Jim Bowden has some ideas about DUIs in baseball

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When I saw Jim Bowden’s post over at ESPN’s Sweet Spot about how to deal with baseball’s DUI epidemic, my first thought was to tackle it on the merits. But then I saw this tweet from Will Leitch:

Jim Bowden is writing about how to curb DUI arrests in baseball on ESPN. Somehow, he didn’t mention this.

UPDATE:  Bowden’s post has been updated with reference to his 2006 arrest for DUI, rendering the following Paul O’Neill/Roberto Kelly joke moot. Yet I shall leave it here for posterity. In any event, good for ESPN for updating it.

Yeah, that’s something.  It’s enough to make me think that Bowden’s next post will be about how baseball should step in to stop teams from trading Paul O’Neill for Roberto Kelly.

But let’s leave that aside. Only Nixon could go to China, only Kirk could make peace with the Vulcans and maybe, just maybe, Bowden’s past doesn’t disqualify him from weighing in on this stuff. Indeed, it may make him better suited to talk about it because he, unlike most of us, can actually relate to the mind of a man about to climb behind the wheel drunk and consider what might make him not do it.

Judge for yourself if his ideas have merit: He proposes (1) identical punishment for steroids and DUIs, including 50 and then 100-game suspensions; (2) bringing parents of kids killed by drunk drivers in to talk to major leaguers; (3) providing players with the phone numbers of cabs, town car or limo services in every city; and (4) making teams implement a rule that says “No drinking and driving period. No exceptions.”

The 50 game suspension thing seems extreme to me. While there are some baseball implications to player behavior, unlike PEDs, players drinking and driving is not primarily a baseball issue. I get that the consequences of drunk driving are far more dire than that of PED use, but it seems to me that you have to line up penalties and behavior better. Bowden doesn’t explain his rationale here so I’ll grant that there could be a good reason to go 50/100 games, but I’d think a much greater fine-to-suspension ratio is in order. Big money, a handful of games.

As for number two: I have no problem with teams bringing home the notion of the dangers of drunk driving, and if they feel that it’s best to do so via some scared straight program, hey, let them.  It’s not the kind of thing that makes sense as a formal policy though. Specialized programs and speakers should be a team-by-team kind of thing and would be best handled in conjunction with local anti-drunk driving groups. The idea is the same as that which held for high school assemblies: the less rote and expected the programming, the better it is, and clubs would be better able to handle that kind of thing on their own in conjunction with a more broad-based anti-alcohol abuse program.

Providing phone numbers for car services is a good thing — I know teams already do that in spring training and may do so in the regular season — but let’s also keep in mind that most of the incidents that have happened lately have happened when the players were at home, not on the road, where guys tend to drink closer to hotels.  Many players live 20 or 30 miles out of the city or more, and while even the suburban bars will call you a cab, I’ve been around people under the influence in those kinds of places, and the idea of waiting on a cab or a Town Car to head out that far is one of the reasons people don’t call them already.

Here’s kind of a nutty idea: give players a designated driver who lives in the area. Not someone who goes out with the player, but just a name on a card, in addition to a cab service, who the player can call if they need a ride. A team employee. A volunteer. someone who agrees ahead of time that, sure, they’ll go out at 2AM to bring Derek Lowe home if he needs it. Maybe that’s logistically weird — and the kid gloves handling is a bit awkward — but whether we care to admit it or not, these are VIPs and between the proper incentives and a well-executed confidentiality agreement, I bet you could find a person willing to take that call for the greater glory of the ballclub in suburbs north, south, east and west.

As for the last one: given that drinking and driving is against the law already, I’m not sure what a club rule to that effect accomplishes. Rather than passing rules, let’s have clubs make a more broad and concerted effort to discourage alcohol abuse via education, punishment and overall team culture.

I’m not sure how you do that last part, exactly, but it could begin with education and simply discouraging after-game drinking. Maybe over time it could be done via teams incorporating a player’s partying tendencies into overall evaluation.  I don’t mean scoring his sobriety on a scale of 80 like you would his glove, really, but by taking such things into account and being less-willing to sign or pay top dollar for guys who are known to booze it up and by not hesitating to bring such things up in negotiations.  Over time this would send a message to players that there are costs to their drinking.

Obviously this isn’t an easy nut to crack. If it were, we wouldn’t still have drunk driving.  But it strikes me that a multi-level approach is better than merely posting a policy, bringing in a guest speaker and ratcheting up the penalties, even if those things are part of the solution.

The Phillies are trying out prospect J.P. Crawford at third base

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On Sunday, for the first time in his professional career, Phillies shortstop prospect J.P. Crawford started at third base. He picked up three hits in five at-bats, continuing his torrid pace. Since the start of July, he’s hitting .306/.397/.595 with 11 home runs, 28 RBI, 33 runs scored, and a 37/25 K/BB ratio in 199 plate appearances.

With September looming, the Phillies may be considering a promotion for Crawford. Shortstop, however, is currently taken by Freddy Galvis who has appeared in every game this season and has taken on a leadership role with the team. Meanwhile, third baseman Maikel Franco has been mired in a season-long slump as he’s carrying a devilish .666 OPS.

