson Werth’s. A phenomenal percentage player and possessed of obscene plate discipline, Werth nevertheless excelled at the exciting aspects of the game: throws to the bases, baserunning and hitting for power. Still not worth the contract the Nationals gave him, but he’s my platonic ideal of a baseball player.
  • Starting Pitcher: Steve Carlton. Ask me in five years and I might say Cole Hamels.
  • Relief Pitcher: Toby Borland. I pitched sidearm for years because of this guy. A full bullpen would probably include Antonio Bastardo, Ryan Madson, Jim Konstanty and Steve Bedrosian.

Feel free to share your thoughts on this question in the comments. But read the rest of the post first, please.

@jtoombs51: “If you had to choose between Kraft Mac N’ Cheese and Velveeta Mac N’ Cheese which one would you choose?”

I’m not a big Mac N’ Cheese guy. I’m not sure why–it probably has something to do with leftovers not microwaving as well as some other side dishes. Though honestly, I really just like beans better. My go-to hot midnight snack in college was Bush’s beans with either barbecue sauce or Frank’s Red Hot mixed in. Make a big can, eat some, put the rest in the fridge for the next meal. I cooked this regularly, often feeding not only myself but roommates and guests as well. And no one ever caught salmonella and died, so maybe I’m not as bad a cook as I thought.

With that said, I’ll take Kraft over Velveeta, with the following caveat. Drew Magary mentioned this in his own mailbag colum, the Funbag, which is, along with Katie Baker’s Bake Shop at Grantland, the best column going in this format. Anyway, Magary hit the nail on the head when he said that the key element to good Mac N’ Cheese is the shape of the pasta. Elbow macaroni is not only boring, but it’s far from an ideal shape for capturing the cheese sauce. If you believe, as I do, that we will be judged when we die by how much cheese we’ve consumed, this simply will not do. Shells and wagon wheels are superior in all respects to macaroni as a medium for cheese sauce.

@lizroscher: “If you could pick any current or former Phillie to be a spokesman for any product, who and for what product?”

So…you’re asking me to top, for different reasons, Hunter Pence for Liscio’s Bakery and Roy Halladay for MLB 2K11. Yeah, okay. That’s going to happen. But for the sake of fun, let’s give it a shot.

“Hi, this is J.C. Romero for CVS Pharmacy–” [vaudeville cane]

Sorry. That one was in bad taste.

“Hi. This is Chase Utley for Cherry Hill Subaru, and I’m here to–are you guys sure? I mean, I’ve got some batting practice to take, some stairs to run, and then I’ve got to master fielding positions I don’t play. I know I’m famous and well-liked, but I’m not all that charismatic or anything…yes, I’ve seen Shane and Hunter’s commercials, and I know you barely need to speak English to do a successful celebrity testimonial…but I can’t be the guy you want for this. Are they going to believe me? You know I have a bad habit of saying a certain dirty word on television. Okay, if you’re sure.
“Hi, this is Chase Utley for Cherry Hill Subaru. I’m the best percentage basestealer in the history of the game, so people tend to talk about my wheels. If you’re in the market for a good set of wheels, you should test-drive one our new Imprezas. When it comes to small family cars, the Impreza combines the best in sporty handling and practicality. You won’t find a better car in the whole fu–” [vaudeville cane]

No, that was a mistake as well. I’m sorry, I’ll do better next time.

“Hi, this is Eppa Rixey for Verizon Wireless. When I led the Phillies to their first pennant in 1915, communication was key. Our Samsung Galaxy phones make it possible for you to…wait a second–everyone has a telephone? And you don’t need wires? This has got to be some kind of sorcery. That’s the craziest damn thing I’ve ever heard in my life…No, I don’t believe it…and what the hell is this? Angry Birds?” [vaudeville cane]

Please, just one more.

“Hi, this is Lenny Dykstra for Dyson. Anyone who knows about my fondness for spitting tobacco juice on the turf at the Vet knows I’m an expert in leaving a mess on the carpet. I’m here to tell you that Dyson vacuums incorporate cutting-edge technology with the latest in design to help you clean up such messes. Dyson vacuums famously don’t lose suction. Take it from me. I was on the 1996 Phillies and I know what sucking looks like!
“A Dyson vacuum can even get soda stains out of your carpet! As a member of the 1986 Mets, I have firsthand knowledge of getting clean after issues with Coke.  Dyson vacuums are the best at cleaning up messes, even messes as big as the one I left by consistently defrauding investors over the past decade! So buy a Dyson vacuum cleaner today–coming from me, you know it won’t be a gamble!”

@4Who4What: “who do I root for in the NLCS? Is there even a lesser of two evils?”

If that Nats lose, nobody. If the Nats win, you can at least root for novelty. But as far as a Giants-Cardinals matchup goes, things look grim.

I guess there are players I like on each team…no, I hate Posey, I hate Cain, I hate Pence, I hate David Freese, I hate Sandoval, I really hate Yadier Molina and Cris Carpenter…yeah, there’s really nothing to like about a Cardinals-Giants NLCS. Nothing whatsoever. Bruce Bochy and Mike Matheny are both clueless reactionaries as in-game managers. It breaks my heart that winning teams find them perfectly cromulent while Manny Acta bounces from one hapless organization to the next.

Anyway, I direct you to my earlier comments on the Stadium Collapse Game. Just root for mayhem.

The good news: I’ve been burning through Friday Night Lights on Netflix at a prolific rate, and since I won’t have the constitution to watch National League baseball for the next week or so, I can watch an absolute truckload of that show. Speaking of which, I’m a couple episodes into Season 2, and while I don’t want any significant spoilers on the fates of the various characters–can someone promise me that Lyla Garrity gets brutally murdered or sent to Vietnam or something? Because while I find Minka Kelly to be as aesthetically pleasing as the next guy…wait, not that I find the next guy to be aesthetically pleasing…not that there’s anything wrong with that…though I submit that one can appreciate that someone is attractive without actually being attracted to him…unless he’s Tim Riggins, who is just heartbreakingly gorgeous no matter which way your own personal inclinations…

You know what, I’m just going to try that one again.

