In a previous career, I was a real journalist. I don’t talk about it much because of the several careers I’ve had before turning 26, it was one of the more boring ones. But I worked at a technology magazine, writing features and editing the industry news section, the latter task consisting mostly of turning press releases into something that resembles English. Anyway, I was writing up a couple sentences on some company whose name escapes me when I realized that they were referring to themselves by the initialism for the company’s three-word name: ODB.
I laughed for what had to be several minutes at the idea of a company that produced (if memory serves) library software referring to itself, without a trace of irony, as ODB, but when I tried to explain to my co-workers (who were mostly white women in their 40s) why that was so funny, I got nothing but a miasma of bemused awkwardness rivaled only by the time when I showed up with a horseshoe mustache and declared it to be Fu Manchu February.
ODB is the most unfortunate acronym I’ve ever had to encounter as a writer. The second-most unfortunate is WAR. Mostly because it invites wordplay from people who (wrongly) mock the rationale behind advanced stats and (rightly) take the opportunity to mock a stupid acronym. The problem is that if you’re not smart enough to realize that sports aren’t only a test of willpower and you’re not smart enough to realize opening day starts aren’t the best way to quantify a player’s value, you’re probably also not smart enough to be good at wordplay. Which is how we’ve preserved the public memory of a certain Edwin Starr song that’s so facile and glibly idiotic it makes “MacArthur Park” look like “Gimme Shelter.”
When I’m dictator of the world, anyone who makes a WAR pun will have his (it’s invariably “his”) BBWAA membership revoked, irrevocably, on the spot. And I’ll also have the Ministry of Education’s Secret Police burst into his home in the middle of the night, throw a bag over his head and cast him down into Xibalba.
This intro is already way too long for what it adds to the point I’m trying to make, but I’m already pot-committed so I’m going for broke. Here’s why that’s relevant.
I let a recent issue of ESPN: The Magazine sit on my coffee table for a couple weeks because I was so pissed off at the WAR pun on the cover that I failed to notice that the story to which that human rights atrocity of a WAR pun referred was written by Sam Miller of Baseball Prospectus, who, if he’s not my favorite baseball writer currently working, is certainly in the top five.
Miller’s article couches the debate (If you can call it that anymore. The evolving mainstream acceptance of analytics in all sports put Sir Isaac Newton in the driver’s seat years ago) in what I think are the correct terms: as the battle between knowledge and hokum. Continue reading…
I, like I imagine most of you do, have an alarm set for a specific time and a specific radio station. Well, over the past couple weeks, it seems like I’ve been waking up to “Home” by Phillip Phillips as often as not, which irritates me because it’s not the better, but almost-as-overplayed “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, or “Home” by Marc Broussard. Or “Mama I’m Coming Home” by Ozzy Osbourne, but whatever.
It’s a shame that I never got to enjoy that song before it got to the point where it serves as backing music to insurance commercials, because I get the feeling that I’d like it if I’d only heard it once a day, rather than six or seven. But it comes on every morning at 6 a.m. when my alarm goes off. So I listen to it for the two or three seconds it takes for me to wake up and feel relief that it’s not Mumford & Sons, then hit the snooze button. And one or two cycles of the snooze later, “Call Me Maybe” comes on. Every day, it seems.
Well, this morning, I set my alarm 20 minutes earlier, and I heard the same two songs in my snooze cycle, only backwards. If, at the end of the day, I Stockholm Syndrome myself into falling in love with Andie MacDowell and her vacant, beady eyes, can one of y’all do me the kindness of quickly and discreetly ending my life?
@Matt_Winkelman: “Why have we come to under-appreciate how good Burrell, Wolf, Werth, Abreu, and Myers were and how lucky we would be to have any of them on the 2013 team?”
This is an excellent question, because we seem to undervalue the teams that immediately preceded the five straight division winners. With Werth and Abreu, I think it’s because Philadelphia sports fans, on the aggregate, are one of the dumbest, most stubborn demographic groups I’ve ever encountered. Bobby Abreu is probably the second-best offensive player the Phillies have had in the modern era. He navigated the most important aspect of the game for a position player–not making outs–better than anyone else the Phillies have had in almost 100 years. And it’s not like he was an empty .416 OBP guy, either. He slugged .513 and stole about 30 bases a year with the Phillies, too. But the fans hated him because he wasn’t showy about trying hard, which isn’t a point of view whose underpinnings I can understand.
We’re a little under-length in this week’s Crash Bag, but fear not! …actually, there’s no good reason for that. Sometimes there just isn’t 2,500 words’ worth of baseball to write about.
I recently found myself in a social situation that involved an icebreaker question. Anyone who’s ever been to…I dunno, school, or camp, or any sort of organized social group will know what I’m talking about: you go around the room and everyone says his name, a piece of information relevant to the nature of the gathering and an inane fact about yourself. So if we were going around the baseball internet, I’d probably go: “I’m Mike, I write about the Phillies at Crashburn Alley and the last book I read was The Soccer Men by Simon Kuper.” That sort of thing.
When I taught, I’d use one of these at the start of the semester so I could put names with faces and start to get to know my students. It was clumsy, and sometimes boring, but it served a purpose. But the icebreaker question in this particular social situation was: “What was the last song you had stuck in your head?”
And Lord Almighty, what a horrific experience that question is.
It is OPENING DAY! At 3 p.m. EST, Jordan Montgomery takes the mound against Liberty University and for the first time since last August, a team I follow will be playing meaningful regular-season baseball. Joey Pankake, “Hold Me Closer” LB Dantzler and the South Carolina Gamecocks, locked in mortal interscholastic combat with the Fightin’ Jerry Falwells! You know how that makes me feel?
Yes, sir. And remember, college baseball is now accepting callers for these pendant keychains, so if you want to hop on the bandwagon while there are still seats, you can start with my superb college baseball primer, for which the public had been clamoring, and I posted over the weekend, so you may have missed it.
Anyway, for ease of site navigation, you’re going to have to negotiate a jump to get to the rest of the Crash Bag, so click that little link and we’ll be on our way.
We begin with a question not from the guy who runs the blog, but from the guy who runs the whole blog network.
@dschoenfield: “What name would you give this winter storm? And would it include the word Young?”
Apparently the sky is falling back home. I have to say I am entirely unimpressed. Out here in Madison, it’s getting to the point where I’m starting to wonder if it will ever stop snowing. It rained yesterday morning, and I’ve never been so happy to see the rain. I’ve been extremely impressed with the way the public works folks here in Wisconsin clear the roads (that I’ve only driven sideways into four snowdrifts in the past 10 days is downright miraculous), but driving is still dicey on a slushy/icy/mushy mix that coats the side roads no matter how fast you get the plows out. Anyway, I’ll be very happy to see some of this snow melt and some of this slush run off.
I guess my point is: stop griping, New York. You’re like the snotty rich girl in eighth grade. We know the world revolves around you. Stop bringing the world to a halt every time you’re mildly inconvenienced. Some of us haven’t seen grass since December.
But to answer the original question, and in the spirit of same, using the word “Young,” I think calling this winter storm (because we’re naming every bit of inclement weather that hits Manhattan nowadays) “Michael Young‘s On-Field Value,” because it’s talked about in the media a lot, but in actuality isn’t significant enough to warrant anything more than passing discussion.
