Crash Bag, Vol. 96: This Train

I wonder if anyone from Spain has ever written in to the blog. I’d be surprised if that was the case. Because, you know…

@Bradleycs1: “what do you think AJ Burnett’s reaction to the Phillies implementing defensive shifts will be?”

I know he was unhappy with the Pirates shifting last season, but he’ll deal with it, because he’s a professional, and the Pirates shifted their infielders more last season than just about anybody, one of the consequences of such things being that Pittsburgh won 94 games and Burnett got to start a game in the playoffs. The shift is one of many developments in baseball strategy and tactics that I really, really don’t like from an aesthetic point of view, even though I recognize that it’s smart. For instance, strikeouts are on the rise as teams realize the most reliable way to get outs is to have pitchers who miss bats, while also, somewhat paradoxically, realizing that strikeouts for hitters aren’t terrible if they’re part of an approach that also leads to deep counts, home runs and walks. Meanwhile, stolen bases have also gone out of style to a certain degree, since the high break-even point makes it more important for would-be basestealers to pick their spots more wisely.

All of this ticks me off, because I find walks, strikeouts, and to a certain extent, even home runs, to be boring. Strikeouts are great when they come on a spectacular pitch like Yu Darvish‘s bastard slider or Brandon Webb‘s forkball (God bless the dead), but there’s less of that than there is John Mayberry swinging through a mediocre changeup. I want lots of contact, lots of speed and extremely aggressive approaches to both baserunning and hitting. I wrote about this two years ago when I railed against the designated hitter, but my ideal form of baseball maximizes the action on the field. In the three true outcome at-bats, you only need three guys, but on a double play or a ball in the gap, everyone on the field moves. I’d make the bat handles thicker, maybe deaden the baseball, outlaw the shift, anything to bring baseball back to where the ideal team construction looks a little less like the 2009 Yankees and a little more like the 1976 Reds.

I realize this isn’t the ideal strategic form of the game right now, so I find myself rooting for the Phillies to adopt a style of play that I actually find less entertaining.

@JustinF_LB: “How concerning is Cole Hamels‘s setback? Very concerning? Super concerning? Mega concerning? Very super mega concerning?”

Not at all concerning. It’s March of a lost season–who gives a crap? And in the grand scheme of things, we’re all going to die anyway.

@DeRosaTheo11: “beginning 2014: final MLB team to win a WS (all have 0 as of now), and why?”

This is a fascinating question, because it would take a minimum of 30 years to solve, which…I don’t know what baseball will even look like in 30 years. Four teams have appeared in a World Series (and two have won) that didn’t even exist 30 years ago. And the Cubs are going on 105+ years without a title. Six other teams are working on droughts of 45 years or more. Eight teams have never won a World Series at all. The Nationals and Mariners have never even appeared in a World Series.

With that in mind, I’ll make this prediction: of the 30 teams currently playing in MLB right now, at least one will fail to win another World Series before major league baseball as we know it ceases to exist.

But that’s not the spirit of your question. Instead, off the top of my head and knowing full well that the circumstances that dictate these rankings will change in the next 30 years, here’s a list of the 30 MLB teams, in order of likelihood of winning a World Series in the indeterminate future, balancing current team/ownership makeup against the economic prospects of the future.

  1. St. Louis Cardinals
  2. Los Angeles Dodgers
  3. New York Yankees
  4. Boston Red Sox
  5. Washington Nationals
  6. Texas Rangers
  7. Atlanta Braves
  8. Houston Astros
  9. Detroit Tigers
  10. Los Angeles Angels
  11. Tampa Bay Rays
  12. Toronto Blue Jays
  13. San Francisco Giants
  14. Philadelphia Phillies
  15. Oakland A’s
  16. Chicago Cubs
  17. New York Mets
  18. Arizona Diamondbacks
  19. Seattle Mariners
  20. Miami Marlins
  21. Kansas City Royals
  22. Baltimore Orioles
  23. Pittsburgh Pirates
  24. Minnesota Twins
  25. Cincinnati Reds
  26. Chicago White Sox
  27. San Diego Padres
  28. Cleveland Indians
  29. Milwaukee Brewers
  30. Colorado Rockies

UPDATE: After writing this, I posed a version of this question to Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller at Baseball Prospectus’ Effectively Wild podcast. Apparently they’ve answered a question like it–when will the eight teams that haven’t won a World Series already have won a World Series. A reader named Jared Tuchman did some mathematical finagling and in the mean projection, those eight teams–leaving alone the other 22–would all have won a World Series by the year 2094. Having seen that, I’m almost certain one of the 30 MLB teams has already won its last title.

