Crash Bag, Vol. 40: Leon’s Getting Larger

We begin with a question not from the guy who runs the blog, but from the guy who runs the whole blog network. 

@dschoenfield: “What name would you give this winter storm? And would it include the word Young?”

Apparently the sky is falling back home. I have to say I am entirely unimpressed. Out here in Madison, it’s getting to the point where I’m starting to wonder if it will ever stop snowing. It rained yesterday morning, and I’ve never been so happy to see the rain. I’ve been extremely impressed with the way the public works folks here in Wisconsin clear the roads (that I’ve only driven sideways into four snowdrifts in the past 10 days is downright miraculous), but driving is still dicey on a slushy/icy/mushy mix that coats the side roads no matter how fast you get the plows out. Anyway, I’ll be very happy to see some of this snow melt and some of this slush run off.

I guess my point is: stop griping, New York. You’re like the snotty rich girl in eighth grade. We know the world revolves around you. Stop bringing the world to a halt every time you’re mildly inconvenienced. Some of us haven’t seen grass since December.

But to answer the original question, and in the spirit of same, using the word “Young,” I think calling this winter storm (because we’re naming every bit of inclement weather that hits Manhattan nowadays) “Michael Young‘s On-Field Value,” because it’s talked about in the media a lot, but in actuality isn’t significant enough to warrant anything more than passing discussion.

On a more serious note, having David Schoenfield write in brings up a bit of news regarding another ESPN baseball writer that I think deserves applause.

Christina Kahrl has joined the advisory board of the You Can Play Project, an organization dedicated to eliminating homophobia in sports and sporting culture. I won’t go into tremendous detail, but if you’re not familiar with You Can Play, it’s worth a couple minutes to click around the website. I learned about You Can Play when it was getting off the ground in the NHL and larger hockey community, and I really admire the work the YCP folks have done and the way they’ve gone about it. So I just wanted to take a moment out to thank Christina and say that it makes me very happy to see that she and YCP are working together.

Enough of that. Back to the regularly-scheduled vitriol and nonsense.

Continue reading…

Crash Bag, Vol. 39: 10 Years in Undignified Retreat

Not much to say by way of introduction this week. Only, I suppose, that we ought to listen to more “Waltzing Matilda.” That’s a propos of absolutely nothing, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

@mattjedruch: “you ever thought what it’d be like if baseball was more like soccer in that managers decided on who to sign instead of GM’s? or at least have more of a say as to who is signed?”

You mean, like Kirk Gibson being unable to handle intelligent, talented players? Because the Diamondbacks were about as eager to get rid of Trevor Bauer and Justin Upton as the state of Arizona is to get rid of its Hispanic population.

But in truth, the manager in soccer often has more in common with the GM of a baseball team than he does the field manager. Yes, he dictates tactics and sets the starting lineup, but in a game with only one break in play, almost no structure and only three substitutions, it’s not like there’s a ton of in-game coaching to be done. There’s absolutely some, but not nearly as much as in baseball, let alone a sport like football or basketball where the coach is constantly calling plays and changing personnel.

I think you’d see more managers with an intellectual background rather than a playing background. Right now, the primary qualification for being a baseball field manager (which is a job whose primary functions are administrative and tactical, not athletic) is having been paid to play baseball in the past. I think that would change under the soccer manager model.

Which is not to say that some of the biggest names in soccer management today weren’t superstar players–Pep Guardiola, Carlo Ancelotti, Frank Rijkaard, Jurgen Klinsmann.

But Arsene Wenger, first with AS Monaco in France and for the past 15 years with Arsenal in England, ran circles around his competitors by buying undervalued players, developing them, and selling them at the peak of their value. If this approach sounds familiar, it might not surprise you to learn that Billy Beane views Wenger as an inspirational figure. Wenger is hardly any more a former pro soccer player than I am–he’s an economist by training, which explains how he was able to arbitrage the pants off the English Premier league for almost a decade before everyone else caught up.

His Arsenal won its last title in 2004, and the next two years finished behind a Chelsea team led by Jose Mourinho, who studied since his youth not to be a player, but a coach, and has turned into the best one in the world.

So you’d probably still see a lot of former players as managers, but it would turn into a hybrid role that combines both off-field economic savvy and on-field leadership. I think a the uniformed coaches would take a bigger role, just because the manager would have so much responsibility he’d have to delegate. Which is good, because apart from Don Cooper, I’m not sure I can name another MLB coach who has a big positive impact on his team.

@SoMuchForPathos: “Who should I realistically start dreaming on as the Phillies’ next GM?”

I’ll do it if you want. I’d probably advance the thinking of the Phillies’ front office by 20 years by bringing the team’s quantitative analysis department…well, creating one, for starters. But once I’ve cleaned house, the front office will be up to speed on the top publicly accepted thinking based on the best publicly available data. Which would put the Phillies only about 10 to 15 years behind their competitors.

The arrogant anti-intellectualism of the current regime is baffling and will have predictable results. The Phillies, under Ruben Amaro, are like Czarist Russia, a vast empire of tremendous power and blessed with incredible resources that’s so in love with the fashions and practices of 50 years prior that that power and those resources were, and will be, squandered in a massive blaze and at the cost of unimaginable human suffering. And the next people to take over will be a marginal improvement intellectually but little better practically. And we’ll spend the next 10 years in undignified retreat, watching our crops and oil fields burn because our leaders are too obsessed with superstitions and customs that the rest of the world laughed out of the culture as obsolete before we were even born. The sins of the father, and so on….

But seriously, if I were GM, I’d get to work immediately.

(phone rings)

Ben Cherington: “Hello.”
Me: “Hey, Ben, it’s Mike Baumann.”
Cherington: “Hey, Mike. Congrats on the new gig.”
Me: “Thanks. Say, I see you’ve got a lot of question marks about starting pitching.”
Cherington: “I think we’re okay, but I’m listening. I hear you’re pretty high on Jackie Bradley. Would he buy me some pitching?”
Me: “Maybe. How much would you want for him?”
Cherington: “How about I put together a package for Cole Hamels.”
Me: “Not Hamels, but I’d do Cliff Lee.”
Cherington: “Hmmm. I can do something. How about Bradley and…Jerry Sands?”
Me: “Done.”
Cherington: “Huh?”
Me: “Draw it up. Send it over.”

And over the course of hours, I’d make about half a dozen insanely lopsided trades to put the 2010 South Carolina Gamecocks back together, ending with me flipping Jonathan Papelbon to Miami for whatever’s left of Sam Dyson and eating a ton of salary. I’d love the job, but I’d be a disaster.

@sports_j: “has Crash Bag/ Crashburn Alley discussed the possibility/probability of trading Doc if/when Phils are 15 games out in July?

Not yet, but we can if you like.

Halladay’s vesting option will likely not vest for 2014, making it…whatever’s less than a vest…a snood? So if the Phillies are 15 games out in July, wouldn’t it make sense for a team that doesn’t look like it’s going to contend anytime soon to trade an aging, but at the very least competent free agent-to-be to a team with a chance to win it all? It’d make oodles of sense, particularly if he’s on track to throw 225 innings to activate the option, giving him another year’s worth of value to be traded.

But I really don’t think that’s going to happen. First of all, man, that’s a big white flag to wave, even if Halladay’s only the third-best pitcher on the team anymore. For a team 18 months removed from winning 102 games, with no real pressing financial constraints, trading a name of Halladay’s magnitude would be quite bold, even if such a team were blessed with the foresight to realize that The Great Satan, Delmon Young, is not the kind of player who puts you over the top.

So it’s an interesting possibility–and by “interesting,” I mean “soul-crushing”–but I cannot imagine it actually happening.

@MichaelJBlock: “How many more galactically stupid decisions does RAJ have to make before he is relieved of his duties as GM?”

Dozens. General managers don’t get fired for being feckless morons. General managers get fired for losing ballgames, which is amusing as hell, because the lag time between the stupid decisions and the actual losing of ballgames is usually several years, as we’re now noticing. The Phillies lost 2012 long before 2012 actually came to pass. If you look at any team that’s contended for a long period of time, you’ll see gradual but continuous roster turnover. You develop a player, you get some value out of him, you win some games, you trade him for a younger player before he hits free agency, and so on. For the Braves’ run of consecutive division titles from 1991 to 2005, the only constants were Bobby Cox and John Smoltz. Terry Pendleton gets old, so they replaced him with Chipper Jones. Jeff Blauser gets replaced by Rafael Furcal. Alejandro Pena turns into Mark Wohlers turns into John Rocker, and so it goes.

The Phillies drafted phenomenally well around the turn of the century and got a bunch of really fantastic players all about the same age, and they hit their prime together–Utley, Hamels, Rollins, Howard, Jayson Werth–and they rode that for about as long as you can ride a core group wholesale. And while there was roster turnover, it wasn’t young players being eased into key roles to eventually replace the veterans, it was young players being traded for established stars, who make more money and tend to turn into financial boondoggles with little or no warning.

Domonic Brown could have been to the Phillies as Andruw Jones was to the late-90s Braves, the second-generation dynastic star who’s brought up as a complementary player and carries the team into the next plane of spiritual existence. But instead he was left to wither on the vine while a parade of older, more expensive, not-particularly-more-productive alternatives paraded by as the Phillies’ clubhouse turned into a Lexus dealership–a room full of old people with delusionally inflated self-importance and commodities that aren’t worth half what they were purchased for.

And the Phillies still won 102 games in 2011. So as Mephistopheles comes back to visit Ruben Amaro, it’ll take another couple years for the Phillies to bottom out, then another couple years for him to come to terms with the fact that you’re not going to win a lot of games by putting band-aids on traumatic wounds. Or, in Delmon Young’s case, filling traumatic wounds with biochemical waste. Then a few beyond that for him to try a rebuild, because the Phillies’ ownership, which seems to be, like the fans, under the mistaken impression that Amaro was the architect of the greatest set of teams in frachise history, will give him a chance to fail at that. Which he will.

Listen–Ed Wade and Omar Minaya lasted forever as general managers. Ruben Amaro isn’t done with us by a damn sight.

@Major_Hog: “Sign Brian Wilson. He’s still better then either Young and his beard is sublime!”

Yeah, let’s do that. On second thought, let’s not do that. Wilson is a big name with lots of saves in his career, which means that he’s going to more money than he should. He’s also entering his age-31 season coming off his second Tommy John surgery, which is not the end of the world, but given the depth of the Phillies’ bullpen right now, I just don’t know why the Phillies think they need another reliever, that most fungible of athletic commodities. And then they went out and signed Chad Durbin, so fuck me.

But mostly I don’t want Brian Wilson because I can’t stand him. His beard isn’t sublime. It lacks subtlety–it’s dyed darker than his hair, for one thing. Brian Wilson appeals to people who confuse weirdness with cleverness. Who think that being outspoken is the same thing as being funny or insightful. Brian Wilson is the morning zoo drive-time radio show of relief pitchers. He is, to quote Filmdrunk, “More SPROIOIOIOIOING than AH-OOO-GAH!” I will not suffer him on my baseball team.

@erhudy: “what is the name of the disorder that compels you to make horrible puns”

It’s called being really smart, really well-educated and really clever, and it brings with it judgment and ostracism from society that are far worse than the symptoms themselves. Imagine leprosy, but good.

@JustinF_LB: “Who are you rooting for to win the Super Bowl? Ravens or Niners? Ray Lewis’s team or Chris Culliver’s team?”

Culliver’s. As you might have figured out by now, I’m a huge South Carolina homer, and maintain a slavish devotion to anyone who played football or baseball there while I was in undergrad. Culliver, even before he had his Shavlik Randolph moment, was the one exception.

We looked at Chris Culliver, who was Steve Spurrier’s first five-star recruit, as potentially the kind of gamebreaking offensive presence that would allow a team that had been Percy Harvined to death for my first couple years in Columbia, to compete with Florida and Georgia. He was a wide receiver recruit who ran the 40 in the mid-4.3s out of high school, and I ached to see him play.

As a freshman, he returned kicks, and he was terrible. He’d field the ball and run it out, no matter where he caught it, and head straight for the highest density zone of the coverage unit where, invariably, he’d be tackled. He never really played wideout, instead switching to free safety, where he was even worse. I spent my senior year in the press box watching Culliver run the wrong way in coverage, never step up in run support, never make a play on the ball, and always either jump on the pile after the runner was down or tackle a receiver after he’d already gained a first down, then jump up and celebrate like he’d just nailed the triple Salchow to clinch the gold medal in the free skate. The 2008 Gamecock football team sent quite a few admirable, tough, thoughtful guys to the NFL–Kenny McKinley, Ryan Succop and Captain Munnerlyn stick out in my mind–but Culliver was the dumbest, most irresponsible, most disappointing player on a team that included Stephen Garcia. I have cursed his name long after I graduated, and I’ve cursed his name throughout his NFL career.

With that said, being a homophobe is much–I was going to say “better” but instead let’s go with “less bad”–than being an accessory to murder. And since the narrative of this Super Bowl is about Ray Lewis as much as anything else, I find Lewis’ antics to be precisely the kind of showy, fake-Gladiator bullshit that really makes me hate football sometime.

And as much as I really could not be bothered to care about the religious beliefs and practices of 99 percent of professional athletes, I’d like to contrast Lewis’ showy piety with the showy piety of Tim Tebow. From what I’ve read, Tebow wears his religion on his sleeve because it’s part and parcel of his identity, and always has been. Lewis noisily underwent a religious awakening, and while I am really in no position to call shenanigans on his Road to Damascus moment, I would like to offer the following quote:

““And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” 

That’s Matthew 6:5-8, and it’s made me extremely skeptical of, and uncomfortable around, people who make their religious experience, whatever it may be, about other people and not about them and God. I have no time or love for Ray Lewis, and that cancels out whatever affinity I might have for Ed Reed, whose career is as underrated as Lewis’ is overrated, or key Ravens with local ties, like Joe Flacco and Ray Rice, or that Jim Harbaugh is about 80 percent as obnoxiously hypercompetitive as Lewis, or even that I know quite a few Ravens fans, and like all of them, and I generally like it when people I like are happy. I can’t root for Ray Lewis’ team. Can’t do it.

Yeah, so does anyone have any questions that don’t make me want to kill myself?

@tbroomell: “so arsenal just bought a player who’s first name is Nacho, so it got me thinking, top 5 baseball names ever”

Okay, I know Nacho is a food, but apparently it’s also a nickname for Ignacio in Spanish. The Spanish do a lot of things that we in America don’t do, like fascism and idleness and leaving your shirt unbuttoned, but it’s their language and they can do what they want with it. If my name were Ignatius, you could call me Chips and Guac–anything is better than that name. Besides, what language do you think the name for the food came from?

But yeah, my top 5 favorite baseball names ever. This is by no means an exhaustive list, so if I’ve missed a favorite of yours, please alert me/the other readers in the comment section and we’ll have a good marvel and a chuckle together. Here goes:

Honorable mention, though none of these guys have made the majors yet: Jaff Decker, Stryker Trahan, Karsten Whitson and Nolan Fontana.

@dj_mosfett: “Given your brilliant 1776 remake, what are your Top 5ish Musicals? Followup: which musical villain most resembles RAJ?”

That 1776 remake really was brilliant, wasn’t it?

You know, I’m really not much of a musical theatre person. I was in a production of Godspell once, which was about as much fun as I’ve ever had, though Liz Roscher tells me that everyone’s been in Godspell so it’s not that big a deal. Plus I was in pit orchestra for The King and I and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum in high school. I don’t remember a thing about the latter play, except apparently there was provocative dancing by attractive girls in skimpy outfits. Or at least so I’m told, because unlike most other musicals my high school did, the orchestra books for A Funny Thing…divided the woodwind part not by instrument, but into five generic woodwind books that contained parts for one or more of flue, clarinet or saxophone. I got stuck with one that was clarinet, bass clarinet and bari sax, because I played all three of those at the time. This not only meant that I had to tote two huge cases to and from rehearsals, but during “The House of Marcus Lycus,” which was the song with all the provocative dancing, I had my back to the stage and my eyes on the sheet music because the bass clarinet was the only instrument that played the whole song.

