Crash Bag, Vol. 91: Winter Storm Neymar

So I’ve been encountering a phenomenon recently where journalists gripe about how, in the context of a postgame interview, “Talk about…” isn’t a real question. And it’s not. “Talk about how Cole Hamels got out of that sixth-inning jam” is not literally a question. But I don’t know why this is an issue–beat reporting isn’t Jeopardy. Everything doesn’t need to be in the form of a question. The object of the postgame scrum is to get the best, most relevant sound byte you can, and if you’re focusing on how the reporter generates that response (which will likely run without the question that prompted it), you’re reaching into “hilariously missing the point” territory.

@LeftysCurve: “Your projected starting outfield come, say, May 1”

Pretty sure it’s Brown, Revere and Byrd, unless someone gets hurt. I can’t imagine that changing based on the preseason and a month’s worth of games. Revere and Brown are both cheap and played quite well last year, and Byrd just got inked to a multi-year contract after having a better 2013 than either of them. This is probably the most stable outfield situation the Phillies have had to start a season since 2010 or so? After that, Raul Ibanez started sucking, Jayson Werth walked and Domonic Brown came up, so things got a little unpredictable. The earliest–again, barring injury–that I can see this changing is if Byrd gets flipped at the deadline.

@Phixated: “If RAJ re-signs another circa 2004 Phillie, who do you want?”

Oh, this is a good question. As I’m sure you know, the Phillies already have five players from that team: Bobby Abreu, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Marlon Byrd, and the first four on that list are the four I’d choose off that roster. And with the Ryan Madson rumors flying hot and heavy, that number could go up before it goes down.

Jim Thome and Placido Polanco were with the team recently, and guys like Billy Wagner and David Bell can go screw. I’d be happy with a Mike Lieberthal reunion–he was always pretty good for the Phillies, and a favorite of mine when I was a kid. Wow, he played 13 seasons in Philadelphia–that’s crazy. If not him, than Randy Wolf, who like most members of those early 2000s teams, was criminally underrated because he left right before the Phillies got good again. And it could happen. He somehow threw 157 2/3 innings last season. Though it’s a good thing he barely missed qualifying for the ERA title, because he posted a 5.65. Yikes.

@JonCheddar: “which is more insufferable, the NFL insisting on calling this a “New York” S. Bowl, or NYC residents insisting they’re above it?”

It’s ridiculous. As a proud New Jerseyan, I cannot, cannot, cannot stand the oppression of my people by New York City. Everything good we have, they try to co-opt: Frank Sinatra, the Statue of Liberty and now the Super Bowl. If New York is Great Britain–and in terms of overinflated sense of self-worth and remoralike adherence to outdated cultural perceptions, it certainly is–then North Jersey is like Scotland. The joke about Andy Murray was “When he wins, he’s British, but when he loses, he’s Scottish,” and that’s the kind of selective cultural imperialism with which New Yorkers treat North Jersey, or, as I’ve come to call it, Vichy New Jersey.

You know what? If you’ve turned your city into the kind of overcrowded, socially stratified mess we’d see in Judge Dredd, to the point where you can’t build a football stadium within the boundaries of the state, then maybe you should shut the hell up about hosting the Super Bowl in New York. Yes, we’re so proud that we’ve come from around the world to live in a parody of Land of the Dead that we’re going to try to co-opt anything within our reach, as is our right.

Which doesn’t make North Jersey any better, because if there’s anything worse than being Land of the Dead, it’s being overflow seating for Land of the Dead. Being the toady for the guy who isn’t nearly as cool as he thinks he is, and as much as he doesn’t realize he’s shit, you don’t realize even he thinks you’re shit. If I could saw New Jersey in half at the Fall Line, I’d do it in an instant.

And to the second point: I get to a certain point not caring that the Super Bowl’s in town if you’re not a football fan. But acting like the biggest media event in the Western world happening in a place you’ve culturally co-opted isn’t a big deal is hipster myopia at its worst. If you’re such a self-centered poseur that you have to act like you’re above noticing it–being outraged at the continued existence of football is one thing, but the affectation of apathy is another–then please, do humanity a favor and jump in the river.

@Ut26: “Keith Law’s rankings have given me this foreign feeling of optimism. Does hope exist in this world?”

