Crash Bag, Vol. 62: A Tropical Fruit Coma
I ordinarily write this over the course of three nights, asking for questions on Twitter intermittently as I go. But I tend not to get that many unless Bill retweets my request for questions. Now, I know this is because he has about five times as many Twitter followers as I do, but it still makes me feel like the parent the kids don’t respect and won’t listen to.
We begin with what is literally a dilemma.
@AntsinIN: “congrats on being a starting pitcher! Unfortunately you have to choose b/w having Cliff Lee‘s run support or an IF of all MYoung”
Michael Young is one of those interesting players who 1) is/was a good offensive player and 2) spent significant time at all four infield positions without ever playing the outfield. I imagine there are more players like this than I immediately thought: Jackie Robinson, for instance, played regularly at first base, second base and third base, and played shortstop in the Negro Leagues. He probably would have been a shortstop in the majors if the Dodgers didn’t already have Pee Wee Reese, who was a pretty decent player himself.
But because Young has 83 career games at first and at least 400 at each other other three infield positions, we can get a picture of how he did at each position. And not to overstate the issue, but he’s been terrible. Everywhere. In 2004-05, he was a combined 59 runs, according to Baseball Reference, worse than the average shortstop. He’s been a below-average fielder in 12 of his 13 full seasons, 10 runs (or a full win) below average in eight of those. Through 85 games this season, he’s already 12 runs below average.
So there’s that.
And Cliff Lee hasn’t been well-supported, I’ll grant you–3.6 runs per start is pretty pathetic. But given that the National League average for runs scored per game is just shy of 4.1, I’d take my chances with that rather than the infield of all Michael Youngs.
@wzeiders: “I was reading your crashbag on reordering the MLB teams. What would your playoff system be like?
In case you missed it, a few weeks ago I was tasked with reorganizing the major league schedule however I saw fit, and answering that question turned my life into a one-man re-enactment of A Beautiful Mind. The short version ends with a couple teams moving, two teams being added and MLB being reorganized into four divisions of eight teams each.
Playoffs would be pretty straightforward: Four teams per league–the division winners, plus the two next-best teams in each league make the playoffs, where each league is seeded by record. All three playoff rounds are best-of-seven, though you might have to cut the schedule back to 154 games or go back to scheduled doubleheaders to make all that fit before it gets too cold to play, which I’m fine with.
@pivnert: “violation to do your own name on a jersey?”
Well, I’m not a big fan of calling social booboos “violations,” as if there’s some explicit Man Code to violate (all due respect to How I Met Your Mother and Miller Lite). But yeah, if you’re going to have your name on a jersey, you should probably stick to actual athletes. Some more conservative thinkers than I believe it to be a faux pas for any grown-up to have any player’s name on a jersey, and while I understand their reasoning, I find that point of view to be a little too restrictive. That said, I got a James van Riemsdyk Flyers shirsey for Christmas a couple years ago and it does feel weird to wear the name of a guy who’s younger than you are on your back.
Anyway, I think having your own name on the jersey illustrates a fantasy of actually playing for for the team, and I think that fantasy gets a little stale once your age reaches double digits.
@aisflat439: “if you have to eat an esoteric fruit, is it Star Fruit? Kumquat? Buddahs Hand? Something else?”
I’m a pretty traditional person when it comes to fruit. I usually eat apples, bananas and clementines and not a whole lot else, though I’m very much a fan of strawberries, cherries and raspberries in jellies and sauces and so forth. Occasionally I’ll go for a mango or a kiwi, but I feel like that’s not particularly exotic.
And let’s talk for a minute about how ridiculous a statement that is. I live in a part of the world that’s covered in snow five months out of the year. That I could, if I wanted to, walk into a grocery store any time of year and purchase enough exotic produce to put myself into a tropical fruit coma is a marvel of modern agriculture, engineering, commerce and diplomacy. That you can get a kumquat in Wisconsin in January is the culinary equivalent of putting a man on the moon.
@VNDtoLAD: “are these questions about baseball? if so, what will it take to acquire Chase, if indeed you are sellers?”
This is a Dodgers fan writing in. Utley’s been linked to the Dodgers because they, like the Phillies, love old players and have more money than sense, except they have way more money and (maybe) marginally more sense. Also, Utley is from California and went to UCLA, so obviously he’s somehow fated to go back to the place from which he originated. Because apparently all professional athletes are salmon and nobody ever told me.
