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Friday, April 30, 2004

What I'm Reading

Here are a few of the titles I've read in the past few weeks.

  • The Closing of the Western Mind - this book is a history of intellectual views from the Greeks through Thomas Acquinas. The author's arguement is that Christianity as it became the official religon of the Roman Empire served to stifle reason and I assume contribute to the coming of the dark ages. I've not completed the book and don't agree with all of the author's arguments but find the history interesting.

  • Learning Theology with the Church Fathers - this book traces the discussions of the early church fathers regarding competing views of the nature of Christ, the Trinity (Arius vs. Athanasius), the Holy Spirit, God's providence, the Scriptures, the Church, and the resurrection.

  • The Ten Offenses - I was loaned this book by my mother and in it Pat Robertson traces the Judeo-Christian foundation of the United States and how that heritage is being eroded by the courts and the culture. He nicely documents the views of the founders in this regard and is a good reference for relevant court cases. It is hard to see how a country founded as we are on the principal that all men are created equal can survive when the principle that there is a "law higher than the law" (as one of the judges at Nuremberg reminded the Nazis) is eroded.

  • MDA Distilled - this is a short book that describes Model Driven Architecture and its potential. I found it interesting to compare and contrast the approach with what Microsoft is developing in their Whitehorse modeling tools.

  • Here's a list of books I've got in the queue.

  • DaVinci - With the current interest in the DaVinci Code (which is full of historical problems and half-baked ideas as documented here) I thought I'd read a more historical work, a biography of DaVinci originally written by a Russian and translated into English.

  • The Life of Herbert Hoover: The Engineer 1874-1914 - written by Hoover biographer George Nash, a personal friend of my father-in-law

  • The Life of a Fossil Hunter - written by Charles Sternberg, the fossil hunter who collected for E.D. Cope in the late 1800s in Kansas and later in Alberta. He collected from the Smoky Hills chalk where my daughter and I have been fossil hunting twice in the last year.

  • Deadball Stars of the National League - a book acquired through my SABR membership. I keep meaning to read the entries on the 1908 Cubs.

  • Piazza and Defense

    I recently mentioned a quote attributed to Cubs GM Jim Hendry where he said Mike Piazza was both a great offensive and defensive catcher. While I have no argument with saying that Piazza is the best offensive catcher of all time (he's just about to eclipse Carlton Fisk as the all-time homerun hitter at the position), I can't imagine what aspect of defense that Hendry thinks Piazza is or was "great" at. In the 2004 Baseball Prospectus Keith Woolner had an article titled "Thou Shalt Not Steal: Catchers and the Running Game" in which he developed a metric to measure the effectiveness of catchers in preventing stolen bases. Although this is only one aspect of catching defense, the others being:

  • Preventing wild pitches and passed balls

  • Handling pop ups, bunts, receiving throws from fielders

  • Handling pitchers, game calling and related "skills"

  • I would argue that preventing the running game s the one with most impact on winning and losing. This is the case since the difference between the best and worst catchers (at the major league level) in regards to the first two aspects listed above largely measured by passed balls and errors, just don't result in a "large" number of bases saved by the best catchers. And the third aspect has been studied and Woolner notes that "the current state of evidence supports the theory that catchers exercise minimal (at best) influence on how well their pitchers perform versus opposing batters." As an aside I should note that concepts such as Catchers ERA do seem to have some currency with major league teams as I see it referenced on the Royals pre-game notes given to members of the media before each game.

    So in terms of preventing stolen bases Woolner calculated what he called XSB (Extra Stolen Bases Allowed) and XSBR (Rate of XSB) by using the matrix of expected run values of the various base and out combinations along with play by play data from Retrosheet. After running the numbers he calculated that Mike Piazza had 4 of the 11 worst seasons in the period 1972-2003 with the following XSB values:
    1999 49.33
    2000 50.21
    2001 50.34
    2002 60.65

    That means that in those years Piazza gave up on average over 50 more bases than an average catcher would have given the same opportunities. Conversely the best catchers in the period saved around 25 bases per year with Benito Santiago in 1989 garnering the top spot. So the spread here is around 75 bases and of course the difference between the best and worst catchers in terms of passed balls and errors is nowhere near 75. Couple that with the fact that the bases gained or saved in these scenarios are second and third and often taken in stategic situations, their importance only increases. Piazza is simply not a good defensive catcher and has never been one. He certainly should have been moved to first base a long time before now.

    Wednesday, April 28, 2004

    Not a Jinx

    Well, on my fourth try as a stringer the Royals finally won tonight 5-3 against the Rangers. It occurred to me when Ken Harvey hit a three-run homerun to make it 4-1 that it was the first time I'd seen the Royals take a lead this season. The controversy of the night was the pitch before Harvey homered that also went over the left field wall, originally signalled as fair by the third base umpire and then subsequently overruled when the umpires discussed it. The scoring went well with only a couple minor changes that needed to be made during the game. I won't score again until mid May since I'm off to England in a few days for a week and a half with my wife and daughter. Hopefully now the Royals can build on this one and sweep the struggling Yankees.

    Cubs Notes

    Interesting quote from Cubs GM Jim Hendry as reported on The Cub Reporter.

    "Some guys are great defensive catchers, some are great offensively and some, like [Mike] Piazza are a combination of both." - Cubs GM Jim Hendry, on Michael Barrett (Chicago Tribune - 4/23/04)

    I wonder who Jim thinks is a bad defensive catcher?

    In other notes Prior appears ready to throw a simulated game having thrown 55 pitches off the mound in Arizona and so is one step closer to coming back. Good news. Wood was suspended for 5 games today for his antics in last week's loss to the Reds and so will miss a start when he loses the inevitable appeal. The Cubs have been pounded to the tune of 19-1 the last two days in Arizona. Hoping for better results tonight as Greg Maddux takes the mound.

    Possible Long Running Procedures Fix

    I was directed to this link which hints at a problem with the CommandTimeout property of the SqlCommand object although it doesn't sound exactly like the situation I described in my previous post.

    Tuesday, April 27, 2004

    Lee and Choi Again

    There is an interesting comparison to be tracked this year between Derreck Lee and Hee Sop Choi. Here's where they are thus far:

    Player     POS G AB R H 2B3B HR RBI TB BB SO SB CS OBP  SLG  AVG   
    H Choi FLA 1B 18 51 9 15 0 0 6 10 33 9 13 1 0 .410 .647 .294
    D Lee CHC 1B 19 66 11 16 7 0 2 11 29 9 18 2 1 .342 .439 .242

    Lee is making $4.5M this season while Choi makes around $300K. Of course, one could argue that Choi needed a change of scenery and would not have performed like this in a Cubs uniform but I think it's clear that Dusty Baker and the Cubs did not handle him properly last year. It would be nice to have another left-handed bat in the lineup as well. Lee has been a positive contributor for the Cubs this year, especially with his defense and I think he'll pick it up with the bat. However, Dusty is batting him in the 6th hole when he should be hitting 2nd with Patterson 6th. While we're at it Barrett should hit 7th and Gonzales 8th.

    Using .NET Attributes

    I'm sometimes asked why a developer might want to implement custom attributes in .NET. Here is a great example by Jerry Dixon. Another example is to provide custom evidence the Code Access Security system.

    For those not familiar with attributes here's a little primer from my book Building Distributed Applications with Visual Basic .NET...

    In addition to simply using attributes exposed by the framework, you can create your own attributes to specify custom metadata. For example, if you were designing a set of framework classes to be widely distributed, you could create a custom attribute to encapsulate information about reference documentation.

    To create a custom attribute, you simply need to create a new class that derives from System.Attribute. Listing 2.3 illustrates creating a custom attribute called DocumentationAttribute to include documentation information.

