Crash Bag, Vol. 43: The Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc Foundation
I, like I imagine most of you do, have an alarm set for a specific time and a specific radio station. Well, over the past couple weeks, it seems like I’ve been waking up to “Home” by Phillip Phillips as often as not, which irritates me because it’s not the better, but almost-as-overplayed “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, or “Home” by Marc Broussard. Or “Mama I’m Coming Home” by Ozzy Osbourne, but whatever.
It’s a shame that I never got to enjoy that song before it got to the point where it serves as backing music to insurance commercials, because I get the feeling that I’d like it if I’d only heard it once a day, rather than six or seven. But it comes on every morning at 6 a.m. when my alarm goes off. So I listen to it for the two or three seconds it takes for me to wake up and feel relief that it’s not Mumford & Sons, then hit the snooze button. And one or two cycles of the snooze later, “Call Me Maybe” comes on. Every day, it seems.
Well, this morning, I set my alarm 20 minutes earlier, and I heard the same two songs in my snooze cycle, only backwards. If, at the end of the day, I Stockholm Syndrome myself into falling in love with Andie MacDowell and her vacant, beady eyes, can one of y’all do me the kindness of quickly and discreetly ending my life?
@Matt_Winkelman: “Why have we come to under-appreciate how good Burrell, Wolf, Werth, Abreu, and Myers were and how lucky we would be to have any of them on the 2013 team?”
This is an excellent question, because we seem to undervalue the teams that immediately preceded the five straight division winners. With Werth and Abreu, I think it’s because Philadelphia sports fans, on the aggregate, are one of the dumbest, most stubborn demographic groups I’ve ever encountered. Bobby Abreu is probably the second-best offensive player the Phillies have had in the modern era. He navigated the most important aspect of the game for a position player–not making outs–better than anyone else the Phillies have had in almost 100 years. And it’s not like he was an empty .416 OBP guy, either. He slugged .513 and stole about 30 bases a year with the Phillies, too. But the fans hated him because he wasn’t showy about trying hard, which isn’t a point of view whose underpinnings I can understand.
Because when you’re confronted with a player who hits .300/.400/.500 year in and year out and your reaction is to do anything but marvel at how good he is, then there is truly no salvation left for you. When I’m dictator of the world, Phillies fans who hated Bobby Abreu are going to be rounded up and put into labor camps, because they’re stupid enough to pose an imminent danger to the general welfare. Even if I grant that Abreu didn’t play as hard as other players (which I don’t), and even if I grant that playing as hard as you can all the time is the smart thing to do in the long run (which I also don’t) isn’t there a point past which a player is so good you don’t care if he’s going all-out on every play? That Abreu was underappreciated isn’t his fault–it’s the fault of those ungrateful snots who are too thick-skulled to recognize the best player the team has had in 15 years when he’s standing right in front of them.
I think it’s a lot of the same story with Werth, though he was accurately appreciated while he was in Philadelphia, but whose reputation suffered because those same fans who were constantly on Abreu’s case (and, while we’re on the subject, Donovan McNabb’s, Eric Lindros’s, Ron Hextall’s, DeSean Jackson’s, Jeff Carter‘s, Mike Richards‘, Curt Schilling‘s, Scott Rolen‘s, Jimmy Rollins‘ and Cole Hamels‘ cases) got their feelings hurt when a grown man they’d never met left his job for a better-paying job with a company that had better long-term prospects.
But I feel like we’ve done the you’re-a-moron-for-hating-Werth-and-Abreu bit to death.
Wolf and Myers suffer in our estimation, I think, because they were both good pitchers who are compared, in our memory, to guys with decent Hall of Fame cases: Schilling, Hamels, Roy Oswalt, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay. When you see great, good doesn’t stand out quite as much. And while Wolf was, by all accounts, a really nice dude, Myers punched his wife, which is a better reason to hate someone than, say, a reluctance to run into walls. Golden retriever puppies run into walls. Smart outfielders don’t.
Burrell’s the odd one. Part of it has to be that he was a good player who played next to a lot of great players. Part of it is Phillies fans’ tendency to assume that a team is bad not because of its bad players, but because of its good ones. Part of it is that his best attribute, his plate discipline, wasn’t obvious to the casual observer, while his flaws, namely his propensity to strike out and his hilariously bad defense, were very plain to see. And I think part of it is that he posted the best season of his career at age 25, and when everyone had him picked to break out into superstardom, followed it up by hitting .209 and suffering a 140-point drop in slugging percentage at age 26. After that, everyone kind of viewed him as a disappointment, even though he remained a very good offensive player until he left the team. Burrell was never even a competent defender, never hit for a high average and was one of the slowest players in the game, but come April, you could count on him to make 150 starts, hit 30 home runs and post an OBP of .360 at the very lowest. You can do a lot worse than that.
