April 19, 2014

Can Billy Hamilton break the Pete Kozma Line?

Billy Hamilton, in a rare appearance
on a major-league base path.
For years and years, baseball aficionados have talked about the "Mendoza Line," named after baseballer Mario Mendoza and his struggles to bat more than .200 for several different years in his career.

Well, there are variations on that.

We could talk about the Adam Dunn Line. That's an even tougher one to achieve, but Dunn's done it twice. It's not a line, really, but for the sake of parallels, we'll call it that. It's when your strikeouts are higher than your batting average. And Dunn's done it in both 2011 and 2012.

Now, though, I think we have a new example, especially since the Cardinals have officially sent hitless wonder backup shortstop Pete Kozma down to Memphis. Kozma's future was iffy ever since the Cards signed Jhonny Peralta in the offseason. It was more iffy yet after the Birds also signed Mark Ellis. The expectation that Kolten Wong would make the squad on opening day meant Kozma was on borrowed time, and only Ellis' knee tendonitis kept that send-down from immediately happening. Since he's SS only, unlike Daniel Descalso, who plays multiple positions, this was a no-brainer. Add in that Descalso's a touch better hitter, and you go from there. But, let's not totally cast Kozma into oblivion. Let's immortalize him.

Kozma's plate struggles, especially when his glove was brought into question by a World Series error, got plenty of finger-pointing last year at the Birds coming up two games short of topping the Red Sox for title No. 12.

Now, though, we have somebody about whom we can have discussion of a Pete Kozma line with some sabermetrics. Rather than a .200 batting average, we can call a .600 OPS the Kozma line. (Mendoza also fell short of a .600 OPS more than once, but, he's got one line named after him already.)

And, Cincinnati speedster Billy Hamilton, despite a surge that's raised [sic] his batting average to .170, is still more some 150 points short of the Kozma Line. 

With Kozma, there's further complications. Like Mendoza, his K/BB rate is horrible, although Kozma at least isn't 4-1. Descalso is bad enough on that, but not quite as bad as Kozma; another reason he gets to stay in St. Louis.

Meanwhile, back to the object of Cincinnati's unnatural affections. Hamilton has a K/BB rate even worse than Kozma's. And, he's actually below league average on range factor in the outfield. 

Anyway, now that Kozma's been sent down, what are the chances of Striking Out Billy (he's not going to be a new Sliding Billy Hamiliton if he ain't on base) joining him if he doesn't improve? As usual with such things, there's a poll at right, below the two political-based ones.

I don't know who the Reds have at AAA, but if  he can't bat any better, and he's no better than league average on patrolling center field, and with a below-average arm, he's a detriment. Hell, the 1980s Cards were able to stash Vince Coleman in left, at least.

Yeah, part of it is small sample size. OTOH, he had these same issues in the minors.

That said, so did Kozma. Some Cards fans prematurely fell in love with him due to small sample size in 2012.

Dunn also failed to break the Kozma Line in 2011. I'm unaware of any other non-middle infielder who has this ignominious honor, at least in recent years.  

Update, May 5: Hamilton may have Kozma-ed himself and could be headed to the DL.

Let's do more to stop April being National Child Abuse Prevention Month

Note: The following is adapted from a newspaper column.

This is April, which means it’s National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

I didn’t do so last year, because I was new to my current newspaper setting, but it’s been a tradition of mine to write one or more columns every month about this issue, primarily about child sexual abuse.

First, I know that this is an uncomfortable topic. And rightly so. Nobody likes to think of the most vulnerable members of our society being abused like this before they’ve had a chance to grow up. But, only by addressing this issue in reality can we hope to translate the pain of that discomfort into reality.

Second, there are myths about child sexual abuse as well as realities. And part of addressing this issue, and reducing it (unfortunately, we will surely never eliminate it) is looking at the realities not the myths.

Some realities are hard to come by. Many victims don’t talk about, let alone legally report, their abuse even after entering adulthood. The pain, as well as the shame, of child sexual abuse, are both reasons why.

That word “shame” is as good a starting point as any for talking about some of the realities.

The shame is there in part because counselors tell us that child victims often believe they did something to cause the abuse, even though that’s not true. It’s often the only way a younger child, especially, can try to make sense of the inexplicable.

Sadly, the shame is also often there for another reason. Exact percentages are pretty much impossible to come by, but “stranger danger” child sexual assaults are a clear minority. Again, without exact percentages being available, perpetrators are normally known to their victims, and often known well, whether as trusted friends of the family, or as family members. A lot of child sexual abuse, because of this, happens at the residence of the victim or the perpetrator.

Girls are more often the victim of child sexual abuse than boys, but boys are a significant minority of victims. And, while men make up the vast majority of perpetrators, women are also sometimes abusers.

Child sexual abuse can include exhibitionism and display of pornography to victims, as well as more graphic physical acts. In some cases, one child may have severe reactions to one incident of abuse than another child does to multiple instances.

Children that come from broken homes or other unstable situations are generally more vulnerable to the effects of child sexual abuse, as are younger children. And, because poverty rates run higher, and stable family lives run lower, among minorities, that means that sexual abuse runs higher there, in general, along with its effects.

