Crash Bag, Vol. 87: Blizzard Shopping with Ruben Amaro
Hey, hey hey, interrogate me hey…
@mdubz11: “your hall of fame ballot, opinions, etc etc”
I’m shocked that nobody asked me this before now, but I guess there’s a certain point past which nobody cares about my opinion. Anyway, I answered this last year, and nobody got in, so a lot of my answers are the same…actually, look at that, it was Dubs who asked for my hypothetical Hall of Fame ballot last year too, the sneaky bastard.
I’ll start with the same priors from a year ago: performance-enhancing drug use, whether proved or admitted or divined by Murray Chass through a Borg implant in his occipital lobe that picks up vague truths in the radiation of Earth’s Van Allen belts, doesn’t bother me. History has made it clear that the Hall of Fame doesn’t punish baseball players for cheating or PEDs, because Willie Mays is an exemplar of a Hall of Famer and won the 1951 pennant thanks in large part to the Giants using a buzzer system to steal signs, then went on to deal amphetamines from his locker with the Mets in the 1970s. The Hall of Fame doesn’t exact an asshole tax, because Cap Anson and Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle were all abhorrent human beings, guilty of crimes against human decency that make Barry Bonds‘ BALCO nonsense look like jaywalking.
Keeping Bonds and Roger Clemens, among others, out of the Hall of Fame on suspicion of drug use represents exacting a unilateral penalty for violating norms. Some norms–the norms by which I decry Anson’s racism and Mantle’s treatment of women–protect people, or at least aim to. But PEDs are theoretically bad because they hurt the user in the long run, and because they violate some Victorian standard of athletic purity. And it’s okay to have those, but if they were worth a shit, they’d have been rules. Rules have standard procedures and penalties for violating them, and even Rafael Palmeiro, the only player with a Hall of Fame case who was actually suspended for PED usage, paid his penalty by serving a suspension, a penalty that says nothing about Hall of Fame eligibility. Major League Baseball’s made no effort to erase alleged drug cheats from baseball, sending a clear message that it’s perfectly acceptable to vote for such players. And if you think Barry Bonds wouldn’t have hit 762 home runs if not for PEDs–and I don’t, for the record–imagine how many fewer home runs Babe Ruth would have hit if he had to play against anyone but badly trained white Americans. The Steroid Era is a historical context, for better or worse, and while I’d like to have a clean game, I’d like more than anything to just calm down a little about PEDs. It’s like nobody learned from McCarthyism–old white dudes in positions of power will freak out about just about anything, regardless of whether or not it’s actually all that bad.
Not to preach or anything.
Anyways, if not for the 10-vote limit, I could, in good conscience, vote for as many as 17 players. I’m holding over eight from last year: Bonds, Clemens, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, Mike Piazza and Larry Walker. Gone are, unfortunately, Craig Biggio, Edgar Martinez and Mark McGwire. In their place I’d pick Greg Maddux, Mike Mussina and Frank Thomas.
On that list, I ‘d expect the following players to be completely uncontroversial, given beforehand that I’m a big Hall guy who doesn’t care about drugs: Bonds, Clemens, Bagwell, Piazza and Maddux. If you need those explained, I don’t know what to tell you. I’ll go into more detail about some of the others:
- Tim Raines. You get two comps with pro-Raines people: Rickey Henderson and Tony Gwynn. I like the Gwynn one better, because he was a no-doubt Hall of Famer in a similar role to Raines. In 20 seasons, Gwynn had a career .388 OBP career 132 OPS+. An easy Hall of Famer. Raines: .385 OBP, 123 career OPS+ in 23 seasons. So Gwynn was a little better with the bat. But the bat isn’t the only way you can create bases or outs. Raines, in his career, had 808 steals was caught 148 times, and grounded into 142 double plays. That’s 808 bases and 290 outs that aren’t accounted for by batting stats. Gwynn stole 315 bases, was caught 125 times, and grounded into 259 double plays: 315 more bases and 384 more outs. Since both Raines and Gwynn were kind of crappy defensive outfielders, that makes up for Gwynn’s greater power. So you get 68.9 career WAR/41.1 7yr-peak WAR/55.0 JAWS for Gwynn and 69.1 career WAR/42.2 7yr-peak WAR/55.6 JAWS for Raines. Those are extremely similar numbers. Taken holistically, there’s no way you can take Gwynn and not Raines.
