Obscure Former Phillies Hour, Vol. 1: David Dellucci

I had a little compulsive fit on Twitter over the weekend in which I went to Jeromy Burnitz‘s Baseball Reference page and rattled off several interesting facts about his career, which turned out to be sneakily compelling. On the request of Rant Sports writer Jake Pavorsky, I’ve decided to do the same with former Phillies reserve outfielder David Dellucci. If there’s interest, I’ll make this a running feature, so if you’ve got requests, let me know, either in the comment section or via Twitter.

And now, without further delay, David Dellucci in eighteen points.

  1. David Dellucci was born on October 31, 1973, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Three Louisiana natives (Jonathan Papelbon, Mike Fontenot and Mike Stutes) have appeared for the Phillies this season, but Dellucci was the only player born in Louisiana to play for the Phillies from 2001-2008.
  2. Louisiana is one of two states in the union not to divide itself into counties. In Louisiana, counties are called “parishes,” while in Alaska they are called “boroughs.” Alaska’s North Slope Borough is the largest county in the United States, which, at nearly 90,000 square miles, is roughly the size of Ireland. That doesn’t have a thing to do with David Dellucci, but you’re just going to have to deal with it.
  3. David Dellucci’s wife is pregnant. The due date (February 23, 2013) is posted on Dellucci’s Wikipedia page. I feel like that’s particularly important information for public consumption.
  4. Also from Dellucci’s Wikipedia page: he was inducted into the Louisiana American-Italian Hall of Fame in 2011. Which is a thing, I guess. Other notable members: James Gandolfini’s character in the remake of All the King’s Men. I can’t think of any other Louisiana American-Italians off the top of my head.
  5. Also on Dellucci’s Wikipedia page: he was voted one of the 50 greatest athletes in the history of the University of Mississippi. I mean, Dellucci had a 13-year major league career, but it’s not like Ole Miss is North Dakota Directional A&M. This is an SEC school. They do big sports there. And Dellucci is one of their top 50 athletes ever? Okay: Archie Manning, Eli Manning, Mike Wallace, Armintie Price, Patrick Willis…maybe Lance Lynn and Drew Pomeranz in a few years…All-time XFL leading rusher John Avery…Michael Oher? Wow, Ole Miss athletics suck.
  6. David Dellucci was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the 10th round of the 1995 amateur draft, four spots behind Ryan Freel, who I always loved as a player for three reasons: 1) He played a bunch of positions 2) he was really fast 3) he discussed his imaginary friend Farley openly during his playing days. Gotta respect that.
  7. David Dellucci was chosen with the 45th pick in the 1997 expansion draft. The best part of that draft? Tampa Bay taking Bobby Abreu, then flipping him to the Phillies for Kevin Stocker. That was awesome? Why don’t the Phillies trade punchless infielders for borderline Hall-of-Famers anymore. You think there’s any promise in a Freddy Galvis-for-Wil Myers deal? No? Damn.
  8. David Dellucci led the National League in triples in 1998. I was unaware of that previously.
  9. Rickey Henderson, perhaps the greatest power/speed threat in baseball history, never led the league in triples. Neither did Tim Raines. Nor did Jackie Robinson.
  10. In 1998, Dellucci stole three bases and was caught five times. In 2003 he stole 12 bases and was not caught once. Dellucci’s 1998 might have been one of the weirdest speed seasons ever.
  11. In 1999, Dellucci was hitting .394/.463/.505 before a wrist injury ended his season in July. Yet he’d only had 123 plate appearances through that point despite having been on the roster since Opening Day. Now, I know 123 plate appearances is a small sample, but if a guy’s hitting close to .400, at some point you’ve got to start riding the hot hand, right? Maybe this is why Buck Showalter got fired.
  12. The second-most similar player to Dellucci, according to Baseball Reference, is John Vander Wal, another lefty fourth outfielder who made his name in the NL West. Vander Wal is best known for his ridiculous 1995 season, where he posted a 1.026 OPS for the Rockies as a pinch-hitter. His 28 pinch hits that season set a new major league record. Eat your heart out, 2008 Greg Dobbs.
  13. David Dellucci was part of a package that was traded for Raul Mondesi at the 2003 trade deadline.
  14. The Phillies acquired David Dellucci for pitcher Robinson Tejeda and minor league outfielder Jake Blalock. Jake Blalock is the younger brother of former Texas Rangers all-star third baseman Hank Blalock, and part of a proud lineage of the Phillies having the wrong brother. I’m looking at you: Ken Brett, Mike Maddux and Jeremy Giambi. (shakes fist angrily at the sky)
  15. David Dellucci qualified for the batting title exactly once in his career: 2005 with the Texas Rangers, where he hit 29 home runs and posted an .879 OPS.
  16. A testament to his career as a bench bat, Dellucci batted nearly eight times as often against right-handed pitchers as he did against lefties. There’s a good reason for this: Dellucci’s career OPS against righties was .803 (roughly equal to Torii Hunter). Against lefties? .550, which is roughly equal to Blue Moon Odom, who was a pitcher. In the late 1960s, the worst offensive period since the Dead Ball Era.
  17. David Dellucci had more career home runs than Frank Baker, a Hall of Fame third baseman whose nickname was “Home Run.”
  18. David Dellucci was active in charity work during the relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina. For this he was commended by the Louisiana state legislature. We too commend him for this.

