Crash Bag, Vol. 17: Sokath, His Eyes Uncovered!

College football season started last night as my South Carolina Gamecocks escaped with a 17-13 win at Vanderbilt. I have a strange relationship with football. As a  total package, football probably ranks fourth on my list of favorite sports, behind soccer, ice hockey and, of course, baseball. But nothing gets me angrier than college football. I don’t know why. I think part of it is that I know less about football than I do about baseball, so where I can step back and have some perspective when the Phillies lose, I panic and scream and break things when the Gamecocks even give up a first down. Add to that the inherently visceral nature of the game and I felt like I should tell you that in case I accidentally severed an artery punching through a window during the USC-UGA game. I should probably will the Crash Bag to someone in that case.

But USC won, and I live. So let’s get on with it, shall we?

@4Who4What: “Describe the 2012 Phillies season as if you’re explaining it to the Tamarians from ‘Darmok’ “

Excellent question. This is one of my favorite episodes of television ever. Not because it’s so entertaining, or moving, or well-written, though I might list those sometime later on. It’s because the conflict of this episode is so creative: the Enterprise encounters a race whose language is built on cultural references, and when no one gets the references, they can’t understand each other. If you’d like to know more go here.

Anyway, I identify with these folks–many of my friends and I have abandoned traditional methods of communication and resorted entirely to movie references: Independence Day, Tombstone, Shawshank Redemption, Apollo 13 and Spy Game foremost among them. When people ask what we’re talking about, I’ve said more than once, “We communicate entirely using cultural references, like that episode of Star Trek…

Anyway, the Tamarians have an appropriate saying: “Shaka, when the walls fell!” to indicate failure. I think that tells us everything we need to know.

@Giving_Chase: “What’s your favorite movie? Which movie do you hate that everyone else likes?”

Up front: “Favorite” is not the same as “best.” I said for years and years that my favorite movie was Independence Day. But last winter, Jeff Marek and Greg Wyshynski started talking up a hockey movie called Goon on their eponymous podcast, and in the months that followed, Goon became 1) the first movie I ever saw in a theater alone 2) the first DVD I ever pre-ordered 3) my favorite movie of all time. It’s absurdly funny, self-aware, topical (because it addresses violence in sports, specifically fighting in hockey) and sweet. It’s completely unrealistic about the on-ice aspects of hockey, but it understands what we love about sports perhaps more than any other sports movie I’ve seen. Maybe Friday Night Lights gets it better. But it’s smarter than any movie starring Seann William Scott and Jay Baruchel has any right to be. I love it so much that I made Xavier Laflamme my Twitter background. I love him so much.

As far as a movie I hate that everyone else likes…I like the Coen brothers a lot, but The Hudsucker Proxy didn’t do it for me. Not outright hatred–more of a “meh.” But I did hate both Adaptation and Being John Malkovich with a passion rivaled only by my own hatred for FC Barcelona and the Atlanta Braves. I love playing around with first-person narration, but that can’t be the whole ballgame. I don’t know how Charlie Kaufman rode that gimmick so long, but it makes me want to hit him with a snow shovel.

@_magowan: “the Yankees can’t be serious with their choices for the AAA SWB team re-naming, can they?”

I meant to get to this one last week. For those of you who care about such things, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees are in the process of changing their name. As much as I love the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, something just feels wrong about the Phillies’ triple-A affiliate being anything other than the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons. I don’t know if it was that way forever, but it was that way when I started following baseball and it seems weird to be otherwise.

But given that, and given that we’re not changing them back to the Red Barons, we need something quirky because it’s a minor league team. I’m really over the idea that names for sports teams having to be somehow menacing, as if the San Diego State Aztecs, for instance, were going to build a huge pyramid and sacrifice an opponent on it. We’re not seven-year-old boys. We can have descriptive nicknames.

And naming the minor league team is at best lazy (I guess Scrantonites are still “Yankees”) and at worst misleading (people in Reading are not “Philadelphians” any more than Port St. Lucie, Fla., is “Metropolitan). But still, we’re afraid to go off the beaten path with or major league teams, which is a shame. I’d have loved to see the unstoppable radiation monster of outrage that would have been unleashed had the Seattle Supersonics rechristened themselves the “Bombers” when they moved.

But, yeah, the list is stupid. The only one I like even a little bit is the “Fireflies.” Anything that lights up fits with the “Electric City” and it has a little bit of that mountaintop wilderness feeling, which might be unfair. Really, the only places in Pennsylvania I don’t view as weird, rural and otherwise Upstate-New-York-like are Philadelphia, Pittsburgh (which is an assortment of nasty people who love bridges but are afraid of tunnels) and Easton (which I associate with crayons). But Scranton? It’s either a place you pass on the way to the Poconos or the home of Parade Day.

Given my experience in Scranton, I’d change the team name to the “Blur,” because that’s all I saw the past couple times I’ve been there. Apparently Scranton has a massive St. Patrick’s Day parade every year, and since I moved back to the area, Paul (who went to U of S) has taken me up there to partake in the festivities. I say “apparently” because I’ve never actually seen the parade. The first year I went up there, I woke up on the day of the parade at 7:30, changed into my green Halladay t-shirt and went outside to call my girlfriend. When I came in, I was handed breakfast: one pancake and a shot of bourbon. And so it went from there.

So to me, Scranton is what people tell me New Orleans is like on Mardi Gras, except cold. And while “Scranton/Wilkes-Barre River of Vomit and Green Paint” does have a certain panache, I doubt you’d be able to fit that on a uniform. I’d be okay with “Fireflies” if they did some sort of black-white-and-yellow color scheme, maybe if the buttons on their jerseys glowed in the dark. I guess the only thing I can say about the other nicknames is that there are no Dunder-Mifflin jokes. I think we can all be grateful for that.

@soundofphilly: “who would win in a fight: Buster the BlueClaw or the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor”

Crazy Hot Dog Vendor by default. Buster does not have claws. Your mascot is a crab, and yet your mascot is some amorphous Youppi knockoff. I get that it has to be kid-friendly and furry, but you need a claw. In all fights, the claw is the tie-breaker.

@lexuhbooz: “How many pimples do you think the girl with the lipstick all over her face woke up with the next morning?”

That’s quite something. It’s possible that she’ll get several pimples, though having no idea how lipstick interacts with skin (I’ve worn women’s clothing before but never gone for the makeup) I suspect I might be the wrong person to ask about this.

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of painting one’s face. I’ve done it a few times in college (I joked at the time that SEC football games are the only place where one would fit in wearing either a cocktail dress or jorts and full-torso paint), and most recently at the USA-Turkey soccer match that took place at the Linc the day of the Roy Halladay Perfect Game. I had a little red-white-and-blue on my face, but a friend of mine had a star drawn on her face that covered, if I remember correctly, one cheek from her mouth to her eye. And as a relatively pale person who spent most of the day in the searing sun, she got a paint tan line. In the shape of a star. On her face.

So given the choice between pimples or a funny tan line on my face, I’d take the pimples. Don’t wear partial face paint to afternoon games when it’s sunny.

@hdrubin: “Question: Should the next Phillies manager be a badass dirt-kickin’ rabble-rousin’ rageball? Or another grandpa?”

I’d rather have a nerd. Joe Maddon is, for my money, the best manager in the game and it’s not even close. I’d rather have someone who’s unafraid to think outside the box and evaluate the game through rational rather than normative means. I think there’s a greater chance of getting such a manager with a phlegmatic ex-jock than a choleric ex-jock. So considering that often the best course of action for a manager is to do nothing, I’d rather have a grandpa than a “badass dirt-kickin’ rabble-rousin’ rageball” as you so artfully described him. Whoever’s going to be more chill.

@threwouttime: “what color is a mirror?”

Whoa. Reflective? Is “reflective” a color? (bong hit)

@Caoimhin89: “Why is Kyle Kendrick such an enigma?”

Well, he’s not. Because he’s neither a Nazi code machine nor a Russian hockey player. Kendrick has been really good this season, particularly in the past two months. Given the small sample size and arbitrary endpoint caveats, Kendrick has posted a .585 OPS against, a K/BB ratio greater than 3:1 and a 2.09 ERA. That’s not bad. On the broadcast yesterday, they were talking about how Kendrick has changed his approach to the cutter, and that might have something to do with it, or it might be small sample size and arbitrary endpoints. But as much as I gripe about his contract, you don’t have to be that good to beat the value on 2 years, $7-and-change million. Kendrick is striking more guys out than ever, and the difference between a 4.6 K/9 guy (2011) and a 6.4 K/9 guy (2012) is the difference between being a taxi squad guy and a decent back-end starter. We’ve been so spoiled by having eight different starting pitchers post good seasons since 2008–three of whom made Cy Young noise–that I think we lose a little bit of perspective. A guy who can throw 180 innings with a 4.50 ERA and never get hurt isn’t that bad out of the back of a rotation, and if Kendrick can be that, we should be happy.

@JonCheddar: “what is your opinion of the best movie line ever? Non- “You Knew Marcus Aurelius?” division, obviously”

Gladiator has a bunch of them. This is a tough question. Anything Malcolm Tucker says in In the Loop  has to be up there, because anytime you create a political farce as an excuse for a skinny Scottish man to yell at people for 90 minutes, you’re going to have some good lines. Ocean’s Eleven has a few good ones, as well, but most of those are the Clooney/Pitt back-and-forth. I’m also a big fan of the “Fuck me? Fuck you, you redneck sonofabitch!” from Primary Colors.

But the line that popped into my head is from Serenity. You’ll find funnier lines, or even more emotionally significant lines in that film, and compared to the entire Firefly oeuvre, it doesn’t stick out. But “No more running. I aim to misbehave,” always resonated with me. I’m not sure why.

@treblaw: “if this season were a rock opera, what songs would be featured to tell the story?”

I hate jukebox musicals. Whenever you twist the plot and characters to fit the songs, your plot and characters will suffer. Glee found this out in a hurry, as did Across the Universe, the Ludovico Treatment of 21st century cinema.

But for the Phillies, we have the following:

We end with some topical humor.

@Billy_Yeager: “Who would you put in an invisible chair and what would you ask them?”

I’d like to put Ruben Amaro in an invisible chair and I’d like to ask him to stay there and not move until the Phillies find a better general manager.

@bxe1234: “Are you more or less likely to see the new Eastwood baseball flic now that we know he has dimentia?”

No. I wasn’t going to see a movie about a nasty old man who’s unable to adapt to the changing world around him before and I’m certainly not going to see it now. In case you were wondering, this is what he’s talking about:

I don’t really enjoy watching cranky old people do anything, and the combination of lionizing old-school baseball, what looks like a ham-fisted love story between two actors I actually like and the involvement of the Atlanta Braves…well those three things constitute three strikes.

Have a happy Labor Day weekend. Save me a burger and a beer wherever you wind up grilling–I will return and you do not know the day or the hour.

Crash Bag, Vol. 16: Very Little Baseball, Lots of Digressions

Ding-dong-string-strong-bing-bong:

I was thinking the other day about how funny I thought Homestar Runner was back in the day. Then I started thinking about how only a very special set of very nerdy people born between, say…1984 and 1989 probably even know what that is. [EDIT: A bunch of people born before 1984, led by All-Pro commenter LTG, have written to management to express their displeasure at my insinuation that people born before 1984 wouldn’t know Homestar Runner. This is not the case. I was wrong, and I apologize.] Which is so bizarre. For me, there are at least three  Strong Bad Emails (the real gold standard in mailbag columns, whatever you may say about Katie Baker or Drew Magary) that are still indelibly part of the public lexicon: techno, dragon, and death metal. Maybe more depending on your own experience. But then I realized that there are college students who don’t remember the Clinton presidency.

This isn’t so much about me feeling old as it is a statement on how internet culture has taken the process of pop culture obsolescence and given it a big heaping spoonful of methamphetamine. So while some pop culture fads stuck around for years, now they fade into distant memory after a few weeks. Or so it seems to me, at least. I could be completely off-base. This was mostly an excuse to work Strong Bad into the post, so I’ll stop screwing around now.

But if I’m right, I have some good news: at this rate, we’re, like, 6 months away from forgetting Danys Baez ever existed at all.

Here I go once again with the email. Every week, I hope it’s from a female.

Chris (via email, edited slightly for formatting): “First time, long time.. my question is about how the SS/3B lineup construction could look next year. 

  • Option A: SS: Jimmy Rollins/3B: Poo poo platter of Frandsen/Polanco or some other slightly above average option available vs. 
  • Option B: SS: Galvis 3B: David Wright
 Assume you could unload Jimmy (and all his salary) and sign Wright at a standard RAJ overpay (~20 million a year). How would you evaluate Option A vs. Option B? Assume that Jimmy would have a “rebound” year and the poo poo platter at 3B would give you a solid combined ~3 WAR for the year. 
 
Thank you very much. If this is a crappy question please let me know. I’d prefer not to ask bad questions in the future.”

Aww, man, not from a female. Actually, “Chris” could be a girl, as in Chris Evert, who I must confess is still rather attractive in my mind even as she approaches 60. What were we talking about again?

Oh, yeah, the left side of the infield next year. It’s not a crappy question, and I like your creative thinking. However, I don’t think this is a realistic one-or-the-other choice, the first of which is cost. Rollins makes $11 million next year, and if you keep Galvis and sign two scrub third basemen to minor league and/or ML minimum deals (whether they’re Placido Polanco and Kevin Frandsen or Placido Domingo and Jonathan Franzen doesn’t matter to me), that totals about $13 million for a starting shortstop, a capable defensive backup in Galvis, even if he can’t hit, and 650 plate appearances’ worth of taxi squad dreck at third. Figure a shade under 4 fWAR for Rollins (which is what he did last year and what he’s on pace for this year), and maybe a win or two between Galvis (who, for all his defense still can’t hit worth a damn) and the Tibble Twins at third. So let’s call it somewhere between four and six fWAR for that left side of the infield.

Compare that to what you’d pay for Wright, who’s making $15 million this year and is likely in for a substantial raise. Given the paucity of options at third base leaguewide and the sorry state of the position (Polanco is over replacement level, thanks in large part to his defense, but he still goes months between extra-base hits and has a .278 wOBA), we might expect to pay $20 million a year or even more. Add in another million to split between Galvis and a backup and option B could cost as much as $10 million a year more than option A. $10 million next year goes a long way. Even $8 million could get you B.J. Upton (my choice for free agent center fielder) from the knees up or so. So it’s not Rollins/Galvis/3B mystery meat vs. Wright/Galvis. It’s Rollins/Galvis/3B mystery meat/Upton or Pagan vs. Wright/Galvis/Mayberry/bench bat (if it’s Upton and not Pagan). And if you’re signing Wright long-term, you’re probably getting a legitimate MVP candidate for now, but you’re also committing north of $20 million AAV to a guy with longstanding injury issues through his mid-to-late-30s. In a vacuum, I don’t think that would put me off of paying Wright big completely, but it’s just another thing that can go wrong.

Another thing: Frandsen is a replacement-level player, no matter how much everyone here (including me) has enjoyed his recent play. I’m more inclined to believe in the taxi squad player he’s been up to this season than to build my church upon the rock of 85 plate appearances at age 30. I mean, he’s had a great month, thanks to a BABIP 100 points above his career mark, but counting on him to be anything more than replacement-level next season would be foolish in the extreme.

Which is okay with me. Third base and shortstop are kind of weak positions in major league baseball at the moment, with a few stars at the top, then, to quote Ryan Sommers at his literary finest, “batless fleck of roster garbage.” Among such garbage you’ll find Frandsen, Mike Fontenot, the remains of Placido Polanco and the rest of the guys who either have or would have played third base for the Phillies this year. They will all produce roughly the same: replacement level or close to it, and if they don’t, you can cut them and find someone who will.

Anyway, because there are so few top-notch third basemen–or even average third basemen–production at that position is harder to come by than at, say, first base, where good major league hitters like Ryan Howard and Adam LaRoche are mid-level models. It stands to reason that when something is scarce (like a good third baseman), the price of the commodity goes up. Likewise, when a commodity is plentiful (good outfielders, good first basemen), the price goes down. This is why the Twins are paying only $7 million a year for Josh Willingham‘s .384 wOBA while Yuniesky Betancourt continues to do baseball-like things for major league teams. I don’t know this for sure, since I’m not an economist or anything, but I think I heard someone say something like this once and it seems to make sense.

Anyway, why pay big for production where it’s most expensive (third base) when you can punt the position and get cheaper production elsewhere? This is why paying Ryan Howard so much money is so stupid, and it’s why I think Bill is completely out of his mind to want the Phillies to trade for Chase Headley as badly as he does. So I’ll take Rollins at short, the White Stripes at third and a decent center fielder over David Wright.

IF YOU’VE ZONED OUT ALREADY COME BACK IN HERE

The previous several hundred words are useless because the Mets have an option for next season on Wright that I have to think they’ll exercise. So in all likelihood the Phillies will go into 2013 with either Headley or the cast of Dawson’s Creek at third base, or they’ll overpay some graybeard who hasn’t been good in five years, in which case I’ll start buying up canned goods. Not to eat in case of the end of the world, but so I can bash them against my forehead until my brain has turned to apple butter and the baseball doesn’t hurt so much anymore.

So when the Phillies sign Brandon Inge to a two-year, $10 million contract in December, make sure you beat me to the supermarket.

@JossMurdoch: “Is Dom Brown Great or just Wonderful?”

He is, isn’t he? Scalded three balls last night, though it would have been a cherry on top to see him drive in the winning run. But my favorite Dom Brown sequence came on Wednesday, when he lost a ball in the lights for a Jay Bruce triple, then, moments later, caught a fly ball down the line and unleashed the ultimate “screw you and go to hell” throw to nail a tagging Bruce at the plate. A GIF can be found here. My Domblywombles is growing up and it’s very exciting indeed.

@Sainthubbins: “Phillies as star trek characters.”

Big question. Surely someone must have a suggestion.

@PhilliesDoll: “So if we’re comparing Star Trek with the Phillies, would Chris Wheeler’s hairpiece be a tribble?”

No, on second thought, let’s not do this question.

@TonyMcIV: “Who should manage The Phillies in 2013?”

Charlie Manuel. I presume the alternative is Ryne Sandberg in this case, because everyone seems to want Sandberg on the Phillies’ bench as soon as possible before another team snaps him up. I can’t help but feel that the sole reason for Sandberg’s enthusiasm is his spectacular playing career. I do have few comments on that.

First of all, we have absolutely no idea how Sandberg would be as a manager. In fact, most managers were horrific players. Sandberg would be the first Hall of Famer since Frank Robinson (I’m pretty sure but don’t have the motivation to check, so if I’m wrong let me know) to manage full-time in the major leagues, and, along with Kirk Gibson and Don Mattingly, one of only three former MVPs. That’d be pretty cool, but would it be wise?

In sports, I generally think that the most important quality a manager or coach has is the quality of his team. All other considerations are secondary. As Phillies fans who watched Terry Francona stumble through three seasons here, then go to Boston and start manufacturing World Series titles like it was nothing, we know this better than most.

Apart from that, I see two general qualities in a good coach: man-management and in-game tactics. We know Charlie Manuel isn’t a good in-game tactician, which doesn’t hurt as much as it might have if half or more of the current MLB field managers weren’t worse. However, he won five division titles in a row, plus two pennants and a World Series, by not only having good teams, but, by all accounts, being a very competent leader of men. Not only that, but the tactical element matters less in baseball than perhaps any other major team sport. The coach doesn’t call plays as in football, he makes fewer substitutions than in ice hockey or basketball and unlike in soccer, there is only one formation to use and generally only one style of play, and most of the in-game tactical moves you can make (bunting, bullpen overuse) are actively destructive.

So how will Sandberg do? I don’t know. I don’t know how he’ll handle a major league roster and I don’t know if he’ll be a good tactical manager. And you can’t judge by what he’s done with the Iron Pigs, because minor league managers aren’t out there to win games so much as develop players. Sandberg is a total question mark as a manager, no matter how good he was as a player. Either he’ll be one of those ex-jocks who’s so unaccustomed to failure that he’ll overmanage or he’ll be one of those ex-jocks who knows when to stay hands-off. It remains to be seen.

