Michael Martinez Is Bad

Ed. Note: I come up with the best article titles.

Back in October, the Phillies took utility infielder Michael Martinez off of their 40-man roster, moving him over to the Triple-A roster. In his two seasons as a Phillie, he posted a .188/.241/.272 triple-slash line — completely abysmal. You may recall Michael Baumann ranting about “Minimart” on one of our podcasts, and he had good reason. Finally, it seems, the Phillies will use him for his intended purpose: organizational filler.

Martinez’s career adjusted OPS (OPS+) of 40 is historically bad. Such futility — an OPS+ of 40 or worse — has only been achieved 24 times dating back to 1901 among players who have accumulated at least 350 plate appearances. Martinez is one of six to have accomplished the feat in this millennium.

Player OPS+ PA From To
Drew Butera 37 531 2010 2012
Michael Martinez 40 356 2011 2012
Brandon Wood 40 751 2007 2011
Kevin Cash 37 714 2002 2010
Donnie Sadler 39 861 1998 2007
Luis Ordaz 36 496 1997 2006
Jeff Schaefer 36 388 1989 1994
Gus Polidor 36 456 1985 1993
Ronn Reynolds 32 381 1982 1990
Houston Jimenez 24 438 1983 1988
Angel Salazar 36 932 1983 1988
Marc Sullivan 33 397 1982 1987
John Vukovich 20 607 1970 1981
Luis Gomez 40 1391 1974 1981
Tommy Dean 37 594 1967 1971
Casey Wise 32 352 1957 1960
Joe Lonnett 37 377 1956 1959
Red Hayworth 40 450 1944 1945
Chile Gomez 38 687 1935 1942
Ed Connolly 25 408 1929 1932
Frank Emmer 39 352 1916 1926
Ben Egan 27 379 1908 1915
Ed Gagnier 39 425 1914 1915
Bill Bergen 21 3228 1901 1911
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/20/2012.

How Martinez managed to stay on the roster beyond 2011, when he was a Rule-5 selection and needed to be protected by remaining on the 25-man, boggles the mind. Let us pray that 2012 is the last we have seen of his futility.

Jamie Moyer Turns 50

Former Phillie and crafty lefty Jamie Moyer celebrated his 50th birthday yesterday. The Phillies made a nice video featuring birthday wishes from Charlie Manuel, Cole Hamels, Larry Andersen, Jimmy Rollins, Carlos Ruiz, Chase Utley, Roy Halladay, Rich Dubee, Ryan Howard, Mick Billmeyer, Gary Matthews, Kyle Kendrick, Scott Palmer, and of course the Phillie Phanatic.

Moyer has vowed to continue pitching despite his age and an unfortunate recent couple of years, which is admirable. We here at Crashburn Alley would also like to extend happy birthday wishes to Jamie and we certainly hope to continue watching him pitch for as long as he damn well pleases.

(h/t @MoyerFoundation)

While we’re on the subject of birthdays…

twitter.com/JimmyRollins11/status/270532992907227136

Juan Pierre Saves Phillies from Themselves, Signs with Marlins

twitter.com/JCRMarlinsbeat/status/270002539880140800

Between 2005-11, Juan Pierre posted an aggregate 83 wRC+ (what is wRC+?), tied with Orlando Cabrera for the lowest among all players with at least 4,000 trips to the plate in that time span. If not for his prodigious base running, he would have been complete dead weight with the Marlins, Cubs, Dodgers, White Sox, and Phillies. Offense is just not his forte.

The Phillies picked him up on the cheap in January, signing him to a Minor League deal and an invitation to spring training. Pierre performed well, playing his way onto the Opening Day roster at the age of 34. He got a lot of playing time in left field as part of a hastily-made platoon with John Mayberry. For the most part, Pierre was quite good by his own standards, though not a particularly high one. He posted a batting average above .300 in four of six months and overall had his best offensive season since 2009, the year before offense really started to decline around the league.

Due to the fact that the Phillies are expected to spend big money on a center fielder, they are also expected to address both outfield corners cheaply. The prevailing consensus heading into November was that the Phillies would eventually sign Pierre to a Major League deal, paying him slightly more than the $800,000 he earned in 2012. The Miami Marlins recently pawned off an absurd percentage of their roster to the Toronto Blue Jays, and as a result do not have the luxury of waiting around to fill out one of the many open positions on the roster. Pierre was added to the Fish on Saturday night on a one-year, $1.6 million deal — exactly double last season’s salary.

Pierre is highly unlikely to match his 2012 output going forward, especially as a 35-year-old. His game is predicated entirely on speed and luck, not unlike free agent and ticking time bomb Michael Bourn. Pierre hits for almost no power (.063 ISO), doesn’t draw walks (5.2 percent), and is weak defensively, especially due to his arm. Pierre’s value to the Phillies came entirely from his high batting average (.307) and ability to run the bases (37 stolen bases in 44 attempts).

34-year-olds rarely reinvent themselves or find some magical hotfix that transforms them as a player. Pierre posted a .327 batting average on balls in play, his second-highest mark since 2005. That was the basis of Pierre’s high average and, given that Pierre’s batted ball splits did not change in any meaningful way, is unlikely to finish as well going forward.

$1.6 million isn’t a significant amount of money, but allocating it to Pierre is a mistake nonetheless. Thankfully, it is the Marlins’ problem and not the Phillies’ — though the Phillies did commit $850,000 to Kevin Frandsen on the basis of a strong but ultimately fluky 2012 showing in a limited sample. The Frandsen deal is more acceptable due to the complete lack of viable options at third base, but it doesn’t make it any more likely that he will repeat last season’s .338 average and .366 BABIP.

By having Pierre lifted out of the free agent pool this early, the Marlins actually helped save the Phillies from themselves and they will be better for it in 2013. They will now have to address the corners in a different way, perhaps by putting Domonic Brown in left and platooning Nate Schierholtz with Mayberry in right. No, it won’t feel as comfortable or familiar on Opening Day, but it has a much better chance to pan out favorably than paying for last year’s performance with a veteran retread.

Crash Bag, Vol. 28: The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton

I want to talk about that massive Marlins-Blue Jays trade from earlier in the week. It’s weird, considering the sheer number of opinions on the subject, that I’ve yet to find one that I agree with entirely. On the broader points, I fall pretty well in line with ESPN’s Keith Law and DJF’s Andrew Stoeten, but I even have minor quibbles with their analysis of the on-field implications of the trade.

Or maybe that’s not weird, considering that this trade is rather like the Leftover Parfait from Malcolm in the Middle. The Blue Jays got a lot of good players without giving up their biggest prospects, but took on a lot of back-loaded salary to do it. And they’re still probably only the third-best team in their own division. On the other hand, the Marlins freed up a lot of salary space and still have some pretty good talent coming through the pipeline.

But it’s the ownership wrinkles on both sides that make this trade so interesting. This represents Rogers Communications finally putting some of its substantial piles of money where its mouth is in taking on several big-money contracts. On the other end, it continues the tendency of Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria to show a single-minded interest in lining his pockets to the exclusion of putting a winning team on the field, as he did when he sold the 2003 World Series-winning Marlins for parts, and before that when he played a substantial role in dismantling the Montreal Expos.

I think the outrage at Loria is misplaced. It’s been noted that the Red Sox did much the same thing as the Marlins this summer and no one called for John Henry‘s head. And that’s a good point, that in a vacuum this trade is defensible from a baseball perspective. But to cite that point in a vacuum is either naive or senseless contrarian trolling. Henry and his ownership group aren’t universally popular, but they have a history of investing in their team, and a fire sale this summer, at least optically, represents hitting the reset switch to build a better team, rather than simply goading a city into shelling out mid-nine figures for a new stadium on the promise that it would lead the team to wealth and contention, then pulling the football away at the last moment.

Here’s what really gets me about this trade–local government got into bed with Loria to the tune of $400 million and change, knowing full well his history of collecting revenue-sharing money and putting nine men on the field that are only a “baseball team” in the sense that they are well-paid young guys who all dress alike. Anyone with an internet connection, an interest in baseball and even a shaky memory should be acutely aware that Jeffrey Loria has proven himself, in a large sample size, to be uniquely untrustworthy, even among baseball owners. And yet Miami’s local government wrote him a blank check without consulting the very taxpayers who will literally pay–either in service cuts or tax increases–to subsidize a multimillionare’s pocketing of tens of millions of dollars annually from a team that never really has a chance of building a winner.

Now, Loria is in this for the money, and our political and commercial system, for better or for worse, is set up in such a way that he’s within his rights to do that. What baffles me is how the Miami-Dade County Commission gave someone like Loria so much money on the basis that the Marlins were a civic institution or a public trust without getting assurances that they’d be treated as such. Any local government that funds a sports arena is being–to paraphrase the Cary Grant classic Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House–bilked, had, conned, shammed and generally taken to the cleaners. Even if that team is owned by someone like John Henry or Ed Snider, who cares about making money in addition to hanging championship banners and himself reinvests in the team. To give that money to someone like Loria is some combination of naivete, blindness and stupidity that serves to discredit not only those harebrained, shortsighted fools in Miami, but the entire institution of representative democracy at large. So while no one, to my knowledge, broke any rules, once again the unchecked greed of the super-rich runs roughshod over the public interest.

If you’ll forgive a callback to last week’s Crash Bag, when I’m dictator of the world, anyone who tries to pull a stunt like this will be farming sea urchins outside of Richard Branson’s Underwater Wonderland for the rest of his life. That’s my two cents. I guess we can move on.

Oh, what’s that? You guys want to talk about this trade too? Well never mind, let’s get to it.

@MPNPhilly: “More honorable governing body Loria’s Marlins or Vichy France? Show math.”

Going to have to go with Loria’s Marlins, because they didn’t literally collaborate with the Nazis. At the risk of running afoul of Godwin’s Law, trading Jose Reyes and cheating the citizens of Miami isn’t as bad as teaming up with a set of crazies with bizarre, intractable and aggressive opinions on eugenics and a monomaniacal focus on world domination.

Also, “Show math?” That’s a little pushy, don’t you think? I think it’s time to remind Chuckles here who runs this column. I’ll show you math….

