Happy New Year from Crashburn Alley

2012 may have been a disappointing year in Philadelphia sports, but all of us here at Crashburn Alley have had blast writing for you and interacting with you on a daily basis this year, whether here in the comments, on Twitter, on the podcast (to be resumed at some point in the future, by the way), or elsewhere. We hope you’ll stick around for a great 2013 that maybe, just maybe, ends with another Phillies championship. Hey, you never know.

From the five of us here at Crashburn Alley — Bill, Paul, Ryan, Michael, and Eric — we wish you a happy new year to you and your loved ones. Please be safe and responsible tonight while celebrating.

Crash Bag, Vol. 34: One Night in Pankot Makes a Hard Man Humble

The intro to this Crash Bag was originally a 1,000-word screed on how, when I’m dictator of the world, I’m going to put aggressively extroverted people in internment camps until they learn to leave us alone. I deleted it because it wasn’t very funny. But in it’s place I’ll just succinctly propose that we ought to have some sort of social education class in this country that teaches people to develop an indoor voice, for example, or to recognize the difference between someone who’s genuinely interested in what you’re saying and someone who’s just being polite. There’s nothing wrong with being outgoing and liking to talk to people, so long as you don’t abuse the introverts.

It’s time to get geopolitical.

@kalinkadink: “If the countries of Europe were a baseball team, what positions would they play?”

Okay, so there are 25 players on a Major League roster, and 27 countries in the European Union. Eliminate Malta and Cyprus, which are (I hear) fantastic vacation spots but pretty much worthless otherwise, and you can map one onto the other perfectly. This means I have to leave out, say, Russia. But nowadays, Russia is a right-wing kleptocracy of tax cheats, homophobes, luddites, racists, misogynists and drunks. Essentially, if you were threatening to move elsewhere if President Obama were re-elected, Canada isn’t where you want to go–Russia is. There you can have all the anti-intellectual disease-ridden failed economic state libertarian gay-bashing you like. In short, Russia has serious makeup issues, and I don’t want it anywhere near my European clubhouse. It’s like the Carl Everett of nation-states.

This response, I’m realizing, is probably going to border on offensively jingoistic. I’m sorry in advance if I offend a continent of innovators who would be the world’s political and economic powerhouse if they’d take some time off from going on strike and committing fraud and actually, you know, produce something.

  • Catcher: Sweden. The catcher is the brains of the team, the position player with perhaps the most responsibility of any, when you consider that he must hit like anyone else, but also play a thankless and demanding defensive position and manage a pitching staff. That requires a quiet, reassuring personality. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing several Swedes in my life, and to a man they’ve been extremely smart and extremely friendly and polite. The perfect country to handle a pitching staff.
  • First Base: United Kingdom. This is the position for the past-his-prime once-great slugger who is as of yet unaware of how hilariously his time has passed. The British like to mock Americans. “Americans are fat,” they say. Well, the British would be fat too if they had food in the U.K. that could be described as something other than “tasteless lump of prion-riddled beef.” Or if they had such teeth as are necessary to ingest food if they had. “Americans are arrogant,” they say. Well, arrogance is a byproduct of throwing off your colonial yoke, then building a country that could buy and sell yours five times over, then nuke it back into the Bronze Age, build it up using the worldwide American cultural hegemony that you seem to be so conveniently unaware, then buy it, sell it and blow it up again. Congratulations–we’ll see who’s laughing the next time you want your closet checked for Germans before you go to sleep, you insufferable, delusional pricks. Go get a constitution and then we’ll talk.
  • Second Base: Belgium. An underrated country, but any civilization built on beer and french fries is fine by me. The center of European politics, the Berlaymont building in Brussels can be the nifty double play turn. Not a country you can build a lineup around, but a thoroughly competent defender with good contact skills. Like Placido Polanco with the Tigers.
  • Shortstop: Spain. The westernmost country in continental Europe. People who think Derek Jeter is a good defender will tell you that good range to the left is the only thing that matters in a shortstop.
  • Third Base: Italy. Italy is like Roger Dorn. Occasionally it’ll hit a big home run, but defensively it only has fall-down range and hardly ever pays attention. And it will sexually harass female TV reporters. And the fans will love it because no one’s caught on to the fact that being a Reddit goon with a good tan and an androgynous name isn’t exactly the pinnacle of human achievement.
  • Left Field: France. The tempramental complementary piece that thinks he’s the franchise player, always gripes about not getting respect or hitting in the right spot in the lineup or his contract or some goddamned thing. We’re in NATO, we’re out of NATO and socialist, but we’re not going to align with the Soviet Union! We’re going to submarine the progress of the EU even though it’s been the best thing to happen to us economically since the invention of the beret, just to be difficult, and we’re going to complain when our own stupidity leads us to economic ruin. We’re back in NATO, but not for long, because we’re going to go home and take a three-hour nap in the middle of the workday. We’re going to claim (falsely) that we invented existentialism and pretend that it’s some major advance in philosophy, in the process enabling millions of high school boys with no friends and not nearly as much intelligence as they think to go around pretending that they’re cultured because they’ve read some Camus. If France were an outfielder, it would strike out 200 times a year.
  • Center Field: Denmark. Covers a lot more ground than you might think.
  • Right Field: Czech Republic. The third-biggest coal producer in the EU. You always need power in the outfield corners.
  • Backup catcher: Finland. All the nice things I said about the Swedes also go for the Finns. Nice, smart people who generally have their act together. Sitting on the bench might lead to focus problems, however, because this backup catcher might not be able to stop thinking about driving rally cars.
  • Utility infielder: Poland. Utility infielders are all about grit. Ain’t no country grittier than Poland. Poland produced perhaps the most insanely courageous and patriotic person in history, wrested the papacy away from the Italians and staged one of the grittiest, scrappiest political revolutions ever. Then they held up the Treaty of Lisbon because they felt like it. Serious defensive issues, however. But all joking aside, Poland is a good clubhouse presence, always coming up with handshakes and keeping everyone else loose.
  • Fourth outfielder: Slovakia. The capital of Slovakia is Bratislava. Which sounds like “bat is lava.” Lava is hot, which means that Slovakia sometimes swings a hot bat. A bench guy who can occasionally go on a hot streak and give the lineup some added punch.
  • Fifth outfielder: Greece. First they ruined soccer, then they ruined everyone’s economy. Ass nailed to the bench. Forever. I hear the beaches are beautiful, though. Who’s a really good-looking guy who’s really bad at baseball? Brennan Boesch? But I don’t think he’s even bad enough to be Greece.
  • Backup corner infielder: Portugal. I really have nothing interesting to say about Portugal. That Cristiano Ronaldo sure is a hell of a soccer player. I betcha he could have learned to play baseball if he wanted to. I know almost literally nothing else about Portugal.
  • Starting pitcher No. 1: Germany. You want an ace who can carry the team on his back. This is it. The economic powerhouse of the EU. The country that doesn’t talk much, but mows down batters with a variety of out pitches and eats up a ton of innings. Germany is like Justin Verlander, or Steve Carlton. Or Walter Johnson. Pencil Germany in for 35 starts, 250 innings and a couple jaw-dropping performances every season. This is a staff ace you can rely on.
  • Starting pitcher No. 2: Ireland. A real economic up-and-comer. Got off to a rocky start to his career, but is finally starting to put it all together. May never be able to be a one-man playoff series winner like Germany, but you can do worse later in the rotation. Like Poland, a good clubhouse guy.
  • Starting pitcher No. 3: Slovenia. Really showing promise after escaping, via trade, a historically bad clubhouse situation in the former Yugoslavia.
  • Starting pitcher No. 4: Luxembourg. No one thought Luxembourg had the size to be a starting pitcher. Boy, were the scouts wrong.
  • Starting pitcher No. 5: Austria. Kind of like Germany cosmetically, but not as good. If Germany is Roy Halladay, Austria is Charlie Morton.
  • Middle relievers: Romania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania. Middle relievers are interchangeable and unremarkable, just like former Soviet satellite states.
  • Lefty specialist: The Netherlands. Relief pitchers are said to be quirky and fun, left-handers particularly so. The Dutch have that reputation. Being one of the tallest countries on Earth helps, as pitchers are supposed to be tall. Plus it’s one of the most liberal countries on the planet, so the whole lefty thing…wow, this really is dragging on.
  • Relief ace: Hungary. Some facts about Hungary: Hungarians put their family name first, like the Chinese do. They were also once the world’s premier soccer power and a world leader in mathematics. That last part I can’t verify, but one of my college roommates was a math major who spent a semester in Budapest. He says the McDonald’s over there serves something called the “Sertéshús McFarm” that is, as far as he could tell, some generic pork dish. Which leads me to my next point: the official language of Hungary is a non-Indo-European language called Magyar, which is a bunch of fun to say. In short, I have no idea if Hungary would be a good closer, but I betcha it’d have bitchin’ entrance music.

@mattjedruch: “apart from Howard, which player will return to Spring Training in the worst physical shape?”

I’m thinking Josh Lindblom. Not only will he show up outrageously overweight, he’ll be unaware that he’d been traded and arrive in Clearwater instead of wherever it is Texas holds its spring training. If not him, then possibly Phillippe Aumont, who will have returned to his home with no hockey to watch, which will send him into a depressive spiral of Labatt Blue and poutine. Plus he’s so big he could probably wear another 20 or 30 pounds and no one would notice.

Speaking of Spring Training, the new batch of batting practice caps was unveiled the other day, and they’re almost all fantastic, particularly considering the previous affinity for bizarrely-placed piping. Except the Braves, (and you can scroll down in that article to find visual evidence) who turned out a preposterously racist throwback logo that had to make people tug their collars even when it first appeared on Braves jerseys back in the 1970s, when you’d stick out like a sore thumb in certain parts of Georgia if you weren’t vociferously racist.

Wherever you fall on the scale of Native American iconography in sports, that hat can’t be okay in this day and age. I like to think there’s a way that teams can honor that legacy respectfully, as a nod to local history and as a potentially intimidating team nickname. Maybe not, but I’d like to think it can be done without making a mockery of a people who have been, on balance, rather poorly treated over the past several hundred years. But this isn’t the Utah Utes or anything–this is a cartoon head that I’d half expect to be on a body that’s scalping a white pioneer woman. If you think we’ve gone overboard in being sensitive about such issues in sports, that’s one thing, but I can’t really see an argument for that logo being okay in 2013.

@patchak21: “What are your top 5 movie trilogies of all time?”

Whoa. This is a big question. There’s a lot to consider here, because I don’t know that there’s a single movie trilogy that I can bless unconditionally. Even the best ones have big questions. And there are so many variables to this question that it’s hard to give a definitive answer–can I list The Godfather trilogy even though I’ve purposely avoided the third movie because it was universally panned? The same goes for The Matrix, by the way. And how big a head start do I need to outrun those of you who are going to throw stones at me for not including Lord of the Rings? So I lay myself bare before you. My personal top 5 movie trilogies, in no particular order….

