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Sunday, February 29, 2004

Webcast Experiences

On Friday last week I did a webcast on app security in the .NET Framework. During the webcast there were audio and internet connection problems at the beginning, but once cleared up everything seemed to go fairly smoothly. However, because of the difficulties Microsoft asked me to re-record in the afternoon so the session could be burned to DVD for the upcoming Security Summits and to simply have a better copy for the archived version on the web (which will be available in 3 days or so and for which I'll place a link on the site). I did it although it was a long day of talking to myself in front of the computer. Although now that I think about it, I talk to myself quite a bit anyway. It was my first experience using Microsoft Live Meeting and I was quite impressed with both the presenter and participant interfaces. It pretty well stacks up to the Interwise software I'd used previously.

I'll be presenting at the Security Summits in Chicago on 4/14 and Dallas 4/30. At the former I'll be taking in a Cubs game on 4/15 versus the Pirates and at the latter catching up with my good friend Eric Lapp at a Rangers/Red Sox game.

Christian, Barcelona, and the .NET Compact Framework

Nice to see that Christian Nagel is reading the Compact Framework book Jon Box and I wrote. Christian is a Regional Director in Austria, consultant, author, speaker (I don't know how he has time for everything he does) and great guy and my wife and I had fun talking with Christian and his wife while in Barcelona presenting at TechEd in 2001. The trip was a blast... except of course for the part where I picked up a bacteria right before coming home and spent 3 or 4 days recovering, even to the point of going to the hospital for an IV.

Except for the illness my wife and I had a great time touring around the medieval city and exploring the ruins of the Roman city of Barkino upon which Barcelona is built. The art museum there is especially fascinating as it contains ancient murals removed from small churches throughout Spain, many with just beautiful depictions of biblical scenes. It has also has a nice exhibit on the changing depictions of Christ from Roman times through the 1500s.

Also a nice review by Guy Barrette, the RD in Montreal.

Saturday, February 28, 2004

Cubs Signings

The Cubs have a couple of nice signings durng the last week. First, they locked up Kerry Wood through 2006 with an option for 2007 at a total cost of $32.5M. The option for 2007 is for $13.5M with a $3M buyout. Wood should be a workhorse although his mechanics scare me a little in contrast to Mark Prior's. The Cubs also signed Derrek Lee to a 3 year deal worth $22.5M. These next three years should be his prime years and then the Cubs can walk away. These are both core components for the next three years that should help ensure that they remain competitive.

The Cubs also announced the rotation:


I think it makes sense to put the workhorses first and third to help out the bullpen and to mix up the look you give to the other team. This should afford plenty of opportunities for 3 game sweeps!

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Miracles, Part IIIa

This is a continuation of my long and getting longer review of C.S. Lewis' 1947 book Miracles.

Before moving to the third part of the book Lewis digresses in chapter 9 to address a specific objection that troubled him, although one he doubts (and I agree) doesn’t trouble most people. In short, before Lewis converted to Christianity he was repulsed by the idea that Nature was merely something created and not ultimate reality. He felt that as a creature, Nature lost all of its spontaneity and beauty and become just one more utilitarian "thing". However, after becoming a Christian he slowly began to appreciate Nature as a sister to humanity, and one that while fallen just as we are, will one day be redeemed.

In the third part of the book (chapters 10 through 13) Lewis addresses additional arguments against the possibility of miracles but this time from the side of supernaturalism. He begins in perhaps my favorite section of Lewis’ writings by attempting to remove a stumbling block in accepting stories of miracles in the New Testament by tackling the view that those who believe in the God of the Bible and doctrines of Christianity are naively accepting obviously anthropomorphized stories born of a "wholly 'savage' or 'primitive' picture of the universe".

In response Lewis observes that anything that cannot be seen, touched, or heard must always, because of the limitations of spoken and written language and our existence as physical beings, be written "as if they could be seen or touched or heard". Therefore a certain amount of anthropomorphism is necessary to talk about the supernatural if indeed it does exist. He notes that even those who view God not as a trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit but instead as "a great spiritual force" or the more pantheistic notion that everything is a part of God which moves and works through all creation have simply substituted the idea of God as three persons bound in relationship to each other for God as some kind of electrical or magnetic force or an extended gas or fluid. Lewis concludes then that for the modern Christian "the absurdity of the image does not imply absurdity in the doctrines". However, even in the earliest Christian writings it is obvious that more than simple anthropomorphism is being communicated in passages like John 1:1, Colossians 1:17, John 1:4, and Ephesians 1:10. This holds to a degree in the Old Testament as well from Jeremiah 23:24, Ezekiel 1:26, Deuteronomy 4:15, and even Genesis 1:1. Further, this is to be expected if God is truly supernatural in the sense that he is beyond nature and therefore our ability to fully comprehend. Contrary to many evangelicals, however, Lewis does believe that man’s conception of the universe and God have developed over time. He argues that the modern separation of the material from the immaterial was implied all along but that earlier conceptions did not separate the two but instead held to "an ancient unity of meaning which was neither or both". Consequently, this is why modern analysis that posits that man started with a material God or heaven and gradually spiritualized them fail. To the ancient there was no dichotomy and so he did start from one side or the other.

As a result, anyone who lives in an age of more developed abstract thought and understands what "taking it literally" means now sees that immateriality was being spoken of. The modern can then construct a picture of God as "the unconditioned reality" that causes the universe to be, has a positive structure, and entered the universe to become one of the creatures thereby producing effects on the historical level and bringing about a change in mankind’s relationship to the unconditioned reality. However, this modern picture is just as metaphorical as the ancient picture while managing to be duller while not usefully describing God.

Monday, February 23, 2004

The Last Commissioner

Ron Hostetter recently loaned me Fay Vincent's 2002 book The Last Commissioner: A Baseball Valentine and I was able to read it over an extended weekend. Like Ron, I found the book both interesting and thought provoking.

His opposite depictions of Joe Dimaggio and Ted Williams were interesting but left me with the impression of Joltin' Joe as a petty and parsimonious man in his dealings with others, even to the exent that he held a multi-year grudge against Vincent for a remark made by an employee of Major League Baseball when Vincent was commissioner. Vincent prefers to shrug it off by attributing it to Joe's Sicilian heritage and the excuse that "that was just Joe", but to me those excuses ring a little hollow. On the other hand his praise for the opposite attitude he witnessed in the likes of Stan Musial and Joe Garagiola are nice to hear.

As Ron mentioned, Vincent's recollections of the Rose investigation and his inside perspective should be required reading for anyone who still doesn't think Rose bet on baseball (he mentions that sabermetrician Bill James took issue with their actions against Rose. I was not aware of this before and don’t know what James’ position is today) or that he somehow has received a bad deal (the Dowd report can be found at ( Interestingly, Vincent points out that the Hall of Fame amended its rule to exclude players on baseball's ineligible list before Rose was banned but with the Rose situation in view since it first surfaced in the winter of 1989, with his ban being made official on August 24, 1989. I mentioned in an earlier post I think the HoF could allow Rose in as a player and baseball still ban him for his conduct as a manager. However, on page 127 Vincent quotes writer Hal Bodley (which he later denied) as saying that Rose did indeed bet on baseball as far back as 1981 when with the Phillies (I don't know what Rose's new book says on this subject). I suppose this isn't surprising that considering the arrogance of Rose he would have started betting on baseball only after becoming a manager. I do now agree with Vincent, although I didn’t at the time, that allowing Rose to participate in the festivities around the 1999 All-Star game as one of the all-time greats was a mistake by Selig and now only appears more so given the recent past.

I found fascinating Vincent's broad plan for baseball's future focusing on a partnership between the players and owners that includes a corporation that players, owners, and fans all have a stake in, in order to provide incentive for acting in the best interests of the game. He also thinks it likely and natural that more teams will be owned by media outlets like the Tribune Company that owns the Cubs and even thinks that perhaps the MLB rules could be amended to allow the same company to own multiple teams in a region (over many in the players union’s dead bodies I assume). He certainly understands the preeminence of TV revenue although he specifically notes that teams like the Royals would not be able to create a television network, something they did in 2003 and which seems to be working out well thus far. I find his vision for the game to be a much longer term view than those floated by Bob Costas in his book, the plan conceived by the "blue ribbon" panel that included one of the people I greatly admire, George Will, and the one baseball has begun to implement that includes revenue sharing and the luxury tax. Not surprisingly, he has a dim view of Bud Selig (doesn't everybody?) and appears to have been prescient in his assessment of Selig - namely that Selig was interested in the commissioner's position for himself even while ostensibly seeking other candidates including George W. Bush (who was seriously considering the position).

