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Saturday, September 24, 2011

A's Moneyball followup

As an addendum to Friday's post, I found an exchange on SABR-L, from December 9, 1998. I don't know that I can quote the person I was debating, but my words should be fair game for quotation here. I had contended that "Small-market teams have won recently, and have a chance to win in the future." More specifically, I suggested that the A's would be competing for a World Series appearance by 2001.**

A skeptic in turn pointed out that the A's of 1998 had a terrible third baseman and bullpen, plus no starting pitching or right-handed power-hitting.

My response:
First, I said they'd be competitive for a playoff spot, not a sure Series winner. Second, the A's have one of baseball's top prospects at 3B in Eric Chavez. My prediction was based, in part, on the A's willingness to reward OBA in their minor leagues (this *will* pay off as it did for the Yankees in the past half-decade). RH power hitters are easy to come by for 1b/dh/lf. How much would Billy Ashley cost right now? How much was Bubba Trammell worth last year at this time? Hinch, Tejada, Grieve et al provide a great young nucleus. Pitching? You don't like Witasick (3/1 k/bb ratio in PCL with a sub 4 ERA in 1998)? I agree they need to develop some talent--but who predicted Glavine/Smoltz in 1990? Saberhagen/Gubicza/Jackson in 1983? A 2001 World Series rotation might include someone currently in college--or even high school. What if the A's offered Stairs and Rogers for Clemens? Bullpen holes are among the easiest to fill since there are plenty of hard throwers out there that find their control or develop new off-speed pitches every season.
The 2001 A's won 102 games and made the playoffs as the Wild Card (Seattle won 116 games!). Eric Chavez was the starting 3B and he hit and fielded like an MVP candidate. The rotation was led by Tim Hudson (2nd year pitcher from Auburn; a member of '97 draft class), Mark Mulder (2nd year pitcher obtained in trade, but drafted in '98 from Michigan State), and Barry Zito (2nd year pitcher drafted from UCSB in '99). Right-handed Jermaine Dye slugged almost .550 for Oakland after coming over in a mid-year trade for trinkets and beads (KC got Neifi Perez, but it was a three-way deal with the Colorado Rockies). RH Olmaedo Sáenz also had 30+ extra base hits in a limited role as a corner infielder. The A's bullpen featured a lot of no-name relievers in their late 20s and early 30s who limited walks, got strikeouts and performed perfectly well. Their closer was Jason Isringhausen who did a fine job and had been obtained by the A's in a trade for an older reliever -- Billy Taylor.

I'm not claiming any sort of clairvoyance here -- I think this set of predictions were all made conceivable by the work of Bill James and those who followed him.

** In fairness, I also mistakenly predicted a Pirates resurgence.

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Friday, September 23, 2011

Me and Brad Pitt: ? degrees of separation

Today, the "Moneyball" film is being released nationally, starring Brad Pitt (longtime blog favorite Angelina Jolie's spouse) as Oakland A's GM Billy Beane. I read and enjoyed Michael Lewis's book of the same name many years ago.

A lot of people in baseball directly or indirectly contributed to this moment. When Michael Lewis wrote this book, he consulted then-ESPN baseball columnist Rob Neyer, who used to work for Bill James. I don't know if Lewis was reading the usenet group (or some similar discussion forums), but there was some great stuff being posted there by people who created and operated Baseball Prospectus. Many SABR members were also involved in these discussions. Here's my contribution to a KC Royals discussion, September 11, 1996. Readers might note that the on-line baseball community was giving a lot of attention to on-base percentage and runs scored in 1996. That's because we all read Bill James in the 1980s.

Anyway, in April 2000, inspired by what I was reading in those on-line forums and in some related books, I gave a talk for the Louisville SABR group called "Can Small Market Teams Compete?" I've archived a scan of my presentation on Google Docs, complete with my pre-powerpoint handouts about the size of American cities (census data), the Forbes magazine 1999 list of team values, team payrolls from USA Today, etc.

