Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Archie Meets Nero Wolfe

The Kindle Deal of the Day today:

Amazon.com: Archie Meets Nero Wolfe: A Prequel to Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe Mysteries

It is not to be held against Goldsborough that he's not Stout - after all, there was only the one. So to say that the voice isn't quite right is both true and unnecessary. Obviously, the voice isn't quite right - it's not Stout. The genius of the Nero Wolfe books is how easy and effortless they look, when clearly, the achievement was neither easy nor effortless. Nor, apparently, reproducible.

So it's an interesting effort for those of us who love Nero and Archie, to go back and look at one possibility of how they may have gotten together. And it's always nice to re-visit the brownstone.

The problem that Goldsborough faces, the reason that this effort, like all of the others, is ultimately so disappointing, is that, good as Stout's plots were, that's not the reason for reading Nero Wolfe. The joy is in the telling and so the books are as good the second, fifth, even fifteenth time through as they were the first. Nero and Archie and the others are old friends, and time spent with them is a joy. Reading a new book in an almost-Archie voice featuring an almost-Nero is, in the end, less enjoyable, less pleasant, than another trip through Some Buried Caesar or The Silent Speaker.

So, it's an interesting but not fulfilling experience. If you love Nero and Archie, it's worth making your way through it. But once is enough.

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Monday, April 29, 2013

Monday Pythagorean, 4/29/2013

The most memorable game of the week, for those of us in attendance, was a 13-0 loss in freezing mist on Tuesday night. Yet somehow, as they went 6-1, it was a good week anyway...
  • It's easy to look at the Pythagorean standings for the week and say, "well, the Red Sox are really lucky to have gone 6-1." And in one sense, that's true. But sometimes, it's not that straightforward. Sometimes, you can juggle a team's runs scored/allowed on a per game basis and come up with very different results. Not this week. The one loss was a) by 13 runs, b) in horrible weather conditions, c) allowed by two pitchers who are no longer on the roster, d) in a game in which they were down badly early against a good pitcher and never scored. So, you could say, "if they'd allowed 13 the night they scored 9, and scored 0 the day they allowed 1, they'd have lost two games." And that's true. But the other five games, they scored 6, 6, 7, 7 and 8, while allowing 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. This was a week in which the actual record was more representative of their performance than the Pythagorean record was.
  • Of course, it didn't hurt to have that four-game home series against Houston. Or the three home games against the suddenly-struggling A's.
  • At 18-7, the Boston Red Sox have the best record in baseball. But they haven't been able to open up any breathing room in the AL East, with a lead of just 2 1/2 over the Yankees. Because the rest of the East, Blue Jays excepted, have been just as hot. Over the last 10 games, the Red Sox are 7-3. So are the Yankees, Orioles and Rays.
  • They also have, despite the one 13-run loss this week, the best run differential (+40) in the game, 12 runs better than the 2nd place Texas Rangers. I don't know whether the performance of the Red Sox has been a "fluke" thus far. Lester and Buchholz are obviously not going to maintain these numbers the whole way through, and some of the offensive performances may not be sustainable, either. (On the other hand, some of the offensive performances are bound to improve, and they're likely to get better performances out of the Lackey/Aceves spot in the rotation than they've gotten so far.) But what I can say, confidently, is that given they way they've performed thus far, the record is definitely not a "fluke." It's not built on an unsustainable perfect record in one-run games or anything like that.
  • Pre-season favorite Toronto, on the other hand is 9 1/2 games out already. April's not yet over, so the season's got a long way to go, but things don't look good for the Blue Jays for a couple of reasons. First, if they were as good as people expected them to be, it's unlikely that they would actually be 9-17 right now. Second, they're behind four other teams that are probably pretty good in their own division. Many things are possible, but this is a dreadful and dispiriting start for the Blue Jays.
  • I was tempted to give the Pitcher of the Week award to Alfredo Aceves. His epic third inning on Tuesday night (6 runs, 2 balks, mental and physical errors galore) made it easy for us to ward off frostbite by leaving the park after four innings. But decided that it wasn't a good enough reason.
  • That third-inning Aceves performance was memorable. Special. Four-pitch walk to the number 9 hitter to start the inning. Single and another walk to load the bases followed by walking in a run. Failing to cover on a ground ball to first, then throwing the ball away at home plate. Balking not once but twice.
  • David Ortiz is back. Not just in a "off the DL and back in the lineup sense," where his name gets written in and we get at-bats without production, but in the "holy cow, this guy can carry a team" sense. Can he keep it up? Obviously not at this pace, but can he be one of the best 10-15 hitters in the league? He looks like it, and if he is, this suddenly has the potential to be a very good offensive team, and an excellent team overall.
  • Will Middlebrooks (.269/.296/.577/.873) hit the ball better this week. And even walked once. And the .269 BA is fine, and the .577 SLG is very good. But the .296 OBP is not good, and if that's what they're going to get - tons of outs with occasional power and decent defense - they can probably live with it for a while down at the bottom of the lineup, but it's much less than what they hope for out of him. And they need to be looking for the next 3rd baseman. In fact, his approach is such that, with his OBP (.232) so far under water, it's unlikely to get to .300 before the All Star break.
  • A bit of a down week for Daniel Nava (.280/.333/.400/.733) still featured two walks and three doubles. And a fantastic catch to end Sunday's game.
  • Red Sox Player of the Week - Welcome back, David Ortiz (.478/.500/.913/1.413), who had four doubles and two HR among his 11 hits on the week, and looks, at least in the tiny sample we've seen so far, like the Big Papi of 9-10 years ago.
  • Red Sox Pitcher of the Week - If for no other reason than his return relegates Alfredo Aceves to the PawSox, this would go to John Lackey this week. But we got more than that, as he continued to build upon his strong spring and decent first appearance with 6 innings of one-run ball in his return to the mound. Honorable mention to Andrew Bailey, who allowed two baserunners in three scoreless one-inning appearances, while striking out 5.