Ryan (via email): “If you were the Phillies’ GM would you try to buy low on Starlin Castro?  It seems like a good idea to me with the Cubs having a big shot prospect coming up behind him.  Thoughts?”

Absolutely. The Cubs have, in their minor league system right now, the potential for one of the best left-side-of-the-infield duos in a while. Probably not “A-Rod and Jeter in the late 2000s” good, but there’s definitely potential for Scott Rolen and Jimmy Rollins good, or Rolen and Edgar Renteria good. So if Javier Baez comes up and forces Castro to move to third, then Kris Bryant comes up and forces Castro to go do something else with his life, there’s a potential buy-low opportunity.

I’ve always been a believer in Castro because he was really good at an impossibly young age before he came down with a case of Not Giving A Shit. As a 20-year-old rookie, he posted a .347 OBP, which would be impressive enough for a shortstop, but consider this:

Rk Player OBP Year Age Tm PA AB
1 Ted Williams .436 1939 20 BOS 675 565
2 Mike Trout (RoY-1st) .399 2012 20 LAA 639 559
3 Jason Heyward (RoY-2nd) .393 2010 20 ATL 623 520
4 Frank Robinson (RoY-1st) .379 1956 20 CIN 667 572
5 Arky Vaughan .375 1932 20 PIT 555 497
6 Vada Pinson .371 1959 20 CIN 706 648
7 Rogers Hornsby .369 1916 20 STL 550 495
8 Dick Hoblitzell .364 1909 20 CIN 592 517
9 Cecil Travis .361 1934 20 WSH 428 392
10 Stuffy McInnis .361 1911 20 PHA 518 468
11 Butch Wynegar (RoY-2nd) .356 1976 20 MIN 622 534
12 Willie Mays (RoY-1st) .356 1951 20 NYG 523 464
13 Starlin Castro (RoY-5th) .347 2010 20 CHC 506 463
14 Rick Manning .347 1975 20 CLE 535 480
15 Buddy Lewis .347 1936 19 WSH 657 601
16 Orlando Cepeda (RoY-1st) .342 1958 20 SFG 643 603
17 Bryce Harper (RoY-1st) .340 2012 19 WSN 597 533
18 Chubby Dean .337 1936 20 PHA 374 342
19 Johnny Lush .336 1904 18 PHI 408 369
20 Alan Trammell (RoY-4th) .335 1978 20 DET 504 448
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/6/2014.

Of the 12 20-year-old (or younger) rookies at any position who posted a higher OBP than Castro, four are in the Hall of Fame, one (Pinson) barely missed, another (Travis) was on a Hall of Fame track before World War II, where he lost part of his foot to frostbite at the Battle of the Bulge, and two more (Trout and Heyward) are still active with non-trivial chances at the Hall of Fame themselves. There’s obviously talent there in Castro, and he’ll only just be 24 on Opening Day, which gives him eight or nine more years of prospect status if you listen to the people who were talking up Darin Ruf in 2012.

So I wouldn’t give up…I dunno, it’s not like the Phillies have a lot of top-end prospects. I wouldn’t trade Cliff Lee for him, but I’d definitely give up significant prospects, such as those exist in the Phillies’ system. A good analog for Castro’s situation would be Colby Rasmus, a young player and former top prospect who came up, was awesome at a young age and developed attitude problems when he stopped hitting. St. Louis traded him for peanuts and now he’s a five-win player in Toronto set to make an unholy amount of money on the free agent market. I don’t know that the answer with Castro will be as simple as “Get his Obnoxious, Lindrosian Stage Parents Away from Tony La Russa” (which was the answer with Rasmus), but he sure is a potential change of scenery candidate.

This whole exercise was really just an excuse for me to post that chart again. It’s how I demonstrate that Jason Heyward is deserving of the nickname “This Train,” because he’s bound for glory.

@phillycopa: “should I feel bad for jogging in a cemetery? Is it disrespectful?”

I don’t think so. But you’re talking to a person who doesn’t have strong opinions about death, apart from the obvious, “I’d like to avoid it for the time being.” So maybe I’m not the right guy to ask. I’d say if it’s the predawn mist and there’s nobody else around and there’s a clear path and level ground, knock yourself out. But if there’s a guy laying a wreath on his dead wife’s grave and you’re shadowboxing while you run like Rocky Balboa and singing along to “Paralyzer” by Finger Eleven (which makes you an asshole in any situation, grieving man or no), then yes, you’re being disrespectful.

