One Step Below the Nobel

While I’m loath to link to my pre-season predictions for the 2008 baseball season, I need to do so to cite some relevant quotes. You see, the Detroit Tigers were being hyped a lot prior to the season because of the acquisition of both Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. Many thought that the offense would be legendary, capable of scoring more than 1,000 total runs. I didn’t buy it, and I clashed with the author, and friend of the blog, of Moondog Sports.

If you scroll down to the comments, you’ll see a conversation between us that went like this:

Moondog Sports: If Detroit can maintain a decent rotation and bullpen, they’ll probably score about 17,000 runs with that lineup. This may be the best lineup I’ve ever seen.

Crashburn Alley: The Tigers’ lineup is overrated. They’ll be #1 or 2 offensively, but they won’t score 1,000 runs. They’ll score 950 at best… you heard it here first. Their pitching is hopelessly mediocre though. You have Verlander and ?. Bunch of league-average or worse pitchers.

Moondog: OK, tell you what. The Tigers score 1,000 runs this season. If they don’t, I’ll link to the Huffington Post.

If they do, you have to link to Bill O’Reilly.

What say you?

Crashburn: I’ll easily take that wager. But I don’t care much for the HuffPo anymore, I don’t think I’ve been there in a few months. Hmm… how about the loser has to write a complimentary piece about the other’s blog, minimum 500 words?

Moondog: Agreed.

And so the prolific clash of the titans began. I was right about them failing to score 1,000 runs (they scored 821) which was all that mattered, but I was wrong about them being “#1 or 2 offensively” (they were #4).

Moondog, as a man of his word, has written that complimentary piece about me and my blog over at Moondog Sports. Click here to read it.

Yeah, you guys don’t want to go against me when it comes to baseball. I’m all-knowing and all-powerful. What’s that? Oh, I predicted a Rockies-Indians World Series just for kicks. It’s not like I actually thought those two teams would be good.

Ahem. Oh, I picked Clint Hurdle for NL Manager of the Year? Joke. It was a joke. So was picking Aaron Harang for the NL Cy Young.

Hey, to be fair, I was pretty spot-on with my “Most Overrated” picks, and I called the great season from Brad Lidge and the breakout season from Andre Ethier. This back needs some patting.

I didn’t say this, did I?

Eric Gagne should be great for them so long as he stays healthy.

I did. Is that grounds for automatic expulsion from the blogosphere?

Stay tuned for next year’s predictions!

Ryan Howard Ain’t Even Close to MVP

The media hype machine is at it again: lauding yet another undeserving candidate for the MVP award. I’m sorry to have to report this, but Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard is about as deserving of the NL MVP award as I am of Pennsylvania’s Best-Looking award (I’m not sure if that’s an actual award, but if it is, I wouldn’t mind a few write-in votes on my behalf, thanks).

There’s no question that he’s been Midas at the plate in September, sporting a 1.267 OPS going into tonight’s series opener against the Washington Nationals. However, the games in September count equally as the games in April (one either in the win or loss column, in case you were wondering), and Howard posted a sub-.800 OPS in three months (March/April, .640; June, .726; August, .791).

His overall .875 OPS (prior to tonight’s game) ranks 21st in the National League and tied for 5th among NL first basemen. Heading into Sabermetric territory, he ranks 11th among all MLB first basemen in VORP and 13th among all MLB first basemen in PMLVr. It’s a joke, really, that Howard is mentioned as a leading MVP candidate when you have Albert Pujols and his ridiculous 1.099 OPS and amazing defense as well as Lance Berkman’s 1.044 OPS and nearly as amazing defense. Howard isn’t exactly a Hoover with the glove, y’know?

It is a testament, it seems, to human gullibility to fanciful plots. The Phillies succeeded despite Ryan Howard’s mediocre (and at various points, downright depressing) offensive performances in the first five months; they’ve won a few games in the last month or so (la de frickin’ da). Apparently, the first five months are erased once the kids head back to school.

The most depressing statistic of Howard’s, to me, is his on-base percentage. In his first two full seasons in ’06 and ’07, he put up OBP’s of .425 and .392, respectively. This year, it’s .337 compared to the league average of .346. It’s not that he’s not walking, as he’s only on pace to finish with 7 less unintentional walks than last season. A good part of his missing OBP is the 50% drop in intentional passes, 35 to 17. Pitchers and managers are just willing to take their chances with him now, since holes in his swing and bad mechanics have been found and abused.

The remaining chunk of his lost OBP is from balls in play. His BABIP this season is .285 with a 22.4 LD% (roughly, we’d expect a .344 BABIP). Oddly enough, a look at his batted ball rates makes his 2007 season stick out like a sore thumb (courtesy Howard’s player page on FanGraphs). His batted ball rates closely mimic those of his 2006 season except that his BABIP is a good bit lower. This isn’t a point in Howard’s favor though, as you don’t reward a player for simply being a bit unlucky on balls in play.

Ryan Howard batted ball rates

Howard’s SLG is fine, but still a good 50 points under his career average. Including tonight’s game, Howard has more HR and the same amount of doubles as he did last season when he slugged .584, but the difference is that he’s had nearly 75 more at-bats.

