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.

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.

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.

 

Crash Bag, Vol. 2: Battleship and Chooch

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

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

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

Let’s roll.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(cracks knuckles)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think that’s a pretty solid sample.

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

Crash Bag, Vol. 1: Trade Everyone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time for a lighter question.

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

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

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

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

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

Now, on to @Giving_Chase’s second question.

“What would you eat for your last meal?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

@vansantc “Do you love me?”

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

Enjoy the weekend’s games, everyone.