Crash Bag, Vol. 57: Bully for JMJ

I got a haircut last night. Every three months, I get Karl Urban’s haircut from the new Star Trek movies and shave my beard into a mustache. After about a month, I get tired of maintaining the mustache and let it grow out until I look so disreputable I have to get it cut again. But before all that happened, I caught myself instinctively pulling my hair back into a ponytail. I’ve worn my hair in a ponytail before, but never in the past five years or so, because I’m an adult now and I know I’m never going to be a professional musician. I guess my question is–is the reflexive ponytail pull something that ever goes away? Or is it like how after that one time with the pig in my dorm room I’m going to start sweating every time I pass the deli counter at the supermarket?

@mattjedruch: “have you done a crashbag answer about baseball books before? I’d like to expand my library and wondered if you could help”

I’m sure I have, but there have been 56 Crash Bags before this, each between 2,500 and 5,000 words, and I’m not going back through them all to find them for you, so I’ll answer the question afresh if I’ve done it before. Two points up front: 1) Probably four of my five favorite sports books are about soccer. With one exception, I’m not sure there’s a baseball book that I absolutely love. 2) The overwhelming majority of the books I read are fiction, and as a result, I have never touched a lot of the baseball canon: The NaturalDollar Sign on the MuscleBall Four, either of the Hayhurst books–so if you’re reading this and I missed one, add it to the comments, because I don’t want Matt missing out on a worthwhile book just because I’ve got a crush on Simon Kuper. Also, baseball books are the topic of Episode 7 of David Temple’s excellent Stealing Home podcast (link here), so if you’re curious, check that out. Here goes.

  • The New Historical Baseball Abstract, by Bill James. This is the one book you need to have. This book has been next to my toilet for the past 12 years. Apart from Moneyball, it’s probably the most important mass-market book about baseball of the past 20 years because of the way it brought many of the statistical and philosophical concepts we rely on to the mainstream. That said, what I love most about James’ book is that it’s an exhaustively researched, consistently funny encyclopedia of folklore. The advantage of the way this book was written is that it’s a thousand-page book that’s composed of about 800 interesting digressions, from amusing anecdotes about Rabbit Maranville and Don Mossi to James posing and answering really interesting, creative ways. You can’t be serious about baseball and not own a copy of this book.
  • Moneyball, by Michael Lewis. Completely overrated, overwhelmingly misunderstood, nowhere near as good a book as The Blind Side or even Liar’s Poker. Probably necessary. Still a solid read, with some good peaks–I go back and read the draft chapter every so often.
  • Weaver on Strategy, by Terry Pluto. If I could have any manager from history to manage my baseball team, I’d have Weaver, and his book on his craft is really enlightening. It’s a short, easy read that offers a really interesting look inside the mind of the manager.
  • Summer of ’49, by David Halberstam. My dad read this chronicle of the Red Sox-Yankees pennant race to me as a bedtime story when I was six or seven, and because he was kind of unsure of how to handle how liberally this book quotes Ted Williams, I learned how to curse from this book.
  • The Great American Novel, by Philip Roth. It’s not often that you get legitimately good literary fiction about sports. I hear tell that Chad Harbach pulled this off with The Art of Fielding, but I haven’t gotten around to reading that yet. Also, it’s weird that we’re far enough along in time that we’re having novelists called Chad. But this book is as funny and weird as one would expect from Roth, and it’s worth a read, if only so I can ramp up the frequency of my Roland Agni references.
  • Two books that are interesting and well-written, but reach completely incorrect conclusions about the way baseball works: Men at Work, by George Will and Three Nights in August, by Buzz Bissinger. As much of an egomaniacal weirdo as Bissinger turned out to be, he’s a hell of a writer of nonfiction. If you haven’t read A Prayer for the City, you’re a worse person for it. These two books are about what you’d expect from monographs that lionize Tony La Russa, and in Men at Work in particular, you’ll get a lot of theories from ballplayers that seem plausible, but have been proven to be demonstrably false. For instance: Orel Hershiser  goes into that home runs-kill-rallies malarkey, and Tony Gwynn credits his high batting average in 1984 to his hitting behind stolen base threat Alan Wiggins. So, you know, don’t believe everything you read.

@fotodave: “has JMJ made the case to be in RF every day?”