On a more serious note, having David Schoenfield write in brings up a bit of news regarding another ESPN baseball writer that I think deserves applause.
Christina Kahrl has joined the advisory board of the You Can Play Project, an organization dedicated to eliminating homophobia in sports and sporting culture. I won’t go into tremendous detail, but if you’re not familiar with You Can Play, it’s worth a couple minutes to click around the website. I learned about You Can Play when it was getting off the ground in the NHL and larger hockey community, and I really admire the work the YCP folks have done and the way they’ve gone about it. So I just wanted to take a moment out to thank Christina and say that it makes me very happy to see that she and YCP are working together.
Enough of that. Back to the regularly-scheduled vitriol and nonsense.
Not much to say by way of introduction this week. Only, I suppose, that we ought to listen to more “Waltzing Matilda.” That’s a propos of absolutely nothing, but that doesn’t make it any less true.
@mattjedruch: “you ever thought what it’d be like if baseball was more like soccer in that managers decided on who to sign instead of GM’s? or at least have more of a say as to who is signed?”
You mean, like Kirk Gibson being unable to handle intelligent, talented players? Because the Diamondbacks were about as eager to get rid of Trevor Bauer and Justin Upton as the state of Arizona is to get rid of its Hispanic population.
But in truth, the manager in soccer often has more in common with the GM of a baseball team than he does the field manager. Yes, he dictates tactics and sets the starting lineup, but in a game with only one break in play, almost no structure and only three substitutions, it’s not like there’s a ton of in-game coaching to be done. There’s absolutely some, but not nearly as much as in baseball, let alone a sport like football or basketball where the coach is constantly calling plays and changing personnel.
I think you’d see more managers with an intellectual background rather than a playing background. Right now, the primary qualification for being a baseball field manager (which is a job whose primary functions are administrative and tactical, not athletic) is having been paid to play baseball in the past. I think that would change under the soccer manager model.
Which is not to say that some of the biggest names in soccer management today weren’t superstar players–Pep Guardiola, Carlo Ancelotti, Frank Rijkaard, Jurgen Klinsmann.
But Arsene Wenger, first with AS Monaco in France and for the past 15 years with Arsenal in England, ran circles around his competitors by buying undervalued players, developing them, and selling them at the peak of their value. If this approach sounds familiar, it might not surprise you to learn that Billy Beane views Wenger as an inspirational figure. Wenger is hardly any more a former pro soccer player than I am–he’s an economist by training, which explains how he was able to arbitrage the pants off the English Premier league for almost a decade before everyone else caught up.
His Arsenal won its last title in 2004, and the next two years finished behind a Chelsea team led by Jose Mourinho, who studied since his youth not to be a player, but a coach, and has turned into the best one in the world.
So you’d probably still see a lot of former players as managers, but it would turn into a hybrid role that combines both off-field economic savvy and on-field leadership. I think a the uniformed coaches would take a bigger role, just because the manager would have so much responsibility he’d have to delegate. Which is good, because apart from Don Cooper, I’m not sure I can name another MLB coach who has a big positive impact on his team.
@SoMuchForPathos: “Who should I realistically start dreaming on as the Phillies’ next GM?”
I’ll do it if you want. I’d probably advance the thinking of the Phillies’ front office by 20 years by bringing the team’s quantitative analysis department…well, creating one, for starters. But once I’ve cleaned house, the front office will be up to speed on the top publicly accepted thinking based on the best publicly available data. Which would put the Phillies only about 10 to 15 years behind their competitors.
The arrogant anti-intellectualism of the current regime is baffling and will have predictable results. The Phillies, under Ruben Amaro, are like Czarist Russia, a vast empire of tremendous power and blessed with incredible resources that’s so in love with the fashions and practices of 50 years prior that that power and those resources were, and will be, squandered in a massive blaze and at the cost of unimaginable human suffering. And the next people to take over will be a marginal improvement intellectually but little better practically. And we’ll spend the next 10 years in undignified retreat, watching our crops and oil fields burn because our leaders are too obsessed with superstitions and customs that the rest of the world laughed out of the culture as obsolete before we were even born. The sins of the father, and so on….
But seriously, if I were GM, I’d get to work immediately.
Ben Cherington: “Hello.”
Me: “Hey, Ben, it’s Mike Baumann.”
Cherington: “Hey, Mike. Congrats on the new gig.”
Me: “Thanks. Say, I see you’ve got a lot of question marks about starting pitching.”
Cherington: “I think we’re okay, but I’m listening. I hear you’re pretty high on Jackie Bradley. Would he buy me some pitching?”
Me: “Maybe. How much would you want for him?”
Cherington: “How about I put together a package for Cole Hamels.”
Me: “Not Hamels, but I’d do Cliff Lee.”
Cherington: “Hmmm. I can do something. How about Bradley and…Jerry Sands?”
Me: “Draw it up. Send it over.”
And over the course of hours, I’d make about half a dozen insanely lopsided trades to put the 2010 South Carolina Gamecocks back together, ending with me flipping Jonathan Papelbon to Miami for whatever’s left of Sam Dyson and eating a ton of salary. I’d love the job, but I’d be a disaster.
@sports_j: “has Crash Bag/ Crashburn Alley discussed the possibility/probability of trading Doc if/when Phils are 15 games out in July?
Not yet, but we can if you like.
Halladay’s vesting option will likely not vest for 2014, making it…whatever’s less than a vest…a snood? So if the Phillies are 15 games out in July, wouldn’t it make sense for a team that doesn’t look like it’s going to contend anytime soon to trade an aging, but at the very least competent free agent-to-be to a team with a chance to win it all? It’d make oodles of sense, particularly if he’s on track to throw 225 innings to activate the option, giving him another year’s worth of value to be traded.
But I really don’t think that’s going to happen. First of all, man, that’s a big white flag to wave, even if Halladay’s only the third-best pitcher on the team anymore. For a team 18 months removed from winning 102 games, with no real pressing financial constraints, trading a name of Halladay’s magnitude would be quite bold, even if such a team were blessed with the foresight to realize that The Great Satan, Delmon Young, is not the kind of player who puts you over the top.
So it’s an interesting possibility–and by “interesting,” I mean “soul-crushing”–but I cannot imagine it actually happening.
@MichaelJBlock: “How many more galactically stupid decisions does RAJ have to make before he is relieved of his duties as GM?”
Dozens. General managers don’t get fired for being feckless morons. General managers get fired for losing ballgames, which is amusing as hell, because the lag time between the stupid decisions and the actual losing of ballgames is usually several years, as we’re now noticing. The Phillies lost 2012 long before 2012 actually came to pass. If you look at any team that’s contended for a long period of time, you’ll see gradual but continuous roster turnover. You develop a player, you get some value out of him, you win some games, you trade him for a younger player before he hits free agency, and so on. For the Braves’ run of consecutive division titles from 1991 to 2005, the only constants were Bobby Cox and John Smoltz. Terry Pendleton gets old, so they replaced him with Chipper Jones. Jeff Blauser gets replaced by Rafael Furcal. Alejandro Pena turns into Mark Wohlers turns into John Rocker, and so it goes.
