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Just Off-Camera

"They respect you if you write. The dumber the world gets, the more the words matter." -Dan Jenkins


Sunday, May 29, 2005

Charlie On The Bench: An Ode To Phillies Baseball

The outlook seemed quite brilliant for the Phightin' Phils that day,
The score stood four to two with just two innings more to play.
Abreu'd knocked in Rollins twice, helped, no doubt, by his speed,
And Thome'd ripped a two-run shot – the Phils were in the lead!

But Lieber's pitches, at long last, began to get much fatter,
And he began the eighth frame as the Phillies' leadoff batter.
"Aha!" thought Charlie Manuel, "I'll send up a pinch hitter!"
The skipper didn’t realize his 'pen was in the s------.

And so Tomas Perez stepped in, and struck out on three pitches,
And Rollins and Polanco popped out like a pair of bitches.
So heading to the eighth frame, Charlie Manuel made the call
To Henderson, his bullpen coach, to see who'd get the ball.

The leadoff man was lefty, but the next two batted right.
It seemed one hitter would be it for any lefty's night.
And sure enough, he raised his arm and called for southpaw Fultz,
A pitcher barely known by even diehard Phillies cults.

The lefty caused the leadoff man to weakly ground to first,
But following events showed Phillies baseball at its worst.
The fans at CBP swore at their favorite team, dismayed,
Except the fan that mattered most: the Phils' GM, Ed Wade.

Instead of marching out to tell his lefty, "Job well done,"
Charlie sat upon his keister, simply begging for a run.
And Fultz, who knew his night should have been coming to an end,
Now had another man or two against whom to contend.

Fultz gamely toed the mound once more to get the sign from Lieby.
He went into his windup and then he released a BB.
The righty knew, however, that Fultz would not throw a curve.
An average lefty pitcher simply didn't have the nerve.

And so the hitter turned on one, and smoked it down the line,
And as he stood on second, thought that Fultz should ride some pine.
"What were they thinking?" mused the man, as he led toward third,
"To leave a lefty in the game is just straight up absurd."

Yet still there were no pitchers stirring in the Phillies' pen,
And even Ed Wade thought, "If not a righty now, then when?"
Our roster's stocked with so much skill – if Madson's feeling weary,
He still has Telemaco, Rob Tejeda, or Geoff Geary!"

Fultz once again looked in to get another catcher's sign.
The second righty, too, knew that he wouldn't have the spine.
He looked for fastball, then he hit one deep to Ashburn's Alley.
Two runs came home to tie the game – a late opponent rally.

Then Charlie dialed up the pen; said, "Better now than later,
Start warming Billy Wagner and that Robinson Tejeda!"
Not stopping to consider he'd already blown his lead
And why the fans were booing each new manager’s misdeed.

Fultz managed to escape the eighth with no more damage done.
The visitors had struck, though, and the Phils needed a run.
But true to Phillies form, the squad then fizzled in the clutch.
They went down one-two-three by whiffing, grounding out, and such.

The contest, which looked sure to be the Phightin' Phils' to claim,
Was, after eight, a tie, and now was either squadron's game.
And who did Charlie use in such a pressure situation?
A man whose name's said wrongly by the whole of baseball nation.

"It’s not time for a closer," Charlie reasoned in his head,
"And Tejeda's done a fine job since Worrell became a sped."
The visitors' announcers told their fans, "Here comes 'Tejada,'"
While fans at CBP began to brace for nearing slaughter.

"Damn, Charlie," thought the rooters, "Just because we're not ahead
Does not mean that the time for Billy Wagner should be dead."
So on the mound, in a tight game, now stood a helpless rookie,
And fans began to wonder whether Charlie had a bookie.

The rookie toed the rubber, and delivered to the plate,
And to the fans' surprise, he notched an out – score it "F-8."
But what transpired next induced a fan or two to hurl.
What seemed a can of corn instead just dropped in front of Burrell.

"Ah, crap," cried out a couple fans, as more began to boo.
"We should have one more out to go; instead, we're needing two!"
And magically, as though the gods had heard their anguished yell,
The next man up could only hit a grounder toward Bell.

"We're saved!" thought Phillies rooters. "That’s an easy double play!"
And then they watched in horror as Bell threw the ball away.
The inning should've ended, but because of what occurred,
The visitors, with one man out, now stood on first and third.

"Wagner's warm," thought many fans, "we need him now for sure."
But Charlie Manuel disagreed; he somehow felt secure.
"It's not Tejeda’s fault," he thought. "The kid's been pitching well,
We wouldn't even be here now if not for friggin' Bell."

And as so often happens when momentum starts to tip,
The pitcher lost his stuff; he plunked the next man in the hip.
The bases were now loaded, or the pond was full of ducks.
Whatever the expression, Phils fans peppered it with "f----."

The lefty Aaron Fultz first faced now batted once again
With thoughts of his own highlight reel played on ESPN.
And even with his closer warm, Skip came not to his senses.
He let the lefty swing against Tejeda for the fences.

And so the hopeful lefty swung away with all his might.
He lifted Mister Rawlings high and very deep to right.
Abreu looked up hopelessly – he hardly could do more.
The bases had been cleared, and now the Phillies trailed by four.

The last two outs were once again recorded far too late.
The damage done, the baseball gods had sealed the Phillies' fate.
Some fans got up before the end to hit I-95.
While others clung to that slim hope: The Phils were still alive.

But once again, like times before, a win was not to be.
The Phils went up and down again, retired, one-two-three.
And Charlie gave, on Postgame Live, his usual refrain:
"Just give us some more time," he said, "we'll take it game by game."

Oh, sometimes in this fabled game, a coach knows who should pitch,
And usually in the NL, coaches know the double switch,
And some lead by example, and still others lead by Zen,
But there is no joy in Philly – the Phightin' Phils have lost again.

Friday, May 20, 2005

The Visa Triple Crown Conspiracy

Go bet on Giacomo to win the Triple Crown. Do it ASAP, before the Preakness gets underway. Never mind that he's not even favored to win the Preakness, or that he was a 50-1 shot to win the Kentucky Derby, or that the odds are 20-1 against him winning the Triple Crown. Just go do it. I did it. Why am I so sure?

Take a seat. I'm about to blow the cover off of something big.

Since 1875, there have been 125 years in which all three Triple Crown races have been run (there was no Preakness from 1891-1893 and no Belmont Stakes from 1911-1912). Twenty times during that period, the same horse has won the first two legs but come up short in the Belmont. That averages out to about once every six or seven years. This may seem strange to you, because you probably recall several horses going for a Triple Crown in recent years. You'd be right. In six of the last eight years, the same horse has won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, but not the Belmont.

If you're the impatient type, you're thinking that this unusual frequency proves nothing, and that it is just a mere statistical aberration. Besides, the Belmont Stakes is a quarter mile longer than the Derby (and 5/16 of a mile longer than the Preakness). Doesn't that extra quarter mile mean that it's better suited for different horses? Well, maybe...but hear me out.

The recent frequency of horses that missed the last leg would be easy to attribute to random chance - if it weren't for the fact that something important happened behind the scenes of the Triple Crown at about the same time. In 1996, Visa began sponsoring the Triple Crown. If you've watched any of the races, you've heard it called the "Visa Triple Crown."

If there isn't a horse going for the Triple Crown, nobody's going to watch the Belmont Stakes. A quick search for Nielsen ratings for past Belmont Stakes showed me that the 9.2 in 2002, for War Emblem's unsuccessful attempt, was the highest rated Belmont since 1987 (which was Alysheba's unsuccessful try). Since then, the ratings have only increased - 10.4 for Funny Cide in '03, and 11.3 for Smarty Jones last year (the highest rated Belmont since 1981, which, not surprisingly, featured Pleasant Colony in an unsuccessful attempt at a Crown). So the Nielsen numbers back up what common sense tells us.