The better way to put that is “Has Delmon Young made the case for JMJ to be in RF every day?” Because Mayberry is nobody’s starting corner outfielder, but there’s no aspect of the game in which he’s appreciably worse than Delmon Young, but there are several in which he’s markedly better. I actually really like Mayberry as a fourth outfielder–he can play all three outfield positions and first base, he can run some, he can throw, and he can hit for power. And if I’m collecting bench players, I’d like to have someone with a little bit of pop to bring off the bench in a pinch. But bully for JMJ with the two home runs thing. He’s having himself a good week.

@Ben_Duronio: “Would you be satisfied if Brown provided the Phillies with as much value as Victorino did over his career”

Yes, I think so. Baseball Reference puts Victorino at around 24 wins above replacement with the Phillies, which is not bad at all. I can say this now that he’s gone, but I never really liked Victorino when he was a Phillie. That said, he had a pretty good career, and if Brown turns into what Victorino was–an above-average regular until he hit free agency–I wouldn’t be, like, thrilled, but I think I’d be satisfied.

@patchak: “do I have any chance of converting my Yankees fan gf to become a Phillies fan?”

Lookee here. I save one relationship via the Crash Bag and all of a sudden I’m a fountain of useful information.

No. And you don’t want to convert her, and here’s why. I view sports fandom as a lifelong commitment. Like marriage but more serious, because there’s no such thing as no-fault divorce in sports fandom. You have to be seriously wronged by your team’s ownership in order to switch teams. I’m talking Seattle Supersonics-level wronged. Miami Marlins-level wronged. Otherwise, you pick a team and stick with it. If your main squeeze will change a lifelong sports team preference, that casts serious doubts on her trustworthiness and integrity. I wouldn’t want to place my heart in the hands of someone like that.

Now, KTLSF is a Phillies fan, but only because she didn’t start following baseball until her mid-20s. If she’d started following baseball at age six, as I did, she’d have become an Atlanta Braves fan–she’s from Georgia and just about every Braves fan I know who doesn’t write for Talking Chop I know through KTLSF. There’s a bunch of them.

And as much as I hate the Braves, I think there’d be something kind of fun about a sports rivalry being an ongoing playful argument in one’s relationship. It’d keep things fresh and allow you to look at your favorite sport through a fresh perspective, instead of turning it into an echo chamber. So you should be pleased that you’re in a relationship with someone who cheers for another team–it’ll keep everything fresh.

@petzrawr: “I’m 6’2. You’re, what six foot even? Would you rather be a foot taller or a foot shorter? I say it’s taller, no doubt about it.”

Taller. Dunking. I think that settles it.

Yeah, though if I were 6-foot-2 I might have to think about it. Being seven feet tall would suck, but not as much as it would suck to be five feet tall. Clothes are cheaper if you’re that short, but you can’t reach anything, can’t see anything in crowds, can’t reach the pedals on your car, can’t do much of anything. You’d never get a date, because if you date a taller woman everyone’s going to stare, and if you even find a size-appropriate woman, you’re going to be the stare-worthy short couple everywhere you go and you’ll have short kids. Add a couple inches, and you’re starting to get into buying adult clothes at 5-foot-2 and out of the truly ridiculous height range, while being 7-foot-2, unless you’re actually an NBA center, has to be just annoying enough to make you think.

That said, if I could look like Peter Dinklage, I’d be as short as you’d like to make me. That is a handsome man.

@B_Lang_: “How much better shape would the Phillies organization be in if Amaro hadn’t pulled the trigger on the Pence and Oswalt trades?”

The Oswalt trade was a heist. An absolute heist. Selling high on Happ right when he turned into a pumpkin, plus Villar and Gose, both of whom turned out to be a lot better prospects than anyone had reason to expect, and for as hyped as Gose was a year ago, it’s now in doubt again whether he’ll hit. Considering how good Oswalt was for a year and a half, I’d do that trade again in an instant–apart from Roy Halladay‘s contract extension, it’s the best move of Ruben Amaro‘s tenure.

The Pence trade…well, we’ve kind of been over that. With Ryan Howard blocking Jonathan Singleton and Jarred Cosart not a lock to land in the rotation, it’s not like immediate help would be on the way, but if nothing else, both would be assets to flip for other prospects. So, to answer your question: lots.

@NerdyITGirl: “How thrilled are you with the emergence of Dom? and… Compare the Phillies players to BBQ foods.”

I’m still cautiously optimistic about Dom Brown. I was hugely high on him for 3 1/2 years while he did bugger-all, so I view it as a massive breach of logical consistency to look at one hot month and be all like “Oh, yeah, he’s fixed.”

That said, I’m pretty geeked.

