The Purge

A few weeks ago, a rumor popped up that the Cincinnati Reds were interested in Juan Pierre. Nothing ever came of it. Last night, a second rumor popped up that the Baltimore Orioles were interested in trading for Placido Polanco. Both teams’ interest is well-founded. Pierre, at least for the moment, is hitting .305/.346/.370, a combination of OBP and speed (don’t tell the Reds he’s actually an awful baserunner) that would look good atop a lineup that has, more often than not, featured Zack Cozart (.292 OBP) and Drew Stubbs (.289 OBP) batting first and second.

For the Orioles’ part, their third basemen have hit .233/.291/.383 this season, and while Polanco wouldn’t be much of an upgrade offensively, the difference he’d make with the glove over Mark Reynolds and Wilson Betemit is enormous. Both the Reds and Orioles are within sight of a playoff spot and could use any help they can find.

Of course, the Phillies don’t really care whether the Orioles or Reds make the playoffs. But it still begs the question: if the Reds or Orioles asked about Polanco or Pierre then why the hell haven’t they been traded already?

As far as the playoffs are concerned, the Phillies are done. They’re 11 games under .500, with playoff odds below 1 percent, closer in the standings to the Houston Astros, who have the worst record in baseball, than they are to the Dodgers, who currently hold the second Wild Card place. With 2012 over, there is one reason and one reason only why the Phillies should refuse to trade any free agent-to-be is if they intend to re-sign him. Both Polanco and Pierre are in the mid-30s and obviously in decline. Whereas Cole Hamels would be a huge cog in the Phillies in 2013 and beyond, Polanco and Pierre are easily replaceable. There is nothing more to gain by their continuing to play them every day, except maybe winning a couple of games that would drop the Phillies in the draft order. Their trade value, as would-be free agents whose careers are nearing a close, is minimal–any return, whether it’s salary relief or even minor-league depth, would have to be seen as a fantastic return.

For Shane Victorino, that question is a little more complicated. Victorino is a good enough player that he could have a significant influence on a pennant race, so he doesn’t fit the same profile as Pierre and Polanco (and probably Joe Blanton as well) where literally any return is a good return. But with the new CBA having changed the rules for free agent compensation, the only intelligent thing for the Phillies to do with Victorino is trade him. Almost 32 years old, and in line for a significant payday, Victorino just doesn’t make sense anymore for a team that has more important things to do with its payroll.

Up until this season, there would be an argument to keep a would-be Type A free agent like Victorino and just take the compensation picks if no one made a compelling trade offer. However, nowadays, the Phillies would need to make a qualifying offer equal to the average of the top 125 contracts, likely in the neighborhood of $12 million a year, in order to even get one pick back. Given Victorino’s stated preference to play here, odds are he’d sign such a contract offer. Again, the Phillies aren’t going anywhere this season, and thus have nothing to gain by keeping Victorino on, particularly when they could pick up a prospect of some kind by trading him.

As an aside, the first obvious question when discussing any Shane Victorino trade is “Who would play center field in his absence?” My answer to that is: “Who cares?” Maybe they get a young outfielder back in the trade and stick him in center. Maybe John Mayberry and Jason Pridie fill in. I know they’re both awful, but what’s the worst that can happen–the Phillies don’t make the playoffs?

As for the risk that fans will stop showing up if the Phillies trade Polanco, Blanton, Victorino and Pierre, I doubt anyone is coming to the park to see any of those players specifically, with the possible exception of Victorino. And if you’re convinced that the fans that are buying tickets to see a team that will most likely have its first losing season in a decade will stop doing so, en masse, because Shane Victorino goes…well, I guess you’re welcome to believe that. I find the notion completely absurd, but I guess we won’t know for sure until he’s traded. The Marlins just did this with Anibal Sanchez, trading the free agent-to-be to Detroit in a package that netted them pitching prospect Jacob Turner, a massive return for a pitcher like Sanchez. The Seattle Mariners, who are only scarcely more out of it than the Phillies, just sent Ichiro to the Yankees yesterday afternoon. They didn’t get much back, but they saved some money and removed any pressure to re-sign the franchise’s biggest star. If trading Victorino is an admission of defeat, it’s because the Phillies have indeed been defeated.

Hunter Pence is a more complicated story. He’s got another year’s worth of arbitration left, and so could help the Phillies in 2013 if they think they can return to playoff contention. However, that year of arbitration makes Pence a more valuable trade chip than any other asset they could dangle, except, possibly, Cole Hamels. Scuttlebutt is that the Phillies are listening to offers in an attempt to avoid giving Pence an eight-figure arbitration payout. They won’t get a package as good as the one they sent to Houston for two reasons: Hunter Pence wasn’t worth anything close to what they paid in 2011 and being a year older and a year closer to free agency, Pence is worth less now than he was then anyway.

What they can do is get a legitimate prospect or young major leaguer back, someone who could start at a position of need either immediately or in the near future. People say the Phillies should “retool” or “reload” rather than “rebuild,” and by trading these five players, the Phillies would net a noteworthy, if not franchise-altering, return in young talent, but most importantly, it would free up enough money in salary to re-sign Cole Hamels long-term and add another free agent on top of him.

Purging the roster might seem like a cynical move, but it’s not. This season cannot be punted because the Phillies don’t have even a remote hope of making the playoffs–trading Pierre, Victorino, Polanco, Blanton and Pence isn’t giving up. It’s acknowledging reality. Then, in 2013, with Hamels re-signed, Domonic Brown in the outfield, the bullpen shored up with another wave of young reinforcements, a healthy Roy Halladay, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard and some money to play with on the free agent market, the Phillies can get back to where they want to be rather easily. And with a top-10 draft pick and some newly-acquired talent developing in the minor leagues, they’ll have the potential to stay there well into the future.

But they can only do this if they’re pragmatic about where they stand in the next seven days. Otherwise, we may very well be in for more of the same for a long time.

Losing to the Brewers is Not an Option

Responding to adversity. Timely hitting. An offense that simply would not give up an out, chipping away at a seemingly insurmountable lead, batter by batter, man by man. It was just like the good old days. And it was all thanks to an impromptu team meeting led by Charlie Manuel and Chase Utley before the ninth inning.

