Dutch

Eleven days ago, the Philadelphia Phillies family lost #10. Not only was Darren Daulton the heart and soul of the unforgettable 1993 World Series run, he was probably the best catcher in Phillies franchise history. To commemorate and honor Dutch, I collaborated with fellow Crashburn old-timer Dave Tomar.

Your general impressions of Darren Daulton?

Dave: My impression of Darren Daulton is a function of my experience as a lifelong Phillies fan. I was born in early 1980, so I was a drooling blob when the team won its first World Series. I was there, so it’s etched somewhere in my psyche, but I don’t remember it. What I remember most from my childhood is futility, the season-in/season-out assurance that the Phillies would be mere background noise every summer, and forgotten by autumn.

So what did that mean if you were a diehard fan, if you loved the team but never dared let yourself dream of success? You had to find the personalities and love them, root for them, share their pain at another season ended in vain.

Nobody during that era of futility was more worthy of our love or adulation than Daulton. He came up in 1983 and inherited team leadership when Mike Schmidt retired in 1989. It would take a few summers (and honestly, a bunch of steroids) for Daulton to reach his full potential. He banged out his first All Star season in 1992, a year in which the Phillies lost 92 games and finished 26 out of first. If 162 games is a brutal test of endurance for a player on a losing team, you couldn’t tell by watching Daulton. He led like a superstar on a team of middling to mediocre talent. And he did it through nine knee surgeries. Nine knee surgeries.

If I have only one takeaway from this fact, it’s that Daulton was a straight-up badass. Continue reading…

Crash Bag Vol. 29: Looking to the Future, Because the Present Sucks

First of all, thanks everyone for helping us keep the lights on here. Writing for Crashburn Alley has been amazing, and thanks to you wonderful readers, I get to keep doing it. It really warms the cockles of my cold sabermetric heart to see such a robust and immediate response to our pleas.  You guys and gals are awesome.

Most of the questions this week focused on the Phillies future. 2019 records and 2020 starters; trades and prospects. The present is bleak, but there’s nowhere to go but up.

@TylerSmithEtown: What will the Phillies win differential be from the 2017 season to the 2019 season?

This is really two separate questions with a simple math step at the end. I’ll start with the 2017 team. Continue reading…

Crashburn Alley Needs Your Help (and you all helped more than I could have imagined)

UPDATE (7/17): We have reached our goal!

As some pointed out, this original post did not have a goal and frankly we could have done better in making this a more transparent process. The money needed to keep this site hosted an running for the next year was $479.88. In under two days you all have donated $761.22. I am incredibly blown away by your generosity and the support we received. I want to thank all of you so much.

You can continue to donate to the upkeep of the site, for now all overages are going towards next year and making sure we can keep this place going for many years to come.

-Matt

Continue reading…

What Does a Successful Second Half Look Like?

To say this season has not gone according to plan would be a huge understatement. We all remember the now-infamous prediction by Pete Mackanin that the Phillies could be a .500 team this year. Well through just over 50% of the season, they’ve got a .333 winning percentage. In order to finish the season at .500, the Phillies would have to win 52 of their final 75 games, and, well, that’s just not going to happen.

Some would say this was a lost season. The team obviously hasn’t won a lot, but more alarmingly, several presumed key pieces to the next Phillies playoff team have taken significant steps backward. Odubel Herrera has a 76 wRC+. Cesar Hernandez has been hurt. Tommy Joseph has been replacement level. Maikel Franco has been well below replacement level. Jerad Eickhoff has taken a step back. Vince Velasquez has been hurt. Hector Neris has taken a step back. The revolving door at the back of the rotation has been more like a Tilt-A-Whirl. But you knew all of that already.

I’m here to tell you that the storm clouds can pass. There are a few things that need to happen to salvage this so-far lost season and keep the rebuild going in an upward trajectory.