Therefore, it's in Visa's best interest to have a horse win the first two legs of the Triple Crown in order to receive the maximum exposure possible for its sponsorship.

"Why then," you may be asking, "hasn't a horse actually won the Triple Crown in the last eight years? Surely Visa would receive even more exposure from such a result, and if they could somehow pull the strings to make the Derby winner also win the Preakness, why not the Belmont, too?"

Excellent question. Here's why. Visa has dangled a five million dollar prize to any horse that wins the Triple Crown. Visa doesn't want to shell out five mil. You might argue that five million is peanuts in return for the publicity they'd get for sponsoring the Triple Crown when a horse wins it all. Well, perhaps, but if a horse wins the Crown, then the anticipation doesn't build for next year. Did you notice that the ratings for the Belmont have increased for each of the last three attempts at a Triple Crown? If a horse wins the Crown, then there won't be as much interest the next year. As the wait increases, so do the ratings. It's been 27 years since the last Triple Crown winner - the longest drought since the first Crown was won in 1919. With each year, tension builds. Therefore, Visa doesn't want a Triple Crown winner so that the next year's Belmont receives even more press.

"Wait a minute," you're thinking now. "You just contradicted yourself. You said that Giacomo would win the Triple Crown this year, but then you said that Visa doesn't want Triple Crown winners. You're totally wrong."

Well, I thought that at first. I figured Giacomo would win the Preakness, and then I'd bet on another horse to take the Belmont. Maybe I'd even bet Giacomo to place. But let's think about something here. If a change in sponsorship could make a difference in the race results in the past, couldn't it happen again?

Visa so happens to be in the last year of its sponsorship of the Triple Crown. This is the last time "Visa Triple Crown" will be falling out of the mouths of the talking heads. And so Visa now has lost its interest in prolonging the anticipation for a Triple Crown winner. Now is the time for its investment to pay off - the publicity that comes with a horse finally winning the Triple Crown. If Visa was actually pulling strings in the past, then why not this year? It may be harder, because by almost all accounts, Giacomo isn't that great of a horse. But Visa wants him to win the Preakness and the Belmont.

And what Visa wants, Visa usually gets.

The Nielsen ratings will be through the roof for the Belmont if Giacomo is making a run at the Triple Crown. And the phrase "Visa Triple Crown" will be thrown all over the news if Giacomo wins it all.

Last year, after Smarty Jones blew his chance at racing immortality, I mused about a possible fix. I didn't really take the time to look into a reason beyond the obvious. But Visa's sponsorship coincides a little too neatly with this sudden run on Derby-Preakness winners losing the Belmont. If the fix is indeed in, then why should I let Visa rake in all the profit? I'm going to pick up some money myself.

Besides, tomorrow's my birthday. Giacomo could at least give me the hope at a payday with a win in the Preakness.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Infereezy Chizzles

My one remaining final is for Lawyering Skills. After a little bit of review for this exam, I get the feeling that the major skill this exam tests is common sense, which in the legal world is known as an inference chain. Basically, you take some evidence and then you take the conclusion that logically follows from that evidence, and you fill in the reasoning in between very explicitly instead of just assuming that people will figure it out. This is probably because juries are frequently made up of people who are not big on common sense. After all, they couldn't get out of jury duty. Anyway, one of my classmates explained the inference chain quite well on his site.

Now, as easy as this seems, I didn't want to go into the final without any practice on inference chains. So I figured I'd marshal some evidence from Snoop's classic album Doggystyle and see if murder, indeed, was the case.

Evidence: Snoop keeps comin' up with funky-ass s--- like every single day.

Prosecution inferences:
a) The funky-ass s--- which Snoop comes up with like every single day requires inspiration.
b) Murdering people inspires Snoop to come up with funky-ass s--- like every single day.
c) Therefore, murder was the case.
Prosecution generalizations:
a) People who come up with funky-ass s--- like every single day [usually] require inspiration.
*Especially when there is so much drama in the LBC.
b) People who require inspiration [sometimes] are inspired by murder.
*Except when motherf------ lay back in the cut before they get shot.
*Especially when you f--- with the Pound.
c) Therefore, people [sometimes] commit murder.
*Especially when they never hesitate to put a n---- on his back.

Defense inferences:
a) Snoop comes up with funky-ass s--- like every single day because his game grows bigger as the sun rotates.
b) Because his game is so big, he doesn't need to murder people.
c) Therefore, murder was not the case.
Defense generalizations:
a) People who come up with funky-ass s--- like every single day [usually] do so because their game grows bigger as the sun rotates.
*Except when the sun doesn't rotate.
b) People who have big game [usually] don't need to murder people.
*Especially when people put their gun away and run away.
*Except when they gotta take a trip to the MIA to serve someone's ass with a motherf----- AK.
c) Therefore, people don't [usually] murder people.
*Especially when they're gonna smoke an ounce to this.

Evidence: Snoop put some bubbles in the tub so he can take a bubble bath.

Prosecution inferences:
a) Snoop put some bubbles in the tub so he can take a bubble bath in order to get clean.
b) Snoop wasn't clean because he had blood on him.
c) Snoop had blood on him because murder was the case.
Prosecution generalizations:
a) People who put some bubbles in the tub so they can take a bubble bath [usually] do so in order to get clean.
*Especially when they are true to the style on their behalf.
b) People who aren't clean [sometimes] have blood on themselves.
*Especially when they rob motherf------ and kill them blood clots.
*Except when they are up in your bitch.
c) People who have blood on themselves [sometimes] murdered someone.
*Especially when the gun by their side represents them and the motherf----- East Side.

Defense inferences:
a) Snoop put some bubbles in the tub so he could take a bubble bath in order to prepare himself for meeting a ho.
b) Snoop was busy meeting a ho and did not have time for other activities.
c) Because he did not have time for other activities, murder was not the case.
Defense generalizations:
a) People who put bubbles in the tub so he could take a bubble bath [sometimes] do so to prepare for a meeting with a ho.
*Especially when there are bitches in the living room getting it on who ain't leavin' till six in the mornin'.
b) People who are meeting hoes [sometimes] don't have time for other activities.
*Especially when they plan to bang every single ho in '94.
c) People who don't have time for other activities [usually] do not commit murder.
*Except when it's 187 on a motherf----- cop.

Well, you can draw your own conclusions. I think there may be some credibility issues here, though.

Dear NHL: Go F--- Yourself

Seriously. I've had it with this lockout.

Did you know that there hasn't been a hockey player on the cover of Sports Illustrated since October 14, 2002? Since then, there have been 33 pro football covers, 28 baseball covers, 20 college football covers, 16 pro basketball covers, 13 college basketball covers, six golf covers, three cycling covers, three Swimsuit covers, two Olympic covers, a soccer cover, a tennis cover, and a horse racing cover. It's been over two and a half years, hockey.

Did you know that the IIHF offered the TV rights to the hockey World Championships for free - and nobody took it? That means that every channel in this country thinks that what they are showing is better than the best players in the world playing hockey. Tomorrow morning at 10:15 a.m. Pacific time, Canada and the Czech Republic - yes, the last two teams to win Olympic gold - are competing for the championship. Martin Brodeur vs. Jaromir Jagr. Instead of showing it, CBS has infomercials on from 10 to 11. The only way to watch it here in the States is to drop $10 to get the Internet broadcast. That's embarrassing.

