Crash Bag, Vol. 105: Do You Need to Know What a Plate Appearance is to be a Good GM?

@MattyMatty2000: “Completely serious: can you still be an effective GM if you don’t know the difference between a plate appearance and an at-bat?”

Yeah, so apparently this is a thing Ruben Amaro has trouble with. It’s possible he misspoke, or that he’s just messing with us, but it’s troubling. I’ve written my treatise on what makes a good GM, and it’s not strictly statistical literacy. A GM is a professional administrator, an executive, and he’s not doing the player evaluation on his own, and even if he was, the Phillies have better ways to evaluate hitters than batting average.

HOWEVER.

This is troublesome for two reasons: first, the Phillies have at least one contract out there with vesting options based on plate appearances, so if Ruben Amaro actually doesn’t know the difference between an at-bat and a plate appearance–which, again, I think he does know the difference–that means he’s giving out contracts with multi-million-dollar vesting options based on counting stats he doesn’t know how to count. That’d be bad. The other thing is that it’d be like the President of the United States not knowing that the chemical abbreviation for water is H20. It’s not strictly critical information for his job, but it’s basic enough knowledge that his not knowing it would make you wonder what else he didn’t know.

@FelskeFiles: “Better hitter… Tony Gwynn or Wade Boggs?”

Without having even opened Baseball Reference, I’d be inclined to say Boggs, but that’s worth investigating. But before I get into that, I don’t have anything original to say about Tony Gwynn, but it’s a shame that someone so universally beloved died so young. I must have seen 20 different tribute pieces over the past 48 hours, each one with a different story of how funny or kind or just generally pleasant a man he was.

But as a player alone, I’ll say that both had an 80 hit tool the way Billy Hamilton‘s got an 80 run tool–that the scouting scale’s not calibrated to deal with people that good, because they come along so rarely. And there’s very little to choose between Gwynn and Boggs: 132 career OPS+ for Gwynn, 131 for Boggs, though when you break it down, Gwynn’s career line was .338/.388/.459 against Boggs’ .328/.415/.443, so you get a little more power with Gwynn, but a little more on-base ability with Boggs. The other difference is peak versus longevity: Boggs aged pretty normally, dropping off after his age 33 season, while Gwynn played his first full season and won his first batting title at 24, had his best season with the bat at age 34 (when he hit .394/.454/.568 during the strike-shortened 1994 season) and hit .309 or better every year from 1983 to 2001.

Boggs’ best nine-year run was 1983 to 1991, in which he hit .345/.436/.473, including a 1987 season in which he hit .363/.461/.588, or every bit as good as Gwynn’s 1994. Gwynn had two five-year runs that are comparable, but his prime was split by a slight dropoff from 1990-92. So I don’t know. Purely as a hitter I’d rather have Boggs’ higher peak and OBP over Gwynn’s longevity and power, but that’s just me. Take the whole package and you’d probably rather have the good defensive third baseman over the bad defensive corner outfielder, but then again, Gwynn also stole close to 300 more bases and wouldn’t make all his teammates want to kill themselves. Shockingly, you can’t go wrong with either multiple batting champion Hall of Famer.

Oh, one last thing on Gwynn: he and Bip Roberts did a commercial once that’s in the Chicks Dig the Long Ball pantheon of great baseball commercials.

@Ut26: “Is there a line where there’s no rational criticism of RAJ for failing to sell? If so, what? 3 GB? 2nd place? X games over .500?”

I, personally, wouldn’t criticize him for failing to sell right now. I’m of the opinion that the Phillies don’t exactly have an enormous amount to work with in terms of trade assets now that Cliff Lee is hurt, and I might be alone and irrational here, but I think watching Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley retire in Philadelphia would make me happier than the amount trading them would speed up the rebuild. I’d probably take what I could get for Jonathan Papelbon before this trade deadline, but apart from that, I don’t know what else I’d do. I certainly wouldn’t go all Houston Astros up in here just for the sake of clearing the decks.

Here’s what I know about the rebuilding process: 1) It’s going to take several years 2) by the time it’s over, I will almost certainly have become so frustrated with everyone’s impatience that I will have murdered someone.

So let’s turn to this year. I think you’ve got to wait until after the All-Star break. And they might only be 4 1/2 games out right now, but that’s still a long way out, especially considering that this division is so messed up right now that they’re still in a virtual tie for last place. Probably the single most frustrating thing about being a Phillies fan over the past three years is how everyone treats any division lead of seven games or less like it’s a virtual tie. It’s so not, especially when all five teams are in the race, because if you think the Phillies are in it at 4 1/2 games out, you have to think the Mets are in at 5 games back.