It appears that the organization thinks highly of Sandberg and that he is the heir presumptive to the manager’s seat, so I’m fine with giving him a chance when the time comes. But there’s absolutely no evidence–particularly in his playing record–that Sandberg will be a better manager than Manuel.

Oh, and let’s stop pretending that if Sandberg manages the Phillies it will somehow validate the Bowa-DeJesus trade.

@Framed_Ace: “So we know your feelings on last year’s first pick but can we at least all agree that Jessie Biddle is pretty fantastic?”

I will so stipulate. Jesse Biddle looks like he could be a good major league pitcher, which makes me happy.

Biddle’s a nice prospect. I’m all for accumulating big, left-handed guys who throw hard, particularly if they were local kids who grew up as Phillies fans. Though I’d rather the Phillies had extended the same courtesy to Mike Trout.

OH. And that reminds me. Go impale yourself on a pine tree, Yankees fans who think that the Yankees are somehow entitled to have Trout if and when he reaches free agency and assume that just because he’s from New Jersey, he grew up a Yankee fan.

Guess what, there’s an entire half of the state made up of people who 1) grew up either reading Philly papers and cheering for Philly sports teams or 2) live so deep in the pine barrens they’re unfamiliar with concepts like “baseball” and “New York” and “sleeves.” I can’t stand New York. Is it enormous? Yes. Is it the center of American commerce? Yes, if you’re sure that’s a good thing and insofar as in the age of the internet and online banking we need a commercial center. Are you somehow better off for purposely paying exorbitant prices to share tiny apartments to live in a dirty, noisy city that’s so overcrowded that if everyone came out of the buildings at the same time there wouldn’t be room for them on the streets?

There’s a lot of fiction nowadays that I would enjoy a lot more if it weren’t so smugly ossified into a sad, insular mindset in which Manhattan is the center of the universe and the only part of the world worth inhabiting. I’m looking at you, The Good Life by Jay McInerney, and Friends With Kids and How I Met Your Mother. Oh, are you moving to *gasp* Long Island? Oh, my word! You might as well be moving to Mogadishu!

How can anyone survive outside Manhattan Island? How *ever* will you cope without the traffic, the taxes, the racial tension, the overcrowding, the absurd cost of living? Isn’t it worth it to sacrifice financial security and comfort for the ability to feel smug about yourself based on where you live?

If you need that, that’s fine, but I want you to know you’re being had by a Rube Goldberg machine of self-aggrandizement. One day, everyone’s going to wake up, realize the emperor has new clothes and move down South like sane people, where they’ll enjoy personal space for the first time. And when that happens, I will not help you move. Screw you, your pretentiousness and self-entitlement, and the horse you would have ridden in on if there were enough space on the sidewalk to fit a horse.

I hope that answers your question.

@Living4Laughs: “At some level Mini Mart had to be good at baseball. What do you think he was good at(running, hitting, ect.)?”

Yes, he must have been. Even a major league ballplayer as obviously and pervasively bad as Michael Martinez is in the top tenth of a percent of all baseball players in the world. For all the complaining I do about him, it’s important to keep that perspective from time to time.

I imagine, given his size, position and ability to switch-hit, he was viewed as sort of a speed-and-defense guy at more suitable levels, though the dude is absolutely ripped. It seems like he should be one of those short, compact pull power guys, like Matt Stairs, who hits 25 home runs and strikes out 150 times a year. Maybe the Phillies should retool his swing and approach and see what they’ve got there. It’s not like he could get any worse.

@mferrier31: “Why does it seem Johny Cueto is under rated, and how good over the past few years has he actually been?”

Well it seems that way because he is. I think there are a few reasons:

  • We sort of figured him as one of those prospects who had kind of stopped short of his potential back in 2008 and 2009. Once that image was settled, it would take the kind of performance he’s shown since the start of 2011 to unseat the previous conventional wisdom.
  • He’s always been overshadowed by bigger names: Edinson Volquez and Mat Latos, or at least guys like Homer Bailey and Mike Leake who have gotten more press despite not really being better pitchers.
  • Even though he’s second in the majors in adjusted ERA over the past two seasons, I don’t know that we’re all buying his renaissance because of BABIP luck last year and strand rate luck this year. He’s still outperforming his peripherals by a lot.
  • The Reds, despite having been very good since 2010, don’t get a ton of coverage. I don’t know why. There’s probably something to the East Coast/AL bias bogeyman, but I neither know nor care to know the whole story.
  • Ballplayers who kick other ballplayers in the head tend not to get a lot of good press.

@SoMuchForPathos: “Say you had the combined time of the last two PHI-CIN games you attended. What’s the most grandiose thing you can do, personally?”

I’ve seen the Cincinnati Reds in person twice: once last night and once last May, when they went 19 innings and Wilson Valdez was the winning pitcher. I was terrified when the Phillies couldn’t break through in the 8th or 9th that the game was going to go 19 innings again and, considering that it took them almost four hours to even play nine innings, I would be at CBP until dawn. Last night was fun, but it was also really really tedious at times.

Anyway, those two games totaled 30 innings and 10 hours, 35 minutes official time between them. I believe that given that time I could probably, but not certainly, run a 5K. I could probably make 5 or 6 batches of chili. I could, if I really put my mind to it, write about 10,000 words’ worth of glib baseball analysis. That’s about three Crash Bags, give or take, or 20 percent of your average Kurt Vonnegut novel.

Or I could do what we all know I would actually do–watch Spy Game five times, eat a bag of Tostitos Hint of Lime chips and consume a gallon and a half of Wawa iced tea.

These are exciting times at Crashburn Alley–Paul Boye returns to the blog with an examination of Tony No-Dad and Bill GIFs some gaffes. Cherish them, because in coming days I’ll be expanding the jurisdiction of the monkfish of justice. Enjoy your freedom while it lasts, and enjoy your weekend.

Crash Bag, Vol. 15: Thou Bigoted Swine

I was listening to the excellent Solid Verbal podcast on my drive home from work yesterday, and Dan and Ty were having a discussion about movies that briefly touched on American Pie. Which led me to consider a very important question with regard to American cinema: has internet porn ruined the teen sex comedy?

I think you know where I’m going with this, and while nothing came up when I Googled this question, I apologize if someone else has written about this already. Though that might be the result of my being a little gunshy about clicking more than one page of an internet search that included “teen,” “sex,” and “porn.”

I experienced my awkward teenaged years during the heyday of the teen sex comedy. All due respect to Porky’s and Revenge of the Nerds, my middle school and high school years brought us Road Trip, Euro Trip, The Girl Next Door and three different American Pie releases. It made Seann William Scott and Eugene Levy into a cottage industry. Around the turn of the century, these movies constituted the entirety of films marketed to teenaged boys.

And good Lord, did they do business. And as much as we wanted to see those movies to see Jason Biggs or Breckin Meyer get the girl, or hear the (we thought at the time) hilarious banter, we were really in it to see Shannon Elizabeth’s boobs. In a way, it was great. For boys born in the 1980s, it was a safe way to discover your sexual identity–vicariously. You got to see what breasts looked like in action and got a guide in what not to do around women. The second part was huge, because movies like that are rife with scenes involving a guy trying some absurd rhetorical or sexual move and making an ass of himself, though you totally would have done that yourself if no one had told you it was a bad idea.

Nowadays, we still have movies where teenagers engage in hilarious pre-sexual hijinks, of which Superbad is perhaps the greatest example, but there’s no obvious and gratuitous nudity, or at least there’s less of it. Nudity in film is less to rope in wide-eyed 14-year-olds and more to make a statement about sex (for instance: David Cronenberg since 2004 or so has made films tell you in no uncertain terms that he is above your taboos about sex and nudity) or engage in some arty Mad Men basic cable sideboob.

But I was trying to think of something that I think this is because Shannon Elizabeth’s boobs are all over the internet, and they (or boobs like hers) are doing things that Stifler would only dream about, for free, on demand and in high definition in the privacy of your own home.

We don’t need to mix our sex with our poop jokes anymore. Anyway, I don’t mean to make a value judgment one way or the other. I just had that thought and decided to share, because I have a platform to do it on. On to more serious and baseball-related topics. Most of which have to do with Jimmy Rollins.

@4Who4What: “How come it’s cool when Cliff Lee doesn’t run out a grounder but it’s inexcusable for Jimmy not to run out a grounder?”

Racism. As Bill mentioned earlier.

@4Who4What: “btw the answer is bc of racism but curious to see if you have a different theory.”

Good, I’m glad we agree. And no, I don’t have a different theory. Every three years or so, J-Roll doesn’t run out a ground ball all the way, and Phillies fans and sports media react the way reasonable people would act if the first five minutes of Red Dawn happened in Lower Merion. It’s a non-story. Which I’ll now write about at length.

Without the racial component, the train of thought for one to get mad at Rollins not running out a ground ball, and only to get mad at that, is so illogical that I struggle to even understand how one could come to such a conclusion. It’s so stupid as to be beyond ridicule for several reasons, of which I’ve selected a few:

1) I love how it’s okay to completely drag ass down the first base line if you know you’re out, but if you run all the way and touch the bag you’re okay. This is true in 99 percent of cases, except when J-Roll cruises one night and it’s the end of the world. No one runs full-out all the time, not even Derek Jeter. Over four or five plate appearances a game, 162 games a year? Give me a break. No one works that hard all the time, unless your job is literally a matter of life and death or national security. Jimmy Rollins is neither a trauma surgeon nor a U.S. Army Ranger. If he can’t muster the motivation to bust it down the line once in a while with his team losing and well out of the playoff hunt, I totally feel his pain. If he really didn’t want to try, he’d have just struck out and saved himself jogging the 30 yards at all.

2) A lot of people have brought up Cliff Lee’s famous “oh, screw it” as an example of a double standard. The common response: Lee is a pitcher. Ohhhhkay….so it’s totally kosher for a pitcher not to run out a ground ball, even though playing offense isn’t part of his job. That makes sense. Except in the National League, pitchers do bat (and run the bases if necessary), so it’s not literally not part of his job. But at least it’s not his primary responsibility. Seems reasonable. So if, say, a corner outfielder whose primary asset is his offense were to not give 100 percent on defense, that’d be just as kosher, right? Then how do you explain what people spent the late 1990s and 2000s saying about Bobby Abreu and Manny Ramirez?

3) And why is running to first base so special? If you know you’re out, then it’s good to make the symbolic gesture of tagging the bag, I guess, just as a matter of protocol. But if it’s vital that you haul ass down the line even if you know your effort will be in vain, why is it not similarly important that fielders run full-speed into the wall for a foul ball that they know will be out of play? Or jump at the wall for upper-deck home runs? Or even run full-speed between other bases? When was the last time someone got forced at second to end an inning and everyone criticized him for not running hard even though he knew he’d be out? That’s not a rhetorical question–I legitimately can’t remember such an instance.

Finally, I have empirical proof that Jimmy Rollins is not lazy–he’s in his 12th full major league season (in eight of which he’s played 154 or more games). You don’t get a career in the big leagues that long without working harder than a Soviet coal miner. There is such a thing as a makeup issue, but most guys with serious work ethic or makeup issues don’t collect close to 40 WAR over their careers, or win MVP awards or make multiple All-Star teams.

Did Rollins run as hard as he could have on that ball? Most likely not, and he should have. But Uncle Cholly talked to him privately and says the matter is now resolved. Which, by the way, is how grown-ups settle professional disputes. And if that bothers you, you need to get a life. And personally apologize to me for making me waste close to an hour writing about why you need to get a life.

The eason everyone’s up in arms about this particular instance: Rollins is black, and we’re conditioned by generations of racial stereotyping and lazy sports journalism to believe that black athletes are more talented than white athletes but don’t work as hard. So while I don’t have any problem giving white players a pass when they dog it periodically, we need to be just as permissive, if not more so, when a black player does it.

Don’t believe me? Think of how many black baseball players you’ve heard of described as “scrappy.” I don’t recall Juan Pierre getting that one much, even though he’s essentially the black David Eckstein. Or make a tally of how many white players you’d describe as “lazy,” alongside a tally of black and Latin players you’d describe the same way. I’d warrant that at least half of the normative discussion about major league ballplayers’ mental faculties and work habits is coded racial nonsense.

This is my least favorite kind of racism–unintentional and often unnoticed. At least the guy dropping n-bombs and refusing to let his daughter date a black dude is doing it consciously. We can identify and either admonish or dismiss him appropriately. But the Rollins outrage is insidious and subconscious. It’s not maliciously racist, but is it racist in that we’re drawing conclusions about someone based on the color of his skin, and in its own way, it’s damaging too. Maybe I’m making too much of this, but we’re never going to stamp out this nonsense if no one calls it out for what it is.

MORE ROLLINS

@_wrongsideof30: “Can you prove that Jimmy Rollins hated Shane Victorino based on the numbers since Shane left?”

I can indeed. I love having fun with arbitrary endpoints and small sample sizes! After the game on July 29, Victorino’s final game as a Phillie, Rollins was slugging .397. Since the trade, however, he’s been slugging .538. The difference? Victorino is gone. QED.

But wait–if you shift the watershed moment back a week, giving Rollins time to digest Victorino’s departure, we can change the facts to fit our narrative better. Through August 5, he was hitting .245/.304/.405, about the same line as his injury-plagued 2010 season, when everyone was certain he was done. Since? .258/.361/.516, good for a higher OPS than the one that won him the MVP award in 2007. So Rollins hated Victorino enough that he turned back into an MVP-caliber player since he left.

@RobbyHoller: “if Jimmy Rollins was a hard hitting college journalist, what on-campus scandal would he uncover?”

When I was in college, I had this fantasy that we’d have some freshman pledge a frat as an undercover story and write a multi-part tell-all about hazing, because the frat boys at USC were all douchebags who dressed like my dad (no offense, Dad), couldn’t hold their liquor and got all the hot girls. No one who loves pink polo shirts and boat shoes that much–and has to keep his sunglasses on a leash so they don’t run away–should have the social run of the campus. Not in a just world.

Anyway, I never tried to make good on this, because 1) it would have been the least surprising expose ever and 2) that’s a lot to ask of a freshman, even if he’s insane and idealistic enough to join a big college newspaper. So that’s me.

But J-Roll? I’m going to say something along the lines of unearthing an underground chemical weapons distribution ring in the engineering department. Unbeknownst to administration, nine professors and seven grad students have been designing and manufacturing chemical and biological weapons and selling them for millions of dollars to Russians for use in Chechnya and South Ossetia. What a scandal that would be.

And speaking of hard-hitting college journalists, I threw a hissy fit on Twitter on Wednesday night over the editorial staff walkout at the University of Georgia’s student newspaper. I won’t waste your time by repeating it here, but it’s an unbelievable and outrageous story that you should check out. I get Baseball Outraged all the time, but this is one of only a few things that has gotten me Real Life Outraged.

@soundofphilly: “Is Over the Top the best Sly Stallone movie?”

Only if you’ve never seen Demolition Man. Three notes about Sylvester Stallone movies:

  • Rocky is a legitimately good movie. For me, it’s one of maybe half a dozen sports movies that really transcend sports and stand as great movies period. It’s weird that the guy who mumbled his way through Cliffhanger not only starred in, but wrote such an evocative movie that warmed the hearts of hundreds of millions. Despite Talia Shire being the romantic lead.
  • Where Rocky was earnest and unassuming, there may be no more self-aware movie franchise than The Expendables. It makes no pretensions of being anything other than a three day cocaine bender’s worth of over-the-hill action stars cramming as much over-the-top violence as they can into 90 minutes. For what it is, it’s unbelievably entertaining. And I can’t wait for the sequel.
  • Apparently it’s in vogue for online baseball writers to talk about how much they love food and cooking. I am not like those men. I eat total garbage and have the culinary ability of a golden retriever puppy. I say that because if we wind up like in Demolition Man, where all food is Taco Bell, I’d totally be fine.

@Wzeiders: “Do you think the Phillies should head into 2013 with the exact same bullpen (plus the injured guys)?”

More or less, yeah. Probably bring up De Fratus and Aumont as well, just to see what you’ve got. In Papelbon you’ve got as close to a sure thing at closer as you’ll find nowadays, and Antonio Bastardo, while not what he was last year, is still a perfectly fine setup guy. Michael Schwimer has actually been pretty good of late, and Jake Diekman can be death on lefties if he’s only ever used against lefties. David Herndon will be on his way back by next year, and the addition of Josh Lindblom midseason gives the Phillies even more depth in middle relief. I might see about picking up a LOOGY or a converted starter in free agency if the opportunity presents itself.

But yeah, assuming Papelbon is the closer, the way to go is to get as many cheap guys as you can and see who works. Beyond Papelbon and Bastardo, you really only need two guys to be significantly better than replacement-level in order to have a decent bullpen.

@bxe1234: “What’s your favorite poem”

Fern Hill” by Dylan Thomas. My standard bored-in-class routine in college was to work on memorizing this poem, but I never really got the whole thing down, because it’s six stanzas long and being bored in class only happens about an hour a week and intermittently. I once got really drunk at a friend’s house and went on a fifteen-minute-long rant about how beautiful a poem this is, ending with a recitation.

Why is it so great? It’s a pileup of incredible imagery, line after line after line, and it’s almost musically rhythmic, sort of bouncing from word to word, and because we’re talking about poetry, I’ll describe the way the words come together as mellifluous. It taught me that writing can be beautiful for its own sake, and not just because of what it says. What a poem.

@brendankeeler: “wanna play wiffleball with me?”

No. I am hilariously bad at baseball and all its variations. My senior year of high school, I played slow-pitch softball in a church league and one extra-base hit (a double) in what must have been about 20 games. In slow-pitch softball. I was the Juan Pierre of slow-pitch softball. The last time I played wiffle ball, I popped my shoulder out of my socket reaching for an outside pitch, and the time before that I walked 2 out of every 3 batters I faced. So while I may want to play wiffle ball with you, you probably don’t want to play with me.

@Not_Andre: “Can we replace Ruben Amaro jr with Jules Winnfield? I bet he would’ve signed cole for much less money”

Dude. That would be…”awesome” isn’t a strong enough word. I’ll think of something better. Can you imagine him coming down to the clubhouse to discuss tactics with Charlie Manuel?

“Say ‘bunt’ again! I dare you! I double dare you!”

And I know it’s churlish to complain about Hamels’ contract extension now, but Jules would have seen Jered Weaver re-sign and gotten Hamels inked for about 2/3 the AAV Amaro wound up giving him. It’s unfortunate, but Hamels is so good it’s not the end of the world.

@lexuhbooz: “How much would you charge to have Mini-mart kidnapped and held hostage for the next 10 or 20 years?”

I don’t want him kidnapped–I just don’t want him to play for the Phillies. Not only can he have his freedom, he can play baseball for literally any other team on Earth without bothering me.

Though if Jules Winnfield were the Phillies’ GM, I bet this would have happened already.

@DashTreyhorn: “Assuming the Phillies don’t sign Michael Bourn, who is the ideal leadoff man in 2013? Sub-question: Should they sign Bourn?”

The ideal leadoff man is probably someone like Rickey Henderson, who gets on base at a .400 clip and has both speed and power to burn. On the likely Phillies’ roster? I’d like to see them move Utley or Brown up in the order. Neither one is putting up the power numbers we’d have liked, so why not put one of the Phillies’ top two plate discipline guys, particularly if they sign a relatively low-OBP center fielder like Angel Pagan in the offseason. Pagan’s not Shawon Dunston, but neither is he Kevin Youkilis–if he’s going to post a .330 OBP, I’d just as soon have Rollins lead off. Which, of course, he will, because no one loves path dependence like the Phillies.

And no. They should not sign Bourn. I’ve long been of the opinion that you don’t get in trouble paying superstar prices for superstars–you get in trouble paying superstar money for good-but-not-great players, a lesson the Phillies are living with Ryan Howard. Bourn is, apart from Josh Hamilton, probably the top position player free agent this offseason, and with every team in the market for a plus defender in center field with Bourn’s speed and he’s coming off the best season of his career. But would I pay $17 or 18 million a year for Bourn? No. Not with B.J. Upton in the same free-agent class.

