Crash Bag, Vol. 86: Basal Ganglia

I’m down to my last month or so in Madison (side note, if anyone wants to pay me to write or edit anything, I’m very much available), and let me say this: I am entirely sick of snow. We got about eight inches dumped on us in what seemed like an hour, and I’m so tired of having to go five months between grass sightings. This place is so cold all the doctors are named Yuri and write horrible poetry. I took the garbage out on Monday and got icicles on my beard and in my nose after about 30 seconds. I’m just so done with snow.

But I’ll say this–it being 10 below up here isn’t even close to the most miserable weather I’ve ever experienced. Because I’d take this winter over Philadelphia winter anytime. Philadelphia winter is 34 and overcast and unrelenting sleet and freezing rain and wind and I want to punch John Bolaris in the forehead right now just thinking about winter weather in Philadelphia. The worst place on the planet in winter is on the campus of Temple University, under the footbridge between Gladfelter and Anderson halls, where if you step out you get your ears frozen off from the sleet and belted by wind so strong you wonder if NASA’s testing a static airframe for a new hypersonic rocket plane. It is the most miserable place I’ve ever been.

Your questions.

@dj_mosfett: “Over this Holiday Period, I have consumed much Egg Nog. What are your thoughts on Nog? What is your preferred Nog recipe?”

My preferred Nog recipe goes something like this:

  • 1 small glass cubed ice
  • Bulleit bourbon to taste

If you don’t have bourbon, you can substitute Jameson’s Irish whiskey, which for some reason I find more festive than bourbon. I call this drink Whiskey on the Rocks, or, Eggnog Without All That Bullshit.

We need to have a talk, my fellow Bourgeois White Folks and I, about what we consume during the holidays. Just because the leaves turn and the football players are wearing sleeves and they’re playing that insipid seasonal crap on the terrestrial radio doesn’t mean you suddenly have to replace all your normal drinks with worse drinks. You can have coffee with cream and sugar. You don’t have to have “pumpkin spice,” which, first of all, pumpkin is kind of a nonentity tastewise. What you’re really consuming is coffee laced with enough cinnamon to constitute an industrial disaster so devastating as to shame Union Carbide. And I’m not sure why you’d suddenly, around December 10 or whenever, stop drinking normal liquor and replace it with something that looks like semi-gloss latex paint and tastes and smells like a glass of whole milk that’s been left on the counter overnight. Nog is gross.

@OneIneptGuard: “is JMJ being kept on simply because he was brought to the team with Amaro’s first move as GM?”

Was that really literally his first move as GM? I wonder what Greg Golson‘s up to nowadays anyway…(looks up numbers)…oh my. Well, at least the Phillies came out ahead on that trade.

And that might be why John Mayberry‘s still with the team, because he turned 30 last week and you could probably get the same production out of any four corners type you pull up from AAA. I’ve given up trying to explain this one.

@dan_j_walsh: “is there anything to make of Maikel Franco’s low line drive rate (13.85%)? I think it was lower than all qualified MLB 3Bs in ‘13″

It would have been, yes. In 2013, 21 third basemen qualified for the batting title, and their line drive rates ranged from Todd Frazier (18.1 percent) to Chris Johnson (27 percent). Actually the top three third basemen in line drive rate, according to FanGraphs, were Johnson, Trevor Plouffe and Albert Callaspo, which I take to mean that I should give up sniffing glue.

Is there anything to make of it? I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand, but I’ll say two things: first, I have no idea what to make of minor league batted-ball data. That’s just my own ignorance–it might be bulletproof, but I didn’t even know you could get batted ball breakdowns for single-A until you asked this question. The other thing is that Franco’s going to rate in just about everyone’s top 100 prospects in baseball this winter, which mean’s he’s being scrutinized enough that if there’s something that would cause such a low line drive rate, we’d know. And he’s got a crappy approach, and we don’t know if he can hit breaking stuff, so it’s possible he turns into a nothing hitter. And while you shouldn’t scout the stat line, he did hit .339/.363/.563 in half a season at AA last year, so he wasn’t doing terribly, whatever his line drive rate was.