@BCanneyBSB: “What’s the probability that the Sixers actually lose the rest of their games? I’m going 40%.”

You’re out of your mind. Kevin Pelton did some numerical wizardry the other day that put the current Sixers as a true talent eight-win team over a full season, which, with 21 games left, would give them about two more wins on average. That same article gives the Sixers an eight percent chance of finishing the season 0-36. I mean, I guess it could happen, and if they’re still on this skid with 10 or 15 games to go, I’d probably start rooting for it to happen just for the novelty, but you’d probably need to give me at least 10-to-1 odds, maybe 15-to-1 odds to get me to even think about betting on it.

@ShamusNBA: “Best-case scenario for Franco/Asche this year?”

Best realistic case scenario? Asche hits .260/.315/.415 and plays scratch defense for between two and three WAR, while Franco overcomes his cement cleats and proves he can stick at third, while continuing to exhibit good power and contact skills while learning not to swing at everything. By next offseason, the Phillies have a 24-year-old league average third baseman in Asche and a 22-year-old with a big bat who doesn’t have to move to first base yet, then they trade one or the other to fill a need elsewhere. It’s still a seller’s market at third base for the time being.

This being Philadelphia sports, only one of those things will happen, or one or both will get hurt, and the Pelicans will win the NBA draft lottery.

@jlwoj: “are there any players you don’t like because their first names were ruined for you by a bad experience? Mine is JP Crawford.”

Mitch Gueller. I think you all know why.

@GlennQSpoonerSt: “Why are Phillies always off on initial injury time frames? Do they get flawed medical reports or do they purposely w/hold info?”

I wouldn’t accuse the Phillies of having a conspicuously good medical staff, but I don’t think inaccurate injury reports are anything unique to the Phillies. I think they’re off because the human body has a bunch of moving parts, so to speak, and injuries, particularly wear-and-tear soft tissue injuries that are so common in baseball, don’t always heal uniformly. And that’s assuming they diagnose it right and make the right treatment choices in the first place. I’m not the first to say this, but I believe it–the next great quantum leap in team-building in baseball, like Branch Rickey with the farm system or the Oakland A’s with sabermetrics, will be in medicine, either in terms of preventing or treating injuries.

@dhm: “What should the Phillies show during rain delays?”

There’s a video out there somewhere of Jimmy Rollins teaching Mike Lieberthal to dance. The 700 Level had it a while back, but the YouTube video has disapparated. I will open-mouth kiss the person who can find this video and deliver it to me, because it’s glorious and I wouldn’t watch anything else.

But failing that, I think a novel idea might be to show another game from around the league if one’s available. Because if the Phillies go into a rain delay, I just turn my over to something else until the delay’s over. And if CSN is worried about losing viewership, putting Braves-Nationals on the tube would probably hold more eyeballs than a 20-year-old rerun of This Week in Baseball.

@JohnMorgera: “Should we have know Fausto Carmona was a fake name?”

God, that was a massive disappointment, wasn’t it?

But I say there’s no way we could have known. Because like Bud Abbott so famously said, ballplayers have awful funny names nowadays. Pick the fake out of this list:

In that vein, I think “Fausto Carmona” falls under the aegis of being too awesome to be made up. If you were going to use an assumed name to sneak into baseball, you’d want to pick something that wouldn’t attract attention, like, I don’t know, Roberto Hernandez. We were all fooled, but we should not feel ashamed.

@Fantusta: “how can I continue liking sports despite their many evils (safety, extorting tax $)”

Plus their treatment of amateur players in poor countries, furthering of racial stereotypes, lionization of anti-intellectualism, offering a platform for outdated notions of masculinity, promotion of violence, exploitation of so-called student-athletes…yeah, it’s tough. Invest heavily in cognitive dissonance, I say.

But seriously, giving up sports because of their many evils would be futile, because it’s not like other avenues of entertainment are any better. Nor are our political or commercial institutions. I say if you like the game more than you dislike the baggage, that’s good. The answer is ultimately that we should try to fix broken or flawed institutions (like sports) rather than destroying them. But I’ve found that covering my ears and pretending not to know or care works too.

@hangingsliders: “Why is Chase Utley so underrated?”

