Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Cruisin' the Web

According to Friedman, "It’s morning again — in Saudi Arabia," because Americans have short memories.

Sadly, the Minnesota Twins "do not have a department devoted to statistical analysis." In the last decade the Twins have gained an edge by developing talent through excellent scouting and managing at the minor league levels. Unfortunately, while the rest of major league baseball has integrated advanced metrics into their player evaluations, it appears the Twins are resting on their laurels. Perhaps this explains why one analyst ranks the Minnesota farm system 21 out of 30.

"Small-market teams love salary caps. Or rather, they think they do. " If a salary cap were implemented in Major League Baseball, 13 teams would have to spend an extra $15 million to meet the minimum.

Why is it that conservatives only fight for tax relief that would benefit the wealthy? "If the Republicans were more serious about their philosophical commitment against taxation, why not instead propose a either a long-lived holiday or a permanent reduction in the FICA (payroll) tax as the entirety of their stimulus package?...because the payroll tax is capped at about $100,000 in income, suspending or reducing it would not be all that helpful to wealthy Americans, to whom it represents only a tiny fraction of their tax burden." (Read more)

A nice chart of President Obama's cabinet (with pictures and everything).

A liberal uses the "n-word". (More people just like him.)

Greg Boyd
finds it a bit ironic that Colin Powell was the keynote speaker at a Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast. Makes a lot of sense to me.

"Liberalism is not America’s problem. A comfortable Church with a tamed Jesus is." (More here)

The current free agent compensation system is screwed up. When the Brewers receive a second round pick for losing C.C. Sabathia (instead of a first) and Jason Varitek is held hostage because any team that signs him will have to give up a first rounder, something needs to change. Look for this to be a topic for discussion at the next round of collective bargaining. In the meanwhile, since the Yanks have already forfeited their 1st, 2nd, and 3rd round picks with this year's big free agent aquisitions, Ken Rosenthal believes they should solidify their bullpen by signing type A free agent, Juan Cruz. I totally agree. Meanwhile, Yankee blog, River. Ave. Blues makes some suggestions for how to fix the free agent compensation system.

There's a lot of hype around the Cleveland Indians this offseason, but "the Twins will be a tough beat in the AL Central in 2009."

Back in October, I complained that the Twins were forced to play a tiebreaker against the White Sox in Chicago because they lost a coin flip. This, despite having won the season series. Well, looks like those coin-flips won't be happening anymore. Thanks Bud. Better late than never I guess.

Check it out, the White House has a blog!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Raines, Race, and the Hall of Fame

Some thoughts on race and baseball on Dr. King's Day.

Two weeks ago, Ricky Henderson and Jim Rice were elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers Association of America (for the most complete list of BBWAA members on the net click here). Henderson received 94.8% of the votes and Rice received 76.4% (for full election results click here). A chorus of sabermetricans have been campaigning for the elections of Bert Blyleven, who received 62.7% of the votes, and Tim Raines, who received 22.6%, both of whom fell short of the required 75% vote.

In this article, ESPN baseball writer, Keith Law, uses statistical analysis to make a convincing argument for Tim Raines' entrance into the Hall and compares his career to Paul Molitor's, suggesting something else may be to blame for his omission.
So Raines was perhaps the best base stealer in the game's history, the second-best leadoff hitter, one of the best hitters at reaching base (the most important thing a hitter can do, after all) and a good defensive player. One common excuse for omitting Raines from Hall ballots is his admitted cocaine use in the 1980s, including his infamous confession to sliding headfirst to avoid breaking the vials of snow in his back pocket. Raines was clean for the majority of his career and became known both as someone who talked about his recovery from addiction and just generally a good character guy, yet voters are still bringing up the drug use from the first two or three years of his career.
Yet another candidate who reached the ballot with similar off-field indiscretions, Paul Molitor, sailed into the Hall on the first ballot with more than 85 percent of the vote and 299 more votes than Raines received in his first year. Molitor also played the first few years of his career with a serious cocaine problem. So why does Molitor get a free pass while Raines struggles to reach even a quarter of the vote? It's not about their playing careers; Raines was the better offensive player and played a thousand more games in the field than Molitor did. Molitor accumulated more bulk statistics at the plate, but his inability to play a position was a big part of extending his career. No, it might be about something far more insidious.

