Saturday, September 19, 2009

Team of the Decade(s)

Well, with the 2009 baseball season nearing an end, pundits everywhere are proposing their "Team of the Decade". So here's mine:

C: Jorge Posada
1B: Todd Helton
2B: Jeff Kent
3B: Chipper Jones
SS: Derek Jeter
OF: Barry Bonds, Manny Ramirez, Vlad Guerrero
DH: David Ortiz
SP: Roy Halladay, Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, Johan Santana
RP: Mariano Rivera, Joe Nathan

Before the bickering starts over who should be on the team instead, let me say that I computed these players. I went over to FanGraphs and grabbed the wRAA (Runs Above Average) for batters and WPA/LI (Situational Wins) for pitchers (see FanGraphs for more info). I chose those because:
  1. I wanted something I could quantify for each year
  2. I wanted a counting stat (like HR) not a rate stat (like AVG) so it would measure overall impact and not require a threshold like the best player with 2000+ at bats.
  3. I wanted it to be a comparison of above average performance to measure the stellar nature, not just their usefulness.
  4. And, as you'll see later, I wanted it to span quite a number of years, so I could look back at previous decades.
The downsides of these stats are:
  1. They don't count fielding prowess.
  2. They only go back to 1974.
So, the kicker in this was I didn't just calculate the best players of the 2000's, or just the best players of the 80's and 90's. I calculated the best players of every decade. In other words, I can show you who the best first baseman in the 10-year-span of 1992-2001 (hint: it's not the 1B of the 90's: Frank Thomas).

And here are the pitchers:

First, a few notes:
  • The year on the left represents the first year of the decade in which these players were the best. For example, Gooden was the best pitcher in the 1978-1987 decade.
  • From 2001 on, the player listed represents the best performance from that year to the present day. For example, Lincecum was the best pitcher from 2008 to present.
  • I chose to list the outfielders as the top 3 instead of listing LF, CF, and RF individually for this chart, as I felt that was more representative. I computed both, and as a point of comparison, in that version Manny Ramirez only showed up in 2003, 2004, and 2008, simply because he was competing with Bonds and Holliday for best left fielder.
  • For the pitchers graph, I listed the top starter, then expanded it to the top 5. These top 5 aren't in order of 1-5, but are grouped so as to show each pitcher's range of dominance. I did the same with relievers (showing the best, then the top 2).
  • Because it was impossible to keep pitchers in the same column, I color-coded all the pitchers that had multiple stints in the top 5, so as to make it easier to find them. For example, Mike Mussina is one of the top 5 in the decades starting in 1988, 1992, 1994, and 1998.
Now for the interesting tidbits:
  • I was so struck by the occurrence of hall-of-famers that I shaded all of them orange. Understandably, there aren't many who played their best ball in decades starting in the 90s, as most likely they're not even eligible for the Hall yet. But there is a WHOLE LOT of orange in the top of the graph. Which makes players like Evans and Raines stand out all that more. (What happened to the outfielders in the late 80s / early 90s? There's Henderson and Puckett, and that's it. Hello! Anyone out there?)
  • The only two hall-of-famers covered by this era that didn't make the chart are Tony Gwynn and Ozzie Smith. Gwynn had three decade entries as the top right fielder (85-87), but was effectively outdone by a second left fielder named Rickey Henderson. Ozzie Smith didn't make it at all... in fact, he never finished higher than 4th in any decade, behind Cal, Barry Larkin, and Alan Trammell. Of course, as mentioned above, this stat doesn't count fielding, which is what makes the Wizard so dominant of a shortstop.
  • In a similar fashion, looking down the list on both sides, it's easy to pick out the future hall of famers (steroids scandals not-withstanding): Piazza, Thomas, Kent, Chipper, A. Rod, Bonds, Manny, Clemens, Maddux, Pedro, Rivera, etc.
  • The vast ranges of dominance stood out to me, too. Bonds, Manny, Chipper, Boggs, Henderson, Murray, A Rod (at 2 positions), Clemens, Johnson, Schilling, Maddux, Pedro, and Rivera(!) all had such a longevity of being at the top of their game.
  • One interesting side-effect of this is that a player's decade of dominance can start even before they started playing. Cal Ripken was the best shortstop in the 1979-1988 decade, though he didn't start playing until 1981. Gooden and Clemens each pitched their first Major League game in 1984, yet they were the best starter in the decades starting 1978-1983.
  • I wonder if the most common Jim Rice argument (a decade+ of dominance) will translate to other borderline players, such as Blyleven: the best pitcher from 1977-1986.
Some unsung heroes:
SP: Saberhagen, Stieb, Cone, Kevin Brown, Halladay, Oswalt
RP: Henke, Foulke (remember how dominant he was)
C: Tettleton?!
IF: Bagwell, Biggio, Larkin
OF: Dwight Evans, Raines, Larry Walker, Matt Holliday, Adam Dunn

This was a lot of fun for me to do (yes, you should know by now I'm weird). Now, the next time someone argues that Beltran is the CF of the 2000's, I can say that if it were 2001-2009, I'd agree, but 2000 puts Jim Edmonds over the top.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Indy or Junior?