And, those effects are great. Childhood and adult depression, other mental health problems, drug addiction and alcoholism, teen pregnancy, children running away from home or dropping out of school can all hurt, even shatter, lives.

Children aren’t perfect, and can tell fibs, or have imaginary friends, even at younger ages.

But, when a child shows signs of depression or anxiety, let alone when a child has sexual-related comments or actions inappropriate to his or her age, that child’s behavior should be looked at with total seriousness. Even more so, when a child makes a comment about a certain adult’s behavior, the child should be listened to in all seriousness.

Doing everything we can to address social situations that may influence the likelihood of child sexual abuse — and physical and emotional abuse — is something else we need to treat with all due seriousness, too.

That includes income raises, and jobs with a better sense of security. In turn, that's yet another reason to address income inequality issues in America.

Beyond that, this includes doing what we can as a society to promote better parenting.

When we fail to prevent the abuse, it means doing a better job of counseling victims, whether as children or those who come forward much later as adults.

It also includes walking a fine line on the issue of old memories. Memories may not be “repressed,” as some researchers almost stereotype some claims, and as some counselors believe, and try to “induce” them to come back to life. That's especially true because not all allegedly false memories are totally false; rather, a fair amount are conflated or blended from two or more true memories.

However, sexual abuse victims can, and do, “detach” from their memories. I don’t care what exact terminology one wants to use, cases where this does happen clearly exist. And, any adult or child who does claim such memories without undue prompting from a counselor should be taken seriously.

April 18, 2014

Will the #SJW petard crank up for #PZMyers?

P.Z. Myers/Wikipedia photo
SJW, for those who don't follow Gnu Atheism and its offshoot, Atheism Plus, or non-secularized versions of politically correct "liberalism," is Social Justice Warriors, like Brittany Cooper and others who recently wanted Stephen Colbert's head on a platter.

P.Z. Myers is P.Z. Myers, a curmudgeonly Gnu who, though of an older age, nonetheless has an emotional foot in the camp of the Plusers, too.

And, why would P.Z. get hoisted by the SJW petard?

Calling hyperconsertives at his faculty home, University of Minnesota-Morris, "assholes" and advocating the disposal of their student newspaper, as reported by Faux News.

It's probably not criminal, though depending on the exact wording of various statements of his, and any meetings he had with any students who engaged in the theft after his initial statements, a prosecutor could at least threaten an "engaging in organized criminal activity" charge or whatever the similar is up in Minnesota.

But that's not where the petard is.

Instead, he may well have violated the faculty code of conduct. Beyond that, he may have officially "intimidated" students in some way. That would be doubly so if any of the writers/editors for this student paper are in any of his classes. You know what would be HI-LAR-I-OUS? If these conservatives do some SJW intelectual judo on him and make him undergo sensitivity training.

As I now read his blog post that appeared to start it all, that SJW petard would be well deserved. He doesn't know what the First Amendment means. The paper is offensive, offensive indeed. However, the First Amendment protects the right to engage in offensive speech.

As for his claim he was only advocating the university not allow the paper on campus? Beyond missing both freedom of speech AND freedom of assembly issues at a public university, here's what he actually blogged:
I would advocate the disposal of their flyers if the Ku Klux Klan started papering our campus, and likewise, the North Star has worn out its welcome and must go. Treat their scattered papers as hate-filled trash and dispose of it appropriately.
Now, one can't prove that he was encouraging students to do this "disposal," so criminal charges would be very hard. On the other hand, beyond sensitivity training for violating any faculty code of conduct? Assuming that Minnesota does not require jury unanimity in civil suits, and has a lower burden of proof than in criminal law, Pee Zee could be facing more than just "sensitivity training" and a slap on the hand from the dean of administration or whomever.

Linking to this is P.Z.'s latest attempt at self-defense
And, he's doubled down on not understanding either one of those First Amendment freedoms in his post-Faux post.

As for whether any of this "should" happen? Given that P.Z. has admitted to facing an (allegedly) unfounded accusation of sexual harassment, yet continues to say we should unreservedly believe people making such claims, the "should" of sensitivity training should happen indeed, in my book.

That said, would he actually learn from this?

Of course, not, other than to play the martyr card, like SJWs in general.

And, now, by posting a recent XKCD comic, PZ is tripling down on his First Amendment stupidity.

The same bottom left and bottom center panels that PZ wants to apply to wingnut students at Minnesota-Morris and some of their ravings apply to him and some of his.

As for the hate emails he's getting, of course, nobody deserves that. But, at least on any of them short of death threats, at the same time, Myers is probably "wearing" them as some sort of Red-A Atheism  Badge of Courage.

===

That said, were I the John Rawls of Minnesota-Morris, here is how I would pass out both distributive and retributive justice.

First, I would make P.Z. undergo sensitivity training at the hands of fellow atheist, Jesus mythicist, hardcore conservative and apparent racialist Robert M. Price, until P.Z. signed a sworn statement admitting that not all, or nearly all, atheists are liberals.

I would then make some of the worst wingnut students undergo sensitivity training by community organizers in Minneapolis -- in the ghetto there.

Next, I would require their paper to give P.Z. the entire front page for one issue.

And, I'd require P.Z. to give them a blog post of at least 1,000 words, and "pinned" to the top of his blog for a week straight.

