The Pros and Cons of Kevin Youkilis

CBSSports.com‘s Jon Heyman thinks free agent third baseman Kevin Youkilis could be a fit for the Phillies:

twitter.com/JonHeymanCBS/status/266395354545672192

As the saying goes, “in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” Youkilis looks incredible with the beer goggles of the barren third base market, despite posting the worst offensive numbers of his career at the age of 33. Once a fixture of the successful Boston Red Sox teams of the mid- and late-aughts, Youkilis has been a shell of his former self, playing in 122 or fewer games in each of the last three seasons while in an offensive freefall, his weighted on-base average going from an elite .419 in 2010 to .366 and .328 in the last two seasons.

Even a .328 wOBA, though, is above the league average for third basemen and would represent a significant offensive upgrade over what the Phillies have had dating back to the Scott Rolen years.

Year PHI 3B NL AVG 3B
2003 .279 .317
2004 .329 .333
2005 .285 .330
2006 .292 .347
2007 .303 .338
2008 .306 .338
2009 .302 .331
2010 .305 .323
2011 .283 .304
2012 .309 .327

However, Youkilis presents the same risk to the Phillies as Polanco did. Both players have played in exactly 344 games since 2010 and their injury histories, if printed out, could become the leading cause of deforestation. Since 2010, Youkilis has had issues with: his right knee, groin, lower back, right elbow, right ankle, right thumb, left ankle, left hip, left thumb, left foot, left thigh, abdomen, and his left forearm. Many of those were recurring issues as well. The veteran, who turns 34 in March, is the living, breathing, baseball version of Home Improvement’s Tim Taylor — at least as much as Polanco is.

When the Phillies consider bringing in Youkilis, they have to account for the very real possibility that he will miss 30 percent of the season or more as he has done in the last three seasons. Even if we are really optimistic and give Youkilis credit for still being an average player on an everyday basis, the Phillies would be forced to use a replacement-level player in his absence.

Youkilis earned $12 million and was set to earn $13 million in 2013 if the Chicago White Sox hadn’t bought out the remainder of his contract, while the Phillies declined Polanco’s $5.5 million option. If the Phillies were to sign Youkilis for at or around what Polanco was set to earn, they would be implicitly saying that Youkilis is a better bet to be an average-ish player and that his cratering in 2012 was more a fluke than anything else.

When he was on the field in 2012, Youkilis was a shadow of his former self. His walk rate plummeted to a career-low ten percent (which is still relatively good, however), his strikeout rate nearly tied a career high at just over 21 percent, and his .174 isolated power was his lowest since 2007. Throughout his career, Youkilis had been a BABIP-reliant player, posting an aggregate .336 mark between 2006-10, the 25th-highest among all qualified MLB hitters in that span of time. His BABIP dropped to .296 and .268 in the last two seasons, an indication that he is making worse contact with pitches.

In particular, his performance against fastballs has waned, especially on inside pitches. The following heat maps illustrate his transformation into a predator of the outer-third of the strike zone.

This is indicative of a player whose bat speed has hit the skids. You don’t have to think very hard to remember a player in the same shoes recently — Scott Rolen in Cincinnati. He finished 2010 with a .369 wOBA, but injuries and old age relegated him to a .294 wOBA in 269 plate appearances in 2011, and a .314 wOBA in 330 plate appearances in 2012. Specifically, Rolen’s performance against “hard” pitches went from .362 in 2010 to .291 in 2011 and .311 in 2012. This is the fate that awaits Youkilis.

If Youkilis can be had for a few millions of dollars on a one- or two-year deal, it wouldn’t be the end of the world, but the bearded warrior is in the free agent market looking for what could be the last contract of his career. GM Ruben Amaro did give Raul Ibanez an ill-advised, three-year $31.5 million contract after the 2008 season, so there is precedent for this kind of overvaluation of free agent veterans. Realistically, the Phillies are as likely to get equivalent production out of a third base platoon involving Kevin Frandsen and, say, Eric Chavez, without tying themselves up to an unmovable contract.

There are plenty of sirens in the free agent sea, beckoning wayward GM’s with their songs of clubhouse presence and experience. Youkilis is one of them, along with Josh Hamilton and Michael Bourn. A disciplined GM can guide his ship dutifully past the allure, avoiding the inevitable shipwreck that will define future seasons.

Crashburn’s Favorite Moments of the Year (Part 4 of 5)

If I had to make a list of my least favorite moments from 2012, a fair amount of them probably would’ve come from the four game series in Houston from September 13-16. The Astros halted a 7 game win streak by the Phillies that, combined with a respectable stretch of .586 ball in August, had briefly re-ignited hopes that they could snag the second wildcard that as many as 5 other teams were vying for. The Phillies pitching staff hemorrhaged runs, to the tune of 6 per game, against an Astros offense that was worst in the NL. The worst (the worst) part of it was the absolute inevitability. History mandated that the Phillies inexplicably underperform against the Astros in a crucial series, and they fulfilled that prophecy, playing out a miserable, predictable script.

The Phillies rolled into New York on September 17th for a 3 game set against the Mets, dragging the remains of their abortive comeback attempt behind them. They weren’t mathematically eliminated, but there was no longer a realistic route to the postseason. But with the nerve-wracked hand-wringing over, we could stand down, appreciate what the Phillies had accomplished from August on, and indulge in simple, small-picture enjoyment of each individual game — the kind of context-free, care-free spectating we could experience prior to 2007.

The Phils took the first game of the series, thanks to one of the most enjoyable spectacles available to baseball fans: an elite Cliff Lee pitching outing. Lee threw 111 pitches over 8 innings, striking out 10 and allowing just 1 run, and the Phillies won 3-1. Cole Hamels started the next night, September 19th, and was immediately given the lead with a lead off home run from Jimmy Rollins. Cole pitched admirably, matching Lee’s strikeout total from the night before. But with a Daniel Murphy RBI single in the third, and a David Wright solo shot in the 6th, the Mets were leading 2-1 late in the game. Antonio Bastardo, Philippe Aumont, and Jeremy Horst prevented any further damage, but entering the top of the 9th the Phillies had 3 outs left and at needed at least 1 run to stay alive.

The top of the order was due up. In previous seasons, this would’ve meant something like Rollins/Victorino/Utley, with Ryan Howard lurking in the dugout, and fans could not only hope for a comeback, but expect one. In 2012, it meant Rollins, Juan Pierre (who in this instance would be benched for no less than Ty Wigginton), and an aged and ailing Utley. Rollins and Wigginton went down flailing, and the Phillies were down to their last out. Chase Utley, though his effectiveness and longevity were oft-questioned in 2012, had put up an excellent shortened season, with a 113 OPS+ and his usual premium defense. Against Josh Edgin, an unremarkable organizational arm for the Mets, he worked a 3-2 count over 8 pitches and drew a walk.

By this point in the season, even with playoff hopes extinguished, it was impossible not to look at what the resilient Phillies were doing and dream on other ways things could have unfolded — if the Phillies had gotten more breaks during an amazingly frustrating run of poor luck in the first half, or if they had entered the season with their roster at full strength. On such a hypothetical contending team, one model for a Phillies comeback in the late innings would be an excellent Chase Utley at bat followed by the brutal raw power of Ryan Howard finishing the job. So even though Ryan Howard entered the day hitting a dismal .225/.304/.405, with a comical 33% strikeout rate, hobbling around the base paths and looking like anything but his old self, and even though he faced a left-handed reliever, you couldn’t help but harbor a nostalgic desire for a “get me to the plate” event. And, in what was my favorite moment of a difficult 2012 season, Howard delivered.

If you’re reading this, I don’t need to explain why a go-ahead late inning home run by Ryan Howard against the New York Mets was the perfect salve for Phillies fans pining for better times. Reminiscing on 2011, and dreaming on 2013, this was exactly what we needed.

(Oh, and by the way, he annihilated that pitch)

Crashburn’s Favorite Moments of the Year (Part 3 of 5)

Sometimes our greatest athletic moments are defeats. We acknowledge the courage of the underdog who put up way too great a fight just because he didn’t know any better, or the dehydrating, draining, exhausting struggle of two implacable foes pressing the limits of skill, artistry and endurance, the kind of game that must produce a loser for no reason other than only one man can win.