I never saw the dancing. This was devastating to me at the time, because not only was I a 16-year-old boy, I was the kind of 16-year-old boy who played more than one woodwind instrument and volunteered for pit orchestra.

I guess that’s kind of a long-winded way of saying that I don’t know that I’ve seen five musicals in person, though I have seen several film adaptations and perused even more soundtracks, many of them at the behest of my younger brother, who is a massive theatre buff. I will say that I absolutely despised Rent.

Anyway, my top 5 favorite musicals, though I’m not really expert enough to comment intelligently on quality:

  1. 1776. Because it’s a musical for people who don’t really like musicals all that much.
  2. The Producers. Because I love Mel Brooks and to my knowledge there hasn’t been a stage adaptation of Robin Hood: Men in Tights.
  3. Godspell. Just because of my own emotional attachment to the show.
  4. My Fair Lady.
  5. West Side Story. Because all racially-motivated gang violence should involve such great choreography.

I really should get around to seeing Pirates of Penzance and Candide, though, because both have fantastic music.

@DashTreyhorn: “Favorite character and season of Friday Night Lights?”

There’s apparently been an epidemic of binge-watching this show going around the Philly Sports Twitterverse, by which I mean I did it a couple months back and I’ve noticed 3 other people doing the same since then. It’s really a great show that completely sucked me in. Its biggest flaw is being a little too saccharine and prime-time teen soap opera-ish at times, but I liked it for different reasons than I liked other critically-acclaimed dramas from recent years. For my money, Mad Men is the best TV drama I’ve ever seen, just because of the maniacal attention to detail in the writing, acting and direction. It is the pursuit of perfection, and its best episodes come damn close. There’s one scene from Season 5’s “Commissions and Fees” that is, in my opinion, the best scene of narrative fiction in any medium that I’ve ever encountered.

While Mad Men is extremely literary, The West Wing and The Wire were extremely smart. Both were as much pieces of social commentary (though about completely different components of the cultural and political spectrum) as pieces of narrative fiction.

Friday Night Lights, however, is fairly smart at times, and well-written, but I liked it because of how wholeheartedly and earnestly emotional it was. I thought my way through The Wire but I felt my way through Friday Night Lights, if that makes sense, and when it was over, I was really sad that I’d never encounter those characters again, because I liked them so much. I cried during the series finale even though it was a pretty awful episode, because I was sad the story was over.

Anyway. My favorite parts. I think the first season was my favorite, though like The West Wing, there wasn’t really one season for me that stood head and shoulders above the others, and there were things that I couldn’t stand about the seasons I liked best. 

So given that I liked the first season best, it’s kind of weird that my favorite character on the show is Jason Street, and here’s why. I liked Jason Street so much because watching him develop a personality was unbelievable fun, and he’d be far and away the most likeable character on any show that didn’t have Matt Saracen (who’s the most likeable character in the history of TV, including, like Elmo), Tami Taylor and Tim Riggins. Plus Luke Cafferty is pretty easy to root for.

Now, Tim Riggins is probably the most imaginative character, probably the best-written character, and acted well enough that I’m kind of puzzled by how bad Taylor Kitsch was in everything else I’ve seen him in. He’s everyone’s favorite character, just like Omar is everyone’s favorite character in The WireBut while Omar was great fun, I never considered him to be as interesting and deep a character as Stringer, and I kind of feel the same way about Riggins and Jason Street. In a show full of likeable characters, Street gets lost in the shuffle a little bit, and I can’t really figure out why.

Also, and this doesn’t get said enough, this show falls apart without Landry Clarke and, to a lesser extent, Tinker in the later seasons.

@kgeich67: “If I sent you a Delmon Young t-shirt jersey what are some things you would do with it? Be creative.”

Probably wear it out, get rip-roaring drunk and punch a Jewish person in the face. Because that seems to be a favorite pastime of The Great Satan, Delmon Young.

I’d wear it, to be honest. Maybe just around the house, and I’d pretend that it somehow made me dark and dangerous, like a fake mustache in the movies. I’d put on the Delmon Young shirsey, a blazer and cowboy boots, wear aviators and smoke outrageously large cigars while drinking scotch or vodka–and I really don’t much care for either, but I get the impression that that’s what badguys drink in the movies. I’d adopt an emotionally abusive attitude toward women, and women would flock to me, because my aloofness would remind them of their fathers. Essentially, I’d become the hero of Who Will Survive, and What Will Be Left of Them by Murder by Death.

Okay, someone needs to send me such a shirsey, because that sounds like a riotous good time. DM me and I’ll give you my address and shirt size.

That’s all for this week, and I still didn’t get to that Jonathan Singleton question I’ve had in the hopper for 3 weeks now. Well, you’ll have to check back next Friday morning for that and more. Until then, enjoy the big handegg game on Sunday. Eat something with hot sauce on it for me.

Domonic Brown: Obnoxious and Disliked

I know I linked to the opening of 1776 in the beginning of last week’s Crash Bag, and if you’ll permit me, I’d like to take a mulligan. I think I’ve come up with a better joke, and an excuse to revive last season’s overwhelmingly popular (and by “overwhelmingly popular” I mean “roundly mocked and pilloried”) Cinema Philliediso series. Musical-style.

To set the scene: we’re deep into the summer and the Phillies have been reaping the seeds the front office sowed this offseason, which is to say that everyone’s hurt, Delmon Young is playing everyday, and the Phillies are struggling to stay ahead of the Mets in the division, much less challenge the Braves and Nats.

One hot night, Domonic Brown, confined to the bench in favor of Delmon Young and Laynce Nix, decides he can’t take any more.

Domonic Brown: I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called Delmon Young. That two are called a platoon, and that three are more become an outfield. And by God, I have had this outfield. For five years, Ruben Amaro and his front office have gulled, cullied and diddled this team with their foolish free-agent signings. Raul Ibanez, Juan Pierre, Delmon Young, Yuniesky Bentancourt! And when we dared stand up like ballplayers, they have benched our young players, traded our prospects, mismanaged our bullpen, extended Ryan Howard‘s contract and traded for Michael Young. And still this team refuses to grant any of my proposals on not playing retreads and fossils, even so much as the courtesy of open debate! Good God! What in hell are you waiting for?

Rest of the Team: Sit down, Dom! Sit down, Dom! For God’s sake, Dom, sit down! / Sit down, Dom! Sit down, Dom! For God’s sake, Dom, sit down!

Michael Young: Someone oughta play Darin Ruf more!

Team: It’s 90 degrees, and Chase has no knees–it’s hot as hell in Philadelphia!

Michael Young: Someone oughta play Darin Ruf more!

Dom Brown: I say vote yes! Vote yes! Vote to give at-bats to me!

Team: Someone oughta play Darin Ruf more!

Dom Brown: I say vote yes!

Team: Sit down, Dom!

Dom Brown: Vote to give at-bats to me!

Carlos Ruiz: Someone oughta play Darin Ruf more!

Ben Revere (thinking of how much ground he’ll have to cover): No! No! No! Too many flies. Too many flies. And it’s hot as hell in Philadelphia!

Team: Someone oughta play Darin Ruf more!

Jimmy Rollins (gesturing to Delmon Young and Darin Ruf): Can’t we play these guys here?

Dom Brown: Vote yes!

Ben Revere (pointing to spray charts): No, too many flies here!

Dom Brown: Vote yes!

Team: Oh, for God’s sake, Dom, sit down!

Dom Brown: Good God, consider yourselves fortunate that you have Domonic Brown to abuse, for no sane man would tolerate it!

Team: Dom, you’re a bore. We’ve heard this before. Now for God’s sake, Dom, sit down!

Dom Brown: I say vote yes!

Team: No!

Dom Brown: Vote yes!

Team: No!

Dom Brown: Vote to give at-bats to me!

John Lannan: Someone oughta play Darin Ruf more!

Dom Brown: I say vote yes!

Ryan Howard: Sit down, Dom!

Dom Brown: Vote to give at-bats to me!

Cliff Lee: Will someone shut that man up?

Dom Brown: Never! Never!

(we’re going to have to go audio-only for this next part)

(Brown, frustrated, storms out of the clubhouse and onto the field, where he begins to pace and continues to sing)

Dom Brown: Dear God. For three solid years they have been sitting me. Three whole years! Doing nothing.

(Looks up and goes to address God Almighty directly.)

I do believe you’ve laid a curse on North America. A curse that we here now rehearse in Philadelphia. A second flood, a simple famine, plagues of locusts everywhere–or a cataclysmic earthquake I’d accept with some despair. But no, you sent Amaro–Good God, Sir, was that fair?

He gives us useless fossils and retreads, I would just as soon be dead! Useless fossils and retreads! Would that I were dead, in foul, fetid, fuming, foggy, filthy Philadelphia.

Jonathan Papelbon: Someone oughta play Darin Ruf more!

Dom Brown: Oh, Good God!

(Offstage, the voice of Shane Victorino appears. His form comes into focus, and Domonic Brown begins to talk to him.)

Shane Victorino: Dom, Dom, is that you carrying on? Dom?

Dom Brown: Oh, Shanf, I have such a desire to knock heads together!

Shane Victorino: Then why on Earth do you stay there? Come here to Boston, Dom–it’s only 300 miles. If you took the Acela you could be here in four hours.

Dom Brown: How could I do that, Shane? I’m no further along than I was when I first came here.

Shane Victorino: I know, my dearest. I know. But that’s because your general manager is a moron. Reinforcements could be on their way–I’ll tell you what I’ve seen. But Ruben did a stupid thing and drafted Larry Greene. Up in Boston things are awful–we have tensions running high. Youk and Gonzo are departed, and Jacoby’s end is nigh. But we’ve got Jackie Bradley

Dom Brown: I know–and our system is dry. I wrote to you that the Nationals had traded for Denard Span and the Braves had acquired both Upton brothers. I asked you if you had any advice, because our team is too old to compete and we have next to no prospects coming up to help. Now can the Phillies get help in time to avoid embarrassment?

Shane Victorino: No, Dom, they cannot.

Dom Brown: Well why not?

Shane Victorino: Because you neglected to tell your GM that it’s not 2000 anymore and he can’t field a winning team by paying old guys lots of money.

Dom Brown: Well, it’s easy! Anyone who pays even passing attention to the game has known that for 10 years.

Shane Victorino: Oh, yes, of course.

Dom Brown: Well let it be done, then!

Shane Victorino: Dom, I’m afraid you have a more urgent problem.

Dom Brown: More urgent?

Shane Victorino: There’s one thing that this team’s done well in Massachusetts Bay. Don’t smirk at me, you ne’er do well; pay heed to what I say. We dumped a bucketload of salary on Los Angeles’s team. Now we’re flush with cash and prospects, and there’s naught to do but beam! But you can’t have Jackie Bradley…because you drafted Greene.

Dom Brown: Shane! We should have had Jackie Bradley.

Shane Victorino: You’ve got Larry Greene.

Dom Brown: Jackie Bradley.

Shane Victorino: Greene.

Dom Brown: Bradley.

Shane Victorino: Greene.

Dom Brown: Bradley.

Shane Victorino: Greene.

Dom Brown: Bradley.

Shane Victorino: Greene.

Dom Brown: Bradley.

Shane Victorino: Greene.

Dom Brown: Bradley.

Shane Victorino: Greene.

Dom Brown: Bradley. (sigh)

Shane Victorino: Greene.

Dom Brown: Done, Shane, done.

Shane Victorino: Done, Dom. Get into the lineup, Dom.

Dom Brown: As soon as I’m able.

Shane Victorino: Don’t stop writing–it’s all I have.

Dom Brown: Every day, my dearest friend.

Both: Till then, till then, I am, as I ever was and ever shall be, yours, yours, yours, yours, yours.

Ryan Howard (offstage): For God’s sake, Dom, sit down.

(c/g to Ian Riccaboni of Phillies Nation, who inadvertently inspired this post. Blame him, not me.)

 

Crash Bag, Vol. 38: The Great Satan

I’m kind of cheesed off. I have sat through a series of moves by Ruben Amaro that have driven me slowly to the verge of becoming John Adams, as played by William Daniels in the film version of 1776. You know, just a pissed-off guy with a bad haircut and an obsession with the sound of his own voice who roams the halls singing at the top of his lungs and screaming at people who just want to bathe in their own ignorance in peace. For instance:

I literally do this, sometimes, running around singing and screaming and shouting at people. And it’s not entirely because of signing Raul Ibanez, trading for Cliff Lee instead of Roy Halladay, then trading Cliff Lee instead of Joe Blanton to get Roy Halladay, signing Placido Polanco instead of Adrian Beltre, jumping the gun on extending Ryan Howard‘s contract by two and a half years, then waiting two and a half years too long to extend Cole Hamels‘ contract, not drafting Jackie Bradley, giving up two potential future stars for a mediocre corner outfielder, giving a relief pitcher a four-year, seven-figure contract, doling out large amounts of money to a collection of many worthless players who will add almost no value rather than pooling that money and getting one good player and then spending the minimum on worthless players…and, that’s about it. If you can think of more, please, the comment section is at your disposal. Make yourselves at home.

Oh, and intentionally, mystifyingly, deliberately and repeatedly sandbagging Domonic Brown‘s development. Almost forgot about that.

That’s right, in only four years, Ruben Amaro, Jr.’s CV is so festooned with instances of preposterous folly that when he takes the No. 1 prospect in baseball and turns him into a guy who would have been better off sticking with football, it doesn’t necessarily make the front page.

But in the annals of his history of making puzzling, intellectually lazy and actively destructive player personnel moves, signing Delmon Young is either the worst or the one that finally pushed me over the edge. Maybe both. But I’m just done. Completely over this.

My mother-in-law reads this column, and I want to apologize to her up-front for some of the language I’m going to use today. Come to think of it, my own mother reads this, but she says she’ll still love me no matter what I do–which I interpret as including things I write about Delmon Young–so I’m less concerned about offending her. Love you, Mom.

Come to think of it, I think it’d be better if I didn’t comment on Delmon Young. That can only lead to bad things. On to your questions.

@pivnert: “grrejdjk ##^@^ YOUNG hmmprajvcn #$@#@$ UPTON wuEEFfbn !@!! AMARO cjvnajsSDkl0 8&*%$ #crashbag

Well said. Fine, you’ve convinced me. I’ll talk about Delmon Young.

Listen, the thing about all the moves I listed above is that they were defensible from one point or another. I said this Wednesday night on Lana Berry’s Baseball Roundtable Electric Boogaloo, so if y’all watched that, I apologize for repeating myself, and if you didn’t, don’t bother, because I learned that I’m a much better writer than a talker. Though you could fast-forward to the end and see Paul flip out as Ryan turns his head into a cartoon dog.

Anyway, Jonathan Papelbon and Mike Adams are good pitchers, even if they’re not worth what they’re being paid. And maybe Amaro thought he could squeeze the last bit of value out of Raul Ibanez, or Michael Young, or Jose Contreras, or maybe he, who ought to know more than anyone else alive about Domonic Brown, knows something we don’t.

But there is no angle, none whatsoever, from which the signing of Delmon Young at any cost is defensible.

There are great players, and then there are players with no weaknesses. Players without weaknesses, who are at least adequate in every facet of the game, are truly rare. I can name Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Willie Mays, Barry Bonds, Joe DiMaggio, the young Alex Rodriguez…maybe Jackie Robinson, and maybe one day we’ll say this about Mike Trout as well. But someone who is above-average in hitting for power, contact skills, hitting for average, plate discipline, speed, catching, throwing, the elusive “Baseball IQ”–those guys come along a couple times in a generation. Pick almost any transcendent baseball player and I can point out a flaw.

Babe Ruth struck out, relative to his time, at a horrific rate. Albert Pujols is slow. Ted Williams was an indifferent defender. Chase Utley has a noodle arm. Derek Jeter‘s defense went entirely to pot later in his career. Almost every great, even legendary player has at least one thing that even a casual observer can write off as a flaw. But the flawless player–he’s something truly special.

Delmon Young is like that, only completely opposite.

