Crash Bag, Vol. 93: Bad Cherries
What up, bossman?
@CrashburnAlley: “Astros are at 57.5 wins. They won 51 last year. Are you brave enough to take the over?“
I think I’ve spent more Crash Bag time on the Astros than on the Phillies in recent weeks.
But I’d take the over. You have to be SO BAD to win 57 or fewer games, and while the Astros were SO BAD last year, they’re slowly coming out of the arc that took them from the World Series in 2005 to three straight No. 1 overall picks. And they’ll be better this year than last. First of all, they underperformed their Pythagorean record last year by six wins, which means they probably weren’t 51-win bad. And here are some of the players who came up midseason last year who ought to improve and contribute over a full season: Brett Oberholtzer, Jarred Cosart, Max Stassi, L.J. Hoes and Robbie Grossman. What’s more, most of their established regulars–Matt Dominguez, Jose Altuve (who’s still only 23 somehow) and the like–are still relatively young and stand to get better. And that’s before you remember that George Springer will be up soon, as will, perhaps, Mark Appel.
Oh, and Dexter Fowler, who’s the first legitimate established major league regular the Astros have gone out and acquired on purpose since…Carlos Lee, maybe? The Fowler trade, if nothing else, confirms that Houston has gone back into the cave and licked its wounds enough, and after consolidating its resources, is ready to start climbing up the standings a little. The over on 57 1/2 is free money.
Which reminds me. Last year, all five of us picked over/unders for the 30 MLB teams in our season preview post, and nobody was ever made accountable for the results. Eric, Paul and I went 16-13-1. Ryan went 15-14-1 and Bill went 12-17-1. The Mets hit their number of 74 exactly, so we all pushed that.
Other highlights from those predictions:
- All of us picked the Blue Jays to make the playoffs. None of us predicted the eventual World Series champion Red Sox would finish higher than fourth.
- All of us except Eric predicted the Nationals would win the World Series.
- Individual awards were a mess. A MESS. We picked AL and NL MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year–30 predictions in total–and one of them was correct. Congratulations to Eric, who had Andrew McCutchen winning NL MVP. But maybe not too many congratulations, because he also had Matt Moore winning AL Cy Young.
- Rookie of the Year was where it really fell apart: Eric had Chris Archer winning in the AL and Bill had Jedd Gyorko winning the NL. Those weren’t right, but they were the only players we picked who got a vote.
- Bill and Paul had Dylan Bundy winning AL ROY. He didn’t play in the majors last year.
- Ryan and Eric had Oscar Taveras winning NL ROY. He didn’t play in the majors last year.
- The worst prediction of 2013 was mine. By God, I had Trevor Bauer winning AL Rookie of the Year. Trevor Bauer, 2013: 17 IP, 15 H, 11 R, 11 K, 16 BB.
@Wzeiders: “I hate all these Mt. Rushmore conversations. Who would be on the Phillies Mt. Rushmore?”
I hate them too, but this one’s pretty easy for me. When I was a kid, the Phillies had only four retired numbers: Mike Schmidt, Richie Ashburn, Steve Carlton and Robin Roberts. That still works for me. After Chase Utley retires, he might bump Ashburn, but Ashburn stuck around for so long as a broadcaster and is intertwined in the zeitgeist with Harry Kalas, which elevates his public profile to a somewhat higher level perhaps than his on-field accomplishments alone might warrant.
@reldnahkram: “Is it even possible to rebuild this team while maintaining “competitiveness”? Or would a complete tear down be better, even if it meant extending RAJ to give him the job security needed for such a project?”
I think the assumption that you need to bottom out in order to rebuild is a little bit of a false dichotomy, particularly in baseball. In basketball and football, where the road from amateur to professional star is a little less convoluted than it is in baseball, and where a LeBron James or Peyton Manning at the top of the draft can alter the course of a franchise, it’s different. Yesterday in his chat, Keith Law ripped the Phillies for the A.J. Burnett signing–a move I really like–by saying that becoming better, the Phillies are hurting their draft position and amateur signing pool. He’s right, of course, but I don’t think it’s as big a deal as he says. The Phillies are still going to be plenty bad, and as long as they have Cole Hamels, Ben Revere and Domonic Brown, they’re never going to be Astros bad.
What’s going to be the difference for the Phillies is improving their player development. If Sebastian Valle ever learns the strike zone, maybe Carlos Ruiz doesn’t get that contract and Valle is starting 2014 behind the plate. Maybe Adam Morgan is in the rotation if he doesn’t hurt his shoulder and Burnett or Roberto Hernandez doesn’t get signed. The modal outcome is failure, but that outcome is a little more modal than it needs to be for the Phillies.