Continue reading…

Crash Bag Vol. 26: Bobbles, Bullpens, and Long Lost Friends

This is my first Crash Bag, and what an honor it is! On to our ambivalent adoring readers’ questions:

@mjspv: Only 3 bobblehead giveaways on the schedule: Phanatic (bobblebody), Rose, and Schmidt. Who will be the next bobble-worthy player? #crashbag

At first, I thought this might be a difficult question to answer. But when I looked at the 2016 promotional calendar, I saw that there was a Maikel Franco bobblehead given away in June last season (although it looked nothing like Maik). Franco played bobble-worthily at the end of 2015, but right now he’s not even worth a fake Phanatic bobblebody they’re giving away this year, let alone a real one.

*I should note that in my cubicle I have a real actual Phillie Phanatic bobblehead that I purchased in a store like a true blue-blooded American capitalist.

In 2016, they also gave away a Star Wars themed Phanatic bobblehead, a “Phanatic Variant Bobblehead”, and most confoundingly of all, a bobblehead of the Phanatic’s mom knitting. Now I’m all for Phillie Phanatic bobble heads – nobody loves the Phanatic more than me – but three bobbles in one year is far too many. Let’s limit this to one every two years, Phillies.

In 2015, they gave away a weird retro bobblehead, and a Larry Bowa bobblehead. In 2014, we got bobbles of Chase Utley, Roy Halladay, and Ryan Howard, which seems entirely reasonable. It seems like the Phillies go with stars, old fan favorites, or variants on the Phanatic. So, while Maikel Franco has clearly already gotten a bobble, I’d argue that the bobble was not earned, and he is not a Bobble-WorthyTM player.

So who is the next Bobble-WorthyTM Phillie? I’ll make up the arbitrary criteria that you have to be an above-average player for several years in a row. If Odubel Herrera can turn his season around and put up another 4 WAR campaign, I think he deserves a bobble next season.  Entering the season, Herrera was 67% bobble worthy. If we generously say that he has a 1-in-4 chance of going on a tear and pulling out a 4 win season, that makes him (67% + 1/4*33% = ) 75% Bobble-WorthyTM.

If Herrera can’t pull it out, we may be waiting a while. Here is a list of current Phillies, arranged by Bobble-WorthinessTM:

Odubel Herrera – 75% Bobble-WorthyTM

Jerad Eickhoff – 50% Bobble-WorthyTM – The Phillies most consistent pitcher over the past three years. Not All-Star caliber but he’s still the bobbliest we’ve got.

Aaron Nola – 38% Bobble-WorthyTM – Not currently very Bobble-WorthyTM, but if he stays healthy for a full season, he could put up the kind of Cy Young-caliber numbers that make a player immediately Bobble-WorthyTM.

Cesar Hernandez – 33% Bobble-WorthyTM – He’s had one 4 win season. Stack on a couple more, and you’ll be bobblin’ till the cows come home.

Freddy Galvis – 20% Bobble-WorthyTM – His talent is below replacement bobble, but he is the longest tenured Phillie, and that’s got to be worth something.

Everyone else on the Phillies is Bobble-UnworthyTM.

Now that I’ve spent a totally reasonable amount of time answering this important question, let’s move on. Continue reading…

On the Pathetic Phillies

I was cruising FanGraphs this week, desperately looking for something interesting to write about. You see, the Phillies, as you may have noticed, are soul-crushingly bad this season. There are only so many times you can look for silver linings or potential improvements before it becomes an exercise in futility. Therefore, I’ve decided to lean in to the madness. The Phillies leaders in fWAR this season are Jerad Eickhoff, Pat Neshak, and Odubel Herrera, all at 1.2 fWAR. They’re all on pace to be above-average players this year, if you set the “average” bar at 2 fWAR.

But let me tell you something about them you may not have realized: Eickhoff’s ERA is almost 5.00. Neshak is a reliever. Herrera is running a wRC+ of just 78. When your best starter has an ERA 14% worse than league average, your best hitter can’t hit, that leaves a reliever to be the best player on your team, which is… not ideal. And that’s how you wind up with the worst team in baseball. Continue reading…

Is Odubel Herrera Back?

