Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Madder Than a Wet Hen

Is It Just Me?

Take a look at this video I came across. It is very short (just 1:09)...

There's a Latin expression they teach in law school: res ipsa loquitur. Loosely translated, it means "the thing speaks for itself." I think that is certainly the case here.

I will be blunt: The principal of this school should be fired. The teacher in whose classroom this outrage took place should be fired. The police officer who carried out the act should be fired. I will leave the matter of whether civil and/or criminal charges should be filed to others. But those three people should be out of work as of today. Period.

After 30 years in the education business, I wish I could say I'm shocked that such things take place in our schools. I really do wish I could say that. But I can't.

Really, Mom? Seriously?

Mother Nature is at it again today...

The view from my patio, 10:30 AM CST.

WAR! Good God, Y'all!

Unlike Edwin Starr, I'm not talking about this kind of war. I'm talking about Wins Above Replacement, a fairly new and trendy way of comparing the relative merits of different major league baseball players.

Although you will hear defenders of the various WAR methodologies repeat the mantra that WAR is not supposed to be the only or even the primary way we assess the value of players, in fact almost since its inception that is precisely how the stat has been used: As the ace of trump in discussions of player-vs-player value.

Here's a typical instance of the kind of nonsense that WAR analysis tends to produce. As I write this, these are the stat lines of two fine National League pitchers:
  • Zack Greinke     10-2     1.41 ERA     128/25 K/BB     0.83 WHIP
  • Gerrit Cole         14-5      2.29 ERA     138/29 K/BB     1.10 WHIP
Both pitchers have made 21 starts, with Greinke pitching 9 more innings so far than Cole. Obviously, they're both extremely valuable starting pitchers. But, according to the WAR formula being used by ESPN, Greinke is more than twice as valuable as Cole (6.6 WAR for Greinke versus 3.1 WAR for Cole). That, to put it bluntly, is nucking futs, and any baseball fan who believes in a mathematical formula that would produce such an absurd outcome is a nitwit.

You get the same kind of silliness when it comes to hitters, too. According to the ESPN formula, Lorenzo Cain (.314/.371/.503, 11 HR, 46 RBI) is nearly as valuable (5.8 WAR) as reigning American League MVP Mike Trout (.310/.400/.624, 32 HR, 68 RBI, 6.8 WAR). Now, I love Lorenzo, and I hope he finishes high in the MVP voting this year. He richly deserved his All-Star starting selection, too. But Mike Trout is the next Mickey Mantle, for God's sake! Any statistical measure that does not make this plain is, to put it bluntly...well, I already did that up above...

My guru when it comes to baseball stat analysis is Bill James. When I first encountered his writing, in the spring of 1982, I was living in Topeka, Kansas, about 40 miles away from Bill's home in Winchester. It helped that he was a Royals fan, as I was. But someone who wrote so incisively (and well) about baseball would have won me over regardless.

There are very few books which I can truly say "changed my life." This is one of them. I never thought about baseball the same way after my first encounter with Bill's work.

I never thought about writing analytical essays or making and defending arguments the same way, either. Bill has a genius's gift for that sort of thing. If I were teaching a college course on argumentation, I would use Bill's Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame? as a textbook.

I devoured each season's Baseball Abstract as soon as it hit the bookstores every spring. The 1988 Abstract was the last one in the series, but I have enjoyed Bill's other writings on baseball in the years since. It is not an exaggeration to say that Bill has changed the way everyone looks at baseball, even if they've never heard of him.

Obviously, then, before I could accept WAR, I wanted to know what Bill thought of it. Turns out he spotted the same flaws that had bothered me from the beginning. Here's what he had to say in an interview last season about the various competing WAR measurements:
But sometime in the last year I was doing some research that relied on these WAR systems, so I took a look at them, and … they’re not very impressive. They’re not well thought through; they haven’t made a convincing effort to address many of the inherent difficulties that the undertaking presents. They tend to get so far into the data, throw up their arms and make a wild guess.
As you can imagine, I'm not inclined to consider any metric that involves making "wild guesses" as being in any way dispositive on the relative merits of baseball players. WAR certainly has its boosters, but I'm happy to debate them on the merits of the issue any place, any time...

Me, In My Dotage

If you need help decoding this joke, go here.

"Folks, I've known him for 16 years, and he has always been a grumpy old man."

A grumpy old man who still knows how to shoot, so watch yourself...

The Law of Unintended Consequences

I don't really need more reasons to be skeptical of self-driving automobiles, but in case you do...

From Randall Munroe's marvelous xckd webcomic, which you should read every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Until Next Time...

Given the heading for the baseball item above, today's send-off shouldn't really come as a surprise. An absolutely iconic bit of soul music that was released on June 10, 1970, just after my junior year of high school had ended, "War" hit No. 1 on the Billboard Charts for their August 29 issue, and remained No. 1 for two more weeks. It ended the year as the No. 5 single for 1970, outselling hits like The Beatles "Let It Be" and The Jackson 5's "ABC" and "I'll Be There."

President Nixon had already begun massive troop withdrawals from Vietnam by 1970, but the war continued to dominate the political and cultural landscape. People of my generation have an entirely different association with this song than younger people do. Unlike them, we don't find the Jackie Chan/Chris Tucker version especially funny.

Enjoy...and remember...

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