Did you know that "NHL" is under the drop-down menu "More [+]" on ESPN.com pages other than its home page? Golf, soccer, and "SportsNation" are there on the navigation bar, taking the place of a so-called major sport. On Sports Illustrated's site, "NHL" doesn't even appear on the home page. Nobody wants to know about this sport.

You're done, NHL. Baseball was America's pastime, and even that was barely able to save baseball after its strike. The NHL was already rapidly becoming an afterthought before the lockout. Now it's not any kind of thought.

Your league is in trouble because even diehard fans like myself are considering not going to NHL games when the league returns.

The lockout might never end. NHL players are still playing in Europe. The owners are still making money from wherever they made their money before. Neither side has the motivation to end the lockout. This isn't a bunch of coal miners picketing, living off their meager savings accounts. Factories aren't shutting down. Nobody loses by having this lockout but North American hockey fans - the few that are left.

If you think you're going to sell tickets for $80 to see an NHL game if the league ever returns, think again. You'll have to promote the hell out of the game to get fans interested again. Hockey fans in the Northeast and Midwest will have turned to college hockey. Hockey fans elsewhere are already going to minor league games and have found them cheaper and just as satisfying.

Worse, hockey fans are forgetting about your sport altogether. Arena football and Major League Soccer are taking away fans that you are conceding to them with every passing day of this lockout. In fact, NBC is showing an Arena League game tomorrow at precisely the same time Joe Thornton and Rick Nash try to solve Tomas Vokoun and win a gold medal.

In fact, last night, I went to an arena football game for the first time. It was awesome. The teams played with intensity. I saw great athleticism and hard hits. And the game was exciting down to the final minute. More than anything, it was crystal clear that this is a league that cares about its fans. Before kickoffs, players were pumping up the crowd, giving high-fives to the fans in the front row. When the L.A. Avengers had to kill off the remaining 10 seconds of the game (no kneeling down in the AFL, I think), the QB deliberately threw high, arcing incomplete passes into the crowd, where fans were eagerly awaiting the souvenirs. The QB, an 11-year AFL vet, was a righty, and threw his first two passes over the left sideline, where it was easiest for him. But on the last play of the game, as his team was about to clinch a division title, he scrambled, ducked out of a tackle, and then threw his final pass to the right side, just so the fans over there could get a ball. Nearly all of the fans in attendance (even Keanu Reeves, who should be at a Kings game right now, since he was a stud goalie in high school) stayed until the end, and this is Los Angeles!

As soon as the scoreboard announced that the Avengers' first-round playoff game would be a home game, I planned on going.

The AFL players involved the fans, entertained the fans, and gave the fans souvenirs, a team to cheer for, and a reason to stay until the end of the game in the capital city of beat-the-traffic. In the last year-plus, the NHL hasn't given anything to its fans but empty promises to do better.

Your league is beyond saving. Recognize it now, figure out an agreement, and get on the ice. The problem with your sport is not rules that need to be changed, or violence on the ice, or even the labor issues over which you are currently bickering. The problem is that you have no product, no sport, left to promote.

Mr. Bettman. Mr. Goodenow. You both wanted so badly to leave a legacy of being the man who would not concede to the other side. It doesn't matter anymore. You are past the point where either of you could have escaped untarnished. An entire season has been lost. Now neither of you will be remembered for anything other than being the men who ruined hockey.

Friday, May 13, 2005

I'm (Not Quite) Done With Finals

I'm thisclose to being done with my first year of law school. I have one more final remaining, which I like to think of as one-eighth of a final, because unlike all my other finals, this one doesn't count for my entire grade in the course. Probably not the best attitude for doing well on that final, though.

Finals are an interesting time. Part of me likes it, part of me hates it. I like the unstructured nature of finals week - the only time I ever have to be anywhere is the final itself. As a result, my circadian rhythms became completely screwed up and I found myself sleeping from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. most of the last two weeks.

I find that being able to stay up until dawn makes me much more productive. During the daytime, there are far too many distractions - things on TV, sporting events to watch, people to talk to online, breaking news to follow, etc. Between 12 and 6 a.m., none of that is an issue. Nothing's open, so I'm not tempted to go anywhere. Nothing's on TV. Nothing newsworthy is happening in the world. (Sadly, the headline on My Yahoo! before I go to bed at 5 or 6 a.m. every day the last couple of weeks is always another suicide bombing or troop ambush or something like that from Iraq. At that hour, it's always the only thing that's happened so far in the day. All the reports have blurred together to the point where they make no individual impression on me.) Without distractions, I can be so much more productive than I normally am. I was the same way over spring break when I was doing the write-on for law review (except even more so - I was up from about 7 p.m. to 9 a.m. then). On the other hand, I get ridiculous ideas at 3 a.m. like calling my Property professor at home, waking him up, and saying, "Is your statute of limitations running? It is? Then you better go catch it!"

Speaking of productivity, during finals, I'm spending much more time working than I did at any other point during the semester (except for maybe the write-on). During the year, there's just no way I could sit down for six straight hours and apply myself to work. Now, I don't have much choice (well, I could just wing my finals, but that's probably not a good idea). Fortunately, as I've been reviewing a semester's worth of notes, nothing jumps out at me as something totally foreign. This was something of a relief to me - in a way, I'd expected to come across some legal concept that I just totally missed during the semester, but somehow I'd paid enough attention between games of spider solitaire to make reviewing for finals exactly that - reviewing, not learning new things.

However, I think the amount of time before each final is going to be directly related to how I did. I felt pretty good about Contracts, my first final, for which I had plenty of time between the end of class and the exam to study. I also felt alright about Con Law, which was five days after Contracts. But Property, only three days after Contracts, was harder - I don't know if it was the test itself, or the fact that I couldn't focus on Property for very long before the test.

Who knows what grades I'll actually get, though. The mandatory curve for 1Ls at UCLA (which is changing next year and will benefit next year's 1Ls, not us) is 20% As, 60% Bs, and 20% Cs and below. When you take 15 weeks of instruction, then base an entire grade on testing knowledge of those 15 weeks in a four-hour span, there's going to be an aspect of unreliability. The best student in the class could be fighting a cold the day of the exam and not do as well as he might otherwise do. The worst student in the class might luck out and find that the test focuses on the three issues he knows best. It reminds me of speed skater Dan Jansen, who was at one point the world record holder in the 500m. At the 1988 Calgary Olympics, he fell after learning that his sister had died earlier that day. At the 1992 Albertville Olympics he failed to medal despite finishing 0.32 seconds behind the gold medalist. At the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics he stumbled again, lost ground, and finished eighth. Jansen was probably the best skater in the world at the 500m; he just happened to have the worst luck on the sport's biggest stage. Anyway, that's kind of how the testing process at law school works out.

Then there's just the randomness of the grading. I haven't gone to see how my exams from the fall semester were graded, but there's a naturally subjective aspect to grading these exams. I find it hard to believe that there's an unbelievably wide range in the quality of the exam answers, which means that there might not be much of a difference between an A exam and a C+ exam. It just depends how many exams happened to fall right in between those two. With subjective grading, chance plays a significant role in where your exam falls in the spectrum of the class as a whole.

***

One of the good things about this past week was the release of the new Dave Matthews Band album on Tuesday. Being the tremendous DMB nerd that I am; I preordered it with express shipping so it would be delivered to my door on the day of its release, along with a five-song bonus CD as a thank-you for preordering, plus three extra tracks on the bonus CD because I'm in the fan club. Yep, big nerd. Anyway, I was really looking forward to this CD, since there hasn't been any truly new studio material coming out of DMB since 2001's Everyday.