    Note: It is customary to add the suffix "Attribute" to the name of the attribute; however, clients that use the attribute needn't include this part of the name.

    Listing 2.3 Creating a Custom Attribute. This class implements a custom attribute for documentation purposes.

    <AttributeUsage(AttributeTargets.Class Or _
    AttributeTargets.Interface Or AttributeTargets.Enum Or _
    AttributeTargets.Struct)> _
    Public Class DocumentationAttribute : Inherits Attribute

    Private strUrl As String
    Private strAuthor As String

    Public Sub New(ByVal url As String)
    Me.strUrl = url
    End Sub

    Public Property Author() As String
    Return strAuthor
    End Get
    Set(ByVal Value As String)
    strAuthor = Value
    End Set
    End Property

    Public ReadOnly Property Url() As String
    Return strUrl
    End Get
    End Property

    End Class

    In Listing 2.3, even before the class is declared, it too uses an attribute called AttributeUsage to control on which types of entities the attribute can be placed. In this case, the Or operator is used with constants from the AttributeTargets enumeration to indicate that the DocumentationAttribute can be placed on a class, interface, enumerated type, or structure only.

    Tip: To allow an attribute to be placed anywhere, you can use AttributeTargets.All. The AttributeUsageAttribute also exposes an AllowMultiple Boolean property that indicates whether multiple instances of the attribute can be placed on the same entity.

    Also notice that this attribute contains two properties, Author and Url, and that Url is passed to the constructor and is required.

    Users of the attribute then can decorate their classes with the DocumentationAttribute as follows:

    <Documentation("", _
    Author:="Dan Fox")> _
    Public Class QuilogyDataAccess

    As noted previously, "Attribute" can be omitted from the declaration, and because the Author property is not found in the constructor, it can be added to the declaration using the := assignment operator.

    At runtime, a client of the class that declared the attribute can read the attribute information using the GetCustomAttributes method of the Type object. For example, the following code uses the GetType function to return the Type object for QuilogyDataAccess from the previous code example:

    Dim type As Type = GetType(QuilogyDataAccess)
    Dim arr() As Object
    Dim att As Attribute

    arr = type.GetCustomAttributes(False)
    For Each att In arr
    If TypeOf att Is DocumentationAttribute Then
    Dim da As DocumentationAttribute = _
    CType(arr(0), DocumentationAttribute)
    Console.WriteLine("Url = " & da.Url & "Author = " & da.Author)
    End If

    It then retrieves an array of custom attributes using the GetCustomAttributes methods and walks through the array looking for the DocumentationAttribute using the TypeOf statement. When found, it converts the Object to the DocumentationAttribute type so that its properties, Url and Author, can be queried.

    Long running procedures and ADO.NET

    Ran into an interesting problem this morning while at a client site. The client has a stored procedure in SQL Server that uses cursors to load data from one table into another. When the procedure executes sucessfully it processes over 1,000,000 rows in around 60 hours. However, when the stored procedure is kicked off in a .NET executable using the SqlClient .NET Data Provider a command timeout exception is fired after 18 hours, 12 minutes or thereabouts (even when the CommandTimeout property is set to 0 which should wait indefinitely). Tests were also run setting the CommandTimeout value to a large number (say 216,000) to force the command to wait 60 hours to no avail. When using the OleDb provider the timeout is not enountered.

    Well, when we calculated the number of seconds in 18 hours and 12 minutes it comes to roughly 65,520 which immediately raised eyebrows. Although the data type of the CommandTimeout property of the SqlCommand object is System.Int32 which has an upper limit of 2,147,483,648, limit of System.UInt16 is 65,535. Apparently, internally the SqlClient provider is using an unsigned integer in its calculations for the command timeout. Has anyone else run into this problem?

    Saturday, April 24, 2004

    Did C.S. Lewis go to Heaven?

    This is the admittedly provocative title of an article by John W. Robbins, which you can find here. In the article Robbins makes the argument that Lewis "cannot accurately be called an Evangelical and may be called a Christian only in an historical or nominal sense."

    Robbins is a conservative evangelical and the publisher of The Trinity Review posted on the The Trinity Foundation website, which appears to be a collection of primarily his views.

    Readers of this blog know my admiration for Lewis and so you can imagine that I was quite interested to read the article and take a look at the arguments Robbins presents. Before I begin, however, I should note that I don't think it's proper to make judgments on "who's in and who's out". Only God sees the heart as they say.

    Robbins begins by noting how venerated Lewis has been in Evangelical circles posthumously when in life he had little connection or dialogue with Evangelicalism in America. While I don't think that's particularly relevant to the question of whether C.S. Lewis went to heaven I also see little mystery as to why Lewis has garnered such a following. Simply put, his logical argumentation, deep understanding of the human psyche, and clear presentation make both his apologetically and prose books a joy to read. They are modern classics.

    In analyzing the article Robbins makes three arguments against Lewis taken from quotations of his writings. These are:

  • Lewis held a low view of Scripture and did not hold to inerrancy (sola Scriptura)

  • Lewis did not believe in justification by faith alone (sola fida) and did not hold the substitutionary view of the atonement

  • Lewis did not believe that Christ was the only way to God (sola Christus)

  • Of course Robbins emphasizes that these sola are the "distinctive marks of an evangelical" and so if Lewis did not hold them then he surely cannot be counted as an Evangelical - and by strong implication, that Lewis cannot have been saved.

    On the first point Robbins supports his arguments by quoting primarily from a letter Lewis wrote to Clyde Kilby of May 7, 1959 and passages from Reflections on the Psalms. In quoting these passage I think Robbins accurately captures Lewis' view of Scripture as I understand it. Basically, Scripture is inspired in the sense that the reader takes in God's Word when the Bible is read in the proper spirit (that is, as the Holy Spirit guides and instructs). Lewis did not hold to inerrancy in the conservative evangelical sense that every word written in the Bible is historically or even theologically accurate (for example, the "cursing Psalms"). In the letter to Kirby Lewis specifically mentions the varying accounts of the death of Judas and the genealogies in the Gospels as examples of passages that are difficult to take as historical reporting. As I mentioned in my previous post on Miracles, Lewis also viewed the first parts of the Old Testament as unhistorical Hebrew myths that God used to convey underlying truths about creation, the fall, and judgment. Rather Lewis held the view that the ancients did not perceive or attempt to undertake the modern newspaper style reporting but instead fashioned their narratives (in the NT for example) for other reasons including collecting the sayings of Jesus and recording his miracles.

    This view clearly differs from conservative evangelicals but the question is whether Lewis' view violates sola Scriptura? As far as Lewis believed that Scripture could lead someone to Christ absent a priest I believe he did hold to this pillar of the reformation. In other words, to not hold to the literalist view of Scripture does not mean that you cannot hold a high view of Scripture as adequate for conveying God's truth to humanity.

    On the second point Robbins argues that Lewis never accepted justification by faith alone but only the doctrine of the Incarnation as Lewis recounts in Surprised By Joy. He backs up this view by searching for the doctrine in several Lewis indexes in vain. In my own index on Lewis I pulled off the shelf I found several passages that refer to this view but of course none specifically use the words "justification by faith alone" which I assume is what Robbins is looking for. Robbins also quotes several paragraphs from Mere Christianity where Lewis talks about the atonement as something that Christ already did for us and that men need to appropriate.

