Hamels and Harper: The Rematch

For all the hand-wringing about Cole Hamels hitting Nationals wunderkind Bryce Harper in the small of his back a few weeks ago, the reunion between the polarizing, arrogant, potentially franchise-saving prospect and a man who was once a polarizing, arrogant, franchise-saving prospect went largely without incident. Harper went 1-for-3 with a walk, and Hamels took a no-hitter into the sixth inning, eventually winding up pitching eight shutout innings, striking out eight, walking three, and allowing four hits, including Harper’s single. No one mouthed off, no one stole home, and no one got his feelings hurt.

Despite both Hamels and Harper having a reputation for being temperamental from time to time, in addition to being outstanding baseball players, neither really seemed interested in starting a second donnybrook, which is probably best for everyone. Harper reached base twice, Hamels pitched very well, becoming the first major league pitcher to win seven games this season (for whatever that’s worth), and the Phillies won the game, while the Nats took two of three on the road. Everyone goes home happy.

Sources close to the organization, however, say that Hamels seriously considered throwing inside on Harper once more, if not to hit him, then at least to get him to move his feet and back off the inside corner. What dissuaded him from doing this was not the meaningless five-game suspension laid down by MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, but a conversation with his agent, John Boggs.

Boggs’ argument was that Hamels might damage his value as a free agent by continuing to throw at batters. If he hit Harper again, Boggs said, the Los Angeles Dodgers, expected to shell out big money for Hamels this offseason, might lose interest in pairing the left-hander with their own No. 1 starter, Clayton Kershaw, and look elsewhere for a pitcher to partner with, or even supersede Kershaw.

Or, as Boggs put it, “You won’t be the main ace in South Central while plunking your Bryce in the head.”

Crash Bag Vol. 3 runs tomorrow, questions permitting. Submit those to crashbaumann@gmail.com, or on Twitter with the hashtag #crashbag.

Much A-Chooch About Umping

Considering that Carlos Ruiz was thrown out of tonight’s game without ever seeming to lose his cool, I was interested to know what, exactly, Chooch said to home plate umpire Gary Cederstrom to warrant, as they say in soccer, a booking for dissent. I imagine the exchange went something like this:

Carlos Ruiz: I wonder that you will still be calling balls, Signior Cederstrom: nobody marks you.
Gary Cederstrom: What, my dear Catcher Disdain! Are you yet living?
Ruiz: Is it possible disdain should die while he hath such meet food to feed it as Signior Cederstrom? Srikedom itself must convert to balldom, if you come in his presence.
Cederstrom: Then is strikedom a turncoat. But it is certain I am loved of all catchers, only you excepted: and I would I could find in my heart that I had not a hard heart; for, truly, I love none.
Ruiz: A dear happiness to catchers: they would else have been troubled with a pernicious umpire. I thank God and my cold blood, I am of your humour for that: I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than an umpire swear he saw a strike.
Cederstrom: God keep your catchership still in that mind! So some umpire or other shall ‘scape a predestinate scratched face.
Ruiz: Scratching could not make it worse, an ’twere such a face as yours were.
Cederstrom: Well, you are a rare parrot-teacher.
Ruiz: A bird of my strike zone judgment is better than a beast of yours.
Cederstrom: I would my horse had the speed of your tongue, and so good a continuer. But keep your way, i’ God’s name; I eject thee.
Ruiz: You always end with a jade’s trick: I know you of old.

Crash Bag, Vol. 2: Battleship and Chooch

MLB suspended Bob Davidson, the umpire who picked a fight with Charlie Manuel so he could throw him out of the game on Tuesday, for one game. According to the “his repeated violations of the Office of the Commissioner’s standards for situation handling,” which might be the least clear, most unnecessarily twisted sentence I’ve ever seen in a press release. I minored in advertising and PR in college, during which time I met some truly stupid people. I bet any one of those folks could suffer repeated brain trauma, shotgun a couple beers, and then compose a non-explanation explanation for Davidson’s suspension that does not hold baseball fans, the English language, and our liberal democratic way of life in such brazen contempt.

Here’s how that press release should have read: “Bob Davidson is going to sit out a game because he’s incapable of behaving like an adult. Charlie Manuel is going to sit out a game because Major League Baseball would rather we all just chose to ignore the impropriety of its employees’ actions rather than criticizing them honestly.”

Remember, this Crash Bag is not possible without your questions, so send them to crashbaumann@gmail.com or via Twitter with the hashtag #crashbag. We’re also soliciting questions for Twitter Q and A for this weekend’s podcast, so if you want your questions answered on the Crash Pod, perhaps by someone who’s capable of giving an opinion in less than 600 words, send those in with the hashtag #crashburn.

Let’s roll.

@TheMuzz34: “I would like to hear everyone’s thoughts on jimmy moving forward- I had high hopes but he just looks worn down…”

I’m going to see Battleship this weekend, most likely by myself. It never occurred to me that this movie would be any good, but I’m a massive Peter Berg fan. Friday Night Lights is one of my favorite movies, and when my attempt at the Great American Novel is adapted into a movie, I want Berg to direct it. I love his work. So when he was linked to this $200 million pastiche of blue lens filters and terrible actors, I was optimistic. And then I saw the trailer, and despaired. There are two possibilities for a movie capable of creating this trailer: the first is that Berg took charge of this film on a bet, and is in the process of executing a perfect long-con, in which he drops trou and wiggles his gentleman-parts at Michael Bay, one-upping the master of the explosions-over-substance summer blockbuster while simultaneously thumbing his nose at a form of cinema he considers beneath him. Ideally, Battleship is the self-aware summer blockbuster, the movie that delivers thrills, explosions, and scantily-clad women while acknowledging that it is junk food, and sharing a wink and a chuckle with the audience at its own expense. The pinnacle of this genre is Independence Day, which is, incidentally, my favorite movie of all time.

The second is that a man whose work I admire immensely mails in a snow shovel’s worth of cat vomit.

That’s kind of what it’s like to watch Jimmy Rollins, whom I love more than any other Phillies player of my lifetime, drag out a .232/.290/.290 slash line with all the grace of a dog that’s lost both its hind legs to cancer. At age 33, he’s probably never going to win another MVP award, but he’s still playing good defense, and we’re still too early on in the season to give up on anyone. So the answer is somewhere in the middle: he might be a little worn down, but I’d put money on him picking up the pace before too long and clocking in a full-season OPS somewhere in the neighborhood of .700. That’s not great, particularly for a leadoff hitter, but it’s just fine for a good defensive shortstop.

@ileakoil: “Who is that random Asian guy that’s always shown just hanging out in the Phillies dugout?”

That’s Vance Worley. He came up last year and has been a fixture in the Phillies’ rotation ever since. He’s a fun dude and quite a good pitcher. I think you’d like him.