I like looking at Minka Kelly, for sure, but she’s not playing a character that I find to be either likable or compelling. I’d have enjoyed watching Jason Street develop a personality a lot more if we weren’t made to suffer the shrill, self-centered, passive-aggressive Southern queen bee-ism of Lyla Garrity. So if she winds up being abducted and sold into slavery in Ukraine during Season 3 and we never hear from her again, I’d be very pleased.

I guess my answer to the original question is that you should just not watch. I’ll just be stupid. If you value your own sanity, don’t watch. I certainly won’t. Go Nats.

@CogNerd: “Pierre=high OBP,no power. Howard hits better w/o shift. Could weird batting order (pierre/howard) cover Howard’s weakness?”

It’s an interesting proposition, and while I don’t think the specific scenario you outlined would help much, it draws attention to a couple of key issues regarding the future of The Preeminent Slugger of Our Generation.

In 2006, Howard posted…you know what, I’ll say it, perhaps the greatest offensive season in franchise history. Howard, in his late 20s, hit the ball harder than anyone else in the league, not only with the power to send the ball into the outer reaches of the right field stands, but line drive power. He’s the only Phillies player who made me fear for the safety of the opposing second baseman–except when it was Dan Uggla, because screw that guy. I’m not scout, but the young Howard had 80 raw power if ever I’ve seen it. We’re talking Giancarlo Stanton power. Hemi V8 power. Matter/anti-matter reaction power.

Between his rookie year (2005) and his MVP year, Howard posted BABIPs of .354 and .356, above-average numbers you’d ordinarily expect from a prime Ichiro or some other such speed demon. As you might suspect, such was not the case with Howard–rather than legging out infield hits or punching singles past drawn-in third basemen, he simply did not hit soft ground balls or line drives that allowed fielders to get under them. Either the ball was hit right at you or you didn’t have a realistic chance of getting to it. It really was something to see.

All that ended with The Shift. Because Howard is pretty much dead-pull on grounders and line drives, defenses would leave third base undefended in favor of putting a fourth outfielder in short right. Because Howard is so slow, they got away with it.

I have no idea why Howard couldn’t just bunt anywhere to the left of the pitcher’s mound and take free infield singles until the defense stopped shifting. No idea. That he stubbornly hit into the shift for five years, to the detriment of his own on-base percentage, the Phillies’ offensive output and my own tenuous handle on sanity.

So if you’re unable to hit through the shift or unwilling to hit around it, how do you get it to go away? Well, you can’t very well leave third base undefended with a runner on second or third (because then that runner could quite easily steal either third or home), which is where this Juan Pierre idea comes in.

If the Phillies actually could have at least one runner in scoring position whenever Howard was up, that’d be awesome. In order to do that, you’d want your top OBP guys to be hitting in front of him. So the best way to get opposing defenses out of the shift is actually the orthodox way to set up a lineup: guys who get on base in front of guys who hit for power. Maybe the Phillies might let Utley and Rollins be a little more liberal with their stolen base attempts with Howard up, because rather than fearing taking a man off base with Howard up, there might be an added benefit to moving the infielders around.

But unfortunately, The Big Piece is losing bat speed. Rapidly. Like A-Rod rapidly. Like Mercury capsule firing its retro-rockets rapidly. It will soon get to the point where it doesn’t matter where the infielders are; Ryan Howard’s swing will just sort of arc lazily through the strike zone, like a jumbo jet full of nuns, children and puppies that’s lost three of its engines and is tumbling aimlessly back to the earth and a fiery end.

My only hope is that by the time that happens, Howard only has three years left on that Soviet invasion of Afghanistan of a contract.

@jcamaratta: “Phillies look to add a race in 6th inning (ala Pres race in DC). Theme is “World Dictators”. Who do you got?”

Just so we’re clear, let me just say up front that I don’t endorse any of the viewpoints or practices of any of the autocratic rulers discussed below. Except for Francisco Franco’s overwhelming dislike of FC Barcelona. He and I are on the same page on that. I don’t know that I’d have had the club president assassinated, but then again, I’m a writer, not a fascist dictator.

This is a great question. And believe it or not, I’ve given it some thought. In my world history class my freshman year of high school, we had a weeklong group project called the “Dictator of the Decade” debate. The class was broken up into five groups to support one of five candidates (Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Josef Stalin, Francisco Franco and Mao Zedong) as the greatest dictator of the mid-20th Century. I guess, the “Decade” in question was the 1940s, but by the time Mao took power, Mussolini and Hitler were already dead, but let’s not quibble with the specifics when we’re talking about alliteration.

We got really into it, because mine was the most obnoxiously overachieving class in a school full of obnoxious overachievers–doing research, writing prepared speeches, and creating costumes for the debate, and let me tell you, you have not lived until you’ve seen a 14-year-old boy of Indian descent dress up like Hitler for a school project. Anyway, I bring this up because those five are a good place to start.

I think Hitler and Stalin have to make the cut. Both score high on totalitarianism, brutality and impact on world politics. And for simplicity’s sake, let’s limit it to 20th Century dictators, because I don’t want to have to figure out where other authoritarian rulers fit. Somehow it seems unfair to compare Catherine the Great to Joseph Mobutu.

So if we’re taking four, and we’re taking Stalin and Hitler, that leaves two spots open. I know this because I’m good at math.

The 20th Century is a veritable cornucopia of estimable candidates, whose longevity, brutality and malfeasance stand them in good stead in any list of autocrats. Among them: Pol Pot, Josip Broz Tito, Slobodan Milosevic, Kim Jong-Il, Muammar Qaddafi (I was really hoping never to have to spell his name again after he died) and Fidel Castro. But I won’t add any of those to the list.