Flight Director Charlie Manuel: So you’re telling me you can only give our guys one more run of support? That brings them to about there. (Taps loss column on standings.) Gentlemen, that is not acceptable.
Engineer Roy Halladay: Charlie! Charlie! We gotta talk about run support here.
EECOM Chase Utley: Whoa, whoa, guys!  Run support is everything. Run support is everything.
Halladay: What do you mean?
Utley: Without it they don’t pitch for us,  they don’t pitch easier with men on, they don’t turn our season around…We gotta start scoring runs. Now. We’re not going to make it to the ninth inning.
Manuel: What do  you mean scoring runs?
Utley: With Halladay’s start, the Brewers scored six runs. At that rate the team is dead in two innings, not four or five. We gotta get this team to score four more runs.
MOCR Engineer Carlos Ruiz: How many? You could win a Kendrick start with four runs, Chase!
Utley:  We’ve got to Rollins on base, Pierre, Howard, Pence, Ruiz, the whole smack.
FIDO John Mayberry: Whoa, put Pence on? What if he needs to run the bases? Charlie, he won’t even know which way he’s pointed!
Utley: The more time we talk in here the more outs they waste out there. I’ve been looking at the data for the past inning.
Manuel: That’s the deal?
Utley: That’s the deal.
Manuel: Okay, Chase. The minute Savery finishes his inning, we’ll start putting men on base. (Utley leaves, Manuel turns to address the team.) Now in the meantime, we’re going to have a frozen offense out there. In a couple minutes we’re going to have to power it up using nothing but Francisco Rodriguez‘s inability to find the strike zone.
Juan Pierre: It’s never been tried before.
Ty Wigginton: Hell, we’ve never even simulated it before, Charlie.
Manuel: Well we’re going to have to figure it out. I want people in our on-deck circle timing breaking balls. I want you guys to find every pitch: every slider, every fastball and every change-up that Rodriguez throws up there, then I want you to talk to the scouts we sent ahead to chart the things. Find out how to squeeze every baserunner out of this goddamn pitcher. I want that scoreboard to tick all the way to seven with time to spare. We’ve never come from behind in the ninth inning and we’re sure as hell not going to lose another one on my watch! Failure is not an option!


Crash Bag, Vol. 11: Four Cheese Halladay

Boy, yesterday was more fun than a barrel  of monkeys, amirite guys? First, Paul Holmgren covers Nashville Predators GM David Poile’s house with toilet paper with that insane Shea Weber offer sheet, then we get word that, from a contractual standpoint, the Phillies and Cole Hamels have gone from passing notes in class to playing The Comfortable Game on the band bus. Thursday involved lots of guys in their twenties being offered almost inconceivably large sums of money to play games in Philadelphia, and boy was it titillating. Add in Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome’s curbstomping of Vincenzo Nibali in the Tour de France and you wind up with a pretty busy sports day for the Phillies and Union not playing and everyone else being in the offseason.

Oh, and Paul Holmgren, I know you’re facing sending some draft picks to the Predators if they match the offer sheet. Well, if you want to just tell Poile I’m the physical personification of a future third-rounder and just send me to live in Nashville, I’d totally be cool with that. I’m a team player that way.

On to your questions. Since this is at least nominally a baseball mailbag, let’s start with a baseball question.

Daniel (via e-mail): Do any of the inexperienced relievers currently in the Phillies bullpen (Joe Savery, Jake Diekman, Michael Swimmer, B.J. Rosenberg, etc.) have a chance to eventually develop into reliable major league relievers?

I apologize to Daniel for not getting to this sooner, but I was unaware people were still writing in via e-mail. And it was worth it, because earlier in the message he said Crashburn Alley was his favorite Phillies blog, which was very nice of him to say and I appreciate on behalf of the guys. I’ll tell you what, Daniel–you’re now my favorite reader.

Anyway, sure. The Phillies’ area of greatest farm system depth is in future middle relievers, which is about the worst thing you can say about a team’s farm system. Short of Phillippe Aumont actually plowing a field or something.

Speaking of Aumont, he should actually be really good. I think my irrational love for Aumont is one of the reasons I’m still kind of okay with the Phillies having traded Cliff Lee away the first time, but he’s got closer stuff. Prospect king Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus told us, when he was a guest on the Crash Pod, that Aumont has closer stuff. Of course, Bill deleted that episode by accident before it went to air, so you’ll have to take my word for it. Aumont throws everything hard, which is why he hasn’t had the control or  health out as a starter, but he could be a very good bullpen arm when he comes up.

Justin De Fratus is probably the next-best bullpen prospect of the bunch, a fastball-slider guy who got a cup of coffee last season but is just now returning to minor league action after an injury wiped out the start of his 2012. Apart from that, Diekman’s low arm slot and velocity should make him a pretty effective LOOGY, but the arm slot makes it easier for right-handed batters (particularly right-handed Matt Kemps) to pick up his pitches. And then there’s the control, or rather lack thereof. If he strikes out 10 batters per nine innings as a major league pitcher, there’s a pretty good chance he’ll walk seven or eight, which is not good at all.

Apart from that, Schwimer and Rosenberg both throw pretty hard, so there’s a decent chance one or both could turn into a good middle-innings, low-leverage guy, which is something. Or both could turn into pumpkins. Such is the life cycle of the low-leverage middle reliever.

Savery is probably the worst pitching prospect of the bunch, but here’s the rub, he can hit and pitch. A crappy left-handed reliever isn’t worth a whole lot, and neither is a crappy left-handed pinch hitter/first baseman. But a guy who can do both essentially represents a free roster spot, so if Savery is even passable as  a two-way player, I’d like to see the Phillies use him, if only for the novelty.

@mferrier31: “So after our nice little debate, do you still think the Pence trade was not good? Remember Hunter’s watching!”

He is not watching. Roz, however? That’s another story.

This is in reference to an argument Other Michael and I had on the internet the other night over the Pence Trade. He apparently thinks that Jonathan Singleton, Domingo Santana and Jarred Cosart were a small price to pay for a corner outfielder with a 120 OPS+ who can’t field or run the bases. I disagreed.

Then, in a bourbon-enhanced euphoria, I told Other Michael that I took it all back when Thunderpants delivered go-ahead RBI in consecutive games.

Now that y’all’re caught up, let me say this. No. It was still an awful trade, and when Singleton comes up to the majors and goes .300/.400/.500 as the Astros’ DH for ten years, I will hire a man to go to your house every day and knock on your door. When you open, he’ll take out a trombone and play “Brand New Key” by Melanie–ALL THREE VERSES–for you. When he’s done, he’ll give you a sealed envelope containing a handwritten note that says only “I TOLD YOU SO,” urinate in your bushes, and go on his way.

Every. Day. Of. Your. Life.

@lexuhbooz: “Phillies players as pizza toppings”

Coulda said please, at least.

  • Antonio Bastardo: Mushrooms. No one else seems to like them, but they’re my favorite. When I was in college I worked in the admissions office my senior year, and occasionally they’d order pizza for us, and they’d send around a sign-up sheet so we could get the toppings we wanted. One night, I just asked out loud if anyone would go on a mushroom pizza with me, and one girl said yes. And we had mushroom pizza. Best night of my life. I love mushroom pizza.
  • Chase Utley: Bacon. However good you think it is, it’s better.
  • Roy Halladay: Quattro formaggi. I did a study abroad in Brussels when I was in college, and let me say that any civilization founded on beer, french fries, soccer and intergovernmental politics is a civilization worth having. Anyway, while I was there, I had the greatest pizza of my life. For six euros, a 12-inch pie with mozzarella, gorgonzola and two other cheeses I can’t remember. It was, without exaggeration, the best pizza I’ve ever had. It stimulated every sensation I’m capable of tasting or smelling and left me with a full stomach, a fulfilled spirit and a pleasant fizzing feeling in my innards. It was glorious, a pizza worthy of Roy Halladay.
  • Cliff Lee: Pepperoni. Solid. Tasty. Dependable.
  • Cole Hamels: ham and pineapple. I bet you thought I’d say Shane Victorino was ham and pineapple. Racists. The lot of you. Speaking of which….

@TonyMcIV: “With SHANF evolving into VICTORION, what are the odds that we could trade him? Preferrably for a half-way decent reliever?”

