Small My Nose? Why Magnificent, My Nose!

In case you missed it, Ryan Howard hit a home run. Against a left-handed reliever. To put the Phillies ahead against the Mets in the top of the 9th inning. It was awesome. It did this to the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

The reaction from Mets fans, however, was less than warm. Thanks to the official Twitter account of The Good Phight, it has come to our attention that not only are Mets fans generally (and justifiably) upset at The Big Piece himself, but more specifically at his notoriously large nose. The level of discourse, however, has been disappointing–not much beyond hurling expletives at Ryan Howard and declaring his nose to be big.

Boy, a bunch of uncreative, boorish villains making obvious and dull comments about a hero’s large nose? I feel like I’ve seen this one before.

Ah, yes! That’s right. So this is the part where Ryan Howard takes up the challenge:

What? How? You accuse me of absurdity? Small my nose? Why magnificent, my nose! You pug, you knob, you button-head, know that I glory in this nose of mine, for a great nose indicates a great man: Genial, courteous, intellectual, virile, courageous as I am and such as you poor wretch will never dare to be even in imagination. 

 Of course, in the play, Cyrano de Bergerac finds the man who says his nose is “rather large,” coins several more clever insults, then challenges the man to a duel and stabs him to death while composing a poem.

So because Howard is not here to defend his own nasal integrity, allow me to play the surrogate Cryano to Mets fans’ Vicomte de Valvert. Here are twenty better insults about Ryan Howard’s nose.

  1. Spatial: Ryan Howard’s nose is bigger than Jon Rauch.
  2. Aesthetic: Ryan Howard’s nose is uglier than Jon Rauch’s tattoos.
  3. Narcotic: Dwight Gooden would have died long ago if his nose were as big as Ryan Howard’s.
  4. Financial: Fred Wilpon would have spotted Ryan Howard the cash for a rhinoplasty, but then Bernie Madoff came along.
  5. Rhetorical: I betcha Ryan Howard’s nose expels more hot air than Mike Francesca.
  6. Zoological: Between Ryan Howard’s nose and David Wright‘s ears, we’re halfway to building an anteater.
  7. Biomechanical: Ryan Howard’s nose is so big Oliver Perez could hit it with a baseball.
  8. Lovesick: Ryan Howard’s nose is as big as the hole Jose Reyes left in the Mets’ infield.
  9. Comparative: Sure, that home run was out of Citi Field. It wouldn’t’ve been out of Ryan Howard’s nose.
  10. Literary: Ryan Howard must have said the Mets were good an awful lot.
  11. Anatomical: Ryan Howard’s nose is longer than Daryl Strawberry’s neck.
  12. Regretful: Bobby Bonilla’s contract is almost as sad as Ryan Howard’s nose.
  13. Analytical: Ryan Howard’s nose is so fat, even Steve Phillips wouldn’t have traded Kevin Appier for him.
  14. Romantic: Ryan Howard’s nose is so ugly, even Jeromy Burnitz wouldn’t have talked to it at a bar.
  15. Respiratory: Jon Niese could have just swapped.
  16. Facial: Ryan Howard couldn’t have a beard like R.A. Dickey‘s–there’s just not enough room left on his face.
  17. Aromatic: The Mets stink. Ryan Howard was the first to know.
  18. Athletic: What’s the only thing that runs worse than Ryan Howard’s nose? Jason Bay.
  19. Sabermetric: Ryan Howard’s nose’s fWAR is higher than Johan Santana‘s this season.
  20. Inquisitive: Someone ask Ryan Howard’s nose what it feels like to be a bigger waste of space than Omar Minaya.

Go Phillies. Screw the Mets. Go read Cyrano de Bergerac. Or watch Roxanne. But seriously, screw the Mets.

Mike Trout and False Equivalence

I love it when I wake up and The Internet, or at least that very small, strange, baseball-related corner of The Internet that I inhabit, has chosen a topic of discussion for the day. I got online this morning to see that today’s topic du jour was whether or not thinking Miguel Cabrera‘s potential Triple Crown run made him a better AL MVP candidate than Mike Trout makes you an idiot.

I want to focus on the position taken by ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick in this debate, because he makes several points that, purposely and otherwise, speak volumes

 

 

 

Caveats:

  • I’ve always respected Crasnick a great deal as a writer, and because of that, I feel like I can discuss what he said honestly without implying that I don’t like him.
  • I’m picking out four tweets–there’s more context here, and I’m eliminating a lot of nuance from this argument for simplicity’s sake.
  • Crasnick was just the first person I picked out–I could have commented on any number of other writers.

Okay, now for my thoughts:

  • Trout deserves to win, and I’ve yet to see a convincing argument to the contrary. Bill from The Platoon Advantage wrote astutely on that topic this morning. I believe the evidence for Trout is so overwhelming that I do question anyone who thinks otherwise.
  • Could there be more civility from the statistically inclined? Yes. Absolutely. NBC’s Aaron Gleeman objected immediately to Crasnick’s characterization of Trout supporters, and frankly, I think he overshot the mark. Gleeman is not just a blogger but one of the founding fathers of internet baseball writing, but he’s got the legitimacy of a major media outlet behind him. I’ll admit that I had to go back to last Friday’s Crash Bag, the only place I’ve written about Trout, to make sure I hadn’t done exactly what Crasnick accused (not me in particular, but people like) me of doing. When you’ve got nothing but your prose to make you stand out, you can easily overcook your rhetoric.
  • The combination of the Fifth-Column Blogger Ethic, Youthful Bravado and training in mathematics, statistics, philosophy or social science is a volatile one. That describes not only me but a large segment of the latest wave of sports bloggers: we’re sure we’re right and we’ve got no qualms about telling you so. It’s the same patricidal instinct that fuels revolutions. We’ve got to make sure it doesn’t make us impolite.
  • Mainstream writers are getting better at understanding advanced stats. I don’t know if we appreciate this enough, but in less than a decade we’ve gone from complete innumeracy to WAR, BABIP and FIP being mainstream. If there’s a way to applaud this progress without 1) being patronizing and 2) stunting faster progress by praising foot-dragging incrementalism, we should.
  • I wish there were a shorthand for questioning someone’s methods or understanding without questioning his mental fortitude. There’s a difference, but there’s no one word for “Your argument is specious and/or unfounded.”

Here’s where I do have to criticize Crasnick:

You can’t do that. I don’t think he meant it like this, but “Just Saying” is one step above “You can’t disprove it” or “Coincidence? I Think Not” on the snake oil salesman scale. If you’re just trying to stir the pot with an argument that you know to be faulty, just to get people excited, you’re not an idiot or a moron, you’re a troll. Now there are two kinds of trolls: the ones who bait people into exposing their own ignorance (there may be no better example of this than Yahoo!’s Ryan Lambert, though we in Philadelphia Sports Internet are no stranger to this type of troll ourselves) and the ones who just try to piss people off. I don’t think this is what Crasnick meant to do with his statement about September OPS, but that was the effect. And while his larger point about the civility of discourse is right, I do take issue with his dropping the “Just Saying” line, then hiding behind that particular shield.

Which brings me to my main point: there are multiple viewpoints on every issue. This does not mean that there are multiple valid viewpoints on every issue, or that every viewpoint should be treated with equal weight. This is known as false equivalence, and it’s my biggest beef with mainstream journalism. We’re being suffocated by the fetishization of even-handedness, and we’re only now starting to realize that it’s a problem. This extends beyond sports to politics and culture in general, but I think Bill would be more comfortable with my limiting the scope of the discussion to baseball.

You can claim that Cabrera is more valuable than Trout. I’ll disagree, and with a mountain of empirical evidence on my side, I don’t have to consider your argument as legitimate unless your empirical evidence beats my empirical evidence. My responsibility is to consider your argument in good faith and treat you with civility until your behavior warrants a different reaction. I am not responsible for acting like your evidence is as good as mine when it’s not.