I thought it was a good talk, though some members of the audience were fairly skeptical about my conclusions. For those who don't want to look at the scans, here's an October 5, 2000, post I contributed to STATLG-L, a baseball discussion list that I used to frequent:
Subject: small market teams
From: Rodger A. Payne
Reply-To: Baseball (and Lesser Sports) Discussion List
Date: Thu, 5 Oct 2000 12:41:08 -0400

At a SABR Regional meeting in Louisville earlier this year (April, iirc),
I presented "Can Small Market Teams Compete?"

I'm a KC fan and have a personal interest in this question for obvious
reasons. However, the team I used as my case study was Oakland.

Much of my presentation was about team finances and population. Teams like
Philly and the Chisox are in big media centers, but media often seem to
consider them to be "small" (and some smaller city teams are considered
"big"). It's interesting stuff, but I'm leaving it out of this post.

Instead, I'm posting about the last portion of my presentation, which was
devoted to strategies that small market teams could use to build discount
winners in today's context. Then, I pointed out that the A's employ
virtually all of them. Here are the 3 most important:

1. Build on youth.

First, teams can set very low salaries until players are arbitration-
eligible, and even then pay below free agent prices for players. This
means, in practice, that most players work on-the-cheap for 3 years and at
well below market for the next 4 years (if they decline arbitration in the
last year, they are on the road to free agency).

Further, data on performance indicates that players tend to reach a high
level of play in this discount period (some research shows that most
players are fully developed around ages 24-25, though the data is better
for hitters), often peak around 27, and decline from age 30 onward--when
free agent market conditions are often determining salaries.

The Indians developed an innovation now sometimes copied by other teams:
offering certain players multiple year contracts to "buy out" years of
arbitration (or even a year or 2 of free agency). With strong choices,
this can really save money and buy good will with a player who might
otherwise get a very low salary in years 2-3 of his major league career.

The A's, as was noted yesterday, take much advantage of this with Chavez,
Tejada, Hudson, etc. Next season, look for Jose Ortiz (a middle
infielder), Eric Byrnes (OF), and Adam Piatt (corner infielder) to play
important roles on the A's--replacing perhaps higher-priced Velarde,
Stairs and Jaha (the A's probably screwed up in resigning Velarde and Jaha
last season).

2. Use "Ken Phelps All Stars" to plug holes.

The minor leagues are filled with veteran baseball players that could be
obtained easily (as minor league free agents or in "minor" trades) and
quite cheaply. Triple A rosters, in particular, are now littered with
these guys (often "failed" prospects). Just look around the AAA rosters
the past few seasons. These players are generally not arbitration eligible
and can be paid peanuts for several years, which is usually during their
peak/pre-decline age 28-30 seasons.

Moreover, many of these veterans are quite capable of playing important
roles on major league teams. The key issue is whether teams will give them
a chance. It might be difficult to find an All Star hitter, or a very
talented SS, CF, or C, but talented LF, 1B, DH, pitchers and probably some
2Bs are readily available. Think Brian Daubach--not a star, by any means,
but quite capable of putting up an .800 OPS and contributing to a winning
team (if not asked to carry too much of the load). Daubach actually had
putrid numbers against LHPers this year (657 OPS in 110 PAs), but fits the
bill versus righties: 794. He was better in 1999 (943 vs. RHPers, when he
got only 50 PAs vs. LHPers). Dave McCarty would be another example.

The A's have been quite good at acquiring and using these players:
Geronimo Berroa, Matt Stairs, Olmedo Saenz, Sal Fasano, Gil Heredia
(arguably) and perhaps Jeff Tam fall into this category. Jeremy Giambi
may as well.

3. Value walks.

I think a good argument can be made that major league teams dramatically
undervalue on-base skills. Players who walk a lot don't seem to reach the
majors in proportion to their real value. I'm not confident that there's
systematic study of this (yet), but it seems apparent to me. The cliche
repeated about players from the Dominican Republic is that "you don't walk
off the island." Similarly, players seldom "walk" their way through the
minors to the majors.

