Domonic Brown: Obnoxious and Disliked

I know I linked to the opening of 1776 in the beginning of last week’s Crash Bag, and if you’ll permit me, I’d like to take a mulligan. I think I’ve come up with a better joke, and an excuse to revive last season’s overwhelmingly popular (and by “overwhelmingly popular” I mean “roundly mocked and pilloried”) Cinema Philliediso series. Musical-style.

To set the scene: we’re deep into the summer and the Phillies have been reaping the seeds the front office sowed this offseason, which is to say that everyone’s hurt, Delmon Young is playing everyday, and the Phillies are struggling to stay ahead of the Mets in the division, much less challenge the Braves and Nats.

One hot night, Domonic Brown, confined to the bench in favor of Delmon Young and Laynce Nix, decides he can’t take any more.

Domonic Brown: I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called Delmon Young. That two are called a platoon, and that three are more become an outfield. And by God, I have had this outfield. For five years, Ruben Amaro and his front office have gulled, cullied and diddled this team with their foolish free-agent signings. Raul Ibanez, Juan Pierre, Delmon Young, Yuniesky Bentancourt! And when we dared stand up like ballplayers, they have benched our young players, traded our prospects, mismanaged our bullpen, extended Ryan Howard‘s contract and traded for Michael Young. And still this team refuses to grant any of my proposals on not playing retreads and fossils, even so much as the courtesy of open debate! Good God! What in hell are you waiting for?

Rest of the Team: Sit down, Dom! Sit down, Dom! For God’s sake, Dom, sit down! / Sit down, Dom! Sit down, Dom! For God’s sake, Dom, sit down!

Michael Young: Someone oughta play Darin Ruf more!

Team: It’s 90 degrees, and Chase has no knees–it’s hot as hell in Philadelphia!

Michael Young: Someone oughta play Darin Ruf more!

Dom Brown: I say vote yes! Vote yes! Vote to give at-bats to me!

Team: Someone oughta play Darin Ruf more!

Dom Brown: I say vote yes!

Team: Sit down, Dom!

Dom Brown: Vote to give at-bats to me!

Carlos Ruiz: Someone oughta play Darin Ruf more!

Ben Revere (thinking of how much ground he’ll have to cover): No! No! No! Too many flies. Too many flies. And it’s hot as hell in Philadelphia!

Team: Someone oughta play Darin Ruf more!

Jimmy Rollins (gesturing to Delmon Young and Darin Ruf): Can’t we play these guys here?

Dom Brown: Vote yes!

Ben Revere (pointing to spray charts): No, too many flies here!

Dom Brown: Vote yes!

Team: Oh, for God’s sake, Dom, sit down!

Dom Brown: Good God, consider yourselves fortunate that you have Domonic Brown to abuse, for no sane man would tolerate it!

Team: Dom, you’re a bore. We’ve heard this before. Now for God’s sake, Dom, sit down!

Dom Brown: I say vote yes!

Team: No!

Dom Brown: Vote yes!

Team: No!

Dom Brown: Vote to give at-bats to me!

John Lannan: Someone oughta play Darin Ruf more!

Dom Brown: I say vote yes!

Ryan Howard: Sit down, Dom!

Dom Brown: Vote to give at-bats to me!

Cliff Lee: Will someone shut that man up?

Dom Brown: Never! Never!

(we’re going to have to go audio-only for this next part)

(Brown, frustrated, storms out of the clubhouse and onto the field, where he begins to pace and continues to sing)

Dom Brown: Dear God. For three solid years they have been sitting me. Three whole years! Doing nothing.

(Looks up and goes to address God Almighty directly.)

I do believe you’ve laid a curse on North America. A curse that we here now rehearse in Philadelphia. A second flood, a simple famine, plagues of locusts everywhere–or a cataclysmic earthquake I’d accept with some despair. But no, you sent Amaro–Good God, Sir, was that fair?

He gives us useless fossils and retreads, I would just as soon be dead! Useless fossils and retreads! Would that I were dead, in foul, fetid, fuming, foggy, filthy Philadelphia.

Jonathan Papelbon: Someone oughta play Darin Ruf more!

Dom Brown: Oh, Good God!

(Offstage, the voice of Shane Victorino appears. His form comes into focus, and Domonic Brown begins to talk to him.)

Shane Victorino: Dom, Dom, is that you carrying on? Dom?

Dom Brown: Oh, Shanf, I have such a desire to knock heads together!

Shane Victorino: Then why on Earth do you stay there? Come here to Boston, Dom–it’s only 300 miles. If you took the Acela you could be here in four hours.