From a Phillies-centered perspective, that’s where the Monkfish stuff came from. I have overwhelming mathematical evidence that the Phillies aren’t going to make the playoffs. If you’re going to talk me off of that evidence, you’re going to have to come up with something better than “Stop being a stick-in-the-mud.” I have overwhelming empirical evidence that Darin Ruf will not be a good major leaguer. If you’re going to talk me off of that viewpoint, you’re going to have to come up with something more compelling than “I think you’re wrong.”

Not every argument is so one-sided as Trout/Cabrera, and it’s possible that reasonable, intelligent people can look at evidence and draw different conclusions–I’d argue that most baseball arguments end up in this bucket. And when people don’t get the evidence, it’s our job to educate them if they want to be educated. Jerry Crasnick is right–there’s no need to be an asshole when you think somone’s wrong. But let’s not fall into the trap of believing that different perspectives are equally valid.

Crash Bag, Vol. 19: How to Name Your Keg

It’s getting cold again, which excites me to no end. I love the change in weather, as would anyone who sweats as much as I do. If I could find a place where it’s in the low 60s all the time, I’d move there in a moment. Unfortunately, Philadelphia and South Jersey have the worst of all the seasons: horrific heat and humidity in the summer, bitter cold and snow in the winter, with only a few weeks of breezy, sunny weather in between.

One last weather note: I’ve spent the past eight or nine years wearing either flip-flops or suede sneakers. It’s an occupational hazard of being a student, not having to wear grown-up shoes. The problem is that these shoes don’t do well in the rain, which I guess is no one’s fault but my own, but I really wish it were acceptable from a fashion standpoint for men to wear galoshes. Walking around campus on rainy days, I’d see girls stomping through the monsoon in galoshes and just wish that there were some sort of similarly acceptable casual waterproof shoe for men. I guess the upside of wearing flip-flops in the rain is that you don’t get your socks wet. Or something.

We’ll begin with a request for Real Life Advice.

@magoplasma: “Am I a traitor for naming my mini keg Manny Machado?”

I went back and asked, and the keg is full of Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale. I think if you’re drinking Bell’s beer, you can name your keg anything you like. I went to a combination Bell’s Brewery tasting and screening of The Big Lebowski last January, and it was fantastic. Their Hopslam is among my favorite beers, and I had the privilege of tasting their limited-run Expedition Stout. Let me tell you about Expedition Stout. There’s beer, and then there’s this. It’s dark and comforting and makes you feel warm. It’s like being in the womb. It was so good it literally moved me to tears. I think that given his recent run of success in the Orioles’ bizarre siege of the AL East, his is a name worthy of Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale.

But this brings up a larger question–is it okay to fall in love with another team’s prospects? Is it like baseball adultery in a sense? I say no–my own sports bigamy is well-documented. I am a Philadelphia sports fan through and through, but I also keep up with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Houston Texans for various reasons. If you can identify one favorite team, and you don’t cross rivalry lines, root for whoever you want.

Most importantly, I think it’s the hallmark of an enlightened a sports fan when you can enjoy the game for its own sake, and not just because of shallow partisan attachments. One of my friends is a big baskeball fan, and when he talks about a player he likes, he says “I like his game.” That speaks to appreciating the beauty or effectiveness or both in the skill set of a particular player–for whatever reason, you take joy in the manner in which an athlete plays the game, not just the result. It’s a fun way to consider baseball, or any sport.

I rag on Paul a lot for being such a big Mike Trout fan, but if you’ve got a pulse and even  passing interest in baseball, why wouldn’t you be a huge Mike Trout fan? He’s waging a campaign of destruction the like of which we’ve never seen, and his age leaves open the possibility that he could get even better. My own love for Red Sox minor leaguer Jackie Bradley Jr. is well-documented, and I’ve got my on list of non-Phillies major leaguers whose games I like: Dexter Fowler, Clayton Kershaw, Adrian Beltre, Ben Zobrist, and more. I even find myself pulling for players on rival teams from time to time. I’ll even root for Giancarlo Stanton and David Wright, because while I hate their teams, I love their games.

There’s nothing wrong with loving Manny Machado enough to name your keg after him. Want any more Real Life Advice while I’m here?

“should I drop Evolution of Vertebrate Life?”

Yes. Drop all your classes to spend more time with Manny Machado. Though if you drop this class, it sends the message that you’ve got no backbone.

@mferrier31: “if you could take any current never had MLB experience minor leaguer from any team, who would it be”

If I could take any minor leaguer…where? To do what? For what purpose? This is a very open-ended question.

The obvious meaning is “to play baseball.” If that’s what you mean, now that Jurickson Profar is in the majors, I’d probably have Orioles pitcher Dylan Bundy. He’s the class of a 2011 draft that ranks among the best and deepest of all time, and considering what a phenomenal rookie class we’ve had this year, Major League Baseball is set up to introduce a truly outstanding set of young players in the coming years. Anyway, Bundy is chewing through the minor leagues, and while he hasn’t been truly dominant at AA, there are two good reasons for that: 1) the Orioles decided that the cutter, arguably Bundy’s best pitch, is bad for you and have forbade him from throwing it. Imagine if someone told Cliff Lee to just ditch his curveball. 2) Bundy is 19 years old. I know we’ve been spoiled by Kershaw, Trout and Bryce Harper, among others, coming up to the majors and playing well at a young age, but at age 19, most future major leaguers are either in short-season or A-ball at the very highest, or finishing up their freshman year of college and trying to sneak into sorority mixers. Bundy has multiple-Cy-Young potential.

If there was  a focus on the more immediate future, I’d take Wil Myers, a center fielder in the Royals’ system. He and Bundy are widely regarded as the top two players yet to see major league action, and given how bad Jeff Francoeur has been, Myers is probably a couple months overdue in Kansas City. He’s a monster offensive prospect with some speed, no doubt the result of the weight he saves by taking a letter off his first name. If you want a prospect, Myers and Bundy are pretty much the ballgame right now.

But what about for other purposes? There’s Stetson Allie, a former pitcher the Pirates are trying to convert to play third base. Allie touches triple digits with ease, but he’s got as bad a case of Steve Blass Disease as you can have. If I were going to pick someone to drive two hundred head of cattle from Kansas City to Fort Worth, I’d pick Allie, because he’s named after a hat.

If I could be friends with any minor leaguer, I’d take Angels farmhand Michael Roth, a first baseman-turned-greatest-college-pitcher-of-all-time, honors business student at South Carolina, and, by all indications, one of the most interesting and thoughtful players in the game. Roth, 22, has roughly the same repertoire as Jamie Moyer, so he doesn’t have much of a chance at pro stardom. But when I asked Kevin Goldstein about his chances of making The Show as a LOOGY, Goldstein described him as an “80 makeup guy.”

For a trip to a Chinese buffet, I’d take Tigers prospect Bruce Rondon, who may be the first athlete in any sport to play at double his listed weight (190 pounds). So depending on the purpose, the answer changes.

As I’ve proved already, if you ask two good questions I’ll answer them both. And this one needs answering.

“I need this settled once and for all. No matter which makes playoffs, who wins AL MVP, Trout or Miggy? I think Trout by a mile”

You are correct to think that. WAR is not the be-all and end-all of player evaluation, but it’s supposed to be consistent across leagues, teams, positions and eras, so that’s where I’d start. If I had a vote, I’d look at the WAR leaderboard, then use all the intangible/storyline /positional nonsense to break ties, in essence. Like last year, for NL MVP, Matt Kemp led the league in WAR, but Ryan Braun was close enough that I didn’t have a problem with his selection.