“and no, I don’t mean Vance Worley. :)”

Oh. Well that’s a tougher question. I asked Pat Gallen, the Phillies beat reporter for ESPN 97.5 The Fanatic, and editor of Phillies Nation. Pat, by the way, holds the dual honor of being both the nicest and most attractive man in Philly sports media. He also tells me that the man you seek is Phillies assistant trainer Dong Lien. So there you go. Thanks, Pat.

@Billy_Yeager: “If smooth Freddy plays all season, does he have a chance at “snagging” a gold glove? P.s. I love you.”

I love you too, Bill. But you knew that already. It’s too early for the advanced stats to say anything conclusive about Galvis at second base, but scouts have been raving about his glove throughout his time in the minors, and he certainly looks good.

Unfortunately, being a good fielder has nothing to do with winning a Gold Glove. The best way to win a Gold Glove is to have won one before. The second-best way is to be a really good hitter, and the third is to make a bunch of flashy plays. Some guys do all those things, win the Gold Glove, and are actually good fielders, like Adrian Beltre, Troy Tulowitzki, and Adrian Gonzalez. Sometimes, most notably in the case of Chase Utley, you can do all those things, be the best defensive player at your position, and not get a sniff of Gold Glove mention.

But Galvis doesn’t have a longstanding track record, and if he doesn’t OPS at least .600, not only will he not hit well enough to get the voters’ attention, he might not stay in the lineup. So while I think Galvis is a top-notch defensive second baseman, I’d bet heavily against his winning the Gold Glove.

@TheBridgerBowl: “who makes the all time phillies team at each position and rotation? Had to be around 3 seasons min.”

(cracks knuckles)

Okay, for this, I’m going all the way back to 1883 with this one, but I’ll be considering later players with more weight than players from father back, because the quality of play now is much better than it was in the past, thanks to improvements in scouting, medicine, and race relations, among other things. Also, for simplicity’s sake, I’m only counting players’ contributions with the Phillies, because no one wants me to say Joe Morgan was the best Phillies second baseman of all time. So I’ve listed my all-time Phillies best at each position.

Catcher: Darren Daulton (ask me again at the end of the season, and I might say Carlos Ruiz)
First Base: Ryan Howard (John Kruk did as much in less time, but Howard gets credit for his 2006 season, plus he’ll add more value as time goes on, plus first base is probably the weakest position for the Phillies)
Second Base: Chase Utley (and it’s even less close than you think)
Third Base: Mike Schmidt (Scott Rolen actually had similar rate stats, but not for as long, and in a much more hitter-friendly environment)
Shortstop:
Jimmy Rollins (Larry Bowa and Granny Hamner were both good, but Rollins’ bat puts him almost as far ahead of them as Utley is ahead of Tony Taylor)
Left Field: Sliding Billy Hamilton (35.7 rWAR in 6 seasons in Philly, 58.2 rWAR in 13 seasons for Ed Delahanty. Proof positive that Bill wrote about the wrong Hall of Fame outfielder.)
Center Field:
Richie Ashburn (no discussion needed)
Right Field:
Bobby Abreu (the fans may have hated him, but I’d put his offensive production up against any Phillies player since Mike Schmidt)
Pitchers: Robin Roberts, Steve Carlton, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Curt Schilling, Cole Hamels. One Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee finish three full seasons (our arbitrary cutoff), I’d have no problem including one or both of them over Schilling and/or Hamels (if he doesn’t re-sign). Apologies to Jim Bunning.

What I take from this list is that most of the best players in Phillies history are playing right now. And most of the rest either played for the team that won the pennant in 1993 or the team that lost 97 games in 2000. In short, even now, it’s never been better to be a Phillies fan.

@thomeshomies: “If Chooch is to start the All-Star Game, he’s going to need a good slogan. I task you, @atomicruckus, with creating that slogan.”

I’ve never been asked a more important question in my life. Never. And to be honest, I’m at a loss.

What we need here is a slogan that at once captures the playfulness of a man who’s shaped like the Android mascot and at the same time excels at baseball with the same kind of intimidating detachment that makes Roy Halladay so great. It’s different from the detachment of Cliff Lee, who just can’t be bothered to care, but Chooch of late, has taken on Halladay’s attitude of the opponent being an inconvenience to the perfect brand of baseball he intends to play.

I admire the elegant simplicity of the “Vote4Chooch” Twitter campaign, but we probably want something a little more inspiring. Maybe “Carlos Ruiz: Like other catchers, only funnier and better at baseball.” Or we could have a campaign of panhandlers begging for money and All-Star votes–the “Mooch For Chooch” campaign, as it were. Or “Catch Panamania!” Actually, I really do like the “Catch Panamania!” slogan, or at least I would have if not for the one I’d go with:

“Vote Ruiz: Because I’m Sick to the Sight of Yadier Effing Molina.”

@dmc0603: “who do you expect to regress to the mean (in a good/bad way)? what phillies will likely keep up their current stats?”

I hate to be the buzzkill, but there’s no way Carlos Ruiz puts up a .432 wOBA for the rest of the season. He’s coming down some. Another .400 OBP season isn’t out of the question, and at this point, it’s possible that he hits 15 or 20 home runs, but he’s not going to post a 1.000 OPS. It’d also expect Juan Pierre not to have a .388 OBP, because his BABIP right now is about 60 points above his career average at a time when he’s never had less bat speed and less foot speed. Likewise Laynce Nix, when he returns from injury. He’s hitting more line drives than ever, which is good, but his BABIP is 100 points above his career average.

The good news is that apart from those three guys, just about everyone else is due to pick up the pace some. Neither Shane Victorino nor Hunter Pence is as good as last year’s production suggests, but neither is the kind of guy who posts a full-season OBP around .300, either. Expect both of them to pick it up some. And as I said above, Jimmy Rollins isn’t the same player he was five years ago, but there’s no way he’s this bad now. I don’t know if we can expect Placido Polanco and Freddy Galvis to hit much better than they are right now. I think a  lot of really good defense and a lot of soft ground balls are in the cards for those two.

As for the pitchers, it’s mostly about getting healthy. Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay are pitching really well, even if they haven’t been getting wins, but that will change. Otherwise, maybe Blanton and Bastardo cool off some? I think there’s a lot of unsustainable weirdness–good and bad–going on with the offense, but the pitching is more or less where it should be.

@Wild_Phils: “so say worley is out for the season, do we go kendrick, oswalt, baby ace, or some kind of trade?”

Well, there’s this Oswalt weirdness, but based on nothing at all, I’d be surprised if he came back to the Phillies. Just a hunch. Also, to be clear, this question came in before Worley’s MRI came back clean (meaning he has no elbow at all, if I understand correctly). But let’s assume the worst. My understanding is that Trevor May (who’s the closest thing the Phillies have to a “baby ace”) is nowhere near major-league ready, so the smart money is on Kendrick as the No. 5 starter until Worley comes back, whether that’s by Memorial Day or Armageddon.