Odubel Herrera ended the month of May sporting a 51 wRC+ and just 0.3 WAR. After two seasons in which the Rule 5 pick was arguably the Phillies’ best player, Herrera received a five year extension that established him as the first building block of the rebuild to be signed long term. He was one of several Phillies, including Jerad Eickhoff, Maikel Franco, and Tommy Joseph, who have experienced significant drop-offs in production the likes of which haven’t been seen since the Monstars roamed the earth.

Since the calendar turned to June, coinciding with a several-game sabbatical imposed by Pete Mackanin, Herrera has done nothing but tear the cover off the ball. In five games, Herrera has hit .550/.571/1.300 including 2 home runs and 9 doubles. He also recorded his first walk in nearly a month. The outburst has raised Herrera’s wRC+ 31 points to a somewhat respectable 82. He’s accumulated 0.9 WAR in that time, and now rates middle-of-the-pack among centerfielders in terms of value. Continue reading…

Where Have Jeremy Hellickson’s Strikeouts Gone?

Jeremy Hellickson entered the 2017 season as the Phillies’ de facto ace. After last season, in which he posted the highest K-BB% and fWAR numbers of his career, expectations were high for the 28-year-old. Through two starts, the results are better than the Phillies could have hoped for. He’s tossed 10 innings and allowed only one run for a 0.90 ERA, and those two starts account for two of the Phillies three wins thus far. He hasn’t allowed a home run yet, and his walk rate is the lowest of his career. Opponents are hitting just .124 against him.

All of that sounds great, but it’s tainted by a disturbing lack of strikeouts. Hellickson has punched out just 3 hitters so far, out of the 39 hitters he’s faced, “good” for a 7.7 K%. That’s currently the lowest in the league among the 102 qualified pitchers. I have no idea what the cutoff for a qualified pitcher is nine games into the season, but among all those pitchers, Hellickson is striking out the fewest hitters.

So what is wrong with Hellickson? I guess you could say nothing because he’s still getting results. But from a sustainability side of things, it looks like something’s gotta give, maybe as soon as his his start tomorrow. Hitters have whiffed at just 5.8% of the pitches against Hellickson, compared with 10.8% last year.  That’s fourth worst among qualified pitchers, just ahead of Bartolo Colon (6.30 ERA). Continue reading…

Another Crashburn Transition

When Spencer Bingol approached me in December about joining Crashburn Alley, I was extremely honored to both join a site with a writing crew of Ben Harris, Tim Guenther, Michael Schickling, Dave Tomar, Adam Dembowitz (emeritus), and Brad Engler (emeritus) as well as a site that once hosted the writings of Bill Baer, Michael Baumann, Eric Longenhagen, and Corinne Landrey. I stumbled upon Crashburn Alley during the Great Phillies Blog Explosion of the mid-aughts and immediately was taken by, what seemed to me at the time, a new and different approach to baseball. While there were enough Phillies blogs around at the time to fill a full NCAA Tournament-style bracket, it was Crashburn Alley alone that captured the intellectual and emotional attention of this Phillies fan. To be asked to become managing editor of that same site that fueled my fandom during the Phillies most recent glory years was the greatest honor of my writing career.

This week, I will start a new writing job with MLB.com‘s Cut4 site, which means–like it did for Corinne before–that I will no longer be able to remain as managing editor at Crashburn Alley. The list of Crashburn Alley alumni who have gone on to full-time jobs with both Major League Baseball teams and baseball writing, speaks unmistakable volumes about the quality of work that has appeared and continues to appear at this site.

It has been a pleasure to write here for the past three months and interact with you, the reader, through the comment sections of various posts as well as through questions to the Crash Bag. I remember well my first time reading a Michael Baumann Crash Bag and thinking,” I want to do that.” Crashburn Alley, then, was not only the source that sparked the intensity of my Phillies fandom, but my love of baseball writing. I don’t exaggerate when I say that I owe much of where I am now as a writer and baseball fan to this very site.