@fotodave: “what would the Miami Marlins opening day lineup look like now that they gave away 5 starters?”

Right now it looks like they’ve got The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton, Donovan Solano (who, sources tell me, is neither former NATO Secretary General and EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana nor Mistretta) and an actual marlin flopping around in left field, which, as it happens, represents a defensive upgrade from Logan Morrison.

So while the Marlins, thanks to The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton and the wholesale demolition and rebirth-by-fire of the Houston Astros, will probably not be worst team in baseball, they’ll most likely lose more than they win.

@S_DOT5: “how many Dom browns will it take to get one Giancarlo Cruz Michael Stanton?”

Several. There was a time, maybe early 2010-ish, when the currency exchange rate was roughly equal between Domonic Brown and The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton, but that time has obviously passed. It’s really a pity that in the past seven years or so, each of the five NL East teams has been possessed of a would-be franchise outfield prospect, and while three of them are panning out into multiple-All-Star/perennial MVP candidate territory, the Phillies are not one of them. In 2010, Jason Heyward put up a historic season for a 20-year-old rookie, only to be made to look like he was standing still by the emergence of Bryce Harper and the prodigious power of The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton. Meanwhile, Domonic Brown actually has been standing still, which, when you go from being 22 to 25 as a ballplayer, actually means you’re going backwards, and rapidly. I am so going to write a book about Domonic Brown one day.

I guess the only consolation is that Lastings Milledge has been a near-total loss. Because screw the Mets.

@Wzeiders: “Marlins trade: bad for baseball, good for the Phillies?”

Yes, I think so. Nope, I’ve changed my mind. Good for baseball, good for the Phillies.

That it’s good for the Phillies is obvious–a major division rival has, over the past six months, been denuded of three of its four best starting pitchers (and the scuttlebutt is that Ricky Nolasco is on his way out too) and probably three of its four best position players to boot, with the only holdover being The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton. A weaker Miami means one less division competitor for the Phillies, and most likely some more wins in absolute terms, which helps them in the Wild Card race. So yes, good for the Phillies.

Now, the initial reaction to the trade must be that it’s bad for baseball, because the natural impulse is to conflate the trade itself with the Marlins’ upper-level brass, which is bad for baseball. But there’s another way to look at it: this trade is killing baseball in South Florida. The counterbalance, it represents, perhaps, a watershed moment for baseball in Toronto.

Everyone assumes that Toronto is a small market team because the Blue Jays have spent as such. That’s not the case at all. Toronto is, at 2.6 million people, the fourth-largest city with a major league team, and, with close to 6 million inhabitants, the Greater Toronto Area is right up there with Philadelphia and Houston among the largest single-team markets in the game. The Canadian dollar is strong, and as I’ve said, Rogers Communications has lots of them to spend. For that matter, so do most GTA residents–the median household income in Toronto is almost twice what it is in Philadelphia, even accounting for the exchange rate. So for all the podunk hoserness we project on Canada, the Blue Jays inhabit a city that’s almost as big as Chicago and almost as rich as San Francisco, with an owner that’s got more money than it knows what to do with. Rogers owns Sportsnet, which is essentially Canada’s ESPN. These are some serious canucks we’re dealing with.

So if Rogers is going all-in with the Blue Jays, that’s great for baseball, not only because, with the NHL lockout, Torontonians (we really need to get them a better demonym) are looking for something sports-related to occupy their attention, and if the Blue Jays make it back to contention this year, after almost 20 years out of the playoffs, and Rogers makes an investment to keep them there, that’s huge for baseball in Canada. Because let’s not forget, not only do the Blue Jays have the GTA to themselves, they’ve got the entire country to themselves, apart from pockets of Red Sox, Mariners and Tigers fans where it’s geographically appropriate, and a bizarre enclave of Blue Jays fans I’ve encountered on the internet who, it seems, have climbed wholesale on the San Francisco Giants’ bandwagon. Perhaps they’re just looking for something worth cheering for after not having won anything of note since the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. I don’t know.

So in terms of growing the game, a consistently well-funded and successful Blue Jays team might be among the best things to happen to baseball, apart from the sport taking off in the Netherlands and Italy the way it’s threatening to. Canada is, apart from the United States, the only country that consistently produces major league talent and does not consistently send its best athletes to play baseball. Steven Stamkos, for instance, was a talented high school player, but chose hockey. Considering the results, I can’t say that this was a bad decision on his part, but you get the idea.

Anyway, I want to make it clear that this trade doesn’t make Toronto an overnight contender, much less a long-term BSD in the American League, but it’s a significant step in the right direction.

But was it worth killing baseball, at least for now, in South Florida?

I’d submit that baseball was never really alive in Florida. Floridians have chosen to eke out the last few years of their lives in a place with harsh sunshine, oppressive humidity, unlivable wildlife conditions (hordes of mosquitoes and alligators) and the constant threat of annihilation whenever a hurricane passes near that stupid, boggy low-lying peninsula. Somehow, someone decided years ago that it would be a good idea to build, essentially, one massive, continuous strip mall and suburban development in a marsh, and 19 million people fell for it. Florida is like a postcard for the ills of urban sprawl. And dengue fever. And it is peopled by folks who are entertained by women who dress up as mermaids. No offense to my grandmother, who took me to see the famous mermaids of Weeki Wachee the last time I visited her. The possibilities are endless for John Mayberry.

But no matter my own personal feelings of antipathy for the climate, culture and population of Florida, they do have one thing in common: they don’t go to see baseball. Tampa consistently ranks at or near the bottom of MLB’s attendance figures. And before you go giving me some song-and-dance about how the stadium is essentially a converted Soviet aerodrome that’s 50 miles from anywhere you’d want to be (well, actually it’s 255 miles from Valdosta, the closest decent-sized city in Georgia, but who’s counting?), remember that the Rays, since 2008, have been among the most successful, entertaining and likable teams in this or any sport, and after all, to my knowledge, the Lord God Almighty did not come down by divine decree and say unto Vince Naimoli: AND LO, THOU SHALT BUILD THINE STADIUM IN AN INACCESSIBLE WASTELAND, EVEN BY FLORIDIAN STANDARDS.” AND YEA, VERILY IT CAME TO PASS. 

It’s not like the Rays have a terrible stadium in the middle of nowhere by *accident* or anything–someone built a terrible stadium in the middle of nowhere on purpose. The same in Miami–they had a terrible stadium in 2011 and they were 28th in attendance, and in 2012 they had a new terrible stadium, a stadium that looks like it was designed by Julie Taymor while she was stoned out of her mind on LSD and pretending to be Santiago Calatrava, and they spent a lot of money, and they were 18th in attendance.

Maybe it’s not the stadia. Maybe it’s not owners like Naimoli and Loria, penny-pinching creeps whose acts of insouciant baseball ops malfeasance are merely the scapegoat for a larger issue. Baseball is like human life in one respect: Florida seems to be incapable of supporting it, and yet we continue to bend over backwards to try and make it work, like a toddler trying to put an entire basketball in his mouth. Maybe it’s time to give up and concentrate on growing baseball where the population isn’t too spread out to attend games, and too poor to afford it if they weren’t, and their brains too rotted out by living in the climatic equivalent of the inside of an athletic shoe to care. Baseball is not dead in Florida only because it was never alive in the first place. Let’s do some basic triage and try to build the game somewhere that isn’t beyond saving.

(breathes into paper bag)

Okay,  I don’t think I’m going to pass out anymore. Good question, William. You got another?

@Wzeiders: “Just finished Season 1 of BSG for the 1st time. Why did no one talk about the theological themes when the show was on?”

Yeah, I don’t know. The re-imagined Battlestar Galactica was created by Ronald D. Moore, late of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and as a result, DS9 is far more spiritually related to BSG than any of its Star Trek cousins. It’s very dark and very smart, and while the other Star Trek series ask intelligent ethical and political questions, they do so in a very bright, controlled low-stakes way. On the other hand, DS9 was very concerned with human weakness and figuring out if the ends justified the means. There are similarities, but it’s the difference between taking Michael Sandel’s undergraduate class at Harvard and actually being in the state of nature.

Anyway, BSG does a lot of the things I think DS9 would have done if it hadn’t been hamstrung by 1) the consistent franchise-wide adherence to Gene Roddenberry’s personal brand of neoliberal utopianism and 2) the rank inability of any of its cast members to act. But it shares a primary flaw with DS9: the weird, half-coherent religious…you know what, I’m cool with putting it this way: bullshit.

On the surface, it makes sense for the people of BSG to have their own religion, because they’re not of…dammit, there’s no way to explain this without spoiling some stuff that happens later in the show, so you’re just going to have to trust me.

But in both shows, the religious plotlines often, at least for me, distract from otherwise intelligent and compelling space opera. Let’s talk about how to fight the Cylons, or how to feed the fleet, or how to reconstruct civil society from the ashes. I don’t care about your visions, or your struggle for faith. Not when you have to struggle to survive first. In both shows, religion often affects politics, and insofar as that’s the case, it drives the plot. But BSG, for a show about the bare minimum physical and cultural survival of the human race, we spend a lot of time on Gaius Baltar having an argument with a woman in his brain about the merits of some abstract monotheism vs. polytheism vs. atheism vs. agnosticism. Are there even really doctrinal conflicts between the Colonial polytheism and Cylon monotheism. And how did machines develop a conception of God, anyway? I’d much rather have more of Commander Adama growling at people and Starbuck playing poker and beating people up and Boomer walking around in a tank top.

Anyway, among shows that I love and have binge-watched (The Wire, Game of Thrones, The West Wing, Friday Night Lights, Firefly, the various Star Trek series), I probably have more complicated feelings about Battlestar Galactica than any of the others. Maybe I’ll put it this way–nothing in that show is half-assed. They go all-in on just about every thematic and plot element and while most of it works, a lot of it doesn’t. Still, the rest of the show is well worth watching. But make sure you do a better job of avoiding spoilers than I did.

Oh, and Ronald D. Moore’s other big problem, apart from not really having anything interesting or coherent to say about religion and writing about it anyway? Terrible hair. Come on, dude. You’re a grown-ass man and you look like the bass player in a jam band.

