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:

@riceid: Could Adam Morgan be a Ryan Madson type who continues to pick up velo and becomes a bullpen stud, or is he just a fun bright spot?

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.

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21 comments

  1. Mike Fassano

    September 22, 2017 11:12 AM

    The Sandlot takes me back to my childhood days at 27th and Clearfield in N. Philly. My #1 baseball movie for sure, but Invincible is my all time favorite sports movie. Honorable mention Rudy.

    • Michael Schickling

      September 22, 2017 01:21 PM

      I was brainstorming movies after I got this question, and Rudy’s one that came up. Remember the Titans, Friday Night Lights, and The Waterboy (lol) were some of the other football movies that came up.

  2. crash davis

    September 22, 2017 12:13 PM

    i heard you couldnt hit water if you fell out of a fucking boat.

  3. Brad Engler

    September 22, 2017 01:29 PM

    White Men Can’t Jump is a good flic. I’m so old I saw that in a movie theater. (People used to go out to movies that weren’t Disney/Marvel franchises. It’s true, look it up).

  4. Scuffy

    September 22, 2017 05:33 PM

    Great post (agree with you on the leadoff question, The Sandlot, and BASEketball…although I’m shaking my head at Hardball and The Replacements).

    BTW: “Probably Alfaro, Hoskins, Crawford, Galvis, Franco, Williams, Herrera, and Williams.” *Altherr?
    And “the chase scene at the end with The Beast at the end.”

    • Michael Schickling

      September 23, 2017 06:59 PM

      Yes definitely Altherr. Thanks for pointing that out.

      And I didn’t expect those two to be popular choices haha. There’s no accounting for taste I guess.

  5. Major Malfunction

    September 23, 2017 09:15 AM

    If Morgan develops a serviceable change up to go with his new found velocity might that play well enough to handle RH batters?

  6. Steve

    September 23, 2017 10:26 AM

    I just assumed that the Phillies were batting JP 7th or 8th to take a little pressure off him as he gets his first taste of MLB pitching. Hes plating multiple new positions, he typically struggles at first when he moves up a level, and quite frankly, they games dont mean anything.

    I had always thought (perhaps incorrectly) that the plan was for JP to hit leadoff long term. Do you disagree? To me, reports always list his biggest offensive strengths as patience, OBP, and natural bat to ball ability. If that doesnt scream lead-off i dont know what does. I dont really care where Cesar is next year, unless JP looks totally over-matched he should be hitting 1 or 2.
    I would go :
    1- JP
    2-Cesar
    3- Herrera
    4- Hoskins
    5-Altherr
    6-Williams
    7- Alfaro
    8- Galvis/Franco
    If cesar is traded id bump everyone up one spot with Franco 7 Galvis 8.

    • Eddie

      September 23, 2017 04:48 PM

      In terms of traditional baseball archetypes, Crawford profiles more as a #2 hitter, with the leadoff requiring speed. Mackanin is a traditionalist.

      JP probably SHOULD be the leadoff man next year, but that isn’t the question he was asked.

      • Michael Schickling

        September 23, 2017 06:57 PM

        Eddie,

        That’s exactly what I meant. Ole Pete doesn’t usually construct his lineup the way I would.

    • Michael Schickling

      September 23, 2017 07:09 PM

      Steve,

      Well I’d think that if Cesar is still on the team next season he’d be hitting leadoff. Like I said though, Crawford is a great option to leadoff, but I dont think he’s going to hit .300 or steal 30 bases or whatever the traditional leadoff hitter should do.

      If I’m managing the Phillies, he’s my leadoff man, but unfortunately they haven’t hired me yet.

  7. Rei De Bastoni

    September 24, 2017 08:16 AM

    According to “The Book” which says your best hitter should be in the #2 slot:

    1. Odubel
    2. Hoskins
    3. Crawford (Imagine how many pitches these guys see)
    4. Altherr
    5. Williams
    6. Kingery
    7. Alfaro
    8. Pitcher
    9. Galvis

    Or if Franco was starting, but him at 6 and move Kingery to 9. But good luck convincing a manager to do this.

    • E

      September 24, 2017 02:38 PM

      Probably a good thing you’re not managing. Not sure what book you’re referring to but the 2 hole is your control batter – one who moves the guy along. 3 hole is your best pure hitter.

      • Michael C Lorah

        September 25, 2017 07:24 AM

        The book is “Do the Math,” in which computer modeling projections calculated weighted at-bats and indicated that the number two hitter will bat the most often and have the most opportunity to change the game’s outcome (largely because the top three spots are mostly likely to get a fourth/fifth turn at-bat in the game’s final inning). (The book calculated all kinds of statistical factoids – like where you’re most likely to land in Monopoly. The base program is used to map DNA nuclei, so it’s sophisticated stuff.)

        Leadoff gets the most at-bats, but has fewer runners on (esp. in NL with the pitcher hitting 9th) – so highest OBP, unless also your best slugger. Cesar is pretty much ideal here. As long stated, he’s the table-setter for the next three.