The Phillies in 1993, the Flyers in 2010, the Sixers in 2001, the French in the 2006 World Cup, the Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV, the Indians in the 1997 World Series. The 2003 Fiesta Bowl, the 1990 Loyola Marymount Lions, the (SPOILER ALERT) Twins from Little Big League and the Permian Panthers from Friday Night Lights.

Sometimes we celebrate our losses because the fight itself was so laudable. That’s a very long-winded way of saying my favorite game of the year was a Phillies loss.

April 18: Giants 1, Phillies 0 in 11 innings.

My favorite games are tense, low-scoring affairs, because I’m not a child and I don’t need big, flashy run totals to entertain me. Which was good, in this case, because this was the queen mother of low-scoring affairs. It was a virtuoso performance by two of the best pitchers in the game, a masterpiece of efficiency that produced bewilderment not only at the virtuosity of the pitchers, but at how much they were able to accomplish in so short a period of time. I remember, it seems, five innings passing in the time it took me to check my email.

The Phillies and Giants played 11 innings in 2 hours, 27 minutes. That’s how long it takes for Jonathan Papelbon to decide he wants to shake off his catcher. But it’s what you’d expect when two fantastic, fast-working starters face two offenses capable of otherworldly feats of offensive indiscipline. Cliff Lee went 10 innings, Cain 9, and both starters probably could have gone more. Bruce Bochy pulled Cain after only 91 pitches, and through 10 innings, Lee had thrown only 102 pitches, of which 81 (EIGHTY-ONE!) were strikes.

For further reading, Jonah Keri of Grantland put down most of the finer points of that game in a post the next morning, which I am totally linking to here for reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that he cited me in the post.

But more than a spectacle, this game was a microcosm. The Phillies couldn’t hit. Matt Cain put on a clinic (in his previous start, he’d struck out 11 in a one-hit shutout win over the Pirates, plus that other game he had in June). The Giants got lucky breaks. Charlie Manuel refused to use Jonathan Papelbon in a non-save situation and paid for it with a loss. Cliff Lee pitched lights-out ball and continued his absurd and hilarious winless streak. This was the Phillies’ season (and the Giants’ for that matter) in the running time of a middling Spielberg movie.

It wasn’t the most fun I had watching the Phillies this season (that three-game sweep of the Brewers was), and Paul bogarted the moment that put the biggest smile on my face. But sometimes, win or lose, when baseball shows you something truly remarkable, you have to acknowledge it for what it is.

Crashburn’s Favorite Moments of the Year (Part 2 of 5)

In late July 2007, I decided Chase Utley was my favorite baseball player.

It wasn’t necessarily a difficult decision, but in the wake of Bobby Abreu being traded to the Yankees in 2006, I felt something of a void. Sure, Jimmy Rollins was around and Ryan Howard was at his peak, coming off a tremendous, MVP year in 2006. I had always been a fan of Pat Burrell, but there wasn’t that one, overarching thing that made him favorite material, to me. In fact, I don’t even think it was necessarily what Utley did that made me elevate him to “favorite” status; it was what John Lannan did.

Make no mistake, Utley was in the midst of a special year in 2007. He was following up a great 2006 with what could have been an MVP-caliber campaign, until his third at-bat on July 26, when Lannan hit him in the right hand with a pitch, breaking the fourth metacarpal bone and forcing Chase to miss the next 28 games (though not his final two plate appearances of that fateful game).

And indeed it was that final point that sat indelibly in my mind. Utley, broken hand and all, played the game through to the end. It wasn’t the smartest thing in the world to do with a broken hand, to be sure (it never is), but something about the tenacity of Utley in that moment stuck with forever. It’s funny, given him loath I am now to praise players who play through injury, but that’s truly what sealed it. Utley would return August 27 against the Mets and go 3-for-5 with a home run.

Fast forward nearly five years, and a different ailment has plagued Utley: faulty knees. “Chondromalacia” is the name, a frightening sequence of words that, at one point this winter, seemed to threaten Utley’s very career. In fact in still may, but that tenacity is not so easily overcome. Utley would miss 76 games before returning to the lineup, at home, against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Was it really that simple? Could the return of the best second baseman in franchise history really lift this struggling team out of hole it had dig itself into with one easy swing of the bat, a fluid conjoining of bat and hung breaking ball?

At season’s end, our answer was no, but for one fleeting moment, it felt like anything was possible. His fragile knees forgotten, our beloved team’s 36-40 record a nose itch, our hopes of a return to pride and power restored.

Utley himself, never one to allow his soul’s shades to ever be anything but perpetually drawn, even allowed some emotion to seep out. It wasn’t worn on his face – he didn’t smile as he traversed the bases in a brisk 18.5 seconds – but as he returned to the dugout, his hand met the fist of Carlos Ruiz and the splayed palm of Hunter Pence with a force as loud as the bat crack of the dinger he’d just hit. It was one of relief and of a reclamation of his territory.

Nevermind a couple of hours into the future, when the Phils would eventually find themselves on the losing end of an 11-7 game. Chase Utley was back and, in the heart of a season both started and ended coolly, there was a warmth that coated the Delaware Valley. For a moment – if only for that long – the season was fun again.

The Pros and Cons of B.J. Upton

By far the most frequent question I have been asked on the ol’ Interwebs lately pertains to free agent center fielder B.J. Upton. He has been linked prominently to the Phillies already this early in the off-season, and it makes sense. The Phillies need a center fielder, have some money to spend, and B.J. Upton is a center fielder who would like to receive money. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports shone some light on some of the recent hires the Phillies have made and their relationship to the potential signing of Upton:

Bart Braun, previously a special assignment scout with the Rays, joined the Phillies last month as a special assistant to general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.

Steve Henderson, the Rays’ hitting coach from 2006 to ’09, will fill the same role for the Phillies after spending the past three years with the club as a minor-league coordinator.

The moves did not go unnoticed by the Upton camp, and in the words of one player agent, “there are no coincidences in baseball.”

It just makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? It’s hard to ignore all of the signs, but in the end, it does come down to Upton’s expectations and the Phillies’ willingness to meet them. Would Upton forgo a fifth guaranteed year to come to Philadelphia and be around some familiar faces? Would the Phillies guarantee that fifth year and go up to around $80 million total to bring in a top-tier free agent? Obviously, we will find out as the off-season progresses as a lot will depend on which teams jump out first and which players budge from their expectations the most.

Should the Phillies snag Upton, they would be getting an enigma of a baseball player. He started his career on fire, posting a .384 on-base percentage and a .166 isolated power in 2007-08 combined. He cratered in 2009, and since then, he has been sub-par in the batting average and on-base departments. In 2012, his walk rate plummeted to a career-low seven percent, down from 11 percent in the previous two seasons. He became overly aggressive at the plate in attempt to hit for power, and it worked somewhat — he finished the year with a career-high 28 home runs and a .208 ISO, nearly a career-best. However, overall, it was the second-worst offensive season of his career going by weighted on-base average (wOBA).

David Golebiewski highlighted Upton’s struggles at Baseball Analytics in August:

His in-zone swing rate against soft pitches has declined to 61%. Upton’s chase rate, meanwhile, has climbed to 34%. With such poor pitch recognition, Upton’s slugging just .238 against soft stuff. Jordan Schafer, Michael Bourn, Jemile Weeks, Carlos Pena and Brandon Crawford are the only qualified batters to show less punch against breaking and off-speed offerings.

The good news is that Upton’s decision-making at the plate is a fixable problem. The Phillies brought in batting coach Steve Henderson from the Rays along with Wally Joyner and Ryne Sandberg, two guys who know a thing or two about a thing or two. The Phillies as an organization seem to have stressed good strike zone judgment as their 17.7 percent strikeout rate in 2012 was tied for the fourth-lowest in the Majors. They had the fifth-lowest rate in 2011 and the sixth-lowest rate in 2010 as well.