AL Pythagorean Projection Report - 4/29/2013
Kansas City4.36(7)3.59(3)0.588(5)1391390
NY Yankees4.67(5)4.04(6)0.565(6)14101591
Tampa Bay4.12(10)3.88(4)0.527(8)13121213-1
Chicago Sox3.46(14)4(5)0.434(11)101410140
LA Angels4.04(11)4.96(13)0.408(12)1014915-1

Top 5 projections (using current winning %)
NY Yankees10161
Kansas City9666

Top 5 projections (starting with today's record, using Pythagorean winning %)
Kansas City9567

Standings for the week
Tampa Bay5(6)3.14(1)0.7(3)5243-1
Kansas City5.6(3)4.4(10)0.609(5)32320
NY Yankees3.43(11)3.43(4)0.5(8)43521
Chicago Sox3.67(10)4.83(11)0.376(13)24331
LA Angels3.29(14)5.14(13)0.306(14)25250

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Idle thought...

Reading writing advice is a great way to kill time when you're suffering from writer's block. It's as useless as reading facebook or playing minesweeper, but it feels like you're staying on track...


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Monday, April 22, 2013

Monday Pythagorean - 4/22/2013

Winning more than you lose makes a good week. 5-2 is always a good week. And yet, when the week starts at 5-0, it feels like a sqandered opportunity...
  • After three weeks, the Red Sox are tied with the Rangers for the best record in the AL. Their run differential (+31) is the best in the AL, and trails only Atlanta (+33) and Cincinnati (+32) in MLB. They've done that while playing their first four series against AL East opponents.
  • Through 18 games, they are four games ahead of the 8-10 2012 Red Sox. They are five games ahead of the 7-11 2011 Red Sox.
  • The streak ended at 16. In game 17, a Red Sox starter gave up more than three runs for the first time this year, as Ryan Dempster allowed four in a loss to the Royals.
  • I've got to admit that I had never heard of Lorenzo Cain before Saturday's game. I've heard of him now. What a weekend he had, reaching base 8 times in 13 plate appearances, driving in four, homering, scoring all three of KC's runs on Saturday. I don't know whether he's a prospect or a journeyman or something in between, but that was quite a performance in this series.
  • The return of David Ortiz is good to see, and he came back swinging, with five hits in his first 8 at-bats, hitting .625/.625/.750/1.375 for the weekend.
  • Daniel Nava is now hitting .326/.441/.609/1.049 for the season. Until he shows some signs - serious evidence - of this being a fluke, he's got to be in the lineup every day.
  • William Middlebrooks(.176/.208/.382/.591) has been very bad so far this year. And actually worse than the numbers suggest. Outside of one game, he's provided significant negative value offensively, hitting .127/.164/.190/.355. He's got 22 strikeouts, which doesn't concern me too much, and 3 walks, which does. He's now hitting .266/.302/.484/.785 in 92 Major League games, with 16 walks and 92 strikeouts. That isn't going to get it done for a third baseman today.
  • Despite the end of the streak, the starting pitching continues to be excellent. Last night, Allen Webster made his Red Sox debut with a very good 6 IP, 2 ER performance.
  • If Webster or de la Rosa actually turns out to be a good player (or if both are), that elevates the trade with the Dodgers from good to great.
  • Red Sox Player of the Week - This would have been a no-brainer had the fly ball he hit in the bottom of the ninth of the second game on Sunday carried 10 feet further to reach the center-field wall, but even without that, Mike Napoli (.345/.406/.690/1.096) had a very good week. And no one on the Red Sox had a better...
  • Red Sox Pitcher of the Week - Tough call this week. The started who got two starts, Dempster, pitched well twice, but they only won one of them, and he didn't get the win. And he was the first starter on the season to give up four runs. There wasn't a dominating bullpen performance - Uehara was a candidate until the 8th inning in game two of the double-header. So I'm going with Clay Buchholz, again, for his 8-inning, two run performance on Saturday.