This is not the case with Trout. In 20 fewer games than most of his competitors, Trout has 8.7 fWAR. His nearest competitors, Cabrera and Robinson Cano, are at 6.1. That’s an enormous gap. There is no discussion. Cabrera, Cano, Beltre and others are having great seasons, but Trout’s bending the laws of physics. It is, as you said, Trout by a mile.

@uublog: “What is the optimal umpire/instant replay usage?”

Interesting question. There should be more instant replay for sure, but you’ve got to take care how to implement it, or else you’re going to wind up like the NFL, where we spend more time waiting for calls than actually watching the action. College football gets a lot of it right: they take the replay initiative out of the hands of coaches, which elevates it beyond the NFL level of high-tech arguing with the umpire. Also, they take the replay decision out of the hands of the on-field officials and place that responsibility in the hands of an official in the booth. Because what good is replay if 1) It takes 5 minutes to reverse a call and 2) the efficacy of instant replay is based on the current crop of MLB umpires announcing they’re wrong on live TV. Yeah, okay, that’s going to happen.

Nevertheless, I am for expanded replay. Here’s how I’d do it.

  • No replay on balls/strikes unless we go full robot-ump and let Pitch f/x or a similar system call balls and strikes in the first place. There are probably 100 borderline strike zone calls every game. Start reviewing the strike zone and baseball will become as boring as critics say it is. Either leave it alone or get rid of the home plate umpire entirely.
  • All replays are initiated and judged by a fifth official, either in the press box or at the league offices in New York. Give the crew chief a microphone and an earpiece. Keep the umpires on the field at all times, and keep the managers out of it. Any borderline call gets reviewed immediately in a minute or less and we move on with our lives. No strategy, no missing a call in the 8th because the manager wasted his last challenge in the 4th. If we’re just going to give the managers and umpires another chance to grandstand, I’d rather just keep getting calls wrong.
  • I’d put fair/foul, catch/trap, fan interference and safe/out on the table. But whatever the call, the play needs to be allowed to play itself out to whatever conclusion, and the first call on the field should stand until the play is over. We saw a couple weeks ago against the Reds what happens when you change the rules on the baserunners in the middle of the play. Sort out the mistakes later.
  • If on-field calls are going to be fair game, there needs to be a public, specific and unchanging set of rules for where to put baserunners if the call gets reversed. I don’t care what it is, but the whole point of this exercise is to get things right. I had a journalism professor who was fond of saying that AP style is “arbitrary but not capricious,” meaning that the rules may have been picked for no good reason, but once they’re in place, they remain so to eliminate confusion.
  • If we’re doing the robot/umpire juxtaposition, let’s have these guys take a go at Joe West and Bob Davidson:

@Tigerbombrock: “updated Mini-Mart feelings?”

It’s almost worse now that he’s hitting well. Watching him play baseball makes me feel like a disapproving grandmother. Every time he botches a grounder I want to tell him to go out into the woods behind the house and pick out a switch off that sassafras tree yonder. And then beat him with it until he cries and yells, “No, Grandma, I won’t steal the pie off the windowsill anymore! I promise! Honest!” It makes me want to act out the fingernail removal scene in Syriana.

So no, my feelings remain the same.

@sellar_door: “What do you guys think of the 2013 schedule?”

The Phillies play the Braves too much. I don’t like it when the Phillies play the Braves.

I also don’t like the additional interleague games. I hate interleague play. I hate the designated hitter, and the even leagues and expanded interleague play is just another sign of the inexorable transformation of the game I love into a gerontocratic, sedentary game for people who lack the creativity to engage in even two-dimensional thinking. I’ll spare you another jeremiad on the subject and direct you to my previous writings on the designated hitter. But congratulations, MLB, you’re enthusiastically and consciously turning baseball into the Arizona of sports: an inhospitable, arid haven for unthinking old people. A plague on both your houses.

@MikeMcGoo: “Cold pizza or hot pizza?”

Both. Next question.

@Gourbot3000: “How annoying will the Eagles chants be at remaining games when the Phillies don’t pull this off?”

Eagles chants are annoying all the time, not just during Phillies games. You know, the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that all this nonsense about Philly fans being boorish rubes who promote violence against people whose only crime is having different geographical origins is the fault of Eagles fans. Now I’m an Eagles fan, but I’ve never even been to a football game at the Linc (four soccer games, but never a football game). But I can’t stand Eagles fans the same way I can’t stand sports talk radio hosts.

Not all sports talk radio hosts are what I’m about to accuse them of being. I believe the future of audio sports commentary is in podcasting, but even in traditional broadcasting, I can name (in Philadelphia alone) Pat Gallen of 97.5 and Spike Eskin of 94.1 as great dudes who actually care about discussing sports in an intelligent fashion, which, though there are others like Pat and Spike, is rarer than it should be. But too often we see ill-informed rabble-rousers (at best) and blowhards who take almost as much pride in their own ignorance as they take in their horrific disrespect for women and non-Americans. These men are too busy writing Donnie Brasco fan fiction and articulating some antiquated, warped view of masculinity to view sports in anything but a childishly normative lens. They’re responsible, in large part, for the behavior that caused the aforementioned reputation, and they should be shouted down.

Anyway, as much as the thermonuclear optimism and innumeracy of many Phillies fans irks me, y’all’re a good bunch. Given the choice between hanging out with people whose ranking of sports teams places the Phillies over the Eagles and hanging out with people whose preferences are reversed, I’ll take the Phillies any day. Call me a snob if you like, but judging by how turgid my prose has become recently, I think I’ve figured that one out for myself.

@TonyMcIV: “Who starts the one game playoff against the Braves in your opinion? Also- how awesome would an A’s Phillies WS be?”

Dude. I don’t want to sound like a naysayer, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Considering how much I hate the Braves, I might start that game with some sort of analgesic, with the intention of waking up again sometime around Thanksgiving. If the Phillies were to lose the Braves in the playoffs, I’d probably just start hemorrhaging and die on the spot. Better not to be conscious for that I think. For that matter, if the Phillies come all the way back from 1,000-to-1 odds just to lose in a one-game playoff, I might move to Croatia or something. What a resounding affirmation of nihilism that would be. Such an outcome is enough to make a man give up all his hobbies and live out his days in a windowless room with a continuous supply of vodka and a Bible, doing nothing but reading the first half of Ecclesiastes over and over and over.

But to answer your question–I don’t know. It depends on how the rotation shakes out, who’s pitching well, if there are any rainouts or if anyone goes on short rest. If I had my way, it would be Cole Hamels, but it’s not like seeing Cliff Lee or Roy Halladay on the mound with the season on the line would be an uncomfortable feeling either. Let’s just try to avoid a Cloyd-Medlen matchup and I’ll be at peace.

And a Phillies-A’s World Series would be awesome, if only because it would involve the Phillies, and would not involve the Yankees or Red Sox. Or the White Sox, because screw those guys. Between the Nationals, A’s and Orioles, we’re getting a lot of new blood in this stretch run, which is pretty cool. Back in the days before MLB.tv, one of the best things about the playoffs was seeing guys you never got to watch during the year. Even though I’ve watched a lot of those teams this year, it’s still neat to watch a team make its first playoff appearance in several years. With the Yankees, Phillies, Cardinals, Tigers and (to a lesser extent) Rangers, Braves and Rays, we kind of know what we’re getting. A World Series involving the A’s would just add to what’s been a very entropy-filled year and a half for Major League Baseball.

@jackieinerita: “Why Utley at third? Is there some sweet 2B option I don’t know about”

I don’t know. I think it’s because he asked. I’ve been quite clear in my insistence that third base is not a fertile position right now, so maybe filling the spot internally makes it easier for the Phillies to improve at another position. And if Utley can play another position, it gives the Phillies some lineup flexibility, so that’s a bonus.