Near the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indy faces three obstacles to get to the Holy Grail. The second one is "The Word of God", which turns out to be directions to step on specially marked out stones to spell out Jehovah. Step on the wrong one (In Latin, Jehovah begins with an 'I'!), and you plunge to your death.

This week God showed me this is how I believe I should follow Him. I should carefully analyze all the clues that I get. Then slowly, carefully, I step in exactly the right place. I must be perfect, or else I will step outside of God's will and plunge to my doom (of failure, embarrassment, or the Father's disappointment).
But Jesus called the children to him and said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."
-- Luke 18:16-17
How do little children follow someone? How do they greet someone? How do they approach someone unhindered? Not with cautious and sequenced steps. No, they come like my 2-year-old comes to me. She runs full speed and doesn't slow until she slams into me. At her height, this poses some danger to me, but it's still a joy to be greeted with such unbridled excitement.

I know now I should come to God in the same manner. When I see where He is and where He's working, I should run headlong to Him. No pauses. No hesitations. Just do my best to barrel him over. And do you know what the amazing part of this whole thing is? The stones hiding the trap still exist, but my God knows me so well--how I run and exactly where I will step--that if I sprint to Him, my footfalls will land on solid ground with each and every step.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Sin Stats

Wired Magazine has a fascinating article called American Vice: Mapping the 7 Deadly Sins. While the theologian in me wants to point out that all sin leads to death apart from the saving blood of Christ, and the statistician in me finds the graphs engrossing, the writer in me is drawn to comment on the choice of the statistic and how accurate it might be to measure the sin.

Greed : Average income compared with number of people living below the poverty line.

So, this is measuring the distribution of wealth; i.e., where the rich are ultra-rich and the poor are many. That's not too bad of a measurement, but I wonder how often it is simply measuring the wealthy areas of the country. Plus, money does not equal greed necessarily, but maybe having money without generously giving it away (locally?) does equal greed.

Envy : Total thefts (robbery, burglary, larceny, and grand theft auto) per capita.

It's a clever idea, trying to say that merchandise is stolen based on the desire to have what your neighbor possesses. I don't believe most thefts are for the desire of the object, though.

Wrath : Number of violent crimes (murder, assault, and rape) per capita.

Not bad, though I'd add road rage to the list.

Sloth : Expenditures on art, entertainment, and recreation compared with employment.

What a clever way to measure sloth. Ideally it would measure employment hours and not percent of population employed, but I like the idea of comparing the amount of productivity to the amount of leisure.

Gluttony : Number of fast-food restaurants per capita.

Well, excluding C.S. Lewis's brilliant clarification of gluttony to mean more than eating excess food. Still, what greater symbol of gluttony is there than the hall of Super-Size?

Lust : Number of STD cases reported per capita.

I see what they're trying here. STD cases vary directly with the amount of sex being had (outside of lifelong monogamous relationships), and the amount of sex varies directly with the amount of lust. I think this fails, though, because STD cases also vary with the level of information the society has (to know to use protection), and of course lust has many other expressions than sex. I would think the amount of pornography viewed (if they had such a statistic) would be much more accurate.

Pride : Aggregate of the other six offenses—because pride is the root of all sin.

True. Putting your own desires first, above others and especially above God, is the only way to sin. It falls short, though, because not all sin is captured under the six sins listed above. Arrogance, judgmentalism, vanity, bitterness, and many more should be aggregated.

The biggest failing, though, of these graphs is that they appear to be graded on a scale, where the upper portion are marked as Saintly and the lower portion Sinful. Instead, the scale should start at Sinful and go down from there, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Rotating the (Pitching) Tires

Well, I was going to post this in the comments on this blog entry by Rob Neyer, but it won't let me. Anyway, I'm realizing that for some reason, I'm politics-heavy recently, so let's lighten it up a bit with analyzing the five-man rotation in baseball.