And, no, this isn't written as pure sarcasm. Were I in place to do so, I'd hand out actual sentencings like this.

===

The part immediately above relates to crime in general. How much of a sentence should be punitive and how much should be rehabilitative? We should strive for rehabilitation in general, but in a particular case, we have to depend on a judge's assessment of how likely rehabilitation is to be achieved. If the judge then thinks a sentence should be primarily punitive, the exact nature of its punishment could theoretically be made more severe in exchange for shorter duration, if the criminal committed what is generally considered a nonviolent crime.

Example? As part of parole, require a Wall Street fraud artist to work at a soup kitchen, a halfway house, etc. Require an arsonist, if a prison workshop can be properly made over, to recreate exactly what she burned.

Irony, Rosemary Lehmberg and #WendyDavis

Remember when Rick Perry vetoed the bill funding the state's Public Integrity Unit, run out of the Travis County DA's office, because DA Rosemary Lehmberg wouldn't resign after her arrest and plea on a DWI case? (That veto, and a state investigation, has led Perry to lawyer up.)

Now, here's the irony part.

Davis' 2012 state Senate general election opponent, Mark Shelton, had asked for an investigation of her law firm, Newby Davis, and its work with the North Texas Tollway Authority, an issue that's raised a bit of ethics concerns, although everything she did is perfectly legal.

Anyway, Shelton's filing has started a tangled string, as the Dallas Morning News details.

Let's start here:
In her re-election race in 2012, Davis was challenged by former state Rep. Mark Shelton. The Republican filed a complaint with the Travis County district attorney’s Public Integrity Unit, asking for an investigation of Davis’ ties to the NTTA.
And let's start pulling on the string from there.

Because, the FBI is now involved:
After that office closed the case, The News sought its file under the state public information law. It is routine for public agencies to ask the attorney general if they are required to release certain records.

Elizabeth Winn, an assistant Travis County attorney, said in an interview that her office had confirmed with the FBI that the material from the county’s review of the Shelton complaint was now part of a federal investigation. “We did confirm by telephone … they still have a pending investigation,” she said.

Greg Cox, who heads the district attorney’s Public Integrity Unit, told The News that in looking into Shelton’s complaints about Davis, his office exchanged information with the FBI.
There's no indication that Davis has done anything wrong. That said, while the Travis DA's office has long closed its investigation, the FBI's is still open.

The FBI had been nosing around before that:
The NTTA disclosed in 2011 that the FBI was investigating potential conflicts of interest among current and former board members. Davis has never served on the board. No one has been charged, and an attorney for one former director said last year that federal authorities had cleared his client.
So, the open investigation is most likely about something else. But, what? Since the FBI isn't talking, it's unclear whether they just want some Newby Davis files as part of a new or ongoing look at other board members, or if there's something else frying in the pan.

To riff on an old phrase, "Appearance is nine-tenths of the law in politics." I don't see how Davis can truly move beyond this without, at a minimum, making a public statement to the fullest extent she can per the FBI. At some point, she may need to publicly release more files from Newby Davis. In turn, that may include doing a bit of crapping on Bryan Newby, or somebody else.

As Chris Christie knows, a politician never, ever wants the word "investigation" in the same sentence as his or her name. And, speaking of, the AP has now picked up the story.

Fortunately, enough fur will fly between now and the May 27 runoff primary election date to partially obscure this, but, really, she needs to have this behind her by then.

Stay tuned.

And, of course, this is yet another reason for Green Party gubernatorial candidate Brandon Parmer not to suspend or semi-suspend his campaign.

The irony, of course, is if the Public Integrity Unit had been defunded quickly enough, maybe the FBI wouldn't have gotten all of the records it did, as quickly as it did.

Also, per my ethics blog post link, this is the difference between her, and say, a Royce West. The NTTA is a for-profit organization. Even though the Big Biz model for academia is getting pushed more and more, Royce's baby, UNT-Dallas, is a public university. (Of course, a friend of West's could have the contract for collecting UNT-Dallas student loan debt or something.)


I'm now 'officially' a philosopher

Or something kind of like that.

Here's my take on fakery in aesthetics at philosopher Massimo Pigliucci's new long-form science and philosophy site. I already have a follow-up on this issue in the works, and hope to do some other occasional writing there.

The follow-up will be about the work of developing artists as public intellectuals. As such, it will focus on funding, via the National Endowment of the Arts and other organizations, better K-12 arts programs, within the context of improved academics in general, and more.

Check your #privilege

No, this is not another post about the so-called "social justice warriors," despite the hashtag in the header. Well, it's not primarily about them, but they'll eventually get worked into the picture.

Rather, it's about who most exercises "privilege" in modern-day America. And, I'd say it's not whites as whites, males as males, or straights as straights.

Rather, it's Christians as Christians, specifically, the mix of fundamentalists, conservative evangelicals and conservative Catholics. Whether it's the #PrayForSouthKorea hashtag on Twitter over the recent ferry sinking, or a bunch of evangelicals pretending to refute Bart Ehrman's new book "because the bible says its so" when they've done nothing of the sort, it's the assumption that a conservative version of Christianity is the default version of Christianity and the default version of religion in general in this country. (I'm not counting cultural "Christianists" like Bill O'Reilly, who is probably not that much more Christian than Samuel Huntington.)