In the section on labor relations he notes that if the player’s union were broken or disbanded (which he sees as possible with his future plan) he thinks player’s salaries would increase across the board since there would no longer be a 6-year wait for free agency. I’m not so sure given the increasing realization that 90% of the players at the big league level are replaceable by minor leaguers. While the salaries of star rookies will certainly skyrocket, such a system may simply create a bi-level structure (which will happen to a lesser extent anyway as the new knowledge diffuses) where stars are paid 20 times what average regulars are paid.

On the topic of the Bush family, Vincent is incredibly complimentary and sees both Bush 41 and 43 as straight shooters, although notes that their styles differ and that Bush 43 has more of his mother's positive political skills in understanding and relating to people one on one.

He does a nice job of relating his run-ins with George Steinbrenner and the events that led to his 2 year exile from baseball. Nothing surprising given what everyone already knows about The Boss. Vincent also discusses at length his education regarding Negro League baseball and his admiration for several of the Negro Leaguers he got to know as commissioner. I wasn't aware of his efforts regarding minority hiring in the game and was impressed by his straightforward comments regarding what he perceived as unfair and bitter comments by Hank Aaron in a Nightline show they did together when he was commissioner. I've sensed the same thing from comments Aaron has made during the years and I don't think his statements are or were generally helpful to baseball.

Vincent is not bashful to admit how he and Bart Giamati ever only intended to hire a black president of the National League even while instructing the search committee to bring them three candidates, only one of which had to be black. He also admits that they settled on former broadcaster and player Bill White simply because he was black (Giamati barely knew who he was when he hired him and then lied about why he was hiring him) and then lived to regret White’s issues with authority. Although Vincent seems to take pride in his actions (he gives a defense of his reverse discrimination with an appeal to history and correcting a greater historical injustice), I don't think that's the correct position, or a fair one to the committee he lied to and Bill White and others who were hired simply because of their race. In my view, a person can’t correct historical wrongs, all he can do is make the morally correct decision today. He even noted that one black he hired (because he was black I should add) was doubting his life accomplishments because of prevalent reverse discrimination although Vincent doesn’t appear to take seriously his responsibility for those doubts.

Vincent also apologized to a gathering of Negro League players on behalf of baseball for their mistreatment a half century ago and before as he recounts in the chapter titled "Baseball is Sorry". While I applaud his efforts to reach out to Negro Leaguers (I have always enjoyed reading about the Negro Leagues, Satchell Paige was one of my heroes ever since I saw a TV movie made about his life when I was a boy and I'm a member of the Negro League Museum here in Kansas City) by recognizing their contribution to the game and assisting them with health care and pensions, I'm generally not a fan of apologies for historical wrongs like that given by President Clinton for slavery on behalf of western Europe and America. Maybe Judge Landis should have apologized since he had something to apologize for, but not Fay Vincent.

Although not directly related to baseball, the other perspective I took away from the book is the interconnectedness of people in positions of influence, wealth, and power and how there are a relatively small number of people that have such a great influence on institutions in this country. While I'm by no means one who thinks that all the tall stalks should be lopped off, it is a bit disconcerting and in the end perhaps this is what Vincent was combating when he attempted to hire based only on race.

For baseball fans I think the book contains some great perspectives and of course some great stories and remembrances and provides about the right mix of history, business, and sentiment to remain interesting.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Maddux Signs with Cubs

The AP is reporting that Greg Maddux has signed with the Cubs for 3 years and $24M and that he'll report to Mesa today with the other pitchers and catchers. At first glance $8M a year for 3 years to a 38 year-old is a little hefty and the Cubs will likely be wishing they hadn't made the deal next year and in 2006. I was originally hoping the Cubs could sign him for $3-4M but was ok with a 2-year deal at $5-6M. Looks like all the pieces are in place and I'm looking forward to getting my first look at the 2004 Cubs in Mesa in 3 weeks.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

The Glory of Their Times

Lawrence Ritter, the author of The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It died today in New York City at the age of 81. Ritter's book, whose title is taken from the apocryphal book of Ecclesiasticus, is a famous oral history of baseball as told by the players themselves from the early part of the twentieth century. Ritter traveled over 75,000 miles in a 5 year period from 1961 (the death of Ty Cobb inspired him to take on the project) to 1966 to interview the old ballplayers and capture a perspective that would have been all but lost had he not made the effort.

I had never read the book but several years ago did check out the audio tapes of the original interviews taped on Ritter's little tape recorder at our local library for a long car trip. I was awestruck by the voices of Chief Bender, Davy Jones, Rube Marquard, Sam Crawford, Babe Herman, Smokey Joe Wood, and others as I cruised the highways. For me, it provided a window on the psychology of players playing in the "deadball era" and allowed me to understand a little of what it was like playing in those days. I highly recommend the audio tapes or the CD of the interviews for any fan of baseball history.

Monday, February 16, 2004

Miracles, Part II

This is the second post about Miralces by C.S. Lewis...

In the second part (chapters 6 through 8) Lewis addresses misgivings and red herrings related to the views he's presented in part 1. These are arguments against miracles that come from the side of naturalism. These include the ideas that since the brain is the seat of reason then it must have a material basis and that if there were a supernatural plane it would be obvious to all. To the first Lewis replies that since we have material bodies rational thought always involves "a state of the brain, in the long run a relation of atoms". However, that does not mean that Reason is not something more than cerebral biochemistry (countering the later reductionist arguments of Edward O. Wilson that I blogged about previously). To the second, he replies that the very act of thinking points us to the supernatural through our reasoning if we would only pause to see it. But we’re preoccupied with the natural and so it slips by us.

In dealing with red herrings Lewis refutes the common notions that the ancients (early Christians) had no knowledge of the laws of nature and so were able to accept the miracles recorded in the New Testament, and that they had a false conception of the universe leading them to think that all things exist for man's benefit. Contrary to the first notion, all people understood the significance of the virgin birth and the other recorded miracles precisely because they did violate the normal workings of nature. To the second, Lewis notes that the idea of the immensity of the universe and the earth's place in it was known before the birth of Christianity (by the time of Ptolemy to be sure) and that in any case to assume that Christianity is false because man and the earth are small in comparison with the universe is a logical fallacy. Size is not a proxy for importance or value. In fact, Christianity emphatically does not teach that the universe was created for man (a straw man argument that Stephen Jay Gould used so effectively in some essays to argue that Christianity was improbable). Rather, our awe at the immensity of the universe and our reliance on God in the face of that awe is the very seat of religious experience.

Both of these red herrings smack of the fallacy that Lewis called in other works, "chronological snobbery", or the belief that only the modern mind has grasped the world correctly and that all previous conceptions, being old, are automatically incorrect.

Lewis then finishes dealing with these types of counter arguments in chapter 8 by showing that a miracle cannot be defined as something that "breaks the laws of Nature" since the laws are mere descriptions of what happens when events are not introduced from the supernatural world. In turning the point on its head as Lewis so often does he says that the laws of Nature "far from making it impossible that miracles should occur, make it certain that if the Supernatural is operating they must occur". In other words a miracle is simply an event caused by the Supernatural, which then is subsumed into the flow of natural events that continue from that point on.

