Crash Bag, Vol. 7: Baseball a la Luhrmann

The Phillies took two out of three from the Rockies this week, and could easily have swept. It’s the most fun I’ve had watching the Phillies in a long while. I’m sure there’s a larger meaning to this, but the best I can do is to comment that baseball is a lot more fun when the Phillies play a team that’s even more clueless than they are.

@tiff1001: “Who would Paul FMK out of you all, and how did he feel about everyone wanting to F him before?”

Binary Tiff is referring to one of the more awkward Crash Pod moments (we’ll get another one going soon, I promise). Back when we were doing game threads, I’d occasionally put up an F/M/K poll about opposing players to amuse the chat folk. For those of you who have never interacted with a sorority girl, you get a list of three people, and you have to choose one to marry (M), one to kill (K), and one to do the F-verb that happens between when you marry a person and when you kill him.

Anyway, Paul wasn’t on the pod, so Ryan, Bill, and I all said we’d F Paul. This is for two reasons: 1) he’s by far the most attractive of the five of us and 2) We knew that saying so would make him really uncomfortable. But take him out of the equation, and this question gets really interesting, because you have your choice to F/M/K either a floating brain in a jar (Bill or Bradley) or an embittered, boozy, sardonic shell of a man (Ryan or me). Anyway, this is an important question, so I didn’t want to speak for Paul, so I asked him. Here’s what he said:

“Yep, this is about as awkward as it gets. My reflexive answer is ‘daw, I can’t answer this and risk tainting a beautiful friendship,’ but since we’re all going out of our way to make you, dear readership, feel as oddballish as we are, I guess I’ve got no choice but to dive in.

First thing’s first: Tiffany, I hate you for this question. That being said, I’ll start with the one-night stand, and that’s Baumann. He’s clearly the life of our party, wouldn’t be regrettable and would almost certainly leave you with a good story to tell around the bar. Ryan’s the one to settle down with. He’s the most level-headed among us, and a gnashing, biting sense of sarcasm goes a long way. That and he retweets lots of funny stuff.

Bill, I’m only killing you because that opens up the throne. Nothing personal. I’ll even make it painless and not subject you to watch any more of this Phillies season as I do it. See? I’m merciful!

Bradley will take pictures for the scrapbook.”

Thanks for chiming in, Paul. I’m sure your desire to F me and tell stories about me while never calling me back will in no way damage our friendship.

I was going to say something about how Paul was too pretty to be funny, but apparently that’s not true. And remember, ladies, he’s single.

@bhayes5: “did you cot for choice?”

Gotta explain this one too. A couple weeks ago, Ryan Howard publicly endorsed Carlos Ruiz for the All-Star Game:

Now, his iPhone autocorrected “vote” to “cot” and “Chooch” to “choice,” which I totally feel him on, because my phone’s autocorrect is a cruel and domineering mistress whose whims are as capricious as a spring breeze and rule with the force and anger of an active volcano. Anyway, this kind of took off, and now #cot4choice is something of an unofficial campaign slogan. I like it.

But, no, I have not Coted for Choice, nor will I. The simple fact of the matter is that it’s not rational to cot for choice, or even to vote for Chooch. I feel like I’ve riffed on Downsian voter theory way too much here, but it applies. Besides, I spent seven years of college and grad school studying political science, and I only learned one thing, so damn if I’m not going to repeat it every time I get the chance. Anyway, the theory goes that R = (P*B) – C, where P is the probability of casting the deciding vote, B is the benefit of a preferred candidate winning, and C is the cost of voting. It’s rational to vote, then, if and only if R is positive. Because the probability of casting the deciding vote is almost always minuscule (in this case, it’s next to impossible that one of my 25 maximum allowed votes will put Chooch over the top), Downs argued, it was never rational to vote, even if the benefits were great and the cost was small.

In this case, not only is P tiny, but B is tiny for me, because while I’d like to see Chooch make the All-Star game, I really don’t care that much if he does, and I care even less if he starts. Plus, even if he doesn’t get voted in to start, he’ll probably make it as a reserve. So the five minutes it’d take me to cot for choice aren’t worth my time, particularly if, as they did last time, it ends in me getting spam from the Kansas City Royals and being too lazy to find the unsubscribe button.

The good news is that if Chooch wins, we get validation that he’s one of the best catchers in the game, and if he doesn’t, we get to laugh at the stupidity and irrationality of the Giants fans who wasted their time voting for Buster Posey.

@JossMurdoch: “Bit dull, but, Is there anyone you think the Phillies could/should move for before the trading deadline?”

Don’t apologize for being dull, Joss. It’s an important question. Rather than dull, I’d characterize you as curious and incisive. Own your dullness and make it an asset.

Anyway, should? No. This team isn’t close enough to the division lead that it makes any sense to add pieces, and it’s not like any of their problems can be smoothed over with one move. The Phillies have the deficiencies they have because of decisions that were made months or years ago, and those same decisions prevent them from smoothing those deficiencies over. I’ve been harping on this for months.

Could they? Absolutely. It’s eminently possible that the Phillies trade Sebastian Valle and Phillippe Aumont for Joel Hanrahan to “fix” the bullpen and flip Trevor May for Ryan Ludwick to fix the offense. I might have picked the wrong season to quit sniffing glue.

@DashTreyhorn: “Pop quiz, hotshot: Hamels wants 10 years at $250MM with full NTC. What do you do?”

Tell him to get it elsewhere. It was lunacy to give that kind of money to Albert Pujols, and it was probably a little nuts to give that money to Alex Rodriguez, who was a 25-year-old shortstop coming off a 10 bWAR season. We baseball nerds like to geek out about Barry Bonds‘ FanGraphs page, but given positional considerations, I’d submit that Rodriguez’s career is every bit as remarkable as Bonds’, especially when you consider that A-Rod’s prime was compared to one of the greatest collections of shortstops ever: Jeter, Early Nomar, Tejada, Renteria, and the end of Barry Larkin and Cal Ripken, Jr. That’s two Hall-of-Famers, one guy who will be in (Jeter) one guy who had a Hall of Fame peak but was rendered ineffective by injuries at age 30 (Nomar), and two very very good players with fringe Hall of Fame cases.

I bring this up because 10-12 years later, we’re talking ourselves into Elvis Andrus and The Aged Marco Scutaro as very good major league shortstops. Back then, a replacement-level shortstop meant Tony Womack or Rey Ordonez. Nowadays, replacement level at shortstop is the kid who plays Joffrey in Game of Thrones. Respect A-Rod is what I’m saying. He may be a centaur self-portrait-owning fool, but we’ll never see the like of him again on the diamond.

What were we talking about? Oh, Hamels and that absurd contract. No, the only way he’s get 10 and 250 is if he puts a bomb on a bus and makes Sandra Bullock drive it more than 50 miles an hour or else it will blow up. Oh, Cole Hamels, quel méchant.

By the way, Sandra Bullock’s character’s beloved Arizona Wildcats are in the College World Series championship series, to be joined by the victor of tonight’s game between the nefarious Arkansas Razorbacks and my South Carolina Gamecocks, two-time defending national champions and protector of whatever is good and just in this world. So tune in, tonight, ESPN2, 9 p.m. If Arkansas wins, there will be no Crash Bag next week due to my having died in a noisy explosion of orange paint and glitter.

Speaking of which…

@seanmkennedy: “Joey pankake”

Joey Pankake indeed! He’s reached the public zeitgeist! On basic cable every night in prime time! My dad made a joke about Pankake being offensively flat. That’s when you know someone’s gone mainstream–when your parents are in on the joke.

Unfortunately, Joey Pankake has done absolutely nothing offensively this College World Series. Pankake singled in the sixth inning against Florida on Saturday, in a game in which he went 1-for-6 and left six runners on base. In 15 plate appearances since, he’s 0-for-14 with a sacrifice bunt. But Michael Roth (did you know he studied abroad in Spain and has been really good in the College World Series the past three years?) and “Hold me closer” LB Dantzler (did you know he has a beta fish named Reptar that’s been the team’s good luck charm this season?) have picked up the slack. So no worries.

@patchak21: “Will we ever see Dom Brown in the majors in the near future?”

No. Never. He’s dead. Juan Pierre is hitting over .300, so who needs Brown? He’s just a defensive liability with attitude issues who will never learn to hit major league pitching, which we know for a fact despite never pitting him against major-league pitching for an extended period of time. Let’s talk about how awful he is and try to trade him before everyone else realizes how awful he is.

But seriously, I’ve sort of compartmentalized Brown. I’ve told myself the Phillies aren’t ever going to give him a shot enough times that I’m starting to believe it. It’s the only way I’ve been able to cope. I suggest you do the same.

@jrobs7777: “Are there (and if so, what) reasonable moves that can be made for a ’13-14 run (without tearing it down completely)?”

