We’re Back

Apologies for the sudden disappearance over the last few days. Since the Charlie Manuel news broke, we have had a surge in traffic, which suffocated the servers and forced me to make an upgrade. The transfer took a bit longer than expected, but everything should be back in shape now. Let me know if you are experiencing any issues going forward.

Joining Up with HardballTalk

I will be contributing over at the NBC Sports baseball site HardballTalk for the 2013 season. You can catch me there every evening on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. This will have no effect on the content here as the partnership with ESPN remains intact, and I will still be contributing content on the Sweet Spot blog every weekend as well. I just published an introductory post over at HBT, which you can find here if you are interested.

Happy New Year from Crashburn Alley

2012 may have been a disappointing year in Philadelphia sports, but all of us here at Crashburn Alley have had blast writing for you and interacting with you on a daily basis this year, whether here in the comments, on Twitter, on the podcast (to be resumed at some point in the future, by the way), or elsewhere. We hope you’ll stick around for a great 2013 that maybe, just maybe, ends with another Phillies championship. Hey, you never know.

From the five of us here at Crashburn Alley — Bill, Paul, Ryan, Michael, and Eric — we wish you a happy new year to you and your loved ones. Please be safe and responsible tonight while celebrating.

Crashburn Odds and Ends

The Phillies will wrap up the 2012 regular season this afternoon against the Washington Nationals with but one thing left to play for: finishing above .500. The difference between 81 and 82 wins is effectively meaningless, but it would be a nice token nonetheless, ensuring the tenth consecutive season of above-.500 baseball. 2012 was a rollercoaster, starting with some frustrating April losses, followed by a seemingly neverending rash of injuries, a terrible June swoon, and selling in July. As the Phillies are wont to do, however, they heated up tremendously in the final two months, giving us exciting baseball well into September. We certainly didn’t expect the Phillies to be making golf plans in October, but if you ask me, the 2012 season was still fun and interesting.

I would like to thank all of you who loyally stop by Crashburn Alley regularly for your Phillies analysis. The success we have had over these many years (since August 2007!) couldn’t have happened without your support, and 2012 was another banner year for us. We’ll continue to provide Phillies insight and analysis throughout the off-season, so don’t take us out of your bookmarks yet. In fact, to ensure a strong off-season, I’m happy to announce that we have added another writer to the blog: Eric Longenhagen, who has worked for Baseball Info Solutions as a video scout. Eric has a wealth of knowledge about the Phillies’ Minor League system and scouting in general, so I am very happy that he will be lending his unique perspective here. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, Bradley Ankrom wasn’t able to juggle his many responsibilities, which includes covering the expanse of Minor League baseball at Baseball Prospectus. We wish Bradley all the best as he does great work.

Before I wrap up, I’d like to briefly go over a few more topics. First, we recorded a podcast with Jon Bernhardt and Lana Berry last week, but we ran into some audio troubles, rendering our guests’ microphone feeds more or less unlistenable. We are doing our best to perform a miracle, but it looks like that podcast is going into the garbage bin, sadly. However, we intend to put out several podcasts throughout the off-season, so expect more from us in the not-too-distant future. Secondly, the first and second place prizes for both Crashburn fantasy baseball leagues will be awarded at some time during the off-season, hopefully sooner rather than later. I will send out some emails when everything has cleared. On another note, I will be accepting guest posts throughout the off-season, so if you have a unique perspective you’d like to share, feel free to submit a guest post to my email (listed below). Make sure to include relevant links to your website and social media so people can find you if they like your work.

As always, if you have any suggestions, questions, or concerns, please leave a comment below or contact me via Twitter, Facebook, or email (crashburnalley at gmail). Make sure you’re following everybody else on Twitter as well: Michael Baumann (@MJ_Baumann), Ryan Sommers (@Phylan), Paul Boye (@Phrontiersman), and Eric Longenhagen (@Longenhagen). Finally, if you’re fearing pending boredom throughout the fall and winter, consider grabbing a copy of my book “100 Things Phillies Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die,” which was released back in January. You can order it online or find it at a local bookstore, including Barnes & Noble.

Now on to the end of the regular season, the new landscape of MLB’s post-season, and a potentially exciting off-season for the Phillies…

Feedback Needed: Game Threads

Going into the season, we decided adding game threads for every game would be a great way to get more of you involved. There appeared to be a good amount of interest in April, but as the season went on, the participation waned. Last night’s game thread had less than ten responses, perhaps the ultimate justification of the 90-9-1 rule. However, The Good Phight’s thread had over 500 responses for the same game. Not that we’re competing, but 534-10 is very imbalanced and indicates that we could be doing better. The threads tend to have life when I am participating, but I can’t always be in front of my laptop while watching the game, and they should be self-sustaining anyway.

As a result, we are discontinuing the game threads and Cover It Live chats until further notice.  However, we want your feedback on what you liked and didn’t like about the game threads. What would get you to participate on a regular basis? Feel free to leave feedback on anything else about the blog as well. We can’t improve without your constructive criticism.

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.

Draftstreet.com $200 Free Fantasy Baseball Challenge

DraftStreet.com

Fantasy Baseball Freeroll

CLICK HERE TO PLAY

Baseball season has arrived and it’s time for fantasy baseball. But not the full-season, six-month kind. I’m talking about a one-night showdown. Crashburn Alley has teamed up with DraftStreet.com to offer an exclusive free contest to you, the loyal Crashburn Alley readers. The freeroll will have $200 in cash prizes, the top 5 get paid, and it is totally free to sign up. How can you not get in on this?

Here’s how you play: Fill out your roster (C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, 3 OF, 2 U, 2 SP, RP, P) while staying within the budget of $100k. Player salaries are set by DraftStreet based on fantasy production. So, if you want to put Cliff Lee on the mound, it might cost you $18k, which means you’ll have to find some bargains to fill out the rest of your squad.