So Ryan Sommers accidentally misspelled “Victorino” as “Victorion” yesterday afternoon. I’ve tried to stick Phillies with nicknames for years. “Exxon” took pretty well for Wilson Valdez. Ditto “Tony No-Dad” for Antonio Bastardo. “Pineapple Express” didn’t stick on Victorino, which is just as well because I heard he doesn’t like that moniker, and despite two years of my referring to the Phillies as La Furia Roja, no one else seemed to like it.

I bring this up because we need to make VICTORION stick on Shane. Apparently there’s a character in the George R.R. Martin series (Game of Thrones on TV) named Victorion, and that’s the image I want to conjure. Fur coats, claymores, magic. Victorion, the hero of Canton! Victorion, the fire-type Pokemon! Victorion, the magical Elvish sword that turned the tide at the battle of Helms Deep!

VICTORION makes “Cot for Choice” the second-best Phillies-related Twitter misspelling of 2012, and that’s saying something. It also makes Shane Victorino (the man, not the legendary Roman general) immensely valuable in a trade. I’m certain the Rangers would give up Jurickson Profar for him.

@PhreshPhillies and @CitizensBankers: “Phillies players as Batman characters”

And I bet both of you thought you were being so clever. Full disclosure, I’ve seen 3 episodes of the animated TV series, never read a comic book, and never seen any of the Burton or Schumacher movies. So to me, Robin is only a thing I’ve heard about. So based only on the first two Christopher Nolan movies, here it goes.

  • Cole Hamels: Batman. An awesome force for good, and arguably the guy who got the whole thing started, but what an irritating voice.
  • Chase Utley: The Joker. Undeniably the best part of the whole operation.
  • Michael Martinez: The Scarecrow. Utterly useless.
  • Domonic Brown: Harvey Dent. What a promising future, but ultimately disfigured and driven to insanity by the forces of randomness and evil.
  • Ryan Howard: Rachel Dawes. Boy, I really want the original version back.

@Billy_Yeager: “Take 5 Phils and liken them to historical figures. Explain your answer.”

Awfully demanding there, Bill. I thought I was done showing my work when I finished high school calculus.

Okay, here goes.

  • Chase Utley: Jesus Christ, the Only Son of God. Revolutionized everyone’s lives when he appeared. Possessed of supernatural powers. And it seems like all we do nowadays is sit around and wait for him to return.
  • Kyle Kendrick: Andrey Kozyrev. As the first foreign minister of the Russian Federation, Kozyrev embarked on a campaign of Atlanticism, which essentially meant that from 1991 to 1996 he kissed NATO’s ass whenever possible in the vain hope that the West would give the former Warsaw Pact some sort of Marshall Plan-like assistance to rebuild Russia into a modern country after 80 years…actually, more like 10,000 years of managing a country with attitudes 50 years or more behind the rest of the civilized world. It didn’t work, and to this day, Russia remains a country whose biggest music star wears a mullet, no thanks to Kozyrev. (NOTE: I don’t think Dima Bilan still wears a mullet, but it helps my point so pipe down.) In a moment of crisis, Kozyrev was the worst possible thing to happen to Russia, and he stuck around long after he was useful. I think you can see where I’m going with this.
  • Cliff Lee: Dylan Thomas. The man writes beautiful, beautiful poetry with a baseball. And if the Phillies don’t start giving him some run support, I’m pretty sure he’s going to contribute to at least one whiskey-related death.
  • Roy Halladay: Witold Pilecki. This is my favorite Wikipedia page ever. Just read it–your life will never be the same. The biggest badass in history. We’ll never see his like again.
  • Erik Kratz: King George III. He was just sort of…around…for a while. And never really did much of anything. Sort of sat on the sidelines while his generals lost the Revolutionary War. That seems appropriate.

@Wzeiders: “Which two Phillies are most like Bo and Luke Duke from The Dukes of Hazzard?”

Vance Worley–who has a well-documented affinity for muscle cars–is the only Phillies player I could imagine driving an orange Dodge Charger, much less jumping it off of something. He’s got to be one of them. I could imagine Mike Fontenot being the other. He’s from Louisiana, which means he could probably countenance putting the Confederate battle flag on anything without meaning actual racial malice, and he seems like the type who’s not afraid to fight the law, run moonshine, speak with an outrageously faked Georgia accent or get dirty doing it.

@gvntofly1021: “what is the most annoying ‘Phillies roster as:’ you’ve gotten yet, and how tired of them are you?”


But seriously, if you want to eliminate this kind of question from the Crash Bag, there’s an easy way to do it–write in with different questions and encourage your friends to do the same. Whatever goes up in this space, good or bad, is at least partially a function of the questions that are asked. So if you’re unhappy with it, address your questions (serious baseball-related or otherwise) over Twitter to #crashbag or by email to Spread the word.

@JakePavorsky: “Which current member of the Phillies roster would be most likely to commit a felony?”

I’m about 99 percent sure answering this question would expose me to some sort of legal liability. Conspiracy or libel or something. So I’m going to pass, if it’s all the same to you, Jake.

Though between you and me, Laynce Nix is in the process of stealing $2.5 million from the Phillies over the next two years.

@SoMuchForPathos: “Any baseball players who have cooler names once they’re spelled backwards?”

Uerba Ybbob is pretty good. Sounds like the bad guy in an episode of Star Trek where no one faces mortal danger. And Jordany Valdespin‘s name is even sillier backwards than forwards, if that’s possible. Ditto Jurickson Profar. And Dan Uggla‘s name backwards (Alggu Nad) might not more dignified than his real name, but it’s more dignified than the way he fields second base. Adam Dunn‘s name backwards sounds very similar to “Nude madam” when you sound it out, which is rather exciting.

But as far as just having a cooler name backwards than forwards, Chase Utley’s name backwards is Yeltu Esahc, which sounds pretty cool to me. That Utley is just as cool in reverse should surprise no one.

@uublog: “Which Phillies would you most and least want to get drunk with?”

If I were single, I’d ignore your Phillies stipulation and say Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Joffrey Lupul. But since I’m not, I’m looking for someone I can just have a couple beers with and enjoy some good, clean fun. And to that, I’ll give the same answer I’ve given whenever someone asked me which Phillies player I’d like to hang out with most in any circumstance: Ryan Howard. He seems gregarious, affable and laid-back. And while a small part of me wants to see what a night on the town with Pat Burrell is really like, I mostly just want Ryan Howard to be my best friend forever. (sigh)

As far as the Phillies ballplayer I’d least like to get drunk with, I imagined a night out at a bar with Jonathan Papelbon. Like, immediately. He seems like the kind of guy who’d order a bunch of shots right off the bat and get uncomfortably drunk and friendly with passersby while you’re still on your first beer.

And this isn’t as awkward as a Night Out With Papelbon, but I think “Getting Drunk” with Ty Wigginton would involve something like sitting down in a living room, having one beer while watching Lou Grant, then going to sleep. Which sounds pleasant enough.

@gvntofly1021: “you can put one member of the Phils org(NOT RAJ) in an oubliette. Who, and to what end?”

