Tag Archives: analysis

Yankees vs. Phillies: not as easy a choice as I would like

I am a free thinking, freedom-loving baseball fan unburdened by a moldering conscience or a capitalism fetish.  Thus, I root against the Yankees, particularly during the playoffs. 

Living in Philadelphia these past four years has made me a Phillies fan (particularly with the Mariners not giving me much to write home about).  However, with the prospect of another Yankees-Phillies World Series upon us, I am forced to consider the possibility that the Phillies resemble the Evil Empire more than I would prefer to admit.  So let us examine the two likely starting playoff rosters for each team: 

every player a former or deserving all-star at some point

 

[WAR numbers from Fangraphs.com.  The salary figures are in the millions.  The sparkle/shit index (SSI) is a carefully constructed metric weighing how much a golden retriever would root for that player in the playoffs.  Positive numbers indicate golden retriever support.] 

I was surprised to see that the Yankees roster manages to overcome A-Rod’s massive -10 SSI and even out to golden retriever-neutral.  This is the time of year when you have to respect the hell out of Rivera for his post-season performances.  Gardner, Granderson and Swisher are all likeable guys worth cheering for.  This is also the time of year when you root against Jeter just to combat the noise of national baseball journalists humping his leg. 

Now to the Phillies: 

only 4 players who have not been all-star caliber at some point

 

I’m relieved to see significant discrepancies between the Phillies and the Yankees in SSI and salary.  The Phillies also have the best story of the two teams, that of Roy Halladay finally making it to the playoffs.  So it’s clear which team is easier to root for (golden retrievers agree). 

But how about each team’s path to the playoffs?  The Yankees roster is spearheaded by massive free agents Sabathia and Teixeira, plus A-Rod (the Haliburton of baseball players).  The Phillies are less free-agent heavy, but are absolutely banking on Halladay, Hamels and Oswalt to make it through October.  The Phillies used their farm system and financial resources to acquire Halladay and Oswalt from teams who could not afford them.  Very Yankee-like if you ask me. 

So it seems we have two teams here whose financial resources have provided a few key players which separate them from the other strong teams in the league.  Neither team can boast the home-grown, DIY credentials of the Twins or the Rays.  But if roster construction and WAR do not make it clear which cheering section we should occupy this October, the SSI index provides us with an answer: 

woof

One approach to reporting good news

A friend of mine who works for the Food Trust passed along this article from today’s (Monday, 9/27/10) Philly Inquirer.  It is a “good news” story: a West Philadelphia family that recognized their son’s obesity risk and did something about it.  The article ties the Footes family’s story into larger Philadelphia efforts to inject healthy eating habits into the city’s African American neighborhoods.

Part of my problem with typical “good news” is that it focuses on individual feel-good stories and stops there.  These stories seem afraid to go big picture because, you are left to reason, the big picture is bad.  This trend (coupled with the marketing decision to not offend anybody) leads to asinine publications like Reader’s Digest, whose idea of news is profiles of couples married for 70 years and dogs who rescue their owners from floods.  Newspapers like the Inquirer are capable of printing feel-good “human interest” stories, but they run in the same section as big-picture articles about how obesity is going to cost American eight gazillion dollars in health care expenditures.  It’s hard to get jazzed about one family’s success when it’s followed up with an article about national crises.

So this article suggests a template for making in-roads into the national media’s bad-news habit.  Find a human-interest story and use it as an entry point to discuss national trends.  Then find within those trends reasons for optimism.  Wording is important: efforts are under way to improve the situation.  Plans and initiatives, frequently ambitious and progressive (danger in that word, but fuck it), bolstered by new research and backed by success stories which all lead to projections and attainable goals that, if met, would save X dollars and Y lives over Z years.  That’s the stuff.

There are massive lists of words sitting in political consultancy offices, lists of words to use in describing opponents and words to use in describing yourself.  Perhaps news desks should get a copy of those lists, and as their own public health initiative, start using the positive lists whenever possible in an innovative approach to lowering blood pressure nation-wide.

Review: The Onion Gets It Right

Following up on this post, I want to point out a much, much better Onion article essentially taking aim at the same folks.