For me, a new DMB CD is always an odd experience, because I'm so used to hearing all of the songs that they already have. I listen to their live CDs and their old albums and I'm so familiar with the songs that to hear new songs is a huge variation from my typical DMB listening experience. So on Tuesday, when Stand Up came to my door, I got in my car and drove to Santa Monica to get lunch instead of walking into Westwood so I could listen to the new disc.

I'll need a few spins to really get into it the way I have with all of the other CDs, but on the whole, it's an excellent work. "Old Dirt Hill (Bring That Beat Back)," the second track, is a catchy melody, but the early returns say that the best song on the CD in "Lousiana Bayou," an upbeat song that reminds me a bit of "Stay (Wasting Time)" despite the fact that the two songs don't sound anything alike - instead, they kind of invoke similar feelings. "American Baby," the first single off the disc, is also a song that I'm getting into. "Hello Again," with its heavy beat, is a catchy song with a darker edge to it.

I was a little disappointed that they left "Joyride" off the CD. On their last tour, they played a few songs that they had written for this album; "Joyride" was one of them. They included the version of "Joyride" that they had recorded for Stand Up on the bonus CD, but it's not part of the album, which I was surprised about. It's got a beat that's easy to like, and I was surprised that it didn't make the cut, since it seemed to be one of the crowd favorites on the last tour. Guess that's why I'm not a producer.

Anyway, Stand Up only makes me look forward to this summer's tour with even more anticipation. One of the things I like about DMB's music is that each song has its own evolution - there's a clear difference in some of the songs from their earlier concerts and the way they're played now. I'm curious to see how the studio versions of the new songs translate live.

***

I've had a few suggestions thrown my way, based on my last post, about whom I should have a crush on. I'm pretty sure none of the following women was the one who left a drunk voice mail on my phone around 6 p.m. today, but whoever was calling didn't identify herself. She only said, "Dude, I'm so drunk. Good luck on your final. I'll talk to you later. I'm sure this phone call was ill-advised. Bye." Anyway, here's the short list of women who probably did not make that call.

Emily VanCamp - Pros: She's Canadian and likes hockey (huge plus there). It's also not cliched to like her. She doesn't look like the typical celebrity. Cons: I have no idea who she is. She's on Everwood, on the WB, and I don't think I, um, ever would watch that show. She's still a teenager (turned 19 yesterday).

Keira Knightley - Pros: Really ridiculously good looking. Likes soccer, so maybe she could learn to like hockey. Cons: Dropped out of school at age 16. Doesn't like parties. Looked better with long hair.

Natalie Portman - Pros: Ivy League-educated Jewish girl. Natural good looks. Speaks five languages fluently. Aspires to be something other than an actress (we'll see how that turns out). Plus, I'm a lot cooler than the Star Wars nerds who like her. Cons: She's vegan and doesn't drink. She went to Harvard. And everybody likes her.

Salma Hayek - Pros: Smoking hot. Fluent in four languages. Cons: She's 38, a little too old for me. She's been quoted as saying, "I keep waiting to meet a man who has more balls than I do." That's mildly frightening.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The Demise Of The Celebrity Crush

Maybe it's because I'm getting older. I mean, I turn 24 in 10 days. There are freshmen on this campus who were in second grade when Ready To Die was released. The guy leading the major leagues in ERA is younger than I am. Current fashion doesn't make any sense to me anymore, although that could just be because it sucks from an objective standpoint. But the point is, I'm aging. And I hope that's the reason for this change that I've noticed. (No, not the fifth-grade health class video kind of change.)

I've noticed that it's become increasingly difficult to pick a celebrity worth having a decent crush on. Seriously. For the most part, they're all one-dimensional, and perhaps it's because I'm a complex individual (probably not), but I need some substance to my celebrities. I'm not getting it anymore.

Take a look at the Yahoo! Buzz Index. It's a daily chart of what people are searching for online (minus the porn sites), and it gives a good indication of what's making the biggest blips on the radar screen. The female celebrities in the top 25 searches are Britney Spears, Mariah Carey, Jessica Simpson, Jennifer Lopez, Gwen Stefani, Ciara, Paris Hilton, and Oprah Winfrey. Are any of them crushworthy? Scientific analysis tells me otherwise...

Britney Spears - I'll give her this - she has staying power. I think she's been in the public eye for six years now. And she looks hot in her videos. But that's about it. She's a moron (ever see Fahrenheit 9/11?) and although some of her songs are catchy (did I just say that?), it's not because she's a terrific singer. She's not exactly what you'd call classy, either. Like most of her companions on the buzz list, she's not worth a crush.

Mariah Carey - How old is Mariah Carey now? 40? (35, I just checked.) I actually own one of her CDs. I was in seventh grade when I bought it, so give me a break. "Hero" was me and my first girlfriend's song. I haven't listened to it in 10 years. Anyway, I don't even think I need to explain why she's not crushworthy. Even Derek Jeter kicked her to the curb, and Jeter's clearly not as cool or desirable as I am.

Jessica Simpson - Alright, I'd have to be blind and gay not to acknowledge that Jessica Simpson is beautiful. She would also lose an argument with a glass of water. And I can't forgive her for butchering Robbie Williams's "Angels" (really, I'm not gay). Okay, she's nice to look at, but I need more from my crushes. I need that aura of actually being someone I would like in real life. She doesn't have it. I'm pretty sure I'd get sick of her in under a week if I actually knew her.

Jennifer Lopez - I never got into the whole J-Lo thing. I mean, I dig brunettes and all, but I just never thought she was everything that the public made her out to be. She's overrated. Without any good explanation, I'm just going to deem her uncrushworthy because I can.

Gwen Stefani - Alright, if I had to pick one woman from the above buzz list, I'd probably pick Gwen Stefani. She's talented and obviously stays in shape. Still, she's a little too alt-girl for me. I need someone who would be okay with wearing clothes from the Gap. I mean, I don't think we'd have a thing in common in real life, so I can't get a good crush going, either. Sorry, Gwen. You'll have to find someone else to be a crush for.

Ciara - Actually, I have no idea what she looks like. I don't really watch MTV. I know that all her hit songs feature some other star rapper (Petey Pablo, Missy Elliott, Ludacris), so I don't even think her talent alone can carry her. I assume she's good-looking, just because of the shallow industry in which she works. I know most celebrity crushes don't require a lot of biographical knowledge, but how can I have a crush on someone about whom I know this little?

Paris Hilton - She's an idiot (voluminous evidence available). She's not as good looking as people think (her sister is far more attractive). And she's bad in bed (there's proof of this). Next!

Oprah Winfrey - Wow, you talk about sex appeal...and you'd be talking about someone else. Nobody has a crush on Oprah Winfrey (except for maybe Dave Chappelle).

Anyway, you see my problem. Look at the dreck that the celebrity machine produces! I would say that Jennifer Garner is as close as it comes to a celebrity crush for me - I even suffered through Elektra - but I lost a lot of respect for her when I found out she's carrying Ben Affleck's kid. Not cool, Jen. So anyway, now that she and I are through, I need a new celebrity crush. And I have no idea whom to pick.

I'm picky. I need someone who seems like a real person. This rules out supermodels. I need someone who has talent that is admirable. This rules out most of the teen pop star types. I need someone who seems intelligent. This rules out, well, a lot of celebrities. I'm looking for someone about my age, who's kind of a girl-next-door type, preferably brunette - someone who, in my mind, I can plausibly say would be interested in me if they only just knew me. This is a problem, because that last criterion rules out the majority of the female population, let alone celebrities.

Suggestions?

Monday, May 09, 2005

One Hundred Credit Cards I Would Rather Get Than A New York Yankees Credit Card

On Saturday, following the Kentucky Derby, in which Afleet Alex, the horse I bet $10 to win, finished third, I had the following conversation online with a friend of mine who is a Yankees fan.

