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.


@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, 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!”
“You know when fashion was really great?”
“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?”


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 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, 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, 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 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.


Crash Bag, Vol. 7: Baseball a la Luhrmann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bradley will take pictures for the scrapbook.”

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

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

@bhayes5: “did you cot for choice?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of which…

@seanmkennedy: “Joey pankake”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Crash Bag, Vol. 6: The Mustache

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I refuse.

Ishtar, man? Even I have some principles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay, so I went back and listened to this:

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

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

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

Crash Bag, Vol. 4, The Origin Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

The second half of the question:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, he’s got another question:

“Why is Chad Qualls still on this team?”

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

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

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

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

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

@Scarlet_Fire: “Is it raining?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

@gvntofly1021: “Why does the floor move?”

Snakes. Why did have to be snakes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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