Voter Anger Palpable At Intentionally Anger-Stoking Rally

WASHINGTON—Tempers in the crowd ran high Monday during a massive rally at the nation’s capital aimed at provoking tempers in the crowd to run high. “There is a palpable sense of anger within the American voting public today,” media correspondent Janet Hargrove said of the event, which played on such base human emotions as ignorance, fear, and xenophobia to give the impression of a palpable sense of anger within the American voting public today. “It’s almost as if thousands of people came to this rally with the intention of being angered, and then were.” When asked later about their rage, people at the rally were unable to pinpoint its cause, but expressed a vague desire to “take back America.”

This is how the Onion does its best work.  In 120 efficient words, they state literally the main purpose of events like Glenn Beck’s rally (stoking anger) and also tweak the ways in which the media talk about such events.  This is much more intelligent and effective satire than calling Glenn Beck a piece of shit.  I’m also particularly glad they used the words ‘palpable.’

Review: The Onion misfires with Glenn Beck article

I love The Onion and I loathe Glenn Beck, but their recent article mocking him is a notable misfire.

Nation Once Again Comes Under Sway of Pink-Faced Half-Wit

When The Onion steps into social or political satire, it does its best work by rephrasing its subject in mocking, sarcastic, or ironic terms.  The piece relies on the reader’s knowledge of the topic, and the absurdity of what the article is literally saying, to bring the mockery into focus.  The “Giuliani To Run For President Of 9/11” article is a good example of this.

Sadly, this latest article on Glenn Beck lacks the ironic observations or tongue-in-cheek journalism of good Onion pieces.  It’s clear upon reading (and this is feeling I almost never get from reading The Onion) that the writer merely hates Glenn Beck and is out to insult him.

The biggest tell of this is the fact that the article does not flesh out its decent premise.  Pointing out a history of “pink-faced half-wits” in American politics is a funny idea, and using Charles Coughlin, Michael Moore, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck as data points is a start.  But the article doesn’t run with that.  Rather, it seems to be mainly trying to fit as many disparaging adjectives about Beck into 677 words.  I counted 77 words or phrases employed in some way to disparage Glenn Beck and, to a lesser extent, the school of pink-faced half-wits:

pink-faced, half-wit, spewing, reactionary, manipulative, diatribes, bloated, hateful, multimillionaire, exploiting, vain, avaricious, self-interests, fleecing, bombastic, demagogues, disgusting, ambitious, narcissistic, outlandish, easily debunked, shameless, self-promotion, lack of credentials, pasty, shallow, dullards, inane, thinly veiled, untenable, fringe, ideological, truly baffling, irresponsible, without fear of accountability, frothing, shouting, dim-bulbs, porcine, loudmouth, incendiary, virulent, shamelessly, preying, intellectually corrupt, piece of shit, asshole, fat, disgusting, pig mouth, jowly, nitwits, false, moral superiority, rash, philandering, steal, vociferous, foaming, morons, nauseating, self-aggrandizing, hypocritical, outright racism, arrogant, self-important, bullshit, fleshy hole, invincible, ruddy, pabulum-spewing, cretin, perjure, fanatical, oversimplified, jingoistic polemics, enchant

I guess that list, by itself, is somewhat funny.  But it doesn’t save the article.  Rather than taking its customary high ground by showing Beck’s inanity through an exaggeratedly-literal depiction of his behavior (such as the Giuliani article), the Onion here loses points to Beck by appearing childish and petty.

The Onion can have a dud, that’s fine, comedy is tricky.  It was a strange feeling of being disappointed in The Onion that prompted me to write this piece.  It doesn’t matter that I am glad the article points out certain things (“Anytime followers heed his advice and do something illegal, [the pink-faced half-wit] can simply claim that his work is intended only for entertainment purposes“) with which I agree.  The Onion’s satire is better, and taken more seriously, when it doesn’t show its cards so clumsily.

Fixing Baseball For Us, Or For Football Fans?

Tom Verducci at SI.com posted an argument for baseball adding a second wild card team and having the two wild cards play a win-or-go-home playoff game at the end of the regular season.  The thesis of his argument is that baseball needs to do more to ‘fix’ its September calendar, which (according to Verducci) rarely contains drama and too easily gets overwhelmed by the start of football season.

