Crash Bag, Vol. 9: Milestones, Brock, and Baseball

When the Crash Bag came to these pages last week, we were merely excited about the return of baseball to our televisions that very afternoon. This week, we have seen that base balling firsthand. On account of that, perhaps, the Crash Bag was full with questions about baseball. Weird, I know. But it’s the truth.

@PompeyMalus: Should I be excited about Brock Stassi?

Excited isn’t exactly the word I would use for it, but whatever floats your boat. At the end of the day, all we’re talking about is Stassi potentially breaking camp as the 25th man on a 25 man roster. That’s exciting enough. If he continues to hit like he has for another week or so, we’ll be in the midst of a full-fledged roster battle.

Maybe there’s still something to be excited about long-term with Stassi, but I guess I don’t really see it. He’s entering his age 27 season and has been generally old for his level–especially as a prospect–throughout his entire professional career. Unlike another recent old-for-his-level star Darin Ruf, Stassi’s level of success throughout the minors would be best described as merely above-average. Ruf, if you’ll recall, essentially hit like Mike Trout (by wRC+) before making his major league debut.

Further, the Steamer, ZiPS, and PECOTA projections all tell us there is very little reason to get excited about Stassi. All three have him pegged as a below-average hitter in the major leagues in 2017 and, given that he’s confined to either first base or an outfield corner, that’s about a replacement level player.

Even his Spring Training numbers so far don’t tell us all that much that’s exciting. His .636/.667/1.273 line (12 PA) has mostly come as a backup, meaning that he’s been teeing off primarily on low-level minor leaguers and minor league free agents. Of course, he can’t control who his competition is, but we can still remain skeptical.

@PompeyMalus: On a more serious note: Matt Stairs–great hitting coach or the greatest?

Since I don’t think there are an publicly-known methods of evaluating hitting coaches, I’m free to basically say anything I want here with no risk of being definitively proven wrong in the future.

Still, I’m confident Stairs will be a good hitting coach. As I’ve written in these pages before, the sense I got from listening to him during broadcasts last season was not only that he knew a lot about hitting and was capable of identifying potential issues in a swing, but that he’s good at communicating those things. If he can make me–someone who only played baseball through elementary school and has no scouting experience–see what he’s seeing in a swing, he should definitely be able to explain it to players.

I also think it’s important to take into account Stairs’ personality. He doesn’t seem like he’s unnecessarily intense or particularly likely to wear on players and risk getting tuned out. That’s important. It doesn’t matter how much you have to offer players if they won’t listen to you. If players listen to Stairs and willingly seek out and implement his guidance, he doesn’t necessarily have to be the best technical hitting coach to, effectively, be a great hitting coach.

@adamd243: What pitcher is most defined by (& most harmed by losing) his signature pitch?

This question comes out of the beginning of a conversation I had with Adam on Twitter a couple days back. My initial response, and the obvious correct answer is: a) a knuckleballer like R.A. Dickey or Steven Wright, b) a two-pitch reliever like Brad Lidge (slider) or Mariano Rivera (cutter), or c) Rich Hill (curveball) because he wasn’t even good enough for organized baseball until he started wailing on the thing and throwing it for 45-50 percent of his total pitches.

But, Adam pushed me dig below this tier of obvious answers and pick a pitcher who actually has a diverse arsenal.

I think he’s asking two separate questions here and the answer may not be the same for both.

Defined By: Clayton Kershaw‘s curveball. I tried to rationalize another answer here, but I kept coming back to images of Kershaw’s looping curveball and couldn’t justify any other answer. Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball and, aside from that curveball, nothing else really sticks out. If you close your eyes right now, I bet you can conjure an image of Kershaw looping one of his curveballs up there. You might be able to do the same with Cole Hamels and his changeup, but I’m not sure that level of recognition extends that far beyond those of us who watched him in Philadelphia for a decade.

Most Harmed By Losing: Masahiro Tanaka‘s splitter. Tanaka throws his splitter about 25 percent of the time and it alone makes him an above average pitcher. Opposing hitters have hit under .200 off it in his three seasons in the major leagues, while many of his other pitches have produced opposing batting averages in the high .200s or low .300s.

@Wet_Luzinski: Over/under on the win total projections

Just to set the context: FanGraphs has the Phillies with a projected 71-91 record while PECOTA is a bit more optimistic at 74-88. The Phillies were 71-91 in 2016, significantly outperforming their pythagorean record in the process.

As we’ve covered here throughout the offseason, the Phillies have focused on addressing their main weaknesses from 2016: corner outfield and bullpen depth. Regardless of what you think or Michael Saunders, Howie Kendrick, Pat Neshek, and Joaquin Benoit, it is undeniable that they are marked improvements over the players they are replacing. Addition by subtraction is real and the Phillies have, at the very least, done that.