- Curt Schilling. Jay Jaffe’s JAWS has Schilling fourth on this ballot. Struck out as many batters per inning as Clemens (8.6 for both), struck out a batter more per walk than Maddux. Hero of two World Series champions, if you’re into such things. He only threw 3,261 innings, to about 5,000 for Maddux and Clemens, which knocks him down some, but on a per-inning basis, he’s much closer to those two than he is to Tom Glavine and Mike Mussina, much less the rest of the pitchers in this class.
- Frank Thomas. Even for a lumbering first baseman in the Steroid Era, .419 OBP is still a .419 career OBP. I think his long hangaround phase obscures how good he was from age 22 through 29. For instance, I didn’t know this until just now, but Thomas had 270 more
strikeouts than walkswalks than strikeouts (Note: got this backwards when I posted. Having 270 more walks than strikeouts for a power hitter is almost literally unbelievable.) for his career, which is is ludicrous for a guy with 521 career home runs. Maybe he’s not that controversial.
- Mike Mussina. Another guy whose career was a lot better than I thought when I looked back at the numbers. Mussina’s a slightly poorer man’s Schilling–almost as good as Maddux and Clemens on a per-inning basis in a career composed of many fewer innings. The wild thing is that if Mussina doesn’t make the Hall of Fame eventually, it’ll be because he screwed himself. Mussina retired in 2008, at age 39, after a season in which he threw 200 innings, was worth 5.2 WAR and finished sixth in the Cy Young voting. He was far better that year than Maddux was in any of the six seasons he played after age 36. Two more seasons almost certainly get him to 3,000 strikeouts, and probably to 300 wins as well, at which point we wouldn’t be having this discussion.
- Larry Walker. This is the pick I kind of leaned into, and the only one for which I allowed my own feelings to override the numbers even a little. I’m not even remotely positive that Walker was a better player than Biggio, Alan Trammell, Edgar Martinez or Rafael Palmeiro. Not even remotely. I discount Edgar and Palmeiro for DHing and drugs, but only a little–if I had more hypothetical votes, they’d both be in. But I think Walker is unfairly dinged for putting up his best seasons in perhaps the most hitter-friendly environment in baseball history–Coors Field in the late 1990s. But he gets crushed for that. He slugged .700 twice and .600 seven times. He posted a .440 OBP four times and a .420 OBP seven times. Even his OPS+, which accounts for both park and league factors, places him at 141, in a league with Edgar’s 147, and Walker was a pretty good defensive right fielder who posted double-digit stolen base totals 11 times. JAWS puts Walker, Raines, Thomas and the four players I mentioned above in a fairly tight grouping, so I feel pretty comfortable giving him the tiebreaker over Martinez on personal grounds: Larry Walker is the first baseball player I remember being truly in awe of. Despite not being particularly big, he looked and played like an eighth grader with a late birthday who played Little League with kids a grade down. It’s entirely subjective, but with a ballot this overcrowded and with candidates so well matched, you’ve got to break a tie with something. If you’d rather have Trammell or Palmeiro or Martinez or Glavine, I’d have no argument with that whatsoever.
I left at least six players off the ballot that I’d like to hypothetically vote for: Tom Glavine, Alan Trammell, Edgar Martinez, Mark McGwire, Craig Biggio and Rafael Palmeiro. Seven if I ever unpack how I feel about Sammy Sosa. Eight if this were a less crowded ballot and I could throw a vote to Hideo Nomo just to fuck with people.