Dom Brown: How could I do that, Shane? I’m no further along than I was when I first came here.

Shane Victorino: I know, my dearest. I know. But that’s because your general manager is a moron. Reinforcements could be on their way–I’ll tell you what I’ve seen. But Ruben did a stupid thing and drafted Larry Greene. Up in Boston things are awful–we have tensions running high. Youk and Gonzo are departed, and Jacoby’s end is nigh. But we’ve got Jackie Bradley

Dom Brown: I know–and our system is dry. I wrote to you that the Nationals had traded for Denard Span and the Braves had acquired both Upton brothers. I asked you if you had any advice, because our team is too old to compete and we have next to no prospects coming up to help. Now can the Phillies get help in time to avoid embarrassment?

Shane Victorino: No, Dom, they cannot.

Dom Brown: Well why not?

Shane Victorino: Because you neglected to tell your GM that it’s not 2000 anymore and he can’t field a winning team by paying old guys lots of money.

Dom Brown: Well, it’s easy! Anyone who pays even passing attention to the game has known that for 10 years.

Shane Victorino: Oh, yes, of course.

Dom Brown: Well let it be done, then!

Shane Victorino: Dom, I’m afraid you have a more urgent problem.

Dom Brown: More urgent?

Shane Victorino: There’s one thing that this team’s done well in Massachusetts Bay. Don’t smirk at me, you ne’er do well; pay heed to what I say. We dumped a bucketload of salary on Los Angeles’s team. Now we’re flush with cash and prospects, and there’s naught to do but beam! But you can’t have Jackie Bradley…because you drafted Greene.

Dom Brown: Shane! We should have had Jackie Bradley.

Shane Victorino: You’ve got Larry Greene.

Dom Brown: Jackie Bradley.

Shane Victorino: Greene.

Dom Brown: Bradley.

Shane Victorino: Greene.

Dom Brown: Bradley.

Shane Victorino: Greene.

Dom Brown: Bradley.

Shane Victorino: Greene.

Dom Brown: Bradley.

Shane Victorino: Greene.

Dom Brown: Bradley.

Shane Victorino: Greene.

Dom Brown: Bradley. (sigh)

Shane Victorino: Greene.

Dom Brown: Done, Shane, done.

Shane Victorino: Done, Dom. Get into the lineup, Dom.

Dom Brown: As soon as I’m able.

Shane Victorino: Don’t stop writing–it’s all I have.

Dom Brown: Every day, my dearest friend.

Both: Till then, till then, I am, as I ever was and ever shall be, yours, yours, yours, yours, yours.

Ryan Howard (offstage): For God’s sake, Dom, sit down.

(c/g to Ian Riccaboni of Phillies Nation, who inadvertently inspired this post. Blame him, not me.)


Phillies Sign “Players” to “Low-Risk” Deals

Have you ever thought, “man, Freddy Galvis is great. I wonder if there is a way to get his anemic bat but without his great defensive abilities?” It turns out that there is! And Ruben Amaro, Jr. has found it:

GIF courtesy of Brew Crew Ball

That’s Yuniesky Betancourt! He does that kind of thing a lot, because he’s really bad at fielding. He’s also bad at hitting, and baserunning. If you were the type that liked pithy summaries for things, you might say he is bad at baseball. Very bad at baseball. He is a bad baseball player. Teams often sign bad baseball players, often to minor league deals, which is what the Phillies have handed Betancourt. They do this because there is a certain institutional appreciation for players that have played at the major league level before, regardless of their actual performance while there. Supposedly there is some intrinsic value to having big league plate appearances under your belt, possibly because there is some certainty that your performance will probably not be worse than — well, some arbitrarily poor value. For teams with well-established lineups, there is not much harm in that besides fan frustration. Sure, the Yuniesky Betancourts might get the 80 to 100 plate appearances that some org player may have gotten in some kind of depth emergency, but how many net runs could that really cost you?

Yuniesky Betancourt will seek to test the limits of that question with the Phillies this season, in a lineup that is far from established. By all indications he is up to the challenge. He’s subtracted at least one win above replacement worth of value from his team in three of the last four seasons, by Baseball-Reference’s flavor of WAR. Last season, he managed that feat (-1.2 WAR) despite being given only 228 plate appearances in which to do so. In sum, from 2009-2012, Betancourt has been 5.6 wins worse than replacement. Sure, there are 12 qualified hitters with worse wOBAs than him over that time period, such as Gerald Laird, Pedro Feliz, and Paul Janish. But Betancourt has a worse on-base percentage than all of them, and has been inexplicably awarded more plate appearances. And (and!) his defense is well-represented by the above .gif. UZR isn’t really my bag, but if you’re into it, you’d be interested to know that only two players have accumulated a worse UZR/150 in that four year period than Betancourt’s -12.0 — Dexter Fowler (-13.1), and Jermaine Dye (-26.1).

