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Archive for November, 2005

Also quite handsome/easy on the eyes

[ 0 ] November 17, 2005 |

Damn straight.

Lemieux is less loved than I.

Somebody’s got a hit man out looking for Watkins.

Useless Rant Department: MVP Voting

[ 0 ] November 17, 2005 |

To add to Scott’s point and to reiterate what I argued earlier, I think that the debate over this year’s AL MVP has wandered into the absurd. Let’s establish a few points that should be indisputable. First, Alex Rodriguez had a statistically better offensive season that David Ortiz. As far as I’m concerned, this is beyond debate. For those who insist that RBI totals are a viable indicator of offensive prowess, I introduce you to the door. Feel free to slam it on the way out.

Second, Alex Rodriguez plays a defensive position, and plays it well. David Ortiz does not. Now, that’s not quite as important as you might think, and I don’t believe that a DH should be disqualified from ever being the MVP. If the competition here were between Ortiz and Giambi, or Ortiz and Ramirez then it could be reasonably objected that defense shouldn’t be considered all that important. That Ortiz didn’t play first very much and Giambi did reflects a managerial choice more than their respective talents and capabilities. Someone, after all, has to play at DH. In the case of the Red Sox, a different set of managerial choices might have put Millar in left, Ortiz at first, and Manny at DH. This would probably have been slightly less optimal than what was decided, but really wouldn’t have made a huge difference on the field. Thus, it’s not quite right to point out that A-Rod was worth 156 runs defensively and Ortiz 8, because the difference isn’t really quite that drastic.

It is, however, a difference. The spread between a good defensive third baseman and a good defensive first baseman is at least forty or fifty runs. Third base is harder to play than first (or DH, of course). A player who can hit very well and fill a difficult defensive position is considerably more valuable than one who can only hit well. There’s nothing staggeringly difficult about this analysis, and it doesn’t even require having reliable defensive statistics to appreciate. I doubt that even Ortiz’ backers would consider putting him at an even mildly difficult defensive position; that his managers have decided to play him in the outfield exactly zero times in eight years speaks to their attitude about his defense. Conversely, A-Rod can play any position on the diamond, with the exception of catcher and (possibly) centerfield. And Jayson Stark should be made to understand that while “leadership” really IS intangible, in that we can’t come up with any quantitative measure of it, defense is not. Our measures may be crude (although they are getting much less so), but even a crude analysis can demonstrate beyond question A-Rod’s superior value.

Now, on to the “clutch” question. Like all right thinking people, I don’t really believe in clutch hitting. There’s just not very much convincing evidence to suggest that some hitters are consistently better in difficult situations than others. General offensive quality is the best predictor of how a hitter is going to perform in late and close situations. Now, it’s fair to say that this only matters as a predictor; it’s possible that, even if there was no systematic cause, that the offense provided by David Ortiz was more important to the Red Sox than the offense provide by A-Rod. Stark does a fair amount of this analysis, and it seems to suggest that, in fact, Ortiz did perform better than A-Rod in the situations normally described as “clutch.” Does this clinch it for Ortiz, in spite of all the other reasons to prefer A-Rod?

Not at all. I have tired of arguing with Derek Jeter partisans who insist that “if you’re late in the game, down by one, and need a hit, accept no substitute for Jeter.” There’s a whole wall of logical and empirical fallacies that need to be torn down to refute that, and I don’t typically have time or the spit to yell at someone for an hour. My pat response is this:

The difference between A-Rod and Jeter is that the game isn’t close if you have A-Rod. He hit a three run home run back in the fourth inning and didn’t let three grounders hit four inches to his left get through, resulting in two runs for the other side. You can have your clutch, and I’ll take my blowout.

The same applies to Ortiz. Good teams don’t win a lot of close games. They win a lot of blowouts. Great players don’t win games in the final at bat, or in late and close situations. They win games by preventing runs and scoring runs, and those runs count whether they come in the first or in the ninth. It’s more exciting to win a game with a walk off home run, but a good team more often wins with a home run hit in the first.

