Crash Bag, Vol. 56: The Chapel Hill Dirty Foots

Guys, there’s playoff baseball today. PLAYOFF BASEBALL TODAY. Let’s do this thing.

@magoplasma: “how do I get my boyfriend to love baseball. Or even like it?”

It’s not often that I’m able to dispense relationship advice about a problem I myself have handled successfully. This may be the first such situation I’ve ever encountered.

I’m currently engaged to be married to someone who actively disliked baseball before we started dating, and now plays in two fantasy leagues and wears a Roy Halladay t-shirt from time to time. So I asked Kate, the Long-Suffering Fiancee, how she came to be even the casual baseball fan she is now, in the hope it might help young Magoplasma. Here’s what she said:

  • Stockholm syndrome. We’d been dating for about six years before KTLSF started to come around on baseball, which, in retrospect, must have been excruciating. Because I’m sure there are people who put on internet personas, but I’m not one of them–what you read here and on my Twitter feed is pretty much who I am. I think about baseball constantly. I write about baseball constantly. I think about writing about baseball constantly. I talk about baseball and talk about writing about baseball constantly. Eventually, I guess, KTLSF’s resolve had been weakened and she’d absorbed enough information that eventually it happened.
  • Get him into the tactics. KTLSF says this: “Watching a game if you don’t know the strategy behind it is incredibly boring. To me, there’s no intrinsic interest in a baseball game happening. But once I realized that there’s a rhyme and a reason to players’ roles and how the pitcher and catcher interact, that’s when it got interesting–when I started looking at it like a chess match.”
  • Use it to tell a story. I’ve been obsessed with baseball for 20 years, and the stories and oddities that come along with individual players are still my favorite part. Narrative isn’t how I evaluate baseball, but it’s why I like it. So if you catch yourself watching a Phillies-Marlins game with your boyfriend, tell him about the Marlins’ despicable owner, or Jose Fernandez‘s amazing personal history. Or just gawk and laugh at Antonio Bastardo‘s enormous butt–you don’t have to know a ton about the game, or even like it that much, to appreciate an interesting story.
  • Use the college game. When I asked KTLSF what the tipping point was, she said it was around when South Carolina was in the College World Series in 2010. She’s always been a huge football fan, and USC’s other teams have always been of interest to her. So when, for the first time, a team she had a reason to be emotionally attached to showed up on the national stage. Now, I know that you, Magoplasma, are a fan of the Chapel Hill Dirty Foots, and if your boyfriend is at all interested in that school’s other athletic programs, he might be intrigued to find out that those selfsame Dirty Foots are ranked No. 1 in the country in baseball (a subject that will be discussed in more depth later in this post), and among their ranks is third baseman Colin Moran, who may go first overall in next week’s draft. So if the BF is at all interested in Tar Heel basketball or football, make him watch some of the NCAA tournament with you.

So knowing nothing about your boyfriend, that’s the best advice I can give.

@fotodave: “How much worse can this get? Is losing 100 games this year a realistic possibility?”

No, it’s not. The Phillies would have to play… XXX (Whoops, forgot to do the math) .333 baseball the rest of the way to reach 100 losses. A team going triple digits in wins or losses is actually pretty rare, and if you’re close to .500 a third of the way through the season, you’re probably not going to lose more than 90 or so. I don’t know if that makes you feel better or not.

Though two days after I got that question, I got this one.

@fotodave: “phillies are one game under 500. When do we break through?”

So you know, things could turn around really quickly.

@uublog: “What do you think about Dom trading walks for dingers? Is it good strategy?”

Well, if he hits this many dingers, I can’t say that it bothers me a whole lot. This is kinda what Carlos Ruiz did last year, minus (one hopes) the banned substance.

I do have to tip my proverbial cap to Ruben Amaro in this case–turns out I would rather have production than walks.

@Wankleezy: “is Dom Brown the most awesome person alive right now?”