The Phillies drafted phenomenally well around the turn of the century and got a bunch of really fantastic players all about the same age, and they hit their prime together–Utley, Hamels, Rollins, Howard, Jayson Werth–and they rode that for about as long as you can ride a core group wholesale. And while there was roster turnover, it wasn’t young players being eased into key roles to eventually replace the veterans, it was young players being traded for established stars, who make more money and tend to turn into financial boondoggles with little or no warning.
Domonic Brown could have been to the Phillies as Andruw Jones was to the late-90s Braves, the second-generation dynastic star who’s brought up as a complementary player and carries the team into the next plane of spiritual existence. But instead he was left to wither on the vine while a parade of older, more expensive, not-particularly-more-productive alternatives paraded by as the Phillies’ clubhouse turned into a Lexus dealership–a room full of old people with delusionally inflated self-importance and commodities that aren’t worth half what they were purchased for.
And the Phillies still won 102 games in 2011. So as Mephistopheles comes back to visit Ruben Amaro, it’ll take another couple years for the Phillies to bottom out, then another couple years for him to come to terms with the fact that you’re not going to win a lot of games by putting band-aids on traumatic wounds. Or, in Delmon Young’s case, filling traumatic wounds with biochemical waste. Then a few beyond that for him to try a rebuild, because the Phillies’ ownership, which seems to be, like the fans, under the mistaken impression that Amaro was the architect of the greatest set of teams in frachise history, will give him a chance to fail at that. Which he will.
Listen–Ed Wade and Omar Minaya lasted forever as general managers. Ruben Amaro isn’t done with us by a damn sight.
@Major_Hog: “Sign Brian Wilson. He’s still better then either Young and his beard is sublime!”
Yeah, let’s do that. On second thought, let’s not do that. Wilson is a big name with lots of saves in his career, which means that he’s going to more money than he should. He’s also entering his age-31 season coming off his second Tommy John surgery, which is not the end of the world, but given the depth of the Phillies’ bullpen right now, I just don’t know why the Phillies think they need another reliever, that most fungible of athletic commodities. And then they went out and signed Chad Durbin, so fuck me.
But mostly I don’t want Brian Wilson because I can’t stand him. His beard isn’t sublime. It lacks subtlety–it’s dyed darker than his hair, for one thing. Brian Wilson appeals to people who confuse weirdness with cleverness. Who think that being outspoken is the same thing as being funny or insightful. Brian Wilson is the morning zoo drive-time radio show of relief pitchers. He is, to quote Filmdrunk, “More SPROIOIOIOIOING than AH-OOO-GAH!” I will not suffer him on my baseball team.
@erhudy: “what is the name of the disorder that compels you to make horrible puns”
It’s called being really smart, really well-educated and really clever, and it brings with it judgment and ostracism from society that are far worse than the symptoms themselves. Imagine leprosy, but good.
@JustinF_LB: “Who are you rooting for to win the Super Bowl? Ravens or Niners? Ray Lewis’s team or Chris Culliver’s team?”
Culliver’s. As you might have figured out by now, I’m a huge South Carolina homer, and maintain a slavish devotion to anyone who played football or baseball there while I was in undergrad. Culliver, even before he had his Shavlik Randolph moment, was the one exception.
We looked at Chris Culliver, who was Steve Spurrier’s first five-star recruit, as potentially the kind of gamebreaking offensive presence that would allow a team that had been Percy Harvined to death for my first couple years in Columbia, to compete with Florida and Georgia. He was a wide receiver recruit who ran the 40 in the mid-4.3s out of high school, and I ached to see him play.
As a freshman, he returned kicks, and he was terrible. He’d field the ball and run it out, no matter where he caught it, and head straight for the highest density zone of the coverage unit where, invariably, he’d be tackled. He never really played wideout, instead switching to free safety, where he was even worse. I spent my senior year in the press box watching Culliver run the wrong way in coverage, never step up in run support, never make a play on the ball, and always either jump on the pile after the runner was down or tackle a receiver after he’d already gained a first down, then jump up and celebrate like he’d just nailed the triple Salchow to clinch the gold medal in the free skate. The 2008 Gamecock football team sent quite a few admirable, tough, thoughtful guys to the NFL–Kenny McKinley, Ryan Succop and Captain Munnerlyn stick out in my mind–but Culliver was the dumbest, most irresponsible, most disappointing player on a team that included Stephen Garcia. I have cursed his name long after I graduated, and I’ve cursed his name throughout his NFL career.
With that said, being a homophobe is much–I was going to say “better” but instead let’s go with “less bad”–than being an accessory to murder. And since the narrative of this Super Bowl is about Ray Lewis as much as anything else, I find Lewis’ antics to be precisely the kind of showy, fake-Gladiator bullshit that really makes me hate football sometime.
And as much as I really could not be bothered to care about the religious beliefs and practices of 99 percent of professional athletes, I’d like to contrast Lewis’ showy piety with the showy piety of Tim Tebow. From what I’ve read, Tebow wears his religion on his sleeve because it’s part and parcel of his identity, and always has been. Lewis noisily underwent a religious awakening, and while I am really in no position to call shenanigans on his Road to Damascus moment, I would like to offer the following quote:
““And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
That’s Matthew 6:5-8, and it’s made me extremely skeptical of, and uncomfortable around, people who make their religious experience, whatever it may be, about other people and not about them and God. I have no time or love for Ray Lewis, and that cancels out whatever affinity I might have for Ed Reed, whose career is as underrated as Lewis’ is overrated, or key Ravens with local ties, like Joe Flacco and Ray Rice, or that Jim Harbaugh is about 80 percent as obnoxiously hypercompetitive as Lewis, or even that I know quite a few Ravens fans, and like all of them, and I generally like it when people I like are happy. I can’t root for Ray Lewis’ team. Can’t do it.
Yeah, so does anyone have any questions that don’t make me want to kill myself?
@tbroomell: “so arsenal just bought a player who’s first name is Nacho, so it got me thinking, top 5 baseball names ever”
Okay, I know Nacho is a food, but apparently it’s also a nickname for Ignacio in Spanish. The Spanish do a lot of things that we in America don’t do, like fascism and idleness and leaving your shirt unbuttoned, but it’s their language and they can do what they want with it. If my name were Ignatius, you could call me Chips and Guac–anything is better than that name. Besides, what language do you think the name for the food came from?
But yeah, my top 5 favorite baseball names ever. This is by no means an exhaustive list, so if I’ve missed a favorite of yours, please alert me/the other readers in the comment section and we’ll have a good marvel and a chuckle together. Here goes:
You know, I’m really not much of a musical theatre person. I was in a production of Godspell once, which was about as much fun as I’ve ever had, though Liz Roscher tells me that everyone’s been in Godspell so it’s not that big a deal. Plus I was in pit orchestra for The King and I and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum in high school. I don’t remember a thing about the latter play, except apparently there was provocative dancing by attractive girls in skimpy outfits. Or at least so I’m told, because unlike most other musicals my high school did, the orchestra books for A Funny Thing…divided the woodwind part not by instrument, but into five generic woodwind books that contained parts for one or more of flue, clarinet or saxophone. I got stuck with one that was clarinet, bass clarinet and bari sax, because I played all three of those at the time. This not only meant that I had to tote two huge cases to and from rehearsals, but during “The House of Marcus Lycus,” which was the song with all the provocative dancing, I had my back to the stage and my eyes on the sheet music because the bass clarinet was the only instrument that played the whole song.