The one I really need to explain leaving off is Glavine. Tom Glavine was a great pitcher, but somehow along the line people started thinking he was just like Maddux, but left-handed, because they were both kind of dweeby looking control pitchers. That’s kind of like saying Jim McGreevey is like Woodrow Wilson because both are former Democratic governors of New Jersey. Glavine’s career K/BB ratio is 1.74, which looks worse than it is next to today’s pitchers, but is still about half what Maddux and Mussina posted. His career WAR is slightly lower than Mussina’s, despite Glavine having pitched 850 more innings–the equivalent of four extra seasons. He won two Cy Young awards: 1991, when he pretty much lapped the field, and 1998, where he was more or less on a level with Maddux and Al Leiter and two and a half wins worse than Kevin Brown. He was a really good pitcher, but he racked up an enormous win total playing for good teams with good defenses.
Sportswriters love players who get a lot out of limited athletic ability, and as a small white guy who didn’t throw hard, they lavished such praise on Glavine, who’s probably the most athletic pitcher on the ballot this year. Glavine hit pretty well for a pitcher–.184/.244/.210 for his career, 7.5 offensive WAR by Baseball Reference’s reckoning, and by leaps and bounds the best line of any pitcher on the ballot except Todd Jones, who batted 19 times in 16 seasons. And that’s leaving out that the Los Angeles Kings drafted him five rounds ahead of Luc Robitaille out of high school. The worst NHL winger is a better athlete than the best major league pitcher. He’s not an undeserving Hall of Fame candidate, he’s just really overrated.
That’s almost 1,700 words on how I think about the Hall of Fame. If and when I apply for BBWAA membership, I’m going to print this post out and show it to them as evidence that I’m just as much of a pretentious, self-righteous navel-gazer as anyone out there.
@alexremington: “Considering his performance with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, do you kind of wish you still had Brandon Duckworth?”
Though it does offer the opportunity to talk about how sad the Phillies’ farm system was in the 1990s. When I was a kid, the Phillies always had Curt Schilling and maybe one other good pitcher–Danny Jackson or Paul Byrd if you were lucky–and one crappy veteran innings eater who seemed to constantly have mustard stains on his shirt (Chad Ogea, Mark Portugal, Kent Bottenfield) and one or two young guys we were hoping would turn into the next ace. In the early 2000s, they finally came up with Vicente Padilla, Randy Wolf and Brett Myers, who were actually above-average starting pitchers for a while, then Cole Hamels, who was somewhat better than that.
But without looking anything up, I’m going to list some Phillies starting pitching prospects I talked myself into between 1993 and 2002 or so, who went on to turn into utter nonentities at the major league level: Tyler Green, Mike Grace, Carlton Loewer (we fell hard for him because he was named “Carlton”), Duckworth, Garrett Stephenson…I’m sure I’m missing others. Those were dark days, friends. Dark days.
@CogNerd: “Looking to be a terrible year. How far outside baseball can we venture? World Cup?”
You can venture wherever you want. Even-numbered years are great because you have an Olympics and a major soccer tournament, which are the two best sports binge-watching events ever created by man. I’m going to plug a catheter into my aorta and just pump curling and hockey into it for the duration of the month of February. There’s also college baseball, which is more readily available now than ever, and since I’ll be living in a city that has worthwhile college baseball for this first time since I was actually in college, I plan on getting down to see Ohio State a few times in person. This leaves out, of course, that South Carolina is one of the leading contenders for the national title after last year’s rebuilding effort, plus a major college roundup that features Trea Turner, Carlos Rodon, Alex Bregman, Michael Conforto, Kyle Schwarber, Alex Bregman, Aaron Nola, Skye Bolt and those loveable crazy bastards at Mississippi State–I’ve said it for years that college baseball is this country’s greatest unexploited source of sports entertainment.
And your gentle reminder that if you love baseball and have the time and the means, there’s not a better hundred-odd dollars a year you can spend than MLB.tv. If you love the Phillies and you love baseball, there’s no rule that says you have to watch the Phillies every night. It’s okay to give the Phillies a break every so often and go watch a Rangers-Orioles game every so often. Yu Darvish and Manny Machado ain’t going to tell your wife.
@ut26: “What does Ruben Amaro buy in addition to bread and milk the day before an impending blizzard of doom?”
The problem with doomsday shopping is when the time comes, the supermarket is crowded and everyone’s bought the bread and eggs. And the knock on Ruben Amaro is that he buys things he doesn’t need indiscriminately and too early in the offseason. The very qualities that make him a bad GM, I believe, would make him the best blizzard shopper God ever put on this Earth.