Me: you let me down, Afleet Alex.
Yankees fan: at least your namesake won't be taken out behind the paddocks and shot like steinbrenner's entire team will be
Me: the yankees sent me a letter today, actually
Me: they want me to get a yankees visa card
Me: a little presumptuous, i'd say
YF: you should get it!!!!!!!!
Me: hell no
YF: come on
YF: i have a chase utley keychain
Me: i could list a hundred personalized credit cards i'd get before a yankees card
YF: pleeeeease
Me: not happening
YF: ok fine

I want to prove my point, though. So, allow me to present my list, in no particular order, of 100 personalized credit cards I'd get before I'd get a Yankees credit card. Yes, they're all real links.

100. The Amtrak Guest Rewards card. So I can ride the train.
99. The Royal Caribbean card. I've always wanted to go on a cruise.
98. The Colonial Williamsburg card. I went there the summer before my junior year of high school. I had braces and I bought a Panama hat. I look like a dumbass in those pictures.
97. The Elvis Presley card. He's the King!
96. The University of California at Los Angeles card. In case you didn't know, I go to school here.
95. The University of Pennsylvania card. Yeah, they're Cornell's rivals, but I grew up going to their basketball and football games, plus my cousin was on their football team.
94. The Major League Baseball card. No team at all is better than the Yankees.
93. The NFL Extra Points card. I can hear Hank Williams Jr. singing the Monday Night Football theme music by just looking at this card.
92. The National Hockey League card. Temporarily discontinued. Just kidding.
91. The PGA Tour card. And here I thought you had to go through Q-School to get your tour card.
90. The United States Tennis Association card. I'm not much of a tennis fan, but I'm not anything of a Yankees fan.
89. The eBay Anything Points card. So I can buy really random stuff that other people don't want.
88. The L.L.Bean card. In case I want to dress like I'm 40.
87. The BabyMint card. I'm going to have to send my kid to college someday. I can earn 1% towards that account with this bad boy!
86. The Firefighters card. They might save my ass someday, so I might as well support them.
85. The Law Enforcement card. Don't mess with Johnny Law.
84. The Defenders of Wildlife card. I hope the money raised from the use of this card doesn't go to some eco-terrorist group.
83. The Ducks Unlimited card. I get a sweet "DU" hat if I sign up for this one!
82. The Humane Society card. For good karma.
81. The National Wildlife Federation card. Ditto.
80. The Nature Conservancy card. See above.
79. The Capital One Platinum card. No hassle. What's in your wallet?
78. The Citi mtvU Platinum Select card. MTV was cooler when it used to play music videos, but MTVU does play videos - sometimes.
77. The Artist's Garden - Monet card. Monet ain't a thing.
76. The Nympheas - Monet card. Really, you can never have too much Monet.
75. The Dancers in Blue - Degas card. So I can look cultured.
74. The Sunday Afternoon - Seurat card. Never heard of Seurat. Sunday Afternoon reminds me of football, though.
73. The Roses and Anemones - Van Gogh card. Perfect for all my absinthe and ear-bandage buying needs!
72. The Colors of the Sun card. Not quite sure how they decided these were the colors of the sun. I can't look at it long enough to figure that out.
71. The Tropical Tapestry card. Whatever this is, it's better than a picture of Derek Jeter on my credit card.
70. The Celebration Tapestry card. Whatever this is, it's better than a picture of Jorge Posada on my credit card.
69. The Aztec Masks card. If there's money in Incan matrimonial headmasks, there's gotta be money in these. If you can move them.
68. The Family in the Park card. That's one trippy-looking park.
67. The Sidewalk Festival card. A festival at which none of the vendors accept credit cards, no doubt.
66. The Rose card. You can give someone a rose, but if you really want to be romantic, give that special someone a credit card with a rose on it.
65. The Clown Fish card. Dude, it's Nemo!
64. The Sea Turtle card. Dude, it's the hippie turtle guy from Finding Nemo!
63. The Dolphin card. "To train ze dolphin you must zink like ze dolphin! You must be getting inside ze dolphin's head und communicating! I am saying to Snowflake, 'Kay kay kay kay?' und he is saying 'Kay kay' und he is up on ze tail, 'Eeeeeeeeee!' Und you can quote him!"
62. The Shark card. As opposed to the card shark.
61. The 1980's: Material World card. "We're living in a material world, and I am a material girl... or boy."
60. The 1970's: Disco Fever card. Goes best with pants through which the credit card number can be read.
59. The 1960's: Flower Power card. Nothing says "I have impeccable credit" like a hippie credit card.
58. The 1950's: Sock Hop card. To remind me of the episode of Saved By The Bell with the Five Aces.
57. The Chihuahua card. Like a real chihuahua, it fits in a handbag. Unlike a real chihuahua, it can be used to buy things.
56. The Bulldog card. So cashiers know just how tenacious I am when it comes to buying things.
55. The Shih Tzu card. I'll get this one to complement my Bulldog card.
54. The Earth card. In case I really can't decide on something more specific to put on my card.
53. The Water card. Slightly more specific than the Earth card.
52. The Lucky Seven card. To use when I go to the casino.
51. The Lucky Horseshoe card. To use when I go to the track.
50. The Lucky Four Leaf Clover card. To use when I max out the Lucky Seven and Lucky Horseshoe cards during strings of bad luck.
49. The Lucky Penny card. Let me just check the limit on that card first.
48. The Electric Guitar card. Too bad there's no air guitar card.
47. The American Flag card. So nobody gets the impression that I'm not 100 percent behind everything this country does.
46. The Statue of Liberty card. Time for a funny quote from Rangers general manager John Hart on pitching coach Orel Hershiser: "Orel has a great desire to help everybody. He's like that sign on the Statue of Liberty: Give me your sick, your lame, your lazy - or whatever it is."
45. The U.S. Space Shuttle card. Good luck finding somewhere that takes credit cards in space.
44. The California Palms card. It's sunny in the picture on this card, so it clearly wasn't taken this winter.
43. The Grand Canyon card. Once, on a flight from Phoenix to Boise, I flew over the Grand Canyon on a sunny day and took a couple really cool pictures that look better than the one on this card. Unfortunately, I lost them when my computer crashed.
42. The Mount Rushmore card. I also lost pictures of Mount Rushmore.
41. The Old Faithful card. Yep, I lost pictures of Old Faithful, too. I had a really cool sequence of seven or so pictures of that thing going off - gone forever.
40. The Grand Tetons card. The Grand Teton mountains were so named because they look like giant breasts. Hey, it's a fact. Those 19th-century French trappers were a dirty bunch.
39. The Texas State Flag card. Support Cornell's goalie! (What did you think I was going to say?)
38. The Baseball card. Very generic. Very Yankee-free.
37. The Golf card. To remind me every time I make a purchase how atrocious I am at this sport.
36. The Football card. I promise not to buy things with it and then run through the woods in a bizarre, tree-loving pregame ritual.
35. The Hockey card. The expressions on the faces of cashiers in Southern California when I pay with this baby will be ones of total confusion.
34. The Island Retreat card. I'll save this one until I buy my own private island (Isla Kiniw, just off the coast of Curacao, asking price: $2 million).
33. The Snowcapped Peak card. I haven't been skiing in over four years, but I miss it.
32. The Tiger card. Rowr!
31. The Chimpanzee card. Support the president! (Come on, he looks like a chimp sometimes.)
30. The Puerto Rican Flag card. Hey, I gotta show my pride. Oh, wait. I'm not Puerto Rican.
29. The US Airways card. I already have this one, actually.
28. The Costco True Earnings card. Because really, things like ketchup and toilet paper should be purchased in the largest quantities possible.
27. The Hilton HHonors Platinum card. This is actually how the card is spelled. Presumably Paris had a hand in its creation.
26. The Dodge Rewards card. So I can buy a truck with a hemi.
25. The Champions of Charity card. Hey, if I want a special ed kid on my credit card, that's what I'm going to get! (I'm really sorry. I'm going straight to hell. I'm sorry.)
24. The Goldfish card. I have no idea what this is about. I was hoping for the snacks. It must be some British thing. I'll look into this when I'm in London next month.
23. The American Red Cross card. I'm trying to make up for the special ed joke earlier.
22. The Universal Entertainment card. Free DVDs! Too bad I never get around to watching any movies.
21. The Toys R Us card. I don't wanna grow up, I'm a Toys R Us kid!
20. The Amazon.com card. My mom actually has this one.
19. The Disney card. The happiest credit card on Earth.
18. The Sony card. Earns money toward the gargantuan big-screen TV I will eventually get.
17. The Starbucks Duetto card. Was it necessary to throw in the word "Duetto?" Well, yes, because it's Starbucks and it has to be pretentious like that. Coffee Bean's better anyway. Besides, I get my coffee from the machine in the law school - $1 for a 16 oz. coffee, and I can't tell the difference anyway.
16. The Free Cash Rewards card. Finally, a card that gives me something of quantifiable value.
15. The Choice Privileges card. Sounds generic, but I get points toward hotel stays.
14. The Chevron and Texaco card. Providing some relief from the reaming I take every time I pay nearly $3 a gallon here in Los Angeles.
13. The National Society of Collegiate Scholars card. This was some BS organization that I joined at Cornell. They send me credit card offers all the time. It would look impressive, and I'd rather have it than a Yankees card. But still no.
12. The Daffodil card. Um...who doesn't like daffodils?
11. The German Shepherd card. So I can reminisce about the time when I was in third or fourth grade and inadvertently found myself on some private property that was guarded by two German shepherds. I've never run so fast in my life.
10. The Rottweiler card. Because I'm so badass, my credit card should have a picture of a Rottweiler on it.
9. The Labrador Retriever card. If I ever do get a dog, it'll be a lab.
8. The Piano Keys card. I took piano lessons for a few months when I was a little kid. I sucked.
7. The Tennis card. I tried tennis lessons, too. Same result.
6. The Clear New York Skyline card. New York is a great place to visit. I don't think I'd want to live there. And I hate the Yankees.
5. The New England Lighthouse card. Just wanted to throw this one in there so I can note that I also hate the Red Sox.
4. The Panda card. "Just as a panda is not an ordinary bear, a trustee of a deed of trust is not an ordinary trustee." Stephens, Partain & Cunningham v. Hollis, 196 Cal. App. 3d 948, 955. "The panda is closely related to the raccoon. Giant pandas have been described as 'peculiar bears.' (Gould, The Panda's Thumb (1980) p. 21.) With luck, this passage will end up as the following headnote in some legal digest: 'Trustee under deed of trust held to be panda bear'" Id. at 955 n.4.
3. The Philadelphia Phillies Preferred card. Because I'm a Phillies fan, not a Yankees fan.
2. The Visa card. Yep, a plain ol' credit card. Because the lack of something is better than the presence of a Yankees logo.
1. The Photo Expressions card. Hey, I can put anything I want on a credit card! Why did I go through this whole list?