No, I’m afraid that’s still Jennifer Lawrence. Though Dom Brown has not developed her irritating habit of not returning my phone calls and telling me to stop showing up under her bedroom window and playing “Falling Slowly” on my accordion at all hours of the night. If Dom Brown loves me back, we’ll revisit this conversation.

@rudegeair: “Should the Phillies lock up Dom Brown in a discounted, Anthony Rizzo-type deal before he gets expensive?”

CAVEAT: Given Ruben Amaro’s propensity to go straight to the free-agent wire with homegrown players, I think this is extremely unlikely. The one exception: Ryan Howard. Because the world is a silly place where stupidity reigns and the smiting that we as a species so richly deserve cannot come quickly enough.

Anyway, it depends on how big a discount and how many years of free agency (if any) he gives up. I’d wait another year or two, because overreacting to one good month is even more foolish than overreacting to three bad ones. If he finishes the season hitting the way he has since the start of May, then we’ll talk. And if he does that and it costs an extra couple million dollars to lock him up long-term, I’d tip my cap, be happy for the extra production and pay the slightly less discounted price.

@BerenstainGer: “why the fuck would the Phils consider trading Clifton Phifer Lee?”

One reason: Because it would be foolish not to.

Cliff Lee‘s a great pitcher, and I love everything about his game, both normatively and aesthetically. For all the talk about his contract being outrageous, it really isn’t. A pitcher as good as Lee will run you north of $20 million a season. That’s just the world we live in.

But he’s worth less to the Phillies than he would be to a team that actually has designs on contending for the playoffs. Which I guess the Phillies do. I mean realistic designs on contending for the playoffs. Lee is eating up two starting position players’ worth of salary (or a chunk of that Domonic Brown extension we just discussed) and as a trade chip, he has the second-most value on the 40-man roster, according to you guys.

The Phillies were a .500 team last year. They were about a .500 team last year, and while Domonic Brown’s progress is encouraging and Ben Revere…well, can’t get any worse, are they going to be appreciably better on the aggregate than Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino were last year? If so, will that overcome Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz, Roy Halladay, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins leaning farther and farther away from their primes? Even if Lee, Hamels and Papelbon hold their value, even if Kyle Kendrick continues his remarkable rise to competence, this isn’t a team that’s constructed to contend for titles now unless Ruben Amaro violates the Temporal Prime Directive. And with each passing year, as the farm system continues to bear no fruit and the front office continues to labor under the delusion that it’s 2009 still, the outlook becomes more and more bleak.

And if you’re talking yourself into Jesse Biddle, Adam Morgan, Tommy Joseph and Cody Asche being able to rescue this team and bring it back to the edge of the playoffs in the next two years, please seek me out. Because I don’t gamble, but if you genuinely believe that, I might start gambling if I can bet against you. Because this team is so comprehensively fucked in the long term that two guys who might be mid-rotation starters and two guys who might be average regular position players will barely scratch the surface. Barely scratch the surface.

The difference between keeping Cliff Lee and trading him is the difference between winning 79 games and winning 74. Trading him not only hastens the rebuild but serves as an acknowledgement that one is necessary in the first place, a fact that appears to have escaped the only people in the world for whom that knowledge really matters. I love Cliff Lee, and it would be absolute paste-eating idiocy not to trade him.

@AntsinIN: “have you ever had a word stuck in your head, but can’t find the situation for it? For me it’s ‘enfoeffed’ “

Constantly. For me right now, that word is “salubrious.” Sometimes I construct entire sentences in my head ahead of time and wait for the appropriate moment. There’s a potential Grantland piece I’ve been kicking around in my head for weeks now, and you’ll know it when it comes out because it will include the word “risible.” I guarantee you it will happen.

@gberry523: “so is our offense just going to be solo shots from here on out?”

Yes. If nobody gets on base, you’re only going to score one run when Domonic Brown hits a home run. And if you hit Ryan Howard and Delmon Young in front of Brown, odds are nobody’s going to be on base.

