Crash Bag, Vol. 79: Return of the Monkfish

I think it’s time to bring back the monkfish. A friend of mine, Matt Winkelman, is encountering the wages of writing about minor leaguers for a team-specific blog, which is to say that people are trying to tell him that Maikel Franco is a better prospect than Miguel Sano.

I don’t think that’s literally the dumbest thing you could possibly say on any topic, but it’s up there.

And poor Matty Winks, besieged by stupid people, is in the kind of place that I was in last summer, when I wrote a bunch of stuff telling people what to think and how to act on the internet. Most notably, I made a list of things Phillies fans used to say that made me want to hit them in the face with a fish.

It’s time for the Return of the Monkfish.

None of them was as stupid as saying Maikel Franco is a better prospect than Miguel Sano. Because “Oh they got a big Dominican third baseman, well so do we and that’s the same thing right? Except ours is better because why do you hate the Phillies?” is worthy of The Monkfish.

@Wzeiders: “I you could pluck one Phillies player from the 93 team and place him on next year’s team, who would it be?”

Almost certainly a position player, because the 1993 Phillies had a pretty terrible pitching staff. Which is to say that they had four starters who had pretty good careers, but none of them was all that good that year. Well, three starters who had pretty good careers, plus Tommy Greene, who got Cy Young votes with a 116 ERA+ because man was less evolved back then.

But those Phillies had kind of pedestrian pitching and a bunch of terrible defensive players, but they were on base constantly: three players had OBPs over .400, three more were at .360 or better. I’d probably take Lenny Dykstra, because if you hit .305/.420/.482 with 37 stolen bases, you’re going to score an enormous amount of runs. Dykstra would’ve won the MVP that year if Barry Bonds hadn’t been Barry Bonds. Other acceptable answers: Darren Daulton, who wasn’t as good as Dykstra in 1993, but who represent a bigger improvement over whoever replaces Carlos Ruiz than Dykstra does over Ben Revere, and Dave Hollins, for the same reason except with Cody Asche.

@elksensky: “what did you think of [Carson Cistulli’s] attempt to equate the scouting scale to WAR?”

Not to talk crap about a Water Brother of mine, but I wasn’t an enormous fan. With that said, I was even less a fan of the reaction it spurred, which was of dismissiveness and derision, or that it was The Worst Thing Ever.

We’re getting to a place in sabermetrics where anyone who attempts to answer a question without going through the IRB and peer review gets shouted down. It happened with the study last summer about racial coding in baseball broadcasts, too–an interesting question gets asked and everybody turns into a methodological Wahhabist if the study’s not run to perfection.

The 20-80 scale and WAR are like siblings–attempts to boil extremely complicated and multifaceted analysis down into an integer. And if the scouting scale makes claims of accuracy by using a numerical scale based on a bell curve, shouldn’t we be able to do actual quantitative analysis with it?

I guess not, because the scouting scale is really educated guesswork given the veneer or precision by numbers. We all knew this to start, but the universal sneering that came when someone tried to plug those numbers into a model confirmed it. When I read a scouting report, whether it’s Longenhagen’s or Keith Law’s or Kiley McDaniel’s or whoever’s, the numerical grades are of secondary importance. If I wanted to put a quantitative label on a piece of qualitative information, I’d go back to rating girls’ looks at bars. What I’m interested in is the description–how does he look? What does he do well? Where can he improve, and how? Will he improve, and why or why not? When it comes to evaluating baseball players, you can use data to judge major leaguers. For everyone else, you have to speculate based on what little information you have. The best scouts may be able to pin a number on a player, but the best prospect writers can describe him well and explain where that number comes from. (I think Longo’s one of those guys, by the way.)

Anyway, a scouting grade is a qualitative thing disguised as a data point, which makes it less than ideal for quantitative analysis (that doesn’t stop us from doing the exact same thing all the time in social science, however).

My issue with the post wasn’t that it was stupid or dangerous or anything–it just attempted to answer a question that I sort of knew didn’t interest me, using data that wasn’t really much good to start. And you know what? I read it, shrugged, and went on with my life.

It’s the easiest thing in the world to take something like Cistulli’s post and poke holes in it until you’re satisfied that you’ve proven your own intellectual superiority, then go right back to not even trying to advance any sort of research agenda. It’s a little harder to resist succumbing to the Nirvana Fallacy, or better yet, to explain why a question isn’t worth asking, or even better, if the question is worth asking, to try to fix those methodological problems you find so offensive.

And even setting aside the getting-mad-that-Star Trek Into Darkness-spelled-the-name-of-the-Klingon-homeworld-wrong level of tongue-wagging hyperactive pedantry it takes to get vocally offended at something like this, it’s not like FanGraphs published a paper about vaccines causing autism. It was a commentary on the two sexiest integers in baseball analysis that an aground. We’re all going to live.

@dj_mosfett: “I broke my middle finger on my dominant hand last week and it’s destroyed my ability to write/code/whatever quickly as well as…other things. What has been the most irritating injury you’ve ever sustained and how did you do it?”

I haven’t really suffered any really bad injuries in my life. Never broken a bone, never had to use crutches or a cast or even a brace on anything worse than hands or wrists. The only two really inconvenient injuries I’ve suffered have slightly embarrassing bits of context to them, so I’ll tell those stories.