The one potentially interesting option is Scott Elarton. The Phillies famously took a flyer on Elarton this spring training, and he pitched well, despite not having pitched in the majors since 2008 and not having pitched effectively in the majors since 2000, when his 4.81 ERA translated to a 103 ERA+, which gives me a headache to think about. Nevertheless, Elarton is 5-1 with a 2.06 ERA in eight starts for the Iron Pigs right now, which makes one wonder if he might be a suitable No. 5 starter. Of course, that’s thanks to a .237 BABIP and in spite of a K/BB ratio of 1.71, which makes one wonder if he’d get lit up like the The Colony at the end of the Battlestar Galactica finale, or whether his interactions with major league hitters would resemble something more mundane, like the Fairchild Air Force Base disaster.

@SoMuchForPathos: “What are the major role players on the Phillies going to be doing in ten years?”

This is my favorite part of any movie, the epilogue, where you find out what happened to all your favorite characters after the movie ended. So as of 2022, what will the following Phillies players be doing? Here’s my guess.

  • Carlos Ruiz: Running a camp for underprivileged inner-city kids in Miami.
  • Ryan Howard: I have no idea, but I bet the sun will be shining and he’ll be having the time of his life.
  • Chase Utley: Managing a combination pet rescue and vineyard from his palatial Spanish Colonial Revival-style mansion in Northern California.
  • Jimmy Rollins: Managing in the major leagues.
  • Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence: Sitting on the hood of Pence’s Jeep Wrangler on the beach in Monterrey, smoking a bowl and talking about how funny Napoleon Dynamite was.
  • Vance Worley, Cole Hamels, and Antonio Bastardo: Probably pitching in the majors, still. Hamels hit Joey Pankake in the back in the former No. 1 overeall pick’s first major-league at-bat in 2016.
  • Cliff Lee: Calling Phillies games on CSN alongside Scott Franzke following the tragic incident in which Tom McCarthy strangled Chris Wheeler and Gary Matthews to death during the 2016 season.
  • Roy Halladay: Rumored to be living on an island off the coast of Argentina where he hunts man, the most dangerous game.
  • Juan Pierre: Don’t know. Probably bunting and getting thrown out trying to steal somewhere.
  • Placido Polanco: Law school.
  • Kyle Kendrick and Jonathan Papelbon: Missing after having spent the summer of 2018 vacationing on Roy Halladay’s island off the coast of Argentina.
  • Joe Blanton: Under the hood of a 1971 Chevy Nova he and I are fixing up together. At night we head down to the local bar and reminisce about the good old days over beers.
  • John Mayberry, Jr.: Taking scuba diving lessons.
  • Ty Wigginton: Head baseball coach at his alma mater, UNC-Asheville, the only Division I baseball team that plays in Birkenstocks.

I think that’s a pretty solid sample.

Thanks for writing in, everyone. Enjoy the weekend, write in for the podcast, and remember, the policy is that if you see a Crashburn Alley writer out at a bar, you have to buy us a beer.

Crash Bag, Vol. 1: Trade Everyone

We’re trying something new today. For the first time…well, not ever, I don’t think, but at least since I’ve been around here, we’re taking your questions in print form. We’ll try to make this a weekly thing, so send in your questions via Twitter to me (@atomicruckus) and/or with the hashtag #crashbag. Or you can email them to crashbaumann (at) gmail.com. If this doesn’t work out, well…

Also, keep sending in your questions for Twitter Q and A for the podcast–it’s our favorite part of the show and probably the most interesting, because people who think about baseball as much as and the way we do tend to be the kind of people you don’t want to talk to at parties. That hashtag is #crashburn. Include your name, or if you don’t have one, your Twitter handle, so we can give you credit.

We’ll keep this going as long as necessary. If there are questions, I will answer. BIGGLES! THE SOFT CUSHIONS!

@Estebomb: “Would you recommend all of the Phillies’ relievers go on steroids immediately?”

I don’t know. My understanding is that PEDs, if anything, are more about injury recovery than improving skills, and if anything I think we’d want to see Kyle Kendrick, for instance, out of the lineup more than in it. And putting the relievers on steroids might have some unintended consequences. For instance, Michael Schwimer is 6-foot-8 and kind of swarthy. Do you really want to see him on the juice? It would be the most terrifying thing ever, particularly if he gets backne and rage issues. So let’s say Schwimer gets mid-1980s East German women’s swim team-level roided-out. I think the only way that ends is with him tearing off his clothing and going on a homicidal rampage through the visiting bullpen at CBP, killing everyone who doesn’t move quickly enough with a scimitar and wearing their skins as a cloak.

Come to think of it, that would probably be a far more constructive use for the Phillies’ bullpen than we’ve seen thus far. If you can’t be good, be entertaining, I always say.

@thomeshomies “Outside of Hamels Pence and Victorino, do you think there any Phillies non-minor-leaguers who could fetch a decent return?”

I think Halladay, Papelbon, and Lee would fetch a pretty penny. But as far as players the Phillies might conceivably trade? I think Worley is worth something. With every successful start, he raises his value. I thought he’d be a guy who could hang as a starter for a while, but would ultimately wind up as a pretty good bullpen arm. Maybe not a shutdown relief ace, but a very good middle reliever or setup man. But as long as he keeps getting that two-seamer over, his potential swings further toward “good No. 4 starter” and less toward “good right-handed setup guy.” But Vanimal is effective, relatively young, and cheap, so while he’d have quite a bit of value in a trade, he might be more valuable to a Phillies team that has spent far too much money on the old and ineffective.

Speaking of which, I’ve long had a fantasy about using Domonic Brown and Worley to clear Ryan Howard‘s terrible contract. The problem is, there may not be a front office with so much money and so little good sense as the Phillies’, so that Howard-Worley-and-Brown-to-Baltimore for Manny Machado deal I’ve been fantasizing about will most likely not happen.

Otherwise…we talked about trading Joe Blanton on the podcast last week. The problem with that is that Blanton is a free agent-to-be, aged 31, and not really an impact arm. So the Phillies would need to dump him on a contender outside the NL East with a major-league ready bat to return. There’s probably not a market.

TWIN QUESTIONS
@jonathanbietz “doom and gloom: What’s a reasonable trade return for Hamels, Victorino, and Pence? Not in one deal, obviously.”
and
@euphronius “Would trading Hamels get anything near equal value. Signing him seems better than trading for prospect. He is young for a P”

I’ll be honest. I’ve always been a little tone-deaf when it comes to constructing a good trade, so if I’m completely off-base, I apologize.