I never saw the dancing. This was devastating to me at the time, because not only was I a 16-year-old boy, I was the kind of 16-year-old boy who played more than one woodwind instrument and volunteered for pit orchestra.
I guess that’s kind of a long-winded way of saying that I don’t know that I’ve seen five musicals in person, though I have seen several film adaptations and perused even more soundtracks, many of them at the behest of my younger brother, who is a massive theatre buff. I will say that I absolutely despised Rent.
Anyway, my top 5 favorite musicals, though I’m not really expert enough to comment intelligently on quality:
1776. Because it’s a musical for people who don’t really like musicals all that much.
The Producers. Because I love Mel Brooks and to my knowledge there hasn’t been a stage adaptation of Robin Hood: Men in Tights.
Godspell. Just because of my own emotional attachment to the show.
My Fair Lady.
West Side Story. Because all racially-motivated gang violence should involve such great choreography.
I really should get around to seeing Pirates of Penzance and Candide, though, because both have fantastic music.
@DashTreyhorn: “Favorite character and season of Friday Night Lights?”
There’s apparently been an epidemic of binge-watching this show going around the Philly Sports Twitterverse, by which I mean I did it a couple months back and I’ve noticed 3 other people doing the same since then. It’s really a great show that completely sucked me in. Its biggest flaw is being a little too saccharine and prime-time teen soap opera-ish at times, but I liked it for different reasons than I liked other critically-acclaimed dramas from recent years. For my money, Mad Men is the best TV drama I’ve ever seen, just because of the maniacal attention to detail in the writing, acting and direction. It is the pursuit of perfection, and its best episodes come damn close. There’s one scene from Season 5’s “Commissions and Fees” that is, in my opinion, the best scene of narrative fiction in any medium that I’ve ever encountered.
While Mad Men is extremely literary, The West Wing and The Wire were extremely smart. Both were as much pieces of social commentary (though about completely different components of the cultural and political spectrum) as pieces of narrative fiction.
Friday Night Lights, however, is fairly smart at times, and well-written, but I liked it because of how wholeheartedly and earnestly emotional it was. I thought my way through The Wire but I felt my way through Friday Night Lights, if that makes sense, and when it was over, I was really sad that I’d never encounter those characters again, because I liked them so much. I cried during the series finale even though it was a pretty awful episode, because I was sad the story was over.
Anyway. My favorite parts. I think the first season was my favorite, though like The West Wing, there wasn’t really one season for me that stood head and shoulders above the others, and there were things that I couldn’t stand about the seasons I liked best.
So given that I liked the first season best, it’s kind of weird that my favorite character on the show is Jason Street, and here’s why. I liked Jason Street so much because watching him develop a personality was unbelievable fun, and he’d be far and away the most likeable character on any show that didn’t have Matt Saracen (who’s the most likeable character in the history of TV, including, like Elmo), Tami Taylor and Tim Riggins. Plus Luke Cafferty is pretty easy to root for.
Now, Tim Riggins is probably the most imaginative character, probably the best-written character, and acted well enough that I’m kind of puzzled by how bad Taylor Kitsch was in everything else I’ve seen him in. He’s everyone’s favorite character, just like Omar is everyone’s favorite character in The Wire. But while Omar was great fun, I never considered him to be as interesting and deep a character as Stringer, and I kind of feel the same way about Riggins and Jason Street. In a show full of likeable characters, Street gets lost in the shuffle a little bit, and I can’t really figure out why.
Also, and this doesn’t get said enough, this show falls apart without Landry Clarke and, to a lesser extent, Tinker in the later seasons.
@kgeich67: “If I sent you a Delmon Young t-shirt jersey what are some things you would do with it? Be creative.”
Probably wear it out, get rip-roaring drunk and punch a Jewish person in the face. Because that seems to be a favorite pastime of The Great Satan, Delmon Young.
I’d wear it, to be honest. Maybe just around the house, and I’d pretend that it somehow made me dark and dangerous, like a fake mustache in the movies. I’d put on the Delmon Young shirsey, a blazer and cowboy boots, wear aviators and smoke outrageously large cigars while drinking scotch or vodka–and I really don’t much care for either, but I get the impression that that’s what badguys drink in the movies. I’d adopt an emotionally abusive attitude toward women, and women would flock to me, because my aloofness would remind them of their fathers. Essentially, I’d become the hero of Who Will Survive, and What Will Be Left of Them by Murder by Death.
Okay, someone needs to send me such a shirsey, because that sounds like a riotous good time. DM me and I’ll give you my address and shirt size.
That’s all for this week, and I still didn’t get to that Jonathan Singleton question I’ve had in the hopper for 3 weeks now. Well, you’ll have to check back next Friday morning for that and more. Until then, enjoy the big handegg game on Sunday. Eat something with hot sauce on it for me.
I know I linked to the opening of 1776in the beginning of last week’s Crash Bag, and if you’ll permit me, I’d like to take a mulligan. I think I’ve come up with a better joke, and an excuse to revive last season’s overwhelmingly popular (and by “overwhelmingly popular” I mean “roundly mocked and pilloried”) Cinema Philliediso series. Musical-style.
To set the scene: we’re deep into the summer and the Phillies have been reaping the seeds the front office sowed this offseason, which is to say that everyone’s hurt, Delmon Young is playing everyday, and the Phillies are struggling to stay ahead of the Mets in the division, much less challenge the Braves and Nats.
One hot night, Domonic Brown, confined to the bench in favor of Delmon Young and Laynce Nix, decides he can’t take any more.
Domonic Brown: I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called Delmon Young. That two are called a platoon, and that three are more become an outfield. And by God, I have had this outfield. For five years, Ruben Amaro and his front office have gulled, cullied and diddled this team with their foolish free-agent signings. Raul Ibanez, Juan Pierre, Delmon Young, Yuniesky Bentancourt! And when we dared stand up like ballplayers, they have benched our young players, traded our prospects, mismanaged our bullpen, extended Ryan Howard‘s contract and traded for Michael Young. And still this team refuses to grant any of my proposals on not playing retreads and fossils, even so much as the courtesy of open debate! Good God! What in hell are you waiting for?
Rest of the Team: Sit down, Dom! Sit down, Dom! For God’s sake, Dom, sit down! / Sit down, Dom! Sit down, Dom! For God’s sake, Dom, sit down!
Michael Young: Someone oughta play Darin Ruf more!
Team: It’s 90 degrees, and Chase has no knees–it’s hot as hell in Philadelphia!
Michael Young: Someone oughta play Darin Ruf more!
Dom Brown: I say vote yes! Vote yes! Vote to give at-bats to me!
(we’re going to have to go audio-only for this next part)
(Brown, frustrated, storms out of the clubhouse and onto the field, where he begins to pace and continues to sing)
Dom Brown: Dear God. For three solid years they have been sitting me. Three whole years! Doing nothing.
