Crash Bag, Vol. 99: Baby’s First Democratic System

Gregg Easterbrook once wrote (and I’m paraphrasing, because if I have to sift through a billion TMQ columns to find the exact wording, I will end my life, so help me God): “Writing a book is like hitting yourself in the head with a hammer: it feels so good when you stop.”

I’m writing a book, set to come out in November, ranking the 20 greatest athletes in Philadelphia sports history, and for the next month or so, I’ll be concentrating on finishing that, to the peril of any sort of writing I do for fun, including Crashburn. After 99 weeks of uninterrupted service, I toyed with the idea of just lining up five or six guest columns to fill the space, but what comes back in May will be more purposeful than what you’re reading now, which has largely been the product of inertia. So for the last time, at least for a while, I’ll take your questions.

@Hegelbon: “if the Phillies had to be run like a social political system, which would you choose? I’d pick oligarchy.”

That’s kind of how they’re run right now, isn’t it? One person, or group of people, has all the power and delegates it to a bureaucracy that includes the baseball ops people, the PR people, event planners…it’s not a terrible way to run an organization, and a big reason I’m such a fan of career civil service in actual government: we elect the politicians, who (in theory) reflect our goals as an electorate and translate those goals (national security, economic prosperity, and so on) into achievable policy objectives, then turn to the army of wonks they employ to actually carry out those objectives. Because politicians don’t know dick about how things actually work–wonks do, because they do this for a living.

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Crash Bag, Vol. 98: Carrying Asche Around

I was thinking about heist movies the other day. Heist movies are one of my three favorite genres of movie, along with movies about journalistic ethics and movies where a small group of guys go to do something during World War II. Now, I’ve seen bad examples of the other two, but the worst heist movie I’ve ever seen was Ocean’s 12, which wasn’t horrible in absolute terms so much as it was very clearly half-assed compared to the other two installments in the series. Have I been lucky, or is it just impossible to make a bad heist movie?

But that’s my question. What are yours?

@Living4Laughs: “As a fan of Jimmy Rollins is it best to block out the negative media attention and non fans’ feelings? It bothers me.”

I think that’s what I’m going to have to do, because I tried explaining to someone that Rollins isn’t actually conspicuously selfish and lazy and all that other specious, unfalsifiable (and I believe, racially coded) nonsense that gets thrown around, and even if he is, he’s the best shortstop in team history anyway, so how big a deal can his lack of ostentatious hustle really be? Let’s look at two other infielders: Nick Punto routinely dives into first base, which actually makes him slower to the bag, while Robinson Cano actually does routinely dog it down to first base. Like, it shows up in the numbers and everything. And I love Punto, but he’s a career utility infielder, while Cano has missed a total of 14 games since 2007. Chase Utley has missed fewer than 14 games in a season only three times in his career. And apart from Utley, Cano is the best second baseman since…Roberto Alomar? Joe Morgan? Cano’s going to the Hall of Goddamn Fame is my point, whether he busts his ass on a hard grounder to second or not.

Rollins isn’t that good, but if he has crippling intangible issues (which again, is a premise I won’t grant until and unless I see even specific accusations, let alone evidence, that he’s conspicuously and detrimentally apathetic), they don’t hurt the team unless they’re impairing the team’s ability to score runs or prevent its opponent from doing the same. Both of which he’s done better than any other shortstop in Phillies history, better than all but a handful of players in Phillies history and better than all but a handful of contemporary shortstops.

So like I said, I’m done arguing this.

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Crash Bag, Vol. 97: Jelly is Great

Tonight, on the Crash Bag: The Phillies fail to score, a man asks a record-breaking question, and I distribute breakup advice.

@asigal22: “Will the Phils be as bad in the regular season as they have been in Spring Training. I know Spring Training is stupid.”

Relax.

I mean, yes, the Phillies are going to be bad, but relax. We’ve gotten so used to the Phillies winning, or expecting to win, that we’ve lost the ability to be relaxed about them losing. The lost 89 games last year, they’ll probably lose about that many this year, and we’ll give up this ridiculous delusion of being able to compete with the Braves and Nationals by Flag Day. So what are they going to do about it? Continue reading…

Crash Bag, Vol. 96: This Train

I wonder if anyone from Spain has ever written in to the blog. I’d be surprised if that was the case. Because, you know…

@Bradleycs1: “what do you think AJ Burnett’s reaction to the Phillies implementing defensive shifts will be?”

I know he was unhappy with the Pirates shifting last season, but he’ll deal with it, because he’s a professional, and the Pirates shifted their infielders more last season than just about anybody, one of the consequences of such things being that Pittsburgh won 94 games and Burnett got to start a game in the playoffs. The shift is one of many developments in baseball strategy and tactics that I really, really don’t like from an aesthetic point of view, even though I recognize that it’s smart. For instance, strikeouts are on the rise as teams realize the most reliable way to get outs is to have pitchers who miss bats, while also, somewhat paradoxically, realizing that strikeouts for hitters aren’t terrible if they’re part of an approach that also leads to deep counts, home runs and walks. Meanwhile, stolen bases have also gone out of style to a certain degree, since the high break-even point makes it more important for would-be basestealers to pick their spots more wisely. Continue reading…

