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.

Leave a Reply

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12 comments

  1. JM

    December 21, 2012 09:50 AM

    Thanks…I\’ll be hearing Def Leppard in my head all day…

  2. Keith

    December 21, 2012 12:20 PM

    Two comments. 1) I love the inclusion of your speaking about a \”Pentecostal Turner Ward\”. I almost spewed soda out of my mouth. 2) I disagree with you about Paul Byrd. He can miss bats. Ken Griffey Jr.\’s Slugfest for N64 tells me so. I pitched two perfect games in that game with Paul Byrd.

  3. AGH

    December 21, 2012 02:03 PM

    Didn\’t make it into Crash Bag, but can Michael, Bill or anyone tell me why I keep hearing the Phillies linked to Vernon Wells? This has to be a negotiating ploy to land Nick Swisher at a team-friendly number, right?

  4. Phillie697

    December 21, 2012 02:55 PM

    \”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.\”

    LOVE!!!

  5. Tim

    December 22, 2012 12:58 PM

    I love that the mention of Jeff Carter links to some pitcher on B-R whose entire MLB career was 12 IP for the White Sox in 1991. Please don\’t change it. It might confuse people who have forgotten that there was actually once a sport that existed that was played on a surface of ice, of all things. Can you believe it? Ice!

  6. LTG

    December 22, 2012 01:10 PM

    Ross to dbacks! Not phillies!

  7. hk

    December 22, 2012 01:38 PM

    LTG,

    I\’d be happy if not for my fear that the signing will renew RAJ\’s interest in trading for A. Soriano or Vernon Wells.

  8. LTG

    December 22, 2012 02:22 PM

    I don\’t think the wells rumors were very serious and raj thought the price on soriano was too high. I think he\’ll look at Hairston now.

  9. wat

    December 22, 2012 06:25 PM

    \”Players with Ruf\’s career profile never become good\”

    wat

    Age 25 — AA Reading
    .317/.408/.620

    Age 24 — AA Reading
    .297/.386/.647

  10. css228

    December 24, 2012 09:08 PM

    Yeah because I really miss Carter\’s slap shots missing the net and creating odd man rushes the other way. Most inaccurate \”sniper\” ever.

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