But hey, it’s OK! It’s just a minor league deal. I say this all of the time. Who cares about minor league deals? This is comforting until you consider that the Phillies have at least 2 projected-everyday players that should be, at most, playing on minor league deals: the Youngs Michael and Delmon. And that the utility infielder depth chart on Charlie Manuel‘s desk currently reads “Freddy Galvis” and “y’know, like, Kevin Frandsen??” As with the Delmon Young contract, it’s time to stop pretending that Ruben Amaro signs “low-risk” contracts and it’s not a big deal. Because there is risk. There is the risk that Yuniesky Betancourt will get significant playing time on the major league squad (I’d bet my house on at least 50 plate appearances), and, like Delmon Young, will actively subtract value from a team that currently looks to be a long shot for the second wild card. There is also the risk (in my book, the certainty), that this deal further confirms our suspicions about Ruben Amaro, Jr.: that he does not know how to identify and acquire good baseball players. For the 2013 Phillies and their front office, there are no low-risk deals. We should have learned this by now.

Betancourt wasn’t the only laugher of an inking today. The Phillies also signed 2008 alumnus Chad Durbin to a $1.1 million dollar deal with incentives and a 2014 club option. The bullpen actually looks to be one of the highlights of 2013, so this isn’t necessarily much to gripe about. There are plenty of arms that figure to be good-to-elite in Papelbon, Adams, and Bastardo to take the lion’s share of important innings, whether or not Durbin is on the roster. But that’s the odd thing — Justin DeFratus, Jeremy Horst, Raul Valdes, and Philippe Aumont are available to sop up the remainder at minimum cost. It’s possible that no combination of them can be serviceable, but not probable. You can never have too much bullpen depth, but Chad Durbin is a strange kind of “depth” at $1.1 million, an amount clearly predicated just on the strength of a resurgent 2012. Maybe Durbin will again post a sub-.260 BABIP to do charity for his unfortunate walk rates (10.9% last season), but I wouldn’t count on it. The Phillies should sooner have left their chips with the young arms roulette wheel.

If the veteran-ness of the Youngs and Betancourt is somehow comforting to the stumbling, directionless front office that acquired them, Durbin will be doubly so. If you can’t identify the good players that can help you build a good baseball team, why not go with the names that get tossed around the most, the names that everyone has heard before? Even better, why not go and get the names you already know?

Ruben Amaro: Frozen in Time

Many Phillies fans have been left perplexed after the off-season GM Ruben Amaro has had, acquiring mostly older players (Michael Young, Mike Adams, Chad Durbin) and signing outfielder Delmon Young, a once-heralded prospect who has turned into one of baseball’s biggest scumbags. Tracing each decision to a logical beginning is nigh on impossible if you don’t have the story – the story that left Amaro… frozen in time.

THE YEAR IS 2008. THE PHILLIES HAVE recently completed their parade through Philadelphia, thanking the fans for their support and brandishing their new trophy. Pat Gillick, as promised, stepped aside from his role as general manager after three years of service. Early in November, following some brief interviews, the Phillies decide to progress with Ruben Amaro, Jr. as their new GM.

Amaro, a former Phillie himself between 1992-93 and ’96-98, represented a new era of Phillies baseball, one that was expected to include an enormous amount of prosperity. With a chokehold on the NL East and as the defending world champs, Amaro simply needed to add seasoning to a delicious entree. The Minor League system was flush with talent, such as Domonic Brown and Travis D’Arnaud. The core of the team was under 30 and in its prime, while the complementary players were a mixture of younger players with upside and veterans with lots of experience.

Something strange happened one day during the winter before the team became active in the free agent market. At the end of November, Amaro traded prospect Greg Golson to the Texas Rangers for John Mayberry, Jr., a seemingly innocuous trade. Nevertheless, Amaro stayed at the office late that night to finish up some analysis of other players he was targeting. The yellow light from the desk lamp reflected off of a laptop screen displaying a plethora of numbers organized in a spreadsheet and several charts.

Having pecked away at his laptop keyboard for hours, Amaro’s back began to feel tight, so he got up to stretch and gaze out of his window onto the busy Philadelphia streets under the shade of night. Suddenly, a faint whirring noise captured his attention. Ignoring it at first, Amaro kept staring out of his window, thinking about the future. But the whirring got louder and louder, as if a large computer was being turned on for the first time.