(Looks up and goes to address God Almighty directly.)
I do believe you’ve laid a curse on North America. A curse that we here now rehearse in Philadelphia. A second flood, a simple famine, plagues of locusts everywhere–or a cataclysmic earthquake I’d accept with some despair. But no, you sent Amaro–Good God, Sir, was that fair?
He gives us useless fossils and retreads, I would just as soon be dead! Useless fossils and retreads! Would that I were dead, in foul, fetid, fuming, foggy, filthy Philadelphia.
(Offstage, the voice of Shane Victorino appears. His form comes into focus, and Domonic Brown begins to talk to him.)
Shane Victorino: Dom, Dom, is that you carrying on? Dom?
Dom Brown: Oh, Shanf, I have such a desire to knock heads together!
Shane Victorino: Then why on Earth do you stay there? Come here to Boston, Dom–it’s only 300 miles. If you took the Acela you could be here in four hours.
Dom Brown: How could I do that, Shane? I’m no further along than I was when I first came here.
Shane Victorino: I know, my dearest. I know. But that’s because your general manager is a moron. Reinforcements could be on their way–I’ll tell you what I’ve seen. But Ruben did a stupid thing and drafted Larry Greene. Up in Boston things are awful–we have tensions running high. Youk and Gonzo are departed, and Jacoby’s end is nigh. But we’ve got Jackie Bradley—
Dom Brown: I know–and our system is dry. I wrote to you that the Nationals had traded for Denard Span and the Braves had acquired both Upton brothers. I asked you if you had any advice, because our team is too old to compete and we have next to no prospects coming up to help. Now can the Phillies get help in time to avoid embarrassment?
Shane Victorino: No, Dom, they cannot.
Dom Brown: Well why not?
Shane Victorino: Because you neglected to tell your GM that it’s not 2000 anymore and he can’t field a winning team by paying old guys lots of money.
Dom Brown: Well, it’s easy! Anyone who pays even passing attention to the game has known that for 10 years.
Shane Victorino: Oh, yes, of course.
Dom Brown: Well let it be done, then!
Shane Victorino: Dom, I’m afraid you have a more urgent problem.
Dom Brown: More urgent?
Shane Victorino: There’s one thing that this team’s done well in Massachusetts Bay. Don’t smirk at me, you ne’er do well; pay heed to what I say. We dumped a bucketload of salary on Los Angeles’s team. Now we’re flush with cash and prospects, and there’s naught to do but beam! But you can’t have Jackie Bradley…because you drafted Greene.
Dom Brown: Shane! We should have had Jackie Bradley.
Shane Victorino: You’ve got Larry Greene.
Dom Brown: Jackie Bradley.
Shane Victorino: Greene.
Dom Brown: Bradley.
Shane Victorino: Greene.
Dom Brown: Bradley.
Shane Victorino: Greene.
Dom Brown: Bradley.
Shane Victorino: Greene.
Dom Brown: Bradley.
Shane Victorino: Greene.
Dom Brown: Bradley.
Shane Victorino: Greene.
Dom Brown: Bradley. (sigh)
Shane Victorino: Greene.
Dom Brown: Done, Shane, done.
Shane Victorino: Done, Dom. Get into the lineup, Dom.
Dom Brown: As soon as I’m able.
Shane Victorino: Don’t stop writing–it’s all I have.
Dom Brown: Every day, my dearest friend.
Both: Till then, till then, I am, as I ever was and ever shall be, yours, yours, yours, yours, yours.
Ryan Howard (offstage): For God’s sake, Dom, sit down.
(c/g to Ian Riccaboni of Phillies Nation, who inadvertently inspired this post. Blame him, not me.)
I’m kind of cheesed off. I have sat through a series of moves by Ruben Amaro that have driven me slowly to the verge of becoming John Adams, as played by William Daniels in the film version of 1776. You know, just a pissed-off guy with a bad haircut and an obsession with the sound of his own voice who roams the halls singing at the top of his lungs and screaming at people who just want to bathe in their own ignorance in peace. For instance:
I literally do this, sometimes, running around singing and screaming and shouting at people. And it’s not entirely because of signing Raul Ibanez, trading for Cliff Lee instead of Roy Halladay, then trading Cliff Lee instead of Joe Blanton to get Roy Halladay, signing Placido Polanco instead of Adrian Beltre, jumping the gun on extending Ryan Howard‘s contract by two and a half years, then waiting two and a half years too long to extend Cole Hamels‘ contract, not drafting Jackie Bradley, giving up two potential future stars for a mediocre corner outfielder, giving a relief pitcher a four-year, seven-figure contract, doling out large amounts of money to a collection of many worthless players who will add almost no value rather than pooling that money and getting one good player and then spending the minimum on worthless players…and, that’s about it. If you can think of more, please, the comment section is at your disposal. Make yourselves at home.
Oh, and intentionally, mystifyingly, deliberately and repeatedly sandbagging Domonic Brown‘s development. Almost forgot about that.
That’s right, in only four years, Ruben Amaro, Jr.’s CV is so festooned with instances of preposterous folly that when he takes the No. 1 prospect in baseball and turns him into a guy who would have been better off sticking with football, it doesn’t necessarily make the front page.
But in the annals of his history of making puzzling, intellectually lazy and actively destructive player personnel moves, signing Delmon Young is either the worst or the one that finally pushed me over the edge. Maybe both. But I’m just done. Completely over this.
My mother-in-law reads this column, and I want to apologize to her up-front for some of the language I’m going to use today. Come to think of it, my own mother reads this, but she says she’ll still love me no matter what I do–which I interpret as including things I write about Delmon Young–so I’m less concerned about offending her. Love you, Mom.
Come to think of it, I think it’d be better if I didn’t comment on Delmon Young. That can only lead to bad things. On to your questions.
Well said. Fine, you’ve convinced me. I’ll talk about Delmon Young.
Listen, the thing about all the moves I listed above is that they were defensible from one point or another. I said this Wednesday night on Lana Berry’s Baseball Roundtable Electric Boogaloo, so if y’all watched that, I apologize for repeating myself, and if you didn’t, don’t bother, because I learned that I’m a much better writer than a talker. Though you could fast-forward to the end and see Paul flip out as Ryan turns his head into a cartoon dog.
Anyway, Jonathan Papelbon and Mike Adams are good pitchers, even if they’re not worth what they’re being paid. And maybe Amaro thought he could squeeze the last bit of value out of Raul Ibanez, or Michael Young, or Jose Contreras, or maybe he, who ought to know more than anyone else alive about Domonic Brown, knows something we don’t.
But there is no angle, none whatsoever, from which the signing of Delmon Young at any cost is defensible.
There are great players, and then there are players with no weaknesses. Players without weaknesses, who are at least adequate in every facet of the game, are truly rare. I can name Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Willie Mays, Barry Bonds, Joe DiMaggio, the young Alex Rodriguez…maybe Jackie Robinson, and maybe one day we’ll say this about Mike Trout as well. But someone who is above-average in hitting for power, contact skills, hitting for average, plate discipline, speed, catching, throwing, the elusive “Baseball IQ”–those guys come along a couple times in a generation. Pick almost any transcendent baseball player and I can point out a flaw.