@P_Messmer: “what’s the bigger surprise: Kendrick having 4x Hamels WAR or Lincecum and Cain both having negative WAR?”

I don’t know that we’re deep enough into the season to be surprised by anyone’s WAR total. Take it from someone who used to play the add-up-the-WAR game and consider it to be gospel down to the tenth of a win–WAR is much less precise than you think. I love what it represents philosophically, and for a whole season it’s usually a pretty good indicator of how good a player is, but over ten starts, no flavor of WAR is precise enough to be more useful than its component statistics.

To answer your question more generally, I think I’m more surprised by Kendrick having performed so much better than Hamels, just because I’ve been conditioned to look down my nose at Kyle Kendrick and Tim Lincecum hasn’t been his old self in several years. And yet those Bay Area Bastards keep trundling merrily on. They’re like that thing in that movie that you can’t kill.

@tbroomell: “either of your teams, South Carolina or Virginia Tech, make it to Omaha?”

Well, to be honest, I don’t know that I’d extend my Virginia Tech fandom beyond football. I mean, apart from USC, I’ll probably be rooting for the Hokies the most, but I can’t name a single person who’s played for Tech since Joe Saunders, and I only know he played there because Major League Baseball let him wear a Virginia Tech hat on the mound after the gun massacre on campus in 2007.

But I don’t think Omaha is in the cards for either of the poultry-based universities I support. If Virginia Tech gets out of its regional, it has to face LSU, who has looked nigh unbeatable this season. And South Carolina 1) has been mightily inconsistent on the mound 2) has two teams in its regional that it’s lost to already this season and 3) gets North Carolina (barring Canisus bringing in ringers) in the Super Regional. And while I’m skeptical of any non-SEC baseball or football team that gets ranked No. 1 in the country, all indications are that the Tar Heels are pretty legit, particularly for a team named after a dirty foot.

@SoMuchForPathos: “Does my obsession with timed Tetris symbolize the union of my abiding incompleteness and an apprehension of finitude?”

Yes, I believe you could put it that way. Though that thing you said doesn’t do that other thing you said nearly as much as my ostentatious displays of erudition are the result of, and a defense mechanism against, the overwhelming fear of intellectual inferiority that serves as the fundamental marrow of my self-image.

@MichaelStubel: “At his peak, Utley was better than Kent. Better than Biggio. Better than Alomar. Better than Sandberg. True or false? In fact, the only 2nd basemen with better peaks were Hornsby, Collins, Robinson, and Morgan. True or false?”

On my list of things to write right now is a series of posts on active players who aren’t going to get as much Hall of Fame love as they deserve. Right now, the list is: Carlos Beltran, Adrian Beltre and Utley, and in service of this argument I’ve posited pretty much exactly what you said above. But let’s see if that holds water. Here’s my quick-and-dirty, off-the-top-of-my-head list of the top dozen or so second basemen of all time, in order, with their career WAR, 7-year peak WAR and JAWS score from Baseball Reference and Jay Jaffe:

