Crash Bag, Vol. 101: Phillies Draft Scenarios

Let’s start with the Question of the Week, which I’d like to rename, because Drew Magary uses that name in his Funbag column on Deadspin, so if you have a better idea, I’m all ears. This email has been edited somewhat for brevity, though Peter said a lot of really nice shit about me, for which I thank him. If you want any question answered at length, send it to crashbaumann (at) gmail (dot) com, or on Twitter to @MJ_Baumann.

Peter, via Email: “Let’s say it’s a perfect world – ie, Selig has finally allowed draft picks to be traded, Monty has named you the GM of the Phillies. How would you play this draft for the Phillies? Would you Hinkie it and trade the 7 and maybe JPC or Tocci or JBJ (er, LGJr, well, Cozens?) for a lower first round pick this year as well as a first or second rounder next year for asset stockpiling purposes, or would you try to use those chips to move up to get Rodon/Aiken, et al?

Additionally, what’s your best and worst case scenario for the draft this year? I suppose that could be too oblique of a question to ask, in that the worst case scenario would be something like “Phillies draft Touki, and his arm explodes after 3 pitches in Lakewood”, but I’m curious about your hope for how the front office approaches both the first rounder and the rest of the draft.”

I was actually going to write a post about this last week, when Keith Law’s first mock draft came out, but Peter’s question was interesting enough that I decided to hold off. I’m going to answer it backwards, with the real-world draft scenarios first.

So here’s the thing. Law has the Phillies drafting LSU righthander Aaron Nola with the No. 7 pick. I adore Aaron Nola. I’ve had Twitter conversations with Chris Branch, the Phillies beat writer for the News Journal and an LSU grad himself, that consist only of the word “Nola” over and over. He’s a stupendous college pitcher and the kind of high-floor, relatively low-ceiling major college draft prospect I once clamored for the Phillies to draft–including a certain Jackie Bradley Jr., once upon a time. Nola is as close as there is to a sure thing to make the transition to mid-rotation big league starter. And I view taking him at No. 7 as the worst-case scenario, or close to it.

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Crash Bag, Vol. 99: Baby’s First Democratic System

Gregg Easterbrook once wrote (and I’m paraphrasing, because if I have to sift through a billion TMQ columns to find the exact wording, I will end my life, so help me God): “Writing a book is like hitting yourself in the head with a hammer: it feels so good when you stop.”

I’m writing a book, set to come out in November, ranking the 20 greatest athletes in Philadelphia sports history, and for the next month or so, I’ll be concentrating on finishing that, to the peril of any sort of writing I do for fun, including Crashburn. After 99 weeks of uninterrupted service, I toyed with the idea of just lining up five or six guest columns to fill the space, but what comes back in May will be more purposeful than what you’re reading now, which has largely been the product of inertia. So for the last time, at least for a while, I’ll take your questions.

@Hegelbon: “if the Phillies had to be run like a social political system, which would you choose? I’d pick oligarchy.”

That’s kind of how they’re run right now, isn’t it? One person, or group of people, has all the power and delegates it to a bureaucracy that includes the baseball ops people, the PR people, event planners…it’s not a terrible way to run an organization, and a big reason I’m such a fan of career civil service in actual government: we elect the politicians, who (in theory) reflect our goals as an electorate and translate those goals (national security, economic prosperity, and so on) into achievable policy objectives, then turn to the army of wonks they employ to actually carry out those objectives. Because politicians don’t know dick about how things actually work–wonks do, because they do this for a living.

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Crash Bag, Vol. 98: Carrying Asche Around

I was thinking about heist movies the other day. Heist movies are one of my three favorite genres of movie, along with movies about journalistic ethics and movies where a small group of guys go to do something during World War II. Now, I’ve seen bad examples of the other two, but the worst heist movie I’ve ever seen was Ocean’s 12, which wasn’t horrible in absolute terms so much as it was very clearly half-assed compared to the other two installments in the series. Have I been lucky, or is it just impossible to make a bad heist movie?

But that’s my question. What are yours?

@Living4Laughs: “As a fan of Jimmy Rollins is it best to block out the negative media attention and non fans’ feelings? It bothers me.”

I think that’s what I’m going to have to do, because I tried explaining to someone that Rollins isn’t actually conspicuously selfish and lazy and all that other specious, unfalsifiable (and I believe, racially coded) nonsense that gets thrown around, and even if he is, he’s the best shortstop in team history anyway, so how big a deal can his lack of ostentatious hustle really be? Let’s look at two other infielders: Nick Punto routinely dives into first base, which actually makes him slower to the bag, while Robinson Cano actually does routinely dog it down to first base. Like, it shows up in the numbers and everything. And I love Punto, but he’s a career utility infielder, while Cano has missed a total of 14 games since 2007. Chase Utley has missed fewer than 14 games in a season only three times in his career. And apart from Utley, Cano is the best second baseman since…Roberto Alomar? Joe Morgan? Cano’s going to the Hall of Goddamn Fame is my point, whether he busts his ass on a hard grounder to second or not.