It usually doesn't infuriate me, unlike the way it seems to do so to the atheist version of social justice warriors, or Gnu Atheists and Atheism Plusers in general. Rather, it leads to more of a sad laugh.

Among those Christians trying to gin up fake culture wars, or pretend that they have no responsibility for actual ones, most such people seem to be blandly and blindly unaware that they're engaging in privileged stances.

And, the way to deal with people like this is to first try to enlighten them, make them aware of their unawareness. Now that often may not work. But, it's the first thing to try, rather than berating them.

Berating such people assumes one has the right, er ... the privilege! of being a berater. As well as doing little to no good. Per the old academic left-liberal literary theory political correctness mash that fermented social justice warriors, you see how easy it is for someone to go "meta" on you?

Atheist SJWs might try turning the mirror around, and ask how much they've liked Christians who don't care about the issue of privilege willingly berating them.

See, I told you we'd get to the SJWs.

So, atheistic types? I've said it before. If you don't want to be a mirror image of conservative Christians, and don't want them to be your tar baby, the ball's in your court.

Beyond that, every one of us has at least a bit of privilege vis-a-vis one other person in the world. A great many of us have, in some part of our lives, even for those who are of a racial or ethnic minority, women, gay/lesbian, etc., have some aspect of privilege vis-a-vis a few other people at least. (A good example of "never assume" would be the number of men who have eating disorders.)

I don't claim to know what it's like to be black, or Hispanic. But, I have lived in black plurality and black majority towns. I'd like to think I've learned a little bit about what it's like to be a minority in a non-minority society at least. But, I'll never know perfectly. And, even among people who are aware that they're not fully enlightened, it's a struggle to get them interested; that's kind of what Perry's getting at.

Otherwise, none of us can ever perfectly know another ethnic, sex, sexuality or other group, or another individual from that group. Indeed, we'll never know our own selves perfectly.

Rodney King famously asked, "Can't we all just get along?" No, not perfectly, because, beyond the issues above that can be barriers, we're all individuals.

Can we, at least, reduce how much many of us don't get along? That's more likely and more possible. And more reasonable. Beyond the fires of idealism comes the progress of realism. At the same time, we don't have to have minimalistic definitions of realism.

Back to the original point in a wandering post, though.

Conservative Christians who do semi-deliberately speak from a point of privilege will ultimately result to one of two answers to this.

One is the "success gospel." You're right and doing well because you're propperly aligned with god. (Unfortunately, many a New Ager holds to a more pantheistic version of this.)

The other is that there's no Jew nor Gentile, etc., so all current-world differences are virtually erased now in religion and totally will be so thereafter.

The first? We saw that become a new opiate of the masses in the run-up to the Great Recession. The second? It's the usual answer when people complain about the first.

If we could get a few conservative Christians to have just an ounce or two more of honesty and self-insight, we might start something.

And, if not? While I don't go out of my way to berate conservative Christians, when I see a "PrayForX" hashtag on Twitter, I usually give one, or both, of two responses, using the same hashtag:
1. To which god are "we" praying?
2. If a god didn't stop tragedy X in the first place, why should I pray to he/she/it now?

April 17, 2014

#Obamacare good news: Will it carry over?

Compared to target numbers, the White House announcement that 8 million have enrolled for Obamacare is good news, straight-up; the word that 28 percent of these are 18-34 is an alloyed decent bit of news. It's definitely lower than hoped-for percentages, but in terms of absolute raw numbers, it's the same as one-third of 7 million.

Now, let's see what this means in the future, since, as I have blogged repeatedly in the past (click the Obamacare tag below rather than me posting a bunch of links) what these people signed up for is half-Obamacare, due to how much of what was in the actual Affordable Care Act still delayed, some of it for a full year or more, yet.

As for claims that Obamacare, or even half-Obamacare, is responsible for slower growth in health care costs?

Tosh, in a word.

The lingering effects of the Great Recession are, in all likelihood, the single biggest driver of that.

And, as I've also repeatedly blogged before, Obamacare, even the full Monty, has little in the way of built-in cost controls, starting with the fact that it didn't establish a federal department of insurance regulation. We actually won't have that good of an idea of what Obamacare is doing to control health care costs, IMO, until the end of this decade. And, given the current national political climate, there will be no chance of doing any real fixes until that time.

So, this is nice. Or maybe it's just "nice."

Per the half-Obamacare comment, it probably deserves only half a victory lap.

And, please, don't you Obots tell me about "all the Republican opposition." Dear Leader had at least as long to "adapt" on that as Kathleen Sibelius, now absurdly being touted by some Obot types as a Kansas candidate for the U.S. Senate, had to mic-check the Obamacare software.

April 16, 2014

A four-letter word for lawyers like #WendyDavis has her in trouble

Wayne Slater's latest love letter to Wendy Davis is a problem for her.

As Slater notes, she's not the first to use her business connections and her business as a state senator to make 2+2 add up to Ben Franklins.

However, she is the first to do so while running for governor, or other executive office.

Had she remained a state senator, things would have been different.

It's not just a Republican like John Carona, also lovingly mentioned by Slater.