Speaking of bad hair:

@SoMuchForPathos: “Which is more distasteful: the trend of mohawks across sports or the mid-sized rodent growing on Andrew Bynum’s head?”

No, but seriously, man. Who told Bynum that look was a good idea? That’s the worst hairdo in the NBA right now, and that’s even with someone with a mullet on his own team.

I actually like the mohawks. They’re working well, mostly in soccer…well, maybe not Juan Agudelo’s Simon Phoenix look, but there’s Stuart Holden’s boy band fauxhawk, Marouane Chamakh’s fauxhawk-cum-Dima-Bilan-mullet and the old Kevin-Prince Boateng Stegosaurus look. Even on the Phillies you have Vance Worley and Domonic Brown doing the mohawk, and doing it well. Look: in order to become a pro athlete, you generally have to work so hard for so long that any personality gets squeezed out of you like juice from an orange. So if someone deviates from the buzz cut, or the high-and-tight, or the wet Bieber (sorry, Michael Bradley, I know you’ve gone shaved-head when you went from being a kid to being a Bond villain), or worst of all, the Tim Riggins, I support it.

@soundofphilly: “which Upton brother as a Phillie would provide better material for your burgeoning fan fiction career?”

I do burgeon, don’t I? My fan fiction career burgeons like you wouldn’t believe.

I’d say B.J. because he seems like a more interesting character. The Phillies have really been a rather boring team. There’s no Sergio Romo (thank God) or really flamboyant player, particularly since Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence have taken their ADHD symptoms to California. Roy Halladay and Chase Utley kind of come off as dour, introverted workaholic types, and Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels seem just kind of generally like nice, normal dudes. Most of the personality the public infers from this team seemed to come, in the old days, from radiant energy emanating from Victorino and the personas the public mostly foisted on Carlos Ruiz (the Ewok) and Cliff Lee (the cowboy).

This summer, ESPN the Magazine ran feature stories on players in four different stages of baseball stardom: Mike Trout, Justin Upton, Joe Mauer and Jimmy Rollins. It was interesting to look at those players from an evolutionary perspective, and Trout comes off as a charming and grounded everyman, Mauer as a lunch pail type jaded by the weight of public perception and Rollins as a charismatic figure wearied by having fought on-and-off-field battles his entire adult life.

But Upton? He just seems like a dude. He goes to work, he works as hard as he can, he’s occasionally frustrated by his work, he hangs out with his girlfriend, he eats yogurt, he makes a conscious effort to transition into adulthood and muses on that transition. Justin Upton and I are  about the same age, to within a couple months, and I do all of those things. Well, I eat tuna fish with Frank’s Red Hot instead of yogurt, but in principle, he’s just a dude. If I had Upton’s talent for hitting a baseball and he had my talent for retaining obscure trivia and crafting complicated puns, I’m sure we’d live each other’s lives the same way. Though for the record, the baseball hitting thing seems to pay much better than the obscure trivia and puns thing.

Most of all, Justin Upton seems like the kind of decent and smart but ultimately of boring personality the Phillies seem to have so many of anymore. At least B.J. has had his psyche shaped by the traumas of having been a Tampa Bay Devil Ray and going through life being named “Melvin.” Plus he’s worked for Joe Maddon for the past seven years–certainly some personality rubbed off there.

@SoMuchForPathos (again): “Is string theory actual physics, or does it delve too deeply into philosophy for us to seriously consider it as science?”

I saw an episode of Nova once where Brian Greene tried to explain string theory and man, it was (*pantomimes head exploding*) ca-RAAAAAA-zy. And that’s pretty much all I know about string theory–that hour of PBS, plus the three minutes I spent on Wikipedia just now. I was good at science in high school, but the fact that ten years ago I could draw you a cyclohexane molecule doesn’t help me much here.

I think that string theory, if true, offers the resolution to that tricky Theory of Everything issue. Though if I’m honest, my interest in theoretical physics ends after I’ve been assured that gravity and friction are going to keep working more or less the way I’m used to. I really could not care less how the universe began, but if I wind up stuck to the ceiling due to some electromagnetic anomaly, I’m going to be pissed. Though I’m sure y’all’re going to wind up having some flame war about the Higgs Boson or somesuch in the comments. You crazy Neil DeGrasse Tyson-watching sunzabitches.

However, in Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, Superstring Theory is a critical research goal that allows you to equip your units with the Chaos Gun. That’s a big waypoint on the road to domination of Planet, and Superstring Theory is a prerequisite to Monopole Magnets, which, through the introduction of the Mag Tube, is perhaps the most important terraforming advance you have in the game.

About the Chaos Gun, by the way–does anyone else who plays Alpha Centauri find that you always develop the missile launcher or the Chaos Gun before the Gatling Laser? I’ve had 14-hour all-night Alpha Centauri binges in three different decades (in much the same way that George Brett won batting titles in three different decades) and I don’t think I’ve ever built a unit armed with the Gatling Laser, except for the novelty of having a unit armed with the Gatling Laser.

I love Alpha Centauri.

@ThisPhillyFan: “Who do you think will be RAJ’s unfortunate signing of 2012-13, and what will your reaction be?”

I don’t think it’ll be anything truly ludicrous like Josh Hamilton, but there’s going to be some scrub 35-year-old veteran reliever with a multi-year, multi-million-dollar contract, pushing Justin De Fratus to the 6th inning, or worse, the minor leagues. At which point I’ll probably shake my head, have some ginger ale and get on with my life.

I know you were probably hoping for some ludicrous signing and an equally ludicrous tirade about how Brandon Inge making $17 million over two years is the Challenger disaster of baseball, but I legitimately don’t think Ruben Amaro‘s going to do anything conspicuously stupid this offseason. Plus I’m all ranted out after that bit earlier about the viability of baseball in Florida.

@uublog: “How is it that America is a one-party system disguised as two-party when even that doesn’t work? How do we fix it?”

I disagree with the premise of the first question, because American politics does have two fairly distinct major parties, even if their issue positions are similar when viewed with a wide enough scope.

But the short answer is: Duverger’s Law and the Median Voter Theorem. And we fix it by switching to something other than single-member plurality elections. And just because I picked a useless major and then compounded the error by going to grad school doesn’t mean I’m not going to make you Google something every once in a while. So if you want a longer answer, you’re going to have to do a little bit of the legwork on your own this time.

@EBITDA73: “from my 8 yo, could Howard beat Manuel in a race around the bases? Sadly not as bad of a ? as I initially thought.”

No, you’re absolutely right. I think Howard pre-injury smokes him, because the big guy was like a train–capable of moving quickly in a straight line, but he takes forever to start and stop. But since the ankle injury, it gets close. I still think Howard takes him, if only because Charlie Manuel has the look of a man who has worked very hard not to have exceeded a brisk canter for the past 25 years. I don’t think he knows how to truly haul ass anymore.

Spurred by my admonition to Google something his own damn self, @uublog comes back to close us out for the week.

@uublog: “So you’re tasked with casting “The Great TV Show in The Sky,” in which it must star actors who died during/shortly after. their show’s end. I ask because I have Jerry Orbach, John Spencer, Phil Hartman, Nicholas Colasanto. Need more women/minorities.”

What, are you some sort of dead actor Affirmative Action freak?

I don’t even know where to start on this one, because I’ll give you my list of actors who fit your criteria: Jerry Orbach, John Spencer and Phil Hartman. I can’t think of any others off the top of my head. Oh, wait! Cosby (the second show, not the one everyone actually watched) was still running when Madeline Kahn died, so there’s your token woman. Oh, and John Ritter! Wow, I can think of a bunch of these. Except John Ritter is another white guy, but he’s got to go in this show. Now I’m just pissed that we can’t have a TV show with Madeline Kahn and John Ritter anymore. Those two were hilarious.

And if I might alter the premise of the question somewhat, I’d like to nominate Oliver Reed for inclusion on this list. Reed, then 61, died while shooting Gladiator in Malta. Reed was known among Hollywood actors in the 1970s for being an incorrigible drunk and partier, which is kind of like being known among guys with 80 raw power for being able to hit a baseball really far. In short, Oliver Reed was the The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton of hedonistic actors. Fittingly, the circumstances of his death involved tons and tons of booze, an arm-wrestling competition with several sailors on leave and a fatal heart attack.

So I’ve found you a woman, but I can’t find you a minority. I guess you’re going to have to do that on your own too.

So concludes this week’s Crash Bag. As a note, service will remain uninterrupted next week, despite the holiday weekend, because I imagine many of y’all are not lunatics, and thus will not attempt to shop on Black Friday. However, I will probably spend next Thursday, stuffing myself with…well…stuffing, and not writing, so if you’ve got a question for the Crash Bag, submit it whenever you like, either directly to me at @MJ_Baumann or via the hashtag #crashbag. Or both.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Be sure to save me a slice of pie.

Carlos Ruiz, Perpetual MVP

I’m not really a fan of slightly disingenuous blog titles myself, so I’ll get my apology for the one above out of the way right now: no, Carlos Ruiz is not always deserving of top-tier MVP consideration.

Boy, way to start on a downer, Paul. Alright, here’s what caught my eye early Thursday evening:

twitter.com/BoopStats/status/269231350047969281

That’s Bob Vetrone of the Philly Daily News dropping a fun bit of trivia. Who would have expected Carlos Ruiz to be one of three players included in such a list?

In reality, Chooch has never come all that close to actually winning the award, even in this, the best season of his career. The nature of the catching position often requires more days off – or, in the case of Joe Mauer and Buster Posey, the availability of first base or the DH slot – than can really be afforded in such an award race. His MVP finishes since 2010, thanks to a smattering of downballot votes, reads tied for 17th, tied for 23rd and now tied for 28th.