Albert Pujols is having one of the best seasons of his career, which is really saying something, considering his career 169 OPS+. Ditto Lance Berkman with a career 148 OPS+. Howard is having the worst season of his career. It would be an insult to any baseball fan with a grasp of logic if Howard wins the NL MVP award (or even the Silver Slugger). That means, of course, to buckle up and put on a helmet to protect yourself from the barrage of bad votes to be cast by the BBWAA.

Hey, notice how I didn’t even bring up Howard’s strikeouts? That’s because they don’t mean a damn thing.

Stay tuned for a comprehensive “Who Should Win the Awards” article that is guaranteed to waste between 5-10 minutes of your time depending on how fast you read and how quickly you decide to X out of Crashburn Alley.

EDIT 9/28: If you’re wondering where the Liveblog from last night’s game is, I’ve archived it.

All Right, Who Did It?

Oddly enough, this is not a joke. Three suspicious packages were found at Citizens Bank Park earlier today and they were detonated by a bomb squad. Per Todd Zolecki:

Citizens Bank Park was evacuated briefly this afternoon after three suspicious packages were found just outside the ballpark, a Phillies official said.

Turns out the packages were harmless — just hot dogs. This space is reserved for the multitude of hot dog-bomb jokes that you can make.

If there was a legitimate bomb threat, though, we’d have to whittle through a list of suspects.

Phillies fans could be behind it because it’d be an artistic metaphor for the Mets’ poor play in the Septembers of aught-seven and aught-eight.

Mets fans could be behind it because it’s their only shot at the division.

Jo-Jo Reyes could be behind it because he didn’t want to get shelled… again.

John McCain could be behind it to add another excuse to postponing the debate.

Harry Kalas could be behind it because he didn’t want to have to endure three hours of his colleague Chris Wheeler pronouncing Jo-Jo Reyes’ last name as “Ray-ass.”

Ah, screw it. We all know Saddam would have been behind it. Posthumously.

Why Vote for Webb When You Can Vote for Hamels?

With Brandon Webb earning his 22nd victory of the 2008 season yesterday, his candidacy for the NL Cy Young award grows ever stronger. What a lot of people don’t know is that Webb might barely be top-five material when it comes to that award, and Philadelphia’s own Cole Hamels is a better selection.

Cole Hamels vs. Brandon Webb, NL Cy Young 2008

As we can see, Hamels averages nearly a third of an inning more (doesn’t sound like much, but it’s not nothing), has a lower ERA and WHIP, and strikes out more and walks less. The only mark against Hamels is the home run rate, but he’s a fly ball pitcher and Webb is a ground ball pitcher, so that’s to be expected.

Back at the end of July, I noted that both Cole Hamels and Johan Santana (another unmentioned Cy Young candidate) had been unlucky. At that point (July 23), Hamels had four no-decisions and three losses in quality starts. Since then, Hamels has had 11 starts, eight of which were quality starts. In those eight quality starts, he hasn’t lost, but has had two more no-decisions.

Webb has 23 total quality starts this season. He’s lost in only one of them and got two no-decisions in the others. In his non-quality starts, Webb has also received one win.

With all of this talk about quality starts, it’s important to realize that it’s just a very quick way to separate a pitcher’s good performances from the bad. It’s very general. To utilize the quality start in a more efficient way, I suggest reading Brian Joseph’s article at MVN called Revisiting and Reinventing the Quality Start.

Of course, this Webb-Hamels debate leaves out other, more deserving candidates, like Tim Linceum, Johan Santana, and Ryan Dempster. Hamels is probably fourth on the list behind that trio, and Webb might be fifth.

A case can also be made for closer Brad Lidge. In my previous entry, I noted that many are making a case for K-Rod for MVP and/or Cy Young in the American League (which is completely ridiculous), but Lidge should get some limited support for the NL Cy Young. He leads all relievers, by far, in WPA. It is arguably one of the best seasons by a closer since Eric Gagne in 2003.

The Phillies are tied with the Los Angeles Dodgers, their likely NLDS opponent, for the best bullpen ERA in the National League at 3.25. Lidge, with a 1.87 ERA (238 ERA+) in nearly 70 innings, is a big part of that (15% to be exact). The Phils also have the fewest blown saves in the league with 15, and none of those are Lidge’s — he’s a perfect 40-for-40 in save opportunities.

Personally, I don’t like the idea of awarding relief pitchers since they pitch three times fewer innings than starters, but practically speaking, Lidge has been the difference between October baseball and October golf for the Phillies. Let’s take a look at the Phillies’ record if Lidge blows a specific percentage of his saves and the Phillies lose as a result.

Brad Lidge Saves

If Lidge saves “only” 95% of the games, the Phillies are tied with the Mets. If he saves “only” 90% (four blown saves, which appears to be the average), they’re two games back.

It’s not fair to just take away games from the Phillies as if this hypothetical world is a vacuum, but it still gives you a good idea of how Lidge’s success has pushed the Phillies this far.

All told, Hamels should be at the back end of the top-five in the NL Cy Young race and Lidge should be at the back end of the top-ten.

The Best Team Never to Win 90 Games

Looking at the Phillies’ records from present back to 2001 is interesting: not once have they won 90 or more games, but they’ve been in contention down to the very end in just about every season. They won 89 last season, and they’re at 89 now with five games left. Even better, the Phils have won 85 or more games every season since 2003. Could they be the best team never to win 90 games in a six- or eight-year span? They’d have to be up there especially if you add another qualifier — “never to win a post-season game.” Before last season, that qualifier would have been “never to make the playoffs.”