The good news is that I think Burrell’s image is getting rehabilitated some as time goes on. By the time he left town, it seemed like he and the fans had reached the point where he loved us and we loved him, even if we didn’t like each other very much.
@wzeiders: “I’m trying to remain calm and reasonable when it comes to Dom Brown. What was my question?”
You can rest easy in the knowledge that the Phillies are determined to put anyone at all in right field over Domonic Brown. At this point, I’m convinced that he could step into the batter’s box, point his bat at the pitcher and yell “They still want an American to go, Doctor. You wanna take a ride?” then hit the first pitch he sees 500 feet, and the Phillies would still have him start the season in AAA or in a platoon.
I believe that when the end of the world comes, we, as a society, will be made to answer for our sins, and that chief among them will be the way the Phillies have developed, or neglected to develop, Domonic Brown.
@JakePavorsky: “Is it really possible that teams play better when counted out, or is that just some narrative BS?”
It’s narrative BS. People who write about sports love to tell a good story with a moral. I know I do. But a lot of qualitative storytelling in sportswriting is brought to you by a generous donation from the Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc Foundation. It’s fun to go back after the fact and try to ascribe meaning to narrative landmarks, and if telling a story is all you’re doing, I’ve got no problem with that. The trouble is, that’s not what happens.
As much as I love Bill Simmons, sports work a lot more like how XKCD says than how his Playoff Gambling Manifesto says. And again, I don’t look to Simmons for insight on most things, so if he wants to have a little harmless fun with post-hoc explanations, he’s entitled to go nuts.
With that said, I do think it’s possible that some teams genuinely motivate themselves into performing better when everyone’s counted them out. But we have no way of knowing who those teams are in the moment, and how much that motivation helps. It’s far more likely that a team’s been counted out because it sucks, and it’s going to continue to suck no matter how little we believe in them.
I think we’ve all watched enough of the Sixers this year to know that this is true.
@CM_rmjenkins: “what surprise prospect makes a contribution to the big club this year?”
Nevsky Prospekt. I predict that many residents of St. Petersburg, Russia, will use the city’s major thoroughfare to get to a nightclub this year.
But if you’re talking about the Phillies, you’re out of luck. They have no prospects capable of making major contributions to the team this year. This is a state of affairs that’s driven me to vocal and significant anger for some time now. It’s not unreasonable to think that Adam Morgan or Cody Asche might make the majors before the year is out, and if they do, they might enjoy some success. But there is no The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton in the pipeline. And players like The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton tend not to come out of nowhere–if one existed in the Phillies’ system, and was close enough to the majors to play in 2013, we’d know about him by now.
@tholzerman: “what’s the brew pub situation in WI, and how does it compare to back home?”
Not bad. I’ve been making a point to buy only beers from Wisconsin since arriving here, and I’ve only had to resort to PBR once in two months, so I’ve had a chance to make at least a cursory survey of the local craft brewing scene.
The most notable local beer company is New Glarus, whose flagship beer, Spotted Cow, is far, far too light for my taste. Though their other offerings are more to my liking, the Two Women Lager in particular. Capital Brewery of Middleton is also pretty good, though Milwaukee Brewing Company’s sampler pack left me disappointed in the extreme. My favorite Wisconsin beer that you can get in stores has been the Leinenkugel Snowdrift Vanilla Porter, though moving to Wisconsin and saying you like Leinie best is pretty sad.
This comes with three caveats:
- I have not had anything Ale Asylum yet. I’m going to soon, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet.
- If I’m going to drink good beer, I usually don’t go for lagers and ales, which constitute the overwhelming majority of the microbrewed beer I’ve encountered. I like really distinctive flavors, which usually mean really fruity witbiers, really hoppy IPAs or stouts and porters as thick as Delmon Young‘s torso and as dark as his heart.
- The best beer I’ve had here comes from a chain of local brewpubs called The Great Dane, whose beer (as far as I know, at least) you can only get in the restaurant. If you happen to find yourself in greater Madison, I recommend their scotch ale.
But to the original question: is the local brewing situation better in Madison or in greater Philly?