Oh, right. I didn't want to study for Con Law.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Some Frank Economic Analysis

Westwood Village, despite its location right next to UCLA and its thousands of students, is sorely lacking in the way of late-night eats. Even Collegetown, Cornell's neighboring village, beats the pants off Westwood when it comes to late-night snacking. (I miss you, D.P. Dough. Please open a Los Angeles location.)

One of the few decent places to get food after 10 p.m. is U-Dog, which I believe opened around September, just before the undergrad school year started. U-Dog offers an array of about 15 different types of hot dogs and sausages. The ones I've tried have been pretty good. (I would recommend the knockwurst and the chicken apple sausage, which doesn't sound nearly as good as it is.) U-Dog's major selling point, though, is the price - every dog is one dollar. Or was.

Baseball aficionado that I am, I often get a dog and a beer at games. If it's good enough for Terrence Mann, then it's good enough for me. Dollar dog day is one of my favorite promotions at the ballpark. I was lucky enough to happen upon dollar dog day at Surprise Stadium in March when I went to a Spring Training game; I also have the good fortune to be going to a dollar dog day in Texas later this month when I go see the Rangers.

Anyway, every day was dollar dog day at U-Dog, and I was lovin' it way more than McDonald's could ever imagine. Up there on the menu, the original prices of $3 were crossed off next to every dog on the menu, and in their places were countless $1 tags. The nonpermanence of the price tag, though, made me suspect that the days of the dollar dog were fleeting.

Sure enough, earlier this week, I stopped by U-Dog. Gone were the $1 tags. Covering the $3 tags were new, intermediate $2 tags. As I commented on the predictability of the price rise as I bought one dog instead of the usual two, the guy behind the counter grinned knowingly, smirking like a drug dealer who hooked a new generation of kids on his product.

This is what U-Dog has done. Capitalizing on its location - directly on the walk home from the bars to the frats and other off-campus housing - U-Dog has created a legion of devoted snackers who made frequent stops for a late-night wurst. One of my hockey teammates has been known to regularly eat five-plus dogs for dinner - at $1 a dog, it's still a cheap dinner. Now, U-Dog is gambling that its established customer base will stay loyal at twice the price.

When I told my U-Dog-loving teammate about the price hike, he refused to believe it. We walked past U-Dog. He angrily vowed never to eat there again. I hope he'll keep that resolution.

See, even if U-Dog sells half as many dogs at the doubled price, it's still better off. Think about it. Say it costs 75 cents to make a hot dog, figuring in all expenses. At $1 a dog, U-Dog's making a 50 cent profit on every two dogs sold. But at $2 a dog, the profit rises to $1.25 per dog - which means that even if customers now only buy one, not two dogs, their profit increases 75 cents a customer.

Basically, U-Dog can now sell half the dogs it used to and make more money. Even if they alienate some of their loyal fans, will their demand decrease by half? Probably not - students - drunk students, especially - will still hand over $2 for a dog. It's still a reasonable price, although nobody will be happy about it after tasting the dollar dogs. It would take an 80% drop in dog demand for the new price change to have zero effect on their bottom line. That's not going to happen.

U-Dog, having created its customer base, now is taking advantage of it, and short of a tremendous drop in demand in the sausage market (no gratuitous jokes here, please), U-Dog is going to raise its profits by doing so. (Judging by my experience at L.A. bars, there's already little demand in the sausage market. Sorry. Couldn't resist.)

However, the black pirate flag on the horizon is the next price hike, which is inevitable now. Under those temporary $2 tags are the original $3 tags, and in another year or so, when people forget that U-Dog was ever a dollar and become used to $2 dogs, the $2 tags are going to come off, and the price is going to hit the three dollar mark that was intended all along. Yes, at this point, their profit per dog will be $2.25. They'll be just as well off as they were in the dollar era even if demand drops to 1/9 of the demand in the golden days.

However, at $3, it's possible that demand for dogs will actually drop to that level. You see, right down the block from U-Dog is In-N-Out - the best fast food burger chain in existence. And as good as U-Dog is, it's no In-N-Out. At In-N-Out, you can get a cheesburger, fries, and soda for under $5. At U-Dog, you won't be able to get a hot dog, fries, and soda for $5 once the dog price rises to $3. And people will pass up U-Dog for In-N-Out.