  • The original Star Wars trilogy. I feel like you kind of have to, with this one. There really is no great tradition of action movie trilogies without the original great granddaddy. And frankly, it changed the cultural landscape in a way that perhaps no other movie franchise has. To say nothing of the fact that all three (particularly Empire) were actually decent movies, in spite of their starring Mark Hamill and an adolescent Carrie Fisher, who hadn’t yet developed the world-weary and biting sarcasm that made her a rather hilarious actress and author later in life.
    The Star Wars movies were imaginative, action-packed, fun, funny, dramatic and overwhelmingly earnest. That’s one thing I don’t think we do enough in movies for grown-ups anymore, just go ahead and tell a story without any concern for whether some person on the internet, who in an earlier generation would wear black turtlenecks and smoke clove cigarettes, will make fun of you for telling it. Plus you get real growth in the characters, movie-to-movie, and one of the films ends on a really dark note, which I’m a sucker for. I might as well end this list right now.
  • Toy Story. I don’t know if Pixar’s original feature film and its descendants are so emotionally evocative for everyone, or just for people born between 1986 and 1991 or so–essentially, people who more or less aged with Andy. I still quote the original like the culture-changing cinematic landmark I’ve always believed it to be. This was really Tom Hanks’ nod to little kids during that time, in the mid-1990s, when he was ruling the world. While our parents were seeing Philadelphia and Cast Away, and our older brothers were seeing Forrest Gump and Apollo 13, we little kids went around screaming “There’s a snake in my boots!” and “Somebody’s poisoned the waterhole!” as if they were great literary moments.
    Oh, and two years ago for Christmas, I got Toy Story 3 on DVD and it’s still in the cellophane. I saw it in the theater with my then-14-year-old brother, and when it became clear that Andy would give his toys away, I lost my composure. Started bawling like a moron–rivers of tears the likes of which I’ve never cried. I’m talking about unabashed, snotty, eye-reddening sobbing. For that reason, I may never watch that movie again. So I can’t take a series that’s given me so many emotional highs and lows and leave it off this list.
  • The Christopher Nolan Batman Movies. I put this one the list with reservations. I thought Batman Begins was a pretty ordinary superhero movie, and The Dark Knight Rises was kind of long, sprawling and disorganized, to say nothing of losing the thing that made The Dark Knight so great: being a movie about masked heroes and villains that was at the same time remotely plausible enough to be truly terrifying. Maybe there were some technological leaps in The Dark Knight, but nothing so outlandish that it totally removes the viewer from the current cultural and political state. If enough things went wrong, you could almost imagine something like that happening in real life. And that’s before you get to Heath Ledger as The Joker.
    Though really, as great as Ledger’s performance was (one of only a few I’ve seen recently where I consciously took time out of viewing the movie to look for the actor who’d entirely disappeared within the character), it’s worth noting how brilliantly the character was written. The best villians, for me at least, aren’t entirely mad or entirely dark–they don’t menace you with physical violence for reasons you can’t understand. They threaten you emotionally, psychologically, and they’re always at least as smart as the goodguys, if not smarter. And you can always see where they’re coming from just enough to creep you out a little. So for one great movie and two above-average movies, I give this series my stamp of approval.
  • The Godfather. I haven’t seen Part III. But I loved the first two movies. A lot. I don’t think I need to sell y’all on the quality of those two movies, but this is mostly a statement of my disbelief that The Godfather: Part III can be worse than Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Because I’d put the Indiana Jones trilogy on this list if the second installment wasn’t among the worst movies I’ve ever seen. And you can trust my word on this because I’ve seen Pootie Tang. I know what it looks like when a movie is so beyond-the-pale terrible as to cause internal bleeding. Kate Capshaw was as bad in that movie as Heath Ledger was good in The Dark Knight. Unspeakably bad. Her acting performance was almost as tone-deaf as the concept of the character of Short Round was racist. Even by the standards of the 1980s, it’s uncouth for the hero to have an Asian stereotype as a sidekick. Almost as uncouth as the Braves’ new batting practice cap.
    I watched Temple of Doom in a state of slackjawed bewilderment, completely unable to understand why any of the action on-screen was happening, and how a character as smart as Indy had morphed into the drooling moron he became in the second film. I guess it’s like they say: one night in Pankot makes a hard man humble. And yes, I’m ignoring the existence of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
  • Ocean’s Eleven/Twelve/Thirteen. Eleven and Thirteen were funny, exciting, well-acted films with the kind of taut on-screen banter that makes me shiver with glee. And I’m a little more forgiving of Twelve than most people seem to be because I thought the Julia Roberts-breaking-the-fourth-wall gambit was funny, rather than stupid. Though I might be biased. I know I exaggerate a lot here, but I literally don’t think I’ve ever seen a heist movie I didn’t like. I could watch heist movies all day, and these are three of my favorites.

One last note: for reasons that I’m not sure even I totally understand, I’ve never seen even one minute of any of the Bourne movies, so I can’t speak to their quality. Though I’m told they’re actually quite good. Good enough to jump the Mighty Ducks trilogy and one of those listed above? I’m not so sure.

@gberry523: “How much are we going to give up to bring in Vernon Wells and Soriano”

I hope nothing, because those guys have next to no value. Not absolutely no value, but both are being paid like superstars ($18 million next year for Soriano, $21 million for Wells) and neither has much to offer anymore. Wells, for his part, has hit .222/.258/.409 in two seasons in Los Angeles of Orange County of Anaheim of California of Earth. For a corner outfielder who doesn’t add anything defensively, “unacceptable” hardly begins to describe those numbers. Apparently he can still hit lefties some, but he can’t hit righties (who make up the majority of major league pitchers), or run, or defend. So Wells has extremely limited utility.

Soriano’s picture is not quite so bleak. He was actually decent last year, worth almost two wins above replacement by Baseball Reference’s reckoning. A 121 OPS+ isn’t that bad, even for someone who is, like Wells, a bad defensive corner outfielder. In fact, Soriano got MVP votes last year! He finished ahead of Carlos Ruiz, Jason Heyward and The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton in last year’s MVP voting. Which isn’t really an argument that Soriano is a good player so much as it’s an argument that you need to find the nearest nuclear power station and remove the control rods from the reactor immediately, because humanity has simply become too stupid to be allowed to survive.

Anyway, I’d take either of those guys in a trade, as long as nothing of value is given in return (i.e. if the Phillies traded Domonic Brown straight up for Soriano, as had been rumored, I’d have been so angry I can’t think of an outrageous action I could describe to you now to signify that anger) and the Cubs or Angels pay almost all of the salary of whatever piece of petrified aged outfield detritus we’d have the privilege of watching for the next year.

With that said, if Brown, Jesse Biddle and Justin De Fratus all went away in trades for both of those players in which no salary relief occurred, it would not surprise me one bit.

@MichaelJBlock: “Any chance RAJ takes a flier on Ugueth Urbina now that he’s been released from prison?”

No, but you’re not the only person to make that suggestion. I can’t imagine any athlete, particularly one in his late 30s like Urbina, would be major-league ready after seven years in prison. I am kind of disturbed that someone can try to kill his gardener and get out of prison after only seven years, though. Even in Venezuela. But at any rate, the notion of Urbina’s making a comeback to major league baseball is farfetched, to say the least.

I will say this–I’m kind of intrigued by what might happen if someone who spent seven years in jail for attempted murder sudden showed up in a major league clubhouse. How would the media handle it? Would the local beat writers talk to Urbina after he blew a save? Would Kyle Kendrick talk to him at all, all season?

@JFerrie23: “if you could watch one player play again who’d it be?”

One player that I’ve actually seen? Either Greg Maddux or Pedro Martinez. I’m a sucker for really transcendent starting pitchers, the types of players who toy with hitters over the course of several at-bats or the course of a season. Particularly when there’s really nasty off-speed stuff involved. Both Maddux and Pedro changed speeds and got movement on their pitches, with a kind of kitchen sink approach to splitters, sliders and change-ups that I’m not sure I’ll ever see again. I remember in 1999, Pedro made a relief appearance in Game 5 of the ALDS and threw six no-hit innings to send Boston to the ALCS. I watched that game, and I knew at the time that I didn’t appreciate his performance for what it was. The same with Maddux, who I spent most of the 1990s being too young and too pissed that the Braves were winning to realize how great he was. There’s a host of players from that era that I could say the same about: Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds, Jeff Bagwell, Roger Clemens, the young Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez–I wish I could go back to when I started watching baseball in 1993 with what I know now and have that experience over again.

Though I’ve recently developed a fascination with Dave Hollins, so for all you know I might waste that one player to watch over on him.

All time? You could list 100 choices I’d have trouble arguing with. I’d want to see Mickey Mantle, because his is the name I use as shorthand for “once-in-a-generation great player.” One of my favorite parts of Ken Burns’ Baseball is the recap of the 1970 World Series, which is essentially a highlight reel of Brooks Robinson making absurd defensive play after absurd defensive play as if chasing down a scalded, slicing line drive and throwing the runner out at first were routine. I feel like I got a taste of that with Scott Rolen, but I’d love to see the genuine article. I’d love to see Jackie Robinson run the bases, or Rickey Henderson in his prime. Steve Carlton, George Brett, Bob Gibson, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Willie Mays, Sliding Billy Hamilton, Christy Mathewson, Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, Tom Seaver, Eddie Collins, Robin Roberts, Sandy Koufax, Satchel Paige, Walter Johnson, Carl Hubbell, Lefty Grove, Babe Ruth…I guess I’d pick Mantle, given all of those choices, but I can’t fault anyone for disagreeing.

An interesting thing about baseball, compared to other sports: the game has evolved over time not only in such a way that the quality of play is higher, but that strategy changes. There are high-run environments and low-run environments, and such trends are cyclical. Like, I watch old Edmonton Oilers highlights and, if anything, I’m baffled by how little Wayne Gretzky scored, given the stand-up goalies and lack of shot-blocking. The same with Bill Russell–how didn’t he block every shot? Sure, if you drop Ty Cobb into a came with modern standards of equipment, conditioning and professionalism, I doubt he’d keep his head above water, but watching him play is as much about watching old tactics as it is seeing a great player at work. I love baseball.

@ChasingUtley: “what are you looking forward to in 2013?”

In baseball? Seeing put-up-or-shut-up time for Domonic Brown. Seeing the continued maturation of Phillippe Aumont. Watching what has suddenly become a very good and very likeable Toronto Blue Jays team make a run at the most wide-open AL East in 20 years. Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. More of Mike Trout. More of Yu Darvish. More of Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg. More of all of the Nationals, to be totally honest–that team is going to be sick nasty next year. More Justin Upton trade rumors. More insane managerial decisions, and more Keith Law rants caused by those decisions. More of Joey Pankake, and seeing if South Carolina can make it back to the College World Series without Price, Walker, Roth and Marzilli. More of trying to get all of you to care about college baseball. More of saying “Karsten Whitson” and “Vickash Ramjit.” Staying up late to watch several dozen A’s-Angels, A’s-Rangers and Rangers-Angels games on MLB.tv. Rooting against a potential St. Louis Cardinals dynasty. God willing, Jackie Bradley‘s major league debut. More fantastic writing on all of those stories.

Outside of baseball? I’m pretty geeked about Zero Dark Thirty, and I can’t wait for the next season of Mad Men. Maybe hockey will come back, or Andrew Bynum, or both. Jadeveon Clowney. The Ender’s Game movie adaptation. Personally? Finishing my book and trying to get it published. Moving halfway across the country and starting a new job. And getting married.

Which brings me to perhaps the most important parcel of Crash Bag news. For 34 straight Fridays, without fail, I’ve submitted, for your consideration, some rambling nonsense that’s at least ostensibly about baseball. Next Friday, that streak ends, because next week I’ll be moving myself and all of my worldly possessions to lands far away from here, and I’ll have no time to write my customary 4,000-plus words here.

So it is with mostly anticipation and some trepidation that I announce that Volume 35 of the Crash Bag will come to you courtesy of Ryan Sommers. So y’all can harangue him on Twitter with questions, and the Crash Bag should come out of this in better shape than Cameron Frye’s dad’s Ferrari.

