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Dr. Strangeglove

Dr. Strangeglove: Saying Goodbye

Posted by Michael Baumann, Fri, December 23, 2011 11:00 AM Comments: 20

In June 2009, when I was trying to find a job after graduating college, I started writing for a small Phillies blog run by a longtime friend of mine, Paul Boye. He wasn’t doing much with it, I figured, so why not let me on board? That site, The Phrontiersman, trundled along for a while at about 1,500 hits a month for seven months. We each probably posted about twice or three times a week, and it was fun, but we knew that only a couple hundred people read our posts. That site served the purpose of helping Paul and me find our voices as sports commentators, all the while developing this strange sort of comedy double act, with me playing the role of Groucho Marx and Paul as Margaret Dumont.

In January 2010, I wrote a post trying to project the Phillies’ history if they’d kept Scott Rolen. MLB Trade Rumors linked to it, and the site blew up. A couple weeks later, Paul called me at work, saying this site called Phillies Nation had gotten in touch with him and wanted us to move over and write for them. I couldn’t say yes quickly enough, and for the past two years, I’ve written anything from a short poem about Cliff Lee facing the Mets to 2,000 words on attending the 19-inning game against the Reds this year. Over 23 months, we’ve been on a journey together, you and I, that’s featured both emotion and logic, with a touch of confrontation thrown in.

Today, that journey comes to an end. This will be my last post as a member of the Phillies Nation staff.

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Dr. Strangeglove: Nicknames

Posted by Michael Baumann, Fri, December 16, 2011 12:40 PM Comments: 43

Oil Can Boyd

There’s a lot not to like about baseball in the 1930s and 1940s–no television, racial segregation, and an offensive explosion that would make the Steroid Era look like the Bronze Age, thanks to joke ballparks (258 feet to the right field foul pole at the Polo Grounds!) and a set of strategic norms still adjusting to the live ball era.

But there were some things I wish hadn’t changed from then. Four, to be precise:

  1. No designated hitter
  2. No Atlanta Braves (though I admit that if they were from Boston I might hate them even more)
  3. No New York Mets
  4. Nicknames

Sure, we have nicknames on the Phillies, and while some of them are pretty good (J-Roll, assuming he comes back, Doc, Chooch), others are pretty awful, like “Polly” or “J-Bone,” which is what Steven De Fratus wants us to call his brother, Phillies reliever Justin De Fratus. Intending no undue disrespect to either De Fratus brother, J-Bone is the stupidest goddamn idea for a nickname that I’ve ever heard in my life. We can come up with something better.

That’s what was so great about the interwar years–they put thought into their nicknames, which is how we wound up with The Splendid Splinter, Fat Freddie Fitzsimmons, Goose Goslin, and a litany of awesome sobriquets for Babe Ruth. And because we weren’t afraid of hurting people’s feelings, nicknames weren’t limited to things you might call your golden retriever or the third-line center on the squirt hockey team you coach on the weekend–you couldn’t really be mean, but you didn’t have to be complimentary, either. You could call someone “Losing Pitcher Mulcahy” or “Three Finger Brown” and no one would accuse you of being an insensitive pig. We need to think outside the box here, which is why I’ve been trying so hard to get “Exxon” and “Tony No-Dad” to stick.

It’s also why I need your help.

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Dr. Strangeglove: Leonid Brezhnev, GM

Posted by Michael Baumann, Fri, December 09, 2011 12:26 PM Comments: 24

Because it’s finals week at universities across North America, I’d like to encourage everyone to do the following: if there’s a college professor who impacted your life for the better whom you never thanked, go back and do that. For me, it would be Dr. Gordon Smith, Director of the Walker Institute of International and Area Studies at the University of South Carolina and one of American academia’s foremost experts on Russian politics. My junior year of undergrad, I took his Russian foreign policy class because 1) I needed an international relations elective and 2) my girlfriend, a Russian major, was taking it.

That class was the first impetus for my choosing to attend graduate school for political science–international relations in particular–and Dr. Smith was a fabulous teacher. I wasn’t one of the star students, and I figured that if Dr. Smith remembered me at all, it would be as the sleepy-looking bearded guy who sat next to KTLSF in the back row–she was one of the star students–and thought it was funny to characterize the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko as “in Soviet Russia, tea drinks you!” But more than a year after our last class meeting, he spotted me on the street, called me by name, and we talked for several minutes about life, the universe, and everything.