This the proxy for all the trade deadline questions this week. For the record, I have no inside sources in MLB, and so if I know more than you do about the inner machinations of the Phillies’ front office, it’s because I read more. Though it’s fun to speculate on what I’d know if Ruben Amaro’s mistress were one of my agents. Maybe running a Road Beef Mata Hari would be the new market inefficiency.I would not be surprised one bit if the Rays were actually doing this–makes you wonder what secrets Brian Cashman’s stalker/side piece told Rays GM Andrew Friedman.

Anyhoo, I bring that up because I don’t like doing fake trades. I would trade Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence immediately, but I don’t know to what team and for whom, because not only am I not in Ruben Amaro’s mind (or bedroom), but I am not in the mind of 29 other MLB GMs. Or rather, 28 MLB GMs and the man who lives in Dan O’Dowd’s finger who tells him what to do. So anyway, I’d trade Victorino and Pence for whatever near-MLB-ready prospects I could get in return, call up Domonic Brown and Phillippe Aumont immediately, and float Jonathan Papelbon‘s name in trade rumors. Someone’s going to get desperate and try to grab him, and getting his salary off the books, in concert with clearing Placido Polanco, gives you enough money to re-sign Cole Hamels. Which I’d also do immediately, even if it means paying more than would have been necessary two years ago, because all it takes is one idiot owner (see Mike Ilitch of Detroit, in the Prince Fielder saga) to ruin everyone’s fun with a free agent.

But the fact of the matter is that 2013 is a lost cause. The Phillies could have contended pretty much continuously and indefinitely if any thought whatsoever had been given to what would happen in 2012 and 2013 back in 2010.

@euphronius: “Do Charlie and Amaro lose their jobs after this disaster? Why or why not.”

No. Absolutely not. I don’t think Uncle Cholly should, because he seems to be keeping everyone happy more or less (which is easier to do for, say, Hunter Pence than, say, John Mayberry), and his in-game managing is 1) relatively insignificant when compared to the composition of the roster and 2) a reaction to trying to squeeze blood from a stone. Ruben Amaro has dealt him a crap hand and he knows it, and he’s trying like crazy to extract any value from it. I betcha he’s just as frustrated as we are.

Amaro should lose his job, but he won’t, because You Can’t Fire a General Manager Until the Team Has Been Bad For a Long Time. He should have been fired when he suggested trading for Hunter Pence last year, but the results were still good, so no one in upper Phillies management cared to think about the process. As it stands, he’s going to keep trying to contend until it’s obvious the Phillies are broken, then he’s going to get a chance to rebuild, then he’s going to fail, and then he’s going to lose his job.

The fact of the matter is, disasters like this one (or the Mets or Dodgers) are the result of a long history of bad decisions, and it’s going to take even longer for things to get bad enough to warrant his firing. To take the Mets example, Omar Minaya overspent to build three really good teams in 2006, 2007, and 2008. But he wasn’t fired until the Mets had 1) gutted their farm system 2) run up a phenomenal bill on contracts to players who were either too old or too injured to perform, effectively pricing them out of the free agent market 3) engaged in a series of embarrassing off-field incidents involving his handling of Tony Bernazard and Willie Randolph and 4) had missed the playoffs for four consecutive seasons, the last two by humiliating margins.

So there’s about a five-year lag between when Minaya really screwed the Mets up and when he got fired. Because when a GM saws off a team’s leg, either through ignorance, short-sightedness, or blind self-preservation, it takes a couple years for the team to fall apart, then a couple more years for it to become clear he can’t rebuild it. And even after that, it takes a couple more years for the new general manager to fix everything. And that’s assuming you hire the right guy, as the Mets did with Sandy Alderson, and not a Ned Colletti, like the Dodgers did. I believe Ruben Amaro will pay for his mistakes with his job, but not for another three years or so. And by the time the Phillies rebuild, we might not get another set of playoff runs until the 2020s. That scenario is probably on the pessimistic side of realistic.

Let’s end on a note that doesn’t make me want to drink bleach. On to this week’s edition of Absurdity with Tim.

@SoMuchForPathos: “Would you still watch baseball if the telecast was directed by Baz Luhrmann?”

Almost certainly yes. I watched basketball despite it being narrated by Billy Packer for years, and I don’t even particularly like basketball. You’d have to hand the telecast over, to, like Uwe Boll or something before I stopped watching baseball.

That said, baseball directed by Baz Luhrmann would be quite something. I’ve only seen two Baz Luhrmann joints: Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge!, and while I thought both were completely overwrought, I can’t say I disliked either. In fact, Moulin Rouge! made me cry the first time I saw it. Though my own personal taste in film direction is more along the lines of Peter Berg or Ridley Scott–capable of doing the big, sweeping epic but in a completely personal style. Low lighting, understated music, muted dialogue, lots of handheld cameras. In fact, the polar opposite of Baz Luhrmann.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Luhrmann, this is a pretty understated scene for him:

If you want him at his full, unabashed lunacy, go watch the trailer for The Great Gatsby or this scene. Or this scene. At his best, Luhrmann is fun, whimsical, and adventurous. At his worst, his movies look like an episode of Glee on PCP. Imagine Zack Snyder for women.

Anyway, baseball a la Luhrmann would be fun in a lot of ways. It would be the brightest sporting event ever televised. It would involve lots of dancing and big musical numbers, exciting flashing lights and big, expensive CGI effects. He’d probably dye the turf turquoise, and force T-Mac and Sarge to wear satin suits with big floral headdresses. Baseball tends to have lots of earth tones, so a dash of color would be good now and then. Plus, you get John Leguizamo.

On the downside, I imagine Luhrmann would spend innings at a time cutting between Shane Victorino smiling and Bryce Harper dealing with a facial tic, and we’d see home runs from a vantage point that starts from an aerial shot, then zooms down to ground level, eventually snaking along the infield dirt until we’re looking up at the home plate umpire, legs spread like the Colossus of Rhodes, holding his mask high above his head in triumph and ecstasy, with a demure yet flirtatious and sexually inviting expression on his face.

The seventh-inning stretch would involve flashing lights and a cabaret number starring Jacek Koman, who for some reason was invited back to Gatsby after his star turn in Moulin Rouge! as a narcoleptic tango dancer. In short, it would be like a combination of Baseketball and a Cher concert.

Though if I’m honest, the Miami Marlins are pretty close to this already. Let’s just stop fooling ourselves and go Full Luhrmann down in South Florida.

That’ll wrap it up for this week. Write in for next Friday to crashbaumann@gmail.com or on Twitter to @atomicruckus using the #crashbag hashtag. And fair warning: if you ask me about the Phillies’ short-term or long-term future, I’m going to depress the living daylights out of you.

 

Crash Bag, Vol. 6: The Mustache

I have found the solution, ladies and gentlemen! I think the Phillies can solve their offensive woes! All they have to do is hit off Twins pitching every game. I don’t think the Blue Jays would mind borrowing Nick Blackburn and starting him all three games this weekend, would they?

We touch on a wide range of topics (strangely, most are actually related to baseball this week), so let’s get started.

Nick in Manayunk: “Is Chooch the best catcher in Phillies history? My knowledge of early Phillies history isn’t that great, but he has to be better then all the catchers in recent memory, (Dutch, Lieberthal, McCarver, Boone)”

Well, Nick, I’ll answer your question with a question:

@thomeshomies: “Remember Sal Fasano? He was the best, especially because of those converted Billy Wagner shirseys”

Of course I remember Sal Fasano. I’ve always been intrigued by the Fasano love, because he only played 50 games as a Phillie, and was just unspeakably bad, even for a backup catcher. And yet he’s one of the most beloved figures of recent team history. I was never a huge Fasano fan, but I remember getting a little heart flutter when I toured the Louisville Slugger museum when I was in college (yes, I did spring break in Louisville one year) and they were making Fasano’s bats.

It’s actually quite easy to figure out what made Fasano so beloved–it was the mustache. Seriously, you see that mustache? Fasano’s going to teach you to speak English with that mustache. He looked like Richard Schiff playing a Confederate Civil War officer.

As a fan of the mustache and multiple-time participant in Fu Manchu February, I want to take Sal Fasano as an example of why the mustache is cool. Wear a mustache and you know what people say? “DURRR YOU LOOK LIKE A CHILD MOLESTER.” First of all, that’s very clever–I’ve never heard that before. What a novel insult. I commend you on your incisive wit and creativity. Allow me to retort: having a mustache doesn’t make someone a child molester. On the other hand, saying that someone looks like a child molester because he has a mustache immediately marks you as someone with the rhetorical skill of a barnacle. Saying I look like a child molester because I have a mustache doesn’t hurt my feelings. What does hurt my feelings is that you think I’m so insecure as to be emotionally wounded by a line that hasn’t been funny in 15 years, and that you think I’m dumb enough to believe that your repeating that line makes you clever.