Babe Ruth struck out, relative to his time, at a horrific rate. Albert Pujols is slow. Ted Williams was an indifferent defender. Chase Utley has a noodle arm. Derek Jeter‘s defense went entirely to pot later in his career. Almost every great, even legendary player has at least one thing that even a casual observer can write off as a flaw. But the flawless player–he’s something truly special.
Delmon Young is like that, only completely opposite.
Delmon Young does not hit for a good average. He is among the worst defensive outfielders currently employed in that capacity. He does not make good contact. He does not take walks. He does not run well. He does not throw well. Let me tell you a story about how Delmon Young throws.
When I was in high school, I went to a lot of trips with my church youth group. Depending on the outing, we’d take classes or do team-building activities or do Bible study or do some kind of work in the community. But we had downtime, in which we’d play cards, or listen to music or play some sort of game.
That’s how I wound up, from ages 14 to 18 or so, playing hundreds of hours of Ultimate Frisbee, a perfect game for a bunch of teenaged boys with tons of space and time, but little capacity for organization. During those hours, I got very good at throwing the frisbee. I could go overhand, underhand, sidearm, backhand and all sorts of things that people who wear shorts and hemp jewelry and shower far too infrequently will spend hours and hours bending your ear about or demonstrating for you.
When I was in college, though, I was playing a game of Ultimate, and I got a finger caught in the lip of the disc or something, and the frisbee, which I’d intended to put 50 yards downfield, actually wound up behind me. It was a tremendous embarrassment, and since then–and this is 100 percent, absolutely true–I’ve had the yips about throwing a frisbee. Can’t do it. I’ve got Steve Blass Disease for the frisbee. Which kind of makes it more like Chad Blass disease, but you get the idea.
Anyway, when a guy who, at least in part, throws a baseball for a living, does this…
…that’s not good. You don’t want a guy trying to prevent a key run in the World Series to remind me of myself trying to throw a frisbee after I contracted the yips.
But that’s okay. The Phillies have had bad defense in the outfield corners more often than not, and if they can win a World Series with Pat Burrell, then they can live with someone whose defense invites comparisons to the six-year-old who’s more interested in picking dandelions than playing tee-ball.
If he can hit. But unfortunately, Delmon Young cannot do that either. His wRC+ last year as 89, which makes him a below-average hitter. But for some context, and because I’m expected to write volumes on this topic, let’s go into some greater depth. Delmon Young, in wRC+ last year, was 121st out of 143 hitters who qualified for the batting title last season. In a moment of great good fortune for people like me who like to make facile comparisons to score cheap rhetorical points, the guy one spot behind him on that leaderboard was Young’s new Phillies teammate, Ben Revere.
Revere is a fantastic defensive center fielder with game-changing speed, who patrols power alley to power alley with the speed and grace of a border collie corralling a herd of uncooperative sheep. He steals bases in bushels. And he plays a position that, particularly in the past five years or so, places a premium on defense rather than offense, where you can get away with not being a particularly productive hitter if you can really pick it, or whatever the equivalent colloquialism is for outfielders.
And many people don’t think Revere is a good enough hitter to be be a good major-league player.
So what does it say when, on the aggregate, Delmon Young, or as I’ve taken to calling him, The Great Satan, is roughly the same offensive player and, when placed in a field of grass, resembles nothing so much as one of those bulb-shaped pig-creatures that frolicks in the meadow alongside Anakin and Padme on Naboo in Star Wars: Episode II?
Not good things, I tell you.
The point is, The Great Satan can kind of hit left-handed pitching, and he’s got a little bit of power (though not much more than, say, Coco Crisp, who actually posted a higher slugging percentage than Delmon Young last year), but on the whole, he represents an offensive package so abominable that it would frighten your infant child if it were placed in the body of a good defensive middle infielder.
(this is where it’s going to start getting sweary)
I’m going to tell you another story from my childhood. When I was a boy, my uncle took me fishing once. We got down to the edge of the lake, and he showed me how to get all the sticks and strings and whatever else you put in the water to catch a fish in order. But when he picked up a worm to put on my hook, the worm voided its bowels, leaving a trail of greenish-brown shit about the approximate length and circumference of a mechanical pencil lead in his hand.
Delmon Young, the defensive player, is like that piece of worm shit, the waste of a form of life we esteem so lowly that we sacrifice it, by the thousand, to kill other animals for sport. And not noble, beautiful creatures like deer–slimy, gape-mouthed creepy little motherfuckers who are so many hundreds of millions of years behind the evolutionary curve that they haven’t even grown legs yet.
Delmon Young the ballplayer is not the fish, nor is he even the worm. He is the worm shit. He is the anti-Willie Mays. He brings almost absolutely nothing to the table in any facet of the game.
But then again, neither does Michael Young (I know I’m overstating that point a little, but bear with me), who will cost the Phillies eight times the base salary due to The Great Satan in 2013. So why is this one Young worse than the other?
Because the Phillies were in dire need of a third baseman, and Ruben Amaro, finding himself marooned like William Bligh on an ocean of unappetizing choices, made a play for someone who was good (though never as good as anyone thought) some time ago. Someone who is reputed (inaccurately) to be a team-first player. The Phillies did something stupid in trading for Michael Young, but I can see the logic, warped though it is. And who knows? Maybe he’ll come good. He was good once, after all.
The Great Satan was never good, at least not since he came up to the major leagues. He has only twice, in six full major-league seasons, posted even a league-average OPS+, which would be troubling for a good defensive shortstop but is worthy of comparison to worm shit for a corner outfielder the repugnance of whose defense beggars belief. He is not good now, he has never been good, and entering his age-27 season with 3,575 career plate appearances under his prodigious belt, I can say with as much certainty as one can honestly say about such things, that he will never be good.
Worm shit, no less, at a position where the Phillies needed more mediocrity like they need an amateur tracheotomy. What puzzles me is that the idea that Delmon Young is a leper’s sore on the complexion of baseball in particular and American society writ large doesn’t exactly take a degree in economics to figure out. I quoted wRC+ mostly because it gave me that nifty Ben Revere comparison, but if that’s to highfallutin’ a mathematical concept for you, then let’s use something like on-base percentage.
Delmon Young’s OBP last year was .296. That’s bad for anyone. And it’s not like it was a fluke–the Tigers gave him 608 plate appearances last season, a number that sticks in one’s mind because it’s about six hundred more than anyone with more sensory and intellectual capacity than a naked mole rat would have given a player so modestly endowed with baseball ability. Jim Leyland must be rolling in his grave at such a sight.
Six hundred and eight plate appearances, in which The Great Satan managed to advance ponderously to first base only 180 times. And God only knows what in the garment-rending hell he did once he got there.
So that’s on-base percentage, which isn’t matrix algebra. It’s dividing the most important thing a baseball player can do by the numbers of opportunities he has to do it in. I learned to divide three-digit numbers by other three-digit numbers when I was nine, a concept that apparently escapes our illustrious general manager, blessed be his fucking Stanford-educated name.
Quoth His Rubanity: “I don’t care about walks. I care about production.”