A real question, now that we’re done antagonizing the other readers. I’m of two minds on this one. Part of me wants to send Michael Martinez down the oubliette for its primary purpose: so I can forget about him.

Either that, or I’d send Freddy Galvis down there with rock climbing gear so Domonic Brown can get out of the oubliette and start playing left field for the Phillies.

@hangingsliders: “How will Phillies fans taunt Lincecum tonight? Who will make the more frustrating moves this series: Manuel or Bochy?”

Well I’ve had that photo saved on my desktop for about two years now so I can note how much Tim Lincecum looks like Mitch Kramer from Dazed and Confused. Considering that I’ve cluttered my desktop with a file that I only use to mock Lincecum, I imagine at least one Phillies fan will make a crack about O’Bannion coming with his paddle. Otherwise, I’m sure we’ll get at least one weed joke and at least one dirty hippie joke. And by “we’ll get” I mean “I will make.” It’s gonna be good. I’m making popcorn. And to reference an earlier question, “Tim Lincecum” spelled backwards is “Mucecnil Mit,” which sounds like a Mormon fiber supplement. So I guess the takeaway lesson from that is that Brian Sabean built his team around a Mormon fiber supplement.

And as far as who will make the most maddening moves? Bochy, and it’s not even close. Uncle Cholly’s defining characteristic as a game manager is that he’s hands-off, which made him the perfect man to lead the Phillies the past few years. If you’ve got a lineup like the 2007 Phillies had and you don’t let everyone just swing away, you’re a lunatic.

Bochy, however…let me put it this way. You know how movies portray the world as it’s about to end? Not with Tea Leoni standing with her dad on the beach as the cataclysmic tsunami rushes toward them. But looting and bacchanalia. People acting like there’s no tomorrow because they’re pretty sure there won’t be. Bruce Bochy seems to be acutely aware of the possibility that the city he lives and works in could fall into the sea at any moment, and he manages like it. It’s truly fascinating, what goes on in that enormous head of his.

One note, if you’re the kind of person who likes to see what the enemy is up to, Wendy Thurm (who wrote this question) is a good person to read.

Let’s end with a pair of Carlos Ruiz questions.

@jonathanbietz: “Ruiz’s option at $5 million next year is a no-brainer even if offense declines. What do you do in 2014+? Valle might not be ready.”

Boy, that’s an understatement. According to Baseball-Reference, Chooch has been worth at least 2.5 WAR in each of the past four seasons, including this one, and while I doubt very much that he’ll continue to post a 1.000 OPS, even until the end of this year, he’ll be worth a damn sight more than $5 million. Just to put that in context, Chooch is having literally one of the best two-way seasons ever by a catcher. Piazza and Mauer have hit this well, but neither was as good defensively as Ruiz is. For precedent of a good defensive catcher mashing like this, we’re looking at Roy Campanella’s MVP seasons. After that, you can stretch the odd Johnny Bench year or Carlton Fisk year, but that’s it. It’s amazing.

A good defensive catcher who posts a .424 wOBA, as Chooch is doing this season, would literally be the most valuable player in baseball every year. I don’t think we can count on that going forward, and to their credit, Phillies fans seem to understand this by and large. But even a good defensive catcher who posts a .332 wOBA, as Chooch did last year, is quite valuable.

The good news is that when he’s asking for an extension, Chooch will be entering his age-35 season, and no one is going to shell out big money long-term for a 35-year-old catcher. So if Valle isn’t ready, I say the Phillies just keep paying Ruiz. Keep signing him to one-or-two-year deals until he stops hitting or Valle is ready, whichever comes first. Nevertheless, I’m glad I don’t have to make that decision. All I have to do is churlishly mock Ruben Amaro when whatever road he picks goes wrong.

@SJHaack: “Would you say Chooch is more “huggable” or “lovable”?”

Good question. I’m convinced that up until this season, when he traded in his bat for the grav hammer from Halo 3, everyone loved Carlos Ruiz so much because he’s proportioned roughly like a teddy bear. He’s very small, but mostly torso with a huge head and little stumpy arms and legs. And the voice doesn’t do much to dispel the notion that he’s actually a 33-year-old man and not a stuffed animal. For that reason, I find Chooch more huggable than lovable. Though I do love him too.

I find all of you huggable as well, dear readers. We’ll have our regularly-scheduled Crash Baggery one week from today.

Crash Bag, Vol. 10: I Will Sign Cody Ross

One of my favorite lines ever written about baseball came from Yahoo!’s Jeff Passan, who several years ago wrote a quick-hit spring training preview with one question for each of the 30 teams heading into the preseason. This was the year Andruw Jones and Juan Pierre were teammates on the Dodgers, Pierre as he was starting his career as the scrappy journeyman out machine, and Jones coming off a three-year stretch where he parlayed a three-year span of hitting 118 home runs and a reputation as the greatest defensive center fielder ever into a two-year contract with Los Angeles that would see him nearly eat his way out of baseball.

Anyway, Passan wanted to know something along the lines of “Can Juan Pierre throw a baseball farther than Andruw Jones can throw Juan Pierre?”

That got me thinking–how bad is Juan Pierre’s arm really? Like, can a normal person throw a baseball harder than he can? My brother is a college senior who pitched in high school but hasn’t played organized baseball in years. When he was 14 or 15, he hit 70 on a radar gun, and it’s fair to assume that he got stronger since then. He was never even “he’s going to play in college” good, but let’s say he topped out in the mid-to-high 70s by the time he was a junior or a senior.

Now, when you see a position player pitch, usually he gets up around 90, and these are guys with good throwing arms, like Wilson Valdez. Pierre is famous for his lack of arm strength. Can we say that he throws 15 miles an hour slower than Exxon? I think that’s plausible. I know it’s just one tool, and Pierre is faster than and makes more contact than the vast majority of the American population. But he’s in his 13th major league season, and I’d bet that if you took 100 varsity high school baseball players from around the country, about half would be able to beat him on the radar gun.

Like most of what I write, I’m not sure what the larger point is. But if someone can track Pierre with a radar gun and get me the number, I’d be curious to see how he stacks up against your average high school pitcher.

@SkirkMcGuirk: “Is this year like the ’79 Phils (bad season in an otherwise great era) or the ’96 Phils (first of many disappointments)?”

This is an excellent question, Skirk, and it depends on what kind of moves are made in the offseason. I don’t know that either is the perfect comparison, because the Phillies weren’t anywhere near this bad in 1979, and they weren’t coming off this good a run in 1996. Plus, 1979 was sort of fluky. They on 84 games that year and won 92 games and the World Series the next year with almost exactly the same lineup and pitching staff. I like 1996 a little bit better because it carried a similar realization that the players that won the Phillies the pennant a couple years earlier were older and not all that good anymore.

But I’d liken this season to 1984 more than anything else. Coming off a season in which they added another No. 1 starter and did quite well with an extremely old roster (Cliff Lee is John Denny in this metaphor), the Phillies paid the price for their lack of youth the following season, as the Wheeze Kids dropped to .500. Like this team, those Phillies were built on a philosophy of getting guys who were good five or ten years ago, or at least I assume they were, because I can’t think of another good reason to go into the mid-1980s with two key pitchers also having been key pitchers on the 1969 Miracle Mets.