How much better is this year’s team compared to last year?

2008: 4.92 runs per game
2007: 5.51 runs per game (+0.59)

2008: 4.20 runs allowed per game
2007: 5.07 runs allowed per game (+0.87)

2008: 0.72 run differential
2007: 0.44 run differential (-0.28)

In the National League this season, only the Cubs are better in that respect.

How about a more in-depth look at the pitching?

2008: 4.26 starters’ ERA
2007: 4.91 starters’ ERA (+0.65)

2008: 3.29 relievers’ ERA
2007: 4.50 relievers’ ERA (+1.21)

Obviously, the biggest reason for the bullpen’s success is Brad Lidge, who has a 1.87 ERA and leads all relievers in WPA by far. Many are talking about Francisco Rodriguez as a viable candidate for the AL MVP, which is laughable, but if you’re going to include K-Rod, why not Brad Lidge? He’s certainly a much better candidate for MVP than Ryan “120 OPS+ compared to Albert Pujols’ 184 OPS+” Howard.

Is the post-season rotation improved over last season’s quintuplet of Hamels, Kendrick/Lohse (both in Game 2), and Moyer? The only difference is that Brett Myers will get Game 2 and, aside from his last start against the Marlins, has been immaculate since being called up from his demotion to the Minor Leagues.

The Phillies, as likely winners of the division, will end up playing the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first round of the NL Division Series. In his only start against the Dodgers this season, Myers scattered 9 hits over 7 shut-out innings while walking 3 and striking out 8.

Hamels pitched against the Dodgers twice this season with eerily similar results. He pitched 7 innings in both, gave up 5 hits in both, and allowed two runs in both. The only differences were in walks and strikeouts: 2 BB, 7 K in the first one, 0 BB, 5 K in the second.

The Dodgers haven’t seen Jamie Moyer this year.

Lastly, one more item to look at as it relates to the playoffs: the Phillies, with five games left, have one more turn through the rotation before the NLDS starts on October 1. Hamels on the 23rd, Myers on the 24th, Blanton on the 26th, Moyer on the 27th, and Happ on the 28th. That means that Hamels and Myers will have plenty of rest in-between starts, at 7 days apiece.

Things are looking pretty good. Right now, the pressing questions are, “Who is going to be on the mound when the Phillies clinch?” and “How can they celebrate better than Brett Myers did last season?”

Hey, man (Get It?)

Seriously, how many times do you think Jon Heyman has heard that joke? About as many times as we’ve heard (err — read) him babble incessantly against VORP and its adherents (VORPies, a term coined by Heyman himself). Let’s go through his latest installment

Once again, VORP has nothing to do with MVP

Okay. This is saying “My subjective view has nothing to do with your opinion.” And we’re nowhere.

Zero. There’s a number the stat people will understand.

That’s the relationship between VORP, the stat that the stat people love, and MVP.

Actually, VORP isn’t a statistic that everyone loves. There are a lot of critics of VORP in the Sabermetric community, like TangoTiger. It’s an offense-only counting statistic and its specific methodology isn’t known because it’s proprietary.

Heyman’s argument is a strawman anyway. VORP isn’t the end-all and be-all of statistics pertaining to arguments on the MVP. Any knowledgeable adherent to Sabermetrics will tell you that there’s no one statistic that encapsulates everything a player does in the game of baseball. There is no perfect statistic that we’ve seen thus far. No one is making the argument that the AL and NL leaders in VORP should automatically get handed the MVP.

Baseball Prospectus, as of a few days ago, had Alex Rodriguez leading the AL in VORP (which stands for Value Over Replacement Player), the stat its enthusiasts think is the best stat in the world to determine player value, and also the best to help determine who’s the Most Valuable Player.

People wonder why bloggers don’t like journalists, and it’s because of this kind of attitude. It’s another strawman argument, though this one is just dripping with derision. As mentioned, VORP has its flaws and no one is making the argument Heyman is saying is being made.

[...]A-Rod shouldn’t sniff the MVP award this year.

He’s second in the American League in OPS+ behind only Milton Bradley, a designated hitter who has been hurt due to a lack of plate appearances (479 compared to A-Rod’s 574). And Rodriguez is 17-for-20 (85%) in stealing bases. A-Rod doesn’t play great defense at third base, so that’s a mark against him, but it’s pretty much the only legitimate argument that can be made against him.

By the way, I’m not saying A-Rod should win the MVP (I’ll reveal my picks soon); he should definitely be in consideration, though.

If devotees of VORP (I’m already on their bad side after calling them VORPies last year) think their stat is key to determining the MVP, they should think again. It’s worth a glance, at best.

I guess Heyman thinks that if he puts words in his opponents’ mouths and repeats it over and over again, it becomes a universal truth. To repeat: No knowledgeable user of Sabermetrics is making the argument that A) VORP is flawless and all-encompassing, and B) that VORP should be the only criteria in determining MVP’s.

But VORP is supposed to be an all-encompassing stat,

No, it’s not. It doesn’t factor in defense. It’s a counting statistic, so it favors players who get more plate appearances/at-bats.

and it led some numbers people to determine that Hanley Ramirez was a viable NL MVP candidate last year.