AL Pythagorean Projection Report - 4/22/2013
NY Yankees5.18(2)4.29(8)0.585(4)1071070
Kansas City4(11)3.35(3)0.58(5)1071070
Chicago Sox3.39(14)3.72(4)0.457(9)810711-1
Tampa Bay3.78(13)4.17(6)0.455(10)8108100
LA Angels4.35(7)4.88(12)0.448(12)89710-1

Top 5 projections (using current winning %)
NY Yankees9567
Kansas City9567

Top 5 projections (starting with today's record, using Pythagorean winning %)
NY Yankees9567
Kansas City9468

Standings for the week
LA Angels6(1)4(7)0.677(3)32320
Tampa Bay5(6)3.43(6)0.666(4)5243-1
Chicago Sox3.17(13)2.83(2)0.551(7)3324-1
NY Yankees4.67(7)4.33(8)0.534(8)33421
Kansas City3.2(12)3.2(5)0.5(10)32320

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Roofers union calls for Obamacare’s repeal

United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers International President Kinsey M. Robinson:
In the rush to achieve its passage, many of the Act’s provisions were not fully conceived, resulting in unintended consequences that are inconsistent with the promise that those who were satisfied with their employer sponsored coverage could keep it.

These provisions jeopardize our multi-employer health plans, have the potential to cause a loss of work for our members, create an unfair bidding advantage for those contractors who do not provide health coverage to their workers, and in the worst case, may cause our members and their families to lose the benefits they currently enjoy as participants in multi-employer health plans.
Who could have seen that coming?

Oh, yeah - millions of us.

Frankly, there's a certain amount of pleasure to be derived from watching those who worked to foist this monstrosity upon come to grips with the innumerable (and easily forseeable, and forseen) downsides. One just wishes that they hadn't had to take the rest of us along on this ride...