As a final note, let’s take seriously for a moment the leadership angle. Lance links to Michael Geffner, who thinks A-Rod is a loser and not a team leader. His column is a tragic mishmash of virtually all the nonsensical thinking on leadership in baseball. My first question is this: How much leadership does one team need? All those who take leadership seriously credit Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams with having lots of it. Does it magically disappear when A-Rod joins the team? Is he an anti-leader, capable of destroying leadership wherever he finds it? Or are columnists simply blathering nonsensically because they want to explain the failure of the Yankees with reference to the players they don’t like (A-Rod, Sheffield) rather than the (much worse) players that they do like? Moreover, let’s think about this historically. All of those guys who love to spout nonsense about leadership invoke the ghost of Don Mattingly, who carefully “led” the Yankees to their worst extended run of the twentieth century. It’s enough to make someone wonder if leadership actually matters at all…

My deep affection for Lance cannot blind me to this statement:

Frankly, I think Ortiz was more valuable to the Sox than A-Rod was to the Yanks, but I suspect that the reason they were the top two vote getters has more to do with their playing in Boston and New York than their comparative values to their teams.

Fine. Prove it. Demonstrate how Ortiz’ intangibles make up for all the extremely tangible reasons why A-Rod should be preferred. The teams had identical records. Without Ortiz the Red Sox would have played Ramirez at DH, someone better defensively than Ramirez in left, with the result that they would have scored and allowed fewer runs. Without A-Rod the Yankees would have played someone mildly worse defensively and much worse offensively at third base, resulting in more runs allowed and fewer runs scored. Moreover, it’s a lot harder to find a decent hitting third baseman than a decent hitting left fielder, so the Red Sox would actually have an easier time than the Yankees in replacing the lost offense.

Rant over.

MVP Blogging

[ 0 ] November 17, 2005 |

Lance picks up on Rob’s previous post. With respect to A-Rod, I think that the vote was outrageously close; it’s not like I want Slappy to get the award either, but he’s easily the best in the league. A couple more notes: anyone who think he’s a post-season choker should look at what he did in Seattle, and I’d also be interested to explain how Rodriguez caused Johnson and Mussina to get hammered in the pivotal games of the ALDS.

The interesting on for me was the NL, which they also got right. This is one of the things that wanker stats can actually help you with. I had assumed that Jones was the clear choice myself–a historically good defensive CF hitting 50 HRs on a division winner? But looking up the NL Win Shares, I note that he ranked 26th. Now, I will grant that WS are better for large-n comparisons than fine single-season comparisons, especially when it comes to defense, and I’m certainly not going to argue if you tell me he’s better than Chase Utley or Troy Glaus or Carlos Beltran. (Beltran?) But when you look at it, there’s no way he was the MVP. Compare him, for example, with Giles. Outside of Petco, Giles hit 333/463/545, while Jones was 334/610. There’s no way Jones’ defense makes up that difference. And it’s the same thing with Pujols–100 OBP points is a truckload of runs–but worse, since Pujols also has Jones’ power. There’s no way that even the most generous estimate of Andruw’s defense gets you even close. As an offensive player Jones is really more Tony Armas than Willie Mays; he doesn’t really do anything but hit homers. I know is seems impossible that a Gold Glover with 50 homers may not be one of the 10 best players in the league, but there you go. I’m pleasantly surprised that the writers got it right.

Cats and Dogs Living Etc.

[ 0 ] November 17, 2005 |

Ann Althouse is certainly right about this:

If I were an insider to OSM, would I mock them like this? Isn’t much of the value of bloggers that we are on the outside? Rolling up together in a group to make money — is that worth the sacrifice of independence? Everyone who signed on is now stuck with the presentation on that website that we were not able to see when we were asked to sign on to 18-month commitments.