Anyway, after that season, they stumbled around .500 for a couple years, then went into a swoon that, save for the aberrant 1993 season, continued until they finished second in 2001, starting their current run of success.

But I realize that that’s not what you’re asking. Is this bad season a one-off, or is it the beginning of the end? I think 2013 is going to be a rough year, but it really depends on how the Phillies handle some really tough decisions about Cole Hamels and Domonic Brown now, and Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz and Roy Halladay in a couple of years. Beyond that, it’s up to things that not even Ruben Amaro can control.

@TonyMcIV: “Who gave Bill his Twitter skills? & If The Phils sign Coal Hammels what hope is there for bullpen help?”

I wasn’t aware Bill had Twitter skills.

And if the Phillies pass on Cole Hamels as a free agent and spend $20 million shoring up the middle relief, I’m going to sell all my worldly possessions, move to Croatia and start a farm, where I’ll raise something ridiculous, like peanuts or reindeer. And I’ll never think about baseball again. I hear Dubrovnik is lovely this time of year. A quick stop off on Wikipedia says Croatian olive oil is a major export. That sounds wonderful. I think I might become a Croatian olive farmer even if the Phillies do get better.

@PhreshPhillies: “If you had to take a random guess right now, who are the starting outfielders in 2013?”

Tom Waits, Jens Voigt and Robinson Cano. First three names that popped into my head.

Though I don’t think you meant random like that, so I’ll give you a couple different answers.

The best-case scenario is, well, if I’m honest, probably something like Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen and Jason Heyward, though I don’t think I see that one coming off. So the outfield I’d like to see the most is Domonic Brown, Tyson Gillies and Nick Swisher. Nick the Swish is a free agent this offseason and, while expensive, will get on base and hit for some power from both sides of the plate. Gillies is a reach, but this is my best-case scenario, so he rakes for the rest of the season and in spring training, then is not completely abysmal as a rookie center fielder. And frankly, if not for a run of bad fortune and personal oppression by the fates the likes of which we haven’t seen since the book of Job, Domonic Brown would have been starting in an outfield corner two years ago. Here’s hoping Brown’s story ends as happily as Job’s did. Note: this scenario involves trading Victorino and Pence, so if one of them nets a decent young center fielder, you could plug him in instead of Gillies.

The worst-case scenario is probably John Mayberry, Josh Hamilton and Hunter Pence. That would mean that 1) the Phillies spent as much on Hamilton as they would have on Hamels and didn’t get Hamels. Hamilton’s great now, but if you believe he’s suddenly going to start not being hurt all the time at age 32, and you believe that strongly enough to give him, say, the Matt Kemp contract, I really don’t know what to say to you. Retaining Mayberry means that the Phillies have not only continued to bury Brown but that they’ve failed to come up with a better option than a 29-year-old corner outfielder with a career .306 OBP. And finally, retaining Pence means that the Phillies feel strongly that he’s their best right field option going forward, enough to give him $14 or $15 million a year.

A more likely scenario probably involves Brown and Pence in the corners with either some scrub free agent in center if they re-sign Cole Hamels, or a massively overpaid average to above-average center fielder if they don’t. I’m thinking Michael Bourn, Melky Cabrera or B.J. Upton. I’m fairly confident the Phillies are going to screw this up expensively, if not massively.

@uublog: “You go back in time and add or eliminate one transaction. What do you do and how does it change the team now and in the future?”

I’m not taking the bait and drafting Jackie Bradley Jr. over Larry Greene.

I know this is the easy answer, but I’d can the Howard contract. With that money, the Phillies could have been major players for either Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder last offseason, both of whom are signed to expensive deals that will extend far past their usefulness, but both are as good at the plate as Howard is being paid to be right now. Or they could have taken that money and extended Cole Hamels. Depending on when that extension gets done, they’d have had enough money left over to go get another useful free agent. When it was signed, I didn’t grasp how awful the deal was, and on how many levels. I curse myself for my shortsightedness.

Or. I could go back to 2008 and hire a different GM when Pat Gillick retired. That’s a much better idea.

@bxe1234: “If you were a GM, what’s the first thing you’d do to make us hate you? Cause we will eventually. Just curious about your opener”

Am I just going about my business, or am I specifically out to troll you? Because if I were out to troll you, I’d sign Cody Ross and start him in center field next season.

But if I were being serious…actually, you know what, I am serious. Cody Ross isn’t a bad one-year option of the Phillies trade Pence and Victorino and Tyson Gillies isn’t ready in center. I’d be totally okay rolling him out for 500 plate appearances in center, and I’d want to punch him in the noggin every time he came to the plate.

So it’d either be that or building that time machine to go back and draft Jackie Bradley.

@CitizensBankers: “Higgs Boson: go.”

Apparently it’s a big deal. I gotta admit, my knowledge of anything smaller than an electron is almost nothing. And frankly, I don’t care one bit how the universe was created and how it’s held together. Not that it’s not important, but I’m a writer, not a theoretical physicist. But it’s cool that someone let scientists build something as big as the LHC for no purpose other than to advance knowledge. I think we could use another national science and engineering project on the level of the Apollo missions–where we set out to do and learn something just because we can. Put a man on Mars, maybe, or explore the bottom of the ocean. I think what they’ve done at CERN is important, even if I’m not particularly interested in the details. If Europe’s top scientific minds say they’ve found the God particle, I’m willing to take them at their word.

Now if the Higgs Boson can play third base, then you’ve got my attention.

@MitchGoldich: “Am I crazy for thinking the #Phillies should move Utley to LF next year to prolong his career? Puts Galvis at 2B in non-premium offensive position. Do it in 13 to determine proper value of Utley’s next contract.”

I hate to say this, but yes. You are crazy for thinking that.

Galvis is a great defensive second baseman, by all indications. Considering that, maybe the Phillies should move Utley to a less-demanding position in order to save his ailing joints. Seems reasonable off the bat. However, five considerations make that a bad idea.

First, Galvis might be a great defensive second baseman, but he’s a terrible, terrible hitter. Granted, these numbers come from a portion of a rookie season, but a .266 wOBA is not exactly a ringing endorsement of his ability to produce even the scintilla of offense needed to justify putting his glove in the field. The Marlins went through this recently with a third base prospect named Matt Dominguez, whose glove, it is said, is every bit as good as Ryan Zimmerman‘s or Evan Longoria‘s, but whose bat never developed. Before they signed Jose Reyes and moved Hanley Ramirez to third base, the Marlins planned to slot Dominguez in at that position, but Dominguez couldn’t even hit AAA pitching, and so he was shipped off to Houston for Carlos Lee. I don’t think Galvis is that bad, but Dominguez provides a cautionary tale.

Second, we don’t know if Galvis’s back is going to take anything off his game going forward. If he can’t move as well as he could before the injury, he goes from being unbelievably good with the glove to being merely good, and there’s no excuse to put him in the lineup at all, much less move Utley.

Third, Galvis might be a great defensive second baseman, but so is Utley. He’s been the best defensive second baseman in the game for ages, and even as his joints fail him and he slips, his glove will never be bad enough to make up the gap in hitting ability between him and Galvis.

