Crash Bag, Vol. 66: Destroyed in Seconds

It seems like everyone who went to college had that one professor who really made a profound impact on his or her own life. I had, like, nine. And one of those was Gordon Smith, a political science professor at South Carolina. If you go there, or know someone who does, I can’t recommend Dr. Smith enough as a professor.

Dr. Smith is one of the leading American leading scholars of Russian politics, and his career dates back long enough that he was a visiting professor at Leningrad State law school in the 1970s, where one of his students was the young Vladimir Putin. One of the advantage to taking a class on Russian foreign policy from someone who’d been to the USSR as much as Dr. Smith had is that his lectures are dotted with colorful and relevant anecdotes, such as this one.

On the night the Soviet Union fell, Dr. Smith’s phone rang. It was a colleague from Moscow.

“Gordon,” he said. “You’ll never guess where I am right now.”
“Well, where are you? Are you okay?”
“I broke into the Kremlin. And there’s nobody here.”

This has nothing to do with baseball, except I’m getting a fall-of-the-Soviet Union vibe about the Phillies right now.

Thanks again to Justin Klugh for filling in last week, but I’m back now and I’m ready to answer some questions. Continue reading…

Crash Bag, Vol. 65: Climb a Staircase of Opponents’ Throats

Editor’s Note: Actually, I’m not the editor, am I? Anyway, this is Baumann, and we’ve got a special treat for you today–for the first time ever, we go outside the Crashburn Alley family for the Crash Bag, with Justin Klugh of That Ball’s Outta Here, among other outlets. You can follow him on Twitter at @TBOHblog

What’s up, nerdlingers?  Continue reading…

Crash Bag, Vol. 64: Truth and Reconciliation

Okay, let’s get this over with.

@BerenstainGer: “I don’t care about steroids in baseball. Am I normal?”

I care, I guess, just not very much. I think if you’re of a certain age, you don’t really remember a clean game. I was in fifth grade when they found Andro in Mark McGwire‘s locker–the baseball of jacked-up freaks is the only world I’ve ever really known. And if you’re in the same boat, I have to imagine that you’d view PEDs the way we view speeding, as an activity lots of people do, but the prohibitions against which are only sporadically enforced. That’s not the best analogy, but particularly after the hand-wringing and garment-rending and demands, simultaneously, for truthfulness and vengeance, I can absolutely understand why a fan would want to just move on and get back to baseball. I know I do. Continue reading…

Crash Bag, Vol. 63: Some Massive Betrayal of the Faith

Some free advice to anyone who drives a mid-2000s Toyota Corolla. If you have an FM adapter for your iPod (which you all should, since Toyotas of that vintage have neither a tape deck nor an MP3 plug-in, you can make your steering wheel sound exactly like a cowbell. Just hold the wheel with your left hand at 9 o’clock and bang the adapter against the wheel at around 4 o’clock. It makes a sound like a cowbell and you’ll hum “Low Rider” to yourself every time you get behind the wheel.

Your questions:

@asigal22: “Crashbag Question: If the phils trade Papelbon and M. Young, but sign Utley, that is a win-win?”

The Phillies, according to Baseball Prospectus, have a 6.3 percent chance of making the playoffs and about half that chance of winning the division. And while that’s certainly not a precise number and it’s not literally impossible for them to come back, it’s probably not too far off the truth. And if you’re one of those people who thinks wanting to reload for next year (to say nothing of years to come) in the face of overwhelming evidence your team is beaten is some massive betrayal of the faith…in other words, if you’re one of those people who decides to forge ahead in the face of the overwhelming likeliness of defeat, spouting all the while that idiotic line from Dumb and Dumber, then maybe you hang on, win 82 games instead of 81 and lose Young for nothing at the end of the season. But major league GMs are paid to make smart decisions based on significant available information, not to shield you from have to confront a state of the world you find inconvenient.

The Phillies bought low on Young, and he’s played okay so far this season–.288/.344/.414 is well above average for an on-base guy this season, even though his defense has been so bad as to beggar belief. Scuttlebutt is that teams are interested in Young, and as a veteran right-handed bat, he could be quite a useful pickup for a team with designs on a playoff run. Would you get a top-100 prospect for him? Almost certainly not, but the Phillies are just now rebuilding a farm system that was decimated in service of building five consecutive division winners and if Ruben Amaro and his men have their eye on a sleeper prospect in the farm system of an interested team, absolutely trade him. Besides, even if you can’t do math and think the Phillies are still in it, they could plug Kevin Frandsen in at third base and probably not lose a whole lot in terms of 2013 production.