Upton, like shortstop Jimmy Rollins, has been chided for his perceived lack of hustle, earning scorn from manager Joe Maddon and third baseman Evan Longoria. The latter incident escalated into a heated dugout argument. While it’s obvious that the complaints about hustle have racist undertones, it is still something to consider. Would Upton have the ability to stay calm, cool, and collected when beat writers, radio loudmouths, and irate fans call for his head when he doesn’t run out a ground ball in a meaningless May game? Would Upton even want to come to a city that so vociferously reacts to anything but constant max effort?

The last negative thing to consider about an Upton signing would be the pick the Phillies surrender. The Rays, as expected, extended a $13.3 million qualifying offer to the center fielder, which means that the Phillies surrender their first round pick according to the new collective bargaining agreement. Giving up draft picks certainly hasn’t stopped the Phillies in the past, but with a mediocre Minor League system, they may become reticent to strip it any further, especially when similar, cheaper options that won’t force the Phillies to surrender a pick — such as Angel Pagan — will be available.

With the negatives out of the way, let’s look at the positives. Upton is 28 years old. That fact alone is huge. For obvious reasons, it is way less risky to sign a player in his late 20’s to a long-term contract. Consider the five-year deal the Phillies gave Ryan Howard. They agreed to the deal two years before he was eligible for free agency and the first year of the deal started in his age-32 season. A five-year deal between the Phillies and Upton would end in his age-32 season. I don’t need to tell you that the expected performances of age 28-32 players is significantly better than age 32-36 players, nor that the former set of players suffers debilitating injuries at a lower rate. Signing any player to a long-term deal is a gamble, but it is much less so for younger players.

On the field, Upton has all the tools to be a premier player. Below is a list of all of the players who hit at least 100 home runs and stole at least 200 bases dating back to 2007 (min. 3,000 plate appearances).

Rk Player HR SB PA From To Age
1 B.J. Upton 113 217 3697 2007 2012 22-27
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/5/2012.

Yup. That’s it. If we lower the stolen base threshold to 150, Rollins and Hanley Ramirez enter the picture. Players who can hit for power and run extremely well are few and far between, and Upton does both very, very well. According to Baseball Prospectus, the only players to have been more productive stealing bases in 2012 were Everth Cabrera, Mike Trout, Ben Revere, and Coco Crisp. Additionally, Upton’s .206 ISO last season was seventh-best among all MLB outfielders, just ahead of Bryce Harper.

Defensively, Upton can obviously cover some ground. Defensive metrics disagree on his value as Baseball Reference’s Total Zone grades him as a below-average defender in each of the last three seasons, while FanGraphs UZR grades him as an above-average defender in every season except 2007 and ’12. I caught up with ubiquitous writer and Rays fan Jason Collette (@JasonCollette), who has watched Upton up close and personal lo these many years. His scouting report on Upton’s defense:

[He is] much better going back on balls than he is coming up on them. Tends to play more of them on a bounce than he does to dive forward on them. Side to side, he’s above average. His biggest problem out there are his throws. His arm is not terribly accurate but he takes unrealistic chances at runners from time to time allowing the trail runner to advance an extra base. Off the top of my head, I want to say he did that at least 10 times this season. He’s better than “Gold Glove winner” Adam Jones in everything except playing balls in front of him.

R.J. Anderson (@r_j_anderson), a Rays fan and writer for Baseball Prospectus like Collette, passed along this blog post with a quote on a scout’s take on fielding range:

“I look at who has the best range in the game and I count down from there. BJ Upton has the best range in center in the majors. His reads are flawless, speed incredible. When I see a guy going after a ball, I say, ‘is he as good as BJ Upton?’ Nope. He ain’t an 80 then.”

Upton’s athleticism covers up for some of his decision-making shortcomings, but the gap between the two will have to close as Upton ages and his physical prowess wanes. If Upton doesn’t improve in that area, he would eventually have to move to a corner.

In the big picture, Upton represents an interesting issue to the Phillies. Where would he fit in the lineup? His low average and on-base percentage should preclude him from hitting higher in the batting order, but he hit in the upper-third of the Rays’ lineup in 119 of his 146 games in 2012. Hitting Upton lower in the order, particularly fourth to break up the left-handed Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, would cause the Phillies to lose the value of his speed. Hitting him lower than fifth would cause him to lose too many plate appearances — Phillies #6 hitters took 75 fewer trips to the plate than #1 hitters last season.

Unless the clamor for Upton quiets down significantly, Upton is expected to take home a hefty, lengthy contract that would pay him like an All-Star-caliber player. The Phillies would be hoping that the 28-year-old still has a ceiling to ascend to, rather than having already plateaued. Upton is enough of an enigma that he could realistically do either, and as a result, the Phillies would be taking a bigger leap of faith with him than they have with any of their previous free agent signings in recent times. But for a team that saw its five-year reign atop the NL East ended in 2012, it may be a necessity to exact revenge against the Washington Nationals, who will not enter the 2013 season any worse for the wear.

Crashburn’s Favorite Moments of the Year (Part 1 of 5)

The five of us here at Crashburn Alley will each pick our favorite moments of the 2012 season and look back fondly each day of this week, starting today. Feel free to leave your thoughts on the moments we select and suggest ones we may have forgotten in the comments below.

I’ll be leading off today with my favorite moment of the season: Matt Cain and Cole Hamels trading home runs with each other.

Pitchers homering is one of my favorite things in baseball. It’s just rare enough that it’s a treat every time you see it, but pitchers can always distinguish themselves over the course of a season. In 2012, the average NL pitcher posted a .136 weighted on-base average (wOBA). The league in general sat at .338. The difference between the two, in terms of runs over 600 plate appearances, is over 105 runs. Yes, 105 runs, or more than ten wins. That’s just how bad pitchers are at hitting.

Way back in March, Michael Baumann eloquently wrote about why he doesn’t like the designated hitter. Here is one paragraph of his that sums up my feelings:

Caveats aside, the fish-out-of-water element actually appeals to me a great deal. It’s the same reason that seeing Wilson Valdez pitch in person last year was the greatest live fan experience of my life. When a pitcher hits a home run, or even reaches base, the rarity of the even makes the payoff all the greater when it happens. When a pitcher, particularly a good one, happens to be anything other than a catastrophic incompetent at the plate, every plate appearance is cause for excitement and anticipation. The Phillies, in Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, happen to have two such players. What Phillies fan doesn’t remember Joe Blanton‘s home run in the 2008 World Series with fondness? Letting the pitcher bat adds an element of chaos to a game that can, from time to time, be a little too orderly.

Cole Hamels is one of those good-hitting pitchers and had long been among the best, but didn’t have a home run to his name until that mid-July game against the San Francisco Giants. Dating all the way back to 2009, Hamels’ .173 wOBA ranked 16th best out of 60 pitchers who had taken at least 150 trips to the plate. Cain isn’t too far behind, at .150 in 25th place. ESPN provided a note which made the event even more special:

It was the first time pitchers homered off each other in the same game since Atlanta’s Kevin Millwood and Colorado’s Denny Stark did it on May 18, 2002. The last time it happened in the same inning was May 14, 1990 when Montreal’s Kevin Gross and Los Angeles’ Fernando Valenzuela went deep in the third inning.

The Cain/Hamels phenomenon was essentially a once-in-a-generation event, similar to Joe Blanton homering off of Edwin Jackson in Game 4 of the 2008 World Series. Prior to Blanton’s homer, the last pitcher to hit a World Series home run was Ken Holtzman of the Oakland Athletics way back in 1974.

The Phillies lost the game 6-5 and the game ended up being meaningless in the long run, but this game left an indelible mark on my memory.

Crash Bag, Vol. 26: Ain’t Nobody Got a Bigger Booty

Happy November, Crashburn Alley readers. If you’ve been displaced or been otherwise relieved of your access to power and/or water because of the hurricane…well, you’re probably not reading this, but if you know such people, let them know that the thoughts and prayers of the Crashburn staff are with you.

But I personally deal with disaster and hardship through escapism, by not taking anything seriously, so that’s what we’re going to do today. I’m going to talk to you about something near and dear to my heart: facial hair.