To answer Euphronius’ question: no. Not a few months before free agency. I think the best-case scenario is what the Indians got back for CC Sabathia in 2008: four prospects, one of whom turns  into a decent major-league regular. It probably would make more sense to sign Hamels if they can find the money somewhere. It’s a pity that the Phillies have $33 million committed in 2013 to an aging first baseman who’s averaged less than 3 WAR a season for his career and a reliever who’s never thrown 70 innings in a season. If only something could have been done to prevent that they could taken a flier on Hamels long-term. Or if they had locked him up when he was merely an All-Star-quality pitcher and not one of the best starters in the game.

But those mistakes have already been made, and the Phillies will pay for them with the playoff viability of their franchise.

As far as Victorino goes, the absolute best-case scenario is a one-for-one deal for an impact prospect from a team with playoff pretensions and absolutely no strength in the outfield. Last season, the Mets (and I have no idea how they pulled this off) flipped Carlos Beltran for right-handed pitcher Zack Wheeler, who was No. 27 on Keith Law’s top 100 heading into this season. That kind of return is unlikely, to say the least, as is any trade of Victorino (or Hamels or Pence or Blanton) unless the Phillies are clearly out of it by July 31.

For Pence, you’d have to be a total idiot to trade multiple high-level prospects for a corner outfielder in his late 20s, with defensive and baserunning issues who has never been anything more than a slightly-above-average bat when his BABIP hadn’t spiked to the upper .300s. Only a GM who had taken complete leave of his senses would do such a thing.

Time for a lighter question.

@Giving_Chase has two, which we’ll take one by one.

“What would be your All-Rookie team right now?”

I think you have to go with Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and I think the Calder committee got it right when they picked Adam Henrique for the third spot on the ballot over Sean Couturier and Matt Read. For my defensemen, I’d pick Justin Faulk of Carolina and Slava Voynov of the Kings in a squeaker over New Jersey’s Adam Larsson. For goalie, I’d go with Columbus’ Allen York, who’s the best of a weak crop. What?

Oh, baseball. Well, it’s eminently possible that the rookie of the year for both leagues is not in the majors yet. And honestly, this rookie class hasn’t had enough time to gather a head of steam. There’s just about no one who’s rookie eligible, has played 10 or more games, and has a positive rWAR, but here’s my ballot, through six weeks or so:

Catcher: Jesus Montero, Seattle, if you think he’s a catcher. Devin Mesoraco of Cincinnati if you don’t.
First Base:  Alex Liddi, Seattle
Second Base: Freddy Galvis, Philadelphia
Shortstop: Zack Cozart, Cincinnati
Third Base: Steve Lombardozzi, Washington
Outfield: Bryce Harper, Washington, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, New York Mets, Yoenis Cespedes, Oakland
Starting Pitcher: Yu Darvish, Texas
Relief Pitcher: Addison Reed, Chicago White Sox

Now, on to @Giving_Chase’s second question.

“What would you eat for your last meal?”

This. Now this is a question. I’ve actually put some thought into this one over the years, and I figure that if it’s my last meal, there’s no consideration to whether it will make me fat, or give me diarrhea. I know it’s sexy right now for both intelligent sportswriters and arrogant bourgeois young adults from the Northeast to be really concerned with what they eat, going all organic and healthy and free range and so on. I am both of those things, in one way or another, and I think that’s a load of crap. If it’s cheap and sits well with Frank’s Red Hot, I’ll eat it no matter what’s in it.

But I might shoot a little higher for my last meal without straying from my roots of processed food, hot sauce, and carbohydrates. I spent my entire morning thinking about this, and I’ve come to a conclusion: Appetizer: pita chips with hummus and buffalo chicken dip. For the main course: the lamb burger from The Pour House in Westmont, N.J., with a side of raw fries and bleu cheese from the Cock ‘N Bull in Columbia, S.C., with an order of boneless wings from Carolina Wings (also in Columbia, S.C.), half buffalo cajun ranch, half Doc’s wing sauce. And since I don’t have worry about overstuffing myself (since I’m dying), a heaping helping of potato salad (not mustard-based, because I’m not a communist). To drink, Vanilla Coke Zero.

After a brief interlude (with a glass of Jack Daniels honey whiskey on the rocks to tide me over), dessert will be chocolate cake with raspberry syrup poured over it. After that, I’d probably die of internal bleeding, if not from the firing squad.

@_magowan “what are your thoughts on the ever-growing numbers of outfield wall ads? Too many?”

I don’t mind. I wish we’d have some more interesting on the CBP wall than…come to think of it, what’s out there? Modell’s, right? Is that Lukoil sign out on the wall, still? I’d rather have something…with better social underpinnings than a Russian petrochemical company.

But still, I think the outfield wall ads are fine, as long as they don’t interfere with the hitter’s background. And I remember when I was a kid and my little league field got outfield wall ads. It made me feel like a major leaguer. So I guess what’  I’m saying is, leave wall ads up. For that matter, get some more. Do it for the kids.

@themankev “What would you rank as the top 5 most important offensive statistics?”

Of the five Crashburn writers, I’m probably the least stats-inclined, so rather than try to rank them, I’ll just tell you what I look at on a player’s FanGraphs or Baseball-Reference page.

  • WAR You’ll get minor differences between the two main flavors, but either one gives an all-encompassing stat for a player’s total value, comparable across leagues and positions, and both pages will split it up into offensive and defensive categories. Plus, it’s a simple counting stat–the numbers are small, more is better, and twice as much is twice as good. The simplicity of WAR is huge.
  • OPS+ It’s pretty low-tech, compared to other stats, but it adjusts for league and park effects, includes both power and patience in its calculus, and has a simple scale: 100 is league average, more is better, and less is worse.
  • wOBA It’s the same concept as OPS and OPS+, an attempt to include the contributions of batting average with the other half of a batter’s job, patience and power. It’s far less simple than OPS, but more precise. The barest standard of competence is .300, while the very best hitters will crack .400 (Ryan Howard posted a .436 wOBA in 2006).
  • BABIP Batters have more control over BABIP than pitchers do. Generally, faster players who hit more ground balls will have a higher BABIP (Ichiro’s career mark: .351), while slower fly ball hitters will have a lower BABIP (Jose Bautista: .272). Still, you can get an idea of whether a player is hitting over his head by comparing a seasonal BABIP to a player’s career mark. For instance, both as a rookie and last season, Hunter Pence hit like a total badass (.384 wOBA in 2007, .378 in 2011) when his BABIP was .360 or higher, but in the three years in between, his BABIP dropped closer to .300, and his wOBA dropped with it, to between .334 and .351. So maybe not BABIP in a vacuum, but in concert with a batted ball breakdown and compared to the player’s career average, is quite useful looking forward.
  • Contact Rates: FanGraphs’ plate discipline numbers are really useful–it shows how how often a batter swings, at what, and how often he makes contact. Which is really the whole point.