As far as contending while rebuilding, it is absolutely possible, but that won’t be what the Phillies are doing now. The way to do it is to gradually roll over your roster one or two starters at a time, trading your established stars for their replacements just when the time is right. Nobody does this better than the Boston Red Sox–win the World Series in 2004, turn over the roster almost completely and win again in 2007, then turn it over almost completely and win it a third time in 2013. Or the Cardinals over the past decade–four pennants, two titles, one losing season, complete roster turnover.
What the Phillies did from 2009-2011 makes that impossible. Ruben Amaro took over the defending champion with a strong farm system, and a core of stars who are all in their late 20s and early 30s, in their prime, but only for another couple years. Faced with that scenario, a good GM will do one of two things: either bring in the youngsters gradually, trading Howard and Werth and Rollins as they reach free agency and bringing up new guys to replace them in the pursuit of winning 88-92 games every year for the next ten years, because if you make the playoffs, you’ve got a puncher’s chance at a title. The second thing you can do is liquidate the farm system and throw all your assets at constructing a fucking monster of a team for a couple years and take your shot at a title in the short term. If you win another title, you buy yourself some time to undertake a rebuild.
I don’t necessarily disagree with Amaro’s strategic plan of going all-out for another title between 2009 and 2012, and frankly, I’m a little surprised they didn’t win it all again between 2009 and 2011. But the downside to doing that is that you’re going to be stuck with a bunch of older guys on the back end of bad contracts and a farm system that isn’t producing much, particularly if you’re as tool-happy in the draft as the Phillies are.
@StevvieV: “college baseball prediction this season without being a homer?”
Yes, by the time you read this, college baseball will likely be ongoing. You’ll be able to check out my season preview at Grantland sometime later today, but even in that post, I don’t predict a national champion. All homerism aside, I really do like South Carolina’s chances, but they’re by no means the favorite. Baseball America really likes Virginia, and I like the way Mississippi State’s bullpen would play in the postseason. But gun to my head, and with that admonition against homerism, I’d make Cal State Fullerton my preseason favorite.
I don’t think Fullerton’s obviously better than any other team, but it’ll be easier to rack up a resume to warrant a national seed–which means you host the Super Regional–out of the Big West than it will out of the Pac-12, ACC or SEC. South Carolina or Oregon State or LSU or whoever could have a couple bad weekends and wind up going on the road for the super regional, which not only means you have to travel, but you also get a much tougher opponent. Fullerton’s got the big pitchers, so I’d bet on them to at least get to Omaha, which isn’t always as much of a sure thing as you’d expect.
@bxe1234: “Aren’t dogs way better than cats since they poop outside and aren’t jaded assholes?”
No. “They poop outside” isn’t an advantage. My cat poops in my basement in a box full of sand. He does this on his own, without my help, whenever he needs to. The poop does not smell, and when it needs to be cleaned up, it can be cleaned with a rake and shovel in minutes. The bathroom advantages alone make cats the superior pet.
My wife has it in her head that eventually I’m going to be okay with having a dog. I will never be okay with having a dog. Dogs are needy. Dogs can’t clean themselves. Dogs need to be entertained constantly. Maybe that appeals to you, but if I wanted to have my head on a swivel at all times to make sure a creature that lived in my home didn’t defecate on the furniture or injure itself or destroy something, I’d have a child, because children eventually grow up into human beings and dogs do not.
Honestly, even this cat is way more drama than I ever wanted, because I’ve got to take 90 seconds to feed him twice a day, and sometimes he stands on my computer or tries to eat my breakfast or trips me while I’m going up the stairs–HI, DEREK HOLLAND, I FEEL YOUR PAIN–and that’s way more work than I want to put into a relationship with something that can’t talk to me. You get a dog because you want to be loved. I don’t want to be loved. I want to not be bothered, and if you don’t want to be bothered, you don’t get a dog. Maybe you do want to be loved. That’s fine. Get a dog. What I love about my cat the most is that for 23 hours and 30 minutes every day, he’s not actively a nuisance to me. That’s all I ask.
@soconnor76: “If you had to get one president printed on your toilet paper, which one would it be?”
This in response to the revelation that Spencer Hawes has a picture of President Obama on his toilet paper.
I wouldn’t put a picture of a sitting president on my TP for two reasons:
- This is something a smarmy student government kid would say, but I think it’s unnecessarily disrespectful to the office of the president. Senseless ad hominem attacks, particularly glib ones like putting his face on your terlet tissue, don’t sit well with me, no matter who’s in office.
- I’d have an irrational fear of getting ink up my butthole.