  • Joe Morgan: 22 seasons, 100.4 career WAR/59.3 7yr-peak WAR/79.8 JAWS
  • Eddie Collins: 25 seasons, 124.0 career WAR/64.2 7yr-peak WAR/94.1 JAWS (The all-time leader in sacrifice bunts with 512. A man with a career .424 OBP and 741 stolen bases gave away a season’s worth of outs over his career. Kill me with a spoon.)
  • Rogers Hornsby: 23 seasons, 127.0 career WAR/73.5 7yr-peak WAR/100.2 JAWS
  • Jackie Robinson: 10 seasons, 61.4 career WAR/52.0 7yr-peak WAR/56.7 JAWS (Didn’t play in majors until age-28 season, plus more intagible Hall of Fame qualifications than any player before or since)
  • Chase Utley: 11 seasons, 56.1 career WAR/49.1 7yr-peak WAR/52.6 JAWS
  • Nap Lajoie: 21 seasons, 107.2 career WAR/60.2 7yr-peak WAR/83.7 JAWS
  • Roberto Alomar: 17 seasons, 66.8 career WAR/42.8 7yr-peak WAR/54.8 JAWS
  • Craig Biggio: 20 seasons, 64.9 career WAR/41.6 7yr-peak WAR/53.3 JAWS
  • Ryne Sandberg: 67.6 career WAR/46.9 7yr-peak WAR/57.2 JAWS
  • Bobby Grich: 17 seasons, 71.0 career WAR/46.3 7yr-peak WAR/58.6 JAWS (Perhaps no better player has had less Hall of Fame love)
  • Charlie Gehringer: 19 seasons, 80.7 career WAR/50.5 7yr-peak WAR/65.6 JAWS
  • Lou Whitaker: 19 seasons, 74.8 career WAR/37.8 7yr-peak WAR/56.3 JAWS
  • Robinson Cano: Nine seasons, 39.5 career WAR/38.4 7yr-peak WAR/38.9 JAWS (doesn’t belong on this list yet, but he’s only 30 and he will in a couple years)

You can quibble with the order, but that’s how I’d rank them.

I’d probably kick Kent down a few rungs–he had great counting stats because he was an all-offense second baseman in one of the most hitter-friendly periods in the game. And he was, by all accounts, a prick. The same could be said of Rogers Hornsby, sure, but if you’re going to have that said about you, you’d sure as hell hit like Hornsby, who retired with the highest career batting average of any right-handed hitter ever and led the National League in all three triple-slash lines in six consecutive seasons. Put more simply, Hornsby retired with a career OPS+ of 175, Kent with a career OPS+ of 123. I was going to call Kent a poor man’s Hornsby, but I don’t want poor men pounding on my door claiming I bilked them on their Rogers Hornsby knockoffs.

Other considerations: Lajoie and Gehringer played before integration, and I ding them for that. There’s really not an argument you can make that 1) holds water logically and 2) ends with the quality of play in baseball not having increased dramatically over time. Like, Honus Wagner was probably one of the five best position players ever, relative to his league. But he derived a massive advantage because he was, like Huey Lewis and the News, working out most every day and watching what he ate. And he was the only one.

So if you debit Gehringer and Lajoie for playing only against white men from the Eastern United States (which I guess you’d have to do to Collins too), it shakes out almost exactly as you said. I get the feeling you did all this research before posing that question.

Essentially, this list represents a sliding scale, with Utley on one end and Biggio and Whitaker on the other, that represents the difference between peak and longevity. I’d rather have peak, which is why I rank Utley so highly. That along with the fact that, after having watched him perform wonders for my favorite team for the past decade, I’m totally in the tank for Utley.

I love Hall of Fame arguments–legitimate ones, not ones that devolve into people shouting past each other about moral relativism and drug policy–because it’s really cool when a player you’ve kind of just gotten used to winds up mattering in a big way in a historical context.

@Sainthubbins: “Is there any potential advantage to using your starting pitchers out of order in the playoffs, instead of going best->worst?”

I think this was discussed a few weeks back on Baseball Prospectus’ Effectively Wild podcast. I could see the argument for just punting if you think you’re going to lose to, like, Bob Gibson in Games 1 and 5. The problem with that is that with a four-man playoff rotation, every pitcher is guaranteed only one start, so if you hold your ace until Game 2 to avoid the bad matchup, there’s a non-trivial chance that you’ll lose the series with your best pitcher having only made one start, particularly if he only made one start because you folded in Games 1 and 5.

It’s an interesting question, but I have to think the potential to outsmart yourself is pretty high here.

@Phisportsfan11: “Full predictions for NL All-Stars?”

I’ll just run down a starting lineup:

I need a sign-off for this thing. See you next week.

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