Second, if I’m going to accuse someone of being a child molester based solely on his resemblance to tired stereotypes, I’d look for an unmarked white van or a cardboard box marked “Free Puppies” before I looked for a mustache.

Boy, that got out of hand. I guess the point is that Sal Fasano is proof positive that mustaches are awesome, and anyone who says otherwise is a stone dullard.

(EDIT: @_magowan wrote in with the following: “ALL THAT FASANO TALK AND NO MENTION OF HIS CURRENT CAREER AS THE NEW HAMPSHIRE FISHER CATS MANAGER!?!” So I should probably acknowledge that Sal Fasano is managing the double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats in the Blue Jays system. Or rather, his mustache is managing the double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats in the Blue Jays system. The editorial staff apologizes for the oversight.)

And while we’re at it, you know what type of facial hair really makes you look creepy? A goatee, particularly a well-manicured one. Either go full-beard or trim it down to a a Van Dyck, because no, thank you, I don’t want to go back  to your bro’s place and do Jager shots.

What was the question again? Oh, yeah, is Chooch the best Phillies catcher of all-time?

Right now, I’d say no, but it’s close enough that it’s worth a discussion. I’d take Chooch for certain over Lieberthal, Boone, and McCarver, and as to the best-ever question, I went with Daulton a few weeks ago, but with every two-run double Chooch hits, the gap gets closer. Even though Daulton was pretty useless for the first five years of his career, he turned into a monster when he took over as the starter in the 1990s, culminating in 1992, when he posted 7.4 fWAR and a .402 wOBA, an absurd mark for a catcher. Chooch has never even been close to that good over a full season (though he’s at 3.2 fWAR in 57 games this season, so who knows?), but he’s been more consistent than Daulton, who was inconsistent in addition to being injury-prone.

It might seem weird, but Ruiz and Daulton, as players, have the same biggest strength: plate discipline. Daulton looks like he stepped off the set of Baywatch while Ruiz looks less like a lifeguard than he does an Ewok, so that comparison might not spring to mind. But Daulton had a career 14.5% walk rate, which is an absurd number for a catcher. Likewise, Chooch (10.6% career walk rate) has always been able to get on base even when he’s not hitting well. But Daulton has an edge there, and a significant edge in power, while Chooch is the better defender. It really boils down to how much you want to penalize Daulton for being a nonentity from 1983 to 1989. I’ll still take Daulton, but Chooch is closing the gap.

@SoMuchForPathos: “Say you have to set up a 32-team Champions League for international baseball. Who makes it in? Does an MLB team always win? Is it any better viewing than the WBC? Who wins the 2011 tournament?”

I think there are two things that baseball could adopt from soccer that would work quite well. The first is a more formalized transfer market that makes international player movement more fluid, and the second is to increase international competition. The WBC is a good first step, and the longer it goes on and the more entrenched it becomes, the bigger a deal it will become. Traditionally, baseball has been a big deal in North/Central America and the Caribbean, Venezuela, Japan, South Korea, and Australia. But thanks in part to the proliferation of the international game, the game is starting to take off in new places in Asia and Europe–Italy and the Netherlands in particular. The more international competition there is, the faster that will happen, and the more baseball will spread to places like China and Brazil, where it could really take off.

I actually think a Champions League would be a foolish idea for two reasons. The first would be travel. Professional baseball is only played at the highest level in the United States, Canada, and Japan. And if you’re going to pit the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals against the defending Japan Series champion Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, you’re going to travel. As the crow flies, St. Louis to Fukuoka is 6,814 miles. Compare that to the driving distances for the four UEFA Champions League semifinal venues from this season:

  • Madrid, Spain to Munich, Germany: 1,226 miles
  • London, U.K. to Barcelona, Spain: 1,486 miles

That’s nothing. The Rockies and Mariners are both more than 800 miles from the closest major league city. Even these two relatively far-flung Champions League semifinals are a medium-length road trip on an American scale. The best baseball teams are about as geographically proximate as the best soccer teams. But in baseball, the best teams are in two countries, while the best soccer teams are spread out over half a dozen.

The second is competitive balance. If you want the 32 best baseball teams in the world, odds are at least 28 of them would be from Major League Baseball, with the rest coming from Japan. I think it would be fun to pit the winner of the World Series against the winner of the Japan Series, but the professional game isn’t as internationalized in baseball as it is in other sports.

If you’re pitting country against country, baseball is every bit as internationalized as hockey or basketball, and not that far behind soccer, where the international game is every bit as important as the club game, perhaps the only major team sport in which that is the case. But there are more than a dozen professional leagues in soccer in which the top teams can engage in competitive competition–we saw a Cypriot team in the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League this year. The top talent does overwhelmingly go toward North America in hockey and basketball, but I bet that there are plenty of European teams that could give the best in the NBA or NHL everything they could handle over a best-of-seven series.

Not so in baseball. If you’re making a ranking of the best baseball leagues in the world, you’d get the two MLB leagues, the two Japanese leagues, the Mexican League, the two AAA leagues, the two AA leagues, and probably the SEC or the Pac-12 before you get to anything European or Korean. I’d bet that the Rangers or Cardinals goes 100-0 against the Italian or Dutch champions, and that the University of Florida or UCLA breaks even at the very least.

So while I’d be in favor of a true World Series between the American and Japanese champions (in a magical world where pitcher fatigue doesn’t matter), we need to have more than two decent leagues for that to happen.

@elkensky: “The Phillies only win the WS in presidential election years (80; 08). Are there any poli-sci models that explain why?”

Unfortunately no, not that I’m aware of. I used to have a model that correlated the Phillies’ success in a playoff series to the height of the opposing shortstop, but it’s fallen apart since 2009. However, one could make the case that the Phillies enjoy their greatest success when the Republicans run an absolutely ancient dude from the West against an idealistic liberal Democrat with exactly four years of experience in Washington. That’s a little bit of a stretch, and I doubt that we’ll see those exact circumstances again anytime soon.

I don’t think the solution lies with politics, or at least not presidential politics. However, I will say this: the Summer Olympics have been held in a Communist country exactly twice: the USSR in 1980 and the People’s Republic of China in 2008. In those years, and only in those years, have the Phillies won the World Series. So the person the Phillies need to get rid of this season is not Shane Victorino, or Domonic Brown, or Joe Blanton. It’s David Cameron. If the British government falls in a coup and is replaced with a left-wing authoritarian state in the next six weeks, the Phillies have a puncher’s chance at winning the World Series again. Otherwise, we’re going to have to pray that Pyongyang gets the Games in 2020.

@cog_nerd: “For an older team, should they have more aggressive PTs and trainers given that Utley and Halladay are both rehabbing injuries that seemed to have been under treated at the player’s behest?”

This is a good question. About two years ago, I heard Henry Abbott of ESPN’s TrueHoop say that medical advances are going to be the next great technological advance in sports. I’m pretty sure it was Abbott, at any rate. Trying to gain an edge in team fitness and nutrition is a huge deal in other sports, particularly soccer and basketball. The Phoenix Suns have gained a tremendous advantage from their medical staff, which has not only kept Steve Nash and Grant Hill on the court (miraculous in and of itself) but done so into their late 30s.

In baseball, position players tend to peak around age 30. I don’t know what the answer is, not being a doctor, but there’s got to be some combination of nutrition, fitness, and preventative medicine that extends the physical peak of an athlete another couple years. And that’s not even getting into any sort of biometric study that helps prevent degenerative joint issues like Utley’s, or corrects mechanical flaws that lead to elbow and shoulder injuries in pitchers. It’s widely speculated that the Tampa Bay Rays are onto something here, considering how healthy their pitching staff has been over the past five years, despite it including Jeff Niemann. Niemann was part of a Rice University pitching staff in 2004 that included three future top-10 picks. All three suffered catastrophic arm injuries, it is speculated, due to abuse in college, and the Rays are doing something to keep Niemann on the field and have seen their faith rewarded.

So to answer your question, absolutely. One doesn’t often say this, but in sports, doctors are relatively cheap. A top-notch training staff, even a large and well-equipped one, probably doesn’t cost more than a couple million dollars. Another year or two of prime Utley, Howard, and Halladay makes that a worthwhile investment.

@DashTreyhorn: “Cole Hamels. Better than Schilling?”

As a Phillie? I think so. Overall? Not a chance in hell. Schilling was really at his best in the five years after leaving Philadelphia, and, I believe, deserves enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. It’s eminently possible that Hamels (who was better younger than Schilling and is almost as good now as Schilling was with Arizona) puts together a better overall CV than Schilling when all is said and done. Schilling didn’t turn into a monster (you know, the kind that posts a K/BB ratio of 9.58 over a full season, as Schilling did in 2002) until after he turned 30. Hamels started quicker, but he’s still got a ways to go before he matches Schilling’s accomplishments over a full career.

That said, if I’m going to pick one or the other to run a video game company, I’d take Hamels.

