Crash Bag, Vol. 60: Put that on Your Eye Black, Tebow

Lots of football in this Crash Bag. Not sure how that happened.

@uublog: “Who is the Monkey’s Paw of sports you can write about intelligently?”

I needed this reference explained to me. I know people seem to think I’m really well-read and esoteric, but I’ve only got about a dozen cultural references that I just keep rotating. Anyway, apparently there’s this monkey’s paw that grants you three wishes, but gives them to you in really horrible ways. It’s a parable about being careful what you wish for, but for people who think King Midas is too mainstream.

But the Monkey’s Paw of sports is pretty definitely Donovan McNabb, at least from where I’m sitting.

Eagles fans wanted McNabb gone pretty much since the moment he showed up. They blamed him, and pretty much him alone, for three NFC Championship game losses and a Super Bowl loss. It’s difficult to overstate the idiocy of blaming a team’s faults on its best player, but if you’re going to assign a 1:1 relationship between McNabb’s performance individually and the Eagles’ performance as a team, you have to be careful what you wish for. Because if that’s so, what does it say about McNabb’s importance to the team that his departure was followed, within three years, by the Eagles going rapidly and completely to shit?

I wouldn’t blame the decline and fall of the Philadelphia Eagles wholly on McNabb’s departure, because I’m not the kind of person who believes, for instance, that the sun rises and sets because Helios pulls it across the sky with his chariot. Which is just as ridiculous a thing to believe in as McNabb having been the Eagles’ big problem. Continue reading…

Up Close and Personal: Yasiel Puig

After taking two of three from the Padres, the Phillies travel from San Diego to Los Angeles for a four-game set with the Dodgers to finish off their West coast road trip. The Dodgers, much like the Phillies, have been an expensive disappointment. Last year, they took on $250 million in salary from the Red Sox, acquiring Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett in what was arguably the biggest trade in baseball history. Manager Don Mattingly, like Charlie Manuel has in the past, has stubbornly refused to use his best reliever (Kenley Jansen) in the most crucial situations, favoring a less-effective veteran (Brandon League).

Perhaps the most interesting storyline to come out of Los Angeles this year, however, has been Yasiel Puig. A Cuban defector, he signed with the Dodgers last year on a seven-year, $42 million contract. Between rookie ball in the Arizona League and a handful of at-bats with Single-A Rancho Cucamonga, Puig flashed star potential at every turn. The Dodgers moved the 22-year-old to Double-A Chattanooga to start the 2013 season and the outfielder caught on fire immediately. Between the start of the season and the end of May, Puig posted a .982 OPS which included a .313 average, eight home runs, and 13 stolen bases in 167 plate appearances. The Dodgers, struggling mightily at the time due in large part to an avalanche of injuries, promoted Puig and put him in the starting lineup on June 3.

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The Future is Unwritten: Maikel Franco Scouting Report

Before you read my scouting report on Maikel Franco, I ask that you read the next few paragraphs.

“They’re not all (Buster) Posey.”

Those were the words spoken to me by a front office executive at a game I was at last week. We were discussing The Struggle, the nearly inevitable punch in the face every baseball player receives at least once on their climb toward the Major League stability. There comes a time for nearly all prospects when the horse that has taken them to whichever level they have risen can no longer pull the weight of the professional baseball buggy (Austin Wright is learning this right now, but that’s another show). Prospects that ascend to the Major Leagues unscathed by their own inadequacies are the rarest of the rare. Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Buster Posey, Felix Hernandez… players that navigate the minors without experiencing failure are the exception. It’s far more common for players to arrive in the big leagues bearing scars of development and adjustment like Jeff Samardzija, Carlos Gonzalez and Domonic Brown do.

And yet, we don’t seem to understand this. Our culture is accustomed to things happening very quickly. Our information, our food, our travel and now, seemingly, our prospects. We want him to be good and we want him to be good fast. We want to read reports on that player that reaffirm our own ideas about him. We ask questions that lead to misleading answers like, “When can we expect him in the big leagues?!?!” and “What’s a player in the Majors right now you would compare him to so I can get a grasp of what he’s like as soon as possible?!?”

This alters the prospect writer’s relationship with the reader in a way that, ultimately, does the reader a disservice. You do not want to read about how I think Jesse Biddle is a #3 starter (which, by the way, is pretty damn good). You don’t want me to write a full OFP on Royals prospect Kyle Smith, who is destroying the Carolina League this year, and tell you I think he might make it as a reliever. You want me to tell you how great I think Cody Asche is or that I think Kyle Crick has a #1 starter ceiling. That sort of sensationalism, the kind that appeases the audience, gives birth to phrases like “Baby Aces.” I don’t know how this started. Maybe readers craved these embellished, surreal evaluations and altered the way writers delineated things. Maybe writers chose to melt the prospect clocks themselves in effort to gain readership and are now left to try to feed the beast they created. It is irrelevant. It’s a chicken or the egg puzzle I don’t’ care to solve. But, at the risk of sounding like a dick, I won’t be part of it.

Stop peeking at your presents. Stop thinking you’re getting a Ferrari cake when you’re probably getting an Acura cake. Be Happy with your Acura cake, Acuras are really nice. Realize that the Acura cake takes time to make. Now you can read about Maikel Franco who, in my opinion, is going to be a pretty badass player. Which, given what you’ve just read, should mean a hell of a lot to you.