He was pretty bullish on the system, which is nice. And the Phillies are big on loud tools, even if they require projection and are a long way off, and have a relatively low probability of success, which is fine, but it’s diametrically opposed to how I’d build a farm system. Doesn’t make it bad–I’d be terrible at building a farm system. It just is what it is. So I too drew comfort from Keith Law’s optimistic appraisal of the situation, but like the Emperor, I don’t share it.

I’m not big on tattoos, but there’s probably a path I’d go down that would end with my getting a particularly personally significant quote indelibly marked on my body. KTLSW has done this, and people seem to like it. Like many people I draw significant personal meaning from holy Scripture, so I’d get “Ecclesiastes 4:1-8” marked probably somewhere on my forearm. For those of you unfamiliar with that passage, I’ll reproduce it here:

Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun:

I saw the tears of the oppressed—
and they have no comforter;
power was on the side of their oppressors—
and they have no comforter.
And I declared that the dead,
who had already died,
are happier than the living,
who are still alive.
But better than both
is the one who has never been born,
who has not seen the evil
that is done under the sun.

And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

Fools fold their hands
and ruin themselves.
Better one handful with tranquility
than two handfuls with toil
and chasing after the wind.

Again I saw something meaningless under the sun:

There was a man all alone;
he had neither son nor brother.
There was no end to his toil,
yet his eyes were not content with his wealth.
“For whom am I toiling,” he asked,
“and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?”
This too is meaningless—
a miserable business!

Ecclesiastes 4:1-8

Toil is meaningless. The modal outcome is failure. Hope is an illusion. MOVING ON.

@fotodave: “any thoughts on this naming winter storms bullshit? I mean, Janus? Leon? Really? sound like Brazilian soccer players.”

It’s weird. It’s an outgrowth of the Weather Channel suddenly realizing it was boring and for some reason deciding to change. I mean, it’s the one channel that people don’t want to watch for a long time–it’s supposed to be boring. Every second the spend on the moron in galoshes they send to stand outside in the Outer Banks during a hurricane is a second they could spend showing me what the weather’s going to be like where I live so I know if I need to bring gloves and a scarf or not. It’s the ultimate rejection of the one job you have to do, and I agree–it’s bullshit.

Though I do like the idea of naming winter storms after Brazilian soccer players. “This one’s going to bring swirling winds–it’s Winter Storm Roberto Carlos!” “This one’s going to make your teeth chatter–Winter Storm Ronaldinho!” “This one’s going to do weird things to your hair–Winter Storm Neymar!” “This one’s going to end with you banging your boss’s daughter–Winter Storm Alexandre Pato!”

@hdrubin: “Should/would the Phillies sign Jeff Niemann?”

Should they? Well, it depends on the freight on the contract. I certainly wouldn’t give him any kind of multi-year deal, because, like all pitchers who went to Rice in the mid-2000s, his arm is like the eponymous starship in Firefly: you love it, but that love is holding it together because the actual mechanical bits are rotten to the core. (Hi, Joe Savery. Joe Savery, by the way, is the last college player the Phillies took in the first round.) It was kind of hilarious to see how the Rays used Niemann over the years, just kind of sending him out there and nursing him through the season, Joe Maddon wearing that look you have when your check engine light’s been on for a week and you just really need to stretch it until your next paycheck so you can afford to take the car to the shop. That sort of thing.

But the issue with Niemann is that he’s only ever qualified for the ERA title with a better-than-average ERA once in his career, and that was four years ago, the most recent of which he spent not playing while recovering from his second shoulder surgery. With this rotation, I’d give a minor-league deal to any 30-year-old who has, ever, at any point, been effective major league starter. But I think public opinion of Niemann at his peak benefited from a little bit of the Tampa Bay halo, and if I had to put money on it, I’d say he’s done.

@whitemidget: “What’s worse: a possible AJ Burnett signing or Bobby Abreu returning to Philly?”

“Worse”? I don’t see the downside to either. Abreu we went over last week, and if the opportunity arose, I’d be in favor of giving A.J. Burnett a one-year deal, even a substantial one, possibly up to $10 million.