This week, we kicked off two dueling traditions of facial hair growth: No-Shave November and Movember. These are undertaken (for charity, I understand, in the case of Movember) by men who view facial hair as a novelty, something to be worn for 30 days and then put away for the rest of the year, like a green Phillies t-shirt in mid-March. These are small-minded men, men of little courage and even less manly essence, who are either unwilling or unable to let the light of their manliness shine upon the world for all to see. I participate in No-Shave November religiously, but not because I think it’s funny. I participate because it follows No-Shave October and precedes No-Shave December, No-Shave January, Fu Manchu February and Mustache March.

I reject many of the tenets of traditional gender roles in our society. Men don’t need to be aloof, domineering beer-swilling simpletons with a thirst for physical violence and a disregard for women as anything but household appliances and sexual objects. I aspire to a more evolved manhood, an enlightened manhood where we act as thoughtful creatures and not as the ape-men society expects us to be.

But men are, biologically and historically, hairy. To deny oneself a beard, or at least a full, well-groomed Jay Jaffe-style mustache, is to deny one’s own identity. Worse than that, it is to scoff at the very thing that makes you a man. Well, I guess a beard doesn’t make you a man in and of itself, but you know what I mean.

We revere beards. We depict our gods as having beards, and with good reason. A beard is a symbol of wisdom, of power, of compassion. Zeus had a beard. Poseidon had a beard. Even the important figures of the world’s popular religions today have impressive beards: Mohammed, Moses, Noah, even Jesus Christ. Jews, Muslims and Christians have been killing each other since there have been Muslims and Christians, but they all agree that beards are God-like. Shouldn’t that be persuasive enough for everyone?

In fact, why is it that some of our society’s proudest institutions–the military and most paramilitary organizations, and the New York Yankees–forbid the men among them from having beards? You ask a young man to put himself in harm’s way for strangers, many of whom are unworthy of the protection he provides, and then deny him the first outward signal of his manliness? Shame on you, U.S. Army. If you want men, let them be men. Don’t make these proud people parade around the world like naked mole rats in digital camo. Support our troops. Don’t denude them of their manliness.

So to you who participate in No-Shave November or Movember only, who think it’s a joke, a novelty, you spineless cowards, you ignorant flock of poseurs–you disgust me. Either sack up and wear the beard or mustache year-round, as a man does, or shave it off entirely. You scorn greatness because you don’t understand it, you worthless, malodorous, childlike fools. You want to know why that beard looks stupid on you? Why your girlfriend doesn’t like that mustache? Because you don’t have the pride to wear facial hair as the hood ornament of consequence that it really is. Stop pretending to be better than you are. Either embrace the beard or get out of my way.

Now on to your correspondence.

@JakePavorsky: “The entire 40 man roster gets trapped on a completely deserted island with no food at all. Who gets eaten first and why?”

Michael Martinez is no longer on the 40-man, so they can’t eat him. Ryan Howard is meaty, but for some reason I don’t think they’d kill and eat him. I feel like keeping Howard alive would be good for morale. Likewise Phillippe Aumont, who could feed a family of four for weeks, but his arm would be necessary for killing passing birds with stones.

Probably Antonio Bastardo. He’s not big, but one of the biggest, most muscular parts of the body is the butt, and ain’t nobody got a bigger booty than Tony No-Dad.

@fotodave: “Okay…. your take on the NFL’s rule of 3 years in college before being drafted?”

I think that, like almost every negotiated labor provision in organized sports, from free agency restrictions to salary caps to international signing bonus limits to the draft itself, it represents an illegal restraint of trade. If we viewed sports labor unions like normal labor unions, or sports business like normal business, the stuff that the leagues and unions do would make your hair stand on end.

But setting that aside, I like it. Football in particular, with a short shelf life for players and with such horrific physicality, is not a place where you want 18-year-olds straight out of high school to have to dodge Patrick Willis. In baseball and hockey, at least, you get some time to sort it out the minors if you need it.

My favorite system (the recent bonus restrictions aside) is baseball’s, by far. The Rule IV draft is open to high schoolers, junior college players and players who have been in four-year colleges for three years or more. Unlike in football and basketball, a drafted player can opt not to sign and return to school, and unlike in hockey, a drafted player’s rights don’t stay with the team that picked him the first time.

I like this system because, more than others, it keeps the player’s options open. If he’s ready for pro ball out of high school, he can go. If not, he has time to develop. To use basketball examples, LeBron James had nothing to gain by going to college, but only one year of college did wonders for Kevin Durant’s game. Mike Trout made his major league debut last summer, when, under NFL rules, he’d still have been playing out the string at East Carolina. By the same token, David Price was a 19th-rounder out of high school, spent three years developing at Vanderbilt and went first overall in 2007.

The MLB system also allows players like Mark Prior, Gerrit Cole and Chase Utley to get drafted high out of high school, pass if the money isn’t right and go to college. The long lead time for player development in baseball, compared to other sports, might make this system uniquely suitable, but I’d like all four major sports leagues to be more flexible.

@cwyers: “Which Dylan Thomas poem best exemplifies what we currently know about the 2013 Phillies?”

I know you don’t think I have a book of Dylan Thomas poems on my shelf, but I do.

He does have one called “Poem in October,” but that’s a little presumptuous, given the events of the past year.

But after careful consideration, I present to you the last stanza of “When I Woke.”

“I heard, this morning, waking,
Crossly out of the town noises
A voice in the erected air,
No prophet-progeny of mine,
Cry my sea town was breaking.
No Time, spoke the clocks, no God, rang the bells.
I drew the white sheet over the islands
And the coins on my eyelids sang like shells.”

@Cody011: “Seeing how this is a phillies blog and all, who are some potential Philadelphia eagle coaching candidates for next year?”

Probably still Andy Reid. If not him, Ryne Sandberg.

@pinvert: “why do we insist on putting pumpkins into every freaking food this time of year?”

I have no idea. I like pumpkin pie just fine, but pumpkin muffins? Pumpkin beer? Pass. If you must make seasonal food, there’s got to be a better way to do it than dumping gourd flavoring into it. When I go to Starbucks, I want coffee with milk and sugar, not a pumpkin spiced latte because it’s November, or a Peppermint la macchina verde because it’s about to be Christmas. I’m not sure how we got to this arbitrary, facile and yet universal understanding that pumpkins taste like autumn, and that EVERYTHING should taste like autumn, but here we are.

More than anything, it makes me feel bad for Linus. If only he’d come around 30 years later, he wouldn’t have been able to avoid the Great Pumpkin.

@brendankeeler: “what’s your favorite word…in a sentence that also includes “Freddy Galvis“, and any line from a Queen song?’

A challenge. Very well. (cracks knuckles) A scouting report!

If Freddy Galvis showed even a modicum of hitting ability, he’d be guaranteed to blow your mind.

@SoMuchForPathos: “Is your biggest concern with Star Wars VII also how it’ll probably disrupt the canon created by books/video games/etc.?”

Yeah, in case you haven’t heard, Disney has bought Lucasfilm and intends to release a new Star Wars movie in 2015. This is very important news. I have seen the movies original trilogy probably upwards of 1,000 times in total. I own two toy lightsabers. I’ve read many of the expanded universe novels, and I own reference books based on the expanded universe novels.

Here’s what I know: the new Star Wars won’t involve George Lucas in a creative role, and the expanded universe continuity, which is impressive considering how many novels there have been in the past 20 years, is gone. That’s disappointing, because my best-case scenario included an adaptation of Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy, the first and best expanded universe series, with Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role and Robert Downey Jr. as Talon Karrde.

I’m not scared of what’s going to happen, because my two biggest fears are that we get a movie that either 1) has horrific dialogue, a clumsy story and an overreliance on special effects or 2) is so excited that it’s reviving the beloved franchise that no one bothers to see if the story passes the laugh test. And you know what? I’ve lived through both, the first with the prequel trilogy and the second with the J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboot. And both were terrible, but neither really diminished my affection for the original.

Here’s my wish list for Episode VII.

