Sunday, September 30, 2007


That was ugly. RIP 2007 Mets.

I will never believe in anything again.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Mets vs. Marlins

So painful. A rare treat really, as recently we've only been able to watch a single Mets starting pitcher blow it in each game. Perez was unbelievable. Really, though, that 7-4 score was up there a long time, and our bullpen held it down while the offense failed to deliver. It's always one or the other.

Hats off to the Phillies. I mean, screw them one level, but it also sucks to have it come to a point where a team that's worked so hard needs to fuck up for my poor, hapless Mets to succeed. That's just the way of things, I suppose.

Dallas Penn had some good video clips from his birthday at Shea, where he sold his "Vote For Pedro" t-shirts to get money for a ticket. Bummer about the game.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Mets vs. Nationals

Oh man, what a brutal game. Once again, solid-looking offense that still fails to deliver while our pitching falls apart. Pelfrey was looking so good at the beginning. It just seems weird that the Mets could outhit Washington and yet end up nine runs down. I mean, we had a bunch of walks, but nine runs' worth? I guess we were making hits when they didn't matter, while the Nats made theirs count. And how is Ronnie Belliard so good against the Mets defense?

One of the viewer questions answered by the broadcast team was about the OPS offensive stat, which I hadn't heard of before. At first it sounded pretty reasonable from a math standpoint—a sum of two percentages, which isn't extremely rigorous as far as quantifying events, but comes pretty close for disjoint events (e.g., the percentage of days in which I play tennis plus the percentage of days in which I play squash is very close to the percentage of days in which I play racquet sports, since I don't play other racquet sports and very rarely play both in the same day) and is very easy to calculate.

(I don't have a problem with the loose application of terms like "average" and "percentage" in baseball stats. Bad assumptions about what these kinds of terms say about the underlying data is already a huge problem in the general population's understanding of things like economic data ("the median income is rising!"), so the more we can encourage people to think about what dynamic is actually driving a given number, whether it's called "average" or "percentage" or something else, the better.)

But if you actually start to think about what the two stats that are added together to get OPS, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, actually stand for, the meaningfulness of it starts looking a little questionable.

Slugging percentage is pretty straightforward: it's a hitter's total number of bases gained on hits, divided by their at-bats. As a predictive metric, that's easy to understand: we should expect a player slugging .500 to get about five bases in ten at-bats. The stat appears to say something very simple about a player's hitting ability, and only their hitting ability. In statistical terms, it's the expected value of bases a runner will hit for in an official at-bat.

On-base percentage is a little more subtle. It's a ratio between two multiple-term expressions, but basically what it boils down to is, absent any mistakes or decisions made by a manager or a defensive player other than the pitcher, how likely is it that a given batter currently at the plate will end up on base? This means that on-base percentage incorporates some offensively valuable metrics—the ability to draw a walk, for example—that are not accounted for by slugging percentage. But note also that, statistically, on-base percentage is a probability, not an expected value.

So what do these things say about a player when they're added together? By the admission of the people who came up with OPS, nothing real. But the OPS does represent something like "offensive value" that neither on-base nor slugging percentage captures on its own: a given player may get more extra base hits than another, but their greater ability to draw walks means that in the end they bring a similar offensive value to the team.

Is there a more meaningful way of calculating that same information? I'm not sure. Wikipedia makes it sound as though OPS was conceived as a more easily calculated alternative to SLOB (the product of the two stats instead of the sum) and "runs created" (the product of SLOB and at-bats). Simple addition "works" as an alternative because the two statistics are of the same order of magnitude. But neither SLOB nor runs created deals with the problem of trying to combine an expected value and a probability.

I might prefer instead to replace the "hits" term in the numerator of the on-base percentage with the "total bases" value used to measure slugging. The resulting figure would be a valid expected value, but taking into account plate appearances, such as walks, that are excluded from official at-bats. At the very least, we should no longer allow difficulty of calculation to limit the statistics used for comparing aspects of play. There may be any number of reasons for eschewing SLOB, but the fact that it requires a sliderule to determine should not be among them.

Anyway, all of that aside, OPS as a measure of offensive value reminds me of IQ as a measure of human intelligence. Indeed, there is even a statistic called OPS+, which measures on-base and slugging percentages against the park-adjusted totals for the league, and then scales them so the league average is at 100. A player with an OPS+ over 150 could be said to have a genius-level offense, while one with an OPS+ of 50 might be considered an offensive imbecile.