The electorate for the Hall, comprising BBWAA members who have at some point held their badges for 10 consecutive years (although they need not be active badge holders now), is overwhelmingly white; the organization's secretary, Jack O'Connell, did a quick count of African-American voters and came up with 19 in the history of the organization, at least one of whom (Hall of Famer Larry Whiteside) is deceased. Even if O'Connell undercounted current African-American voters by 50 percent, that would give us 36, out of a total electorate of over 550. Are we just looking at an example, then, of a white electorate treating drug use by a white player differently than it would treat drug use by an African-American player? Many academics, including Princeton professor Cornel West, have written about the way that the American media treats white drug users differently from African-American drug users; perhaps this inequity has seeped into its treatment of baseball players with distant histories of drug use as well, because any gap between Raines' and Molitor's on-field performances could not begin to justify the gap in their Hall of Fame vote totals. This is not to say that any individual voter is racist, but that pervasive societal stereotypes may be hurting Raines' Hall chances.
I do not think Keith Law is suggesting that racism is to blame for Tim Raines' extremely low vote total. I can think of some other factors that explain the ridiculously low vote totals. For instance, the majority of the BBWAA has been extremely reluctant to considers a player's Hall case using quantitave analysis of baseball statistics, and the new categories that have resulted in the last couple decades. These categories go beyond the traditional HR, SB, R, and RBIs. Some examples include OPS, OBP, WARP, and VORP. Considering Raines' Hall case rests largely on the acceptance of quantitative analysis and these new categories, it is reasonable to conclude that there are just too many old farts in the BBWAA who still believe the earth is flat for Raines to stand a chance as a first ballot Hall of Famer.

That said, Law makes a compelling argument, and one that can't be ignored. It would be easy to simplify Raines' omission as the oversight of a bunch of old flat earth cranks, but that might be a mistake. Law's argument certainly deserves more consideration: social stereotypes could be influencing Hall of Fame voting.

(Check out Tim Raines' and Bert Blyleven's Hall of Fame websites. Very convincing.)

Friday, January 9, 2009

Elizabeth Warren's Warning for the Middle Class

Recently, I was channel surfing and happened to land on C-Span's coverage of some prominent economists testifying before some House committee on the current economic mess. Greg Mankiw was testifying so I stopped to listen. Mostly, he was boring and predictable. I stayed a little longer to hear Elizabeth Warren. Wow. Even my wife Becky, was impressed, and that is no easy task. Warren, a Harvard professor, is a consumer advocate whose main focus is bankruptcy and commercial law (check out her blog). Her most popular written work is "The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers are Going Broke" and she played a significant role in the documentary "Maxed Out: Hard Times, Easy Credit and the Era of Predatory Lenders." Recently, she's been thrust into the spotlight when she was appointed chair of the five-person oversight panel of the infamous $7 million TARP funds.

After listening to her Congressional testimony I wanted to hear more, so I did some googling and checked out some youtube clips and found this UC Berkeley Graduate Council lecture called "The Coming Collapse of the Middle Collapse". It was eye-opening to say the least. It has always been my assumption that irresponsible consumption was a signficant cause of the current struggles of middle class Americans. While I still believe consumerism is a problem in America, after watching this, I'm beginning to rethink the extent to which over-consumption is to blame for the problems of the middle class.

Because the embeded video is 57 minutes, and some of you may not want to watch all of it, I've outlined some interesting facts from her presentation below.

The Commerce Department has tracked how Americans spend their money for more than a century. Warren used this data to compare the spending habits between two similar families: a mom and dad with two kids in the early 1970s and a mom and dad and two kids in 2003, and adjusted for inflation. Her findings:
  • A family of four spends 32% less on clothes in 2003 than in the 1970s.
  • A family of four spends 18% less on food in 2003 than in the 1970s.
  • A family of four spends 52% less on appliances in 2003 than in the 1970s.
  • A family of four spends 24% less per car in 2003 than in the 1970s.
  • A family of four spends 76% more on a 3 bedroom one bathroom house in 2003 than in the 1970s. The average American family is about 50% more likely to be in a house more than 25 years old.
  • A family of four spends 74% more on health care in 2003 than in the 1970s (assuming this family is fortunate enough to have employer sponsored health insurance).
  • A family of four spends 52% more on cars in 2003 than in the 1970s because they now have more than one car in the family.
  • A family of four spends 100% more on childcare in 2003 than in the 1970s because mom is now at work.
  • A family of four pays 25% more in taxes in 2003 than in the 1970s because mom is now at work.
  • Notice, these are all fixed expenses, whereas the earlier expenses are flexible.
The median family of four from the '70s spent half its income on fixed expenses. The median family of four from 2003 spent three-fourths of its income on fixed expenses. This, despite having two incomes--mom is now at work. In fact, after paying for fixed expenses Warren determined the median single-income family from the '70s had more money left over than the median dual-income family from 2003.

Unfortunately, in her presentation Warren does not suggest solutions for this obvious problem, she just presents the data. My personal belief is that she is NOT suggesting that moms stay home. So, then what?

Thoughts? Reactions? Criticisms?

(Btw, I did not outline the last 20 minutes of her presentation. It was too difficult to summarize concisely in bullets.)