  1. Bring in new characters and tell a new story. I said Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy was the best of the expanded universe novels, but my favorite was the X-Wing series by Michael A. Stackpole and Aaron Allston. That’s because any story that centers on Han, Luke and Leia seems like a poor facsimile of the original, but introducing new heroes and villains within the familiar universe not only allows the writer to make the story his own, but you get to see more of the galaxy far, far away. This way, we also avoid the hairy problem of re-casting entirely iconic roles. The Star Wars characters aren’t as fluid as, say, Batman is, and I’m not sure I could take a new Star Wars seriously if it starred Nathan Fillion playing Malcolm Reynolds playing Han Solo. Better to just wipe the slate clean and start over.
  2. Know what you’re shooting for. This is not going to be a Great Movie, and whoever directs/writes/produces it needs to recognize that we love Star Wars not because it aspires to incredible storytelling, but because of its earnestness and imagination. We’re looking for wide appeal here above all else. Which brings me to the next point.
  3. Don’t Nolanize it. I love Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, but after the success of that series, it’s like every superhero movie needs to be dark and gritty and explore complicated emotional and moral space. Star Wars is bright, big and uncomplicated–let’s keep it that way.
  4. Don’t cheap out on story and dialogue. The acting in both the original and prequel trilogy was terrible not because Mark Hamill and Hayden Christensen are bad actors, but because Lucas handed good actors (Alec Guinness, Harrison Ford, Samuel L. Jackson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Liam Neeson) just profoundly awful dialogue. What the hell is Liam Neeson supposed to do with “Patience, my blue friend.”–it’s like giving someone a bowl of ice cream and a steak knife. Make sure the story (as in the Star Trek remake) and the dialogue (as in the prequel trilogy) pass the laugh test. It doesn’t have to be Sorkin-level snappy, but it can’t be distractingly bad.
  5. Give it to a writer and director who know what they’re doing and leave them alone. Big projects like this get ugly when two or three directors and nine or ten screenwriters work on it. Hire good storytellers and let them tell a story. My original dream team involved Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Sunshine, Never Let Me Go) writing and Matthew Vaughn (Stardust, Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class) directing. Vaughn’s Stardust, I think, is the best-case scenario for this movie–a big, earnest, bright, funny, action-packed epic. I’ve heard other people wish for Joss Whedon, who’s worked for Disney before (co-writing Toy Story) and directed a super-sized blockbuster (The Avengers) with great success. Much has also been made of David Fincher having worked on Return of the Jedi as a twentysomething cameraman.
    Most of all, I want whoever directs this movie to love and understand Star Wars and not just see it as a cheap way to cash in on a beloved franchise with some new faces, flashy special effects and, frankly, only a passing interest in telling a good story. That’s what J.J. Abrams did with Star Trek and, frankly, what Lucas did with the prequel trilogy. In terms of great sci-fi/action movies, it doesn’t have to be Alien or Inception, but it’s got to not stink on ice.

Sorry I got so worked up about that, but it’s important to me.

@elkensky: “Gold gloves will probably get Jimmy Rollins into the Hall of Fame and keep Chase Utley out. Thoughts?”

I don’t think that’s true, actually. It’s a shame that such a good defender as Utley was never so honored, but whatever. He was never elected prom queen either. I don’t think either is getting into the Hall of Fame given their current career paths, and I think that’s more of an injustice to Utley, who stood with Albert Pujols head and shoulders above the rest of the National League for five years and was never given the respect he deserved. I think part of that–his high OBP, his underrated defense and his historically great baserunning–isn’t obvious, and part of that was that the 2005-12 Phillies were so full of other good players getting more press. It was Howard who hit 58 home runs in a season, Rollins who guaranteed the division title and went 30-30, Victorino and Pence who were entertainingly zany, Halladay who threw the two no-hitters, Lidge who went a full season without blowing a save, Lee who won over the city, left and came back and Hamels who put the team on his back en route to a World Series.

Never mind that Utley has actually been the best player on the team, but he’s never been particularly colorful (in fact, his most famous quotations are the result of an unfortunate combination of profanity and open TV microphones). And we tend to focus more on the low batting average and the injuries than his having been the best Phillies position player since Mike Schmidt.

In a way, Chase Utley is kind of like a poor man’s Mickey Mantle–a great player who had a great career on great teams, but with a pocketful of nagging injuries that still leave us wondering what could have been. If Utley hadn’t taken that John Lannan fastball to the hand in 2007, and if his hips and knees were sound, I have in my mind that he’d have been some freakish hybrid of Roberto Alomar and Joe Morgan. I’d still vote for him for the Hall because I think his peak was good enough, but I’m kind of a big Hall guy with an obvious bias. I don’t think he makes it.

Rollins, on the other hand, doesn’t have anywhere near the on-field credentials. He’s been good for a very long time, but to me he’s a Hall of Very Good type of player. I think the Phillies should retire his number (in fact, that’s the topic of my first-ever Crashburn Alley post), but I don’t think he’s a Hall of Famer, Gold Gloves or no.

@wzeiders: “Toronto cliamed Herndon off waivers and then released him a few days later. What happened? Should we get him back?”

I would like to. I thought Herndon was trending up through the end of 2011–in 2010 he was a sinkerballer who completely sucked because he couldn’t miss bats. But in 2011, he went to the minors, made a couple adjustments to his fastball and all of a sudden no one could hit him, much like Kyle Kendrick did this year.

Waivers are weird. I don’t completely understand them, particularly at this point in the season. From what I understand, it’s kind of like getting a girl’s number at the bar–you’re probably going to call, but you might not, and even if you do, nothing might happen, but maybe you call her and meet up and really hit it off start dating and so on.

Or at least that’s what I’ve been told. I’m a baseball blogger–I’ve never gotten a girl’s number at a bar.

@GoGoNinjaGo: “I came across a Ruben Amaro Jr. Baseball card in my collection the other day. Suggestions on what to do with it?”

Do whatever you like. He was kind of unremarkable as a player–in fact, the most interesting thing about him as a player might be that he became a GM. Of the 30 current GMs, only Amaro, Jerry Dipoto and Billy Beane actually played in the major leagues.

I used to have a massive baseball card collection, not so much because I ever thought I’d make money off them, but because I loved baseball and numbers and pictures, so it made sense. I remember being very proud of a mid-90s Topps card that had Darryl Strawberry‘s name spelled wrong. I had both the original and the one with the corrected spelling.

Anyway, a couple years ago, my dad stumbled across those old binders–which I hadn’t looked at in probably more than 10 years–and we found some interesting ones–minor league prospect cards for Scott Rolen, Derek Jeter, Ken Griffey Jr., Johnny Damon and Bobby Abreu, about a billion Greg Maddux and Barry Bonds cards, an Albert Belle card from when he went by “Joey” and a Raul Ibanez card from when he was still a catcher, among others. It was very cool. So don’t destroy the Ruben Amaro card–cherish it for the bit of nostalgia and history that it is.

@tigerbombrock: “what candidates are the crashburnalley staff voting for?”

I’m sure Bill has no desire to pursue a blogwide partisan agenda, so I’ll pass on your direct question. Besides, I believe that people of all faiths, genders and political persuasions can come together under the great ecumenical force that is baseball. We can’t be divided by our petty differences anymore–we will be united in our common interests, and the belief that Chipper Jones is a less-evolved form of human life.

I will say that I got my New Jersey sample ballot this week, and the minor-party labels are…quite something, and this coming from someone who’s used to seeing N.J. Weedman on his ballot.

Among the more interesting submissions for president and U.S. Senate (and all of these are true):

  • American Third Position: A ballet platform, perhaps?
  • NSA Did 911: Which raises the question, even if they did, how would your election to the presidency change that?
  • Socialism and Liberation: Sounds like a West African guerrilla army
  • Responsibility Fairness Integrity: That’s not a party–that’s just a list of adjectives.
  • Totally Independent Candidate: The official political party of Merritt Butrick.

You know, we fight the Brits for the wonderful gift of independence and democracy, and we disrespect the sacrifice made by our forefathers every day. What would George Washington say about “NSA Did 911″? I mean, apart from “What’s the NSA?” and “What’s 911?”

@pinvert (again): “how many times do I have to tell my friend Hamilton is a bad idea for the phils before it sinks in?”

