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Dr. Strangeglove

Dr. Strangeglove: Hunter Pence and Terms of Enrampagement

Posted by Michael Baumann, Fri, July 29, 2011 09:00 AM Comments: 80

I try to keep my commentary on this site rational, coherent, and dispassionate whenever possible. But the past few days have tested my patience. So what follows is spoken not from a place of reason, at least not entirely, and is permeated throughout with profanity and invective. So if you’re looking for news, this is not the place for you. If, however, you’re as fed up as I am with the rampant speculation on trades that could, if you listen to some, not only save the Phillies’ current season (!) but prevent the imminent disaster that is Domonic Brown from raining down volcanic ash and deadly plasma upon our fair city, yea, unto the seventh generation, then this is the post for you.

I think today is the day, as such a trade becomes, it seems, unavoidable, that we turn to the internet not out of fear but for catharsis, because after months of trying to discuss the situation analytically, my patience is wearing thin. I’m tired of discussing the pros and cons of Relief Pitcher A versus Relief Pitcher B, or Hunter Pence versus Carlos Quentin and Ryan Ludwick. I’m through being patient and ecumenical, because, frankly, I’m afraid. I’m afraid that Ruben Amaro is going to do something, out of a misplaced sense of panic or perhaps nothing more complicated than his own ignorance, that is so profoundly stupid as to touch on the bounds of mental illness.

Here’s the thing. The Phillies have assembled a team that is clearly the best in the National League. Coolstandings.com, which probably does not bear as much resemblance to the Holy Gospel as I make it out to, but is still an interesting way to look at the standings, has them on pace to win 99 games for the first time since the Danny Ozark era and at a 96.9 percent chance of making the playoffs. What a laughable idea it is, in light of those facts, that the Phillies need to do anything!

Even after the Carlos Beltran deal, the Phillies still match up quite well with the Giants and Braves, certainly well enough for Charlie Manuel’s bunch to like their chances in a seven-game NLCS with home-field advantage. So why is Ruben Amaro putting his young players on the market, the ones who stand to continue this era of dominance that we’ve somehow all taken for granted will continue beyond 2012 or 2013?

Now that the trade market is settling into its final week before the non-waiver deadline, do you know what the Phillies have to do to be the overwhelming favorite to represent the National League in the World Series? Not a goddamned thing.

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Dr. Strangeglove: Fairness vs. Excitement

Posted by Michael Baumann, Fri, July 22, 2011 11:46 AM Comments: 11

One thing it’s important to remember sometimes is that most of us who write for this site have no more access or information than the average fan. Pat and Jay, for instance, do interviews and cultivate sources and might actually learn things about the Phillies before the public. I say “might” because they tend not to pass this information on to me, so I know just as little about potential stretch run acquisitions as the average fan, or, stated better, I am privy to no more information.

But despite that, and not knowing which relief pitcher, or outfielder, or other type of player the Phillies might come away with by either trade deadline. But here’s my suspicion: I think the Phillies would enter the playoffs as the overwhelming favorite no matter what moves they make, and while adding Heath Bell or Carlos Beltran would help, for sure, but not as much as you might think. Here’s why: being the best team isn’t enough, and that’s the point: the playoffs are designed to be unfair.

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Dr. Strangeglove: On Chase, Rickey, and Cooperstown

Posted by Michael Baumann, Fri, July 15, 2011 02:16 PM Comments: 7

I was listening to the Jonah Keri podcast yesterday, with special guest Rickey Henderson. As an aside, this is one of my must-listen bits of online radio, as Keri’s discussion of sports and pop culture ticks all the boxes for a podcast: a quirky, funny, intelligent host asking unique questions to a wide-ranging and interesting series of guests, ranging from Death Cab for Cute frontman Ben Gibbard to Rays third baseman Evan Longoria, with everything in between.

Anyway, this post isn’t about Jonah Keri, or his excellent podcast, or even about Rickey Henderson. Well, it kind of is about Rickey Henderson. Henderson is a first-ballot hall-of-famer, and almost universally considered to be one of the greatest players of all time, as well as the greatest basestealer of the past 40 years or so. So it ought to come as a surprise that I believe him to be, in spite of his sparkling reputation, still somewhat underrated. Bill James once wrote of Henderson that if you cut him in half, you’d have two hall of fame-caliber players. What people forget about Henderson is that not only was he a great basestealer, he was a great hitter as well, with more than 3,000 hits, a career on-base percentage of .401, and nearly 900 extra-base hits. Henderson retired as baseball’s all-time leader in runs scored and walks, and is one of only seven players in major league history to reach base 5,000 times.

The point of the matter is that while Henderson is acknowledged as a great player, I’d submit that when we consider his place in baseball history, we actually underrate his achievements. And as you may or may not be aware, a certain Phillie shares that affliction.

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Dr. Strangeglove: On Pineapple Express

Posted by Michael Baumann, Tue, July 05, 2011 04:00 PM Comments: 8

For the Phillies Nation news report on Shane Victorino’s injury, click here.