Here’s what you get with A.J. Burnett, and it’s going to sound weird at first: reliability. From 2007 to 2013, Burnett has averaged 195 innings a year with an ERA+ of an even 100. That is by definition a league-average starter, and that he throws near as makes no difference 200 innings a year like clockwork makes him a valuable commodity indeed. Particularly for a team like the Phillies, who have two of the best starting pitchers in the game, Kyle Kendrick and a big ol’ mess of question marks. The plan, one presumes, is to go Hamels, Lee, Kendrick, The Former Fausto Carmona and M.A. Gonzalez. Beyond that, the plan is unclear. Jonathan Pettibone? He might give you 200 innings, but he’ll give up about 25,000 runs by the time you get there. Ethan Martin‘s apparently going to try to start again, which is a move I don’t necessarily dislike, but he’s got to learn to throw strikes and turn over a lineup, which are two things he’s not doing now that are of paramount importance for a starting pitcher. I have no faith in Roberto Hernandez to unfuck himself for an entire season, and I don’t know M.A. Gonzalez from Adam, and the only reason the Phillies got him so cheap is because of his own potential injury problems. You need more than five starters to get through a season in almost all cases, and the Phillies have three, maybe four if you mush Hernandez and Gonzalez into one blob of probability, that I’d count on getting to 160 innings without surrendering an embarrassing number of runs.

Burnett’s got a bad case of Punchable Face Syndrome, and he’s older, and he had a bad time with the Yankees, but by God he will give you 200 relatively clean innings like clockwork, and the importance of such a thing to the Phillies right now can hardly be overstated. You can’t land on the moon on one good fuel cell, and you can’t get through a season with only three reliable starting pitchers. Going back to that arbitrary endpointedness from earlier, there have only been 15 pitchers who have thrown 1,300 innings from 2007 to 2013 with an ERA+ of 100 or greater. The Phillies have two–Hamels and Lee–and a third, Roy Halladay, is retired. Seven of the fifteen, including Lee and Halladay, have Cy Young awards. (At least two more pitchers, Bronson Arroyo and Ervin Santana, have at least 1,300 IP and an ERA+ during that time listed as 100 exactly, but don’t show up on the Play Index search I used, I assume because their numbers got rounded up to 100. Both a free agents and both would demand multi-year deals, so I’d have Burnett over either.)

But much as the Phillies need a guy like Burnett, so to do about 26 other teams, so why would they interest him? Burnett, for reasons passing understanding, has made his home in Maryland, and seems not to be interested in returning to Pittsburgh. He’s 37 years old, with $120 million in the bank. He’s thrown almost 2,400 innings and struck out almost 2,200 batters. He has two World Series titles and a no-hitter–Burnett’s in that stage of his career where he can still contribute, but he’s got a ring and a pension, so he doesn’t need to come back if he doesn’t want to, and will only do so on his terms.

And let me say, that’s got to be a great place to be.

Anyway, he seems to be demanding a certain geographic proximity to his home, and all things being equal, he’d probably like to play for a contender, which makes the Orioles obvious frontrunners, and if we’re talking about teams that need reliable starting pitchers, the Orioles top the list for sure. Those guys started Joe Saunders in a playoff game not too long ago, bless their little hearts, and 200 innings of league-average ball would be huge. I have to imagine that if Burnett comes back with a non-Pirates team, he’d chose the Orioles over the Phillies, all things being equal.

One last A.J. Burnett note–he’ll always have a place in my heart because of the role he played in MVP 2005, the best baseball video game ever created. Even if you knew Moneyball back then, the game was at its most fun when you swung and stole bases freely, so whenever Paul and I played when we were in high school, I’d play as the Marlins, because they had a bunch of good starting pitchers and a bunch of fast guys with good contact skills.

Anyway, whenever I played Paul, I used to start A.J. Burnett and just bounce knuckle-curves, and he’d swing at every single one. I thought it was hilarious, and eventually he stopped wanting to play with me.

@AntsInWA: “The NL East GMs assemble for a game of Risk. How would this game go down?”

Okay, so we’ve got Sandy Alderson of the Mets, Ruben Amaro of the Phillies, Dan Jennings of the Marlins, Frank Wren of the Braves and Mike Rizzo of the Nationals. Here’s how it goes down.