Fourth, I’m not convinced a move to left field does a whole lot for Utley. Maybe it’s a little less demanding physically, but his bat doesn’t look nearly as good in a corner outfield spot as it does at second base. Instead of playing at a position where the best offensive players are Dan Uggla and Ian Kinsler, Utley would have to keep up with Ryan Braun, Josh Hamilton, Justin Upton and average corner outfielders like Nick Swisher. Utley can play second, so let’s keep his bat there if we can. It’s easier to find a left fielder who can hit better than Galvis than it is to find a second baseman who can hit better than Utley.

Fifth, are we totally giving up on Domonic Brown now? I hope not.

@SpikeEskin: “could you come up with a similar baseball situation to Spencer Hawes playing power foward for the Sixers instead of center?”

Playing Juan Pierre in left field over Domonic Brown. Though worse than that is signing Kwame Brown to a multi-year deal to do anything.

@ETDWN: “Along the lines of Crashburn writers as House characters, what about Crashburn writers as characters from The Wire?”

I can’t do that for three reasons. Apparently talking about The Wire is a Bill Simmons staple, and some of the readers get their panties in a bunch whenever something I write resembles something Simmons could have written. Second, describing the five of us seems a little grandiose and needlessly self-referential. And third, I’m only up to Season 4, so I don’t have the whole series’ worth of perspective on these characters. Sorry.

(But since you asked, Bill: Avon; Bradley: Sydnor; Paul: Daniels; Ryan: McNulty; and me as Stringer. I’ll let you try to figure out why on your own.)

One last note on The Wire. All due respect to President Obama, anyone who thinks Omar is a better character than Stringer had better let me take a hit of whatever you’re smoking, because that must be some powerful stuff. I marvel at the creativity it took to create a character like Omar, but he’s a cartoon. Just because he carries a sawed-off shotgun and delivers pithy lines doesn’t make him a good character. Stringer’s actually human, and exhibits a depth of feeling and a totally believable and fascinating set of conflicting motivations the likes of which you rarely see in fiction of any kind, much less television. Omar’s more fun, but Stringer’s the better character.

@gvntofly1021: “Current Phillies as beer.”

Heineken. Everyone thinks it’s really good, but it’s nothing more than really expensive pisswater.

@DashTreyhorn: “Phillies players as Game of Thrones characters. Go.”

Getting awfully pushy there, buddy.

A couple people responded to Dash with pretty good answers, so I’ll just repeat those here:

@TurtleZoot: “Hunter Pence is Hodor…:P” and “Halladay is Ned Stark. That MIGHT not be a good thing though…;)”

Emoticons alike, I like both of those: Hunter Pence is really big, doesn’t seem particularly bright and has done a lot of heavy lifting. Halladay is trying in vain to save the kingdom, but is taken out of commission early. Plus he’s the biggest star on the show.

@FanSince09: “Hammels is Renley”

I know why he said this, but I like Hamels as the ambitious but largely benign contender for the throne. When it was clear that Westeros was going to descend into civil war, I was rooting for Renley to win and for Robb to continue as King in the North. Let’s do a few others, quickly.

  • Carlos Ruiz: Arya Stark. Just sort of generally small, entertaining and a bigger player than anyone around realizes.
  • Ryan Howard: Robb Stark. Immensely likable, might be tasked with taking on a bigger role than he’s capable of.
  • Placido Polanco: Littlefinger (in this case, his fingers are only little compared to his head)
  • Michael Martinez: Sansa Stark. I turn on every Phillies game hoping that Joffrey has finally lost his tenuous grasp on his sanity and beheaded Mini-Mart.
  • Jonathan Papelbon: Daenerys Targaryen. Please. Just go away and shut up about your goddamn dragons.
  • Jayson Werth as Khal Drogo. Come back to us, enormous bearded awesome man.
  • Jimmy Rollins: Jamie Lannister. The smooth talker. No word on J-Roll’s sister, however.
  • Chase Utley: Tyrion Lannister. Things just seem better when he’s around.

Oh, and if you haven’t listened to The National’s version of “The Rains of Castamere,” do that at your earliest convenience. It’s really good.

@Estebomb: “Is there any way to trap Joe Blanton and Kyle Kendrick in the secret government warehouse from Indiana Jones?”

Yes. I like this idea. In fact, I’ve found that watching a Kyle Kendrick start is much like opening the ark of the covenant–it’s about as unpleasant as being in a room full of Nazis and then having your face melted off. Which, coincidentally, is nowhere near as unpleasant as Temple of Doom.

I’ve found that the only solution is to close your eyes, and when you open them again you’ll be wearing an awesome hat and live happily ever after with the young Karen Allen. Which isn’t a bad way to go out at all.

Speaking of going out, I’ve got to dial up that time machine we were talking about and set up an appointment with 1981-vintage Karen Allen. The Crash Bag will return next week, assuming I’ve made it back to the present by then.

The Mysterious Appearing Utley

Somewhere around December of last year, the Phillies changed the name of the franchise for the first time in nearly 130 years of existence. Since the New Year, they’ve been officially known in the future tense as “The Phillies, Once Utley and Howard are Healthy.”

Literature is littered with stories whose action is driven by a character who either never shows up or is only introduced at the very end. Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, for instance, or Gogol’s The Inspector General. I was beginning to have that feeling about the 2012 Phillies, that their story would be written in large part about the absence of Chase Utley. In the shroud of secrecy that characterizes the Phillies’ media department, it was beginning to look like Utley was not the character we’d wait all year to have introduced, but rather the one who, while absent from the storytelling itself, would drive many of the events of the story, like Emmanuel Goldstein in 1984. Every action, it seemed, was driven to compensate for Utley’s absence.

We’ve lived in a virtual purgatory all season, watching a revolving door of second basemen. Mike Fontenot, who can hit but can’t field. Freddy Galvis, who could field but couldn’t hit. Pete Orr, who couldn’t do either. And most recently, Michael Martinez, who not only can neither hit nor field, but fails to do so with a lack of self-awareness matched only by the douchebag who brings his acoustic guitar to a party, then plays Oasis’s “Wonderwall” until the only people left in the room are waiting for him to stop bogarting the guitar so they can play something not included in the “Teenager’s first open mic night” book of sheet music.

Billy Graham once said: “Have you ever seen God? I’ve never seen God… I’ve never seen the wind. I’ve seen the effects of the wind… but I’ve never seen the wind.” We could say the same about Utley. He wasn’t up to his usual standards last season, but he was still worth 3.9 fWAR in only 2/3 of a season. And with Utley back in the lineup, Hunter Pence moves back down to fourth or fifth, and maybe there’ll finally be someone on base for Carlos Ruiz to drive in. Suddenly, the pieces start to fit back together as bench players are taken out of the starting lineup and returned to their original and appropriate uses.

A friend of mine once explained how he eats at Five Guys every six months or so. Every time he eats there, he marvels at how tasty their burgers and fries are, and then spends the rest of the evening on the toilet as a pound and change of greasy, beefy glory result in crippling gastrointestinal distress. But a few months later, you forget about the aftereffects and begin to crave Five Guys again. Six months is just enough time to forget about the full Five Guys experience and go back again, more out of curiosity than anything else.