I agree with aspects of his essay.  Imagining his system, Verducci makes the strongest argument for his idea:

The Yankees and Rays are in a real race. Now it’s much more important to win your division than the wild card, in which you could get knocked out of the playoffs with one game. It keeps meaning in September games for runaway leaders.

Of course, Texas’s 7-game lead is not seriously challenged by any other team in their division, so this format won’t help all runaway leaders play meaningful games in September.

Other aspects of Verducci’s article are worrisome, however.  Take this quote:

Every NFL game has the feeling of being self-contained, with the stand-alone quality of say a movie as opposed to the serial quality of a baseball series. Baseball games rise to that level of urgency when they are “ultimate” games.

Many baseball fans and writers (this one included) have an inferiority complex in relation to football.  Football is glamorous, sexy, arrogant, and made-for-television.  Yet one of the best parts of baseball is the 162-game schedule, the grind of the season.  It’s a marathon, not a sprint.  Photo finishes are exciting, sure, but they are much more exciting when they happen at the end of a marathon.  Baseball will never be like football, and we shouldn’t change our game to resemble football for the sake of trying to appease football fans.  Please baseball fans first.

Verducci, as a serious baseball fan, is probably quite interested in this September’s games.  Seven of the Yankees’ last 20 games are against the Rays.  Atlanta and Philadelphia have been jockeying for first place for a month, and with Philly, Atlanta, San Diego, San Francisco, Colorado, and St. Louis all within 6 games of each other, winning the NL East is very important indeed.  San Diego’s collapse has suddenly made the NL West a 3-team race.  All this is exciting to any fan who follows the baseball season, or is a fan of any of these teams.  And the notion that the Wild Card makes winning a division less meaningful?  Ask the 22 teams going home in October if  winning the division is meaningful.

The real question here is money, as it usually is with high-level baseball decisions these days.  How much does baseball want to tailor itself to casual fans?  Would baseball tamper with aspects of the game cherished by season ticket holders in favor of the few million disinterested households who would watch an out-of-market elimination playoff game?  From which group does baseball stand to make more money?

Verducci frames his argument with numbers about baseball’s increased TV numbers for the recent elimination playoff games.  In this particular instance, I agree with the proposal to “revamp” baseball’s playoffs.  As long as the extra game did not push the playoffs irretrievably into November, I’m for it.  But we baseball fans who view ourselves as guardians of, and witnesses to, a hallowed sport should analyze our motivations whenever we consider changing the game’s constitution.  Are we improving the game for ourselves?  Or are we sacrificing our values in trying to please an ambivalent football audience whom we will never truly satisfy?

Sensationalist Journalism Legitimizes Debates That Never Should Be Legitimized

This video was posted on CNN yesterday with the headline, “Is Obama an Islamic Sympathizer?”  The sub-description of the video is, “CNN’s Anderson Cooper talks with a panel about whether President Obama’s views are ‘un-American.'”

The several-minute video is Anderson Cooper hosting 4 panelists: Paul Begala, Ari Fleischer, David Gergen, and Fareed Zakaria.  Cooper’s lead-in to the piece, and presumably the genesis of the entire video, is this poll:

A poll worthy of discussion, apparently

Cooper asks each panelist in turn what they make of this.  The first two, Begala and Fleischer, both agree that it shouldn’t be taken seriously and is nothing more than an indicator of the bitterness of America’s current political landscape.  The following two, Gergen and Zakaria, turn the conversation into a brief discussion of America’s tolerance or intolerance for Muslims and Obama’s role in that.  As you might expect, nobody really agrees with anyone, different viewpoints are offered, and the impression you get at the end is that America is a big country and some people really don’t like Obama but most Americans are reasonable.  Astounding!

What drives me up the wall about this video is the branding.  I clicked on the video because of the title, “Is Obama an Islamic Sympathizer?”  CNN’s webmasters gave it that title precisely so that it would draw page views, which generate revenue.  Of course, no one in the video agrees with that question, and they pretty soon stop talking about entirely.*  But the title legitimizes a debate which, in my view, should not be legitimized.

*(Not before Cooper offers this leading question to the first panelist: “Or do you really think that the numbers say that people think the President of the United States supports Sharia law?”  Which is, of course, very different than being an ‘Islamic sympathizer.’  I’m a doormouse sympathizer but I don’t let them eat my cereal.)  