@vansantc “Do you love me?”

If you really loved me, you’d know the answer to that already.

Enjoy the weekend’s games, everyone.

 

An Explanation for the Phillies’ Recent Bullpen Silliness

Perhaps no publication has had an editorial stance of being more distraught and mystified by Charlie Manuel’s bullpen usage than this one. However, a source inside the Phillies’ front office has told us that the Phillies’ manager, a keen student of history, is in fact adapting a tactical doctrine from the late 12th Century to baseball.

It’s not unusual for coaches to adapt tenets of military strategy to sports as motivational or organizational guideposts–Patriots coach Bill Belichick is fond of Sun Tzu, though Clausewitz is also said to be popular–but Manuel, the source says, is fond of a doctrine first conceived of in the Third Crusade.

The story centers on a man named Louis Phillippe, a barber from Anjou, France. When Pope Gregory VIII called for a crusade to retake Jerusalem–which had been lost in a siege in 1187, the events of which were stylized and loosely retold in Ridley Scott’s 2005 film Kingdom of Heaven–Louis Phillippe, a deeply religious man, responded to the call and volunteered to serve as a man-at-arms in the army of King Richard I of England. Barbers of the time often doubled as makeshift doctors and surgeons, so when Louis Phillippe’s unit was separated from the army and ambushed by a Byzantine battalion six months into the campaign. Louis Phillippe tended expertly to the wounded, and when the survivors retreated to safety, he fought bravely at the rearguard, allowing dozens of his fellow soldiers to escape.

When Louis Phillippe and his companions were reunited with the Crusader army, news of his heroism reached King Richard himself, and he was granted an audience before the Holy See himself. Pope Celestine III, who succeeded Gregory and Clement III, both of whom had died in the intervening years, took a liking to the young man and insisted that he be released from the Crusader army and serve as the Pope’s personal valet and barber.

Louis Phillippe served happily in Rome until 1196, when the pontiff had a dream that he took to be a vision from God Himself. Celestine called for Louis Phillippe and asked him to crop his hair short and remove his trademark beard. Louis Phillippe did so, and the newly-shorn pope commanded his barber to return to his home in Anjou with a lock of the pope’s hair, seek an audience with the count, and declare that it was God’s will for all of Europe to be united under a single flag to conquer not only Jerusalem–which Richard the Lionheart would ultimately fail to do–but the Moorish caliphate in Iberia as well. It is said that Celestine sent out dozens of such messengers around this time.

Louis Phillippe, the pope’s friend and servant, took a letter of introduction from Pope Celestine and a bag of his hair, and set off for Anjou. When he arrived at the castle, he was stopped at the gate and denied entry, arrested, and brought before the count in chains. Louis Phillippe’s letter had been confiscated in the meantime, and when he preached the Pope’s vision of the united Christian Europe, he was laughed out of the room, arrested and sentenced to be burned at the stake as a heretic.

Louis Phillippe protested, citing his bond of friendship with the pope, but the count was unimpressed. He had no reason to believe Louis Phillippe was who he said he was–an emissary from the pontiff–and demanded the sentence be carried out immediately.

Louis Phillippe of Anjou was executed on December 1, 1195. His ashes were scattered in a field somewhere in northwestern France.

If you’re wondering what possible application this story has to baseball, here’s what Charlie Manuel got out of it:

A papal bond is worthless if you’re in a situation where you can’t get credit for the shave.

 

General Isaac Trimble and Kyle Kendrick

While watching Kyle Kendrick come in with a two-run lead and go walk-double-double-hit-by-pitch against a Mets lineup reminiscent of….you know what, I’m not even going to bother.

But we witnessed Kyle Kendrick, the Michael Bay of Phillies pitchers (keeps getting work without really ever having done anything substantively good, his appearance attended by explosions and disaster, and makes a lot of money), hitting Lucas Duda with a pitch to force in a run in a situation with a 4.30 leverage index (he posted a -0.66 WPA tonight, btw, the worst mark by a Phillies reliever since Ryan Madson blew a four-run lead in the ninth inning against the Nationals on August 19 of last year). Kendrick stood on the mound with the comportment of a man who’d like nothing more than to dig a hole in the infield and escape through the catacombs.

And yet Charlie Manuel sent him out for a second inning. Then replaced him with Jose Contreras, who hasn’t been effective in two years, and the runs continued to pour in.

I was reminded of this iconic scene from the 1993 movie Gettysburg, where a commander’s inaction eventually costs his side the battle.

Now, Charlie Manuel probably had a good reason to leave Kendrick in, but nevertheless, I’ve rewritten that scene in honor of tonight’s events.

Gen. Ruben Amaro, Jr.: General Lee.
Maj. Gen. Cliff Lee: Sir, I most respectfully request another assignment.
Amaro: Do please go on, General.
Lee: The man is a disgrace! Sir, have you been listening at all to… to what the aides have been telling you? Ask General Halladay or General Blanton. Ask them. We could’ve taken that game! God in His wisdom knows we *should’ve* taken it! There was no one there, no there at all, and it commanded the series.
[he sighs] Lee: General Manuel saw it. I mean, he was with us! Me and Halladay and Blanton, all standing there in the dark like fat, great idiots with that bloody damned bullpen empty!
[he stops] Lee: I beg your pardon, General.
[Amaro nods] Lee: That bloody damned bullpen was empty as his bloody damned head! We all saw it, as God is my witness! We were all there. I said to him, “General Manuel, we have *got* to take that game.” General Bowa would not have stopped like this, with the Mets on the run and there was plenty of light left on a game like that! Well, God help us, I… I don’t know wh… I don’t know why I…
[he stops] Amaro: Do please continue, General.
Lee: Yes, sir. Sir… I said to him, General Manuel, these words. I said to him, “Sir, give me one Papelbon and I will take that game.” And he said nothing. He just stood there, he stared at me. I said, “General Manuel, give me one Qualls and I will take that hill.” I was becoming disturbed, sir. And General Manuel put his arms behind him and blinked. So I said, General, give me one *Bastardo* and I will take that hill.” And he said *nothing*! He just stood there! I threw down my glove, down on the ground in front of him!
[he stops and regains his composure] Lee: We… we could’ve done it, sir. A blind man should’ve seen it. Now they’re working up there. You can hear the axes of the Met troops. And so in the morning… many a good boy will die… taking that game.

 

Post Title Redacted

We asked for Jonathan Papelbon in a non-save situation, and we got him. And instead of his usual excellence, we get a loss, courtesy of the first major league home run of the heroically named Jordany Valdespin. In light of our collective recent griping about how Charlie Manuel’s refusal to use his best reliever in the biggest situations, I think some comment on the issue is appropriate. I toyed with writing a serious response, some sort of reassurance that having Papelbon pitch was the right move, regardless of the result. But that would just come off as overly defensive.