Rollins isn’t that good, but if he has crippling intangible issues (which again, is a premise I won’t grant until and unless I see even specific accusations, let alone evidence, that he’s conspicuously and detrimentally apathetic), they don’t hurt the team unless they’re impairing the team’s ability to score runs or prevent its opponent from doing the same. Both of which he’s done better than any other shortstop in Phillies history, better than all but a handful of players in Phillies history and better than all but a handful of contemporary shortstops.

So like I said, I’m done arguing this.

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Crash Bag, Vol. 96: This Train

I wonder if anyone from Spain has ever written in to the blog. I’d be surprised if that was the case. Because, you know…

@Bradleycs1: “what do you think AJ Burnett’s reaction to the Phillies implementing defensive shifts will be?”

I know he was unhappy with the Pirates shifting last season, but he’ll deal with it, because he’s a professional, and the Pirates shifted their infielders more last season than just about anybody, one of the consequences of such things being that Pittsburgh won 94 games and Burnett got to start a game in the playoffs. The shift is one of many developments in baseball strategy and tactics that I really, really don’t like from an aesthetic point of view, even though I recognize that it’s smart. For instance, strikeouts are on the rise as teams realize the most reliable way to get outs is to have pitchers who miss bats, while also, somewhat paradoxically, realizing that strikeouts for hitters aren’t terrible if they’re part of an approach that also leads to deep counts, home runs and walks. Meanwhile, stolen bases have also gone out of style to a certain degree, since the high break-even point makes it more important for would-be basestealers to pick their spots more wisely. Continue reading…

Crash Bag, Vol. 95: American Virtue

@jimmyfricke: “Should Phillies fans be upset about Cruz being signed for 1 year 8 mil while we’re stuck with Byrd for 2 years 16 mil”

Absolutely not. Cruz is a 33-year-old power-before-hit corner outfielder who produces no value on the bases or in the field. Those guys tend to have a couple things in common: they’re overrated in their primes, because they produce homers and RBI, which are flashy, but nothing else. The other thing is that when the bat starts to slip even a little, the whole package falls apart. Look for Nelson Cruz comps and you’ll find names like Juan Gonzalez and Henry Rodriguez, and when those guys started to slip, things got ugly fast. Byrd is older, and didn’t have Cruz’s prime with the bat, but he was, at one point in the past, a good athlete, and I’m not convinced Byrd won’t be better than Cruz in 2014.

The other thing is Cruz costs a draft pick, and for a guy who makes you a 79-win team when John Mayberry makes you a 76-win team, that’s not even worth a second-rounder. The Orioles were in need of a DH and have a better shot at contending than the Phillies do, so this signing makes more sense for them–and even then, I’m not in love with it–but signing Nelson Cruz for a battle for third place is exactly the kind of pothole-in-front-of-the-rebuild move Ruben Amaro deserves credit for not making. The past two offseasons.

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Crash Bag, Vol. 94: Ben Wetzler Lightning Round

NBA trade deadline, labor strife, Little Big League…we’ve got it all this week.

@truelladelphia: “How great is Sam Hinkie?”

Pretty great. Early in the season, I had an expectation of getting at least one first-round pick (either this year or next) for Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes, but that stopped being realistic a while ago, thanks to the quality of this year’s draft and the NBA’s inscrutable player movement rules, which gridlocked the draft pick market to a certain extent. Hawes and Turner were both going to walk as free agents this summer anyway, so getting literally anything for them was a win. I would’ve liked to see Hawes go to either Oklahoma City or the Clippers, where I think he could’ve played a significant role on a title contender as a rotation big, but Hinkie got a return on Hawes and Turner while not panic trading Thaddeus Young for 50 cents on the dollar. Second-round NBA draft picks are one of the most useless commodities in sports, but this is where the Astros comparison I’ve been harping on all year comes in–if you take over a team without serious assets, you bide your time by placing a bunch of long-shot bets until you can get some assets. Anyway, Hinkie got rid of three veterans (including Lavoy Allen) for which he had no use and took on a net of either five or six (almost certainly six) second-round draft picks. A smart team can get one rotation player out of six second-round picks, or trade them for something else. This is the guy trading the red paper clip for the house.