Because it doesn’t factor in defense. I was one of those who used VORP (among other statistics) to arrive at the “Hanley for MVP” conclusion (I later hopped on the David Wright bandwagon). It’s what happens when you use a statistic for purposes other than what it was intended for. Hanley Ramirez wasn’t a good defender last season, though he’s improved this season.

And led many to say that David Wright was the NL MVP in a year in which Wright’s Mets choked (Wright himself says no way was he MVP).

Was the Wright quote supposed to validate the ideology that an MVP can’t come from a non-contending team? I don’t even know if you can take that at face value, as I’m presuming Wright is too humble (or not cocky enough) to say that he deserved the MVP over Jimmy Rollins last season.

Either way, the mindset that a MVP has to come from a contending team is bogus. Every year, we have to endure this argument and every year, I die a little on the inside. According to this logic, a player with a 5-gajillion OPS can’t win the MVP if he plays on a team that goes 0-162. It’d go to a player who put up a pedestrian 1.200 OPS (relatively speaking) on a 162-0 team.

There is a statistic that kind of accounts for the mindset that these people are espousing. That mindset is that a player’s value is relative to his team, so we can use PMLVr (Player Marginal Lineup Value rate). The definition from Baseball Prospectus:

Runs/game contributed by a batter beyond what an average player at the same position would hit in a team of otherwise league-average hitters.

The top-five in PMLVr in the AL: Milton Bradley (.386), Alex Rodriguez (.332), Joe Mauer (.295), Aubrey Huff (.294), and Carlos Quentin (.252).

VORP, like other stats, doesn’t come close to telling you everything.

We’ve established this. Unfortunately, Heyman is hell-bent on painting VORP-users out to be fanatics, so he’s going to continue listing damning facts about VORP everybody knows already. They’re new to him, so they must be new to everybody!

It doesn’t take into account how a hitter hits in the clutch (oddly enough, some stat people think that’s just luck, anyway),

First of all, there’s been no proof that clutch exists, so any argument that involves clutch loses some merit right there. Secondly, it depends on how you define clutch and what metrics you’re using to prove how clutch a player is. And thirdly, there has been no metric that has been consistently correlated with a hitter’s clutchness.

Even the “clutch” statistics you find on Sabermetric-inclined websites like FanGraphs and The Hardball Times should be taken with a grain of salt.

or how many meaningful games he played in (at last count Grady Sizemore was high up on the VORP list, as well).

This, too, is a subjective argument. What is the definition of a “meaningful game” and why should a player be debited or credited Heyman Points (trademarked) for them? So, Sizemore loses points for happening to be on a disappointing Cleveland Indians team, a team that was realistically out of contention in July?

That doesn’t fly. The games in September count as much in the standings as games in April, regardless of who is playing them.

VORP has some value. But like all other stats, it doesn’t replace watching the games or following the season.

This is like the billionth time this argument has been made by crotchety anti-statistic baseball writers. Why can’t people use statistics and watch the games/follow the season? It’s not that hard. I do it. Lots of people do it. I’d imagine that Heyman does it, too.

It’s presumptuous to think that, because you watch the games, you have some kind of superior method of judgment over other people. I watch the games too, Jon — are our opinions on equal footing? Am I docked Heyman Points (trademarked) for using Sabermetrics to make sure my analysis is objective?

Users of Sabermetrics are accused of thinking they’re know-it-alls, but that’s such a mischaracterization. The cocky know-it-alls are the sports journalists who think that, because they have press passes and get to hold a microphone under an athlete’s chin 162 days out of the year, they are the kings of baseball analysis and judgment. There is nothing inherent to being a baseball beat writer that makes your judgment better than anyone else. Your job does not define your boundaries of knowledge.

A good analyst realizes his faults as a human being — his proneness to bias and his poor judgment with the naked eye.  He asks questions, does research, and reaches a conclusion. That’s how an intellectually-honest and prudent analyst (in any area) approaches a subject.

The intellectually lazy analyst asks no questions, but instead states things as golden facts, and does no research to back it up. He does not realize his faults as a human being and, as a result, often resorts to arguments of subjectivity.

Guess which camp Heyman falls under?

A-Rod may have the best VORP. But he shouldn’t be on anyone’s MVP ballot, much less at the top of the ballot.

Did you notice how Heyman gave no proof as to why A-Rod should not be on the MVP ballot? He did mention a player’s “clutchness” but did not specifically link it to A-Rod, though it’s very easy to presume that that’s who he had in mind.

I would like to read a well-written, well-organized, well-researched thesis by Mr. Heyman as to why A-Rod shouldn’t even be on the MVP ballot. And when I say that, I am referring to:

  • Refraining from using arguments of subjectivity, such as “an MVP should come from a contending team” or “I’ve seen him play, he’s no MVP.”
  • Refraining from using concepts that haven’t been proven, such as “He’s not clutch enough to be an MVP.”
  • Properly understanding and citing statistics, including VORP.

Not that it means much, but if this response of mine gets sent to Mr. Heyman and he matches my challenge and provides a well-reasoned argument against A-Rod, I’ll issue a heartfelt apology right here.