From Rob:
Let's say these magical evaluations tell you that you've got two starters who will thrive on just three days of rest, two who will do better with four days, and one old left-hander who's most effective with five days of rest.

Let's call them 3A, 3B, 4A, 4B, and 5 (or you can call that last one 6, if he's the new Ted Lyons and is going to just pitch every Sunday afternoon). OK, now try to slot those guys into an actual baseball schedule. I fooled around for a few minutes, and I couldn't do it. I couldn't come close.

From me:

If a team really wanted to implement this, I imagine that instead of pigeonholing each starter into a number of days rest, they'd create a chart of how effective (in terms of both duration and quality) each starter is on 3, 4, 5, and 6+ days of rest. Sure, CC might be best on 3-days rest, but if there's only a slight drop-off pushing it to 4, maybe Girardi should do that so Pettitte doesn't go 12 days between starts or Brett Tomko doesn't get a fill-in start.

As far as creating a pitching schedule, that's what a computer is for. Maybe the ideal pitching schedule is impossible, but there's a good chance it would find something better. In fact, the worst thing it would come up with is the current 5-man rotation, since we know that already works.

One interesting thing is we're assuming the best starters are those that would thrive with the fewest days off. But maybe Wakefield (on the Red Sox) goes every 4 days and Lester goes every 6.

I think it could work in theory. I think it will fail in practice, because:
  • Pitchers would not be convinced this is the best for them, and for the team.
  • Injuries would upset the rotation much more than they do now (if your 3-day starter goes out and your replacement is a 5-day starter, that won't work).
Oh well, I guess this will remain in the realm of baseball simulations.

Why Universal Health Care?

I've raised this issue with friends in my church community, and I always seem to get the response that Universal Health Care is wrong.

First, the secular reasons:
  • It's socialism. But...
  • The cost is too high. But...
  • The government shouldn't tell us who to see. But... (this is a great explanation of the whole issue)
And more health care myths are shot down.

That's all well-and-good, but the biggest issue for me is that we're commanded to care for the poor over and over and over again, and the early church did just that, again and again and again.

The response I've heard is that it is the job of the Church and Christians to give freely, not to be taxed into giving. My response to that is if the Church and Christians were doing their job (myself included), there wouldn't be a need for health care reform. For that matter, there wouldn't be a need for health insurance at all. Anyone who needed medical care and couldn't afford it would be subsidized by the Church.

I think Richard Beck of Experimental Theology puts it best:
Where's the moral outrage in the Christian community about the uninsured? Churches by and large botched it during the Civil Rights Movement. Let's get on the right side of history this time around.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Scopes Redux

So, apparently, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wants to challenge global warming, in court:
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, trying to ward off potentially sweeping federal emissions regulations, is pushing the Environmental Protection Agency to hold a rare public hearing on the scientific evidence for man-made climate change.

Chamber officials say it would be "the Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century" -- complete with witnesses, cross-examinations and a judge who would rule, essentially, on whether humans are warming the planet to dangerous effect.
My brain is exploding with reactions to this:
  • How is the courtroom the right place to decide the truth of scientific matters?
  • Well, maybe it is. It is the place where the facts are determined behind criminal matters. In these cases, it is not the law that is in dispute, but rather the facts that determine how the law should be applied.
  • Is this more of a PR stunt than a legal stunt? Is it a way to get Joe Public on the side of business?
Maybe the real issue comes down to this quote:
EPA is set to formally declare that the heat-trapping gases scientists blame for climate change endanger human health, and are thus subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act.
And more questions:
  • Is it right for the EPA to expand its regulatory powers to include carbon dioxide?
  • Do businesses affected by this expansion have the right to fight it in court?
  • Why attack the science instead of attacking the interpretation of the Clean Air Act?
  • And maybe most confounding, why would the U.S. Chamber of Commerce invoke the Scopes monkey trial when the scientific standpoint won out (and the opposition is seen as a laughingstock)?
I'm still processing all of this, but my initial reactions are:
  • I'd love to see a balanced debate on the issue of global warming, where scientific studies are brought to light.
  • On the other hand, there does seem to be something wrong with having a legal expert decide scientific theory.
  • Regulating greenhouse gases by the EPA should take an act of Congress, not an interpretation of the Clean Air Act.
[Story seen through Slashdot]

Monday, August 24, 2009

If Geeks Ruled the Universe

After seeing this comic, I just had to put in a plug for xkcd:

Crude? Sometimes. Off the charts geeky? Always. Blowing my mind with humor and/or that someone else thinks like this? Often.