    Here I think Robbins is being critical simply because Lewis chose not use the catch phrases of modern evangelicalism but instead relied on metaphors and terms that I assume he thought his largely unchurched listeners during World War II in England would understand. After all, Lewis asserts that Christ did for us what we could not do for ourselves and that it is a free gift that we would have to accept that gift by "laying ourselves open" to Him. Sounds a lot like sola Fida, salvation by grace and faith in Christ to me. Particularly, the phrases "good infection", "new life", and "lay ourselves open" seem to be a sticking points for Robbins. I will certainly concede with Robbins that Lewis violated his pretense to "Mere Christianity" (although one could argue that he was talking primarily about Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism and did not have American evangelicalism in mind) and did view the sacraments as playing some role in Christianity but I don't believe Lewis viewed them as salvific but rather as a means to greater sanctification. For clearly he believed a person could come to Christ without having taken the sacraments. Robbins is also clearly anti-Arminian in that he sees Lewis as holding to an antonement that is potentially ineffectual since each person has free will to accept or reject it.

    Robbins also takes Lewis to task for instructing readers that there are several ways to think about the atonement and that if one doesn't appeal to the reader, it should be dropped and another taken up. While I personally believe the substitutionary view of the atonement, Christians have historically viewed all of the ways Lewis mentions as true (Lewis mentions "Christ died for my sins", "God forgave us because Christ did we should have done", "we are washed in the blood of the Lamb", and "Christ defeated death"). I don't think many Christians would see holding one as more understandable (after all, Lewis is talking not of the correct theological formula but the most understandable way of thinking about it for a paricular reader) than the others as precluding salvation.

    On another aspect of this point Robbins argues incorrectly that Lewis believed that both good actions and faith were necessary for salvation. In the passage Robbins quotes to support his point from Mere Christianity, Lewis does not state that both are required, in other words that salvation is in part by works, but that they interact in a kind of virtuous circle. A "serious moral effort" or willingness to to what is right finally forces a person to despair since they cannot do what is right on their own. Faith in Christ then saves the person from the depair leading to inevitable good actions.

    Finally, on this point I also found Robbins' criticism of Lewis for using the word "bit" as in Christ did "the bit we could not have done for ourselves" as more than a little nit-picky. Clearly, the word "bit" has slightly different shades of meaning in 1940s England than it does in 21st century America. Here I think Lewis was using a word simply to denote a part rather than an insignificant piece of the whole.

    On the thid point of Lewis not holding to sola Christus, I have blogged about Lewis's views previously. In epitome, Lewis held to a belief in inclusivism, not universalism as Robbins suggests. Lewis held that even those who have never heard of Christ can be saved, not through their pagain religions, but through Christ's sacrifice that they may appropriate by worshipping God the best they are able. Clearly, a belief in inclusivism does not violate sola Christus because Lewis did not hold that it is the pagan religions that save. Only Christ's work on the cross saves. The question is how it can be appropriated by individuals in non-Christian cultures. Robbins hold to the exclusivist position that those who have not explicitly been preached Christ are lost. As a I said in my previous blog, I have difficulty to holding such a view.

    In summary, I certainly agree that C.S. Lewis was not an evangelical in the modern American sense. His views on the inerrancy of Scripture and inclusivism exclude him from such an understanding. However, it is a rather narrow view of Christianity that assumes that no one is saved outside of evangelicalism and that Lewis writings cannot be beneficial.

    Thursday, April 22, 2004

    Racial Testing Gap

    Here's a good article titled Closing the Racial Learning Gap on the La Griffe du Lion web site. While I'm not statistically sophisticated enough, having forgotten nearly all my college statistics, to follow all of the math involved in the appendices the articles on this site are always entertaining and lead to non-intuitive conclusions.

    In this article the author shows that decreasing gaps in black-white scores on standardized tests do not necessarily show that the gap is actually decreasing but may instead mean only that the threshold for passing has changed. Given a couple assumptions the author's model then points to the likelihood that claimed gap reductions in North Carolina and Texas over the past few years are only artifacts of the testing procedures themselves.

    Wednesday, April 21, 2004

    Refusing a Walk?

    In a recent post I mentioned that Bill James advocates allowing hitters to refuse a walk (any walk, not just intentional ones). He reasons that walks were initially instituted not as a defensive weapon to avoid good hitters but rather as an incentive for pitchers to throw strikes. In his words "The reason that should be the rule is because the walk was created to force the pitcher to throw hittable pitches to the batter. That is the walk's natural function. To allow the walk to become something the defense can use to its advantage with no response from the offense is illogical and counterproductive". He then advocates that on the 2nd walk of the at bat the batter advances to second base and all runners advance two bases. As you might imagine this topic has drawn some discussion on the SABR list server as well.

    Although I agree with the history tied to his argument, current utility differing from original intent is not a strong enough argument in and of itself to make such a radical change. The fact is that teams and players attempt to use the rules in the most strategically advantageous way given the current context. This is why the value of the stolen base fluctuates with the run environment of the league or era in which it is used. And of course an argument from original intent doesn't hold water when you consider that originally a pitcher was not to use deception at all but instead to serve pitches as requested by the hitters.

    So the argument for allowing the refusal of walks has to have a basis elsewhere. Some of these might be:

  • It will speed up the game

  • It will cause more excitement as good hitters must be pitched to

  • Are there others? On the first point I doubt that it would have any effect. The defensive team still has to get 27 outs and so the refusal of the walk simply gives the next at bat to the same hitter. A second walk would certainly increase the chances of scoring but that wouldn't have an effect on the length of the game. Besides there are lots of more sensible ways to speed up the game including not throwing out every ball that touches the ground, limiting trips to the mound, and refusing timeouts for the batter between pitches. I can't disagree with the second point since the fans generally pay to see the best hitters perform, and so this to me is the best argument for such a rule. I assume a side effect would be that in blowouts hitters would refuse walks more often in order to get a chance to pad their hitting stats.

    On a couple of other notes, I ordered MLB Extra Innings from Time Warner cable this season and am loving it. I watched the 9-1 Cubs victory last night over the Pirates last night broadcast by the Pirates network. Although both the Cubs and Royals televise lots of games here in KC via WGN and the Royals Sports Television Network (RSTN), four of the six games this week were not going to be on WGN and its fun watching the broadcasts from other teams. I caught a bit of the Giants/Padres game last night as well.

    Also just received my copy of the The Baseball Encyclopedia. This is the third copy in various forms I've owned. The first being one published around 1981 and the second, Total Baseball, published in 1990. What I like about this one is that it is softcover and cost only $24.95. It also now includes intentional walks and HBP, run support, blown saves, and fielding range. From the sabermetric perspective it includes AOPS (adjusted OPS for league and park normalized to an average or replacement player), ABR (batting runs based on linear weights adjusted for league and park and normalized to what an average or replacement player would have done), BFW (batter, fielder, base stealer wins, the number of wins a player contributed in all facets of the game), FR (Fielding Runs, the number of runs a defensive player saves his team), AERA (adjusted ERA normalized for the context and converted to a scale of 100 as average), APR (adjusted pitcher runs or how many runs a pitcher allowed to score compared to an average pitcher), and PW (pitcher wins, a measure of how many wins a pitcher contributed based on his pitching, hitting, and defense).

    The Four Nations: A History of the United Kingdom

    Just finished this book by Frank Welsh on the political history of what became Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England over the past 2,000 years. He begins with a quick synopsis of the paleolithic period and moves right into the Roman period with Julius Caesar's first expedition to the British Isles in 53 B.C. He adds increasing detail as the book moves along and spends a considerable part of it on the period from around 1800 to 2001. The emphasis on the monarchies also decreases in accordance with their decrease of political power.

    Overall the book is the story of how the four independant regions (Ireland being more independant than the rest) conflicted, coalesced in the British Empire, and have are now continuing to diverge once again. Not suprisingly the role of religon takes center stage with the conflicts between Catholics and Protestants throughout the islands. Even though I am a firm supporter of the Reformation, the needless persecution and loss of life over subtle (in the big picture anyway) differences in theology, makes me feel ill at ease to say the least and perhaps explains why much of the UK seemed happy to move into a post-Christian period. It also gives me more appreciation for the intellectual climate in which G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis were struggling.