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Crash Bag, Vol. 91: Winter Storm Neymar

So I’ve been encountering a phenomenon recently where journalists gripe about how, in the context of a postgame interview, “Talk about…” isn’t a real question. And it’s not. “Talk about how Cole Hamels got out of that sixth-inning jam” is not literally a question. But I don’t know why this is an issue–beat reporting isn’t Jeopardy. Everything doesn’t need to be in the form of a question. The object of the postgame scrum is to get the best, most relevant sound byte you can, and if you’re focusing on how the reporter generates that response (which will likely run without the question that prompted it), you’re reaching into “hilariously missing the point” territory.

@LeftysCurve: “Your projected starting outfield come, say, May 1″

Pretty sure it’s Brown, Revere and Byrd, unless someone gets hurt. I can’t imagine that changing based on the preseason and a month’s worth of games. Revere and Brown are both cheap and played quite well last year, and Byrd just got inked to a multi-year contract after having a better 2013 than either of them. This is probably the most stable outfield situation the Phillies have had to start a season since 2010 or so? After that, Raul Ibanez started sucking, Jayson Werth walked and Domonic Brown came up, so things got a little unpredictable. The earliest–again, barring injury–that I can see this changing is if Byrd gets flipped at the deadline. Continue reading…

Crash Bag, Vol. 90: Naming Your Baby

Greetings. Let’s talk about how great it is that Bobby Abreu is on the Phillies again.

@Wzeiders: “how great is it that Bobby Abreu is a Phillie again, even if it’s just a fleeting dream I’m scared to wake from?”

It’s pretty great, I tell ya. It’s pretty great. I try not to swear above the break in these posts, but my official position on Bobby Abreu is that if you don’t love him, or at least recognize what a great player he was, you can fuck off and die.

Go ahead. I’ll wait.

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Crash Bag, Vol. 88: Paul Bunyan Lager

I know y’all are probably sick of hearing about the Hall of Fame, but I’ve got one last parting shot: I don’t think taking the vote away from the writers is the answer, because if you assign it to a special committee, it will concentrate power in a smaller, less empirically inclined, more reactionary group than ever. Just look at the NHL, or even baseball’s Hall of Fame itself–most of the most embarrassing members of the Hall of Fame are Veterans Committee candidates who made the grade based on cronyism and old grudges. If the Hall of Fame does commission a special panel, I bet Jay Jaffe isn’t on it, despite his having come closer than anyone else to quantifying the Hall of Fame case and writing more extensively on the debate than any other writer. Maybe you get John Thorn. Maybe you get Bill James as a form of analytical tokenism. But I guarantee you that panel produces worse results than an electorate of sportswriters.

If I had unlimited time and this month to do over again, I’d try to craft an alternative electoral system to try to get around the issues posed by the 75 percent threshold and 10-vote maximum. But I only remembered that I owned a copy of Arend Lijphart’s Patterns of Democracyso that wasn’t in the cards. Though if you’re at all interested in comparative electoral systems, it’s worth the cent a used copy will run you on Amazon.

Anyway, Crash Bag 88. Lindros. Let’s go. Continue reading…

Why I Still Care About the Hall of Fame

This is a post that’s kind of about baseball’s Hall of Fame in which I tell you how to think and how to act. It’s a post that I should have given a title with a colon or starting with the word “On,” or incorporating a Dr. Strangelove joke–in short, the kind of title I used to use for 70 percent of my baseball writing before I realized those tropes were more childish than profound. This post uses baseball to make a larger point about society and public discourse. It will be, in a word, insufferable.

This morning, Ken Gurnick of MLB.com posted his Hall of Fame ballot. I apologize in advance to the Dodger beat writer, because I’m going to call him Tom Grunick at some point and not catch myself–Broadcast News is one of my favorite movies and to be honest, I’ve spent much more time with William Hurt’s character in that movie (which is to say, any time), than I have with Ken Gurnick.

But the point is this: Gurnick voted for Jack Morris, and Jack Morris alone, for the Hall of Fame. And the internet blew up. I use the phrase “roundly pilloried” a lot, but it applies well here. I’ve made no secret of my own Hall of Fame rationale: I’m generally a big Hall person, I value peak over longevity, I make some allowances for qualitative or emotional influence on my evaluations (leading to, for instance, my preference for Larry Walker over Tom Glavine), and when it comes to performance-enhancing drugs, I am on the most liberal end of the spectrum: if a player is eligible, I’d consider him. That’s how I’d vote, and I believe it’s the best way to vote, otherwise I’d have some other opinions. I don’t believe it’s the only way–if a voter prefers a smaller circle, for instance, or if he or she isn’t so comfortable with PEDs and chooses not to vote for a player who tested positive, or who was credibly accused of wrongdoing, I’d disagree, but such a ballot wouldn’t merit the treatment Gurnick got today.

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