You know, I think I'm going to give up on U-Dog already. I like In-N-Out better. In-N-Out tastes better anyway. In-N-Out has a nice outdoor seating area. In-N-Out has a drive-thru. In-N-Out is open late. And so on.

U-Dog has already proverbially slapped its clientele across the face once. I'm not going to wait for U-Dog to come across the other direction with the backhand slap. I'm done with U-Dog. You may get your profits, U-Dog, but you won't get them from me.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Why Stolen Bases Matter (At Least More Than Finals)

My baseball nerdiness apparently knows no bounds. I have a final in Contracts tomorrow, but, having outlined the class twice, and taken one practice test, and read another, I've more or less decided that my grasp of the subject of contracts is not going to markedly improve by torturing myself with another night of hardcore studying. Instead, I was thinking about going to the Dodgers game, but it turns out that when I called the ticket office an hour before game time, the cheapest seat was $45. No thanks.

Instead, I ended up devoting the past couple hours to playing around with baseball stats at a depth even I don't normally ponder. I created a new stat. I don't know what to call it yet, though. I have a feeling that the stat itself isn't even new, since there's no way some Bill James type hasn't considered the ramifications of the stolen base, which is basically what I did. The theory is simple - a successful stolen base attempt essentially turns a single into a double (or a double into a triple), while an unsuccessful steal turns a time on base into an out. Therefore, stolen bases can be examined using traditional measures of total bases and times on base, i.e., slugging percentage and on-base percentage.

Since a successful steal has no effect on on-base percentage - the runner is already on base - the only effect here is that every time a runner is caught stealing, one time on base is deducted from the on base percentage formula, that is to say, instead of the old formula of (H+BB+HBP)/(AB+BB+HBP+SF), the formula changes slightly to (H+BB+HBP-CS)/(AB+BB+HBP+SF). Following me so far?

A successful steal does have an effect on slugging percentage, though - it adds one total base to the calculation. Meanwhile, an unsuccessful attempt takes a base away from the calculation. (In theory, an unsuccessful steal of third would take two bases away, since it is effectively a double being turned into an out, but since stolen base stats aren't kept specific to the base being stolen, I treated all attempts as though they were attempts to steal second.) Therefore, the slugging percentage formula changes from TB/AB to (TB+SB-CS)/AB. If you're still with me, believe me, it only gets nerdier from here.

OPS, or on base percentage plus slugging percentage, is frequently used today as a general measure of a hitter's effectiveness, combining his ability to get on base with the frequency of extra-base hits. It's a rough tool - but it doesn't take baserunning into account, and based on the above analysis, that's easy to fix by simply adding the two adjusted figures together, arriving at an adjusted OPS by stolen base success. For the sake of this post, I'll call this new stat OSB (for On base, Slugging, and Base stealing).

To see this in action, let's run a couple of players through the drill. I'm going to pick Carlos Lee, just because he's on my fantasy team. Last season with the White Sox, Lee had an OBP of .366, a SLG of .525, and an OPS of .891. He was 11/16 in steal attempts, a 68.8 percent success rate. To calculate his new OBP, run the adjusted formula: (H+BB+HBP-CS)/(AB+BB+HBP+SF), or (180+54+7-5)/(591+54+7+6), which equals .359. This illustrates what I said earlier - you can't improve your on base percentage by attempting to steal, since you're already on base. On the other hand, the five times Lee was caught stealing dropped his OBP by .007. His adjusted slugging percentage, using the formula, is (TB+SB-CS)/AB, or (310+11-5)/591, which equals .535, an increase of .010. His OSB is now .894 - an increase of .003. That's not particularly impressive, but it does show you that Lee was slightly more productive as a player because of his stolen base attempts as a whole.

In order to have someone to compare Lee to, let's look at another one of my fantasy players, Gary Sheffield. By all accounts, Sheffield had excellent numbers last season - .393 OBP, .534 SLG, .927 OPS. But Sheffield was only 5/11 in steal attempts, a 45.5 percent success rate. Going through the above formula (I'm not going to show you the math here), his adjusted numbers are a .384 OBP, .532 SLG, and a .916 OSB. You can see that his OPS actually dropped .011, which is a noticeable change. From that, you can infer that Sheffield would have been better off not attempting a single steal all season, and that his stolen base attempts as a whole actually hurt the Yankees. Sheffield can also be compared to teammate Hideki Matsui and the Reds' Sean Casey. Both Matsui (.912 OPS last season, 3/3 in SB attempts) and Casey (.915 OPS last season, 2/2 in SB attempts) had an OPS less than Sheffield's. However, even though neither Matsui and Casey tried to steal many bases, they were successful in their few opportunities, and their OSBs (.917 for Matsui, .919 for Casey) are actually equal to or better than Sheffield's.

The suggestions above would indicate that Lee's base stealing has very little impact on his productivity, while Sheffield's adversely affects his output. But neither of those players are known as base stealers. How is the productivity of a player known for stealing bases increased as measured by OSB? To examine this, let's take a look at Dave Roberts, a role player last season (319 at-bats, .337 OBP, .379 SLG, .716 OPS) whose notable contribution last season, appropriately, was on the basepaths, where he was 38/41 in steal attempts, a 93.7 percent success rate. Roberts's OSB is an astonishing .818 - an improvement of .102! His success on the basepaths increased his adjusted slugging percentage to .489. Clearly, Roberts's ability to move himself into scoring position with his feet, rather than his bat, is a significant contribution to his team.

The question that needs to be asked, given the implication that stolen base attempts have an affect, either positive or negative, on a player's contribution as measured by OPS and OSB, is this: What is the threshold success rate of stolen base attempts at which a player must fall below before it is counterproductive? Armed with the answer to such a question, a manager should only send a runner when that runner has a chance of being successful above that threshold rate.

(Yes, I am aware that this stat measures individual production, and that really, the question that needs to be asked is this: Whether, given a runner's chance of successfully stealing a base, it is worth the risk, in terms of probability of scoring a run that inning, of sending the runner. Go read Moneyball.)

Intuition would indicate that the threshold rate would be 2/3, or 66.7 percent, since times caught stealing are counted against you twice (both in OBP and SLG calculations), but successful steals are only counted once (only in SLG calculations). Therefore, in order to break even, you would theoretically need two stolen bases for every time caught. The flaw with this thinking is that it only works if a player's only times on base are via regular at-bats, since the denominator in OBP is actually AB+BB+HBP+SF. In reality, a player will have more plate appearances than at-bats, which means that the failed steal attempts that go into the OBP equation are given slightly less weight than those that go into the SLG equation. The result is that the threshold rate is going to be different for every player (because of the varying number of non-at-bat plate appearances). The rate generally will be a little bit below 66.7 percent.

In a demonstration of nerdiness of Barry Bonds's head-sized proportions, I actually tried to estimate the threshold rate. Using 11 players with at least six stolen base attempts (including Lee, Sheffield, and Roberts), I plotted the difference between each player's OSB and OPS against that player's stolen base success rate, and then found the trendline. You can see the product of my nerdiness here:


The point at which the trend line crosses zero is the threshold rate. Based on this sample, the estimated rate is 63.6 percent - just under 2/3, as I predicted. (If you're wondering, Sheffield is the dot on the left, Roberts is the dot on the right, and Lee is the third dot from the left. Other than Sheffield, the only player in my sample whose stolen base attempts were counterproductive was Jason Kendall.) Players who succeed less often than the threshold rate generally shouldn't try to steal, since it decreases their productivity. The exception is when the probable success rate of a steal attempt is actually above the threshold - for example, when Sheffield is on base against a pitcher with a slow windup and a catcher with an inaccurate arm, the rate of success might still be above the threshold, even though Sheffield normally can't steal bases with that kind of success. The flip side of that coin is that a player like Lee shouldn't attempt to steal when his chances decrease, such as when a hard-throwing lefty is on the mound and Pudge Rodriguez is behind the plate.