    I wouldn't recommend this book for someone who is not already well acquainted with British history. I was only nominally familiar with the outline of the history and so much of the discussion (and I'm sure some of the author's sarcasm) was lost on me. I picked up the book in preparation for our upcoming trip to England in early May where my wife, 8 year-old daughter, and I will be touring London, the Yorkshire Dales, and Oxford before I attend a Microsoft Architect Advisory Board meeting in Surrey.

    MDA and DSLs

    Good article by Microsoft Architect Steve Cook on Model Driven Architecture (MDA) and how it relates or does not relate to Micrososft's Domain Specific Languages (DSLs) used in the upcoming Visual Studio 2005 Enterprise Tools. If you've seen the Whitehorse demos then you've seen the DSLs at work under the covers. You can also find more info on Keith Short's very good, if still not very big, blog. I'm currently reading MDA Distilled to get a better understanding of MDA.

    Tech*Ed 2004 Info

    The session Jon Box and I will present is set:

    DEV370 Developing Applications Under Windows XP Service Pack 2
    Friday, May 28 2:45 PM- 4:00 PM, Room 8
    Speaker(s): Jon Box, Dan Fox
    Track(s): Developer Tools and Technologies, Security
    Windows XP Service Pack 2 delivers a number of safety technologies for end-users. The changes in the Internet Connection Firewall, Web Browsing experience, Email/IM and Application Memory Protection affect many different application types. This session covers example applications, how they are affected and how to modify them to work with Windows XP SP2. The changes will also affect various development tools ranging from Visual Studio .NET to SQL Remote Debugging. This session also details how to configure your development environment to work successfully on machines with Windows XP SP2 installed.

    Hope to see you there...

    Tuesday, April 20, 2004

    Calvin's the Man

    Great little article on Calvin Pickering, the 27 year old lefthanded first baseman, on the Royals web site. In 32 at bats Pickering has hit 11 homeruns (17 hits overall) and driven in 25 runs (I know a small sample size but 11 homeruns in 32 at bats?)! We saw him bat once in Suprise and he certainly is a big man. I was suprised he wasn't talked up a little more in spring training since he was a former high draft pick and hit 25 homeruns in half a season in the Mexican league last year. He also hit .284/.422/.469 in 98 plate appearances at Louisville. This is the assessment of Baseball Prospectus:

    "Now he goes to camp with the Royals with a real chance to win their first-base job. He's a better hitter than Ken Harvey, and isn't that much worse than Harvey defensively. This could be one of the best stories of 2004."

    Who knows? Perhaps we'll both Zack Grienke and Pickering in Kansas City before long. I hope that they give him a chance.

    Sabermetrics 101

    Since I've written a variety of posts about sabermetrics (the named derived from the acronym of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) to which I proudly belong) I thought it would be useful for those not already indoctrinated in the concepts to lay out the fundamental principals, axioms, or truths that sabermetrics has come to mean. Bill James broadly defined sabermetrics as "the search for objective knowledge about baseball." If you have others or disagree with these please email me. You might also be interested in the Sabermetric Manifesto which explains some of the axoims listed here in more detail.

    These include:

  • Because of the limitations and biases of human thought significant difference in the contributions of players towards winning baseball games is difficult if not impossible to judge outside of the use of statistics. Fortunately, baseball events can be sufficiently individualized, counted, aggregated, and analyzed in large enough sample sizes to overcome these limitations

  • Reverse of the first axiom: Decisions in baseball are often made on the basis of sample sizes that are too small to be predictive. Example: An otherwise poor hitter is 3 for 5 against a certain pitcher over the last 3 years and so the manager elects to pinch hit him

  • The number of games a team will win is able to be predicted by the ratio of the number of runs they score to those they allow. This is known as the Pythagorean formula

  • Teams that win more games than they were expected to win (see above) generally regress the next season

  • The goal of a batter is to help his team score runs, the goal of a defensive player is to prevent runs. Therefore statistics that do not directly measure run production (e.g. batting average) or run prevention (pitcher's wins) are less meaningful than those that do. This is why OPS (on base average + slugging percentage) is a more accurate way of measuring an offensive player than batting average

  • The number of runs an offensive player contributes can be measured more accurately by non-traditional techniques by either assigning values to the various baseball events and adding up the results (Linear Weights) or multiplying aspects of run production including the ability to get on base and to move runners (Runs Created)

  • Because baseball is a game of limited opportunity (27 outs to a team in a normal game), the value of an offensive player consists not only in how many runs he produces but in how few outs he consumes while doing so

  • Both hitters and pitchers peak at age 27 and decline more quickly than is commonly thought. This should impact how players are scouted, developed, and paid. For example, many players by the time they reach free agency are already past their peak performance and so can be expected to decline.

  • There is a replacement level for major league performance that is quantifiable and that at which it makes little sense to pay a player more than league minimum. See Value Over Replacement Player (VORP)

  • The above axoim leads to the corollary that some 90% of the players at the major league level are replaceable by lower priced and often younger talent. This is because the distribution of players in the minor and major leagues form the right tail of a normal distribution. Therefore there will always be a large number of players who are able to replace marginal major leaguers.

  • High school pitchers are a very risky investment primarily because over time injuries tend to winnow the pool of prospects that actually make it to the major leagues. College pitchers are a better investment since they are being selected from an already smaller pool

  • High strikeout pitchers have a much higher ceiling in terms of future wins than do low strikeout pitchers of the same age and ability. See this post.

  • Errors and therefore fielding percentage are an inadequate way of measuring fielders because of the subjective nature of the decisions and because they only record failures and thus fail to take into account the fact that good fielders cover more ground and therefore record more outs. See Range Factor and Defensive Average.

  • When evaluating baseball statistics the context, including the ballpark at which the player plays and the run environment (meaning the average number of runs scored in the league for that year) must be taken into account. Not contextualizing statistics hides weaknesses (see Castillo, Vinny; see also Park Factors.

  • The concept of the closer as defined by the Save statistic and as far as management is influenced by the statistic, is not a true measure of worth for a relief pitcher

  • To a large degree and for most pitchers there is little evidence they have the ability to control the percentage of balls put into play that turn into outs. This is known as Defense Indepedant Pitching Statistics (DIPS)

  • Defensive ability is generally overrated because the differences in run prevention between the best and worst fielders are not as large as the differences in run production between the best and worst hitters

  • Hitters differ in their ability to control the strike zone and therefore get on base via walks. Because of the bias against walks as appearing passive, walks have traditionally been undervalued

  • The stolen base is a tactical rather than a general purpose weapon and therefore decreases in value as the run environment expands

  • In order to be beneficial a base stealer must be successful on average two thirds of the time although the percentage decreases as the score tightens and in later parts of the game

  • The sacrifice bunt except when used with the weakest hitters does not produce positive offensive results

  • The hit and run is akin to the sacrifice bunt but entails more risk with only a slightly higher reward

  • There is no evidence for a general or sustained ability to hit in the "clutch". The same applies to most other "splits" including home/road (except a general bias for all players), month by month, and turf vs. grass

  • There is ample evidence that platoon differences are real and very large

  • Defensive positions can be arranged on a spectrum of least to most demanding i.e. [ DH - 1B - LF - RF - 3B - CF - 2B - SS - C ]. Players generally move from right to left on this spectrum throughout their careers. Shifts in the other direction are rare and seldom work.

  • The most important pitch is strike 1 and the most important out is out 1. That is, the chance of a hitter getting on base lessens rapidly as the pitcher stays ahead in the count and the odds and number of runs a team scores in an inning is dramatically decreased by retiring the first batter in an inning

  • Performance at the major league level can be predicted by performance at the minor league level and to a lesser degree in other leagues including college, the Japanese, and Mexican leagues

  • Diving into first base is pointless (ok, ok, this is not a sabermetric conclusion but I had to get it in here)

  • Monday, April 19, 2004

    Baseball Blogs

    Nice article on various baseball blogs on Slate.