Aside from those moves, they’re largely returning the same team as they had in 2016 with the added expectation that a number of top prospects–J.P. Crawford, Jorge Alfaro, Nick Williams, Roman Quinn–will come up at some point ready to contribute. Many of the returning players are still aging into their peak years of performance, so there should be some improvement there as well.

I don’t see any reason the Phillies won’t win more than 74 games this season. Pete Mackanin has cited a .500 record as a goal for the season. I don’t think it’s wise to predict 81 wins, especially if money were to be involved, but it doesn’t strike me as excessive optimism from Mackanin either, which it was when he said the same thing last winter.

So, I’m definitively taking the over here. I’m not going to say they’ll surpass the projections “bigly,” but they should surpass them and be an entertaining team to watch through the entire season–something that hasn’t been the case for the past couple seasons.

@wkgreen06: will we ever see another pitcher win 300 career games?

Obviously, the current structure of pitching rotations and bullpen usage makes winning 300 games over a career highly unlikely if not impossible. But, the sport evolved into the current era from an era where winning 300 games was very possible. Theoretically, further evolutions could bring 300 career wins back into the realm of possibility. The way the game and the world–both with regard to climate change and political instability–are going, I’m not sure we’ll be around long enough for baseball to potentially evolve into another era in which 300 career wins would be possible.

That said, I think the current trend toward bullpen usage offers the potential for a 300 game winner if taken to its logical conclusion. Imagine an age in which every team has an Andrew Miller who pitches two-to-four crucial, high-leverage innings in the middle of a baseball game. This pitcher could possibly pitch three times every five games–much more frequently than a current starting pitcher–and pick up a ton of wins in a season. There’s a path to that possibility, I think. However, we’ll all be underwater before the sport gets there.

@TheGreyKing: what is baseball?

*Extremely Wikipedia tone* Baseball, aka The American Pastime, is a sport with a mythical place in American cultural history. At it’s fundamental level, it consists of a player throwing a small ball–“the pitcher”–toward another player equipped with a bat–“the batter”–in the hopes of getting it past him. The pitcher also has eight other players–“fielders” to attempt to coral the ball should the batter strike the ball with his bat.

Baseball is a bat-and-ball game played between two teams of nine players each, who take turns batting and fielding.

The batting team attempts to score runs by hitting a ball that is thrown by the pitcher with a bat swung by the batter, then running counter-clockwise around a series of four bases: first, second, third, and home plate. A run is scored when a player advances around the bases and returns to home plate.

Players on the batting team take turns hitting against the pitcher of the fielding team, which tries to prevent runs by getting hitters out in any of several ways. A player on the batting team who reaches a base safely can later attempt to advance to subsequent bases during teammates’ turns batting, such as on a hit or by other means. The teams switch between batting and fielding whenever the fielding team records three outs. One turn batting for both teams, beginning with the visiting team, constitutes an inning. A game is composed of nine innings, and the team with the greater number of runs at the end of the game wins. Baseball has no game clock, although almost all games end in the ninth inning.

Wikipedia

@TheGreyKing: Why does God allow suffering?

Granting that God exists, is omnipotent (with the potential to prevent all suffering), omnipresent, benevolent (generally wants the best for all people), and omniscient (able to discern the causes and effects of suffering), the only conclusion consistent with these characteristics is that the allowed suffering is for our long-term well-being.

It’s hard to say that genocide, global hunger, and the slow–but not THAT slow–deterioration of our planet to, in the words of the current Pope, “an immense pile of filth” are in the service of some general human good. It’s so difficult to say, in fact, that I won’t say it. These are bad things both in the immediate state of affairs as well as in the long term. So, I don’t know why God allows suffering. Maybe he’s not benevolent and is just having some twisted fun at our collective expense. Maybe he’s not omnipotent and isn’t actually allowing suffering, but is just unable to prevent it. Maybe he’s not omniscient and just has no idea how to prevent suffering or is misguided on it’s ultimate effects in some instances. Maybe he’s not omnipresent and doesn’t have access to certain places where suffering occurs. Or maybe there is no God. It’s ll very complicated, but what is clear is that there is something untoward going on here.

That will do it for this week’s Crash Bag. Thank you all for your questions, especially those other than @TheGreyKing who submitted real questions. If you have a question–real or FAKE–I genuinely would like to answer it in a future post. You can submit them to the @Crashburn Alley or @CF_Larue Twitter accounts, to my email (eric[dot]chesterton[at]gmail[dot]com), in the comments of this post, or to no one in particular on Twitter with the #crashbag hashtag. 