There are a couple downsides: first, I don’t know how good Utley would be defensively at third. And if he’s anything short of truly spectacular at third, he’s going to be less valuable. Utley is among the best defensive second basemen of the past generation, if not the best, and if he’s any less than that at third, you’re losing defensive value. And while he’s got great range and instincts, I’m not sure how good he’ll be. Because of the speed of the position compared to second, Utley will lose some of his range, and while he’s not Chuck Knoblauch, he’s conspicuously conservative with the baseball. I don’t know if I trust his arm on the longer, cross-diamond throws (or even if he does). Anyway, I have a hard time believing the Phillies wouldn’t take a defensive hit at second, third or both.

Second, it’s not like second base is full of great options right now either. If they stood a chance of signing, like, Ian Kinsler or something, that’d be one thing. But who are they going to get to play second–Freddy Galvis? I like Galvis as a pinch runner/utilityman, but if he’s going to be an everyday player for a contender, he’s going to have to become a better hitter than he’s ever given any indication of being at any point in his professional career. Please stop wishing for 600 plate appearances for a guy with a .266 career wOBA.

So if Utley wants to take some grounders at third for curiosity’s sake, he should. Take all the grounders you like. But there’s no reason I’m aware of for Utley to undertake a full-time position change.

@geatland: “If members of the 2012 Phillies each wrote a memoir regarding this season, what would the titles be?”

I think this question lends itself to a bulleted list:

  • Jimmy RollinsThe hell I don’t hustle! LISTEN KID! I’ve been hearing that crap ever since I was at UCLA. I’m out there busting my buns every night. Tell your old man to drag Walton and Lanier up and down the court for 48 minutes.
  • Tyler Cloyd: I Can’t Drive 85
  • Kyle Kendrick: The Dog that Caught the Car
  • John MayberryShane! Come Back, Shane!
  • Phillippe AumontLe Pont Au Papelbon (h/t to @AntsinIN for that one)
  • Domonic Brown: Escape from Lehigh Valley
  • Jonathan Papelbon(Vacant Stare)
  • Chase UtleyI’m Not Dead, I’m Just Resting
  • Carlos RuizThe Righteous Vengeance of an Angry God
  • Ryan HowardIt’s a Terrible Glove, and I’m Flailing at Sliders 
  • Erik KratzScrew You, Brian Schneider
  • Juan Pierre: “But hey, sometimes the batless fleck of roster garbage stumbles upon success. That’s baseball.” (ghostwritten by Ryan Sommers)
  • Cliff Lee: Runs Lift Us Up Where We Belong
  • Cole Hamels: A Truckful of Dollars
  • Kevin FrandsenStrong Motion
  • Roy Halladay: Come back… so we can be young men together again.

Okay, I think that’s enough.

@wattmilliams: “Which evil mastermind is Selig most like for sparking the madness of this Wild Card race?

The Joker. I’m imagining the ferry scene from The Dark Knight except the ferries are filled with the Phillies and the Braves, respectively. That’s the insanity of a one-game playoff, though the ferry scenario, from a purely rational game theory perspective, is an extremely simple solution: blow the other ship. If the scenario is as The Joker says, and there’s no chance that he’s lying to you about what the detonators are connected to, or if the ferries will actually both explode at midnight, the purely rational thing to do is to save yourself and blow up the other ferry.

Of course, then things get complicated when you think about how you might not completely trust The Joker, and the guilt of blowing up a few hundred other folks. However, all that changes when the Braves are in the equation.

I was going to say that if the Phillies were on one ferry and the Braves were on the other ferry, I’d blow that sumbitch up without a second thought. Chipper Jones is on that ferry. I think having the opportunity to blow Chipper Jones to smithereens and not taking it is reprehensible.

However, in this scenario, I can imagine someone (Chase Utley, that cold, calculating, rational mensch that he is) taking the detonator and mashing down the button. But then, instead of the Braves’ boat blowing up, Bob Davidson magically appears and starts tossing people overboard.

Evil mastermind indeed.

@SoMuchForPathos: “There’s a murder mystery dinner in the Phillies’ locker room. What’s the scenario? Who is the murderer?”

Well, the most likely scenario is that someone tells Roy Halladay that they’re going to do a murder mystery dinner instead of running foul pole to foul pole until they black out and he gets angry and murders everyone.

But let’s imagine the actual murder mystery dinner.

It’s a dark and stormy night and everyone’s been trapped in the clubhouse after a players-only meeting goes long. Michael Martinez is found dead in the shower, his brains beaten in with a baseball bat.

Everyone gives a big cheer and goes home.

No, wait, we can’t do that. Anyway, Mini-Mart is dead, and Detective Lieutenant Cliff Lee braves the rain to examine the crime scene, dressed in a leather bomber jacket and a deerstalker hat. He examines the body and finds that Mini-Mart ran and struggled before he was murdered, so it can’t be Jimmy Rollins–killing Mini-Mart would have taken too much effort.

Mini-Mart was found with a glove on his left hand, and John Mayberry is excused because he can’t hit righties. Likewise Domonic Brown, who doesn’t swing wildly enough to deliver the multiple blows that killed Martinez. Nor can it be Juan Pierre, who can’t swing a bat hard enough to kill someone.

Out of the corner of his eye, Detective Lee notices a red splotch on Jonathan Papelbon’s uniform–could it be blood? No, it’s hot sauce from his mid-game meal of beer and fried chicken.

But there’s an imprint on Mini-Mart’s forehead–the embossed logo of a Louisville Slugger belonging to Erik Kratz, imprinted on Mini-Mart’s lifeless body…a clue! Surely Kratz is the murderer!

Before going back to apprehend Kratz, Lee goes back to look at the body one more time. Mini-Mart didn’t actually die of injuries from the bat–some of his hair has been torn out, and Martinez’s neck has been broken, as if someone was holding his head and crushed him by accident. Lee’s gaze turns back to the corner of the locker room where Kratz is comforting a sobbing Darin Ruf.

“Erik,” Ruf says, “tell me how it’s going to be.”
“Well,” Kratz says, “We’re gonna have a cow, and some pigs, and we’re gonna have, maybe-maybe, a chicken. Down in the flat, we’ll have a little field of…”
“Field of alfalfa for the rabbits.”
“For the rabbits,” Kratz says.

Clearly, Lee says to himself, Ruf accidentally killed Mini-Mart and Kratz beat up the dead body to cover for Ruf.

The end.

Phillies playoff odds at 2.7 percent right now. We’re getting into must-win territory here. See you next week.

 

On Optimism and Pessimism

The most prominent subject of conversation lately, in the wake of both of my recent articles dispelling the Phillies’ playoff chances and a pre-season quote from Baumann (“I’m not optimistic. And you shouldn’t be either.”), has been that we as a group — and perhaps stat-heads in general — are too pessimistic, that we’re ruining the fun of a potential historic comeback by the Phillies. The words optimism and pessimism, as well as hope, have been bandied about, as if stat-heads can only be pessimistic and that pessimism blocks out any possibility of hope. I tried dispelling the false choice in the comments and on Twitter, but I’d like to expand on that a bit, if you will.

twitter.com/CrashburnAlley/statuses/245523846000689152

Optimism is not inherently better than pessimism, and both are completely legitimate lenses through which we view the world. Both also have their pros and cons. Optimists can use their worldview as motivation to get through a particularly troublesome time, but they also set themselves up for a harsher fall in the event of failure. Pessimists can use their worldview to reduce their expectations thereby reducing the impact of failure. As it relates to the Phillies’ potential comeback, optimists use their positive thinking to help themselves enjoy the attempt at a comeback, while the pessimists use their negative thinking to brace themselves for a dud.