Michael Bourn is a career .275/.339/.370 hitter. B.J. Upton, who is a pretty good defender in center (though not as good as Bourn) is a career .255/.338/.414 hitter. Same OBP as Bourn, slightly higher slugging percentage, and almost as good a baserunner. Plus he’s two years younger and can probably be had for a pittance in comparison. If you sign Bourn instead of Upton, you’re getting about 15 percent more ballplayer for 50 percent more cost. It’s not a deal I’d make. So if the Phillies invest in a center fielder at all this winter, it had better not be on Bourn.

@BerenstainGer: “What is your favorite military battle in history?”

Great question. I’m a huge fan of the D-Day invasion and Gettysburg, but both of those seem obvious. Stalingrad is fascinating for its scope, Coral Sea and Petersburg for the way they changed modern warfare, and the Revolutionary War is great for those little-known battles with interesting back-stories. Kings Mountain was famously brutal. The British commander at that battle, Patrick Ferguson, had served as a sniper at the Battle of Brandywine three years earlier, where he famously passed up an open shot on George Washington.

The siege of Fort Sackville is another personal favorite of mine.  This siege ended only when the American commander, George Rogers Clark, ordered captured Canadian and Native American soldiers marched out in front of the fort and had them tomahawked to death. Seeing Little Bighorn personally was an incredible experience as well.

But my all-time favorite, even if it is a little conservative, is the Battle of Trenton. This is the battle that featured Washington’s famous crossing of the Delaware River and spawned the now-iconic painting of the event. For about two years, my desktop background was this painting with the caption: “America. We will kill you in your sleep on Christmas.”

Some of my favorite facts:

  • A spy had actually tipped the Hessian commander off about the attack the night before, but he was too busy playing cards to look at the letter. He was shot to death in his pajamas, the unopened note in his pocket.
  • The Colonial password for the mission was “Victory or Death.” That’s the Kurt Russell as Herb Brooks in Miracle pregame speech of passwords.
  • No American officers were killed, but two were wounded, one of whom was the young James Monroe, who nearly died when the bullet severed an artery.

But, yeah, a bunch of ragtag Americans walk all night through the freezing cold, cross a river, and show up at daybreak to wake up the Germans–“Surprise! You’re captured!” Awesome. All battles should be like this.

@elkensky: “who is the Domonic Brown of 20th century film directors, nbc sitcoms, russian politicians, and DS9 characters?”

Wow, all my favorite things. Okay, we’re looking for someone who, essentially, is awesome but often overlooked or not given the opportunities he deserves.

  • Film Director: Peter Berg Not a 20th-Century director, but I don’t care. His films are at once intimate and expansive, and have kickass post-rock soundtracks. And yes, I know he directed Battleship, but we’re not going to talk about that. Remember when I was talking about Rocky being one of only a couple sports movies that transcend the genre? Friday Night Lights is like that. A little heavy on the shaky-camera, but for some reason, you feel like you’re really at ground level with Berg’s films, no matter how big the scope. One of my favorite directors, and he’s nowhere near as big a name as he ought to be.
  • NBC Sitcom: Community Rabid internet following, huge critical acclaim, almost killed by management that doesn’t know what to do with a good thing.
  • Russian Politicians: Vladimir Zhirinovsky If you asked an American to name a current Russian politician, 99 percent would say Vladimir Putin, and the rest would say Dmitri Medvedev. Many Americans have also heard of Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov and chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, both of whom are more famous for other things but have run unsuccessfully for president. But the great underrated Russian politician? Zhirinovsky, longtime leader of Russia’s Liberal Democratic Party.

    Zhirinovsky is  half-Jewish, but also an outspoken anti-Semite, and has made the following campaign promises on behalf of the LDP: 1) Free vodka for everyone 2) Free underwear for everyone 3) Deportation of all Chinese people from eastern Russia 4) Reconquering Finland, Poland, Kazakhstan, Alaska (proposing to put all Ukranians there) and the Baltic states (proposing to dump nuclear waste there 6) Eliminate bird flu by ordering the army to shoot down migrating birds) 7) Execute criminals on sight.

    He is so far-right that while he’s pursued political friendships with Saddam Hussein and Marine Le Pen, Pat Buchanan rejected him as too extreme. I’m loath to denounce extremist or even neo-fascist politicians as “insane,” but Zhirinovsky might actually be insane. He’s hilarious.

    The best part? His Liberal Democratic Party consistently finishes third or fourth in the Russian presidential elections, polling at up to 10 percent, and currently seats 56 members in the Duma. In a country with particularly insane politics, Zhirinovsky stands out.

  • DS9 characters: Garak Of the three 24th-Century Star Trek series, Garak has more depth and nuance than any other character. If I can make a comparison to The Wire–Omar is Data (the character who is so interesting and great because he’s unique) and Garak is Stringer (the character who is unique and great because he’s so interesting). In a universe that’s often comically idealistic and preachy, Garak is the one speck of Machiavellian darkness. In a universe where the good guys are entirely good and the bad guys are entirely bad, here’s one guy who skirts the line. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s an episode where Garak is so good you don’t notice how bad an actor Avery Brooks is. And he’s a secondary character in the least-well-known of the three 1990s Star Trek series.

@TonyMcIV: “Any opinion on the last player we got in the JoeBla trade?”

Never heard of him. Though considering what the Phillies gave up and how bad the Dodgers’ farm system is, I’d have been shocked if they’d gotten anyone I had heard of.

@Framed_Ace: “What would your walkup music be?”

Most important question of any major league fantasy, by far. It’s got to be something you won’t get tired but still says something about yourself. So as much as I’ve been listening to B*Witched’s “C’est La Vie” recently, I probably shouldn’t pick that.

There are, in my mind, two ways to go: the serious route and the absurd route. The serious route is something that will pump you up or give you a legitimate competitive advantage. Think Chase Utley‘s “Kashmir” or Mariano Rivera‘s “Enter Sandman.” The absurd route is governed by what I’ve humbly called Baumann’s First Law of Argumentation: “All other things being equal, the funniest answer is the correct one.” It’s like Occam’s Razor with a whoopee cushion.

I tried to answer this question for Jonathan Papelbon earlier this season, and I’m satisfied with my suggestion. But if I were going to express myself and try to gain a competitive advantage at the same time? I see only one answer.

I think that’s quite enough for this week. I had to skip several questions about the future of Juan Pierre with the Phillies, but we’ll get to that next week. Until then, may the force be with you.

Crash Bag, Vol. 14: I Am Defending Kyle Kendrick Because No One Else Will

@bxe1234: “If you could, with no repercussions, punch one US Olympian in the face, who would it be and why?”

Does it have to be a U.S. Olympian? Under no circumstances would I do something so unpatriotic as to punch someone who represents what is, by these primitive sporting standards, the greatest country that ever was or will be.

The other problem is that the two U.S. Olympians I find the most punchable are both women. And while I’m sure Hope Solo and Misty May-Treanor could each tear me limb-from-limb if need be, I still find something distasteful about the idea of socking a woman in the face, no matter how tired I am of hearing about her, and how much I wish she’d shut up and go away so I can either enjoy (in Solo’s case) or ignore (in May-Treanor’s case) her sport in peace.

Congratulations to both, by the way, on their gold medals in the past two days.

So left to punch one U.S. Olympian in the face, I’d probably take a shot at…Rafalca, Ann Romney’s horse.

One note: the breakout star of these games for the U.S., at least as far as I’m concerned, is gymnast McKayla Maroney. As creepy as I find the idea of watching teenage girls flop around in spandex, Maroney was more entertaining than I could possibly have imagined. First of all, she won a silver medal in an individual gymnastics event for a trick she didn’t even land, and when she got the silver medal, she made a face that has already become as much a part of U.S. Olympic legend as Michael Johnson‘s gold shoes, Mark Spitz’s mustache and Michael Phelps’ bong.

But it was during the team competition that Maroney was at her best. Not only on the vault, where she competed for about 90 seconds and walked away with two medals, but on the sidelines, where she exhibited an 80 smug tool on the traditional scouting scale. Put her in a room with Ruben Amaro Jr. and neither would say a word–they’d just sort of smirk at each other. So I wouldn’t punch her, but I would like to give her a high-five. Or rather, offer a high-five and be left hanging.

BASEBALL.

@uublog: “(a) Why is Kendrick so much shittier as a starter than as a reliever? (b) Is Tyler Cloyd the cure for all that ails us?”

I’ll answer your questions in reverse order. Is Cloyd the answer? Of course not. He’s most likely neo-Kendrick. Keith Law talked about Phillies fans having prospect Stockholm Syndrome, where our prospects are so bad that we assume that someone, anyone is going to be worth a crap. Well I’ve got news for you, folks. There is no rule that says that every team has to have good minor leaguers. Tyler Cloyd and Brody Colvin are both probably back-end starters. If Darin Ruf was worth a crap as a prospect, he’d have taken at least one at-bat above A-ball before he turned 25! Such are the wages of frittering away first-round draft picks on relief pitchers and Raul Ibanezes as a matter of institutional philosophy for years upon years, all the while trading away highly-touted prospects for the likes of Hunter Pence, AND using what few high draft picks you have to reach for guys with physical talents but no consistent track record of…what’s the word I’m looking for here…YES! ACTUALLY BEING GOOD AT BASEBALL.

So because Tyler Cloyd is one of the better minor league prospects the Phillies have does not, by extension, make him a good minor league prospect in absolute terms. This is a dreadful minor league system. There were grumblings after the Hunter Pence trade that the Phillies had loaded up too heavily on catching prospects. With Sebastian Valle, Tommy Joseph and Gabriel Lino, three of the Phillies’ better position player prospects are now catchers. Of course, three of the Phillies’ better position player prospects are a guy with 25 walks since the start of the 2011 season, a catcher who might have to move to first base (in which case, whatever value he might provide offensively would be reduced to minuscule proportions) and a child in short-season A-ball. If you gave me even odds, over/under 0.5 career All-Star appearances for those three players combined, I would take the under in a heartbeat. In fact, if you gave me even odds on over/under 0.5 career All-Star appearances for all of the players currently in full-season ball in the Phillies’ minor-league system, I’d think long and hard about taking the under.

These men are not Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt. And just because someone else has prospects of that magnitude does not mean that the Phillies do. This is a fundamental truth that baseball fans seem not to understand.

So, to answer your question: No. The Phillies’ minor league system is bad. And so too, in all likelihood, will Tyler Cloyd be.

What was the first half of the question?

Oh, Kendrick being better in the bullpen. It’s kind of accepted that everyone pitches better out of the pen than the rotation. In fact, almost every relief pitcher in the game, up to and including Mariano Rivera, was a failed starter. It’s just a matter of when you wash out, whether it’s in the low minors, after a cup of coffee in the majors (Rivera, Ryan Madson, Antonio Bastardo) or after a while in the majors (Eric Gagne, Darren Oliver, Dennis Eckersley). As a rule, relief pitchers are either failed starters or failed position players. Almost no one goes from the college bullpen to the major league bullpen (except Huston Street), and almost absolutely no one goes from the high school bullpen to the majors.

Why is this? Well, it’s easier to pitch out of the pen, because you’re throwing between 40 pitches an outing at the absolute most, so you can put a little extra on every pitch without worrying about getting tired late in the game. Ryan Madson sat around 90 with his fastball as a starter, but after a couple years in the bullpen, he could count on mid-90s heat, with the ability to reach back and hit triple digits from time to time if he absolutely needed it. Shorter outings have another effect: that you don’t need to turn over a lineup. On the second or third time through an order, if a hitter has you timed, you need to figure out how to get him out two or even three or four ways. If he’s seeing you for only a handful of plate appearances in a season, often one knockout pitch is enough to do it. Hence Roy Halladay‘s six-pitch arsenal, versus Rivera’s one-pitch arsenal. Finally, a reliever’s workload allows guys whose arm motion or body mechanics wouldn’t hold up for 200 innings a season to stay healthy.

The last way it’s easier to pitch out of the bullpen is that you wind up playing matchups a lot. If you’re death to lefties but meat for righties (Jake Diekman high-fives J.C. Romero), the manager can play matchup tiddlywinks to hide an ugly platoon split. If you need to go three times through the order, come Hell or high water, that’s simply not possible.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that The Kendrick was more effective as a reliever, particularly when you consider the vagaries of sample sizes as small as 20 innings.

@Wild_Phils: “is talent:contract disparity is worse in the kendrick contract or the howard contract?”

Howard. Kendrick is mildly overpaid. He’s a swingman, a commodity that is very useful when you consider the frequency of pitcher injuries, but is probably not worth three-and-change million dollars a year. Your swingman ought to, ideally, be a guy making the league minimum or close to it, because you essentially just need a dude to chuck about 130 replacement-level innings and not complain when he gets sent to the bullpen. Earl Weaver was fond of using the swingman/spot starter role as a sort of apprenticeship for young starting pitchers, a way to get a prospect major-league exposure without throwing an unproven commodity into the rotation. That’s not a bad strategy. So Kendrick, as a guy who will give you a little better than replacement level over 130 innings a year and never get hurt, is useful in that role, but probably moderately overpaid.

Ryan Howard, on the other hand, has the fourth-highest AAV of any contract in major league history. Howard can still take a walk, but his power is slipping, and his contact skills, defense and athleticism are so bad that they play when he’s cranking 50 home runs a year, but not so much when he’s *only* hitting 30 home runs a year. Other first basemen in his pay bracket include: Albert Pujols, who may one day retire as the greatest right-handed hitter of all time; Joey Votto, who is, for my money, the best hitter in the game right now; Prince Fielder, who is younger than Howard, better in just about every category, and still ludicrously overpaid; and Mark Teixeira, who is a switch-hitter who strikes out less than Howard, plays superb defense, and is still ludicrously overpaid.

Ryan Howard is a pretty good hitter whose value is dragged down by his being anchored to playing first base, where you can get a .350 wOBA for a pittance from Bryan LaHair or Adam LaRoche, and his inability to contribute with his legs or with his glove. It’s an overpay the like of which we may never see again, a contract that rivals Barry Zito‘s or Vernon Wells‘ for the worst in the game today.

If not for the Dodgers’ horrific signing of Darren Dreifort a decade ago, Howard’s contract would be within a shout of the worst of all time.

But I feel like we’ve been over this already.

@Eric_Lindros: “Why does KK get so indignant when called out for his awfulness?”

(Note: I realize you might be joking, but I’m going to treat this question as if it’s serious because I have a point to make.)

Well, it might have something to do with the fact that he’s been trying as hard as he can to succeed, and he’s been publicly pilloried without stop for the past 5 years. I dunno, I might get a little brusque with folks under similar circumstances. People tell me I’m a horrible baseball blogger from time to time, and I’ll admit it bothers me a little bit, even though 1) This isn’t my day job 2) I don’t hear it all the time in every medium imaginable the way Kendrick must 3) I haven’t been hearing it all the time for the past 5 years and 4) I know it isn’t true.

So I’m guilty of laying on the Kendrick hate as much as anyone, but considering how much crap he takes, I think he’s handled himself with grace and professionalism the vast majority of the time, and if he wants to get a little tetchy now, I think he’s entitled to it. Because if I’m going to hurl abuse at a guy, I find it disingenuous to get outraged when his feelings get hurt. If he wants to snipe back, I think he’s earned it. I’ll even lend him my monkfish to hit people with if he wants.

@Estebomb: “If Ruben Amaro Jr were to attempt to fix the Phillies’ problems via time travel, what would he use to travel to the past?”

Well, he’s not, to my knowledge, an irritating and pretentious Anglophile, so the TARDIS is probably out. Neither would the man who runs one of the most anti-intellectual front offices in baseball be caught dead in the extraordinarily nerdy Heart of Gold (though I’m not certain, on reflection, that it’s capable of time travel).

I think Amaro would appreciate the lone wolf aspect of Doc Brown’s DeLorean, and I think he’d be impressed by the scrappy grit and hustle showed by the HMS Bounty, the stolen Klingon Bird of Prey that then-Admiral Kirk and his band of merry men used to rescue whales from the 1980s in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

But I can’t see how the answer could be anything other than H.G. Wells’ time machine, the star contraption of the legendary sci-fi novel of the same name. It’s classic, no-nonsense, and above all, old. And we know Ruben Amaro loves old stuff, particularly when there’s a newer, better option out there.

@DashTreyhorn: “Jason Knapp. Thoughts?”

Sadness. Jason Knapp was my favorite Phillies prospect back in 2009, when he was the kicker in the deal that netted the Phillies Cliff Lee for the first time. Knapp was a Jersey kid and a teenager with a triple-digit fastball, and I was too young and naive at the time to know that throwing hard and being young wasn’t necessarily going to translate to major league success.

Since the trade, Knapp has had two shoulder surgeries and hasn’t pitched in a regular-season game since 2010. The Indians released him on Wednesday, likely signaling the end of his baseball career at the age of 21, if it wasn’t over already. It’s a shame, considering his potential, but it was always a danger. Pour one out for Jason Knapp tonight, because his story is a real heartbreaker.

Okay, enough negativity.

@Billy_Yeager: “Use your abilities to figure how much longer it took the US women to win gold for soccer than it did for Bolt to win 100m Gold”

Well, if, by, “Your Abilities” you mean Wikipedia and a calculator, sure.

Usain Bolt ran the 100 meters three times in London, once in the heats, once in the semis, and once in the finals, each time in under 10 seconds. We’ll call it 29 seconds total. The U.S. women’s soccer team played 6 matches in London, at 90 minutes each, for a total of 540 minutes, plus, let’s call it 6 minutes of stoppage time a match, bringing the total to 576 minutes. On top of that, there was extra time with (I believe) 4 minutes total of stoppage time in the semifinal match against Canada, so we’re up to 610 minutes. That’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 36,600 seconds, or 1,262 times as long as it took Bolt to run his three races.

Though if we’re talking about man-hours, the USA had 11 players on the pitch at all times, so we’re actually looking at about 13,882 times as many man-hours in game-time to win a gold medal in women’s soccer than in the men’s 100 meters.

I have no idea why you wanted to know that, or why I didn’t just make you Google it yourself.

@brendankeeler: “favorite phil in each of the last four decades. one per each decade and one overall”

I love this question. So are we talking back to the 2010s, 2000s, 1990s and 1980s? Or the 2000s, 19990s, 1980s and 1970s?

Let’s do the latter, because my answer is the same for the past two decades.

  • 2000s: Jimmy Rollins. I love Jimmy Rollins. He’s my favorite Phillie of all time. I was okay with Curt Schilling, Scott Rolen, Bobby Abreu and Jayson Werth leaving. I’m okay with Shane Victorino leaving, and I was steeling myself for coping with Cole Hamels leaving before he re-signed. I will be okay with Roy Halladay leaving if it comes to that, and we’ll see about Chase Utley, though I’m praying he retires before it becomes untenable for the Phillies to keep him.
    But when Rollins’ contract was up last winter, I was a nervous wreck. I put more of my heart into a blog post about the personal connection I felt to him as a fan than perhaps anything else I’ve ever written about sports. I’ve never bought more than one bit of player apparel for any athlete except Rollins, and I’m on my third No. 11 shirsey in four years. He runs, he’s flashy in the field, and he’s taken a vocal leadership role without being the best player. I love everything about his game, no matter how much he pops up. If there’s one player I love too much to be objective about, this is the one. Chase Utley and Cole Hamels might be my second-and-third-favorite Phillies of all time, but they played in the wrong decade for me.
  • 1990s: Lenny Dykstra. Lenny Dykstra was my first favorite player. My first Phillies t-shirt, back when I was six, was a Dykstra shirsey. He was nasty and he was completely unsubtle in every conceivable way. He was the perfect counterpart to those pressed-and-polished Braves teams I hated so much as a child. I loved watching Greg Maddux in his prime in spite of how much pain he caused me, but Maddux was an intellectual hero. Dykstra was visceral. He was, in a way, kind of a spiritual predecessor to Chase Utley, with his compact power stroke, superb batting eye and furious intensity. And he was always on base. For one season in 1993, he seemed to assemble a season that finally gave Phillies fans too young to remember Classic Schmidt a position player to pull for in the MVP race. Where Bonds and Griffey were too slick, too West Coast, Dykstra was anything but. He was manifestly unpolished, but he was manifestly ours. Too bad he’s not very good with money.
  • 1980s: Darren Daulton. He didn’t really come into his own until the 1990s, but I’m too young to remember anything from the 1980s anyway. I just wanted to honor him here for two things: first, he’s the first man I remember being aware of other people saying how handsome he was. I couldn’t figure it out, partially because as a kindergartener I guess I hadn’t developed an appreciation for male beauty, but also because even then I wasn’t sure why people thought a mullet was a good look.
  • 1970s: Steve Carlton. I don’t think I really need to explain this one, except maybe to say why I didn’t pick Mike Schmidt. Schmidt, while the greatest player ever to suit up for the Phillies, never resonated with me the way Carlton did. I think this is because, all things being equal, I like run prevention better than run scoring, in addition to my admiration for Carlton’s decade-long grudge against the sports media. Carlton had the best slider of his generation to go with incredible longevity, but more than anything, he understood at its barest essence what an athlete owes his fans and the media. An athlete doesn’t owe us anything apart from his best effort. He doesn’t need to be polite, or charitable, or friendly. It’s nice if he is all those things, but Carlton’s steadfast refusal to make his game about anything but his pitching (which was superb, I might add) makes me love him as a historical figure.