In the meantime, I’ll prepare my ammunition for Heyman’s upcoming book, titled How to Put Stupid Words in Other People’s Mouths and Then Attack Them For “Saying” It: The Official Guide to Making Strawman Arguments. Yeah, it’s too wordy but I heard that the publishers ate it up.

Getting Desperate, Are We?

There are a few days during the year where journalists in all areas salivate over potential article fodder. If they are the first to break the news, or to start a controversy, it could potentially mean a raise and it’s great advertisement, since the story will usually be attributed with the person who first covered it.

Politicians getting busted for whatever it is they get busted for these days (appears to be child molestation) is one such event. The paparazzi goes nuts whenever a celebrity exposes even a sliver of a private part (usually for females; I’ve yet to read coverage of a Brad Pitt “nip-slip” though I’m patiently waiting). Sports journalists get on their knees and thank whatever supernatural being they may or may not believe in when athletes say or do stupid and/or controversial stuff because, you know, athletes aren’t allowed to have opinions.

Remember when Carlos Delgado wouldn’t come out when “God Bless America” was played? He was booed by the fans but more importantly was skewered by the media, as if he was some evil person for having developed an opinion on a political issue and practicing his beliefs.

For whatever reason, the media and fans have cognitive dissonance with athletes. They say they enjoy the energetic, outspoken ones but only if they tow a party line. We want the guy who stands up in the clubhouse and rallies the troops when the team is in the skids… as long as he doesn’t read the newspaper. Imagine how fast Derek Jeter’s popularity would sink if he started expressing opinions instead of playing the politically correct game of “no comment” and neutrality.

The reason why I’m ranting about this is because Dallas Maverick Josh Howard is in a bit of hot water for being caught on a cell phone camera saying, “‘The Star Spangled Banner’ is going on right now. I don’t even celebrate that (expletive). I’m black.”

What a tragedy. Howard is either politically apathetic (and has no reason to honor the national anthem) or has some strong opinions on current political issues and is practicing them.

From a P.R. standpoint from the Mavericks’ perspective, it’s a comment they wish he hadn’t made, no doubt about that. In fact, they might feel enough pressure from whiny journalists and conservatives (especially those whose purse strings are tied to the Mavs) to punish — fine or suspend — Howard.

Was there anything wrong with what he said? The first part — “I don’t even celebrate that (expletive)” — is fine, unless your gentle ears were shattered by that expletive (in which case I suggest you wear a helmet before going outside to go to work or school). It is his American right to stand up or sit down for the national anthem.

I’m an anthem-sitter, so I unequivocally support Howard in this regard. When I go to Phillies games, I do not remove my cap nor do I make any special effort to recognize the anthem or “God Bless America.” Sports venues, in my opinion, are not the place to be making political statements and only serve to be divisive. In fact, if any of you Crashburn Alley readers ever want to find me at a Phillies game, just look for the guy that’s sitting down during the anthem.

It’s a stupid ritual. You are not a patriot because you take your hat off, put your hand over your heart, and mouth the words of “The Star-Spangled Banner” as they’re sung by a chorus of boys and girls from an inner city school behind home plate. These meaningless shows of patriotism are cop-outs: it’s an easy way to get other people to believe you’re patriotic without actually doing anything. It’s a shame that we’ve been socialized to believe that patriotism is a virtue, as it’s a completely worthless ism.

I still do not understand how the second part of Howard’s statement — “I’m black.” — correlates with the first part. Is there some inherent attribute of being black that makes you predisposed to not participate in patriotic group events?

Either way, it’s a non-issue that only serves to prove how parasitic the media has become. Is it a wonder why blogs are so popular these days? Great transition!

In another depressing news issue, a Denver US attorney named Troy Eid criticized bloggers for holding him accountable for what he said about the alleged assassination attempts on Barack Obama. Media Bloodhound has the details of the assassination plans:

One of the men arrested, Nathan Johnson said the other two men, Tharin Gartrell and Shawn Robert Adolph, “had planned to kill Barack Obama…on Thursday…,” which was why they were in Denver, and that “Adolph was going to shoot Obama from a high vantage point using a 22-250 rifle which had been sighted at 750 yards.” According to the FBI, “Johnson was directly asked if they had come to Denver to kill Obama and he responded in the affirmative.” The Denver police found in their possession two high-powered rifles with scopes, 85 rounds of ammunition, a bullet-proof vest, walkie-talkies, wigs, fake I.D.s, hotel reservations near the convention and 4.4 grams of methamphetamine, an amount, however, too small to be charged with more than simple possession.

Obviously, Johnson and his crew had a very detailed plan and the means to carry out that plan. This wasn’t just an idea they were kicking around, brainstorming ideas over some sandwiches and chips; they were essentially in post-production of the plan, to use a term from the entertainment industry.

Eid, however, dismissed Johnson and his buddies as “a bunch of meth heads, talking life.”

“A bunch of meth heads, talking life” do not have plans this detailed, nor do they have the exact means to carry out those plans. It’s disturbing that a person in such a high position is trying to hide behind scientific objectivity — “there’s not enough evidence” — but there is, in fact, no science behind it. There is written intent, what does that count for these days?

After being justifiably roasted by bloggers, Eid felt the need to write an op-ed piece for the Denver Post.

