Crash Bag, Vol. 111: Lists and Counterfactuals

Oh, God, I’ve done 111 of these. What have I done with my life?

@benafflaco: “Robin Williams was the first celebrity’s death that actually caused me sadness. I haven’t experienced this with an athlete. My question is, who of current or recent Phillies, is going to cause all teh tears, when he croaks, for our generation?”

I think we’ve experienced that with Harry Kalas. One of the first open-a-vein big feelings sports columns I ever wrote was a column for my college newspaper mourning Harry Kalas. That really was like a death in the family, probably because if you were born in the Delaware Valley between 1975 and 2000, odds are Harry Kalas is your father anyway. But that whole Kalas/Ashburn/Musser crew was like the surrogate uncle to a generation of Phillies fans, and while there have been beloved Phillies players in recent years, it’s tough to imagine any of them meriting that kind of reaction. I mean, Harry was the voice of the Phillies for multiple generations and was beloved almost universally in a way that’s hard for any player to match. There is nothing anyone can say that will convince me that the Tom McCarthy hate is rooted in a frustration that he’s not Harry Kalas. You could’ve brought Red Barber over and Phillies fans would’ve hated him. Continue reading…

Crash Bag, Vol. 110: Why Bad Things Happen

@Matt_Winkelman: “Given the Phillies signing Lenin this summer, can you make a team of former and current world leaders?”

(cracks knuckles)

I’ll try to go easy on American presidents with common names, but my lack of knowledge of, say, obscure Italian provincial dukes is probably going to hamstring me here a little.

  • C: Lenin Rodriguez (Vladimir Lenin, premier of the USSR, 1922-1924)
  • 1B: Fred Merkle (Angela Merkel, current chancellor of Germany)
  • 2B: Donovan Solano (Javier Solana, former Secretary General of NATO and de facto foreign minister of the European Union)
  • 3B: Tony Batista (Fulgencio Batista, president of Cuba, 1940-1944, 1952-1959)
  • SS: John McDonald (Sir John A. MacDonald, first prime minister of Canada, 1867-1873, 1878-1891)
  • LF: Mike Morse (Mike Moore, former prime minister of New Zealand, 1990)
  • CF: Cameron Maybin (David Cameron, current prime minister of the U.K.)
  • RF: Trot Nixon (yeah, you know this guy)
  • DH: Starlin Castro (Fidel Castro and Josef Stalin if you’re from New England)
  • SP: Derek Holland (Francois Hollande, current president of France. And not the Netherlands, at it happens, which I think is kind of messed up.)
  • SP: Masahiro Tanaka (Kakuei Tanaka, prime minister of Japan, 1972-1976)
  • LH RP: Joe Thatcher (Margaret Thatcher, prime minister of the U.K., 1979-1990)
  • RH RP: Luis Aquino (Corazon Aquino, president of the Philippines, 1986-1992)
  • CL: John Franco (Francisco Franco, dictator of Spain, 1939-1975)

Sorry for playing fast and loose with the spelling–this could have taken all day otherwise. Actually, it pretty much did take all day.

@neal_kendrick: “If everything happens for a reason why do the Phillies suck?’ Continue reading…

Crash Bag, Vol. 109: The Utley/Halladay Buddy Film

@Dweebowitz: “How *do* they get out of the mess their stripped farm system and grotesquely overpaid geriatric lineup have become?”

I can’t emphasize this enough: there is no easy fix. There is no quick fix. There is no way the Phillies can overhaul the roster and contend next year, and barring some unforeseen run of luck, probably not the year after that.

The answer is time. You can’t build a contender overnight anymore by buying established players, and the Phillies’ greatest resource, money, makes buying established players the course the Phillies are most able to take. But that’s not how things work anymore. Look at any team that’s currently in good playoff position–either they’ve developed their own talent, or used homegrown talent to acquire established talent, or they’ve been particularly good at picking up pieces off the scrap heap, like the A’s.