  • When we were kids, my brother and I would play Risk with our dad. I was probably about 13 and my brother was 9 the last time we did this. My dad always went for the build-out-of-Australia move and my brother, wherever he started, would attack until he could literally attack no more, because he was nine years old and got bored easily. Anyway, he kept doing this until one time my dad told him that was how Hitler lost World War II–attacking until he was overextended. Which is true, but kind of a rough truth bomb to drop on a nine-year-old. Anyway, this is what Ruben Amaro would do.
  • Frank Wren would do the smart thing, start in Australia and fight a single-front war, amassing armies as long as he could, but he’d never even attempt to get any farther than Siam.
  • Mike Rizzo would embark immediately on the fool’s errand of trying to occupy all of Asia right off the bat, and he’d get close, but he’d never be able to wrest Siam from Frank Wren. Plus he’d keep pointing to “Ural” and giggling and saying it sounds like “urine” until Dan Jennings punched him out.
  • Speaking of Dan Jennings, there may not be a less visible, less empowered GM in the game. I make it my point to know such things, and I had no idea he existed until I went on Google to make sure Michael Hill was still the Marlins’ GM, and he wasn’t. If you went to a major league ballpark that wasn’t Marlins Stadium and asked 100 people who the Athletics’ GM was, I bet 80 fans would say Billy Beane. If you asked who the GM of the Cardinals was, I bet you’d get at least 10 or 20 who’d say John Mozeliak. How many people do you think you’d need to have surveyed in 2013 to find someone who knew who Michael Hill was? 200? 500? 1000? Anyway, Jennings attacks whenever Jeffrey Loria tells him to and gets a bunch of extra Risk cards at taxpayer expense.
  • Sandy Alderson. The wily veteran. The man who made Billy Beane Billy Beane. He’d start out small, but wisely. He knows that you can build up and out of South America almost as easily as you can Australia, and he’d patiently conquer Africa, then hold the line at Egypt while he chased Jennings out of North America. By then he’d have an army to rival Mike Rizzo’s and the initiative as well. He could attack both Kamchatka and the Middle East, then eventually emerge victorious.

@Matt_Winkelman: “What are your top college baseball teams to watch this year for entertainment?”

I’ll admit to wearing blinders to a certain extent when it comes to college baseball–I consume and follow probably 70 percent SEC, 25 percent ACC and 5 percent everything else. It’s about that breakdown in college football too, which is appropriate, because non-SEC college football is pretty much objectively crap. (Hi, all the car-flipping psychopaths from Ohio State I’m about to live next to!)

Anyway, I’ll give you two teams. the first is North Carolina State, who have Carlos Rodon, who is the way, the truth and the light. He might be the best pitcher not currently playing in the major leagues. They also have Trea Turner, who’s on base constantly and tries to steal every time he’s on base. It’s unlikely but not inconceivable that Rodon and Turner could go 1-2 in June’s draft. Those two alone make NC State the non-Gamecock team I’m going to try to watch the most.

The only team that even comes close is Mississippi State, who, like NC State, made the College World Series last year, but without the star power of Turner and Rodon. What the Bulldogs have going for them is the Bench Mob. They combine actually being a very good college baseball team–one of the best college bullpens ever assembled, which matters more than it does in the pros–with the antics and cheerleading you’d associate with a high school swim team. Even if you get past the exquisite mullets that more players on the team sport than not, you can’t go more than a batter or two without someone breaking out a dance routine or swinging from the dugout roof. It’s like your friends from college were actually really good at baseball.

Other teams: Indiana looks like fun, and is the best team the Big Ten’s put out in a while. So does LSU, who have, in Aaron Nola and Alex Bregman, my two favorite non-USC, non-NC State players in the game. And they’re usually among the attendance leaders in college baseball, so the atmosphere bleeds through, even on TV. And homerism aside, South Carolina’s going to be very good and very fun to watch this year. Joey Pankake’s moving off shortstop to accommodate Juco transfer Marcus Mooney, who’s apparently something else with the glove, and in great Gamecock tradition, they’ve got a bunch of lefties with killer breaking stuff. Seriously, just fucking watch college baseball.

@SoMuchForPathos: “What are some good documentaries (sports or otherwise) that someone should make?”