    Bill James Interviews

    Here are two interviews of Bill James I've noticed in recent days. Both interesting.

    Chat with baseball writer Bill James
    "Live" with TAE - Bill James

    One of the interesting points James makes is that he would advocate changing the walk rule to allow the offense to refuse a walk and a batter if walked twice advances directly to second forcing any runners two bases as well. Personally, I doubt very much that this would ever happen because baseball, being in part a historical institution, will tend towards conservatism. Of course, the DH was almost as radical a change.

    Sunday, April 18, 2004

    My Day in Wrigleyville

    Last Thursday after speaking at the Microsoft Security Summit on Wednesday I attended the Cubs/Pirates game at Wrigley Field. Here's a quick synopsis of the day.

    I boarded the CTA red line at the Roosevelt station at 9:30AM fully decked out in my Cubs apparel. I took the train to the Addison stop beyond the right field wall and made my way down to the street by around 10:15AM. Since the ballpark doesn't open until 11:30AM I perused some of the shops in Wrigleyville picking up a couple choice items. I then headed over to the McDonalds across from the ballpark (always a tradition) for an early lunch. While eating there I sat next to two elderly ladies who work as ushers at the ballpark. They were commenting on the schedule and noticing how the Pirates don't come back to Wrigley Field for several months. In a display that old habits die hard, one of the ladies commented that the Reds always seem to beat us at home and the other wrly noted "But who doesn't?"

    After lunch I took a walk around the ballpark, strolling down Waveland and Sheffield Avenues. I stopped and took a couple pictures noting the wind blowing straight out at 15 to 20 mph. It was Jackie Robinson day throughout MLB commemorating the day Jackie broke into the lineup of the Dodgers in 1947.

    On Sheffield Ave I stopped and took a picture of one of the buildings that displays the sign reading "Eamus Catuli", the Latin translated "Let's Go Cubs!" along with the sign reading AC005996 which translated means AC = "Year of the Cubs (Catulii)" + 00 = number of years since last division title (2003) + 59 = number of years since last pennant (1945) + 96 = number of years since last World Series win (1908)

    I then waited with the rest of the throng to be let in. While waiting one young fan (not too bright obviously) asked if I was one of the ballplayers. I told him they might need me today and that I was ready.

    After the ballpark opened at 11:30AM I strolled through concourses and took a shot of the Fergie Jenkins poster hanging up inside. Fergie has been my favorite pitcher since I watched many of his starts when he returned to the Cubs in 1982-83.

    After going out to see batting practice I was amazed that the ushers (the little old ladies) do not let fans without tickets walk down to the lower sections. Almost two hours before the game it seems absurd. I've never seen this done at another ballpark.

    Carlos Zambrano got the start for the Cubs and my seat was right down by the bullpen in the 10th row - not too far from the infamous Bartman seat which should be painted red and left unsold until the Cubs go to the World Series.

    Here's a shot the nice usher took of me next to my seat. By this time the temp was up to around 72 degrees and the wind was howling. I thought it might be a good day for Cubs hitters.

    Once the game started I was absolutely amazed or more rightly appalled by the number of vendors making their way through our little 10 row section. I counted six different vendors in the first half inning alone and it rarely abated during the game. You practically had to beat them off like flies. It was truly the worst experience of the sort I've had at a major league game. Here's the view from my seat (the vendor in the foreground was typical). I would estimate I missed 40 or 50 pitches because of vendors.

    Well, the wind did its thing and the Cubs were quickly out in front on the strength of a homerun by Ramirez and two by Barrett. Alou added a popup to left that kept blowing until it landed in the basket to make the scoring complete and the Cubs won 10-5.

    I really felt for Francis Beltran who got into the game in the 9th only to have his first two pitches hit for long homeruns to left field. On such a day it was a credit to Zambrano that he was able to keep the ball down and give up only one run in 6 innings of work.

    After the game I again boarded the train and headed back downtown to grab the shuttle to airport and arrive back in Kansas City by 11pm. All in all, a very enjoyable day at the old ballpark.

    Miracles Part IVb and Conclusion

    In this final installment of my extended review of C.S. Lewis Miracles Lewis discusses the miracles of the "old creation" (chapter 15) and the "new creation" (chapter 16) followed by an epilogue.

    In categorizing the miracles recorded in the New Testament (Lewis specifically does not discuss the miracles of the Old Testament, instead holding the tentative view that at least some of the miracles of the OT are not historical and instead are derived from the Hebrew mythology which is the mythology chosen by God to reveal certain truths. Certainly this view has few proponents in the modern evangelical world, but more about evangelicalism and C.S. Lewis in a later post.) Lewis contends that those he classifies of the old creation are those where

    "God does suddenly and locally something that God has done or will do in general. Each miracle writes for us in small letters something that God has already written, or will write, in letters almost too large to be noticed, across the whole canvass of nature."

    These miracles can themselves be classified, the first group of which are those of fertility which include:

  • Turning water into wine at Cana

  • The two instances of miraculous feeding; the feeding of the 5,000 and the multiplication of fish

  • The Immaculate Conception

  • The interesting point that Lewis makes is that in all of these God does not do something arbitrary of ridiculous as is recorded in pagan myths. Rather, these miracles show a God who respects Nature as one he created and in some sense works inside its boundaries.

    The second group of miracles of the old creation are those of healing which include all of the various healings from restoring the site of the blind to making the lame walk to exocising demons. Once again, these miracles can be thought of simply as an amplification of the healing powers already in Nature or the removal of an obstacle to those powers.

    The third group of destruction includes only the withering of the fig tree. Here Lewis again argues that Jesus merely intensified a process which was already underway.

    The final group of miracles of the old creation are those of dominion over the inorganic and here Lewis only specifically mentions the calming of the storm. Once again as with all of these miracles, this miracle is God acting quickly and locally to do something he does more slowly and globally.

    In chapter 16 Lewis discusses the miracles of the new creation and he begins, appropriately with the resurrection. As an aside he makes the point that the gospel as the first Christians understood it was the resurrection, or more correctly, the witness of the risen Christ in the roughly six weeks from the resurrection event until the ascension. As a result, modern skeptics have it backwards when they assume that the gospels were written to convince people of Jesus' divinity. On the contrary the gospels were written to people already convinced of the resurrection through an experience and simply served to fill in the details.

    Lewis then goes on to discuss the nature of the resurrection in the sense above (and the ascension since he views these events as inseparable). By pointing out various attributes of the accounts in the gospels (Jesus ate food, was not bound by matter, was in some sense unrecognizable, could not be touched at first) Lewis throws aside the Gnostic view of Jesus simply as "negatively spiritual" and builds a case for, as Paul said, the risen Christ as the "first fruits" of a new breed of humanity ushering in a new era, "the first movement of a great wheel beginning to turn in the direction opposite to that which all men hitherto had observed." Lewis also notes how this view of the resurrection was truly different from the existing Jewish beliefs of "heaven" and the existence of the soul after death in Sheol.

    The resurrection of Christ is then a precursor or "false dawn" of this new mode of existence much like we already see in the old nature in examples such as flowers blooming before spring and sub-men evolving before true men. This idea is played out as well in the other three miracles of the New Creation, the walking on water, the resurrection ofLazaruss, and the Transfiguration.

