Crash Bag, Vol. 10: A Foray into Guesses at Probability
Can you feel it? Real baseball is not only growing closer, as is typical of this time of year, but it is actually already upon us. The World Baseball Classic is on out televisions, though, so far, only at weird times for our East Coast sensibilities. I have to admit to being a skeptic about the WBC entering this year’s tournament. I had never watched it before, and with the relative dearth of major league players competing, I wasn’t optimistic about the quality of play. I was wrong. It’s great. There are rally plantains, a Mensch on the Bench, and generally, people having obvious fun playing baseball at a high level. You should tune in.
That said, there are no WBC questions in what follows, but there are questions about Phillies and major league baseball more generally.
@PompeyMalus: What have you seen in Franco so far? Signs of improved approach or no?
Spring Training is a difficult time to gauge any changes in a player’s approach at the plate. While it’s tempting to make a big deal about him seeing fewer than two pitches per plate appearance this spring, the fact is that just about every player is seeing minimal pitches. If you take a look at the Phillies Spring Training stats, it turns out that Franco’s two pitches per plate appearance is actually right in line with everyone else, if not sort of high for the team.
It’s an overplayed–and slightly dishonest as a result–principle of baseball analysis that Spring Training performance is meaningless. Last spring, we were all saying Franco was ready to cement himself as one of the best third basemen in the National League, if not all of baseball. We know how that turned out. The point is that unless you are a scout and can pick out the intricacies of a player’s swing mechanics–and even then you’re probably sort of guessing–there’s not much to glean.
So, while he hasn’t been hitting great this spring, there’s nothing too much to read into, or at least not that I’m comfortable doing. Basically, what I’m saying is that my default going into March was that Franco would bounce back from/improve on his 2016 season and I’ve seen nothing sufficiently glaring in either direction to alter that.
@GlennQSpoonerSt: What Phillies player (past or present) would make the best action movie star ALA the Rock?
I played around with a couple guys from Jose Mesa to Odubel Herrera to even Rico Brogna, but the answer seems obviously to be Lenny Dykstra. I mean, he’s basically lived the life–with many more publicly-known warts–than a typical action movie star from the car theft and crashes to the sexual assaults to the failed business dealings. Plus, the steroids would really help him in the heights of an action scene and may even save the studio some bucks on a stunt double. Even more, the massive wad of dip he kept in his lip would make for a good, albeit disgusting, signature style of an action hero provided it’s presence doesn’t render his speech unintelligible, but, hey, that’s what dubbing is for, right?
He’d be no less hatable than he currently is, which wouldn’t allow him to be precisely like the Rock–who, as best I can tell, is relatively well-liked on the whole– in that sense, but his life has already essentially been an extended action movie. Just condense all that and put it on a screen and watch a star be born.
@DustinGouker: What odds do you put on getting a wild-card? Or if you see those odds being too slim, finishing above .500?
FanGraphs currently gives the Phillies a 0.8 percent chance of grabbing a Wild Card spot and a 0.3 percent chance of winning the division. The division number seems a bit optimistic to me while the Wild Card feels just about right, if maybe a little low. I might throw a one-to-two percent chance on it, but that could just be my homerism and human bias for over predicting the likelihood of rare events talking. In short, the odds of the Wild Card are slim and you should feel that way no matter how much of the Kool Aid you’re drinking.
Finishing above .500 feels like a much easier scenario to project simply because we can put “real” numbers on it, as opposed to fractional percentiles. PECOTA has the Phillies at 73 wins while those same FanGraphs projections have 70.4 wins. That’s a long way from 81. We’ll get to our writer predictions much closer to Opening Day, but I can tell you that the sense among the writers here who have submitted their projections to this point is that the Phillies will exceed both of those win totals.
We’re all bad at thinking probabilistically, especially in cases like these where we don’t have any sort of reliable information to work off of. That said, I sort of like their chances of approaching .500 this season. They’ve made subtle, but real, improvements to the roster with a much stronger outfield and deeper bullpen. Add that to internal development of young players, and I think a high-70s win total is a potentially sober prediction for the team. That means that only a couple bounces have to go their way to get to .500. I’d put those odds, then, at between 10 and 20 percent.