I give you David Dellucci, 1999 National League triples champion. If you would like to see a player honored in Obscure Former Phillies Hour, don’t hesitate to ask. It’s going to be a long offseason.

The Chipper Jones Character Assassination Email Chain

Our friends over at The Good Phight are having a little bit of a Chipper Jones hate party this afternoon. A noble effort, I think, worthy of a player so detestable.

Anyway, TGP Blog Lord Liz Roscher (Is “Blog Lord” gender-neutral? We’ll figure that out later, I guess) and I got together for a little bit of cathartic spleen-venting against the Atlanta Braves icon. Consider it an ecumenical multi-blog parting gift.

Anyway, if you’re feeling particularly vitriolic, you can read my exchange with Liz at The Good Phight, along with Jones-bashing from Phillies blogosphere poet laureate Wet Luzinski and others.

Congratulations on a great career, Larry Wayne. Now get the hell off of my baseball field.

Crash Bag, Vol. 20: A Disturbing Lack of Patriotism

I watched the middle innings of the Great Britain-Canada WBC qualifier yesterday afternoon. Which brings us to our first question, which wasn’t intended as a Crash Bag question, but it warrants answering.

@loctastic: “can’t you just watch normal baseball like a normal person?”

No. I watch international baseball and college baseball because I’m a massive sports hipster. I want to know who Nolan Fontana is before anyone else and lord it over you that I hated Robert Refsnyder before hating Robert Refsnyder was cool. This is why I watch oodles of curling during the Winter Olympics and develop strong opinions about Louisa Necib. I like being exposed to new things, and I like showing off to people how much I know. So screw you.

Plus Michael Roth pitched. I love Michael Roth, not only because he led my South Carolina Gamecocks to two straight national titles and a third appearance in the College World Series finals. But because he’s so obviously smarter than the hitters he befuddles with his seriously average stuff. It’s what I love about watching athletes like Greg Maddux and Peyton Manning, that they not only outplay but outthink their opponents. Plus, as I said in last week’s Crash Bag, I want to be Michael Roth’s best friend.

So how did Roth, who’s from a suburb of Greenville, South Carolina, wind up pitching for Her Majesty’s Base Ball Team? This is where I’ve got a bone to pick. His mother is English, which entitles him to dual citizenship, so he can play for Team GB, which he does, despite being thoroughly American.