Our third and fourth dictators are Saddam Hussein (talk about brutality and changing the course of history and, in the best tradition of Hitler and Stalin, a mustache worth reckoning with) and Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania. I choose Ceausescu over Milosevic, Castro or Pol Pot (and if you disagree with me, I understand totally–this is a dark horse pick) for his bizarre behavior, brutal treatment of his citizens and the fact that he was ousted, tried and executed by his own people in the span of a little more than two weeks, which doesn’t happen to outgoing dictators as often as you might think. That’s some Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette stuff right there, sports fans. Ceausescu didn’t just get tossed out of the country to live in Brazil or Switzerland–he was put to death. Not quite Mussolini hanging upside-down by a meat hook, but in 1990, it might as well have been.

So Hilter, Stalin, Saddam and Ceausescu. That’s my Dictators’ Race.

@TonyMcIV: “What should the Phillies do with Schierholtz? See what he can do in Spring Training and platoon him? Or trade him?”

This is a question of underrated importance. I like Schierholtz. He’s a good defender who hits righties pretty well (.354 wOBA against them last year) and is under team control for two more years. I’d like to see them give him a run-out in center, but I don’t know for sure that he can hack it there defensively full-time. But I think the ideal is to put him in a platoon with a guy who can hit lefties (say…John Mayberry) and play him in right. Maybe he gets flipped for some minor-league depth or some help at another position (third base, maybe?), but I’d like to see the Phillies hang onto him and give him at least semi-regular at-bats in right field.

Speaking of platoons.

@pinvert: ” what are the chances the Phils actually employ the 326 different platoons that have been talked about?

About nil. I find platooning to be an extremely effective way of getting around weaknesses in one’s lineup and/or targeting pitchers with severe splits. Joe Maddon uses it to great effect in Tampa. The A’s, as Bill said earlier this week, have done the same. The problem is that no one carries a bench deep enough for platoons anymore. Earl Weaver used to platoon. Casey Stengel platooned. Both of them knew a thing or two about managing. But now, since we’d rather carry 14 relief pitchers than build a solid bench, the platoon is all but dead.

I dunno, it seems like, if you have two guys who play the same position, and one hits lefties well and and the other hits righties well, you’d play one against left-handed starters and the other against right-handed starters. You’d think. Instead, we kowtow to the creeping LaRussification of baseball and go batter-for-batter with relief pitchers.

@Lana: “Why is Yankees”

Why, indeed. Because of the obnoxious cultural hegemony of New York City, no doubt, as well as an overwhelming financial advantage. They should be destroyed.

@SoMuchForPathos: “I’ve been playing NCAA 2004 obsessively. Is there anything on this planet more satisfying than running the triple-option flexbone?”

No. Certainly not. I never really perfected the triple option myself–I usually ran a combination of the power-I and the shotgun spread, always heavy on option runs, screens and play action. Kind of a hybrid between what Steve Spurrier’s running at South Carolina right now and what Barry Switzer ran at Oklahoma.

Speaking of what Steve Spurrier’s running at South Carolina right now, it has never been more fun to be a Gamecock fan than it is right now. Last week’s win against Georgia was probably my favorite regular season game I’ve ever watched in any sport. I say this now because we’re going to lose either tomorrow against LSU or next week at Florida, and to one of Tennessee and Clemson, because if there’s one thing USC knows how to do, it’s lose to an inferior opponent when they’re on the verge of national relevance. But I digress.

NCAA 2004 is probably my favorite football video game of all time. It was just realistic enough to remind you of the real thing, but still simple enough to be easy to master. And I’ll say this–if you play them right, Kansas State in that game, with an offensive backfield of Ell Roberson and Darren Sproles, is nigh unbeatable. They’re tiny, but they’re fast, and Roberson was a great passer, which stands out in a video game based on college football. That’s one of the things I liked about that game–it’s brutally honest about the quality of the college passing game circa 2004. It’s frustrating when you’re trying to overhaul a deficit in the latter stages of the game, but it forces you to run a lot.

In my experience, people don’t run enough in video game football. It’s all a race to put up big scoring numbers, but where’s the appreciation for the grind-it-out, three yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust game of yore? All you need is 3.4 yards a carry and you never give the ball up. We as a society should run the ball more.

Run the ball more. Go O’s. Go Nats.

 

Scott Rolen, We Salute You

The Cincinnati Reds folded against the San Francisco Giants in the NLDS, losing three games in a row at home after winning the first two on the road. Scott Rolen unceremoniously struck out to end Game Five and the Reds’ season, joining Alex Rodriguez and Omar Vizquel as the only players in baseball history to strike out to end a post-season series on two separate occasions. The 37-year-old eight-time Gold Glove award winner was also responsible for a costly error in Game Four, perhaps the biggest sign that he was running out of gas.

Bob Nightengale reports that Rolen is headed towards retirement:

twitter.com/BNightengale/status/256517931075244034

Rolen played an important role in Phillies history although he played on some very, very bad teams. He burst onto the scene in 1997, hitting 21 home runs with a .377 on-base percentage, 16 stolen bases, and incredible defense at third base. It was no surprise when he took home the National League Rookie of the Year award unanimously. The 22-year-old was already drawing comparisons to former Phillies great — and the best third baseman in baseball history — Mike Schmidt for his all-around baseball talent.

Rolen continued to improve year after year, becoming the backbone of the Phillies’ offense. Between 1997-2001, Rolen posted an aggregate 128 adjusted OPS (OPS+) and 24.9 Wins Above Replacement according to Baseball Reference. Only 18 position players (min. 2,500 plate appearances) were more valuable to their teams in that span of time; only ten were infielders. The comparisons to Schmidt persisted and fans fantasized about a long and productive career ahead of Rolen, the 6’4″, 255-pounder donning only Phillies red.