@Phixated: What is the most interesting place MLB could conceivably (like, for real) hold a game? [i.e. not Williamsport or Fort Bragg]
I think it’s a good idea to hold games at weird venues. The NHL has done it to great success with their Winter Classic games. While weather has effected the quality of many of those games, the public appetite for wanting to buy a ticket to watch hockey outdoors at non-traditional venue is proven to be high.
The conceivably hold a game condition makes this a little less fun because it eliminates places where crowds can’t really gather. That leaves us with two genres of places where a game could be held–presuming we’re limiting ourselves to the United States and Canada. The first is to hold it in a Field of Dreams-like open cornfield somewhere in the midwest. Last summer, I went to Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon for the Olympic Trials for Track and Field. During the normal course of the year, this venue does not have the seating to accommodate an event of that magnitude with, like most outdoor track facilities in the U.S., just two moderately-sized grandstands on either straightaway. However, not-so-modern architectural advances allow for the rapid construction of suitable and temporary seating and Hayward Field was transformed into a venue that could easily hold about double its normal capacity. We could easily construct bleachers in a Nebraska cornfield and make the Field of Dreams thing work. I could see MLB wanting to do something like this to play to the bucolic, romantic mythology of baseball’s origins.
The second option would be to take the game to an historic football stadium, such as the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. Seating would obviously not be an issue here and all that would be required would be the construction of an actual baseball diamond and outfield walls. We’ve seen baseball in football stadiums before at the Major League level, but always in sort of crappy and historically irrelevant ones. This would be a real chance for baseball to be played in a truly massive venue that we haven’t really seen in decades with the wave of construction of more intimate and luxury box-heavy stadia.
@brianhunn: Who’s the starting 1B in 2018?
Let’s start by looking at the candidates.
In the pole position is Tommy Joseph, who will be the team’s starting first baseman this year, is entering his age-25 season, and is already projected to hit over 30 home runs by PECOTA. He’s going to have the inside track to the 2018 first base job and could only really be pushed off of it if he gets injured, his performance craters, or one of the other candidates appears too good to ignore. Chances of 2018 1B: 70 percent.
Rhys Hoskins would have been the answer before, say, last July as the only true first base prospect in the organization in the midst of a Reading-fueled power surge. As it stands, he is yet to take a trip to the plate above the AA level. While his performance this spring has perhaps suggested that he’s not too far away, odds are that he will get at least one full year at AAA. That would put him in a roster battle next spring with Joseph if he performs well enough in 2017. That would be Joseph’s to lose. At this point, I don’t really see him losing it. Chances of 2018 1B: 10 percent
Now we get into the phase of people moving off their current positions and ending up at first base. Andrew Knapp comes with some defensive concerns at catcher and, if his bat is good enough to be a starter, he could easily be forced off the position by someone like Jorge Alfaro. Whether his bat is good enough for first base likely remains an open question despite his phenomenal performance at Reading two years ago. It would take a big jump from the bat to supplant Joseph, though. Chances of 2018 1B: 5 percent
Jorge Alfaro currently seems unlikely to be forced off the catcher positon. Reviews of his defense are generally positive and, if he can stay at catcher, his bat could be a huge asset. The only way it seems he moves to first base would be if injuries become a constant issue, but that decision doesn’t seem likely to come in the next season or two. Chances of 2018 1B: 5 percent
Maikel Franco‘s career as a prospect and a major leaguer has been overshadowed by the spectre of an eventual move to first base. He is a 20 or 30 runner, so if his reactions at third slow at all, he isn’t likely to be able to hack it over there. In two seasons, though, he’s been perfectly competent at third and that eventual move to first base seems to be years away, especially given that there aren’t any prospects in the system forcing the Phillies to make a decision. Chances of 2018 1B: 3 percent
If Dylan Cozens gets any bigger or loses a step, his days in the outfield corners could be numbered. Of the non-Joseph and Hoskins players on this list, his is the bat most likely to play at first base. His size hasn’t been an impediment to his fielding yet, however, as he has gotten favorable reviews in the outfield. Like Franco and Alfaro, that move to first base seems to be a ways in the future, if it happens at all. Chances of 2018 1B: 2 percent
That will do it for this week’s installment of the Crash Bag. As always, it’s been a pleasure to feebly attempt to answer your questions. If you would like me to make a similarly inept attempt at yours, you can submit it to me via Twitter @CF_Larue, in the comments of this thread, or in an email composed to eric[dot]chesterton[at]gmail[dot]com.