Baseball News

As Spring Training approaches (the Cubs pitchers and catchers report Wednesday) the pace of transactions has again begun to pick up. Three items of note happened today and over the weekend:

  • ARod to Yanks - Not a bad deal for the Yankees when you consider A) $7M of ARod's $22M contract is either deferred or Texas is covering with the cash involved in the deal; B) Alfonso Soriano was set to make $5.4M based on the 1-year deal he signed just 3 weeks ago in order to avoid salary arbitration (he made $800K last year); C) The possibility that Aaron Boone's $5.75M contract may be voided because he was injured playing basketball. All of a sudden it doesn't look so bad, getting ARod for about $3M of additional outlay in 2004. Of course, the Yankees will have that contract for 7 more years. That said, the Yankee payroll is now somwhere in the $190M range (the Royals payroll will be around $45M this year), which will incur a luxury tax of around $15.6M at the end of 2004 (taxed at 22.5% above $120.5M for 2004). This last year the Yankees paid $11.82M in luxury tax in addition to $48.8M in revenue sharing on their $270M in revenues. The revenue sharing percentage will also increase from 20% to 34% in 2004, providing more money to small market teams like the Royals. And even so for $190M the Yankees are not a sure thing to win their division because of their lack of pitching depth.

  • DePodesta and the Dodgers - The Dodgers new owner did hire Paul DePodesta today. It's a good day if you're in Los Angeles.

  • Cubs and Maddux - The Cubs have apparently upped their offer to Greg Maddux. Hopefully they won't get in a bidding war for the aging right-hander although it appears Maddux has rejected an offer from the Giants. The Dodgers appear to be the only other contender at the moment. It'll be interesting to see if DePodesta has any say in whether the Dodgers sign Maddux and whether DePodesta might even pull the offer if he has the power to do so.
  • Sunday, February 15, 2004

    C.S. Lewis on Miracles

    Of all the apologetical works of C.S. Lewis, Miracles: A Preliminary Study, published in 1947, was the last one I read, having purchased a copy only last fall and reading it over Thanksgiving. I was very struck by the book and find that it is my favorite of his works of non-fiction. I like it because it not only addresses the possiblity of miracles but is actually one long argument for Christianity, since as Lewis says Christianity is "precisely the story of a great miracle" and for that reason differs from other religons such as Buddhism and Hindusim which do not rest on the proposition that the supernatural intervened in human history.

    In this and subsequent posts I'll briefly review Lewis' argument for Christianity in Miracles and bring out those points that to me were the most interesting and challenging. Lewis splits his discussion into four parts and I'll address part I below.

    Miracles, Part I
    In chapters 1 through 5 Lewis lays the foundation by discussing the differences in world views between supernaturalism and naturalism and the difficulties he sees in holding to strict naturalism or Naturalism with a capital "N". In a nutshell he views naturalism (the idea that nature is the "whole show", i.e. a fully enclosed system that fully accounts for everything reducing all phenomena to the movement of atoms) as wanting since it "offers what professes to be a full account of our mental behavior; but this account, on inspection, leaves no room for the acts of knowing or insight on which the whole value of our thinking, as a means to truth, depends." He therefore sees our ability to use reasoning as a primary evidence for the idea that there is something beyond nature. Rationality "is the little tell-tale rift in Nature which shows that there is something beyond or behind her."

    He then goes on to indict Naturalism on the basis that it is unlivable. In other words, Naturalists will typically give intellectual ascent to the idea that there is no such thing as right and wrong and that no moral judgments are therefore "true" or more correct than another. However, when pressed, (i.e. is it ok to torture babies?) they will backpedal. As additional evidence, he cites the fact that many atheists paradoxically exhort people to non-religious morality such as conservation, education, and diversity, showing that they indeed make moral judgments as a matter of course.

    Sabermetric Stats

    One of the things I love about The Bill James Handbook is its "extra" stats, most of which you won't find anywhere else. The following are a list of interesting stats and some that pertain to both the Cubs and Royals found in the book, mostly in the leaders section at the end.

  • Aaron Guiel had the second highest leadoff OBP in the AL at .387 last year. Something the Royals should consider as they analyze their lineup

  • Edgar Martinez led the AL by seeing 4.32 pitches per plate appearance while Scott Hatteberg took 66.9% of the pitches thrown to him

  • Ken Harvey was third in the AL in GB/FB ratio at 2.46, not very encouraging for someone at a power position

  • Carlos Beltran had the fifth highest OPS (OBP+SLUG) in the 2nd half last season at .968

  • As a leadoff hitter Grudz had a higher OBP than Lofton .358 to .354

  • Brad Wilkerson led the NL in pitchers per plate appearance with 4.36 while Bonds took the highest percentage of pitches at 65.9%. Derrick Lee is in the top 10 in both categories

  • Not suprisingly Luis Castillo and Juan Pierre led the NL in GB/FB ratio with 3.07 and 2.96 respectively. Grudz was 8th with 1.86. Aramis Ramirez is 9th in lowest GB/FB ratio with 0.79

  • Sammy Sosa had the 8th lowest OPS on pitches out of the strike zone at .083 underscoring the need for him to stay away from chasing high fastballs and low sliders

  • Runners only stole successfully 11.1% of the time off Brian Anderson in 2003 (he also had 6 pickoffs), only 44.4% off Darrell May putting him 8th on the list

  • As mentioned in the previous post May's .69 GB/FB ratio was lowest in the league. Interesting Derek Lowe's 4.38 ratio was almost 2 points higher than any other pitcher's in the AL

  • Brian Anderson was also third in the league in inducing 1.14 GIDP per 9 innings

  • Both Anderson and May in the top 10 for lowest average fastball at 87 and 86.1 mph respectively. They are also among the leaders in throwing changeups, 21.1% and 18.3% respectively

  • Prior, Wood, and Zambrano were 1,2 and 7 in number of pitchers per start, with 113.3, 110.7, and 106.4. The Cubs may need to be a little careful with these guys

  • All three Cubs aces were in the top 10 in lowest SB%, all around 40%

  • Kerry Wood had the lowest h/ip giving up 6.48 hits per 9 innings

  • Zambrano gave up the fewest homeruns per 9 ip at .38 (Prior was 5th with .64)

  • Zambrano and Clement were 3rd and 5th in GB/FB ratio at 2.38 and 2.06

  • Mike Remlinger has been valuable because he's an "opposite pitcher". In 2003 his opponent's AVG against right handed batters was jut .180. Farnsworth was the same against lefties to the tune of .189

  • Wood had the highest average fastball at 95.4, Prior and Zambrano were 5th and 6th

  • Matt Clement threw the highest percentage of sliders at 34%

  • In other notes, you may have noticed that I left off 20 year-old right-hander Zack Greinke from my analysis of the Royals rotation. While he is certainly the top prospect in the Royals organization (10 walks in 130 innings last year) and perhaps the top pitching prospect in baseball, he struggled a bit in Wichita last season, although I'm told his first starts were the roughest, at which point he settled down. I would expect him to start in Omaha and be called up if the trio of Snyder, Asencio, and Gobble struggle. However, if he really impresses in spring training and the others struggle, it's just possible he could break with the club but I doubt it.

    Friday, February 13, 2004

    Royals Rotation

    As spring training approaches, the Royals position players appear to be pretty set. The makeup of the rotation is a little more up in the air however as noted in a recent article on the Royals site. Here are list of the candidates for the five starting spots and what I view as their strengths and weaknesses.

  • Darrell May (L) - As I mentioned in a recent post, I think May has figured out how to pitch his game in the major leagues and will continue to put up Jamie Moyer-like numbers. The fences being moved back will help him particularly since he did give up 31 homeruns last season and had a .63 ground out to fly out ratio last season. Barring injury, he'll certainly be among the top three starters.

  • Jeremy Affeldt (L) - Affeldt has had reoccurring blister problems the last 2 years throwing only 203 innings over that span. While he has he best stuff of the Royals pitchers, his h/ip has not been exceptional (about a hit per inning) although his bb/ip dropped dramatically last season. To address the blister problem he finally had half of his fingernail removed this offseason. Hopefully that will clear up the problem and we'll get to see him realize his potential. Although I think he can be a devastating reliever, the Royals don't really need him in that role this year and so of course I'd much rather see him get 200 innings in the rotation.

  • Brian Anderson (L) - Anderson had perhaps his best season last year, giving up a little over a hit per inning and walking only 1.95 batters per 9 innings. He'll be 32 this April and should be able to pitch a couple more solid seasons and will certianly be among the top 3 starters. Ground ball pitcher so the fences won't help him as much.