In fact, the original purpose of OPS+ was to identify challenged players who required extra instruction during batting practice. Then later it was misapplied in an attempt to demonstrate that Negro League batters were innately inferior to their Major League counterparts. (Okay, this paragraph is made up.)

OPS and OPS+ are useful metrics for comparing the offensive abilities of different players. OPS+ probably correlates pretty well with RBI and does a fair job of predicting career runs, not to mention player salary. A pocket calculator with access to the statistics could be programmed to organize starting batting orders strictly by OPS+ and probably come pretty close to making the same decisions as a Major League manager. If you had to guess which non-pitchers (nullus) on an A-class rookie squad would go on to make the big leagues, you could probably do worse than to pick the group of players whose OPS+ figures are over, say, 125.

And yet, OPS is not something unknown that we've managed to measure with some sort of test and then stuck with because it's just so damn useful. There's no mystery behind what OPS "is": it's just something we've defined arbitrarily, this formula of different well-understood concrete statistics cobbled together, and which we know for a fact has no intrinsic meaning except as an abstraction. It's a convenience, a tool for making comparisons without having to get into the fine details of the fundamental attributes (both inborn and learned) like upper body strength, mental reaction time, experience at the game of baseball, and sprinting ability, many of which might prove difficult to measure, if not impossible. We would be mistaken to take the utility of OPS as evidence of an underlying phenomenon of the baseball player body, some organ the fitness of which determines offensive ability.

Implicit in our OPS-centered discussion of "offensive value" is the knowledge that no single figure can hope to sum up all of what makes a given player valuable in an offense, and that real offensive value is only truly meaningful in the context of an actual in-game situation. We have no reason to consider the existence of "general offensive ability" anything other than a statistical abstraction; and certainly not as the product of some "general offensive ability factor" behind all the various quantifiable and non-quantifiable aspects that figure into offensive value.

With one exception, everything that I've stated about OPS and OPS+ applies analogously to IQ. Both can be useful metrics for making comparisons, can be used to estimate or predict more concrete information to which we may not have access, and can lead to poor decision-making when misapplied or taken out of context. The exception is that whereas we can say exactly how we determine OPS, how the actual figure, devoid of intrinsic meaning though it may be, is calculated from raw data. In contrast, we have no real idea what an IQ test measures. We call it "intelligence," but there's no breakdown in terms of rates of neural activity, or brain volume, or anything measurable beyond the fact that it correlates with a bunch of other things to an extent that we find it useful in making comparisons and predictions. We give it extrinsic meaning, but there is still nothing at all to believe that IQ "is" anything, that it comes from anywhere, that it is anything other than a statistical abstraction, like OPS+, useful to us only because our limited minds cannot deal with the whole array of information, some of it perhaps not even quantifiable, that lurks behind that single figure.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Mets @ Marlins

Some great baseball this weekend! Yesterday's game wasn't particularly suspenseful, but Oliver Perez was incredible and it was just fun to watch. Today's contest was exactly the opposite. What did the Mets go through, nine pitchers? Crazy. Great game, great win.

In other sporting news, Peter and I picked up a wiffleball set after brunch today. We got to throw the ball a round a little bit before he had to take off for his hockey game. I'm at about 50% with some shoulder pain, and as a result the ball and I were not matching on the issue of control. Other than that, we were both (me and Peter, not me and the ball) able to get some movement. Can't wait to find some time and space to play a bit of a game!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Mets @ Nationals

I watched through the top of the fifth, so I got to see my Mets playing solid baseball and taking the 4-2 lead.

At that point I went over to S     's to watch not just Top Chef this time, but also Gossip Girl, which was premiering the hour before and which I think she will also be recapping each week. This time, in addition to a bowl of delicious guac, she had also prepared a tasty peach sals. Friends Kate and Peter were also there, and everyone brought beer, so it was a fun evening.

Gossip Girl was pretty terrible, and not in the way that I think it could become a guilty pleasure of mine, but just in the way that I do not want to see any more of it. I don't really understand the appeal of stories about the lives of the ultrarich, except as targets of satire (that may be going over my head in this case), but I guess there has always been a solid demand for this kind of thing. I was sort of hoping that the cultural milieu might have been shifting in favor of the class-conscious Veronica Mars type of show, but it looks like not.