The Phillies haven’t been averse to trying their prospects out at new positions. Prior to his recent promotion, Rhys Hoskins had played only first base throughout his professional career, but the Phillies moved him to left field for a few games, then called him up to the majors. Hoskins has made nine starts in the outfield and two at first base in the majors thus far.

As MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki notes, the Phillies are also considering trying out second base prospect Scott Kingery at shortstop or third base before the end of the minor league season.

These aren’t long-term plans; it’s just a way for the Phillies to find meaningful playing time for their prospects and giving manager Pete Mackanin potential flexibility. Assistant GM Ned Rice said, “It benefits the player and benefits the team when more guys are able to play multiple positions. It just gives Pete [Mackanin] a lot more options at the big league level. The more guys we can bring up who have been exposed to different positions, the better.”

Players having great seasons under the radar

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Yesterday, I watched a myriad of defensive highlights from Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons (who also homered). Curious, I looked up his stats and found him among the leaders in Wins Above Replacement. And then I found a handful of other players having great seasons and realized I’ve hardly heard anything about them. Let this be my contribution towards raising them into the spotlight.

Andrelton Simmons (Angels): The 27-year-old is having the best offensive season of his career. He posted a .751 OPS in his rookie season, but that spanned only 49 games. From 2013-16, he had an aggregate .664 OPS. His defense never wavered, of course, which is why he kept getting regular playing time and why the Angels were eager to trade for him in November 2015. This season, however, he’s been a terrific hitter, batting .292/.345/.451 with 13 home runs, 57 RBI, 62 runs scored, and 17 stolen bases in 502 plate appearances. He’s four home runs away from matching a career-high. Simmons is 11th in baseball in FanGraphs’ version of WAR, heavily predicated on the valuation of his defense, but it’s not too outlandish for me to believe Simmons has added nearly two wins above replacement on defense alone. While Jose Altuve, Aaron Judge, and Mike Trout will fight for the lion’s share of AL MVP votes, Simmons could get some down ballot consideration.

Gio Gonzalez (Nationals): Gonzalez nearly threw a no-hitter earlier this season against the Marlins, which brought some eyeballs to his stat line. Still, he hasn’t been talked about much somehow. He’s 12-5 with a 2.39 ERA and a  150/62 K/BB ratio in 162 innings. It’s nothing new for Gonzalez, as he won 21 games with a 2.89 ERA en route to finishing third in Cy Young balloting in 2012. There’s also some reason to believe Gonzalez’s performance is in some part due to great fortune as his batting average on balls in play is about 50 points below league average and his rate of stranding runners on base is more than 11 percent higher than his career average. Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer have had better seasons and will be the first and second place finishers in this year’s balloting, but Gonzalez is looking at likely finishing third again, which is no small feat.

Aaron Nola (Phillies): After a dismal June 16 start against the Diamondbacks, Nola stood with a disappointing 4.76 ERA. After the first two innings of last Thursday’s start against the Giants, he briefly brought it under 3.00. Currently, it’s at 3.26 along with a 128/38 K/BB ratio in 124 1/3 innings. Since that June 16 start, he’s made 11 starts with a composite 2.21 ERA across 73 1/3 innings. The right-hander out of LSU showed promise in his rookie year in 2015, then struggled last year before succumbing to injury. Finally, it’s appearing that Nola is showing the promise the Phillies believed in when they took him in the first round (seventh overall) in the 2014 draft. Perhaps more importantly, he looks like a pitcher the Phillies can build around. If there’s one thing the Phillies have lacked since trading Cole Hamels, it’s a starter capable of throwing seven or eight innings and holding the opposition to one or two runs.

Chris Taylor (Dodgers): On a team that features Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Justin Turner, Alex Wood, and recently added Yu Darvish, it’s understandable that Taylor would slip under the radar. He’s played five different positions this season — left field, second base, center field, third base, and shortstop — while batting .311/.383/.549 with 17 home runs, 58 RBI, 69 runs scored, and 14 stolen bases in 413 plate appearances. He’s played average to above-average defense at most of those positions, which is why his 4.6 fWAR ranks 13th in baseball and 10th in the National League. Before the Dodgers acquired him from the Mariners last June in a very little talked about trade, Taylor had been a weak-hitting utilityman. Now, he’s the starting center fielder for baseball’s best team.

Felipe Rivero (Pirates): The Pirates acquired Rivero from the Nationals last year in the Mark Melancon trade. It worked out well for the Buccos. Though the club sits at a disappointing 60-64 in fourth place in the NL Central, Rivero has been a bright spot, owning a major league best 1.31 ERA with 14 saves and a 73/16 K/BB ratio in 61 2/3 innings. The lefty took over the closer’s role when Tony Watson began to struggle in the first half. While Rivero has been terrific against right-handed hitters, limiting them to a .547 OPS, he’s been death to lefties (.227 OPS). After the season, Rivero will be eligible for arbitration for the first of four years, so it wouldn’t be shocking if he got traded at some point, but for now, they’ll enjoy his outstanding 2017 campaign.