@lizroscher: “Thome wants to talk to Manuel about options to keep playing after interleague is over. What could they be? Are they realistic?”

Boy, that crazy Jim Thome‘s been swinging a hot bat this past week or so, hasn’t he? He’s started at DH in each of the Phillies’ six interleague games this week, and he’s been good enough that I’m going to draw some truly irresponsible conclusions from a small sample size.

Thome has played in 20 games this season for the Phillies. He’s started ten games, reached base in nine, and recorded at least one hit in eight of those. In his other ten appearances, Thome is 0-for-10 with no walks. Now, that’s a really small sample, but it’s not exactly news that players in general perform worse as pinch-hitters than they do as starters. And when you’re trying to talk yourself into Hunter Pence and Carlos Ruiz as power threats, anyone who puts up .458/.536/.917 in any span is going to get some attention. I don’t expect Thome to keep hitting at this rate, but he’s a damn sight better with that bat than Ty Wigginton or whoever else would be playing first base, and it’s not like Wigginton or John Mayberry is so much better defensively that Thome to even out the difference.

If defense were the only issue, I’d start Thome at first every day, but the scuttlebutt is that Thome literally can’t play the field without breaking down. And given that he’s a lefty and Wigginton and Mayberry are both right-handed, a straight platoon puts Thome on the field more than half the time. I think that option is to literally only play him once or twice a week, but given how well he’s hit as a DH and how awful he’s been as a pinch-hitter, that’s going to be unsatisfying. I’m not sure I told you anything you didn’t already know.

Oh, and I don’t care how well Thome’s hitting. The DH is still stupid.

That’s all for this week. If you’re yearning for more baseball on Saturday night after the Blue Jays-Phillies game, South Carolina and Florida face off in the College World Series at 9. Michael Roth takes on Hudson Randall in a matchup of amazing college pitchers who probably won’t make it as pros. Should make for a pretty awesome game, so if you love baseball, tune in and go nuts along with me.

And for next week, send in your questions to crashbaumann (at) gmail (dot) com, or via Twitter either to me directly at @atomicruckus or with the #crashbag hashtag. Have a pleasant weekend, and enjoy the ballgames.

Crash Bag, Vol. 5: Takk…ing About Cliff Lee

I’ve defended Chad Qualls all season. I thought he was a good pickup in the offseason, a scrap heap guy who was once dominant and, for the price of a tryout, was probably worth sticking in a setup role for a while. And when he struggled a little early, I said we should be patient and try to let him find his groove by moving him to a lower-leverage role and handing the eighth back over to Antonio Bastardo.

I’m through being patient. They tried. It didn’t work. It’s time the Phillies cashiered Chad Qualls, or at the very least gave him a spin in the boo box.

@Estebomb: “Why does Cliff Lee not have any of teh winzzzz?”

I ordinarily don’t give a tinker’s damn about pitcher wins. They’re kind of like RBI–kind of useful for telling the story of one or two individual games, but on a seasonal level, they don’t tell you a whole lot about how a pitcher performed. For evidence of this, see Ben Sheets, 2004, when he went 12-14 but pitched 237 innings with a K/BB ratio north of 8-to-1 and an ERA under 3, so he gobbled up 8 fWAR. It’s one of my favorite seasonal statistical lines of all time, including anything Barry Bonds ever did. (Note: I think it says something about a baseball fan when he openly admits admiration for the artistry of a particular seasonal stat line. I’m not sure it’s good, but I know I’m not the only person who does it.)

Anyway, apart from a one-game shorthand, I find myself paying attention to wins in two other ways, and the first gets back to @Estebomb’s original question: when something absolutely improbable and hysterical is happening, which I think we can officially say about Cliff Lee. He’s been one of the best pitchers in baseball and has now managed to go the first two full months of the season without registering a win. It’s a running joke on Getting Blanked that Lee might finish the season with more WAR than actual wins, a sentiment articulated by Eric Seidman of FanGraphs and Brotherly Glove. I was going to see if that had happened before, but the Getting Blanked post on the subject already features Seidman’s research on the topic: Apparently Jerry Koosman posted a 3.3 WAR season in 1978 while going 3-15. So well done there.

Anyway, I’m rooting for this to happen to Cliff Lee. I hope the modal outcome for him is eight innings, 10 strikeouts, leave with the game tied 0-0 or 1-1, then have the Phillies push one across in the ninth or 10th and have Tony No-Dad or People Barn vulture the win. Imagine Lee with, like, a 6-10 record and a 2.80 ERA. It’s be hysterical. The only way you’re going to enjoy this season, I’m coming to realize, is if you view it as a sort of ethereal post-rock weirdness that ultimately comes together into a coherent, if not particularly uplifting, message at the end. In short, think of 2012 as the Phillies’ Sigur Ros phase, and you’ll be fine.

The last point about pitcher wins: they were a convenient shorthand. Back before our innocence was stolen by enlightenment, we said “20-game winner” like it meant something, and it was comforting, even though being a 20-game winner means bugger-all, we know now. I think Cliff Lee is helping to debunk the idea that pitcher wins mean anything, which is great. I just want a new shorthand. I think we’re getting there with WAR, but with multiple flavors and the trickiness of defensive metrics, we’ve got a long way to go.

We’re going in-house here with the next one

@Phylan: “should I see Prometheus in regular or 3D tonight?”

I’m more excited about Prometheus than any move since the last Star Trek. It’s a return, I hope, to the form of the original, which is one of my ten or so favorite movies of all time, despite it falling in two categories I usually can’t stand: horror movies and Ridley Scott’s “durr I want to be Stanley Kubrick durr” phase that caused him to make Blade Runner. But somehow he pulled off a movie of such great contradictions: a claustrophobic thriller set on a literally interstellar scale, and an understated sci-fi epic. It’s a movie that, for all the space travel and fighting for your life, reads a lot like the first five minutes of a Tarantino movie for most of its run. I’ve never seen a movie quite like it since, and I hope that Prometheus does what Danny Boyle tried and failed to do with Sunshine: make a movie with the deft coolness of Alien with modern special effects and a greater scope of story, without having the latter to considerations overrun the former. I’m cautiously optimistic.

And see it regular. Some people like 3D. I’m not one of them. I think it’s needlessly expensive and is either tacky (if it isn’t originally shot in 3D) introduces the temptation to do cheap camera tricks (if it is).

@euphronius: “please compare the 2012 Phillies to famous Hollywood disasters. For example: Ishtar”

I refuse.

Ishtar, man? Even I have some principles.

@Wzeiders: “If RAJ quit/was fired tomorrow, and you were appointed GM, what would you do with the Phils short term/long term?”

Ah, a serious baseball question. You’re a good egg, William.

The question to end all questions with this team is whether or not to re-sign Cole Hamels. If my military coup of the Phillies had taken place at the end of 2009, this would be a really easy question to answer, even at the time. Nowadays, not so much. The first thing I’d do is try to clear some payroll for a Hamels extension. To do this, one would need to explore the market for Papelbon, Pence, and Victorino, who, between the three of them, represent $31.9 million in 2012 salary, according to Cot’s Contracts. If I could clear all of their salaries and get even middling prospects back, I’d do it instantly. It’s not that any of those guys–or Ryan Howard, for that matter–aren’t useful. It’s just that Papelbon is a relief pitcher making mid-rotation starter money, and Howard is an average position player making superstar money, as Pence and Victorino soon will be once they hit free agency. You can survive one contract like that, but not four.

It’s also not inconceivable that the Phillies crawl back into the pennant race before too long. I’d ride it out another month to see if they make up significant ground, and if not, start the fire sale a couple weeks before the deadline.

In the short term, Juan Pierre gets his unconditional release and Domonic Brown gets the starting left field job until further notice regardless of team record or defensive performance.

If the Phillies drop out of the race, I’d trade Papelbon, Victorino, and Pence for whatever I could get, so long as I could clear their salaries. Like I said before, the Phillies would probably get some decent prospects back for them. Then, assuming that’s done, re-sign Cole Hamels before he hits free agency. It likely wouldn’t be much of a discount, if any, but I’d rather not bid against the Dodgers, Red Sox, Yankees, and Cubs (and God knows who else) for the clear-cut No. 1 free agent on the market. Once the offseason comes, I’d go to any lengths to offload Ryan Howard’s contract. I love Vance Worley. I love Domonic Brown. I would trade both of them in a heartbeat if it meant clearing all four years, $100 million left on Howard from the books. If things got bad enough, I’d consider trading Carlos Ruiz, whose value will never be higher, and no matter how much we all love him, is a catcher heading into his mid-30s.

You’ll notice that I’ve now relieved the Phillies of their closer, a starting pitcher, and five significant position players. But importantly, the Phillies would now have as much as $60 million to play with, after I’ve let Joe Blanton walk, as well as a few decent prospects from the Victorino, Pence, Ruiz, and Papelbon deals. Ideally, at least a couple of those guys would be ready to step into the lineup, plus Freddy Galvis and Tyson Gillies. Phillippe Aumont probably deserves a shot as a back-end bullpen guy at this point.