- I wouldn’t be able to shake the image that I’m wiping my butt with a guy’s face. Having never experienced this phenomenon myself, I wouldn’t be able to drop a deuce without thinking about how much it’d tickle to wipe.
That said, if I had to pick one president to put on my toilet paper, I’d have Zachary Taylor, who ate bad cherries and died of massive gastrointestinal distress. It’d only be fitting.
@Eric_Lindros: “Re. the pension vote, why do billionaire owners hate their thousandaire employees?”
I was going to go into this whole thing about the labor theory of value and class warfare and the hegemony of the capitalist, but I realized there’s a man who can state this case much better than I can. Allow me to introduce Trevor from The Good Phight, the Crash Bag’s official expert on class warfare, and a far more coherent and articulate angry Marxist than I am.
To answer this question, we should first restate it slightly: it’s less about why billionaire owners hate thousandaire employees and more about why capital hates labor. It’s become fashionable to argue that orthodox Marxist figurations of labor relations are no longer relevant in the era of multinational global capitalism. The truth, however, is that, just because workers no longer primarily spend their labor time on assembly lines, labor and capital are still locked in an essentially antagonistic relationship. So let’s begin there: the reason the owners have voted with a strong majority to take away off-field worker pensions is because, while they are truly detestable, they are first and foremost successful capitalists (well, except the Wilpons). And successful capitalists, Rockies and White Sox owners notwithstanding, work to draw more and more surplus value from their workers.
The second thing to understand is that pensions, at this moment in capitalism’s evolution, are archaic in the view of the capitalist class. They were, indeed, more necessary in the era of Fordism – named after Henry Ford, due to the wide proliferation of the assembly line method of production – as employees in the more robust economy of the 1950’s and 60’s were given incentives for staying with a company for life. Furthermore, generations of “blue collar” workers worked for the same company, and this loyalty, encouraged by pensions among other perks, worked as a hedge for capital against the strong unions of the factory workers. As the unions lost strength, and (in a related move) as financial restraints on the dollar’s connection to gold were loosened by the FED (known colloquially as “The Volcker Shock”), causing massive stagflation and a severe drop in the national economy, capital found itself in a much stronger position. The massive army of unemployed laborers hardly needed convincing to take jobs, and as the various unions were broken by strikes and government interference (e.g. the Air Traffic Controllers union, broken by the Reagan administration), capital’s position became more and more entrenched. Thus we find ourselves in the current moment, where widespread unemployment has weakened the collectivity of labor to the point that any benefit is considered a blessing, not a right.
Finally, third, this entrenchment of capital’s interests against laborers leads to ideological attacks on the interests of laborers in what is often called the neoliberal era of capitalism (liberal here refers not to politics in the Democrat or Republican sense, but to the liberal allowance of free monetary flows without regulation). Much of this has to do with the rise of the philosophy of human capital and the expansion of financialization, or capital speculation. The former, human capital, is a philosophy forwarded by University of Chicago economist Gary Becker, who argued that, in the modern era, the means of production – ie a source of producing profit, what the capitalist owns that gives him his status – is not a factory or a farm, but an individual sense of potentiality. We, as owners of our own means of production of value, go to school, learn skills, and become experts in order to become more profitable. In this way, responsibility is taken from the state and from capitalist interests and given wholesale to the laborer; capital, of course, is fine with this arrangement as it allows them the full share of profit while absolving them of any ethical responsibility to their workers. It becomes the individual’s responsibility to provide for their own future, and it becomes wrong or lazy or grasping or any number of other things for a worker to ask their employer for any help. Strengthening this philosophy is the current state of the speculative financial marketplace: we see people getting rich by trading in currency, stock futures, even mortgages. This potentiality allows for folks like Rob Manfred, MLB’s chief operating officer (link: espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/10444699/mlb-owners-voted-allow-teams-cut-pensions-non-players), to claim that cutting pensions in favor of 401K’s or other self-funded retirement accounts, is actually good for labor because they can earn more on the open market. This is only plausible if we believe that the market is always profitable and a reliable source of capital, when we know, of course, that the stock market is a wildly unpredictable gamble.
So, when we simultaneously hear labor experts telling us about how capital has consistently attempted to rob labor of its remaining securities, while also hearing people like Manfred tell us that this move is actually good for the underpaid employees of MLB franchises, understand that it is not MLB explicitly hating their poorer cousins. In actual fact, it is just MLB pursuing the class warfare that has been developing since before Marx put pen to paper – that it has been made to seem “natural” by those with the most to gain should not be at all surprising, nor should the vote given the last 50 years of history. That said, it still really sucks.
Thank you, Trevor. Very well said.