Studies have shown both optimism and pessimism to have legitimate uses. A study from The National Bureau of Economic Research in May 2005 found a statistically significant link between optimism and work ethic. On the other hand, a study published in The International Journal of Aging and Human Development found that elderly people who were pessimistic — especially about death — were less likely to fall victim to depression.

What has bothered me is the conflation of these worldviews and their connection to being able to enjoy what the Phillies have been doing and what they may be able to do in the upcoming weeks. The common theme is that those of us who recognize the statistical improbability of a comeback are unable to hope that it happens, or will be unable to enjoy it when it does. Saberists have been making predictions since time immemorial, and I can’t think of one who predicted doom-and-gloom for his rooting interest that watched with chin-on-palm and a scowl. Kyle Kendrick is a great example as he has been a Sabermetric whipping boy since 2007, but he has taken a big stride this year that has legitimized at least a portion of his success. There are no Saber-savvy Phillies fans who watched his brilliant start last night angrily, throwing empty beer bottles at the TV screen.

There is also the implication that optimism is, by default, the correct lens through which to be a sports fan. There is no one correct way to be a sports fan; it is what helps you best enjoy what it is you spend your time obsessing over. If you attend every single Phillies home game and you enjoy it, that’s great. That method of fanaticism is in no way more valid than the fan who chooses to watch the games from the comfort of his La-Z-Boy recliner. If you hate stats and you enjoy baseball better without them, that is absolutely fine. Saberists have no moral high ground in the great fan debate because they pore over spreadsheets.

What we could stand to do is to have mature conversations about our mutually-shared favorite teams and try to see the point of view from the other side. As a pessimist, I can certainly appreciate the zeal on the precipice of a historic comeback, and the optimists should be able to appreciate our muted enthusiasm in the face of staggering odds. At the casino, I can empathize with a gambler’s rush of a big run at blackjack while also refusing to play myself because I realize that I will most likely walk away with empty pockets. The pessimists aren’t trying to rain on the optimists’ parade, and optimists aren’t parading their enthusiasm in front of the jaded pessimists. It’s two different mindsets crowding the same space on the Internet as if it were a bad sitcom.

As the Phillies embark on their final 21 games, instead of fighting with each other, we should instead cozy up next to each other and watch our favorite team maybe make a run at it. We work best as a team. The pessimists act as the hand holding the balloon string, preventing the optimists from drifting into the clouds. The optimists help the pessimists loosen up their ties and have some fun. Fun we wouldn’t have nearly as much of without each other.

Crash Bag, Vol. 18: A Cacophony of Squeaky Octopi

I own a stuffed octopus. It used to belong to the son of a friend of mine, but I inherited it after the young boy outgrew it. This octopus is special–each of its eight tentacles has a squeaker tuned to one note of a major scale. The possibilities for such a toy are endless–on one visit, I sat down and figured out how to play the 1812 Overture and Crazy Train on this octopus, among other compositions, so my friend gave me the toy with the understanding that I’d enjoy it more than his kids ever did.

I bring this up because I think all things should have a musical component. Life is more fun when you’re surrounded by musical instruments. I discovered that if you tap a certain point on the steering wheel of my car in a certain way, it sounds like a cowbell, which comes in handy when I’m on a long road trip and the urge to listen to “Low Rider” by War strikes me.

When I’m dictator of the world, different parts of everyday objects will be tuned to different pitches. So when you’re bored, say, in a meeting, you can tap out an impromptu steel drum cover of Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ in the Years.” If the spirit so moves you. It’ll be paradise. Mankind will be blanketed in a cacophony of squeaky octopi, and we’ll all be too happy to oppress each other. It’s the way of the future.

@threwouttime: “when will phillies postseason tickets go on sale?”

My guess? Sometime in late summer 2014.

But that reminds me–we had a request from @erhudy for a recipe for “a delicious bacon-wrapped monkfish.” So I’m not one of those baseball bloggers who needs to show off how much he knows about cooking and how much he cares about what he eats. I eat (by mass) probably more fried chicken than any other food group. My viewpoint toward cooking is: “Put in oven/on stove, heat until it changes color, douse in Frank’s Red Hot.” That’s how I cook chicken, beef, vegetables, bread, fish, mutton, rice, venison, bread, eggs, everything. I can cook (I take great pride in my chili), but I’d rather just heat up some frozen chicken and frozen cauliflower and pour Frank’s on them until they taste good.

Anyhoo, not only am I not a gourmet myself, but I really don’t like fish, so I submit this recipe by renowned chef Emeril Lagasse. Got some bacon, some monkfish and about an hour? Knock yourself out. And give me some–I’m hungry.

But I’ll answer another question, since I dismissed the first one.

“what will min-marts BA be at seasons end? .100? Higher? Lower?”

Probably higher, just because I can’t imagine a major league hitter finishing the season worse than .115/.169/.192. I guess it really shouldn’t surprise us that Mini-Mart’s OPS is .361, because when you have so little power and such bad plate discipline, it’s hard to overcome a .115 batting average. I’m not sure what he’s doing in the majors, honestly. Actually, I am sure what he’s doing: making lots of outs.

The way casual fans view Mini-Mart is actually a pleasant surprise. Sure, most people decry his appalling lack of baseball skill for someone in his profession, but I’ve heard multiple people rave about his defense and baserunning, or his youth and potential for the future. Never mind that all of those things bear not even a casual relationship with fact, but I like what it says about humanity. We all know Michael Martinez is a terrible hitter, so therefore he must be a good defender and baserunner. Well, actually, the best thing I can say about his defense and baserunning is that he’s better than Ryan Howard in both facets of the game. But given that, he’s got to have room to improve, right? Well, no, he turns 30 next week, so if you don’t know him by now, you will never never never know him. No you won’t.

The same thing goes for Michael Young, who is a smallpox scar on the face of the Texas Rangers. Young once won a batting title, and can play multiple positions in the same way that Martinez can: if you put him in the lineup at, say, third base, he will stand there for nine defensive innings and occupy a particular point in space. But observers (among them Rangers manager Ron Washington) have been concocting a story about what Young adds to the team from a standpoint of morale, that he brings intangible value as a team leader, which excuses his being, by both Baseball Reference and FanGraphs WAR, the worst player in the major leagues this year whose name isn’t Jeff Francoeur. Now, even if this were true, I’m not sure how he couldn’t add this value from the bench while Jurickson Profar or Mike Olt batted in his place, but that’s another story.

Anyway, that we make up (as in “fabricate in the face of overwhelming empirical evidence to the contrary”) reasons to value Young and Martinez speaks to a tendency to look for value in our fellow humans where none exist. It’s impossible, we assume, for a baseball player to be as entirely worthless as Michael Martinez appears to be. The statistical record indicates that he’s a fetid, squishy garbage bag of week-old bat carcasses left outdoors overnight in the Alabama heat. But surely he can’t be that bad. So let’s look for reasons in the fuzzier regions of the game–defense and intangibles–to find some value in something that we know, deep down, to have none.

It’s a charitable and warm reflex from a community that is too often neither. I think I’ve just talked myself into the idea of Michael Martinez as being life-affirming, rather than infuriating. This has been a good morning so far.

But let’s not lose focus.

@Estebomb: “Just exactly how bad is Michael Martinez?”

Very much so. In fact, I’ve invented a new word to describe it: “blemmorhagic.” It’s a portmanteau of “blinding” and “hemmorhagic,” because watching Michael Martinez play baseball is like losing your sight while bleeding internally. I hope you like it.

@fotodave: “what is the most pressing need for the Phil’s in the offseason? 3B? LF? Relief?”

None?