I guess if it’s July 18 and Cliff Lee is back and the Phillies are, I don’t know, in third place or better and less than three games back, you don’t trade Lee or Papelbon unless someone makes you a Godfather offer. Maybe you do what the Pirates did in 2011 and 2012 and trade some minor league depth for a fourth outfielder or a bullpen arm, but short of winning their next 20 games and going into the break up five, there’s nothing the Phillies can do that would make me think they should buy at the deadline.

@wkgreen06: “what mlb records will be the hardest to break? I think it’s Ripken’s streak”

That’s not a bad one. I think iron man streaks have gained a reputation for being partially selfish, like if you literally don’t take a game off for 14 years or however long Ripken’s was, you’re probably hurting your team by not taking the occasional day to rest so you can be 100 percent the rest of the time. The combination of being good enough to play that long at all, wanting to play literally every day and not suffering an injury you can’t play through is just so rare, you understand why it took almost 60 years for Ripken to break Gehrig’s record.

I think the unbreakable record will be some kind of streak, whether it’s Ripken’s or Joe DiMaggio‘s 56-game hit streak, just because counting and rate stat records give you time to even things out after a bad day, but if you’re on a hit streak, there’s no room for error.

@SoMuchForPathos: “America’s chances of beating Portugal?”

Not great, though I’m somewhat optimistic about a draw. I think the game against Ghana, in which the USA was in Alamo Mode from about the 20th minute to the 85th minute, was something of a worst-case scenario. Having to burn two of your three subs to deal with first-half injuries is a serious handicap when almost everyone is sucking wind in oppressive humidity. Jozy Altidore might have been the worst player for the USA to lose mid-game because their game plan relied so much on his being able to hold up play and relieve pressure and they don’t have a plan B for that. Clint Dempsey had trouble breathing after he broke his nose, so he and Aron Johansson were pretty much invisible after halftime. It’s hard to imagine Michael Bradley and DaMarcus Beasley playing worse than they did, too.

Those injuries are worth worrying about, but with five days to think about them, it’s easier to come up with a solution. The good news is that Portugal had a rough first game too and suffered losses of its own: Left back Fabio Coentrao is out for the tournament, as is starting center forward Hugo Almeida. Then there’s Pepe, the Real Madrid center back who’ll miss this game because he headbutted Germany’s Thomas Muller on Monday. Pepe did this because he’s a crazy person with no impulse control who takes “Fuck this, I’m going home” red cards with alarming regularity. My only regret about his being suspended is that there’s a non-zero chance Clint Dempsey could have provoked him into taking a red card against the United States, which would mean the badguys would have to play with 10 men.

Anyway, given the way Fabian Johnson gets forward and the way DaMarcus Beasley had trouble not falling down against Ghana, you have to imagine Cristiano Ronaldo will pick on the American fullbacks for at least one goal. What happens after that is anyone’s guess. I wouldn’t be shocked if the U.S. won, but I don’t think it’s likely. If we draw, we’re in good shape. Anything beyond that is gravy.

@gberry523: “Does Aaron Nola break camp on the big league roster next year?”

I don’t think so. It’s not outside the realm of possibility, but even for a pitcher as polished as Nola, getting to the majors that quickly is a big ask, and there’s not an enormous incentive for the Phillies to push him. I think a realistic target is around this time next year, so 12 months after the draft. If he kicks wholesale ass in the minors and forces his way into the rotation earlier, great. If not, I’m in no hurry.

@dj_mosfett: “Do you love the UCI Anteaters and their Surrey with the Fringey Stuff? Y/Y”

They certainly are charming, with their scrappy underdogitude and their mustaches. There are three reasons not to like them, however: 1) They got terrible Adidas pullover jerseys for the College World Series 2) Their manager, Mike Gillespie, bunts almost literally every time there’s a runner on first and less than two outs 3) Their No. 2 starter, Elliot Surrey, gets “Surrey with the Fringe on Top” stuck in my head.

In the end, it doesn’t matter, because not only do they have to beat Texas tonight to stay alive, they’d have to beat Vandy twice after that, and I dunno, I think UVA or TCU could definitely do that, probably Mississippi too, but that’s a big ask for Irvine.