This post was made possible because of one word–gerontocracy–to which Dr. Smith introduced me that semester. I’d like to dedicate this post to Dr. Gordon Smith, who, I’m sure would be proud to know that one of his students got just enough out of his class to spot the parallels between Ruben Amaro Jr., general manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, and Leonid Brezhnev, leader of the Soviet Union.

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Dr. Strangeglove: The Ballad of Scott Mathieson

Posted by Michael Baumann, Sat, December 03, 2011 07:30 AM Comments: 9

From 2005 to 2008, I probably paid less attention to to the day-to-day operations of the Phillies than at any other time, owing mostly to spending more than half of the baseball season living in a place where there was no local MLB broadcast among people who considered baseball season as nothing other than that awkward time between when the Gamecocks lose to Clemson and when the Gamecocks lose to Georgia. Thankfully, that second modifier no longer holds true. Eat me, Dabo Swinney. Of course, by “paid less attention” I mean “checked the standings online every day rather than spending every spare moment imagining a Hamels-and-Howard for Cain-and-Belt trade.”

Anyway, because I wasn’t watching as much baseball back then, Scott Mathieson was this mystical figure to me. He was some dude who showed up in the rotation in mid-2006 and totally sucked, not to put too fine a point on it, then got hurt and seemingly disappeared back into the woods of British Columbia like Sasquatch evading an enterprising photographer. I always liked him, because as a young guy who threw hard, he conceivably had some value to the Phillies. Also, because of my well-documented and long-running man-crush on Jeff Francis, I have a soft spot in my heart for enormous pitchers from British Columbia.

Since then, Mathieson’s had a fascinating career with the Phillies, which came to an end this week when he was granted his release. I felt a strong personal affinity for Mathieson over the years, maybe because he was the Phillies’ sleeper relief ace every year for the past three seasons but never got the chance as the Phillies relied on the likes of Danys Baez and Mike Zagurski to fill the gaps, a sort of proto-Domonic Brown. Nevertheless, for someone who only pitched 44 innings in red pinstripes, he generated a lot of ink before he was traded for a hot dog eater. In that vein, it’s appropriate to remember everyone’s favorite perennial closer-in-waiting and what our own Jay Floyd called his “strange odyssey.”

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Dr. Strangeglove: Albert Camus and the Backup Catcher

Posted by Michael Baumann, Fri, November 18, 2011 07:00 AM Comments: 18

Mother died today.

-Opening line of Albert Camus’ The Stranger

The Phillies re-signed backup catcher Brian Schneider yesterday. I get worked up about a lot of baseball-related things that don’t matter, as you may know by now, and the Phillies overpaying for Jonathan Papelbon and sending Jonathan Singleton packing for Hunter Pence sent me into a blind homicidal rage that could only be sated by drinking the tears of a thousand Mets fans and the blood of a hundred innocent fawns. But when the Phillies re-signed their backup catcher to a one-year, $800,000 contract, I felt no greater emotional response to the transaction than Meursault did to his mother’s death in Camus’ 1942 masterwork.

Brian Schneider was a patently terrible offensive player last season. In 1962, the Mets acquired catcher Harry Chiti from Detroit for a player to be named later. In 15 games with New York, Chiti posted an OPS of .452 and, six weeks after the trade, was returned to the Tigers, making him, at the time, the only player in major league history to be traded for himself. Schneider was only marginally better than Chiti: a .502 OPS and, taken in concert with his defense (though an defensive rating based on 300 innings in the field is next to worthless, particularly for catchers) was nearly a full win below replacement.

But since $800,000 on a catcher to the Phillies is, proportionally, about what I’d spend on lunch, bringing Schneider back isn’t really an unwise expenditure of capital so much as it represents the inexorable march of time and the ultimate triumph of the absurd over humanity’s desire to find higher meaning in life. Continue reading Dr. Strangeglove: Albert Camus and the Backup Catcher

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Dr. Strangeglove: On Not Characterizing One’s Negotiations

Posted by Michael Baumann, Fri, November 11, 2011 06:43 AM Comments: 20

Apparently the rules of the world now include a moratorium on all sports discussion on the internet that doesn’t involve some sort of anger at Joe Paterno and Penn State. I apologize for violating that moratorium.

The good folks over at The Good Phight have a device called the Ruben Amaro, Jr. Smug Advisory System, a machine that does exactly what the name would suggest. I bring this up because on Monday Rube produced possibly the most smug, self-satisfied utterance ever attributed to a major league general manager. Asked about his pursuit of a closer, Amaro said the following:

“I do not characterize my negotiations.”