I’m going to half-dodge the second part of your question, because I’m neither interested enough nor expert enough in the intricacies of barbecue to do it justice. I can’t say I’ve ever had a style of barbecue I didn’t like, but I don’t get too worked up over Texas vs. Kansas City vs. Memphis-style, nor do I eat a ton of ribs or brisket or barbecued chicken. I generally prefer vinegar-based barbecue sauces to the other styles, but that might be a function of my having lived in the Carolinas and never having been to Kansas City, Texas or Memphis and done their barbecue properly. I’m sure I’d love it, because I live life by one rule: If there is meat with seasoning and/or sauce, eat as much of it as you can.

But if I had to pick one barbecue food to eat above all others, I’d take the pulled pork sandwich with mustard-based sauce, the so-called Carolina gold that comes from central South Carolina. One thing I love about barbecue is the sheer number of subtle, creative twists you can put on the sauce, so when I go to a barbecue restaurant, I’ll put a little bit of every sauce they have on the table to dip my fries or (I actually don’t know if this is verboten or not) hush puppies in. But pulled pork with Carolina gold is my home, and while it confuses or openly repulses most barbecue connoisseurs, I’ll never give up on it.

That’s how I felt about Domonic Brown nine months ago, and I’m glad he’s come good.

@Cody011: “The mets appear to have 2 P’s/ 1 C of/for the future. Why are people building up this great future ahead for them?”

Are people building a great future for them? I mean, I think Sandy Alderson knows what he’s doing, and I think Matt Harvey is the absolute truth, but apart from that…I dunno. Wheeler and D’Arnaud are both really good prospects, but D’Arnaud was supposed to be the Phillies’ catcher of the future, like, three or four years ago. I absolutely believe in the talent, but it remains to be seen how much he’ll actually play. In the long term, I’d rather have a savvy GM and broke-ass owners than rich owners and a clueless GM, but the Mets suck and that won’t change for at least another couple years. It’s okay–that’s their lot in life.

@GeoffMartini: “Why do MLB players, even from college, take so long to develop vs playing right away in NFL, NBA?”

That’s a good question. Having absolutely no empirical evidence to support my supsicions, I have two theories. First: baseball has more reliance on deception and fine motor skills than, say, football, so maybe baseball skills just take longer to develop than football or basketball skills. Could be, but I don’t know for sure.

It’s far more likely that pro baseball players take longer to develop because the developmental system is so spread out. In football, all the best amateur players in the world are all playing in college (and if we’re being totally honest, the SEC), so the best play the best, get the best coaching and develop against the best. Basketball’s a little more spread out, with more top-level college programs and the addition of various international leagues, and hockey, while the international and college feeder systems are less pronounced than in basketball, also adds Canadian Major Junior. However, the top amateur players in hockey play international tournaments against each other, so you see best-on-best from a young age.

Contrast that to baseball, where players come from hundreds of college programs, thousands of high school programs, plus various international academies. Not only are players harder to scout, but they’re not getting access to high-level coaching the like of which you might find in ACC basketball or QMJHL hockey. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the fastest-rising players are the most-developed. Only a handful of players from the 2012 draft have already made the majors, including: Paco Rodriguez, Kevin Gausman, Michael Wacha and Michael Roth, all of whom are pitchers from the SEC, which is probably the most-advanced amateur baseball league that feeds the draft.

Put another way: a couple months before the Penguins drafted Sidney Crosby in 2005, he played in the World Juniors, where his teammates included teenaged versions of Brent Seabrook, Shea Weber, Dion Phaneuf, Jeff Carter, Ryan Getzlaf, Mike Richards, Corey Perry, Patrice Bergeron and Braydon Coburn. And their opponents included David Krejci, Tuukka Rask, Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Ryan Suter, Ryan Callahan, Phil Kessel and Loui Eriksson. Like, he’d been vetted by that point. Mike Trout faced almost literally the same competition growing up that my younger brother (who was a really good pitcher growing up, but nobody’s idea of a 10-win major leaguer) did. How can you possibly judge a player based on that competition? How much does that level of coaching slow down a player’s development?

That’s the theory anyway.

@RacingAJ64: “given the choice what Phillies would you invite to a bachelor party?”

As it happens, I’m going to have a bachelor party of my own in the next couple months, and I’d like to extend an invitation to any and all Phillies players to attend said party. Let’s just get that out of the way up front.