Delmon Young does not hit for a good average. He is among the worst defensive outfielders currently employed in that capacity. He does not make good contact. He does not take walks. He does not run well. He does not throw well. Let me tell you a story about how Delmon Young throws.

When I was in high school, I went to a lot of trips with my church youth group. Depending on the outing, we’d take classes or do team-building activities or do Bible study or do some kind of work in the community. But we had downtime, in which we’d play cards, or listen to music or play some sort of game.

That’s how I wound up, from ages 14 to 18 or so, playing hundreds of hours of Ultimate Frisbee, a perfect game for a bunch of teenaged boys with tons of space and time, but little capacity for organization. During those hours, I got very good at throwing the frisbee. I could go overhand, underhand, sidearm, backhand and all sorts of things that people who wear shorts and hemp jewelry and shower far too infrequently will spend hours and hours bending your ear about or demonstrating for you.

When I was in college, though, I was playing a game of Ultimate, and I got a finger caught in the lip of the disc or something, and the frisbee, which I’d intended to put 50 yards downfield, actually wound up behind me. It was a tremendous embarrassment, and since then–and this is 100 percent, absolutely true–I’ve had the yips about throwing a frisbee. Can’t do it. I’ve got Steve Blass Disease for the frisbee. Which kind of makes it more like Chad Blass disease, but you get the idea.

Anyway, when a guy who, at least in part, throws a baseball for a living, does this…

NICE-THROW-DELMON

…that’s not good. You don’t want a guy trying to prevent a key run in the World Series to remind me of myself trying to throw a frisbee after I contracted the yips.

But that’s okay. The Phillies have had bad defense in the outfield corners more often than not, and if they can win a World Series with Pat Burrell, then they can live with someone whose defense invites comparisons to the six-year-old who’s more interested in picking dandelions than playing tee-ball.

If he can hit. But unfortunately, Delmon Young cannot do that either. His wRC+ last year as 89, which makes him a below-average hitter. But for some context, and because I’m expected to write volumes on this topic, let’s go into some greater depth. Delmon Young, in wRC+ last year, was 121st out of 143 hitters who qualified for the batting title last season. In a moment of great good fortune for people like me who like to make facile comparisons to score cheap rhetorical points, the guy one spot behind him on that leaderboard was Young’s new Phillies teammate, Ben Revere.

Revere is a fantastic defensive center fielder with game-changing speed, who patrols power alley to power alley with the speed and grace of a border collie corralling a herd of uncooperative sheep. He steals bases in bushels. And he plays a position that, particularly in the past five years or so, places a premium on defense rather than offense, where you can get away with not being a particularly productive hitter if you can really pick it, or whatever the equivalent colloquialism is for outfielders.

And many people don’t think Revere is a good enough hitter to be be a good major-league player.

So what does it say when, on the aggregate, Delmon Young, or as I’ve taken to calling him, The Great Satan, is roughly the same offensive player and, when placed in a field of grass, resembles nothing so much as one of those bulb-shaped pig-creatures that frolicks in the meadow alongside Anakin and Padme on Naboo in Star Wars: Episode II?

Not good things, I tell you.

The point is, The Great Satan can kind of hit left-handed pitching, and he’s got a little bit of power (though not much more than, say, Coco Crisp, who actually posted a higher slugging percentage than Delmon Young last year), but on the whole, he represents an offensive package so abominable that it would frighten your infant child if it were placed in the body of a good defensive middle infielder.

(this is where it’s going to start getting sweary)

I’m going to tell you another story from my childhood. When I was a boy, my uncle took me fishing once. We got down to the edge of the lake, and he showed me how to get all the sticks and strings and whatever else you put in the water to catch a fish in order. But when he picked up a worm to put on my hook, the worm voided its bowels, leaving a trail of greenish-brown shit about the approximate length and circumference of a mechanical pencil lead in his hand.

Delmon Young, the defensive player, is like that piece of worm shit, the waste of a form of life we esteem so lowly that we sacrifice it, by the thousand, to kill other animals for sport. And not noble, beautiful creatures like deer–slimy, gape-mouthed creepy little motherfuckers who are so many hundreds of millions of years behind the evolutionary curve that they haven’t even grown legs yet.

Delmon Young the ballplayer is not the fish, nor is he even the worm. He is the worm shit. He is the anti-Willie Mays. He brings almost absolutely nothing to the table in any facet of the game.

But then again, neither does Michael Young (I know I’m overstating that point a little, but bear with me), who will cost the Phillies eight times the base salary due to The Great Satan in 2013. So why is this one Young worse than the other?

Because the Phillies were in dire need of a third baseman, and Ruben Amaro, finding himself marooned like William Bligh on an ocean of unappetizing choices, made a play for someone who was good (though never as good as anyone thought) some time ago. Someone who is reputed (inaccurately) to be a team-first player. The Phillies did something stupid in trading for Michael Young, but I can see the logic, warped though it is. And who knows? Maybe he’ll come good. He was good once, after all.

The Great Satan was never good, at least not since he came up to the major leagues. He has only twice, in six full major-league seasons, posted even a league-average OPS+, which would be troubling for a good defensive shortstop but is worthy of comparison to worm shit for a corner outfielder the repugnance of whose defense beggars belief. He is not good now, he has never been good, and entering his age-27 season with 3,575 career plate appearances under his prodigious belt, I can say with as much certainty as one can honestly say about such things, that he will never be good.

Worm shit.

Worm shit, no less, at a position where the Phillies needed more mediocrity like they need an amateur tracheotomy. What puzzles me is that the idea that Delmon Young is a leper’s sore on the complexion of baseball in particular and American society writ large doesn’t exactly take a degree in economics to figure out. I quoted wRC+ mostly because it gave me that nifty Ben Revere comparison, but if that’s to highfallutin’ a mathematical concept for you, then let’s use something like on-base percentage.

Delmon Young’s OBP last year was .296. That’s bad for anyone. And it’s not like it was a fluke–the Tigers gave him 608 plate appearances last season, a number that sticks in one’s mind because it’s about six hundred more than anyone with more sensory and intellectual capacity than a naked mole rat would have given a player so modestly endowed with baseball ability. Jim Leyland must be rolling in his grave at such a sight.

Six hundred and eight plate appearances, in which The Great Satan managed to advance ponderously to first base only 180 times. And God only knows what in the garment-rending hell he did once he got there.

So that’s on-base percentage, which isn’t matrix algebra. It’s dividing the most important thing a baseball player can do by the numbers of opportunities he has to do it in. I learned to divide three-digit numbers by other three-digit numbers when I was nine, a concept that apparently escapes our illustrious general manager, blessed be his fucking Stanford-educated name.

Quoth His Rubanity: “I don’t care about walks. I care about production.”

A brief aside–once this asinine experiment, this pastiche of a ballclub, fails to make the playoffs, which it almost assuredly will, the focus ought to turn to how one might reconstruct the Phillies so that they would enjoy greater success down the line. I have absolutely no faith in a man who speaks such offensively ignorant utterances as I’ve just described to undertake a rebuild. But ownership will most certainly give him the chance to fail.

Let’s say it takes Ruben Amaro this year and next to be convinced that he’s constructed the Ishtar of baseball teams and blow it up. Then at least another five, maybe six, for everyone to be convinced that the rebuild has failed, because Ruben Amaro picks players the way most of us pick our eleventh drink of the night: by stumbling across the room, collapsing against a vertical surface and groaning dipthongs more or less at random at whoever we deduce to be in charge.

I was 21 years old when Brad Lidge struck out Eric Hinske to tie up the World Series. With no real hope this season, and nothing but years of idiocy and gerontocracy on the horizon, I’d give good odds that I will watch the Phillies’ next playoff game with my own children. So when I say that the foolishness of Ruben Amaro, like the Biblical sins of the father, will be visited on generations to come, I want you to know that I am dead serious.

But I was going somewhere with this. Oh, right.

So Delmon Young sucks at everything. So why are the Phillies signing him to play a position at which they already have more mediocrity than they know what to do with. Want a bad defensive corner outfielder with some right-handed pop? Why is Darin Ruf not enough? Why is John Mayberry, who has a startlingly similar batting profile to The Great Satan’s, but adds speed and arm strength, not enough? Why do you take valuable development time away from Domonic Brown, the poor quiet, unassuming man whose only crime was being good at baseball at a young age? The Phillies need lots of things, but corner outfield help–even if The Great Satan constituted that–is not one of them.

One thing I hate about American journalism is its continued romance with false equivalence. Sure, there may be two sides to every story, but that doesn’t mean there are two sides worth talking about. I play along with people for argument’s sake a lot, and because I honestly believe in giving people the facts. I’d rather have a well-reasoned discussion with someone I disagree with, if the other person is willing to make a good-faith effort to understand where I’m coming from. And if it’s a difference of opinion, we can disagree and be friends. Even if someone maintains a dogged belief in the face of overwhelming empirical evidence to the contrary, choosing to live in a web of untruths, logical fallacy and “Yeah, but still…” I’d rather talk in calm voices, as men ought to, than be enemies.

This is not one of those times, though. Delmon Young is not as good baseball player, and he cannot help the Phillies, and there is no logically consistent argument to the contrary. If you want to accuse me of going all Chicken Little on this, and you want to say that a one-year contract worth less than a million dollars base salary in a year where the Phillies probably weren’t going to do much anyway isn’t as big a deal as I’m making it out to be, do that. You’re probably right. But this is not a good baseball move. And if you think that it is, you’re wrong. And as patient as I am ordinarily, as willing as I am to defend my reasoning against direct attack and try to reach an understanding, I won’t do that in this case. If you think Delmon Young, The Great Satan, is likely to be an asset to the Phillies this season, you are operating under a method of logical reasoning that I really would just rather not pollute my own mind with.

I feel about Delmon Young supporters the way I feel about racists. I’d rather you think like normal people and just be happy, but if you can’t, I can live with that, as long as you keep it to yourself.

Speaking of racism.

(I’ve been waiting my whole life to write a segue like that. I’m going to go bake a cake and pop some champagne to celebrate that segue. Talk among yourselves–I’ll be back in a little bit.)

Like I was saying. Speaking of racism: I am now more almost three thousand words into answering this question, and I believe that I have thoroughly demonstrated, by way of Broadway musicals and frisbee and worm shit, as well as data, that Delmon Young, while he may be The Great Satan, is not a good baseball player.

With that said, he’s almost gone out of his way to demonstrate that he’s a worse human being.

While in the minor leagues, he threw a tantrum after striking out, then, after walking back toward the dugout, threw his bat back toward the plate and hit the umpire in the chest. By way of apology, he could only say that he didn’t mean to actually hit the umpire.

Delmon Young has also been charged with a hate crime, a quality that, near as I can tell, makes him unique among current major league players, despite the best efforts of Luke Scott and Torii Hunter.

By the way, has anyone figured out what Michael Schwimer thinks about having a teammate who not only visited physical violence upon a stranger on the street, but saw fit to shout “Fucking Jews! Fucking Jews!” while doing it? If I were the 6-foot-8 Schwimer, I’d make a point to just stare at The Great Satan menacingly all season.

I know that many of the liberal elitist baseball writers I run with tend to make grand moralistic proclamations whenever a ballplayer gets caught driving drunk or using impolitic language. I’d still have Shin-Soo Choo on my team, DUI and all, because while that’s a major issue that baseball has taken not at all seriously, a good person can make a series of bad decisions, and ultimately be redeemed.

And even if a baseball player does something really bad–like, completely hypothetically, commit a hate crime–there’s probably a point to which I’d be okay with having a really bad person on a team I like if he were a really good ballplayer. I’ve rooted hard for Lenny Dykstra, Brett Myers, Michael Vick, Allen Iverson and all sorts of people I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole because I thought they could help my team win. I am entirely willing to abdicate my morality in the pursuit of vicarious athletic glory. Miguel Cabrera is a drunk who beats his wife, and I would do backflips if the Phillies traded for him. I am a shallow and weak man, and I acknowledge that. But such is life.

That Delmon Young did what he did creeps me the hell out. That Ruben Amaro would hire such a person makes me a little uneasy. But you can be a bad person, or a bad ballplayer, but not both. And The Great Satan, Delmon Young, is worse than bad in both instances.

I’m not asking for the Phillies to be puritanical, or to take a position of moral leadership, or even to be particularly skilled at assembling a baseball team. I just don’t want them to be so fucking stupid, and so fucking callous, as to render any ridicule unnecessary.

That’ll do it for this week’s Crash Bag, all one question of it. Send in more queries, and maybe we’ll all be in a better mood next time.

Dammit, I didn’t even get to the Justin Upton part of that question. Oh well, there will be other Crash Bags.

What Happened to My 100-Win Team?

Sometimes, being a fan is difficult. Usually, the most arduous times come simply from losing, but there seems to be a special, intense pang of despondency attached to the difficulty associated with watching a once mighty team crumble from within and without. Nationally, Philadelphia – the team and city alike – were never darlings, but I didn’t care; major-city sports teams always get plenty of attention, but rarely any non-partisan admiration.

So there’s no pity to be expected from the continued devolution of what was once a squad called the Philadelphia Phillies. No one who isn’t connected to the team in some way will feel badly for this string of events. They likely delight in it. And so be it; they’re entitled to react as they please. All that being said:

What the hell happened here?

In a sense, things have been going backward since the parade down Broad Street on Halloween 2008 ended. In 2009, the Phillies returned to the World Series, but were bested. In 2010, they bowed out a round earlier. In 2011, they were on the wrong end of one of the better postseason pitching duels in history in the NLDS. In 2012, they didn’t even have the chance.

And now, here we sit, spectators to the composing of another bizarre chapter in one of the strangest rebuilding parables ever told: the 2012-13 offseason. The roster has been transformed, through age as well as acquisition, into one that harnesses but a sliver of its former potency.

The progression of the Phils’ team slugging since 2007 reads as follows: .458, .438, .447, .413, .395, .400. The progression of the Phils’ team OBP since 2007 reads as follows: .354, .332, .334, .332, .323, .317. That is…um…not encouraging. But at least the problem is fairly easily identifiable: to complement an aging, papier mache core, corresponding moves had to be made. With, presumably, a sizable amount of budget room and a decent crop of free agent outfielders to choose from, the Phillies decided to hang onto their 16th overall pick and not sign a Michael Bourn or Josh Hamilton or Nick Swisher (although Hamilton’s eventual price of 5/$125M is out of the reasonable price range anyway).

Instead, the Phillies, having added the controversial and not-that-good Delmon Young to their bounty, now possess a bushel of nine outfielders on their 40-man roster, of whom six have seen Major League action:

  1. Domonic Brown: the former top prospect who’s had to battle nagging injuries and inconsistent playing time. Hit .235/.316/.396 in 212 PA in 2012.
  2. John Mayberry Jr.: made a fan favorite with a white-hot finish to 2011. Hit .245/.301/.395 in 479 PA in 2012
  3. Laynce Nix: given a two-year deal before 2012, he’s currently the most expensive outfielder on the roster. Hit .246/.315/.412 in 127 PA in 2012.
  4. Ben Revere: cost a depth starter in Vance Worley and well-regarded prospect in Trevor May to acquire. Defensive specialist. Hit .294/.333/.342 in 553 PA in 2012.
  5. Darin Ruf: the powerful, flash-in-the-pan never-prospect who might have a career as a bench bat. Hit .333/.351/.727 in a certainly sufficient 37 PA sample in 2012.
  6. Delmon Young: the former No. 1 overall pick with character, weight and baseball ability issues. Hit .267/.296/.411 in 608 PA in 2012.

On the infield side of things, the Phillies sent two relievers to Texas and assumed $6M of responsibility for Michael Young, who contributed a .277/.312/.370 line in 651 PA for the Rangers. This is to say nothing of Rule 5 draftee Ender Inciarte, who almost certainly faces waivers and an offer back to the Diamondbacks at some point this spring.