Domonic Brown: Turning Lemons into Lemonade

If the Phillies had plans to open the 2013 season with a formidable outfield, those dreams have quickly vanished. As Nick Swisher went off the board just before Christmas, signing a four-year, $56 million deal, so too did the final option for a full-time corner outfielder for the Phillies. Among those remaining are Michael Bourn (whose price is prohibitive), Matt Diaz, Scott Hairston, Ryan Sweeney, and bigot Delmon Young — players best fit in a platoon.

There has been speculation that the Phillies will use four outfielders in the two corners, utilizing John Mayberry, Laynce Nix, Domonic Brown, and Darin Ruf depending on the match-ups. While a platoon involving Nix and Mayberry makes sense, a platoon involving Brown does not.

A team utilizes a platoon when players at a particular position complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. For instance, a Mayberry/Nix platoon works because Mayberry hits LHP well and RHP worse (.371/.301 wOBA), while Nix hits RHP passably well and LHP significantly worse (.317/.235 wOBA). When he was healthy and playing every day, Brown showed an ability to hit left-handed pitching nearly as well as he hit right-handed pitching:

Impressively, the left-handed power hitter has hit left-handed pitching at a .282 clip in his career; his ability to hit southpaws will only accelerate his learning curve in the majors.

The above quote from Bill Root on Sports Illustrated’s website was posted on July 13, 2010. A few weeks later, Matt Gelb noted how well Brown was hitting lefties with Triple-A Lehigh Valley:

Huppert declined to share his opinion on whether he believes Brown is ready for the big leagues, but he was certainly impressed by the rightfielder’s ability to hang in for a two-run triple against sidewinding lefthander R.J. Swindle in the bottom of the eighth inning.

“He doesn’t give in at the plate,” Huppert said.

Brown is hitting .318 against lefthanded pitching.

There is a difference between Major League-quality left-handed pitching and Minor League-quality left-handed pitching, though. In his brief Major League career, Brown has posted a .260 wOBA against LHP and .321 against RHP. That gap has prompted Brown’s suggested use as a platoon player.

With 492 career trips to the plate, Brown has faced right-handers in 383 of them (78 percent); lefties in only 109. 109 plate appearances isn’t nearly enough for us to ascertain a player’s true talent. The standard deviation for his RHP performance is 24 points of wOBA, meaning that we are 95 percent confident his true RHP talent is between .273 and .369. The standard deviation for his LHP performance is 42 points of wOBA, so his 95 percent confidence interval is .176-.344.

Saying that Brown’s true talent against southpaws is .176-.344 is just about worthless, which should tell you that 109 PA is also just about worthless. When you have such scant information, you want to regress towards the league average. Last season, the average non-pitcher posted a .320 wOBA with a standard deviation of .001.

In this post at Athletics Nation back in 2008, Sal Baxamusa illustrated the best estimate of Travis Buck‘s true OBP skill based on the amount of plate appearances in which you observe a .377 OBP.

Notice how much further from the league average (.330) the estimate gets as your sample size increases.

Because we have hardly any information to use, we heavily regress Brown to the league average. As a result, our best estimate of his true LHP skill is a .320 wOBA, virtually identical to his performance against right-handed pitching. We either need to accept this or get some more data before making any conclusions.

Additionally, platooning the 25-year-old would simply further stunt his development. Brown has been in the Majors since 2010, but has accumulated only 492 PA in total, an average of 164 per season. The timeline:

  • 2010 (70 PA): Brown was promoted to the Majors on July 28. He started 13 of 35 games in which he appeared, but 9 of those 13 starts came in his first 11 games. He was a bench bat by mid-August. He suffered from a strained quadriceps in September, forcing him to miss 15 games.
  • 2011 (210 PA): Brown was hit on the hand by a pitch, fracturing his hamate bone. He had surgery to fix it, then was sent to Triple-A. Keith Law estimates that it takes 12-18 months for a player to regain power after such an injury, effectively a timetable of May-October 2012. The Phillies recalled Brown at the end of May and he played regularly through the end of July, when they senthim back to Lehigh Valley. Brown was brought back up in mid-September only to pinch-run and pinch-hit once before the season ended.
  • 2012 (212 PA): Injuries continue to sabotage Brown, as he suffered from a left hamstring injury in May and inflammation in his right knee in June. Matt Gelb noted, “[the injury] comes at an inopportune time for Brown, who was finally finding his stroke at triple-A Lehigh Valley while playing regularly. Brown was hitting .300 in 11 June games with three home runs and a .939 OPS.” Once healed, the Phillies recalled him at the end of July, giving him regular playing time for the final two months.

Brown has never had more than two months of uninterrupted regular playing time at the Major League level. Platooning him in 2013, at age 25 in his fourth season, would only further impede his growth as a player. Brown either is or isn’t going to be a good enough player to be a part of the Phillies’ plans; they are never going to learn this by using him as a part-time player.

If the Phillies don’t intend to give Brown 600 PA this season, they should trade him. As Brown becomes increasingly older and more expensive, both the Phillies and their potential suitors will have little need for a player who hasn’t played a full year at the Major League level. Put another way, when it comes to Brown, the Phillies need to [crap] or get off the pot.

What Does the Future Hold for Chase Utley and the Phillies?

Chase Utley‘s recent injury history:

  • June 28, 2010: Utley injures his thumb in Cincinnati trying to stretch a single into a double. He soon has surgery to repair a torn ligament and misses 49 days and 43 games in total.
  • Off-season, 2011: Utley, suffering from patellar tendinitis in his right knee, is initially given orders to “take it easy“. He did not appear once in a spring training game, and did not make his regular season debut until May 23. He missed 84 days (including spring training) and 45 regular season games in total.
  • Off-season, 2012: The left knee is the culprit this time. Manager Charlie Manuel was “in no hurry” to put Utley, battling chondromalacia, in the spring training lineup. Utley again does not appear once during spring training and does not make his regular season debut until June 27. He missed 120 days (including spring training) and 76 regular season games in total.

Despite missing 164 of 486 games (34 percent), Utley still ranks fourth among all second basemen in that span of time in Wins Above Replacement, per Baseball Reference.

Player WAR PA From To Age
Robinson Cano 21.2 2074 2010 2012 27-29
Dustin Pedroia 15.6 1705 2010 2012 26-28
Ian Kinsler 12.9 1914 2010 2012 28-30
Chase Utley 12.3 1327 2010 2012 31-33
Brandon Phillips 11.9 1985 2010 2012 29-31
Howie Kendrick 8.9 1835 2010 2012 26-28
Dan Uggla 8.4 1976 2010 2012 30-32
Omar Infante 7.7 1734 2010 2012 28-30
Mark Ellis 7.4 1475 2010 2012 33-35
Kelly Johnson 7.0 1865 2010 2012 28-30
Neil Walker 6.7 1661 2010 2012 24-26
Darwin Barney 6.6 1244 2010 2012 24-26
Dustin Ackley 5.9 1044 2011 2012 23-24
Aaron Hill 5.7 1819 2010 2012 28-30
Rickie Weeks 5.7 1946 2010 2012 27-29
Danny Espinosa 5.5 1428 2010 2012 23-25
Orlando Hudson 3.1 1296 2010 2012 32-34
Gordon Beckham 1.7 1637 2010 2012 23-25
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 12/21/2012.

By FanGraphs WAR, Utley ranks sixth, behind Cano, Ben Zobrist*, Pedroia, Phillips, and Kinsler. Even when he was besieged by injuries, sapping him of mobility and power, Utley was still among baseball’s best at his position.

* Zobrist does not appear in the above table because he did not play at least 80 percent of his games at second base. FanGraphs does not have a positional playing time filter.

The Phillies are in an interesting spot with Chase Utley. The 34-year-old is eligible for free agency after the 2013 season and the Phillies are in the midst of what appears to be a transitional phase. The 2014 roster very well could feature new, younger faces at catcher, second base, third base, and at both outfield corners depending on what if anything the Phillies do to finish out this off-season. Yes, for the first time since 2002, the Phillies may feature a roster that does not include Chase Utley. Diamonds aren’t forever.

GM Ruben Amaro must decide if his team will go into a total rebuild or will simply tread water until the roster is permuted to satisfaction. Just as he must choose between Carlos Ruiz and youth at the catching position, Amaro must do so at second base with Chase Utley. Freddy Galvis is the obvious heir to Utley’s throne despite an incredibly weak offensive game. Aside from Galvis, the Phillies don’t have any prospects at second base, meaning that other options would be found via free agency or via trade.

The 2014 free agent class at second base may include such names as Robinson Cano and Ben Zobrist (if his $7 million club option is denied, which seems unlikely at the moment), but the two will be 31 and 33 respectively. It is hard to project which second basemen will be made available via trade as it depends on many factors, including the success of their teams in 2013. Suffice it to say the Phillies will have a very hard time replacing Utley’s production, even the old, broken-down Utley of recent vintage.

The Phillies could sign Utley to a short-term contract extension, covering two or three years, at around $10 million per year. It would be risky since the second baseman hasn’t surpassed 115 games played in a season since 2009. Utley may see his impending free agency as his last chance at a big contract, so he could choose to test the waters, turning over a new leaf with a different team.

At the moment, Utley is one of just 27 players all-time with five seasons of seven or more WAR, according to Baseball Reference. Of the 26 others, only nine others had five consecutive years of seven or more WAR as Utley did from 2005-09. Utley is also third all-time in Phillies history in WAR, trailing Mike Schmidt and Richie Ashburn. He will likely surpass Ashburn this season with little effort.

Player WAR From To Age G PA
Mike Schmidt 103.0 1972 1989 22-39 2404 10062
Richie Ashburn 54.6 1948 1959 21-32 1794 8223
Chase Utley 53.3 2003 2012 24-33 1192 5140
Sherry Magee 45.7 1904 1914 19-29 1521 6314
Bobby Abreu 45.4 1998 2006 24-32 1353 5885
Jimmy Rollins 40.3 2000 2012 21-33 1792 8236
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 12/21/2012.

Crash Bag, Vol. 33: Centaurs for Disease Control

So it’s Dec. 21, 2012, and hey! I’ll tell you a secret. According to ancient Mayan prophecy, the world is supposed to end today! Isn’t that just so crazy, man? I can’t believe that no one else has ever mentioned this fact in public! You know what would be really hilarious and original, man? If we went on the internet and made a bunch of jokes about the world ending, man! That would be entirely original, I believe, and not at all old. Not. At. All.

Seriously, folks, give it up. King Solomon says your joke is lame and played out: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” That’s from the Bible–Ecclesiastes 1:9. Which has two interesting consequences. First of all, that’s from the Old Testament, which means that your joke has been lame and played out for many thousands of years. And also that your joke being played out is a matter of religious doctrine for about a third of the world’s population, give or take.

So that leaves you with two choices: to base your humor entirely in the derivative, to be funny by reminding people of other funny things and making it obvious that you make no claim to inspiration on your own, or to go the other route and be so obscure that your jokes aren’t really funny so much as they are the manifestation of a brand of nihilist anti-humor that leaves everyone with the feeling of having been played the first seven notes of a major scale, which is then left unresolved as the piano is dynamited into smithereens.

But seriously, I made a “Centaurs for Disease Control” joke on Twitter a couple months back, then did a search to see if it was original. It wasn’t. I’d been beaten to the horse/man/doctor gold vein by about six months. If “Centaurs for Disease Control” jokes have their own Newton and Leibniz, we are through the looking glass. Western culture undone by a billion Jeff Ross wannabes with Facebook accounts. May our children forgive us.

Gunter glieben glauchen globen.