As to which players I’d invite, I’d start with Ryan Howard, who is my answer every time I get a question here that’s a variation on “Which Phillies player would you like to be friends with?” I’d also invite Cole Hamels and Ben Revere, who seem like thoroughly delightful men. Plus Jimmy Rollins, who I grew up hero-worshipping.

But I don’t think that’s what you’re asking. I think you’re asking which Phillies player would, given a venue as conducive to hedonism as a bachelor party, go completely busalooey. I’m talking high-end libations, strippers and hallucinogens.

I betcha that Humberto Quintero‘s into some crazy shit. I’d invite him too.

@JWaeghe: “what do you think this pick means for galvis and r quinn?”

In response to the Phillies drafting J.P. Crawford No. 16 overall. I gripe about the Phillies’ reluctance to draft college players frequently, but the consensus seems to be that Crawford (while flawed) was the best amateur shortstop on the board, so if you’re getting the top name at an up-the-middle position, that’s a good deal.

So what does that mean for the other two young name shortstops in the Phillies’ system? Nothing.

Crawford’s not going to reach the majors for probably another four years at minimum (if he gets there at all), by which time it’ll be plainly obvious whether Freddy Galvis will ever hit enough to be more than a backup. As for Roman Quinn…I know he’s fast, but in order to get in Crawford’s way, he has to field shortstop well enough to stay there at the major-league level and hit well enough to play anywhere at the major-league level, and if I had to pick a likely outcome, I’d say that neither happens.

This, by the way, is why you never ever ever draft for need in baseball. For reasons addressed above, development is so uncertain and the lead time between drafting and the majors is so long that there’s no guarantee that anybody who gets drafted will ever reach the majors, and if so, that he’ll wind up at the position he’s drafted at. So if Galvis and Quinn and Crawford all wind up making the majors and being worth a crap, that’s a good problem to have. I don’t think it’ll happen, but I hope it does.

That’ll do it for this week’s Crash Bag. As always, thank you for your patronage and have a pleasant weekend.

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  1. Fish Fry

    June 07, 2013 09:37 AM

    Good game last night. Is anybody afraid to pitch to Ryan Howard? You would think he would get getter pitches to hit batting in front of Dom but in the last 7 days he’s at .182. His only decent at bat was the one with the SacFly.
    Delmon Young, please continue to hit .260(last 7 days, yes small sample size and all but it has to start somewhere) with a HR every 20AB until the trade Deadline so someone in AL will take you as a flyer. RAJ is not going to cut him, won’t happen, and Charlie will run him out there as he feels it’s his best way to “protect” Dom. If he can hit .260, he is a better DH option than quite a few teams have (TB, O’s, Cleveland, A’s…). As documented, brutal in the field. No way he can stay on our roster once the Trade Deadline passes, can he?
    Liked the lineup, liked the way TC pitched even as he fell behind on quite a few batters.
    Great choice of books, thanks for the list.

  2. Jesse

    June 07, 2013 09:40 AM

    I always feel like a doofus because I love Bernard Malamud and I love baseball and I haven’t read The Natural either. Oy, what a doofus I feel like.

  3. chuck

    June 07, 2013 09:54 AM

    A novel that tangentially involves baseball you should check out: Mr. Vertigo by Paul Auster.

  4. LTG

    June 07, 2013 09:57 AM

    “But if I had to pick one barbecue food to eat above all others, I’d take the pulled pork sandwich with mustard-based sauce, the so-called Carolina gold that comes from central South Carolina.”

    I had just finished eating a rather large breakfast when I read this. It made my mouth water. I wonder if I could get a last minute ticket to Columbia.

  5. LTG

    June 07, 2013 10:02 AM

    I’m jealous that you could grow up hero-worshiping Rollins. I grew up hero-worshiping Lenny Dykstra and am probably a worse person for it.

  6. Richard

    June 07, 2013 10:57 AM

    FishFry, have you been watching the games? I see you can look up stats, yet you only cite batting average. Ryan Howard’s slash line in the last 7 days is the following:

    That’s with a BB% of 17.2% and K% of 20.7%. BABIP of .222. A triple and two doubles.

    Last night, in fact, he had at least three good at bats. The SF, yes, and he also he hit a screaming line drive right at the first baseman. But even one of his strikeouts was a decent at bat (I didn’t see the other one): he took the three balls he was thrown, took one strike, and then swung missed at two other pitches that were strikes, but not great pitches to hit. Not a bad at bat all.

    This is not to make any great claims about Ryan Howard going forward, but you have to look at the last 7 days as positives.