These are borderline penny-pinching moves, brought on by a combination of paying top dollar for top talent (Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee), unnecessary top dollar for for very good or not-so-top talent (Ryan Howard, Jonathan Papelbon) and an emptying of the farm for deals ranging from great (Halladay) to acceptable (Roy Oswalt) to just bad (Pence). It would be another thing entirely if the majority of these moves were made with sound baseball logic at their foundation, but the reality facing us here is that’s simply not the case. It is those second- and third-category moves that make this more frustrating than it needs to be, rather than an acceptable placement in the cycle of rebuilding -> contention and back again.

Now, here we sit, fewer than two years removed from a 102-win season, having to rely on a likely dual-platoon, five-outfielder system, an aging infield that provides no certainty of full-season health and questionable depth in the rotation, in the bullpen and on the bench.

These cobwebs are tough to peel off. It feels as though the club has arrived at or near the place many of us feared it would arrive as the risky and head-scratching moves began to pile up: on the doorstep of relegation to “also-ran” status with a shaky outlook for a return to “elite” status within the next three years. The playoff hopes of this team as currently constructed rely on too many low-probability bouncebacks from too many players than should have been necessary. And far too many to be a viable plan. The 2011 season has never seemed further away.

I write this before a single game is played in 2013. I write this before these players can be given a chance to prove me wrong. As with most of my negative notions, I hope to eventually be proven wrong. But I also write this under cloud cover that feels thicker than any I can remember for years back.

And you may ask yourself, well, how did we get here?

Phillies Sign . . . *sigh* to 1 year, *groan* thousand dollar contract

The Phillies have signed Delmon Young to a 1 year, $750,000 deal.

twitter.com/jaysonst/status/293809333563707392

This is what happens when you get wrapped up in superficial identifiers like “right-handed bat.” We’ve arrived at the point where “right-handed bat” can refer to any player that has had marginal or better success against left-handed pitching in the last decade, regardless of the quality of his overall contribution to the team. Delmon Young is terrible. Full stop. By rWAR, he was a full win and two-tenths below replacement last season, and a total of almost a win and a half below replacement in the last two seasons, compiling a .267/.299/.403 line over that period. His walk rate from 2011-2012 is 3.9%, about half the league average for hitters, making him, at least in that respect, a good fit for the current Phillies lineup.

By the grace of Jim Leyland he accrued 608 plate appearances for the Tigers last season, and an accompanying 226 innings in the field, where he is one of the worst defenders in baseball.


Credit for this .gif to GIFULMINATION

This is where a past, more naive version of myself would write “Young can be useful if strictly limited to pinch hit plate appearances against left-handed pitching.” He has, after all, always hit lefties well — .307/.341/.483 for his career, with a .308/.333/.500 line in 189 plate appearances against them last season. But the Phillies don’t exactly have a stacked outfield at the moment. Ben Revere will certainly anchor the centerfield position, and the corner spots will be filled by some combination of Young, Domonic Brown (he screamed, into the uncaring void, season after season), Laynce Nix, John Mayberry, Jr., Darin Ruf, and, if he’s not offered back, Ender “‘s Game” Inciarte (though he’s more likely an emergency centerfielder).

If you’ll indulge me in a jaunty youthful fantasy for a moment, assume that the Phillies’ plan is for Domonic Brown to be the everyday rightfielder in 2013. That — stop laughing, please. That means the 2013 outfield is a high upside but big question mark mainstay (Brown) and a collection of players who each have a useful attribute or two, but who I cannot think it could be argued should be full time players on an ostensibly first-division team, and I include Revere in this. If this were the 2010 outfield of Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino, and Jayson Werth, a player like Delmon Young would be helpful for 150 to 200 plate appearances against almost exclusively lefties. The same could be said for Mayberry.

But with 600 plate appearances or more to allot to this collection of would-be left-fielders, it’s impossible to parcel them out in such a way that shields you from each of these players’ severe respective weaknesses. You’re inevitably going to get intolerable doses of Young’s fielding and adverse platoon futility, Ruf’s defending and baserunning, Mayberry’s flailing against righties, and so forth. Right-handed pitching handled 58% of the league’s plate appearances last season. You can’t leverage 3 or 4 different platoon pieces against that. And all of this is presuming that Charlie Manuel is willing to get more creative than he’s ever shown the capacity to be. And it presumes that my Domonic Brown precondition is correct; it probably isn’t. If you’re going to go with a smattering of likely marginal guys and hope that a few best case scenarios find the light of day, why not at least round up marginal guys with average or better defense? That’s not the case here either.

In the Phillies lineups of yore, writing off one weak lineup spot wouldn’t be a problem. But which positions can be penciled in as certain offensive contributors in 2013? Carlos Ruiz, Jimmy Rollins, and, if one is willing to be generous with the health prognosis, Chase Utley. As I tweeted this morning, the model for a playoff-contending Phillies team is to hope that the offense somehow manages league-average performance, and that the pitching staff achieves 2011 levels of greatness. The overabundance of below league average role players is not going to help the chances of the current roster managing that.

This is not to even mention, by the way, that Delmon Young is a bigot. Stark’s reference to off-field issues alludes to an incident in which an intoxicated Young assaulted a man after repeatedly calling him a “fucking Jew.” I’ve long been on the record about taking a clubhouse full of jerks that can play baseball over a less effective squad of nice guys. But I have to draw the line somewhere, and I think just shy of an anti-semite being on my favorite team is a good place to draw it. No Luke Scott or Josh Lueke, and no Delmon Young please. If $700,000 wasted is the price to see Delmon Young fail his way out of baseball, I’d be more than happy with that outcome.

LATE BREAKING UPDATE: There is nothing good in this world.
twitter.com/magelb/status/293831734674477057

Crash Bag, Vol. 37: Imaginary Road Beef

Let’s just start with the one thin everyone’s been talking about all week. I don’t even feel like doing an intro.

@cwyers: “Which Phillies player is most likely to have an imaginary girlfriend?”

Dude. It takes SO MUCH to shock me, particularly in the world of sports, and beyond that, in the insane world of college football. I mean, I’m surprised all the time (like when the Mariners made that idiotic John Jaso-for-Michael Morse swap the other day) but I think the last college football story that I really couldn’t wrap my mind around, that I couldn’t process as it unfolded, was the Jerry Sandusky story, which took me weeks to grasp the enormity of.

Now, Manti Te’o’s dead girlfriend not actually existing is certainly not as enormously, appallingly horrifying and despicable an act as Sandusky’s repeated sexual abuse of children. In fact, I find nothing particularly disturbing about this story. The reason it’s so shocking is that I can’t remember anything like this ever happening before, particularly involving an athlete whose legend on the field is mostly a construct of what sportswriters had said about his character off it. Which is not to say that Te’o is a bad player–among defenders in college football this season, he was some tiny but still non-zero fraction of the player Jadeveon Clowney was, which makes him quite valuable indeed.

If Te’o got duped and went along with the story to avoid being embarrassed, I feel bad for him. That makes him (at worst) stupid and badly-advised and (at best) gullible and insecure. Which doesn’t make him any different from any other college student, if we’re being honest. I know people who have fallen for what we’re now calling the Catfish phenomenon of online dating and it’s embarrassing enough when the only people who know you fell for it are half a dozen close friends who feel bad enough for you not to mock you mercilessly. That’s the best-case scenario, but I don’t think it’s particularly likely.

If Te’o was in on the hoax from the beginning, creating this dead girlfriend narrative for publicity’s sake, that’s a pretty cynical thing to do, but I don’t know that it’s any worse than how Cam Newton got to where he wound up in terms of college stardom. First, I think I’m too weirded out to be outraged. Second, I never really cared enough about the story to begin with to give anything more than a cursory “That’s terrible, but good for him for overcoming that.” And finally, and most importantly, Te’o’s…whatever this is…is not even close to the worst cover-up involving a Notre Dame football player and a girl. Not. Even. Close. If anything good has come from the instant transition of Manti Te’o from national hero to national joke, it’s that more people are talking about Lizzie Seeberg.

I don’t think I said anything original or insightful there, but I don’t get the impression that anyone reads the Crash Bag for insight. Or even that anyone reads the Crash Bag at all. On to the jokes.

Many people responded to Colin’s question over Twitter when he first posed, probably due to some combination of it being particularly relevant to the zeitgeist and Colin being a much more notorious writer than I am. And the reaction was almost universally one of: John Mayberry.

I don’t get that. I mean, thinking about it, I can see it, but to arrive at Mayberry just because mermaids are made up is a leap I don’t get. I bet Mayberry could get a real girlfriend if he wanted one badly enough.

I think the most interesting possibility would be Erik Kratz. Kratz, like Te’o is beloved, known as a good guy and devoutly religious in a sect that’s kind of off the beaten path. Though Mennonites, theologically, have way more in common with your garden variety Protestant than Mormons do. I will say this–I’ve known my fair share of Mennonites and Mormons (I actually have several Mennonite relatives myself) and to a person they’re all kind and friendly people. I don’t know for sure, but I’m pretty certain Kratz is married, and, if he’s anything like the other Mennonites I know, he wouldn’t cheat on his wife and he wouldn’t enjoy being teased by teammates who get on his case for not enjoying the local Annies. But neither would he fight back. So to avoid that awkwardness, there’s a part of me that could see Erik Kratz making up imaginary road beef just to keep the guys off his case. Not a large part, but if you told me that was going on I wouldn’t spit out my coffee or anything.

Or…yeah, you know what, if you’re going to try to hit on an actress by having your agent call her agent, you’d probably make up a girlfriend.

@dan_camp: “why are some of my stupid friends saying the “most expensive” part of the nats signing Soriano is their loss of a 29th pick?”

Well, I’d be more inclined to say that the most expensive part of signing Rafael Soriano is paying a relief pitcher $14 million a year. Now don’t get me wrong, that’s a stealth bomber’s worth of money for a relief pitcher, but the Nationals are a team that’s trying to win a title right now, and they don’t need a whole lot in the way of big pieces to put them over the top, so a good relief pitcher like Soriano is worth way more to team that’s going to use him in the seventh or eighth inning of a playoff game than a good relief pitcher like Mike Adams is to a team whose offense is so bad that it’s going to go 81-81 no matter how good its bullpen is (like the Phillies). The Nats are so good in spots, and have so much depth and so few glaring weaknesses that they’re doing something very smart: liquidating their surplus assets in areas of strength so they can shore up areas of relative weakness. I can’t begin to tell you how much I love their trade of Alex Meyer for Denard Span, and the smart money seems to be on the Soriano signing being a precursor to a similar trade of Tyler Clippard for either a prospect or some other complementary piece.

But anyway, a late first-round pick, on its own, is a nice piece, but not enough to keep a team from signing a good free agent. In the late 20s, the odds of pulling a superstar on any given one pick are remote, and yes, I know where Mike Trout was drafted. So if you’ve already got a stocked farm system and you’re good to spend on a free agent, like the Nats are, go nuts. Now on the other hand, if you can get a bunch of those picks in a row, like the Yankees have, you can get a lot of low-risk complementary players or take a lot of high-risk, high-ceiling amateur players. Conversely, if you lose your late first-round pick every year, like the Phillies did for a long time, your farm system is going to be devoid of high-level talent in short order.

Draft picks are exercises in probability. At No. 1 overall, you’re just as likely to get a Bryan Bullington as your are a Chipper Jones or Bryce Harper, but those are pretty good odds when you think about it. And as you go down the draft order, the odds of a Bullington increase, as you might expect, to the point where by the end of the first round, it’s unlikely that any particular first-rounder is going to turn into something more than a complementary player. But pool enough of those picks, or lose enough of those picks, and the odds of drafting (or watching someone else use your pick to draft) an impact player gets pretty good. So giving up the No. 29 pick for Soriano (even if he is a relief pitcher) is a non-trivial cost, but it’s not the end of the world. But if they lose a pick to sign a reliever every year for the next five years, then it starts to be a problem.

@Major_Hog: “What is the likelihood of Arkansas winning the College World Series?”

Ever? Not bad. It’s a pretty good program, even if it’s not on the level of, like, Florida or UCLA or Texas. But next year? I don’t like your chances all that much. I mean, the likelihood of any one team winning a championship in any sport is almost always remote, which goes double for a sport like college baseball that has hundreds of teams, a 64-team playoff and tons of small sample postseason variation.

But hey, they were a national semifinalist last year, so how bad things can be?

Though if you’re going to watch the University of Arkansas this season, there’s no better reason than…well, actually, the best reason is, and I can’t stress this enough, MEANINGFUL BASEBALL FOUR WEEKS FROM NOW. I keep telling people that if you follow college baseball, you get regular-season games in February and playoff games in June, but y’all never seem to listen. You need this. I know because the internet is full of silly folks who think spring training is worth getting excited about. Yes, let’s kill the fatted friggin’ calf so we can watch people put on outrageously racist hats and act like Matt Rizzotti‘s three-week hot streak is an accurate harbinger of future events. I’d rather watch games that count, played by players who care (and who are actually going to factor into the playoff run).

What follows is a list of better ways to predict regular-season performance than watching Spring Training games:

  • Projection systems such as ZiPS.
  • Throwing darts at the Baseball Prospectus guide.
  • Ouija board.
  • Psychic hotline.
  • Astronomy. No, I don’t mean astrology. I mean looking at the night sky through a telescope probably tells you more about future performance than three weeks of Kyle Kendrick throwing 45 pitches against the Blue Jays’ yannigans.

Anyway, college baseball is awesome and you should watch it. But if you’re going to watch the University of Arkansas in particular, the star attraction is Friday night starter Ryne Stanek. First of all, he’s got an awesome name. Like, if you’re going to be a skinny college kid, you might as well have a name like a reject from The Expendables. Last year’s SEC pitchers that included Florida’s awesomely-monikered Karsten Whitson, Hudson Randall and Austin Maddox. Plus the No. 3 and 4 starters for South Carolina were named Montgomery and Westmoreland–once you got to the end of the Gamecock rotation, you were as likely to face a division of armored cavalry as a fastball. But Stanek stood above them all.

Plus he’s a legitimately exciting prospect. He’s likely to go early in the first round in June’s amateur draft, perhaps No. 1 overall in a weakish class. At believe you me, if you think top-notch starting pitching is fun to watch in the big leagues, it’s so much better against collegiate hitters who lack the power and plate discipline of pros. This is a game where Trevor Bauer or Danny Hultzen could just tell the offense to take the night off, or Michael Roth could pull off a “stop hitting yourself” routine on hapless Clemson batter after hapless Clemson batter for years on end. Stanek should be a good pro, but he’s going to be something else entirely this season.

@smallupsetter: “What do you think Hunter Pence‘s spirit animal is?”

Fiddler crab. And I have no wish to discuss this matter any further.

@Living4Laughs: “What is your favorite book written on Soviet history?”

I don’t know that I have one. I’m really not as big a Russian/Soviet history buff as I am a Cold War buff. In fact, I find Russian/Soviet culture to be…well, not my particular cup of tea. But I’m engaged to be married to someone who deals with Russian culture for a living, so what KTLSF knows I just kind of absorb the way she absorbs (often against her will) details about baseball. Which is how she came to own a Phillies t-shirt, just as surely as I eat the occasional pelmeni.

So while I can rattle off the technical specs of just about every jet fighter the Soviet Union ever produced, and speak at great length about the international political, military and diplomatic impact of the Warsaw Pact, I don’t know that I’ve ever sat down and actually read a book about Soviet history in isolation. I do own a book called One Minute to Midnight by Michael Dobbs that takes historical details of the Cuban Missile Crisis and puts them in a linear, story-focused format. I don’t know that it’ll tell you anything in particular that you wouldn’t learn from watching Thirteen Days, but it’s a good read.

Apart from that I’d just go read The Hunt for Red October.

Though I will say this. I was (and remain) a huge Tom Clancy fan, but it’s weird to put up a writer as a hero when you’re a kid, then go back and read Debt of Honor and Executive Orders after having studied politics and learned to do math and turned into an adult. Because I’m kind of appalled, looking back on it, by Clancy’s crazy-naive Libertarian politics and how sneaky-racist and not-so-sneaky-sexist his stuff gets in parts. I don’t want to say my turning into a fringy liberal since I was 15 ruined Clancy for me, but it’s still not the same.