Yet, walking is a vital part of OPS. Players who walk more than other
players contribute a great deal to scoring runs. That's a huge positive
and some teams obviously don't get it. Sadly, KC is one of those teams.

The A's, however, are well known for appreciating the base-on-balls. The
major league team has been near the top for a couple of years now, GM
Billy Beane has said in interviews that the organization looks for players
that walk, and their minor league affiliates from top to bottom are at or
near the top of their leagues in walking/OBA. I used numbers from 1998-99
in my presentation to demonstrate this point. These walking teams are also
very good at scoring runs.


Teams should, of course, combine these strategies. Since KPAS are mostly
1B/LF/DH-types, it makes sense to focus scouting and other resources on
developing SS/C/CF/3B. KC, of course, has mostly failed at this, while
Oakland has Tejada, Hernandez, T. Long and Chavez. NYY has Jeter, Posada,
Williams and soon Soriano/Jimenez.

This would also mean getting KPAS who know the strike zone. Detroit should
be rewarded for finally giving Billy McMillon a chance. The IL walk
leaders this season included Ozzie Timmons (TB), McMillon, and Morgan
Burkhart (Bos). Three of the top 8 in the PCL were A's players (Mark
Bellhorn, Bo Porter and Steve Decker), but the list also included Mike
Neill and Brian Lesher--potential KPAS hitters. It's interesting to me to
see former KC non-walking prospect Phil Hiatt just barely in the top 20.

Well, this is pretty long so I should stop. Comments would be appreciated.
I'm also interested in how few walks a team surrenders to its opposition
(I think pitchers with great control are often undervalued) and potential
gains from developing talent with an inflated value and trading it for
players of *real* value. Swap that stolen base king or proven closer for
someone who can really help a team win.
One point that I didn't discuss, and neither did Michael Lewis, is the use of steroids. Those Oakland teams a decade ago featured Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada. That's two MVPs linked to steroids -- and that's not even counting prototypical moneyball players like late-career David Justice and Jeremy Giambi.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Upcoming: Paper for Millennium conference at LSE

Photo credit = leelver

Next month, I'll be heading to London to present a paper at the Millennium: Journal of International Studies annual conference featuring this theme: "Out Of The Ivory Tower: Weaving the Theories and Practice of International Relations."

Here's the abstract I submitted for my paper, “Cooperative Security: Grand Strategy meets Critical Theory?”
Major powers are frequently urged to embrace grand strategies tied to particular international relations theories. In the case of United States foreign policy, scholars usually analyze a well-known set of strategic choices -- primacy, selective engagement, off-shore balancing, collective security, and cooperative security. These grand strategy choices have typically been favored by relatively mainstream realist, neorealist, liberal and neoliberal thinkers in IR. This paper explores the evolution of cooperative security from its clear ties to liberal and neoliberal international relations theory to its current understanding in world politics, which is surprisingly consistent with critical IR theory. Cooperative security no longer merely implies multilateralism, negotiation, and arms control. Rather, security is now more frequently described as indivisible and genuine cooperation requires shared decision-making and consensual practices. Even nongovernmental organizations are increasingly granted a voice in security discussions. While weapons and warfare remain very important security concerns, the cooperative security agenda today includes ideas associated with human security. This has meaning for the unit of analysis (both the actor providing security and the actor being secured) and for the breadth of the security agenda, which currently seems to include poverty, environmental calamity, global inequality, and hunger. In all, the evolving notion of cooperative security offers a potential promising pathway towards achieving the emancipatory ideals associated with critical IR theory.
The conference is the weekend of 22-23 October, but I'm going to be in the area Monday through Friday, 17-21 October, as well and am still looking for academic opportunities.

I'll be searching for pints of well-hopped bitters too.

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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Is LEED misleading?

Center for Predictive Medicine dedicated

Photo credit = University of Louisville.
Pictured: Center for Predictive Medicine, LEED building

The September/October 2011 Mother Jones has a short article challenging the notion that LEED-certified buildings use less energy. University of Louisville, along with many other institutions, have embraced Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification from the US Green Building Council as a key means by which to achieve sustainability in their operation practices. If LEED is a fraud, then that's a huge story.