@Timmycurtis: “With more information about prospects available every year, do we tend to overvalue them? The teams have to know a lot more about the players they own and see everyday, right?”

An excellent point. To the point about teams knowing a lot more about the players they own and see everyday, you’re absolutely right. I give you the example of Kevin Goldstein, the former Baseball Prospectus prospect expert who recently became pro scouting coordinator for the Houston Astros. Goldstein recently went on the Effectively Wild podcast with his former BP confreres Sam Miller and Ben Lindbergh to talk about his experiences as an actual front office personality. And Goldstein, who actually went out and scouted and did interviews and was as plugged in leaguewide as any of his competitors, said he was astounded by the sheer amount of data the Astros had, not only on players across pro baseball, but particularly on their own guys. He went on to say that for any given team, knowing its own players inside and out, better than anyone else in the league, is the single greatest advantage an organization can have.

So it’s a given that teams know more than we do, or even more than other teams do, about their prospects. But I think we, as fans, do tend to overvalue specific prospects, if not the idea of young, cost-controlled players with upside in general. This is because human beings are foolishly optimistic. We like to think the best of each other in spite of overwhelming evidence that people are, on the aggregate, selfish and base. We tend to see prospects in the most favorable light possible. I don’t say that with any intention of being smug or derisive–I do it too. I look at Cody Asche and see a guy who’s hit some and might struggle to play defense at third. And the first place my mind goes is not Brandon Larson but Aramis Ramirez. We see Jesse Biddle, the big, hard-throwing, 6-foot-4 local kid and we think: “No. 1 pitching prospect in the organization,” which translates to “Future Ace.” Not a 21-year-old who’s never thrown an inning past A-ball.

We either don’t know these players’ flaws, or we overlook them in the hope that they’ll grow into the players we dream they will be. And you know what? Valuing prospects properly is extremely difficult–even the folks who do this for a living fail an overwhelming percentage of the time.

I guess what I’m saying is that you need to remove as much joy as possible from your life. Be pessimistic, and if anyone comes up to you all atwitter about Adam Morgan‘s fastball or some nonsense, just glower at him until he goes away. Life sucks, and then your prospects flame out.

Except for Jackie Bradley. He’s awesome.

@Estebomb “When are the Phillies going to bring Bobby Abreu back to troll the hell out of the fanbase?”

Yo, no kidding around, this would be the best. I was kind of hoping for this last year after the Angels finally lost patience with the Phillies’ modern-era OBP leader.

That’s right, in case you didn’t know. The object of baseball, from a hitter’s perspective, is to not make outs, and Abreu was better at that than any other Phillies player. And it’s not like his was an empty .396 career OBP. Abreu hit for power, stole bases and played good defense. And he was roundly despised in Philadelphia for it. I don’t get it. I really don’t. His refusal to run into walls? Yes, I’d certainly prefer that he play with the kind of kamikaze attitude that keeps Josh Hamilton and Brett Lawrie out of the lineup so often. Because, in 1999, when he was in the middle of posting a .429 wOBA, I’d have rather he overrun a ball over his head into the wall instead of playing it conservatively for a single. Much better to turn a single into a triple and a concussion, because I know that would make me feel better to give Kevin Sefcik two weeks’ worth of at-bats.

Here’s something I know I’ve written about a ton before, but one of the most frustrating things about sports fans in general, and Philadelphia sports fans in particular, is the infuriating insistence on blaming the best player on a bad team for that team being bad. The Phillies didn’t lose 85 games in 1999 because Bobby Abreu wouldn’t slam his body around like some sort of Pentecostal Turner Ward. They lost 85 games because Chad Ogea and Paul Byrd couldn’t miss bats, and because Rico Brogna and his below-league-average bat at first base hit fourth and fifth a combined 145 times. And if you can’t understand that, I really have no interest in anything you have to say. You are beyond salvation, and when I’m dictator of the world, I’m going to send you to the Penal Colony for Noisy Stupid People under Ryan Sommers, Deputy Minister of Education for Intellectual Rehabilitation.

But I don’t think he’s coming back. At this point, Abreu is a shell of his former self. His plate discipline hasn’t deteriorated much, but his speed, contact skills and power have deteriorated to the point where he’s really only a replacement-level player. Which is a pity. I guess there’s nothing left to do except get together with Donovan McNabb and Jeff Carter and talk about what idiots all of us are.

@tbroomell: “what the hell happened to our farm system (most of the ones that were traded didn’t pan out either), is Ed Wade actually good?”

The Phillies really did draft well around the turn of the century. I think part of it was that they were drafting earlier because the team wasn’t very good–Pat Burrell and Mike Lieberthal, for instance, were both top-3 picks. Consistently signing type-A free agents hasn’t helped, because when you decide you’d rather spend eight figures annually on a reliever or an aging outfielder than have a first-round pick, your farm system suffers. But whether through luck or skill, their first-round picks haven’t borne fruit of late. Consider the following: every single Phillies first-round pick from 1998 to 2002 has double-digit career rWAR. Since then, not a single Phillies first-rounder is even in the black. Now, some of that is due to the recent run on high school arms–it’s too early to have expected anything from Biddle or Shane Watson yet, and they may come good someday. But when you deprive yourself of high draft picks year on year, and then draft badly with what picks you have, all the while trading away higher-level minor-league talent, the bucket full of prospects gets empty really quickly.

To repeat: the last Phillies first-rounder to make any kind of noise in the major leagues for any team was Cole Hamels. The last college position player they took in the first round was Chase Utley. And it’s not like draft position was everything–those two were taken in the mid-teens and worked out a lot better than Joe Savery and Kyle Drabek.

So I don’t know what’s wrong. It’s easy to point fingers at the amateur scouting department, but who knows? It might be too soon to judge all the players they’ve traded away, but the long-term failure of Michael Taylor, for instance, might speak to what I mentioned earlier, that Ruben Amaro knows his players better than other GMs and will sell high on them when he can get more than they’re worth.

I don’t know the cause–it could be bad scouting, bad drafting, bad development or some combination of the three. A lot goes into turning an amateur player into a major league star. For instance, here are the things that had to break right for the Angels to get Mike Trout to where he is:

  • The Braves thought Mark Teixeira would put them over the top in 2007, and he didn’t, so they dumped him at the deadline to the Angels a year later for Casey Kotchman and Steve Marek.
  • The Angels lose Teixeira that winter to the Yankees in free agency, giving them the No. 25 pick in compensation.
  • In 2006, the Orioles took a third baseman out of Bishop Eustace named Billy Rowell ninth overall, who flamed out in truly belief-beggaring fashion, depressing the national perception of South Jersey high school baseball in the years that followed.
  • It is said (I have no idea if this is true, and y’all don’t pay me enough to look up old meteorological data) that 2009 was a particularly wet spring in New Jersey, which would have deterred scouts from making the trip to see Trout live.
  • As a result, Trout drops to the Angels at 25, then signs almost immediately, which allows him to get a half season of pro ball under his belt in his draft year, which is not always the case for first-rounders. That and Trout’s age (he was only 17 when he signed) allow him to develop rapidly.

Even when someone as talented as Trout falls , that’s a lot of things to go right before he turns into the monster that he is now.

@JakePavorsky: “Why do people believe Darin Ruf can maintain the success he had during his short run in September into next year but have no hope whatsoever for Dom Brown?”

Same reason they didn’t like Abreu and loved the inferior Aaron Rowand (who was a good player, but nowhere near Abreu’s class). Everyone loves a derpy-looking white player who is ostentatious with his effort. So when someone like Domonic Brown, who will never look like he’s trying very hard just because of the way he’s built. When you’re slow and have short legs like David Eckstein, you’re going to look like you’re busting it down the line, but when you’re tall and skinny like Brown, you’re going to lope a lot.

And frankly, Brown has been disappointing. So lowering expectations for him is entirely reasonable at this point. But the people who favor Ruf for Brown live and die by small samples and confirmation bias. Ruf hits a home run? Proof of his major league ability. Ruf strikes out? He’s young and he’ll bounce back. And the reverse for Brown.

Brown supporters are guilty of the same thing, but there’s a twist. Brown has the profile of a potential star, while Ruf has the profile of a potential high school gym teacher. At some point, the Ruf-ites got tired of being told they were wrong and took up their derpy-looking white player like the aquila of a Roman legion, charging forward valiantly into the breech in the ongoing war on empirics and knowledge. All I know is this: players with Ruf’s career profile never turn into good major leaguers, while players with Brown’s do all the time. And we haven’t seen enough from either one in the major leagues to say for sure.

@hdrubin: “Who has the best 2013 — Domonic Brown, Darin Ruf, John Mayberry or Laynce Nix?”

On the field, I’d say Brown, but professional success is not the be-all and end-all. I’m sure we can all understand that. I think Ruf finds a nice house in the suburbs, just gets along really well with his wife and takes a couple nice vacations in the offseason, maybe to Barbados or something. I hear it’s gorgeous there this time of year. He sees Zero Dark Thirty in theaters next month and it blows his mind. He buys a new car this summer and loves it. A big Ram crew cab–he seems like a pickup truck guy to me. So I don’t think he’ll hit very well or play very much, but I get good vibes for Darin Ruf in 2013.

@CogNerd: “What does your heart/head tell you about Halladay next season?”

Much the same thing, actually. Somewhere between 160 and 220 innings, somewhere between…oh, let’s call it 3 and 5 WAR. I think Halladay’s on the downside of the parabola of his career, but a declining Roy Halladay is still a rather good starting pitcher. That, of course, assumes he’s healthy. I’m comfortable betting on reasonable, if not total health for Halladay, so maybe he misses a few starts here and there, but I don’t think he’s going to blow out his shoulder entirely or anything. So even if his days of throwing perfect games and breaking faces are past him, and they almost certainly are, a healthy Halladay is critical to the Phillies’ playoff hopes. (Fart noise.) Yeah, whatever. Anyone who thinks he won’t be wishing for college football season to start by mid-June is kidding himself.

@threwouttime: “more wins by memorial day; doc or lannan? (please sub w’s for any measurement of performance for season)”

Man, y’all’re serious today. Probably Doc, by any measure, because he’s a better pitcher than Lannan and is likely to start the season healthy. But Halladay could tweak his shoulder tomorrow, or he could catch Cliff Lee‘s Disease and his teammates could leave him to die every time out, while John Lannan racks up win after win.

As far as the advanced stats–I have a hard time believing that Lannan will outperform Halladay over any period of time using any kind of defense-independent pitching stat. Even if you’re optimistic about Lannan, he’s a solid No. 5 starter, the kind of guy who goes out and allows three earned runs over six innings like clockwork. Even if Halladay is hurt, I can’t believe he’d fall that far that fast.

It’s been too serious so far. Y’all’re asking questions like this is a serious, information-dispensing baseball blog. Let’s get back to the trivial.

@natleamer: “today is Chase Utley’s birthday, what would be the ideal way to celebrate his big day?”

This came in on Monday, so don’t go freaking out like this guy either has a time machine or can’t read a calendar. Or girl, because Nat is one of those androgynous names and this could go either way. (checks Twitter profile) Okay, “Nat” is short for “Nathan.” So it’s a guy. Though I did read a book once that had a female character that went by Nathan. So this really could be anyone. You know what–I think that’s pushed me over the edge. Gender is an arbitrary social construct that has no meaning apart from that which we give it! Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go dress up like Ziggy Stardust and watch Victor Victoria on DVD all day.

@fotodave: “what’s the worst holiday vacation spot?”