The point is, if you blow the whole works up, and even if you give up some young pieces like Brown and Worley you’ve still got three legitimate No. 1 starting pitchers and a phenomenal amount of money to throw around. The 2013 Phillies could probably be a fringe contender, just like the 2012 Phillies have turned out to be, and for half the cost.

I’d take those savings and pour them into amateur scouting. The Phillies have to draft better, particularly considering how perilous the free agent market is becoming, and considering how depleted their farm system is. The Braves have made amateur scouting into an art form, owning every decent high schooler in Georgia, northern Florida, and the Carolinas for a generation now, to the tune of Adam Wainwright, Jason Heyward, Brian McCann, and Chipper Jones. This region isn’t a similar hotbed of talent, but my Phillies would get the next Mike Trout if he’s there to be had. Finally, that depletion of the farm system means the Phillies need to get high-probability college players in the early rounds. That was the bread and butter of their draft success around the turn of the century–Pat Burrell, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard were all college bats–and while I really don’t want to go back to the Bradley/Greene complaint, that’s exactly the kind of change I’d make to draft strategy, at least until the farm system is flush enough at the higher levels to take some risks.

So I’d trade everybody, in short, and start over. It was possible to salvage this core and rebuild while contending if the right decisions had been made two or three years ago. That’s simply not the case anymore.

Oh, and I’d draft Joey Pankake in the first round in 2014.

@Seagars: “Can we start the season over?”

Afraid not. I’m not sure how much good that would have done anyway.

@DisplacedPhan: “Why do the Phillies crush my will to drink?”

I don’t know. In my experience, there are two kinds of sports drinking. No, three. One is where you get together with friends and booze up to watch a game regardless of outcome. This is a social situation where, often, the sporting event is secondary to the fellowship, but sometimes, this devolves into seven nervous guys sitting around a table at a bar nursing their beers and not talking as Michael Leighton whiteknuckles the Flyers past the Blackhawks, but sometimes this gets rowdy and fun. The second is when your team wins and you go out to find a party, no matter what the cost. I was a senior in college in the fall of 2008, and when the Phillies won the NLCS, I ran around looking for other Phillies fans at what was probably about 11:30 on a Wednesday. In South Carolina, where nobody cares about baseball, and anyone who does is a Braves fan. And even in the biggest city in the state, with tens of thousands of college students, there was no one out that night. It was supremely disappointing. I don’t think I’ve ever recovered.

The third type of sports drinking happens when you’re in situation No. 1 and things start to go horribly wrong. College football does this a lot to me, because the games are on Saturday nights, when as often as not, I’m out with friends anyway. This year’s ACC title game was particularly bad.

Anyway, I guess the point is that if you can’t find a sports-related excuse to have an adult beverage or two (or, when Kyle Kendrick pitches, 13 or 14), then it’s probably your fault. When sports are involved, you can rationalize any kind of depravity.

@ChasingUtley: “Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?”

Okay, so I went back and listened to this:

and tried to figure out a pattern. Now, if you take out the places that don’t exist anymore (namely Czechoslovakia), you can plot something of a round-trip path from Africa to the United States, via various South Pacific and Indian Ocean locations (Perth, Bali, Thailand, and so on). But given the passage of time since the song was written, and the fact that the only country she visited more than once was the United States, it seems like she’s a good bet to return here at some point. I’d put my money on Austin, Texas, but when I tried to make the arrest, I was informed I didn’t have a warrant and she got away again. Good job, gumshoe.

And if you don’t think I spent at least 20 minutes with the song lyrics and a map of the world in front of me while writing that, you don’t know me very well.

I, however, will not be in Texas, but in Baltimore this weekend, so come say hi if you see me out and about. I’ll be the guy with the shotgun, whistling “The Farmer in the Dell.” Have a pleasant weekend, everyone.

The Phellowship of the Ring

Freddy Galvis, the rookie infielder who has captured the imagination of Phillies fans this season, went on the 15-day DL with a lower back injury. No one took this news harder than Galvis’ double play partner, Jimmy Rollins. According to reports, Rollins was inconsolable when he saw Galvis sprawled out on the trainer’s table. At that point, the following conversation took place between the stricken Galvis and the heartbroken Rollins:

Freddy Galvis: “They took the lead!”
Jimmy Rollins: “Be still.”
Galvis: “Kendrick! Where is Kendrick?”
Rollins: “I let Kendrick go.”
Galvis: “Then you did what I could not…I tried to take the ball from him.”
Rollins: “The game is beyond our reach now.”
Galvis: “Forgive me, I did not see. I have failed you.”
Rollins: “No, you’ve fought bravely. You have kept your honor.”
Galvis: “Leave it! It is over…the world of the Phillies will fall and all will come to darkness and my team to ruin.”
Rollins: “I do not know what strength is in my blood, but I swear to you, I will not let the division championship fall, nor our team fail.”
Galvis: “Our team…our team.” (Rollins picks up Galvis’ bat and hands it to him. Galvis grabs the bat and clutches it to his chest)
Galvis: “I would have followed you, my brother…my shortstop, my king.”
Rollins: “Be at peace, El Falcon.”

Papelbon in a Non-Save Situation

For the second time this season, Jonathan Papelbon came into a tie game at home in the ninth inning, and for the second time, he allowed the go-ahead run to score after giving up an extra-base hit to a guy not exactly known for his power. I know y’all thought that, even on the heels of Papelbon’s five-out save on Friday, that this might be the end of Charlie Manuel’s more liberal usage of his best relief pitcher in high-leverage situations, but I actually managed to have a word with the Phillies skipper after the game and I think everything is going to be okay. Here’s how the conversation went:

Mike Baumann: Reach for the sky!
Charlie Manuel: Huh?
Baumann: This town ain’t big enough for the two of us!
Manuel: What?
Baumann: Somebody’s poisoned the waterhole!
Manuel: Papelbon’s busted.
Baumann: Who are you calling busted, Buster?
Manuel: Huh?
Baumann: That’s right! I’m talking to you, Charlie Manuel! We don’t like the bullpen having games blown up, Cholly. Or smashed, or ripped apart.
Manuel: [hyperventilating] W-we?
Baumann: That’s right, your fans!
[Fans get up and surround the terrified Manuel] Baumann: From now on, you must continue to have Jonathan Papelbon pitch in high-leverage situations whether or not there’s a save on the line, because if you don’t, we’ll find out, Charlie!
Baumann: [while turning head around slowly] We toys can see EVERYTHING!
Baumann: [speaking and moving] So play nice!
[Manuel screams and runs inside]

Declaration of the Rights of Fan and of the Citizen

Phillies fans have become a very well-celebrated traveling circus in recent years, particularly in Washington, and our behavior, and the behavior of our hosts, has become, at times, a national news story. I really can’t figure out why anyone gives a crap about this, but in this part of the world, there seems to be the conception that entering a sporting arena entitles an individual not only to abdicate his sense of decorum and propriety, but to hurl verbal and sometimes physical abuse on strangers.

I don’t really like watching live sports all the time. I’d rather watch from home, where I don’t have to block out the entire night and pay exorbitant amounts for admission and transportation to sit out in the elements. If I want a communal experience, I’ll go on Twitter, and if I really want a communal experience, I’ll head around the corner to the bar. Don’t get me wrong, I do like going to games from time to time, but I don’t need to be there all the time–if I get to half a dozen Phillies games a year, I’m generally happy.

But anyway, when I do catch a live event, I almost would rather be a visiting fan than go see my team at home. I like going out in a different city, seeing a different ballpark, and taking in new ballpark traditions, and, as often as not, meeting local fans. There are some exceptions–after winning two straight against the Phillies last June, Pirates fans got a little nasty, and a little kid at a Flyers-Thrashers game once flipped me off and called me an asshole–but otherwise, my interactions with others as a visiting fan have been absolutely positive in all cases.

I bring this up because I’m heading to Baltimore this weekend to catch the series between the Phillies and Orioles–I suspect at least a couple other Phillies fans have had this idea–and I want the run of good feelings to continue.

One of the pivotal moments of the French Revolution–and the only moment in French history pre-Napoleon that I’m particularly familiar with that didn’t involve tennis equipment or messy executions–was the publication of “The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen,” a philosophical and legal document that’s exactly what it sounds line. I was inspired by this declaration to write, considering that Camden Yards will most likely be overrun by Phillies fans this weekend, a similar document is in order: “The Declaration of the Rights of Fan, and of the Citizen,” inspired by the Marcliff du Leefayette, and Juan Robespierre…yeah, never mind.

Anyway, I don’t want to Rovell y’all and give out a bunch of rules undemocratically–which would be quite ironic, given the source material–so consider this as a suggestion, rather than a set of laws that everyone should follow because I said so. Though if everyone follows these just because I said so, that’d be totally cool.