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Monday, April 15, 2013

Monday Pythagorean, 4/15/2013

Friday's rain prevented them from matching week one's record. Of course, it also prevented them from falling to .500 for the week.
  • Here's the thing - 3-2 doesn't seem like much - after all, it's only one game over .500. But over 162 games, that projects to 97 wins. The math of the baseball season rewards long torrid streaks or consistent end-to-end performance. But either way, every week that features more wins than losses is a good week. This was a good week.
  • They were one closer catastrophe from a 4-1 week. 4-1 wouldn't look like a so-so week.
  • The starting pitching has been not just good so far - it's been outstanding. In 11 starts, the starters are 5-2, with a 2.06 ERA, a 1.16 WHIP, and 10.19 K/9. They've had no starts in which the starter allowed more than three ER and only two in which they allowed as many as three.
  • The obvious goat of the week is Joel Hanrahan, whose disastrous outing on Wednesday cost them a game they were one strike away from winning. (Whether he actually threw that one necessary strike is a matter for some debate - I happen to think that he threw it not only once, but twice. The umpire disagreed. C'est la vie...) But they're saying, now, that he's dealing with a hamstring issue. Hopefully, that's a reason and not just an excuse.
  • There are other, less obvious goats. I was getting ready to talk disparagingly of Will Middlebrooks' first week when he went and hit three home runs in Toronto. But. That's it, so far. In his other 10 games, he's hitting .158/.195/.263/.458, 6-38 with no power (1 2B, 1 HR) or plate discipline (2 BB). Anyone can hit anything for 50 at-bats, and the game in Toronto certainly counts. But he's not yet shown enough to convince me he's going to be a great hitter, or even a very good one. It's possible to envision a 25-HR season with little net value. I hope that's not the case, but I'd sure like to start seeing some more plate discipline and non-HR production from him.
  • Of course, he's still 24, so improvement is not only possible, but likely.
  • I don't suppose that Stephen Drew (.077/.250/.077/.327) did anything to quiet the pro-Iglesias, anti-Drew crowd. But frankly, a lot of that crowd is a) blinded by what they've been told of Iglesias' defense, b) convinced that great defense is the end-all and be-all, and c) prejudiced against Drew to start with by his contract and, more importantly, his brother. Even a great week, even a great month isn't going to win them over. This was not, of course, a great week.
  • So, the potential downside of Bradley making the team was that they'd lose control over him for the 2019 season. That downside looks increasingly unlikely to occur. The likeliest scenario now is that Bradley spends a month, at least, playing every day in Pawtucket, as soon as Ortiz returns. Which could be this week.
  • Even before Ortiz comes back, it's looking as if Daniel Nava is a much better candidate to be getting at-bats than Bradley at the moment.
  • He apparently had some discipline issues during his first stint in "the show," but, for the most part, all Daniel Nava has done in baseball is hit. Typically players peak in the 25-27 age range, but, given his history, it would not be shocking to see a 30-year old Nava put together a run of 3-4 .300./400/.450 seasons.
  • The non-Hanrahan part of the relief staff excelled. The six men who pitched out of the bullpen whose initials are not JH allowed only 9 baserunners (five hits, four walks) and one run over 12 1/3 innings, while striking out 14. Add in the very good spot start from Aceves in place of Lackey (two runs in five innings), and that's about as good a week as you can expect from a relief corps.
  • With, you know, the one exception...
  • Red Sox Player of the Week - In a weak offensive week for the team, the aforementioned Daniel Nava (.333/.474/.733/1.207) was excellent and consistent, demonstrating some power in addition to his standard plate discipline.
  • Red Sox Pitcher of the Week - Talk about no-brainers. I'll be very surprised if any Red Sox pitcher has a better week at any point during the season than Clay Buchholz did this week. Two scoreless starts, of seven and eight innings, with five hits allowed and 19 strikeouts? I don't think it's going very far out on a limb to suggest that it's a week unlikely to be topped.

AL Pythagorean Projection Report - 4/15/2013
NY Yankees5.45(3)4.27(8)0.61(4)7465-1
Kansas City4.33(6)3.42(3)0.607(5)75750
Chicago Sox3.5(14)4.17(6)0.421(9)57570
LA Angels3.67(12)5.25(13)0.341(13)48480
Tampa Bay3(15)4.64(9)0.311(15)38471

Top 5 projections (using current winning %)
Kansas City9567

Top 5 projections (starting with today's record, using Pythagorean winning %)
NY Yankees9864
Kansas City9864

Standings for the week
NY Yankees7.2(2)2.8(3)0.849(1)41410
Kansas City3.67(7)3(4)0.591(5)42420
Chicago Sox3.33(10)5.17(10)0.31(11)2415-1
LA Angels3.33(10)6.33(13)0.236(13)15241
Tampa Bay1.6(15)3.6(7)0.185(14)14140

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Monday, April 08, 2013

Monday Pythagorean - 4/8/2013

One of the things that I like to do during the baseball season is compile a weekly report of the AL standings, looking at runs scored and allowed, to see who's better than their records and who's worse.

For those unfamiliar, the Pythagorean report is based on a Bill James discovery regarding the relationship between runs scored, runs allowed and winning percentage. It intuitively makes sense that a teams record will be related to how many runs they score and how many they allow. What James discovered was that, for almost all teams, the winning percentage is very close to a ratio of the square of the runs scored to the sum of the squares of the runs scored and runs allowed. Which was dubbed the "Pythagorean" theorum of baseball.