This is patent nonsense. Most of the European teams (except the Netherlands, whose roster mixes Dutch players with the Kenley Jansens and Jurickson Profars of the Netherlands Antilles) are made up primarily of Americans and Caribbeans with some ancestral link to the mother country. Plus the Dutch call it honkbal, which is awesome, so they get to do what they want. I get the appeal for athletes, like Roth, who want to play international baseball but don’t have a prayer of cracking Team USA. But I don’t condone it.

Oh, and while we’re on the topic of overseas territories, why does Puerto Rico compete as its own country in international sports? Aren’t Puerto Ricans American citizens? I know there are some national identity issues for Puerto Rican-Americans, but when I’m dictator of the world, you don’t get to have your own Olympic team unless you have your own military and your own welfare state.

Anyway, Dustin Parkes, a Canadian, wrote today at Getting Blanked about how he doesn’t get patriotic about international sports, which is fine, and would probably change if he lived in a country that was worth being proud of. I’m an intensely patriotic person, and sports kicks that drive into a xenophobic mania that has led me to say some things I’m not proud of about the Chinese, Russians, Italians, Mexicans and whoever else might be athletically inconvenient at the moment for the United States. I will watch golf if it involves a USA-versus-Dirty-Europeans angle.

So I view Americans playing for other countries in any sport as a betrayal of seditious proportions. It’s one thing for Roth, knowing Team USA doesn’t want him, to ply his trade elsewhere. But Giuseppe Rossi (of Teaneck, NJ), Alex Rodriguez (Miami), Manny Ramirez (New York City) and others who turned their back on their country for some reason or other have urinated on the banner of freedom and I won’t stand for it. I am terrified of the possibility that Israel might make the WBC finals, and that the best Jewish American ballplayers might flock to play for a country with no established baseball tradition whatsoever rather than the country that, you know, they live in and whose services they enjoy. It might make me stop liking Ian Kinsler, a possibility I had never even considered.

Maybe I feel this way because my family has been here for more than 100 years, or because insofar as I have foreign ancestral origins, they’re primarily Swiss and German, and no one’s really proud of being German-American the way people are proud of being Irish-American or Italian-American. Though when I switched my Twitter handle to my real name, I discovered how many Swiss and German guys are named “Michael Baumann” or “M. Baumann.” It’s a ton. We won the war–I want my name back.

But going back to the whole Italian-American pride thing, growing up in New Jersey around people who wear “Italia” t-shirts and pretend that their knowledge of their “culture” extends beyond being vaguely darkly-complected and having a grandmother who makes good pasta sauce has probably colored my perception of Americans who take a little too much pride in their family origins. Maybe if I’d grown up in Minnesota, where everyone’s of Swedish extraction and no one cares, things would have been different. But that doesn’t change my point– we’re American. Be proud of it or get out.

@gberry523: “if you are the Phillies, do you let Utley, Rollins, or Halladay play the WBC?”

More WBC. Rollins yes, Utley no, Halladay maybe. I get more of a sense of there being a limited number of miles left on the odometer from Utley than I do from Rollins. Though if Ian Kinsler plays for Israel instead of the United States, I might send Utley and have him slide in extra hard on double play attempts.

As far as Halladay goes, I think I’d prefer he rest his shoulder given the season he’s had, but if he wants to play for Team USA, I’d consider letting him go. But considering that he was left off both the 2006 and 2009 rosters, when he was healthier and in his prime, I doubt he’d volunteer. Frankly, I’d consider Halladay to be at best the fifth-most likely Phillies pitcher to be tapped for WBC duty, after Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon for the USA and Phillippe Aumont for Canada. I’d actually be less surprised to see Antonio Bastardo on the Dominican Republic team than Halladay on Team USA.

@JFSportsFan: “Who is the most 2012 Phillie?”

That’s a good question. We’re looking for someone who’s vaguely weird and kind of unfamiliar. My dad was complaining to me a couple weeks ago about all the new guys in the lineup, that he’d just gotten used to the old guys and now everything’s changing.