RIGHTS OF THE VISITING FAN

  • To be free from physical oppression or intimidation. No one wants a Brian Stow incident, or that nastiness outside Geno’s after the Winter Classic.
  • To be given free access to the stadium and surrounding amenities or entertainment venues. None of this “we’re only selling tickets to Virginians and Marylanders” malarkey. Anyone who can afford a ticket should be welcome.
  • To be free from excessive verbal abuse or ad hominem attacks. You probably shouldn’t get your panties in a twist if you wear a Scott Hartnell jersey to Madison Square Garden and someone makes a Jeff Carter joke. But on the other hand, I was in the student section for a South Carolina-LSU football game once, when people spotted a kid in a purple sweatshirt a few rows down from me. Within minutes, almost literally the entire 12,000-person student section was chanting “Get the fuck out!” at this poor kid, who had done nothing wrong except wear the wrong colors in the wrong spot. Stadia should not resemble gang turf wars, or the lynch mob scene from To Kill a Mockingbird.
  • To wear your team’s colors and cheer when something good happens to them. That said, don’t act like a jackass. Stand up and cheer and clap at a big base hit, or yell the occasional “CHOOOOCH!” but if you’re a total boor, The Committee for Public Safety takes no responsibility for what happens to you.

For that matter, I think all of those things are contingent on the manners and good behavior of the visiting fan. If you show up in another team’s stadium and are obnoxious, confrontational, or disruptive, they have every right to be rude to you back. But there’s no reason why adults of different allegiances can’t enjoy a baseball game (or really any sport that isn’t soccer or college football) in relative harmony. I look forward to exploring an unfamiliar city this weekend and meeting new fans with a different take on the game than the insular Phillies-based community in which I find myself, as well as making about a billion references to The Wire. And even to exchange a bit of good-natured ribbing and banter. I’d like to think that if an Orioles fan (or any fan, for that matter) came to take in a series in Philadelphia, he’d be able to do so without encountering open hostility.

Additions to this list? Deletions? Or should the Committee for Public Safety just go on with the beheadings?

Crash Bag, Vol. 4, The Origin Story

Today, we deal with the origins of the Crash Bag, including an embarrassing case of mistake identity, some Cole Hamels nonsense, and the intersection between the Phillies and electoral politics.

Okay, I’m cooler than you are. Why don’t you fix your little problems and light this candle?

@uublog starts with a two-parter: “First, to which television show/season do you equate the 2012 Phillies?”

There’s two ways to approach this question. First, are we considering this season (and I’ll go with seasons, not shows, here) in comparison to other seasons. Like, I would make the argument than The West Wing was awesome for several years, and once they made some unwise personnel changes, the product started to suffer. So, like, replacing Aaron Rowand with Jayson Werth was like getting rid of Moira Kelly (it’s my favorite show of all time, but I can’t remember her character’s name), but the Howard-to-Ty Wigginton dropoff is like losing Rob Lowe’s Sam Seaborn and replacing him with Joshua Malina’s Will Bailey. A once-great franchise submarined by the loss of its creator (Pat Gillick and Aaron Sorkin) that trundles on, struggling to find direction with the remnants of the original core and some cut-rate bit players. And is still not half-bad in the end, I might add.

On its own merits, it’s harder to figure out what season this year’s Phillies might be best-compared to. And I can’t use The Wire because of the second half of Max’s question (though I’m through four seasons on DVD now and it’s awesome). Hmmm….this is a little out of left-field, but I might go with the ill-fated NBC drama Kings. I was one of, like, nine people who watched the modernized retelling of the story of the Biblical King David, but it was well-written and well-acted (including Ian McShane at his Ian McShaniest) and retold a classic story while working in contemporary political issues. In addition to being, from a visual standpoint, perhaps the prettiest television show I’ve ever seen. The problem was, it lacked an identity. They couldn’t figure out if it was going to be a soap opera, or a political/military thriller, or a religious show, or something resembling a modern-day broadcast network Game of Thrones. And the Biblical angle made marketing it a nightmare–do you go for the religious crowd and lose everyone else, or market it as just another drama and lose the people to whom the story of David means most?

Anyway, NBC buried it and canceled it after less than one season. It failed not because the show itself (despite its flaws) wasn’t good enough, but because little things kept going wrong and it couldn’t catch a break. That’s sort of how the 2012 Phillies are–not perfectly-constructed, but good enough to win a lot of games if they get the minor decisions right and catch some luck. And so far, that hasn’t been the case. But there’s time enough for that to change.

The second half of the question:

“Secondly, are we ever going to get a “Yep, these are my readers” or some derivative thereof, or would that complete the already painfully obvious elephant in the room of the Simmons similarities?”

See, I couldn’t very well write about The Wire, then say I’m not trying to rip off Bill Simmons. Someone in the comments tried to use that as an insult last week, but if you’re trying to hurt my feelings, that’s not the way to do it. I actually like Bill Simmons, even though his schtick can get tired from time to time, and he’s not particularly an expert on any of the sports he writes about. But that’s not why you read him. He approaches sportswriting from an emotional perspective and writes oodles, with enthusiasm and levity. As a writer, I look up to him in a lot of ways, and I’d rather read another Teen Wolf comparison than some mailed-in, sanctimonious Rick Reilly or Jon Heyman column. So if you want to call me a Bill Simmons ripoff, but with fewer readers, less money, and a different set of overused pop culture references, so be it. Though if I were to suddenly have his audience and his paycheck, I wouldn’t object. In case anyone from a major sports website is looking for a columnist.

As far as the specific question goes, I can only write about what y’all ask me, so if you want me to write about something else, send it in and I’ll write about it. And I don’t think I’ll ever get to “Yep, these are my readers,” because I think y’all’re smarter than his readers. Though if I’m wrong, let me know, because that’d be hilarious.

Oh, and as far as the mailbag goes, if I’m trying to rip off anyone, it’s Drew Magary’s Funbag over at Deadspin. There is no better example of this format, so check it out. Thanks, Max, for giving me an outlet to talk about myself without being funny. Moving on.

Nathan S. from Philly: “Why is the double-decker burger at Citizens Bank [Park] so much better than every double-decker burger I’ve ever consumed? Discuss.”

Probably because you’re paying out the nose for food that isn’t particularly good and you’re trying to rationalize spending $8 on a burger that’d run you half as much at McDonald’s. I actually have no idea what such a burger costs at CBP anymore, because stadium food is such a massive racket, I usually gorge myself on food and beverages in the parking lot beforehand.

As an aside, we, as Phillies fans, need to tailgate better. My Philly tailgating experience is limited to Phillies and Union games (if only because those are the only games I tend to go to, but I hear the Eagles do well in the parking lot), and they aren’t bad. In fact, Fightins Tailgate last year was one of the most fun days of my adult life. But we can do better. We can start earlier, cook more creatively, set up more games, engender a greater sense of community. We need to take a page from college football, particularly down south, and really take this to the next level. That way, people like Nathan won’t need to spend their hard-earned money on an overpriced burger.

Oh, he’s got another question:

“Why is Chad Qualls still on this team?”

You know that part of Starship Troopers, where the lieutenant makes Johnny the corporal “until you’re dead or I find someone better?” Well, Qualls ain’t dead yet, and with JDF (that’s Justin De Fratus, not the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation) and Phillippe Aumont either not healthy or not ready, Uncle Cholly hasn’t found someone better yet.

Clarke: “What decade do you think each Philly would best belong in?”

What’s the proper singular form of “Phillies?” Philly? Phillie? I think it’s with the -ie, but we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about such things. Anyway, I think most of them are pretty well-placed, temporally-speaking, with a couple of exceptions. There are times when I think Hunter Pence would be better off in the 1210s, because that way he’d be too busy being vivisected by the Mongols to pop up the first pitch with two men on and the Phillies trailing. Ditto Juan Pierre, though I’d be quite interested to see how he’d fare against a lion in the Roman Colosseum if we placed him in, say, 110 A.D.

Ruben Amaro, though he’s not on the active roster, would thrive in the 1940s, playing some sort of public information role, you know, like Axis Sally, or as the editor of Pravda.

I’d put Shane Victorino in the 1970s, just to see if putting him on greenies would cause some sort of instability in the fabric of space-time. Roy Halladay would do well in the 1980s, because if I’ve learned anything from Wall Street, Bonfire of the Vanities, and Liar’s Poker, it’s that you need to be an indefatigable megalomaniac to get ahead on Wall Street, and I think Doc could hack it. And Cliff Lee should go to the 1920s. According to my limited reading on the subject (from The Great Gatsby and The Razor’s Edge) socialites around that time did nothing all day but wear sharp clothes, drink outrageously, and have idle conversations. And at night, they went to really raucous parties, wore sharp clothes, drank outrageously, and had idle conversations. I could see Cliff Lee doing well in such an environment.