Since 2010, Ruiz has a cumulative .303/.388/.454 batting line, with 83 doubles, 31 homers and 161 RBI. He’s walked 132 times against 152 strikeouts, a .868 ratio that only 17 other batters can claim in at least 1,000 plate appearances during that time:

Rk   BB SO PA Age G
1 Albert Pujols 216 210 2021 30-32 460
2 Alberto Callaspo 145 149 1657 27-29 425
3 Carlos Lee 154 168 1917 34-36 459
4 Carlos Ruiz 132 152 1326 31-33 367
5 Chase Utley 145 153 1327 31-33 301
6 Chipper Jones 169 178 1341 38-40 333
7 Daric Barton 171 181 1102 24-26 272
8 Dustin Pedroia 171 183 1705 26-28 375
9 Ian Kinsler 205 218 1914 28-30 415
10 Jeff Keppinger 87 91 1393 30-32 351
11 Joe Mauer 187 179 1558 27-29 366
12 Joey Votto 295 339 1842 26-28 422
13 John Jaso 140 126 1038 26-28 306
14 Jose Bautista 291 290 1737 29-31 402
15 Juan Pierre 111 115 1884 32-34 448
16 Lance Berkman 183 197 1165 34-36 299
17 Miguel Cabrera 263 282 2033 27-29 472
18 Prince Fielder 306 328 2096 26-28 485
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/15/2012.

That list has its highs and lows, but the highs are pretty consistent.

An additional nugget that may not necessarily make Ruiz’s 2012 be any more impressive or contain some hidden meaning: Chooch hit .327/.399/.542 when defensively designated as catcher, which encompass all but 15 of his 421 total. Posey, this year’s recently coronated National League MVP, had 480 PA when designated as a catcher and hit .329/.398/.540. Particularly insightful that is not, amusingly similar it is.

Long story short, Ruiz’s emergence as a top-tier catcher (his 34.02 caught stealing percentage was good for 10th in the Majors this season, oh-by-the-way) may never stop being amazing, and any chance to give the man a little extra dap is one we should all take.

Cliff Lee Had A Pretty Good Season

Remember way back at the start of July, when Cliff Lee had yet to win a game? When the city of Philadelphia was bemoaning his five-year deal, begging for GM Ruben Amaro to send him to the Dodgers for the salary relief? Turns out Lee finished with some pretty good numbers.

I wrote this on June 25:

Prior to his last two starts — both seven-inning, 5 ER affairs — a legitimate non-Sabermetric case could have been made placing Lee in a very preliminary Cy Young discussion.

[...]

There is not one performance-based metric that is alarming regarding Cliff Lee. Yes, it is June 25 and he has zero wins and his ERA is just under 4.00, but such is life in small samples.

Lee finished with a 3.16 ERA despite a 6-9 record and should have been in line for at least a few votes at the back end of the NL Cy Young ballot, but he wasn’t so much as an afterthought on anyone’s ballot. Surprisingly, Lee’s numbers stack up very well among the starters that were mentioned:

  • Lee’s 7.4 strikeout-to-walk ratio was by far the best, far exceeding NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey‘s 4.3.
  • Lee’s 3.3 walk rate was the lowest of the group, better than Kyle Lohse‘s 4.4 percent.
  • Lee was the unluckiest on balls in play, with a .309 BABIP. Johnny Cueto‘s .296 was the second-highest.
  • Lee’s 3.00 SIERA was by far the lowest, besting Dickey’s 3.18 and teammate Cole Hamels‘ 3.22.
Name Team K/BB K% BB% BABIP LOB% SIERA
Cliff Lee Phillies 7.39 24.4 % 3.3 % .309 78.6 % 3.00
R.A. Dickey Mets 4.26 24.8 % 5.8 % .275 80.0 % 3.18
Cole Hamels Phillies 4.15 24.9 % 6.0 % .290 78.1 % 3.22
Clayton Kershaw Dodgers 3.63 25.4 % 7.0 % .262 77.9 % 3.24
Gio Gonzalez Nationals 2.72 25.2 % 9.3 % .267 74.1 % 3.49
Matt Cain Giants 3.78 22.0 % 5.8 % .259 79.0 % 3.62
Johnny Cueto Reds 3.47 19.1 % 5.5 % .296 78.8 % 3.66
Kyle Lohse Cardinals 3.76 16.6 % 4.4 % .262 77.2 % 4.06

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the stat or would like a refresher, SIERA (Skill Interactive Earned Run Average) is a stat that attempts to remove factors out of a pitcher’s control to find out the underlying performance. Pitchers have a lot of control over three specific things: strikeouts, walks, and ground/fly balls (to a lesser extent, the quality of such contact as well). For example, Kyle Lohse had a 2.86 ERA but a 4.06 SIERA, implicating that Lohse was the benefactor of good fortune throughout his season. Indeed, Lohse had a .262 BABIP, nearly 50 points lower than Lee’s. Lee averaged a strikeout for one in every four batters faced while Lohse averaged one in every six batters; both were very stingy in the walks department.

Lee was hurt by a Phillies team that was subpar defensively, losing premier defenders in Chase Utley and Freddy Galvis for much of the season, and having to use mediocre defenders such as Ty Wigginton and Mike Fontenot. This impacted the amount of batted balls converted into outs, making some Phillies pitchers look worse than their performance indicated. When writers utilize stats such as won-lost record and ERA to evaluate pitchers, they are in effect punishing or rewarding pitchers for the quality of the defense behind them.

This isn’t to say that Lee should have actually won the award, as SIERA isn’t the be-all, end-all stat. ERA retrodictors in general seem to be a bit behind properly crediting pitchers with specific batted ball skills (e.g. Matt Cain, as I explained at Baseball Prospectus). But Lee’s won-lost record is still distracting people from appreciating what was otherwise a great season for the left-hander. The good news is that Lee will be back, ready to make another run at some hardware in 2013.

Tim Lincecum, Vance Worley and the David Price Role

This season, we’ve seen some interesting debates on pitcher usage to say the least. Which I love, because I’m a massive pitcher usage nerd. I spend quite a bit of my leisure time thinking about ways to use pitchers more efficiently. In addition to being a measure of my having thought this position through, that may also be an indication that I need a hobby or a dog or something.

Anyway, we’ve had three major pitcher use debates in 2012:

  • Can a reliever win the Cy Young? (Or, if we take baseball writer voting silliness out of the equation, can a reliever be the most valuable pitcher in the league?)
  • How do you increase a young starter’s workload gradually without blowing out his arm? (the Strasburg/Medlen/Sale debate)
  • Can a four-man rotation work?

The answers to the second and third questions are far less interesting to me than the first. I’m not an orthopedist, so I can’t tell you how best to manage the workload growth of young starters in general, much less a particular pitcher. I will say two things on that issue: that while it made my stomach turn to see the Nationals lose in the first round of the playoffs without using their best pitcher, if they turn Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg and Lucas Giolito (and, if we’re getting really ambitious, Matt Purke) into reliable front-end starters, I think a unilateral innings deadline might become the norm and not the exception. The second thing is that whoever figures out how to solve this problem first will become the early 1980s New York Islanders of major league baseball while everyone else struggles to catch up.

On the second point, whether a four-man rotation can work, I suspect that it can, but since we’re already bumping up starters from one appearance every seven days (in college and Japan) to once every five (in pro ball), I don’t know that there’s an appetite leaguewide to increase a starter’s workload. I will say that if your pitching staff is as bad as the Rockies’ was, no amount of starting pitchers will save you.

However, this other question, “Can a reliever win the Cy Young?” is far more interesting to me, which is why I spent nearly 400 words beating around the bush before addressing it. That’s a two-part question for me.

1) Can a relief pitcher win (and deserve) the Cy Young in the current pattern of reliever usage? 

Probably not. The question was posed to Rob Neyer the other day on MLB Network and he said (while Dave Cameron went all Dick Cheney and stared hungrily into the camera without blinking) that a closer could deserve the Cy Young if he had an Eric Gagne-like season. I agree in principle that there is a level at which a current closer could perform where he merits consideration, but it might be beyond the scope of what we can currently comprehend.

For instance, that mythical 2003 season for Gagne: 82 1/3 innings pitched (identical to his total in both 2002 and 2004, by the way), a 0.86 FIP. Yes, a ZERO POINT EIGHT SIX FIP, a K/9 rate a rounding error short of 15 and 55 saves in 55 opportunities, for those of you who care about such things. It was a season the likes of which we had never seen from a reliever, the Infinite Jest of closer seasons–a statistical line that doesn’t so much beg you to read it and be awed as it pokes you in the eyes and laughs at you for believing it was real. Which is happening a lot now that Craig Kimbrel seems intent on authoring such a season every year. But for all that, Gagne is credited with a mere 4.5 fWAR, or a little less than Wade Miley got this season.

I’m willing to credit Gagne a little more for pitching in high-leverage situations, but not much more–it’s the same line of logic that people use to include RBI in MVP discussions. But if he’s pitching 80 innings a year, he’d have to almost literally strike out every batter he faced in order to produce as much value as a starter.

2) Can a reliever win (and deserve) the Cy Young ever?

Yes. If you’ve read the title of this post, you can tell where I’m going by now. Back in 2008, the Rays brought up No. 1 pick David Price to serve as a multi-inning reliever down the stretch. Given the Cardinals’ use of Trevor Rosenthal, Shelby Miller and Joe Kelly out of the bullpen this offseason, that pattern might soon become the norm–bring up your stud starter prospect for 20 appearances and 40 innings after the all-star break.

But the most interesting development of the past month has been Bruce Bochy‘s use of Tim Lincecum. Lincecum, the undisputed ace of the Giants’ 2010 World Series-winning team, is coming off the worst season of his career, but Bochy used him six times this postseason, five in relief. In five relief appearances, all lasting 2 innings or more, Lincecum allowed only five baserunners and one run, while striking out 17 in 13 innings, including taking only 32 pitches to retire all seven batters he faced (five via strikeout) in an explosive outing in Game 1 of the World Series.

Lincecum might be a special case. Keith Law, almost by reflex, has given a complete history of the amateur Lincecum every time he’s mentioned him on either ESPN’s Baseball Today or Joe Posnanski’s podcast, and I’ll relate some of that history here. While at the University of Washington, Lincecum would start on a Friday and come in to close on a Sunday, and because of Lincecum’s stature and the fact that he’d only developed two pitches by the end of his time at Washington, Law originally projected that he’d become a reliever.

Despite Lincecum’s struggles in the regular season, he might be uniquely suited to the David Price Role. Lincecum has typically been a quick recoverer, and his being possessed of multiple out pitches allows him to lock down for multiple innings the way an essentially one-pitch pitcher like Mariano Rivera or Brad Lidge might not. But while Lincecum might be the archetype, he can’t be the only one.