I talked about this obliquely last week on Grantland when I was discussing the similar underration (underratedness? Underrativity?) of Jason Heyward, Joe Mauer and Joey Votto. But fans and the media underrate the positional adjustment, OBP and defense and overrate RBI and home runs. Utley topped out at 33 homers and 105 RBI when the guy hitting behind him was bashing out 45 and 140 with his eyes closed, never mind how much rarer a hitter like Utley is at second base than a hitter like Ryan Howard is at first, even when both were All-Stars. And that leaves out his underrated baserunning–I’ll say it again before Mike Trout eclipses him, but with a minimum of 100 attempts, Utley is the best percentage basestealer ever–and defense. I didn’t even know how good Utley was with the glove until his career was almost over. I thought Utley was a terrible defensive second baseman because he famously struggled with Chuck Knoblauch‘s Disease throughout his 20s. Turns out he was 20 runs above average every year.

Not winning an MVP didn’t help either. I think if John Lannan doesn’t break Utley’s hand in July 2007 when Utley was hitting .336/.414/.581 at the time, even money that award goes to Utley and not Jimmy Rollins. But he missed a month in 2007 when Rollins went 30-30 and made the Messier Guarantee, and Ryan Howard had the hot September in 2006 and won even though Utley was better then too. Utley was a nine-win player in 2008 and an eight-win player in 2009. But so was Albert Pujols.

Utley was the second-best player in the National League for about five years. Problem was, whenever Utley and the Phillies were great at the same time, a teammate had a better narrative and more home runs, or Albert Pujols happened.

@dan_j_walsh: “some are hopeful about Howard now that he’s healthy, but is health enough if his pitch recognition stays the same?”

I wouldn’t think so. I think Howard’s bat has slowed down enough, and he’s failed to adjust to the book on him enough, that there’s no way he’s anything more than a marginal player right now, healthy or no. Maybe he’ll surprise us and put up one last 30-homer season for old time’s sake, but I’d probably bet on the Sixers losing out before I’d bet on Howard hitting 30 home runs again.

@ScottKessler: “When will you start the petition to get Wawa to move out your way?”

Right now. Get on it, Wawa. Hell, I’d even settle for Sheetz. I did happen upon a gas station-cum-touchscreen-order sandwich shop in Columbus, but the name escapes me. And besides, it’s down by Ohio State, and now that I’m in my late 20s, I try to spend as little time around undergraduates as I can. They make me consider my own mortality.

I invite all of you to consider your mortality as well. So ends the Crash Bag.

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  1. Dweeb O'Witz

    March 07, 2014 12:55 PM

    I’m gonna guess Caleb Bushyhead. Although Roughned Odor is a close second.

    And I happen to know that Max Pentecost is a secret agent. I’ve even seen the movie poster.

  2. bharring

    March 07, 2014 01:17 PM

    I’ve always thought Cole Hamels and Chase Utley sounded like 19th century American mythological folk heroes. Hell that’s half the reason I watch the games!

    Also, the fonts on the new layout are huge! I can barely fit one paragraph on the screen at a time. I do really like to general direction though.

  3. SJHaack

    March 07, 2014 03:12 PM

    “Hey Steve, do you think the Phillies should try to trade for Starlin Ca…”

    No, no, no, no, no, no. No. No do not want. No thank you. You’re not that far off with your comparison at face value, in that they both have a good season when their BABIP is around .350. But only one of those players has any power to speak of, only one of them is above average defensively, and only one of them is an asset on the basepaths. Unfortunately for Starlin Castro, none of those people are him.

    • Phillie697

      March 07, 2014 05:46 PM


      Except you forgot, he’s STILL better than Freddy Galvis or Zombie Rollins.

      • SJHaack

        March 08, 2014 12:21 AM

        I would not give up “significant prospects” for him, which Chicago would ask for, and you’d also be on the hook for over $50m for him unless you could move him again. Currently the cost of those two is about $11.5m total, until/unless Rollins’ option vests.

        Additionally, Galvis was worth .5 more WAR last year than Castro was.

  4. Phillie697

    March 07, 2014 05:44 PM

    “There’s obviously talent there in Castro, and he’ll only just be 24 on Opening Day, which gives him eight or nine more years of prospect status if you listen to the people who were talking up Darin Ruf in 2012.”

    LOL, gotta love that not-so-subtle dis at them Phillies fans who think Darin Ruf is the next baseball star.

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