@Scarlet_Fire: “Is it raining?”

Yes, just not from where I’m sitting in New Jersey. As of right now, it’s raining in North Texas and parts of Oklahoma, as well as a rainstorm causing a 90-minute delay in the NCAA baseball tournament games in Columbia, S.C. AccuWeather also tells me it’s raining in Toronto right now. So yes, it is raining, and that’s just in North America.

@JakePavorsky: “Who would be more valued in the Phillies lineup right now, Utley or Howard?”

Overally, I think Utley’s still the better player, and the upgrade from Freddy Galvis‘ bat to his in the lineup would be sizeable, particularly considering how little you’d lose in defense. But he wasn’t exactly hitting like his old self when he came back last year, and Ryan Howard still has tons more power than the next-best Phillies hitter. I was going to say Howard for that reason, but Howard only had a 126 OPS+ last year, which is not particularly good for a bad defensive first baseman, and Utley, despite having by far his worst season, still posted a higher WAR than Howard in 2/3 as many games. So I’d say Utley, even if he’s not 100 percent, and even though Freddy Galvis is playing pretty well. Look at it this way: more Utley means less Pete Orr and Mike Fontenot, and that’s a good thing.

@machenwasright: “which current Phillie is most likely to run for office?”

Two years ago, I would have said Jamie Moyer, but nowadays you probably need a college degree to win anything above dog catcher, which eliminates most of the Phillies team, most importantly Jimmy Rollins. Among college-educated Phillies, it gets interesting. You need someone with some charisma and social awareness, which, after the Mermaid Incident of 2011, eliminates John Mayberry, Jr., and probably Jonathan Papelbon, as much as he likes making sweeping statements and pandering to the base. You need someone with at least a little bit of a social consciousness, which would bode well for Chase Utley if he didn’t hate talking to the press so much. You need to do that if you’re going to run a campaign. Probably Cliff Lee, too, though either of those guys could probably show up at the ballpark, say, “I’m running for city council,” and win on name recognition. I just don’t think they would.

There are other Phillies with a bit of personality and an education, but there’s really only one choice: Ryan Howard. He’s tall, he’s charismatic, he’s outgoing, and he looks juuuust a little bit like Dennis Haysbert, played the President on 24 and did quite well in that capacity. If Heath Shuler can win a seat in Congress, I’m pretty sure Ryan Howard, if he so chose, could do the same.

@gvntofly1021: “Why does the floor move?”

Snakes. Why did have to be snakes?

“serious question, albeit a beaten horse. Hamels. Staying or leaving?”

Well, with Ruben Amaro, all things are possible. They say the same thing about God, but somehow I feel less comfortable with Ruben Amaro calling the shots. I hear people are getting on Buster Olney about saying Hamels is going to walk, but I don’t see it playing out any other way. The Dodgers are the team you hear about the most, and that’s a possibility. And don’t forget that the Yankees and Red Sox have both had some high-profile pitching failures and might pay over the top to get a sure thing like Hamels. If the Phillies were going to keep Hamels at anything other than an insane price, they’d have re-signed him either when Jered Weaver signed his extension last summer, over the offseason, or when Matt Cain signed his. If I had to put money on it, I’d bet on Hamels playing elsewhere in 2013.

@TheMuzz34: ” evaluate victorino’s season to this point- his numbers are ok but nothing he has done really stands out to me”

I think we were spoiled by his 2011 season, when he finally became as good as everyone thought he had been all along, a 130 OPS+ with good defense in center field and 19 stolen bases. There was a time last season when you could have made a solid MVP case for Victorino, before he cooled off a little bit and Matt Kemp and Ryan Braun pulled away from the pack. Still, I knew he wouldn’t hit like that again, and I keep trying to remind myself of that when I’m disappointed in his play thus far this season. His power numbers are way down, his batting average is down, and the result is, he’s gone from being one of the best center fielders in the national league to being kind of average.

Anyway, it could be because he’s hurt, which we just found out moments ago, or because two months isn’t a very long time in baseball terms and he’s just had a bad few weeks. Either way, Muzz, I’m with you. He hasn’t been awful, but he just seems kind of disappointing.

@little_chicka: “how come when i look up #crashbag some girl from MA comes up on the side (before bill) ? who is she? LOL”

I found myself wondering the same thing, actually, a few weeks back, and was kind of embarrassed when I figured it out. So I decided to call this the “Crash Bag,” as a portmanteau of “Crashburn” and “Mailbag,” as you might expect. Well, as it turns out, there’s someone named Ashleigh, who is from Massachusetts and hasn’t tweeted in over two years, whose Twitter name is @crashbag. I don’t know who she is, or if she’s been getting unnecessary and unwanted traffic since we’ve started, but if so, I apologize.

Just a reminder that you can send your questions in via Twitter at #crashbag (not to @crashbag, the girl from Massachusetts, mind you), or to me directly at @atomicruckus. You can also write in via email at crashbaumann@gmail.com, though if you do that, let me know if you’ve got a Twitter name or some other identifier (John from Germantown, for instance) that you want to go by in the post. Check in throughout the weekend for our continuing Phillies coverage, and I’ll see you next time.

The Hunt for Red Choochtober

The turning point in this evening’s game was undoubtedly the pinch-hit, two-run, game-tying home run by Carlos Ruiz. Go ahead and re-read that sentence and tell me if any of those qualifiers can be changed to make it more awesome. Maybe if it had been a walk-off, but let’s not get greedy. Anyway, His Royal Chorchitude has been nursing a hamstring injury that’s prevented him from catching so far this week, so having him pinch-hit caused a little bit of discussion between Phillies manager Charlie Manuel and his coaching staff. I actually have for you a transcript of that discussion.

Captain 2nd Rank Viktor Manuel: This game is seven bloody innings old. Sitting at the bottom of the division like an idle schoolboy.
Starshina Mike Fontenot: Passing two out in the top of the seventh.
Captain Manuel: Send up  Schneider!
Starshina Brian Schneider: Sending up Schneider.
Captain Manuel: Inquire with the training staff about the possibility of going to Ruiz as a pinch-hitter. (lights cigarette) Seven innings. The entire division is after them.
Starshina Brian Schneider:  Safe and secure at second base.
Captain Lieutenant Yevgeni Mackanin: Captain, training staff reports Ruiz as a pinch-hitter possible…but not recommended.
Captain Manuel: (stubs out cigarette, thinks a moment) Go to Ruiz as a pinch-hitter.
Lieutenant Mackanin: Captain! What is it? Where are we going?
Captain Manuel: We’re going to kill a Met, Yevgeni. We’re going to kill Bobby Parnell.

Crash Bag, Vol. 3: Niners vs. Logicians

I’m not even going to bother with an intro this week, because we’re leading right off with what is unquestionably the best question anyone’s asked in three weeks of the Crash Bag.

@Wzeiders: “How closely does this Phillies team resemble the Deep Space Niners?”

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Deep Space Niners, it’s the baseball team made up of the crew of the eponymous space station in the seventh season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. That episode, “Take Me Out to the Holosuite,” was unbelievably silly, perhaps a necessary diversion from the throes of the Dominion War, one of the darkest storylines of the darkest Star Trek series. Anyway, Captain Sisko, commander of the station and a huge baseball fan, is challenged to a game by Captain Solok, a Vuclan Starfleet academy classmate of Sisko’s who disdains humans in general and Sisko in particular.

Solok figures that if he and his Vulcan crew can beat Sisko’s team at Sisko’s own game, he’ll prove his superiority once and for all. Hijinks ensue, as do a bunch of interesting bits of trivia about the episode.

But to answer William’s question, yes. A lot. For starters, the strength of the Phillies’ team is its starting pitching, and the Niners’ pitcher, Sisko’s son Jake (played in the show by Kenny Lofton‘s nephew, as it happens), was by far the best player on the team. One can make parallels between the intensity of Worf and the intensity of Roy Halladay, and between the size, agility, and acrobatic defensive play of Ezri Dax and Freddy Galvis. Dr. Bashir, who comes in to play second halfway through the game, is a genetically enhanced superman, and one could make the argument that Chase Utley, who–we hope–will come in halfway through the season to play second base, is also superhuman.

But most of all, they remind me of the Phillies because we’ve seen a lot of this:

./Star Trek: Deep Space Nine/season7/baseball1.gif

So if you’re looking for a reason to hope for a team that’s long on pitching and has a lineup full of people who can’t really hit, don’t think of the 2010 Giants–think of the 2375 Deep Space Niners.

@SoMuchForPathos: “If you were tasked with writing a bildungsroman about any Phillie or IronPig, who would it be and what would happen?”

(googles “bildungsroman”)

Oh, a coming-of-age story. That I can do.