Look at black state Senate powerhouses like Rodney Ellis of Houston and Royce West of Dallas, both like Davis, but unlike Carona, lawyers.

But, they're content to remain state senators.

The old Romans had a name for it, the person. In the legalistic Latin of the law profession, you can probably find the word "imberfex" somewhere.

I'll save you the Google search and translate directly what lawyers try to hide from you.

It's called "rainmaker."

While Texas' ethics laws are weaker than other states, and a legislature officially employed only every other year has lots of free time on its hands, surely other states have state legislators, whether actually lawyers or not, who are rainmakers.

But, they too didn't run for executive positions. Or if they did, they waiting many, many years, until they detached from their rain-receiving clients, or they had enough money to move on.

That's why Ellis and West will never run for statewide office. With West, about whom I know more, beyond the cash, it's the power. He, or careful friends of his outside of his office, will have connections to places like UNT-Dallas for decades to come.

(Also in Dallas, this is part of what tripped up famous, or infamous, County Commissioner John Wiley Price, setting aside that he's not an attorney. You put your hands too directly on the rainmaking levers and you wind up in trouble. You double that trouble, again, if you hold an executive position, which, arguably as just one of five in a county, counting the county judge, a commissioner is.)

At her "political boutique" law firm of Newby Davis, Davis, the elected official from the minority party, is more the rainmaker. Law firm partner Bryan Newby, formerly a general counsel for Gov. Rick Perry, brought connections with the majority party, as well as the cachet of being a black Republican.

Meanwhile, the Snooze has doubled down on Slater's story with an editorial. I presume Davis has grown enough that she won't sue over it, unlike with the StartleGram a decade or so ago. And,  yes, that happened.

Again, as my original blog post on this issue showed, it's in part about the state of Texas' officially toothlessness on ethics, a toothlessness that's been pretty much de rigeur since the first gusher at Spindletop if not before. This is also another reason why the Green Party shouldn't be negotiating with Dems about not fighting in the gubernatorial campaign this year.

My final take? I've hinted at this before, but I'll say it more directly now.

Wendy Davis reminds me of Barack Obama. She reminds me a LOT of him in this way — the promises of new politics that we already know, before the election, just aren't true.

Just.Another.Politician.™ (With the added burden of having to sled uphill here in Texas.)

And, just another reason to be honest about what terms like "progressive" and "liberal" mean. Also, as for Charles Kuffner's worries, I'm not jumping off a cliff because I never was on one in the first place.


April 15, 2014

We don't need an Académie Française; we have the #AP

For the unfamiliar, the Académie Française is the god, guru and guardian of French language usage.

American English users like to laugh at it as just another example of snooty French pretentiousness or something.

But, the reality is that we already have such an organization — it's called the Associated Press. Since its origins, the AP has somehow evolved from a newspaper collective into thinking it

I've been reading multiple newspaper industry blogs, like Ken Doctor, where, in the last week or two, there's been discussion of the Associated Press finally catching up with 600-plus years of common English usage on the use of "over," rather than "more than," in numeric as well as spatial relationships. A mix of vapid worship of the AP, combined with fears that this means "the barbarians are at the gate" with such relaxing of standards, made me realize that the AP is indeed America's Académie Française, or so it and its fanboys like to pretend. Said comments also, per the fact that "over" has been used in such ways since the 1300s, made it clear that the AP and its knee-jerk defenders don't necessarily know the English language as well as they claim.

Maybe the AP can see its way free next to adopting the Oxford comma. Until that happens, the Chicago Manual of Style need not fear any challenge from the AP on proper English usage, especially since Chicago is the style for most serious nonfiction writing, as compared to newspapers and magazines represented by the AP.

Maybe it can also see free to restoring "illegal immigrant," for that matter. I'm not a political conservative, but I do deplore political correctness. When AP banned that phrase from its Stylebook last year, it really lost me.

Beyond that, AP, maybe you can teach your own reporters about the "it's" vs. "its" issue — I've seen that mistake creeping into more and more AP stories.

Besides, as the Wiki link above shows, the AP is ultimately about the style of Ben Franklins more than anybody else. If we are to have an Académie Française, let's use the Chicago Manual, in part because it was started by a nonprofit university press.

And the loser of the 2014 #Masters is? #538 might shoot a #FiveThirtyEight (updated)

Neil Paine duffs a chip shot from off the green with his piece on possible winners of this year's Masters.

First, he states the obvious, that length is key at Augusta National. However, he also says greens in regulation is important. While it's true that a golfer can be both short and inaccurate, or long and accurate, in general, there's some correlation between length and inaccuracy.

And, while being closer to a green means the use of shorter irons, with more likelihood of staying on a green, the flip side is that hitting irons out of even lighter rough affects control a bit.

(Update, April 15: Paine now stands somewhat refudiated by Golf Digest. Greens in regulation may not be sabermetric, but it was the top commonality for this year's subpar finishers? Driving distance? Not so much.)

He then follows:
And for all of the breathless reverence given to Augusta’s trademark slippery greens, putting skill isn’t a significant predictor of those who will stray from expectations, either.

I suspect this is because putts per round is one of the least consistent performance indicators from season to season, ranking only above sand save percentage.
Which is true, but only in a trivial sense.

