Crash Bag, Vol. 2: Battleship and Chooch

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

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

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

Let’s roll.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(cracks knuckles)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think that’s a pretty solid sample.

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

Crash Bag, Vol. 1: Trade Everyone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time for a lighter question.

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

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

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

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

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

Now, on to @Giving_Chase’s second question.

“What would you eat for your last meal?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

@vansantc “Do you love me?”

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

Enjoy the weekend’s games, everyone.