Florida. I was killing time in the car with my brother last week and we were talking about our top-5 least favorite states. Florida is my No. 1. There’s nothing good there, except the Kennedy Space Center and Disney World, particularly if you hate heat and humidity (as I do) and the elderly make you feel icky. Why anyone would go there on purpose is beyond me, particularly for one’s own leisure.

As an alternative, I’d suggest two cities that represent everything I hate, but are great vacation spots: New York City and Charleston, S.C. Go there instead.

“Follow up…”

This isn’t the White House briefing room, David. You can just ask.

“…what’s your last minute gift guide?”

I, personally, am in the market for some new furniture. If anyone wants to buy me a sofa, send me an email and I’ll tell you where it can be delivered. If you’re shopping for someone else, I’d get him or her MLB.tv. It’s the best thing to happen to hardcore baseball fans since…well, I don’t know, actually. I can’t think of any service that has had a greater positive impact on my baseball fandom than that. If the price tag on MLB.tv is a little steep, get that baseball fan in your life a subscription to Baseball Reference’s Play Index. There may be no greater enemy to work productivity.

Also Bill wrote a book about the Phillies that’s available if you want it, but I don’t get a cut of the proceeds, so you’ll have to ask him where you can buy it.

@JonCheddar: “is Bill Baer a real person or SQL script?”

I don’t know what an SQL script is. I can recite the original Star Wars trilogy pretty much front-to-back without interruption, but I’m not that big a nerd.

But as time goes on, I become more and more convinced that Bill isn’t actually a human being, but a very clever computer simulation. Not only have I internet-known Bill for several years, but I’ve written for his site for almost exactly a year, and not only have I never met him, I’ve never even seen a photograph of him. This was a source of great amusement when I showed up last week for the first episode of Lana Berry’s Internet Baseball Hangout Roundtable Electric Boogaloo Spectacular, because Bill was supposed to appear on a live online video broadcast to talk baseball.

And appear he did. Sans video. Just a disembodied blank screen. A black rectangle full of baseball knowledge and internet humor, but a black rectangle nonetheless.

Which is cool, because artificial intelligence is often the best part of science fiction. Data. David from Prometheus. The, um…Terminator…Robin Williams in Bicentennial Man? I guess? All I know is that our fearless leader might have had ulterior motives for starting this blog.

And we have now passed the point of diminishing returns in terms of coherence, I think. So that’ll do it for this week. Merry Christmas and other holidays. Tune in next week for additional programming.

Phillies at Catching Crossroads in 2013

Good catchers are hard to find, and when you do find them, you’ve got to keep them. It’s what the Minnesota Twins did with Joe Mauer, as I noted at ESPN Sweet Spot, and what the St. Louis Cardinals did with Yadier Molina; what the San Francisco Giants and Baltimore Orioles will soon do with Buster Posey and Matt Wieters, respectively. It’s what the Phillies did with Carlos Ruiz three years ago.

Over those last three years, only two catchers — Molina and Posey — have been more valuable than Ruiz going by FanGraphs’ Wins Above Replacement statistic. Ruiz, however, turns 34 in a month and is a free agent after the season. He could join a weak 2014 free agent catching class that includes only Brian McCann among notable names. The rest are older, less productive players.

With the R.A. Dickey trade making headlines, the inclusion of catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud — a former Phillies top prospect — makes one consider the future of Phillies catchers. Most notably, there is Tommy Joseph, who came into the Phillies’ system in the trade that sent Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants. After slugging 22 home runs and posting a .787 OPS as a 19-year-old with Single-A San Jose,  Joseph followed that up with a less-impressive 11 homers and .715 OPS between Double-A Richmond (Giants) and Double-A Reading (Phillies). Joseph also spent 34 of the 108 games he started at first base or as a designated hitter, reinforcing the notion that he won’t be a catcher at the Major League level. It could still happen, but Joseph needs to take some strides defensively first. While he has a strong arm, he struggles at blocking pitches in the dirt.

Sebastian Valle, now 22, has been for a couple years considered the heir apparent to Ruiz. He made it all the way up to Triple-A Lehigh Valley last season after finishing 2011 with Single-A Clearwater, which is very impressive. He also recovered the power that went missing, hitting 17 in total last season compared to just five the year prior. Unfortunately, Valle’s plate discipline lacks, with a career 434-120 (3.6) strikeout-to-walk ratio. Comparatively, Ryan Howard‘s was 588-253 (2.3) during his Minor League career. Valle has the defensive tools necessary to thrive in the Majors, but his offense still needs some work. Plate discipline is not a skill easily learned, and Valle’s is bad enough that it could hamstring his ability to reach the Majors.

Finally, there’s Cameron Rupp. He continued to make improvements in 2012, finishing with career-high offensive numbers across the board. Most impressively, he cut down on strikeouts while walking more and adding more power. Depending on who you ask, Rupp is arguably a better defensive catcher than Valle, which is great news. The bad news? Rupp is 24 years old and hasn’t reached Double-A yet. Some may point out that this was precisely the case with Ruiz many years ago, but Ruiz is the exception rather than the rule. As we learned with Darin Ruf, having success in the Minors doesn’t mean a whole lot if you’re a couple years older than your competition, on average. An optimistic projection for Rupp involves him being a replacement-level regular in the Majors, providing most of his value with defense, game-calling, and intangibles rather than with his bat. In other words, the Phillies shouldn’t rely on Rupp being the catcher of the future.

With all three of their best catching prospects having murky-at-best futures, what then should they do with Carlos Ruiz? Should they offer a contract extension to a catcher who will be 35 in 2014 and has suffered from plantar fasciitis? Should they attempt to get value for Ruiz while he still has something left in the tank and is still considered one of baseball’s top catchers? Or should they let Ruiz walk after the season, going year-to-year with free agent veteran catchers and hoping one of the above three can smoothly transition into an everyday role at the Major League level?

It’s a difficult scenario, one that has gone largely unnoticed since it is a year away and the team has been focusing most of its attention on more urgent needs — outfield and third base, to be specific. Recently, Matt Gelb (@magelb) of the Philadelphia Inquirer called 2013 a “transition year” for the Phillies. As optimistic as we would like to be and believe the Phillies are ready to reclaim the NL East throne, it’s hard to dispute that label. Gelb writes:

Think about it: Chase Utley and Roy Halladay, bereft of injury concerns, are each in the final year of their contracts. Charlie Manuel is likely managing his last season. The organization’s best prospects (what’s left of them) are at least a year away from contributing.

A 2014 Phillies roster could not only be constructed without Ruiz, but Utley and Halladay too, as well as Michael Young. Trading Ruiz might be able to bring back a Major League player or two which would fill in some gaps, or close-to-MLB-ready prospects that could fill those gaps soon. Signing Ruiz to an extension may simply hogtie the Phillies to another aging, expensive, injury-prone veteran while the rest of the roster gets younger, cheaper, and healthier. The more you think about it, the more it seems evident that parting ways with Ruiz at some point between now and next off-season is inevitable and in the organization’s best interest.

The Phillies signed Ruiz out of Panama in 1998 for $8,000. In the time since, he has grown from an offensively-deficient, defensively-gifted backstop to one of the league’s toughest outs, best game-callers, and best pitch-blockers. You would be hard pressed to find a better value in the Phillies’ nearly 130-year history. When Ruiz’s time is up in Philadelphia, he will be  thanked profusely for his service over 15 years with the Phillies organization, and a lock for the Phillies’ Wall of Fame as one of the best catchers ever to wear the uniform.

Rk Player WAR/pos PA From To Age
1 Darren Daulton 20.9 4188 1983 1997 21-35
2 Andy Seminick 15.9 3449 1943 1957 22-36
3 Stan Lopata 15.6 2976 1948 1958 22-32
4 Spud Davis 15.2 2712 1928 1939 23-34
5 Carlos Ruiz 15.2 2585 2006 2012 27-33
6 Clay Dalrymple 13.6 3331 1960 1968 23-31
7 Mike Lieberthal 13.6 4613 1994 2006 22-34
8 Bob Boone 11.5 4152 1972 1981 24-33
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 12/18/2012.

Please don’t get sexy: Travis d’Arnaud

The Phillies have made trade after trade over the last five years, sending hoards of prospects out to be developed by other organizations in exchange for established veteran pieces. When a franchise sacrifices well regarded players of tomorrow to aid today’s quest for glory, you can’t help but expect some of the kids to blossom into studs and make you pay for discarding them, especially when the prospect exodus reaches Gillick/Amaro altitudes. Strangely, this hasn’t even come close to happening to the Phillies yet. From Josh Outman to Anthony Gose, no former Phillies farm hand (I’m not counting re-treads like Ryan Vogelsong or Travis Blackley, just prospects) has done anything so impressive that we’re daydreaming about them in a Phillies uniform. Certainly, none of them have made their way directly into the flight path of your beloved franchise.

Now, both those things seem like they may happen at once.

Travis d’Arnaud is a New York Met, and while one player a franchise does not make, you’re about to see the young man that was the centerpiece of the Roy Halladay deal (trust me, it was never Kyle Drabek) 19 times a year. Let’s talk about how much that’s going to suck for a minute.

D’Arnaud is a very interesting prospect because he personifies positional scarcity. There’s nothing overwhelmingly impressive about his skill set. The bat grades out as average right now with some room to grow (I’d really like to see him simplify his set-up, especially by ditching the high leg kick) and I’ve had more than one source put a 6 on the power (I’d go 55, but we’re splitting hairs a bit there) thanks to great leverage in the swing and terrific hip roation. That’s a nice little start but it doesn’t scream “franchise altering bat.” Then you factor in d’Arnaud’s ability to catch, catch really well, throw well and that you project his body to stay behind the plate forever and suddenly we’re looking at one of baseball’s most intriguing prospects. Up the middle talent is hard enough to unearth. This is an up the middle player that shows you four average or better tools right now and still has some developing to do.

Yes, d’Arnaud has had injuries left and right. They all seem to be freak occurrences. It’s not something that I’d be overly concerned about at the moment. It’s a possibility that d’Arnaud possesses a fragility as general and well rounded as his skill set. I’d have only minor reservations about acquiring him.

When you head on over to the fangraphs leaderboards to look at catchers who wield an arsenal of skills as deep a d’Arnaud, you’re not going to find anyone who’s worth less than 3 annual WAR. This is a special player who I think is going to make some All Star rosters and maybe accrue some even more prestigious accolades if he has an outlier year or two in his prime. The jump from Triple-A to MLB is jarring, so I don’t expect him to make you jealous right away. But damn if I don’t think Travis d’Arnaud is gonna get sexy on us.

Phillies Should Pair John Lannan with Freddy Galvis

I was thinking out loud on Twitter yesterday and said this:

twitter.com/CrashburnAlley/status/280052217833213952

In my post yesterday about the Phillies’ recent free agent signings, I mentioned Lannan’s high ground ball rate and the propensity for those ground balls to be hit to the pull side. Since 2009, John Lannan has induced 1,005 grounders. 528 of them (52.5%) have been hit to the pull side, 160 to the opposite field (16%), and the rest to the center of the diamond (317, 31.5%). As a result, I concluded that the left side of the Phillies’ infield — Jimmy Rollins and Michael Young — are crucial to Lannan’s success in the #5 spot for the Phillies.

As Grant Brisbee illustrated in a recent post at SB Nation, Young’s defense is not very good at third base. Here is one of the .gifs Brisbee used:

Meanwhile, this is something Freddy Galvis seemed to do routinely last season:

I’m not going to cite any defensive metrics because they’re not reliable in single-season samples (in Freddy’s case, a half-season sample). Galvis, brought up through the Minors as a shortstop, had no problem shifting over to second base. Thus, it is not crazy to think he could transition smoothly at third base as well. In fact, some of the early ideas surrounding the team’s options at the hot corner involved pairing Kevin Frandsen and Galvis rather than going after a player like Young or Kevin Youkilis.