The PGA actually has a sabermetric-type stat for putting called "Strokes Gained-Putting," described here. Paine does note elsewhere (on Twitter, but not in an updated story) that putts per round has a 75 percent correlation with strokes-gained putting.

He then says he wanted long-term data. Well, now you're trying to slice your bread and make it both white and whole wheat, because he goes on to dismiss SG-P as only being around a couple of years. But, if that's the case, how "firm," then, is that 75 percent correlation? Maybe 2-3 more years of study lower it to 70 percent?

By the same token, I'll admit that, because of dramatic images, we may overrate the value of putting at Augusta. But, the 75 percent leaves enough room to wonder whether Paine shouldn't recrunch his story in a few years.

Because, as Zach Johnson showed in 2007, a short hitter with strategery in mind can still win at Augusta. (And Haney said the Tiger-proofing had worked with T. Woods more for how the course now shaped up rather than distance per se.) Beyond Johnson, shorter but not minuscule drivers but good putters with a chance to win would include Ian Poulter, Ryan Moore and Jason Dufner. At the same time, Paine rules out Henrik Stenson based on past performance, but maybe that was due to his putting as much as anything else. (ESPN doesn't have full stats for the European tour, so I don't know; he is fifth on driving distance, though, so it's not a length issue.)

I appreciate Paine's attempt to be a contrarian about "received logic" at Augusta. At least, that's how I'm diagnosing it. However, if not wrong, I think he's a bit early. (That said, I do agree with Paine that both scrambling and sand saves aren't important at Augusta.)

And, there's something else.

Greens in regulation itself is perhaps outdated. I could go across the pond and hit every green in regulation at an Open course with the classic double-hole greens yet face all 50-foot putts. This isn't a fault of Paine's. To riff on Don Rumsfeld, you go to Big Data with the data you have.

To address my issue, we need a standard distance, not just "greens." I think that as an occasional duffer in the past, 20 feet away, even for the pros, involves too much luck. Ten feet, though, might not be far enough away to separate the men from the boys in putting. So, maybe "greens inside 15 feet in regulation" is what we need?

Paine does expect there to be more "sabermetric" stats for golf coming in the future, per a Twitter exchange. However, they're not here yet. And, per Don Rumsfeld again, we're at "known unknowns" right now. We know that our current golf stats are lacking in rigor and revelation, but we're still not sure how much they're lacking and how.

This then leads to a larger-yet issue, part of what several people, far beyond those named Paul Krugman, have said about the FiveThirtyEight brand so far. And that's that it doesn't actually do that much analysis for all the Big Data it crunches. Go here for my previous critique of the FiveThirtyEight "brand."

If a statistic is inadequate, and there's none better to replace it, then let's propose a new one, like I just did. To go back to Don Rumsfeld, other people, unlike him, didn't stay in the fog of war. When Bradleys got hit by IEDs, we improvised, then replaced most of them with MRAPs. And, in a note to Neil's boss, you lose some of the hubris that kept you in the fog of war in the first place.

And, Big Data still can't tell us everything. It couldn't tell us in advance that Billy Beane was afraid of failure, assuming that was part of his problem as a baseball player. (I think it was, and also wonder if that's why he turned down the offer to run the Red Sox.) Back in the golf world, it can't explain why, per an old witticism, "Scott Hoch rhymes with 'choke'."

And, you can overcrunch data, too. Some baseball sabermetric stats, like how much value to give steals and how much to detract for being thrown out stealing, are subjective to a degree themselves.

In case anybody is wondering, here's my look at possibilities to win this year.

Shock me: Phillies' Amaro channels Al Davis again with Burnett (updated)

Even if Cole Hamels reportedly might not be ready at the start of the season, flushing out $16M to former Pirate A.J. Burnett? That's just nuts.

I stand corrected. It could be up to $33.5 mil for 2 years, with a mutual option that Ruben Amaro, should he be lucky enough not to be fired, will surely be dumb enough to pick up. Jayson Stark adds that the contract also has a 20-team no-trade clause.

Stark also comments on that option year:
But even if both sides don't exercise that option, Burnett also has a player option for 2015 that would be worth between $7.5 million and $12.75 million, depending on his performance this season. And there are $1.75 million worth of what one source described as "reachable" performance bonuses in each of the two seasons. 
Holy crap, this is a hugely bad contract.

But wait, it's worse. Yes, worse!

This may, depending on mid-season call-ups and such, push the Phillies over the salary cap/lux tax limit

(Update, April 15: It's worse yet. Burnett has been, if not teh suck, kind of "indifferent." And know we know why: He has an inguinal hernia.)

Even with a healthy Hamels AND a Burnett signing (for less money), the Phils still have a good shot at finishing fourth in that division again. And, an outside shot at dragging the bottom.

Might be time for Jonah Keri to update this year's bad contracts list.

And, he says "no," saying on Twitter:
Burnett had a great 2013 & signed 1-year deal, so no.
I would NOT call that last year "great."

1.7 WAR? 107 ERA+? Even at a bit of a high price of $7M/WAR, it's still a 33 percent overpay. 

I was speaking somewhat tongue in cheek, knowing it's just a one-year deal. It's still an overpay, and probably more than 33 percent. Keri said he wasn't interested in 1-year numbers off B-R, so, longer term?