The paper-thin conceit of making the omniscient narrator a blogger is an embarrassingly transparent grasp for relevance that is already dated. Likewise the "kids these days, with their texting!" gags (does that count as satire?): the current crop of college kids are of the constantly texting and blogging and IMing cohort, so this gee-whizziness is about half a decade late. The depiction of the kids' hedonistic partying somehow manages to be simultaneously hysterical (will there be a rainbow party this season? I wouldn't put it past them) and naïve (drinking champagne and casually abusing...marijuana?).

Anyway, it irritated me. I'm sure it will be a hit.

Top Chef was pretty awesome, at least. I think it's interesting how the regular judges and the single-episode guest judges differ in how they evaluate the dishes. Really I think it's just the difference between having some idea of how each chef approaches different challenges, versus the guest judges coming at it with a blank slate as far as expectations. I don't really have a specific example, but it seems like the guests are more likely to issue judgments that come as a surprise to repeat viewers and regular judges.

There is also an interesting dynamic where Tom looks like he's holding off on saying anything concrete, lest he be contradicted by a guest judge that the show has already established as a voice of authority. It then seems like he'll try to massage the guest's opinion to match up with his own. Again, no really hard example, and I'm just interpreting facial expressions and stuff at various points.

It's been a couple years since I've watched Project Runway, which I think was the loose model for this show, but as I remember it, all the judges would score entries numerically on secret ballots beforehand, and only then would they hold a verbal discussion and then take a final vote. I may be wrong about that, but either way it would be a better mechanism, I think. Also making the entries anonymous would be a more fair approach, as I think it's pretty unavoidable that the regular judges establish attitudes towards different competitors that cannot help but color their subsequent judgments. I understand that these changes would reduce the producers' ability to direct the competition for maximal dramatic effect, but I would hope that the added credibility of the competition would make up for that, especially among regular viewers and fans.

But again, what do I know about television.

Wow, it has been several paragraphs since I typed anything about baseball. So I will bring it home by noting that I have finished "sharing" the episode of Little House on the Prairie that Peter told me about, where the plot centers around playing old-timey baseball. It's called "In the Big Inning" (groan). Not sure when I'll get around to watching it, but there you go.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Mets @ Nationals

Wuuuugh. John Maine. Can't believe it. When he shows up with his A game the rest of the team can't hold it together, and when the offense is delivering he blows up. Nuts! Fun ninth, close. Big psychological hit though, this one, I'd think.


I've been feeling like I want to play some wiffleball lately. I had been thinking that it might not be very fun without any baserunning, which I think is one of the most interesting parts of baseball. But as I thought about more, the level of any baseball I would conceivably be playing is not such that anyone would be executing a hit and run. So something like wiffleball actually makes a lot of sense. Yes, I'm a genius.

So I've been reading about different junk pitches one can throw with a wiffleball, and it sounds super fun. I found this ridiculous video of a dude throwing knuckleballs:

I also found this product for sale, the Junk Ball. I'm not even really sure what the thing is, but the customer testimonials there are incredible. This is from the very first one on the page:
I can beat my dad and friend all the time with junk ball! I'm the BIG DOG and I'm gonna hit a Doggy Ding Dong Bomb!!!!!!!!!!
You cannot argue with that. Actually it sounds awesome.

Yes, I am looking at YouTube videos of wiffleball junk pitches to distract me from the Mets game. Come on, guys!

Uh, Mets?

The Nationals? What? Don't make me nervous.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Red Sox vs. Yankees

Last night some friends and I went over to Max's place to watch the hated Yankees play at Fenway. Sachar brought delicious sandwiches from the unfortunately named Columbine, and as the Red Sox saw their lead crumble before their eyes, we turned to paper airplanes to soothe our pain. What started as a challenge in aeronautical engineering quickly became a fashion shoot, as we all tried to get our likenesses captured in mid-throw. Hopefully the photos will all be available on the internets soon.

Also the Cyclones lost, so my tickets to what would have been today's deciding game will be refunded. And I believe my Mets lost as well, though I don't think that really matters at this point. And the Mariners appear to have won, but I'm pretty sure they need Yankees losses more than their own victories, so that's thin gruel.


Update: Max posted the pictures. Amazing.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Cyclones @ Doubledays

I listened to most of the first game of the New York–Penn League championship series via internets radio last night. What's to be said, we just pretty much got out-pitched. Dillon Gee pitched an awesome start, but when you aren't scoring runners then that's a lot of pressure to leave to your bullpen.

Friends came over for a TV watching party, so I only heard part of the carnage in the eighth. Hopefully we'll do better tonight at home!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Where's my Cyclones at?