  • Kevin Appier (R) - Recovering from elbow surgery but won't be ready to pitch until mid to late April. I'd be suprised if he comes back with much at age 36. Although the Royals are paying him league minimum while the Angels pick up his $12M salary, I wouldn't look for him to contribute much but hopefully he can fill in and give a 100 innings or so like Lima did last year.

  • Miguel Asencio (R) - Just 23 years old but coming off surgery in the middle of last season to remove a bone chip from his right elbow. His problem is that his strikeout/walk ratio for his career is 1.0 (85 of each in 171 innings). That just too many walks and not enough strikeouts when you have that many walks. He doesn't give up many homeruns and is a ground ball pitcher which helps him. He might be a servicable 5th starter and if healthy could eat up some innings.

  • Kyle Snyder (R) - 26 years old but was on the DL twice last season with should stiffness and ended the season on the DL. His stats were bad, giving up lots of homeruns. Thus far he doesn't look like anything special and I'm concerned that he can stay healthy for an entire season.

  • Jimmy Gobble (L) - Also 23 and one of the most interesting options the Royals have. Gobble's stats were not that bad last year (better than I thought), walking 15 batters in 52.7 innings while giving up 56 hits. However, he's an extreme fly ball pitcher (.55 GO/FO ratio) so he gave up 8 homeruns in thost 50 innings (which is why I assumed they were worse, having witnessed several of those blasts). Moving the fences back may help him the most and he could conceivably compete for the 4th starter.

  • Chris George (L) - 24 year old who was beaten around mercilessly last year giving up 164 baserunners in 94 innings to go along with 22 homeruns and fewer strikeouts than walks. His 2001 season was more promising although he still gave up alot of homeruns. Given last year I wouldn't be suprised if he doesn't find a spot on the roster.

  • So what I see is May, Affeldt, and Anderson with solid jobs and Asencio, Gobble, and Snyder competing for the other two spots with Appier as insurance and Geroge aways behind.

    Dodgers and DePodesta

    Nice article on Aaron's Baseball Blog about Paul DePodesta possibly taking the Dodgers GM job. As I had done previously Aaron lists the teams with sabermetric interest and/or connections. My updated list:

    1. Red Sox
    2. A's
    3. Blue Jays
    4. Cardinals
    5. Mets
    6. Dodgers
    7. Rangers

    Although Aaron has the Royals on his list I'm not sure where that information comes from. As far as I can see Alan Baird is still more in the scouting mindset and appears uninterested in sabermetrics. I could be wrong however. Aaron also notes that the Rangers will likely be run by Grady Fuson, a former assistant to Beane when John Hart steps down, which adds them to my list.

    Aaron then asks the question "What does this mean for baseball?" Although I agree with him that what it doesn't mean is that defense will be abandoned in favor of high OBP players, it does mean that teams will finally start valuing the skills that lead to winning baseball games through objective analysis rather than subjective guesses. This includes valuing the ability to control the strike zone and get on base over the generally smaller cost of giving up a few extra hits over the course of the season on defense. In other words the difference between good and bad defensive players is generally not as large as the difference between good and bad offensive players. With objective analysis you may well conclude that Jeremy Giambi's downside as a defensive player is not compensated for by his ability to get on base. The point is, this is measurable and so an educated decision can be made.

    The most revolutionary aspect of the move to sabermetrics will be I predict (as noted previously), "that 90% of the player population in major league baseball is replaceable by someone who makes less". This is the single revelation which will allow small market teams to compete by not spending money on 31 year old mediocre free agents, which will in turn drive down salaries and allow these teams to compete. It may create a system where superstars make 20 times what other players do but in the end it would be because of the actual contributions they make rather than an arbitrary pay scale of some sort.

    Thursday, February 12, 2004

    The Hardest Thing to do in Sports

    "Chicks dig the long ball" - Pitcher Greg Maddux of the Atlanta Braves in a TV commercial circa 2001

    Although many fans forget, before the debacle that was the 2002 All-Star game in Milwaukee, both Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs and Jason Giambi of the Bronx Bombers put on a show in the Home Run Derby contest that should serve as a wakeup call regarding that which "chicks dig".

    As Sosa was belting 12 homeruns in the semifinal, five of which traveled over 500 feet (I presume without a corked bat although "corking" and other modifications generally do not increase distance but instead serve to lighten a bat making it easier to get it through the hitting zone) I was reminded that the longest homerun hit in an actual game traveled somewhere between 530 and 570 feet (officially 565 feet, Mickey Mantle off of Chuck Stobbs in 1953 although there has been much debate on the topic). However, as prodigious as those blasts were (Mark McGwire had put on a similar show at Fenway Park at the 1999 All Star game), I was equally interested in the incredulity expressed by pitcher Curt Schilling of the Arizona Diamondbacks, who was assisting with the broadcast, as Sosa would seemingly hit a ball off the end of the bat and to the opposite field that would end up some 430 feet from the plate. In one telling remark, Schilling noted that he couldn’t trust the way the ball sounded off the bat anymore, since in many instances he would turn around and watch the ball carom off the wall or fall lightly into the stands.

    All of this made me think about some recent statistics that I’d heard and which I’ve now updated.

  • Sammy Sosa alone has three of the eight 60 homerun seasons in baseball history, all of his coming since 1998. Three of the remaining five were also accomplished since 1998 (Mark McGwire 1998,1999 and Barry Bonds in 2001). The other two of course date back to Roger Maris in 1961 and Babe Ruth in 1927

  • There have been 264 40 homerun seasons in baseball history - 112 of them have occurred since 1993 (and that is counting the 1994 strike)

  • The average homeruns hit for players with more than 500 at bats has gone from 15 in the period from 1971-1992 to 22 in the period 1993-2001

  • So what is reason for all of this power? As Ted Williams famously said, "hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports". Well, it wasn't as hard for him as for the rest of us but I still believe him. Recently, a scientific article titled How to hit home runs: Optimum baseball bat swing parameters for maximum range trajectories was published that throws some light on the subject and which, incidentally, came to some conclusions that differed from those found in the most popular work on the subject Robert K. Adair's The Physics of Baseball, first published in 1990.

    Although I'm no physicist I found the following statements and conclusions in the paper interesting:

  • Contrary to Adair they found that "the range of the optimally batted curve ball is larger than that of the optimally hit fastball". This is the case since the backspin on a fastball has to be reversed whereas the overspin on curveball works with the hitter. I should note that this is with a bat speed of 67mph or 30m/s at speeds of 94mph for a fastball and 78mph for a curveball and the difference in range was about 12 feet. Since a knuckleball has no spin, an 80 mph knuckleball would also go about 3 feet further than the fastball. Agreeing with Adair (and the common wisdom) they did find that the range of the batted ball increases with the pitch speed and so there is certainly overlap and so a 100mph fastball may be hit farther than a 75mph curveball holding the other variables steady

  • Like Adair they found that the friction differences between aluminum and wood bats don't really matter much and so altering bats to increase or decrease their "grip" on the ball have only a psychological effect

  • To achieve maximum distance the optimum launch angle of the ball is 26.3 degrees for the fastball and 24.3 degrees for the curveball. This about 10 degrees less than the optimum angle calculated by Adair of 35 degrees.

  • Increasing bat speed by 2.2mph increases the optimum distance of the ball by over 15 feet. This is the most sensitive variable in their study and so they note that "a batter ought to work on bat speed before anything else to increase the range of his/her hits"

  • Rolling your wrists as taught by some hitting coaches, while trivially helpful, is likely not helpful enough to justify the unnatural motion

  • The harder you swing the more level you should swing in order to produce longer batted balls. While the difference varies "by only a few millimeters over the entire range of bat speeds considered", this holds up until you're swinging around 94mph at which point you should start swinging down on the ball

  • Embedded in these conclusions is the one that I think really matters when discussing the increased frequency of homeruns over the last decade. Increasing bat speed increases distance more than any other factor when swinging at a pitched ball. The models used by Adair and the authors of the paper use an average bat speed of around 70mph. However, I would speculate that the increase in weightlifting at the professional level anyway and both legal and illegal supplements over the last 10 years has increased the speed at which power hitters swing the bat and therefore increased the range of their hits proportionally. As a result, hitters have more room for error which manifests itself in at least 2 ways: 1) they can drive balls even when not hitting the "sweet spot" as Schilling observed in his comment regarding the sound of the bat, and 2) they can wait longer and still drive the ball to the opposite field since they can so quickly bring the bat to a high velocity (as a Cub fan observing Sammy Sosa during this period I can testify that the increase in his power was more pronounced to center and right field than to left, where even before he bulked up he could hit a homerun on a well hit ball).

