Crash Bag Vol. 38: Adam Morgan, Leadoff Hitters, and Sports Movies
This week of Phillies baseball has been awesome. Winning consecutive games started by Clayton Kershaw (on the Altherr grand slam), Yu Darvish (on the Hoskins three-run double), and Alex Wood (on the Altherr two-run single) has been awesome. It looks like the Phils are going to avoid 100 losses, which I’ll call a moral victory. It’s also something I outlined as a sign of a successful second half after the All Star Break. Phillies baseball is fun again!
On to the questions:
For those of you who may not remember, in 2006, Ryan Madson started for about a third of his appearances with a FIP just south of 5. The next year, he came back as a low-leverage multi-inning reliever and produced well with the customary bullpen bump moving his fastball average to 91.4. His 3ish ERA appeared to be a fluke, though, as his 4.20 FIP would indicate.
The following year, he (and his improved 93 mph fastball) struck out nearly 20% of hitters (hey, that was kind of a lot then) and established himself as the Bridge to Lidge en route to the Phillies’ second straight playoff appearance. Then, in the playoffs, all hell broke lose. Madson all of a sudden was throwing 95 and bumping it up to 97 at times. He was dominant, striking out 12 batters to just 1 walk and allowing three runs in 12.2 innings, as the Phillies won the World Series. The following season, Madson averaged 95 on his fastball and struck out nearly 25% of hitters. The season after that, Madson struck out almost 30% of hitters.
Adam Morgan, in 2016, was a terrible starter with a FIP of about 5, fastball velocity sitting at about 91, and a below-average strikeout rate. This year, he’s bumped up his fastball velocity to 94.4 mph en route to striking out 27% of hitters. His FIP is still over 4, because he allowed 5,345 home runs (check my math on that) in the first couple months of the season, but in the second half, his FIP has been just 2.70. He looks like a really good pitcher all of a sudden. You can see the similarities.
The problem is that Morgan is doing almost all of his damage against lefties. His righty-lefty splits, while unreliable in a small sample, are hideous. In the second half, he’s walking righties almost as much as he’s striking them out. While his FIP is a reasonably good 3.36, his xFIP is over 5, and I am not willing to say that Morgan has fixed his home run problem based on 63 batters in the home-runningest season there’s ever been.
Madson didn’t become the monster we remember until the 2010 and 2011 seasons, which coincided with him figuring out how to leverage his excellent changeup to dominate lefties as well as righties. Once Morgan can figure out how to get righties out with regularity, I might start to believe, but until then, he’s more J.C. Romero than Ryan Madson.
As an aside, it’s awesome to see Madson posting the best FIP of his career at age 37. He was out of the MLB for three full seasons from 2012-2014. It’s rare that a player can come back better than ever after such a long layoff. It’s cool to see him dominating again, even if it’s for the Nationals.
@vgp100: Who is the Phillies leadoff hitter next year? (Could be different answers at the beginning and end of season).
What this question is really asking is “Do you think that Cesar Hernandez will be on the team next year?” Every game this season that Cesar Hernandez has started this season, he’s hit leadoff, so if he’s on the team, he’s the obvious answer. I’m not sure Scott Kingery is ready to be the Phillies opening day second baseman, as he struck out more than 4 times as much as he walked in Triple-A this year. But even if Kingery isn’t ready, the team seems willing to shift the infield around as needed. JP Crawford has played some second base and handled it well, and Freddy Galvis has shown himself to be as ridiculously good at second base as he is at shortstop.
All of that is to say that there’s not really a compelling personnel argument for the Phillies to hang on to Hernandez. He’s a good player who almost definitely won’t be on the Phillies come opening day 2019, and the Phillies could really use some young pitching. A trade seems destined to happen, and Hernandez will probably never be as valuable as he is right now, so I’d say it’s more likely than not that we’re seeing the last of Cesar in a Phillies uniform. Cherish it.
So what does the starting lineup look like next year, then. Probably Alfaro, Hoskins, Crawford, Galvis, Franco, Williams, Herrera, and Altherr. There’s not really a prototypical leadoff hitter among that group. The highest on-base percentage belongs to Hoskins, but he should probably be hitting in the three-hole (He’ll probably be hitting cleanup though). Crawford and Herrera also have above-average OBPs. I wouldn’t mind seeing Crawford leading off, but I don’t think Pete Mackanin will do that, as Crawford has generally been hitting seventh or eighth.
Herrera, though, has led off 119 games in his career. I’d think he’s who gets the nod in the event of Hernandez’ departure. By the end of the season, though, I think Mackanin (or whoever’s managing the Phillies by then) will see the value in Crawford’s plate control and high walk rate. Scott Kingery is also a candidate; he projects as an above-average OBP guy, and his speed is important to the traditional leadoff hitter role. By September I’d think it would be either Crawford or Kingery, though the fact that Kingery is likely to start the season in the minors handicaps him, not to mention his home run binge in Double-A this year. So I’ll say Herrera in the early season, Crawford by the end.
@bxe1234: What’s your favorite sports film, & if not a baseball film, what’s your favorite baseball film #crashbag FYI, Rocky is a cop out. No Rocky.
How about Rocky IV?
I think this is actually the most difficult question anyone has given me on the Crash Bag. There are so many good sports movies, and picking just one is tough. But before I get to answering it, I want to put a disclaimer out there. This is NOT intended to be a “greatest sports movies of all time” answer. These are just the movies that I love. The fact that Field of Dreams isn’t my favorite baseball movie doesn’t mean that I think Field of Dreams is a bad movie; I think it’s a great movie. It’s just not my favorite.
I’ll answer the baseball movie question first, since that’s a little easier. For me, it’s gotta be The Sandlot. I spent my entire childhood making friends via sports, and there’s no better movie about a kid making friends via sports than The Sandlot. To this day, anytime someone says “The Colossus of Clout” (which is admittedly not that often) I can’t help but repeat them. The soundtrack is great, the chase scene at the end with The Beast is appropriately nutty, and saving The Beast from the fallen fence is something an animal-lover like me can get behind. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the insult battle scene. It’s stupendous; if you haven’t seen it in the past three months, watch it now.
Another baseball movie I really love is Hardball. I know it doesn’t really deserve a spot in the pantheon of great baseball movies, but I have to admit; I love Keanu Reeves. Before you ask, no, I don’t know why I love him, and yes, I also love The Replacements (That was actually the name of my ultimate frisbee team this summer).
But I think the top sports movie for me has gotta be White Men Can’t Jump. I love baseball, but basketball was actually my first love. I also love Jeopardy, Woody Harrelson, Wesley Snipes, and anything hustlers. That movie basically taught me how to play pick-up ball. Especially considering I never had a reliable jumpshot, I learned a lot from the stellar back-door cutting; a valuable skill in 5-on-5, but much more valuable in 3-on-3 or 2-on-2 when there’s a lot more room on the court. When Billy finally jams at the end, the oop is awesome, the cut is awesome, and the music might be even better. Rosie Perez is very Rosie Perez. All-around great movie.
As an aside, while I was brainstorming sports movies, the movie BASEketball somehow popped into my head. It’s been years since I even thought of that movie, and it’s one of the stupidest movies I’ve ever seen, but I think I’m going to contact Rob Manfred about incorporating psyche-outs, an important facet of BASEketball, into the MLB.
Have a great weekend everybody. Go Phils.