Turning around, Amaro strode towards the hallway, but the whirring stopped. The hallway completely devoid of human life, Amaro eyed the janitor’s closet, slightly ajar.

“Weird,” Amaro thought. “The janitor is usually so good about locking up when he’s done.”

Amaro placed his hand on the door to close it, when the whirring started again. Expecting a rodent, perhaps sitting on the trigger of a battery-operated screwdriver, Amaro swung the door open, revealing a room overflowing with LED lights – red, green, white, you name it. The lights came from a large mechanical structure positioned between two shelves stocked with cans of paint, bug spray, and various cleaning solutions.

Cautiously, Amaro stepped inside the closet to examine his new finding, pulling a shoestring dangling from the ceiling to turn on a light. He slowly ran his hand over the surface, cold and metallic. Stopping at a nameplate, he read, “Freezeatron 3000” with the subtitle, “The World’s First Time Travel Device”.

“What a cool prop from a movie set,” Amaro thought to himself, smirking. “Why would he keep it in his closet, though?”

Sliding his fingers under a black latch, Amaro pried a door open, seemingly big enough for a typical human body. Amaro had no intention of actually putting himself inside the device, despite his skepticism of the device’s authenticity.

Having solved the mystery of the whirring noise, Amaro pulled the shoestring above him once more to shut the light off and return to his office. In the darkness, however, Amaro did not see the mop that had slid down slightly near the door. Stepping on the wooden handle, Amaro lost his balance, slamming back-first into the shelf. A can of paint from the highest level rolled over the edge onto Amaro’s head, knocking him unconscious while his body flailed back towards the time machine. His body crashed against the back of the device with the door closing shut in front of him.

The display on the front read, “Now Traveling: December 2012”. The LED’s flashed sequentially as Amaro’s body lay completely still, slumped over inside the device.

. . .

THE YEAR IS 2013. THE PHILLIES HAVE missed the playoffs for the first time since 2006, after a disappointing trend of post-season disappointment. The team lost the World Series in ’09, lost the NLCS in ’10, and the NLDS in ’11 before missing out entirely in the past season.

Amaro was rescued out of the device by the janitor the next morning, but by then, it was too late. Amaro had traveled five years in the future, owning only the knowledge available to him at the present time. He was creating a new reality.

In early December, Amaro found in an old pair of slacks – the pair he was wearing on that fateful night – his pocket notebook. He had a habit of jotting down his thoughts in that notebook while he was watching his players take batting practice, on the phone, and even watching TV. His last entry was from November 2008 and read:

Players to Target

RP Mike Adams (Padres): age 29, 2.48 ERA, lots of K’s, few BB’s

IF Michael Young (Rangers): age 31, had a bad year (might be cheap?), good contact, versatile

RP Chad Durbin (Phillies): helped us win WS, remember to give gift (watch??)

OF Delmon Young (Twins): age 23, hit .290 with 10 HR, lots of potential

OF Ben Revere (Twins): age 21, .930 OPS with 44 SB in A ball, can’t-miss prospect

IF Yuniesky Betancourt (Mariners): ?????

The notes, of course, referred to the players’ age and stats after the 2008 season. A lot changed in five years though, particularly that everyone was five years older and past their prime, for the most part. Amaro, not realizing his notes were anachronistic, was happy to have found them. He put it back in his coat pocket, then left his home to head to his office.

After settling in to his office, Amaro booted up his laptop as he always does, to read baseball news over a hot cup of coffee. The words “Phillies 2013 Needs” were emblazoned at the top of his browser, the title of an article he found on Bleacher Report. Unable to recall much of anything that happened in the last five years, he figured he would quickly skim it for a refresher. Taken in by the slideshow format, a concept until then completely foreign to him, he excitedly wrote down the titles of each slide, then called an impromptu meeting with his staff.

Standing before a large wood table with the shiniest of finishes, populated by older men in similar black suits, Amaro began to write on a dry-erase board.

“Needs”. He drew several emphatic lines underneath.

“Relief pitching” was the first category. Turning to his staff, he said, “we don’t have any veteran presence in our bullpen.” Having copied directly from Bleacher Report, he wrote, “veteran presents” on the whiteboard.

“Fortunately, I have identified a couple players that may help us in that regard.” Amaro directed attention to a PowerPoint slide with the photos of both Mike Adams and Chad Durbin. “These guys are veterans with experience and could really give us a boost.”

One of his staff members meekly raised a hand. “Um, while Adams and Durbin have had success in the past, don’t you think relying on some of our younger players would be a better, more cost-effective idea? Antonio Bastardo and Phillippe Aumont can do what those guys can do for a fraction of the price.”