    While I view this as the primary factor in the increase in homeruns, I'm not discounting the other popular explanations that include livlier balls, smaller ballparks, and the decrease in confrontational pitching strategies including hitters wearing armour (Bonds) and umpires protecting hitters. All of these have likely had an effect, but I'm arguing that an increase in bat speed is the factor that carries more weight.

    One may ask, so if baseball players are so much stronger, then why are pitchers not throwing the ball 110 mph? Historically, the pitchers that threw the hardest probably topped out at around 100mph as they continue to do today. Walter Johnson, Bob Feller, Nolan Ryan, and now Billy Wagner all threw in the 99-102 mph range at their fastest.

    In short, I don't think pitchers have seen or will see a proportional improvement in their velocities because, to borrow a phrase from the late Harvard professor and baseball fan Stephen J. Gould in his essay "Why No One Hits .400 Any More" as republished in his book Triumph and Tragedy in Mudville , they as a group were already approaching the "outer limits of human capacity". Since pitching requires a more complex interaction of muscles than hitting, pitchers have always primarily trained by throwing the baseball. And so it's not suprising that some have been able to maximize their potential and get very close to the right wall of human ability for throwing a baseball for velocity. As a result, there is very little if any improvement to be had by better training regimes and even supplements. It should be stressed that this applies not to individuals but for advancing the group as a whole since certainly the entire group has moved closer to that wall as more pitchers take advantage of better training techniques. Think of a bell curve with a decreasing standard deviation and an increasing mean meandering down the x-axis towards a barrier (consequently, this answers the question of why, for students of baseball, the mythical Sidd Fynch throwing over 105 mph was immediately recognizable as an April Fool's joke). For hitters then, as a group they started farther from that right wall since there existed the belief that weight training was counter productive to baseball, and so by taking advantage of increased strength, they are inching their way towards their own right wall.

    Tuesday, February 10, 2004

    Be the House

    Great article by A's assistant GM Paul DePodesta written during last season that was drawn to my attention by Management By Baseball. Lots of insight here related to innovation in business and the changing of paradigms. Fortunately for DePodesta major league baseball was, and in most cases still is, an industry loaded with low-hanging fruit for people who focus on outcomes and ask the naive questions as DePodesta puts it. My favorite quote is:

    "These discoveries ranged from broad philosophical ideas, such as the fact that 90% of the player population in major league baseball is replaceable by someone who makes less to the very minute detail, such as pitch counts or control of the strike zone."

    That first idea is perhaps the most liberating news for small market teams to come out of the "new knowledge".

    Although I love the article, a couple points that should be noted that those not familiar with sabermetrics might get the wrong idea about. First, the idea of applying a Markov chain model to baseball, in order to derive values for baseball events given the 24 base-out situations, did not originate with DePodesta but dates back to the 1960s. Additionally, most of the crucial insights or "discoveries" that the A's have employed were well known to sabermetricians beginning in the mid 1980s (e.g. the non value of bunting and overvaluing of speed). Second, DePodesta and Beane started their retooling in 1999 and did not incorporate scouting until 2002 and they are now doing things the right way, but to be fair a good portion of their success is due to a trio of pitchers drafted under the old regime, Tim Hudson in 1997, Mark Mulder in 1998, and Barry Zito in 1999.

    One other key insight in the article is the following quote:

    "I was on a quest to find relevant relationships. Usually it wasn't as simple as 'if X then Y.' I was looking for probabilistic relationships. I christened the new model in the front office: 'be the house.' Every season we play 162 games. Individual players amass over 600 plate appearances. Starting pitchers face 1,000 hitters. We have plenty of sample size. I encouraged everyone to think of the house advantage in everything we did. We may not always be right but we'd be right a lot more often than we'd be wrong. In baseball, if you win about 60% of your games, you're probably in the playoffs."

    It's hard to underestimate the importance of looking at baseball this way. Analyzing event data to create strategies that work more often than they don't and then applyng them over the long haul in a disciplined way will without a doubt lead to success given the sample sizes involved. However, this approach has been criticized by the likes of Joe Morgan as a strategy that may result in more wins in the regular season (and hence playoff births) but not in playoff series wins where the advantage - it is said by the critics - shifts to teams who can play "small ball". I'm never sure what to think of these assertions. While never having studied it, I would assume that the playoffs represent a constrained run environment and so strategies that maximize single runs at the cost of scoring in bunches like the bunt or stolen base would take on added importance. There certainly might be some merit to the critics argument.

    Monday, February 09, 2004

    C.S. Lewis at Oxford

    I had previously blogged about the wonderful book Lewis Agonistes: How C. S. Lewis can Train us to Wrestle with the Modern and Postmodern World (Broadman & Holman, 2003), written by my wife's former English professor Lou Markos. Well, Lou will be giving a series of lectures at Oxford this summer on CSL. Alas, I wish I could make it. Here are the details:

    Picture yourself spending ten long, lazy summer days on the campus of one of the oldest, most idyllic Universities in Europe. Imagine further that you devote part of that time to wrestling with the life, works, and enduring legacy of a man who spent over half his life studying and teaching at that University. If this sounds to you like the ideal summer vacation, then we would invite you to participate in the C. S. Lewis in Context seminar to be held from July 30 to August 8 at St. Hugh’s College, Oxford University. In addition to living on the college grounds, attending lectures by Oxford dons, and taking various excursions, participants will be accompanied in their Lewis pilgrimage by Louis Markos, a scholar and lover of all things Lewis.

    A Professor in English at Houston (TX) Baptist University, and the author of Lewis Agonistes: How C. S. Lewis can Train us to Wrestle with the Modern and Postmodern World (Broadman & Holman, 2003), Dr. Markos will be on hand throughout the conference as guide, lecturer, mentor, and fellow traveler. In a series of informal presentations and interactive lectures, Dr. Markos will take us through the highlights of his book, opening us up not only to the rich legacy of Lewis’s work, but helping us to use that legacy in our own wrestlings with the ideals, the values, and the worldviews of our modern and postmodern world. Whether the issue be the on-going debate between evolution and creation, the challenges of the New Age, the dangers of deconstruction, or the age-old question of how a loving God can permit suffering and condemn souls to hell, Dr. Markos will show us how a full encounter with the works of C. S. Lewis can help equip us to grapple first-hand with the key challenges of our day. For more information on Dr. Markos and Lewis Agonistes, please visit his webpage ( or email him at

    St Hugh’s College, Oxford University
    C. S. Lewis in Context
    July 30-August 8, 2004
    Single room with en suite facilities (shower/toilet/washbasin) at St Hugh’s
    All meals in St Hugh’s College (box or pub lunch on full-day excursions) Seminar Program

    Moderator: Dr. Henry Speck, Director of Extramural Programs, St Hugh’s

    Lectures by members of Oxford and Cambridge Universities
    Group discussions involving members of Oxford University
    Worship service at Holy Trinity, C. S. Lewis’ parish church Visits to C. S. Lewis sites in Oxford and Cambridge

    Certificate of Participation Other Activities Full-day excursion to Cambridge, including a visit to Magdalene College Full-day excursion to Warwick Castle and Stratford-on-Avon Full-day excursion to London including a performance of “Les Miserables”

    Half-day excursion to Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Winston Churchill Half-day excursion to Cotswolds, including special dinner at Minster Lovell Evensong in Christ Church Cathedral A Shakespeare play in Oxford Social Use of approved St Hugh’s College facilities Use of St Hugh’s College Library Access to TV/VCR/Email Insurance Cancellation and medical evacuation Optional Activities Theater, concerts, museums, and walking tours of Oxford Final Saturday for sightseeing and shopping in London

    Total price (excluding cost of airfare and transportation to/from St. Hugh’s) is $1595
    There are no hidden enrollment or registration fees.