What are the advantages to the David Price Role? Really, Bruce Bochy illustrated all of them during these playoffs by the way he used Lincecum.

  1. It saves the rest of the bullpen. In the Giants’ case, they could go with Lincecum in relief one day, then have the entire bullpen rested for the next day. If the Phillies had such a pitcher, they wouldn’t have to worry about running Phillippe Aumont out there five days in a row, or wearing out Jonathan Papelbon for when they really needed him.
  2. It puts a top pitcher in potential high-leverage middle-inning situations. The Phillies struggled this year because of an unpredictable middle relief corps. Even accepting that save situations are not the highest-leverage, you don’t always want to burn your relief ace in the seventh inning when the game might still be late and close in the ninth.
  3. It gets value out of a failed or failing starter. Not all relievers are fireballing fastball-slider types who can go one inning and one inning only. I can name, off the top of my head, three MLB relief aces who were closers in college: Drew Storen, Addison Reed and Huston Street. There are probably more, but lifelong relievers are the exception. Many of them were fringy starters who came close to contributing in the rotation, but couldn’t hack it, either because of health and makeup concerns, or the inability to develop a third pitch, or the inability to turn a lineup over, or platoon issues, or command/control problems, or stamina problems…so many more things have to go right for a starter than a one-inning reliever that almost everyone who can start does, and almost anyone who does start can pitch out of the bullpen. For example: Eric Gagne, Daniel Bard, Jonathan Papelbon, Ryan Madson, Mariano Rivera, Phillippe Aumont, Antonio Bastardo, Jeremy Affeldt, Joel Hanrahan, Rafael Soriano, Brett Myers, Bobby Jenks, Rollie Fingers, Tom Gordon, Robb Nen, Dennis Eckersley and Aroldis Chapman. Among others.
    So why does this work? Well, in addition to hiding some of the above deficiencies, relievers only face a batter once a game, so they only really need  one way to get him out, instead of as many as four. Moreover, because relievers don’t need to throw as many pitches per outing as do starters, they can put a little bit of extra zip on a ball in much the same way a sprinter can go all-out in an entire race, while even a middle distance runner has to pace himself. That zip did wonders for Gagne back in the day, and we saw what it did for Kyle Kendrick this season. The advantage is probably not as great for a multi-inning reliever as it is for a traditional closer, but it still ought to exist.
  4. It opens up the opportunity for a tandem starter. In the NLDS, when Bochy wasn’t getting the best out of Barry Zito in an elimination game (NLDS Game 4) he was able to use George Kontos and Jose Mijares as a bridge to Lincecum, who then threw 4 1/3 innings of one-run relief. Now, Jonathan Papelbon couldn’t do that no matter how much he wanted to, but Lincecum did. A David Price Role pitcher can give you a backup plan (apart from Johnny Wholestaff) if your starter goes completely tits-up in the first couple innings.
  5. More innings from your best reliever. Remember that wear-and-tear on the arm and shoulder happen during warm-up as well. So a pitcher who warms up once to throw 40 pitches in one game will throw many fewer pitches than one who warms up twice to throw 20 pitches in consecutive games, and he’ll have more time to recover between appearances. So whereas Gagne in 2003 pitched 77 times for a total of 82 1/3 innings, you might be able to stretch out a Lincecum to 50 appearances for 100 innings at the bare minimum, probably closer to 120 or maybe even 140 innings.

College teams, who play at most four games a week during the regular season, already largely employ a multi-inning relief ace. These pitchers come in whenever the game is close and relatively late, and they stay in until it’s over. Having a top-notch pitcher to come in and defend a lead for 2 or 3 innings, or to hold serve when your team is tied or down by one or two runs, is a massive tactical and even psychological weapon. The problem is keeping to a disciplined plan. Here’s how South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner used relief ace Matt Price during the 2011 College World Series:

  1. June 19, vs. Texas A&M: entered game with game tied 4-4, bases empty, 1 out, top 9. 2/3 IP, W, K, 10 pitches.
  2. June 21, vs. Virginia: entered game up 7-1, bases empty, 2 out, bottom 9. 1/3 IP, 3 pitches. So far, so good.
  3. June 24, vs. Virginia: entered game up 2-1, runner on second, 1 out, top 8. 5 2/3 IP, W, BS, 5 K, 5 BB, 7H, 95 pitches.
  4. June 27, vs. Florida: entered game up 2-1, bases empty, 0 out, bottom 11. 1 IP, SV, H, K, 16 pitches.
  5. June 28, vs. Florida: entered game up 4-2, runner on first, 2 out, top 8. 1 1/2 IP, SV, K, 15 pitches.

I did enjoy how Tanner was entirely unafraid to use his best reliever in important situations, save rule or no (notice that in addition to his save, Price picked up two wins in five games). But what you’ve got to do is resist the temptation to use a multi-inning reliever when, say, you’re up six runs in the ninth inning. And resist the temptation to let him throw 95 pitches on two days’ rest, then throw him again on two days’ rest after that. But by sticking to some sort of schedule, I believe it to be possible to stretch out one reliever, particularly one with a starter’s stamina, to throw 140 innings.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that a good starter throws six or seven innings every fifth game, for a total of around 210 innings. A closer throws one inning every other day, for about 80 innings. A David Price Reliever might throw two innings every third day, or three innings every fourth day, or, in the case of the most rubber-armed and efficient pitchers, perhaps three innings every third day. Could a reliever qualify for the ERA title? Maybe, under this usage pattern. And depending on the distribution of appearances, such a pitcher might appear in 60 games, earning a win or a save or otherwise significantly altering the late-inning win probability in 40 or more of those games. If someone put up…well, not Eric Gagne numbers but good closer numbers (10+ K/9, 4+ K/BB, decent ground ball ratio) in 140 innings, most of them high-leverage? I could see a clear path to the Cy Young in such a scenario.

So while it looks unlikely that even the Giants, with not only an ideal candidate in Lincecum but social capital to spend having won two titles in three years, will employ such a reliever, it doesn’t make it a bad idea. As Lincecum proved over this past postseason, the benefits of having a dominant multi-inning reliever are considerable. A team with a spare starter might reap considerable benefits from employing not only a traditional closer but a David Price Role pitcher as well.

In fact, there’s an argument to be made that the Phillies are just such a team. If Roy Halladay and Vance Worley come back healthy, the Phillies will have, at worst, two legitimate No. 1 starters in Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, a top-notch No. 2 in Halladay, a solid back-end guy in Vance Worley, and two candidates for the fifth starter’s spot in Kyle Kendrick and Tyler Cloyd. If Kendrick has actually turned into a legitimate starter rather than the fringy swingman he’s been since 2008, maybe the Phillies can get away with giving Cloyd 25 starts or so.

Which frees up Worley for the David Price Role. Worley, when healthy, sits around 90-91 mph with his fastball. Maybe that goes up a couple miles an hour if he’s pacing himself for 50 pitches instead of 95 or 100. Maybe he can pare down his arsenal to his best two or three pitches and get away with more of that voodoo disappearing two-seamer malarkey if he only has to go through the lineup once. With the Phillies, potentially, having considerable starting pitching depth, moving Worley to the bullpen in this role would be a risk, but one they’d be well-positioned to take, and one with potentially season-altering upside.

All of this is based on idle speculation and pretty much zero empirical backup, and unlike most of the other lunatic things I propose here (hit Carlos Ruiz leadoff, punt third base entirely in 2013, grind Michael Martinez‘s bones to make my bread, and so on) I’m not sure that I’d have the balls to pull the trigger on this one if I were Ruben Amaro. All innovation does not represent progress, but neither does all orthodoxy represent wisdom. Given Lincecum’s success this postseason, converting Worley to the David Price Role is at least a conversation worth having.

Veterans Day

What would a Phillies off-season be if they weren’t constantly linked to old, expensive free agents? MLB Trade Rumors, citing ESPN’s Buster Olney, reports that the Phillies have expressed interest in outfielders Josh Hamilton and Cody Ross, two veteran outfielders each seeking a multi-year deal. A month ago, I examined the market for center fielders. On Hamilton, I wrote:

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. [...] In the past, Hamilton has also had issues with drugs, alcohol, 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.

Cody Ross would come at a considerably cheaper price compared to Hamilton, but the Phillies would still need to commit a lot of money and years to a 32-year-old. MLBTR lists the asking price for Ross at three years, $25 million. Phillies fans already have incentive to dislike Ross, but he is a slightly above-average hitter with sub-par defense, spending a majority of the past two seasons in the outfield corners.

In honor of Veterans Day, let’s take a brief stroll back in time to examine how the Phillies have fared when signing free agent veterans to multi-year contracts. Note that re-signings (such as Jimmy Rollins and Jose Contreras) were excluded.

  • December 16, 2008: 37-year-old Raul Ibanez, OF (3 years, $31.5 million)

Ibanez had a white-hot first half of 2009, authoring a 1.027 OPS before suffering a groin injury on June 17 (shortly after his 37th birthday). He returned a month later on July 11, but wasn’t the same. From his return to the end of the season, his OPS was a meager .711. Regardless, he finished the season with an aggregate .378 wOBA, a career-high and the sixth consecutive time he’d posted a wOBA of .345 or better. It was downhill from there, as his wOBA declined to .343 in 2010 and .306 in 2011, the final year of his deal.

Factoring in his incredibly poor defense in left field, Baseball Reference had him barely breaking even in his three years with the Phillies, at 0.6 Wins Above Replacement. It wasn’t as if Ibanez’s failure was a shocker. Friend of the blog Eric Seidman (@EricSeidman) criticized the deal as soon as it happened, as did many others. Seidman called the contract “unequivocally poor.”

  • December 1, 2009: 33-year-old Brian Schneider, C (2 years, $2.75 million)

The Schneider signing was seemingly innocuous and he was productive in 147 PA as the back-up to Carlos Ruiz in 2010. However, things quickly soured in 2011 as he barely finished with an OPS above .500 while missing time in May and June due to a thigh injury. Despite the bad showing, the Phillies brought Schneider back on a one-year deal in 2012 with similar results. The 35-year-old catcher finished with a .637 OPS and missed a total of 65 games due to a right ankle sprain and that same thigh injury.

