Crash Bag, Vol. 81: Semi-Serious Baseball Questions

I got a new laptop since the last time I wrote the Crash Bag, and it has a touchscreen. It’s so cool–I could never go back to a non-touchscreen computer now. This week I tried to scroll on my wife’s Macbook by touching the screen and nothing happened and my first thought was: “What a piece of junk.”

The only thing I need now is some kind of program to make my desktop and all my applications look like the LCARS system from Star Trek. You know, like this:

And I know there are apps that let you play around and press the buttons and stuff, but I’m talking about the whole shebang. I had a Winamp skin that did this a while back, but never anything for the whole computer. Let’s get on this.

And let’s get to your questions.

@dschoenfield: “Don’t you think somebody should do a study on when MLB players peak? Could perhaps be helpful for RAJ.”

Yeah, that’d be nice. Someone ought to get on that and show it to Ruben Amaro before he signs another player who’s old enough to be my dad. Well, Marlon Byrd isn’t literally old enough to be my dad, but you get the point.

I’ll say this–there’s something to be said for swimming against the current. To a certain extent, you’re not going to find low-risk, high-upside bargains in the free agent market, because that’s not where the value is anymore. But shouldn’t you be able to finagle the occasional bargain by taking a stab at a player most teams think is too old? For instance: the Mariners got 29 home runs last year out of Raul Ibanez, a 41-year-old they paid less than $3 million. And he would’ve been a steal at that price if they’d DH’d him full-time instead of giving him 97 starts in left field, which is something an insane team would do. As a little more than a half-time left fielder, he gave back about two and a half wins (NOT RUNS, WINS) with his defense alone. Ibanez got 97 starts in left and his glove alone was about as great a detriment to the Mariners as Domonic Brown, an All-Star, was a net positive for the Phillies. You can’t let that happen. Civilized people don’t let that happen.

Anyway, signing older free agents is kind of like betting big with low cards in poker–you don’t want to do it all the time, but you can steal a hand by holding pocket threes while everyone else is waiting for the ace on the river. Pick your spots, and signing someone like Carlos Beltran or Joe Nathan can put your team over the top.

@jboschan: “Do you think player decisions or coaching staff decisions will be more important in how the Phillies do next year? Or both?”

I think they’re boned no matter what. I might write something longer-form about this, but everyone saying “Who’s the next Red Sox?” needs to pass me whatever they’re smoking. Yes, they turned over an aging roster that won 69 games last year, largely using free agents to get back to (and win) the World Series, but there’s no other Nick Punto trade out there that would allow the Phillies to clear the $70-odd million in salary that they owe to Cliff Lee, Ryan Howard, Jonathan Papelbon and Mike Adams next year, and restock the farm system at the same time. That trade was so insane at the time because it could only happen once. Then there’s the fact that, yes, Jonny Gomes and Shane Victorino and Koji Uehara and Mike Napoli were great, but not only did they hit on almost literally every free agent move they made last winter, but they got a bunch of players back from injury. This isn’t an easily replicable blueprint.

That’s why, when everyone was griping about the Marlon Byrd signing, I said this: the Phillies are a 73-win team with John Mayberry in right, a 75-win team with Byrd and maybe a 77-win team with Shin-Soo Choo. And this isn’t the Dodgers or Red Sox or Nationals of the past couple years–the Phillies aren’t bad because they’ve got the stars and scrubs problem. They’re bad because they’ve got kind of crappy players across the board–there’s not one awful player who’s killing them, there are four or five below-average players who’s killing them. It’s easy to swap out a scrub for a star at one position. It’s harder to swap out five below-average players for five above-average players. And all the serious help is a ways away. The best-case scenario for Maikel Franco and Jesse Biddle is that they turn C- or D+ spots into B or B+ spots, and if they do that, the Phillies might win 78 games instead of 75. The future stars? They’re all in A-ball or lower, if they’re in the system at all.

Even so, players make the difference. This isn’t football, where you can bring in Chip Kelly to install a revolutionary offense, or hockey, where you hire Ken Hitchcock to make your mediocre roster grind out 2-1 wins every night. I know bugger-all about Bob McClure, but he’s not going to turn Ethan Martin into a top-of-the-rotation starter, because there’s not a pitching coach alive who can. Coaches matter, but not as much as players do, and the Phillies’ roster, by and large, comprises players of such marginal quality that no coaching staff ever made could turn them into the 1998 Yankees.