After the 2001 season, Rolen’s potential free agency loomed and the Phillies were scrambling to get him signed to a long-term contract. In November, they offered him a ten-year deal with potential earnings north of $140 million — a gargantuan contract even now, but especially eleven years ago. Rolen, however, declined the offer, citing the Phillies organization’s lack of commitment to winning. Rolen said, “I’m not seeing that their number one goal is to put a winning team on the field.”

Realizing that Rolen was setting his eyes on free agency, the Phillies swallowed their pride and dealt their cornerstone third baseman to the St. Louis Cardinals at the end of July 2002. Rolen went with Doug Nickle to St. Louis in exchange for second baseman Placido Polanco, reliever Mike Timlin, and pitching prospect Bud Smith. It was a rather unexciting haul for a player who had been and was expected to continue to be so valuable, but the Phillies did not have any leverage to work with when negotiating.

After arriving in St. Louis, Rolen described his new location as “baseball heaven“, a phrase which infuriated Phillies fans and made him persona non grata in the city of Philadelphia. In fact, even in 2012, ten years separated from his last at-bat in Phillies red pinstripes, he was still booed lustily as he lugged his aged, time-worn frame into the batter’s box at Citizens Bank Park. Rolen spent five and a half of those years in St. Louis, including as part of the 2006 championship team; one and a half in Toronto; and three and a half in Cincinnati. He suffered from injuries almost constantly, robbing him of hundreds of at-bats and spectacular plays at third base, but even as he contemplates retirement, there is a legitimate Hall of Fame case to be made on his behalf. With 66.3 career rWAR, Rolen narrowly trails Ron Santo in sixth place with the most among third basemen either in the Hall of Fame or listed on the ballot.

Player WAR/pos From To Tm
Mike Schmidt 103.0 1972 1989 PHI
Eddie Mathews 91.9 1952 1968 BSN-MLN-ATL-TOT-DET
Wade Boggs 88.3 1982 1999 BOS-NYY-TBD
Chipper Jones 81.2 1993 2012 ATL
Brooks Robinson 72.7 1955 1977 BAL
Ron Santo 66.6 1960 1974 CHC-CHW
Scott Rolen 66.3 1996 2012 PHI-TOT-STL-TOR-CIN
Graig Nettles 62.8 1967 1988 MIN-CLE-NYY-SDP-ATL-MON
Buddy Bell 61.6 1972 1989 CLE-TEX-TOT-CIN
Adrian Beltre 60.7 1998 2012 LAD-SEA-BOS-TEX
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 10/11/2012.

In Philadelphia, though, that debate will be largely ignored under the black cloud of hatred that still permeates this city. Looking back on Rolen’s comments with the gift of time reveals that the third baseman was correct in his criticisms, however. The Phillies didn’t commit themselves to winning until after he was gone, when they had the new ballpark on the horizon and a throng of unhappy fans who weren’t showing up to games.

Following the end of the 2002 season, the Phillies signed third baseman David Bell to a four-year, $17 million contract and first baseman Jim Thome to a six-year, $85 million contract. GM Ed Wade also traded catching prospect Johnny Estrada to the Atlanta Braves for starting pitcher Kevin Millwood. Their 2003 Opening Day payroll went up to $71 million, well above the $58 million a year prior. The 2004 was even larger at $93 million following the acquisitions of Billy Wagner and Eric Milton as well as the signing of free agent Tim Worrell and the re-signing of Millwood.

In the meantime, the Phillies were drafting extremely well. Going back to 2002, the Phillies drafted Cole Hamels, Michael Bourn, Greg Golson, Lou Marson, J.A. HappJosh Outman, and Kyle Drabek, among others. Many of them were used to bring valuable established players to a team on the precipice of playoff contention. Eventually, the Phillies opted for a fresh face, firing Ed Wade and bringing in miracle worker Pat Gillick to lead the way.

2002 was the last time the Phillies finished below .500 and it is no coincidence. They have Scott Rolen to thank for that. He gave the Phillies the baseball equivalent of an intervention, telling them to straighten up and fly right. And they did. Even though he wasn’t on the payroll, it is quite possible that the Phillies’ success between 2007-11 — the greatest era of baseball in franchise history dating back to 1883 — never happens without him leaving in acrimonious fashion.

As Rolen heads into retirement, he deserves our respect and admiration. He was one of the best third basemen we have ever seen period, and one of the very best to ever play in this great city. He is a player you will, no doubt, tell your kids and grandkids about many years down the road while doing your best Dan Baker impression.

The Center Field Mine Field

Having traded away both Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence at the end of July, the Phillies now have a need for a center fielder going into 2013. The outfielders currently on the roster include Domonic BrownJohn Mayberry, Juan PierreLaynce Nix, and Nate Schierholtz. None of them are legitimate center fielders, so the Phillies are heading into the off-season thinking about one of the many free agents. In particular, six names stick out: Josh HamiltonMichael BournB.J. UptonMelky CabreraAngel Pagan, and Victorino.

Hamilton and Bourn are expected to be the most highly-sought after, and there are some very good reasons the Phillies should avoid them. They will likely be the first two to be signed, which means that if Ruben Amaro wants to sign either, he will have to set the market. It is better from a GM’s perspective to display patience because the more you wait, the more options close for the players, reducing their leverage in negotiations.

