Relievers and This Winter’s Checkbook

The bullpen! It needs help! And although the lingering fear is that the best fix is to go with an influx of external candidates, pouring free agent money out the taps and dishing pint after pint of it to the latest and greatest relief arms to grace the free agent pool, there may actually be a way to avoid such a money dump.

Right now, the relief corps looks pretty crappy. September call-ups on tryout, lethargy in the air and the absence of other names via injury or suspension have rendered the bullpen a place of shame and dread, its gate-opening an act to be regarded with the utmost distaste. Hell, even the best arm currently available within gets booed nearly every time out, regardless of performance.

It’s a sad place. But the good news is that brighter days may be ahead in 2014! That’s easy to say about nearly any aspect of this Phillies club, but we need to go one thing at a time, lest our gripes pile upon our chests to a suffocating weight before we’re ready to bear them.

Continue reading…

Crash Bag, Vol. 71: The Opacity of Athletes

Yeah, I got nothing. Let’s go.

@TheBigCup: “WHY IS IT A CRASH BAG?”

Because this is the mailbag column for Crashburn Alley. It’s a portmanteau.

@SoMuchForPathos: “Which military leaders would have been good baseball managers, assuming, y’know, that a Caesar or Genghis Khan learns baseball.”

The thing about baseball is that it doesn’t really lend itself to creative tactics. You start bunting and hit-and-running and playing for the platoon advantage all the time and you’re going to start collecting outs the way a stray dog collects fleas. If you put T.E. Lawrence, for instance, in charge of a ballclub you’d go weeks without a batter swinging away with a man on base. He’d be like Tony La Russa in a turban. We don’t know how big an effect a manager has on his team, but all we can quantify is tactical. What we know is that the tactical benefit is small, but the psychic benefit of a manager is believed to be large. I can think of no other reason why three of my favorite GMs in the game–John Mozeliak, Jon Daniels and Neal Huntington–continue to employ three simply abject in-game managers.

No, we want an inspirational figure who knows when to keep his hands off. Nobody with a God complex need apply. We’re after somebody who, given good intelligence (i.e. scouting reports and run expectancy charts) will trust it and act on it and not beat himself by trying to get overly creative. Grand Admiral Thrawn would be a terrible baseball manager, but I imagine he’d be the best offensive coordinator in history. Chip Kelly may be Grand Admiral Thrawn.

Which is why I want Ulysses S. Grant to manage my baseball team. I imagine Grant being kind of a dour yet charismatic manager, and when it comes to tactics, well, here’s his legacy: From 1861-1863, the Army of the Potomac pranced around Maryland and Virginia with overwhelming numerical superiority. And the various generals in charge kept getting cute, trying to turn the war into a battle of wits, which would’ve been a smart thing to do, if the Confederate army didn’t have the three smartest generals on the field.

So when Grant came over, he essentially went: “Wait–we’ve got more men, and more guns? Like lots more men and lots more guns? Well, screw it then. Let’s just steamroll these bastards, because they’ll run out of soldiers before we do.”

It’s that kind of elegant simplicity that I admire. Put General Grant in charge of the Cincinnati Reds, and here’s what he’d do: “Wait, we’ve got the two best on-base guys in the league, and a bunch of other dudes who hit for decent power but don’t get on base that much? Okay, well let’s put Choo and Votto next to each other and it won’t matter if Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips never walk–they’ll both drive in 150 runs a year.”

Baseball tactics are as easy as baseball itself is difficult.

Continue reading…