Crash Bag, Vol. 95: American Virtue

@jimmyfricke: “Should Phillies fans be upset about Cruz being signed for 1 year 8 mil while we’re stuck with Byrd for 2 years 16 mil”

Absolutely not. Cruz is a 33-year-old power-before-hit corner outfielder who produces no value on the bases or in the field. Those guys tend to have a couple things in common: they’re overrated in their primes, because they produce homers and RBI, which are flashy, but nothing else. The other thing is that when the bat starts to slip even a little, the whole package falls apart. Look for Nelson Cruz comps and you’ll find names like Juan Gonzalez and Henry Rodriguez, and when those guys started to slip, things got ugly fast. Byrd is older, and didn’t have Cruz’s prime with the bat, but he was, at one point in the past, a good athlete, and I’m not convinced Byrd won’t be better than Cruz in 2014.

The other thing is Cruz costs a draft pick, and for a guy who makes you a 79-win team when John Mayberry makes you a 76-win team, that’s not even worth a second-rounder. The Orioles were in need of a DH and have a better shot at contending than the Phillies do, so this signing makes more sense for them–and even then, I’m not in love with it–but signing Nelson Cruz for a battle for third place is exactly the kind of pothole-in-front-of-the-rebuild move Ruben Amaro deserves credit for not making. The past two offseasons.

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Crash Bag, Vol. 94: Ben Wetzler Lightning Round

NBA trade deadline, labor strife, Little Big League…we’ve got it all this week.

@truelladelphia: “How great is Sam Hinkie?”

Pretty great. Early in the season, I had an expectation of getting at least one first-round pick (either this year or next) for Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes, but that stopped being realistic a while ago, thanks to the quality of this year’s draft and the NBA’s inscrutable player movement rules, which gridlocked the draft pick market to a certain extent. Hawes and Turner were both going to walk as free agents this summer anyway, so getting literally anything for them was a win. I would’ve liked to see Hawes go to either Oklahoma City or the Clippers, where I think he could’ve played a significant role on a title contender as a rotation big, but Hinkie got a return on Hawes and Turner while not panic trading Thaddeus Young for 50 cents on the dollar. Second-round NBA draft picks are one of the most useless commodities in sports, but this is where the Astros comparison I’ve been harping on all year comes in–if you take over a team without serious assets, you bide your time by placing a bunch of long-shot bets until you can get some assets. Anyway, Hinkie got rid of three veterans (including Lavoy Allen) for which he had no use and took on a net of either five or six (almost certainly six) second-round draft picks. A smart team can get one rotation player out of six second-round picks, or trade them for something else. This is the guy trading the red paper clip for the house.

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Crash Bag, Vol. 92: Past Tense Utley

Let’s kick the tires and light the fires.

@bxe1234: “Which would you most like to try: luge/skeleton/bobsled? Also, if you could two-man luge with a Phil, who would it be?”

I’m terrified of speed. I’ve never gone skiing and probably will never go skiing for this reason. So I’ll take bobsled, because that’s the one where I can push like a lunatic and sit in the back with my head down until the whole thing’s over. And as far as two-man luge is concerned, I want to be on the bottom so I can’t see where I’m going and have an excuse to just shut my eyes and scream. Ben Revere is very light so he wouldn’t crush me in the high-gee turns, and he seems like a patient man who wouldn’t stab me to death after I’d been screaming in his ear for a 75-second trip down the chute. Continue reading…

Crash Bag, Vol. 91: Winter Storm Neymar

So I’ve been encountering a phenomenon recently where journalists gripe about how, in the context of a postgame interview, “Talk about…” isn’t a real question. And it’s not. “Talk about how Cole Hamels got out of that sixth-inning jam” is not literally a question. But I don’t know why this is an issue–beat reporting isn’t Jeopardy. Everything doesn’t need to be in the form of a question. The object of the postgame scrum is to get the best, most relevant sound byte you can, and if you’re focusing on how the reporter generates that response (which will likely run without the question that prompted it), you’re reaching into “hilariously missing the point” territory.

@LeftysCurve: “Your projected starting outfield come, say, May 1″

Pretty sure it’s Brown, Revere and Byrd, unless someone gets hurt. I can’t imagine that changing based on the preseason and a month’s worth of games. Revere and Brown are both cheap and played quite well last year, and Byrd just got inked to a multi-year contract after having a better 2013 than either of them. This is probably the most stable outfield situation the Phillies have had to start a season since 2010 or so? After that, Raul Ibanez started sucking, Jayson Werth walked and Domonic Brown came up, so things got a little unpredictable. The earliest–again, barring injury–that I can see this changing is if Byrd gets flipped at the deadline. Continue reading…

Crash Bag, Vol. 90: Naming Your Baby

Greetings. Let’s talk about how great it is that Bobby Abreu is on the Phillies again.

@Wzeiders: “how great is it that Bobby Abreu is a Phillie again, even if it’s just a fleeting dream I’m scared to wake from?”

It’s pretty great, I tell ya. It’s pretty great. I try not to swear above the break in these posts, but my official position on Bobby Abreu is that if you don’t love him, or at least recognize what a great player he was, you can fuck off and die.

Go ahead. I’ll wait.

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