A brief aside–once this asinine experiment, this pastiche of a ballclub, fails to make the playoffs, which it almost assuredly will, the focus ought to turn to how one might reconstruct the Phillies so that they would enjoy greater success down the line. I have absolutely no faith in a man who speaks such offensively ignorant utterances as I’ve just described to undertake a rebuild. But ownership will most certainly give him the chance to fail.
Let’s say it takes Ruben Amaro this year and next to be convinced that he’s constructed the Ishtar of baseball teams and blow it up. Then at least another five, maybe six, for everyone to be convinced that the rebuild has failed, because Ruben Amaro picks players the way most of us pick our eleventh drink of the night: by stumbling across the room, collapsing against a vertical surface and groaning dipthongs more or less at random at whoever we deduce to be in charge.
I was 21 years old when Brad Lidge struck out Eric Hinske to tie up the World Series. With no real hope this season, and nothing but years of idiocy and gerontocracy on the horizon, I’d give good odds that I will watch the Phillies’ next playoff game with my own children. So when I say that the foolishness of Ruben Amaro, like the Biblical sins of the father, will be visited on generations to come, I want you to know that I am dead serious.
But I was going somewhere with this. Oh, right.
So Delmon Young sucks at everything. So why are the Phillies signing him to play a position at which they already have more mediocrity than they know what to do with. Want a bad defensive corner outfielder with some right-handed pop? Why is Darin Ruf not enough? Why is John Mayberry, who has a startlingly similar batting profile to The Great Satan’s, but adds speed and arm strength, not enough? Why do you take valuable development time away from Domonic Brown, the poor quiet, unassuming man whose only crime was being good at baseball at a young age? The Phillies need lots of things, but corner outfield help–even if The Great Satan constituted that–is not one of them.
One thing I hate about American journalism is its continued romance with false equivalence. Sure, there may be two sides to every story, but that doesn’t mean there are two sides worth talking about. I play along with people for argument’s sake a lot, and because I honestly believe in giving people the facts. I’d rather have a well-reasoned discussion with someone I disagree with, if the other person is willing to make a good-faith effort to understand where I’m coming from. And if it’s a difference of opinion, we can disagree and be friends. Even if someone maintains a dogged belief in the face of overwhelming empirical evidence to the contrary, choosing to live in a web of untruths, logical fallacy and “Yeah, but still…” I’d rather talk in calm voices, as men ought to, than be enemies.
This is not one of those times, though. Delmon Young is not as good baseball player, and he cannot help the Phillies, and there is no logically consistent argument to the contrary. If you want to accuse me of going all Chicken Little on this, and you want to say that a one-year contract worth less than a million dollars base salary in a year where the Phillies probably weren’t going to do much anyway isn’t as big a deal as I’m making it out to be, do that. You’re probably right. But this is not a good baseball move. And if you think that it is, you’re wrong. And as patient as I am ordinarily, as willing as I am to defend my reasoning against direct attack and try to reach an understanding, I won’t do that in this case. If you think Delmon Young, The Great Satan, is likely to be an asset to the Phillies this season, you are operating under a method of logical reasoning that I really would just rather not pollute my own mind with.
I feel about Delmon Young supporters the way I feel about racists. I’d rather you think like normal people and just be happy, but if you can’t, I can live with that, as long as you keep it to yourself.
Speaking of racism.
(I’ve been waiting my whole life to write a segue like that. I’m going to go bake a cake and pop some champagne to celebrate that segue. Talk among yourselves–I’ll be back in a little bit.)
Like I was saying. Speaking of racism: I am now more almost three thousand words into answering this question, and I believe that I have thoroughly demonstrated, by way of Broadway musicals and frisbee and worm shit, as well as data, that Delmon Young, while he may be The Great Satan, is not a good baseball player.
With that said, he’s almost gone out of his way to demonstrate that he’s a worse human being.
While in the minor leagues, he threw a tantrum after striking out, then, after walking back toward the dugout, threw his bat back toward the plate and hit the umpire in the chest. By way of apology, he could only say that he didn’t mean to actually hit the umpire.
By the way, has anyone figured out what Michael Schwimer thinks about having a teammate who not only visited physical violence upon a stranger on the street, but saw fit to shout “Fucking Jews! Fucking Jews!” while doing it? If I were the 6-foot-8 Schwimer, I’d make a point to just stare at The Great Satan menacingly all season.
I know that many of the liberal elitist baseball writers I run with tend to make grand moralistic proclamations whenever a ballplayer gets caught driving drunk or using impolitic language. I’d still have Shin-Soo Choo on my team, DUI and all, because while that’s a major issue that baseball has taken not at all seriously, a good person can make a series of bad decisions, and ultimately be redeemed.
And even if a baseball player does something really bad–like, completely hypothetically, commit a hate crime–there’s probably a point to which I’d be okay with having a really bad person on a team I like if he were a really good ballplayer. I’ve rooted hard for Lenny Dykstra, Brett Myers, Michael Vick, Allen Iverson and all sorts of people I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole because I thought they could help my team win. I am entirely willing to abdicate my morality in the pursuit of vicarious athletic glory. Miguel Cabrera is a drunk who beats his wife, and I would do backflips if the Phillies traded for him. I am a shallow and weak man, and I acknowledge that. But such is life.
That Delmon Young did what he did creeps me the hell out. That Ruben Amaro would hire such a person makes me a little uneasy. But you can be a bad person, or a bad ballplayer, but not both. And The Great Satan, Delmon Young, is worse than bad in both instances.
I’m not asking for the Phillies to be puritanical, or to take a position of moral leadership, or even to be particularly skilled at assembling a baseball team. I just don’t want them to be so fucking stupid, and so fucking callous, as to render any ridicule unnecessary.
That’ll do it for this week’s Crash Bag, all one question of it. Send in more queries, and maybe we’ll all be in a better mood next time.
Dammit, I didn’t even get to the Justin Upton part of that question. Oh well, there will be other Crash Bags.
Sometimes, being a fan is difficult. Usually, the most arduous times come simply from losing, but there seems to be a special, intense pang of despondency attached to the difficulty associated with watching a once mighty team crumble from within and without. Nationally, Philadelphia – the team and city alike – were never darlings, but I didn’t care; major-city sports teams always get plenty of attention, but rarely any non-partisan admiration.
So there’s no pity to be expected from the continued devolution of what was once a squad called the Philadelphia Phillies. No one who isn’t connected to the team in some way will feel badly for this string of events. They likely delight in it. And so be it; they’re entitled to react as they please. All that being said:
What the hell happened here?
In a sense, things have been going backward since the parade down Broad Street on Halloween 2008 ended. In 2009, the Phillies returned to the World Series, but were bested. In 2010, they bowed out a round earlier. In 2011, they were on the wrong end of one of the better postseason pitching duels in history in the NLDS. In 2012, they didn’t even have the chance.
And now, here we sit, spectators to the composing of another bizarre chapter in one of the strangest rebuilding parables ever told: the 2012-13 offseason. The roster has been transformed, through age as well as acquisition, into one that harnesses but a sliver of its former potency.