As Corinne noted in her farewell post in September, Crashburn Alley is truly a tremendous place to write not only because of the other fantastic writers I get to share the masthead with, but because of the community established by you, the readers. It is not easy to step away from that, but I am happy that my stepping away allows someone else to step up. Bill, Corinne, Spencer, and I are excited to announce that, starting today, Matt Winkelman is the new Managing Editor of Crashburn Alley.

You are undoubtedly familiar with Matt’s work. He started his own website a couple years back–Phillies Minor Thoughts–that, as its name suggests, focuses primarily on the Phillies minor league system and prospects. Most recently, he has also been writing at The Good Phight, where, among other things, he hosts a fantastic weekly prospect mailbag. His knowledge of the Phillies minor league system is unrivaled in the public realm and, in addition, his fluency in analytics provides a strong undercurrent in his writing. I have admired his writing–and, admittedly, been jealous of it–for years now. I have absolutely no doubt that he will do a fantastic job here. I unequivocally believe that Crashburn Alley could not be in better hands.

I want to thank Spencer, Corinne, and Bill for giving me the opportunity to write here for the last three months and Tim, Michael, Dave, Ben, Brad, and Adam for their contributions to the site during my brief tenure here. I’ll still be around on Twitter (@CF_Larue) and, if you want to keep reading my baseball-specific work, you can do so at Cut4. In the meantime, enjoy Matt’s always-excellent work here at Crashburn Alley.

A Fond Farewell

“…to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.”   ~T.S. Eliot

To the Crashburn Alley readers, my fellow writers, editor, and especially Corinne Landrey and Bill Baer, the former editors who created and helped shape this incredible outlet into what it is today:

Today marks an end. But as the poet T.S. Eliot wrote in 1943, ends are often beginnings, a threshold crossed that, by its very definition, means one has entered into something new having left where they previously were.

This marks my final post here at Crashburn Alley as I embark on my professional career in the oncoming days. I am, however, eternally grateful and excited to share that it will not be the end of the time covering the Phillies.

In the next few days I will head down to Clearwater for spring training for the first time in my life. I won’t be going as a player (as I hoped when I was a youngster with stereotypical big league dreams) and I won’t be going as a fan (as I assumed would be the case the moment I realized those big league dreams were a fantasy).

Where Phillies young and old nurture their hopes of making an impression and furthering their professional careers, so too will I. Entering the pristine new digs of Spectrum Field, credential proudly draped around by neck, I will work as a proud associate reporter covering the club for Major League Baseball.

Associate reporter is a fancy term for one-season intern, by no means a long-term position, but a beginning nonetheless. Last spring during an internship, I wrote a story about a dog taking in a Phils’ spring training game while drinking out of a water bottle cap. This spring, I’ll be a fully credentialed member of the beat covering the team for MLB and Phillies.com. Progress.

It was an end, after all, that led me here to Crashburn Alley.

I spent the 2016 NCAA baseball season as managing editor of Maryland Baseball Network, covering the University of Maryland Terrapins during my senior year of college. It was my first true experience covering a beat, and one that shaped me into the writer I am today. Last April, my end at MBN sparked the beginning of my time here at Crashburn, my favorite outlet at which I’ve written in my young career.

To make an end is to make a beginning.

It has been a special pleasure to share my thoughts here in this space, letting my fandom and objective analysis clash and sharpen one another. I first began reading this site toward the end of middle school during its formative years under Bill’s lead, a year or two after I laughed a buddy of mine out of the room the first time he praised the virtues of VORP.

The stat came from a site I’d never heard of, and fell on innocent, uninformed ears. I was perfectly content framing my baseball analysis (to the extent that you can “analyze” baseball when you’re 12) through the traditional methods.

In the last handful of years I’ve fully embraced the game’s statistical revolution that had been brewing—and thriving—for years before my epiphany. Without neglecting the time-honored ways of scrutinizing the game, I have strengthened my analytic will and adopted a more rigorous methodology and mental calculus when dissecting it.