By law and as required by ethics rules, federal prosecutors may never file criminal charges against anyone unless there’s a “reasonable likelihood” we can prove them at trial with credible, admissible evidence. That’s a high standard, and understandably so. Such was the case here. The oath we take as prosecutors is not to rack up convictions, but to ensure that the entire justice system is served.

That’s great, and it’s why our justice system is still among the best in the world. However, there’s a difference between being scientifically prudent (holding out for more evidence) and simply looking the other way. Eid’s threshold for what passes at evidence is inexplicably high.

It gets worse.

The “political” thing to have done in this case, of course, would have been to charge all three defendants with making a threat against Obama and then quietly drop those charges later – expedient, Machiavellian and self-serving, but also illegal, unethical and immoral.

Mouth agape in shock. Indeed, Eid just said that the “political” thing would have been to have the charges dropped. Yeah, just let ‘em go — people who have been plotting to kill one of two potential Presidents of the United States in 2008. While he’s not supporting it — at least, it appears that way — it’s accusatory of other US attorneys with, aha, no evidence.

Now it gets funny.

Blog-driven “news” is tragically becoming the rule, not the exception. Much of it is misinformation, where some person or interest group “spins” some angle for an unknown purpose. You can tell this when calls and e-mails start flooding the office, reading from the identical script, accusing you of the moral equivalent of crimes against humanity.

I am going to take this sentence-by-sentence.

Blog-driven “news” is tragically becoming the rule, not the exception.

This is because people are tired of the one-way street of the mainstream media. Limited access, limited perspective. The mainstream media is a souring industry because bloggers are actually better, in general, than most mainstream journalists. They have no party line to tow; they’re not subjecting what they say to the fact that they need a paycheck at the end of the week, or two weeks.

Much of it is misinformation, where some person or interest group “spins” some angle for an unknown purpose.

This is not unique to bloggers. Readers just have to be alert and discretionary about what they read and what to believe as fact. The White House, in fact, hires people specifically for this purpose, to spin some angle. The late Tony Snow was brilliant at it.

You can tell this when calls and e-mails start flooding the office, reading from the identical script, accusing you of the moral equivalent of crimes against humanity.

Translated: People held me accountable for my irresponsible words and I didn’t like it.

There’s nothing in this diatribe that proves how or why what the bloggers did was wrong, nor how any of what was said was misinformation (other than that there wasn’t enough evidence to convict the wannabe Obama-killers).

U.S. politicians and the mainstream media: successfully failing the U.S. public.

Proof Charlie Manuel Reads This Blog

Yahoo! Sports: Happ to take Kendrick’s start for Phillies

Left-hander J.A. Happ, who has made only two starts this season, will replace Kyle Kendrick in the rotation for Wednesday night’s game against the Atlanta Braves.

Kendrick (11-9) allowed seven runs and six hits in 1 1-3 innings in a 10-8 loss to the Florida Marlins last Tuesday. He has allowed 13 runs in only 5 1-3 innings in two starts this month, leaving his overall ERA at 5.44.

Me, yesterday:

[...]if Kyle Kendrick gets one more start with the way he’s been pitching, it may hamper the Phils’ post-season chances. Since the start of July, he has a 6.58 ERA and a 1.9 WHIP to complement a lousy 3.9 K/9, 4.2 BB/9, and 1.4 HR/9. Shortening the rotation to four starters, or replacing Kendrick with J.A. Happ is a necessary use of strategy at this point.

That’s all the proof you need that Charlie Manuel is a Crashburn Alley reader.

Or that he (and/or others in the organization) just have common sense. You know, whatever. Same thing, really.

Tonight’s Game @ Atlanta

It’s a cliche at this point, but tonight’s game against the Braves is an emotional roller coaster, best illustrated by this FanGraphs chart:

Phillies @ Braves 09/16/08

Vocabulary

Sombero: When a player goes 0-for-3 with 3 strikeouts.

Golden Sombero: When a player goes 0-for-4 with 4 strikeouts.

Platinum Sombrero: When a player goes 0-for-5 with 5 strikeouts.

According to Baseball Reference’s Play Index, there have been 109 instances where a player has struck out five or more times in a game, with the record being six (seven times).

One Patrick Burrell has gone 0-for-5 with 5 strikeouts tonight. Enjoy your new hat. Please come back next season.

UPDATE: Brad Lidge has topped his high-LI mark. It was previously the strikeout of Joe Mather in the ninth inning on August 3 (LI of 10.86) but his strikeout of Gregor Blanco to end tonight’s game had an LI of 10.87.

The LI and BABIP spreadsheets have been updated, by the way. I don’t know if anyone uses ‘em but they’re fun for me.

Thoughts on the Phils’ Run

After his Milwaukee Brewers got swept by the Phillies in a four-game series at Citizens Bank Park, Ned Yost was relieved of his managerial duties. Many fans of the Brew Crew will tell you that it was a long time coming — Yost should have been canned a long, long time ago. I’m not going to discuss that here, though. It is interesting to note, however, that this is the third person to lose his job after playing the Phillies: starter Matt Morris, then of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Willie Randolph (technically it wasn’t directly “after” playing the Phillies, though it was a bit of punishment for last year’s epic collapse), and now Yost.

Want to play rough tomorrow, Bobby Cox? Bring it — I’m sure Frank Wren won’t have a problem with canning you.