But here’s the thing about Franco. He’s a 21-year-old facing advanced pitching for the first time, so it’s actually not a bad thing if he struggles here. I’d actually prefer to see him struggle and learn to make adjustments and overcome it than just breeze through the minors without being challenged. Everyone has a breaking point–even Mike Trout sucked in his first callup. The second thing is (and I don’t mean to insinuate that you believe this, but there are people who do) that if you think Franco’s going to be an All-Star, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Being the top prospect in the Phillies’ system is nice, but it doesn’t mean the same thing as being the top prospect in the Twins’ system, for instance. If Franco played for the Cubs or Twins, he might not be top 5. He’s the best of a bunch that isn’t as utter shit as it was 18 months ago, but this is not La Masia we’re talking about there, yanowhatumsayin’? The modal outcome is failure, even for Maikel Franco.

(Friend of the Blog Matt Winkelman did a nice bit on Franco’s batted ball profile a while back, so you should go read that.)

@fotodave: “Should the Phillies get in on the Tanaka Sweepstakes?”

Yes. Masahiro Tanaka‘s the best pitcher left on the market, and scuttlebutt is that he’s the best non-Darvish pitcher to come out of Japan in a while. Now, non-Darvish is a pretty heavy qualifier, because Darvish is bigger, more athletic and more aggressive than his countrymen. Japan’s produced a lot of good pitchers over the past 20 years, but apart from Darvish, they tend to be breaking ball-heavy and nibble. If we’re making nationalistic comparisons, the best-case scenario for Tanaka is less Yu Darvish than it is Hiroki Kuroda.

That said, I’d take him in a second, because Big Hirok is the stone cold balls, and he’s way better than any other pitcher left on the free agent market. And he’s only 25 years old, which makes him a little baby compared to the rest of the pitchers on the market, and it costs absolutely nothing to talk to him apart from the promise that you’ll give his team $20 million if he signs. And if he does sign, you’ll be happy to pay the $20 million, particularly if your organization is as well-heeled as the Phillies are.

The catch is that there might not be five teams in the league he’s less likely to sign with than the Phillies. The Phillies play in a city that lacks the cosmopolitan appeal of Los Angeles, Seattle, Toronto or New York, they have no track record of successfully integrating Japanese players into the organization and they have no realistic chance of contending in the next couple years. If I were Jerry Dipoto, I’d fill a shipping container with money and go get him at all costs, because ain’t nobody need pitching like the Angels do, and Dipoto works for an insane person with more money than sense. But I can’t imagine the Phillies doing something like that.

But they absolutely have to put in a bid. Tanaka’s not good enough to make the Phillies contenders in 2014–peak Bob Gibson isn’t that good–but if you plug him in behind Hamels and Lee instead of that Jonathan Pettibone/Ethan Martin shit sandwich they’re going to have, the Phillies at least get good enough that they’d regret signing Marlon Byrd instead of going for it and signing Shin-Soo Choo or Jacoby Ellsbury. Plus he’s young enough that if he’s good, he’ll be around by the time the Phillies are ready to contend next. I think it’d be great to get Tanaka, but if I were him, there are at least a dozen places I’d rather go than Philadelphia.

@tbroomm: “the four Philly GM’s are in contestant row for the Price Is Right, how does it play out?”

Okay, so Howie Roseman, Paul Holmgren, Ruben Amaro and Sam Hinkie are called up to the stage, and they each have a chance to guess how much a set of recliners costs without going over. They’re nice chairs, covered in comfortable fake leather, with extendable footrests and everything–a perfect fit for your living room or game room!