It’s often the things you initially reject and then greet later in life with open arms that have the most profound impact on you. They remind you of your pliability, your ability to change, to ebb and flow, to remain not a troglodyte but an open-eyed member of society susceptible to change. It makes you admit, to yourself, that the way you once were is not the way you have to be.

To make an end is to make a beginning.

At the same time that I became captivated with sabermetrics, I discovered a passion I never knew I had. Halfway through college, when they no longer let you doggypaddle through the semesters with an undecided major, I joined the journalism school and was promptly thrown into the deep end.

I wrote my college admissions essay on my mindset as a high school pitcher. For my entire life, I always enjoyed analyzing the world around me, gleaning bits and pieces of information and piecing them together to instill a deeper understanding of my surroundings. I did this intently on the mound, looking for holes in swings, batter tendencies, and scared bottom-of-the-order hitters who stepped in the bucket.

Little did I know, that piece, based on my experience as a pitcher in Southeastern Pennsylvania, was the first of many I’d ever write about baseball. That is, if you don’t count the made-up transcripts of fictitious baseballs games I scratched across loose-leaf paper in 3rd grade.

In that essay I wrote: “The act of gathering such material has always been comforting. It is reassuring to know that without being force-fed information, I can still gather, analyze, and learn about the world around me.”

What is writing if not taking in the world around you and adding your own spin, observation and personal experiences?

Writing about baseball has held a special importance for me. It has helped me cope and provided the context to understand jarring experiences in my life, a cathartic release I have turned to when life has felt it’s most unfair. So it’s no surprise, in retrospect, that some of my favorite writings are only tangentially about baseball, using the game as a framework to appreciate, to understand, but not as the story itself.

It helped me mourn the loss of a friend. It helped me put into context the loss of Jose Fernandez.

Looking back, it’s not surprising I dug my teeth into this type of analytical assessment of the game, and even less surprising that—once finding my passion for writing—it transferred into performing my own sabermetric analyses.

I owe my current career path to the game of baseball and my love for it. Not because it is what I will be covering, but because it is the reason I have an opportunity, and eagerness, to cover anything at all.

I’ve made the climb up the ranks in the past two and a half years, working my way from youth baseball coverage to my new position covering a major league club from within the league’s own editorial branch. I’ve covered the 12-year-old Cal Ripken World Series, collegiate summer league ball, D-I NCAA baseball, blogged here about the Phillies and will cover them in earnest as a member of MLB.com this season.

I’m sure a call-up to the bigs elicits memories of the climb for journeymen ballplayers. While I have not logged the years of prep and practice those ballplayers have, I’ve put in the time at every level possible to prep for such a promotion in similar fashion.

I’ll always remember the pre-teen boys from Hawaii I covered last summer, their love and respect for their game and their opponents shining brighter than anything, a constant reminder of why these sabermetric analyses matter so much to me—because I love the game. I’ll always remember the frigid weekend afternoons spent in the Maryland press box and the hours spent creating Excel spreadsheets of starting pitcher game logs, the infographics made, the game stories chronicled. And I’ll always remember the hours spent down the rabbit holes of Baseball-Reference, FanGraphs, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball, that allowed me to share my opinions and observations here with you, all rooted in cold, hard fact.

If you’d like to keep up with my work, you can find me in the usual places on twitter, while my byline will appear on MLB.com and Phillies.com, supplementing the great work of Todd Zolecki whom you should already be reading.

Despite my departure, this is not the end. It is an end, of sorts, but not the end. Not the type of the end that accompanies the resolution of a children’s book, but instead the unsaid the end that is replaced by the blank space below the final words of a book chapter. It is a pause, however brief, before another chapter picks up where the previous one left off. The topic may differ, or may stay the same, simply viewed through a different lens.

This is the beginning of a professional career, one I am blessed to begin with a dream job covering the team I grew up watching, and the end of my regular contributions here at Crashburn Alley. But it is not the end.

To make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.