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10 comments

  1. Major Malfunction

    March 03, 2017 01:46 PM

    On the question of God and suffereing, I think George Carlin explained it quite well…..

    Something is wrong here. War, disease, death, destruction, hunger, filth, poverty, torture, crime, corruption, and the Ice Capades. Something is definitely wrong. This is not good work. If this is the best God can do, I am not impressed. Results like these do not belong on the résumé of a Supreme Being. This is the kind of shit you’d expect from an office temp with a bad attitude. And just between you and me, in any decently-run universe, this guy would’ve been out on his all-powerful ass a long time ago. And by the way, I say “this guy”, because I firmly believe, looking at these results, that if there is a God, it has to be a man.

    No woman could or would ever f### things up like this. So, if there is a God, I think most reasonable people might agree that he’s at least incompetent, and maybe, just maybe, doesn’t give a shit. Doesn’t give a shit, which I admire in a person, and which would explain a lot of these bad results.

    • Eddie

      March 05, 2017 04:54 PM

      There are several good arguments against the existence of God, but the presence of human suffering is IMHO not really one of them. If you’re positing an omniscient higher being, that doesn’t just mean he/she/it knows more stuff, it means they have an entirely different frame of reference and cognitive process. It would be beyond our capacity to know.

      My dog knows is that sometimes he gets real meat and other times he gets dry pellets, and if he were inclined to be resentful, he might well conclude I deny him the good stuff because I am indifferent. In reality, there is a whole system of economics at play that he can’t possibly fathom, wherein Master’s ability to provide the good dog food is constrained by his ability to afford it, or by the fact that the money saved on dog food was the reason he was able to accompany Master on the trip to Florida.

      Similarly, an omni-everything God is going to have a zillion other things to think about than merely easing human temporal suffering.

      • Major Malfunction

        March 06, 2017 04:32 PM

        If God is too busy to take on human suffering, you have to know he can’t possibly be bothered with the woeful details associated with the “sins” of eating seafood that does not have scales, if your head is covered when entering your house of worship, or the number of toes on the hooves of the animals you eat for dinner.

        And if your dog had built a special dog house that he went to every Sunday morning to sing hymns about you, I have no doubt you would be inclined to give him more meat!

  2. Mike Fassano

    March 03, 2017 05:51 PM

    Let me begin by saying that I love Tommy Joseph and hope that he’s at least as productive as last year. Having said that, Tommy has an injury history that surpasses that of Roman Quinn. For that reason alone I’d keep Stassi as the 25th man. He could be a late inning defensive replacement, a lefty pinch hitter, and an insurance policy should Joseph go down.

    • Romus

      March 03, 2017 07:25 PM

      Knapp could also be that guy backing up TJ.
      And all TJ’s injuries but one, were catching related concussions. The one non-concussed injury was a sprained left wrist from May 2014. Since catching is no longer an option for him, unless he gets hit by a pitched ball, or collides with another player, the concussions should also be a thing of the past.

      • Steve

        March 04, 2017 09:35 AM

        Kendrick can play 1b as well, and im pretty sure Blanco can.
        Hey, if Stassi keeps hitting this well he needs to be on the team, but i dont expect that to happen.

  3. Andrew R.

    March 03, 2017 10:37 PM

    I’m not trying to quibble over the 25th man, but just want to make a point. Stassi is projected to be a replacement level player. That’s not necessarily a throw-away guy either. If we even had replacement level production from our outfield corners last year, we might’ve had a few extra wins. Just sayin.

    • Jerry Spradlin

      March 04, 2017 12:15 AM

      He is a good guy to root for and I hope he succeeds, but I’m not too concerned about our backup first baseman. If Joseph gets hurt Knapp, Hoskins, Blanco, and Coghlan or Sanders can fill in. Besides, Franco will be playing first full time two years from now, after we sign Machado.

      While I don’t want to rain on Stassi’s nice start to spring, we all need to remember that Cedric Hunter had a great spring last year. Keepin it real, friends…

      • Romus

        March 04, 2017 01:39 PM

        Saunders, in his 8 years in the majors and 500 or so minor league games, has never played first base, so I would think they are not going to go there with him now in his age 30 season.
        Not sure why I see posters on varied Phillies blogs bring this up other the fact he may physically profile as a first baseman.
        Now that may be in his future, but seriously doubt the Phillies will try him there for the three months they will hopefully have him for this season, especially since he has not taken any reps there at all this spring.

  4. Eddie

    March 05, 2017 04:37 PM

    “he wasn’t even good enough for organized baseball until he started wailing on the thing”

    The idiom of “whaling on” means to beat repeatedly, the way whalers did with their catches.

    “Wailing on” would perhaps be what a colicky baby does …

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