Lannan averages 25 batters faced per start, and has a 12.1 percent strikeout rate and 9.6 percent walk rate (I included hit batters in this percentage), meaning that about 78 percent of batters Lannan has faced have put the ball in play. More than half of them — 53 percent — have hit ground balls. So, that is between 10 and 11 ground balls per game. As we learned above, slightly more than half of those grounders goes to the pull side. And, as pointed out in my post from yesterday, three out of every four batters Lannan faces is right-handed. So, we’re talking about  four or five ground balls per night to the left side, towards Young and Rollins.

The question becomes “is the downgrade in offense from Young to Galvis worth it for those five ground balls”? Young’s career average wOBA is .344 while Galvis posted a .267 mark in three months in 2012. In one game, the difference is about 0.3 runs:

The run value of a single relative to an out is about 0.8 runs. So, if Galvis made one play that Young wouldn’t have made in one out of every two starts, he would justify the maneuver. Of course, we are assuming that all of the ground balls become either outs or singles, which we know is not true. Unless the Phillies play Young consistently close to the line, some of them will become doubles, which have a run value of 1.1 relative to an out, justifying the move even more.

Such a tandem is not unprecedented, even for the Phillies. Back in 2007, the Phillies started the light-hitting, slick-fielding Abraham Nunez at third base 51 times. He started behind the left-handed, defense-reliant Jamie Moyer in 21 of his 33 starts, and an additional time in Game 3 of the NLDS against the Colorado Rockies.

Phillies Sign Mike Adams, John Lannan

twitter.com/JSalisburyCSN/status/279974249941307393

twitter.com/JonHeymanCBS/status/279977881650749440

twitter.com/JonHeymanCBS/status/279978388117135360

twitter.com/Ken_Rosenthal/status/279948840151445504

Mike Adams is a 34-year-old reliever who spent the last five years with the San Diego Padres and Texas Rangers as one of baseball’s best non-closers. Among the 64 relievers who have thrown at least 250 innings since 2008, Adams had the sixth-best difference between his strikeout and walk rates at 19.7 percent, trailing Jonathan Papelbon, Mariano Rivera, Rafael Betancourt, David Robertson, and Matt Thornton.

Adams finished the 2012 season with a 3.27 ERA, his worst since his rookie season with the Milwaukee Brewers. Between 2011-12, his strikeout rate plummeted by seven percent and his walk rate increased by 2.5 percent, while his fly ball rate dropped to a career-low 32 percent. After posting a 7.56 ERA in the month of September, Adams had surgery on his right shoulder as he suffered from thoracic outlet syndrome, which is:

a condition where the rib bone pushes against a nerve and can cause numbness or pain in the arm or shoulder.

Thoracic outlet syndrome is the same injury St. Louis Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter suffered from for several years. He had surgery in mid-July, then returned just before the end of the season. The right-hander made three starts, striking out 12 and walking three in 17 innings. Carpenter made an additional three starts in the post-season, striking out nine and walking six in 13.2 innings. Carpenter’s fastball averaged 93 MPH in 2011, but dropped to 91 MPH in his few starts at the end of 2012. Similarly, Adams’ average fastball velocity was above 93 MPH in 2011, but dropped to 92 last season. His cut fastball declined in velocity as well.

Adams’ shoulder should be concerning, but he is expected to be ready on Opening Day. Unlike the Papelbon contract from last off-season — four years, $50 million — the guaranteed $12 million the Phillies will pay Adams over the next two years is relatively low-risk, since Adams can still be an above-average reliever in his age 34-35 seasons with lower velocity.

The John Lannan signing is interesting, to say the least. The lefty had a penchant for hitting Phillies with baseballs over his career, famously breaking Chase Utley‘s hand in 2007 and contributing to Ryan Howard‘s twisted ankle in 2010.

Lannan isn’t particularly skilled when it comes to defense-independent criteria. Since the start of 2008, the lefty has a 3.7 percent difference between his strikeout and walk rates, the third-worst among the 113 starting pitchers with at least 500 innings. The only pitchers worse than Lannan are Aaron Cook (3.2%) and Roberto Hernandez (formerly Fausto Carmona, 3.3%).

The lefty’s calling card is his ability to induce ground balls. Since 2008, he has induced grounders at a 53 percent clip, the tenth-highest among all starters. It is likely the reason why he has out-performed his ERA retrodictors (FIP, xFIP, SIERA) by more than a half-run over his career:

  • ERA: 4.01
  • FIP: 4.57
  • xFIP: 4.46
  • SIERA: 4.69

Because of his reliance on infield defense, he can have a great season like he did in 2011 (3.70 ERA) or he can have an abysmal season like he did in 2010 (4.65 ERA). The Phillies are weak at the infield corners with Michael Young and Ryan Howard and strong up the middle with Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley. The following two hit charts show the location of Lannan’s ground balls that have gone for hits and those that have been converted into outs.

 

Although the one on the right looks like an amorphous blob, you can see that between the two, a majority of Lannan’s ground balls go to the right side. It makes sense because for every four batters Lannan has faced, three have been right-handed, and batters tend to pull ground balls. On grounders hit to the pull side, opposing batters have posted a .171 wOBA against Lannan since 2009. When they went to the opposite field, their wOBA was .200, and .210 up the middle. This means that the left side of Young and Rollins will be crucial for Lannan.

Due to his guaranteed salary, Lannan pushes Tyler Cloyd out of the rotation. The right-handed Cloyd was recently moved up a spot on the depth chart when the Phillies sent Vance Worley to the Minnesota Twins in the Ben Revere trade. Cloyd could still make the rotation if the Phillies feel that Kyle Kendrick is once again better used as a swing man between the rotation and bullpen, but given how well Kendrick pitched as a starter in 2012, that scenario isn’t likely.

Both of these signings have a very good chance of working out well for the Phillies, as the guaranteed money is relatively low and there is some upside. Adams and Lannan aren’t quite as sexy as Wilton Lopez and Edwin Jackson, but the Phillies are just about set when it comes to pitching. To complete the off-season, they now have to focus on acquiring a corner outfielder.  Nick Swisher is the one big bat the Phillies have been linked to recently, but he may command too many years and too much money, making it more likely that the Phillies end up with a lower-tier corner outfielder such as Cody Ross (ugh).

Crash Bag, Vol. 32: Rock And Roll Supergroup Fantasy Draft

Today, we’ve got the longest and most collaborative Crash Bag ever conceived of by man. So I’m not going to bore you with an introduction. Instead, we head immediately to the scatological.

@elkensky: “Why is Ruben Amaro such a poopy-head?”

I don’t know that he’s a poopy-head. I’ve realized that over the years, I’ve developed a stinging dislike for a man I’ve never met and know little about, personally. I know his professional resume, his ethnic background and that he’s a pescetarian. Actually, I’m not even sure about that last bit anymore. He might have changed his mind.

So while I don’t approve of many of his personnel decisions, I might stop short of calling him a poopy-head. I’ve probably called him an idiot, a moron and all sorts of other nasty things in a fit of pique, and I will almost certainly do so again, but I don’t know what he’s like as a person.

But if the aforementioned poopy-headitude is in reference to his professional record, then I can only echo your confusion. And I’ll tell you what, I’d love nothing better than to sit down for a day with Ruben Amaro and just talk to him, on or off the record, formally or casually, and have him explain and legitimately defend, in a back-and-forth format, all of those puzzling moves he’s made over the years.

Because here’s the thing, for a guy who doles out so many bizarre contracts, Amaro doesn’t seem like he’s either stupid or not paying attention. Like, you can look at Dayton Moore and his CV and reach the simple conclusion that he really just has no idea what he’s doing. But Amaro mixes some really aggressive, creative moves in with his freight train of lunacy. I’d love to find out why he thought it was so important to extend Ryan Howard‘s contract when he did. Why Papelbon? Why the parade of raw high school draftees? How does he think?

I don’t think we’re dealing with an incompetent, and that’s why I find Amaro’s track record to be so unnerving. I legitimately have no idea how he thinks, nor does he seem eager to let us in.

So that’s what I want for Christmas. A lengthy, sit-down interview with the GM. It’d be fascinating.

@tbroomell: “rock supergroup draft for the next crashbag?

Anyone who’s planning a road trip in the near future, this is far and away the best collaborative time-killer I’ve ever heard of. I heard Chuck Klosterman broach the idea in an episode of the B.S. Report a couple weeks before a Phillies-related road trip I took two summers ago, and three friends and I amused ourselves for almost the entire state of Pennsylvania with this. So we five Crashburn Alley writers hopped on the old email chain and did one. Paul and I have done one of these together, and Longenhagen did one with his friends that he apparently put more effort into than I’ve ever put into anything in my life. Anyhoo, here are the rules:

  1. Snake-style draft, five rounds. No trading picks.
  2. You must pick at least one vocalist, one guitarist and one percussionist.
  3. Any musician, living or dead, in any band of reasonable renown, is fair game. Let’s say any musician whose band has a Wikipedia page is fair game. But if you pick Sinatra or Hendrix in the first round, you’re unimaginative.
  4. Multi-instrumentalists may play multiple instruments. Elton John can both sing and play keyboards.
  5. How the instrumentalists mesh together counts. So if you want to put together a country-and-western rhythm section and put Slash and Tupac in front of it…well, don’t.
  6. Only one person per band. No Lennon/McCartney reunions.

The draft order, as generated randomly by Bill, is as follows:

  1. Blog Morale Officer Ryan Sommers
  2. Fearless Leader Bill Baer
  3. Prospect Impresario Eric Longenhagen
  4. David Foster Wallace Wannabe Michael Baumann
  5. Indie Music Snob Paul Boye

TO THE DRAFT!

Round 1, Pick 1: Ryan Sommers selects Jonny Greenwood, Guitar, Radiohead.

Not just for his guitar prowess, which is formidable both in the lead (www.youtube.com/watch?v=bOqEHtdODOw) and for rhythmic comping, but for his mastery of tone. He can coax any sound he wants out of the instrument, and has an uncanny ability to know which is appropriate when. Not to mention his composition skills: www.youtube.com/watch?v=SaZ0r_NQYMM&list=AL94UKMTqg-9BppbOj6N3FLB3176vRTmkf&index=9. He also composed the string accompaniment to How to Disappear Completely (www.youtube.com/watch?v=lAF8D0ugyVk), one of the best ever uses of dissonance in rock music. Oh and he can play a shitload of other things (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonny_Greenwood#Other_instruments) as needed. And this thing: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yy9UBjrUjwo

Round 1, Pick 2: Bill Baer selects Paul Waggoner, Guitar, Between the Buried and Me.

With my first round pick, I take guitarist Paul Waggoner from Between the Buried and Me. His solo on “Selkies (the Endless Obsession) is the stuff of gods. I’m told the “sweeps” are “clean”, which seems pretty cool to me. Though all I really care is that it sounds orgasmic. www.youtube.com/watch?v=yQps1QFVZME I was never into metal until I heard BtBaM, which has an incredibly cool mixture of influence from other metal bands, as well as jazz and bluegrass artists, among others. Waggoner can switch from beautiful to brutal like no one I’ve ever heard. www.youtube.com/watch?v=zwby9aUcvKw#t=3m00s

Round 1, Pick 3: Eric Longenhagen selects Jimi Hendrix, Guitar, The Jimi Hendrix Experience.