The progression of the Phils’ team slugging since 2007 reads as follows: .458, .438, .447, .413, .395, .400. The progression of the Phils’ team OBP since 2007 reads as follows: .354, .332, .334, .332, .323, .317. That is…um…not encouraging. But at least the problem is fairly easily identifiable: to complement an aging, papier mache core, corresponding moves had to be made. With, presumably, a sizable amount of budget room and a decent crop of free agent outfielders to choose from, the Phillies decided to hang onto their 16th overall pick and not sign a Michael Bournor Josh Hamilton or Nick Swisher (although Hamilton’s eventual price of 5/$125M is out of the reasonable price range anyway).
Instead, the Phillies, having added the controversial and not-that-good Delmon Youngto their bounty, now possess a bushel of nine outfielders on their 40-man roster, of whom six have seen Major League action:
Domonic Brown: the former top prospect who’s had to battle nagging injuries and inconsistent playing time. Hit .235/.316/.396 in 212 PA in 2012.
John Mayberry Jr.: made a fan favorite with a white-hot finish to 2011. Hit .245/.301/.395 in 479 PA in 2012
Laynce Nix: given a two-year deal before 2012, he’s currently the most expensive outfielder on the roster. Hit .246/.315/.412 in 127 PA in 2012.
Ben Revere: cost a depth starter in Vance Worley and well-regarded prospect in Trevor May to acquire. Defensive specialist. Hit .294/.333/.342 in 553 PA in 2012.
Darin Ruf: the powerful, flash-in-the-pan never-prospect who might have a career as a bench bat. Hit .333/.351/.727 in a certainly sufficient 37 PA sample in 2012.
Delmon Young: the former No. 1 overall pick with character, weight and baseball ability issues. Hit .267/.296/.411 in 608 PA in 2012.
On the infield side of things, the Phillies sent two relievers to Texas and assumed $6M of responsibility for Michael Young, who contributed a .277/.312/.370 line in 651 PA for the Rangers. This is to say nothing of Rule 5 draftee Ender Inciarte, who almost certainly faces waivers and an offer back to the Diamondbacks at some point this spring.
These are borderline penny-pinching moves, brought on by a combination of paying top dollar for top talent (Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee), unnecessary top dollar for for very good or not-so-top talent (Ryan Howard, Jonathan Papelbon) and an emptying of the farm for deals ranging from great (Halladay) to acceptable (Roy Oswalt) to just bad (Pence). It would be another thing entirely if the majority of these moves were made with sound baseball logic at their foundation, but the reality facing us here is that’s simply not the case. It is those second- and third-category moves that make this more frustrating than it needs to be, rather than an acceptable placement in the cycle of rebuilding -> contention and back again.
Now, here we sit, fewer than two years removed from a 102-win season, having to rely on a likely dual-platoon, five-outfielder system, an aging infield that provides no certainty of full-season health and questionable depth in the rotation, in the bullpen and on the bench.
These cobwebs are tough to peel off. It feels as though the club has arrived at or near the place many of us feared it would arrive as the risky and head-scratching moves began to pile up: on the doorstep of relegation to “also-ran” status with a shaky outlook for a return to “elite” status within the next three years. The playoff hopes of this team as currently constructed rely on too many low-probability bouncebacks from too many players than should have been necessary. And far too many to be a viable plan. The 2011 season has never seemed further away.
I write this before a single game is played in 2013. I write this before these players can be given a chance to prove me wrong. As with most of my negative notions, I hope to eventually be proven wrong. But I also write this under cloud cover that feels thicker than any I can remember for years back.
And you may ask yourself, well, how did we get here?
This is what happens when you get wrapped up in superficial identifiers like “right-handed bat.” We’ve arrived at the point where “right-handed bat” can refer to any player that has had marginal or better success against left-handed pitching in the last decade, regardless of the quality of his overall contribution to the team. Delmon Young is terrible. Full stop. By rWAR, he was a full win and two-tenths below replacement last season, and a total of almost a win and a half below replacement in the last two seasons, compiling a .267/.299/.403 line over that period. His walk rate from 2011-2012 is 3.9%, about half the league average for hitters, making him, at least in that respect, a good fit for the current Phillies lineup.
By the grace of Jim Leyland he accrued 608 plate appearances for the Tigers last season, and an accompanying 226 innings in the field, where he is one of the worst defenders in baseball.
This is where a past, more naive version of myself would write “Young can be useful if strictly limited to pinch hit plate appearances against left-handed pitching.” He has, after all, always hit lefties well — .307/.341/.483 for his career, with a .308/.333/.500 line in 189 plate appearances against them last season. But the Phillies don’t exactly have a stacked outfield at the moment. Ben Revere will certainly anchor the centerfield position, and the corner spots will be filled by some combination of Young, Domonic Brown (he screamed, into the uncaring void, season after season), Laynce Nix, John Mayberry, Jr., Darin Ruf, and, if he’s not offered back, Ender “‘s Game” Inciarte (though he’s more likely an emergency centerfielder).
If you’ll indulge me in a jaunty youthful fantasy for a moment, assume that the Phillies’ plan is for Domonic Brown to be the everyday rightfielder in 2013. That — stop laughing, please. That means the 2013 outfield is a high upside but big question mark mainstay (Brown) and a collection of players who each have a useful attribute or two, but who I cannot think it could be argued should be full time players on an ostensibly first-division team, and I include Revere in this. If this were the 2010 outfield of Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino, and Jayson Werth, a player like Delmon Young would be helpful for 150 to 200 plate appearances against almost exclusively lefties. The same could be said for Mayberry.
But with 600 plate appearances or more to allot to this collection of would-be left-fielders, it’s impossible to parcel them out in such a way that shields you from each of these players’ severe respective weaknesses. You’re inevitably going to get intolerable doses of Young’s fielding and adverse platoon futility, Ruf’s defending and baserunning, Mayberry’s flailing against righties, and so forth. Right-handed pitching handled 58% of the league’s plate appearances last season. You can’t leverage 3 or 4 different platoon pieces against that. And all of this is presuming that Charlie Manuel is willing to get more creative than he’s ever shown the capacity to be. And it presumes that my Domonic Brown precondition is correct; it probably isn’t. If you’re going to go with a smattering of likely marginal guys and hope that a few best case scenarios find the light of day, why not at least round up marginal guys with average or better defense? That’s not the case here either.
In the Phillies lineups of yore, writing off one weak lineup spot wouldn’t be a problem. But which positions can be penciled in as certain offensive contributors in 2013? Carlos Ruiz, Jimmy Rollins, and, if one is willing to be generous with the health prognosis, Chase Utley. As I tweeted this morning, the model for a playoff-contending Phillies team is to hope that the offense somehow manages league-average performance, and that the pitching staff achieves 2011 levels of greatness. The overabundance of below league average role players is not going to help the chances of the current roster managing that.
This is not to even mention, by the way, that Delmon Young is a bigot. Stark’s reference to off-field issues alludes to an incident in which an intoxicated Young assaulted a man after repeatedly calling him a “fucking Jew.” I’ve long been on the record about taking a clubhouse full of jerks that can play baseball over a less effective squad of nice guys. But I have to draw the line somewhere, and I think just shy of an anti-semite being on my favorite team is a good place to draw it. No Luke Scott or Josh Lueke, and no Delmon Young please. If $700,000 wasted is the price to see Delmon Young fail his way out of baseball, I’d be more than happy with that outcome.