Player fWAR rWAR
Michael Bourn 6.1 5.8
Melky Cabrera 4.6 4.6
Angel Pagan 4.3 3.9
Josh Hamilton 4.9 3.7
B.J. Upton 3.2 2.1
Shane Victorino 2.9 2.1

With Hamilton, the Phillies would likely need to commit at least five years and nine figures for a player that will be 32 years old in May and tends to miss time due to questionable health issues. This table, via Baseball Prospectus, lists Hamilton’s injuries since the start of 2011:

Date On Date Off Days Games Side Body Part Injury Severity
2012-09-19 2012-09-24 5 5 General Medical Illness Sinus
2012-09-13 2012-09-14 1 1 Left Knee Soreness
2012-07-06 2012-07-06 0 0 Low Back Soreness
2012-06-15 2012-06-19 4 4 General Medical Illness Intestinal
2012-05-28 2012-05-29 1 1 General Medical Illness
2012-05-25 2012-05-25 0 0 General Medical Illness
2012-04-30 2012-05-04 4 3 Low Back Stiffness
2012-04-03 2012-04-03 0 0 Head Migraine
2012-03-31 2012-04-04 4 0 Left Groin Tightness
2012-03-14 2012-03-14 0 0 Right Foot Contusion Heel
2011-11-11 2011-11-11 0 0 Left Surgery Sports Hernia
2011-04-13 2011-05-22 39 35 Right Upper Arm Fracture Humerus
2011-01-10 2011-01-10 0 0 General Medical Respiratory Pneumonia

In the past, Hamilton has also had issues with drugsalcohol, and religion. Hamilton may lead all center fielders in wOBA since 2008 at .387, but he has plenty of other issues that should scream “somebody else’s problem” at the Phillies.

Once a top prospect in the Phillies’ system, Michael Bourn could become the Phillies’ new center fielder. Most of his value, though, comes from his legs and he turns 30 in December. His .329 wOBA in 2012 is just a hair above the league average for center fielders at .320, so the Phillies would be gambling on Bourn’s legs staying in tact over the next four or five years at a steep price. The Phillies have taken risks on old players not getting injured or slowing down before and it hasn’t worked out well (Ryan HowardRoy Halladay, Chase Utley).

Hamilton and Bourn are tempting because they had great 2012 showings, but they are ticking time bombs. The Phillies would be better served sitting back while other teams fight over the two premier center fielders, then making a play for a second-tier center fielder like Cabrera, Upton, or Pagan. Due to his recognition, Upton will likely be heavily sought after as well, but the Phillies would do well to attempt to capture the 28-year-old. Pagan will likely fly under the radar, but he would be a great Plan B for the Phillies assuming a short, relatively cheap contract. Those two will likely be taken off the board after Hamilton and Bourn, meaning that fewer teams will have CF needs and thus there will be fewer teams to compete against, dropping prices of the remaining players.

The Phillies aren’t necessarily committed to signing a free agent centerfielder, but it is the easiest solution to their very obvious problem. If they get creative, the Phillies could pry Denard Span away from the Minnesota Twins, as CSN Philly and Phillies Nation’s Corey Seidman suggested:

twitter.com/CoreySeidman/status/255743778265104385

twitter.com/CoreySeidman/status/255744487198953473

A trade, however, would require further diminishing of an already-barren Minor League system — one that ranks among the bottom-third or worse among almost every prospect expert. At any rate, it would be foolish to be inconsiderate of any trade opportunities.

It would be extremely easy for the Phillies to latch onto Hamilton or Bourn, especially since they own the league’s largest payroll, but the past few years have provided the Phillies all the evidence they need to conclude that throwing money around indiscriminately is no panacea. In the past, Amaro has shown the tendency to burst onto the market first (see: Howard, Ryan; Ibanez, Raul; Papelbon, Jonathan), but this off-season, perhaps more than any other he has seen, would punish him for displaying such impatience.

Platoon

For as good as the Oliver Stone film Platoon is, the baseball platoon is even better. The idea is to use a particular player only in situations that highlight his strengths, and use his positional partner in other situations. For instance, the 1993 Phillies famously and successfully utilized platoons as I described in this post from a year ago:

Manager Jim Fregosi squeezed additional runs out of his team by utilizing platoons in left and right field as well as second base and shortstop. As a result, the Phillies had the best OPS in the league against right-handed pitching (.765) and the second-highest OPS against lefties (.802). In left field, Pete Incaviglia handled lefties (.904 OPS) while Milt Thompson faced mostly right-handers (.745 OPS). In right field, Jim Eisenreich faced right-handers (.816) and Wes Chamberlain faced lefties (.986). Although Mariano Duncan didn’t have much of a platoon split (.721 vs. RHP/.720 vs. LHP), he spent time at both second base and shortstop. Second baseman Mickey Morandini‘s .688 OPS was more than 100 points higher than against lefties whom he faced only about 25 percent of the time. At shortstop, the switch-hitting Kevin Stocker hit lefties well (.936) but faced them at about half the rate as right-handers (.780).

The Phillies finished with the fifth-highest percentage of plate appearances with the platoon advantage (65 percent) despite having only two switch-hitters rack up 100 or more trips to the dish.

The Oakland Athletics, which surged into the post-season with a 51-25 second-half record, are yet another team using platoons and making it work. They have used platoons at four positions: catcher, first base, second base, and designated hitter. Their offensive gains aren’t nearly as pronounced as the ’93 Phillies, but the A’s would have been dreadful without smart player deployment. As a team, the A’s have the second-worst batting average and third-worst on-base percentage, but with some changes in personnel and strategy, their second-half OPS was nearly 100 points higher than their first-half OPS.

Here’s a look at how the A’s got it done:

The platoons at catcher and second base aren’t impressive, but you do what you can with your personnel. The Phillies, going into 2013, should look at what the A’s have done and strongly consider utilizing platoons at several positions if possible: third base, right field, and first base. Let’s address those in reverse order.

First Base

Yes, the Phillies should consider platooning their star first baseman to whom they owe $105 million. Howard will turn 33 years old in November and is coming off of the worst offensive showing of his excellent career. He has shown a severe platoon split over his career, but it wasn’t an issue earlier on because he hit right-handed pitching so prodigiously. As he aged and the league caught up to him, however, his performance against right-handers declined and so too did the Phillies’ tolerance for his inability to hit left-handed pitching. The following line graph illustrates the changes:

RHP LHP DIFF
2006 1.164 .923 .241
2007 1.072 .826 .246
2008 .966 .746 .220
2009 1.088 .653 .435
2010 .876 .826 .050
2011 .921 .634 .287
2012 .784 .604 .180

Howard has earned the right to have an opportunity to redeem himself after a disappointing and injury-plagued 2012 — his torn Achilles and broken toe acted as bookends on his 71 uninspiring games. He should be the full-time first baseman to start the season, but if the Phillies observe no legitimate improvement, they should consider benching Howard against southpaws while utilizing someone like John Mayberry (.811 OPS vs. LHP in 2012), Erik Kratz (.877), or even Darin Ruf (1.325 in Double-A Reading; 1.326 OPS in 16 MLB plate appearances).