This is a blanket statement for me, pre-trade deadline: I’m not going to indulge fake trades, because 1) I don’t know all 30 teams’ preferences, intentions and strategies 2) I don’t know all 30 teams’ 40-man rosters, let alone their farm systems, well enough to form an intelligent opinion on what constitutes equal value 3) if you make up fake trades, you are going to look like a moron. You’re going to overvalue or undervalue one side or the other and people will laugh at you and you will deserve every ounce of the avalanche of ridicule that will pour over your shoulders like slime pouring over Dave Coulier’s head at the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards and 4) all that this unfounded speculation does is rile up the fan base that needs a stimulus for its imagination like it needs to be shot in the face. Or the opposite of that, depending on how you feel at the moment.
Anyway, the Dodgers don’t have much in the way of high-ceiling players who are close to major-league ready, which is what I’d like the Phillies to get in return for Utley if they do trade him. But for an older player who’s set to hit free agency at the end of the season, it shouldn’t take all that much. If the Dodgers want Utley badly enough, they’ll have him.
@TheManKev: “What would be the Phillies best use of current players in a platoon at 1B while Howard is on the DL”
I’d be okay with some combination of Darin Ruf and Laynce Nix. Not because I think either is particularly good, because my gorge rises at the possibility of seeing such a thing full-time. But no other option rushes immediately to mind. Maybe they should rush some young and hungry players to the majors. Like Larry Greene. Who is very young…and very hungry.
@Ut26: “If Delmon Young is still on the Phillies in 2014 should I find a new team to support? If so, what teams do you recommend?”
I’ve been getting a lot of questions recently, like, at least one a week this season about it being okay to switch teams. It is not. Your team allegiances are like your national allegiances–you stick around unless the government, as John Locke would say, ceases to be the legitimate representative of the people. And as horrifying an act of personnel management as re-signing Delmon Young would be, it does not constitute the overthrow of the government by a military junta.
In other words, I find your lack of faith disturbing.
@wheresbenrivera: “How many runs a year did Rico Brogna really save with his glove? Was it close to one hundred like Wheels suggested?”
As you might expect, Rico Brogna did not save 100 runs a year. Anyone who saves 100 runs a year with his glove would be the best player of all time if he were even a replacement-level hitter. No, according to both Baseball Reference and FanGraphs, Brogna was a pretty bad fielder. In 1997, for instance, he was actually 17 runs below average with the glove, which is a hilariously bad number for any player at any position, in any year.
But hey, at least Brogna was a 100-RBI guy, right? Well, let’s look at the second of his two 100-RBI seasons, 1999. Brogna drove in 104 and hit .278/.336/.454 to do it. Now, in today’s run environment, that’d be a pretty good line, even for a horrible-fielding first baseman. But in 1999? That was actually slightly below the league average in OPS and wRC. So a below-average hitter driving in 100 runs–maybe those RBIs are more a product of Brogna’s hitting behind Abreu, Glanville (in his 200-hit season) and Rolen than they are a product of Brogna’s own skill.
@petzrawr: “An alien craft crash lands one Earth. Are we capable of reverse-engineering its technology or is it completely useless to us?”
I don’t know that we get all of it reverse-engineered, and I bet at least one intrepid scientist gets electrocuted to death trying to access the alien computer core, but we’re really good at this whole computers and math thing nowadays, and the No. 1 priority the government would have is adapting the alien weapon technology. The whole clean reactor capable of producing enough energy for interstellar travel, though? That we can do without. Don’t want to upset Big Oil.
@CrashburnAlley: “what is your favorite non-baseball-related .gif?”
@DashTreyhorn: “What’s your favorite non-baseball related iPhone app?”
I’m absolutely astounded by Shazzam. As someone who whistled Annie Lennox’s “Walking on Broken Glass” to himself for, oh, about 15 years without knowing the title, artist or any of the lyrics, a smartphone app that will listen to music for you and tell you all of that information in seconds, often over crowd noise, is a revolutionary improvement in quality of life. On par with the polio vaccine, at least in my mind.
@TheGoodPhight: “How much better would a baseball coach and manager HR derby be than the real one?”
Here’s how it would shake out: Mark McGwire beats Kirk Gibson in the final round. Gibby, in a fit of gritty pique, beats McGwire to death with his bat and helmet on live cable television. It would, in short, be much more entertaining than the current incarnation.
@brendankeeler: “what if raj is playing other GMs with this buying talk just to drive up the yard sale prices”
I think that’s a lot of what’s going on. As much as we, as fans, might hope for candor, it serves general managers to be a little more cagey in their public statements about their teams. Not only does Ruben Amaro not want to risk undermining his players’ confidence should they (improbably) be capable of climbing back into contention, he doesn’t want to broadcast his desire to sell off the Phillies’ top assets. He’s got to build a championship contender, whether it’s this year or in the future, and turning the 40-man roster into Unclaimed Freight isn’t going to get him the trade return he’s looking for.