@SoMuchForPathos: “Which American athletes do you want to poach to play for the national handball team at Rio 2016?”

Okay, so is anyone else in love with team handball? It’s the weird niche sport that has the potential to do for the Summer Olympics what curling does for the Winter Olympics: use cable TV to captivate America with a sport they only think about once every four years.

I’ll allow NPR’s Stefan Fatsis, perhaps team handball’s foremost proponent in the American sports media, to explain the appeal:

“[T]eam handball is a seven-on-seven court sport that embodies all things American. You run, pass, dribble, throw (fast), block, jump and set picks. There’s strategy, finesse, power and speed. It’s violent and high-scoring. Yet handball — only the insecure feel compelled say “team” — is one of only three sports in which the U.S. has never won an Olympic medal.”

There’s kind of a joke movement to poach athletes from other sports, namely basketball, to play for the USA in four years’ time to rectify this whole not-winning-a-medal problem. So let’s pick a team.

  • Tim Howard: The USA has long produced some of the best goalkeepers in the world, in both soccer and ice hockey. I figure we get Howard, who is 6-foot-3 and has arms like a spider monkey, to move over to the smaller nets. Howard’s strength as a goalkeeper has always been his shot-stopping, and with the insane speed and short ranges of the handball court, his reflexes will serve him well.
  • John Wall: I want a guy with his ups on this team. Most shots in handball are taken from midair, and if Wall can get above the defense as well in handball as he can in basketball, he should be electrifying.
  • Robert Griffin III: The throwing arm, court vision and courage under fire of an NFL quarterback with the speed of someone who was a better hurdler than football player in high school. I would have picked Mike Trout as well, but even at a listed 6-foot-1, he might be a little too small to cope with the size of the international game. Even if he could, Griffin is only 6-foot-2, and having two players that short might be a liability. Either he or Wall can run the proverbial point for this team. The height thing is huge, because it pretty much eliminates hockey players from the equation, as nice as it might be to have Patrick Kane or Zac Parise on the team.
  • Sidney Rice: Massive South Carolina football homer pick, but I’ll explain. Rice is as good at catching the ball in traffic as anyone I’ve ever seen, and there’s a lot of catching the ball in traffic. He’s 6-foot-4, so he can jump for the ball with anyone.
  • LeBron James: If you’re going to poach any American athlete, might as well poach the best one.
  • Thaddeus Young: Okay, bear with me. He’s tall and lean without being skinny, which is good for a handball player. But most importantly, he’s a lefty. Handball isn’t like soccer or hockey, where there are benefits to being left-or-right-handed playing either wing. The corner guys have to be opposite-handed, because all they do is catch the ball, run along the baseline and jump like a berzerker at the goalie, shooting before they land. You need to be a lefty to get anything approaching a decent angle on a shot from the right baseline. So far (to my knowledge) everyone on the list is a righty, and most of the really athletic lefty center fielders are too short.
  • Danny Hultzen: Needed another lefty. Would have picked C.J. Wilson (who was an outfielder in college) if he were taller and wouldn’t be 35 by 2016. Hultzen is relatively young, stands 6-foot-3 and has the athleticism to have played both ways in college. He’s not one of those guys who can get on a mound and pound strikes, but if you ask him to so much as field his position, falldowngoboom. Though to be honest, this is really the first young, relatively athletic lefty I could think of, because I’ve spent far his long on this question already.

As indeed I’ve spent far too long on this Crash Bag. Enjoy the 236th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence reaching London, because while these are a fantastic Olympics, screw the monarchy.

Crash Bag, Vol. 13: White Flannel Trousers

Credit where credit’s due: I think Ruben Amaro did the right thing this past week. I know everyone loved Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence (and by “everyone” I mean largely teenage girls) but it takes serious balls to trade away one of the signature players of the best period of success in franchise history, as well as arguably the team’s best offensive player outside of Carlos Ruiz. No matter how bad the team is this season.

Let’s think about that for a second. Carlos Ruiz is the best bat on the Phillies this season, and Hunter Pence was No. 2. If I were a time-traveler and went back to 2008 to tell you that Carlos Ruiz would be, by far, the Phillies’ best hitter in 2012, and that Hunter Pence would be the second-best hitter, how many games would you say this team would win? 30? 40?

Though let’s be honest, if I were a time traveler, the last thing I would do is go back in time to deliver such silly messages. I’d be too busy buying the crap out of Google stock back in the late 1990s.

Anyway, well done, Rube, for recognizing the obvious and trading two older, expensive players for what actually looks like a decent haul of prospects. And even though I’d rather Wigginton, Blanton and Pierre had been cashiered as well, let’s not get greedy. After all, we’re dealing with a GM who excites the fan base by making an obvious correct decision.

@TonyMcIV: “After D. Brown’s throw last night, who do you think has the strongest arm in our outfield?”

Yeah, I’d say so. Victorino had a cannon for an arm…well, I suppose he still does, because he isn’t dead, he’s just moved to California. But the “Dom Brown’s Hose” phenomenon has been well-documented, particularly when compared to Juan Pierre, who, I’d wager, would be in roughly the 50th percentile of high school pitchers in the USA.

It’s interesting that the Phillies, it seems, have had more than their fair share of outfielders who have had brilliant arms recently. Victorino is famous for his, as were Jayson Werth and Bobby Abreu. Raul Ibanez had a decent arm and Pat Burrell was always among the league leaders in baserunner kills, if only because that’s the result of everyone running on him all the time. Plus Mark Whitten. I don’t know if the Phillies actually have had a lot of outfielders with good throwing arms or if I just think that’s the case because I don’t remember Marlon Byrd and Doug Glanville being completely noodle-armed.

But you’re right. Brown is an awesome athlete, including being possessed of a throwing arm reminiscent of the Paris Gun. Boy am I glad he’s up.

@ClarkePatrone: “Who is John Galt?”

As far as I can tell, a character from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, which is a massively famous book with a really awesome title that, from what I understand, attempts to justify selfishness as a philosophy of life. I’ve never read that book, though I did read The Fountainhead as a teenager. Not because I was drawn to the story or the narrative, but because it’s a book about architects, so my parents (both of whom are architects) each own a copy. That might be the only book my parents didn’t bother to pare down to one copy for the family, apart from the Bible.

Anyway, the hero of The Fountainhead is an architect named Howard Roark who, according to the novel, thinks he’s a brilliant architect, but no one else seems to think so. So he keeps designing ugly buildings and instead of recognizing his own professional failings, he thinks it’s a problem with the rest of the world. All of this is done without a trace of irony or self-awareness. This may be literally the most absurd thing I’ve ever read.

Anyway, I’ve got a dream of writing a book of essays on topics ranging from the bizarre relationship the United States seems to have with the Southeast to why Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” is the most perfectly catchy pop song ever written to a polemic on the idiocy of The Fountainhead, and the title of the whole book was going to be Howard Roark is a Bad Architect. Anyway, if any of y’all run publishing houses and find this interesting, feel free to hit me up.

And if you’re an objectivist and you think I’ve got Ayn Rand all wrong, feel free to keep that to yourself.

Anyway–BASEBALL!

@MichaelStubel: “Could someone lock Amaro in a room without a phone this off-season and let Scott Proefrock make moves?”

I’m sure someone could. Though there’s no guarantee that Proefrock would be any better a GM than Amaro. He is, however, far more likely to wear white flannel trousers and walk upon the beach. He has heard the mermaids singing, each to each. He’s like John Mayberry in that respect.

Though our next contributor finds your lack of faith disturbing.

@hdrubin: “Can you envision (and describe) a realistic offseason that enables the Phillies to be champs in 2013?”

Yes. But it’ll be less about this offseason than what breaks go their way next season. I think they have to be very judicious about where they spend their money this winter. I think they can pay for a good center fielder, but while I’d rather invest in Michael Bourn going forward than any other option (including Josh Hamilton), I really hope he’s not the guy. Bourn has pretty firmly established himself as the guy (and there’s at least one every year) that gets overpaid when the music stops and some team with money burning a hole in its pocket finds itself left without Zack Greinke. If the Phillies do spend on a center fielder, I’d rather go a little cheaper and make a run at B.J. Upton.

Apart from that, the Phillies can’t afford to spend money on middle relief and bench help. I’m looking at you, Jose Contreras and Laynce Nix. They should go ultra-cheap wherever possible and out minor-league invitations like campaign flyers on Election Day. For the price of a uniform and a hotel room, a team can possibly end up with a guy who surprises and contributes, as Juan Pierre has this season. Barring something unexpected, they need to just punt third base and accept that there is no production to be had from that position without overpaying.

They also need to keep at least some payroll in reserve so that they can pounce if the dust settles and a significant free agent, having failed to get the multi-year deal he was looking for, will settle for a one-year deal to try his luck next season. This worked extremely well for the Nationals and Edwin Jackson this past offseason, and would have been critical for the Reds if Ryan Madson hadn’t blown out his arm before throwing a pitch for them.

Beyond that, it’s all about the things that went wrong for the Phillies this season going right next year. They need Carlos Ruiz to have a good season next year, if not quite the one he’s having now. They need a full year from Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay and at least 120 games from Chase Utley. They need Domonic Brown and Phillippe Aumont to be contributors next season, and they need to assemble a bullpen of young, cheap guys who throw hard that doesn’t get lit up like the laser show at a Muse concert.

That’s a lot of ifs, even assuming the Phillies don’t do anything overtly idiotic this offseason. So yes, it can happen. But the rest depends on how you define “realistic.”

@euphronius: “Do you think the Phillies learned this year that playing bad players leads to more losses than wins? Or are they blaming injuries”

I actually think it’s fair to blame injuries, at least to a certain extent.

Maybe expecting a full season of Chase Utley is unrealistic going forward, but Ryan Howard missed almost half the season, which hurts, and Roy Halladay has either been out of the lineup hurt or pitching like someone who all of a sudden realized how old he is. Placido Polanco has been in and out of the lineup as well, which might not sound like that big a deal, but while his  So between those injuries, Cliff Lee‘s weirdness and a well-constructed bullpen working out about as badly as you might have hoped, the Phillies have cause to feel like they’ve been hard done by this season.

However, this was an object lesson in what happens when, in 2012, you construct a team entirely of players who could have voted for Al Gore for President. They slow down, they get hurt more, and eventually you find yourself completely out of one of the most wide-open National League wild card races in history. So my answer to your question is both: yes, I think they’ve learned that playing bad players is bad, and yes, I think they’re blaming injuries.

@brendankeeler: “which correlates more strongly with playoff/world series success: hitting or pitching?”

There’s an adage that pitching wins championships, or defense wins championships, but the reverse is true as well. And for clarity’s sake, I’m taking “pitching” to mean “run prevention,” which includes defense, and “hitting” to mean “offense,” which includes baserunning.

Anyway, I don’t think either one is more important than the other. You can win with more offense than run prevention, like the 2008 Phillies and 2009 Yankees, or more run prevention than offense, like the 2005 White Sox. Me? I’d rather have lots of both. I will say that you need at least a modicum of each in order to go far, because while Yankees and Phillies back in the day could both mash, it helped that the Phillies had a No. 1 starter in Cole Hamels, three other good starters and a great bullpen, and it helped that the Yankees had CC Sabathia and Mariano Rivera. Whereas in 2007, the Rockies stopped winning every game when they got to the World Series and realized their best pitcher was Jeff Francis.

I think it looks like run prevention will win you more postseason games than offense because the norm for an offense is failure, and when the offense doesn’t fail, you notice. This is based on absolutely nothing. Above all, though, you need to be hot at the right time and catch a couple breaks. Assuming you’re good enough to make the playoffs in the first place, luck is the great equalizer.

Michael (via email): “Does Chooch genuinely have a shot for MVP? It’s every night that he’s taking over the game offensively and defensively.”

No. Because lots of people still think you need to make the playoffs to be the MVP, that if your team doesn’t make the playoffs your contributions don’t have value. Which is every bit as idiotic as saying that the $100 bill I’m holding is worthless because it can’t buy me a car.

But if I had a vote, I’d go to the two main WAR leaderboards and get a general idea of who’s having the best season, then try to decide among the leaders. Because WAR is an inexact statistic, it doesn’t make sense to just go down the leaderboard and vote based on one statistic. So for differences, I’d say, of up to a win in value, I’d consider qualitative arguments. But those should be a tiebreaker, not the whole story.

Anyway, I’m staggered that a good defensive catcher with a .407 wOBA isn’t the most valuable player by WAR, but that’s attributable to a few things: first, the absurd seasons that David Wright and Andrew McCutchen are having at fairly tricky defensive positions, and second, that Ruiz, because of the demand that catching places on the body, isn’t playing as much. McCutchen has about 70 more plate appearances than Chooch, and as the season wears on, that gap will only grow. Again, whether you think catchers ought to get a little more credit because they play less is one of those qualitative decisions to make while casting a hypothetical MVP vote.

Any chance Chooch had of taking the MVP probably disappeared, however, when he developed plantar fasciitis, which, as I’ve said, sounds less like an ailment of the foot than a right-wing authoritarian farming collective. He’ll probably finish in the top 10, maybe in the top 5, but this is definitely going to be one of those stat lines we look back on in 25 years and wonder how the hell it happened.

@gvntofly1021: “How dumb was hitting for Dom last night? Or are those of us who lost our shit last night being a bunch of babies?”

It was, and you are. The whole point of bringing up Brown is to play him every day. So let him hit with the game on the line and a righty on the mound. It’s the only way to get experience. So it’s mildly frustrating when Domblywombles gets pulled back for Ryan Howard, who in addition to suffering the usual drop in effectiveness that comes with pinch hitting has been cooler than being cool in recent days.

That said, who cares? It’s one at-bat and one game in a season that’s already been lost. As long as Brown plays five or six times a week and gets three or four plate appearances a game, that’s fine by me.

@threwouttime: “honestly why the hell is mini-mart still in the majors, let alone starting? Rule 5 that sexy?”

You’ll love the forthcoming Crash Pod, which starts with me screaming my head off to no one in particular because Michael Martinez is back on the roster. And I worry, as Andy Greenwald speculated on Grantland’s Triangle podcast earlier this week, that the Phillies hitting an all-time Rule V jackpot with Shane Victorino has led them to make some questionable decisions in that area in recent years, not least of which is Mini-Mart. One might say that he’s like a bad penny, in that he keeps turning up. I prefer to think of him like a back injury, that will let you forget about it for months on end, then flares up and sends you into excruciating pain for long periods of time.

@CurseOfBenitez: “What approach should the Phillies have with respect to the draft over next 5 years? Will this differ from reality, and if so, how?”

Get guys who will become major league contributors soon. That means well-polished (read: college) position players, which I was rooting for in the past two years with Jackie Bradley and Nolan Fontana, but did not get. The Phillies seem to have a standing philosophy of swinging for the proverbial fences at all times, drafting good high school athletes. It’s not necessarily a bad strategy, because if you take enough high-risk picks, some of them will pay off and pay off big. But it’s not the one I’d choose, because it’s failed enough that the upper levels of the Phillies’ farm system are pretty much bare. It’s like they took Pat Burrell, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley in the draft and said, “You know those great young hitters we’ve been drafting? Let’s not do that anymore. In fact, let’s do precisely the opposite.”

I can only assume that they’ll stay the course. Which means that in June of 2013, I’ll have fallen in love with some SEC player who’s fallen to the Phillies and they won’t draft him, instead preferring some child who’s wandered in from the rain, somewhere in the backwoods of Arkansas. And by the time he washes out, the college guy I wanted in the first place will be in his fifth season of being on base all the time.

@CurseOfBenitez is this week’s Crash Pod guest. He’s a very funny Giants fan, so give it a listen when it comes out.

@TheBridgerBowl: “[You are] appointed world sports czar. Decides on three sports to add to and remove from the summer Olympics. What would you pick?”

This is an excellent question, not only because it allows me to imagine myself as being in charge of the world’s sports.

There is, in fact, a U.N. Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Sport for Development and Peace. Wikipedia tells me his name is Willi Lemke, thogh I don’t imagine he’s very powerful.

Anyway, the first thing I’d do is restore baseball and softball (which we’ll consider as “women’s baseball” for these purposes) to the program. International baseball is far more competitive than international basketball, and just as popular as international rugby sevens, for instance, which is coming to the program in 2016. Eliminating baseball from the Olympics was puzzling at the time, and no doubt motivated by the self-interest and anti-American sentiment of the French-speaking international sports bureaucracy. In fact, when I’m world sports czar, I’ll clean house at the IOC and FIFA and sentence Sepp Blatter to a life sentence at a Siberian labor camp.

Apart from that, the great thing about the summer Olympics is that it already has almost every sport you can imagine, so we have to go a little bit off the beaten path. Lacrosse and football aren’t truly competitive internationally, though I’d love to see another hockey-style game, either bandy or ringette, at the winter Olympics.

I think some sort of obstacle course would be really interesting on the Olympic level. Not necessarily Ninja Warrior, because part of the charm is that you compete against the course in Ninja Warrior, not the other athletes, and in the Olympics, someone has to win. But a Ninja Warrior-style obstacle course could be really cool, as would a longer obstacle course like those 5K mud runs. Either one would be a really interesting test of athleticism and would make for fascinating TV.

For my third sport, I’d take capture the flag. Can you imagine capture the flag being contested by teams of the most athletic people on the planet on a specially-designed course? Because the prospect is so awesome that I’m having a hard time processing it.

Three sports to eliminate: Equestrian. A sport nobody understands, designed for the ultra-rich, that’s barley even contested by humans. Pass. Next, fencing. I have no particular objection to fencing as a sport, but the first actual event I watched this Olympiad was a fencing match that involved an Italian woman who, after every point, took off her helmet to yell and celebrate like she’d just won the gold medal. After. Every. Point. While her opponent just stood there in the vain hope that at some point she’d stop screwing around and get the match back underway.

Not only is this behavior obnoxious, it’s the action of an athlete who’s more interested in influencing the officials than actually competing. It’s why I can’t watch FC Barcelona. Or any Italian soccer, for that matter. So while fencing is a fine sport, it goes, if for no other reason than to get this woman out of the Olympics.

The last sport to go should be women’s artistic gymnastics. It’s exploitative of underage girls, both physically and emotionally, and we really ought not to be encouraging kids to undergo what those athletes, who are among the most impressive in the world, have to undergo, particularly if, when they fail we’re going to zoom in on them crying on international TV. But I’ll keep it because the U.S. is really good at it.

Instead, I’ll eliminate table tennis. Table tennis is played in every country on Earth, but the only people who win are Chinese. It’s very important that the Americans maintain their dominance in the medal count, so this game gets the axe, if only to screw over the Chinese.

@loctastic: “what’s your preferred outfield rotation for the remainder of the season?”