You can get electronic access to the MJ piece by providing your email address, but here's a key excerpt for those who want to be saved the trouble:

According to 2008 study commissioned by USGBC, LEED buildings are 25 to 30% more energy-efficient than conventional ones. But when Gifford looked at the study, he found that it had compared the meaning of one group of buildings to the median of another-what seemed to him a classic apples-to-oranges mistake. He got some of the data and calculated that LEED buildings actually used 29% more energy. “Going to so much trouble and expense to end up with buildings that use more energy than comparable buildings is not only a tragedy, it is also a fraud,” he wrote in a trade magazine. The USGBC stood by its numbers.
Henry Gifford is identified in the piece as a NY energy efficiency consultant.

An Oberlin College physicist, John Scofield, is also quoted in the article -- and he does not think much of LEED certification either: "This is like requiring people to wear copper bracelets for arthritis!" Another blogger, Erich Vieth, has poked around at Scofield's website and helpfully provides a link to the academic work by Scofield backing this claim.

When I return to the Sustainability Council after my sabbatical, I'll be asking about this.

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Election 2012: Early Analysis

Photo source =

Today, I've been participating in a discussion at Outside the Beltway about Barack Obama's reelection prospects in 2012. It is still very early in the election cycle and much can change before next November.

One basic fact stands out, however, regardless of polling showing the incumbent President's vulnerability in specific states he won in 2008. Obama can win reelection in 2012 merely with the Kerry states plus Florida. That means (a) the incumbent can lose Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, New Mexico, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, and Omaha; and (b) Republicans could be in big trouble regardless of the economy if they select a candidate who tells Florida’s retirees that their Social Security benefit is built on an unconstitutional ponzi scheme.

If the Republican’s spend most of the next year talking about the deficit (and more tax cuts), then it’s pretty easy to imagine that Social Security would seem vulnerable under their leadership -- regardless of candidate. Everyone recalls the first major policy initiative Bush pursued after his 2004 victory, right?

Despite the concessions I make above, there are long-term demographic issues working against Republicans in Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico.

Finally, it must be noted that campaign Obama proved a lot more effective at his job than governing Obama has. Think of the jobs bill (and related tax cuts/increases) as part of the campaign instead of as a meaningful policy initiative that is likely to gain traction in the current Congress. That perspective reveals it to be an essentially populist proposal aimed at attracting swing voters — especially when pitched directly against specific Republican counter-proposals in a two-way race, namely, additional corporate tax cuts and deregulation.

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Friday, September 09, 2011

Unanswered Questions about Saudi links to 9/11

Photo credit = secret1me's

So, here we are a decade after the 9/11 attacks and many long-time mysteries of the early Bush "war on terror" years have been solved -- Osama bin Laden was located in Pakistan and killed; Scooter Libby of Vice President Dick Cheney's office leaked covert CIA agent Valerie Plame's name to Robert Novak to bolster the dubious case for war on Iraq; and the anthrax terrorist was identified by the FBI after he committed suicide. Bruce Ivins was a Army-employed microbiologist.

Not every loose end has been tied together, of course. For example, we still don't know very much about alleged Saudi connections to the 9/11 hijacking plot.

As long-time readers may recall, neither congressional investigators nor the 9/11 Commission were completely forthcoming about this topic. From Salon, two days ago:
What's in the famously redacted 28 pages?

A joint inquiry of the House and Senate intelligence committees produced an 800-plus page report on activity of the intelligence community in connection with the 9/11 attacks, completed in December 2002. But 28 pages were redacted in the public version, all in the section titled "Finding, Discussion and Narrative Regarding Certain Sensitive National Security Matters." It has been widely reported that those pages -- which neither the Bush nor Obama administration have declassified -- deal with links between 9/11 hijackers and Saudi government officials. Newsweek, for example, reported that the section "draws apparent connections between high-level Saudi princes and associates of the hijackers."