When Schneider went down, Erik Kratz came up from Triple-A Lehigh Valley and did for the prorated Major League minimum salary what Schneider never did: hit. Although his production was certainly an outlier for a journeyman, another organizational staple such as Dane Sardinha could have done for a fraction of the cost. The Schneider signing didn’t hamstring the Phillies, but it was more or less unnecessary. Veteran back-up catchers are nearly as overrated as veteran middle relievers.

Although the end of this contract was brutal — Polanco missed 35 percent of his games in 2011-12 with an aggregate .657 OPS — Polanco paid for himself when he was on the field as one of the best defensive third basemen in baseball. The other free agent options available to the Phillies at the time included Adrian Beltre (would’ve been nice) and Chone Figgins (phew!). Beltre was coming off of a poor season with the Seattle Mariners, so he ended up settling for a one-year, $10 million deal with the Boston Red Sox, then parlayed that into a five-year, $80 million deal with the Texas Rangers. At the time, however, Beltre was seeking a four-year deal, which was why the Phillies backed off.

Despite hitting poorly and missing a lot of time due to injuries, Polanco lived up to his relatively cheap deal. It is easy to play Monday morning quarterback and say the Phillies should have signed Beltre, but they failed for reasons other than their third baseman over the last three years.

  • December 31, 2009: 32-year-old Danys Baez, RP (2 years, $5.25 million)

The Baez signing is one of the most frustrating despite its relative cheapness. (When asking if I missed anyone for this list, Michael Baumann replied to me in an email, “I got to Danys Baez and almost threw my computer against the wall.” I’m guessing in the style of The Room.) He was awful over 47.2 innings in 2010, but the Phillies never sought to cut him or reduce his workload. He finished with a 5.48 ERA. Bound to him for another year, Baez returned in 2011 in even worse form. On July 16, Baez allowed four runs in one inning, bumping his ERA up to 6.25 and the Phillies finally cut him.

As a Phillie, Baez posted a 5.81 ERA in 83.2 innings. At -1.47, he had the fifth-worst WPA/LI (context-neutral wins) among all relievers in 2010-11, trailing only John Grabow, Chris Resop, Jeff Fulchino, and Chad Qualls. Baez is perhaps the best example of why one should never sign a veteran relief pitcher to a multi-year, multi-million-dollar contract, especially if he isn’t going to be used in high-leverage situations.

  • December 14, 2010: 32-year-old Cliff Lee, SP (5 years, $120 million)

Lee broke the Phillies’ long-standing policy of refusing to commit more than three years to any pitcher. The year prior, the Phillies had inked fellow starter Roy Halladay to a three-year, $60 million deal. If any pitcher was to have the rules broken for him, one would have thought Halladay would be the benefactor, but the right-hander willingly left money on the proverbial table to stay in Philadelphia.

With Halladay’s blessing, the Phillies broke their own rules, giving Lee a massive contract, nearly equaling the extension given to first baseman Ryan Howard. In the two seasons since signing the deal, Lee has been quite good. He finished third in NL Cy Young balloting in 2011, posting a 2.40 ERA (a career-low) while posting career-highs in innings pitched and strikeouts. This past season, Lee endured some first-half struggles that earned him widespread criticism from Phillies fans, but he finished the season as a down-ballot Cy Young dark horse with a 3.16 ERA and a league-leading 7.4 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

The Lee deal was certainly risky, but given his track record and the Phillies’ position after the 2010 season, it was not a bad decision by any means even though the contract ends after his age-36 season. Lee still has several good years left ahead of him at the very least if he can avoid the dreaded injury bug that has plagued the Phillies’ old roster in recent years.

Papelbon was very, very good for the Phillies in 2012 despite some memorable failures (Jordany Valdespin, anyone?). However, the four-year, $50 million deal was the richest ever for a reliever and it came on the heels of the end of the Brad Lidge era. After Lidge’s perfect season in 2008, the Phillies signed him to a three-year, $37.5 million deal, betting on more of the same in the future. In those three years, Lidge pitched a grand total of 123.2 innings with a 4.73 ERA, missing time at various points due to a knee, elbow, and shoulder injuries.

The Papelbon contract is incredibly risky because the Phillies ante so much for so little reward — Papelbon’s 70 innings pitched in 2012 represented less than five percent of the Phillies’ total innings pitched. By comparison, his $11 million salary put him in the same echelon as Jimmy Rollins, whose 699 PA represented more than 11 percent of the team’s total PA taken. Like Lidge, Papelbon has a clean bill of health through his age-31 season, but even that is no guarantee.

  • December 9, 2011: 31-year-old Laynce Nix, OF (2 years, $2.5 million)

The Nix deal is relatively innocuous. At the time, I wrote, “it’s hard to react to this signing with anything more than a shoulder shrug.” Nix posted a .727 OPS in 127 PA, mostly filling in at first base for the injured Ryan Howard. Later in the season, he started some games in the outfield after Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence had been traded, but was not very productive. Nix will earn $1.35 million in the final year of his deal in 2013, which isn’t too bad as he provides the Phillies a left-handed power bat off the bench.

Overall, the Phillies broke even more or less, but the bulk of the success or failure still hinges on the remainder of Lee and Papelbon’s deals. The Phillies missed on most of the non-mammoth contracts aside from Polanco, and even some would argue to label the Polanco era a failure. It illustrates why hitching your wagon to an old player for more than one year isn’t always the best idea. Hopefully, the Phillies are more cautious in their endeavors and learn from their past mistakes.

Crash Bag, Vol. 27: Richard Branson’s Underwater Wonderland

I have a confession to make. I’m a recovering button-pusher, and I had a relapse. From age 15 on, I realized that I was very good at getting people into trivial arguments. Often I would do this with people I knew I was smarter than and lay elaborate rhetorical and logical traps, or I’d get into arguments just to see if I could torture logic enough to win them. I fancied myself a young Nick Naylor from Thank You For Smoking–if the facts were on my side, I’d argue them. If not, I’d tie my opponent in philosophical knots or reshape the question until it bore only a passing relationship to the original statement. I remember standing in front of my U.S. History class in high school and changing an assigned debate about slavery into a debate about beastiality. I was very good at what I did.

Other times, I’d tell my friends elaborate lies just to see what I could get them to believe. Often, I’d let those lies sit over the course of days. For instance, I once got four of my friends to believe that, while I was a sophomore in high school, I’d struggled with and overcome an addiction to crack cocaine. I made up months that I’d missed out of school, even though I eventually graduated high school with perfect attendance (because I was a loser), made up fights that I’d had with the very people I’d been talking too…outrageous and obvious lies that I realized I could pass off as truth if I repeated them often enough with a straight face. Come to think of it, I’d have made an excellent politician. I did this because I thought it was fun, and remarkably, no one ever visited physical violence on me for doing so.

Anyway, sometime around my senior year of college, I realized this habit was destroying my life. I’d get into arguments with people just because I knew I could win, and not realizing that I’d stumbled upon some topics that actually hurt people’s feelings. My habit damaged friendships, not least among them my relationship with the person who’d become Kate, the Long-Suffering Fiancee. So when I was 23, I decided that I’d give up idiot-baiting in particular and button-pushing in general. I had an addiction, and it had taken over my life, and I had to stop before I destroyed myself. I managed to salvage my relationship with KTLSF, but I had to give up my favorite hobby.

There are people who can push people’s buttons and bait idiots without losing their dignity and self-control. In fact, one of the best I’ve ever met at this is Crashburn Alley’s own Ryan Sommers. I can’t. If I start, I lose myself entirely.

I tell you all this, because yesterday morning, a friend of mine linked to a blog post that contained an alarmist, glib and idiotic political message. My friend did not write this post–she linked to it out of a genuine curiosity, a desire to start an honest dialogue. But I couldn’t help myself. I went in, and in a comment longer than the original post itself, I indulged my demons. I called for the collapse of American society, invoking Robespierre, Chicken Little and John Rawls all in one sprawling, condescending rant. And I got the feeling back. The distorted vision, the shaking hands, the pounding heart. I had quit idiot-baiting so suddenly and so cold turkey that I’d forgotten what it was like.

I relapsed. Some people can control a button-pushing habit. I can’t. That’s why, when I get angry and florid on the internet, either here or on Twitter or on my own Tumblr, it’s a diffuse, omnidirectional blast. Because if I feed the idiot, I turn into someone I don’t like. Thanks for listening to me share.

You’re going to ask me a series of questions and you want them answered on the spot right now.

@uublog (paraphrased): “If you were running for president, who would be on your senior staff?”

I’m going to stop you right there. Because while I appreciate the spirit of the question, if you think I’m going to actually run for president,” well, you’re wrong. No, no, no. I don’t want to be president. I want to be dictator of the world. So by your leave, I’ll rephrase the question to something like this: “When you’re dictator of the world, who will you put in your cabinet?” That I can answer.