Brown in right, Nix in left. I think a Mayberry/Schierholtz platoon could actually be pretty decent, and Schierholtz is a good enough defender in the corners that he might be playable in center. Maybe you keep Pierre in left, since he gets on base more than Nix. As of right now, I think Nate Schierholtz is the Phillies’ best all-around outfielder right now, so I’d play him as much as possible, and the goal of the next two months has to be to develop Dom Brown, so I’d play those two every day. I don’t really care who gets the rest of the at-bats as long as it isn’t Mini-Mart.

@Sainthubbins: “My friend keeps talking about how Victorino “stands for stupid baseball”. Help me convince him he’s dumb.”

I’m not sure I know what that means, exactly, but I think Victorino got a lot better in the past couple years at eliminating those circuitous outfield routes and becoming a more efficient baserunner. Bill James once put together a “smart player” index, using stolen base rate, defense, plate discipline and a couple other metrics to try to judge baseball IQ. I think Joe Morgan came out on top by a mile. Anyway, VICTORION isn’t Joe Morgan, but neither is he as careless and absentminded a player as he once was. At any rate, it’s not polite to speak ill of the recently-traded.

Great handle, by the way.

@SJHaack: “What is your favorite Domonic Brown twitter meme? Can you anticipate future memes about him (good or bad)?”

I know this is kind of unimaginative, but my favorite by far is “Free Dom Brown” being parsed as “Freedom Brown.” When I write my book about failed baseball prospects, I’m calling it Freedom Brown. (And again, if any of you are publishing tycoons and want to fund and publish this endeavor, my email address is at the top the page.)

As far as future memes go, I anticipate many poop jokes playing on his last name, as well as (I hope) the expansion of “Domonator” as a nickname. Beyond that, I can only say that Twitter memes are not really my forte, and that you should probably go ask Danger Guerrero.

@Scarlet_Fire: “I just ate lunch. Why am I still hungry?”

Probably because you didn’t eat enough lunch. Either that or you’re pregnant. Mazel tov.

@CitizensBankers: “The All-Time Phillies August Waivers Team “

First of all, everyone needs to stop freaking out about this Cliff Lee waivers thing. Everyone goes on waivers all the time. He’s not going anywhere. And everyone needs to read Eric Seidman’s waiver wire primer, posted this morning to Phillies Nation, rather than embracing ignorance and panic.

But to the original question, I don’t think I can make an entire 25-man roster, or even a lineup and a rotation, out of good players the Phillies have claimed in August. So I’ll just give you my top 5 Phillies waiver claims in any month since 2000.

  • Greg Dobbs: His streak as the Sixth Man of the 2008 Phillies makes him by far their best waiver wire pickup. Pity that a truly dreadful 2010 erased those good memories here.
  • Jason Boyd: A relief pitcher whom the Phillies originally drafted, then lost to the Diamondbacks in the expansion draft. He was the player to be named later in a trade that netted the Diamondbacks Tony Womack, so well done Arizona. Anyway, Boyd eventually found his way back to Philadelphia, where, in 2000, he posted a 6.55 ERA in 34 1/3 innings, by way of 6.3 BB/9. He was dreadful, but threw hard enough to be a useful relief pitcher in MVP Baseball 2005.
  • Aaron Fultz: Had one very good year for the Phillies in 2005, which is more than you can say for any other recent waiver wire pickup. I also thought that he pitched in the first Phillies game I ever went to while a member of the San Francisco Giants, but I appear to have gotten him confused with Chad Zerbe.
  • Brian Reith: Not because of anything he did on the field, but because the Phillies picked him off waivers on July 11, 2002. On August 6 of that year, the Reds claimed him right back on waivers. Thanks for playing.
  • Brian Hunter: The Phillies had the distinction of employing both Brian Hunters, both the tall, skinny outfielder who could run like the wind but couldn’t really do much else, and the stumpy first baseman who could neither run like the wind nor really do much else. This was the latter.

@uublog: “which player’s name anagrams best?”

Juan Pierre’s name can be rearranged to say “Pea Injurer.” If you think you can do better, again, please, feel free not to tell me.

Last question.

@sports_j: “With Victorino gone, who’s in charge of shaving cream pies?”

Don’t shaving cream pies usually come after exciting wins, particularly those that follow late-inning comebacks? I don’t think we’ll be needing any of those.

Thanks for writing in, everyone, and we’ll see you next week.

Crash Bag, Vol. 12: Last Call at Red Hot Tomatoes

I have a confession to make: As I write this, I’ve been up more than 24 hours straight, so this might make even less sense than usual. Which, I suspect, is how y’all like it.

Sleep deprivation is a fascinating experience. Two years ago, when I was in grad school, I wrote two 25-page research papers in four days, each in one massive sunset-to-sunrise binge, one on Thursday night and one on Sunday. I woke up around 11 a.m. on Thursday and went to sleep at about 2 in the morning on Saturday, then woke up around 10 a.m. on Sunday and went to sleep at around 1 in the afternoon on Monday. Pulling a 39-hour waking period and a 27-hour waking period in one long weekend does bizarre things to the mind, believe you me. While at the train station on Monday morning, on my way to turn my final paper in, a bird flew overhead and its shadow passed over me. I believed I was under attack and flipped out, nearly punching an unsuspecting stranger in the face. Hardly a Great Moment in Baumannian Savoir Faire.

Suffice it to say, I’m a little punchy. Almost punchy enough to trade Cliff Lee.

@SJHaack: “What shape would you have your money topiaries made into if you were Cole Hamels this week?”

We start with this week’s big story. Cole Hamels got paid. Big time. Now, I’ve already gone on the record as saying that if I were to come into nine figures’ worth of David Montgomery’s money, I would not be one of those tasteful, discreet rich people. I would be as vulgar as my means and the boundaries of human decency would allow. I’d hire Clemson’s starting defensive line to carry me about on a litter, because they’re certainly no good at actually playing football. I’d drive my Ferrari to get the mail–no, better yet, I’d pay my manservant to drive my Ferrari to get the mail. I’d install a curling rink in the basement of my palatial manse. And the money topiaries? In the shape of the Euro symbol, because it looks cooler than the dollar sign.

Cole Hamels appears to have more sense than I. Much of his absurd salary will go toward good works. The balance, I imagine, will pay for dog backpacks.

But in all seriousness, I, for one, am thrilled that Cole Hamels will be with us six more years. When I’m griping about his contract in 2018, remind me that I wept like a child when he re-signed.

@SpikeEskin: “I would like to see an ‘unlucky’ rankings. A combination of stats that suggest bad luck and the worst luck hitters/pitchers. Also, I would love to know if there is a way to know if if you can quantify a certain skill level that overcomes bad luck. Like this: I could never imagine Roy Halladay in his prime being 1-6 in August, regardless of his bad luck.”

Spike, in case you hadn’t noticed, is a big shot. He hosts a radio show on WIP (which he’s been gracious enough to invite me on), so he thinks he can spend three tweets asking a Crash Bag question. He thinks he’s that important.

But this is a good question. Baseball is perhaps the only area of life in which I am a determinist. There might be free will, but it’s dwarfed by the randomness and the whimsy of the fabric of space-time. The broken-bat blooper is a double. The line drive crushed to the warning track is an out. So it goes. If a foreigner asked me to describe baseball, I’d say: “Life sucks, then the Yankees win.”

Because so much of baseball is luck (or random variation if you prefer), it’s important to recognize where that pops up. Follow me to FanGraphs.com, where I’ll take you to a set of player pages to illustrate these points. (I realize that the readership of this blog is, in large part, more statistically savvy than even I, so feel free to skip ahead to the next question.)

The prevailing study of pitchers right now involves defense-independent pitching statistics, or DIPS. The theory is that pitchers can control how many batters they strike out, how many batters they walk and how many home runs they give up. Any ball put in play is subject to factors outside their control, including defensive quality, weather, stadium design and physics. There are some qualifications to this. To some degree, home runs are subject to luck as well, so some DIPS-based ERA estimators take that into account. There’s evidence to suggest that pitchers can control what type of hit they give up. Sinkerballers give up more ground balls, guys who throw hard and up in the zone give up fly balls, and guys who just suck give up lots of line drives. It’s also been speculated that pitchers can control, to a certain extent, how hard the ball is hit. To my knowledge, this hasn’t been empirically proven, but it seems plausible logically.

Anyway, for a pitcher, you’ve got options. There have been several DIPS ERA estimators that try to show what a pitcher’s ERA would have been using only the things he can control and holding all other variables constant. I give you Cole Hamels’ FIP. In 2008, he posted a 3.05 ERA, won NLCS and World Series MVP honors, and was the toast of the town. A year later, he fell on hard times, his ERA spiked to 4.32, he melted in a playoff game with his wife in labor and the fans who had adored him a year earlier turned on him in favor of J.A. Happ, who we’ll talk more about in a moment. Hamels’ 2009 woes were largely the result of bad luck. How do we know this? His strikeout rate, walk rate and home run rate stayed more or less constant and his FIP was literally identical in 2008 and 2009, 3.72. So look at one of the ERA estimators (FIP, xFIP, SIERA, I don’t care), and if it’s higher than a pitcher’s ERA, usually he’s getting lucky. If it’s lower, he’s unlucky.

Back to J.A. Happ. A crude way to tell if a pitcher’s skating by on good fortune is his BABIP. Generally, pitchers tend to have a career BABIP of .300, demonstrable by the fact that Roy Halladay’s career BABIP is roughly equal to Adam Eaton‘s. Some pitchers (including Hamels) tend to sit lower. But as a rule of thumb, .300 is the norm. If a pitcher, in a small sample, even a season-length sample, posts a BABIP lower than .300, he’s probably getting lucky. Happ, in 2009, posted a 2.93 ERA, which was nearly a run and a half lower than his FIP. This was thanks in part to a .266 BABIP. Now that Happ’s BABIP (which is a fun phrase. I was in a folk-rock band called Happ’s BABIP for a while) rose to roughly .300 the past two seasons, he’s fallen on hard times. Poor guy. I always liked him.

For hitters, that’s not the case. There is a certain measure of skill in a hitter’s BABIP. For instance, fast guys who hit ground balls tend to have high BABIPs because 1) grounders tend to turn into hits at a higher rate and 2) they leg out a lot of infield singles, while the reverse is true for slower fly ball hitters. For instance, Ichiro’s career BABIP is .347, and was higher before he posted back-to-back career lows in 2011 and 2012. On the other hand, Jose Bautista‘s career BABIP is .270.

For a hitter, it’s best to compare BABIP to his career average, particularly if he’s built up something of a track record. Hunter Pence, for instance, is not one man, but two: The High-BABIP Lion of Judah and the Low-BABIP Salieri of Outfielders. In 2007, Pence’s rookie year, his BABIP was .377. In 2011, his BABIP was .361. Pence’s wOBA in those years? .384 and .378. Superstar stuff.

However, in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2012, Pence’s numbers have been more pedestrian. His BABIPs over that span: .301, .308, .304, .299. His wOBAs in those years: .334, .351, .341, .338. All fine numbers, even for a corner outfielder. But not worth trading Singleton and Cosart for. And yes, I’m watching you @mferrier31. Don’t you think I’ve forgotten about my trombone promise. So if prime Ichiro clubs out a .370 BABIP for a season, that’s no big deal. But if someone like Pence does it, that’s a different animal. There’s a lot of nuance to using hitter BABIP to gauge luck. If a guy’s BABIP is up over a full season and so is his line drive rate, that’s probably more an indication of him becoming a better player than being lucky.

I could go on, of course, but this answer is already way too long. There’s strand rate, HR/FB rate, and a host of other ways to find out what’s real and what’s an illusion. But above all else, beware small sample sizes, or even sample sizes that last months. Even Michael Martinez can look like Barry Bonds, and vice-versa if the sample is small enough.

Simply put, there’s no omnibus luck stat, though Cliff Lee this season is a special case. I’ll say this much: enough bad luck can overwhelm just about any amount of skill. His peripherals are slightly worse than last season, plus he’s taken a little bit of a beating in just about every luck-related stat, from BABIP to HR/FB rate to strand rate, even to run support, plus he hasn’t exactly had the cooperation of his bullpen. Add in that he’s only won one game and every Lee start is watched with a hyperbolic intensity. We try to assign meaning to too much in sports, writing about an individual game as if it’s a morality play. Better to sit back and embrace the randomness.

Remember, Spike, “Life sucks, then the Yankees win.”

1,171 words, that response, and I didn’t really even answer the question. We might have to dedicate a book to this topic. And by “we,” I mean someone who’s got a better handle on the cutting edge of baseball statistics than I do.

@Estebomb: “Why is fat Ryan Howard better than the trimmer version? Does it have something to do with gravitational pull?”

I can only assume so. It’s possible that his girth is actually affecting the break on the 57-foot offspeed pitches he usually gets himself out on. But I have an alternative hypothesis. Fat equals happy.

I used to be skinny. But then I went to college and Chick-fil-a was on the meal plan (back in 2005, before they became the third rail of American culinary politics, so relax. Those were the days when a man’s choice of junk food wasn’t taken as a political statement, or as I like to call them, The Days When Men Were Free and Life Was Worth Living). Anyway, then I stopped playing organized sports. Then I graduated and didn’t have to walk everywhere. Now I’m the opposite of the narrator of Stone Temple Pilot’s “Creep.” I’m twice the man I used to be. And I’m okay with that because getting skinny means not eating the food I like and exercising a lot. Or at all. Ryan Howard and I are in a similar situation in that respect–both of us are bigger than usual, but engaged to be married, and thus, if all goes according to plan, will never need to impress strange women again. No need to make myself unhappy, and I suspect the Big Piece feels the same way.

The way I see it, a fat Howard is a happy Howard. And a happy Howard is a productive Howard. He’s like a Soviet coal miner in that respect. You wanna know why Nick Frost is so hilarious and jocular and Kristen Stewart is a grouch and has never smiled, on screen or off, in her life? Because fat people are happy and fun and skinny people are miserable and mean. That’s why Fat Howard is more productive than Skinny Howard.

@Framed_Ace: “If not Chase Headley who WOULD you like to see as the Phils 3B next year? Both dreaming and realistically.”

Yes, I wrote a hit piece on Chase Headley two day ago, essentially saying that Headley’s a nice player at a position the Phillies need, but Ruben Amaro would have to be a lunatic to trade for him. Which he probably will, because Ruben Amaro is a lunatic. Also, it appears that the comment section on that post has gotten away from us in the past 36 hours. 46 comments…yeah, I’m never going back there. Who knows what’s going on in that darkness?

But that’s a fair question that I meant to answer in the original post but frankly forgot to. If I’m dreaming, the Phillies find some sort of rejuvenation machine and return, like, George Brett to factory spec. If I’m actually dreaming and not hallucinating, the Phillies find a way to get their hands on Mike Olt without giving up Cliff Lee, which would be even more insane than trading for Chase Headley. That, too, is unlikely. I like Olt, but I’m not convinced enough that he’s going to be a star to give up four years of Cliff Lee, even if he is aging and unlucky. Maybe I’d take a flyer on the guy behind Headley on the depth chart in San Diego, James Darnell, who, at 25, hasn’t broken into the majors full-time yet, but has shown some patience and pop in the minors. He’d be a low-risk, moderate-upside type of player and almost certainly better than Ty Wigginton.

So failing Olt or some other young up-and-comer, I’d just as soon see the Phillies punt third base entirely as try to reach for a minor upgrade. Third base is completely barren, and I’m okay with them playing some yannigan there full-time until an obvious answer comes along. I’m going to tell a parable to illustrate my point.

Back when I was in college, the place to be on weekends was Five Points, where all the cheap college bars were. Now, most of those places tended to shut down between 1 and 2 on weekends, but there’s a place called Red Hot Tomatoes. It stayed open until 3 a.m. I went there, I believe, twice in the three semesters in which I was 21. I hardly ever went there for two reasons. First, it was a dancing club, and I, like Kompressor, do not dance. The second is that it’s the last-ditch hookup central, and I had a girlfriend all 4 years of college. But Red Hot’s used to fill up around closing time for the other bars full of sloppy drunk kids in their early 20s trying desperately to find someone to hook up with. It was a spectacle. And according to a friend who’s been in Columbia more recently than I, it’s only gotten worse.

Anyway, as far as third basemen go, it’s last call at Red Hot Tomatoes. Everyone wants one, and everyone who already has one has gone home long ago. Anyone left on the dance floor when the lights go up and the last A Chi O who can’t stay upright in heels eats pavement is stuck with limited selection and the mistaken impression that leaving with anything is better than leaving with nothing at all. It’s not.

The kingdom of third base is like last call at Red Hot Tomates. Value is scarce at third base right now. Even average third basemen are expensive. Why would the Phillies overpay for value at third now when value could be had cheaply elsewhere? Just accept that you’re going to get replacement-level third base play for the next year or two until a better solution presents itself. I don’t believe that every team with designs on a playoff spot needs to fill every vacancy with a quality player right the hell now. That’s how bad trades get made. So let’s accept that it’s a seller’s market at third, accept a less-than-optimal outcome there for the time being and exercise a little bit of patience. You know, like grown-ups do. The Phillies are going to stink on ice at third. So will everyone else. We’ll all live.

@SoMuchForPathos: “Who is the last dragon? Who possesses the power of the glow?”

Well, according to the song, you are, and you do. In baseball terms, I’m pretty sure Cole Hamels will be the last player from this team to remain on the Phillies. Which makes him the last dragon. And I think that we can all agree that he possesses the power of the glow.

Though if he doesn’t, I’m sure he can buy it with $144 million.

@JakePavorsky: “Bigger folk hero: Sal Fasano or Eric Kratz”

I’m going to say Fasano, still, for now, if only because of his glorious mustache. Though if Kratz participates in a few more game-winning rallies, we could see that change in a hurry.

@jtramsay: “Dear #crashbag, say we trade our starting outfield. Who replaces them this season?”

I want to apologize to those of you who wrote in asking me to speculate on what trades the Phillies will make this week. I know we’re coming to the trade deadline, but I can’t answer those questions. I don’t have the first clue who the Phillies will trade, if anyone, or what, if anything, they’ll get in return. One day, I hope, I’ll be in the know about such things, and I promise I’ll tell you. Until then, I’d rather not contribute to a public panic that could cost lives.

With that said, I think the Phillies really should trade their entire starting outfield. Pierre offers them nothing beyond this season. Nor does Victorino. Pence could help next year, but with his likely arbitration award and the sudden urgent need for payroll flexibility with Cole Hamels’ contract extension, the Phillies would be best served dumping him for prospects when his value is highest. Which is to say, now. So the Phillies would find themselves with three outfielders–a pretty decent outfield, if I’m honest–on July 27 and a totally different one on August 1. What an interesting turn of events that would be.

Left field would probably be a Laynce Nix/John Mayberry platoon. Nix can hit against righties, and Mayberry can’t hit against anyone, but he’s right-handed so we’ll run him out there against lefties anyway. In right, I hope, we’d find a healthy Domonic Brown, the way finally cleared for him to make his big impact. In center, however, we reach a moment of indecision. The only current Phillie capable of playing center anywhere close to competently is Mayberry. And I’d rather not hand over a starting outfield spot to a guy with a .276 OBP. So where do we turn? Well, we could pull Jason Pridie off a landscaping crew again, or sign some similar quad-A guy with wheels to hold down the fort until the offseason comes and the Phillies can get their hands on what’s actually a pretty deep free agent crop in center. Maybe a young outfielder comes back in a trade. Who knows?

Though really, if it is Mayberry, what’s the worst that can happen: the Phillies miss the playoffs?

@cwyers: “If you sleep, will clowns eat you?”

Well not now, because I don’t think I’m going to be able to sleep with the threat of flesh-eating clowns hanging over my proverbial head. Thanks, buddy.

@skyboner: “is there an ideal place to take a dump at CBP? (besides batters box w. RISP)”

Well, I’ve never pooped there myself, but I believe the bathrooms would be the preferred place from a stand point of pubic health….oh. Jokes. Nice job. Hunter Pence doesn’t think it’s funny. He’s standing in the corner with his head hanging and expression on his face like a puppy who just, well, pooped in the batter’s box.

My eyes have stopped focusing, so this is going to have to be the last one.