I tell you what, this has been something of a golden age for sports documentaries, thanks in large part to 30 for 30, but it doesn’t end there. Senna, for instance, is probably the best sports documentary I’ve ever seen, and I’m pretty sure it’s on Netflix still and if you’ve got two hours to kill, go watch it, even and particularly if you don’t know anything about Ayrton Senna or Formula 1. I mean it. It’s incredible.

Anyway, here are some documentaries I want to see:

  • 30 for 30 did documentaries on Allen Iverson and Drazen Petrovic, but I think there’s more to tell about both of those guys, particularly Iverson. Bill Simmons wrote once that if he had a week to follow any basketball figure around for a feature article, he’d pick Iverson, and I couldn’t agree more. I don’t think there’s a more interesting athlete out there. You could do five outstanding Allen Iverson documentaries.
  • The 2000 Tennessee Titans. I had a friend at the time who was a Titans fan, so when they started their run, I rooted for them for his sake, and that playoff run was just incredible. I maintain that Super Bowl XXXIV was the most exciting Super Bowl I’ve ever seen, even after the Tyree catch.
  • 2006 World Cup final. So many great characters–Zidane, Henry, Vieira, Materazzi, Buffon–and an incredible and bizarre game.
  • Has anyone done just an out-and-out Big Red Machine documentary? One that’s not tied to either Pete Rose or the Fisk home run? They should.
  • Toe Nash.
  • The Battle of Old Trafford. Really, anything on Roy Keane vs. Patrick Vieira at the height of their rivalry.
  • Brawn GP. A Formula 1 team gets thrown together in a matter of weeks and wins everything.
  • The 1955 Le Mans Disaster.
  • The IndyCar/Champ Car split.
  • Rob Gronkowski. I’d watch him boil and eat potatoes. He’s mesmerizing.
  • Has anyone done a proper documentary on the American gymnastics team 1996 Olympics? If not, they should.

I’m sure there are others. As far as non-sports documentaries are concerned, I will watch almost anything engineering-related. Particularly submarines, airplanes and rockets, because on a certain level I am still seven years old. I’ve said over and over again that if someone started a TV channel that aired nothing but documentaries about NASA and its predecessors between the end of World War II and 1975, I would watch nothing else. I own a multi-disc documentary based largely around gun camera footage from the X-15. If someone did a proper documentary on the Gemini and early Apollo missions, that’d just be the best. Someone make this happen before all the principals die and we can’t talk to them anymore.

The next Crash Bag will be coming to you from the Fra Mauro highlands, so until then, this is the crew of Crashburn Alley, wishing everyone back on Earth a pleasant evening.

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  1. Ben

    January 31, 2014 10:09 AM

    “From my chair here, THIS is last option!” – Scott Freedman to Ruben Amaro, pointing at AJ Burnett’s Fangraphs player page

  2. jonny 5

    January 31, 2014 10:39 AM

    North Jersey and South Jersey are two different states. New York city can HAVE that stink hole up north for all I care.

    Documentary I’d like to see?

    Sports: Jim Abbott, there is a book, but no documentary.

    Other: I’d like to see one done on the fact that while our politicians are telling and hinting to us that “Big oil” is taking advantage of us at the pump, they are profiting twice as much per gallon over “Big oil”, depending on the state. So while the government doesn’t get the oil, they don’t refine the oil, they don’t distribute the oil, they don’t pay the employees that do this work, they still make more profit than “big oil” does in every single US state. It seems to me that the real culprit that is taking advantage here is our own government.

  3. Robert Anderson

    January 31, 2014 02:49 PM

    ITV (uk free to air channel that shows champions league) did an awesome Keane v Viera documentary about 2 months ago.

  4. WayneKerrins

    January 31, 2014 07:14 PM

    Dusting your anglophobia off again Baumann after something of a hiatus.

    Anyway mate you certainly do have something in common with the Scots, the most balanced creed on the planet, possessing a chip on both shoulders.

  5. Major Malfunction

    February 01, 2014 12:26 PM

    Michael – Given your admissions of fine television, I believe you are like me and cannot thumb pass a How It’s Made marathon even if they are making puppets. Yes, I have watched that one.

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