I’d go for someone who’s had a disappointing season, but that’s just depressing. Let’s go for a newcomer, someone who’s at once maddening and bizarrely played very well. Someone who embodies the approach that got the Phillies into this pickle in the first place.

Yes, I’m looking at you, Juan Pierre.

Jim from Philly: “If you were at the Mets game right now as a Mets fan, should you have an argument if you walked to the window and demanded a refund?”

Boy, that was a rough night for Mets fans, wasn’t it? I missed the first half hour of the game and expected the game to be scoreless or maybe 1-0 in the second inning. Then Juan Pierre was up for the second time, up to slap the eighth of nine singles in an eight-run inning.

So I’d say that after your team goes down 8-0 in the first, you should be kind of mad. But let’s say you get your refund–then you’re out on the street in Queens, surrounded by New Yorkers, with no baseball to watch. Isn’t that worse?

@AntsinIN: “can we officially start calling Aumont the Pont à Paps?”

I’d go with Pont à Papelbon and spell it out, but yes, I believe so. Anthony created this nickname a couple weeks ago, and I like it. There’s nothing like coming up with a nickname and having it stick–I’ve done this twice, by my count, with Tony No-Dad for Antonio Bastardo last year and Exxon for Wilson Valdez in 2010 (yes, that was me, and anyone who tells you different is a liar), and it’s a great feeling, so I get why you’re so excited.

Anyway, it plays off the Ryan Madson “Bridge to Lidge” thing, which is good, it’s French, which is a plus for Phillippe Aumont, and it’s alliterative. I think it checks all the buttons. Consider him so nicknamed.

@soundofphilly: “if the Phillies miss the playoffs by a game or two, how much second guessing of the first half is healthy or necessary?”

I think we beat that to death in the first half. I, for one, would rather move beyond it for the sake of our collective mental health. Honestly, a lot of what went wrong was bad luck and injury, two things that you can’t really count on. All in all, I think the Phillies are about where they deserve to be–around .500 and hanging around the fringes of the playoff race. If there’s anything this season has taught me, it’s that dwelling on the negative when the team is good is cool and edgy and contrarian, but dwelling on the negative when the team is mediocre will just drive you up the gorram wall. So let’s be cool, brothers.

@andymoney69: “if you had to fight one sportswriter in a steel cage match who would you chose”

I know you want me to say Jon Morosi but I’m not taking the bait. I can tell you who it would not be–Rob Maaddi of the Associated Press’s Philadelphia bureau. That guy is absolutely ripped and I get the impression that he’d have no compunctions about literally tearing my limbs off. Not because he seems like a particularly nasty or violent guy, but you don’t get to have muscles that big unless you have a monomaniacal devotion to physical fitness, a devotion that includes, if necessary, pounding the living daylights out of doughy nerds who don’t know when to shut up. He is one sportswriter I would not trifle with.

My real answer has less to do with hating the writer than it does actually standing a chance at beating the writer. I’d pick Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo!’s Puck Daddy, because 1) I don’t think I could take him but I don’t think he’d literally kill me and 2) I’d bet my life that if I suggested that instead of fighting we just have beer and pizza delivered to the octagon and just sit and chat about hockey until one of us passed out, he’d be totally down. That way we’d be full, drunk and happy, with no severe injuries of any kind. Seems preferable to fighting, and I think beer and pizza with Wyshynski sounds like a blast. Other guys I’d challenge for the same reason: Sam Miller of Baseball Prospectus, Jonathan Wilson of The Blizzard and Jonah Keri of Grantland. If any one of them is in South Jersey and wants to get sloppy drunk and talk about sports, let me know and I’ll buy the first pitcher.

@magoplasma: “My friend asks me for all the baseball related answers to his crosswords. Is this not cheating somehow? He claims gathering friend knowledge is fine, looking it up is cheating. And I have to know it off the top of my head.”