  • Minister of Justice: Dr. Joseph Schwartz. I don’t mean “Justice” in the sense that he’d be my chief lawyer. I mean “Justice” in the sense of political philosophy. Dr. Schwartz teaches political theory at Temple University, and is a former professor of mine. He’s a brilliant, thoughtful, gregarious, hyperactive Marxist whose knowledge of political philosophy is encyclopedic, and whose reasoning on social and political justice is unimpeachable. He’s also the only professor I’ve ever known to cite Bill James in a graduate political theory seminar. If I’m blowing up the socioeconomic system and starting over, I at least want his input. And because I know we’ve got some readers who either go to Temple or are thinking about going to Temple, here’s some free advice: Take a class with Uncle Joe. It’ll change your life. Some more free advice: there’s a big green and white food truck parked across the street from Gladfelter Hall. It says “$5 footlongs on the side.” Eat their buffalo chicken cheesesteak. The lady who runs the truck is wonderful, and the food gets you more bang for your buck than anywhere else on campus.
  • Minister of Education: Ryan Sommers. When I’m dictator of the world, everyone who cares to participate in public life will need to have at least a working knowledge of statistics, logical reasoning, comparative religion, history and economics. And by “participate in public life” I don’t mean voting. I mean operating a computer or speaking in public. Maybe even holding a job that doesn’t involve a broom or a shovel. This will be a massive task that will require subject matter experts, but it will also require someone to run the whole operation who won’t lose sleep over condemning the stupid or the stubborn to a lifetime of subservience. Ryan is just such a man. Somehow I don’t think Uncle Joe would like that very much.
  • Minister of Foreign Affairs: Joe Biden. On a serious note, the only time I’ve ever been overawed by a lecturer was when I went to see then-Senator Biden give a talk on foreign policy when I was in undergrad. He knows what he’s talking about. On a non-serious note, I think he’d be more fun at cabinet meetings than any other wonk I could get.
  • Minister of Transportation: My dad. This might not be a coincidence, considering that the man taught me everything I know about urban planning, but if I’m dictator of the world, I’m going to give my father a blank check to commission whatever public transportation projects and zoning reform he sees fit. The trains will run on time and they will run everywhere. We will walk more places. We will foster urban growth that is designed not to increase corporate profits but to nurture a sense of community. And we’ll stop those idiot Pennsylvania drivers from trundling around at night with their high-beams on. Y’all’re gonna kill someone.
  • Minister of Space Exploration: @AntsinIN. He promised he’d put a man on Mars by 2020. We choose to go to Mars and to do the other thing not because they ah easy, but because they ah hod.
  • Minister of the Arts: Paul Boye. Because he asked nicely, and because Anthony beat him to the space thing.
  • Minister-Without-Portfolio: Richard Branson. I tell you what, he’s the only white guy over 50 I’ve ever heard of pulling off a goatee without looking like a pederast, so that alone merits consideration. But if I am in charge of the world’s resources, Branson is precisely the kind of lunatic I want whispering ideas in my ear. Space elevator? DONE. Ocean-floor mining colony the size of Delaware? LET’S GET THE SUBMARINES A-MOVIN’. I don’t think I want to put him in charge of anything in particular, except maybe air travel, but I want someone behind the scenes wondering why we can’t connect New York and London with a giant zipline. Plus I bet he’d be even more fun than Biden at parties.

That’s all than I can think of right now, though if you want to apply for a particular portfolio, I’ll be right over here, humming The Internationale.

@JakePavorsky: “Speaking of dictators, what player would be powerful enough to overthrow the front office?”

Have you been following the Texas Rangers lately? I’m pretty sure Michael Young has already done that.

@tholzerman: “Do you think Nate Silver would be justified in taking a dump in the National Review’s water cooler?’

So Nate Silver’s had himself quite a week. There’s been a temptation, since he’s a Baseball Prospectus alum, to tout his seeming prescience as a victory for all sabermetricians. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but it does seem like a victory for empirical study over people with TV shows who are afraid of math and throw temper tantrums when the world doesn’t actually work in a way that conforms to their normative expectations.

I think the most amazing thing about Silver’s supposed prescience (because really, my understanding is that his models, while sophisticated, aren’t phenomenally involved, particularly compared to the kind of multi-level Bayesian formal modeling of legislative behavior the ties up a room full of supercomputers for three weeks) is that while he’s been confident and eager to engage his critics, he hasn’t really rubbed America’s nose in it as much as a less-restrained individual (me, for instance) would have.

If I were Nate Silver, I’d have gotten “If you come at the king, you best not miss” tattooed in Comic Sans across my chest, then strode around Manahattan wearing nothing but camouflage cargo shorts, swim fins and one of those beanies with the propeller on top, with a bottle of King Cobra duct-taped to each hand, singing REO Speedwagon’s “Roll With the Changes” as loud as I possibly could. And if you don’t think I’d do the synth solo when the time came, you’ve got another thing coming, son.

Suffice it to say, I think Nate Silver has earned the right to poop wherever and whenever he so chooses.

@brendankeeler: “you get an hour to influence one of the following: obama, ruben amaro, or any media corp owner. who do you choose”

I was gonna try to influence someone important like Ruben Amaro, but it’s got to be the president. Because then I’d have the chance to persuade him to do what no president since James Madison has had the foresight and courage to do: invade Canada. Here are some reasons why the United States should invade, liberate and annex Canada.

  • It would be a boon to American sports. Imagine a U.S. women’s soccer team with Christine Sinclair, or a hockey team with Drew Doughty, Jonathan Toews and Shea Weber, or a baseball team with Joey Votto.
  • Canada has natural resources America needs: grain, oil, timber, and most importantly, legions of beautiful French-speaking women. I went to Montreal once and even the meter maids were hot. I almost didn’t come home.
  • The eventual unification of the warring Canadian Bacon/Pork Roll factions, ending decades of sectarian breakfast strife.
  • Liberate some 30 million hardworking, honest North Americans from the tyranny of having to add an extra “u” in every fifth word they write.
  • Canada has something to offer people of all political stripes. Liberals can enjoy the free healthcare and tea party folks can enjoy all the white people with guns.
  • Canadians want to be liberated. The curse their ancestors for not having the foresight and moral fortitude, as ours did, to throw off the yoke of British imperial rule and assert their own superiority over a nation of ungrateful, tiny car-driving, low TV production quality-having nitwits who see fit to mock America whenever they choose, so long as it doesn’t interfere with their parasitic consumption of our grain exports, our military protection, our computer technology or our popular culture. For that matter, let’s invade the U.K. too and turn England into a penal colony and the Isle of Man into a go-kart track.
  • Like I was saying, Canadians want  to be liberated. I follow what seems like a billion Canadian sportswriters and bloggers on Twitter and all of them talk about American politics like it matters to them. They’re like the nosy neighbor who comes to your kid’s soccer games. I don’t give a good goddamn about Canadian politics, because I’ve got politics of my own to worry about. Don’t these Canadians have their own politics? Is Jean Chretien running for re-election? Or did Conn Smythe beat him last time around? I can’t keep them straight.

The point is, I don’t know how long we can put up with a nation of u-abusing, imperialist puppet busybodies sitting on our collective head. LIBERATE CANADA.

@ETDWN: “What’s your favorite NASA Space Race era mission (Mercury/Gemini/Apollo)?”

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times. If someone were to dedicate a television channel to the years leading up to and including the Space Race, I’d watch nothing else. I’d probably do nothing else. Nothing but watch documentaries about research airplanes and spaceships from 1945 to 1975 or so. Weekly back-to-back showings of The Right Stuff and Apollo 13, the whole works. If such a television channel existed, I’d stop watching baseball and right now you’d be reading Longenhagen’s musings about Roman Quinn or some such thing. I’m hardly alone, but this mindset is not the norm. I know this because, to my knowledge, no such television channel exists.

Most Americans, I think, can rattle off about four of the capsule missions: Alan Shepard and John Glenn‘s Mercury missions and Apollo 11 and Apollo 13. Apollo 11 is, perhaps, mankind’s greatest achievement, but I suspect that you didn’t write this question so that I could give you the obvious answer. For that, I’ll make a list of things that the Soviets beat us to.

  • First satellite (Sputnik 1)
  • First living thing sent into space (Sputnik 2; I’m not much of a dog person, but I’ve thought about getting a dog just so I can name her Laika, after the first Soviet space-mutt)
  • First moon probe (Lunik 3)
  • First man in space; first man to orbit the Earth (Those sneaky buggers checked both of those off with one mission: Vostok 1)
  • First man to stay in space for more than a day (Vostok 2)
  • First communication between manned spacecraft (Vostok 3 and 4)
  • First woman in space; first civilian in space (Vostok 6)
  • First three-man space mission (Voskhod 1)
  • First two-man space mission; first spacewalk (Voskhod 2)

So despite eventually beating the Russians to the moon, they beat NASA to pretty much every waypoint. For that reason, I was going to say the joint Gemini VI/Gemini VII mission was my choice, because it is hailed as the first orbital rendezvous when the two spacecraft flew in formation within a few feet of each other, but since they didn’t dock, I’m not sure what that gets you that Vostok 3 and 4 doesn’t. I mean, it’s a tremendous feat of precision flying, but it’s not as great a quantum leap as you might think.

For that reason, I give you Gemini VIII. It was the first spaceflight for Neil Armstrong (who was also the first civilian to fly in NASA’s capsule program) and the first docking between two spacecraft: the Gemini capsule and a target vehicle. It was also NASA’s first emergency in space, when a thruster jammed open, forcing Armstrong and David Scott to re-enter after only a few hours in space. So apart from that docking and the first orbit of the moon on Apollo 8, the Russians beat NASA on pretty much every other milestone in space exploration up to the moon landing.

@nerdyITgirl: “The Reading Phils are changing their name, rumor has it’s the Fightins’. Good idea or bad? What would you pick?”

I keep forgetting that this is a baseball column.

Bad idea. I think that minor league teams should fall into one of three categories:

  1. Either the major-league affiliate’s name or a derivation of that (i.e. Reading Phillies, or if the Rangers, say, had a farm team called the Troopers or something).
  2. Something related to the local culture, history or economy. For instance, Columbia, South Carolina, has a wood-bat summer-league team called the Blowfish, after Hootie and the Blowfish, the most famous band to come from that city. (And before you say anything, I tried for three years to make it in the Columbia music scene. No one knows better than I do how awful it is.) Alternatively, I give you the class-A Lancaster JetHawks, a team with a stupid nickname until you find out that the team’s home region, California’s high desert, contains the aviation Mecca of the Western Hemisphere, Edwards Air Force Base.
  3. Something entirely outrageous that you couldn’t get away with on a team that has to take itself even remotely seriously. For this reason, I find myself wearing minor-league hats as often as I do major-league hats. To wit: the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, who also satisfy criterion No. 2, and whose sneering pig logo I proudly sport on my head quite often. Growing up, I wore out at least two hats representing the Norfolk Tides, the triple-A team that I saw whenever I went to visit family in Virginia and the reason for my everlasting and unreasonable emotional attachment to Alex Ochoa.

Anyway, you can make the argument that the “Fightins” is derivative of the “Fightin’ Phils,” but I don’t think it stands alone. There are a couple problems. First, “Fightins” is, to many Phillies fans, the name of probably the most widely-known Phillies blog ever, or at least it was before editor-in-chief and proprietor Mike Meech was killed tragically during the 2010 offseason in a cable car accident. Even though Meech’s death caused the blog to shut its doors for good, I’m not sure there’s room for another “Fightins” in our cultural lexicon.