The good news is that the Phillies aren’t trying to buy their way back into the playoff race anymore. Signings like Byrd and A.J. Burnett might look like that, but they’re not. They’re damage control. Meanwhile, the farm system isn’t stripped anymore–two years ago, the Phillies were sneaking one guy into the back end of top 100 prospect lists, but after two pretty good drafts, they’ve got three no-doubt top 100 prospects in J.P. Crawford, Aaron Nola and Maikel Franco, and several other interesting prospects besides, and whereas two years ago, all the talent in the Phillies’ system was buried in low-A and rookie ball, those kids–Crawford and Franco among them–are slowly climbing the minor league rungs. Of course, the Phillies haven’t had much success converting minor league talent into major league production in the past five years or so, but that’s a different problem. Continue reading…

Crash Bag, Vol. 108: Cape Cod League

@Ut26: “What current Phillie would make the best road trip partner?”

It depends on what you want out of a road trip partner. Really, it depends on what you want out of a road trip. Because if this is your cross-country vacation, you want something different than if you’re just getting from point A to point B. If I’m just in a two-man Cannonball Run, all I want is someone who likes driving more than I do. I hate driving. Ideally, I’d like to control the radio at least up to a point and be left alone to sleep when I’m not driving, but those are negotiable. KTLSW, for instance, is content to carry more than half of the driving load when we go on road trips, which means I can live with her controlling the radio and her refusal to allow me to play Springsteen under any circumstances. Marriage is about compromises.

Continue reading…

Crash Bag, Vol. 107: WAR for Managers

@rarmstrong7777: “is there a manager equivalent to WAR? Could there be if there isn’t?”

There isn’t, and there probably can’t be. The manager’s job is done largely at the margins and behind the scenes, so it’s hard to tell if, for instance, Joe Maddon bringing snakes into the clubhouse has an effect on his team’s performance. Anyone who’s ever had a job knows how much better life is when you have a boss you like and respect, so I don’t doubt that there’s an intangible benefit to having a good manager. How much of a benefit is a harder question to answer. I’ve heard it said that three-time Cy Young winner and Hall of Famer Jim Palmer wouldn’t have stuck in the majors if not for the influence of Earl Weaver. So it’s possible that Earl Weaver was worth 68 WAR to the Orioles just because he mentored Palmer. Or that could be bullshit.

Continue reading…

Crash Bag, Vol. 106: What’s the Phillies’ Plan?

Some self-promotion before we start: not only do I have a book to flog (coming out Nov. 4, pre-order now on Amazon!), I’ve started a weekly baseball podcast with my dear friend Liz Roscher, supreme empress of our rival Phillies blog, The Good Phight. It’s called Defensive Indifference, and for those of you who kept hounding me for a renewed Crash Pod, well, this isn’t it, but it’s pretty close. I’m working on getting the podcast on various syndication services and so on, so look for more of that in the future. Now, on to your questions.

@kgeich: “you have to spend the day with Ruben Amaro, what do you do? Does he survive the day? King Joffrey him?”

DUDE. SPOILER ALERT.

I think that depends on whether we’re just two dudes who just run into each other and decide to hang out and eventually fall in love, like in Lost in Translation or Before Sunrise or Blood Diamond, or if he is who he is and I am who I am. I’ve got ambitions of one day doing long magazine profiles, and if I wind up Wright Thompsoning or Gary Smithing all over someone, Ruben Amaro’s near the top of my list. He’s probably not the most fascinating person, but I get the sense that most of our frustration with the direction he’s taken the Phillies in has as much to do with PR as it does results.

Continue reading…

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. Continue reading…

Crash Bag, Vol. 104: Draft Review, Hot Dogs, Book Writing

Let’s get down to it.

@gberry523: “how surprised were you by the Phillies drafting only one high schooler in their first 10 (and barely any later)?”

I wasn’t that surprised that they went college-heavy early, but they wound up picking college players with 27 of their first 28 picks, which is kind of nuts. I don’t think anyone expected that, but I think that factoid is also a little deceptive.