I’ll allow it.

There’s a longstanding tradition of asking friends for help with the crossword, reinforced by movies and TV, which is the only place people do crossword puzzles anymore, apart from the back of college lecture halls. And what’s the loss from your perspective if you help out? You get to conclusively prove your intellectual superiority–it’s like beating him in Trivial Pursuit in a fraction of the time.

In college, I was the king of helping people with their crossword puzzles, and I was happy to be of help. It was the only way I could impress girls. So phone-a-friend is acceptable in all cases for crossword puzzles.

@tiff1001: “polka dots, argyle, houndstooth, plaid. Assign a uniform pattern to each of the 4 main Philly sport teams.”

I’ve long been of the opinion that American sports teams are far too conservative with their uniform design. The first team to really deviate from established norms was the University of Oregon football team, and look what happened to them. There’s a place for the simple and the iconic: the Yankees, the Red Wings, Penn State football, and so on–all of those uniforms look great and have barely been altered in the past 50 years. But there’s room to experiment with patterns, I think.

Anyway, here’s what I’d go with:

  • Phillies: Polka dots. I don’t think it’s possible to make polka dots look good on any of these sports’ uniforms, so we’re just writing this one off. It’s going to look stupid, but it will be an improvement over the current home alternate uniform.
  • Eagles: Plaid. Not like the full Al Borland, but something subtle like the current Manchester United kit would actually look unbelievably cool in black and dark green.
  • Flyers: Argyle. I think the Flyers’ current uniforms are as close to perfect as you’ll get. Retro without being obvious or dated, referential to the team’s period of greatest success and bold without being obnoxious. I wouldn’t change them for anything. However, if I had to, I think argyle could work. When I think of argyle in sports, I think of early jerseys for the Garmin cycling team. Bold, eye-catching and easily-identifiable. Work something like that out in orange, black and white and we might be on to something. I think of all these patters, argyle is by far the most promising.
  • Sixers: Houndstooth. Does Houndstooth have to be black and white, or do I just think that because of Bear Bryant? I don’t know. Anyway, maybe you could get a red-and-blue houndstooth look going for the Sixers. I don’t really think this could work, not the way I do with the plaid Eagles, but I had to pick something.

@petzrawr: “Would you rather get kicked in the balls by Garo Yepremian or punched in the face by Mike Tyson? Assume both are in their prime.”

Garo Yepremian? Really? I’m not sure it’s possible to pick a less relevant athlete.

Okay, I’ve been legitimately punched in the face. I’m not sure I’ve ever been legitimately kicked in the balls, and I’d still take being punched in the face. Being kicked in the balls sucks. There’s nothing dignified about it, it seems like a direct attack on one’s manhood, and the pain not only lingers but resonates throughout your entire body. It sucks. On principle I’d rather be punched in the face than kicked in the nuts.

A quick trip to Google shows that elite soccer players kick the ball with about 1,200 pounds of force. One would expect Yepremian, as a proxy for an average NFL placekicker, to match that, if not exceed it. A heavyweight boxer maxes out at somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,300 to 1,400 pounds. From a sheer physics perspective, you’d want the kick rather than the punch.

But is Iron Mike wearing gloves? If so, the padding and added surface area make it a no-brainer to take the punch to the face, particularly if Garo Yepremian is wearing cleats. If it’s a bare-knuckle punch, it’s a tougher decision.

So if we’re assuming the force of the blow to be roughly equal, it all comes down to what’s being hit. Garo is kicking exposed soft tissue protected by nothing but nerve endings. Tyson is punching bone. And it’s only one blow, which is key, so even if Tyson breaks some combination of my jaw, orbital bone, cheekbone and nose, he doesn’t keep hitting me until I’m literally dead. And since I’ve never had a concussion before, I’m at a lower risk for CTE even if I do get knocked out. A couple weeks’ worth of eating through a straw and I’m as good as new, ideally with a Bond Villain scar from the plastic surgery.