When I was a freshman in high school, we had a gymnastics unit in gym class, and I was feeling all full of myself doing handstands and roundoffs and such, but one day I screwed up a cartwheel and pulled the hell out of my Achilles tendon. That injury wasn’t immensely inconvenient, as I just had a limp for about a week, so much as it was embarrassing that I hurt myself doing a cartwheel.

About a year before that, I was playing touch football with my brother and a couple of our neighbors, and my brother threw a pass down around my belt buckle. I made the basket with my hands like you’re supposed to, and my right thumb got caught under the ball and I sprained it really badly–it’s the only time I’ve ever been x-rayed because I thought I’d broken a bone. I had my thumb (on my dominant hand) in a splint for a week or two, in which time I had to teach myself how to hold a pencil again. I also got chewed out by my band director because I suffered this injury short before All-South Jersey tryouts (The money quote: “Clarinet players don’t play football!”) and I’d injured literally the only finger you don’t need to play the clarinet. So that one was a pain in the ass. Sorry about your finger.

@Ut26: “You are tasked with the following: Fix the current “qualifying offer” system.”

Stop making teams give up draft picks if they sign free agents. Let teams trade draft picks. Make all compensatory picks come in the sandwich round.

All the qualifying offer system is doing right now is kind of mildly depressing salaries, which is a bad thing, because I think the money that’s generated by for-profit enterprises ought to go to the people who, you know, create the value, instead of those who sit around idly, leech off the system and collect government handouts. Which is, oddly enough, a Marxist and not a capitalist position in this case.

@CurseOfBenitez: “What would Carlos Beltran be like in the clubhouse and how much would RAJ pay”

His Rubanity will most likely at least kick the tires on Beltran this offseason, because the Phillies have a corner outfield need and even at his advanced age, Beltran’s still pretty good. Also the Phillies would pursue Beltran because the database they use to evaluate players is the player ratings from MVP 2005 for GameCube, and if you don’t believe me, Jayson Werth was one of the most underrated players in that game, so how do you think he wound up in Philadelphia when he did? I’m kind of shocked RAJ hasn’t offered Wily Mo Pena a contract, because Pena was the stone cold balls in that game. He was rated as something like 100 power, 97 contact against lefties. And apparently he’s only 31 years old.

For that matter, why hasn’t Amaro offered Wily Mo Pena a contract?

@Chongtastic: “what is something new and interesting that I should be listening to (preferably available on Spotify).”

A list of recent albums that I’ve had on repeat:

  • When the Night by St. Lucia–Ryan’s been going around kabonging people on the head until they listen to  the St. Lucia album, and after repeated kabonging, I listened to that record and he’s right–it’s very good. I played “Wait for Love” for KTLSW once, and two days later she had it stuck in her head, perhaps because I’d spent the entire intervening time whistling the tune to myself and dancing like a maniac.
  • Reflektor by Arcade Fire–I’ve been listening to this a lot trying to figure out how I feel about it. The weird thing is, I’d been kind of nervous about this record ever since I’d heard James Murphy was producing it, but now that it’s out it sounds exactly the way you’d expect a James Murphy-produced Arcade Fire album to sound. The obvious comparison is to Bright Eyes’ Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, and I’m kind of in the same just-north-of-ambivalence state that I was about that album. But I wasn’t all that crazy about The Suburbs either. I dunno. “Joan of Arc” is a really good song. I like that one a lot.
  • Us Alone by Hayden–The real killer track on this album is “Blurry Nights,” which is a gorgeous, playful, earnest duet that makes me want to live out a romantic comedy. It’s my second-favorite song of a year in which probably my two favorite bands both released new albums.
  • Muchacho by Phosphorescent–My No. 1 song of 2013, of course, is “Song for Zula,” off this record. I want to write a screenplay just so the main character can stand outside in the rain while this song leads into the credits.
  • “Let Go” by RAC, Kele and MNDR–A really catchy bit of dance pop-rock from the chick from the Mark Ronson & The Business Intl. album, the dude form Bloc Party and some other guy I’ve never heard of.

I also tend to listen to songs over and over until I get tired of them and I’m reaching that point, so if anyone else has anything new and interesting for Spotify, let me know and I’ll give them a listen myself.

@Cody011: “How heartbroken will you be if chooch isn’t in Philly next year?”

I’ll be a little sad, but you’ve got to let a 34-year-old catcher walk. Someone’s going to pay him to be the poor man’s Yadier Molina that he was three or four years ago, and if he gets that offer, he should take it. Much as I love Chooch, re-signing him would irritate me because it’s a tacit admission that the organization isn’t committed to the rebuild. I’ll buy a new shirt if it means the Phillies know when to cut bait on a player who’s old as hell.

Anyhoo, that’ll do it for this week. NEXT WEEK: we have a special guest Crash Bagger, our Prospect Impresario, Eric Longenhagen. I realize now that I call him “Longenhagen” or “Longo” or “the Prospect Impresario” but never “Eric,” but you may call him Eric if you like. Whatever you call him, send in your questions (particularly prospect-related questions) to #crashbag or @longenhagen for next Friday.

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1 comment

  1. Pete

    November 08, 2013 06:49 AM

    “I haven’t really suffered any really bad injuries in my life. Never broken a bone, never had to use crutches or a cast or even a brace on anything worse than hands or wrists.”

    And then it keeps going, and I can’t stop reading it over and over again trying to figure out why. It’s like…”If it weren’t for my horse, I wouldn’t have spent that year in college.”

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