Why is SNY not showing game one of the NYPL championship series tonight? Sure it's just single-A, but there's no Mets game tonight, no live coverage of anything in the 7-10 slot, and they're playing for the freaking championship. I realize the 'clones don't have a camera crew and broadcast team that travels around with them everywhere, but they do televise the odd game so it's not like they can't work something out. Ah well.

Also, I've had so much going on lately, I never got to see them play with Ramon Castro on rehab assignment. I'm not sure if he's still going to be playing with them even.

Mets vs. Braves

I caught the first half of the Mets game on TV. It was good to see John Maine get in trouble but then recover for a change. He didn't get the win, but just seeing him have such a bad run in the fourth, and then be able to rein it in and settle down was reassuring. Shawn Green's hitting against Smoltz was pretty entertaining, and then it was pretty funny when he caught Smoltz's hit to add insult to injury. It's too bad I missed his game-winning RBI in the eighth. He's a good egg.

During the game, the broadcasters also mentioned that the Phillies had started their game off with a triple play, so this morning I looked around to find out what happened. Story here, video worth checking out.

I cut my viewing short to grab a burrito and head over to S     's house to watch Top Chef. Social interaction must always trump TV, even baseball on TV, and watching TV with another living human being counts as social. These are my rules. Not only did she have beers for me to consume, but she even whipped up a badass guac for my burrito (that is not a euphemism for anything, it was literally guacamole that I put on my chicken burrito). So now I owe her for Mets tickets and guac. The debt mounts! And here's her recap. I liked the show a lot, but her recaps are probably better.

And one final thing, which I don't know why I didn't link to this earlier, but Dallas Penn has made "Vote For Pedro" shirts. Awesome idea.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Mets vs. Braves

S      did indeed hook me up with tickets to last night's game, so I got to enjoy my poor, hapless Mets going down in defeat, 78-2. Sachar came along and the seats were really good! I snapped this picture before the game got underway, as El Duque came to take the mound (nh).

The cloud-obscured sunset provided a nice backdrop for this view of the construction equipment for Citi Field:

About halfway through the fifth inning people began leaving in droves. Friend Lee had even better seats from work and had spotted some empty ones nearby, so we moved down closer to the field to watch the massacre continue:

Pretty awesome! In this picture you can just make out Gary Cohen's shiny dome:

Sachar and Lee react to another brill Mets play:

Reading the game coverage today, I realize that I'm an idiot. I had been referring to this as Hernandez's second post-injury start, whereas it was actually his first. It sounds like everyone is taking his performance in stride, but I still would have liked to see him get a win.

Other than the actual game, it was a totally fun first visit to Shea. Sachar and Lee grew up going to Mets games and know their baseball. I always have fun trying to speculate about stuff that doesn't make sense when I've gone to games with Peter (how can the broadcasters tell what pitch he just threw?) or Kate (what's "BB" mean?), but people who actually know what they are talking about are good resources to have available.

On a related note, did you know that a bag of peanuts is supposed to be six servings? Ugh. I pretty much eat a whole bag every time I attend a game. And the ones at the Mets and Cyclones games are really salty and delicious (nullus). Ugh ugh. I had enough salt that my calf cramped up painfully in the middle of the night. That's a salt thing, right? Maybe in the future I will try to smuggle my own, smaller sack of nuts into the game.

Anyway, mad propers to S      for the tickets and to Sachar and Lee for the entertaining company. I will never forget my first time to a Mets game.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Mets vs. Astros

I got home from a weekend biking in Chicago (a 10-person century ride on Saturday) just as the game was starting, so I tuned in with my television set to watch Pedro's first post-injury start at Shea. He shut out Houston for five innings for the win (ftw?) and the final game of the sweep. I did end up leaving to meet friends at the park during the seventh, but I caught all the runs. Which I always say are not the important part, but dammit, sometimes they are.

During a snack break near the U of Chicago campus on Saturday's ride, I checked in with MLB-GO for a score update and announced to all present my Mets' victory over the Astros on that day. Friend Andrew was quick to berate me for distributing this information to an audience even less interested in Mets scores than I would have had back in NY. But our friend Nate (originally from Cleveland, schooled in Cincinnati, currently residing in Chicago) chimed in to say that he was a Mets fan and was glad to hear the game outcome! Mets Nation, everybody!