But if Garo Yepremian kicks me in the junk, that would hurt more and possibly cause permanent damage. I’d take the punch to the face in a heartbeat, because, yes, I value the safety of my manparts more than I value the safety of my brain.

@bxe1234: “If you were a ‘creative sentencer,’ how would you punish Yunel Escobar for his eye-black idiocy?”

In reality, I’d suspend him for the rest of the season and fine at least John Farrell and probably the Blue Jays organization for a massive failure of institutional control. I’m willing to buy Escobar’s contention that there’s a cultural/linguistic issue, or that he’s dumb enough or homophobic enough to think that there’s nothing wrong with wearing a gay slur on your face on television. It’s not an excuse, but that doesn’t shock me.

What does shock me is that no one stopped him. How do Farrell and his coaching staff, to say nothing of the other players, see Escobar put that on his eye black (one of the douchiest acts of personal style in sports, no matter what you write) and let him leave the clubhouse? It’s an astounding statement either of tacit support for that kind of hate speech, or of cognitive dissonance, or of naivete or of being asleep at the wheel–in any case, not something you want from your team.

I think we need to attack homophobia in sports for the same reasons we need to attack racism in sports commentary–it’s there, it’s hurtful, it’s outmoded and it gets well-meaning people sucked into attitudes that are more dangerous than they realize, to say nothing of allowing people who are actually prejudiced or bigoted to slide by without being confronted. Some have taken this opportunity to condemn the idiotic crossdressing stunts rookies have to go through as contributing to a culture of homophobia, and while I think there’s something to that, the larger problem I have with that is the hazing itself, not what form it takes.

I’d be content for now stomping out such obvious acts of homophobia as Escobar’s eye black booboo. I MLB found the right approach to stomping out established and undesirable behavior with its PED suspension policy: want people to stop doing something? Overreact massively. Announce that any overtly racist or homophobic language from MLB players or other on-field personnel will be met with fines and suspensions, escalating with each offense. If you start meting out five-game unpaid suspensions for calling an umpire a “cocksucker,” you might start hearing it less. Again, I’d like to get to the root of the problem, but for the time being I’ll settle for getting people to keep their bigotry to themselves.

I’m sorry, you asked for a joke and you got a lecture. I hate people who do that.

Ummm…I’m all for the Ludovico technique in this case: drug Yunel Escobar up and make him sit in a chair and talk to Luke Scott for 24 hours. That should cure his homophobia.

@DashTreyhorn: “The Phillies as characters from Brick.”

Okay, it’s been long enough that we can do one of these, particularly if it’s about such an awesome movie as Brick. If you haven’t seen it, you should, because it’s awesome.

  • Chase Utley as Brendan Frye: Constantly getting beat up, constantly one step ahead of everyone else, unable to quit when quitting is the smart thing to do.
  • Jimmy Rollins as Brain: Doesn’t get as much credit, but an indispensable part of the good guy winning.
  • Domonic Brown as Emily: Deeply loved, but can’t seem to catch a break.
  • Cole Hamels as Laura: Because Hamels kinda looks like Nora Zehetner.
  • Hunter Pence as Dode: I know Pence is gone, but this comparison is too perfect.
  • Carlos Ruiz as Brad Bramish: Distributes acts of terrific violence first, asks questions later.
  • Jonathan Papelbon as Tugger: Influential but with a head full of sawdust. This one’s pretty easy too.
  • Ryan Howard as The Pin: This was going to be Cliff Lee for his dispassionate, mysterious awesomeness, but I couldn’t get over the fact that both Howard and The Pin walk with a limp.