The Phillies’ relief corps was awful this season. But add Papelbon to a healthy De Fratus, a healthy Stutes, a healthy Herndon, Phillippe Aumont and some combination of Tony No-Dad and Jeremy Horst and you’ve got a bullpen that, if it’s not good, then at least has enough young guys who throw hard that it probably won’t be awful. This goes double if the Squirtle that is Aumont evolves into a fully-formed Blastoise. You only need two or three really good relievers before it stops mattering how far Josh Lindblom‘s fastball gets hit.

So for the bullpen, Ruben Amaro would be best-served doing the same thing in 2013 that he did in 2012. And before someone trots out that monumentally stupid “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result” nonsense, let me point out 1) the hypocrisy of using the same “Axiom unsupported by facts/Q.E.D.” line of rhetoric and expecting it to work this time and 2) that the definition of insanity is actually something else. I’m sorry that other people have read the same fortune cookie you have, but reciting quotes with sketchy attribution (I know this one is said to have come from Albert Einstein) without context or understanding doesn’t make you impressive. It makes you look like a stone dullard, particularly when everyone else has heard those sayings as well, and (if they have any sense) disregarded them.

I find it absolutely preposterous that in 2012, 43 years after man first walked on the surface of the moon, that there are people, in the United States, many of whom are not functionally illiterate, who walk around on the street under the impression that saying “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result” merits any response other than being beaten to death with a shopping cart. Do you think that there’s anyone who’s still impressed by your knowing that quote? I’d suggest perhaps peddling such “wisdom” to a more receptive audience, perhaps some tribe in Indonesia who’s yet to discover fire, but I don’t want to pollute their gene pool as well.

So third base.

Bill wants the Phillies to trade for Chase Headley. Or so he says. I think he’s actually just saying that in an attempt to pass the Turing Test. I’ve never met Bill in person, nor even seen a photograph of him, so I’ve spent the past three years operating under the assumption that he’s a very clever computer program that’s reached self-awareness. So this maniacal trade-for-Chase Headley nonsense is an attempt to give the appearance of human fallibility to throw us off the scent. Don’t be fooled–every minute you believe trading for Chase Headley to be a good idea brings Bill one minute closer to creating Skynet. I, suffice it to say, don’t think trading for Chase Headley is a good idea, and am totally comfortable heading into 2013 with the cast of Mean Girls penciled into the lineup at third base.

And I thought the plan in left field was Domonic Brown, with some Nate Schierholtz/John Mayberry platoon in right. I’d be cool with that, I guess, if they got a decent center fielder in free agency. There are more and better options in center, but we’ll get to that later, after we interrupt this programming for some political coverage.

more powerful duo: Halladay/Hamels or Clinton/Obama”

Halladay’s showing his age and Obama has the nuclear launch codes. I’ll go with Clinton/Obama. But seriously, Obama has the launch codes, so if you don’t vote for him you’ll be killed with a cruise missile.

@bxe1234: “Did you play little league/HS baseball and what position? Who’d you model your stance after?”

I played little league, but not high school. I was terrible. I was pudgy, and I wore glasses, and not only was I not the coach’s kid, but I wasn’t the coach’s kid’s best friend, so I found myself in the outfield and in the bottom of the lineup. There was one year where one coach took an interest in actually teaching me how to play baseball rather than indulging his inner Billy Martin, and I actually learned how to hit, so Coach John Dailey, if you’re reading this, I thank you.

But I played a little bit of second base, a little third base and a lot of right field. I started thinking about baseball critically about the same time Derek Jeter came up to the majors, so I was a huge Jeter fan. I don’t know that I modeled my stance after anyone in particular, but Jeter was my idol. I held my hands up high and tried to inside-out the ball like Jeter, and I kept my feet closed to try to get some power to the opposite field. It didn’t work. Jeter inside-outed more than 3,000 major league hits and I had washed out of little league by 6th grade.

@TonyMcIV: “People keep saying, ‘oooh sign Bourn, or ooh sign Hamilton for CF!’ I think it’s crazy, but it depends on Mayberry doesn’t it?”

It is crazy, and it has nothing to do with Mayberry. Bourn and Hamilton are both going to be outrageously overpriced in free agency. So signing one of them does have the virtue of fitting in well with the Phillies’ recent policy on free agents, even if it isn’t good baseball policy as such. I’d much rather go with either B.J. Upton, who I’ve said before is almost as good as Bourn and will sign, I believe, for much less. With Hamilton, you’ll be paying for a former No. 1 draft pick and AL MVP, batting champion and home run champion. What you’ll get is the decline phase of a player who misses 30 or more games a year anyway as a matter of principle. Not smart.

That people think that buying the best player at the highest price is hardly surprising in an age where pride in one’s ignorance of economics is a political asset. Call it Death by Hadden.

Oh, look, the boss wants a question answered.

@CrashburnAlley: “Great song or greatest song?”

Are you pissed that I outed you as a computer? Apparently this song is a thing on the internet, but I hadn’t heard it until just now. It’s actually not as terrifying as I expected it to be. I will say this: ain’t nobody having more fun than the guy in that video. Nobody. I hope one day to enjoy myself a fraction as much as Psy, whoever he is, is enjoying himself in that video.

And no. Believe me, anything the Koreans can do, the Russians can do crazier.

@ETDWN: “The music played at CBP is terrible. What kind of jams would you play if you were in charge of in game entertainment?”

I’m probably the last person you want in charge of the music at CBP. I’d probably just hire @bravesorganist (a must-follow if you’re on Twitter) and let him do his thing.

But if I were forced to DJ Phillies games myself? I’d probably go heavy not on current insipid pop earworms (“Call Me Maybe” would be interdit in my stadium), but from the insipid pop earworms of a generation ago. We would do the Macarena every half-inning. We would do the Macarena during mound visits, and in between Jonathan Papelbon‘s pitches. We would do the Macarena during stolen base attempts.

@jondgc: “How great is that new Sportscenter commercial?”

Quite good. ESPN’s SportsCenter commercials have been uniformly excellent for what must be 20 years now. It’s a great premise, that all the athletes ESPN covers live and work at the Bristol studios, and it’s led to some hilarious advertisements. Clayton’s is great, but it falls outside my personal top five. What are those top five? I thought you’d never ask.

@geatland: “Feeling serious hockey anxiety, so if you were going to make the Phils a hockey team, what are the line combinations?”

Yeah, we’re going to have a lockout, because we’re okay with a society than enables multi-million-dollar corporations to unilaterally roll back their employees’ wages. How is it that we’re okay with perpetuating the idea that companies are entitled to economic security but people aren’t? And more important than that, I had big plans to go to All-Star weekend this year. The cruelest trick the NHL could play on America is removing the only way Columbus, Ohio in January could be fun.

Anyway, Phillies line combinations:

  • Rollins/Utley/Howard. I imagine Utley as a Mike Richards/Ryan Kesler type of center, a grinder with elite skill. Rollins can be the Peter Bondra type, and we can park Howard in the slot to clean up the garbage. Even Zdeno Chara would need the Army Corps of Engineers to move Howard out from in front of the net.
  • Lee/Hamels/Brown. A solid second scoring line if you can get over having three lefties in one unit.
  • Nix/Bastardo/Frandsen. The grinders. Frandsen’s neck-beard alone is NHL-ready.
  • Aumont/Lindblom/Kratz. That’s an average height of 6-foot-5 and an average weight of 252 pounds. Eat me, Milan Lucic. Aumont also has the added advantage of actually being Canadian.

Let’s fill out the defensive pairings while we’re at it.