@nicksaponara: “How would you like to see a return to 80’s unis? Cole looked pretty suave in them last year”

I wouldn’t like it at all. I don’t care how suave he looked. And this is coming from someone who’s on his second powder blue Steve Carlton shirsey. I went 12 rounds with a couple friends in Baltimore because they loved the white front panel on the Orioles’ cap and really got behind the orange alternate jerseys. I couldn’t stand them.

In order to wind up with such a uniform, the following exchange must have happened somewhere.

“Hey, let’s redesign the uniform to look like something from our history.”
“Great idea. When do you want to pick from.”
“Well…wait! It just came to me!”
“What?”
“You know when fashion was really great?”
“When?”
“The late 70s and early 80s.”

Someone must have thought that and he should be found and executed right now. Please, let’s not encourage Stagflation Nostalgia. Yes, the late 70s and early 80s, when cinema was at its peak, producing Saturday Night Fever. When Reagan and Brezhnev were in a race to see who could bankrupt his country first by overspending on the military. I’m feeling my heart go pitter-patter.

Seriously, I think the Phillies have great uniforms as-is. They’re classic: white with pinstripes at home, gray on the road. No fuss, no drama, just some good old-fashioned shut up and play baseball. I’d make two changes. First, ditch the hideous home day alternates. I know everyone likes that uniform but I can’t for the life of me figure out why. It’s like it was designed by a committee of eight-year-olds, a hodgepodge of eras and colors. I’m all for getting more blue in the uniform, but there’s got to be a way that doesn’t make Ty Wigginton look like a family of four that’s gone camping at Ocean Grove.

Second, I’d change the “Phillies” across the front of the road grays to “Philadelphia.” Just about every team that wears words on the front if the jersey puts the city name on the road uniforms. It’s time to join the party. And if you can fit “Baltimore” or “Los Angeles,” you can fit “Philadelphia.”

Thanks everyone who wrote in. This was the most bountiful harvest of tweets yet, and I look forward to to being able to say that again next week. Keep writing in, and we’ll resume our regularly-scheduled crashbaggery in seven days’ time. Enjoy the weekend.

Crash Bag, Vol. 11: Four Cheese Halladay

Boy, yesterday was more fun than a barrel  of monkeys, amirite guys? First, Paul Holmgren covers Nashville Predators GM David Poile’s house with toilet paper with that insane Shea Weber offer sheet, then we get word that, from a contractual standpoint, the Phillies and Cole Hamels have gone from passing notes in class to playing The Comfortable Game on the band bus. Thursday involved lots of guys in their twenties being offered almost inconceivably large sums of money to play games in Philadelphia, and boy was it titillating. Add in Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome’s curbstomping of Vincenzo Nibali in the Tour de France and you wind up with a pretty busy sports day for the Phillies and Union not playing and everyone else being in the offseason.

Oh, and Paul Holmgren, I know you’re facing sending some draft picks to the Predators if they match the offer sheet. Well, if you want to just tell Poile I’m the physical personification of a future third-rounder and just send me to live in Nashville, I’d totally be cool with that. I’m a team player that way.

On to your questions. Since this is at least nominally a baseball mailbag, let’s start with a baseball question.

Daniel (via e-mail): Do any of the inexperienced relievers currently in the Phillies bullpen (Joe Savery, Jake Diekman, Michael Swimmer, B.J. Rosenberg, etc.) have a chance to eventually develop into reliable major league relievers?

I apologize to Daniel for not getting to this sooner, but I was unaware people were still writing in via e-mail. And it was worth it, because earlier in the message he said Crashburn Alley was his favorite Phillies blog, which was very nice of him to say and I appreciate on behalf of the guys. I’ll tell you what, Daniel–you’re now my favorite reader.

Anyway, sure. The Phillies’ area of greatest farm system depth is in future middle relievers, which is about the worst thing you can say about a team’s farm system. Short of Phillippe Aumont actually plowing a field or something.

Speaking of Aumont, he should actually be really good. I think my irrational love for Aumont is one of the reasons I’m still kind of okay with the Phillies having traded Cliff Lee away the first time, but he’s got closer stuff. Prospect king Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus told us, when he was a guest on the Crash Pod, that Aumont has closer stuff. Of course, Bill deleted that episode by accident before it went to air, so you’ll have to take my word for it. Aumont throws everything hard, which is why he hasn’t had the control or  health out as a starter, but he could be a very good bullpen arm when he comes up.

Justin De Fratus is probably the next-best bullpen prospect of the bunch, a fastball-slider guy who got a cup of coffee last season but is just now returning to minor league action after an injury wiped out the start of his 2012. Apart from that, Diekman’s low arm slot and velocity should make him a pretty effective LOOGY, but the arm slot makes it easier for right-handed batters (particularly right-handed Matt Kemps) to pick up his pitches. And then there’s the control, or rather lack thereof. If he strikes out 10 batters per nine innings as a major league pitcher, there’s a pretty good chance he’ll walk seven or eight, which is not good at all.

Apart from that, Schwimer and Rosenberg both throw pretty hard, so there’s a decent chance one or both could turn into a good middle-innings, low-leverage guy, which is something. Or both could turn into pumpkins. Such is the life cycle of the low-leverage middle reliever.

Savery is probably the worst pitching prospect of the bunch, but here’s the rub, he can hit and pitch. A crappy left-handed reliever isn’t worth a whole lot, and neither is a crappy left-handed pinch hitter/first baseman. But a guy who can do both essentially represents a free roster spot, so if Savery is even passable as  a two-way player, I’d like to see the Phillies use him, if only for the novelty.

@mferrier31: “So after our nice little debate, do you still think the Pence trade was not good? Remember Hunter’s watching!”

He is not watching. Roz, however? That’s another story.

This is in reference to an argument Other Michael and I had on the internet the other night over the Pence Trade. He apparently thinks that Jonathan Singleton, Domingo Santana and Jarred Cosart were a small price to pay for a corner outfielder with a 120 OPS+ who can’t field or run the bases. I disagreed.

Then, in a bourbon-enhanced euphoria, I told Other Michael that I took it all back when Thunderpants delivered go-ahead RBI in consecutive games.

Now that y’all’re caught up, let me say this. No. It was still an awful trade, and when Singleton comes up to the majors and goes .300/.400/.500 as the Astros’ DH for ten years, I will hire a man to go to your house every day and knock on your door. When you open, he’ll take out a trombone and play “Brand New Key” by Melanie–ALL THREE VERSES–for you. When he’s done, he’ll give you a sealed envelope containing a handwritten note that says only “I TOLD YOU SO,” urinate in your bushes, and go on his way.

Every. Day. Of. Your. Life.

@lexuhbooz: “Phillies players as pizza toppings”

Coulda said please, at least.

  • Antonio Bastardo: Mushrooms. No one else seems to like them, but they’re my favorite. When I was in college I worked in the admissions office my senior year, and occasionally they’d order pizza for us, and they’d send around a sign-up sheet so we could get the toppings we wanted. One night, I just asked out loud if anyone would go on a mushroom pizza with me, and one girl said yes. And we had mushroom pizza. Best night of my life. I love mushroom pizza.
  • Chase Utley: Bacon. However good you think it is, it’s better.
  • Roy Halladay: Quattro formaggi. I did a study abroad in Brussels when I was in college, and let me say that any civilization founded on beer, french fries, soccer and intergovernmental politics is a civilization worth having. Anyway, while I was there, I had the greatest pizza of my life. For six euros, a 12-inch pie with mozzarella, gorgonzola and two other cheeses I can’t remember. It was, without exaggeration, the best pizza I’ve ever had. It stimulated every sensation I’m capable of tasting or smelling and left me with a full stomach, a fulfilled spirit and a pleasant fizzing feeling in my innards. It was glorious, a pizza worthy of Roy Halladay.
  • Cliff Lee: Pepperoni. Solid. Tasty. Dependable.
  • Cole Hamels: ham and pineapple. I bet you thought I’d say Shane Victorino was ham and pineapple. Racists. The lot of you. Speaking of which….

@TonyMcIV: “With SHANF evolving into VICTORION, what are the odds that we could trade him? Preferrably for a half-way decent reliever?”

So Ryan Sommers accidentally misspelled “Victorino” as “Victorion” yesterday afternoon. I’ve tried to stick Phillies with nicknames for years. “Exxon” took pretty well for Wilson Valdez. Ditto “Tony No-Dad” for Antonio Bastardo. “Pineapple Express” didn’t stick on Victorino, which is just as well because I heard he doesn’t like that moniker, and despite two years of my referring to the Phillies as La Furia Roja, no one else seemed to like it.

I bring this up because we need to make VICTORION stick on Shane. Apparently there’s a character in the George R.R. Martin series (Game of Thrones on TV) named Victorion, and that’s the image I want to conjure. Fur coats, claymores, magic. Victorion, the hero of Canton! Victorion, the fire-type Pokemon! Victorion, the magical Elvish sword that turned the tide at the battle of Helms Deep!

VICTORION makes “Cot for Choice” the second-best Phillies-related Twitter misspelling of 2012, and that’s saying something. It also makes Shane Victorino (the man, not the legendary Roman general) immensely valuable in a trade. I’m certain the Rangers would give up Jurickson Profar for him.

@PhreshPhillies and @CitizensBankers: “Phillies players as Batman characters”

And I bet both of you thought you were being so clever. Full disclosure, I’ve seen 3 episodes of the animated TV series, never read a comic book, and never seen any of the Burton or Schumacher movies. So to me, Robin is only a thing I’ve heard about. So based only on the first two Christopher Nolan movies, here it goes.

  • Cole Hamels: Batman. An awesome force for good, and arguably the guy who got the whole thing started, but what an irritating voice.
  • Chase Utley: The Joker. Undeniably the best part of the whole operation.
  • Michael Martinez: The Scarecrow. Utterly useless.
  • Domonic Brown: Harvey Dent. What a promising future, but ultimately disfigured and driven to insanity by the forces of randomness and evil.
  • Ryan Howard: Rachel Dawes. Boy, I really want the original version back.

@Billy_Yeager: “Take 5 Phils and liken them to historical figures. Explain your answer.”

Awfully demanding there, Bill. I thought I was done showing my work when I finished high school calculus.

Okay, here goes.

  • Chase Utley: Jesus Christ, the Only Son of God. Revolutionized everyone’s lives when he appeared. Possessed of supernatural powers. And it seems like all we do nowadays is sit around and wait for him to return.
  • Kyle Kendrick: Andrey Kozyrev. As the first foreign minister of the Russian Federation, Kozyrev embarked on a campaign of Atlanticism, which essentially meant that from 1991 to 1996 he kissed NATO’s ass whenever possible in the vain hope that the West would give the former Warsaw Pact some sort of Marshall Plan-like assistance to rebuild Russia into a modern country after 80 years…actually, more like 10,000 years of managing a country with attitudes 50 years or more behind the rest of the civilized world. It didn’t work, and to this day, Russia remains a country whose biggest music star wears a mullet, no thanks to Kozyrev. (NOTE: I don’t think Dima Bilan still wears a mullet, but it helps my point so pipe down.) In a moment of crisis, Kozyrev was the worst possible thing to happen to Russia, and he stuck around long after he was useful. I think you can see where I’m going with this.
  • Cliff Lee: Dylan Thomas. The man writes beautiful, beautiful poetry with a baseball. And if the Phillies don’t start giving him some run support, I’m pretty sure he’s going to contribute to at least one whiskey-related death.
  • Roy Halladay: Witold Pilecki. This is my favorite Wikipedia page ever. Just read it–your life will never be the same. The biggest badass in history. We’ll never see his like again.
  • Erik Kratz: King George III. He was just sort of…around…for a while. And never really did much of anything. Sort of sat on the sidelines while his generals lost the Revolutionary War. That seems appropriate.

@Wzeiders: “Which two Phillies are most like Bo and Luke Duke from The Dukes of Hazzard?”

Vance Worley–who has a well-documented affinity for muscle cars–is the only Phillies player I could imagine driving an orange Dodge Charger, much less jumping it off of something. He’s got to be one of them. I could imagine Mike Fontenot being the other. He’s from Louisiana, which means he could probably countenance putting the Confederate battle flag on anything without meaning actual racial malice, and he seems like the type who’s not afraid to fight the law, run moonshine, speak with an outrageously faked Georgia accent or get dirty doing it.

@gvntofly1021: “what is the most annoying ‘Phillies roster as:’ you’ve gotten yet, and how tired of them are you?”

OH SNAP. SHOTS FIRED.

But seriously, if you want to eliminate this kind of question from the Crash Bag, there’s an easy way to do it–write in with different questions and encourage your friends to do the same. Whatever goes up in this space, good or bad, is at least partially a function of the questions that are asked. So if you’re unhappy with it, address your questions (serious baseball-related or otherwise) over Twitter to #crashbag or by email to crashbaumann@gmail.com. Spread the word.

@JakePavorsky: “Which current member of the Phillies roster would be most likely to commit a felony?”

I’m about 99 percent sure answering this question would expose me to some sort of legal liability. Conspiracy or libel or something. So I’m going to pass, if it’s all the same to you, Jake.

Though between you and me, Laynce Nix is in the process of stealing $2.5 million from the Phillies over the next two years.

@SoMuchForPathos: “Any baseball players who have cooler names once they’re spelled backwards?”

Uerba Ybbob is pretty good. Sounds like the bad guy in an episode of Star Trek where no one faces mortal danger. And Jordany Valdespin‘s name is even sillier backwards than forwards, if that’s possible. Ditto Jurickson Profar. And Dan Uggla‘s name backwards (Alggu Nad) might not more dignified than his real name, but it’s more dignified than the way he fields second base. Adam Dunn‘s name backwards sounds very similar to “Nude madam” when you sound it out, which is rather exciting.

But as far as just having a cooler name backwards than forwards, Chase Utley’s name backwards is Yeltu Esahc, which sounds pretty cool to me. That Utley is just as cool in reverse should surprise no one.

@uublog: “Which Phillies would you most and least want to get drunk with?”

If I were single, I’d ignore your Phillies stipulation and say Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Joffrey Lupul. But since I’m not, I’m looking for someone I can just have a couple beers with and enjoy some good, clean fun. And to that, I’ll give the same answer I’ve given whenever someone asked me which Phillies player I’d like to hang out with most in any circumstance: Ryan Howard. He seems gregarious, affable and laid-back. And while a small part of me wants to see what a night on the town with Pat Burrell is really like, I mostly just want Ryan Howard to be my best friend forever. (sigh)

As far as the Phillies ballplayer I’d least like to get drunk with, I imagined a night out at a bar with Jonathan Papelbon. Like, immediately. He seems like the kind of guy who’d order a bunch of shots right off the bat and get uncomfortably drunk and friendly with passersby while you’re still on your first beer.

And this isn’t as awkward as a Night Out With Papelbon, but I think “Getting Drunk” with Ty Wigginton would involve something like sitting down in a living room, having one beer while watching Lou Grant, then going to sleep. Which sounds pleasant enough.

@gvntofly1021: “you can put one member of the Phils org(NOT RAJ) in an oubliette. Who, and to what end?”

A real question, now that we’re done antagonizing the other readers. I’m of two minds on this one. Part of me wants to send Michael Martinez down the oubliette for its primary purpose: so I can forget about him.

Either that, or I’d send Freddy Galvis down there with rock climbing gear so Domonic Brown can get out of the oubliette and start playing left field for the Phillies.

@hangingsliders: “How will Phillies fans taunt Lincecum tonight? Who will make the more frustrating moves this series: Manuel or Bochy?”

Well I’ve had that photo saved on my desktop for about two years now so I can note how much Tim Lincecum looks like Mitch Kramer from Dazed and Confused. Considering that I’ve cluttered my desktop with a file that I only use to mock Lincecum, I imagine at least one Phillies fan will make a crack about O’Bannion coming with his paddle. Otherwise, I’m sure we’ll get at least one weed joke and at least one dirty hippie joke. And by “we’ll get” I mean “I will make.” It’s gonna be good. I’m making popcorn. And to reference an earlier question, “Tim Lincecum” spelled backwards is “Mucecnil Mit,” which sounds like a Mormon fiber supplement. So I guess the takeaway lesson from that is that Brian Sabean built his team around a Mormon fiber supplement.

And as far as who will make the most maddening moves? Bochy, and it’s not even close. Uncle Cholly’s defining characteristic as a game manager is that he’s hands-off, which made him the perfect man to lead the Phillies the past few years. If you’ve got a lineup like the 2007 Phillies had and you don’t let everyone just swing away, you’re a lunatic.

Bochy, however…let me put it this way. You know how movies portray the world as it’s about to end? Not with Tea Leoni standing with her dad on the beach as the cataclysmic tsunami rushes toward them. But looting and bacchanalia. People acting like there’s no tomorrow because they’re pretty sure there won’t be. Bruce Bochy seems to be acutely aware of the possibility that the city he lives and works in could fall into the sea at any moment, and he manages like it. It’s truly fascinating, what goes on in that enormous head of his.

One note, if you’re the kind of person who likes to see what the enemy is up to, Wendy Thurm (who wrote this question) is a good person to read.

Let’s end with a pair of Carlos Ruiz questions.

@jonathanbietz: “Ruiz’s option at $5 million next year is a no-brainer even if offense declines. What do you do in 2014+? Valle might not be ready.”

Boy, that’s an understatement. According to Baseball-Reference, Chooch has been worth at least 2.5 WAR in each of the past four seasons, including this one, and while I doubt very much that he’ll continue to post a 1.000 OPS, even until the end of this year, he’ll be worth a damn sight more than $5 million. Just to put that in context, Chooch is having literally one of the best two-way seasons ever by a catcher. Piazza and Mauer have hit this well, but neither was as good defensively as Ruiz is. For precedent of a good defensive catcher mashing like this, we’re looking at Roy Campanella’s MVP seasons. After that, you can stretch the odd Johnny Bench year or Carlton Fisk year, but that’s it. It’s amazing.

A good defensive catcher who posts a .424 wOBA, as Chooch is doing this season, would literally be the most valuable player in baseball every year. I don’t think we can count on that going forward, and to their credit, Phillies fans seem to understand this by and large. But even a good defensive catcher who posts a .332 wOBA, as Chooch did last year, is quite valuable.

The good news is that when he’s asking for an extension, Chooch will be entering his age-35 season, and no one is going to shell out big money long-term for a 35-year-old catcher. So if Valle isn’t ready, I say the Phillies just keep paying Ruiz. Keep signing him to one-or-two-year deals until he stops hitting or Valle is ready, whichever comes first. Nevertheless, I’m glad I don’t have to make that decision. All I have to do is churlishly mock Ruben Amaro when whatever road he picks goes wrong.

@SJHaack: “Would you say Chooch is more “huggable” or “lovable”?”

Good question. I’m convinced that up until this season, when he traded in his bat for the grav hammer from Halo 3, everyone loved Carlos Ruiz so much because he’s proportioned roughly like a teddy bear. He’s very small, but mostly torso with a huge head and little stumpy arms and legs. And the voice doesn’t do much to dispel the notion that he’s actually a 33-year-old man and not a stuffed animal. For that reason, I find Chooch more huggable than lovable. Though I do love him too.

I find all of you huggable as well, dear readers. We’ll have our regularly-scheduled Crash Baggery one week from today.

Crash Bag, Vol. 10: I Will Sign Cody Ross

One of my favorite lines ever written about baseball came from Yahoo!’s Jeff Passan, who several years ago wrote a quick-hit spring training preview with one question for each of the 30 teams heading into the preseason. This was the year Andruw Jones and Juan Pierre were teammates on the Dodgers, Pierre as he was starting his career as the scrappy journeyman out machine, and Jones coming off a three-year stretch where he parlayed a three-year span of hitting 118 home runs and a reputation as the greatest defensive center fielder ever into a two-year contract with Los Angeles that would see him nearly eat his way out of baseball.

Anyway, Passan wanted to know something along the lines of “Can Juan Pierre throw a baseball farther than Andruw Jones can throw Juan Pierre?”

That got me thinking–how bad is Juan Pierre’s arm really? Like, can a normal person throw a baseball harder than he can? My brother is a college senior who pitched in high school but hasn’t played organized baseball in years. When he was 14 or 15, he hit 70 on a radar gun, and it’s fair to assume that he got stronger since then. He was never even “he’s going to play in college” good, but let’s say he topped out in the mid-to-high 70s by the time he was a junior or a senior.