@longenhagen: “what’s the best way to convince Jill we need cable?”

That you need it to write effectively about sports. And if you do, and you get paid, you can write it off on your taxes. Which opens up a whole other can of worms, in that when I was a full-time employee of wherever I used to work when I had a real job, I probably spent about an hour a year on my taxes. This year, I spent more time than that on my taxes and I didn’t actually prepare them. It took me that long to fill out forms and find receipts and so on. If any media moguls are out there and want to make me a full-time, salaried employee, I’d be all too happy to give up my freelancing ways.

That said, I’m pretty sure the only team that gets blacked out by MLB.tv where you live, Longo, is the Diamondbacks, and nobody wants to watch them anyway. So maybe you could go without cable. I don’t know. Don’t tell Jill.

That’s it for this week, and for next week. I’ll be in Omaha next week covering the College World Series for The Score, live from the press box at TD Ameritrade Park. You know, like a journalist. So I’m taking next week off. Service resumes in two weeks. In the meantime, do whatever it is you do.

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7 comments

  1. bharring

    June 18, 2014 11:02 AM

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding the scale, but in this case, maybe it’s not hyperbole to say that Gywnn was a 99 hitter?

    I’d expect Portugal to feel at least a little bit of a home field advantage in Brazil. Rio was actually the capital of Portugal for a time. The only time a capital was moved to a colony.

    • Dan K.

      June 18, 2014 01:28 PM

      Well the scale is 20-80. It’s to be thought of kind of like percentiles. A player with an 80 in a skill (say speed) will be elite in that skill because he’s (at least) better than 80% of the players in baseball in that. So, as Baumann brought up, Billy Hamilton is an 80 in speed because he meets that criteria. But in actuality, he’s the fastest person in baseball (possibly ever). On the other hand, we have someone in our own farm system with 80 speed (Quinn). But in all of baseball he’d be “only” maybe the 5th fastest player. So they are both elite, therefore both 80s, but not equal.

      This is a long-winded way of saying the scouting scale is really only for a general idea of where a player lands. It’s not used for direct comparisons universally among baseball players.

  2. Major Malfunction

    June 18, 2014 12:46 PM

    MLB Records that will never be broken because of game play has changed so much:

    Johnny Vander Meer throws back to back no hitters. Just to throw 2 complete games in a row these days is unreachable. Now throw 2 no hitters in a row and then ANOTHER to break the record.

    Cy Young’s 511 wins. With 5 man rotations, we might not even see another 300 game winner. Any possible 400 and 500 game winners are to be talked about like Bigfoot sightings.

    Triples in a season (36) or a career (309). These guys played in stadiums that had fences 600ft away. Actually, what pussy could only leg out a triple if you hit it by the OF? Now you have OFs (like Puig) that can throw from warning track to any base without a hop. The field got real small compared to 100 years ago.

  3. Iatrogenes

    June 18, 2014 01:52 PM

    When it comes to unbreakable baseball records, how’s this:

    The 1949 Philadelphia A’s infield of Hank Majewski 3B; Eddie Joost SS: Pete Suder 2B; and Ferris Fain 1B were the greatest double-play combination of all-time. That year they turned 217 double-plays, by far the greatest total by a mile both before and since, a record likely to never be broken. No other infield has ever had a single season turning as many as 200 DPs. During a three-year period, they turned 629 DPs; that record is less likely to be broken than DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. And remember, they played a 154 game season.

    • Iatrogenes

      June 18, 2014 02:16 PM

      Richie Ashburn had four season with over 500 outfield putouts and two other seasons had 495 and 496 POs. Only three other outfielders had as many as one such season with 500 POs (Dom DiMaggio, Dwayne Murphy, Chet Lemon). Willie Mays had none. Ashburn led the NL in outfield putouts nine times, more than anyone in MLB history.

  4. Oliver

    June 18, 2014 03:58 PM

    The most unbreakable record has to be Cy Young’s win record, right? No one’s gonna sniff 500 wins anytime soon (ever).

    Also, don’t you count out my ‘Eaters

    • larry

      June 18, 2014 05:26 PM

      generally the unbreakable records are the old time pitching records, cy young,old hoss etc. chief wilsons 36 triples would also score an 80 on the scout scale and is effectively unbreakable…but there is at least a 1 in a bazillion chance for someone to get 36 triples, same for back to back no hitters or 56 gameor hitting streak or .609 obp … there is no chance for someone to get 59 wins or 680 ip

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