Oh, snap.

I imagine Amaro sitting around a long table with reporters and other Phillies brass while making this statement. In fact, I’ve illustrated my mental image of the scene for you:

But when that statement was followed by rumors of a four-year, $44 million contract extension for Ryan Madson, I had an idea. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with RAJ refusing to characterize his negotiations. He’s doing his level best to construct a winning team and it really shouldn’t matter to him what we think. I actually kinda like the arrogance. I’m actually looking forward to the day when this happens at a press conference. In fact, I am so inspired by his refusal to characterize his negotiations that I’m thinking about doing the same.

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Dr. Strangeglove: My Relationship with Jimmy Rollins

Posted by Michael Baumann, Fri, November 04, 2011 07:40 AM Comments: 35

“…for as far back as I can remember I have loved two kinds of teams more than any other. The first, of course, were the hometown teams, which for me were Cleveland teams, the Indians and Browns and Cavaliers, those heartbreakers I had inherited because my father found a job at a factory there before I was born.” –Joe Posnanski, “Game Six,” Oct. 28, 2011

I read that passage, in a typically-outstanding blog post by Joe Posnanski of Sports Illustrated, the dean of the kind of rambling, introspective, analytic form of sports column I love most. The post itself had little to do with the genesis of Posnanski’s own Cleveland fandom, but it got me thinking about how much my happiness is tied to the employment status of a 32-year-old man from Oakland, whom I’ve never met and probably never will.

I’m a 24-year-old man with a driver’s license and a postgraduate education, so I’m an adult by proclamation, if not so much by behavior, and for the first time since I had terrible acne, a squeaky voice, and thought Blink-182 was cool, I’m faced with life without my favorite baseball player on my favorite team. Jimmy Rollins has been a constant in my life for 11 years, a period of time in which I’ve graduated from middle school and high school and collected bachelor’s and master’s degrees. A period of time in which I had my first kiss, first girlfriend, and first bad breakup, and got engaged to a person who, at the time of Rollins’ major league debut, I wouldn’t even know existed for another five years.

In spite of my quest to be objective in my baseball analysis, I hope the Phillies re-sign Jimmy Rollins above all else, and while I’d be thrilled if he’d sign a contract with favorable terms to the team, deep down I don’t care what the cost is.

And the most unsettling part of all of this is that I feel so strongly about Rollins, more than anything else, because no one was building much of anything in North Carolina in the early 1980s.

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Dr. Strangeglove: On Constructing a Bullpen

Posted by Michael Baumann, Fri, October 28, 2011 02:42 PM Comments: 17

Don't do it, Ruben. You'll thank me later.

This is an argument I’ve been making for close to a year, and while I’ve hinted at it, in both my post on Domonic Brown’s future and in my season review of Antonio Bastardo, but the Phillies have a need that might run counter to the big-splash mentality by which Ruben Amaro has seemed to run this team since taking over. With Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson entering free agency, the Phillies find themselves without a proven closer heading into the offseason. This presents a rather different conundrum for the team than does Jimmy Rollins‘ impending free agency or even Roy Oswalt‘s. This free agent class is unbelievably weak at shortstop and in starting pitching, which are, of course, two areas where many teams with designs on a playoff berth in 2012 have great need.

For shortstops, it’s Jose Reyes, then Rollins, then Marco Scutaro and Alex Gonzalez. That’s it. Almost every other free agent shortstop is either a replacement-level player or close to it, and if you’re going to put a bad player on the field, better to get that lack of production from a cheap source, such as Wilson Valdez , than to pay a premium to get the same production from a bigger name, say, Yuniesky Betancourt. For pitchers, CC Sabathia seems like he’ll opt out of his contract and re-sign with the Yankees, which leaves Oswalt–whose status for 2012 is still not certain–along with C.J. Wilson, Yu Darvish, and a littany of former stars (Aaron Harang, Brandon Webb, Jeff Francis, and others) to whom time and chance have been so unkind that they resemble their former selves only in appearance. Francis and Webb, who faced off in Game 1 of the 2007 NLCS, are no more ace starters than the sunken wreckage of the U.S.S. Arizona is a functioning ship of the line. That message seems to have reached the Phillies’ front office clearly.

However, this free agent class features a surfeit of proven closers. Even if the Phillies don’t re-sign Madson, they have Jose Valverde, Jonathan Papelbon, Heath Bell, Frank Francisco…if the Phillies want to splash big money to buy someone who’s racked up impressive save totals in recent years, they certainly won’t lack the opportunity.