So far, with my limited knowledge of the local craft brewing scene, I’ll say that there are more good breweries here, but also that I haven’t found one yet whose entire range I like better than Victory. Again, I’m willing to concede that I may just not have found one yet, but nothing I’ve had here touches Victory, let alone Great Lakes Brewing Co. of Cleveland or Bell’s Brewing Co. of Kalamazoo, Mich., which is my favorite brewery in North America. Their Hopslam is superb, their Two-Hearted Ale is a legend of previous Crash Bags and (as I noted the first time I wrote about Bell’s) their Expedition Stout is the best beer I’ve ever had.
So if you think I’m crazy, I’m open to trying new things. Because I’m pretty sure part of the reason I’ve been disappointed by the Wisconsin beer scene is the limited selection at my local retailer. So if you know a liquor store in Fitchburg or on the west side of Madison that has really excellent selection, please let me know, and I’ll keep you posted.
@Phisportsfan: “How do you see the Opening Day bullpen for the Phils?”
Are Phillippe Aumont and Tony No-Dad there? Yes? Well that’s all I care about.
@JossMurdoch: “Exactly how good does a spring training have to be to be worth taking notice of?”
That’s a good question. Particularly in light of Bill’s recent crusade against the overvaluation of spring training stats. Honestly, spring training is about useless for evaluating players for several reasons:
- It’s a small sample. It’s hard to tell anything from 2 or 3 plate appearances a game, tops, for 20-25 games.
- The quality of play isn’t all that great. With the expanded rosters, both pitchers and hitters are facing players who take varying amounts of time to get back into game shape, plus a bunch of minor leaguers who are are either not ready for the majors or not good enough for the majors or both.
- Even the real pros are sometimes not playing flat-out. Starting pitchers especially will often take preseason starts as an opportunity to work on one facet of their game–one pitch, for instance. Everyone’s not playing to win, because, frankly, that’s not the point of the preseason in any sport.
So I’m not sure there’s a preseason good enough to have predictive power. Maybe if someone hit, like, .800 and slugged 2.400 in 50 PA. But practically, spring training has almost no predictive value. I mean, I can’t see how Dom Brown’s hot start to the preseason can be a bad thing, but
@fjrabon: “what do you think the effective discount rate will be post nat’l tv revenue, and how will the phillies strategy be impacted?”
I don’t know exactly, but it’s pretty plain to see that free agent salaries are skyrocketing. Kevin Correia, who’s a pretty bad pitcher, got two years and $10 million from a small-market team, so that’s something.
It’s hard not to see the national TV revenue explosion as something of a bubble. What’s happening is that teams with big TV deals (the Dodgers, for instance) have tons of money to spend, which is driving up salaries, at least in average annual value if not in length, for the top free agents. Add to that the increasing trend of teams locking up young players’ primes well before they hit free agency, as the Rays have famously done with Evan Longoria, the Brewers with Ryan Braun, the Rockies with Troy Tulowitzki and, long ago, the Phillies with Chase Utley.
Here’s where I see this getting dangerous–top free agent salaries are climbing, which creates a greater incentive for teams to lock up their own young stars before they ever hit free agency. This, in turn, dilutes the pool of top-end free agent talent to the point where the most valuable commodities become even more valuable by their scarcity, driving up free agent salaries even further. And so on.
Meanwhile, teams have more money to spend in free agency than there is value in the free agent market. A league-average position player or a reliable mid-rotation starter is worth an eight-figure annual salary nowadays. And while all of this goes on, the peak of a player’s value, as we understand it, comes before free agency even hits. Teams are already paying absurd salaries to players who, by virtue of simply accruing six years of service time, will have passed their peak. I believe that we will soon reach a point, if we haven’t already, where there is no value to be had in the free agent market.
So smart teams will devote a greater share of their resources to amateur and minor-league scouting, trying to acquire star players during the only period of time in which they’re worth more than they’re being paid, or to injury prevention and training, trying to stave off the back end of that age curve as long as possible.
Meanwhile, the Phillies, like a first-class passenger on the Titanic, will amble along in the fog of blissful ignorance, thinking that notoriety and money will save them. God help us all.
@TCodger: “You get to make a recording of Charlie Manuel reading the works of any writer, past or present. Whom do you pick?”
James Joyce. Because we’d all be better off if nobody understood his works.
@tbroomell: “the 25 man roster gets on the bachelorette, who wins”
A fascinating question. I have watched two episodes in my life of network mass-dating programming: the premiere of one episode of The Bachelorette a season or two ago, the one with the dead race car driver’s fiancee, and the series premiere of an NBC show whose name escapes me, which was like The Bachelor except the army of insecure women was after one of three men, each of whom chose his would-be soulmate with help from his mother.
