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No Shame

[ 0 ] November 19, 2005 |

Matt is right. There is no biography compelling enough to shame the administration and its goons. And there’s no shortage of people shameless enough to believe the propaganda.

[ 0 ] November 18, 2005 |

Friday Cat Blogging. . . Pippin

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.


[ 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.


[ 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.


[ 0 ] November 15, 2005 |

One of the critical moments at the opening of the Cold War was the replacement of British forces in Greece by American troops and advisors. A friendly Greek government was fighting an unfriendly (and fairly nasty) group of communist insurgents. The British, because of budget problems, could no longer continue the fight. The decision to use Americans in Greece (and the decision to justify such use through the Truman doctrine) was a turning point for US policy and a landmark moment in Cold War history.

Is this a similar moment in the history of the War on Terror?

Britain is attempting to build a coalition to pursue counter-insurgency combat operations against al-Qaida and Taliban fighters in southern Afghanistan after the withdrawal by the Bush administration of 4,000 US troops early next year.

Talks with Australia, Canada, New Zealand and several other countries are being held before a Nato meeting in Brussels on December 7. They follow the refusal of European allies, such as France and Germany, to allow their troops to become involved in counter-insurgency.

The discussions are among preparations for the deployment of 2,000 crack British troops backed by Apache attack helicopters to lawless Helmand province at the head of an expanded, British-led Nato force next spring. An additional 2,000 British troops are expected to be sent to Afghanistan next year bringing the total number to somewhere around 4,800. The British mission in the south represents a significant escalation of its overall involvement in Afghanistan. Military sources said it was potentially more hazardous – and could last longer – than Britain’s postwar involvement in Iraq.

“The debate is not whether, but to what extent these troops will get into counter-insurgency and counter-narcotics,” a military source said. “We are not talking war fighting. But there is potential for armed conflict in some areas. The reality is that there are warlords, drug traffickers, al-Qaida, al-Qaida wannabes and Taliban.”

Regardless of what Glenn Reynolds and the boys might want to think, the situation in Afghanistan has not quieted down. 2005 saw the highest casualty totals, both dead and wounded, for the US in Afghanistan since 2001. The war there is not over.

And in a related question, how much longer are the British going to endure Tony Blair? It is one thing to elect a fool as your President and watch him drag your country into an unwise war. It is something else altogether to elect a fool as your Prime Minister and watch as he follows the foolish President of some other country into an unwise war.

Via Duck.

Shouldn’t Have Been that Close

[ 0 ] November 14, 2005 |

A-Rod wins the MVP award. While they got it right, I nevertheless find it troubling that a excellent defensive third basemen having a clearly superior offensive season barely defeated a poor fielding DH (to the extent that such a thing is possible).

I find this map fascinating. I’m not surprised by the general support for Ortiz around the country, but it’s very odd that A-Rod won Missouri, of all places.

Briscoe and Logan vs. George W. Bush

[ 1 ] November 14, 2005 |


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