At a certain point, your words stop meaning anything and you have to resort to hitting your friend across the face with a monkfish.

@pinvert (again): “if the phils flounder again next year, this time w/o significant injury, what are the chances charlie gets the boot?”

You ask a lot of questions, dude. What are the chances the Phillies can The Cholly next year? Almost nil. The stars seem to be aligning in such a way that he’s going to retire next season, and why not? He’ll be pushing 70, having enjoyed great success managing two different teams, including a World Series title and sports folk hero status in a city where that’s an extremely difficult thing to do. Charlie Manuel has almost nothing left to prove, and while I’m sure he’d rather go out on top, as Tony La Russa did, even if the Phillies stumble next year, I think the front office will let him play out the year and go out with dignity, on his own terms.

We end with perhaps the most important question of the entire offseason.

@ChasingUtley: “what the hell sport am i going to watch for the next 5 months?”

A very important question, for sure. This underscores the importance of being a sports omnivore–I like some sports more than others, but I like a ton of them, and it sustains me throughout the year. I can do this because I don’t have many friends and while I’m in a relationship, my fiancee lives several states away, so I follow sports in lieu of a social life. I recognize that this lifestyle might not be for everyone, but it’s pretty nice. Certainly when the Phillies are off, the Flyers are locked out and the Eagles are ass.

Anyway, here’s my list.

  1. The NBA. It’s on all the time, and I’m writing at Liberty Ballers this season, so I feel like I should pimp it. The nice thing about basketball is that you can immerse yourself into it entirely, with a level of statistical analysis for public consumption that’s on par with baseball’s, but if you just want to follow it casually, it’s easy to just tune in for the last couple minutes. Plus the Sixers are set to be more relevant this year than they’ve been in a decade, so it’s a good time to jump on the bandwagon.
  2. European soccer. Lots of early day games, a real novelty of culture and a level of athleticism and artistry unparalleled in any other sport. And with half a dozen top pro leagues, plus the Champions’ League and World Cup qualifiers, the quantity argument has to be considered. As well as MLS playoffs, which are already underway.
  3. College football. I’ve been of the opinion for years that NCAA football is far superior to the NFL from an entertainment standpoint. The lower quality of play actually helps, because the offenses are more creative, the standout athletes stand out more, and most importantly, it’s on all the time. There’s at least one game on Thursday, at least one on Friday and a billion on Saturday, of which at least a dozen are televised nationally. That’s why it seems like college football games are always closer and more exciting than NFL games, because instead of 16 chances every weekend for an insane finish, you get 50 or 60. Plus the fan culture is insane. I’m fortunate to have built-in allegiances, both through blood (to Virginia Tech) and my own education (to South Carolina), but if you didn’t grow up with a team and you went to a liberal arts school with no team, just pick a team and hop on the bandwagon. It’ll be the best decision you make as a sports fan.
  4. College baseball. For as many times as I’ve said this, I’m shocked more people haven’t listened. College baseball is phenomenally entertaining, and it’s completely out of whack schedule-wise with MLB. You get meaningful baseball in February. You get playoff baseball in June. So your five-month dark period is only three and a half months for me. And while it’s not on broadcast or basic cable until the NCAA tournament, you’ll probably get half a dozen games a week streaming on ESPN3. And if you’re looking for a bandwagon to jump on, I might suggest my South Carolina Gamecocks, who have been to the College World Series championship series three years in a row, winning twice, and playing a very exciting brand of baseball. Or you could pick the Clemson Tigers if you’re an illiterate redneck. Or the Florida Gators if you’re an illiterate redneck who enjoys really good baseball players with awesome names (current or recent Gators with awesome names: Hudson Randall, Nolan Fontana, Vickash Ramjit, Karsten Whitson, Austin Maddox) who suddenly turn into pumpkins come College World Series time.
    College baseball has a lower quality of play than the majors, sure (probably somewhere around high-A in the major conferences), but that lower quality of play, plus teams usually playing only three or four games a week rather than six or seven, brings up some interesting tactical patterns. You get Tim Lincecum starting on Friday and closing on Sunday, ace pitchers like Danny Hultzen and Michael Roth DHing on their days off and insane multi-inning reliever stints. Plus, routine fielding plays aren’t always that routine in college, which spices the game up some.
    The final upside to following college baseball is that you get to get your prospect knowledge smugness on and have strong opinions about the draft (founded or not) when it happens. Prospect knowledge smugness is a big deal.
    The point is, college baseball is the great uncharted northern expanse of sports fandom. It will become populated, and soon, but we’re barely scratching the surface of its wonders. Get on board and pan the river for gold before all the good spots are taken.

Okay, I think that’s been quite enough. Have a good weekend.

Crashburn Alley 2012 MLB Awards

At long last, we here at Crashburn Alley will hand out our end-of-season awards for the 2012 season. It was a surprisingly entertaining season from start to finish, headlined by one of the best rookie classes we have seen, arguably even surpassing the 2001 class (notably featuring Albert Pujols and Ichiro Suzuki). Miguel Cabrera made the AL MVP vote interesting by winning the first batting Triple Crown since Carl Yazstrzemski in 1967. Feel-good story and knuckleballer R.A. Dickey was a beacon of light in an otherwise gloomy season for the New York Mets. Yoenis Cespedes, when healthy, was a catalyst for the Oakland Athletics, who defied many odds in winning the AL West at the end of the season.

The five of us here at Crashburn Alley retreated deep into our underground bunkers, pulled out our calculators and test tubes, and got to work coming to a consensus on our award winners. Feel free to leave your own picks and opinions in the comments below. Without any further ado, let’s get started.

For placement, first place votes were given a value of five points, second place votes three points, and third place votes one point. This system varies from that of the Baseball Writers Association of America, but our ballots only run three deep and we have just five voters, so this system is quite simple.

American League Most Valuable Player

1 2 3
BAER Trout Cano Cabrera
SOMMERS Trout Cano Cabrera
BAUMANN Trout Cabrera Cano
BOYE Trout Cabrera Beltre
LONGENHAGEN Trout Cabrera Cano
  • Winner: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels (25 of 25 possible points)
  • Runner-up: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers (11)
  • Consolation: Robinson Cano, New York Yankees (8)

It was a runaway for Mike Trout. While he didn’t win the coveted Triple Crown nor did he play for a playoff team, Trout was the standard-bearer in the American League, helping his Angels in every conceivable way besides actually pitching (Wilson Valdez joke goes here). Trout, unlike Cabrera, played a premium position in center field with exquisite defense and ran the bases extremely well (49 stolen bases in 54 attempts). Trout had one of the greatest rookie seasons of all-time, arguably the best if you reserve some skepticism about the accuracy of Dead Ball Era players such as Shoeless Joe Jackson and Benny Kauff. But not only that, his 2012 was one of the greatest seasons period, rivaling even Barry Bonds in his prime.

National League Most Valuable Player

1 2 3
BAER Posey Braun Headley
SOMMERS Posey Braun McCutchen
BAUMANN McCutchen Posey Wright
BOYE Posey McCutchen Braun
LONGENHAGEN Posey Molina McCutchen

The National League voting had slightly more variety, but Buster Posey ran away with our NL MVP award. The combination of world-class offense, impeccable defense, and playing a premium position led to his four of five possible first-place votes from us. Posey outpaced, by far, all other catchers in every important offensive statistic. The second- and third-place debate between Braun and McCutchen is interesting as well, as it simply comes down to a subjective weighting of defense — Braun voters weight it less than McCutchen voters.

American League Cy Young

1 2 3
BAER Verlander Price Hernandez
SOMMERS Verlander Price Hernandez
BAUMANN Verlander Hernandez Price
BOYE Verlander Price Hernandez
LONGENHAGEN Verlander Hernandez Scherzer

Another runaway in the American League, as Justin Verlander unanimously takes home the AL Cy Young award from the five of us. Verlander’s big advantage over David Price was his 27 more innings pitched, while his big advantage over Felix Hernandez was an ERA more than 40 points lower. As with the NL MVP award, the second- and third-place debate was centered around only two players, though Max Scherzer did get an honorable mention and is a token of a DIPS-reliant approach to the award — his 3.74 ERA is unbecoming of a Cy Young candidate, but his 2.99 SIERA puts him in the upper echelon of starters.