The latter show stuck out in my mind because of one contestant, who was nervous about her chances because, some years before, she’d appeared nude in a softcore porn magazine, which I’m sure would go over smashingly with any one of the lunatic helicopter moms the three guys had been cursed with.
Anyway, this woman, in the first episode, went ahead and told the guys about her history as a pinup girl. I remember the juxtaposition of the rest of the contestants sitting around the house, plotting against each other and engaging in verbal catfights, the overall auditory effect of which was kind of a constant high-pitched percussive din in the background for 40 minutes, and this woman speaking calmly, quietly and honestly with a guy she might be interested in, nervously informing him up-front of something in her past that might be an obstacle to a potential relationship.
In a genre intentionally peopled with lunatics, that woman on that short-lived show stood out for seeming like a person you could actually imagine being involved in a relationship. Because not only was she physically attractive enough that strangers might want to look at her naked, she dealt with her problems like a grown-up. Anyway, I don’t remember her name, or even the name of the show, but I hope she found a fulfilling relationship somewhere along the line.
That’s my way of saying I have only an academic understanding of ABC’s juggernaut dating franchise. So bear that in mind.
If you’re a single, attractive woman with your pick of 25 men, you’re not going to pick someone who’s bizarre-looking, or so weird he makes you uncomfortable. Or a conspicuous dullard. Or a violent anti-semite.
Using that as a method of separating wheat from chaff, I’d whittle the field down to the following Phillies: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, Michael Young, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Phillippe Aumont, Ben Revere, Dom Brown and John Mayberry.
The next set of cuts involves something that may be a particular problem for baseball players: size. I know there are some people who are attracted to people who are entirely spatially inappropriate for themselves. One of my friends from college is 6-foot-4 and his wife is about 5-foot-2, tops. They’re exceedingly happy together, but all I want to do is ask him what percentage of the time he has to carry her around in a backpack. At the risk of toeing that itchy eugenics line, it just makes sense that tall people would wind up with other tall people, short people with other short people, and so on. I’m a little under six-foot, and KTLSF is about 5-foot-6. Holding hands is not an issue for us, I don’t lose her in crowds and I can hug her without worrying about squishing her. So since this is my Crash Bag, I’m going to impose my own Victorian standards for the relative height of couples.
That, unfortunately, eliminates most of the Phillies who march under the Enormous Freak-Man banner: Mayberry, Halladay and Brown. Plus Dommo has kind of a tiny head relative to his body anyway.
I did not eliminate Ryan Howard, despite his own mountainous stature, because of his winning smile, adorable dimples and personality that has caused me to name him every time someone’s asked me a question that resembles “Which Phillies player would you most want to hang out with?”
Neither did I eliminate the largest person on this list, the 6-foot-7, 260-pound Phillippe Aumont. This is because he has a beard, wears glasses and speaks French. And men who do those things are irresistibly sexy, as everyone knows…No, I’m not just saying that because I have a beard, wear glasses and speak French…okay, fine, I’ll get rid of Aumont. That leaves seven suitors for our bachelorette. Now is when it gets tricky.
Well, not that tricky. On a solo date, our bachelorette found Michael Young’s insistence on talking about himself to be grating and his ears finally started to bother her. And while Chase Utley is smart, kind, generous and heartbreakingly handsome, our bachelorette sees a lifetime of pushing her broken husband’s wheelchair around every time she looks at him. So we’re down to five.
No, four. Because Cliff Lee got up from dinner, had a threesome in the restaurant bathroom with the waitress and the bachelorette’s sister, then ran off to the Netherlands Antilles where the three of them lived happily ever after.
And Jimmy Rollins was charming, but a little world-weary. He doesn’t make the final three.
The first one to go is Ben Revere, who, while kind, good-natured and handsome, makes the mistake of trusting Hamels and Howard, who conspire to put him in an untenable position in the penultimate episode. Revere is undone by his own good-natured naivete.
Which leaves Ryan Howard, that handsome, imposing bear of a man. The kind of a man who’d hold you and protect you, and make you feel better when you’re sad. What a man, that Ryan Howard.
You know what, I’d probably marry Cole Hamels myself. And so would our bachelorette.
That’s all for this week. Congratulations to Bill on the NBC gig, by the way. Be sure to read his work there if you find yourself on the internet anytime soon.