@Cody011: “Assuming the phillies don’t make any more moves & remain healthy (big if), can you project this team to win 90+?”

Ninety what, games? I mean, I can project this team to win however many games you want, but the time for assuming the Phillies are going to be the class of the National League has come and gone. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Phillies win that many games, but I certainly wouldn’t go betting anything of significance on it. They’re a team that won 81 games last year, traded away a bunch of key pieces in midseason last year, didn’t add any significant free agents (and no, Mike Adams, however good a middle reliever he is, is still a middle reliever), aren’t counting on any potential impact prospects (ditto Phillippe Aumont, as much as j’adore Le Pont au Papelbon), are losing their best position player from last year to 25 games’ worth of drug suspension to start the season and are looking at…well, let’s just go with the midseason age around the diamond for next season, for catcher and the four infielders: 34, 33, 34, 34, 36. We’re getting to the point where the Phillies are fielding of players who, if they were women and interested in having children, would be old enough to have non-trivial concerns about complications with their pregnancies.

I went a long way for a bad metaphor there. Let’s try that again.

@JohnMorgera: “It seems like the offseason consensus is the Phillies will be lucky to make a run, but what is next seasons best case scenario?”

The Phillies get lucky and make a run.

Honestly, I don’t see a scenario where the Phillies make the playoffs this year. They were light-years behind the Nationals and Braves last year, and the Nationals, with another year of maturation for their young stars, plus a full season of Strasburg, Werth, Harper and Wilson Ramos, plus the addition of Dan Haren and Denard Span, will probably be even better than they were in 2012. And the Braves, who have some rising stars themselves, will probably be just as good as they were last year. On a side note, I did a rough draft of that “if you had to pick 25 players to win the next 10 World Series” post I do every year, and I wound up picking three Braves. It’s completely subjective, and doesn’t mean much…I mean, except that they have a lot of good, young players…but anyway, yeah. The Phillies were a .500 team with an almost even run differential last year, and I just don’t see where the 17 games the Nationals had on them last year get made up. Not when the big offseason acquisition is Ben Revere, and not when the big internal hope is that Chase Utley plays 150 games. If you’ve been even remotely paying attention since 2009, that is–to quote a spacefaring legend–a long wait for a train don’t come.

Now, if the Phillies make the playoffs, with Hamels, Lee, Papelbon, Bastardo, Adams, Aumont and Halladay, they have enough pitching to have a puncher’s chance in a short series. And I know they don’t have to beat Washington to get there. But the Reds and Braves certainly aren’t any worse than they were last year, and the Dodgers and Cardinals stand to be markedly improved over 2013. So that whole playoff scenario is starting to look awful crowded without the Phillies, even with the second wild card.

@tholzerman: “who has more names, Gandalf or the chick who spurned the titular character in the Beatles song ‘Rocky Raccoon?’ “

Does Gandalf not only have the one name? There was a girl in “Rocky Raccoon?”

I’m really not a Lord of the Rings guy or a Beatles guy, so someone else probably ought to field this one. In more general terms, though, I’d like to submit a third contender.

You see, Snookums, ain’t nobody has more names than His Royal Highness, Christopher Rupert, of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. And good luck not walking around whistling that song all day.

@fotodave: “Do Bonds or Clemens deserve to be in the hall of fame despite the steroid allegations?”

Of course they do. A top-five of all time hitter and a top-five of all time pitcher, conservatively. And

  1. Even if PED usage during a time before MLB tested for banned substances is blameworthy (which I don’t think it is)
  2. And if that blameworthiness is grounds for being penalized in Hall of Fame voting (which I don’t think it is)
  3. And if you think the BBWAA that, as recently as a decade ago, lionized these players as gods for their athletic feats has a moral leg to stand on while wagging its crooked, obsolete finger at these suspected drug cheats (which I don’t think it does)
  4. And if debiting the likes of Bonds and Clemens for their alleged drug use, in spite of facing competitors who were–by all accounts–mostly similarly juiced up, they’d suffer relative to their peers appreciably (which I don’t think they would)

If you grant all those things, Bonds would have been twice the player Jim Rice was, and Clemens would have been twice the pitcher Jack Morris was, or Goose Gossage. So yes, I think they deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.

@fotodave: “Followup: What would it take for Pete Rose to get in the hall-of-fame?”

I know I say this every time, but I love that y’all announce follow-up questions like this is a press conference.

I kind of covered this last week, but because betting on baseball is such a longstanding historical booboo in the eyes of the sport’s leadership, and because it violates the competitive integrity of the game in a way that not even PED use does, Rose is pretty well screwed. Everyone said he’d be reinstated if he fessed up and apologized, and he did, and he wasn’t.

There’s a great scene in The Right Stuff set at Pancho’s Happy Bottom Riding Club, the bar frequented by test pilots outside of Edwards Air Force Base. On the eve of Chuck Yeager’s run at the sound barrier, a woman at the bar asks Pancho about the photos of pilots hanging on the wall. Pancho gives that woman the same answer that I’d give Pete Rose if he asked me what he’d have to do to get reinstated, for one, and get past this Maginot Line of sanctimonious bluster that we call the Hall of Fame electorate. What Pancho says to the woman is this:

“You have to die, sweetie.”

@SoMuchForPathos: “Let’s say I don’t want to buy a gun. Should I go with a wooden baseball bat to protect myself in case of burglary?”

Well, neither a gun nor a bat will do you as much good as, say, renter’s insurance. Or locking your doors.

But if I could pick one piece of sporting equipment as a weapon of self-defense…actually, guns are sporting equipment in some cases, as are bows and arrows. I get the allure of the handgun-as-home-defense-weapon. But even if I were committed to the idea of greeting trespassers with deadly force (I’m not, by the way. I’m much more of a hide under the bed until they’re gone type.) I wouldn’t pick a handgun in a million years. Soldiers and policemen have a hard enough time hitting people with handguns–or rather, with bullets fired from handguns, but you get the idea–when lives are on the line, so imagine how laughably worthless a normal person, and not someone who’s trained to kill people with guns for a living, would be in a life-or-death scenario.

But anyway, if you’re convinced you’re going to have to shoot someone to death in your home in order to be safe, why on Earth would you pick a handgun instead of, say, a shotgun, which is scarier to look down the business end of, easier to hold steady and fires (if you want it to) cannisters of shot that don’t require the shooter to be particularly accurate to hit his or her target. You know who kills lots of people in movies? Arnold Schwarzenegger. You know what he almost never uses to do it? Pistols. He uses automatic firearms and 40mm grenade launchers, which are really not the kind of thing normal people ought to be keeping around for home defense anyway. But failing that, he uses shotguns. I guess the moral of the story is that you probably shouldn’t buy a handgun for home defense. You’re probably going to hurt yourself or someone else in an accident than you are to thwart a robbery by staging a successful re-enactment of the last half hour of Patriot Games. And if you do try to shoot and kill an intruder, you’re probably going to miss, put a hole in the wall and get stabbed to death by someone who literally brought a knife to a gunfight. And we’ll all be very sad, but we’re all going to secretly think you were kind of a dope after you’re gone. Sorry. Nothing personal–you just should have bought a shotgun instead. Or locked your doors and called the cops like a smart person would.

But if you want a melee weapon for home defense, well, again, I wouldn’t, because if you’re going to get close enough to really get around on a bad’un with a bat, you’re going to get close enough for him to stab you to death, which, again, will cause your loved ones to think you’re kind of a dope after you die. Hockey sticks have more reach, but less heft, and golf clubs are probably only good for one, maybe two swings. I’d take a dangerous tool, like an adze or a scythe, instead. Or go all out and buy a halberd. Chicks dig guys with halberds–makes them feel safe. This is totally true.

@Matt_Winkelman: “What drives fan interest, storylines and player personality or talent, is it bad to have irrational favorites?”

I’m going to assume that second comma is supposed to be a semicolon and those are two separate questions. To answer them in sequence, I’d say both and no.

What drives fan interest is entirely a matter of personal taste, and whether the qualitative or the empirical is the primary concern changes from fan to fan and even from judgment to judgment for a single fan. For instance, I enjoy the bejeezus out of The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton entirely because of his talent, because I don’t know the first thing about him as a person, nor do I care. On the other hand, I root just as hard for Angels farmhand Michael Roth, who is as pedestrian an athlete as Stanton is transcendent, entirely because of his personality and personal history.

The most-beloved players, though, are both. I’d hold up Ken Griffey Jr. and Cal Ripken as exemplars of this statement. Among current players, I think there may be no better example of combining personality and talent than R.A. Dickey, who, predictably, is almost universally beloved. My favorite baseball player is Jimmy Rollins, and if you asked me why I’d rattle off a list of intangibles that I’d put someone through a plate-glass window for saying about Jeff Francoeur. But Rollins has also been a very good and very exciting player for a long time.

I think fandom is about having irrational favorites. Liking a player just because he plays for your team is the height of irrationality. However good a prospect Jackie Bradley is, and however much his specific skill set contains almost everything I value in a ballplayer, the only reason I like him so much is that he played for South Carolina while I was there. Sounds pretty irrational to me.

Ask any thoughtful baseball fan, no matter how empirical his or her judgment may be, and you’d probably get a couple irrational favorites, regardless of performance. Which is good. Sports are at their best when they make you irrationally happy.

@hdrubin: “It’s not Thome/Howard or Leno/O’Brien, but what would you do with Beltre vs. Olt if you were the Rangers GM?”

This is a fantastic question, because this is precisely the fantasy scenario every armchair GM spends hours considering. Honestly, I think this is less similar to Thome/Howard than you might think, because Beltre’s got more in the tank than Thome did and Howard was a better prospect than Olt is.

I’d trade Olt. First of all the Rangers have a glut of good young infielders even without Olt, and Beltre is a future Hall of Famer who’s got at least three, probably four, more years on his contract. And even if the bat starts to go, he’s still one the best defensive third baseman in the game.

The reason I wouldn’t move Olt to first base, DH or an outfield corner is because his value is so much higher at third base. Olt has big power, yes, but more average contact skills, so his all-around offensive game is not going to be nearly as close to that of The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton as his raw power is. Which means that guys who can hit like Olt and play first base or DH don’t exactly grow on trees, but they’re not the Holy Grail, either. At third base, however, such players are rarer, particularly players who are actually pretty good defenders at that position, as Olt is purported to be. Factor in the paucity of young, skilled, major-league-ready third baseman making this a seller’s market for Texas, even accounting for how obvious it is that the Rangers have to move him. Plus the Rangers are still trying to win, and even though Beltre’s old an expensive, he’s still pretty much in the Demon Boil stage of his career, while Olt still has the uncertainty of a Larval Mass.

Given that the Rangers still need outfield help, I’d see what Olt could buy in a trade.

That’ll do it for this week. The person I promised a world-ending answer to about the Singleton-smoking-pot question, hang on for another week. I couldn’t give that one the rant it deserved this time around, but I’ll get to it.

Again, if you have questions about imaginary road beef or the Cold War or even about baseball, write in on Twitter using the #crashbag hashtag (yes, it rhymes and there’s nothing I can do about it).

One last note, perhaps for the first time ever, all five of us have written something this week, so scroll back through the archives and check out:

Ryan, Bill and Paul all used nice colorful graphics, too.

Pleasant dreams for a pleasant weekend, everyone, and may all of your love be directed toward people who actually exist.

 

Crash Bag, Vol. 36: Situated on an Isthmus

So I moved to Wisconsin last week, which I think I told y’all about. And it’s great so far–I miss Wawa, and I hate pumping my own gas, but the food is great, the people are friendly, and I’d forgotten how awesome it is to be able to buy beer in a grocery store or a gas station. As men do. In lands where freedom rings out like the throaty drone of a bagpipe on a crisp autumn morning. (wipes tears from face)

But yeah, I got here on Thursday, and Kate, the Long-Suffering Fiancee, came out here to help me set up house. After two days, I was starting to figure out where things were. I’d adjusted to the cold (which isn’t that bad, because while it’s 15 to 20 degrees colder out here than in the Delaware Valley, that cold comes, at least so far, without the customary appalling wind you’ll find in Philadelphia). And on Saturday morning, I went to take KTLSF to the airport.

Madison is a moderate-sized city of about a quarter of a million residents, and a large part of the downtown is situated on an isthmus that bisects two lakes, much the way Ryan Howard bisects the strike zone with his swing whenever he sees a slider in the dirt. It was while I was driving along this isthmus that I…by the way, “isthmus” is an awesome word, isn’t it? Perhaps the greatest of all geographical terms, and if not, right up there with “archipelago” and “fjord.” I remember learning what “isthmus” meant by watching Sesame Street as a child. Imagine that! A show designed for preschoolers being unafraid to teach young children esoteric geographical jargon! We’d certainly never stand for such a thing in this day and age! Imagine the nerve of those socialist cheese-eaters over at Children’s Television Workshop–teaching our children big words! Daring them to expand their horizons before everyone’s stopped to pick up his participation trophy! Isthmus.

But I digress.

Like I was saying, it was while I was driving along this isthmus that I first realized something wasn’t right. First of all, the lake was frozen, which is something I’m not positive I’d ever seen in person before, a lake frozen to the point where you could walk on it. So imagine how completely unprepared I was to witness people–dozens of them–walking out on the ice in various Gore-tex apparel, toting drills and tents and stools, doing what I can only assume was ice fishing. Ice fishing! A sport undertaken by such barbaric people as Russians and Canadians–not normal, civilized Canadians, the Quebecois and Vancouverites and Ontarians, but people from, like Manitoba and such. Shocking behavior.

So there they were, dozens of ice fishermen, just kind of chillin’, so to speak, out on a frozen lake, sitting on stools and dropping strings through holes in the ice as if this is just something people do. I was kind of intellectually aware that Wisconsinites behaved in such a manner, but to witness it literally in the middle of a city, literally within sight of the state capitol building, was quite a shock. Totally jarred me out of enjoying the beautiful view of the skyline and the frozen lake that can be had from this isthmus on a sunny morning.

Question time.

@fotodave: “Which is colder: A Wisconsin Morning or the Phillies development of Domonic Brown?”

Like I said, it doesn’t feel all that cold out here. I mean, it’s cold, but it’s more the refreshing crispness of standing inside a walk-in freezer than the bitter, skin-blistering assault of sitting on the bleachers at a high school football game in December. When I was in college, I waited tables for a summer, and I had neither a car, nor air conditioning in my apartment. Which had no exterior windows and was situated in a building made entirely of brick. Which, I’m pretty sure, is what they make pizza ovens out of in expensive restaurants.

Anyway, I walked to work, which took between 20 and 30 minutes, which wasn’t bad. Or at least it wouldn’t have been if it weren’t 115 degrees with 100 percent humidity every day of the summer in Columbia, South Carolina. So occasionally, I’d be dispatched to the restaurant’s walk-in freezer to pick up some foodstuff or other. And damn if I didn’t take my sweet time. I’d let the door close behind me and stand there in my shorts and polo shirt, just letting the heat radiate off of me and into the foggy cool like I was an ear on a Fennec fox in the desert night. That’s how the cold is in Wisconsin. At least in my part. I watched a little bit of the Packers-Vikings game on Saturday and it looked considerably less pleasant in Green Bay.

But I wouldn’t describe the Phillies’ development (if you can call it that) of Domonic Brown as “cold,” either. The word I’d choose would be something more along the lines of “bizarre” or “profligate” or “This is a chemical burn.” They have to have known something that we didn’t, that all the prospect writers didn’t, when Brown was coming up. They’re professionals–they have more training, and more experience and more resources than we do, and by all publicly available information, holding Brown back made no sense.

I’m going to write a book about Domonic Brown one day.

@pinvert: “in your expert opinion, how did Ryan do last week at the helm of the Crash Bag?”

Quite well, I thought. If you haven’t read it yet, you should. It’s comforting to know that if something horrible were to happen to me, say, if I perished in a tragic Michael Martinez accident, that service could continue almost uninterrupted.

Qui-Gon…more to say, have you?

