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Crash Bag, Vol. 59: Move Along Home

Posted By Michael Baumann On June 21, 2013 @ 7:00 am In Crabshurn Urly,Crash Bag,MLB,Philadelphia Phillies,Potpourri,Prospects,Sabermetrics,Talking about feelings | 25 Comments

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.

And besides, this is pretty much how Hunter Pence runs the bases anyway, right?

@Matt_Winkelman: “Have we gone too far in the fetishization of prospects? Have we become so stats reliant we forget to watch how a player plays?”

Two excellent questions from Matty Winks. I’ll take them one at a time.

  1. No, I don’t. I think the most obsessive baseball fans, the ones who write about it and watch games seven days a week and listen to half a dozen baseball podcasts, are going to obsess over prospects, but the average fan…actually, even the 75th-percentile fan, is probably going to know maybe the names and positions of the top couple minor leaguers in his favorite team’s system and not a whole lot else. Like, the 75th percentile Phillies fan probably knows who Jesse Biddle is and might be able to name Cody Asche or something, but not much else. If you’re reading Crashburn Alley, you’re probably either a top-quartile Phillies fan or my mom. (Hi, Mom!) But knowledge of prospects, thanks to MiLB.tv and the proliferation of writers who specialize in such things, is more readily available now than ever, which is great. We can never have too much information. So if your question means: do we pay more attention to them than we ought to? I say no. The information’s out there for anyone who wants it, and as for people who think “Prospects” is an unlimited well of trade value, and that all such wells are created equal? Or that because one team has a Manny Machado, all teams have Manny Machado? Well, stupid, mouthy, partially-informed people are going to say stupid things no matter what the topic, as evidenced by cable television. I wouldn’t let that bother me too much.
    Now, if you mean “Do we esteem prospects too highly?” I think so. Prospects are the new statistical analysis, an exciting new frontier of baseball knowledge that’s come available to the average fan only recently. We should be excited to learn, and discuss and imagine, but I think we’re often seduced by the hopeful unknown that prospects represent and overrate them. I think that’s fair. I think we see individual skills and athleticism in a young player and forget too easily that the modal outcome for any minor leaguer (or college player or high school player) is professional failure. In fact, “The modal outcome is failure” is something that everyone ought to get tattooed prominently on his or her body, because it’s not only true, it’s important to remember.
  2. Do we rely to much on statistics? From an evaluation Absolutely not. An over-reliance on personal observation is the easiest way to be wrong about everything, all the time. As someone who purports to have enough knowledge about baseball to write about it from a position of expertise, I base…just about none of my serious analysis on what I see. That’s for two reasons: 1) I can’t watch 100 major league games a week, and even if I could, I’m not sure I’d want to. 2) I can’t judge baseball players on visual clues alone. I can look at a player mechanically and tell you if he looks like he knows what he’s doing, but I can’t tell whether a pitcher’s release point is steady or if a hitter’s flying open on the front side. If I have a question about the kinesthetics of baseball, I ask Longenhagen. I’m a writer, not a scout. So if I’m evaluating or predicting, I go with the numbers, or cite the qualitative analysis of people who know more than I do, because that’s a more efficient way to learn and more accurate in the long run.
    That said, I really enjoy commenting on the aesthetics of baseball. I learned to write by reading postmodern literature, and one side effect of that is that I really enjoy describing the mundane. And you know what–I don’t think anyone really loves baseball because of numbers. I think numbers make an effective illustration of certain amazing things for which people do love baseball. So good analysis and good argumentation is almost always based in either the quantitative or expert qualitative analysis, but good writing is often about how things look and feel.

Two good questions, and I’m not really sure I’ve answered either of them, but c’est la guerre.

@CubeSide: “Chris Davis. That is the question.”

No, Chris Davis is the answer.

On a serious note, he does raise the question of how long a player has to stay on a mid-career breakout tear in order for us to believe it. It’s why, despite being one of the biggest Domonic Brown supporters out there, I couldn’t get too amped up over his outstanding May–why does one good month outweigh the bad month that came before it? I think Sam Miller and Ben Lindbergh discussed this in depth on Effectively Wild a few weeks back, but the threshold has to be different for everyone. I don’t think Chris Davis is going to OPS 1.100 for the rest of his career, but I think this start is more legit than not for the following reasons:

  • Davis has always had this kind of power. I’m more inclined to believe in a player sorting out the metal kinks than a player making a physical leap. 
  • He hit .320/.397/.660 last September. Which means nothing, but it speaks to the possibility that he might have made an adjustment, midyear last year, then kept it up over an offseason. Someone who’s more serious about statistics and streaks and so on than I am would probably pooh-pooh that assertion until I bleed from underneath my fingernails, but screw ‘em, this is about perception, not reality.
  • Davis is still only 27 years old. It’s not like it’s impossible for a hitter to put things together in his late 20s, particularly when he’s in the starting lineup everyday for the first time in his career.