To put the situation in the context or runs above average, let us use wOBA as the run conversion is rather simple. Mayberry has hit lefties for a .370 wOBA since 2010 while Howard has mustered only a .310 mark in that same period of time. To convert the wOBA difference into runs, we divide the .060 difference by 1.15, then multiply it by the 225 plate appearances of Howard’s Mayberry would theoretically take. (.060/1.15)*225 comes out to 12 runs, or about 1.2 wins. Will an extra win likely make the difference between the Phillies reaching the post-season and sitting home in October? Probably not, but this more efficient use of personnel, coupled with the same strategy at other positions, plus more intelligent decision-making elsewhere (e.g. using Jonathan Papelbon in a tie game on the road) can give the Phillies a few extra wins in the standings just like the A’s.

Right Field

With the Phillies owing $125 million to seven players going into 2013, there is some impetus to solve some problems on the cheap when possible. As demonstrated this past regular season, the bullpen is a great and easy way to do that, but for the Phillies next season, right field could be just as simple. Some are saying the Phillies should target someone like Nick Swisher along with one of the many available center fielders, but equivalent solutions are available right now for a fraction of the cost. Nate Schierholtz, used almost exclusively against right-handed pitching while with the San Francisco Giants, could pair up with Mayberry or a cheap free agent to provide above-average production for under $5 million.

Schierholtz has taken 631 trips to the plate in the past two seasons with 495 of them (78%) coming against right-handers. Against them, Schierholtz posted a respectable .349 wOBA while playing above average defense in right field:

The Phillies could pair Schierholtz with a free agent like Matt Diaz, who is recovering from thumb surgery but is expected to make a recovery. Diaz will turn 35 in March but has long been a noted lefty-killer, with a career .370 wOBA against them over his career. That is Yoenis Cespedes-level offense specifically against southpaws. Scott Hairston could work as well. Between Schierholtz and their right-handed hitter of choice, they could recapture and exceed the production they had with Hunter Pence for one-third of the cost.

Third Base

Yesterday’s article looked at the Phillies’ options at third base, concluding that a realistic solution would involve Kevin Frandsen despite his probable mean-regression. Some of you who commented left some creative ideas that make sense. For instance, John Stolnis of That Ball’s Outta Here suggested free agent Jeff Keppinger. Keppinger, 33 in April, has shown a drastic platoon split over his career, with an .864 OPS against left-handed pitching and .680 against right-handed pitching. The difference was even more drastic this past season alone. He earned just over $1.5 million with the Rays on a one-year deal, so he could come at a rather cheap price.

Eric Chavez would make a nice platoon partner with Keppinger. With the New York Yankees, Chavez tagged right-handers for a .908 OPS and was used almost exclusively against them. It has been a renaissance year for the soon-to-be 35-year-old Chavez, who played in a grand total of 122 games between 2008-11. The Yankees signed him to a one-year, $900,000 deal in February. With his limited usefulness and age, he is due for only a small raise if he gets one at all, so a potential Chavez-Keppinger platoon would come in well under $5 million. Such a platoon would also be infinitely more favorable than hoping that Frandsen’s 2012 showing wasn’t an illusion and/or that Freddy Galvis will acquire the ability to handle Major League pitching at an above-replacement level.

Few teams make use of platoons, but it should be standard practice when you don’t have a quality balanced player at a certain position (e.g. Chase Utley). Of course, politics and player management are issues to consider as well, as it doesn’t exactly look cool to announce to fans that your $125 million first baseman is going to sit against the Mike Minors and Paul Maholms of the baseball world. Two press releases announcing one-year deals for third basemen in their mid-30′s isn’t as sexy as “Phillies sign Mark Reynolds to three-year, $45 million deal”. But in the end, what matters is gaining those small advantages to push your team north in the standings, and the Phillies have a very high chance of doing that with platoons than hoping a big free agent signing pans out or their bottled lightning players from a year prior are legitimate.

Addressing the Third Base Situation

As you have read here ad nauseam, third base is a very shallow position across Major League Baseball. Having lived through the waning of Placido Polanco‘s career, the Phillies will likely be moving on despite his relatively cheap $5.5 million option. Polanco played in just 90 games in 2012, missing time due to injuries to his back, knee, ankle, and wrist. In moving on, however, the Phillies can pick from an uninspiring list that includes Geoff BlumMiguel CairoEric ChavezMark DeRosaMaicer IzturisKevin KouzmanoffJose Lopez, and Scott Rolen. They can also choose another go-around with Ty Wigginton. Players whose options may not be picked up by their current teams include Brandon IngeMark Reynolds, and Kevin Youkilis.

Here’s a look at how each player fared in 2012 by wOBA. “Ptn %” refers to the percentage of PA in which the player had the platoon advantage (e.g. RH hitter vs. LH pitcher or LH hitter vs. RH pitcher). Kouzmanoff was excluded because he did not play in the Majors at all in 2012.

Player wOBA PA PA Ptn% Age
Eric Chavez .356 305 88% 34
Mark Reynolds .339 520 27% 28
Kevin Youkilis .331 497 28% 33
Scott Rolen .311 316 27% 37
Ty Wigginton .301 350 41% 34
Maicer Izturis .296 304 100% 31
Brandon Inge .283 331 38% 35
Jose Lopez .269 241 39% 28
Mark DeRosa .258 93 45% 37
Miguel Cairo .213 151 29% 38
Geoff Blum .158 31 100% 39

The average third baseman posted a .320 wOBA. Of the 12 players listed, only three posted above-average offensive numbers during the regular season. The bottom of the list you can immediately cross off due to the combination of age, poor performance, and lack of playing time. Each player has a significant deficiency, and you can put them into separate groups. For instance, Chavez and Izturis are platoon-exclusive players; Youkilis and Rolen are injury-prone; Reynolds and Wigginton can’t play defense; and Izturis, Inge, and Lopez can’t hit.