The names Bastardo and Aumont not registering in Amaro’s memory, he stared at his objector blankly for several pregnant seconds before moving on.

“Outfield”. The PowerPoint slide updates with pictures of Delmon Young and Ben Revere. Amaro continues, “Here are a couple guys that should absolutely be in our crosshairs. Young’s ceiling is sky-high and Revere looks like he’s going to be a future stud. Can’t believe what he just did in A-ball. We need both of them after losing Shane Victorino and that other guy.” An image of Jayson Werth briefly flashes in Amaro’s mind.

Amaro’s staff, sensing something was amiss, looked at each other with raised eyebrows. The GM continued his praise of the two outfielders. They could not bear to watch, instead burying their eyes in the manila folders in front of them on the table. One advisor texted to another, “Do you think I should tell him about the whole anti-Semite thing with Delmon?” but got no reply.

Despite his staff’s best efforts to get him up to date, Amaro continued to sing the praises of players whose best years had come before his course-altering encounter with the time machine. Behind his back, his staff expressed concern with the GM’s well-being and discussed ways they could compensate for his mental instability.

It was no use. By January 28, Amaro had acquired every player on his list. Proud, he would joke with his staff about how many wins the Phillies would have in 2013, usually starting in the high 120’s, but “settling” in the 110’s. Meanwhile, statistical projections pegged the Phillies as a sub-.500 team.

. . .

THE YEAR IS 3013. THE PHILLIES HAVE not been around since the great meteorite wiped out most of civilization back in 2037. Amaro had accidentally fallen into the time machine again. Climbing atop a pile of rubble that was once Citizens Bank Park, Amaro reached into the pocket of his blazer to retrieve his notebook. The last entry was from November 2013 and read:

Darin Ruf: Give watch???

Kevin Frandsen: Give watch???

Michael Young: Give watch???

Chad Durbin: Give watch???

It continued onto the next page, the ramblings of a syphilitic brain.

Amaro kicked aside some dirt and rocks, revealing the corner of an old newspaper encased in a sturdy frame that once hung on the wall in his office. He dusted it off to reveal the date: October 24, 2013. A picture of Delmon Young and Yuniesky Betancourt hugging sat below the headline, “Phillies Win World Series.”

Amaro smiled, then collapsed into unconsciousness from the sulfuric atmosphere.

Graph of the Intermittent Time Period

The Phillies have led the National League in average batter age for three consecutive years, according to Baseball Reference. They finished with the second-oldest offense in 2009 and the third-oldest in 2008 as well. It’s no secret that the Phillies’ roster is comprised mostly of past-their-prime players, which has led to predictable unreliability due to injuries and declining performance.

It is difficult to grasp just how much the Phillies have invested in older players, though, so I’ve gathered some data to illustrate this better. Using available salary data from Cot’s Contracts, I put the combined salaries into age buckets. First, the raw data:

* Age refers to a player’s age as of June 20, 2013, which is the cut-off date used by Baseball Reference. Because their 2013 salaries are not yet known, pre-arbitration players (such as Ben Revere, Domonic Brown and John Mayberry) are not included.

Player 2013 Salary Age
Roy Halladay $20,000,000 36
Michael Young $16,000,000 36
Cliff Lee $25,000,000 34
Chase Utley $15,285,714 34
Jimmy Rollins $11,000,000 34
Mike Adams $5,000,000 34
Carlos Ruiz $5,000,000 34
Ryan Howard $20,000,000 33
Jonathan Papelbon $13,000,000 32
Laynce Nix $1,350,000 32
Kevin Frandsen $850,000 31
Cole Hamels $20,500,000 29
Kyle Kendrick $4,500,000 28
John Lannan $2,500,000 28
Antonio Bastardo $1,400,000 27
Delmon Young $750,000 27

And the salaries combined into individual age groups:

Age 2013 Salary % of Total
<= 26 $0 0%
27 $2,150,000 1%
28 $7,000,000 4%
29 $20,500,000 13%
30 $0 0%
31 $850,000 1%
32 $14,350,000 9%
33 $20,000,000 12%
34 $61,285,714 38%
35 $0 0%
36 $36,000,000 22%
>= 37 $0 0%

Let’s make it simpler. The same data put into concise age buckets:

Age 2013 Salary % of Total
<= 26 $0 0%
27-31 $30,500,000 19%
32-36 $131,635,714 81%
>= 37 $0 0%

The Phillies are not paying anyone younger than 27 years old more than $750,000. Over four-fifths of their total payroll, at present, is going to players 32 years old or older.