    In the walking on water we see a glimpse of the new relationship between Spirit and Nature where Nature is completely obedient to Spirit. In one sense, however, Lewis notes that we are seeing this relationship today in that each time we think or raise our arm Spirit is commanding matter and matter obeys. In the new mode of existence our dominion, which is at present attacked by a lawless Nature and which survives only in the brain, will be extended to the outer world. In the resurrection ofLazaruss we see a merely anticipatory flash of the glorious resurrection although it is only a mere reversal of natural processes that shows that one day the present condition of the universe winding down will be reversed. Here Lewis introduces the idea of entropy and thermodynamics to argue that the universe requires a point in the past at which it was, like a watch, "wound up" (although Lewis is writing here several years before the Big Bang theory became widely accepted through the discovery of background radiation in 1964, there is little doubt that he would have used this as support for his arguments). The Transfiguration or "Metamorphosis" is more enigmatic since it has all the earmarks of a vision. As a result it is difficult to know in what way it provides a glimpse of the new creation.

    Lewis then circles back to discuss the New Nature shown in the resurrection in more detail. In my favorite section of this chapter he discusses the most troublesome aspect of the New Nature for moderns, the idea that reality is not 1-floored (nature is all there is), or 2-floored (there is the natural world and there is the spiritual - "the blinding abyss undifferentiated spirituality") but rather that there is a floor in between. This is why there are many who believe in the immortality of the soul but not the resurrection of the body, why people desire to strip Christianity of its miracles, and why Pantheism is more popular than Christianity. Lewis explains this revulsion to the super-natural world of the New Creation as the normal reaction of beings with both a natural and spiritual component, who when contemplating God (as the mystics teach) feel that the physical is "almost irrelevant". Today this results from the constant war being waged between the Old Nature and the Spirit and our need to suppress the Old Nature in such times which is in fact a symptom of our present condition. We cannot conceive of a time when the New Nature and Spirit will be in cooperation with each other although brief glimpses are provided through the Sacraments and the best instances of sexual love. This also serves to explain why God thought it necessary to create a physical world at all (on a personal note the deprecation of all things physical by many evangelicals I think reflects a misunderstanding of this point). The New Creation will serve to heal the discrepancy between the two worlds.

    In this section Lewis also addresses the skeptics view of the Ascension as a "going up" to heaven and being seated at the right hand of the Father as one that is too simple for reality and merely reflects the unsophisticated view of the ancients as heaven existing in the clouds. Lewis concedes that the apostles may well have viewed the Ascension in almost this way (as vertical movement upward) but that does not mean that there was not more significance to it. Further Lewis argues that indeed a God who created men to live in a natural world of sky and earth surely knew what affect the expanse of the sky would have and that of course contemplation of the expanse of the universe is the first seat of spiritual awe.

    Finally Lewis addresses the view of some that "Heaven is a state of mind" (which by the way is often said of Lewis). He rejects this view on the basis that what the resurrection shows is that heaven is not merely "a state of the spirit but a state of the body as well: and therefore a state of Nature as well." This view should give Christians hope in a Heaven that is alive and overflowing with the beauty of the New Nature, rather than a view of cold and sterile spirituality.

    Chapter 17 is an Epilogue where Lewis provides some practical advice for those who having read the book are prepared to go further. Particularly he addresses the attack that comes after putting down such a book as this but then sinking again into "real world" where such miraculous matters are shown to be false by the hard reality of the world. Lewis would argue that this is precisely what a reader should expect since the mind wants to fall back to its natural "grooves and ruts" but that "belief feelings" can only be inculcated through Reason and training. Secondly, he notes that readers should not be surprised if they never witness a miracle. After all, the miracles recorded in the Bible were performed at junctures in history where God acted usually on the behalf of the entire universe. It would be no surprise (and indeed it would likely not be sought after) if the reader did not live through such times.

    In summary (as if I've not summarized enough) Miracles is a book I view as sort of a "basic training" for Christian thought in a Naturalistic and to a lesser degree a post-modern world. In that sense it is a much longer and more detailed and therefore more convincing book than Mere Christianity and one I would give to someone who truly wants to wrestle with these issues.

    Here are the first few installments of this very long review.
    C.S. Lewis on Miracles
    Miracles Part II
    Miracles Part IIIa
    Miracles Part IIIb
    Miracles Part IVa

    Friday, April 16, 2004

    Royals Ramblings

    Ron alerted me to a game situation that happened with the Royals on Thursday afternoon in Chicago (I was across town watching the Cubs and Pirates hit 7 homeruns in a 10-5 Cubs win). Tie game, top of the 9th and Ken Harvey leads off with a single. Pena pinch runs Rich Thompson with Benito Santiago at the plate. Rather than having Thompson steal Pena elects to sacrifice. Unfortunately, Santiago bunts it right back to the pitcher who turns the double play. The question asked by Ron and by Rob and Rany is whether this was a smart play by Pena?

    I think Rany hits the nail on the head when he says that pinch running and sacrificing are both one-run strategies and so doing both is at best inefficient by potentially wasting a player you may need in extra innings. Using the Win Expectancy table I blogged about the other day you can see that the home team (the White Sox is this case) had a WE of .413 with no outs and a runner on first. Had the sacrifice been successful it would have changed the WE to .434. Not a very significant difference (2%) but this does highlight that at the very least the strategy of bunting doesn't really buy you anything in this case. However, this becomes more significant since by all accounts Thompson is a good base stealer and would have had at least a 70% chance of success. However, I think it likely that with the lefty Marte on the mound Pena got a little gun-shy of the stolen base with the rookie Thompson. Pena did employ the same strategy last week at home against Cleveland where Thompson easily stole the base but that was against a righthander. Also in Pena's defense Matt Stairs was still available to come in and play first base.

    In other Royals notes there has been some discussion about Jeremy Affeldt and his pitching approach. A story in the KC Star quotes Affeldt and Pena saying:

    Affeldt: "One of the main things they told me in spring, was they didn't want me to go out there and try to strike out guys. If you do that, your pitch count goes up. That's why I throw my changeup a lot more. I'm trying to get early outs."

    Pena: "I don't care about strikeouts. I want to get people out. We have a good defense. So, I want to minimize pitches. Forget about the strikeouts. But Jeremy will strike some people out. His stuff is filthy."

    Well, at this point Affeldt has pitched 9 innings, striking out 2, and walking 6 while giving up 15 hits while striking out only 7 in 25 innings of spring training work. Not a recipe for success. This discussion relates directly to the idea of Defense Independant Pitching (DIPS) I blogged about awhile back. To summarize, major league pitchers can be very successful pursuing one of a variety of different strategies. However, pursuing the strategy of allowing more batters to put the ball in play only works for pitchers who rely on deception and is not significantly impacted by defense as Pena seems to think. Therefore, if Affeldt's changeup is not really very good, then he's not decreasing the number of hard hit balls put into play which automatically leads to more hits allowed. His velocity is also down which contributes to the problem but that may be because he's trying to finely locate the ball rather than letting it go and using his natural movement. I think Affeldt and the Royals need to find out what his natural strength is as a pitcher and exploit that rather than trying to make him into Brian Anderson.

    Wednesday, April 14, 2004

    Security Brain Dump

    Today I delivered two talks at the Microsoft Security Summit in Chicago held down by the lake at McCormick Place just south of Soldier Field. My two talks in the developer track were on common threats and how to defend against them and securing .NET applications. The keynote this morning was a nice overview of what Microsoft is doing in the security space and among other things included the following items that developers should be aware of. I’ve provided links to get you started.

  • XP SP2 – RC1 is available today. Attendees of the Security Summit got the bits in the bag

  • Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer (MBSA) – Tool you can use to analyze a machine to check for vulnerabilities and the precense of updates

  • Digital Rights Management (DRM) – Effort by Microsoft to protect an organization’s intellectual property by allowing policy to be enforced on applications such as email clients and Office apps to restrict forwarding of email offsite and viewing documents for which you are not authorized

  • Microsoft Update - Currently Microsoft has multiple update services including Windows Update and the Software Update Service. These will be rolled into one in the future.