And that’s another reason I don’t believe everything I read about trade rumors this time of year–all 30 GMs have some kind of card to play, and every single one is trying to manipulate their own team’s expectations while at the same time masking their own intentions.
@SoMuchForPathos: “You get the chance to make a baseball doc with the scope and resources of Ken Burns’. Who do you interview? What are your foci?”
I loved Ken Burns’ Baseball growing up, though I, admittedly, am not the target audience anymore. Nowadays, I’m frustrated by Burns’ choice of topics. It seemed like there were only three teams in MLB: the Yankees, Dodgers and Red Sox, for the first nine innings (I’ve only seen parts of the Tenth Inning). That said, I’m cognizant of the fact that if your’e trying to tell a comprehensive story of 10 years of baseball in an hour, you’re going to have to leave some things out.
So let’s say I’m making my own “inning” of the Ken Burns documentary, stretching from 2000 to 2013. There’s a balance to be struck between the interesting and the historically important, and here’s what I’ve got, acknowledging that many of these topics have been covered in documentary form already:
- Barry Bonds, just in general
- The decline of the Yankees dynasty
- Both 2003 LCS, including Bartman, Boone and Dusty Baker killing Kerry Wood and Mark Prior
- The end of the Red Sox title drought in 2004 (I know we’re sick of the Red Sox, but this was a huge deal)
- Baseball goes through its Enlightenment Period, touching (if we must) on Moneyball.
- The 2007-2011 Phillies, using the 2008 World Series as an excuse to talk about the rise of the Tampa Bay Rays. Actually, that’s backwards. Focus on the Rays, touch on the Phillies.
South Carolina’s back-to-back College World Series titles
- Bryce Harper and Mike Trout
- The 2011 World Series
I’m sure I’m forgetting some things, but I feel like those are the highlights. Now, one place I’d like to deviate from Burns’ film is in his tone. Because “maudlin” doesn’t really do Baseball justice in parts. Enjoying the storytelling doesn’t mean you have to turn into a blubbering idiot, just as trusting empirics doesn’t mean you have to turn into a joyless robot, so with my interviewees, I’d try to get men and women who could not only tell a good story, but tell it with nuance and intelligence.
And that’s what made the original so great. The interviews that stand out in my mind include figures from within the game (Curt Flood, Marvin Miller and Bill Lee), writers and broadcasters (Vin Scully, Bob Costas, George Plimpton) and people who we know from other arenas but who had interesting stories to tell about their own experiences as fans (Dan Okrent, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Stephen Jay Gould, Billy Crystal). And while it’s fascinating to hear Miller and Flood talk about the rise of free agency or Costas on being inside the Red Sox locker room in extra innings of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, we love baseball because of our own personal experiences, and on some level, that’s what’s what I’d want to go after.
So to that end, and placing a premium on baseball figures who have either as good a story to tell as Flood or who are as funny as Lee, and placing a premium on figures from media who can embrace the mythology of baseball without being blinded by it, here’s who I’d want to interview:
- From Baseball: Joe Torre, Sean Casey, Billy Beane, Joe Maddon, Terry Francona, Greg Maddux, Brandon McCarthy, David Wright, Cliff Floyd, Ichiro, Paul Konerko
- From Media: Joe Posnanski, Bill James (particularly if we can edit him), Will Leitch, Jonah Keri, Sam Miller, Ken Rosenthal, Vin Scully (again, though at the risk of being morbid, we’d need to get going) and Craig Robinson of Flip Flop Fly Ball
- Other Folks: Michael Schur, Alan Yang, Dan Okrent (again), Ben Gibbard, Jon Hamm, Kevin Costner, Jon Stewart, Chad Harbach…at this point I gave up and started crowdsourcing. That generated (via @Fitz2001) former President Bush (either the one who played in the College World Series or the one who used to run the Rangers, which would be awesome when the 2011 World Series came up) and (via @DLind) Cedric Richmond, a U.S. Representative who pitched at Morehouse and for the Democrats in the past two Congressional Baseball Games. She also suggested Nate Silver (who I feel stupid not thinking of myself) and Spencer Ackerman of The Guardian. There are a lot of Phillies references in 30 Rock–does Tina Fey have strong opinions on baseball? Who knows. We’ll find more.
It’s not perfect, but I think it’s a start.
That’s all for the Crash Bag. Everyone have a safe and happy Bastille Day.