Even if a liberal version of OSM were to come around, I really wouldn’t have any interest. As I mentioned at the time of the Tribble discussion, my career choice is essentially about sacrificing money to gain independence; having to adhere to external rules and collaborate with large numbers of people with different agendas and developing rules to please the bankers–not my thing. We’ll never make the kind of money off BlogAds that an Althouse will, and I guess a stipend might be nice, but it’s just not worth it. I really want to be able to write about what strikes me (if not any discernible audience) as being worth writing about, to not worry about what my be frontpaged or sold as other media, not to have to deal with centralized content restrictions. I don’t want to have my ability to engage in snark to be defanged. It wouldn’t work for me, and frankly I don’t think it’s a very good model for blog content. I can’t imagine any interest from me at any viable price (and, of course, the feeling would almost certainly be mutual, so it’s win-win.)

Wolcott: “One wingnut blowhard who goes by the handle Confederate Yankee put up a post about Iraq, Democrats, and the diabolical genius. No doubt I’m too sensitive (I’m wired that way), but there’s something a bit iffy tastewise about a blogger calling himself Confederate Yankee running a picture of a hangman’s noose above the tagline…”Remember: it isn’t the fall, but the sudden drop at the end.” I think that if my handle were Confederate Yankee, I might steer clear of allusions to lynching, but perhaps this is the sort of edgy blogging they’re looking for at OSM…” Ah, conservertarians.

Norbizness: “Apparently, this juggernaut filled with reactionary cranks and quasi-liberal stooges is going to revolutionize the way that news is brought to other people who own weblogs (and what better way to memorialize this commitment to recycling bullshit than by having Judith Miller deliver an address at the launch?)”

Alito’s World

[ 0 ] November 16, 2005 |

I should have mentioned this before, but if you’re at all interested in the issue I can’t recommend watching “The Last Abortion Clinic” strongly enough. (You can watch it free online by clicking the link.) It’s particularly valuable for those who think that giving the states virtually unlimited leeway to pass regulations while nominally maintaining Roe is no big deal. The documentary focuses on Mississippi–the state that provides the ultimate laboratory for the fiscal and cultural policies of the modern Republican Party–and the story is chilling and infuriating. The on-the-ground reporting identifies several important elements of Mississippi’s regulatory regime, which has driven all but one clinic out of business:

  • As is particularly evident in a desperately poor state, many of the common regulations have a vastly disproportionate effect on poor women. This is particularly true of the 24-hour waiting periods, which in addition to having no useful purpose (unless you think that women are irrational and generally treat the decision to terminate a pregnancy casually), but make impose a severe burden on poor women (especially in rural communities), who often can’t afford to make two trips or pay for a hotel room.
  • More importantly, however, the Casey regulations–while objectionable in varying degrees–are somewhat limited in their effects, because they don’t prevent abortion clinics from operating. Far worse are regulations like Mississippi’s, which impose various regulations on abortion clinics, which treat the abortion procedure differently than surgeries that are far more dangerous. If the Supreme Court gives the green light to such regulations, it would be virtually impossible for women who don’t have the connections to get grey market abortions in hospitals to obtain one.
  • Another interesting part of the documentary is the way Mississippi spends money that could be used to provide a useful service and instead funds “pregnancy crisis” centers. These centers provide no pre- or post- natal care, no contraception, and no rational sex education–just a few goods and mountains of pro-life propaganda. The vicious cycle of poverty among women in the Delta that this exacerbates is heartbreaking.

The documentary provides stark evidence that the legal standard we know Alito will apply from his Casey dissent–a minimalist reading of the “undue burden” standard, combined with a burden of proof that would not only make creative regulations more difficult to challenge in court but would have the perverse effect of making their grossly disproportionate effects on poor women a point in favor of their constitutionality–will essentially return many states to the pre-Roe status quo, where safe, legal abortions were unavailable for most poor women. Whether he would overturn Roe formally or not is almost beside the point, and no supporter of reproductive rights should even consider supporting his confirmation.

…good to see at least some Dems aren’t rolling over.

…more from Abortion Clinic Days.