But spending big money on a relief pitcher is a sucker’s bet, and the Phillies, who tend to be very hit (Roy Halladay, Chase Utley) or miss (Ryan Howard, Brad Lidge, Placido Polanco, depending on who you ask) with their long-term contracts would be extremely foolhardy to sign any relief pitcher to a multi-year deal.

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Dr. Strangeglove: There But For the Grace of God

Posted by Michael Baumann, Fri, October 21, 2011 04:36 PM Comments: 31

I’ve been harping on how playoff baseball can hinge on luck, happenstance, and fractions of an inch for months now. It’s been roughly utility-neutral to us as Phillies fans in recent years (I hate to go all Jeremy Bentham on you guys, but that was the best way to put it), because while the Phillies, in 2011, lost in the first round of the playoffs despite probably being the best team with the easiest road to the World Series, the same could be said of the 2008 Cubs. And if the Cubs weren’t the best team, the Rays were most likely next in line, then the Red Sox, and then the Phillies. Having the Cubs lose in the first round and the Phillies win the World Series is really no more of a karmic ball-tap than having the Phillies lose in the first round and the Cardinals win the World Series this year.

Except I can’t stand Tony La Russa and his smug self-importance and tedious overmanaging. Or the rest of the pressed-and-ironed St. Louis Cardinals, essentially Lance Berkman and a bunch of guys who are really hard to like. There’s Albert Pujols, the greatest baseball player I’ve ever seen and one of the most off-puttingly boring personalities in sports. There’s the battery of Chris Carpenter and Yadier Molina, two guys whose defenders would describe as “fiery” but are so prickly they make Nyjer Morgan look like Carlos Ruiz. Then there’s the legion of anonymous, dirty-jersey grinders who run into unnecessary outs and lay down more bunts than an unimaginative pastry chef. It’s horrific baseball, an Indian burn on the forearm of progess in baseball tactics, and it’s working.

Not that anyone would confuse Ron Washington for Earl Weaver, and while I find Josh Hamilton inspiring, Adrian Beltre riveting and C.J. Wilson charming, I can see why one might have the same sort of viscerally negative reaction the Rangers that I have to the Cards. But my spiteful Ranger bandwagonism nearly came under assault last night, if not for one of those razor-thin margins that so often define baseball. Continue reading Dr. Strangeglove: There But For the Grace of God

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Dr. Strangeglove: On a Plan for Domonic Brown

Posted by Michael Baumann, Fri, October 14, 2011 03:38 PM Comments: 65

I wanted to say how nice it’s been to get along with the readership over the past few weeks, a state of affairs I’d chalk up to my being neither informative nor persuasive since the first week in September or so. Anyway, I wanted to get that out there, because I’m back to my old ways. I went into this offseason with almost no expectations. This offseason, my wish was really more that the Phillies do nothing rather than do something. I was prepared to make peace with whatever the Phillies did this offseason, provided the following things happened:

  1. The Phillies don’t offer arbitration to Raul Ibanez.
  2. The Phillies don’t sign any free agent reliever (including Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson) to any contract with a total value of more than $5 million.
  3. The Phillies commit to getting Domonic Brown 400 or more major league plate appearances in 2012, preferably as the every day left fielder, but at least in some sort of platoon arrangement with John Mayberry.

Then Ruben Amaro announced that the Phillies wanted to get Brown a full season at AAA before bringing him up to the majors. I was absolutely mystified by this decision, though, judging by Ruben Amaro’s bizarre insistence on giving anyone but Brown a chance to play at the major league level in 2011, I can’t say I was surprised. Ever since he refused to include Brown in any sort of trade for Cliff Lee or Roy Halladay back in 2009, Amaro has, like Hamlet tormenting Claudius, seemed to take some sort of perverse pleasure in treating the Phillies’ top hitting prospect since Chase Utley like a yo-yo, tossing and spinning, and otherwise screwing with Brown for no reason other than he can.

Maybe there’s some sort of plan for Brown that the public is not privy to, and this is part of it. Maybe he’s being kept in the minors because there’s a flaw in his game that the Phillies are aware of but has escaped the eye of the extremely astute talent evaluators at ESPN and Baseball America. If that’s the case, maybe he’s being hidden so as not to harm his trade value. But I find that hard to believe.

I think I actually want this more than 400 plate appearances for the Domonator: to know what, exactly, that plan is.

Continue reading Dr. Strangeglove: On a Plan for Domonic Brown

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