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Looking at the Best Ways to Construct A Bullpen

With the struggles the Phillies’ bullpen has faced recently, and the potential for closer Jonathan Papelbon to be traded, I’ve seen various conversations on how best to construct a bullpen pop up. There isn’t really a consensus on the matter. Based on the unpredictable nature of relief pitchers who get only a small sample of innings in which to perform — 60 to 70 innings is one-third of a season for a starting pitcher — I have long advocated putting the ‘pen at the bottom of the list of priorities. That’s not to say that one cannot put together a great bullpen by throwing money at the problem, but anecdotally it seems to fail at a much higher rate than it succeeds.

We need some data on the matter, so I looked at the top-five bullpens in baseball by ERA (min. 20 IP per reliever) and compared it to the Phillies. (Note: only five Phillies relievers crossed the 20 IP threshold, so I lowered it to 15 IP for them.) Note that contract amounts list the 2013 salary, not the total salary or the average annual value.

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Some Optimism: It Could Be Worse!

The last week was arguably the toughest to swallow for both the Phillies organization and the fans, as Jonathan Papelbon failed to hold onto three different leads in the span of four appearances, the offense played hide-and-seek, and the starting pitching has been a far cry from the standards set in recent years. At 36-40 and 7.5 games out of first place with the trade deadline fast approaching, the Phillies are dangerously close to backing themselves into the sellers’ corner. The core of a team you grew to know and love over the years may be no more after July 31 as Chase Utley, Jonathan Papelbon, Cliff Lee, and still others could be wearing different uniforms to finish out the 2013 season.

It’s disappointing to think about, which is why I’d like to bring you a small dose of optimism: it could be worse!

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The Phillies Bullpen: It Stinks

To paraphrase The Critic, the Phillies’ bullpen stinks. The hodgepodge of arms, thankfully sans Chad Durbin, has yielded baseball’s worst bullpen ERA at 4.67. Its collective xFIP isn’t much better at 4.34, good for second-worst in baseball behind the lowly Houston Astros. It was bad before Jonathan Papelbon — the only consistently-reliable arm in the stable — blew three four saves in four opportunities in the span of a week, and now it just feels awful. On Saturday, the Phillies turned a 7-1 lead into a 7-7 tie only to walk off on Kevin Frandsen‘s home run. Relief, in this case, is a misnomer.

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Prospect Pu Pu Platter

I spent Tuesday night in Lakewood at the South Atlantic League All Star Game and Wednesday night in Reading to see, among other things, Chase Utley rehab against Anthony Ranaudo. I’ve got nine pages of handwritten notes from those two days and a few more back logged from other games I’ve been to lately. I want to get this information out (not just the Phillies stuff, it’s time I dust off my own little site and write up non-Phillies stuff, too. I am scouting and taking notes on everyone so i may as well put it to use) so here’s a quick summary on the guys I’ve seen recently, excluding the guys that I think require full reports (except for Mecias). These start out as very conversational reports and gradually de-construct into shorter, more scouting report-like blurbs. We’re going to do a scouting mailbag in the near future so if there’s jargon you don’t understand, hold that question for next week sometime.  Continue reading…

Crash Bag, Vol. 59: Move Along Home

Very few questions this week, but a spectacular crop. Let’s dive right in, like a hyperactive toddler into the ball pit at McDonald’s.

@SoMuchForPathos: “Speak, if you would, on the parallels between Chula and baseball.”

And there are many. Chula, for those of you who don’t remember, is a board game played by a species called the Wadi in an early episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. There are five players: one who sets a strategy and rolls the dice, and four others who are transported into the game and made to overcome various puzzles and physical challenges, descending down the levels of the board to home.

I know that the episode of DS9 that featured Chula, “Move Along Home,” was almost universally decried as terrible. Like, the conceit is that the Wadi are the first species the Federation made contact with and brought back through the Wormhole, so you’d think they’d be important, but they get written out after one episode. But think about the game–one person calls the strategy and literally rolls the dice, leaving the outcome not only up to his in-game players, over whom he has no direct control, but largely to chance. Those players go from one level to another, trying to go home…does this sound familiar to anyone?

Which brings me to the real point of this whole exercise. The games are similar enough that you could probably get the Wadi leader, a boisterous, charismatic, mustachioed huckster named Falow, to do color commentary on a baseball game with little to no prep time. Would this not be the best thing ever?

Tom McCarthy: “Revere on first, nobody out, Phillies down 2-1 in the eighth inning. Michael Young to the plate. What do you think–does Charlie Manuel call a bunt or a steal, or does he let Young swing away?”
Falow: “CHOOSE THEIR PATH!”
T-Mac: “Stammen takes the sign, the pitch…and Revere takes off! The throw from Ramos…not in time!”
Falow: “Double their peril, double your winnings!”
T-Mac: “1-0 the count to Young. Stammen with the offering–and Young lines it into the gap in right! Revere around third, the throw from Harper is not in time! Tie ballgame!”
Falow: “ALLAMARAINE! MOVE ALONG HOME! MOVE ALONG HOME!”

Hey, people who think baseball is boring? I’ve solved it. Completely. Continue reading…

The Future Is Unwritten: An Exhaustive JP Crawford Scouting Report

Today the Phillies signed this year’s first round draft pick, Lakewood High School (CA) shortstop JP Crawford, to his first professional baseball contract which included a $2.3 million signing bonus Yes, I’m writing up a report on JP Crawford almost two full weeks after he was drafted. Yes, every other Phillies media outlet has already done this ad naseum and all have probably forgotten about him by now. No, this is not like all the other ones.

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