Dear Shane Victorino,

I think I owe you an apology. I’ve got a lot of rage in this tiny little heart of mine, and a lot of it tends to be directed at ballplayers. For a long time, I’ve championed the cause of Cole Hamels because he was a lot better than the average fan seemed to think, and I’ve spent countless hours trying to convince anyone who would listen that Wilson Valdez was nowhere near the player they thought he was.

So Shane, while I’ve never really thought you were a bad ballplayer, I certainly thought that you made so many running catches not because you had the defensive ability of a young Andruw Jones, but because you would spend several seconds after the crack of the bat running aimlessly in circles almost at random, like a golden retriever chasing a frisbee. I thought your overaggressive approach at the plate was compounded by a stubborn insistence on trying to knock the ball out of the park, rather than beating the ball into the ground and running, the way Ichiro would. I thought your speed, perhaps unmatched in the game, was wasted by your rank inability to read pitchers on the basepaths, as you racked up the caught-stealing totals while Jimmy Rollins, Jayson Werth, and Chase Utley seemingly (and sometimes literally) went years without being caught.

I’ve always thought you were a decent ballplayer, if not a star, and I’ve caught a lot of flack for standing by that opinion. Like this time. And this time. And while I’m not quite ready to take back everything I’ve said, I will say this: I’m sorry, Shane, because you’ve been great this year.

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Dr. Strangeglove: On Seeing the Ex

Posted by Michael Baumann, Fri, July 01, 2011 08:00 PM Comments: 10

I’ve long been fond of comparing my relationship with baseball to religion, or to romance; in short, subjects that are supposed to carry the life-changing importance and inspire the fanatical devotion that sports carry for people like us. While most sports fans root for the name on the front of the jersey, rather than the back, we still develop attachments to our favorite players, feel like we know them well, and expect them to reciprocate the affection we so eagerly heap upon them.

So when relationships with athletes end, there is always a sense, of loss, but as with romantic relationships, that sense of loss varies. Sometimes, a happy relationship goes stale, and it’s just time to move on, like when the Eagles traded Donovan McNabb. Sometimes, it’s a relationship that brings you nothing but hurt, and when it ends, you feel freed, like when the Phillies got rid of Eric Bruntlett. And sometimes, someone you love is snatched away from you with no warning, and all you can feel is heartbreak.

This is what happened to me when the Flyers traded Mike Richards to Los Angeles last week. That kind of sudden separation is rare, both in real life and in the sporting world, and regardless of the return, or whether you think everyone might be better off in the long run, it still hurts. And when, on October 15, Richards returns to Philadelphia, we’ll have to figure out out, as fans, how to welcome him back.

Tomorrow afternoon, Blue Jays fans will figure out how to answer that question when Roy Halladay makes his first start in Toronto since joining the Phillies.

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Dr. Strangeglove: On the Edge of Your Seat

Posted by Michael Baumann, Tue, June 28, 2011 03:08 PM Comments: 5

As you may or may not know, I’m a product of the University of South Carolina, home of the defending national champion Gamecock baseball team, which needs to take one of the next two games from the hated Florida Gators to earn that distinction for another year. Along the way, Carolina has engaged in two of the most exciting and harrowing College World Series runs in recent memory–if you heard a loud, high-pitched “meep”ing sound either in D.C. around 11 on Friday or at the same time in South Jersey last night, that was probably me.

I was going to recount the high points of both last year’s and this year’s CWS runs for Carolina, but that’d take a while, and I’m not sure you’d care. Let’s just say that last year, the Gamecocks had two extra-inning walkoff hits in five games, sandwiching a three-hit complete game by their left-handed relief specialist. This year, they’ve walked off twice, beaten the top two seeds a combined three straight games, including back-to-back wins where the Gamecocks got out of a bases loaded, no-out jam in extra innings before scoring the winning run on a throwing error the next frame. It’s been phenomenally exciting and positively unsettling, and since I’ve been so swept up in the college game for the past couple weeks so that I haven’t paid tremendously strict attention to the Phillies, if I’m honest. So for today’s post, I’ll solicit the help of the readership–in the spirit of the Gamecocks’ electrifying weekend, I pose the following question to you: what is the most exciting Phillies game you’ve ever seen? Maybe not the most memorable (otherwise everyone would say one of the two World Series titles), but the one that got you you not only to the edge of your seat, but leaving fingernail marks on the undersides of the armrests?

My top three answers are after the jump.

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Dr. Strangeglove: On Pitcher Usage

Posted by Michael Baumann, Fri, June 24, 2011 09:00 AM Comments: 9

Okay, you’re right. Ryan Madson ought not to be closing games for the Phillies. However, it has nothing to do with mentality, or toughness, or any of the intangible reasons that have kept the Phillies’ best reliever out of the bullpen’s most glamorous spot for three years. Madson is the Phillies’ best pitcher out of the bullpen, by far, to the point where any argument to the contrary is really not worth discussing. So what should he do, if not close? Something far more important.