“follow up-answer one of last week’s questions with the viewpoint opposing Ryan’s”

Oh, but yeah, for as much as I look to Ryan as kind of an intellectual and philosophical sounding board–not that we agree on everything, but I do respect his opinion immensely–it’s difficult to be as entirely wrong about something as he is about the designated hitter. The DH leads to three true outcomes and to old fat guys who have overstayed their welcome trundling around in circles. And if I wanted to see that, I’d walk around the WIP offices telling Angelo Cataldi that there’s a woman in a bikini hiding in a room somewhere and not tell him which.

“caveat: it can’t be the DH question”

Oh. Well I don’t know that he said anything else that I really disagree with. Oh, here’s one. He said that Cliff Lee would win a steel cage match against Jonathan Papelbon and Chase Utley. I don’t think so. I’m not sure it’s possible to kill Chase Utley. Sure, you could hack off his knees and wrists, but he’d still be there, with his unbeating heart and cold, steely gaze, gnawing at your ankles until you gave up and cried. I think Utley wins if only because Cliff Lee is made of flesh and blood, and he bleeds. If it bleeds, we can kill it.

@SkirkMcGuirk: “What current Phillies player(s) will have their numbers retired someday?”

Funny you should ask that, because literally the first thing I ever wrote on this site was a long post on why the Phillies should retire Jimmy Rollins‘ number. I love these debates about retiring numbers and (in other sports) captaincy designations–it’s a combination of the rational and emotional. Not only who was the best, but who meant the most. The Phillies seem only to be interested in retiring the numbers of players who made the Hall of Fame, but I’ve got a little more liberal outlook on such things, so screw them. If the Phillies want to answer this question, they can get their own Crash Bag.

The past decade has been, by far, the most successful in the history of the Phillies’ franchise, and among current members of the team, I would retire the following numbers today, no questions asked:

Each great era in Phillies history (all one of them, plus 1950, which apparently counts as an era), comes with at least two retired numbers. Rollins combines on-field value with longevity and qualitative meaning the franchise. He is to us what Richie Ashburn was to our grandparents. And Utley, for my money, is the best player in franchise history not named Mike Schmidt, so he goes too. And Charlie Manuel is to the Phillies what Billy Martin was to the Yankees or Earl Weaver was to the Orioles, except Charlie Manuel is the exact opposite of Billy Martin and Earl Weaver in every way imaginable. But sometimes franchises honor great teams by honoring the manager–I think it’s appropriate to do so in this case.

And if Cole Hamels keeps pitching like a No. 1 starter until the end of his contract, he gets on the board too. Roy Halladay doesn’t have the longevity (though he’ll get his later in this column, don’t you worry) and Cliff Lee, for how great he’s loved by the fans, probably won’t have enough good season with the Phillies to merit having his number retired either.

@SoMuchForPathos: “Say the Phillies pick up an actor to be their play-by-play guy on TV. Who would you want it to be? I’m thinking H. Jon Benjamin.”

He’s not a bad choice. I’ve long been of the opinion that ESPN should have its No. 1 soccer commentary team of Ian Darke and Steve McMannaman try other sports. I’d love, love, love to see them give baseball a shot.

But you said actors. So actors it shall be.

We’ve got to consider a couple things. Vocal quality. H. Jon Benjamin has that sonorous Joe Buck baritone that would lend itself well to the commentary booth. Or you could go with the carnival barker/1950s radio newscaster voice that Keith Jackson made his own and go with…I dunno, Morgan Freeman? I feel like Nick Offerman might be able to pull it off, but that might be entirely a product of how much Parks and Recreation I’ve been watching recently. Liev Schreiber is doing great work as a sports documentary narrator and would probably do well calling a  ballgame.

If we’re just going for quality of voice, I’m not sure you’ll do better than H. Jon Benjamin. In fact, I could listen to him talk to a woman with a breathy, seductive alto voice in any context, baseball or no. If H. Jon Benjamin and Diana Agron called a ballgame, I’d hang on every word–no joke, every single goddmaned word–and be completely unaware what sport they were watching until about inning four or five.

You could go another direction and take multiple actors who you know have good on-screen chemistry and just turn them loose. I’d watch a Christopher Guest/Harry Shearer/Michael McKean booth. Or a Nick Kroll/Jason Mantzoukas booth. Adam Scott and Lizzy Caplan. Bradley Whitford and Matthew Perry. Michael Fassbender and that basketball from Prometheus. You get the idea.

Notice how I never said anything about knowing or liking baseball. This is because most baseball commentators offer bugger-all in terms of useful insight. My favorite broadcast teams (Darke/Macca, Franzke/LA and Breen/Van Gundy are probably my top 3 right now) are talented describers of events, and you get the sense that they’re guys who enjoy watching the game with their buddies. I want to know what’s going on and I want to get the sense that what’s going on is genuinely fun.

With that said, I’ll take…Jon Hamm and Chris Pratt. I have no idea if they’d have good chemistry (well, apart from Chris Pratt having had good chemistry with Treat Williams in Everwoodwhich is like having good chemistry with a doorframe), but I like both of them, and I think it’d be fun. Maybe with Jennifer Lawrence in the Sarge role, doing some mid-inning relief and postgame interviews. Mostly because I am hopelessly, irretrievably in love with Jennifer Lawrence, who was the acting equivalent of the space shuttle lifting off in Silver Linings Playbook, which is the best movie I’ve seen in a theater in about five years, and if she doesn’t win Best Actress I’m going to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate potential wrongdoing. But I need more Jennifer Lawrence in my life, and this seems as good a reason as any.

But enough fun. Given the events of this week, I think it’s time for a….

HALL OF FAME LIGHTNING ROUND

(sirens, klaxons, Wayne Brady)

Nobody got in. Shocker. Blow up the BBWAA, burn down the disco, hang the blessed DJ, and so on. All your post-hoc ass-covering moralizing won’t stop Barry Bonds from having been one of the five best baseball players ever, Grumpy Old White Male Sportswriters.

@mdubz11: “Fill out your Hall of Fame ballot.”

I don’t have a Hall of Fame ballot. I wish I did. But let’s pretend. Holy damn, Rondell White is on there. Remember that guy? Also Todd Walker. Who, as far as I know, is the only Walker ever to play for the Texas Rangers. Oh, and let me say up front that allegations or even proof of performance-enhancing drug use bother me not one iota, and if you think you’re going to convince me otherwise, I cordially invite you to bugger off and not say anything. Drug use was so accepted and prevalent at the time that the so-called Steroid Era is nothing more than a run-scoring environment to me. I’m also kind of a big hall guy, so I’m going to fill my ten spots, particularly on this ballot of all ballots. Though if others are in favor of being more selective, I really don’t have an argument–it’s a matter of preference. The ballot isn’t ordered, but this is my rough order of preference.

  • Barry Bonds. Possibly the greatest baseball player ever. Maybe not as good as Babe Ruth or Honus Wagner. Oh, what’s that you say? Barry Bonds took steroids? Well Wagner and Ruth didn’t have to play against foreigners or black people. Seriously, I’m so over the drug outrage. If Kennesaw Mountain Landis and Bill Conlin and Cap Anson are in the Hall of Fame…hell, if Tim McCarver‘s in the Hall of Fame as a broadcaster…I’m not sure we can fairly impose some sort of nebulous morals clause. Sure, Barry Bonds was a jerk and likely a drug user, but Mickey Mantle (one of my favorite players of all time, and as deserving a Hall of Famer as ever lived) was a drunk and a serial adulterer, which I find far more icky than whatever Bonds did. The ability of grown-ass men to be shocked and butthurt over a ballplayer ruining their innocence astounds me.
  • Roger Clemens. Just like with Bonds, a Hall of Fame without Clemens doesn’t diminish Clemens–it diminishes the Hall of Fame. When I’m dictator of the world, anyone who doesn’t vote for Bonds or Clemens loses his vote. Not just his Hall of Fame vote, but the franchise as well. And he spends two weeks in the stockade.
  • Jeff Bagwell. I like to think that Bagwell’s been left out of the Hall of Fame so far because his eye-popping statistical record has been underrated (which I think it has). Not because everyone with big muscles who played in the 1990s is assumed to be a juicer, regardless of whether or not he’s even been credibly accused of wrongdoing. Let alone, you know, tested positive for illegal PEDs.
  • Tim Raines. Another guy who, like Bagwell, had an astonishing career but somehow flew under the radar. I believe it’s Jonah Keri (and if it’s not, I apologize) who’s fond of saying that Raines was the second-best leadoff hitter of all time, but no one noticed because he was a direct contemporary of the greatest leadoff hitter of all time (Rickey Henderson). I find that sentiment to be broadly accurate.
  • Craig Biggio. It was Bill James‘ argument (in the New Historical Baseball Abstract of 2001) that Biggio was a better player than Ken Griffey, Jr., that was really my first introduction to the enlightened–or rather, evidence-based–way of considering the game to which I subscribe now. That was a terribly-constructed sentence but I’m not going to bother to change it. Biggio was great at his peak, he played at not one but three premium defensive positions, and he played for a long time. I’m really not sure what case there is to be made against him.
  • Edgar Martinez. Okay, so some people won’t vote for Martinez because he was “only half a player.” Which is an interesting thing to say about a guy with a career .418 OBP. Okay, so Martinez hardly ever played the field. Maybe the presence of Ryan Klesko on this year’s ballot will serve to remind voters that there are worse things than not playing defense at all. Or maybe someone can explain to me how Martinez is unworthy of enshrinement for his lack of completeness, and Lee Smith got half again as many votes as Martinez did. Also worth noting: Jack Morris batted once in his regular-season career.
  • Curt Schilling. Pitched with Randy Johnson when Johnson was stupid dominant, and with Pedro Martinez when Martinez was stupid dominant, so he never got the praise he deserved for being one of the great power/control pitchers of his era. He pitched a ton of innings, and the innings he pitched were really good. That’s really all I want from a starting pitcher. And while Schilling’s regular-season credentials alone are worthy of enshrinement, it’s worth noting that for all the fainting Jack Morris induces among sportswriters for his performance in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series (admittedly one of the greatest postseason pitching performances ever), Schilling did that a lot. Across the span of more than a decade, for three different franchises. In a much tougher pitcher’s environment. And, due respect to a lineup anchored by Ron Gant and Terry Pendleton, tougher competition. As a rule, I don’t believe in clutch, but if we’re going to use that word on one pitcher on this ballot, I’d take Schilling over Joe Blanton with Better Facial Hair and Better PR.
  • Mike Piazza. Another argument that being a DH is not always the worst thing that can happen to a player’s defensive reputation. Though there are some who say that Piazza was actually an underrated defender. No matter–this guy had me convinced well into my teens that catcher was a position for big guys who could mash, not guys who were too athletic and not good enough with the bat to be middle infielders.
  • Larry Walker. If you wouldn’t vote for the eight guys above, I probably think you’re an idiot. Or an absurdly small-Hall guy. Walker is where I draw the line between no-brainer and negotiable. I’m a big fan of rewarding peak over longevity, which is why Walker goes ahead of Rafael Palmeiro or Fred McGriff. Though it’s worth noting that Walker has a higher career bWAR total than Tim Raines in more than 2,000 fewer plate appearances.  I’ll also admit that this vote may be entirely the function of when I was born. I came of baseball-watching age just before Walker’s peak with the Rockies, and he was the first player I ever saw who struck me as being change-the-rules good. Sure, he played his best years when Coors Field was at its Coors Fieldiest, so he probably wouldn’t have slugged .700 (which he literally did, twice) if he’d played at the Astrodome in the 1960s. But even if you adjust his numbers for run environment, they’re still quite robust–a career 141 wRC+ for a good defensive corner outfielder with 230 career stolen bases is good enough to make me a believer.
  • Mark McGwire. Again, peak vs. longevity. I know there are some writers who are making a crusade out of trying to get Alan Trammell into the Hall. No, that’s not right. There are some writers who are making a crusade out of complaining that Alan Trammell isn’t in the Hall. And on a ballot that didn’t have a top-five all-time hitter, a top-five all-time pitcher, the best-hitting catcher of all time and four guys who should have been in years ago if the voters weren’t sanctimonious poopyfaces, Trammell would get my hypothetical vote. As would Sammy Sosa, Kenny Lofton and probably Palmeiro. Sorry, Sammy. You only slugged .700 in a full season once. But yeah, that’s not to say I don’t think any of those guys are unworthy, or that I have some bulletproof reason to include Walker and McGwire over Trammell (and I think he’s the only one people will get upset about). If the BBWAA had voted Bagwell and Raines in when they were supposed to, this wouldn’t be an issue.

@mferrier31: “War breaks out between BBWAA and the “[sabermetric] tea party”. Who would play what role for each side( i.e. Pres, General, etc) & who wins”

Well, it’s worth noting that there are many members of the so-called sabermetric tea party who are also BBWAA members. Here’s how I think it goes. Murray Chass is John C. Calhoun, Jon Heyman is Jefferson Davis and…I dunno…someone like Peter Gammons or Bob Ryan, whom everyone loves and respects but was just born in the wrong place and time with the wrong ideas, is Robert E. Lee. Buster Olney plays James Longstreet in this metaphor.

On the goodguys’ side, STP President Joe Posnanski plays the Abraham Lincoln role, a wise, cogent man, a leader who sees both sides of the issue but ultimately stands up for what is right at all costs. He sends in Dave Cameron (George McClellan) and his tentative advances are rebuffed. Then he goes with more aggressive generals: Jayson Stark and Jonah Keri (Fightin’ Joe Hooker and Ambrose Burnside, respectively), but once again, they’re not quite aggressive enough.

Then, with the war going badly, Posnanski finds his Ulysses S. Grant: Keith Law. Law is recalled from his western campaign and informs President Posnanski that we’re younger, smarter and more numerous, and we can just bulldoze those old fogies, damn the human cost, if we want to. He’s given command, and he calls up Jay Jaffe (William T. Sherman) to burn everything from New York to Cooperstown to the fucking ground. We win, idiocy in baseball analysis is abolished and we get a bunch of kickass marching songs. The end.

@JustinF_LB: “Who do you think voted for Aaron Sele in Hall of Fame voting?”

I dunno, but if you find out, tell me so I can buy him lunch. I used to love Aaron Sele. My childhood fantasy that I could become a front-line MLB starting pitcher lasted well into middle school because of Aaron Sele.

But in all seriousness, ordinarily I don’t have a problem with writers throwing a Hall of Fame vote someone’s way to honor a player they liked but know won’t make it. As long as they take the rest of the ballot seriously. But this is a year with 14 qualified candidates for only 10 spots. If you’re giving Aaron Sele a shout-out and not spending that vote on a deserving but borderline candidate, you’re doing the Hall of Fame a disservice.”

@Parker_Adderson: “Any chance the character clause works more as it was intended and keeps Chipper out of the HoF?”

I’m going to answer this question, kind of, in the next bit. But I just wanted to take this opportunity to remind y’all that Chipper Jones is a poopy head whose wife divorced him because he had a kid with a Hooter’s waitress behind her back. That poor woman. Imagine how close you’d have to get to Chipper’s face to conceive a child with him.

@Jferrie: “do you think that since guys who juiced can get into hall that Pete Rose should get a chance? Gambling vs Juicing.”

I’m glad you phrased it that way, because cheating doesn’t get you eliminated from Hall of Fame discussion. Because Willie Mays cheated. He took and distributed PEDs too. So did Mike Schmidt. Baseball, for all the moralistic bluster of certain writers, is an incredibly forgiving community as a whole. It will welcome you back with open arms even if you’ve been dinged in the past for things far worse than drugs, such as drunk driving or hitting your wife. And if you do both, you get some sort of career bingo and writers come up with weird excuses to give you prizes. It gets better–baseball will forgive players for anything from hate crimes to rape.