Second, the Phillies are one of several teams that, let’s face it, don’t have particularly imaginative or derivative-friendly nicknames. Sure, you can name a Tigers farm team the “Cats” or the “Cubs” or the “Stripes” or whatever, but the Philadelphia Philadelphians? I once mocked a soccer match between Sibir Novosibirsk and Tom Tomsk of the Russian Premier League for conspicuous nominative indifference, but I was rightly put in my place by someone who pointed out the hypocrisy that statement, considering my favorite team is the Philadelphia Phillies. Gotta be honest–now that I think about it, they probably should have made the name change to the Blue Jays official back in the 1940s. We might have all been better off.

But as weird and silly as the Reading Fightins would be, it could be worse. If they’re the Reading Phightins, with a “ph” at the front, I might be left with no choice but to corner the market on carbolic acid, load it into an airplane and drop it over populated areas.

I mean, it’s almost as if Ancient Greek had no letter for the “f” sound, so they used “ph” instead! Isn’t that wild? Say, you know what’d be hilarious? If we went out of our way to replace the letter “f” with “ph” in marketing material related to the city and, in particular, its major league sports franchises. Man, there’s NO CHANCE WHATSOEVER that the novelty will wear off on that! NO CHANCE!

Seriously, the next person who thinks he’s clever for replacing an “f” with a “ph” in a word will not only face the swift and violent justice of my monkfish, but he will spend the rest of his life mining copper at the bottom of the North Atlantic in Richard Branson’s underwater wonderland.

So what would I call them? I dunno–is Reading famous for anything apart from being poor? I thought they should be renamed the “Otis Reading,” but I might be the only person who thinks that’s funny. Speaking of novelty wearing off, there is no shortage of possibilities based on a mispronunciation of the city name as “REED-ing” (as in a book) instead of the proper “RED-ing” (as in the color). While I think calling the team the Mirandas would be funny, the clear champion of those pun names is the Rainbows. Calling this team the Rainbows has two obvious advantages: First, it would allow the team to trot out some truly creative uniform designs. I’d buy a hat for sure. Second, it would probably make the Phillies’ double-A affiliate the official professional sports franchise of the North American LGBT movement, which could make for some interesting demographic divides within the ballpark. That one’s the best I’ve heard, though, again, if you’ve got a better idea, you know where to find the comment section.

@fschultz35: “should the GOP move to the middle or farther to the right?”

Who cares? It snowed here this week. The only place I’d move if I were the GOP is someplace warm, like Aruba.

@DaVetTurf: “ will the phillies ever get a legit third baseman or do the Philies have a Rolen curse?”

Third base is weird in that some teams go generations without having a good one. The Mets famously had trouble filling that position until David Wright came along, though Howard Johnson was pretty good for a few years in the 1980s, in addition to being the only major league ballplayer at whom Don Draper abandoned his wife. Likewise, the White Sox could find good help at third for something like 40 years, if I remember correctly, until they called up Robin Ventura.

The Phillies, who went pretty much from straight from Mike Schmidt to Dave Hollins to Scott Rolen, had third base on lockdown for the better part of 30 years, so we’re not in much of a position to complain. And even since, remember that Placido Polanco was more than a win above average on defense there in 2010 and 2011, and even if he had no speed, patience or power, his exceptional contact skills allowed him to hit for a decent average and contribute almost 7 fWAR in those two years. And before him, Pedro Feliz was close to a win above average on defense in 2008 and 2009, and even though he didn’t walk or run or have even mediocre contact skills, he hit for a little bit of power and contributed a total of 3 fWAR to the Phillies’ two World Series teams. So the Phillies haven’t really been hurting there recently as much as you might think.

And between Cody Asche and Maikel Franco, two of their better position player prospects are third basemen, so while I don’t think help is immediately available, it’s on the way, probably sometime before the next presidential election.

@RiehlyAwesome: “Please PLEASE tell me the Phillies are not really considering Torii Hunter as an outfield option. He’s THIRTY SEVEN.”

I don’t think so, but even if I did, I couldn’t answer your question seriously, because all I can think of now is this:

I didn’t you were called Dennis…

@pinvert: “current phillies sent to hunger games. who is the first one eliminated? who wins?”

I tell you what, if there’s one question (or form of question) I get more than any other, it’s the “Phillies players as…” but “Make the Phillies fight each other to the death in your imagination” is a close second. I’ll say this: Utley probably wins. Howard or Chooch is probably first out, because having a bum wheel where your life depends on hand-to-hand combat skills and evasion is not good.

I will say this, because I saw The Hunger Games for the first time this week: 1) It’s outrageous that Glengarry Glen Ross, a movie about adult men who don’t kill or have sex on screen, but who use bad words from time to time, gets a higher rating than The Hunger Games, which is, manifestly, A FILM ABOUT CHILDREN KILLING EACH OTHER WITH MELEE WEAPONS? Even assuming that children mindlessly emulate whatever they see in fiction, I’m totally comfortable with my hypothetical 13-year-old dropping the periodic f-bomb. I am not, however, okay with him killing his classmates with a gladius. The MPAA, it seems, would rather the reverse happen.

And 2) For a movie about a competition where children kill each other, whoever wrote the story went to remarkable lengths to avoid having our heroes kill the other children. I find that to be a cop-out almost as disgusting as the violence the film glosses over. It’s like writing a baseball movie, but deciding that hits are morally objectionable and having the goodguys score five runs on a single, five errors, a stolen base and a passed ball. You shouldn’t get to have the shock value of kids killing each other with their bare hands and then have your heroes escape with both their lives and a clean conscience.

@writelikemike: “Will Chase Utley go to Germany to get the Andrew Bynum surgery? Will he play before Andrew Bynum does?”

You know, that’s not a half-bad idea. Apparently there’s some horse placenta surgery or somesuch that is not performed in the United States, but is at the same time TOTALLY ON THE UP-AND-UP. But really, I don’t give a crap about shaky medical practices in sports, so if Utley wants to get his platelets replaced or have his knees turned into a wine key or something, then he should knock himself out. I do love how Germany, which is for my money the most civilized country on Earth that’s worth a crap, has been turned into some lawless backwater in the American sporting imagination. It’s not like Bynum and Kobe went to Thailand or Mexico or Sierra Leone. Germans are probably even more fastidious than Americans. These are the kind of people who make BMWs, not the kind of people who put on donkey-centered sex shows. And frankly, I suspect that their experimental sports medicine reflects this cultural attitude.

And to answer your second question, Bynum absolutely plays before Utley. At Liberty Ballers, I predicted that Andrew Bynum would make his season debut sometime later this month, based on no empirical or even circumstantial evidence whatsoever. But Chase Utley can’t play, even in a preseason game, until March, and I don’t want to entertain a scenario where Bynum is out that long.

@magoplasma: “what’s the most obscure joke you’ve ever made?”

Well, there’s this one. And this one. And this one. And this one. I’ve made a big ol’ mess of obscure jokes in my day, don’t you worry. I will say that no joke of mine will ever be as obscure as the second episode of the first season of Archer, which is 21 minutes of a television show masquerading as an elaborate setup for a Chekhov’s Gun joke. It’s brilliant.

 @mattjedruch: “how can we force RAJ to read Crashburn Alley on a daily basis? (Assuming he doesn’t already)”

I was just assuming he did already. After all, with the untimely demise of Meech (God rest his saintly brow), Crashburn Alley is probably the best place to go for Phillies minutiae. But in case he doesn’t, maybe we could get J.K. Simmons to pose as a psychic mechanic who tells Ruben Amaro that he and Bill Baer are meant to be together. How does he know? By Rube’s choice in car.

And Maggie? That’s the most obscure joke I’ve ever made. Go Google that, gigglybits.

 

Crashburn’s Favorite Moments of the Year (Part 5 of 5)

Triple-A baseball creates a strange clubhouse habitat. A roster typically contains a top prospect or two on their way to the show, filled with hope, optimism and youth.  The other twenty-three roster spots are occupied by aging journeymen; graying veterans of minor league highways hoping to escape the bus one last time. This can generate an interesting social dynamic as those who rail against the dying of the light interact with those who are still climbing towards it. It can create dissention and jealousy. Then there are moments that transcend an environment driven by individual goals. Moments like the one I’m about to describe.

On a seemingly innocuous Tuesday night just off of Union Boulevard in Allentown, Pennsylvania, the Gwinnett Braves were in town to play a series with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Things were progressing as they often do in your typical International League game. Then Todd Redmond called for time. Kevin Frandsen, one of those journeymen clinging desperately to his glove and spikes, reacted poorly to the brief if frivolous delay and began jawing at the Braves pitcher from the home dugout.

Frandsen’s next at-bat went as you might expect. Shortly after digging in, Frandsen was met with a stubble annihilating fastball intended for his left cheek. It missed and Frandsen would line out a few pitches later. He and Redmond exchanged verbal jabs as Frandsen trotted back toward Suidae Sanctuary on Coca-Cola Park’s third base side. Just out of view, an angry young left-handed hitter planted his spikes sixty feet away from Redmond.

That hitter was Domonic Brown. His career the yin to Frandsen’s yang, Brown was struggling to reclaim the electric skills that made him baseball’s top prospect for a short while just a year before. For the next thirty seconds, Domonic no longer cared about his healing hand, his fragile hamstring, or the changes the Phillies organization wanted him to make to his swing. He only cared for vengeance. Thanks to an 0-1 changeup Todd Redmond couldn’t quite get down and away enough from the talented youngster, Brownie got it.

The pitch was deposited in the parking lot. Literally, the ball flew just underneath the Waste Management sign in right field and into the parking lot. Several events transpired after this but I think the video does it more justice than I can articulate. I loved this moment because, well, I was there. And the very old-school, blood boiling conflict that took place was a refreshing dissent from the otherwise fratty, love filled dap fest modern athletics have turned into.  It was also lovely to watch Domonic Brown forget about everything other than kicking ass if only for a short while. Spoiler alert: The benches clear. Enjoy.