Among players under contract, the obvious name is Chase Headley, but as the past trade deadline indicated, the San Diego Padres’ asking price is very, very high and the Phillies no longer have a Minor League system overflowing with attractive prospects. The Padres have prospect Jedd Gyorko, a 23-year-old who posted a .968 OPS at Triple-A Tucson, ready to take over in the event Headley is moved. Other third basemen are young, cheap, and under team control for a while, including Kyle SeagerMike MoustakasPedro Alvarez, and Chris Johnson – more or less unavailable via trade unless Ruben Amaro is willing to grossly overpay. The rest constitute a combination of old and expensive players such as Aramis RamirezAdrian Beltre, and Alex Rodriguez and their teams wouldn’t make them available save for the most lucrative of returns.

This barren third base market is the reason why Amaro considered moving Utley to third base. That idea is problematic, however, because Utley demonstrated over his entire career that his arm, weak and inaccurate, is his worst defensive attribute. Moreover, his offense (.356 wOBA) is significantly more valuable at second base (avg. wOBA .309) than at third base. The more realistic in-house solution would be to utilize Kevin Frandsen and/or Freddy Galvis at third base. Galvis (.266 wOBA) would need the world’s supply of steroids to adequately hit well enough at the hot corner, but would make up at least some of the lacking offense with great defense — he does have the arm to make cross-diamond throws. Otherwise, the Phillies will be hoping Frandsen can stave off the looming specter of regression.

Fixing third base will require some shrewd, outside-the-box thinking. Since taking over for Pat Gillick after the 2008 season, Amaro has shown the propensity to opt for the obvious home run move, such as signing Cliff Lee and trading for Roy Oswalt and Hunter Pence. Though to his credit, he did pick Frandsen and Juan Pierre out of the garbage bin as well. 2013′s third base solution appears to require more striking of lightning in a bottle.

Truth and Darin Ruf

I’m sorry.

It’s my first post here at Crashburn Alley and already I’m going to have to rain on your prospect parade.  Bill brought me here to deliver honesty and perspective and, since he worked tirelessly for several minutes to convince me to join the site, I’m going to give it to you.   Have a seat, we need to have a little talk about Darin Ruf.

Darin Ruf hit lots of baseballs really far this year. In fact, he hit 38 of them over an outfield fence somewhere and did that while sporting a .308/.408/.620 line with 71 extra base hits while at Double-A.  It’s a very impressive season no matter where you’re playing baseball. He hit well enough that he convinced the suits to put Mike Stutes on the 60-day DL and let him button up a big league uniform.  People want to know if something even remotely close to the sort of offensive blitzkrieg Ruf unleashed at Reading can be replicated at our game’s pinnacle.

For some, early indications are encouraging.  Ruf’s cup of coffee was hot.  He hit .333/.351/.727 with two walks in 35 PAs.  I probably don’t have to warn this site’s readership about the perils of small sample sizes, especially in September when rosters are diluted.  Combine the insignificance of that sample with the uselessness of minor league statistics (from Double-A and below they are almost entirely useless, folks) and the only way we can assess what Darin Ruf might be is by putting on our polo shirts and scouting him.  Don’t forget to put your travel size sunscreen in your bag and grab extra pens in case your favorite one dries out. Vamanos.

The first thing we try to do is place the player somewhere on the defensive spectrum. Darin Ruf can only play first base and he’s not even very good there. Sure, the Phillies have experimented with him in left field lately but….what’s a gentle way to put it…. he hasn’t taken to the position.  He’s rotund, unathletic, and lacks defensive instincts.  He actually got himself in better shape as the season went on but he remains comically lost in left field.  You might say, “Eric, Pat Burrell was a terrible defensive outfielder and we lived with that for nearly a decade.”  To that I say, “feh.” Burrell at least had a well above average arm that made up for some of his immobility.  Crowds in Reading would cheer when he’d haul in a routine flyball hit right at him.  It’s not Ruf’s fault.  He’s probably played first base all his life.  Playing baseball is really hard and it might be too late for him to learn a new position.  So Ruf”s a first base only guy, which means he needs to mash. I MEAN EFFING MASH if he’s going to be a useful big leaguer at all.

In Double-A, he mashed. Before I get to the elephant in the room, let’s examine Ruf’s offensive prowess in a vacuum.  Ruf has tremendous raw power, mostly to his pull side, and he actually tracks the ball very well.  He’s very comfortable dropping the head of the bat and striking balls at his knees with authority.  He’s not a three true outcomes darling by any means, the guy makes decent contact which gives him a better chance to actualize his power potential.  You can have all the power in the world but if your hit tool is lacking, you’ll never tap into it (Brandon Wood, Brandon Allen, Greg Halman, Corey Patterson and countless others). Now, there are a host of issues. First, Ruf has a hole in his swing on the outer half because his front foot doesn’t come all the way closed before he swings. Ruf starts with an open stance but never draws his left foot parallel to his right, limiting his reach and thus, his plate coverage. Second, he doesn’t identify good breaking balls well.  You can see this in the ugly swings Ruf takes at them as well as in his weight transfer.  You can see Ruf’s girth disproportionately shifted toward his front foot.  Even when he does pick up the curve, he’s habitually early on them.  Those two deficiencies in lockstep with one another are tough to overcome.  Breaking ball away, breaking ball away, breaking ball away…..it won’t be pretty once advance scouts figure it out. Even when he does bring that front foot all the way around, it gets down late and Ruf’s entire swing begins late as well. This leads me to believe that he’ll struggle against good velocity up and in as well. These are things advance scouts will notice in the Majors and exploit.