  • Halladay/Schierholtz. A nice combination of size and speed. This pairing gives me a little bit of the Matt Carle/Chris Pronger feeling.
  • Ruiz/Galvis. The puck-moving pair. If Freddy Galvis were Scandinavian, we’d be talking about him right now the way we talk about Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
  • Wigginton/Polanco. I tried to think of an NHL player as immobile as Ty Wigginton. I settled on Howie Morenz, because he’s been dead 75 years. Don’t give this pairing more than 5 or 6 minutes a night.

Goalies:

  • Papelbon. Because he’s got that kind of vacant-yet-possibly-homicidal affect that worked so well for Patrick Roy.
  • Worley. Because he sweats like he’s wearing 30 pounds of foam rubber and Kevlar anyway.

@uublog: “Sunday’s game in Atlanta was the worst gut punch loss since…?”

Blowing a six-run lead, including allowing five runs in the ninth, in September, to the Braves, with Chipper Jones delivering a walk-off home run as the final insult? That really does check all the boxes, doesn’t it?


Source: FanGraphs
That’s the win probability graph from Sunday. It’s hilarious. I want to get a cup of coffee with that graph, then let it tickle me until I have trouble breathing.

But when it happened, I looked up at the TV, chortled, and went back to mowing down the barbecue chicken wrap I was eating. It didn’t bother me on an emotional level, and I’m the kind of person who can go transcontinentally mad over a college football game that involves Vanderbilt. Here’s why.

  • I was really really hungry and nothing was distracting me from that wrap.
  • It happened rather quickly. It wasn’t within the realm of possibilities for me that the Phillies would lose that game until it was already over. A truly devastating loss is slow and painful, a death by a thousand small cuts. Frankly, it’s difficult for baseball to engender that kind of crushing dread. If anything, it’s more painful to lose by failing to come from behind, given numerous opportunities, than to lose by blowing a big lead. Like, say, Game 5 of last year’s NLDS. We were totally cool until about three batters from the end. It’s not the thing itself that’s most impactful, it’s the anticipation of the thing.
  • Most importantly, the season’s been over since, like, mid-June. If Jones’ home run had knocked the Phillies out of the pennant race, that’d be one thing. But this was just an awful and meaningless loss in a season full of awful and meaningless losses.

But yeah, you know those people who say they’re going to miss Chipper Jones when he retires? I’m not one of them.

@DangerGuerrero: “Do you think Phillies fans would be nicer to Jimmy Rollins if he had a big mean dog that growled a lot?”

Yes, I do think Phillies fans would be nicer to Jimmy Rollins if the Phillies hadn’t gotten rid of Brett Myers.

Good Crash Bag. Let’s go eat.

 

On The Future of Baseball Research

Earlier this morning, Adam Felder and Seth Amitin posted, in part, the results of a much-awaited study on the potential understated bias of the language of baseball television coverage at The Atlantic. When I made my thoughts on the subject clear here a few days ago, I was wishing desperately that this study had already been published, but now that it has, you can go read a little empirical justification for that thesis.

I don’t know Felder at all, and my interactions with Amitin have been limited to trading Dodgers jokes on the internet, so I’m not saying this out of a desire to pump up a friend, but you need to read that article. It’s important not only because of what it says, but because it represents of an underserved portion of baseball writing.

Most of you probably know this about me, but I spent three years as a political science grad student, and in that time I probably learned more about statistics, game theory and research methods than I actually did about politics, but I learned a great deal about what separates actual research from conjecture and speculation.

I think one of the best things about the advanced analytics movement in baseball is that it’s brought the rigor of social science research to sportswriting. It’s not perfect, but the average baseball fan knows way more about how to read statistics than he or she did ten or even three years ago. We’re slowly stamping out falsehoods based on preconceived notions whose factual underpinnings are either obsolete or nonexistent, and the positive effects of this movement cannot be overstated.

As scouting information gets democratized, as we debunk concepts like “clutch” and “small ball,” we’re replacing mythology with empirical study. I think this is, in part, why many former athletes and traditional sports media personalities hate advanced metrics and bloggers–they know the mythology and we’re killing God, so to speak. As someone who believes religion and science can co-exist in the real world, I think that creates a false choice when it comes to baseball, but that’s another story.

So why is this study so important? Because it’s empirical baseball research based on something other than game data. You can find enormous amounts of research based on game statistics, pitch f/x and BIS coding. And as much is out there, and as many conclusions as have been drawn by the public, you can bet that teams have even more.

But where we’re lacking, in my mind, is in qualitative analysis. Felder and Amitin’s study is still qualitative, but it’s based on coding of commentary, not box scores. That’s how we’re going to effect change–if media analysis is backed up with large-sample data from which we can draw meaningful conclusions.

Now, this study isn’t perfect. Even if all the concerns I have about their methodology (which is detailed in the post enough for a magazine article but not for a work of social science) are unfounded, what happens when you expand the sample? Or when you turn your attention to print media? Pre-game and post-game analysis? I buy the basic premise (partially, I fear, because I believed in their conclusions before the study), but it raises more questions than it answers. Which is kind of the point–you want knowledge that’s going to generate more knowledge.

So why don’t we have more work like this? Well, it’s absolutely not cost-effective. Game data leads to research that’s either valuable commercially (to ESPN, FanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus or whoever) or competitively to a team. But the only kind of qualitative data or media data that’s valuable (that we know of) is scouting data, and as much as I respect people who can evaluate young players and write coherently about them, I don’t think we’re drawing any scientifically rigorous conclusions there.

On the other hand, doing this kind of research right is expensive (it took upwards of $3,000 to fund this study) and requires people who know what they’re doing. As often as not, those people are doing real social science instead, or their work is stuck in academic journals and either unavailable to the public or off the beaten path. Make no mistake, it exists, but its effects aren’t showing up in places the average baseball fan is going to see it. I’m not sure what the solution is, but even though baseball produces more and better numbers than any other sport, we shouldn’t restrict serious baseball research to what we can count.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BASEBALL.

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

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

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

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

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

What was the first half of the question?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

@DashTreyhorn: “Jason Knapp. Thoughts?”

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

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

Okay, enough negativity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stop Saying That or I’ll Hit You In the Face With a Fish

This is going to make me sound naive, but I dream of a well-reasoned, thoughtful internet. The internet of baseball is an interesting internet, one as likely to produce a moment of comedic genius as it is to foster an echo chamber of half-cocked hysteria. It’s a wonderful place.

So it’s with the greatest severity that I say that while I love 90 percent of what Phillies fans have been saying, there are a couple themes to the Twitter conversation, as well as comments on this and other blogs, that convey a laudable passion for the game and the team, but also a startling level of delusion and/or ignorance. And yes, I realize there are probably things I say that y’all find irritating, but that’s a different conversation. This isn’t about irritating–this is about wrong. One man’s irritating is another man’s hilarious, as has been proved conclusively by the continued popularity of Diablo Cody as a screenwriter.

But irritating is not misguided, and I’m here to educate. In that spirit, I’ve developed a machine that allows me to appear in real life whenever someone trips one of these Phillies-related keywords. This is a monkfish. With my machine, I will travel the city, appearing out of nowhere like Batman, wielding a monkfish as my sword of justice. Why a monkfish? Well, according to Official Crashburn Alley Fish Correspondent @erhudy, the monkfish has a large surface area area to better create the satisfying slapping sound we’re after.

So here are a few things that you can say that will guarantee that I materialize out of the ether, tap you on the shoulder, and hit you as hard as I can across the face with my monkfish. If it should come to pass that you meet the concussive force of my smelly, rubbery, disgusting bludgeon, don’t be mad. I do this out of love.

“So You’re Telling Me There’s A Chance…”

I’ve been fond of posting daily updates on the Phillies’ record relative to both .500 and the playoff race, as well as the earliest date they could have a .500 record, and their playoff odds. Today, July 30, if you’re curious, the Phillies are 12 games under .500, 16 1/2 games out of first place, and 12 1/2 games out of the Wild Card. The earliest they can return to .500 is August 12, and their playoff odds stand at 0.1 percent.