        Second gets second most at-bats (including vital 9th inning game-saving situations), hits with runners on – your best hitter. (Do you want Galvis or Hoskins facing Kenley Jansen in the 9th?)

        Fourth hits with most runners on – best slugger after leadoff and two slots are filled. (See Ryan Howard, who drove in lots of run even in his later years because he was usually top five in the league in batting with runner on. Even marginal cleanup hitters pick up RBI.)

        Three hitter gets fewer at-bats than one or two, has fewer baserunners than four – the model says to slot your fourth best hitter.

        5-9, fill out by order of hitting ability, because their hitting situations don’t vary all that much and they are unlikely to get an extra turn at-bat late in the game.

        Is the computer model right? I don’t know. There’s definitely a logic to it when you stop to look at it though. The model operates in a vacuum, because it’s not accounting for line-up balance or your specific personnel’s diversified strengths. (I recall Bill James, a proponent of this model, defending Jimmy Rollins as the Phillies leadoff hitter, basically saying that his OBP might be not the abstract ideal, but he’s still best suited for the role among the Phillies talent, bc you wanted Werth, Howard, Utley batting with runners on, so Rollins or Victorino would bat leadoff.)

        Even with that information in mind, I’d still bat Hoskins fourth for all the baserunners he’ll have earlier in the game. Altherr goes two in my line-up, with Williams between them. Right now, I’d run ’em: Cesar, Altherr, Williams, Hoskins, Herrera, Alfaro, Crawford, Galvis, pitcher. Basically, I set first, second and fourth, then ranked the lefties as Williams, then Herrera, then Crawford and slotted them into the in-between odd-numbered spots in the line-up for balance purposes. Alfaro goes above Galvis, and that’s how I came up with it.

      • Mike Fassano

        September 25, 2017 08:28 AM

        In the reply below by M.C. Lorah, I agree with every part of it until the very end. Batting Galvis 8th puts 2 automatic outs in a row in your lineup. I hate when a pitcher leads off an inning, so I would bat Crawford in the 8 hole where the pitcher could bunt him into scoring position. Even if the pitcher makes the final out after Crawford reaches base, the line up is turned over.

      • Romus

        September 25, 2017 08:42 AM

        Mike Fassano…and where would you bat Galvis, if you slotted JPC in the 8th hole?

      • Mike Fassano

        September 25, 2017 10:10 AM

        Romus – I’d bat Freddy 7th.

      • Rei De Bastoni

        September 25, 2017 11:36 AM

        Thanks to Mr. Lorah’s explanation, we get to find out if “E” is the kind of person who admits when they didn’t know something.

        The book I was referring to was “The Book” written by Tom Tango et al, and didn’t even use computer modeling to determine the optimal lineup, but still got the same result.

        I would recommend “The Book” to open minded stat heads around here, as it challenges the much of the conventional wisdom in baseball.

      • Michael C Lorah

        September 25, 2017 01:24 PM

        Rei, I’ll have to look for Tango and company’s book too!

        Mike F., that’s a fair reason to flip JP and Freddy.

      • Romus

        September 25, 2017 02:35 PM

        Rei….Chapter 5 in Tango/Lichtman and Dolphin’s book…the ‘Batting (dis) Order’ goes into depth on why orders are established…the conventional way and how they see it and the why.
        You know, getting Mack to move Freddy out of the two-hole however, may take a little more convincing.
        I sure hope 2018 does not start with the same lineup structure from the two-hole.

  8. Shane

    September 25, 2017 05:29 PM

    on Relief Pitcher improvement: I think Madson was an exception and the odds will be against any give pitcher of making a similar move and seeing similar performance. Morgan could do it, but I would hold my breath.

    on Lead-off Hitter: If Hernandez is still around, the job is his. He now has a 2 year proven track record of good OBP. However, if he is gone… it will end up being Herrera. Outside of Odubel, they are either unproven & too small sample size or are far worse at getting on base.
    The full order today…. I’d start with: Hernandez, Herrera, Hoskins, Williams, Altherr, Franco, Galvis, Rupp, [pitcher]. In my book, best hitter is 3rd and best OBP after that are 1 & 2. Then fill the rest descending in power with exceptions where you can break up too many right handed hitters in a row. Next year, too many questions about who will be here and who will not. 2B, SS, & C come to mind. Also, will they flip an outfielder for pitching? Will they make a deal with the Marlins?

    On my favorite Sports Movie: This is a tough one, but I think it is Field of Dreams. I’ve seen it the most. It has an A-List cast. Great sound track. Great writing. A fun, twisting plot. And I always get dust in my eyes at the end. I really like The Natural, Bull Durham, 8 Men Out, and Major League as well.

    For other major US sports, Football is Rudy, Hockey is Miracle, Basketball is Hoosiers. The old trope of Ragtag Band of Misfits really gets recycled with sports films (The Replacements and Necessary Roughness are virtually interchangeable) and the only one that really did it well was Major League. Sports comedies are often too over the top for me. I’d rather have jokes added to a serious movie than serious moments added to a joke plot like in Rookie of the Year and Angels in the Outfield.

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