Sign up now for free. Build a team. You can adjust your roster up until the games start. Then check out the scoreboard when the games start and watch your team win you cash. You can even show off your team when you start racking up the points.

DAILY
HITTING  PITCHING
1B  1 pt  BBI  -.25 pts
2B  2 pts  HA  -.25 pts
3B  3 pts  HB  -.25 pts
BB  .75 pts  ER  -.75 pts
HR  4 pts  IP  .9 pts
HP  .75 pts  K  .7 pts
R  1.5 pts  L  -.75 pts
RBI  1.5 pts  S  3 pts
SB  2 pts  W  1.5 pts
KO  -.75 pt  CG  1 pt
GDP  -.75 pts  BS  -.75 pts
CS  -1 pt
SAC  .75 pts

League Start Date: Friday April 13th, 1:05 pm. The first game is Angels @ Yankees.

League Duration: One day only.

Current Prize Pool: $200, top 6 get paid

Rosters: C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, 3 OF, 2 U, 2 SP, RP, P

CLICK HERE TO PLAY

Crashburn Adds A New Slugger

I’m pleased to announce that a fifth writer has joined the Crashburn team. Bradley Ankrom will be providing weekly coverage of the Phillies’ Minor League system throughout the season. Prospect coverage was this blog’s weak point, so he will definitely put some shine on that area for us, and most importantly, for you. He has been contributing to Baseball Prospectus (and will continue). Please kindly welcome him to the Crashburn confines. Give him a follow on Twitter while you’re at it.

If you’d like to follow the other four of us:

Crashburn Fantasy Baseball 2012 (Take Two)

The first attempt at setting up this new league didn’t go so well, as I left a logical hole in the process. Let’s make things super simple and easy this time. If you participated in last year’s league, there will be a couple key changes: 1) the league is moving over to ESPN, and 2) there will be a buy-in to create incentive to follow your team through to the end of the season. I quickly grew tired of finding people to take over abandoned teams in May.

Here is the link for the league if you’d like to check it out. A quick summary: 14-team mixed 5×5 standard roto. The draft will be held online on Sunday, April 1 at 7 PM ET. Don’t sign up if you know you can’t attend the draft.

The buy-in will be $20 via Paypal (obviously, no refunds). The winner will get two-thirds of the pool (less Paypal’s transaction fees) and the runner-up will get one-third, rounded to the nearest $5 or $10. I will be the only Crashburn representative playing, and if I earn a prize, I will donate 100 percent of it to a charity of my choice.

If you are interested in signing up, leave a valid email address with a comment below (put it in the email field, not in the message field, so it is hidden from the public and from spam bots). Those who participated in last year’s Yahoo! league will be given preference. If you were among them, list your team name from the league. Remaining players will be drawn from a hat or a random number generator. Once selected, you will have a week to pay the buy-in or your spot will be forfeited to someone else.

Depending on the level of interest, I may start another league. As the first league will be traditional, the second one would be a Saber-oriented league (OBP instead of AVG, for instance). If you’d prefer to play in the Saber league, note this in your comment. You may only play in one of the two leagues, so choose wisely.

Thanks for your patience. Next time, I’ll outsource the league setup as I’m quite bad at it.

UPDATE: I have created a Saber league. It is a 14-team mixed roto league using the following categories: OBP, SLG, net stolen bases, and RBI for hitters; quality starts, shut-outs, K/9, and saves for pitchers. The draft will be held at the same time as the other league: Sunday, April 1 at 7 PM ET.

UPDATE #2: Participants have been randomly selected, so check your email for notification. Please submit your $20 entry fee by Feb. 29 at 5 PM ET, otherwise you forfeit your seat. If you didn’t get an email, you weren’t selected.

Happy Holidays from Crashburn Alley

I would like to wish Crashburn Alley readers a happy and safe holiday and new year. The Phillies community really is the best in the business, and that is especially true (I feel) about the Saber-minded crowd. Thanks to an ever-increasing readership, Crashburn Alley continued to find new levels of success. In particular, I am extremely proud of the commenting community. On a vast majority of other sites on the web, the comments are where intelligence and rationality go to die, but that is certainly not the case here. I can count on one hand the number of posters I’ve had to mute. Furthermore, many writers complain about getting nasty, hateful emails, but I did not receive one this year. I consider myself extremely lucky and am grateful for those of you who show up here on a regular basis, representing the fan base at large in the best way possible.

2011 saw three writers added to the team: Paul Boye, Ryan Sommers, and Jeff Barnes (who, unfortunately, could not find the time to contribute regularly). On that note, I’m happy to announce that one more writer will join the team as we go into 2012. Michael Baumann, formerly of Phillies Nation, will bring his highly-intelligent and unique writing style to this blog. You can follow him on Twitter (@atomicruckus). And don’t forget to follow Boye (@Phrontiersman) and Sommers (@Phylan), as well as myself (@CrashburnAlley).

I personally had a lot of fun live-tweeting games with the lot of you, and live-chatting the few times I did that. I spent most of the season working on a book and hosting a weekly show on Phillies 24/7 HD radio. It was easily the busiest and most enjoyable summer of baseball I’ve had and it couldn’t have happened without you. I have a few ideas rolling around in my head for the 2012 season, all of which I hope come to fruition. Those will be detailed as they become more realistic. In 2012, expect Crashburn Alley to continue to set the pace in Phillies-centric analysis.

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, you can reach me in any number of ways (commenting, email, Twitter, Facebook), so don’t hesitate to do so. Again, thanks to every single one of you for a great 2011. Have a safe and happy holiday.