Friend of the blog MattS (whom I quoted in my appearance on the Live from Gotham podcast) noted that CoolStandings.com had the Phillies at 69.1% to make the playoffs yesterday, up from 39.6% on Saturday. That’s significant. The Phils picked up all four games they trailed the Brewers by going into the four-game series, and also picked up three games on the New York Mets, including their loss tonight at the hands of the Washington Nationals (meaning the Phillies are now only 0.5 games behind in the NL East).

There are still a lot who doubt the Phillies, taking into account their recent offensive ineptitude and the somewhat unsurprising struggles the various members of the bullpen have had. Still, though, between the Phillies, Mets, and Brewers, the red pinstripes have the best average run differential (+0.72 per game). And even compared to the Brewers, the Phillies can feel good about their starting pitching with Cole Hamels and the resurgent Brett Myers, whose second-half performance is topped only by C.C. Sabathia.

After a bit of a grace period, the Mets’ bullpen appears to be back to hemorrhaging leads. Both of their recent losses to the Atlanta Braves were bullpen-authored. Since September 9, the bullpen has thrown nearly 17 innings (nearly an average of 3 innings per game) and put up an ERA of 8.10 and a WHIP of 1.80. Equally as unimpressive are the BB, K, and HR rates: 5.4, 5.4, and 2.2 respectively. The walk and HR rates are really, really high, and the K-rate is way too low, especially for relievers.

To what can we attribute the Phillies’ recent success (7-3 over their last 10)? The easy answer is starting pitching, as the only bad starts have come from Kyle Kendrick and Joe Blanton (Sept. 8). However, the offense has hit at least one home run in eleven straight games, their longest streak since July 22-August 6 (the Phils went 9-2). The Phillies’ offense is more dependent on power hitting than most other offenses, so if they’re not hitting home runs, they’re not going to score many runs any other way.

Additionally, the Phillies have an average .304 BABIP over those last ten games, a huge step up from the .269 BABIP they had in August and the average .231 BABIP they had going into the series with the Florida Marlins.

Let’s have an updated look at the teams’ remaining schedules…

PHILLIES

9/16-18: @ ATL

9/19-21: @ FLA

9/22-24: vs. ATL

9/25: OFF

9/26-28: vs. WAS

METS

9/16-18: @ WAS

9/19-21: @ ATL

9/22-25: vs. CHC

9/26-28: vs. FLA

BREWERS

9/16-18: @ CHC

9/19-21: @ CIN

9/22: OFF

9/23-25: vs. PIT

9/26-28: vs. CHC

The Phillies easily have the easiest remaining schedule. On the season, they’re 10-2 against the Braves, 6-9 against the Marlins, and 9-6 against the Nationals.

The Mets have the unfortunate circumstance of having to play the Cubs in a four-game series, but there is a silver lining for the ‘politans: the Cubs will probably clinch the division before the series starts, so they will probably not be facing the Cubs at full strength. On the season, the Mets are 10-4 against the Nationals, 6-9 against the Braves, 0-2 against the Cubs, and 9-6 against the Marlins.

The Brewers have it bad — real bad. Six whole games against the Cubs and at least three of them will be against the “try hard” or “pre-clinch” Cubs. On the season, the Brewers are 4-6 against the Cubs, 7-8 against the Reds, and 11-1 against the Pirates.

Should the division and/or Wild Card leads come down to the final series of the season and it’s within a game or two, the Phillies have only the Nationals to slay while the Mets have to fend off the pesky Marlins and the Brewers have to deal with the Cubs.

Last season, of course, the Phils went 2-1 in the last series of the season against the Nats, with Brett Myers closing out Game #162 which saw the Phillies clinch their first post-season berth since 1993. The Phillies also closed out the season against the Nationals in 2005, sweeping the three-game series.

If the Phillies win the Wild Card, they’ll face the Cubs in the Division Series with the likely match-ups being Hamels/Zambrano, Myers/Harden, and Moyer/Lilly.

If the Phillies win the East, they’ll probably face the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS though I’m not sure how the Dodgers will order the rotation. I’d assume they’d open with Chad Billingsley but manager Joe Torre might prefer veteran starter Derek Lowe in the opener (Lowe, of course, won the clinching game each of the ALDS, ALCS, and World Series in 2004 for the Boston Red Sox).

However, all of this talk of the post-season is much too hasty. There are still 12 games to be played. And if Kyle Kendrick gets one more start with the way he’s been pitching, it may hamper the Phils’ post-season chances. Since the start of July, he has a 6.58 ERA and a 1.9 WHIP to complement a lousy 3.9 K/9, 4.2 BB/9, and 1.4 HR/9. Shortening the rotation to four starters, or replacing Kendrick with J.A. Happ is a necessary use of strategy at this point.  It will leave a sour taste in my mouth if the Phillies lose either the division and/or the Wild Card by two games or less having allowed Kendrick to make two or more starts.

But I didn’t mean to dampen all that optimism with a bit of reality. The Phillies will steamroll their way through the playoffs, just like they did last year, right? Oops, there goes that self-defense mechanism. Just too used to getting shafted (read: Phillies, Wild Card circa 2003 vs. Marlins; circa 2005 vs. Astros).

It’s September 11

…and you know what that means: endless propaganda.