Now, I don’t know that any of that behavior would fly if, instead of baseball players, these guys were accountants. And if Miguel Cabrera, thoroughly scumbaggy a man though he seems to be, were an accountant, even as great an accountant as he is a baseball player, I wouldn’t begrudge him the right to make a living. But neither would I want him to work for me or with me. That’s a very intellectually inconsistent position to hold, and I stand by it steadfastly. But perhaps no other line of work is as zero-sum as professional sports, so for that reason, we give the truly great athletes like Cabrera (and for some reason, truly mediocre ones like Young and Lueke) a lot more rope than they might get in other lines of work. The point is, baseball is like a Backstreet Boys song: “I don’t care who you are, where you’re from [or] what you did.” (Side note, do yourself a favor and watch that video. Peak late ’90s going on there. I totally had Nick Carter‘s haircut when I was 12.)

It’s like baseball has literally one rule. And that rule is that you can’t bet on baseball. You can literally rape and pillage, but you can’t bet on baseball.

Which makes sense, to a certain extent. Even if you cheat–especially if you cheat–you’re still trying as hard as you can to win. But if you’re betting on baseball, there’s the chance that you might undermine the competitive integrity of the game, where athletic outcomes are fixed to support certain financial outcomes. And when that happens, you’ve got the NBA. Pete Rose broke the one rule, a rule in whose name Major League Baseball has banned, or considered banning, players as great as or greater than Rose. He’s not going to get in.

At least not until he dies. Because as Ron Santo would tell you if he weren’t dead, people who were worthy all along sometimes have to wait for posthumous induction.

@gberry523: “how long before another Phillie gets inducted to the hall?”

Probably the next time another Phillie leaves a room.

Depends on who counts as a Phillie. Because I’d vote for Curt Schilling today, and when the time comes, I think Pedro Martinez, Halladay and Jim Thome all make it in without too much fuss. I’d throw Scott Rolen a vote too, but I don’t think he makes it in. That said, I don’t think any of those five guys would wear a Phillies hat on his Hall of Fame plaque. I don’t think Chase Utley gets in either, because he’s been preposterously underrated over the years and is entirely deserving, even if his career ended today.

Honestly, if I’m going to take bets on the next Hall of Fame inductee to wear a Phillies hat on his plaque, I’d lay the odds as:

  • 4/1: Chase Utley
  • 5/1: Cole Hamels
  • 2/1: The Field

Because apart from Utley and Hamels, I can’t think of a name. Maybe the Phillies draft Karsten Whitson next year, he turns into a stud for a decade and change and gets inducted for the Class of 2040. It could be that long–the Phillies have had a ton of really good players over the past 30 years, but not really a slam-dunk Hall of Famer.

Which is fine by me, because with Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, Jason Heyward and The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton in the division, we Phillies fans are going to be seeing our fair share of potential future Hall of Famers.

That’ll do it for this week. We had a first this week–way more good questions than I could use. Which is good, because I won’t be able to write this whole thing in one sitting between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. Thursday night/Friday morning anymore, as has been my custom. So in the interest of spreading out the workload, send in questions anytime via #crashbag and they will be answered. And if you ask even a moderately evergreen question and it doesn’t get answered right away, it might show up in a later episode. For instance, I’ll be giving advice next week on how to build a child. You won’t want to miss it.

Have a pleasant weekend, everyone.

Crash Bag, Vol. 35: Let’s Throw Jeff Loria Into Sagittarius A*

NO TIME FOR INTROS. TO THE QUESTIONS:

@GoogTheGoog: “I just got a big fancy iPod. I also drive a car for ten hours at a time for my job. Please recommend podcasts for me.”

It wasn’t 10 hours (jesus christ exactly what are you doing anyway), but there was about a half of a year period from 2011-2012 when I was living in Philadelphia and working in Washington, D.C. I tried to limit myself to making the trip twice a week, departing Monday morning and returning Friday evening, but it’s still a bastard of a drive, mostly owing to the inscrutable tangle of traffic-choked roads surrounding D.C., and whatever the hell is going on in Delaware at any given time (miles and miles of construction work, and the heady odors of what I assume is some kind of industrial solvent). Eventually I grew accustomed enough that it seemed shorter, and I had valuable intelligence on which exit had the best Wawa (exit 74 northbound, Joppatowne/MD-152), and how long a driver can admire the view from the Millard E. Tydings Memorial Bridge before they’re endangering the lives of everyone around them (no more than 3 seconds). I also listened to a lot of podcasts. Here is an incomplete list, in no particular order, of those that took the edge off of Hell Commute:

  • Dinner Party Download: An hour-long show of cultural snippets, formatted and structured like a dinner party. Segments include “Cocktails,” in which some notable event this-week-in-history is covered, and a bartender commemorates it with an original cocktail recipe, “Guest List,” wherein a director or actor or writer or musician of note makes a themed list, “Main Course,” a food segment, and “Etiquette,” where some celebrity or other answers listener-submitted etiquette questions. This episode will give you a good sampling (segment breakdown included at the link)
  • 99% Invisible: Fascinating podcast about the intersection of design and our everyday lives. Roman Mars has a knack for untangling the design concepts behind everyday stuff that we would rarely consider from that perspective. For example, take this episode about the problems with US currency design.
  • Radiolab: You’ve probably heard about this one. Usually a three-part, hour-long take on a science-y topic, hosted by Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich. Abumrad also engineers the final product, making great use of music and sound editing to draw you into the story. Highly addictive if you can get past Krulwich’s occasionally insufferable sentimentality and question-begging. One of my favorite episodes is Musical Language, but one of my all-time favorite individual segments from any podcast is this from the episode “Diagnosis.” Seriously, give that a listen, starting at 10:20.
  • WireTap: CBC show with humorous sketches and the like. Impenetrable deadpan from host Jonathan Goldstein. Check out The Reverse Life for a taste (you might have to go to iTunes for this one).
  • This American Life: I feel like I don’t need to say much about this one. It’s the Ty Cobb of podcasts, except, as far as I know, Ira Glass isn’t a virulent racist. Check out their episodes on the bank collapses and the housing crisis for a better layman’s understanding than you could hope to achieve most anywhere else. Bonus fantastic investigation of the financial crisis in 2008: Inside Job.
  • Getting Blanked: In my opinion the best baseball podcast. Manageable length, very relaxed discourse, covers everything you might want to know, and, during the season, is available on a daily basis.

@sixerfan1220: “rad goggles dog or rad goggles cat?”

REAL GOGGLES DOG

@tholzerman: “What do you think Ben Revere has to do to a) become a 4+ WAR player on a regular basis and b) avoid Chickie’s and Pete’s forever?”

In the practical sense, in order to become a 4+ win player, Ben Revere has to become a player other than Ben Revere. In the theoretical sense, it’s a little more complicated. Baseball Reference and Fangraphs’ WAR flavors disagree on Revere’s 2012 to the tune of about one win, with the former pegging him at 2.4 WAR and the latter 3.4. Just for completeness, Baseball Prospectus’ WARP logs a 1.1.

These aren’t necessarily so disparate as they appear; Fangraphs awarded more wins above replacement to the league as a whole than Baseball Reference did, and Baseball Prospectus awarded fewer. Handily, Bryan Grosnick has devised a methodology to place these three WAR sources on a level playing field, so that they can then be averaged together into what he calls WARi, or WAR Index. Applying this to Revere, his adjusted rWAR, fWAR, and WARP values are 2.4, 2.9, and 1.4 respectively; his WARi is therefore 2.2.

In the best estimation, then, Revere needs to add about 2 wins, or 20 runs above replacement, to meet your goal. Where these would come from is not readily apparent. As the presumptive full time CF next season, he does get some help in the positional adjustment department, since all flavors penalized him for playing more than twice as many innings in right field last season (708.1) as he did in center (309.0). Let’s call it a five run swing for him. 15 runs to go. Since his defensive prowess is fairly established, and he was near the top of the league in Fangraphs’ defensive runs above replacement last year, his bat is the natural place to look.

Revere is essentially the April 2012 Phillies in one player — singles first, and little to no hope for extra bases or a free pass. People are quick to point to his youth, but I don’t see the upside in these departments. As power goes, he’s abysmal, with a .044 ISO in the first 1064 plate appearances of his career. This number is the absolute worst among all qualified hitters from 2010-2012, with Juan Pierre in second at .049 (I’ll leave you to draw comparisons). Sure, Revere is young, but he’s not a 20, 21, or 22 year old kid who is just starting to fill out a large frame. He’s 5’9″, 170 lbs., and those numbers aren’t likely to change that much. Neither is his ISO.

His walk rate is also miserable, 5.4% for his career, ranking him 204th out of 230 qualified hitters from 2010-2012. It’s somewhat more plausible that this could improve with age — Revere could simply become more selective. But there is no reason why pitchers need to give him anything to be picky about. Imagine you’re a pitcher staring down Revere, knowing that the worst case scenario, if you really mess up, is probably a line drive single to the outfield. Actually, it’s more likely to be a grounder; those accounted for 67% of Revere’s balls in play last season. Why would you pitch around him? Why wouldn’t you attack the strike zone, knowing Revere’s capacity for doing damage is severely limited? Clearly this does not bode well for his walk rate’s potential improvement.

If anything, the remaining value will have to come from that by which Revere lives and dies — the single. Revere’s career BABIP is .308, and last season it was .325. That seems high, but for a speedy left-hander with good contact skills, I think we can assume his true BABIP skill rests around .320. The highest single-season BABIP for a qualified post-integration hitter is Rod Carew‘s insane .408 in 1977. That seems ambitious. Let’s assume Revere has a ton of good fortune and posts a .385 BABIP, putting him in more plausible company as far as single seasons go. Applying this to his 553 plate appearances in 2012 generates 27 more hits: 24 singles, 2 doubles, and a triple, going by his real-life ratios. This boosts his triple slash to .346/.382/.415. In FanGraphs terms, it raises his wOBA to .378 (from .300), and gives him an extra 38 or so weighted runs created, which should get him over the 4 win mark by all of the measures. That’s just an extremely improbable season, even for a guy like Revere.

But we might be missing the point. Revere doesn’t have to be a 4 win player. Revere can be, say, a 2.5 win player, much further within the realm of possibility, and be just fine as an everyday starter, presuming the Phillies get a lot of above average production from other positions in the field. And it’s that last presumption that could be a serious issue in 2013.

Wait, this is supposed to be a funny column, isn’t it? Shit.

@SoMuchForPathos: “When was the last time you went on the Internet and did not become filled with a mindbending case of the angries?”

I don’t understand how I developed this reputation. Seriously. Very strange. People who only know me via this blog or Twitter would be surprised to find out I very rarely get truly angry. It’s just fun to yell at umpires and Ruben Amaro and Congress and Piers Morgan. It’s fun to seek out utter shitheads on Twitter and scream profanities at them. And to remind Josh Lueke that he’s a piece of garbage on a regular basis. So I do. But there are indeed things on the internet that do not make me ornery. FOR EXAMPLE:

@magoplasma: “how would you explain your sister in a haiku? Various other questions about your sister.”

Maggie is the shit / Manny Machado, really / you get the idea

@JakePavorsky: “You and Baumann are locked in a room. The only way to get out is to kill the other. Who wins?”

You’ve left out a ton of relevant information here. Size of the room? Available weapons? Ambient conditions? As it is, you’ve left me to imagine a plain, empty room, with hand-to-hand combat the only available option. That being the case, though to my knowledge neither of us have formal training, I’d have to give the edge to Baumann, since I’m older and fat and in gritty action movies where the protagonist is taking every possible measure in a desperate bid for survival, I wonder why they didn’t give up and die like twenty minutes ago. Being generally civilized folk though, I think we’d instead elect to sit around and wait the thing out, to see if some other solution presents itself before we both starve to death. In that scenario, Baumann would almost certainly win by exploding my head with his terrible opinions about Star Trek and the designated hitter. SPEAKING OF WHICH:

@notkerouac: “If the DH is brought to the National League, what large animal should we feed Bud Selig too?”

HAHA IDIOTS. You’ve put Crashbag in the hands of a DH apologist. No, not a DH apologist. A DH advocate. Because pitchers batting is the most worthless thing on the planet, and if you don’t want to watch old dudes hit dingers instead, you’re deluded. If we were to feed Bud Selig to a large animal for anything (and it should be a tiger or other big cat, incidentally; I fear that a bear would finish the job too quickly), it should be the second wildcard, a true abomination unto baseball that is actually worthy of the effort that Baumann instead spends on griping about AL at-bats because they’re too interesting. Honestly, I’m convinced the anti-DH sentiment comes from two loathsome sources: a stubborn attachment to tradition and the fetishization of the ball in play. The perils of the former need no further demonstration than Murray Chass’s Hall of Fame ballot. Seriously, read that, DH-o-phobes. That is you. As for the latter, to hell with defense. Give me all of the true outcomes. Go start some other baseball league and watch your pitchers leg out boring ground balls.

@threwouttime: “what gave/gives better chance for Halladay to win: 2010 Phillies or 2013 Blue Jays?”

It’s interesting that you chose the 2010 Phillies, because my immediate impulse is that, of all of the successful Phillies teams, including 2008, the 2011 squad offered the best chance at a championship. But I guess it depends on how you look at it. If you assume that the most talented team has the best chance of winning the World Series, then I think my answer stands. But, as we know, the playoffs are basically a small sample roll of the dice for even the best baseball teams, and all you can do is make marginal improvements to your odds. So if you give the 2010 Phillies credit for having managed to advance further than the 2011 team, they’re the ones with which to make the comparison. The problem then becomes that we have no earthly idea whether the 2013 Jays will make the playoffs, and, if they do, how far they would advance.

Dan Szymborski wrote in mid-December, following their acquisition of R.A. Dickey, that his ZiPS projection system saw the Jays as a 93 win team. If you conservatively estimate Halladay to be a 4 win pitcher, pushing the roughly replacement level Ricky Romero out of the rotation, they could win 96 or 97. It’s hard to win that many and miss the postseason. So if we assume the Jays are good enough to get in the door, their chances are just as good as those of the Phillies at the outset of the 2010 postseason. For that matter, if they finish with 102 wins, they could just as easily be bounced out by an inferior team, as the 2011 Phillies were. With a gun to my head, after pleading with you to put it down, I would probably lean towards the 2010 Phillies as the surer bet, but only because I have the benefit of hindsight, and the 2013 Jays have yet to play a game. What’s really sad is that you didn’t think to ask this question with the 2013 Phillies.

@kgeich67: “Three way steel cage match between Utley, Papelbon, and Lee. Who wins/How does it play out?”

There is absolutely no way Lee does not win this. I imagine Papelbon will bring the bluster, trying to rope a passive Utley into his “HOLD ME BACK, BRO, HOLD ME BACK” saber-rattling, but Lee will just take him apart with calm, redneck efficiency. Papelbon evidently can put on a sleeper hold, but there’s just no way you can convince me that Cliff Lee hasn’t wrestled a crocodile, or hunted a wild hog bare-handed. Utley will stand by, watch Papelbon get put down, and draw a walk in a 9 pitch plate appearance.

@fgmsalvia: “what’s the point anyway?”

I’m assuming, mostly since your name includes “salvia,” that this is a question about the larger purpose of the universe. Neil deGrasse Tyson’s take on this is pretty great:

The upshot being, if the universe does have some purpose, it’s either incredibly subtle or the universe is extraordinarily bad at fulfilling it. If you consider the things that the universe is good at doing — being enormous and vacuous, and increasing entropy — there’s a decent argument to be made that its purpose is to impersonate Joe West.

@pivnert: “ZiPS projections show ben revere hitting his 1st HR. what does he trade to the person that catches it? old twins stuff?”

If Revere hits one, and only one, home run next season, he should first of all give Dan Szymborski his game-worn jersey, for being the only person that believed he could do it. To whomever caught it, in my book, he owes only a signed ball or bat. The whole Chris Coghlan thing soured me on holding milestone balls hostage. If he was feeling extra generous, he could take the fan out to Chickie & Pete’s for some kind of garbage looking meat miasma on a roll.

@SoMuchForPathos: “Are people who think one can trade for (The Mighty) Giancarlo Stanton a member of the same species as you or me?”