So too with Utley. It’s been so long since we’ve seen a truly great position player in a Phillies uniform that I’m starting to forget what one looks like. Utley says he’s in better physical condition now than he’s been in a while, but even so, we shouldn’t expect too much from him too quickly. If Utley comes back and is even a shadow of his 2007 self, I’ll be thrilled. If he’s anything more, I’ll be so happy you won’t hear from me again until the state troopers are chasing a man playing an accordion and riding a unicycle the wrong way down I-295. Because that’ll be me.

But with Utley back in the lineup, it feels like we’re at least a little closer to being whole, that things are at least a little closer to being okay again. And, most importantly, it means that Charlie Manuel can nail Michael Martinez’s ass to the bench and never think about him again.

We’ve missed you, Chase. It’s good to have you back.

Papelbon in a Non-Save Situation

For the second time this season, Jonathan Papelbon came into a tie game at home in the ninth inning, and for the second time, he allowed the go-ahead run to score after giving up an extra-base hit to a guy not exactly known for his power. I know y’all thought that, even on the heels of Papelbon’s five-out save on Friday, that this might be the end of Charlie Manuel’s more liberal usage of his best relief pitcher in high-leverage situations, but I actually managed to have a word with the Phillies skipper after the game and I think everything is going to be okay. Here’s how the conversation went:

Mike Baumann: Reach for the sky!
Charlie Manuel: Huh?
Baumann: This town ain’t big enough for the two of us!
Manuel: What?
Baumann: Somebody’s poisoned the waterhole!
Manuel: Papelbon’s busted.
Baumann: Who are you calling busted, Buster?
Manuel: Huh?
Baumann: That’s right! I’m talking to you, Charlie Manuel! We don’t like the bullpen having games blown up, Cholly. Or smashed, or ripped apart.
Manuel: [hyperventilating] W-we?
Baumann: That’s right, your fans!
[Fans get up and surround the terrified Manuel] Baumann: From now on, you must continue to have Jonathan Papelbon pitch in high-leverage situations whether or not there’s a save on the line, because if you don’t, we’ll find out, Charlie!
Baumann: [while turning head around slowly] We toys can see EVERYTHING!
Baumann: [speaking and moving] So play nice!
[Manuel screams and runs inside]

Declaration of the Rights of Fan and of the Citizen

Phillies fans have become a very well-celebrated traveling circus in recent years, particularly in Washington, and our behavior, and the behavior of our hosts, has become, at times, a national news story. I really can’t figure out why anyone gives a crap about this, but in this part of the world, there seems to be the conception that entering a sporting arena entitles an individual not only to abdicate his sense of decorum and propriety, but to hurl verbal and sometimes physical abuse on strangers.

I don’t really like watching live sports all the time. I’d rather watch from home, where I don’t have to block out the entire night and pay exorbitant amounts for admission and transportation to sit out in the elements. If I want a communal experience, I’ll go on Twitter, and if I really want a communal experience, I’ll head around the corner to the bar. Don’t get me wrong, I do like going to games from time to time, but I don’t need to be there all the time–if I get to half a dozen Phillies games a year, I’m generally happy.

But anyway, when I do catch a live event, I almost would rather be a visiting fan than go see my team at home. I like going out in a different city, seeing a different ballpark, and taking in new ballpark traditions, and, as often as not, meeting local fans. There are some exceptions–after winning two straight against the Phillies last June, Pirates fans got a little nasty, and a little kid at a Flyers-Thrashers game once flipped me off and called me an asshole–but otherwise, my interactions with others as a visiting fan have been absolutely positive in all cases.

I bring this up because I’m heading to Baltimore this weekend to catch the series between the Phillies and Orioles–I suspect at least a couple other Phillies fans have had this idea–and I want the run of good feelings to continue.

One of the pivotal moments of the French Revolution–and the only moment in French history pre-Napoleon that I’m particularly familiar with that didn’t involve tennis equipment or messy executions–was the publication of “The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen,” a philosophical and legal document that’s exactly what it sounds line. I was inspired by this declaration to write, considering that Camden Yards will most likely be overrun by Phillies fans this weekend, a similar document is in order: “The Declaration of the Rights of Fan, and of the Citizen,” inspired by the Marcliff du Leefayette, and Juan Robespierre…yeah, never mind.

Anyway, I don’t want to Rovell y’all and give out a bunch of rules undemocratically–which would be quite ironic, given the source material–so consider this as a suggestion, rather than a set of laws that everyone should follow because I said so. Though if everyone follows these just because I said so, that’d be totally cool.


  • To be free from physical oppression or intimidation. No one wants a Brian Stow incident, or that nastiness outside Geno’s after the Winter Classic.
  • To be given free access to the stadium and surrounding amenities or entertainment venues. None of this “we’re only selling tickets to Virginians and Marylanders” malarkey. Anyone who can afford a ticket should be welcome.
  • To be free from excessive verbal abuse or ad hominem attacks. You probably shouldn’t get your panties in a twist if you wear a Scott Hartnell jersey to Madison Square Garden and someone makes a Jeff Carter joke. But on the other hand, I was in the student section for a South Carolina-LSU football game once, when people spotted a kid in a purple sweatshirt a few rows down from me. Within minutes, almost literally the entire 12,000-person student section was chanting “Get the fuck out!” at this poor kid, who had done nothing wrong except wear the wrong colors in the wrong spot. Stadia should not resemble gang turf wars, or the lynch mob scene from To Kill a Mockingbird.
  • To wear your team’s colors and cheer when something good happens to them. That said, don’t act like a jackass. Stand up and cheer and clap at a big base hit, or yell the occasional “CHOOOOCH!” but if you’re a total boor, The Committee for Public Safety takes no responsibility for what happens to you.

For that matter, I think all of those things are contingent on the manners and good behavior of the visiting fan. If you show up in another team’s stadium and are obnoxious, confrontational, or disruptive, they have every right to be rude to you back. But there’s no reason why adults of different allegiances can’t enjoy a baseball game (or really any sport that isn’t soccer or college football) in relative harmony. I look forward to exploring an unfamiliar city this weekend and meeting new fans with a different take on the game than the insular Phillies-based community in which I find myself, as well as making about a billion references to The Wire. And even to exchange a bit of good-natured ribbing and banter. I’d like to think that if an Orioles fan (or any fan, for that matter) came to take in a series in Philadelphia, he’d be able to do so without encountering open hostility.

Additions to this list? Deletions? Or should the Committee for Public Safety just go on with the beheadings?

Freddy is Fun

Freddy Galvis has a .279 wOBA, the third-worst mark on the team and among the 20-worst in all of baseball. Yet he has been the most exciting player to watch in baseball in the first two months, at least in this writer’s humble opinion. He has been making Ozzie Smith-style plays routinely throughout the season, filling in for Chase Utley, who had been the best defensive second baseman in baseball going back to 2005. And Galvis was brought up as a shortstop!

Yesterday afternoon, Galvis made two plays that stuck out in my mind. The first was on a Justin Turner line drive single to center.  You can see what  unfolded afterwards in the .gifs below. Note the simultaneous defensive wizardry and field awareness of Galvis.

The second great play came in the fourth inning when Galvis turned a 4-3 double play. It is not a particularly difficult play, as most second basemen would turn a 4-3 double play here. What struck me was how nonchalantly Galvis makes a strong, off-balance throw to first base, and how accurately he does so. Note the subtle footwork as well.