I apologize for another non-baseball article that is only tangentially related to sports. What will follow is very political in nature and probably controversial. If you’d prefer not to hear me blather on with my opinions, read no further. I’ll write more about baseball soon enough.

If you choose to comment on this article, I will be much more authoritarian. Only comments that are mature and well-reasoned will be allowed. I don’t mind if you disagree with me, just do so rationally. I understand that 9/11 is a sensitive subject, but we can all be objective about it.

ESPN has recently seemed like a Republican mouthpiece (remember, ESPN is owned by Disney, which also owns ABC, and you remember when they aired this completely biased miniseries on 9/11?). Earlier this week on SportsCenter, they ran a piece that praised John McCain and detailed his NASCAR fandom in glowing terms. Just a coincidence that McCain is running for President and they wanted to air a piece about him? They canceled a Barack Obama podcast interview with Bill Simmons back in April.

This morning, I begrudgingly started my day with some Mike and Mike at around 8:45 to find them running a 9/11 tribute and, if I recall correctly, a clip of Jack Buck on the day baseball returned following the terrorist attacks — very moving. If it was simply a tribute to the people who lost their lives on that day, I have no problem with that, but I’m taking ESPN’s behavior and their connections into account and concluding that there’s an agenda behind it.

Let’s be honest: the only reason any media outlet is running a 9/11 tribute is for the ratings and the mostly positive feedback they will receive (and, in the end, money). There’s a reason why none of the channels aired them at 4 in the morning: because no one’s watching. It’s all about the ratings, and it’s all about money. ESPN is predatory when it comes to sappy tributes, as they use the sad stories of dead or disabled athletes for their Sunday Conversations or one of their similar bits like My Wish. I’m not saying that the people they cover don’t benefit from it, it’s just that the #1 motivation behind these pieces is money, not compassion. If My Wish didn’t make ESPN money, they wouldn’t do it. Same thing goes for their 9/11 tribute — the motivation isn’t compassion.

Overall, I’m tired of the 9/11 tributes. They generally miss the point and end up serving as right-wing propaganda. There are still a lot people out there who can’t separate 9/11 from the fighting in the Middle East. Maybe I’m wrong (doubtful, as about half the country currently supports the war-mongering McCain). From my experience, though, it seems like the 9/11 tributes just reinforce the generalization of people in the Middle East, something like this:

Those brown people who live in sand attacked us! Our presence in Iraq is justified.

Keep in mind that’s the start of a strawman argument and a generalization, but that’s generally the way I think a good portion of Americans responded and still respond to 9/11. There are still a lot of people who don’t know that the majority of the hijackers were from Saudi Arabia (but they have connections with the U.S. government, so no one wags nary a finger at them), or that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11 (even W. eventually admitted as much).

September 11 should not be a day to simply reflect back on the same day in 2001 and give a day of reprieve from doling out criticism. How about an honest look back?

  • The Bush administration was warned by Osama bin Laden about the U.S. military bases in Saudi Arabia and the open U.S. support for Israel. [L.A. Times]
  • The Bush administration ignored many warnings about Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda in the months preceding 9/11. [New York Times]
  • After being told that his country was under attack, Bush literally did nothing. [YouTube]
  • Bush linked 9/11 and Saddam Hussein to justify a venture into Iraq while simultaneously fighting a war in Afghanistan. [Christian Science Monitor]
  • On September 13, 2001, President Bush said, “The most important thing is for us to find Osama bin Laden. It is our number one priority and we will not rest until we find him.” To this day, they have not found him. In 2002, they had a great opportunity and failed, and since then, have gradually but noticeably decreased efforts in the search. The venture into Iraq had a lot to do with this. In fact, it was likely used to distract Americans from the administration’s failure to capture Osama bin Laden.
  • On May 1, 2003, President Bush stood in front of a sign on the USS Abraham Lincoln that read, “Mission Accomplished,” referring to the War in Iraq. [Wikipedia]
  • Iraqis have never supported the American presence in their country. [USA Today (2004), Washington Post (2006)]. In fact, the polls show an overbearingly negative Iraqi view on everything as it pertains to the U.S. occupation of Iraq. For instance, half of Iraqis approve of attacks on U.S.-led forces. [World Public Opinion]

September 11 is a day for remembering the innocent people who lost their lives in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington D.C. It is not a day for passivity; it is not a day for accepting government sound bites and catchphrases; it is not a day for having your eyes glaze over at the numerous amounts of propaganda that will air today. It is not a day to say, “Gee, thanks, government, for keeping me safe from the sand people!”

Those who lost their lives on this day seven years ago aren’t around anymore directly because of the Bush administration’s failed policies starting from day one. 9/11 was the Bush administration’s fault and they should not be reaping the benefits of Americans getting misty-eyed when shown images of the collapsing twin towers and the thought of friends and family lost that day.

And to tie into my opener, ESPN, with their obvious right-wing bias, has no business doing the government’s bidding. Perhaps they were forced to do so by their parent company Disney, who knows? There will be a lot of tongue-biting on camera today, and it’s a shame because those that are honest get punished for it.

I’m not the most gifted writer (or speaker, for that matter), so I’d like to point you to Keith Olbermann, who eloquently and clearly says what I’ve been struggling to say. Click here to watch the video at Crooks and Liars. I urge you to watch it.