So while the great unwashed are waiting 40 minutes in line at the Kroger for a half gallon of milk and a loaf of crappy white sandwich bread the night before the blizzard, Ruben Amaro is already in his living room, sitting in his easy chair with a fire going, reading a John Le Carre novel with a fresh gin and tonic and a towering plate of bruschetta by his side. Because he went out 48 hours before the snow was due to come, and came home with enough food and drink to sustain a platoon of Marines for a week, oodles of toilet paper and bottled water, plus candles and batteries enough to light his home until the spring thaw and, just in case the kids feel like going outside when school is closed, two brand new toboggans.
@pivnert: “RAJ’s first purchase tomorrow morning? a new suit? dunkin donuts franchise? remainder of A-Rod’s contract?”
Any one of these.
@jlwoj: “if you were hired as the Phillies’ official team blogger, what would your first five post titles be?”
Now, I know y’all think I’d be deeply conflicted if I were the Phillies’ official team blogger, unable to tear away my intellectual integrity to kowtow to the wishes of my employer, that I’d be unable to function and suffer some neurological or cardiopulmonary episode if I were hired to be Ruben Amaro’s personal Axis Sally.
But you’d be mistaken. Every man has a price, and as an underemployed freelance writer, my price is fairly low, all things considered. I would immediately and enthusiastically toe the company line and turn my little corner of the internet into a dissembling, whitewashed rag that would make Bukharin’s Pravda look like Mother Jones.
My first five post titles:
- All NL East Teams are Equal, but Some are More Equal than Others
- The Hidden Genius of Michael Martinez
- Mutli-Year Contracts to Aging Relievers are the New Market Inefficiency
- A Q&A with Ryan Howard: The Big Piece on His Bargain Contract and Our Ongoing War with Eastasia
- Blizzard Shopping with Ruben Amaro
@JakePavorsky: “How has living in the Midwest affected your life (ie. eating cheese curds)?”
Well, it’s made me get over my fear of cheese curds and realize that they’re delicious, for starters. The other big thing it’s done is made me completely impervious to cold. I used to want to shrivel up and die at the thought of driving in freezing rain, but now I think nothing of it when I walk outside and icicles form on my nose hairs almost immediately.
I had my car serviced the other day and when I went to pick it up (in the driving snow, which apparently doesn’t close anything up here), I received a voucher for a free car wash. Apparently when the dealership does work on your car, they wash it, which is nice, but they won’t do it if it’s below freezing unless you’re leaving it for the day, and if it’s below 20 degrees, they won’t do it at all. It never for a second occurred to me that something like that would be a consideration.
@bxe1234: “Is there a less appetizing food name than “cheese curds”?”
Maybe. I don’t recommend eating them on a tuffet–you’ll attract spiders. Though I think those were other kinds of curds.
And this isn’t necessarily an unappetizing name, but I feel like now is a good time to mention kholodets.
I brought this up on Liberty Ballers a couple weeks ago and nobody seemed appropriately horrified. But apparently, the Russians are in the habit of making meat jello. No, really, they boil bones and fat until they form gelatin and embed meat product in the gelatin. And apparently a hard-boiled egg in this case, which is somehow like the fourth-most disgusting thing in this picture.
It is the most disgusting thing I can imagine, including bull testicles and tongue and insects and the Triple Stack from Burger King, because all those Fear Factor foods at least smack faintly of creativity. There’s no way kholodets tastes like anything but heaviness and grease and the kind of thing you’d dump on an upset stomach like sand on a chemical fire, if the thought of it wouldn’t make you puke more readily than would your flu-like symptoms. It’s unconscionable that a society–a world power, even!–conducts itself like this. They suspend meat in jello and have nuclear weapons. Lots of nuclear weapons. If ever there were a reason this world deserved to be destroyed, that’s reason No. 1.
Thank you for patronizing the Crash Bag. Stay warm, those of you trapped in blizzard conditions, and no matter how bad things get, there’s no reason to resort to eating kholodets.