Ill take Jimi Hendrix. I don’t care how cliche it is to take Hendrix in these things. I have big plans and I need a generational talent to get them done. Ozzie Osbourne once said the first time he saw Jimi Hendrix play, he thought it was fake. Once a tools whore, always a tools whore. Plus, he’s left handed.

Round 1, Pick 4: Michael Baumann selects Freddie Mercury, Vocals, Queen.

Haha! You fools! This run on guitarists leaves open the No. 1 pick on my draft board all along, the great Freddie Mercury! Unparalleled in vocal range, unparalleled in on-stage charisma, unparalleled in mustache! I select Freddie Mercury, even though doing so precludes me from taking my sleeper guitarist, Brian May, later in the draft. Even though I remain convinced that the genius behind Queen was May, and not Mercury, there is literally nothing you can’t do vocally with Mercury at the helm (and when he wants to place nice vocally with others, he can).

Round 1, Pick 5: Paul Boye selects Liam Gallagher, Vocals/Guitar, Oasis

Round 2, Pick 1: Paul Boye selects Tom Morello, Guitar, Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave

The idea of formulating a certain recognizable sound has me driven to create something unique with this draft. So, with my back-to-backs, I’m going to draft Liam Gallagher as my vocalist and Tom Morello as my guitarist. Gallagher’s vocals were some of the most recognizable to come from the 1990s, I’m intrigued by the power of his voice of some of Oasis’s “harder” songs (“Fade Away,” “Morning Glory,” that vein) and think that, backed by Morello’s choppy, beautifully mangled guitar stylings, there could be the potentially for something awesomely weird here.

Fade Away: www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMy-pTscB78
Morning Glory: www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZucKDddRMSM
Morello solos: www.youtube.com/watch?v=_cEeCsduGdo

Round 2, Pick 2: Michael Baumann selects Eric Clapton, Guitars/Vocals, Cream/Derek and the Dominos/The Yardbirds

I know this is incredibly uncreative of me, but Clapton is a guitarist of temendous virtuosity, creativity and versatility. Clapton has overseen guitar parts ranging from a walking into the bar, unzipping of the pants and placing of genitals on the table (seriously, it’s an all time great up-and-at-’em intro) to the heart-rendingly sad to groovy, banal music for your parents to dance to. Clapton, for me, is not an artist I listen to a ton, but that he can play any guitar part that needs to be played, and he can sing while doing it. Which is important, because I think I’m going to try to put together the most overqualified power pop band ever assembled.

Round 2, Pick 3: Eric Longenhagen selects Prince, Guitar/Vocals

I’ll take the Purple One, Prince, to play rhythm guitar and sing.  He’d bow to Hendrix’s lead while maintaining his own signature funk and would make a great front man for the sound I’m going to create. He was the star of the best Super Bowl half time show of my lifetime and would be in charge of making pancake breakfasts for the band as well as offering them grapes.

Round 2, Pick 4: Bill Baer selects Les Claypool, Bass Guitar/Vocals, Primus

If you thought I wasn’t taking this seriously with my first pick, let this pick end the debate. Of course I am. Bassists are like starting pitchers in that there may be a lot of them, but a truly good one can make the difference between a .500 club and a World Series winner, so to speak. There are a few legendary bassists to pick from, but I like the name Les.

Round 2, Pick 5: Ryan Sommers selects Garth Hudson, Multi-instrumentalist/Vocals, The Band

To quote Wikipedia: “As the organist, keyboardist and saxophonist for Canadian-American rock group The Band, he was a principal architect of the group’s unique sound. Hudson has been called “the most brilliant organist in the rock world” by Time Magazine and “the first true rock keyboard virtuoso” by Keyboard Magazine.” Like Greenwood, Hudson has a ton of versatility and range, and the two can combine to create some awesome dark textures with Garth on the organ (youtu.be/k5llloWEgiY?t=39s), with which he can also support Greenwood’s lead parts. Hudson can also drive songs with his singular piano talent (www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Yq5n5hwTO0), with straight ahead rock parts or jaunty funk. When needed he can also supply saxophone, accordion, and clavinet.

Round 3, Pick 1: Ryan Sommers Selects  Tina Weymouth, Bass Guitar/Vocals, Talking Heads

With the way the band is shaping up, to accommodate the complex Hudson/Greenwood interplay and the drummer that I’m thinking about taking, I need a straight-ahead, reliable, tasteful bassist. Weymouth can churn out some steady rock bass grooves (youtu.be/cJJ9u4yrjvY?t=25m44s) and, more importantly, she has a keen sense of when not to play too many notes (youtu.be/-io-kZKl_BI?t=20s). Not to mention she and Garth Hudson constitute a fantastic backup vocals duo, with voices that complement each other perfectly.

Round 3, Pick 2: Bill Baer Selects Chris Cornell, Vocals, Soundgarden/Audioslave/Temple of the Dog

I’m in a minority when I say that I absolutely loved his Audioslave days. There aren’t many vocalists out there who can span from a song like Soundgarden’s “Gun” (www.youtube.com/watch?v=KKSBK-aUKp4#t=0m35s) to Audioslave’s “Like A Stone” (www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QU1nvuxaMA). Besides, with everyone talking about the massively overrated Nirvana and Kurt Cobain, the real best vocalist from Seattle’s grunge scene needs some love.

Round 3, Pick 3: Eric Longenhagen Selects ?uestlove, Drums, The Roots

My third round pick is going to be ?uestlove. Now you guys have an idea where this is going. A hip hop influence with two of the more creative and innovative guitar players of the past 50 years. Who knows what Hendrix could have done if he would have lived to be exposed to this type of music. I can’t even comprehend what these three (and my next two picks, who I already have planned) would do together.

Round 3, Pick 4: Michael Baumann Selects Chris Thile, Mandolin/Vocals, Nickel Creek/Punch Brothers

Well my third-round pick was also going to be ?uestlove. But I’m going with someone who can add a little bit of everything. Thile is most famous as a singer and mandolinist, but he can double on rhythm guitar when we let out a little bit of leash on Clapton. But mostly, he’s a one-man backing group, a tenor who can fill the vocal range between Mercury and Clapton and add a little bit of folk and bluegrass to the greatest, most overqualified power pop band ever assembled. He also has a penchant for creative cover choices. And he’s officially a genius. Plus he jams with Steve Martin. Let’s put it this way–I’m picking him over Mark Ronson, who is, in my opinion, the Coolest Man on Earth.

Round 3, Pick 5: Paul Boye Selects Brian Eno, Multi-instrumentalist

Thile’s a great pick, would’ve considered him if I wasn’t going a bit more proggy.

But because I’m going proggy, I’m going to pick a multi-instrumentalist who can help fine tune the kind of sound I’m looking for, and can do it from the stage to boot. I’m picking Brian Eno. So now, suffice to say, this band is filling up with characters, but imagining the sound Eno could craft and mold with Morello’s guitar playing is a little too much to pass up.

Round 4, Pick 1: Paul Boye Selects Chris Bear, Drums, Grizzly Bear

And to pair with Eno, I’m also picking Grizzly Bear drummer Chris Bear. I don’t want to say Bear is overlooked because of the vocals of Ed Droste and Dan Rossen and the higher-profile production skill of Chris Taylor within Grizzly Bear, but I feel it’s safe to say he could be underrated. His skill as a drummer in creating unique beats overrides the apparent clash in style between Grizzly Bear’s music and the Oasis/Rage/Eno mash-up I’d constructed so far, but if I’m going for a proggy sound (without turning this band into Nu-Rush and drafting Neil Peart), I want a guy who can play some faster stuff if Morello wants to go nuts (see the chorus on “Speak In Rounds”).

www.youtube.com/watch?v=vK2mwcakibA

Round 4, Pick 2: Michael Baumann Selects Inara George, Vocals/Bass Guitar, The Bird and the Bee

I needed a bassist, and while George is hardly Flea in that department, she’s competent, which is really all I’m looking for. Besides, a great bassist would get lost behind Clapton and Thile in this band. George gets picked because I want the option to have a chick singer.

I’ve got a playlist on Spotify, and this is absolutely true, called “Talk Dirty to Me,” that’s composed entirely of songs by female artists with deeper, breathy voices that…well, I appreciate that kind of voice, and Inara George’s is probably the best. Apologies to Chan Marshall and Rachael Yamagata, done in by their inability to play bass and my insistence on going frontman early.

Round 4, Pick 3: Eric Longenhagen Selects Flea, Bass Guitar, Red Hot Chili Peppers

Yeah I’m taking Flea in round 4. Not only talented, but a good locker room…er…tour bus guy to have around. Even if Prince is a bit volatile and Hendrix , well, I think it’s fair to say a guy who choked to death on his own vomit has makeup issues. I like Flea and ?uestlove to fit in musically and also move the band’s pH closer to 7.

Round 4, Pick 4: Bill Baer Selects Neil Peart, Drums, Rush

Honestly, picking Peart for drums is just obvious and doesn’t need an explanation. I was thinking about going with ex-Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy just to be different, but I’ve already passed over so many legends to get the jewels of my eye. This fantasy band stuff is serious business.

Round 4, Pick 5: Ryan Sommers Selects Billy Martin, Drums, Medeski Martin & Wood

I love a guy with unimpeachable fundamentals, and a “student” of the drums, having studied with an impressive roster of the greats. He’s known more as a jazz drummer maybe, but it’s impossible to pass up the kind of grooves he can create (www.youtube.com/watch?v=iqJWz6HUdcA) and his soloing chops (www.youtube.com/watch?v=NtnOF4M-SrE). Some of his more exotic stuff (watch a bit longer into the previous link) would go perfectly with the kind of things Greenwood is likely to come up with. And when you need a straight ahead rock beat he can do that too (www.youtube.com/watch?v=28e_K5pL9S4).

Round 5, Pick 1: Ryan Sommers Selects Tunde Adebimpe, Vocals, TV on the Radio

Saving a frontperson for my final pick was difficult; I had to find someone that fit the band, rather than building the band around a central figure. But I think Adebimpe is perfect for this group. His timbre is very distinctive, and he’s great at crafting bluesy passing tones between his notes. For the loud, climactic parts, he’s got a great growl that he can infuse his voice with, and for the quieter or slower songs, his falsetto is beautiful. He also brings a ton of energy to the stage, with constant, spastic dancing and jumping around. See: youtu.be/-J-6YqD6szE?t=1m55s and youtu.be/SlHrCg67axw?t=33s

[Note: I owe considerable gratitude to Rob, former band mate and fantasy supergroup philosopher, and Maggie, sister, music-lover, and all-around awesome person, for fulfilling the roles of Special Draft Advisers.]

Round 5, Pick 2: Bill Baer Selects Conor Oberst, Songwriter, Bright Eyes

I believe I’m the only one to pick a specific songwriter. Obersts vocal stylings take a while to get used to, if you get used to them at all, but you can’t deny his legendary talent for songwriting. Right now I’m imagining Cornell’s vocals on Oberst’s “A Scale, A Mirror, and These Indifferent Clocks” (www.youtube.com/watch?v=ePeMRkM0NfA) and getting sad it’s not something that exists. Oberst’s best work, in my opinion, is “Easy/Lucky/Free” (www.youtube.com/watch?v=RozuwUlX7MI). Not sure how many other songs I’d put up there, lyrically — you could probably count them on one hand.

Round 5, Pick 3: Eric Longenhagen Selects Billy Preston, Keyboards

Billy Preston to play keyboards and have an afro.