After some consideration, I liked the Phillies’ draft in general: For all the time I spent griping about their plans to pick Aaron Nola, I can live with him at No. 7, and if nothing else, I don’t think they’ve ever picked a player I liked this much in college. I think I was mostly pissed that there were five guys I was sold on as potential superstars, and with the Phillies picking seventh and with the Cubs unlikely to pick one of those five (Rodon, Aiken, Kolek, Gordon and Jackson), it looked like the Phillies would miss out on those guys by one pick, which is exactly what happened. Once I got over that, and once I came to terms with the fact that they weren’t going to pick Jeff Hoffman or Max Pentecost–who, secret agent name aside, I like a lot–I learned to stop worrying and love Aaron Nola and so on.  Continue reading…

Crash Bag, Vol. 102: The Phanatic vs. Mike Trout

Ooh…ahhh…I’ve got an email…oooh…ahh

@GlennQSpooner: “Any chance Phils go out of the org & choose someone w/analytics background as next GM? If so who are some possible candidates?”

I don’t think they’re firing Ruben Amaro anytime soon. I’ve said it a thousand times and I’ll say it again: the current front office regime is not even close to being on its last legs. He’s going to get a chance to fail at a rebuild before the Phillies fire him, and that rebuild isn’t even close to being over. Not even close.

But that’s not the question. I’m inclined to say no, for two reasons. First, the Phillies are something of a conservative organization and second, nobody with an analytics background gets hired as a GM. That’s partially because analytics guys as such, the nerds, haven’t been in front offices long enough to rise to the top. But it’s also because just as a general manager needs a different skill set from a player, he also needs different skills than an analytics guy. A general manager is an executive, an administrator. He runs a wing of a company. So you want him to be open-minded and intelligent and surround himself with people with certain skills, but it’s not necessary for him to have any particular evaluative skills on his own.

Continue reading…

Crash Bag, Vol. 101: Phillies Draft Scenarios

Let’s start with the Question of the Week, which I’d like to rename, because Drew Magary uses that name in his Funbag column on Deadspin, so if you have a better idea, I’m all ears. This email has been edited somewhat for brevity, though Peter said a lot of really nice shit about me, for which I thank him. If you want any question answered at length, send it to crashbaumann (at) gmail (dot) com, or on Twitter to @MJ_Baumann.

Peter, via Email: “Let’s say it’s a perfect world – ie, Selig has finally allowed draft picks to be traded, Monty has named you the GM of the Phillies. How would you play this draft for the Phillies? Would you Hinkie it and trade the 7 and maybe JPC or Tocci or JBJ (er, LGJr, well, Cozens?) for a lower first round pick this year as well as a first or second rounder next year for asset stockpiling purposes, or would you try to use those chips to move up to get Rodon/Aiken, et al?

Additionally, what’s your best and worst case scenario for the draft this year? I suppose that could be too oblique of a question to ask, in that the worst case scenario would be something like “Phillies draft Touki, and his arm explodes after 3 pitches in Lakewood”, but I’m curious about your hope for how the front office approaches both the first rounder and the rest of the draft.”

I was actually going to write a post about this last week, when Keith Law’s first mock draft came out, but Peter’s question was interesting enough that I decided to hold off. I’m going to answer it backwards, with the real-world draft scenarios first.

So here’s the thing. Law has the Phillies drafting LSU righthander Aaron Nola with the No. 7 pick. I adore Aaron Nola. I’ve had Twitter conversations with Chris Branch, the Phillies beat writer for the News Journal and an LSU grad himself, that consist only of the word “Nola” over and over. He’s a stupendous college pitcher and the kind of high-floor, relatively low-ceiling major college draft prospect I once clamored for the Phillies to draft–including a certain Jackie Bradley Jr., once upon a time. Nola is as close as there is to a sure thing to make the transition to mid-rotation big league starter. And I view taking him at No. 7 as the worst-case scenario, or close to it.

Continue reading…