I also thought about writing a sarcastic, OH YOU GUYS WERE RIGHT ALL ALONG response, dealing with a gut punch loss in best Crashburn tradition: with imperious sarcasm.

In the end, I’m just going to post the FanGraphs win probability chart (-.468 WPA for Sentimental Johnny, by the way):

And this GIF, which accurately captures the effect of that Valdespin homer on our collective psyche:

Strength through unity, unity through faith. And, as always, England prevails.

An Economic Theory of Sports Fandom

As sports fans, we really need to find out ways to have fun. Occasionally, it’s useful to feel anger or heartbreak at the results of a sporting event. The catharsis from watching, say, Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS can be momentarily agonizing but ultimately cleansing and rewarding, like getting out of bed to work out on a rainy day or taking a huge dump after a 12-hour car ride. But in general, if following sports makes you unhappy more than it makes you happy, you probably ought to stop.

I mean, being a sports fan is a completely optional undertaking that serves no purpose other than providing enjoyment and entertainment. Hundreds of millions of Americans opt out of fandom, and no one thinks any less of them, because deep down we understand that getting worked up (for better or for worse) over men you don’t know playing a game with a great deal of inherent randomness, the outcome of which is entirely outside your control. It’s only worth doing if, on balance, it does you good.

***

We haven’t had to think about that a whole lot, because the past few years have been really good for Phillies fans. When your team wins, it’s hard not to enjoy sports. But now we’re facing the possibility that the good times may not continue to roll for much longer. Of course, the Phillies are 7-7, four games out of first place , with more than 90 percent of the season to play. I’d hesitate to draw any conclusions about two weeks and change of baseball, other than the direction in which one is supposed to run the bases. So it’ s possible, even likely, that the Phillies will pick it up and make the playoffs again this season. In that case, this discussion can be tabled for a while longer.

But in the absence of continued and inexorable success, how do we derive enjoyment from sports? In my mind, it’s a communal thing–I have a lot of fun talking to my friends about baseball, and the Phillies in particular, and always have. And that’s a bigger draw than ever. I’ve always enjoyed discussing baseball with my dad, and a group of about half a dozen friends who gather religiously for major sporting events, but now, I’m involved in an ongoing, two-way conversation primarily about the Phillies with probably about 90 to 100 people on Twitter. These are relative strangers, for the most part–of my internet baseball friends, I’d say I’ve met ten percent in person more than once. Sports fandom creates and strengthens friendships–we trade ideas, jokes, and analysis, and generally everyone has a good time.

For me, at least, blogging is another check in the positive utility column–I get to combine the thing I like doing most (writing) with the thing I like thinking about most (baseball).

But those aren’t really specific to baseball. We can have friends outside of sports. What intrinsic value does baseball have if your team isn’t winning?

***

Remember the days of $7 upper-deck tickets at the Vet going unsold? You think people are flocking to Citizens Bank Park because the building is nicer? They’re turning out in droves because they’re more willing to plunk down $150 to take the family out to the ballpark when the Phillies are likely to win.

I went to all three games of a weekend series in Pittsburgh last June. When we arrived, the Pirates fans were sort of subdued and docile, good-naturedly tickled by the sight of a full PNC Park. But after the Pirates took the first two games of the series, the friendly, welcoming Pittsburghers disappeared, only to be replaced by a horde of rowdy, screaming, confrontational men and women, every inch as unaccommodating to interlopers as the national media thinks Philly fans are. Essentially, two wins in two days turned Pirates fans from extremely pleasant folk into Penguins and Steelers fans–arrogant, loud, pushy, and completely unconcerned with their image outside the city, as long as everyone knows how morally superior their teams are.

Not to single out Pittsburgh fans–every fan base has its jackasses, and just as I’d rather not be judged by those morons who beat up a Rangers fan after the Winter Classic, I don’t really believe all Pittsburghers are capable of hurling racist abuse at Wayne Simmonds over the internet. I only tell that story to illustrate what a profound effect winning can have on a fan’s psyche. Winning isn’t really everything, but it counts for a lot.

***

The key to understanding rational action is understanding an individual’s utility function. In any theory of behavior based on rational choice, we have to assume that an individual is going to do what he believes is best for him. Rational choice theories assume people act to maximize what is called utility, a catch-all measure of overall happiness or well-being, and figuring out what goes into that basket allows us to predict and evaluate behavior.

So a fan’s utility, we’ve established, is determined by the following:

  • W: How much the team wins (positive)
  • S: The strength of social bonds formed as a result of being part of a fan community (positive)
  • C: Cost of following the team in time and money (negative)
  • D: Disappointment over the team not living up to expectations (negative)

Therefore, if (W+S) > (C+D), it’s rational to be a sports fan. If not, you’re better off getting into decoupage or something. Overwhelmingly, the S function is so much bigger than the others that even fans of losing teams will still watch. This is borne out by the tendency of losing teams with huge fan bases and longstanding communal traditions (the Toronto Maple Leafs, Chicago Cubs, and Cleveland Browns, for instance) having large and ardent fan bases while teams with shallower roots (the Charlotte Bobcats and Columbus Blue Jackets) struggle to draw without being particularly less successful than their counterparts.

There’s got to be more than that, though. There’s a longstanding tradition in political science–and particularly in international relations, the discipline I come from–of explaining away irrational behavior by tinkering with the utility function until behavior becomes rational. We could stand to add a term or two.

***

If the Phillies got 86-76 and miss the playoffs this season, it won’t be as enjoyable as if they had done so in 2005 or so, because the team was perceived to be on the rise then, and such is not the case now, no matter how optimistic you might be about the 2012 vintage of the Phillies.

Hope for the future has to factor into the rationality of sports fandom somewhere. Fans of the Galactus of No. 1 overall picks, the Edmonton Oilers, are feeling this in hockey, as Penguins fans did coming out of the lockout. With the Kansas City Royals and Washington Nationals on the rise, their fans are in a good spot, perhaps with the hope of the division title promised in 2014 or 2015 might come a couple years early.

The good news for Phillies fans is that this trend of aging can’t go on forever. Even assuming the worst-case scenario for 2012–missing the playoffs, Utley and Howard irreparably damaged, and Cole Hamels leaving via free agency, by 2014, we’re going to see the end of some of those long-term, big-money contracts to aging veterans. That bottoming out may only take one or two years, and the Phillies will once again, by 2015 or so, be a team with a huge fan base, a top-5 media market, a nice stadium, more money than it knows what to do with, and a recent history of success–those sound like the building blocks of a contender to me. And even assuming the worst, that should happen in less time from now than has passed since the Phillies won the World Series.