Papelbon may actually be at the peak of his trade value right now. Relievers, particularly relievers with lots of career saves, are overvalued at this point in the season, as general managers of contending teams 1) get nervous and try to just add any extra talent or 2) actually view another good relief pitcher as the last piece of a championship team. Even with his ridiculous contract and declining fastball velocity, someone would give up an asset for Papelbon, plus you’d clear upwards for $40 million from the team’s books by trading away the rest of his salary for 2013, plus the next two years, plus his vesting option in 2016. Which you know he’d hit because whoever has the most career saves is the closer until his arm falls off.

Now, to Cliff Lee. He’s still one of the best, most consistent, most durable starting pitchers in the game. Yes, he’s getting paid $25 million for the next two seasons, plus a $27.5 million vesting option in 2016, his age 37 season, if he pitches 200 innings in 2015 or 400 in 2014 and 2015 combined. Which, considering that he’s done so or is on pace to do so in eight of the past nine seasons, looks likely. It’s a lot of money.

And you know what? I’d pay it to him if I had plans to win a World Series in that time, particularly considering the increasing scarcity of bankable free agents. Lee is the Phillies’ most valuable realistic trade chip, the only player they can move for multiple significant assets, and that’s why he’d be a good player to trade, not as a salary dump but as a piece to move for younger, cheaper players. But considering Lee’s repertoire and durability, maybe it’s worth keeping him around and seeing if you can rebuild in the next three years. I’d at least listen to offers, but if nobody ponies up something too good to turn down, there’s no harm in keeping him.

Which brings us to Utley. Utley is 34 and has a checkered injury history, and could be a massive upgrade at second base for Oakland, Baltimore or Los Angeles. Even Tampa, if they wanted to bolster their chances, could move Ben Zobrist elsewhere on the diamond if they wanted Utley. You couldn’t get multiple impact prospects for him, but I bet you could get one good player, someone who would fit in with Jesse Biddle, Maikel Franco and Adam Morgan as a back-end-of-the-top-100 type, or somewhere thereabouts. Odds are Utley won’t be a significant contributor to the next good Phillies team even if they do keep him, so the rational thing to do would be to trade him.

But that’s where my rationality ends and my fandom begins. Utley’s never played anywhere else, he was the best player on the best stretch of teams in franchise history and the closest thing to a true Phillies Hall of Famer for 20 years in either direction. He’s said he wants to stay. So I’d extend his contract, even if it’s not the best thing to do for the team on paper.

So I think the situation you described–trade Papelbon and Young, re-sign Utley–is my ideal scenario, again, depending on what kind of offers they get for Cliff Lee.

Continue reading…

Crash Bag, Vol. 62: A Tropical Fruit Coma

I ordinarily write this over the course of three nights, asking for questions on Twitter intermittently as I go. But I tend not to get that many unless Bill retweets my request for questions. Now, I know this is because he has about five times as many Twitter followers as I do, but it still makes me feel like the parent the kids don’t respect and won’t listen to.

Continue reading…

Crash Bag, Vol. 60: Put that on Your Eye Black, Tebow

Lots of football in this Crash Bag. Not sure how that happened.

@uublog: “Who is the Monkey’s Paw of sports you can write about intelligently?”

I needed this reference explained to me. I know people seem to think I’m really well-read and esoteric, but I’ve only got about a dozen cultural references that I just keep rotating. Anyway, apparently there’s this monkey’s paw that grants you three wishes, but gives them to you in really horrible ways. It’s a parable about being careful what you wish for, but for people who think King Midas is too mainstream.

But the Monkey’s Paw of sports is pretty definitely Donovan McNabb, at least from where I’m sitting.

Eagles fans wanted McNabb gone pretty much since the moment he showed up. They blamed him, and pretty much him alone, for three NFC Championship game losses and a Super Bowl loss. It’s difficult to overstate the idiocy of blaming a team’s faults on its best player, but if you’re going to assign a 1:1 relationship between McNabb’s performance individually and the Eagles’ performance as a team, you have to be careful what you wish for. Because if that’s so, what does it say about McNabb’s importance to the team that his departure was followed, within three years, by the Eagles going rapidly and completely to shit?

I wouldn’t blame the decline and fall of the Philadelphia Eagles wholly on McNabb’s departure, because I’m not the kind of person who believes, for instance, that the sun rises and sets because Helios pulls it across the sky with his chariot. Which is just as ridiculous a thing to believe in as McNabb having been the Eagles’ big problem. Continue reading…

Crash Bag, Vol. 59: Move Along Home

Very few questions this week, but a spectacular crop. Let’s dive right in, like a hyperactive toddler into the ball pit at McDonald’s.

@SoMuchForPathos: “Speak, if you would, on the parallels between Chula and baseball.”

And there are many. Chula, for those of you who don’t remember, is a board game played by a species called the Wadi in an early episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. There are five players: one who sets a strategy and rolls the dice, and four others who are transported into the game and made to overcome various puzzles and physical challenges, descending down the levels of the board to home.