As long as those pages remain classified, though, it's impossible to assess the nature of those connections.
I'm no "Truther," but as this story from McClatchy on September 7 reports, there are still puzzling mysteries concerning the alleged Saudi connection to the hijackers:
Just two weeks before the 9/11 hijackers slammed into the Pentagon and World Trade Center, members of a Saudi family abruptly vacated their luxury home near Sarasota, Fla., leaving a brand new car in the driveway, a refrigerator full of food, fruit on the counter — and an open safe in a master bedroom.

In the weeks to follow, law enforcement agents not only discovered the home was visited by vehicles used by the hijackers, but also phone calls were linked between the home and those who carried out the death flights — including leader Mohamed Atta — in discoveries never before revealed to the public.
Local counterterrorism officials describe a scene that sounds like it came from a movie you've already watched:
"The beds were made ... fruit on the counter ... the refrigerator full of food. ... It was like they went grocery shopping. Like they went out to a movie. ... (But) the safe was open in the master bedroom, with nothing in it, not a paper clip. ... A computer was still there. A computer plug in another room, and the line still there. Looked like they'd taken (another) computer and left the cord."
The story quotes former Florida Senator (and former Select Intelligence committee member) Bob Graham saying that this news "opens the door to a new chapter of investigation as to the depth of the Saudi role in 9/11. ... No information relative to the named people in Sarasota was disclosed."

Graham has raised similar concerns for years. Until more is revealed about what the US knows of the Saudi role in the 9/11 attacks, people are going to keep asking these sorts of questions. Some will be formulating troubling conspiracy theories.

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Sunday, September 04, 2011

Palin in Iowa

September 18 2008 1180
Photo credit: Dave Davidson (2008 campaign)

Who writes Sarah Palin's speeches? Saturday, in Iowa, she spoke out against crony capitalism:
Sarah Palin did not say whether she would seek the Republican presidential nomination, a 40-minute speech before a Tea Party rally here, which was one of her most expansive addresses since she accepted the Republican vice presidential nomination three years ago, she railed against “crony capitalism” in both parties.

“I want all of our GOP candidates to take the opportunity to kill corporate capitalism that is leading to this cronyism that is killing our economy,” Ms. Palin said.
Does she understand the meaning of "crony capitalism"? From Investopedia:
What Does Crony Capitalism Mean?

A description of capitalist society as being based on the close relationships between businessmen and the state. Instead of success being determined by a free market and the rule of law, the success of a business is dependent on the favoritism that is shown to it by the ruling government in the form of tax breaks, government grants and other incentives.
In Iowa Saturday:
[Palin] outlined economic proposals for creating jobs, including the elimination of all federal corporate income taxes. She said the cozy relationship between political contributions and government favors needed to be exposed and eliminated.
And as a reminder, consider Sarah Palin's multi-million dollar job working for Rupert Murdoch at Fox News. From The Nation's Eric Alterman in the September 5 edition:
One key factor must always be kept in mind when discussing Rupert Murdoch: he has a lot of money ($7.6 billion, according to Forbes) and makes even more for other people. Between 1977 and 2001, News Corporation outearned every other blue-chip company save Berkshire Hathaway and Walmart. And while money might not buy you love in America, it does buy a great deal of special favors and improper indulgences from powerful people.

Being a billionaire media mogul is even more fun when it comes to politics. Not only do politicians need your cash; they need your newspapers, magazines and TV networks too. It is this unholy nexus that Murdoch has mastered...

Murdoch regularly uses book deals, television contracts and columnist gigs as bribes to the powerful, just as he uses these same properties to punish those who refuse to go along. Don’t forget that until recently, Murdoch had four potential Republican presidential candidates on the Fox payroll. One of them—Sarah Palin—even got a state-of-the-art studio built in her home, gratis. And each of these powerful people has a pretty strong incentive to look the other way every time one of Murdoch’s properties or employees feels it necessary to break a law here or there in the service of the great man’s power, profits and influence.
Either Sarah Palin is a brilliant ironist, or she represents the dénouement of a horrifying Orwellian nightmare.

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