The Myth of the Radical Ginsburg II

[ 1 ] November 16, 2005 |

As a follow-up to my previous post, Somerby notes today that he recently posted the contemporaneous reaction about Ginsburg’s nomination from the Washington Post:

On the D.C. Court of Appeals, to which she was appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1980, she has become a swing vote. A 1988 computer study by Legal Times newspaper found that she had sided more with Republican-appointed colleagues than [with her] Democratic counterparts. In cases that were not unanimous, she voted most often with then-Judge Kenneth W. Starr, who became George Bush’s solicitor general, and Laurence H. Silberman, a Reagan appointee still on the court.

So, in other words, the wild-eyed radical that the GOP generously let onto the Court voted most often in non-unanimous cases with well-known Trotskyite Ken Starr. Needless to say, we will not be seeing any similar data about Alito, because he’s more conservative than the other Republican appointees on the 3rd Circuit, let alone the Democrats. Anybody drawing comparisons between Alito and Ginsburg, and saying that the Dems now have some obligation to rubber-stamp Alito, is a hack pure and simple.

Ichiro

[ 0 ] November 16, 2005 |

Like all right thinking people, I’m skeptical of the value clubhouse culture or character as meaningful variables for explaining success in baseball. However, I’m inclined to take this a little bit more seriously. Ichiro has a reputation for class and professionalism, and does not seem the sort to grind an ax in public. It indicates that he sees some real problems, and, as Derek at USS Mariner points out, a simple visual inspection of the Mariners at most any point last year would seem to suggest the same problems.

For example:

Midway through the season, he felt as though his teammates had given up on the rest of the year. (Mariners manager Mike Hargrove, by contrast, said he was satisfied with the team’s approach, though he also indicated there were instances in which the team could have done better.)

Last June and July, the Mariners looked like nothing so much as a team that only showed up in order to punch the clock. It’s hard to explain just what that looks like, and if pressed I might not be able to come up with concrete examples. Rather, I just got the sense that no one really cared about the outcome of the game.

Now, what are the implications of all this? Hard to say. The first guy you have to look at is Hargrove. If he can’t keep Ichiro happy, and by most accounts Ichiro is an easy guy to keep happy, then we have a problem. Does it mean that the Mariners should bring in “character” in the offseason? I find the idea of Bavasi trying to find character terrifying. He’s not even very good at maximizing those things we can produce reasonable numerical proxies for. He might get it into his head that the team need Raffy Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa, for example.

So, the solution is unclear. However, I don’t think you could go too wrong with a policy built around pursuing those things that make Ichiro happy. Even his mediocre 2005 was still significantly above average for an AL corner outfielder. Perhaps more importantly, it’s hard for me to imagine too many people dragging themselves out to see a 90 loss Mariners team that did not feature Ichiro.

2004 Term Stats

[ 0 ] November 16, 2005 |

The Harvard Law Review‘s annual statistics are out. Interestingly enough, Breyer and O’Connor were tied as the justice most likely to agree with the disposition of the case (something to keep in mind the next time someone argues that because the GOP approved Breyer the Dems are therefore obligated to approve Alito), with Kennedy of course a close third. (Also interestingly, Thomas and Stevens were tied for the least likely at 61.8%). If my very quick eyeballing is to be trusted, the most common pairing was Ginsburg and Souter, at 86.1%. Ginsburg and Thomas are the lowest, at 40.5%. (I could be wrong, but isn’t 40% pretty high for the least likely pairing on the modern Court?) Scalia and Thomas are at 80.2%; Thomas was actually a little more likely to agree with Rehnquist. As I’ve mentioned before, Thomas is not Scalia’s sock puppet; they’re a lot more different than people realize.

Richard Posner has written the foreword; seems interesting. I may have commentary when I get the chance to read it fully.

Blarg

[ 0 ] November 15, 2005 |

At the risk of being declared an insensitive elitist, let me say that this would result in death, or an F, or at least a great deal of ill will.