@Matt_Winkelman: “Cliff Lee’s contract expires after 2016, will he ever be on another winning team?”

No, I don’t think he will, which is sad and hilarious at the same time. Let’s take a quick look back at Cliff Lee’s history, because if you believe in the metaphysical at all, you can tell that Philadelphia’s most beloved pitcher is cursed.

He was good for the Indians in 2005 and 2006 and won the Cy Young in 2008, but Lee spent 2007 in the minors when he came down with a severe case of John Lannan‘s disease. Of course, 2007 was the year the Indians went 3-1 up on Boston in the ALCS and would almost certainly have won the World Series had the 2008 version of Lee been around, because not only did they lose the last three games of that series by a combined score of 30-5, but Paul Byrd and Jake Westbrook started games 3, 4 and 7, and the former Fausto Carmona–he of the 6.2 bWAR regular season–went completely fucknozzled in the playoffs and never pitched effectively in the majors again. You think an effective Lee might have stopped the bleeding? I do.

So he comes back the next year and wins the Cy Young, but Sabathia had a bad year, then got traded and Victor Martinez got hurt and Carmona doubled his walk rate *and* his ERA and the Indians wound up being 15 games worse.

Then Lee got traded to the Phillies and went 2-0 in the World Series while all other Phillies pitchers went 0-4. Then Lee got traded again, to the Mariners, the would-be mid-90s New Jersey Devils of baseball, and while Lee set records for K/BB ratio, the Mariners foundered. (As an aside, I think the Baseball Internet gives Dave Cameron a lot of unnecessary crap, but he could be arrested for indecent exposure at Lollapalooza and live that down before people stop giving him a hard time about this.)

So off Lee went to Texas, where once again his team lost the World Series. Then a 2011 playoff loss where the Phillies went home thanks to bad batted ball luck in Game 2, bad baserunning in Game 4 and the uncommon might of Chris Carpenter in Game 5–not because of bad pitching.

Which brings us to the total dissolution of the Phillies’ NL East dynasty, the cross Lee signed the last long-term contract of his career to die on, which provided one legitimate title shot before going even more fucknozzled, even more quickly, than did Fausto Carmona.

Since 2008, there aren’t many pitchers in the majors who have been as consistently excellent as Lee, and he can hardly complain about the quality of his teammates, but the World Series has always been just outside his grasp for one reason or another, and apart from that aberrational 2007 season, usually for reasons outside his control. Cliff Lee is a modern-day Tantalus, and given that he’s already 35 and has hinted at retiring in the not-too-distant future, he’s probably already had his last good shot at a ring.

@becauseofyomama: “who would be better at building a team, RAJ, Dayton Moore, Katy Perry or any 11 yr old that has played stratomatic”

It’s not Katy Perry. Without wishing to be unduly cruel to celebrities, or pretty women in general, there’s not really anything I’ve seen, heard or read about Katy Perry that leads me to believe she’d be able to spell her own name if weren’t only nine letters long.

Apart from that, I think we don’t say this enough–major league GMs are really, really good at their jobs. They’re not perfect, of course, nor should they be immune from criticism, even from laymen like you and me, but this is the cream of the crop. The GM job requires so many diverse skills, from leadership to administration to actual player evaluation and development that as much as I’d like to believe that I could run a team, if you put me in charge of the Phillies today, I’d be the worst GM in the game by far. So demanding is the job that I doubt there are as many as 10 members of the baseball media right now who wouldn’t be the worst GM in the game.

That’s even leaving alone the fact that as the leader of the baseball ops department, Amaro is responsible for a lot of moves in which he doesn’t have a lot of direct input. The Phillies are where they are not just because of their overall strategy, but because their player development and pro scouting have just been horrifyingly bad. That’s on the coaches and scouts too–not just the GM. So when we say that John Mozeliak is a good GM, or that Amaro is a bad GM, we’re not only saying that, but we’re also using metonymy to criticize an entire organization.