Now, when you see a position player pitch, usually he gets up around 90, and these are guys with good throwing arms, like Wilson Valdez. Pierre is famous for his lack of arm strength. Can we say that he throws 15 miles an hour slower than Exxon? I think that’s plausible. I know it’s just one tool, and Pierre is faster than and makes more contact than the vast majority of the American population. But he’s in his 13th major league season, and I’d bet that if you took 100 varsity high school baseball players from around the country, about half would be able to beat him on the radar gun.

Like most of what I write, I’m not sure what the larger point is. But if someone can track Pierre with a radar gun and get me the number, I’d be curious to see how he stacks up against your average high school pitcher.

@SkirkMcGuirk: “Is this year like the ’79 Phils (bad season in an otherwise great era) or the ’96 Phils (first of many disappointments)?”

This is an excellent question, Skirk, and it depends on what kind of moves are made in the offseason. I don’t know that either is the perfect comparison, because the Phillies weren’t anywhere near this bad in 1979, and they weren’t coming off this good a run in 1996. Plus, 1979 was sort of fluky. They on 84 games that year and won 92 games and the World Series the next year with almost exactly the same lineup and pitching staff. I like 1996 a little bit better because it carried a similar realization that the players that won the Phillies the pennant a couple years earlier were older and not all that good anymore.

But I’d liken this season to 1984 more than anything else. Coming off a season in which they added another No. 1 starter and did quite well with an extremely old roster (Cliff Lee is John Denny in this metaphor), the Phillies paid the price for their lack of youth the following season, as the Wheeze Kids dropped to .500. Like this team, those Phillies were built on a philosophy of getting guys who were good five or ten years ago, or at least I assume they were, because I can’t think of another good reason to go into the mid-1980s with two key pitchers also having been key pitchers on the 1969 Miracle Mets.

Anyway, after that season, they stumbled around .500 for a couple years, then went into a swoon that, save for the aberrant 1993 season, continued until they finished second in 2001, starting their current run of success.

But I realize that that’s not what you’re asking. Is this bad season a one-off, or is it the beginning of the end? I think 2013 is going to be a rough year, but it really depends on how the Phillies handle some really tough decisions about Cole Hamels and Domonic Brown now, and Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz and Roy Halladay in a couple of years. Beyond that, it’s up to things that not even Ruben Amaro can control.

@TonyMcIV: “Who gave Bill his Twitter skills? & If The Phils sign Coal Hammels what hope is there for bullpen help?”

I wasn’t aware Bill had Twitter skills.

And if the Phillies pass on Cole Hamels as a free agent and spend $20 million shoring up the middle relief, I’m going to sell all my worldly possessions, move to Croatia and start a farm, where I’ll raise something ridiculous, like peanuts or reindeer. And I’ll never think about baseball again. I hear Dubrovnik is lovely this time of year. A quick stop off on Wikipedia says Croatian olive oil is a major export. That sounds wonderful. I think I might become a Croatian olive farmer even if the Phillies do get better.

@PhreshPhillies: “If you had to take a random guess right now, who are the starting outfielders in 2013?”

Tom Waits, Jens Voigt and Robinson Cano. First three names that popped into my head.

Though I don’t think you meant random like that, so I’ll give you a couple different answers.

The best-case scenario is, well, if I’m honest, probably something like Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen and Jason Heyward, though I don’t think I see that one coming off. So the outfield I’d like to see the most is Domonic Brown, Tyson Gillies and Nick Swisher. Nick the Swish is a free agent this offseason and, while expensive, will get on base and hit for some power from both sides of the plate. Gillies is a reach, but this is my best-case scenario, so he rakes for the rest of the season and in spring training, then is not completely abysmal as a rookie center fielder. And frankly, if not for a run of bad fortune and personal oppression by the fates the likes of which we haven’t seen since the book of Job, Domonic Brown would have been starting in an outfield corner two years ago. Here’s hoping Brown’s story ends as happily as Job’s did. Note: this scenario involves trading Victorino and Pence, so if one of them nets a decent young center fielder, you could plug him in instead of Gillies.

The worst-case scenario is probably John Mayberry, Josh Hamilton and Hunter Pence. That would mean that 1) the Phillies spent as much on Hamilton as they would have on Hamels and didn’t get Hamels. Hamilton’s great now, but if you believe he’s suddenly going to start not being hurt all the time at age 32, and you believe that strongly enough to give him, say, the Matt Kemp contract, I really don’t know what to say to you. Retaining Mayberry means that the Phillies have not only continued to bury Brown but that they’ve failed to come up with a better option than a 29-year-old corner outfielder with a career .306 OBP. And finally, retaining Pence means that the Phillies feel strongly that he’s their best right field option going forward, enough to give him $14 or $15 million a year.

A more likely scenario probably involves Brown and Pence in the corners with either some scrub free agent in center if they re-sign Cole Hamels, or a massively overpaid average to above-average center fielder if they don’t. I’m thinking Michael Bourn, Melky Cabrera or B.J. Upton. I’m fairly confident the Phillies are going to screw this up expensively, if not massively.

@uublog: “You go back in time and add or eliminate one transaction. What do you do and how does it change the team now and in the future?”

I’m not taking the bait and drafting Jackie Bradley Jr. over Larry Greene.

I know this is the easy answer, but I’d can the Howard contract. With that money, the Phillies could have been major players for either Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder last offseason, both of whom are signed to expensive deals that will extend far past their usefulness, but both are as good at the plate as Howard is being paid to be right now. Or they could have taken that money and extended Cole Hamels. Depending on when that extension gets done, they’d have had enough money left over to go get another useful free agent. When it was signed, I didn’t grasp how awful the deal was, and on how many levels. I curse myself for my shortsightedness.

Or. I could go back to 2008 and hire a different GM when Pat Gillick retired. That’s a much better idea.

@bxe1234: “If you were a GM, what’s the first thing you’d do to make us hate you? Cause we will eventually. Just curious about your opener”

Am I just going about my business, or am I specifically out to troll you? Because if I were out to troll you, I’d sign Cody Ross and start him in center field next season.

But if I were being serious…actually, you know what, I am serious. Cody Ross isn’t a bad one-year option of the Phillies trade Pence and Victorino and Tyson Gillies isn’t ready in center. I’d be totally okay rolling him out for 500 plate appearances in center, and I’d want to punch him in the noggin every time he came to the plate.

So it’d either be that or building that time machine to go back and draft Jackie Bradley.

@CitizensBankers: “Higgs Boson: go.”

Apparently it’s a big deal. I gotta admit, my knowledge of anything smaller than an electron is almost nothing. And frankly, I don’t care one bit how the universe was created and how it’s held together. Not that it’s not important, but I’m a writer, not a theoretical physicist. But it’s cool that someone let scientists build something as big as the LHC for no purpose other than to advance knowledge. I think we could use another national science and engineering project on the level of the Apollo missions–where we set out to do and learn something just because we can. Put a man on Mars, maybe, or explore the bottom of the ocean. I think what they’ve done at CERN is important, even if I’m not particularly interested in the details. If Europe’s top scientific minds say they’ve found the God particle, I’m willing to take them at their word.

Now if the Higgs Boson can play third base, then you’ve got my attention.

@MitchGoldich: “Am I crazy for thinking the #Phillies should move Utley to LF next year to prolong his career? Puts Galvis at 2B in non-premium offensive position. Do it in 13 to determine proper value of Utley’s next contract.”

I hate to say this, but yes. You are crazy for thinking that.

Galvis is a great defensive second baseman, by all indications. Considering that, maybe the Phillies should move Utley to a less-demanding position in order to save his ailing joints. Seems reasonable off the bat. However, five considerations make that a bad idea.

First, Galvis might be a great defensive second baseman, but he’s a terrible, terrible hitter. Granted, these numbers come from a portion of a rookie season, but a .266 wOBA is not exactly a ringing endorsement of his ability to produce even the scintilla of offense needed to justify putting his glove in the field. The Marlins went through this recently with a third base prospect named Matt Dominguez, whose glove, it is said, is every bit as good as Ryan Zimmerman‘s or Evan Longoria‘s, but whose bat never developed. Before they signed Jose Reyes and moved Hanley Ramirez to third base, the Marlins planned to slot Dominguez in at that position, but Dominguez couldn’t even hit AAA pitching, and so he was shipped off to Houston for Carlos Lee. I don’t think Galvis is that bad, but Dominguez provides a cautionary tale.

Second, we don’t know if Galvis’s back is going to take anything off his game going forward. If he can’t move as well as he could before the injury, he goes from being unbelievably good with the glove to being merely good, and there’s no excuse to put him in the lineup at all, much less move Utley.

Third, Galvis might be a great defensive second baseman, but so is Utley. He’s been the best defensive second baseman in the game for ages, and even as his joints fail him and he slips, his glove will never be bad enough to make up the gap in hitting ability between him and Galvis.

Fourth, I’m not convinced a move to left field does a whole lot for Utley. Maybe it’s a little less demanding physically, but his bat doesn’t look nearly as good in a corner outfield spot as it does at second base. Instead of playing at a position where the best offensive players are Dan Uggla and Ian Kinsler, Utley would have to keep up with Ryan Braun, Josh Hamilton, Justin Upton and average corner outfielders like Nick Swisher. Utley can play second, so let’s keep his bat there if we can. It’s easier to find a left fielder who can hit better than Galvis than it is to find a second baseman who can hit better than Utley.

Fifth, are we totally giving up on Domonic Brown now? I hope not.

@SpikeEskin: “could you come up with a similar baseball situation to Spencer Hawes playing power foward for the Sixers instead of center?”

Playing Juan Pierre in left field over Domonic Brown. Though worse than that is signing Kwame Brown to a multi-year deal to do anything.

@ETDWN: “Along the lines of Crashburn writers as House characters, what about Crashburn writers as characters from The Wire?”

I can’t do that for three reasons. Apparently talking about The Wire is a Bill Simmons staple, and some of the readers get their panties in a bunch whenever something I write resembles something Simmons could have written. Second, describing the five of us seems a little grandiose and needlessly self-referential. And third, I’m only up to Season 4, so I don’t have the whole series’ worth of perspective on these characters. Sorry.

(But since you asked, Bill: Avon; Bradley: Sydnor; Paul: Daniels; Ryan: McNulty; and me as Stringer. I’ll let you try to figure out why on your own.)

One last note on The Wire. All due respect to President Obama, anyone who thinks Omar is a better character than Stringer had better let me take a hit of whatever you’re smoking, because that must be some powerful stuff. I marvel at the creativity it took to create a character like Omar, but he’s a cartoon. Just because he carries a sawed-off shotgun and delivers pithy lines doesn’t make him a good character. Stringer’s actually human, and exhibits a depth of feeling and a totally believable and fascinating set of conflicting motivations the likes of which you rarely see in fiction of any kind, much less television. Omar’s more fun, but Stringer’s the better character.

@gvntofly1021: “Current Phillies as beer.”

Heineken. Everyone thinks it’s really good, but it’s nothing more than really expensive pisswater.

@DashTreyhorn: “Phillies players as Game of Thrones characters. Go.”

Getting awfully pushy there, buddy.

A couple people responded to Dash with pretty good answers, so I’ll just repeat those here:

@TurtleZoot: “Hunter Pence is Hodor…:P” and “Halladay is Ned Stark. That MIGHT not be a good thing though…;)”

Emoticons alike, I like both of those: Hunter Pence is really big, doesn’t seem particularly bright and has done a lot of heavy lifting. Halladay is trying in vain to save the kingdom, but is taken out of commission early. Plus he’s the biggest star on the show.

@FanSince09: “Hammels is Renley”

I know why he said this, but I like Hamels as the ambitious but largely benign contender for the throne. When it was clear that Westeros was going to descend into civil war, I was rooting for Renley to win and for Robb to continue as King in the North. Let’s do a few others, quickly.

  • Carlos Ruiz: Arya Stark. Just sort of generally small, entertaining and a bigger player than anyone around realizes.
  • Ryan Howard: Robb Stark. Immensely likable, might be tasked with taking on a bigger role than he’s capable of.
  • Placido Polanco: Littlefinger (in this case, his fingers are only little compared to his head)
  • Michael Martinez: Sansa Stark. I turn on every Phillies game hoping that Joffrey has finally lost his tenuous grasp on his sanity and beheaded Mini-Mart.
  • Jonathan Papelbon: Daenerys Targaryen. Please. Just go away and shut up about your goddamn dragons.
  • Jayson Werth as Khal Drogo. Come back to us, enormous bearded awesome man.
  • Jimmy Rollins: Jamie Lannister. The smooth talker. No word on J-Roll’s sister, however.
  • Chase Utley: Tyrion Lannister. Things just seem better when he’s around.

Oh, and if you haven’t listened to The National’s version of “The Rains of Castamere,” do that at your earliest convenience. It’s really good.

@Estebomb: “Is there any way to trap Joe Blanton and Kyle Kendrick in the secret government warehouse from Indiana Jones?”

Yes. I like this idea. In fact, I’ve found that watching a Kyle Kendrick start is much like opening the ark of the covenant–it’s about as unpleasant as being in a room full of Nazis and then having your face melted off. Which, coincidentally, is nowhere near as unpleasant as Temple of Doom.

I’ve found that the only solution is to close your eyes, and when you open them again you’ll be wearing an awesome hat and live happily ever after with the young Karen Allen. Which isn’t a bad way to go out at all.

Speaking of going out, I’ve got to dial up that time machine we were talking about and set up an appointment with 1981-vintage Karen Allen. The Crash Bag will return next week, assuming I’ve made it back to the present by then.

Crash Bag, Vol. 9: The Kyle Kendrick IPO

It’s Ryan Howard Day! I must admit, I did not expect Ryan Howard Day to come under these circumstances: namely, that it would happen before the All-Star break (if only by a couple days) and that it would happen with the Phillies 10 games under .500 and 13 games out of first place.

I’ve always wondered why we’ve used full games for standings intervals and half-games for position relative to .500. I suspect it’s because that’s the number of games it would take to make up that deficit. You know, as in the earliest the Phillies could possibly get back to .500 is July 20, which is 10 games from now.

Anyway, I think that even in spite of last night’s horrific loss to the Mets, and in spite of the Phillies’ precarious  position in the standings (1.8 percent playoff odds going into tonight’s game, according to ESPN.com), today ought to be a good day. I mean, Ryan Howard is coming off a devastating soft-tissue injury and all, and he is an extremely large man who’s getting into his 30s, but just seeing him in the lineup ought to bring a smile to your face. Even if there’s an outside chance that he could hurt himself again (speaking of that injury, here’s David Beckham describing the same injury on Letterman. Fast-forward to about 4:25 for pictures from his surgery), even if Howard posted the first sub-.500 slugging percentage of his career last season and is only getting older, and even if the Phillies are so far out of first place as to render any player movement completely irrelevant.

Perhaps the most positive effect of Howard’s return is that everyone can get off Ty Wigginton‘s back. The poor guy has taken a lot of crap (and deservedly so) for untimely errors and untimely situational hitting. The fact is that Wigginton is not a first-division starter anymore. He’s a guy who can play in either an infield or outfield corner a couple times a week and provide a little bit of right-handed power off the bench. Unfortunately, due to Howard’s injury, John Mayberry‘s horrific season and for a time, Placido Polanco‘s injury, he’s been pressed into everyday service and has not done particularly well.

On a serious note, that’s really been the story of the 2012 Phillies: guys being asked to do more than they’re capable of doing and coming up short. It’s not just Wigginton–it’s Mayberry, Mike Fontenot, Michael Martinez, Freddy Galvis, Polanco, Chad Qualls, and Hunter Pence. Looking back on it, asking that group of players to contend was always unrealistic.

Still, Ryan Howard is coming back today. Today is going to be a good day.

@Fantusta: “Call Me Maybe?”

I take it back. Today sucks.

@JakePavorsky: “If you had to send the Phillies into the business world, who would be the most (and least) successful?”

I don’t know about the business acumens of various Phillies, so this is all speculation. For most successful, the obvious answers are John Mayberry (Stanford-educated!) and Chase Utley, who has the scowling, determined, not-here-to-make-friends attitude that I’d imagine would make someone an extremely effective and cutthroat entrepreneur. But truth be told, I’d bet huge on Cole Hamels. From what I understand, his charity, the Hamels Foundation, is a rousing success, well beyond the scope of your average athlete’s charity. I figure that if you can run a nonprofit (even nominally, as I’m sure les Hamels do), you’d probably be pretty decent in business. And moreover, I think Hamels, in addition to seeming like a pretty bright guy, has the kind of easygoing, good-humored demeanor off the field that would make him an absolutely killer salesman. I’ve never met the guy, and I like him and I’d trust him immediately.

For least successful, I don’t think the thousand-yard stare you see on Kyle Kendrick in the midst of a five-run inning would inspire much confidence in the troops on the eve of a soft opening or an IPO. So I’ll dump on Kendrick a little more.

@SJHaack: “Who do you think is the Phillies’ Catcher of the Future, and can you relate that in any way to coffee?”

I’ll take your questions one at a time. Barring something unexpected, the answer to the first question is almost certainly Sebastian Valle. He’s been the Phillies’ top position player prospect since they traded Jonathan Singleton, though that’s more an indictment of the Phillies’ minor league system than an endorsement of Valle. Valle is struggling a bit in AA, though he turns 22 in two weeks, so it’s not like he doesn’t have time to grow as a hitter, particularly given the Phillies’ proclivity for keeping position players in the minors until they’re 26 or 27. Plus he’s a year removed from playing in the Futures Game, which should tell you that he’s pretty well-regarded as a prospect. He’s got decent bat speed and power as a catcher, but his biggest issue is plate discipline, as in it’s Juan Pierre bad.

Still, given his age and where he’s at, there’s reason to be optimistic about Valle. I haven’t heard anyone say he’s going to be a superstar, but he ought to be coming into maturity about the time Carlos Ruiz starts to drift into his dotage.

One interesting about Valle is that he’s from Mexico, which is the 8th-biggest coffee producer in the world, though a quick scan of Wikipedia shows that Valle’s home region of Sinaloa is not exactly a coffee-producing hotbed. Which is unfortunate, because as painfully twisted as that angle was, I can’t think of another that isn’t more painful and more twisted.

Unless Valle picks up the pace in July and August and earns himself a cup of coffee with the Phillies when rosters expand. Too forced? Okay, screw it. Moving on.

@SpikeEskin: “please tell me what the baseball equivalent of the Sixers re-signing Spencer Hawes is. That’s my question.”

Yeah, I hear Sixers fans are pretty cheesed off about this one. I must admit that all I know about the NBA nowadays is what I stumble onto by accident on ESPN and Deadspin, so if this isn’t completely spot-on, I apologize. Okay, here’s what I know about Hawes: he’s a big gawky white guy with limited athleticism, and if anyone loves big gawky white guys, it’s…well, the Pacers, a team that’s actually had to answer questions about the potentially racist undertones of its player personnel strategy. But no, the Sixers, the team of Shawn Bradley, Eric Montross and Matt Geiger, that’s a landing spot for a huge white dude with limited athleticism. But from what I understand, Hawes doesn’t rebound or block shots, which is fine for a 7-foot white guy if you’re Dirk Nowitzki or Andrea Bargnani and possess…what’s the word I’m looking for….oh, yes, offensive game. Oh, and Hawes doesn’t appear to know 1) anything about economics or 2) what “communism” means. Though Hawes’ politics are a secondary concern. If he were pulling down 15 rebounds a game, he could be a member of the Khmer Rouge for all I care.

Anyway, the Sixers re-signed Hawes to a two-year, $13 million contract extension this week, and boy did people get pissed. From what I understand, Hawes isn’t that good, and bringing him back represents the reconstitution of a team that barely made the playoffs without trying to 1) grab a big-name star by trade or free agency or 2) grab a potential big-name star by tanking into a top-3 draft pick. In the NBA, it seems, you can’t win a title without at least one superstar, which is why sportswriters who think sports are some sort of moral test eat basketball up, and also, incidentally, one of the reasons why I find basketball hard to watch. But anyway, the Sixers seem to be stuck in an endless cycle of barely making the playoffs, getting bounced in the first or second round, and bringing back the same mediocre players the next year.