I know that the episode of DS9 that featured Chula, “Move Along Home,” was almost universally decried as terrible. Like, the conceit is that the Wadi are the first species the Federation made contact with and brought back through the Wormhole, so you’d think they’d be important, but they get written out after one episode. But think about the game–one person calls the strategy and literally rolls the dice, leaving the outcome not only up to his in-game players, over whom he has no direct control, but largely to chance. Those players go from one level to another, trying to go home…does this sound familiar to anyone?

Which brings me to the real point of this whole exercise. The games are similar enough that you could probably get the Wadi leader, a boisterous, charismatic, mustachioed huckster named Falow, to do color commentary on a baseball game with little to no prep time. Would this not be the best thing ever?

Tom McCarthy: “Revere on first, nobody out, Phillies down 2-1 in the eighth inning. Michael Young to the plate. What do you think–does Charlie Manuel call a bunt or a steal, or does he let Young swing away?”
Falow: “CHOOSE THEIR PATH!”
T-Mac: “Stammen takes the sign, the pitch…and Revere takes off! The throw from Ramos…not in time!”
Falow: “Double their peril, double your winnings!”
T-Mac: “1-0 the count to Young. Stammen with the offering–and Young lines it into the gap in right! Revere around third, the throw from Harper is not in time! Tie ballgame!”
Falow: “ALLAMARAINE! MOVE ALONG HOME! MOVE ALONG HOME!”

Hey, people who think baseball is boring? I’ve solved it. Completely. Continue reading…

Crash Bag, Vol. 58: Full-On Wolf Parade Mode

I want to start this week’s Crash Bag off with a pouring out of wine for LB Dantzler, who we’ve likely seen play his last game on national television. South Carolina lost to the Dirty Foots of Chapel Hill last weekend, which means that we’ve likely seen the last of Dantzler, who was drafted by the Blue Jays but, because of his size, lack of defensive ability and swing, is not particularly closer to being a major league prospect than you or I.

So here’s to the last “Hold Me Closer, LB Dantzler.” On to your questions.

@hdrubin: “Doing a Top 5 thing like High Fidelity. Who are your Top 5 Phillies bloggers and Top 5 Tweeters?”

I love High Fidelity. Fun movie, better book. I also encourage the making of Top Five lists. It keeps the mind active and is a great way to kill time on road trips, as is the Rock and Roll Supergroup Fantasy Draft.

(counts names on Crashburn masthead) (twiddles thumbs)

  • Bill Baer
  • Ryan Sommers
  • Paul Boye
  • Eric Longenhagen
  • Michael Baumann

Yes, I think we can move on. Continue reading…

Crash Bag, Vol. 57: Bully for JMJ

I got a haircut last night. Every three months, I get Karl Urban’s haircut from the new Star Trek movies and shave my beard into a mustache. After about a month, I get tired of maintaining the mustache and let it grow out until I look so disreputable I have to get it cut again. But before all that happened, I caught myself instinctively pulling my hair back into a ponytail. I’ve worn my hair in a ponytail before, but never in the past five years or so, because I’m an adult now and I know I’m never going to be a professional musician. I guess my question is–is the reflexive ponytail pull something that ever goes away? Or is it like how after that one time with the pig in my dorm room I’m going to start sweating every time I pass the deli counter at the supermarket?

@mattjedruch: “have you done a crashbag answer about baseball books before? I’d like to expand my library and wondered if you could help”

I’m sure I have, but there have been 56 Crash Bags before this, each between 2,500 and 5,000 words, and I’m not going back through them all to find them for you, so I’ll answer the question afresh if I’ve done it before. Two points up front: 1) Probably four of my five favorite sports books are about soccer. With one exception, I’m not sure there’s a baseball book that I absolutely love. 2) The overwhelming majority of the books I read are fiction, and as a result, I have never touched a lot of the baseball canon: The NaturalDollar Sign on the MuscleBall Four, either of the Hayhurst books–so if you’re reading this and I missed one, add it to the comments, because I don’t want Matt missing out on a worthwhile book just because I’ve got a crush on Simon Kuper. Also, baseball books are the topic of Episode 7 of David Temple’s excellent Stealing Home podcast (link here), so if you’re curious, check that out. Here goes.