Maybe the H term works for Phillies fans, because those of us who are panicking over the long view could probably stand to extend our view a little longer still. But is that enough to keep us from despairing if the Phillies have a real banana peel of a 2012?

***

I realized something during what will probably just be known as the Cain-Lee game. I should be beside myself that the Phillies got 10 shutout innings from their starter and still managed to lose. I should be killing hostages after the Phillies went out of their way to put a man at the top of the lineup who not only goes weeks bewteen walks and extra-base hits, but can’t even keep his feet in the batter’s box on a bunt. But I’m not. I’m finding all of this strangely enjoyable.

I alluded here to the idea that we watch sports not only because of an emotional attachment to the fortunes of a particular team, or to see a story play out, but something else.

When I was a freshman in college, I was walking with a friend from our dorm to the parking garage to get his car. On our way across the center of campus, we passed by three people: one wearing a panda costume playing soccer with a person in a mouse costume, with a third individual taking photographs. My friend turned to me and said, “I know this is a cliche, but I mean it this time: there’s something you don’t see every day.” From this we get the A term: aesthetics, and the final form of the economic theory of sports fandom:

It is rational to be a sports fan if: (W+S+H+A) > (C+D)

This is where the 2012 Phillies come good. Even if they completely hump the bunk, the Phillies are made up almost entirely of players with the potential to do something extraordinary. For Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon, Roy Halladay, and Cliff Lee, the potential is to be extraordinary, leading to games like Lee’s 10 shutout innings, or either one of Halladay’s no-hitters. The Phillies also have several players with the ability to turn outstanding plays on defense, most notably Placido Polanco and Freddy Galvis, who have been a delight to watch thus far this season.

But we’re used to watching great things. This team is unique in its ability to produce weirdness. We get Juan Pierre playing lawn darts with his throws from left field. We have the second iteration of the Cole Hamels vs. Cliff Lee home run derby, and Freddy Galvis trying to systematically solve his on-base crisis the way most of us would try to solve a Rubik’s Cube–systematically and over a very long period of time. We get this new, creative bit of strategy from Charlie Manuel, what with the bunting and reliever usage. Though in this case, Manuel is creative in the same way the Children’s Crusade was creative. Think about it–the worst team in the history of modern baseball was the 1962 Mets, and they’ve gone down in history as distinct and strangely compelling.

It’s only been 14 games, but so far, the Phillies have in most cases either 1) won the game or 2) lost in dramatic, entertaining, often absurd fashion. I’m not sure there’s much more we can ask, and that’s what I’m going to tell myself from now on when the Phillies lose.

To sum up, there’s no way 2012 isn’t going to be unbelievably entertaining. Either the Phillies are going to overcome their offensive impotence and stage another playoff run, or they’re going to fall short in hilarious and absurd fashion. We’re all rooting for the first scenario, but if the second comes to pass, there may come a time when maximizing the A term in the utility function is the best thing. Sit back and enjoy the absurdity, boys and girls, because if you do, there’s no possible way not to enjoy the Phillies.

Older and Better

Earlier this evening, Bradley Ankrom and I were talking about how well Barry Bonds would hit if he came back now, at age 47. I said he’d be better than Juan Pierre. And Bradley brought up a truly fascinating question:

Challenge accepted! I’ve decided to answer that question. Obviously, this is not a question that has a definitive answer, so here’s what I’ve done: I’ve taken seven starting position players (Ruiz, Wigginton, Rollins, Polanco, Pierre, Victorino, and Pence) and looked up players who are 1) older than the incumbent starter at the same position and 2) put up more WAR in 2011 than the Phillies’ starter is likely to put up in 2012, subtracting half a win as a penalty for aging. I omitted Utley and Howard because it’s more fun if you get more answers, and I’ve omitted Galvis because he is neither very old, nor very good right now, so pretty much every second baseman in the league would be both older and better. And I reserve the right to make some subjective adjustments to meet Bradley’s requirement of “legitimate starting players.”

The baseline numbers for WAR are completely arbitrary, because this is just for fun. So here they are, based on last year’s numbers, with some adjustment for aging and regression:

  • Chooch: 3 WAR (3.0 WAR in 2011)
  • Ty Fighter: -1 WAR (-1.1 WAR in 2011)
  • J-Roll: 3 WAR (3.7 WAR in 2011)
  • Polly: 1 WAR (1.8 WAR in 2011)
  • John Stone: 0 WAR (0.0 WAR in 2011)
  • Pineapple Express: 3.5 WAR (5.1 WAR in 2011, 3.8 WAR career average)
  • Thunderpants: 3 WAR (5.2 WAR in 2011, 2.5 WAR career average)

Here are our results:

Catcher: Carlos Ruiz, Age 33, 3 WAR

  • None

Today, from the Department of Things Everyone Already Knew: Chooch is really good. No one doubts this. If there’s a surprise here, it’s that Chooch is 33. Though he has been up since 2006, and the Phillies have this habit of not calling up position players until age 26 or so unless they absolutely have to (for instance: Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Domonic Brown). You know what? Chooch isn’t getting old. I am. Moving on.

First Base: Ty Wigginton, Age 34, -1 WAR

Helton and Konerko are no surprises. Konerko, even in his dotage, is still putting up fantastic numbers. Helton’s power has dropped off some since time let him play and be golden in the mercy of his means–and Helton ripped off five straight 1.000 OPS seasons from 2000-2004. But he’s maintained his ability to hit for average and get on base, and a .385 OBP plays, no matter where you play your home games, if the alternative is Ty Wigginton.

The Lees of Old Virginia, on the other hand…Carlos put up 4.6 WAR last year thanks to a fluky defensive season where common wisdom is that he somehow gamed both UZR and Total Zone. He hit okay, but I’d bet…well, not my immortal soul, but certainly someone else’s immortal soul that he never approaches those numbers again. Derrek was barely better than replacement level in 2011, but he’s still better than Wigginton.

Shortstop: Jimmy Rollins, Age 33, 3 WAR

  • None

Rollins is still good. Next.

Third Base: Placido Polanco, Age 36, 1 WAR

Here we have two of the five best third basemen ever to play the game, just sort of playing out the injury-plagued string. Either Jones or Rodriguez would do far better than Polanco at the plate, but Baby Beluga is good enough with the glove, even at his advanced age, to provide some value no matter how poorly he hits. In the 2007 offseason, when it looked like A-Rod was going to opt out of his contract, I was of the opinion that the Phillies should make some sort of Godfather offer to him and get him to fill in at third and hit between Utley and Howard. Looking at that contract now, I can safely say I was a moron when I was younger.