A couple people on my timeline (who responded to Spike’s question directly because he’s much more famous than I am), offered Kyle Kendrick’s extension and Placido Polanco’s upcoming mutual option. I like both of those answers, but if I was going to pick a recent similar baseball transaction, we’re looking for a mediocre team overpaying to keep a mediocre player. I think we’re going to have to go with the San Francisco Giants re-signing Aubrey Huff after the 2010 season.

Huff was worth a total of -2.0 bWAR from 2008 to 2009, and since 2004 had only put up one season of more than a full win above replacement. But when, in 2010, he posted a 5.5-WAR season, Giants GM Brian Sabean concluded that when a 33-year-old first baseman posts a .388 wOBA after not having been worth a crap in six years, he’s a safe bet for a 2-year, $20 million contract that would keep top prospect Brandon Belt in AAA, who’s going through his own West Coast Domonic Brown Saga with Huff in the role of Raul Ibanez. It was a phenomenally stupid and shortsighted move that explains why most of my Ryan Howard trade fantasies involve Sabean and the Giants.

Now it’s time for a little insider trading. First up, this from Ryan’s girlfriend:

@ChasingUtley: “Chase Utley: great player, or the GREATEST?”

An incisive question to be sure. He’s probably not literally the greatest player ever, or even of his own time, or even the greatest second baseman of all time. For me, the top two are Joe Morgan and Eddie Collins, then Rogers Hornsby, who was overrated due to the inflated hitting stats of his era, then Nap Lajoie, ditto, and might have gamed the fielding stats in such a way that massively overrated his defensive value. But after that, you’re into sort of a second-level Hall of Fame territory, with Craig Biggio, Robbie Alomar, Ryne Sandberg, Jackie Robinson and others. I was hoping that Utley could maintain his pace into his mid-30s and reach that level, but it’s looking less and less likely that that will be the case. Not only was he hamstrung by not becoming a major league regular until partway through his age-26 season, but injuries will likely cut his career short.

If Utley doesn’t make the Hall of Fame, I won’t be particularly miffed, because the Hall of Fame is perhaps more out of whack at second base than any other position. Even leaving Utley out of it, Bobby Grich and Lou Whitaker, perhaps two of the ten greatest second basemen of all time, didn’t get a sniff of Cooperstown, while Bill Mazeroski made it in on a combination of the logical reaches that you’d need to put both J.T. Snow and Bucky Dent in the Hall of Fame. I love the Hall of Fame–it’s a fantastic museum on the kind of street in the kind of town that gives life to the kind of baseball mythology that at once makes me weep with joy and makes me want to carpet-bomb upstate New York. (Not that anyone would notice the difference if you did.)

In short, the Hall of Fame is like Disneyland for middle-aged white men in khaki shorts, which is great. But if we’re using it as some sort of measuring stick for player value, let’s put some people in charge of it who know what the hell they’re doing.

Oh, yeah, Chase Utley. Awesome. I’ll call him the greatest Phillies player I’ve ever seen (Mike Schmidt retired when I was two years old). I’ll call him the most exciting non-Iverson, non-Lindros Philly athlete of my lifetime, which is a massive compliment for a baseball player. If I see his like in red pinstripes again before I die, I’ll consider myself lucky.

Now a question from our leader:

@CrashburnAlley: “Crashburn writers as House characters. Go.”

When the boss asks a question, you answer. In alphabetical order, with the caveat that I didn’t watch the last season.

Bradley Ankrom as Martha Masters: The latecomer. Possessed of an impressive intelligence and, I’m told, an affinity for dark stockings.

Bill Baer as Dr. Lisa Cuddy: The leader. Does most of the thankless work that keeps the lights on. Trying to keep everyone happy all the time and failing because she (he in Billbear’s case) has assembled a staff that, while talented, is composed largely of weirdos, sociopaths, and malcontents. Plus Bill always wears his skirts a little too short.

Michael Baumann as Dr. James Wilson: The weeping, bleeding emotional center of the team. Easily frustrated and constantly waging an internal battle between the rational and the moral. Doesn’t really do the same sort of diagnostic (or sabermetric) heavy lifting as the rest of the characters, but is still lovable in kind of a sad sack hangdog kind of way. And I’ve got a huge man-crush on Robert Sean Leonard, so sue me.

Paul Boye as Thirteen: Very much about keeping the stiff upper lip. Did a spell in jail. Seems extremely well-grounded in the midst of a whirlwind of chaos. Devoid of fear and guided by a strong, if slightly unorthodox, ethical compass. A fan favorite.

Ryan Sommers as Dr. Robert Chase: We could go on about Ryan’s dashing good looks, his Australian accent, or his surgical prowess. We could go on about his kindness towards his patients, and the fact that he once had a threesome with two beautiful women whose names he didn’t remember the next day. Okay, that never happened. But while his biting sarcasm would more closely align him with half a dozen other characters better than Chase, one moment stands out. If I had to pick one of us who would kill James Earl Jones-as-Robert Mugabe in cold blood, it would be Ryan.

I’m not going to be so presumptuous as to say any of us is like House. If Bill can persuade, say, Kevin Goldstein to come join the blog I might reconsider.

@seanmkennedy: “looks like your Jackie Bradley love is being verified by prospectors. Also my Ottoneu team thanks you”

It is. Baseball America just bumped him up to 32nd on their prospect ranking list. Sean added him to his Ottoneu team on my recommendation earlier this season and will soon reap the benefits. Apart from “Fire Ruben Amaro,” my most common Phillies refrain is “they should have drafted Jackie Bradley over Larry Greene.” While I have been steadfast in my belief that the Phillies should have drafted Bradley since…oh, June of 2010, I don’t want to make it sound like I’m rooting against Greene. I was in love with Bradley because 1) I’m a massive South Carolina homer and 2) he was projected to go top-15 or maybe top-10 and fell because of an injury that healed by the time he ever took the field as a pro. What Bradley experienced last season was a lesser version of what Luc Giolito went through in this draft, and just as the Nationals got a top-5 talent in the late teens this year, the Phillies could have had a top-15 talent in the late 30s last year.

I think Bradley will be a star, or at least a solid regular, because I thought he was massively undervalued at the time and because I’m biased. I don’t think Greene will be a star because, all other things being equal, the 39th overall pick usually doesn’t turn into a star. It’s not helping that Bradley went one pick after the Phillies–I doubt I’ll be making the same fuss about Nolan Fontana (who I wanted for the Phillies at 40 overall) and Shane Watson because Fontana doesn’t play the same position as Watson and didn’t go one pick later.

Anyway, my Bradley-Greene comparison has almost nothing to do with Greene himself–he’s just the sorry sot the Phillies took instead, and I’m enjoying massively that the early returns are good on Bradley, considering how much I hyped him up. I’m not rooting against Greene, and I’m aware that Bradley, an elite college player, has a head start on Greene, who likely won’t show up in Philly for several years yet. I hope Greene gets called up, plays for 15 years, and hits 500 home runs. I really do. I just still think the Phillies should have drafted Bradley.

@MikeMcGoo: “Which Phillies player would be the most fun to spend a day with at a water park?”

You know, I’d been thinking that we’d gone a while without a completely silly question. I’ve got two answers. The first is Juan Pierre, and I’ll tell you why. When I was a freshman in high school, my marching band did a parade in Williamsburg, Virginia, which was really just an excuse to spend a long weekend at Busch Gardens and Water Country USA. At Water Country, there’s a massive waterslide that you go down, four people to a raft. The group I went down with included two friends of mine: Dave, who weighed about 100 pounds, and Brandon, who weight about three times that. So we get to a particularly steep curve, and by chance, Brandon’s side of the raft takes the inside and Dave’s takes the outside. The weight difference between the two caused us to take this turn with the raft completely vertical relative to the slide, the action of which sent Dave airborne, and had he not grabbed the handholds, would likely have thrown him over the side of the slide and sent him tumbling about 50 feet to his death.

Or so it seemed at the time to the terrified 15-year-old me.

Anyway, if we could somehow game it so that Juan Pierre got pitched out of the raft and over the edge of the waterslide, that’d be cool.

But if I’m just there to wear colorful shorts and ride the log flume or drink frozen beverages in the lazy river, I’d take Ryan Howard. For as much as we rag on his game and his contract, I can’t imagine ever interacting with the Big Piece in a social situation and not having an excellent time.

That will do it for this week’s Crash Bag. Thanks for writing in as always, and if you care to do so next week, send a tweet with the #crashbag hashtag and I’ll find it and answer it.

Crash Bag, Vol. 8: POW Garret Anderson

I had a dream earlier this week in which I was a retired baseball player working in sports media. In this dream, I was hanging out with a  bunch of baseball bloggers when we were rounded up by some Gestapo-like force and taken to an internment camp that resembled a minigolf course near my house. There we sat and exchanged cutting banter with the guards while, one by one, we were taken into another room and tortured. By the end of that dream, I had escaped from my captors, who wanted God only knows what, and was reunited with my old manager, Mike Scioscia. At some point I was shown my Baseball Reference page, and it showed I came up with the Angels in the early 1990s and played in the outfield corners in the majors for at least a decade. Which means that my unconscious mind thinks I’m a POW and either Tim Salmon or Garret Anderson.

I bring this up because if someone (either a psychiatrist or a witch doctor) knows what it means when Mike Scioscia shows up in your prison dream, I’d very much like to know precisely what it means.

To your questions:

@_Scuba_: “Who would win in a prison fight, Lenny Dykstra or Ugueth Urbina?”

Urbina. We haven’t seen Urbina since the curious incident of the ranch hands in the night time, but I’d bet a million dollars that Urbina would take Dykstra to the cleaners in Former Phillies Prison Bloodsport. I believe this for three reasons. First: Urbina is a decade younger than Dykstra. Second, ten years away from the game have not been good to Dykstra. Urbina, who has spent the past five years in a Venezuelan prison that probably resembles nothing so much as the Turkish prison hell in Midnight Express, is probably a hardened ball of hate and muscle. Finally, consider the crimes of which both men were accused. Dykstra had the worst series of business ideas ever conceived of by man, then tried to bilk his friends and business partners out of absurd amounts of money.

Urbina attempted to kill several men with machetes and set them on fire. This is not a peaceful or kind person we’re dealing with here. This is the kind of person who does live-action recreations of grindhouse films on his farm. Not only would Urbina beat Dykstra within an inch of his life, I don’t think Nails gets a decent shot in.

@mscratcher: “Has any actress in history aged worse than Kelly McGillis?”

Apparently Kelly McGillis lives in the area, because she came into my friend’s place of business and he made a similar comment to the one @mscratcher made. And boy, you don’t know the half of it.

Now, I think she’s had the deck stacked against her for several reasons. First, the last time anyone saw her, in Top Gun, not only was it 25 years ago, but Tom Cruise was throwing himself at her, which means that we’ve got nothing to do but compare her aging patterns to Cruise. First of all, that’s so unfair, because no one aged better than Tom Cruise. Plus she’s five years older than Cruise anyway, and we’ve seen him morph from cute kid to handsome naval officer to striking fortysomething man. We went to sleep one night and Kelly McGillis was hot enough to inspire the adoration of Tom Cruise in a movie where Anthony Edwards won the hand of the young Meg Ryan for God’s sake. And when we woke up–surprise!–she looked like our parents. So I can understand the shock.

But if you want to consider someone falling more quickly from a higher height, you might want to turn your attention to a younger actress. Time has definitely not been kind to Lindsay Lohan, for instance. But Kelly McGillis might be a good place to start.

@4Who4What: “how comewhen they play holosuite baseball in DS9, its always old timey, early 20th century baseball? are we to assume that baseball never has another reniassance between the 20th and 24th century?”

Well, there are a couple possible explanations. First, it’s easier to teach an actor to slap a single than to crank one over the fence. Second, baseball is at its most entertaining with fewer walks and strikeouts and more aggressive baserunning. Maybe in the 24th Century, in a society that’s evolved to the point where it’s eliminated money and racism would move to the point where winning is less important than putting on a good show.

And besides, we’re already nostalgic about old timey early 20th Century baseball. There are groups of men who dress up in period costume and play by ancient rules today. I have seen such men playing baseball in Cooperstown, and leagues exist across North America, harkening back to a time where men were men, and you had to dig your toilet in the backyard.

Anyway, it stands to reason that Commander Sisko, who is the only remaining baseball fan in the universe at the time he takes over the station, would feel similarly nostalgic about the early days of the organized game.

@LonettoMB: “What Is Best In Life?”

To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.

At least, that’s the case if your tastes align with those of a warrior in a loin cloth played by an Austrian bodybuilder. For me, what is Best in Life? I might go with Frank’s Red Hot sauce. I put that on just about everything.

@DashTreyhorn: “You ever see that movie with the guy from ‘Speed?’ “

Do you mean Jeff Daniels, Dennis Hopper, or Keanu Reeves?

“No, the other guy”

Oh, you must mean Alan Ruck. You know, I thought he was just unbelievably fantastic as Cameron in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and I always wondered why he never got more work. But, yeah, I saw that movie. I also saw that movie with the other guy from Speed, Joe Morton, who plays the police captain who stands on the flatbed truck and yells at Keanu across the highway. If you want to talk about outstanding performances, let’s start with Joe Morton as Dr. Miles Dyson in Terminator 2. I know it’s not particularly difficult to blow the other actors in a film out of the water when your co-stars are Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Edward Furlong (when he was in his Jake Lloyd-as-Anakin Skywaler phase), but Morton played Dyson with severity and nuance, and I don’t think he ever got the praise he deserved for that role.

@JakePavorsky: “Ruben Amaro Jr. gives you $150 million, and you can’t spend it on Cole Hamels. How do you use it?”

Okay, so I’ve got $150 million, and I can’t spend it on Cole Hamels. Well, the first thing I’m going to do is buy a penthouse in Nashville, fill it with high-end electronics and liquor, and drive down there in my new Aston Martin. Then I’ll take a couple million and open up a magazine like The Blizzard or Play, you know, a thinking man’s sports magazine that gets top-notch writers to write interesting and in-depth long-form features that don’t dumb the game, and sports journalism, down to a level YouTube commenters can understand.

I’d probably give some of it away, because it’s kind of uncouth to have nine figures’ worth of cash and not spread it around. I’d probably donate some of it to inner-city charter schools, maybe endow a chair at a university. But we can get to that later.

The point is, if Ruben Amaro Jr. just up and gave me $150 million, the last thing I’d spend it on is the Phillies. They’ve proven to be bad stewards of their financial gifts. If I passed up the opportunity to live a life of opulence and vulgar luxury to they could sign David Wright, I’d be the dumbest person alive.

@Estebomb: “Is retired John Smoltz a better bullpen option than Chad Qualls?”

Probably not. In all seriousness, Qualls wasn’t particularly awful this season–he just had a few really high-profile meltdowns, which eventually got him run out of town on a rail. He had a HR/FB rate that was about twice his career average. Though the more I look at the numbers, the closer I think it is. In Smoltz’s last season, 2009, he went 3-8 with a .635 ERA for the Red Sox and Cardinals, but his K/BB ratio was 4.08 and his FIP was 3.87. Not bad, if you ask me. And that was as a starter. If you had him go back to the bullpen full-time and let him crank the dials up, it’s not inconceivable that Smoltz could come back and pitch better than Qualls.

But if my life were on the line, I’d take the guy who’s pitched in the major leagues in the past three years.

@_Scuba_: “If the 2012 Phillies were an original Power Ranger, which one would they be?”

We’re getting a little greedy here, I see, asking multiple questions. But unfortunately, I can’t answer that one, having never seen an episode of the Power Rangers in my life. Luckily, I know a man who can. Allow me to introduce Ryan Petzar of Philly.com, 97.3 ESPN in Atlantic City, and special guest panelist on the forthcoming episode of the Crashburn Alley Podcast. Take it away, Ryan:

It’d be Billy, the Blue Ranger, and it’s not even close. Why? Because Billy sucks.  I mean, look at this guy:
Yeah. Look him. Take a good look. That guy is the human embodiment of “trying to decide between using Mike Fontenot, Michael Martinez, or Juan Pierre as a pinch hitter with the winning run on second”.
See, the Blue Ranger was a joke. II mean, one of this dude’s major character attributes was that he was deathly afraid of fish because, as a child, he was bitten by a fish. A fish bit him and that scared him. First, I didn’t know even could bite. Second, how much of a literal-sack-of-shit do you have to be to even be in a situation in which a fish can bite you?
Also, his dinosaur was a triceratops which is universally regarded as the dumbest of all the dinosaurs. [citation needed] So, in summation, I forgot the question I was supposed to be answering but Billy was the worst of all the Power Rangers.

@Wildvulture: “if you could reconstruct Ryan Howard, would you make him more like Cmdr Shepard from Mass Effect, or Adam from Deus Ex? would you give him mechanical upgrades like Adam, (robot bat arm?) Or keep him as he was, just healthier like Shepard?”

I’ve never played Mass Effect, and I played Deus Ex once, at a friend’s house when I was in middle school. Let’s see if Ryan’s still around…RYAN. Stop eating all my popcorn and answer the question.

This is an excellent question. And, seeing as how I haven’t played either of the newest Deux Ex or Mass Effect games, I feel that I’m in a perfect position to answer this.

Shepard is just a dude (unless you decided to make Shepard a lady which you could totally do. In fact, the game’s whole selling point was that you could make Lady-Shepard fall in love with another woman in the game and then during a cutscene they’d totally have red-hot lady-sex that you never got to actually see.) and as such doesn’t really have any real powers other than being “healthier than Ryan Howard.” We don’t even know if Shepard can hit!
Now, if it turns out that Shepard can hit, there’s no way in hell he’d be more expensive to sign than Ryan Howard, amirite?

Adam from Deus Ex, however, is a goddamned cyborg. And as a goddamned cyborg if one of his goddamned cyborg legs breaks, you can just bolt another goddamned cyborg leg on. If his OPS drops, you can just install another stick of RAM or something. I guarantee you that a goddamned cyborg would be able to poke a ball through the shift.

The only problem with this is that Ruben Amaro would take one look at Adam and immediately give him a cap-busting contract that’s waaaaaaaay over market value the absolute first nanosecond of Adam’s free agency. So the Phillies would sign Adam but then there’d be no money leftover to do anything else so we’d end up with Johnnie 5 playing third.

@makarov__: “How far back would the Phillies have to be at the deadline to be ‘sellers’? Also, how secure is RAJ’s job? Charlie’s?”

Ah, a serious baseball question. I don’t know for sure, but given that the Phillies are letting a couple American League teams kick the tires on Jim Thome, maybe not that far back at all. Going into today’s games, they’re nine games out of the division lead and 5 1/2 out of the second Wild Card. Currently, there are four teams tied for the two Wild Card spots, with three more teams between the Phillies and that four-way tie. At this point, the issue might not be making up 5 1/2 games on any one of those teams, but having to leapfrog so many other clubs to get into playoff position. I don’t think they’re out of it completely, but if they go into the break down ten in the division and, say, eight in the Wild Card, it wouldn’t shock me in the slightest to see Shane Victorino get floated in trade rumors. But we shall see.

To answer your second question, allow me to offer, for your consideration, the federal penitentiary in Florence, Colorado. This is the highest-security prison in the United States, housing such luminaries as Zacarias Moussaoui, 1993 World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef, the Unabomber, FBI mole Robert Hanssen and, for a time, Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. Prisoners are kept in a poured concrete cell with concrete furniture and only a four-inch-wide window to the outside. That’s the prison they put people in who either 1) have committed the most heinous crimes or 2) have a history of escaping from prison.

Amaro and Manuel’s jobs, I think, are even more secure than that.

Thanks for writing in, as always, and if you want your questions featured on a future Crash Bag, write to me either on Twitter via #crashbag or by email at crashbaumann@gmail.com. Thanks to guest contributor Ryan Petzar (@petzrawr on Twitter), and keep your ears open for the next episode of the Crash Pod, coming out sometime this weekend.