He's only had above a 110 ERA+ once in the past six seasons and above 2.4 WAR just once in the last eight. Both 2010 and 2011 were negative WAA. Maybe $12.5M for one year, but not $16. And, $12.5M, albeit per year for four years, is what Matt Garza got.

Jonah's still trying to make a case that even longer term, ERA isn't a good measure. But, ERA+, not ERA, does track reasonably close to fielding-independent pitching over longer term. And, I like Baseball-Reference better than Fangraphs for other reasons, including free RSS feed links to players for we bloggers.

Sorry, Jonah, but Amaro panicked for a team that ain't making the playoffs anyway. Hell, the Pirates didn't even given him a tender offer, and he had still been sitting on the shelf drawing almost no interest until Hamels came up with a bum wing.

Sadly, he's not alone in calling Burnett's recent work "great" or similar. Here's a fan blog:
Burnett was outstanding in his two years in a Pirates uniform, winning 26 games, pitching to a 3.41 ERA while being an innings eater, hurling 393.1 frames over his two years in Pittsburgh.
That's "outstanding"? Not. Not even close. And, let's add in that Burnett will be 37. Due for a bit of further age-related decline. It's also a sad day when 200 innings is an "innings eater." Speaking of innings eaters, I'd say this is worse than what the Snakes gave Bronson Arroyo, even if that was 2 years for $23.5 with the option buyout on a third year. (Speaking of, please note the poll at top right.)

Also, and not "sadly," but ... Jonah, you're wrong!

If you want me to go to Fangraphs, I can do that, Jonah? And, you know what? There, Burnett's 2013 FIP looks like a fluke. Fluke. His 2.80 is a career low and the only time he's been below 3.1. Thank you very much, and it's an overpay on your own stats terms, Jonah.

I got more reasons he's a fluke, looking at B-R. His 0.5 HR/9 ties a career low. His WHIP (and pitchers control walks, too) the lowest in six years. Sure, it's possible he can be in the same ballpark on all of these stats next year, but likely? I think not.

He seems to have "regression candidate" written across his forehead.

My predictions for a 2014 Burnett? 185 innings. ERA+ of 102. A WAR of 1.3 and WAA of -0.2. And, that might be generous. Have fun with your $16M, A.J. Have fun blowing money for a possible last-place team, Ruben. And, have fun as  defending this as not an overpay, all and sundry.

Plus, as David Schoenfield notes at ESPN's Sweet Spot, Burnett benefited from the Pirates doing a lot of strategic defensive shifts.
As noted often during their run to the playoffs, Pittsburgh was among the most aggressive teams in regards to infield shifts. Burnett is on record as being opposed to the shift; however, since 2012 the Pirates' staff batting average allowed on groundballs is .216 -- second lowest in the majors. Burnett's personal average since joining the club is .214. The league average for the same time frame is .231. Over the last two years, Burnett was the pitcher of record for 1,135 outs. Of those, 41 percent have come on the ground. 
The Phillies aren't much into that, plus their infield isn't a lot better than the Yankees. Thus, FIP wasn't so "independent," if you will.

Based on those estimates, the Pirates' offer of $12M, still a bit of an overpay, makes more sense. Per a friend, I don't know why he wasn't slapped with the tender label. Would $2M more too much for the Pirate payroll? That said, he's not a $16M man.

I hear petards hoisting, for both Amaro and Keri, I think.

Your thoughts? Feel free to vote in the poll at top right.

And, Jamie Moyer? Don't go in that broadcast booth just yet. I'll bet you've got Amaro on speed dial. If not, you should.

I'm sure that Amaro will once again refuse to trade anybody at the midseason trade deadline, either.

Have fun not rebuilding, Ruben. Have fun not getting value out of Cliff Lee. Speaking of Uncle Cliffy, and Ruben Amaro, and Jonah Keri, if the Phils do need to be in rebuilding mode, and I think two of the three of us agree on that one, paying a league-average 37-year-old $16 million on a 1-year contract isn't how you rebuild. Trading your top trade asset, an All-Star level lefty who can still bring value to an aged team with a thin farm system, is how you rebuild.

I mean, Amaro talked about midseason trades of Lee, Hamels or both last year but then never followed through. True, potential trade partners may have been lowballing him, but he may have been highballing them. And, if the Rangers and Tigers could make their big blockbuster trade this offseason, surely Lee could have been moved, too.

But I'm just a blogger, not a always-brilliant part of the ESPN/Grantland baseball writers studio, you know? I guess I don't know, even if I can quote Fangraphs as well as Baseball-Reference. But, if you really think buying Burnett instead of trading Cliff Lee is how Amaro should rebuild, well, OK, then. Maybe, after Amaro gets fired, you can be the next Phillies GM.

Add to this that, per the updates, Keri's doubling down on this not being a bad contract.

And, sarcastic? Me? Never.

Also, one-year contracts may not be so bad, but, if a team gets a regular history of overpays on 1-year contracts, cumulatively, they are bad.