Whenever I post this, I’m greeted by the famous line from Dumb and Dumber, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance…” While I imagine this is usually said in jest, I’d like to note that it doesn’t take a whole lot of creativity anymore to make reference to the “Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By’.” of Farrelly Brothers quotes.

It’s more the spirit of not having given up that, I hope, has been beaten out of us as fans by now. It’s over. It’s been over for about six weeks, and, looking back on it, it was frankly never even that close. I’m not telling you there’s a chance. If anything, I’m quoting those odds to tell you that there isn’t a chance. Even a week ago, when the Phillies were in the process of sweeping the Brewers, they’d have needed a comeback on par with the 1951 Giants to make the playoffs. You know, the Giants who walked off against the Dodgers on Bobby Thompson’s home run and needed to close out the season 50-12 to even get to that three-game playoff. And needed to cheat to get there.

After getting kicked in the privates by the Braves, however, I think the Phillies are far enough out of it that no one will be saying “Yeah, but the Cardinals last year…” ignoring the fact that the Cardinals were tied for first place in the division in the last week of July last season.

But I think we’re done with this whole hope thing, which is good. I hope we don’t need to have this talk again, because if we do, I’m bringing my fish next time.

Mike Olt!”

Apparently we’re doing the “Trade Cliff Lee” thing again. Because apparently people, including Ruben Amaro, if the scuttlebutt is to be believed, think that’s a good idea. Because trading a No. 1 starter who’s signed to a below-market deal at the nadir of his trade value is a no-brainer. Particularly when that value has been depressed by factors outside his control.

But the fans are on board because the prevailing opinion, based on absolutely nothing, is that 1) the Phillies will trade Lee 2) too the Texas Rangers 3) for third base prospect Mike Olt and 4) that it will be worth it. I think Olt is a nice player, and if the Phillies had traded the last two months of Cole Hamels‘ contract to Texas for him, it would have been a coup.

Olt is purported to be one of the top third base prospects in the game, a low-risk guy who plays good defense at third and hits for power. People hear these things and immediately rack their brains for other good defensive third basemen with power to associate him with. A list of good defensive third basemen with power: Mike Schmidt, Scott Rolen, Brooks Robinson, Adrian Beltre…Olt is not those men.

Mike Olt has never played a major league game. Few, if any, of the people advocating that Lee be traded for him, have seen him play in any venue apart from this year’s Futures Game, and of those, I doubt more than a handful have the scouting acumen necessary to draw any meaningful conclusions. Few, if any, of us had even heard of Olt six months ago, and now he’s the Pause that Refreshes, the King in the North, the Hero of Canton, the man who can rescue this team from years of shortsightedness and mismanagement.

Olt strikes out a lot. Last week, on Baseball Today, Keith Law speculated that Olt, promoted to the majors tomorrow, would hit about .240/.330 with 20-25 home runs in his first full season. He should improve some from there, but that’s an assumption, to say nothing of the original baseline being based on speculation in the first place. Expert speculation, but speculation nonetheless. The probability is that Olt will be a good major league third baseman. But I have no idea where the idea came from that he’d become a star.

This is the time of year when everyone falls in love with prospects. In the past week, I’ve heard Phillies fans crying out for not only Olt, but Starling Marte of Pittsburgh and Gary Brown of San Francisco, as if those guys are sure things, as if this fan base hasn’t lived through Tyler Green, Mike Grace, Gavin Floyd, Wayne Gomes, Travis Lee, Domonic Brown, Joe Savery and Anthony Hewitt. We of all people should know better.

A prospect is a lottery ticket. Some have better odds and higher payouts, but all have the distinct possibility, even the likelihood, of failure. Remember the last can’t-miss corner infielder the Rangers traded for Cliff Lee? I think the Phillies should collect as many as they can, but not at the expense of valuable long-term commodities like Lee. And what prospects they do collect are uncertain. So let’s stop pretending we know more than we actually do.

And one last note on Olt. It appears that part of his popularity involves the potential to raise our hands and should “Mike Olt!” whenever he does something good, in the style of Arrested Development‘s Steve Holt. I’ll admit that this is very cool, and very funny, and even that I’ve done so on our podcast before. But if he makes his Phillies debut August 1, and that gag hasn’t gotten old by Labor Day, I’ll hit myself in the face with my monkfish.

“Baby Aces”

This was cute during the “Four Aces” heyday, when someone started referring to the Phillies’ minor league starters the Baby Aces. Adorable, but inaccurate. The Phillies haven’t really had a prospect with true No. 1 starter potential since Cole Hamels. Jarred Cosart and Kyle Drabek were close, but concerns about Cosart’s delivery have turned him into more of a closer prospect than a starter prospect, and Drabek has had trouble staying healthy and finding the plate when he is.

And both have been traded anyway, so it doesn’t matter. But Jesse Biddle and Trevor May, if everything works out well, are probably more mid-rotation guys than aces, and I’ve yet to hear anyone in the know characterize Brody Colvin or Tyler Cloyd as anything more than a fifth starter. This one isn’t of paramount importance, but given how much disappointment we’re going to experience over the coming months anyway, let’s not make it worse by artificially raising expectations.

I guess the point of all this is: let’s not freak out about prospects for no good reason. It only ends in heartbreak.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go see the fishmonger.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

True Love and a Hamels Extension

According to Ken Rosenthal, Rumor Geyser, the Phillies and Cole Hamels are about to sign a 6-year contract extension  worth “more than” $137.5 million. (UPDATE: The official number is $144 million). In addition, Rosenthal predicts Hamels’ contract extension will set in motion “a series of trades to help the club not only reduce payroll, but also retool.” These could be heady days, my friends.

I’m not going to lie–I’ve been advocating, with my head, that the Phillies should trade Hamels, but now that he has (reportedly) been locked-up long-term, I’ll admit that I wept openly when Rosenthal broke the news.

We’ll have more analysis as the deal becomes official, but for now, enjoy a re-creation of the final negotiation between Hamels and Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.

Phillies General Manager Ruben Amaro, Jr.: I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, and the thing is, I want to re-sign you.
Cole Hamels: What?
Amaro: I want to re-sign you.
Hamels: How do you expect me to respond to this?
Amaro: How about you want to resign with me too?
Hamels: How about I’m leaving!
Amaro: Doesn’t what I said mean anything to you?
Hamels: I’m sorry, Ruben. I know it’s near the trade deadline. I know you need starting pitching. But you just can’t show up here, tell me you want to re-sign me and expect that to make everything all right. It doesn’t work this way.
Amaro: Well how does it work?
Hamels: I don’t know, but not this way.
Amaro: Well how about this way: I love that you can get the better of both left-handed and right-handed batters. I love that you won us a World Series. I love that you hit a home run off Matt Cain. I love that after I spend a season with you I can still see your change-up in the air. And I love that you’re the person I want to pitch Game 7 of the World Series for us. And it’s not because I need pitching, and it’s not because it’s the trade deadline. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your career with someone, you want the rest of your career to start as soon as possible.
(“Auld Lang Syne” begins playing in background)
Hamels: 
You see? That is just like you, Ruben–you say things like that and you make it impossible for me to sign with the Dodgers! And I want to sign with the Dodgers, Ruben! I really want to sign with the Dodgers….(signs contract)
Amaro: What does this song mean? My whole life, I don’t know what this song means. “Should old band contracts be forgot?” Does that mean that we should forget old bad contracts or that if we happen to forget them we should remember them, which is not possible because we already forgot them?
Hamels: Well maybe it means that we should remember that we forgot them or something. Anyway, it’s about great pitchers.

Someone hold me.