  7. NickFromGermantown

    June 07, 2013 11:04 AM

    I’m pretty sure that the BBQ foods thing was an extremely facile interpretation for what people consider “BBQ”. Many people think that having a “BBQ” is going outside and heating up food instead of the actual method of barbecuing food – slowly applying heat over a long period of time.

    So, to state the question differently, “Compare the Phillies players to cookout foods”.

    And can we stop doing the “Phillies as…”? It’s getting really tired.

  8. Gabe

    June 07, 2013 11:09 AM

    I have made Bobby Flay’s “Pulled Pork Sandwich with Black Pepper Vinegar Sauce and Green Onion Slaw” two times. Ridiculously good…semi vegetarian free range only organic sister-in-law loved it. So awesome that is all I can think about and I just finished eating my leftovers from the Greek Festival.

  9. LTG

    June 07, 2013 11:11 AM

    There’s so much wrong with that comment, NFG, that I don’t what to say. But, first, did you ask the question? If not, how do you know the questioner’s intention? Lots of people know the difference between BBQ and grilling, especially those who identify as nerds.

  10. Walter

    June 07, 2013 11:22 AM

    I would respectfully suggest that the fact that the trade for Oswalt was a direct result of Amaro’s assheadedly trading away Cliff Lee for nothing rather than lock him up before he hit free agency, then trying and failing to get him back from the Mariners at the trade deadline six months later, should severely temper any praise for that move.

  11. Sissi

    June 07, 2013 11:27 AM

    You’ve got to read the Art of Fielding. I know, I don’t like the name Chad either, but trust me on this.

  12. Brad.

    June 07, 2013 11:38 AM

    Just wanted to add a few book recs: _The Glory of Their Time_ can make one stupidly happy about the past. As to fiction, I’m always pushing Donald Hays’s _The Dixie Association_ on people; and Greenberg’s _The Celebrant_.

  13. Phillie697

    June 07, 2013 12:24 PM


    If we had kept Lee, I would still have traded for Oswalt, since we gave up next-to-nothing for him (yes, J.A. Happ was and should be considered as next-to-nothing).

  14. Fish Fry

    June 07, 2013 01:43 PM

    Tony Taylor was my favorite. Although I always like Jay Johnstone and “Downtown” Ollie Brown on mid 70’s teams. What a cannon.

    Richard, you are right, RH is having better at bats and has been since DB started batting 5th, at least to my eye. I was surprised when I looked at what he had hit over the past week as I expected it to be better. I have to wonder what RH’s “natural” BABIP should be between the shift and bad wheels. Every time the “short fielder” throws him out at 1st while playing 30 feet behind his normal 2b position, it drives me nuts. I almost wish he would choke up and just punch the ball into left especially with DB hitting behind him. more on base for DB, more opportunity to score. I wonder if he has the bat control to even attempt such a thing, he certainly hasn’t ever shown it.

  15. Steve

    June 07, 2013 05:23 PM

    “Doc Ellis in the Country of Baseball” by Donald Hall. My favorite sports-centric book of all time.

  16. WayneKerrins

    June 07, 2013 07:03 PM

    Baseball books: The Book and The Head Game
    Association Football books: Left foot Forward and Left Foot in The Grave both by Gary Nelson. The Miracle of Castel di Sangro. Congratulations you have just met the ICF.

  17. hk

    June 08, 2013 05:35 AM

    I’m beyond hoping for Charlie to use his best relievers in the highest leverage situations, but since I didn’t see last night’s game, can someone please tell me why Horst faced Segera, Braun and Ramirez, Milwaukee’s 3 best hitters all of whom happen to hit right-handed?

  18. Richard

    June 09, 2013 07:57 AM

    apparently, since half the bullpen was unavailable, and one simply does not use one’s closer in the 9th inning of a tie game on the road does one, and since, knowing he was short-handed and philosophically rigid, Manuel inexplicably switched Stutes out for Horst the previous inning, meaning Stutes was not available anymore either, and meaning his only options were Horst and Savery

  19. Jeff P

    June 11, 2013 07:25 AM

    What are the soccer books you reference? Been getting big into soccer lately and have been looking for some reading material on the subject. But as a new fan, I worry if I’m buying the MLB equivalent of Heyman.

  20. hk

    June 11, 2013 08:49 AM

    Jeff P,

    I don’t know if this fits the bill, but is an interesting soccer blog written by a local club soccer and college coach and written for an audience that ranges from youth soccer players, to parents of youth soccer players to anyone who wants to learn more about the game.

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