Friend S      has come into possession of a pair of tickets to Tuesday's game against Atlanta, so hopefully I will be attending that. Very psyched!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Mariners @ Yankees

Andrew and Peter came over to finish boxing up Andrew's and my bikes for our journey to Chicago this weekend. We had the Wankees game on in the background, and I despaired as I watched what appeared to be a repeat of the exact same shit that happened the night before: a perfectly reasonable starting performance, and then just when our offense is about to kick in, the guys start streaming out of the clown-car that appears to have replaced Seattle's bullpen and we are awash in their zany antics. Balls fly hither and thither, batters run in endless circles, scores climb ever upward.

Reading the post-game coverage, I hadn't realized (though I'm sure even the pathetic Yankees broadcasters would have mentioned it) that Molina had caught for Washburn for like three seasons. I hadn't considered that dynamic before. Playing against former teammates always introduces an interesting dynamic (though is anyone who played for the Mariners last night old enough to have been burning A-Rod in effigy in the dugout?), but I had not considered the unique circumstances when a catcher goes up against a former batterymate. I liked Washburn's response, that if anyone has to homer off him, he's glad that it's Molina. Nullus on all of this, of course.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Mets @ Reds

John Maine! You let me down again! How's the televised day game supposed to help get me through my work day like that? Joey Votto's first big league hit being a home run was pretty neat, though. I also thought Humber looked good when he first came to relieve, but then he also gave up a couple. The Mets' fielding was pretty disappointing all round, actually. Bah. Two running sweeps was a lot to hope for, I suppose.

And as I type this I'm watching my Mariners having another go at the hated Yankees. GO EMS!

Mariners @ Yankees

It sucks to watch a game slip away like that. I don't know that I agree with the post-game coverage that puts the blame on the M's's third-base coach Carlos Garcia waving Beltre home on Johjima's single, which should have loaded the bases with no out in the fifth. The out at home was disappointing, but you're still left only one run back with two on and one out, and Wang is still "on the ropes" having put three men on base in three plate appearances. Lopez's hitting into the double play seems like it should bear at least equal responsibility for the failure to capitalize.

And the bullpen was just embarrassing. So frustrating. Fuck the Yankees.

At least the Mets dominated.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Cyclones vs. Yankees

Our friend Sachar hooked us up with free tickets to Monday's day game against the Yankees, so Peter and I roused ourselves in the early light of morn (I was still reeling from a late night of partying the night before) to bike down to KeySpan. It was a beautiful day, and our last chance to catch the Cyclones hosting Staten Island in the regular season.

At some point during the game, Peter noted that the two umpires both adopted a wide stance before each pitch. As the pitcher began his motion they would squat down, but for a few seconds they'd just stand there in their wide stances:

Umpires in wide stances

Here are some details:

Infield umpire Plate umpire

Pretty impressive! I tried to watch some of the game in a similar wide stance, but was not able to hold it for very long at all.

The game was really good...there were lots of weird errors by the Yankees and awesome plays by the Cyclones. I was buying hot dogs and missed the 3-6-3 double play that finished the top of the first. I did catch the DP to end the top of the third, when second baseman J.R. Voyles fielded a grounder, tagged out the runner with an awesome spin move and then threw it to first in the same motion. And the Cyclones caught two runners trying to steal second. Pretty sweet.

There was also a weird disputed call. Looking at the game log, I think it had to have been in the bottom of the second. I believe what happened was that Bouchard tried to check his swing on a 3-2 pitch that wasn't in the strike zone, and the plate umpire called him out while the infield ump said he had not come all the way around and it was ball four. So Bouchard took his base and Voyles advanced to second, there was a little discussion, and Bouchard was called out. The Cyclones' manager came out to argue the point, to no avail. Then the Yankees' manager came out to argue that Voyles should have to return to first, since there was no walk. The umpire let Voyles keep second, scoring it a stolen base. Weird!

Towards the end of the game, Peter enjoyed a helmetful of ice cream:

Peter eating ice cream

After the game we went to the beach to fly Peter's kite. I fashioned a parachute device out of some paper clips, rubber bands, and a couple napkins, and we were able to send it up the kite string and have it come drifting gently down onto the beach. Really cool. I didn't get a picture of the parachute, but here's Peter flying the kite:

Peter flies his kite

Update: I put together a little web page about the parachutes we made for the kite.

Update: So Sachar made a video of one of the parachute launches, and I had linked it here because I was drunk and forgot that one could just embed that shit. Check it: