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Crash Bag, Vol. 38: The Great Satan

Posted By Michael Baumann On January 25, 2013 @ 8:06 am In Crabshurn Urly,Crash Bag,MLB,Philadelphia Phillies,Potpourri,Talking about feelings | 29 Comments

I’m kind of cheesed off. I have sat through a series of moves by Ruben Amaro that have driven me slowly to the verge of becoming John Adams, as played by William Daniels in the film version of 1776. You know, just a pissed-off guy with a bad haircut and an obsession with the sound of his own voice who roams the halls singing at the top of his lungs and screaming at people who just want to bathe in their own ignorance in peace. For instance:

I literally do this, sometimes, running around singing and screaming and shouting at people. And it’s not entirely because of signing Raul Ibanez, trading for Cliff Lee instead of Roy Halladay, then trading Cliff Lee instead of Joe Blanton to get Roy Halladay, signing Placido Polanco instead of Adrian Beltre, jumping the gun on extending Ryan Howard‘s contract by two and a half years, then waiting two and a half years too long to extend Cole Hamels‘ contract, not drafting Jackie Bradley, giving up two potential future stars for a mediocre corner outfielder, giving a relief pitcher a four-year, seven-figure contract, doling out large amounts of money to a collection of many worthless players who will add almost no value rather than pooling that money and getting one good player and then spending the minimum on worthless players…and, that’s about it. If you can think of more, please, the comment section is at your disposal. Make yourselves at home.

Oh, and intentionally, mystifyingly, deliberately and repeatedly sandbagging Domonic Brown‘s development. Almost forgot about that.

That’s right, in only four years, Ruben Amaro, Jr.’s CV is so festooned with instances of preposterous folly that when he takes the No. 1 prospect in baseball and turns him into a guy who would have been better off sticking with football, it doesn’t necessarily make the front page.

But in the annals of his history of making puzzling, intellectually lazy and actively destructive player personnel moves, signing Delmon Young is either the worst or the one that finally pushed me over the edge. Maybe both. But I’m just done. Completely over this.

My mother-in-law reads this column, and I want to apologize to her up-front for some of the language I’m going to use today. Come to think of it, my own mother reads this, but she says she’ll still love me no matter what I do–which I interpret as including things I write about Delmon Young–so I’m less concerned about offending her. Love you, Mom.

Come to think of it, I think it’d be better if I didn’t comment on Delmon Young. That can only lead to bad things. On to your questions.

@pivnert: “grrejdjk ##^@^ YOUNG hmmprajvcn #$@#@$ UPTON wuEEFfbn !@!! AMARO cjvnajsSDkl0 8&*%$ #crashbag

Well said. Fine, you’ve convinced me. I’ll talk about Delmon Young.

Listen, the thing about all the moves I listed above is that they were defensible from one point or another. I said this Wednesday night on Lana Berry’s Baseball Roundtable Electric Boogaloo, so if y’all watched that, I apologize for repeating myself, and if you didn’t, don’t bother, because I learned that I’m a much better writer than a talker. Though you could fast-forward to the end and see Paul flip out as Ryan turns his head into a cartoon dog.

Anyway, Jonathan Papelbon and Mike Adams are good pitchers, even if they’re not worth what they’re being paid. And maybe Amaro thought he could squeeze the last bit of value out of Raul Ibanez, or Michael Young, or Jose Contreras, or maybe he, who ought to know more than anyone else alive about Domonic Brown, knows something we don’t.

But there is no angle, none whatsoever, from which the signing of Delmon Young at any cost is defensible.

There are great players, and then there are players with no weaknesses. Players without weaknesses, who are at least adequate in every facet of the game, are truly rare. I can name Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Willie Mays, Barry Bonds, Joe DiMaggio, the young Alex Rodriguez…maybe Jackie Robinson, and maybe one day we’ll say this about Mike Trout as well. But someone who is above-average in hitting for power, contact skills, hitting for average, plate discipline, speed, catching, throwing, the elusive “Baseball IQ”–those guys come along a couple times in a generation. Pick almost any transcendent baseball player and I can point out a flaw.

Babe Ruth struck out, relative to his time, at a horrific rate. Albert Pujols is slow. Ted Williams was an indifferent defender. Chase Utley has a noodle arm. Derek Jeter‘s defense went entirely to pot later in his career. Almost every great, even legendary player has at least one thing that even a casual observer can write off as a flaw. But the flawless player–he’s something truly special.

Delmon Young is like that, only completely opposite.

Delmon Young does not hit for a good average. He is among the worst defensive outfielders currently employed in that capacity. He does not make good contact. He does not take walks. He does not run well. He does not throw well. Let me tell you a story about how Delmon Young throws.

When I was in high school, I went to a lot of trips with my church youth group. Depending on the outing, we’d take classes or do team-building activities or do Bible study or do some kind of work in the community. But we had downtime, in which we’d play cards, or listen to music or play some sort of game.

That’s how I wound up, from ages 14 to 18 or so, playing hundreds of hours of Ultimate Frisbee, a perfect game for a bunch of teenaged boys with tons of space and time, but little capacity for organization. During those hours, I got very good at throwing the frisbee. I could go overhand, underhand, sidearm, backhand and all sorts of things that people who wear shorts and hemp jewelry and shower far too infrequently will spend hours and hours bending your ear about or demonstrating for you.

When I was in college, though, I was playing a game of Ultimate, and I got a finger caught in the lip of the disc or something, and the frisbee, which I’d intended to put 50 yards downfield, actually wound up behind me. It was a tremendous embarrassment, and since then–and this is 100 percent, absolutely true–I’ve had the yips about throwing a frisbee. Can’t do it. I’ve got Steve Blass Disease for the frisbee. Which kind of makes it more like Chad Blass disease, but you get the idea.

Anyway, when a guy who, at least in part, throws a baseball for a living, does this…

NICE-THROW-DELMON

…that’s not good. You don’t want a guy trying to prevent a key run in the World Series to remind me of myself trying to throw a frisbee after I contracted the yips.

But that’s okay. The Phillies have had bad defense in the outfield corners more often than not, and if they can win a World Series with Pat Burrell, then they can live with someone whose defense invites comparisons to the six-year-old who’s more interested in picking dandelions than playing tee-ball.

If he can hit. But unfortunately, Delmon Young cannot do that either. His wRC+ last year as 89, which makes him a below-average hitter. But for some context, and because I’m expected to write volumes on this topic, let’s go into some greater depth. Delmon Young, in wRC+ last year, was 121st out of 143 hitters who qualified for the batting title last season. In a moment of great good fortune for people like me who like to make facile comparisons to score cheap rhetorical points, the guy one spot behind him on that leaderboard was Young’s new Phillies teammate, Ben Revere.

Revere is a fantastic defensive center fielder with game-changing speed, who patrols power alley to power alley with the speed and grace of a border collie corralling a herd of uncooperative sheep. He steals bases in bushels. And he plays a position that, particularly in the past five years or so, places a premium on defense rather than offense, where you can get away with not being a particularly productive hitter if you can really pick it, or whatever the equivalent colloquialism is for outfielders.

And many people don’t think Revere is a good enough hitter to be be a good major-league player.

So what does it say when, on the aggregate, Delmon Young, or as I’ve taken to calling him, The Great Satan, is roughly the same offensive player and, when placed in a field of grass, resembles nothing so much as one of those bulb-shaped pig-creatures that frolicks in the meadow alongside Anakin and Padme on Naboo in Star Wars: Episode II?

Not good things, I tell you.

The point is, The Great Satan can kind of hit left-handed pitching, and he’s got a little bit of power (though not much more than, say, Coco Crisp, who actually posted a higher slugging percentage than Delmon Young last year), but on the whole, he represents an offensive package so abominable that it would frighten your infant child if it were placed in the body of a good defensive middle infielder.

(this is where it’s going to start getting sweary)

I’m going to tell you another story from my childhood. When I was a boy, my uncle took me fishing once. We got down to the edge of the lake, and he showed me how to get all the sticks and strings and whatever else you put in the water to catch a fish in order. But when he picked up a worm to put on my hook, the worm voided its bowels, leaving a trail of greenish-brown shit about the approximate length and circumference of a mechanical pencil lead in his hand.

Delmon Young, the defensive player, is like that piece of worm shit, the waste of a form of life we esteem so lowly that we sacrifice it, by the thousand, to kill other animals for sport. And not noble, beautiful creatures like deer–slimy, gape-mouthed creepy little motherfuckers who are so many hundreds of millions of years behind the evolutionary curve that they haven’t even grown legs yet.

Delmon Young the ballplayer is not the fish, nor is he even the worm. He is the worm shit. He is the anti-Willie Mays. He brings almost absolutely nothing to the table in any facet of the game.

But then again, neither does Michael Young (I know I’m overstating that point a little, but bear with me), who will cost the Phillies eight times the base salary due to The Great Satan in 2013. So why is this one Young worse than the other?

Because the Phillies were in dire need of a third baseman, and Ruben Amaro, finding himself marooned like William Bligh on an ocean of unappetizing choices, made a play for someone who was good (though never as good as anyone thought) some time ago. Someone who is reputed (inaccurately) to be a team-first player. The Phillies did something stupid in trading for Michael Young, but I can see the logic, warped though it is. And who knows? Maybe he’ll come good. He was good once, after all.

The Great Satan was never good, at least not since he came up to the major leagues. He has only twice, in six full major-league seasons, posted even a league-average OPS+, which would be troubling for a good defensive shortstop but is worthy of comparison to worm shit for a corner outfielder the repugnance of whose defense beggars belief. He is not good now, he has never been good, and entering his age-27 season with 3,575 career plate appearances under his prodigious belt, I can say with as much certainty as one can honestly say about such things, that he will never be good.

Worm shit.

Worm shit, no less, at a position where the Phillies needed more mediocrity like they need an amateur tracheotomy. What puzzles me is that the idea that Delmon Young is a leper’s sore on the complexion of baseball in particular and American society writ large doesn’t exactly take a degree in economics to figure out. I quoted wRC+ mostly because it gave me that nifty Ben Revere comparison, but if that’s to highfallutin’ a mathematical concept for you, then let’s use something like on-base percentage.

Delmon Young’s OBP last year was .296. That’s bad for anyone. And it’s not like it was a fluke–the Tigers gave him 608 plate appearances last season, a number that sticks in one’s mind because it’s about six hundred more than anyone with more sensory and intellectual capacity than a naked mole rat would have given a player so modestly endowed with baseball ability. Jim Leyland must be rolling in his grave at such a sight.

Six hundred and eight plate appearances, in which The Great Satan managed to advance ponderously to first base only 180 times. And God only knows what in the garment-rending hell he did once he got there.

So that’s on-base percentage, which isn’t matrix algebra. It’s dividing the most important thing a baseball player can do by the numbers of opportunities he has to do it in. I learned to divide three-digit numbers by other three-digit numbers when I was nine, a concept that apparently escapes our illustrious general manager, blessed be his fucking Stanford-educated name.

Quoth His Rubanity: “I don’t care about walks. I care about production.”

A brief aside–once this asinine experiment, this pastiche of a ballclub, fails to make the playoffs, which it almost assuredly will, the focus ought to turn to how one might reconstruct the Phillies so that they would enjoy greater success down the line. I have absolutely no faith in a man who speaks such offensively ignorant utterances as I’ve just described to undertake a rebuild. But ownership will most certainly give him the chance to fail.

Let’s say it takes Ruben Amaro this year and next to be convinced that he’s constructed the Ishtar of baseball teams and blow it up. Then at least another five, maybe six, for everyone to be convinced that the rebuild has failed, because Ruben Amaro picks players the way most of us pick our eleventh drink of the night: by stumbling across the room, collapsing against a vertical surface and groaning dipthongs more or less at random at whoever we deduce to be in charge.

I was 21 years old when Brad Lidge struck out Eric Hinske to tie up the World Series. With no real hope this season, and nothing but years of idiocy and gerontocracy on the horizon, I’d give good odds that I will watch the Phillies’ next playoff game with my own children. So when I say that the foolishness of Ruben Amaro, like the Biblical sins of the father, will be visited on generations to come, I want you to know that I am dead serious.

But I was going somewhere with this. Oh, right.

So Delmon Young sucks at everything. So why are the Phillies signing him to play a position at which they already have more mediocrity than they know what to do with. Want a bad defensive corner outfielder with some right-handed pop? Why is Darin Ruf not enough? Why is John Mayberry, who has a startlingly similar batting profile to The Great Satan’s, but adds speed and arm strength, not enough? Why do you take valuable development time away from Domonic Brown, the poor quiet, unassuming man whose only crime was being good at baseball at a young age? The Phillies need lots of things, but corner outfield help–even if The Great Satan constituted that–is not one of them.

One thing I hate about American journalism is its continued romance with false equivalence. Sure, there may be two sides to every story, but that doesn’t mean there are two sides worth talking about. I play along with people for argument’s sake a lot, and because I honestly believe in giving people the facts. I’d rather have a well-reasoned discussion with someone I disagree with, if the other person is willing to make a good-faith effort to understand where I’m coming from. And if it’s a difference of opinion, we can disagree and be friends. Even if someone maintains a dogged belief in the face of overwhelming empirical evidence to the contrary, choosing to live in a web of untruths, logical fallacy and “Yeah, but still…” I’d rather talk in calm voices, as men ought to, than be enemies.

This is not one of those times, though. Delmon Young is not as good baseball player, and he cannot help the Phillies, and there is no logically consistent argument to the contrary. If you want to accuse me of going all Chicken Little on this, and you want to say that a one-year contract worth less than a million dollars base salary in a year where the Phillies probably weren’t going to do much anyway isn’t as big a deal as I’m making it out to be, do that. You’re probably right. But this is not a good baseball move. And if you think that it is, you’re wrong. And as patient as I am ordinarily, as willing as I am to defend my reasoning against direct attack and try to reach an understanding, I won’t do that in this case. If you think Delmon Young, The Great Satan, is likely to be an asset to the Phillies this season, you are operating under a method of logical reasoning that I really would just rather not pollute my own mind with.

I feel about Delmon Young supporters the way I feel about racists. I’d rather you think like normal people and just be happy, but if you can’t, I can live with that, as long as you keep it to yourself.

Speaking of racism.

(I’ve been waiting my whole life to write a segue like that. I’m going to go bake a cake and pop some champagne to celebrate that segue. Talk among yourselves–I’ll be back in a little bit.)

Like I was saying. Speaking of racism: I am now more almost three thousand words into answering this question, and I believe that I have thoroughly demonstrated, by way of Broadway musicals and frisbee and worm shit, as well as data, that Delmon Young, while he may be The Great Satan, is not a good baseball player.

With that said, he’s almost gone out of his way to demonstrate that he’s a worse human being.

While in the minor leagues, he threw a tantrum after striking out, then, after walking back toward the dugout, threw his bat back toward the plate and hit the umpire in the chest. By way of apology, he could only say that he didn’t mean to actually hit the umpire.

Delmon Young has also been charged with a hate crime, a quality that, near as I can tell, makes him unique among current major league players, despite the best efforts of Luke Scott and Torii Hunter.

By the way, has anyone figured out what Michael Schwimer thinks about having a teammate who not only visited physical violence upon a stranger on the street, but saw fit to shout “Fucking Jews! Fucking Jews!” while doing it? If I were the 6-foot-8 Schwimer, I’d make a point to just stare at The Great Satan menacingly all season.

I know that many of the liberal elitist baseball writers I run with tend to make grand moralistic proclamations whenever a ballplayer gets caught driving drunk or using impolitic language. I’d still have Shin-Soo Choo on my team, DUI and all, because while that’s a major issue that baseball has taken not at all seriously, a good person can make a series of bad decisions, and ultimately be redeemed.

And even if a baseball player does something really bad–like, completely hypothetically, commit a hate crime–there’s probably a point to which I’d be okay with having a really bad person on a team I like if he were a really good ballplayer. I’ve rooted hard for Lenny Dykstra, Brett Myers, Michael Vick, Allen Iverson and all sorts of people I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole because I thought they could help my team win. I am entirely willing to abdicate my morality in the pursuit of vicarious athletic glory. Miguel Cabrera is a drunk who beats his wife, and I would do backflips if the Phillies traded for him. I am a shallow and weak man, and I acknowledge that. But such is life.

That Delmon Young did what he did creeps me the hell out. That Ruben Amaro would hire such a person makes me a little uneasy. But you can be a bad person, or a bad ballplayer, but not both. And The Great Satan, Delmon Young, is worse than bad in both instances.

I’m not asking for the Phillies to be puritanical, or to take a position of moral leadership, or even to be particularly skilled at assembling a baseball team. I just don’t want them to be so fucking stupid, and so fucking callous, as to render any ridicule unnecessary.

That’ll do it for this week’s Crash Bag, all one question of it. Send in more queries, and maybe we’ll all be in a better mood next time.

Dammit, I didn’t even get to the Justin Upton part of that question. Oh well, there will be other Crash Bags.


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