  • Howie Roseman shrugs and bids $1,500 for the pair because someone in the audience shouted out that number. Seems good enough.
  • Paul Holmgren turns around and asks Ed Snider for instructions. He then asks Drew Carey if they’re Canadian-made, because he doesn’t want any of those enigmatic Russian-made chairs. (They’re American-made.) He then asks Drew Carey if you can use these chairs to punch people. (You can’t.) He bids $1,670, then Ed Snider tells him to bid $51 million.
  • Ruben Amaro asks how old the chairs are. (Brand new.) He then says he doesn’t want the chairs. Drew Carey makes him bid anyway. Ruben Amaro says he wants a sofa instead. Drew Carey tells him to cut out the shit and just bid on the goddamn chairs already. Ruben Amaro bids $1.
  • Sam Hinkie, of course, has researched extensively for this show, in particular reading Ben Blatt’s Slate article on how to win every Price is Right game. He’s also looked up the prices of a variety of consumer goods in preparation for the show, and he’s seen just these chairs on sale at Sears for $899 each, but that was a sale rate, so he knows that full price for the pair (not counting sales tax) is $2,139. He guesses $1,501, or $1 over the highest previous bid (not counting Holmgren’s Bryzgalov money), which is a strategy he knows pays off for the last person on the row just over half the time.

The two chairs cost $2,199. Hinkie moves on.

@duyarvish: “how many dingerballs do you think Ryan Howard could hit on weed?”

One of the least cool things about me is that I have to look up what pot does to you. Hang on.

Okay, so Wikipedia essentially says it makes you want to eat a lot and it distorts your sense of time. If I want to eat a lot and make time seem like it’s going really slowly, I can just grab a box of crackers and a bag of cheese curds and watch Jonathan Papelbon pitch. I have no idea why you’d use illegal drugs to simulate this effect.

On to motor functions. Apparently cannabis screws with your basal ganglia, which, considering Howard’s position and body type, wouldn’t affect him much. He’s only 1/3 as basal as Cody Asche, nor is he as ganglia as Cole Hamels.

I bet that last sentence is uproariously funny if you’re stoned. Let’s all take a minute to appreciate it.

Nevertheless, it does appear to inhibit your coordination at least somewhat. Probably not as much as playing drunken dizzy bat wiffle ball for six hours would, but it’s fair to ding Stoned Howard at least a little. Steamer likes Howard to hit 22 dingerballs next season, so if he’s baked all the time, maybe we drop that to 16? I think the real takeaway from this question is that I have no idea how the human brain works, so go ask a neurologist.

@DashTreyhorn: “If Christian Bale was a baseball player, would he be the most useful super utility player ever?”

No. He’d be a pitcher.

But American Hustle was very good. I’d recommend it if you like movies and want to go see one.

@Cody011: “What 401K plan should I sign up for, roth or traditional?”

As long as you don’t invest in Bitcoin.

@dan_camp: “how long until the phillies are “good?” using any definition of “good” you like. go out-of-box.”

Well, I’d say “good” means playoffs, which is something of a bigger statement in baseball than it is in basketball or hockey, for instance. And I’ve been saying this for a year and a half now–I firmly believe that I will watch the Phillies’ next playoff game with my children. There’s not a whole lot in the pipeline right now, and what’s there isn’t close to the big leagues. Nor do I have a lot of faith in the current baseball ops department to successfully navigate a rebuild, nor do I think management is going to turf Ruben Amaro before the end of the 2015 season. If you’re asking me how many of 2013’s Phillies are going to be on the next Phillies playoff roster, I’d be surprised if it’s as many as three. There’s going to be a total overhaul, and that’s going to take time–five years of it, I’d wager, if not more, unless something completely unexpected happens.

If you take “good” to mean finishing over .500, that’s an easier ask. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that the Phillies win 82 games this year. I’d give them maybe one chance in five of doing that, better if the gerontocracy stays healthy and doesn’t get appreciably worse. I’d say this team has just as good a shot at finishing at .500 as it does of finishing last in the division.

It’s going to be rough, and it could have been avoided, but the Phillies made their bed three years ago, and they are where they are for a reason. I’ll say this–I have to commend Ruben Amaro for his restraint these past two offseasons. He’s avoided the kind of shortsighted, big-money mistakes that got them in this position to start, and his front office pulled off a draft that, it is said, will help the Phillies’ next GM a great deal. But the core of this team is still Ed Wade’s players. It’s an insane confluence of luck and good drafting and development that allowed Hamels, Howard, Utley, Rollins and Ruiz to all come up, essentially, together and all hit the way they did, in 2007. Trying to win with the same core in 2014 is foolish, but there’s nothing to be done about it now.

And that will do it for the Crash Bag in 2013. Thank you all for your patronage, and may next year suck less than this one.

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