  • Writing Secure Code by Michael Howard - Great book that addresses all aspects of security. You can find his blog here.

  • Microsoft Security Developer Center – The place to go for security information from Microsoft

  • In addition, for those interested in how XP SP2 will affect developers you’ll want to check out the TechEd session DEV370 that Jon Box and I are doing in San Diego on May 28th. We’ll also do a webcast prior to TechEd that you’ll be able to take a look at.

    For those who can’t attend one of the Security Summit events you can find the webcasts for the developer tracks at the following links:

    Session 1 – Essentials of Application Security
    Session 2 – Writing Secure Code: Threat Defense
    Session 3 – Writing Secure Code: Best Practices
    Session 4 – Implementing Application Security Using the Microsoft .NET Framework

    I’d recommend all Microsoft developers going through this material to ensure that the applications you build are protected from potential threats. In other security related items you might want to check out the following articles I’ve written on the topic:

    Take the proper steps to secure ActiveX controls
    Protect ASP.NET Data with the DPAPI
    Make Managed Code Work With .NET's CAS
    Secure Your .NET Smart Apps with CAS
    Protect Private Data with the Cryptography Namespaces of the .NET Framework

    After getting into town last night (I missed the Royals/White Sox game played in the afternoon) and checking out the presentation machines I had dinner with Drew Robbins. Very smart and nice guy from Ohio who did a great job on his best practices talk in the developer track. Tomorrow I’m taking in the Cubs/Pirates game before heading back to KC and hope to see Sammy Sosa catch and pass Ernie Banks for the all-time Cubs homerun record of 512. Sosa actually has hit 540 homeruns but played his first couple of seasons with the Rangers and White Sox.

    Sabermetric Wisdom

    An interesting situation occurred in the Braves/Cubs game the other day that illustrates the use or actually nonuse of sabermetrics in baseball. In the top of the 15th inning with the game tied the Cubs had runners on 1st and 3rd with one out. On a 2-1 count Tom Goodwin hit a lazy fly ball down the right field line. J.D. Drew, the Braves rightfielder seemed to size up the ball, get in position, and then proceed to catch it in foul territory by about 3 feet. The runner on third tagged and scored and Drew nearly caught the runner on first before he got back. In any case, the Cubs went on to win 2-1 on the strength of the sacrifice fly.

    The question is, should Drew have caught the flyball or let it drop in foul territory moving the count 2-2 and keeping the game tied? I think the appropriate way to answer this questions is to calculate the odds of the Braves winning given the two possible outcomes and seeing what the difference is. In sabermetrics such "Win expectancy" or WE tables have been calculated like the one you can find here. The authors of Curveball, which I blogged about previously, also include one. Taking a look at the table you can see that in the top of the 9th inning (which would apply to the top of an extra inning as well) with the score tied, runners on 1st and 3rd with 1 out the odds of the home team (Braves) winning are .306. However, once Drew takes the sacrifice fly the odds drop to .177. That is, the odds of the Braves winning actually drop by around 13%. That's pretty significant and you would think that at least there would be some question from the announcers and postgame discussion of what would have been the proper play. However, it probably shows a bias towards thinking that your team "only" has to score one run to tie and since that happens everyday, it can't be that hard. Unfortunately for the Braves the numbers simply don't support that intuition. And so this is clearly a case where some sabermetric wisdom could have overridden the conventional wisdom.

    As far as I know the announcers on WGN did not comment on the possibility of allowing the ball to drop and I didn't see any comments from the Braves. However, I'll grant that as an outfielder it is difficult to know exactly where the ball would have dropped although in this case it appeared Drew did know. Also, I'll credit Drew with trying to catch the runner going back to first and so he certainly had a plan.

    This situation has caused a bit of discussion on the SABR list as well.

    Monday, April 12, 2004

    Get rid of Earned Runs?

    Another interesting article on Baseball Prospectus on Earned Run Average. Basically, the author argues for getting rid of the difference between earned and unearned runs and simply calling Run Average (RA). I agree that preventing unearned runs is indeed a skill in as much as good pitchers will tend to give up fewer simply because they are good pitchers and giving up unearned runs comes with the territory for some pitchers such as the knuckleballers he mentions. However, I do think that calculating ERA as it's construed is useful since some pitchers can be victimized by horrible defense. A more pressing problem I see lies with the poor scoring of errors that happens so often. I would be for making the official scorer a trained MLB representative to give some impartiality and consistency to the process.

    Sunday, April 11, 2004

    The State of the Game

    Interesting column by George Will on the state of baseball as the season begins. He also interviewed Bud Selig on This Week on Sunday morning which I also caught. In particular both in the column and in the interview Will discusses the following:

  • Steroids. Will makes the point that although the percentage of players who tested positive is 5 to 7% (BTW, where did that number come from and why don't we have the actual number?) it is unlikely that many of those who tested positive were pitchers, simply because pitchers have less to gain from bulking up. That means that over 1 in 10 position players tested positive. If Donald Fehr and the player's union doesn't think that's a problem then they're simply burying their head in the sand. Aside from the health issue, which I'm not as concerned about since these are adults after all, there is a massive violation of what as Will says "what baseball is selling - fair competition." In addition, one of the best things about baseball is the continuity that allows comparisons across generations. And although there have been discontinuities in the past - the transition to the lively ball era in the 1920s and the introduction of black and latin players in the 1950s and 60s, those changes were not the result of chemical enhancement. If baseball (and I mean primarily the players union that continues to hide behind the argument of innocent until proven guilty when the test results have already shown a level of guilt that cries out for action) doesn't address this issue through random testing with real penalties for violators, then all of the homerun records since the mid 1990s will be suspect.

    In related news last week the IRS seized the samples of Barry Bonds among others from MLB. For baseball the I hope the BALCO trial will at least be clearcut in showing that these players did or did not take steroids.

  • The Health of the Game. MLB is projecting attendance of over 73 million this year which would be a new record. Will also makes the pint that 98% of NFL fans have never been to a baseball game. I find that hard to believe but if true illustrates two truths about baseball. First, baseball is a game to be enjoyed at the ballpark and not simply or even primarily on TV. The majesty of a homerun and the speed of a line drive or a good fastball can't be adequately translated to the screen. Football to the contrary is best viewed on TV and so fans can be created purely through the spectacle of the game on TV. Secondly baseball, being a game primarily of skill and not of pure athleticism is best appreciated by those who have played it and understand how difficult it is to perform at the professional level (this is also true of golf). As more activities vie for kids time, fewer and fewer kids play baseball and therefore fewer and fewer fans are born. I'm always amazed when I talk to young boys in the neighborhood for example that have never played catch and who don't even have a glove, a situation that would have been rare to say the least a generation ago. And as mentioned previously, baseball is a game defined by its history and so a general lack of interest in history works against the game as well. For these reasons baseball is engaged in programs and giveaways to get kids to the ballpark and encourage to play the game. In my opinion, one thing they could do to prove their concern in this regard would be to pledge to start the All-Star game and World Series games either in the afternoon or at a reasonable hour so that kids would be able to actually see them.

  • Bud Selig. Will makes the contention that Selig has been baseball's greatest commissioner ("this is not a close call"). To support his argument Will notes that under Selig's leadership baseball has 1) increased the speed of games by 12 minutes, b) introduced interleague play, c) brought back the unbalanced schedule, d) realigned the divisions, e) introduced wild card teams, f) increased revenue sharing, and g) introduced the competitive balance (luxury) tax. Of course Will was appointed to a commission by Selig and so his view might be a bit biased. Most baseball analysts have a decidely negative view of Selig. I agree with all of the arguments listed by Will (although revenue sharing and the luxury tax don't go far enough), Selig's handling of the 2002 All-Star game, and the Expos and Twins situations have been shameful. In addition, the very idea of Selig, an owner to the core, being commissioner in the first place has served to remove the impartiality that should be integral to the office.