    Group airfare from Atlanta, Dallas, or Houston is guaranteed to participants who sign up before 1 February 2004 Transfers between London Gatwick and Heathrow airports and St Hugh’s College can be arranged through the Seminar program (Dr. Speck has already arranged a package deal for those traveling from Houston Intercontinental Airport. The package includes airfare and a private couch to take you back/forth from London Gatwick Airport and St Hugh's College. The price is $950 inclusive. Please contact Dr. Speck to sign up for the package.)

    Deposit of $250.00 with balance due not later than 1 June 2004 For further information, contact Henry Speck by phone (325-439-1503) or email (

    Thoughts on Salvation

    I was recently involved in a very interesting email thread with a few other Christians I respect for their intelligence and insight (not the least of which was my wife). The question that spawned the thread was this:

    "How would you succinctly respond to a seeker who asks the question…”How will a person be judged who has never heard about Christ or perhaps even a monotheistic religion?” E.g. an Amazonian tribesman in the 1400s"

    Although I realized this question was in no way novel, I hadn't realized - having little exposure to theology - that the various responses to this question have specific names that include exclusivism (without an explicit faith in Jesus Christ the tribesman would not be saved), inclusivism (the tribesman may be saved through Christ based on his response to the revelation he's been given, however fragmentary that may be), and pluralism (that the tribesman can be saved through another religon). Because I've found so much of C.S. Lewis' writing so helpful in my own Christian life I was interested in what he had to say on the topic. The following are references from his works:

    From Mere Christianity, p65
    "Here is another thing that used to puzzle me. Is it not frightfully unfair that this new life should be confined to people who have heard of Christ and been able to believe in Him? But the truth is God has not told us what His arrangements about the other people are. We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ [here I assume he’s referring at least in part to John 14:6]; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him."

    From a paper he wrote in 1945 called "Christian Apologetics"
    "Of course it should be pointed out that, though all salvation is through Jesus, we need not conclude that He cannot save those who have not explicitly accepted Him in this life."

    Also from a letter he wrote in 1952
    Paraphrase: "Every sincere prayer, even to a false god, is accepted by the true God; Christ saves many who do not think they know Him."

    And so it appears that Lewis took an inclusivist position consistent with his Platonic view that pagan religons and mythology contain a shadow or reflection of the truth in the same way that man's power of reason is a shadow of God's.

    As for me when it comes right down to the metal my belief in the goodness of God doesn’t allow me to believe that those who have never held a Bible in their hand or been specifically preached the gospel cannot have salvation. Following Lewis I would argue that passages like John 14:6 should be interpreted to mean that Jesus is the one true representative of God on earth and that his death/resurrection is the only means by which men can have fellowship with God - in other words, that he enabled men to be saved – rather than only those who specifically hear read or hear His words can be saved. Other passages that seem to imply exclusivism should then be interpreted in the context of the hearers who were preached the gospel.

    This view seems also to be consistent with what my mind tells me about my own free will. Although the circumstances of my birth both geographically and temporally made it much more probable that I would become a Christian than a Hindu or Muslim, when it came to the decision to accept Christ it sure felt like it was my choice. And I can only assume that I’d have that freedom of will (although perhaps directed a bit differently) if born in another location and in another time.

    In the end however, in a witnessing situation a Christian wouldn't want to let this issue bog the unbeliever down and so I would simply note the disagreement and let it go. Perhaps this is one more exampe of what Lewis said were questions like, "How many hours are there in a mile? Is yellow square or round. Probably half the questions we ask - half our great theological and metaphysical questions - are like that."

    Here are some links to reading on this issue that you might find interesting.

    Whitehorse and Burton

    I'm in Remond this week attending an event on the Whidbey Enterprise Tools code-named "Burton" in buildings 43 and 31, information about which is under NDA until TechEd in May. However, a portion of Burton, the Whitehorse design tools have been talked about since TechEd. A nice little overview of the tools was shown on MSDN TV that you might want to check out.

    Coming to .NET Rocks!

    Jon Box and I will be interviewed on the .NET Rocks! show on March 19th with Carl Franklin and Rory (new sidekick), and the show archive will be hosted on March 22nd. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this, you should check it out as it is entertaining, technically informative, and the guest list is a who's-who in the .NET world. MSDN promotes these events as well. Stay tuned to for more info.

    Patterson and Batting Order

    Interesting little article on the Cubs and their big question mark in the leadoff position for 2004. The story focuses on Corey Patterson and whether he might fulfill the role. For anyone who has even taken a cursory look at Patterson's statistics it's obvious that he is perhaps the worst candidate for leadoff outside of Barrett and Gonzales of course. His OBP last year was .329 but only because he hit .298 walking only 15 times in over 300 plate appearances. He certainly may improve as we all expect and learn more discipline as is the norm as a player ages but I wouldn't start him off anywhere near the leadoff spot. To his credit Dusty sees this and says:

    "He's a swinger. He doesn't know how to work the count. Last year, he was coming into his own, learning how to hit. I think he's a perfect third hitter to me."

    However, just when you think Dusty's on the right track he veers off course by saying that Patterson is the "perfect" third hitter. Now historically, your best hitter hits third, meaning one that combines average, on base, and slug. Clearly Sosa is still that man for the Cubs (.279/.358/.553). I wouldn't be suprised if Patterson becomes that someday soon but based on last season he still needs to develop more discipline. His .511 slug would indicate that he's more of a "runner advancer" as I discussed in a previous post, which would indicate he'd be an ideal 5th or 6th hitter. Given that the Cubs have little to work with in the leadoff spot, I would go like this:

    2B - Grudz/Walker
    1B - Lee
    RF - Sosa
    LF - Alou
    CF - Patterson
    3B - Ramirez
    SS - Gonzales
    C - Barrett

    Against lefhanders I might switch Ramirez and Patterson and perhaps even move Gonzales up a bit since that is his strong side.

    Also found this nice overview of the Cubs top prospects on the Cub reporter. Note that they have a slightly different take on Dusty's comments. There was a similar list in the most recent issue of Vine Line, the Cubs official magazine. I believe they also had Guzman number one.

    Sunday, February 08, 2004

    Cubs Notes

    Almost everything appears to be set for the Cubs in 2004, not much activity since early January. Only 10 days until pitchers and catchers report to spring training and Maddux has not yet made up his mind. The Cubs 2 year offer of $10 to $12 million in mid January was more than I was expecting but it appears that at least the Dodgers are in contention for his services. In other Cubs news Kyle Farnsworth is elligible for arbitration and is asking for $1.7M while the Cubs offerred $1.1M. He made $600K in 2003. If Farnsworth can put together another solid season and not revert as he did in 2002, then he's well worth it.

    In the strangest stat I've seen this offseason I saw in the Bill James Handbook that Farnsworth was 2nd to Billy Wagner in number of pitches thrown over 100 miles per hour in 2003. Wagner had an incredible 159 while Farnsworth had 8.

    Friday, February 06, 2004

    Snow, Snow, Snow

    The last two days in the Kansas City area we've had quite a bit of snow, around 8 inches at my house. This comes after two previous weekends where weatherpeople were predicting massive ice sheets and snows ("the storm of the century" as one TV personality put it) only to receive a dusting each time. Understandably, they were a bit more cautious in their predictions this time and most stations underpredicted by 4 to 6 inches what ended up being our accumulation.

    Apparently, in an effort to defend weatherpeople everywhere I saw a local forecaster last night hold up a 16 oz plastic mug like you'd get refilled at 7-11 and note that a cup this size when turned to snow would cover Arrowhead stadium's field to the depth of an inch. He pointed out that since small differences in precipitation can lead to major difference in snowfall, that it really is quite difficult to predict how much snow will fall.

    Now, I'm not generally for bashing weatherpeople (except when they stand out in the snow to tell us its snowing) and I realize that weather is perhaps the most variable business you can be in. However, I was suprised by the comment and decided to check out his claim. According to my calculations....

