The sports blog, when executed with flair or competence, can be a safe haven for fans to read a less structured view of their favorite franchises. Many blogs will cover the entirety of a particular market's sports landscape with enough humor, panache and behind-the-scenes frivolity to make the fan feel like they're a part of some invisible inner circle. They'll often do so with the lack of political correctness that is a requisite for print outlets and their online counterparts. They become venting tools and have a relevant place in today's sports-crazed society, but they can also struggle to be informative.
Occasionally you'll run across a blog that flies in the face of all that pizzazz and vitriol and simply provides the fan with an in-depth look at a team without falling to either side of the fence on the more controversial or polarizing issues surrounding it. These blogs attempt to provide you with information so that you may be a more educated fan as you attack the comment boards to argue sports on other sites that amount to the powder kegs comparable to sports talk radio. Only, on the internet, you need not wait on hold to leave your informed or ignorant opinion.
For Philadelphia Phillies' fans, there are a few reputable sites that attempt to stay the straight and narrow, but no site walks the high wire of objective thought quite like Crashburn Alley. Named after Rich "Whitey" Ashburn's Ashburn Alley beyond the outfield at Citizen's Bank Park, the site was created in 2007 by Bill Baer. With the skyrocketing relevance of sabermetric measurements of player values dominating serious discussions of the game, Baer's team will use charts, graphs and analytical data to break down the Fightins' hot topics while keeping in mind that at times, what you see is what you get. Objectivity is the theme of this site, and it's what helps it stand alone in a competitive Philadelphia Phillies blog market.
If you want to be informed and educated as a Phillies' fan, Crashburn Alley should be a daily stop as you surf the net. Baer has been the Phillies' representative for Heater Magazine and has written for such high-powered baseball organizations as Baseball Prospectus and Baseball Daily Digest. His book, 100 Things Phillies Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die is a thoughtful, informative and fun read for any Fightin' Phils fan. I had the opportunity to correspond with Baer recently about some offseason Phillies' issues, and he graciously shared his down the middle opinions.
Charlie Manuel is in the last year of his contract and pushing the septuagenarian land mark. The Phillies promotion of both Ryne Sandberg and Rod Nichols seems to set up the next hierarchy in Philadelphia baseball. Keeping in mind that I understand the results of 2013 will go a long way in answering this question, would the Phillies be planning Charlie's exit strategy if he were 59 instead of 69?
It certainly does seem like the Ryne Sandberg era is fast approaching. It is not often a manager leads his team to five consecutive division titles, including two World Series appearances and one title, only to be let go a couple years later. But, as you mentioned, Charlie is old even by a manager's standard. As a result, it is hard to imagine the Phillies see him as a long-term fixture in their plans and will afford him this opportunity to leave on his own terms, rather than go through a tenuous mid- or late-season firing.
You recently wrote that pursuing a veteran reliever, as is the common desire of fans and a presumed prognostication of need from the pundits might not be the most prudent thing financially or productively for the Phillies. Out of the stable of young arms the Phillies have introduced, what four or five do you believe will play an integral role in 2013? Horst, Valdes, Bastardo, De Fratus, Savery, Rosenberg, Diekman, Stutes, Aumont? Would any be untouchable in a trade if you were Ruben Amaro, Jr.?
I don't like the term "untouchable" regarding trades. Mike Trout shouldn't even be untouchable because what if you got a really good offer? It is irresponsible to shut yourself out from possible opportunities, however unlikely.
I think Phillippe Aumont has a good chance to shoot his way up the bullpen depth chart in 2013. He showcased amazing stuff in his brief time with the club in late August and September, including a mid-to-high-90's fastball with great movement, and a slurve that made some very good hitters look very foolish. If Papelbon hadn't been tethered to a four-year deal, it would have been very easy to see Aumont slotted in as the future closer in 2014 and beyond. Even still, that may be the case if Papelbon starts to decline.
After Aumont, I see Antonio Bastardo being quite valuable. Fans soured quickly on the guy after a great 2011, but most of his issues were due to a normalizing BABIP and a small sample size. Few pitchers in baseball were as dominant as Bastardo. His 36 percent strikeout rate was sixth-best among all MLB relievers, trailing only Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, Jason Grilli, and Ernesto Frieri. Pretty good company if you ask me. The cool thing about Bastardo is that he succeeds about as much against right-handed hitters as he does against lefties, which gives the Phillies more freedom to leverage better match-ups earlier in the game.
I was very impressed by Jeremy Horst as well, another lefty. In a small sample of innings, he showed strikeout and walk stuff similar to Bastardo. I am happy to toss my chips in the middle with a young lefty with an above-average ability to miss bats. The Phillies shouldn't be shy about using Horst in high-leverage spots in 2013.
The rest of the bullpen has potential, but not quite as much as the three mentioned here. The Phillies should keep a revolving door at the back end of the bullpen, freely moving younger players in and out along with cheap veteran arms.
Two part question -- a.) did Vance Worley have a sophomore slump, or is what we saw in 2012 a more accurate depiction of what his career will look like? b.) Is the Kyle Kendrick we saw in August a more accurate depiction of what the remainder of his career will look like in a Phillies uniform? In other words, are you ok with entering 2013 with them as your 4 and 5 in the rotation?