I’m pretty sure I’m going to try to write a book about Domonic Brown at some point. But for now, I think I’d do one of those semi-messianic science fiction stories in the vein of Harry Potter, Star Wars, Ender’s Game, and I think you could make the argument that Dune was a coming-of-age story of sorts, though I’ll admit it’s probably been 10 years since I’ve read the book. And I tried to watch the movie a while back, and it was unspeakably horrible. My now-fiancee loves Dune and I was all up to watch Jose Ferrer, Patrick Stewart, and Kyle McLachlan, but I had never seen a David Lynch movie before, and Lord Child, was it tedious.

Anyway, I think in my bildungsroman, Carlos Ruiz is the youngest son of a spaceship mechanic who is thrust into the midst of an interstellar war between the humans and a hostile alien race. When the aliens destroy the asteroid his family lives on, he volunteers to become a starship pilot, eventually rises to command his own ship, then goes on a suicide mission to rescue the president of Earth, succeeding and surviving in the process.

In this story, I think Brian Wilson would play the evil alien leader, with Yadier Molina as his underling, whose ugliness is matched only by the brutality of his men. Roy Halladay would be the president, who is betrayed and captured by a duplicitous alien envoy, played by Cody Ross. Ryan Howard is the commander-in-chief of the human starfleet, and Chase Utley is the grizzled starship commander who trains young Chooch but is heroically and heart-rendingly killed in battle.

Cliff Lee is the mouthy, emotional first officer of Utley’s ship, who ascends to command on Utley’s death and sends Chooch on the mission to rescue Halladay. Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence are the absentminded, hyperactive engineering savants who run the engine room, and Jimmy Rollins is the smooth-talking commander of the ship’s fighter squadron.

Jonathan Papelbon plays the smarmy space station commander with a heart of gold who sells Chooch the access codes to the alien defense network.

And David Wright is the beautiful alien woman Chooch falls for, but can never make his love known until the war is over.

Be right back–gotta go write a bildungsroman.

@agent_neon: “My roommate makes “meow” noises every time Ty Wigginton does anything at all on the field. He thinks ‘Ty Wigginton’ sounds like something you’d name a cute little kitten. So I guess this leads to two questions: 1) What is wrong with my roommate? 2) What animals would you associate with the Phillies players?”

1) He’s broaching the topic of getting a kitten in a non-threatening fashion. Buy him a kitten. But make sure it hunts mice. My cat doesn’t hunt mice, which makes her kind of like a bottle that doesn’t hold water–kind of useless.

2) Let’s just do this man-by-man:

  • Carlos Ruiz: Koala.
  • Ryan Howard: Bison. Bison are one of my favorite animals, and I think the Big Piece would make a great bison.
  • Chase Utley: Jack Russell terrier. Not all that big, but kind of nasty, even though everyone thinks he’s cute.
  • Jimmy Rollins: Sea lion. I’ve said this before, but if there were something that was to a sea lion what a dog is to a wolf, I’d have that pet and move to the beach. I want some sort of amphibious predator.
  • Placido Polanco: Beluga whale. Go ahead, try to argue.
  • Juan Pierre: Mouse
  • Shane Victorino: Woodpecker
  • Hunter Pence: Penguin
  • Roy Halladay: Chimera
  • Cliff Lee: Some sort of herding dog, I think. A collie, maybe?
  • Cole Hamels: Some sort of falcon
  • Joe Blanton: Slow loris
  • Kyle Kendrick: Echidna
  • Antonio Bastardo: Scorpion
  • Jonathan Papelbon: A bloodhound in an argyle sweater
  • Freddy Galvis: Ocelot
  • Ty Wigginton: He’s too big to be a regular housecat, no matter what his name might suggest about kittens. I could see him being a pillbug, maybe. Either way, I don’t think he’s particularly feline.

@AntsinIN: “For 2013-2016 which OF would you prefer: Brown/Pence/Vic or Brown/Hamilton/random AAAA guy? Assume similar cost.”

Oh, look at Mr. Serious with his serious question. Really I’d rather not have either. The similar cost thing might be a stretch, because once Pence hits free agency, I think he and Victorino will cost more together than Hamilton and the random quad-A dude. But assuming that, it depends on the quad-A guy. This scenario precludes the possibility of Tyson Gillies or some other minor league outfielder coming good, or the Phillies making a shrewd scrap heap pickup on the order of 2007 Jayson Werth. Though with the Phillies’ recent track record of not developing prospects or being shrewd, maybe we can safely assume that the quad-A guy will be replacement level.

All other things being equal, I think I’d rather have Pence and Victorino than Hamilton and a Laynce Nix type. I think we’re seeing the best of Hamilton right now, and while he’s in a conversation with A-Rod and Barry Bonds for most naturally gifted position player I’ve ever seen, he’ll be 32 at the start of next season, and I’d be inclined to stay away from a 32-year-old center fielder who has only once played more than 133 games in a season, no matter how well he’s hitting.

I was going to bring up this post about how Hamilton is swinging more or less indiscriminately right about now, and getting away with it because he’s hitting everything he sees. But that doesn’t have as much oomph as a criticism when the alternatives are Pence and Victorino. Anyway, it boils down to this: Hamilton would have to be better than both Pence and Victorino combined, and I don’t see that happening, due to aging and injury, over the next four years. Victorino and Pence each individually had a higher rWAR total than Hamilton last year. No matter what, I can see Pence and Victorino being serviceable regulars going forward, 2-3 WAR players. Given the Phillies’ organizational philosophy of paying 2-WAR players like 5-WAR players, it only makes sense that they’d remain here going forward.

The only way Hamilton/Joe Average is a better play is if Hamilton remains a 6-WAR player or so well into his late 30s, and I’d take the under on that line.

@DashTreyhorn: “Better name? Gauntlett Eldemire or Benedict Cumberbatch?”

Balthazar Getty.

@TheBridgerBowl: “If the 2012 phillies were going to have an ultimate showdown type fight, who would prevail?”

Let’s imagine a serious of one-on-one fights, not a melee, because in that case I could imagine everyone just sort of whaling on each other until everyone’s dead except the fastest guy, and I don’t think “Shane Victorino” is the answer we’re looking for.

Hand-to-hand, no weapons, this would be interesting, because to my knowledge, none of the Phillies have any advanced hand-to-hand combat training. If I’m wrong, let me know, but it’s not like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who’s a 46th-degree black belt in something or other and once blindsided AC Milan teammate Rodney Strasser with a roundhouse kick in practice, is on the roster. Ibra also got into a fight with then-teammate Oguchi Onyewu at practice once. Ibrahimovic is listed 192 cm tall and 84 kg, which is 6-foot-4 and 185 pounds, though he looks even bigger. Onyewu, being American, is measured in feet and pounds, and stands 6-foot-4 and weighs in at 210. Both of them are soccer players, which means they’re quick and neither has an ounce of fat on him. No, really, you break that fight up. I’m right behind you.

Anyway, with that in mind, I’d be inclined to think brute strength and reach would be the qualities that do you best in a one-on-one match. Assuming everyone’s healthy, you have to like the biggest guys: that’s Ryan Howard (6-4, 240) and Roy Halladay (6-6, 230). Jose Contreras is 6-4, 255, but he’s too old and creaky to last long. I think he gets dismantled by a quick, scrappy counterpuncher like Utley or Cliff Lee. Ditto the younger, but still slow Chad Qualls. I think on the other end, John Mayberry has a unique blend of size and quickness–he’s got some foot speed and a long reach at 6-foot-6, and I think Hunter Pence, listed at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, might be the best bet to knock off Howard or Halladay.

I think it comes down to three guys: Halladay for his reach and endurance–ain’t nobody going to outlast him; Howard for his knockout power and thick build. For all we talk about his body type and big first basemen not aging well, Howard isn’t fat like Mo Vaughn. He’s got that Blind Side left tackle build–big torso, long arms and legs, huge in the thighs and butt. I think he could outpunch anyone on the team and take some punishment on the body as well.

But here’s what I like about Pence. He’s giving up at least 10 pounds, probably more, to Halladay, and 20 pounds, probably more, to Howard, but I think he can stick and run, at least for a while. Remember that episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia where Mac and Dennis enter Charlie in an underground fighting ring because of his amazing ability to take physical punishment? I think Pence could do that. I think if he could avoid the big left hand from Howard, he could prevail in the end.

That said, if the Iron Pigs are allowed to play, Phillippe Aumont, despite being a native French-speaker who wears glasses, would probably destroy everyone on the 25-man roster. He’s listed at 6-foot-7 and 255 pounds and throws bullets–it stands to reason he could drop a decent punch as well. Plus he grew up in Canada, so he probably played some hockey and fought growing up.

Thanks for your questions, boys and girls. We almost didn’t get enough questions this time around, so if you want to see this feature continue weekly, write in for next week using the #crashbag hashtag or to crashbaumann@gmail.com.

Until then, have a pleasant Memorial Day weekend, and go Phillies.

 

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.