Does the video discuss the various ways one can be “sympathetic” to Islam?  Does it discuss what it means to have “un-American views?”  No.*  Does anyone in the video even bring up the concept of a President with un-American views?  No.  The video would more accurately be titled, “Is American Politics Religiously Divided?”  But in going for the controversy and ad revenue, CNN legitimizes the “debate” over Obama’s patriotism and whether being “sympathetic” to Islam is an acceptable stance in this country.  It doesn’t matter that the content of the video mostly ignores the question and certainly doesn’t endorse it.  It is merely the presence of the question, prominently displayed on CNN.com, which legitimizes it as a question worthy of national discussion.

*(Again, the damage is done in the asking.  The question is raised by the headline, and you have to watch the video to find out that no, ultimately, Obama’s views are not un-American.  Or you would find that out, if they even addressed the question.  Perhaps we should post this discussion: “Is CNN Run by the Mob?”  Inclined readers can wade through 4 pages of comment board posts to find out that no, it isn’t.)

There are people in this country who fervently believe Obama wants to impose Sharia Law.  They point to CNN and say, “See?  The debate continues.”  I believe in freedom of speech, but the attention being given to that viewpoint and similar views is out of proportion to the number of people who legitimately believe it.  I believe others do not actually believe such things, but stoke this fire because it furthers their own political agenda.  The debate over Obama’s secret Islamic objectives is even less of a debate than the “debate” over global warming.  Yet a mainstream news outlet like CNN legitimizes the “other side” of the debate for…what?  Ad revenue.  And the national political debate suffers for it.

The problem is that the wackos don’t give the rest of us the same deal.  If you went to a website trumpeting the Obama-as-Muslim cause, you would not see a video called, “Three Reasons Why Obama May Be Christian.”  Even FoxNews does not have videos titled, “Is Obama’s Economic Policy Paying Dividends?”  No, at Fox you get links like, “How Much Will the Transition to Digital Medical Records Cost You?” and “Stimulus Plan in Hindsight: Did Obama’s Agenda Hobble Economic Recovery?”

The New York Times or CNN would not be muckraking to report on the Obama-as-Muslim conspiracy theories, or the elected officials who doubt global warming, or any other sign of these nutty times.  But there is a way to cover such trends and people that does not legitimize their viewpoints.  When the paper covers a house fire, it doesn’t use the headline, “Was House Meant To Burn Down?”

I believe the Obama-as-Muslim theorists are not only wrong, but the promotion of that debate materially hurts America’s pursuit of our diplomatic objectives and increases anti-American sentiment abroad.  There are stakes here.  But the media’s pursuit of bad news and provocative opinion creates a positive feedback loop which gives these fringe perspectives more clout than they deserve.  They can then point to the phantom debate created by the media coverage as a retroactive legitimization of what we dun been sayin’ since way back when Grandpop told us that de Foundin Fathers knew that dark-skinned folk ain’t mean to live in democracy.  Now we just glad we’s gettin some attentun fer it.

We need and deserve more sophisticated consideration from those organizations and individuals who, in these divisive times, sit in the control room of our national attention.

‘Good News’ Websites Aren’t Hard-Hugging Enough

From the “They Already have That” files:

As my friends can attest, I read the New York Times and regularly get bummed out.  I don’t think the Times means to do this, as they do not seem to subscribe to the FoxNews trademarked Scare Readers Shitless School Of Journalism.  But there surely does seem to be a lot going wrong with the world these days.

I wonder how much of this bad news is spin, and how much is legitimately going wrong.  So I recently struck on the idea (one I’m in no position to act upon) to start a Good News news site.  One that would take as its starting point the theoretical “neutral news” of the world, and then err on the side of optimism and progress.  The anti-Fox News, I guess.

Turns out, there are many of these sites.  I googled ‘Good News’ and looked at the top results.  All of them have similar goals: to remind us that there is good news out there; to provide some daily optimism; to balance out the mainstream media’s constant fear-danger-depression angle.  However, after a short examination, their “hard hugging” journalism leaves something to be desired.