A) Worley's 2012 season was only a sophomore slump if you believed he was a true talent 3.00 ERA pitcher, as he finished 2011 at 3.01. I like Worley, but Cole Hamels he is not. He was always due to regress, but things worsened when he started to experience elbow issues in May. Overall, he is somewhere in between what he showed in the previous two seasons, slightly above-average.
B) I have been writing off Kyle Kendrick for years, but he made significant strides in 2012. He increased his strikeout rate by five percent, which is quite significant since he had never been known for his bat-missing abilities before. That being said, he went from a replacement-level pitcher to a slightly below-average, essentially reliable #5 starter. And that's really all the Phillies need out of him going forward, which is fine.
According to scoutingbook.com , the Phillies have seven Top 200 prospects in their system (Trevor May, Tommy Joseph, Sebastian Valle, Brody Colvin, Jesse Biddle, Jonathan Pettibone and Phillippe Aumont). With the age of the Phillies core being a constant theme amongst the media and fans alike, how do you assess the current Phillies farm system, which seemingly unearthed a couple diamonds in the rough during the 2012 season?
The Phillies do not have a very strong farm system, and a lot of those names only look good because of the diminished standards. Trevor May and Sebastian Valle in particular were expected to take big strides in 2012 but ended up disappointing. May finished with a 4.87 ERA in his first year at Double-A while Valle posted an uninspiring .629 OPS at Triple-A. Jesse Biddle is the cream of the crop but he is a long ways away from the Majors still.
I assume you're referring to Darin Ruf as one of those "diamonds in the rough" but he is anything but a diamond. The 38 home runs were mighty impressive, but he was a 25-year-old at Double-A - a couple years older than most players are at that level. And Ruf hit well in a handful of at-bats in the Majors in September, but it's a small sample and he didn't face too many strong pitchers.
Moreover, he had been used almost exclusively at first base, but that position is obviously taken by Ryan Howard, so Ruf would otherwise be relegated to the outfield. It looks easy, but playing the corner outfield (even left field) is difficult and Ruf does it only marginally better than Pat Burrell and Raul Ibanez did. Honestly, Ruf doesn't really fit in with the Phillies unless they want to use him as the right-handed side of a platoon at first base with Howard, something which I am wildly in favor of them doing but which also has zero chance of actually happening. The best case scenario is that the Phillies can dangle Ruf in a trade to bring in a player with a better chance of helping the club.
I've long been a proponent of what Jimmy Rollins gives the Phillies when his mind is right. He'll be 35 at the end of his contract. If he continues to give you what you got from him in 2012, do you consider re-signing him again after 2014 for slightly less money and two additional years? Also, just for fun, if the Phillies find a way to win another title and Jimmy plays a big role, reaches 2,500 hits and continues to field at an Gold Glove level, what percentage chance does he have of being considered for Cooperstown down the line?
I'll answer your questions in reverse order. I think Rollins is a very, very weak case for Hall of Fame consideration even if he finishes his career on a strong note. If Alan Trammell isn't in there, then there's no way to justify enshrining Rollins. But then again, the Baseball Writers Association of America has found a way to push Jack Morris to the fringe of HOF induction, so you never know what kind of ridiculous argument that group of writers could make to garner support. That being said, Rollins hasn't been all that popular with writers, at least here in Philadelphia where he has constantly been slagged for a perceived lack of effort (a.k.a. coded racism).
The Phillies shouldn't think about another contract with Rollins at all at this point in time. It's two years down the line and a lot can change between now and then. There are many variables, including the murky shortstop market. It could be flush with shortstops making it a buyer's market (a la center field this off-season) or it could be completely barren (a la third base). But, as I said before, you never want to close yourself off to opportunities, so the Phillies should at least keep an open mind about it when the time comes.
6.) Finally, What has been the most rewarding aspect of coordinating a blog of Crashburn Alley's status amongst the Philly fan base? You pride yourself on keeping a blog that preaches objectivity in a town that would need a flashlight and a map in many circles to find objective. Do you find that difficult, and what advice would you pass along to Phillies' fans as we try to climb back up to the top of the mountain?
The most rewarding aspect of writing has been seeing the proverbial light turn on for some people when they get this type of analysis. Critical thinking skills are unfortunately absent from most areas of education and even many jobs, so it's not a skill that people practice. A lot of people were reticent to add statistics to their baseball watching experience, but as time went on, the more people realized that this stuff has some merit. Similarly, it is great seeing a sizable portion of the mainstream Philly writers adopting objective analysis into their purview. That's not to say that some Philly writers aren't still hopelessly stuck in the Stone Age, but the quality of coverage has improved exponentially over the last few years.
As for advice I'd give to Phillies fans, it would be to stop caring about inconsequential stuff like a player's hustle, or a frustrated post-game quote. For example, Cole Hamels famously said during the 2009 World Series that he couldn't wait for his year to end, and fans gave him hell for that for the longest time. And as I mentioned earlier, Rollins has taken a lot of heat for a perceived lack of hustle, but there's no doubt that the clamor is coded racism. I would prefer it if the players didn't hustle out every routine fly and ground ball. Look at Chase Utley, he hustled non-stop year after year and it ruined his knees and sapped him of hundreds of quality at-bats on a potential Hall of Fame resume.
Follow Crashburn Alley and Bill Baer on Twitter at @CrashburnAlley.
Pete Lieber is a freelance writer and a Philadelphia sports enthusiast. Follow him on Twitter at @Lieber14.