More Oil Spots

[ 0 ] November 15, 2005 |

Praktike points to this:

All three towns had become strongholds of the insurgency, military officials said, as well as key command centers for the guerrilla-smuggling pipeline from Syria. Marines carried out an offensive in the Ubaydi area last May, only to see insurgents filter back in once American forces had left.

This time, the Marines intend to leave a permanent presence of American and Iraqi troops in the town, military officials say.

The sweeps of Husayba and Karabila ended on Saturday. In contrast to most other American military operations in Anbar, the Marines remained in both towns following the offensive and immediately set about building permanent garrisons there.

Each will be manned by at least two battalions, with at least one from the Iraqi Army, officials said. Joint American-Iraqi squads have already begun to patrol the streets. Residents, most of whom abandoned the towns in advance of the assault, began to return to their homes over the weekend.

It sounds hopeful. I’ve given my reasons for skepticism, but this really does seem to imply that the Marines are serious about maintaining a presence in cleared areas. The use of American forces in holding operations in conjunction with Iraqi forces is a very good idea. I wonder how much the Army has been willing to commit itself to this kind of operation.

In other news, Mickey Kaus actually has an interesting thought:

There’s one thing I don’t understand about the growing support for an “oil spot” strategy–which would have the U.S. military in Iraq “focus less on trying to secure the whole country and more on shoring up protection of major population centers.” That might make great sense if all we were trying to do was pacify Iraq. But how does it make sense if there are terrorists running around the Iraqi hinterlands using them as a base from which they can attack lots of other countries, including possibly our own? Are we supposed to cede Zarqawi the territory outside the “major population centers”?

It’s worth thinking about. The Iraqi insurgency is different in tactics and composition than other insurgencies. That’s not terribly shocking, since all insurgencies have their own characterisitics. However, the Iraqi insurgents seem much more willing to use low cost/high yield terrorist attacks (a few suicide bombers with bombs that can kill a lot of people) than most other insurgencies. This suggests that their overhead may be a bit lower than that, say, of the Viet Cong or Sendero Luminoso. In other words, the insurgency might be able to survive and cause damage with a fainter heartbeat than some other insurgencies. Another difference is that some portion of the Iraqi insurgency is made up of genuine terrorists who aren’t particularly interested in stability, amnesty, democracy, economic opportunity, and the other things that can induce insurgents to give up. Even if we manage to defeat the “negotiable” portion of the Iraqi insurgency, there will be plenty of diehards and foreign fighters left to continue the fight (inside or outside of Iraq) at some level.

However, I don’t think this changes the strategy. It’s unfortunate, but the focus has to be on defeating and/or reconciling with the Sunni insurgency. Once that is accomplished, attacking the genuine terrorist groups will become much easier. Until then, at least, we and the Iraqis will have to endure increased terrorist activity.

Incidentally, I think that the above applies whether or not the United States remains in Iraq. If we withdraw tomorrow, the Iraqi government will have to defeat the insurgents and the terrorists. If we don’t, then we’ll have to fight them. The basic task remains the same.

Ooh, Wrath

[ 0 ] November 15, 2005 |

It appears that a vengeful deity is bent on destroying Lexington. In the absence of a tornado, wind gusts are expected to reach 65 mph.

In the event of my death, I grant the readers of this blog leave to pick through my meager possessions. To my creditors, I say “HA HA”. Losers.

If the tornado only destroys my neighbors, I promise to report on whether it really does sound like a freight train.

UPDATE: Watch the storm front approach Lexington.

Bobo on Hobbes

[ 0 ] November 15, 2005 |

From Slate:

David Brooks, columnist, the New York Times
This is going to sound awfully pompous (but hey, I went to the University of Chicago), but the two most important books I read in college were Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France and Hobbes’ Leviathan. I loathed both books at first reading, but they both explained how little we can rationally know about the world around us and how much we have to rely on habits, traditions, and intuition. I’ve been exemplifying our ignorance on a daily basis ever since.

I’m with him on Burke, but his interpretation of Hobbes seems a little, well, unusual.

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