Google Search Result #1: Good News Network

goodnewsnetwork.org

This is the first search result.  It aims to be a professional news outlet devoted to positive news, but you need to pay to read the content.  Plus, the leading headlines from this random Monday morning site visit seem to tilt towards small-town good news, not an overarching view of the nation at large.

Google Search Result #2: Happy News

This site is less newspaper-news-oriented, with prominent space devoted to videos and for-sale products aimed at positive living.  The site also posts only one “Top Story” at a time and you have to dig to find other stories, which are as likely to be small-towny as the one I found this morning.

Google Search Result #3:  Good News Daily

goodnewsdaily.com

This site has more of the international news I want to see, as it seems to post articles from other news sources.  The layout is amateur, however, and it also encourages reader-submitted articles, which does not generate the air of professional journalism I’m looking for.

Google Search Results #4 and 5: Christian “Good News” sites.

Google Search Result #6: Good News Now (GNN)

The site tabs make it clear this site isn’t going for hard-hitting investigative journalism, but rather the news equivalent of Daily Puppy.

Conclusion:

The website I want doesn’t seem to be out there (at least not easily found).  Outlets like Fox have become very skilled in manipulating the world’s complexity to present a preordained perspective.  Objective journalism is rather impossible, since what a newspaper prints or does not print is, in itself, a subjective decision.  So I’d like to see a website that shamelessly spins national and international news towards an optimistic viewpoint.  This site would avoid fluff like, “Dog Saves Cat From Flood,” or “Cheerleading Squad Saves Teachers’ Pensions,” which seems to be popular with the good news sites I visited.  Tell me about Afghanistan, global warming and Capitol Hill.  If leading news outlets can depict Obama as a secret Muslim, surely a professionally-staffed news site could tell me something positive about Iraq.  And no, I don’t mean “Sufi Dog Saves Shia Cat From Flood.”

Sorry Charlie – Ryan Howard Should Bunt

Teams employ the shift against Ryan Howard on the bet that he will pull the ball.  As David Ortiz showed back on April 23, 2006, bunting against the shift can be done for fun and profit.  Well, perhaps not profit.  The conservative line is that sluggers like Ortiz and Howard “aren’t paid to bunt.”

Going off the assumption that sluggers are paid to win games, we investigated whether WPA (win probability added) suggests that Ryan Howard should learn to bunt against the shift.  Conventional wisdom, and Charlie Manuel, would say that Howard should not bunt because of his potential to hit a home run.  Opponents’ use of the shift suggests that they think similarly.

To simplify things, we looked at Ryan Howard’s plate appearances with nobody on base (the time most likely to see the shift).

We took Howard’s career (through 8/4/10), bases-empty, average WPA for his home runs, singles, doubles, triples, walks and outs.  Then we calculated the probability that he does each of these things, based on his career rates of each result with nobody on base.  We multiplied the WPA for each event by the likelihood of each event, and added them together (typical expected value formula).

We calculated the expected WPA of a bunt attempt based on the expected WPA of a single, a walk, and an out (the three outcomes of his attempt at bunting) and the probabilities of each event based on Howard’s career rates.

The result was the graph below:

WPA is more of a descriptive tool than a predictive one, but frankly, we were surprised by what we found.  The green line is the break even point.  In any bases-empty situation (the red line), Howard improves his WPA if he is successful in only 40% of his bunt attempts.  With no outs and the bases empty, the WPA of a 70% success-rate bunt is an astounding 20x the WPA of swinging away.  Considering the vast real estate available to Howard on the third base side of the diamond, and his well-known work ethic, it is not unreasonable to think that Howard could become a 70% bunter.

This, of course, will never happen for two reasons.  The first is that Charlie Manuel would never allow Howard to become a notorious bunter on his watch.  The second is that if Howard became one, teams would employ the shift less.  In this second scenario, however, Howard makes the defense pick their poison.  If they shift, he threatens bunt.  If they don’t shift, his chances of a single or double increase.  Howard is a team player, and his big, home-run-based contract is signed, sealed, and delivered.   The incentives for Howard to start bunting are there, and you know Citizens Bank Park (and Jimmy Rollins) would get a kick out of it.

Authors: this post and the research therein was written and conducted by Mike Lipsitz and Nicholas Mirra.  Statistics were obtained from fangraphs.com and baseball-reference.com.