National League Cy Young

1 2 3
BAER Kershaw Dickey Cain
SOMMERS Kershaw Dickey Cueto
BAUMANN Dickey Kershaw Lee
BOYE Dickey Kershaw Cueto
LONGENHAGEN Dickey Kershaw Lee

Our first close call. Dickey barely edged out Kershaw, but the argument can go either way. Kershaw has an ERA 20 points lower, but Dickey got to 20 wins and led the league in innings pitched, complete game shut-outs, and raw strikeouts. He is also an all-around feel-good story. In the end, the consensus among the five of us is that Kershaw does not defend his Cy Young crown, surrendering it to the late-blooming 37-year-old knuckleballing Dickey. The third-place voting was interesting as Johnny Cueto and Cliff Lee both split the bill, with Cueto having the better argument from a traditionalist perspective, while Lee gets a helping hand from the Saber crowd.

American League Rookie of the Year

1 2 3
BAER Trout Parker Cespedes
SOMMERS Trout Cespedes Darvish
BAUMANN Trout Darvish Parker
BOYE Trout Cespedes Darvish
LONGENHAGEN Trout Darvish Cespedes
  • Winner: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels (25)
  • Runners-up: Yoenis Cespedes, Oakland Athletics; Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers (8)

Trout takes home some more hardware unanimously. The race was much less competitive here, with Trout lapping the competition and then some. According to FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement, Trout was more than three times as valuable as Yoenis Cespedes, who by all accounts had an absolutely fantastic season leading the Athletics’ second-half surge into the post-season. The second-place debate ended up in a dead heat between Cespedes and pitcher Yu Darvish. A’s starter Jarrod Parker got a couple honorable mentions in a not-so-distant fourth place.

National League Rookie of the Year

1 2 3
BAER Harper Miley Frazier
SOMMERS Miley Harper Grandal
BAUMANN Miley Harper Aoki
BOYE Harper Frazier Miley
LONGENHAGEN Harper Frazier Miley

Bryce Harper ekes his way out of the NL ROY race with the hardware, just ahead of starter Wade Miley. The 19-year-old Harper gave the Nationals a huge boost in the bookends of his season, May and September, as the franchise ended its 31-year playoff drought. Harper did it all: he hit for power (.206 isolated power), got on base (.340), stole bases (18 in 24 attempts), and played great defense at two outfield positions (center and right field). Miley is not to be forgotten, though, as he turned out to be the Diamondbacks’ most reliable starter, coming in at a 3.33 ERA with an extremely low walk rate, just above four percent. The third-place vote was interesting, including Yasmani Grandal of the San Diego Padres and Norichika Aoki of the Milwaukee Brewers. They were a distant third to Harper and Miley, however.

That wraps up the Crashburn Alley 2012 MLB awards show. What do you think of our picks? Which were on the money and which came way out of left field? Who would you have chosen? Let us know in the comments!

Obscure Former Phillies Hour, Vol. 3: Tomas Perez

By popular demand! Enough people requested Tomas Perez that I can’t hold up one. Consider this the 2006 Time Man of the Year cop-out of Obscure Former Phillies Hour. There’s so much to discuss about Tomas Perez that I feel like I’m only wasting your time up here. Straight to The Pieman’s career in eighteen points.

  1. Before we start, I want to tell you about the first time I ever saw Tomas Perez. I was watching a Blue Jays-Orioles game at my aunt’s house in Virginia in 1996. I was nine years old, and Robert Alomar had just been signed as a free agent with the Orioles. Now, Roberto Alomar is a Hall of Famer, and I remembered him at the time as only one of the stars of that 1993 Blue Jays team. And to replace him, Toronto had promoted a backup infielder named Tomas Perez to the starting lineup, and because I was a child, I assumed that the replacement would be as good as the original. I remember being shocked that I wasn’t hearing very much about Tomas Perez for years afterward.
  2. Tomas Perez was born Dec. 29, 1973 in Barquisimeto, Venezuela. Remember when I said the flag of Willie Montanez’s home city was cool? Well this one’s even cooler, if a trifle busy.
  3. As you might know, it is de rigeur for Venezuelan-born infielders (particularly shortstops) to wear No. 13 in the major leagues, starting with Dave Concepcion with the legendary 1970s Cincinnati Reds. Notable examples: Omar Vizquel, Freddy Galvis, Macier Izturis, Ozzie Guillen, Asdrubal Cabrera…you get the idea. Perez was no exception, wearing that fabled number first with Toronto, then for a year and a half with the Phillies, before switching to No. 9 partway through the 2001 season. As far as I can tell, this took place as a result of–and I’ve found only circumstantial evidence of this, so I could be wrong–Turk Wendell joining the Phillies via trade. That’s right, sportsfans, Turk Wendell. I remember that trade vividly, though again, I don’t remember what it did to Tomas Perez’s uniform number. We might do another one of these for Turk Wendell someday.
  4. Tomas Perez joined the Phillies in 2000 via free agency. Despite playing for four major-league teams (and in five other teams’ minor-league systems) in a 12-year major league career, Perez was only traded twice. One of those trades was from the Blue Jays to the Anaheim Angels for one-time Macho Row cleanup hitter Dave Hollins. On a personal note, Dave Hollins was the last person to play for both the South Carolina Gamecocks and the Philadelphia Phillies. Though I’m still rooting for you, Mike Cisco.
  5. As a Phillie, Tomas Perez played for Terry Francona, Larry Bowa and Charlie Manuel. Very few players can make that claim. Jimmy Rollins, Brett Myers, Pat Burrell, Mike Lieberthal…I’m sure there are others, but it’s starting to look like Tomas Perez deserves a spot on the Wall of Fame.
  6. Tomas Perez stole six bases in his major-league career, but never more than one in a season.
  7. Perez was walked intentionally 24 times in his career, which wouldn’t be strange except for his career OPS+ of 65. And that would be strange except he hit in front of the pitcher often enough to garner 11 free passes in 2003. I just find it amusing that in about half as many career plate appearances, Perez has been walked intentionally exactly as many times as Ryan Braun has.
  8. On May 28, 2004, Perez started at first base and batted eighth in a game against the Braves. He went 0 for his first 3 plate appearances, but when he came up with the Phillies down 2-1 with one out in the bottom of the 8th, he lined a 1-2 pitch from Chris Reitsma into the right field corner for a game-tying double. His next time up, he hit a walk-off home run (also with two strikes) in the bottom of the 10th. This game is also a reminder that Chase Utley once batted seventh.
  9. Of course, Tomas Perez didn’t deliver many walk-off hits in his career with the Phillies. His most notorious connection with walk-off hits is through his role as the Phillies’ unofficial shaving cream pie specialist from 2000-2005. This earned Perez the moniker “The Pieman,” a cognomen that was cruelly stolen some years later by Lee Pace’s character on Pushing Daisies.
  10. Here’s a picture of Perez as a Tampa Bay Ray, having been hoisted on his own petard.
  11. In 2000, Perez played shortstop exclusively, but in September of that year, the Phillies called up Jimmy Rollins, making Perez and Desi Relaford the Tony Fernandez to Rollins’ Derek Jeter. Relaford had a .363 OBP that year too. CRAZY.
  12. Tomas Perez pitched once! It’s true–May 13, 2002, in the midst of 17-3 loss to the Houston Astros. Down 9-1 in the bottom of the 8th, Phillies pitcher Hector Mercado allowed eight of the 10 batters he faced to reach, so Larry Bowa moved Perez from third base to the mound and brought in outfielder Jason Michaels to play third base (also Michaels’ only career appearance in the infield). Perez got his first batter, Jeff Bagwell to ground a ball to…Michaels, who bobbled the ball for one error, then threw it away for a second, allowing Gregg Zaun to score and Bagwell to reach second. The next batter, Jason Lane, flied out to right, and the nightmare was over.
  13. I’m going to repeat part of that last bit, because you might have missed it with the excitement of Tomas Perez pitching: Jason Michaels played 1/3 of an inning in his career in the infield, and in that time he had one ball hit to him and committed two errors on the play. Scott Rolen started that game at third base, in case you were wondering.
  14. Despite playing in nine organizations, Tomas Perez never played in a playoff game.
  15. Tomas Perez played six positions in the major leagues. He missed out on playing catcher, left field and center field. And DH, which is a good thing, because, again, he had a career OBP of .290.
  16. Perez’s hometown of Barquisimeto, Venezuela is actually a pretty big place, a state capital and home to some 2 million residents, making it considerably larger than Philadelphia. I’d never heard of it before, because I don’t think I can name two dozen cities in the whole of South America. Anyway, Barquisimento has produced 15 major leaguers. Of those, 11 were position players, and of those, Maicer Izturis is by far the best hitter. Apparently Miguel Cabrera, Bobby Abreu and Magglio Ordonez (you know, the Venezuelans who can actually hit a little) grew up elsewhere.
  17. Maicer Izturis is the half-brother of fellow major leaguer Cesar Izturis. Fellow Barquisimeto native Steve Torrealba, however, is not, however, a relative of Yorvit Torrealba, which comes as a shock to me because I was convinced for years that Steve and Yorvit Torrealba were, in fact, the same person.
  18. Saving the best for last: This is from Phillies Nation’s Jay Floyd a couple weeks back.