The report consists of, for each team, their runs/game, runs allowed/game and Pythagorean project winning percentage, along with their rank among the teams in the league for each of those categories. The Pythagorean winning percentage is calculated as (r ^ 1.83) / ( (r ^ 1.83) + (ra ^ 1.83) ). (1.83 has been determined to be a slightly more accurate exponent with the current offensive levels than 2.) Using the Pythagorean winning percentage, the expected wins total is calculated and compared to the actual win total. Finally, any difference is expressed as "luck", with negative numbers representing underperforming teams.

Finally, there's a linear projection of final records, based on current winning percentage, and based on Pythagorean winning percentage.

So, on to week 1...

The 2013 Boston Red Sox certainly got off to a better start than the 2012 and 2011 versions got off to. Yes, that's not saying much...

  • I will confess to being surprised to hear that this was the first time since 1999 that they had started a season at 2-0. A .500 team should expect to be 2-0 25% of the time, and the Red Sox have been a much better than .500 team over the past 14 years.
  • The 4-2 record over their first 6 is their best six-game start since going 5-1 in 2006.
  • They not only started the year with four wins in their six games, the four corresponding losses went to division rivals New York and Toronto, the team with whom they are in the tightest competition for playoff spots. That's a good thing.
  • Going in, the offense looks like it could be mediocre to pretty good. The starting pitching looks like it could be good to very good. The bullpen looks loaded.
  • John Lackey looked very good for four plus innings, then walked off the mound in the middle of a batter, following a pitch that was nowhere near the plate. I was reminded of Frank Viola. That's not a good thing. The good news is that, so far, there's no catastrophic news. And they're talking about possibly going on to the 15-day disabled list. Frankly, if he were back in a month, I'd consider that much better than I expected.
  • Assuming that the presence of John Lackey in the rotation is, you know, a good thing. If you're of the opinion that it's not, then, well, he probably isn't going to do much damage.
  • Five minutes of sports radio this morning, for the first time in months, was more than enough to remind me why I stopped. Note to Gerry Callahan: the fact that Julio (sorry, Jose) Iglesias hit .529 this week has predictive value of just slightly greater than 0. If there were reason to believe that he's not a Major League hitter before the season started, and there was, then five games isn't close to adequate additional information required to change that belief. In response to, "he's leading the team in hitting this week," I say, "cross yourself, look to the heavens and praise God in thanksgiving, and ship him off to Pawtucket."
  • People who were hanging around in the Projo Red Sox board back in 2001 probably remember the great Shea Hillenbrand debate, in which I repeatedly castigated Jimy Williams for giving Hillenbrand the third base job based on a great spring training. My point, made, frankly, ad nauseum, was that a) anyone can hit anything for fify at-bats and b) Hillenbrand's complete and utter lack of plate discipline meant that he wasn't a prospect. Some might expect me, therefore, to be castigating the team for the presence of Jackie Bradley, Jr., on the opening day roster, based on a hot spring. But I'm not. Here's the difference. Bradley is a prospect, whose spring indicated that he might be ready.
  • Shea Hillenbrand, first fifty-nine (59) Major League games - two (2) walks. Jackie Bradley, Jr., first one (1) Major League game - three (3) walks.
  • The one legitimate criticism of the decision to put Bradley on the opening day roster is that the first eleven days of the 2013 season cost the team control over the player for the 2019 season. And it's a legitimate argument. On the other hand, he can still go down for 20 days later, if that seems like a good idea, and they'd maintain that control. And the whole idea, particularly after the past two years, is to re-establish a winning atmosphere and attitude. The evidence suggested that their best opening day lineup, with Ortiz out, included Bradley. Therefore, Bradley made the team. I support that decision.
  • Red Sox Player of the Week - Hey, credit where it's due. I don't believe that he's a Major League hitter, and I don't want him on the team, but there's no question about his defensive skills and Jose Iglesias (.529/.556/.647/1.203) had a fantastic week.
  • Red Sox Pitcher of the Week - Jon Lester started twice and won twice while giving up only two runs in 12 innings of work.

AL Pythagorean Projection Report - 4/8/2013
Kansas City5(4)3.83(5)0.619(3)4233-1
Chicago Sox3.67(13)3.17(2)0.567(7)33421
LA Angels4(9)4.17(7)0.481(9)3324-1
Tampa Bay4.17(8)5.5(12)0.376(12)24331
NY Yankees4(9)5.5(12)0.358(13)24240

Top 5 projections (using current winning %)
Chicago Sox10854

Top 5 projections (starting with today's record, using Pythagorean winning %)
Kansas City10062

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