@houcktc: “Letter grade on Dom’s performance this year”

I think he’s been fine. I think he’s proved that he can hold down an outfield corner full-time, which is nice. I’d like to see him reach a little more of that power potential, but I think that will come. Mostly I’m just relieved that he wasn’t a total train wreck both offensively and defensively, which would have sent me into a depressive stupor of self-mutilation and watching film of Michael Martinez hitting. I’ll give Brown a B+ for his efforts so far: satisfying, but still leaving something to be desired.

@brendankeeler: “What would eighth grade Baumann think of Baumann today?”

He’d probably consider me fat and morally depraved above all else. Probably a little disappointed that I didn’t follow through with sportswriting as a career. But he’d probably be impressed with my awesome beard, so that’s something.

Wow, I am so overwhelmed by how massively I’ve underachieved since eighth grade that I’m losing my will to live. Time to go sit in a corner and cry.

@TBOHBlog: “Chipper Jones is a swell player, but how will the Phillies honor him while recognizing all of his stupid dumbness?”

I’d make a list of suggestions, but I don’t want to trample on future topics in case someone asks me “What are the 10 most horrific, painful, humiliating ways a person can die?” later on.

Let me acknowledge that Chipper Jones is one of the greatest third basemen of all time, a surefire Hall of Famer, an inspirationally great baseball player. Now let me say that I may not hate any baseball player more than I hate Chipper Jones. Actually, I’ll make a bulleted list of things I don’t like about Chipper Jones.

  • His stupid smile. The kind of unassuming, infantile aw-shucks expression that screams “I know I’m trying to grope your girlfriend at a party but you can’t be mad at me because I’m a good ol’ boy.” You know, that Brett Favre “I’m’a text you photos of my penis and try to sell you jeans anyway” face. No, Chip. I can be mad at you and I will hit you in the face.
  • His nickname. Congratulations, Chipper, you’re the only person to have a given name as stupid as “Larry Wayne” and somehow find a nickname to go by that’s even stupider. What kind of stunted intellect must you have to go by “Chipper” into your 40s?
  • He’s from Florida. I hate Florida. I wish they could take the Kennedy Space Center and Disney World and move them someplace that wasn’t so manifestly terrible, like South Dakota.
  • He’s an Atlanta Brave. I hate the Atlanta Braves.
  • He’s the last remaining remnant of that time in the mid-90s where not only were devastatingly great, but maintained a kind of veneer of smug superiority to them. I call this Atlanta’s “Hitler Youth” period. Thoroughly evil, but thoroughly vanilla. Like everyone is supremely confident in his own greatness but no one is either interesting or likeable. Imagine a room full of Mitt Romneys. I hated that team–the sooner Chipper retires the sooner I can start forgetting about the mid-90s Braves.
  • Hooters Waitress Baby. I’d bet large that at least one Phillies player has cheated on his wife, and while I certainly don’t encourage marital infidelity, it just seems so much more awful when Chipper’s doing it. I think this because I’m a spiteful person blinded by partisanship.
  • He bowhunts. Maybe he thinks that hunting with a bow makes him a more credible brave?
  • His Twitter account. I can’t read it without being driven to knock heads together. It’s a pastiche of overexuberant, approval-seeking bro-ishness with a patina of overexcited church youth group leader–that obvious effort to exude coolness and foster camaraderie that falls short because it’s so obviously trying too hard. We’re talking about a grown man who refers to strikeouts as “punchies” and home runs as “#cranks” and “#jerks” WITH THE HASHTAG. This coming from a man who has children–I weep for those children.

I don’t like the practice of giving gifts to opposing players in the first place, but maybe the Phillies should buy Chipper a watch or something. And then hire Garo Yepremian to kick him in the balls.

That’ll do it for this week’s episode of This Old House. On a personal note that may be of interest to those of you who like basketball as well, I’ll be writing about the Sixers for SB Nation’s Liberty Ballers this coming season, so you can find my work there, along with the work of several other quality writers. Feel free to check out the site.

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





  • 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.


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?”


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.


  • 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.


@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.