The Pieman abides, sports fans. If you have any other Tomas Perez stories, you know where to share them. In fact, if you have any pie, I’d like for you to share that as well. I myself am fond of Boston creme pie, cherry pie, strawberry rhubarb pie, pecan pie….

Smell the Glove: Evaluating Defense in the 21st Century

The Gold Glove awards were announced Tuesday night and, while I don’t especially care about MLB’s awards, I thought it’ be nice to offer up my unique perspective on evaluating defense. Obviously I’m partial to grading defense with my eyeballs first, but I spent this past season compiling data for Baseball Information Solutions, primarily in the name of defensive metrics and the Fielding Bible Awards (BIS’s own take on rewarding solid leather). Quantifying defense is a controversial practice that’s really still in its adolescence. There are several different defensive metric calculations. All of them produce varying results of questionable accuracy and, in turn, create doubt in our trust of these ever evolving numbers. Colin Wyers over at Baseball Prospectus is always stoking the fire of progress in these matters and some of his concerns are spot on while some are superfluous. Go read the things he writes. While it’s topical, I’d like to give my thoughts on the practice of evaluating defense both traditionally and with metrics and quickly opine about this year’s award winners.  Let’s walk through them position by position, shall we?

Catcher:

Gold Gloves- Yadier Molina and Matt Wieters

Fielding Bible- Molina (Wieters was second)

Catcher defense is the most nuanced and unique skill set to grade out and I’d view any catching defensive metric with a giant grain of salt. Part of what BIS does to evaluate catchers is count “wild pitch misplays” which are assigned whenever there’s a wild pitch that the catcher had even a small a chance to block. Not all of these are created equally but they all count the same.  A lot of them should really be passed balls but BIS is at the mercy of MLB’s official scorekeepers.  Combine that with tougher things to quantify like game calling, receiving, framing, preparation, handling pitchers…there are just thing you can’t quantify in catchers. My ballot would have included Sal Perez if he had played enough games to be eligible. I love almost everything about Perez. If only his receiving were cleaner.  I’ll have to write an entire post on scouting catchers one day, I don’t want to short change that process by trying to fit it into one paragraph here.

 

First Base:

Gold Gloves- Adam LaRoche and Mark Teixeira

Fielding Bible- Teixeira (Adrian Gonzalez was second)

My ballot went Gonzalez, Teixeira, Hosmer. One thing to beware of with first base metrics are “scoops”.  At BIS, first basemen are rewarded for picking throws out of the dirt, a stat that is heavily influenced by the quality of the player’s teammates’ throwing accuracy. It’s essentially the RBI of defensive metrics.  Scouting wise, guys tend to end up at first base because they can’t pass anywhere else but exceptional players the position typically have efficient footwork, soft hands and quick reactions.

 

Second Base:

Gold Gloves- Darwin Barney and Robinson Cano

Fielding Bible- Barney (Alexi Casilla and Cano tied for second)

There’s going to be a lot of talk about the way the Cubs shift and how Barney’s positioning padded his defensive metrics.  Half way through the year BIS purged all plays impacted by shifts from their defensive metric calculation.  Here’s the thing, the line between what BIS classifies a shift and what it does not can be blurry.  Often, a team’s pre-pitch defensive movements are too subtle to call a “shift.” Instead, we took to calling it a “shade.” These were not omitted in the calculation of BIS’s metrics. Now we have to discuss whether or not Barney (or any other player that’s helped or harmed {Alcides Escobar comes to mind} by shades like this) should be given credit for his positioning.  Is Barney putting himself in these spots or is he being moved by his bench coach?  Barney’s still really good defensively and I’m fine with him winning the awards, but keep these issues in mind for future metric consideration.  Scouting second basemen is strange because they’re usually shortstops who have one glaring shortcoming (usually the arm) or subjects of an experiment that just kind of worked out (Jason Kipnis, Dustin Ackley, Craig Biggio).

 

Shortstop:

Gold Gloves- Jimmy Rollins and JJ Hardy

Fielding Bible- Brendan Ryan (Andrelton Simmons was second)

Rollins has lost a step but he’s still pretty good (he looked better as 2012 progressed) and Andrelton Simmons probably didn’t play enough to justify getting the award (even though he’s the best defensive SS in all of baseball as far as I’m concerned) so good for Jimmy.  American League? They’re both good, no complaining. Very few humans can play a good shortstop. One needs everything to play it well, not a single skill is superfluous.  A strong, accurate arm, soft hands, a quick transfer, good footwork and tremendous range are all things to look for in a shortstop. The range comes more from quick twitch reactions and acceleration than pure speed. There’s also the vaguely termed “feel” for the position, which is harder to delineate than it is to scout.

 

Third Base:

Gold Gloves- Chase Headley and Adrian Beltre

Fielding Bible- Beltre (Mike Moustakas and Brett Lawrie trailed him)

BIS was compelled to remove shifts from the data when Brett Lawrie was lapping the field at third base thanks in large part to his unique positioning in right field for left-handed pull hitters. When the shifts were taken out, Lawrie was still the leader in the metrics by a wide margin. He doesn’t always make it look smooth and pretty but he’s so physically gifted and athletic that he gets to balls no other third baseman can get to.  Maybe that’s more important than poetically and sensually fielding softly hit choppers in on the grass with grace and fluidity. It’s something worth discussing. The best third basemen are usually range-deficient shortstops.

 

Left Field:

Gold Gloves- Carlos Gonzalez and Alex Gordon

Fielding Bible- Gordon, unanimously

Nothing to say here. Gordon’s great, nobody in the NL particularly is.

 

Center Field:

Gold Gloves- Andrew McCutchen and Adam Jones

Fielding Bible- Mike Trout (Michael Bourn was second)

Playing a viable center field is, in itself, a tremendous feat.  McCutchen and Jones are good defenders, but they’re not better than a host of other guys at the position.

 

Right Field:

Gold Gloves- Jason Heyward and Josh Reddick

Fielding Bible- Heyward (Reddick second)

Great choices.  The only other name I’d throw in is Ben Revere, though Revere lacks your typical right field profile because he has Juan Pierre’s arm.  One thing to keep in mind when looking at outfielders’ metrics is the player’s teammates. Players in the outfield are always positioned relative to the other outfielders’ ability to cover ground.  If the Rockies have Carlos Gonzalez in right field, Dexter Fowler in center and Michael Cuddyer in Right, then Fowler’s positioning might be self-sacrificial in order to mask the squad’s weaknesses (pssst…it’s Cuddyer).  Also be mindful that people like Jim Tracy are in charge of this positioning.

Hopefully I’ve been able to teach you something new over the last thousand words.  I really think defensive metrics will take off when TrackMan develops into something special, but that’s another show.  If you’re thirst for advanced metrics is not quenched, go pick up the new Bill James Handbook that the good folks at BIS put together annually. The new one comes out today.