Chris Davis? Yes. I think he’s going to be pretty good henceforth.

@TheGreyKing: “If you were in charge of the MLB, which teams would you move, add, and/or eliminate?”

OH MAN. I have been waiting my whole life for this question. Apparently this question was inspired by Nate Silver’s take on how he’d realign the NHL, which is a much more interesting problem than realigning MLB, because in the NHL, several franchises are foundering because Gary Bettman has decided to make expansion to the Sun Belt his personal Thermopylae, while several cities cry out for an NHL team. Meanwhile, Major League Baseball franchises are, generally, in rude health, and I don’t know that there are a ton of cities that really need a baseball team and don’t have one already.

But if I were suddenly made dictator of the world, there are a couple things I’d like to see:

  • An equal number of teams in each division, and an even number of teams in each league. This is important because I want to…
  • Eliminate interleague play and the designated hitter. I am fully aware that I am to baseball scheduling what Rick Santorum is to sexual politics. I don’t care. The separation between the leagues used to be something that made baseball special, and I want to keep that up.
  • Keep teams in their original cities as much as possible, and keep franchises that have moved, but since put down strong roots (thinking Orioles, Yankees, Giants, Dodgers, and so on) where they are.
  • Put at least one more team in Canada.
  • Remove teams from failing markets.
  • Probably get rid of the Braves and Indians’ nicknames. I’ve always said there’s probably a way to honor Native American culture in sport without being as overtly offensive as, say, the Tomahawk Chop or Chief Wahoo, but  unlike Roger Goodell and Dan Snyder, I’m also aware that if we’re worried (as we should be) about offending people with Native American imagery, I shouldn’t be the barometer for what’s appropriate and what’s racist. Better to be safe and steer away from the issue entirely.

So here’s my plan.

  1. Get the Marlins the hell out of Miami. Send bounty hunters after Jeffrey Loria and David Samson, hang both of them from a yardarm and liquidate their estates to repay the taxpayers they bilked for the money to re-create the set from Logan’s Run. Get the Rays the hell out of Tampa. Nobody’s going to see them. Set a series of charges on the Florida border and let Florida float out to sea. Florida is the worst place on Earth. You know the band Florida Georgia Line? They were being ironic and wanted to name their band after the most miserable place you can imagine, but they figured “Bakaara Market, Mogadishu,” would be too hard for country DJs to spell. Florida is an inhospitable place peopled by sad, decaying, impoverished people. We should build an ark in Jacksonville, let whoever wants to escape do so, then detach it from the nation and let it float until it runs into, like, Brazil or Nigeria or something. Let it be someone else’s problem. Florida shouldn’t have human life, much less two major league baseball teams.
  2. Dump the Rays in Vancouver (where sports fans are insane and they’d go see a professional Chula team if it existed) and the Marlins in Montreal, where Jeffrey Loria cruelly killed baseball a decade ago, and where they’d come up with some outstanding name for the team. Seriously, they know how to come up with awesome French team names in Quebec. I’ll just go ahead and steal a QMJHL team name for this exercise and call them the Montreal Voltigeurs.
  3. Just move the A’s to San Jose already. Nothing against Oakland, but their stadium is full of poop and the Giants are quickly becoming more trouble than they’re worth.
  4. That pretty much does it for situations where franchises are in serious danger, which is great for baseball but bad for this exercise, since part of my plan was to either add or subtract two teams. Now, one option is to just move the A’s to Montreal, call them the Athletiques and contract the two Florida teams, but that’s no fun and the MLBPA would pitch a fit. So now we have to expand. But to where? Portland could work, but if you built a stadium, you’d have to install 45,000 bike racks instead of parking garages. So could Salt Lake City, but you couldn’t sell beer. Which is not as big an issue as not selling tickets, as one does in Tampa and Miami.
    One of the great untapped markets for sports in the U.S. is southeastern Virginia. The Chesapeake Bay area has about 1.7 million people, roughly the size of the Indianapolis metropolitan area, which supports two major league sports teams. The problem? Indianapolis is one big city with suburbs. Virginia Beach, etc., is about half a dozen cities with six-figure populations that ring a body of water–just like Tampa. Put the park in Virginia Beach and nobody from Hampton or Newport News is ever going to go to games, and if they do, you ain’t seen gameday traffic until you see it on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. Bad idea, even though Virginia and the Carolinas are underserved when it comes to pro baseball.
    That said, why not Charlotte? Well, because, as the Braves can tell you, nobody gives a crap about pro sports in the Southeast. It’s college football (and, in North Carolina and Kentucky) basketball, or bust. You put a pro baseball team in Charlotte and it’ll draw 5,000 fans a game…well, or not, actually (h/t to Colin Wyers of Baseball Prospectus for the link to the article).
    My first inclination would be for the two expansion franchises to go to Nashville, Tennessee and Riverside, California. Nashville, in addition to being (in my estimation) the best place on Earth, would serve Appalachia and siphon off some of those Braves and Cardinals fans that want a local team but can’t get one within a couple hundred miles.
    Riverside might sound weird, but consider the following: oodles of people live in California. That’s a scientific fact, given to me by the Census Bureau. Oodles. In fact, not only is the Riverside metropolitan area the 12th-largest in the United States and the largest without a pro sports team. Better yet, apparently they call the Riverside area the Inland Empire, which would make for a team name so awesome I might consider ditching the Phillies to support it. However, after consulting not only population density figures but also Jason Wojciechowski, the Official California Expert of the Crash Bag, it seems the Inland Empire is not so hospitable to baseball, thanks to its unstable economy and light population density. Also, Nashville is apparently untenable as well (h/t to Matt Hunter of Beyond the Box Score for that).
  5. Okay, so for those of you who got lost in that last bit, my gut feeling about cities isn’t nearly as accurate as I’d hoped. I was wrong about the Inland Empire, wrong about Charlotte, wrong about Nashville. So thanks to the research in that Nate Silver piece (and over the objections of Lana Berry, the Official Texas Expert of the Crash Bag), I’m putting those two new teams in Raleigh-Durham and San Antonio. This breaks my heart for two reasons: 1) the demise of the Riverside Inland Empire and 2) if there were a major league ballclub in Nashville I’d move there and never leave the city limits again, except maybe to go to road games in Montreal. But both the Research Triangle and San Antonio are, like Leon, getting larger, and rapidly.