Left Field: Juan Pierre, Age 34, 0 WAR

To be fair, this includes all outfielders, because anyone who can play center or right can play left…but Lord Child, Juan Pierre blows. I don’t want to talk about that anymore.

Center Field: Shane Victorino, Age 31, 3.5 WAR

  • None

The only center fielder who comes close to Victorino in age and quality is Curtis Granderson, who is a few months younger. But if this exercise tells us anything, it’s that good thirtysomething center fielders are very rare, as evidenced by Carlos Beltran and Torii Hunter, who have both been forced by age (and, in one case, Bourjos and Trout) to move to a corner. The Phillies would be wise to take note. Of course, it also tells us that Victorino is still pretty good.

Right Field: Hunter Pence, Age 29, 2.5 WAR

Pence is a little younger than most of the Phillies’ regulars, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that his list is a little longer than most, even though he’s one of the better hitters on the team. Omitted from this list are Lance Berkman who 1) had a flukily good 2011 and 2) is only a right fielder by the same logic that he’d be a bookshelf if you made him stand in a corner and hold a few paperbacks and Shane Victorino, who already plays for the Phillies. Also, Jose Bautista is really good. You should check him out if you haven’t already.

Anyway, leaving out second base and the pitching staff, and not accounting for Chase Utley and Ryan Howard coming back, I have your answer, Bradley. There are seventeen discrete active players at four positions who can make the Phillies get older and legitimately better. Just thought you might like to know.

 

A Suggestion for Mr. Papelbon

Dear Johnno–

It’s come to my attention that your search for a new entrance song isn’t going as well as you thought. I can appreciate that. The choice of entrance music is supremely important for a player’s image. Choose it well and it becomes part of your identity. Choose poorly and you look like a jackass, or a wimp, or worse. For a closer, picking the right song is even more important. A position player can just pick whatever’s on his mind, or a song that relaxes him before the most intense part of the game. But closers don’t have it so easy. Ideally, a closer’s song is intimidating and energizing. Trevor Hoffman had that nasty changeup, but he also had AC/DC. Or how about Mariano Rivera–a quiet, polite, reserved, religious man by all accounts–augmenting his cutter with one of Metallica’s most ominous hits. You need to pick an entrance song on that level, and I’m here to help you.

A good closer intro needs to be aggressive and foreboding, and failing that, needs to incite a capacity crowd into a mob mentality. By the time the closer is on the mound, if he chooses his music well, violence will ensue. You had it kind of easy in Boston. Red Sox fans love their city, and they get on board with anything remotely Irish. But you even though Dropkick Murphys frontman Ken Casey came off like kind of a dick when he announced you couldn’t use “Shipping Up to Boston,” you had to know that a song with Boston in the title wouldn’t play in Philly. And neither Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia” nor Elton John’s “Philadelphia Freedom” really cuts the mustard as a harbinger of bad things. Though to Casey’s credit, the offer to write you a new song was quite generous, but any bespoke entrance music comes off as kind of gimmicky.

And “Man in the Box” was a nice try–it’s got the aggressive, repetitive, foreboding electric guitar, and it was clever of you to work in the “Won’t you come and save me” angle. But the anger in “Man in the Box” is more suicidal than homicidal, and we want you to be more directly menacing than full of indiscriminate anger. The best available song on the shelf is Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” which absolutely conjures up images of a man in a black leather jacket and aviators, face covered in soot, a sawed-off shotgun in his hand, walking toward the camera in slow-motion as the landscape behind him goes up in a napalm explosion and burns until there’s nothing left. If that’s not the ideal projection for a closer’s song, I don’t know what is. Unfortunately, Chase Utley‘s already called shotgun on that song, and he uses it well. Time to look for something original.

My first inclination was John Murphy’s “Adagio in D Minor.” It’s a beautiful bit of composition, very storm-on-the-horizon, and while it lacks the in-your-face aggressiveness of “Hell’s Bells,” it’s every bit as capable of inspiring dread. It’s got one of the most intense and beautiful crescendos I can recall, a crescendo that doesn’t beat you to death with a lead pipe the way Metallica does, but instead toys with you for a while, then vaporizes you. It leaves you there to think about the terrible thing that’s going to happen. It’s no accident that Hans Zimmer wrote something eerily similar to close out Inception. In Sunshine, the movie where “Adagio in D Minor” made its debut, the theme symbolizes the inexorable destructive power of the Sun. Badass. Just what a closer wants.

The problem is that “Adagio in D Minor” starts out quietly and lasts more than four minutes. And because of the crescendo, it’s not like you can cut it up like a rock song. But lucky for us–Murphy’s theme was remixed and truncated for the strobe light fight scene in Kick-Ass. This version gets to the point in about a minute and a half. And I love it, but the problem is you can’t sing along. If you’re getting 45,000 people up and at ‘em, you need the song to be faster (and even the remix with its driving guitars doesn’t quite cut it) and have an identifiable melody and/or lyrics.

Which brings us to a song you need to try at least once this season, a song to warm the hearts of nations.

That’s right: “Ebolarama” by Every Time I Die. I really don’t like hardcore or screamo, and I don’t know enough about them to tell you which one this is, but “Ebolarama” checks all the boxes. First of all, having a different song for each outing is obnoxious. And this song is nothing if not obnoxious.

But in all seriousness, you want to rile up the crowd? Child, please. You know what people do to this song? They jump around and flail their limbs like imbeciles and scream at the top of their lungs. They run into each other on purpose. Two minutes into “Ebolarama,” Citizens Bank Park would be the scariest place in Pennsylvania. Try to hit in the clutch now, Jose Reyes. We’re going to eat your brains and gain your knowledge.

And perhaps more importantly, I want to direct you to the breakdown and final verse. In the span of four lines, you get these lyrics:

Run like hell
Run like hell
Run like hell
This is a rock and roll takeover

What image do you want to project to the crowd, and more importantly, to the batter, Jonathan Papelbon? I think the image of a rock and roll takeover is as good as any. Just thinking about those lyrics makes me want to beat a stranger to a bloody pulp with a golf club–I’d be shocked if using “Ebolarama” as your entrance song didn’t add at least four miles an hour to your fastball. This song is airborne adrenaline.

Mariano Rivera, by using “Enter Sandman” is saying to the hitter: “You know, I’m probably going to get you out.” You, Mr. Papelbon, by entering to “Ebolarama” say to the hitter: “HIT THIS, I DARE YOU! I DOUBLE DARE YOU!” Every Time I Die makes Metallica look like Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Don’t bring that weak stuff, Johnno. Bring the truth, the unrefined, 195-proof filth. Be R-rated. Be in-your-face. Expose Rivera and Hoffman for the poseurs they are. Save 55 games. And thank me when all is said and done.

This has been a rock and roll takeover.

Love always,

-Michael Baumann
Crashburn Alley