As an aside, this is hardly new ground being broken here; people smarter and more knowledgeable than I have been calling for the abolition of the closer role as such for more than a decade. This is just a different take on that argument.

Major league managers use their top relief pitchers in one of these three situations:

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Dr. Strangeglove: On Ryan Howard and Buying a Car

Posted by Michael Baumann, Mon, June 20, 2011 12:30 PM Comments: 64

I drive a five-year-old Toyota Corolla. I bought it used when I had a little bit of money, and knowing that I’d be a broke grad student for the foreseeable future, I was willing to pay a little more up front to purchase a car that would require a minimal investment for the next five or six years. My car is just fine–it gets great mileage, it seats four comfortably, it handles, accelerates, and brakes responsively, if not sportily. I like it and find it useful, but I don’t love it. And while I would probably buy the same car if I had it all to do over, I wouldn’t call mine a great car by any stretch of the imagination.

A new, similarly-equipped Corolla would run you about $19,000, which is solid car money. For that money, you should get honest, reliable, comfortable transportation. If you’re paying in the neighborhood of $20,000 for honest, reliable, comfortable transportation, I think you’re doing okay. But if you’re paying upper-end BMW money for that, say $80,000 or more? You’ve got a problem.

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Doctor Strangeglove: On Body Type and Domonic Brown’s Swing

Posted by Michael Baumann, Fri, June 17, 2011 09:04 AM Comments: 24

Did you ever notice how many great baseball players have what could loosely be described as a Hack Wilson type body?…Just perhaps, the short, powerful body is actually the best body for a baseball player. Long arms really do not help you when you’re hitting; short arms work better…Lousy players outnumber great players a hundred to one–but can you name a dozen guys like that who had bodies like that and were lousy players?

Bill James, “Yogi Berra,” in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, 2001

We all sort of imagine that the ideal athletic body type is tall, with long, spindly arms and legs. This is absolutely true in basketball, a game that’s all about long strides, long leaps, and long reach. In other sports, this is not necessarily the case. For pitchers, the tall, long-limbed body type is often the ideal, because of the tremendous leverage that can be generated when throwing the ball, to say nothing of the intimidation factor of staring up at a Goliath figure on the mound. When one considers the great power pitchers of the last 50 years, there isn’t really much doubt that this is true–Randy Johnson (6-10), Steve Carlton (6-4), Roger Clemens (6-4), Sandy Koufax (6-2 and a former basketball player at the University of Cincinnati), and so on. There are exceptions, of course (Chad Billingsley might have the shortest legs in baseball), but you get the idea.

For a position player, I’m not convinced that this is true. Albert Pujols, while he is 6-foot-3 of quivering muscle, actually has rather short appendages, leading to a shorter swing. Babe Ruth was hardly Cole Hamels in appearance, but somehow, he rode his stubby little legs to become baseball’s all-time leader in slugging, WAR, and OPS+. Perhaps no one in the game today uses his fire hydrant body to greater advantage than Chase Utley, whose swing is among the shortest and most powerful in baseball, and who generates his speed on the bases, not from a few loping Usain Bolt-style strides, but from many shorter ones.

But this, ultimately, isn’t about Babe Ruth, or Randy Johnson, or even Chase Utley. It’s about Domonic Brown.

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Doctor Strangeglove: On the Dangers of Expecting Victory

Posted by Michael Baumann, Fri, June 10, 2011 12:46 PM Comments: 8

Like most of you, I suspect, I follow more than one sport, so this week brings heightened importance for me not only as the Phillies’ season descends into the depths of June, but the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the most prestigious men’s soccer tournament in North America, kicked off this week. It ought to be fun, watching the U.S. national team together in its strongest configuration for the first time in nearly a year, with Donovan, Dempsey, Howard, Bradley, etc., playing in a tournament of the utmost importance. But it’s not. You see, there is much at stake in this tournament–two more years of bragging rights over archrivals Mexico, the sense of continued progress of American soccer, and a berth in the 2013 Confederations Cup, and the Americans are overwhelming favorites, particularly considering the tournament is being played in the United States. The U.S. hasn’t finished worse than third since 1985, and has won three times in the past five installments.

So, an important competition, played on home soil, with our team favored to win ought to be fun, right? Well, it’s not. It’s terrifying, more than anything else, because anything but a victory, and a convincing victory at that, would be considered a disappointment. I can’t speak for the American soccer public as a whole, but I, for one, am looking forward to giving Mexico another black eye, another crack at Spain and Brazil in 2013, and the continued evolution of the most popular game on Earth in the the greatest nation on Earth. None of that happens if the Yanks lose this month, and so the expectation of greatness dilutes the enjoyment of same when it comes, and anticipation is counterbalanced by fear of losing what you never had in the first place.

I think you can see where I’m going with this.

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