I have not bothered to look up the defensive stats he has compiled thus far, as the sample size is so small as to be completely irrelevant. (UZR takes 2-3 seasons to stabilize.) Simply from a fan’s perspective, I have not enjoyed watching another player more than Galvis, and this is coming from Chase Utley’s biggest fan.

On Umpires and “The Human Element”

The big news from from the commissioner’s office came yesterday evening when Brett Lawrie was handed a four-game suspension for his temper tantrum on May 15 against the Tampa Bay Rays. Closer Fernando Rodney fell behind in the count 3-1, but came back to strike out Lawrie thanks to some questionable strike-calling from home plate umpire Bill Miller. Rodney’s 3-1 pitch was clearly a ball pulled back in by catcher Jose Molina (baseball’s best pitch-framer). Lawrie had preemptively started his stroll down the first base line after what he thought was ball four, but was called back to the batter’s box with a full count instead. Rodney’s next pitch, although much closer to the strike zone, looked like it was pulled back in by about a foot and Miller called out Lawrie on strikes, prompting the rookie’s fit of anger.

Courtesy Brooks Baseball, here’s the strike zone plot with each pitch labeled:

Lawrie’s response was 100% wrong and he should have been suspended more than four games, in this writer’s humble opinion. However, as a baseball fan, I’m growing tired of umpires wrongfully impacting the game. Unlike players, umpires rarely get punished for being terrible at their job or instigating conflict on the baseball field. Joe West, for example, has not only become known for being an instigator, but he has worn the reputation with pride and used it to further his career both on and off the field. It’s an imbalance that lowers the quality of each and every baseball game.

We have a situation right now where, if you know the name of an umpire, it is almost always because of something negative; rarely is it for something positive. Try it yourself, right now: name as many umpires as you can off of the top of your head, then go back and write down why each umpire sticks out in your memory. Umpires’ nicknames even mock their very presence on the field, just ask “Balkin'” Bob Davidson:

Davidson, who has been nicknamed “Balkin’ Bob” or “Balk-a-day-Bob” due to his frequent and usually incorrect balk calls […]

How is this good for the game of baseball? This imbalance sullies the veracity of many games throughout the history of baseball, much more so than performance-enhancing drugs ever supposedly did. For a striking reminder, re-watch when Ryan Howard was tossed out of a game back in August 2010:

The third base umpire who mocked Howard before ejecting him in the 14th inning was Scott Barry. By needlessly instigating and therefore needlessly ejecting Howard, he forced the Phillies to use starting pitcher Roy Oswalt in left field. Although Oswalt did not drop the one fly ball hit to him, he did have to hit in the bottom of the 16th with runners on first and second with two outs and his team down 4-2. Howard could have been at the plate with a chance to hit a walk-off three-run home run, but instead, Oswalt — a career .152 hitter — weakly grounded out to third base to end the game. That’s the Phillies’ most recent example; you could ask each member of ESPN’s Sweet Spot network for his or her team’s game-losing umpire judgment without going further back than 2010.

Baseball needs to do one of two things:

  • Embrace “the human element” but implement a system where umpires are publicly held accountable for their performance and for their actions with other players and coaches
  • Scrap “the human element” altogether, relying on instant replay and automated verification

When a player hits .150, he gets benched or even sent down to the Minor Leagues. When an umpire performs equivalently poorly, nothing happens. As a result, we have a system where it behooves umpires to move further up the proverbial bell curve — to set themselves apart from their peers. They have nothing to lose! Why not call balks with reckless abandon or take advantage of emotionally-invested players by making obviously incorrect calls to goad them into an argument or tantrum? The upside is that you become better-recognized and you might get a nickname. That translates to money and job security, eventually.

Now, imagine a world where umpires are rigorously graded for the accuracy of their ball/strike, safe/out, and fair/foul rulings, and publicly held accountable for getting out of line with a player or coach. The validity of some games would no longer be in question, the average game time would go down due to fewer (or zero) arguments, and teams wouldn’t unnecessarily be losing key players for games at a time. Sure, you’d lose the “theater” of the vs.-umpire conflict, but the sport would be all the better for it. In that world, I couldn’t sympathize with a player whose temper tantrum would make a seven-year-old shake his head in disappointment.

General Isaac Trimble and Kyle Kendrick

While watching Kyle Kendrick come in with a two-run lead and go walk-double-double-hit-by-pitch against a Mets lineup reminiscent of….you know what, I’m not even going to bother.

But we witnessed Kyle Kendrick, the Michael Bay of Phillies pitchers (keeps getting work without really ever having done anything substantively good, his appearance attended by explosions and disaster, and makes a lot of money), hitting Lucas Duda with a pitch to force in a run in a situation with a 4.30 leverage index (he posted a -0.66 WPA tonight, btw, the worst mark by a Phillies reliever since Ryan Madson blew a four-run lead in the ninth inning against the Nationals on August 19 of last year). Kendrick stood on the mound with the comportment of a man who’d like nothing more than to dig a hole in the infield and escape through the catacombs.

And yet Charlie Manuel sent him out for a second inning. Then replaced him with Jose Contreras, who hasn’t been effective in two years, and the runs continued to pour in.

I was reminded of this iconic scene from the 1993 movie Gettysburg, where a commander’s inaction eventually costs his side the battle.

Now, Charlie Manuel probably had a good reason to leave Kendrick in, but nevertheless, I’ve rewritten that scene in honor of tonight’s events.

Gen. Ruben Amaro, Jr.: General Lee.
Maj. Gen. Cliff Lee: Sir, I most respectfully request another assignment.
Amaro: Do please go on, General.
Lee: The man is a disgrace! Sir, have you been listening at all to… to what the aides have been telling you? Ask General Halladay or General Blanton. Ask them. We could’ve taken that game! God in His wisdom knows we *should’ve* taken it! There was no one there, no there at all, and it commanded the series.
[he sighs] Lee: General Manuel saw it. I mean, he was with us! Me and Halladay and Blanton, all standing there in the dark like fat, great idiots with that bloody damned bullpen empty!
[he stops] Lee: I beg your pardon, General.
[Amaro nods] Lee: That bloody damned bullpen was empty as his bloody damned head! We all saw it, as God is my witness! We were all there. I said to him, “General Manuel, we have *got* to take that game.” General Bowa would not have stopped like this, with the Mets on the run and there was plenty of light left on a game like that! Well, God help us, I… I don’t know wh… I don’t know why I…
[he stops] Amaro: Do please continue, General.
Lee: Yes, sir. Sir… I said to him, General Manuel, these words. I said to him, “Sir, give me one Papelbon and I will take that game.” And he said nothing. He just stood there, he stared at me. I said, “General Manuel, give me one Qualls and I will take that hill.” I was becoming disturbed, sir. And General Manuel put his arms behind him and blinked. So I said, General, give me one *Bastardo* and I will take that hill.” And he said *nothing*! He just stood there! I threw down my glove, down on the ground in front of him!
[he stops and regains his composure] Lee: We… we could’ve done it, sir. A blind man should’ve seen it. Now they’re working up there. You can hear the axes of the Met troops. And so in the morning… many a good boy will die… taking that game.