Round 5, Pick 4: Michael Baumann Selects Matt Tong, Drums/Vocals, Bloc Party

Tong is fast. Tong is musical. Tong can play cool syncopated rhyhtms. Tong can get creative while keeping rigid time at breakneck speed. We like Tong. Plus he does backing vocals in Bloc Party, because everyone sings in The Greatest, Most Overqualified Power Pop Band Ever Assembled.

Round 5, Pick 5: Paul Boye Selects John Entwhistle, Bass Guitar, The Who

I’m leaving some big names – Paul McCartney, Geddy Lee – on the table, but those guys don’t quite have the edge I’d be looking for. McCartney, well, you know about him. Lee could double as occasional vocalist and is proggy, but doesn’t quite feel like the fit the Who’s John Entwistle would be.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVl39LBZGMw

To recap:

Jeff Loria’s Severed Head (Ryan Sommers): 

  • Tunde Adebimpe, Vocals
  • Jonny Greenwood, Guitar
  • Tina Weymouth, Bass Guitar
  • Garth Hudson, Keyboards and so on
  • Billy Martin, Drums

Kony 2012 (Bill Baer): 

  • Chris Cornell, Vocals
  • Paul Waggoner, Guitar
  • Les Claypool, Bass Guitar
  • Neil Peart, Drums
  • Conor Oberst, non-playing songwriter

Eric and the Longenhagens: 

  • Prince, Vocals/Guitar
  • Jimi Hendrix, Guitar
  • Flea, Bass Guitar
  • Billy Preston, Keyboards
  • ?uestlove, Drums

 

Jackie Bradley Love Tortoise (Michael Baumann):

  • Freddie Mercury, Vocals
  • Eric Clapton, Guitar/Vocals
  • Chris Thile, Mandolin/Vocals
  • Inara George, Vocals/Bass Guitar
  • Matt Tong, Drums/Vocals

Papelbon Iver (Paul Boye): 

  • Liam Gallagher, Vocals/Guitar
  • Tom Morello, Guitar
  • John Entwhistle, Bass Guitar
  • Brian Eno, Keyboards and so on
  • Chris Bear, Drums

I suspect this one’s going to generate some comment section traction, so knock yourselves out. After all that, I do think it’s time to get straight back to baseball.

@JakePavorsky: “It seems as though part of the Phillies reasoning behind not pursuing Swisher hard is because they would lose a first round pick. When it comes to signing big(ger) name free agents, should first round picks be valued that much?”

That’s a good question. As much as I grouse about the Phillies not getting much out of their first-round picks of late, a first-rounder, on its face, is far from a sure thing. Earlier this summer, someone was getting on Bradley Ankrom’s case for speculating that Jesse Biddle, whom the Phillies drafted No. 27 overall in 2010, might have a career similar to that of Randy Wolf. I don’t think it was a direct player comp, but the gist of Ankrom’s point was that Biddle could be Wolf.

And he got ripped. People were furious that a top Phillies pitching prospect, a former first-rounder at that, would be compared to Randy Wolf, who was often good, but never great, and has carved out a nice little 14-year career for himself as a No. 3 or No. 4 starter. Not anymore, of course, but for a long time he was pretty good. He’s going to get a pension and show up on the Hall of Fame ballot, even if no one is going to vote for him.

Or, put another way, Randy Wolf has more career rWAR than any player drafted 27th overall, with the exception of Vida Blue. In fact, take out Pete Harnisch, and Wolf has more career WAR than any two players drafted 27th overall. So if you pick 27th and you get the pre-free agent years of a decent mid-rotation starter, you’ve pretty much hit the jackpot.

So giving up the occasional mid-to-late first-round pick for a good free agent isn’t that big a deal, particularly if you’re looking to win sooner rather than later. But I’ll remind you that Brett Myers, Cole Hamels and Chase Utley were all mid-first rounders, as was Kyle Drabek, the centerpiece of the Roy Halladay trade. So if you give up a bunch of first-rounders in a row, it becomes much harder to funnel young talent into your system. Not that there aren’t other rounds of the draft, or the international market, but you know what I mean.

Short answer: compensation picks are not a trivial cost in signing a free agent, but neither are they a prohibitive cost.

@hdrubin: “As it stands right now, how would you write up the Phillies lineup card? And how do you think Cholly would do it?”

Here’s how I’d do it, assuming an unsuspended Chooch: Against RHP: Revere, Ruiz, Utley, Howard, Rollins, Brown…umm, can the Phillies sign Swisher or something? Because this blows…(holds nose) Ruf (LF), Galvis (3B), Pitcher. Revere is interesting. I’d hit him either first or eighth, nowhere in between. He can use his contact skills and speed to get on base at an acceptable level at the top of the lineup. But he has so little power that I want no part of him hitting with men on base. The good news is that if he’s leading off a lineup against a righty with Freddy Galvis and the pitcher hitting 8-9, there’s absolutely no danger of there being men on base when he comes up. Here’s the flip side of that lineup.

Against LHP: Rollins, Young, Utley, Ruiz, Brown, Mayberry (LF), Ruf (1B), Revere, Pitcher. The downside to not having power, as Ben Revere does not, is that pitchers don’t have to fear you if they know you can’t hit it out of the park. If you don’t fear a hitter, you don’t need to throw him as many balls, and if you don’t throw him as many balls, he’ll never walk. Put Revere in front of the pitcher and he might get a couple more walks. At least that was what people said was happening to Chooch before we realized that, yes, he is a good offensive player.

And you’re damn right I’d leave Ryan Howard out of the lineup entirely against lefties. He’s so far gone that I’d take my chances with Ruf. As for Michael Young hitting second, where, according to the newfangled lineup construction wisdom, you want your best hitter, let me just say that we’re capitalizing on his one useful skill. Last year, in the midst of being the second-worst everyday player in baseball, Michael Young hit .333/.371/.423 against left-handed pitching, which, given the surfeit of left-handed hitters in the Phillies’ lineup, works just fine in a key spot.

Here’s what I think Uncle Cholly will do, against both left-handed and right-handed pitching:

Rollins, Revere, Utley, Howard, Young, Ruiz, Mayberry, Brown, Pitcher. Charlie Manuel is famous for seldom changing his lineup, which is great when your lineup has an aggregate OPS of a billion, like it did in 2007 and 2008. It’s true, look it up. But when your lineup is riddled with high-priced veterans with serious platoon issues, it might behoove you to mix and match a little bit. And if Revere hits second behind Rollins, holy God the number of sacrifice bunts we’re going to see.

@Living4Laughs: “Who are the 3 greatest New Jerseyans?”

Well, it sure as hell is not Mitch Albom. That I’ll tell you up front. And while doing some cursory research, I also reminded myself that Andrea Dworkin is from Camden Country, which I had blocked out of my memory. So thanks for that.

New Jersey produces, either by birth or by heritage, a lot of great singers: Sinatra, Whitney Houston, Springsteen. The Jonas Brothers. And a lot of great actors: Danny DeVito, James Gandolfini, Joe Pantoliano, Ray Liotta and so on. The latter is important because without New Jersey’s contingent of male actors, it’d be really hard to make mafia movies. Also a billion soccer players: Claudio Reyna, Tony Meola, Jozy Altidore, Tim Howard, Michael Bradley, Juan Agudelo and that traitor Giuseppe Rossi.

Lots of great men and women are left out of the top three, however. Among them are astronaut Buzz Aldrin and adopted Cherry Hillite Muhammad Ali. Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep. But we have our three, in no particular order.

  • Philip Roth. One of the leading lights of 20th-Century American literature, which is the best literature (he says, intending to provoke an argument). Mostly here as a representative of of New Jersey’s contribution to the arts, because it’s lame to pick Springsteen and we haven’t really contributed much of anything to politics or philosophy. Because thanks to Dworkin and Milton Friedman, we suck at those things across the political spectrum.
  • Albert Einstein. Yes, I know he was German by birth, but he spent the last 20 years of his professional life in Princeton and his name is shorthand for “smart people,” so he’s ours, dammit.
  • Mike Trout.

@patchak21: “you seem like a man with an opinion on this: Paul McCartney and Nirvana?”

Sweetheart, I’ve got an opinion on everything.

It was awful. America is watching and you play a bunch of Wings songs. You get Nirvana back together and you play one song? And you get Dave Grohl on stage, when you know he’s got in his back pocket one of the great covers of all time–AND IT’S A WINGS SONG–and you send him on his way so you can trot Alicia Keys back out there to blast a pandering ballwashing song dedicated to a city that needs its balls washed less than perhaps any other on Earth. Except for maybe Paris. I know Nirvana’s oeuvre ain’t exactly boilerplate charity concert material, but would it have killed him to belt out a couple bars of “You Know You’re Right?”

You disappoint me, Sir Paul.

@tholzerman: “If you were to introduce a newbie to Philadelphia a sandwich experience that wasn’t a cheesesteak, what would it be?”

Wawa Gobbler. I’m leaving the Philadelphia area in a couple weeks and I’m trying to ballpark how much Wawa food I can physically insert into my body between now and then.

But kudos to Ben Revere, whose cheesesteak snafu this afternoon (I assume) generated this question, for displaying remarkable public relations aplomb. Revere ordered…some…thing at Chickie’s and Pete’s and tweeted a picture of what he claimed was his first cheesesteak. It could have been any number of things, but it certainly wasn’t a cheesesteak.

But Revere handled the situation with aplomb and good humor. If you follow him on Twitter, he ends probably half of his tweets with two exclamation points, but in a good way, as if he actually is that excited to be vacuuming his living room carpet. I’m on the Ben Revere bandwagon, even if he is an outspoken Georgia Bulldogs fan.

So welcome to Philadelphia, Ben Revere.

@Jimish_Mehta: “I’m sure you’re inundated with Ben Revere-cheesteak-related questions. So…best PR snafu by a Philly athlete?”

I’m going to have to go with Allen Iverson’s bizarre, felony-ridden rampage back in 2002. Kicking your naked wife out of your house, then toting a gun around, breaking into other people’s apartments to look for her? That’s not exactly good PR.

@B_Lang_: “Why are Phils hating on Swisher? He’s a good fit right?”

I couldn’t tell you. He’s a switch-hitting power bat who can play a competent defensive corner. I’ve always been a big fan of Nick the Swish, but at first, it didn’t look like he’d fit the Phillies’ needs in the outfield, namely center field, because he hasn’t played center since college. But look at him. Since 2006 you can pencil him in for about (usually exactly) 150 games and about (usually exactly) four wins above replacement. Considering the paucity of right-handed power in this lineup, particularly in the absence of Carlos Ruiz, Swisher makes an absurd amount of sense for the Phillies. He gets on base and is inoffensive elsewhere on the field. Plus he’d save the beat writers from trying to get meaningful quotes from Chase Utley, Roy Halladay and Jonathan Papelbon.

And by the way, I bet Swisher would hit 50 home runs in this ballpark.

@danirvin: “Who is more likely to be found/discovered? Bigfoot or Jimmy Hoffa?”

Well, Hoffa existed once, so my first instinct is to bet on him. But if his body is somewhere in a swamp, it’s probably beyond recovery even if it hasn’t decomposed past the point of recognition.

I’m not even sure I’d want to find Bigfoot. What if he’s a vicious, aggressive manbearpig? But on the other hand, what if he’s gentle and friendly? What if he’s a reformed Bumble?

My fiancee once had a dream where I owned a pet Yeti. It was roughly man-sized, but friendly and doglike. Apparently I taught it to fist-bump, which would be awesome. Now I’m pissed I don’t actually have a pet Yeti.

First person to find me a Yeti gets…I dunno, I’ll think of something. Keep the questions coming and you’ll have more answers next week. Until then, vaya con dios.