    1. To cover a football field to a depth of 1 inch would require 106 cubic meters of snow. I calculated the volume as (l*w*h) = 91.4 meters * 45.8 meters * .0254 inches in a meter
    2. Snow is on average 1/10th as dense as water, in other words 10 centimeters of snow is equivalent to 1 centimeter of water. So the amount of water needed is 106 * .10 = 10.6 cubic meters of water
    3. To figure how many gallons of water this is I found the conversion factor of 1 gal = .003785 cubic meters on a web site. This then calculates to 2,805 gallons of water (10.6/.003785)

    This seems like a lot more water than our weatherman had in his cup. Since I may have misheard him I thought perhaps he had said "to a depth of 1 cm" rather than 1 inch but that of course would still take 1,104 gallons of water. Still, I may not have heard his statement correctly but...

    The general rule of thumb is a 1 to 10 conversion. So, 8 inches of snow would be .8 inches of rain, certainly less but still a significant amount of rain. I think weatherpeople would be better served simply to blame it on the computer models and the fact that weather is just plain hard to predict and let it go at that.

    Thursday, February 05, 2004

    Case Study: Darrell May

    Some interesting comments from Rob and Rany on the Royals Darrell May that relate to my post about what pitcher's can control.

    "He's right that May's surface indicators suggest that he had a fluke season. Let's put it this way: May finished in the top 10 in the league in fewest hits per nine innings despite: 1) a strikeout rate below league-average and 2) surrendering the fifth-most homers in the league. Opposing batters hit .253 on balls in play against May, compared to .301 for the Royals a whole.

    I calculate that May gave up 32 fewer hits than expected. Paul Byrd, who astonished both of us with his hit-lucky ways in 2002, was 33 hits below expectations."

    Here is another test of whether or not a pitcher influences the ratio of hits to balls put into play. Since opposing batters hit 50 points less against May than against other Royals pitchers in 2003 when a ball was put into play it will be interesting to see if the trend continues. Rany notes that the fences moving back should work in May's favor being a fly ball pitcher and that his Japanese experience lends some credibility to the belief that he does in fact have this Jamie Moyer like ability. May struck out 4.98 batters per 9 innings and walked just 2.27 batters per 9 innings - a reason why his 31 homers didn't hurt him so badly. Interestingly, his 2002 rates were twice as high for all three categories which lends some belief that in 2003 he figured out how to pitch a little bit.

    On the Passenger Pigeon

    For some reason the fate of the Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius, sometimes called the Wood Pigeon or Wild Pigeon) has always fascinated me. I suppose its because they were formerly so great in number throughout North America and now are extinct with the last one dying in a Cincinnati zoo in September of 1914. The Chicago Field Museum has a display with several stuffed specimens and a short description of their demise that my daughter and I viewed last fall. She is a budding bird watcher and was amazed when I told her the sketchy details as I remembered them.

    I recently ran across a wonderful history of the Passenger Pigeon in the book Birds of America, originally published in 1917 (its proximity to the extinction is why I assume it has such a lengthy article on the Passenger Pigeon written by Edward Howe Forbush originally published in Game Birds, Wild-Fowl and Shore Birds). The copy I have was published in 1936 and given as a Christmas gift to my grandfather from my mother in 1949. The 106 full color plates were produced by Louis Agassiz Fuertes (1874-1927) one of the most respected American artists of ornithological works. My grandfather was a bird lover as well and I'm sure he enjoyed the volume. For many years the book sat on bookshelf at my parents house and I recall occasionally leafing through it and particularly reading about another endangered bird, the California Condor.

    The article traces the history of human contact with the PP from its first mention by Champlain in July 1605 on the coast of Maine to its gradual extinction at the end of the 19th century. He quotes from accounts by Alexander Wilson in 1806 in Kentucky and Audubon himself in 1813 in Ohio of flocks 240 miles long a mile wide with an estimated 2,230,000,000 birds and one that was a mile wide and took over 3 hours to pass with an estimated 1,115,000,000 birds. He recounts the habit of townspeople gathering by the river during these migrations and shooting into the flocks (the birds often descended as they passed over the river) resulting in so many birds being killed that people ate nothing but pigeon for a week. The flocks had to migrate often to find enough food to eat and when not in the air could be found 50 to a branch and causing smaller and weaker trees to topple killing hundreds of birds in the process.

    Interestingly, he notes that Indians hunted the birds in great numbers and even followed the migrations analogous to following the herds of Buffalo although never appreciably diminished their numbers. The Indians would cure large amounts of pigeon meat and it was reported in 1709 that every Indian village had supplies of pigeon's oil or fat used like butter produced from the squabs (young PP that are stuffed with food by their parents shortly before being kicked out of the nest producing an incredibly fat bird and an easy target). This was interesting to me since it relates to Guns, Germs, and Steel. In that book the author discusses reasons why some societies may have chosen to stick to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle rather than switch to farming even after they were exposed to it. An abundant natural resource like the PP would be one good reason not to switch, especially when the resource migrates and you need to follow it. Of course, this also points out that a group might follow a mixed strategy and farm for part of the year while migrating as well.

    Once white men came on the scene the birds were hunted mercilessly and although guns helped, netting was the primary weapon and could be used to catch hundreds at a time. The largest nets could catch 200 to 250 dozen at one time. Around 1860 by which time the birds were rare on the east coast, there were between 400 and 1000 professional netters who followed the migrations supplying eastern cities. "The New York market alone would take 100 barrels a day without a break in price. Chicago, St. Louis, Boston and all the great and little cities of the north and east joined in the demand. Need we wonder why the pigeons have vanished?" The last great slaughter occurred in the 1870s when a flock migrated from Missouri to Michigan to New York pursued and harrassed at each location. After around 1881 no great nesting sites were discovered and the birds appear to have split up into smaller flocks with small sitings in Illinois in 1895 and Michigan and Ohio in 1900. Although netting the birds stopped in the 1880s because it was no longer profitable, the smaller flocks apparently couldn't reproduce sufficiently.

    The author hints at several factors that contributed to the demise of the PP:

    1. They had a habit of communal feeding and so if parents were killed, the young were cared for by others in the flock. Once the big flocks were broken up, the young would die if their parents did. There may also be other factors at work where the birds mating habits were tied to large flocks in terms of competing for nesting sites and finding mates etc.
    2. The PP was not wary of humans
    3. They laid few eggs (1 to 2)
    4. Their squabs were easy prey, easily netted, and favored by consumers and so a large number of young were killed each year
    5. Habitat destruction, the birds favored the beech and pine forests that were cleared for farming
    6. Forced migration north which may have killed more birds than usual in spring storms
    7. No attempts to protect them since their formerly huge numbers worked against them when attempting to pass legislation

    In summary the author notes drly "We did our best to exterminate both old and young, and we succeeded. The explanation is so simple that all talk of 'mystery' seems sadly out of place."

    Although too long to relate here he ends his piece with the very detailed account of Chief Pokagon, the last Pottawottomi chief who encountered the birds in May of 1850 in Michigan and witnessed their nesting and habits of reproduction.

    Wednesday, February 04, 2004

    DbTable Objects in ADO.NET v2.0

    In the previous post I talked about the factory classes in ADO.NET that support writing provider independent code. This was one addition to ADO.NET that was identified quite early by developers and led to the creation of custom classes to perform this functionality. Another area that developers quickly identified after the release of ADO.NET v1.0 was the bulkiness of the DataSet/DataAdapter interaction. Developers wondered why you needed to create an entire DataSet when often you only needed to return data in a single table and why individual DataTable objects couldn’t be serialized to XML. In addition the DataAdapter seemed a bit bulky requiring the commands to be explicitly configured.

    Microsoft seems to have listened to this kind of feedback and added a DbTable base class and derived classes for each .NET Data Provider – SqlDataTable, OleDbDataTable, OdbcDataTable, and OracleDataTable. Each of these classes combines the best aspects of the DataSet and DataAdapter into a single object. For example, it contains Fill and Update methods like a DataAdapter (and the new UpdateBatchSize property that if supported by the provider allows changes to be batched instead of sent as individual requests to the database) but derives from the DataTable class while exposing the ReadXml and WriteXml methods like a DataSet.

    For example, the constructor of a SqlDataTable accepts a command object and can fill itself based on the command you send it.