Look! It’s video of Gerrit Cole throwing Ruf a 90mph slider in July. Note Ruf’s lack balance and plate coverage as he flails at slidey.

So how does a guy with these issues do what Ruf did this season? Folks, Ruf is 26 years old and has been hammering weak Eastern League pitchers who are usually four or five years his junior.  Words cannot express the sort of development that occurs between ages 21 and 26.  Not just in baseball but in all facets of life. I wish I’d kept count of all the crappy changeups I saw Ruf punch out to left center field this season. I need more than one hand to count them. If Ruf were to become a relevant Major Leaguer it would be a historic event. I can’t think of anyone his age at Double-A that became a legitimate major league player. I’m absolutely rooting for him, but I’d be lying if I said I thought it would happen.  Go forth and spread the bearishness.

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 MLB.tv 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.

Crashburn Alley Playoff Predictions

The playoffs are finally upon us, which means it’s time for some more Predictions Which Are Bound to Make Us All Look Stupid. Our pre-season predictions weren’t so hot, but we’re going to put the pedal to the metal again to see which among us can see best into the future.

Let’s start with the Wild Card play-in games.

Bill Baer

Paul Boye

Michael Baumann

Ryan Sommers

Eric Longenhagen

Onto the playoff brackets. The numbers under the logos indicate the W-L from the previous round. The World Series winners have been double-underlined in case the bracket is too hard to follow. Click on a name to go to the top of his bracket.

 

NLDS1 NLDS2 ALDS1 ALDS2 NLCS ALCS WS
Bill Baer WAS in 5 CIN in 4 NYY in 3 OAK in 5 WAS in 6 OAK in 7 OAK in 7
Paul Boye ATL in 5 CIN in 4 NYY in 3 OAK in 4 CIN in 5 OAK in 6 CIN in 6
Michael Baumann WAS in 4 CIN in 5 TEX in 4 OAK in 3 WAS in 4 OAK in 6 WAS in 5
Ryan Sommers WAS in 5 CIN in 4 NYY in 3 OAK in 4 CIN in 4 OAK in 6 OAK in 6
Eric Longenhagen WAS in 5 CIN in 3 TEX in 5 DET in 4 CIN in 4 TEX in 6 TEX in 5

Bill Baer (top)

DS LCS WS Winner
3-2
4-2
3-1
4-3
3-0
4-3
3-2

Paul Boye (top)

DS LCS WS Winner
3-2
4-1
3-1
4-2
3-0
4-2
3-1

Michael Baumann (top)

DS LCS WS Winner
3-1
4-0
3-2
4-1
3-1
4-2
3-0

Ryan Sommers (top)

DS LCS WS Winner
3-2
4-0
3-1
4-2
3-0
4-2
3-1

Eric Longenhagen (top)

DS LCS WS Winner
3-2
4-0
3-0
4-1
3-2
4-2
3-1

How do you think the playoffs will unfold? Let us know in the comments!

Crashburn Odds and Ends

The Phillies will wrap up the 2012 regular season this afternoon against the Washington Nationals with but one thing left to play for: finishing above .500. The difference between 81 and 82 wins is effectively meaningless, but it would be a nice token nonetheless, ensuring the tenth consecutive season of above-.500 baseball. 2012 was a rollercoaster, starting with some frustrating April losses, followed by a seemingly neverending rash of injuries, a terrible June swoon, and selling in July. As the Phillies are wont to do, however, they heated up tremendously in the final two months, giving us exciting baseball well into September. We certainly didn’t expect the Phillies to be making golf plans in October, but if you ask me, the 2012 season was still fun and interesting.

I would like to thank all of you who loyally stop by Crashburn Alley regularly for your Phillies analysis. The success we have had over these many years (since August 2007!) couldn’t have happened without your support, and 2012 was another banner year for us. We’ll continue to provide Phillies insight and analysis throughout the off-season, so don’t take us out of your bookmarks yet. In fact, to ensure a strong off-season, I’m happy to announce that we have added another writer to the blog: Eric Longenhagen, who has worked for Baseball Info Solutions as a video scout. Eric has a wealth of knowledge about the Phillies’ Minor League system and scouting in general, so I am very happy that he will be lending his unique perspective here. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, Bradley Ankrom wasn’t able to juggle his many responsibilities, which includes covering the expanse of Minor League baseball at Baseball Prospectus. We wish Bradley all the best as he does great work.

Before I wrap up, I’d like to briefly go over a few more topics. First, we recorded a podcast with Jon Bernhardt and Lana Berry last week, but we ran into some audio troubles, rendering our guests’ microphone feeds more or less unlistenable. We are doing our best to perform a miracle, but it looks like that podcast is going into the garbage bin, sadly. However, we intend to put out several podcasts throughout the off-season, so expect more from us in the not-too-distant future. Secondly, the first and second place prizes for both Crashburn fantasy baseball leagues will be awarded at some time during the off-season, hopefully sooner rather than later. I will send out some emails when everything has cleared. On another note, I will be accepting guest posts throughout the off-season, so if you have a unique perspective you’d like to share, feel free to submit a guest post to my email (listed below). Make sure to include relevant links to your website and social media so people can find you if they like your work.

As always, if you have any suggestions, questions, or concerns, please leave a comment below or contact me via Twitter, Facebook, or email (crashburnalley at gmail). Make sure you’re following everybody else on Twitter as well: Michael Baumann (@MJ_Baumann), Ryan Sommers (@Phylan), Paul Boye (@Phrontiersman), and Eric Longenhagen (@Longenhagen). Finally, if you’re fearing pending boredom throughout the fall and winter, consider grabbing a copy of my book “100 Things Phillies Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die,” which was released back in January. You can order it online or find it at a local bookstore, including Barnes & Noble.

Now on to the end of the regular season, the new landscape of MLB’s post-season, and a potentially exciting off-season for the Phillies…