People who think that the Marlins might trade Stanton at all are indeed the same species as you and I; they are only human. It’s only human to imagine, after watching Jeff Loria build a tacky multimillion dollar aquarium on the public dime and unload nearly all of the worthwhile talent he acquired within the same calendar year, that he might punch Miami in the balls once more by dealing Stanton. It’s only human to imagine he would be just that much of a shit heap. But Loria is merely penurious and evil, not brainless. After all, the package the Marlins got back in the Jays deal was not, strictly speaking, a bad return, it was just a lurch toward yet another inexpensive, non-competitive big league team. Loria would not dream of letting Stanton slip from his claws until he at least is arbitration eligible, which happens in 2014. People warn us not to attribute to malice what can just as easily be attributed to stupidity, but, to my mind, Jeff Loria is Exhibit A in the case for reversing that adage.

Arright, that’s all I got. It wasn’t as funny or verbose as you’re used to, but I didn’t mention a certain Red Sox prospect even once.

Crash Bag, Vol. 33: Centaurs for Disease Control

So it’s Dec. 21, 2012, and hey! I’ll tell you a secret. According to ancient Mayan prophecy, the world is supposed to end today! Isn’t that just so crazy, man? I can’t believe that no one else has ever mentioned this fact in public! You know what would be really hilarious and original, man? If we went on the internet and made a bunch of jokes about the world ending, man! That would be entirely original, I believe, and not at all old. Not. At. All.

Seriously, folks, give it up. King Solomon says your joke is lame and played out: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” That’s from the Bible–Ecclesiastes 1:9. Which has two interesting consequences. First of all, that’s from the Old Testament, which means that your joke has been lame and played out for many thousands of years. And also that your joke being played out is a matter of religious doctrine for about a third of the world’s population, give or take.

So that leaves you with two choices: to base your humor entirely in the derivative, to be funny by reminding people of other funny things and making it obvious that you make no claim to inspiration on your own, or to go the other route and be so obscure that your jokes aren’t really funny so much as they are the manifestation of a brand of nihilist anti-humor that leaves everyone with the feeling of having been played the first seven notes of a major scale, which is then left unresolved as the piano is dynamited into smithereens.

But seriously, I made a “Centaurs for Disease Control” joke on Twitter a couple months back, then did a search to see if it was original. It wasn’t. I’d been beaten to the horse/man/doctor gold vein by about six months. If “Centaurs for Disease Control” jokes have their own Newton and Leibniz, we are through the looking glass. Western culture undone by a billion Jeff Ross wannabes with Facebook accounts. May our children forgive us.

Gunter glieben glauchen globen.

@Timmycurtis: “With more information about prospects available every year, do we tend to overvalue them? The teams have to know a lot more about the players they own and see everyday, right?”

An excellent point. To the point about teams knowing a lot more about the players they own and see everyday, you’re absolutely right. I give you the example of Kevin Goldstein, the former Baseball Prospectus prospect expert who recently became pro scouting coordinator for the Houston Astros. Goldstein recently went on the Effectively Wild podcast with his former BP confreres Sam Miller and Ben Lindbergh to talk about his experiences as an actual front office personality. And Goldstein, who actually went out and scouted and did interviews and was as plugged in leaguewide as any of his competitors, said he was astounded by the sheer amount of data the Astros had, not only on players across pro baseball, but particularly on their own guys. He went on to say that for any given team, knowing its own players inside and out, better than anyone else in the league, is the single greatest advantage an organization can have.

So it’s a given that teams know more than we do, or even more than other teams do, about their prospects. But I think we, as fans, do tend to overvalue specific prospects, if not the idea of young, cost-controlled players with upside in general. This is because human beings are foolishly optimistic. We like to think the best of each other in spite of overwhelming evidence that people are, on the aggregate, selfish and base. We tend to see prospects in the most favorable light possible. I don’t say that with any intention of being smug or derisive–I do it too. I look at Cody Asche and see a guy who’s hit some and might struggle to play defense at third. And the first place my mind goes is not Brandon Larson but Aramis Ramirez. We see Jesse Biddle, the big, hard-throwing, 6-foot-4 local kid and we think: “No. 1 pitching prospect in the organization,” which translates to “Future Ace.” Not a 21-year-old who’s never thrown an inning past A-ball.

We either don’t know these players’ flaws, or we overlook them in the hope that they’ll grow into the players we dream they will be. And you know what? Valuing prospects properly is extremely difficult–even the folks who do this for a living fail an overwhelming percentage of the time.

I guess what I’m saying is that you need to remove as much joy as possible from your life. Be pessimistic, and if anyone comes up to you all atwitter about Adam Morgan‘s fastball or some nonsense, just glower at him until he goes away. Life sucks, and then your prospects flame out.

Except for Jackie Bradley. He’s awesome.

@Estebomb “When are the Phillies going to bring Bobby Abreu back to troll the hell out of the fanbase?”

Yo, no kidding around, this would be the best. I was kind of hoping for this last year after the Angels finally lost patience with the Phillies’ modern-era OBP leader.

That’s right, in case you didn’t know. The object of baseball, from a hitter’s perspective, is to not make outs, and Abreu was better at that than any other Phillies player. And it’s not like his was an empty .396 career OBP. Abreu hit for power, stole bases and played good defense. And he was roundly despised in Philadelphia for it. I don’t get it. I really don’t. His refusal to run into walls? Yes, I’d certainly prefer that he play with the kind of kamikaze attitude that keeps Josh Hamilton and Brett Lawrie out of the lineup so often. Because, in 1999, when he was in the middle of posting a .429 wOBA, I’d have rather he overrun a ball over his head into the wall instead of playing it conservatively for a single. Much better to turn a single into a triple and a concussion, because I know that would make me feel better to give Kevin Sefcik two weeks’ worth of at-bats.

Here’s something I know I’ve written about a ton before, but one of the most frustrating things about sports fans in general, and Philadelphia sports fans in particular, is the infuriating insistence on blaming the best player on a bad team for that team being bad. The Phillies didn’t lose 85 games in 1999 because Bobby Abreu wouldn’t slam his body around like some sort of Pentecostal Turner Ward. They lost 85 games because Chad Ogea and Paul Byrd couldn’t miss bats, and because Rico Brogna and his below-league-average bat at first base hit fourth and fifth a combined 145 times. And if you can’t understand that, I really have no interest in anything you have to say. You are beyond salvation, and when I’m dictator of the world, I’m going to send you to the Penal Colony for Noisy Stupid People under Ryan Sommers, Deputy Minister of Education for Intellectual Rehabilitation.

But I don’t think he’s coming back. At this point, Abreu is a shell of his former self. His plate discipline hasn’t deteriorated much, but his speed, contact skills and power have deteriorated to the point where he’s really only a replacement-level player. Which is a pity. I guess there’s nothing left to do except get together with Donovan McNabb and Jeff Carter and talk about what idiots all of us are.

@tbroomell: “what the hell happened to our farm system (most of the ones that were traded didn’t pan out either), is Ed Wade actually good?”

The Phillies really did draft well around the turn of the century. I think part of it was that they were drafting earlier because the team wasn’t very good–Pat Burrell and Mike Lieberthal, for instance, were both top-3 picks. Consistently signing type-A free agents hasn’t helped, because when you decide you’d rather spend eight figures annually on a reliever or an aging outfielder than have a first-round pick, your farm system suffers. But whether through luck or skill, their first-round picks haven’t borne fruit of late. Consider the following: every single Phillies first-round pick from 1998 to 2002 has double-digit career rWAR. Since then, not a single Phillies first-rounder is even in the black. Now, some of that is due to the recent run on high school arms–it’s too early to have expected anything from Biddle or Shane Watson yet, and they may come good someday. But when you deprive yourself of high draft picks year on year, and then draft badly with what picks you have, all the while trading away higher-level minor-league talent, the bucket full of prospects gets empty really quickly.

To repeat: the last Phillies first-rounder to make any kind of noise in the major leagues for any team was Cole Hamels. The last college position player they took in the first round was Chase Utley. And it’s not like draft position was everything–those two were taken in the mid-teens and worked out a lot better than Joe Savery and Kyle Drabek.

So I don’t know what’s wrong. It’s easy to point fingers at the amateur scouting department, but who knows? It might be too soon to judge all the players they’ve traded away, but the long-term failure of Michael Taylor, for instance, might speak to what I mentioned earlier, that Ruben Amaro knows his players better than other GMs and will sell high on them when he can get more than they’re worth.

I don’t know the cause–it could be bad scouting, bad drafting, bad development or some combination of the three. A lot goes into turning an amateur player into a major league star. For instance, here are the things that had to break right for the Angels to get Mike Trout to where he is:

  • The Braves thought Mark Teixeira would put them over the top in 2007, and he didn’t, so they dumped him at the deadline to the Angels a year later for Casey Kotchman and Steve Marek.
  • The Angels lose Teixeira that winter to the Yankees in free agency, giving them the No. 25 pick in compensation.
  • In 2006, the Orioles took a third baseman out of Bishop Eustace named Billy Rowell ninth overall, who flamed out in truly belief-beggaring fashion, depressing the national perception of South Jersey high school baseball in the years that followed.
  • It is said (I have no idea if this is true, and y’all don’t pay me enough to look up old meteorological data) that 2009 was a particularly wet spring in New Jersey, which would have deterred scouts from making the trip to see Trout live.
  • As a result, Trout drops to the Angels at 25, then signs almost immediately, which allows him to get a half season of pro ball under his belt in his draft year, which is not always the case for first-rounders. That and Trout’s age (he was only 17 when he signed) allow him to develop rapidly.

Even when someone as talented as Trout falls , that’s a lot of things to go right before he turns into the monster that he is now.

@JakePavorsky: “Why do people believe Darin Ruf can maintain the success he had during his short run in September into next year but have no hope whatsoever for Dom Brown?”

Same reason they didn’t like Abreu and loved the inferior Aaron Rowand (who was a good player, but nowhere near Abreu’s class). Everyone loves a derpy-looking white player who is ostentatious with his effort. So when someone like Domonic Brown, who will never look like he’s trying very hard just because of the way he’s built. When you’re slow and have short legs like David Eckstein, you’re going to look like you’re busting it down the line, but when you’re tall and skinny like Brown, you’re going to lope a lot.

And frankly, Brown has been disappointing. So lowering expectations for him is entirely reasonable at this point. But the people who favor Ruf for Brown live and die by small samples and confirmation bias. Ruf hits a home run? Proof of his major league ability. Ruf strikes out? He’s young and he’ll bounce back. And the reverse for Brown.

Brown supporters are guilty of the same thing, but there’s a twist. Brown has the profile of a potential star, while Ruf has the profile of a potential high school gym teacher. At some point, the Ruf-ites got tired of being told they were wrong and took up their derpy-looking white player like the aquila of a Roman legion, charging forward valiantly into the breech in the ongoing war on empirics and knowledge. All I know is this: players with Ruf’s career profile never turn into good major leaguers, while players with Brown’s do all the time. And we haven’t seen enough from either one in the major leagues to say for sure.

@hdrubin: “Who has the best 2013 — Domonic Brown, Darin Ruf, John Mayberry or Laynce Nix?”

On the field, I’d say Brown, but professional success is not the be-all and end-all. I’m sure we can all understand that. I think Ruf finds a nice house in the suburbs, just gets along really well with his wife and takes a couple nice vacations in the offseason, maybe to Barbados or something. I hear it’s gorgeous there this time of year. He sees Zero Dark Thirty in theaters next month and it blows his mind. He buys a new car this summer and loves it. A big Ram crew cab–he seems like a pickup truck guy to me. So I don’t think he’ll hit very well or play very much, but I get good vibes for Darin Ruf in 2013.

@CogNerd: “What does your heart/head tell you about Halladay next season?”

Much the same thing, actually. Somewhere between 160 and 220 innings, somewhere between…oh, let’s call it 3 and 5 WAR. I think Halladay’s on the downside of the parabola of his career, but a declining Roy Halladay is still a rather good starting pitcher. That, of course, assumes he’s healthy. I’m comfortable betting on reasonable, if not total health for Halladay, so maybe he misses a few starts here and there, but I don’t think he’s going to blow out his shoulder entirely or anything. So even if his days of throwing perfect games and breaking faces are past him, and they almost certainly are, a healthy Halladay is critical to the Phillies’ playoff hopes. (Fart noise.) Yeah, whatever. Anyone who thinks he won’t be wishing for college football season to start by mid-June is kidding himself.

@threwouttime: “more wins by memorial day; doc or lannan? (please sub w’s for any measurement of performance for season)”

Man, y’all’re serious today. Probably Doc, by any measure, because he’s a better pitcher than Lannan and is likely to start the season healthy. But Halladay could tweak his shoulder tomorrow, or he could catch Cliff Lee‘s Disease and his teammates could leave him to die every time out, while John Lannan racks up win after win.

As far as the advanced stats–I have a hard time believing that Lannan will outperform Halladay over any period of time using any kind of defense-independent pitching stat. Even if you’re optimistic about Lannan, he’s a solid No. 5 starter, the kind of guy who goes out and allows three earned runs over six innings like clockwork. Even if Halladay is hurt, I can’t believe he’d fall that far that fast.

It’s been too serious so far. Y’all’re asking questions like this is a serious, information-dispensing baseball blog. Let’s get back to the trivial.

@natleamer: “today is Chase Utley’s birthday, what would be the ideal way to celebrate his big day?”

This came in on Monday, so don’t go freaking out like this guy either has a time machine or can’t read a calendar. Or girl, because Nat is one of those androgynous names and this could go either way. (checks Twitter profile) Okay, “Nat” is short for “Nathan.” So it’s a guy. Though I did read a book once that had a female character that went by Nathan. So this really could be anyone. You know what–I think that’s pushed me over the edge. Gender is an arbitrary social construct that has no meaning apart from that which we give it! Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go dress up like Ziggy Stardust and watch Victor Victoria on DVD all day.

@fotodave: “what’s the worst holiday vacation spot?”

Florida. I was killing time in the car with my brother last week and we were talking about our top-5 least favorite states. Florida is my No. 1. There’s nothing good there, except the Kennedy Space Center and Disney World, particularly if you hate heat and humidity (as I do) and the elderly make you feel icky. Why anyone would go there on purpose is beyond me, particularly for one’s own leisure.

As an alternative, I’d suggest two cities that represent everything I hate, but are great vacation spots: New York City and Charleston, S.C. Go there instead.

“Follow up…”

This isn’t the White House briefing room, David. You can just ask.

“…what’s your last minute gift guide?”

I, personally, am in the market for some new furniture. If anyone wants to buy me a sofa, send me an email and I’ll tell you where it can be delivered. If you’re shopping for someone else, I’d get him or her MLB.tv. It’s the best thing to happen to hardcore baseball fans since…well, I don’t know, actually. I can’t think of any service that has had a greater positive impact on my baseball fandom than that. If the price tag on MLB.tv is a little steep, get that baseball fan in your life a subscription to Baseball Reference’s Play Index. There may be no greater enemy to work productivity.

Also Bill wrote a book about the Phillies that’s available if you want it, but I don’t get a cut of the proceeds, so you’ll have to ask him where you can buy it.

@JonCheddar: “is Bill Baer a real person or SQL script?”

I don’t know what an SQL script is. I can recite the original Star Wars trilogy pretty much front-to-back without interruption, but I’m not that big a nerd.

But as time goes on, I become more and more convinced that Bill isn’t actually a human being, but a very clever computer simulation. Not only have I internet-known Bill for several years, but I’ve written for his site for almost exactly a year, and not only have I never met him, I’ve never even seen a photograph of him. This was a source of great amusement when I showed up last week for the first episode of Lana Berry’s Internet Baseball Hangout Roundtable Electric Boogaloo Spectacular, because Bill was supposed to appear on a live online video broadcast to talk baseball.

And appear he did. Sans video. Just a disembodied blank screen. A black rectangle full of baseball knowledge and internet humor, but a black rectangle nonetheless.

Which is cool, because artificial intelligence is often the best part of science fiction. Data. David from Prometheus. The, um…Terminator…Robin Williams in Bicentennial Man? I guess? All I know is that our fearless leader might have had ulterior motives for starting this blog.

And we have now passed the point of diminishing returns in terms of coherence, I think. So that’ll do it for this week. Merry Christmas and other holidays. Tune in next week for additional programming.