  • The New Historical Baseball Abstract, by Bill James. This is the one book you need to have. This book has been next to my toilet for the past 12 years. Apart from Moneyball, it’s probably the most important mass-market book about baseball of the past 20 years because of the way it brought many of the statistical and philosophical concepts we rely on to the mainstream. That said, what I love most about James’ book is that it’s an exhaustively researched, consistently funny encyclopedia of folklore. The advantage of the way this book was written is that it’s a thousand-page book that’s composed of about 800 interesting digressions, from amusing anecdotes about Rabbit Maranville and Don Mossi to James posing and answering really interesting, creative ways. You can’t be serious about baseball and not own a copy of this book.
  • Moneyball, by Michael Lewis. Completely overrated, overwhelmingly misunderstood, nowhere near as good a book as The Blind Side or even Liar’s Poker. Probably necessary. Still a solid read, with some good peaks–I go back and read the draft chapter every so often.
  • Weaver on Strategy, by Terry Pluto. If I could have any manager from history to manage my baseball team, I’d have Weaver, and his book on his craft is really enlightening. It’s a short, easy read that offers a really interesting look inside the mind of the manager.
  • Summer of ’49, by David Halberstam. My dad read this chronicle of the Red Sox-Yankees pennant race to me as a bedtime story when I was six or seven, and because he was kind of unsure of how to handle how liberally this book quotes Ted Williams, I learned how to curse from this book.
  • The Great American Novel, by Philip Roth. It’s not often that you get legitimately good literary fiction about sports. I hear tell that Chad Harbach pulled this off with The Art of Fielding, but I haven’t gotten around to reading that yet. Also, it’s weird that we’re far enough along in time that we’re having novelists called Chad. But this book is as funny and weird as one would expect from Roth, and it’s worth a read, if only so I can ramp up the frequency of my Roland Agni references.
  • Two books that are interesting and well-written, but reach completely incorrect conclusions about the way baseball works: Men at Work, by George Will and Three Nights in August, by Buzz Bissinger. As much of an egomaniacal weirdo as Bissinger turned out to be, he’s a hell of a writer of nonfiction. If you haven’t read A Prayer for the City, you’re a worse person for it. These two books are about what you’d expect from monographs that lionize Tony La Russa, and in Men at Work in particular, you’ll get a lot of theories from ballplayers that seem plausible, but have been proven to be demonstrably false. For instance: Orel Hershiser  goes into that home runs-kill-rallies malarkey, and Tony Gwynn credits his high batting average in 1984 to his hitting behind stolen base threat Alan Wiggins. So, you know, don’t believe everything you read.

Continue reading…

Crash Bag, Vol. 56: The Chapel Hill Dirty Foots

Guys, there’s playoff baseball today. PLAYOFF BASEBALL TODAY. Let’s do this thing.

@magoplasma: “how do I get my boyfriend to love baseball. Or even like it?”

It’s not often that I’m able to dispense relationship advice about a problem I myself have handled successfully. This may be the first such situation I’ve ever encountered.

I’m currently engaged to be married to someone who actively disliked baseball before we started dating, and now plays in two fantasy leagues and wears a Roy Halladay t-shirt from time to time. So I asked Kate, the Long-Suffering Fiancee, how she came to be even the casual baseball fan she is now, in the hope it might help young Magoplasma. Here’s what she said:

  • Stockholm syndrome. We’d been dating for about six years before KTLSF started to come around on baseball, which, in retrospect, must have been excruciating. Because I’m sure there are people who put on internet personas, but I’m not one of them–what you read here and on my Twitter feed is pretty much who I am. I think about baseball constantly. I write about baseball constantly. I think about writing about baseball constantly. I talk about baseball and talk about writing about baseball constantly. Eventually, I guess, KTLSF’s resolve had been weakened and she’d absorbed enough information that eventually it happened.
  • Get him into the tactics. KTLSF says this: “Watching a game if you don’t know the strategy behind it is incredibly boring. To me, there’s no intrinsic interest in a baseball game happening. But once I realized that there’s a rhyme and a reason to players’ roles and how the pitcher and catcher interact, that’s when it got interesting–when I started looking at it like a chess match.”
  • Use it to tell a story. I’ve been obsessed with baseball for 20 years, and the stories and oddities that come along with individual players are still my favorite part. Narrative isn’t how I evaluate baseball, but it’s why I like it. So if you catch yourself watching a Phillies-Marlins game with your boyfriend, tell him about the Marlins’ despicable owner, or Jose Fernandez‘s amazing personal history. Or just gawk and laugh at Antonio Bastardo‘s enormous butt–you don’t have to know a ton about the game, or even like it that much, to appreciate an interesting story.
  • Use the college game. When I asked KTLSF what the tipping point was, she said it was around when South Carolina was in the College World Series in 2010. She’s always been a huge football fan, and USC’s other teams have always been of interest to her. So when, for the first time, a team she had a reason to be emotionally attached to showed up on the national stage. Now, I know that you, Magoplasma, are a fan of the Chapel Hill Dirty Foots, and if your boyfriend is at all interested in that school’s other athletic programs, he might be intrigued to find out that those selfsame Dirty Foots are ranked No. 1 in the country in baseball (a subject that will be discussed in more depth later in this post), and among their ranks is third baseman Colin Moran, who may go first overall in next week’s draft. So if the BF is at all interested in Tar Heel basketball or football, make him watch some of the NCAA tournament with you.

So knowing nothing about your boyfriend, that’s the best advice I can give. Continue reading…