April 14, 2014

Let's talk about the word 'potential'

In the world of pro sports, it's used most often as a bet-hedger by general managers, who see raw talent in a player whom they also think lacks the discipline or other psychological necessities to be a star at the top pro level. See Johnny "JFF" Manziel in college football. See the idea of "phenom" among baseball scouts. (That's you, Clint Hurdle, though you're doing more and more to redeem yourself as a manager.)

At least it's an honest bet-hedger.

In larger society, though, it's something else. The word "potential" may be used for a city, a social group, or an organization that makes many people scratch their heads because they think more could be "happening" out of that city or other grouping.

For example, you might here something like this:

"BFE City has so much potential. I don't know why more people don't live there and it doesn't have a better economy."

So, in these cases, it may have the head-scratching angle.

Or, it may have a polite back of the hand angle, in which case, it may really mean:

"BFE City should be doing better than it is, but a mix of poor blacks, older whites, lingering racial issues, and a declining population due to all of the above means it isn't better."

Or (real world business name):

"Yahoo has so much potential. I don't know why people don't flock to it more."

Which, with the back of the hand, means:

"Yahoo still has potential, but it's an uphill climb. Jerry Yang suckered a clueless board into not selling, Marissa Mayer is in over her head, and Yahoo's too cheap to fix what is far and away the most hacked webmail system."

In that case, it can be a tool for blaming. Or it can be an accurate assessment, but one that only goes to the first level of things. Or, it can fall short of that, even, and be a pseudo-analysis, if it indicates that this failure to live up to potential is something relatively recent.

But, it may be older than that.

Maybe somebody told the organization called "The Daughters of the White-Hearted Anasazi" 100 years ago that it had potential. Maybe a number of somebodies told it that. Maybe just a few of those somebodies dropped in on meetings when they said it, and made it look like some growth boom was happening.

And then? The Daughters coasted on their newly found reputation and that was that.

Or the denizens of BFE City were told their one special attraction was a guaranteed draw. But, after it petered out after a boomlet, nobody tried to build on it.

And, then, 100 years later, you heard tales about how hopping the town was back then. Made you think it was twice as big as now, when reality says it was about 25 percent bigger.

At this point, "potential" takes on a life of its own.

It can become a Bitcoin of sorts, eagerly banked, however redeemable nowhere. That said, with such social Bitcoin (as, I suspect, with the actual), many of the hoarders know this early on. Without waiting for explicit suckers, they are expecting somebody else to do the redeeming for them.

Or, it becomes the Mark of Cain. Everybody in the community that fails to help the potential be realized, let alone those who honestly say that "the potential has no clothes," are themselves the problem.

Or it becomes a New Ageism issue, somewhat similar to the above, but where gurus come along promising to heal the "negativity." And, when they fail, that's only proof of the strength of the negativity, rather than a sign of one of the other issues above.

Unfortunately, this isn't like science, with the old joke that it just takes enough old scientists dying off to get a new theory accepted. If enough people die off, or leave, a community, a social organization, or a movement. And, with the human capital necessary actually threatening to fall below critical mass, "potential," and any reality behind it, fade further and further away from the horizon.

In the long run, as Keynes said, we're all dead. Eventually, the same happens to "potential" as a fiat social currency.

(As for Manziel? I suspect he'll remain a head case and hence, Roger Staubach is very wrong when he says he'd burn the No. 1 draft choice on him. That said, Jethro Jerry Jones would do the same.)

While statistical analysis can be overrated, nonetheless, big businesses do practice the equivalent of it on cities. If they not only don't see potential, but see a trend line in the opposite direction, and, to the degree they trade in numbers besides cold data and cash and suspect a human element behind that, they don't buy the Bitcoin. Ditto for angel investors and some magic new business idea.

Finally, especially when used in a new Age sense, it can become trivial. Sure, everyone has potential ... but for what? An amoeba has potential to become two if nothing else.

Perry lawyers up over Lehmberg and public integrity; Abbott fallout?

Every blogger in Texas has surely seen the weekend news that Gov. Rick Perry has hired lawyer David Botsford as questions about whether he engaged in official retaliation against the Public Integrity Unit by vetoing funding for it when Travis DA Rosemary Lehmberg refused to step down have increased.

Earlier this month, a special prosecutor in the case, San Antonio attorney Michael McCrum, said he was "very concerned" by Perry's conduct.

The Texas Observer has a Q&A explainer about all of this.

So, my question is: Did Texas' top elected legal official talk to Perry at all either before or after the veto? Given that Greg Abbott's been pretty AWOL on possible corruption in the funding of CPRIT, it's a valid question.

Meanwhile, though this one is solely at Perry's feet, the Wallace Hall shite gets more and more stinky. Surely Tricky Ricky, even though he's not running for gubernatorial re-election (but possibly something else in 2016) has enough political brains to be pointing the exit sign out to Wallace by now? Of course, to riff on H.L. Mencken, I wouldn't go broke underestimating the stupidity of Rick Perry or something.

Anyway, it's worth reading for the laughability of a reader comment:
Posted by Baron_von_Bogeyman at
  There are more Communists in Academia today than there are left in Eastern Europe.

One less won't hurt.
Yep, Wallace Hall is a Communist. And, that tin foil hat you wear actually concentrates N-Rays to cancerfy your brain. (Note to Statesman: Even if I'm not logged in, I'd like to report his comment as abuse, namely abuse of a human brain.)