    SqlDataTable sqldt = new SqlDataTable(cmd);
    sqldt.Fill (FillOptions.None);

    One of the most interesting aspects is that if you provide a table name to the object it can dynamically generate the update, delete, and insert SQL statements when the Update method is called (assuming the SQL statement or stored procedure is simple enough).

    sqldt.TableName = "Products";
    sqldt.Rows[0][1] = "Change the data";
    sqldt.Update (UpdateOptions.None);
    sqldt.WriteXml(Console.Out); //serialize to XML

    You can also hook a DbTable to a child table and have it fill the child table as well using the FillOptions.FillChildren option.

    The inclusion of this object is a productivity enhancement for developers building applications that work with single result sets.

    Factories and ADO.NET in Whidbey

    I’ve been playing around with the alpha Whidbey release of VS .NET in preparation for doing some writing and speaking on the subject this spring. One of the first things about ADO.NET in Whidbey that caught my attention is the inclusion of a provider factory much like the one I created and included in our Atomic .NET course and made available on and discussed in my book on ADO.NET.

    The goal of the ProviderFactory that I created was to allow developers to write .NET Data Provider independent code by providing a factory class that created the set of types necessary to work with a particular provider. My implementation followed the principle of the Abstract Factory Pattern documented in the GoF but instead of creating specific factory classes for each provider, relied instead on reflection to create the appropriate types at runtime. As a result my factory was a single class instead of a family of classes related through implementation inheritance. This had the effect of reducing the amount of code I had to write (just over 100 lines of code to support the OleDb, Odbc, and SqlClient providers) but dynamically creating the objects via reflection was slightly slower than providing concrete implementations (I did create a concrete implementation for the Compact Framework book I wrote with Jon Box to work with the SqlServerCe and SqlClient providers on the Compact Framework). My implementation then included the connection, command, parameter, and data adapter and returned interfaces from the factory methods. However, my approach ran into a few problems because the .NET Data Providers were based on interfaces rather than base classes. This manifested particularly when dealing with data adapters since the interface I was returning (IDataAdapter) didn’t include all of the members you would actually need to be able to work with a data adapter and the alternative (IDbDataAdapter) contained the command properties but not other members you would need. As a result, you had to cast from one interface to the other to get your code to work correctly.

    I’m happy to report that Whidbey includes a DbProviderFactory base class and derived factory classes for each of the four .NET Data Providers that ship with the product. The DbProviderFactories class then includes a static GetFactory method that returns the appropriate factory class based on an invariant string passed to the method and typically read from the application configuration file in the appSettings element or using your own custom configuration section handler. For example, to use the factory to execute a command against SQL Server you could do the following:

    DbProviderFactory pf = DbProviderFactories.GetFactory ("System.Data.SqlClient");
    DbConnection con = pf.CreateConnection ();
    con.ConnectionString = "server=.;database=Northwind;trusted_connection=yes";

    DbCommand cmd = pf.CreateCommand ();
    cmd.CommandText = "SELECT * FROM Products";
    cmd.Connection = con;

    You’ll notice that rather than return interfaces the CreateCommand and CreateConnection methods return the DbCommand and DbConnection classes respectively which now acts as the base class for all the provider command objects. Analogous base classes have been provided for other objects as well. In addition to the four standard objects the DbProviderFactory classes also return command builder, db table (more in a later post), and permission objects for the provider.

    The invariant strings are configured in the machine.config file and read by the DbProviderConfigurationHandler class. For example, the providers are defined in the machine.config file like so:

    <add name="SqlClient Data Provider"
    invariant="System.Data.SqlClient" support="1FF"
    description=".Net Framework Data Provider for SqlServer"
    System.Data, Version=1.2.3400.0, Culture=neutral,

    You could also add your own entry and place it in the Web.config or application configuration file to use another provider.

    A second way to create the factory is to use the GetFactoryClasses method, which populates a DataTable with all of the data from the DbProviderFactories configuration element. You can then return one of the factories based on the row in the DataTable like so:

    DataTable dt = DbProviderFactories.GetFactoryClasses ();
    DbProviderFactory pf = DbProviderFactories.GetFactory (dt.Rows[0]);
    DbCommand cmd = pf.CreateCommand ();

    Although I don’t know if this architecture will stick in the released version, I really like it and it makes it easy to use. I hope, however, that they add some overloads to the CreateXXX methods so you can pass in common properties such as the connection string, command text, command type, connection object etc. The current approach forces you to set the properties separately once the object is returned.

    What can a pitcher control?

    One of the biggest discussions in sabermetric circles over the last 3 years has been Voros McCracken's Defense Independent Pitching Stats (DIPS). I was reminded of this recently while reading a discussion on Essentially, DIPS suggests that major league pitchers shouldn't be evaluated based on the number of hits allowed since they don't control what percentage of balls put in play turn into hits. This idea has significant consequences and boils down to evaluating pitchers based on how few balls they allow to be put in play. In fact, McCracken found that ERA was better correlated with strikeout and walk rate and ability to prevent homeruns than with hits given up. McCraken's work was so revolutionary that it was noticed by some big league teams and I believe he now consults for the A's.

    DIPS seems counterintuitive since a baseball fan knows that certain pitchers seem to be able to induce more ground balls or weak swings by batters which are more easily translated into outs via popups or shallow flyballs. Related to DIPS what I found interesting on were the following stats (where BIP is balls in play):

    2003        % BIP Outs  % BIP
    Ground Balls 73.6% 48%
    Fly Balls 87.2% 33%
    Line Drives 27.2% 19%

    So, just looking at these numbers it's clear that since the odds of a ball put in play being made into an out are so much higher for ground balls and fly balls than for line drives, that a pitcher who could minimize line drives would be saving themselves a few hits per year. In addition, a fly ball pitcher who does not give up a lot of homeruns would doubly benefit since they don't give up runs in bunches while taking advantage of the higher out% on fly balls. However, since only about 13.8% of balls put in play are line drive hits (.19 * (1-.272)) the ability to get sure outs (strikeouts), avoid putting men on base for free (walks), and staying out of multiple run situations (hr/ip) would naturally correlate more strongly with ERA. The lower percentage also means that there will be more variability in the percentage of line drives turned into outs even for good pitchers and so once again the other measures will more consistently predict a pitcher's performance. If you couple this with the fact that line drives as a percentage of balls put in play for major league pitchers varies between 18% and 23% (in other words, its not like Greg Maddux gives up only 5% of BIP as line drives while Shawn Estes gives up 30%), then you can see why these other rate stats seem to outweigh any ability to induce batters to hit fewer line drives and hence why DIPS has gained respect in the sabermetric community.

    All of this however, does not answer the central question of whether a pitcher has the ability or skill to induce fewer line drives per balls put into play regardless of the magnitude of that effect on their ERA. I found a great article on this topic from Diamond Mind which for me seems to answer the question fairly definitively. As you might have guessed certain pitchers such as knuckleballers (Charlie Hough, Tim Wakefield, and Phil Niekro are all in the top ten) have the best ability to do this and that bad pitchers give up a higher percentage of hits per ball put into play because they give up more line drives. In other words, DIPS is a good predictor of success because of the greater percentage of flyballs and groundballs both put into play and turned into outs, but pitchers do have the ability to prevent line drives thereby saving themsevles hits.

    This also points out that major league pitchers can be very successful pursuing one of several different strategies.

    1. Strikeout alot of batters in order to minimize the number of balls put into play and therefore balls that will be hits (Nolan Ryan)
    2. Walk very few batters and give up very few homeruns to minimize the effect of the hits you do give up (Greg Maddux)
    3. Walk fewer batters than average but strikeout more than average to minimize base runners and balls hit into play (Fergie Jenkins)
    4. Rely on deception to decrease the number of hard hit balls thereby decreasing the pct of balls put into play that turn into hits (Charlie Hough)
    5. Walk very few batters but rely on keeping hitters off balance to minimize base runners and minimize the number of line drives (Jamie Moyer)

    Clearly, if you're not a big strikeout pitcher, have great control, a trick pitch, or a deceptive repetoire, which is most pitchers, then DIPS is a good way to predict your success by suggesting a 6th strategy - maintain above average strikeout and walk rates while giving up fewer than the average rate of hr/ip.