  • Thursday, April 08, 2004

    Stringer 2

    Quick report on day 2 in the life of a stringer. Unfortunately the Royals lost 6-1 to the Indians and on my birthday (and the 30th anniversary of Hank Aaron's 715th homerun) to boot. A pretty uneventful game although Jeremy Affeldt committed two balks, both of which led directly to runs. Affeldt also did not strike anyone out in 5 and 2/3 innings which, along with his only 7 strikeouts in some 25 innings in Spring Training, concerns me. Perhaps his velocity is down or his curveball is not as sharp. Could it be the half finger nail?

    As far as the scoring went, there were no difficult plays and the software worked well and so I'm confident I batted 1.000 on this one. Fellow stringer Dave sat in with me and helped out. Also a very nice and accommodating guy.

    Here's a shot of my seat in the 2nd row and the view of the field with the laptop and printer we use.

    And here's another of the press box as a whole about an hour and a half before the game. It does fill up a bit although the crowd was only 14,167 today.

    I won't be scoring again until late April.

    Wednesday, April 07, 2004

    Stringer Day 1

    Today I worked my first game as a "stringer" for scoring the 4-3 White Sox win over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium. Here's a quick rundown of the day:

    11:15AM Arrive at the ballpark. Enter the Royals offices and ask for my press box credential. The credential is not at the desk and so I'm directed upstairs to see Chris.
    11:20AM I find Chris on the 4th floor who very nicely makes me out a temporary credential for today and tomorrow. She then leads me to the press box and we try and find the laptop. Lora, our normal PR contact is not available.
    11:30AM Chris finds the laptop at station 28 in the 2nd row of the press box. I unpack the laptop and printer and find everything as it should be. A new IBM thinkpad with Windows XP and HP deskjet printer. I find that my seat in the 2nd row is somewhat obstructed making it difficult to see centerfield. Nice view of the monitor, however, which helps in entering pitch location.
    11:45AM After setting up the laptop I see others in the press box with game notes and other material. After wandering a bit and finally asking I find the notes up at the reception desk on the 4th floor
    11:55AM I dial in and contact support. Hank is assigned to my game and I load the client application to start checking the rosters. Hank works with me to make sure that the game file has Desi Relaford on the DL and I enter the lineups, weather, umpires, official scorer, and stringers.
    12:15PM Everything is good to go and I grab a soda from the fountain and take in the atmosphere, which by the way, is a tad chilly. The windows in the press box are not open and the AC is running. Luckily I brought a pullover being forewarned by my compatriot Scott.
    12:30PM Scott arrives and will be looking over my shoulder and helping me out. Great guy who's been doing this job in various forms for 6 years and is the editor of Golf Course Management in Lawrence. He made sure I got things right and was very helpful for this rookie.
    12:50PM Pitchers are warming up so its time to get going. Sitting next to me is the beat writer for the Sox for Very nice guy who had to catch a plane to New York at 6:35. During the early parts of the game it seemed he wouldn't make it but I'm sure he got on time as the game picked up speed after the 5th inning or so.
    1:09PM First pitch and I'm off and running
    1:09-4:14PM I score the game and although entered all the play codes correctly I had three instances where I entered a pitch incorrectly. Two of them were easy to fix simply changing a ball to strike or vice versa but the third affected the pitch count causing the deletion of a pitch. All fixes were handled after the game with the help of Scott and Hank. I also found out this evening that I did not code the trajectories for the three homeruns hit by the White Sox. Hoping for closer to perfection tomorrow. The game certainly flew by and although there weren't any strange plays or too many substitutions I was quite busy. The most interesting at bat of the game was certainly Frank Thomas' 17 pitch at bat in the first inning which contained 13 foul balls, 12 in a row! In all Big Frank fouled off 17 pitches in his various at bats today. Aaron Guiel also threw out two runners at second base, one on a barehanded pickup and the other when Carlos Lee apparently thought he was Carl Lewis.
    4:15 - 5:30PM After the game Scott led me through the postgame paperwork which consisted of printing various boxscore and stats reports, copying them and handing them out to the folks in the press box, faxing info to Elias Sports, and calling to follow up. The official scorer Del also checked our boxscore with his and gave the OK.
    5:30PM On the way out of the stadium Tony Pena and Rich Thompson shared an elevator with Scott and myself. Thompson had pinch run in the 8th in his major league debut and Tony was giving him some pointers on the situation.

    All in all a very nice day that seemed to fly by. Looking forward to doing it again tomorrow.

    Saturday, April 03, 2004

    Macha, Ellis, and Idols of the Cave

    Recently, I received copies of two articles/speeches given by Paul DePodesta the new GM of the Los Angeles Dodgers who formerly worked for Billy Beane in Oakland and Jim Hart in Cleveland. DePodesta was profiled a bit in MoneyBall which raised the level of interest in the sabermetric techniques employed by Beane et. al. In these two articles, the passage I found most interesting was an anecdote about A's manager Ken Macha and second baseman Mark Ellis. In full the passage is:

    "Our manager now, Ken Macha, loves our second baseman Mark Ellis. Mark Ellis is a good player, he plays hard, and he plays every day. But he didn't have a very good offensive year this year, yet Ken Macha kept putting him in the lineup every day. It even got to the point late in the year where he started hitting him leadoff. We finally went to Ken and said, 'We like Ellis too, but he probably doesn't need to be hitting leadoff, and getting all these at-bats.' And his comment to us was, 'Ellis is a clutch hitter.'

    I thought, 'OK, clutch is one of those subjective terms I'm not wild about,' so I went back and I looked at the numbers, and at that time during the year Ellis was hitting about .163 with runners in scoring position and two outs, which I think is a clutch situation. But I didn't say anything, we kept it under wraps. When we were getting close to the playoffs, though, we began talking about the way the lineup should work against the Red Sox, and at one point Macha was talking about putting Ellis leadoff. Finally Billy Beane, our General Manager, just couldn't take it any more, and he said, 'Ellis is hitting .163 with runners in scoring position and two outs. He's not clutch.' And immediately, Macha said, 'But he hit that game-winning home run off of Jason Johnson.'

    'OK, that's right, but if you want to play that game I'm going to come up with a lot more instances where he failed than instances you're going to come up in which he succeeded.'"

    I love this story because it shows is two biases (idols of the cave as Bacon called them) in human thinking that cause us to make poor decisions - looking for only those examples that reinforce our preconceived opinion (affirmation bias as DePodesta puts it) and the related inability to deal with large sample sizes only through observation. Macha thought that Ellis was a clutch hitter because he let the one affirming example he could think of color his positive perception of Ellis (which was likely formed based on other traits like his hustle and "grit") and was unable to accurately gauge Ellis' performance over his hundreds of at bats even though he likely observed each one.

    It should be noted, however, that sabermetric wisdom dictates that many of the splits commonly tracked including clutch situations like 2 outs and runners in scoring position suffer from small sample sizes and so many question whether there is any clutch hitting ability at all. As I blogged about previously, the authors of Curveball found that there is some evidence that clutch hitting ability exists but it is fairly weak. And so one could argue that Macha may have it correct after all but that the sample size hasn't yet shown it. Hitting Ellis, the former Royal prospect, leadoff is more problematic because of his .313 OBP in 2003. He had a respectable .359 OBP in 2002 but alas we won't see whether he will improve this season since he will be sidelined all year with an injury.

    This further highlights the need in baseball as in other disciplines to quantify observations and perform analysis absent subjective perceptions.