So given that list, I’d have Dayton Moore. I don’t think the 30 current GMs are the 30 best people for those jobs, considering that some of them–including Amaro and Moore–have been really bad, and there are people like Pat Gillick and Theo Epstein who’d be better, but they’ve moved up the organizational ladder. But if there were a way to objectively rank all the human beings in the world in terms of how good they’d be at being a GM, I bet all 30 GMs would be in the top 100 or so, maybe 200.

I’d have Moore over Amaro because at least Moore’s got a track record of drafting really well, not just as the Royals’ GM, but as a scout and later AGM for the Braves. The part he played in developing and maintaining the Braves’ dynasty under John Schuerholz and Frank Wren is the reason he got the Kansas City job in the first place. Considering where the Phillies are in their life cycle right now, I’d rather have someone like Moore, who can rebuild a farm system, than someone like Amaro, whose strength…well, his strengths lie in other places.

Wow, that’s a bunch of at least semi-serious baseball questions in a row. Let’s end with a non-baseball one, otherwise the readership won’t be able to get pissed at me for being a self-indulgent dilettante like usual.

@Mike_Actually: “top 5 favorite trailers”

I’m a huge fan of move trailers. Sometimes I think I like movie trailers more than I like the actual movie. Here are my top 5, in descending order, with the stipulation that I spent about five minutes thinking about this:

5) Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

The irony is that while the movie was excellent, the trailer’s about 15 times more intense.

4) Zero Dark Thirty

Sets the mood of the movie and shows you all the lead actors without giving away much of anything in the way of particular plot points.

3) Snowpiercer  

Apparently it’s already come and gone, and didn’t make it to flyover country. But damn does this trailer ever get me amped up.

For days after I saw this trailer, I went around asking people if they were Namgoong Minsu, Security Specialist.

2) In Bruges 

And the movie is even better than the trailer, but I love movies where people do nothing but sit around and curse at each other, so you’re free to disagree.

When In Bruges came out in the U.S., I was actually in Belgium, and after having seen the trailer, I was looking forward to seeing it in the theater in the country in which it’s set. As it turns out, Belgium was the last country on the planet where this movie opened, which makes no sense, because wouldn’t you want to see In Bruges, you know, in Bruges?

1) Cloud Atlas

And it’s not even close.

The movie was flawed, from the yellowface makeup to the ham-fisted dialogue and a thousand other different things, but I loved it, I think, in large part, because I wanted to like it after having seen the trailer, which captures the insane, rambling ambition of the movie and uses music to tremendous effect.

Anyway, that’ll do it for this week. Service won’t be interrupted for the holiday weekend, so send in questions for next week and be sure to tune in while you’re waiting in a checkout line or something next Friday. Safe travels to those of you to whom that applies, and happy Thanksgiving.

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  1. Scott G

    November 22, 2013 11:15 AM

    Ruben Amaro Jr. doesn’t believe in studies – he believes in production.

  2. Robby Bonfire

    November 22, 2013 07:08 PM

    Bill James did an extensive career peak study and determined that 27 is the peak for ballplayers. It differs in different sports, for example, I did the study of the age of major golf tournament winners and determined that the age range 32-36, is the peak.

    GM’s who consistently sign and acquire 35+ year-old ballplayers for mega-bucks must be reading comic books, not “Money Ball.”

  3. Oliver

    November 22, 2013 07:27 PM

    I was not a fan of the In Bruges trailer. I really liked the movie but the trailer made it seem like a buddy-gangster type movie, not as dark as it was.

  4. Robby Bonfire

    November 22, 2013 10:29 PM

    What RAJ REALLY believes in is wildly spending other people’s money, without regard for the short-change value he (and they) receive in return. Why he went into sports instead of politics is unfathomable, except he treats his position like it is a political appointment, so in that respect, he did go into politics.

    This man lives for the glutonous feeding of his spending habit.

  5. Matt

    November 22, 2013 11:47 PM

    Today I was listening to 97.5 for a bit while driving to work. Ruben was being interviewed, and when asked to defend the Marlon Byrd signing, the first thing he brought up was how many RBIs he had.

  6. JB Allen

    November 26, 2013 08:40 AM

    Wasn’t RAJ a batboy for the Phillies during their Wheeze Kids days? Maybe that experience convinced him that no player is worth his weight in Big League Chew unless he’s over 32.

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