Okay, that was a lot of me writing out my thought process. I apologize. Here’s how Major League Baseball would be divided, if I were dictator of the world:

  • American League East: New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, Detroit Tigers, Minnesota Twins, Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Spiders, Chicago White Sox
  • American League West: Seattle Mariners, San Jose Athletics, Texas Rangers, Houston Astros, San Antonio Jackrabbits, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Vancouver Olympians
  • National League East: New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, Washington Nationals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Montreal Voltigeurs, The Fightin’ Oglethorpes of Georgia (h/t @SoMuchForPathos), Cincinnati Reds, Durham Bulls
  • National League West: San Francisco Giants, Arizona Diamondbacks, Los Angeles Dodgers, Colorado Rockies, San Diego Padres, Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers

A note on the Fightin’ Oglethorpes of Georgia. I realized partway through writing this, that there’s not really a whole lot of positive history in Georgia to draw on. I hate generic nicknames for teams, and the history and culture of Atlanta are so devoid of fodder for a team name that you might as well just keep calling them the Braves. I kicked around the Jets as a nickname, owing to the strong aviation roots of greater Atlanta, but that would put a team called the Jets in three of the four major sports (including one that was moved from Atlanta). Moreover, if you name a team in Atlanta after something having to do with aviation, you’re going to get the two Ohio teams giving you the side-eye. Because Ohio is home to the Wright Brothers, Neil Armstrong, John Glenn and the former Strategic Air Command. (I grow light-headed at the prospect of a jersey patch that reads: “Peace is our profession.”)

But when I retweeted the Fightin’ Oglethorpes suggestion, I got this:

And now I have no idea what to do.

This has been the ramblingest Crash Bag answer ever. Time to move on.

@bxe1234: “Ever considered changing the spelling of your name to Maikel?”

I’ve considered changing my name to a lot of things. I like my name, but it’s made my life confusing. In elementary school, my teachers would put all the Michaels in my class in the same group when we went on field trips, just to make life easy on the chaperones. Sometimes there were as many as six of us in a class of 25. A quick trip to Wolfram Alpha suggests that there are nearly 4 million Michaels in the United States today. One in 61 Americans is named Michael.

So I’ve gone by Michael, by Mike, most often by Baumann (at one point, I was surrounded by so many other Michaels that my own brothers started calling me Baumann). If “M.J.” weren’t even lamer, I’d probably go by my initials.

But no, I’ve never considered spelling my name like that. It’s a stupid way to spell one’s name, and only permissible in Maikel Franco‘s case because he’s foreign. Any native English-speaker who spells his name like that ought to be beaten soundly about the head, and that’s the end of it. It’s almost as bad as spelling it “Micheal.”

It’s 7 o’clock, American. Another day closer to victory. And for all of you out there, on, or behind the line, this is your Crash Bag.


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