Another conclusion to draw from this graph is that catchers who nail runners more than 36.4 percent of the time are decreasing the opponent's productivity, while catchers who are less successful allow the opponent to be more productive. Last season, Brian Schneider, Henry Blanco, and Damian Miller were the only three regular catchers in baseball who caught runners more frequently than that.

I think, looking at all of the above analysis, managers have generally intuited all of this. That's why they don't try to steal often against strong catchers (and why only three catchers nail baserunners more often than the threshold rate) - because stealing when it is mathematically ill-advised is usually the same thing as when it would be ill-advised by common sense. A manager doesn't need a chart to know that Jim Thome can't steal a base; it's pretty apparent that if he tried enough steals, he would fall below the threshold. As a result, he doesn't attempt to steal. This is also why nine of the 11 players in my sample are above the threshold, I think. Their managers know enough to send them in situations where they will succeed at a rate above the threshold rate.

Whew. So that's my breakdown of my new stat - OSB. The stat has probably already been created and analyzed elsewhere. It's actually not applicable to team strategy. Guess what? I don't care. I got to spend a few hours examining it, and that's a few hours I didn't spend studying. See, I really will do anything to avoid studying.

Monday, May 02, 2005

April Is The Cruelest Month

As disasters go, this isn't so bad in the grand scheme of things. However, I think it's safe to say that the first month of the baseball season has been a total flop. The Phillies are in last place, my fantasy team is in last place, and my preseason picks have been close to perfectly wrong. Basically, it's everything you'd expect from baseball season.

The Phillies - I mean, I should have seen it coming. I've been watching this team for over two decades; I should be totally used to this. This is their third losing April in the last four years. In 2001, the Phillies had their first winning season since the 1993 NL championship season and their second since 1986. That was supposed to be the jumping-off point for a South Philly baseball resurgence. Instead, the Phils have tanked it out of the gate in almost every season since then, and they haven't broken the 86-win mark which they reached in '01.

I thought the Phils were going to finish third in the division behind the Marlins and Mets. The Braves, as I've learned but still refuse to believe, always will turn in a division-leading performance, so I should just assume that they will also be in the mix this year. I figured the only team the Phils wouldn't have to worry about would be the MLB-owned Nationals. Really, if MLB can run a team better than a single organization can, the Phils' entire front office should be cleared out.

But there they are, a month into the season, and the Phillies are looking up at the rest of the division. They managed to lose 2 of 3 to the Nats at home in their opening series, and that's been about how the month has gone in general. A few bad outings in general have torpedoed the team's stats, and actually, there have been some decent players on the team in the early going. Pat Burrell looks like he relearned how to hit. He's got 5 homers and 21 RBI. Abreu and Rollins have looked alright also, especially with their baserunning (Abreu is 7/7, Rollins is 5/6 in steal attempts). The center field platoon of Jason Michaels (.375) and Kenny Lofton (.373) is hitting well. Super-utility man (he's played 1B, 3B, and SS already) Tomas Perez needs to get more regular playing time (although in an already crowded infield, this is nearly impossible) - he's 5-7 with 3 RBI in his two starts this season (and just 1-9 with 2 RBI as a pinch hitter). On the mound, Jon Lieber (4-1), Billy Wagner (6 saves, no earned runs allowed, 0.64 WHIP), and Brett Myers (34 strikeouts) have looked good.

I get the feeling that some of the problem might be new manager Charlie Manuel's fault. I just don't really like him as a manager - I think he throws the wrong lineups out there and makes the wrong pitching moves. Myers and Burrell's improvements indicate that it isn't the fault of new pitching coach Rich Dubee and hitting coach Milt Thompson. On the bright side (sort of), the Phillies have had the toughest schedule in terms of opponents' winning percentage so far (which, admittedly, might be a little skewed by the fact that they were able to beat up on the Phils), but that hopefully will not be the case for the rest of the season, even if they do have to compete in a tough division.

Watching a game on ESPN between the Phils and Nats a week or two ago, I heard the announcers say that those would be the teams duking it out for last place in the division. In April. Are the Phillies really that hopeless? The team president, Dave Montgomery, conducted an interview today in which he actually used the phrase, "We are far from dead." To me, that sounds an awful lot like the captain of the Titanic assuring his passengers that they would be arriving in New York right on schedule.

My fantasy team - The Sex Panthers, like the team's namesake, smell like a used diaper filled with Indian food. You'd think I'd be cruising early on, seeing how I was the only one in the league to actually draft live. That would be entirely wrong. I lost my first two series by scores of 3-6 and 3-7. I managed to tie the team with which I was then tied for last, 5-5, before dropping last week's series, 2-8. Like the Phillies, I am now solely in last place.

Injuries have hit my team pretty hard early on. The only injured players that I took in the draft were Curt Schilling and Lance Berkman. Schilling was expected to return soon, which he did. Except that he's now back on the DL. Berkman's still out. Justin Morneau, a guy I was hoping would pick up some big numbers, was beaned in the first week of the season and missed two weeks with a concussion. Bobby Crosby cracked a rib two at-bats into the season. He's still out. I picked up Khalil Greene to replace him. Greene promptly broke a finger. David Wells also landed his fat ass on the DL. That's six players and seven stints on the DL for my team in one month. This doesn't fly when there's only one DL spot and three bench slots on my team.

The hitters on my team have also been underperforming with uniformity. The best hitter on my team so far has been Alfonso Soriano, but his .266 average and 10 RBI are still far short of his top-10 pick status. Todd Helton, my first-round pick, has the same .266 average with only one home run and nine RBI. Come on, he plays in Coors Field! And Jason Kendall, batting .247, has been a complete dud. I know he doesn't hit homers anymore, but he's still supposed to hit, right? At least some of my pitchers have picked it up. Roy Oswalt and Mark Buehrle have been off to good starts, and I was able to snag Odalis Perez and Javier Vazquez off the waiver wire.

Even still, it's time to start clearing out some of the dead weight. Jeff Bagwell, gone (not that he was playing too badly, but someone dropped Sean Casey). Angel Berroa, gone. His .247 average was terrible, and he was my third option at shortstop when both Crosby and Greene went down. Someone dropped Kaz Matsui, who's not great, but he's at least better than Berroa, plus he's eligible at shortstop. And, just the thought of having a Royals hitter on my team was demoralizing. Crosby - gone. His sorry injured ass was taking up space on my bench (Schilling gets the DL spot), and Victor Diaz is coming on strong out of nowhere for the Mets. Now watch him come back to earth after I've picked him up. I also dropped Wells and the very disappointing Erubiel Durazo (if you're a designated hitter, you should actually hit), and picked up Dave Roberts (who better pick up his numbers if he wants to stay on my team) and Tony Womack (who should get runs and RBI just by virtue of being in the Yankees' lineup).

Apparently, this team, which was born out of a stretch of bad luck, is showing the traits of its lineage. But now that I've spotted my leaguemates a sizable lead, it's time to flex the ol' ESPN Baseball Researcher Muscle. It's on.

My preseason picks - Aside from the Marlins, not one of my eight postseason picks would be correct if the season ended after a month (well, the Twins, whom I picked to win the AL Central, would be the AL Wild Card). There's been some serious duds on that list of picks. The Yankees are five games under .500.; the Rangers are also under .500. The Mets and Padres, too, have losing records, while the Cubs are at .500. Only three of the eight teams which I picked to reach the playoffs have winning records (the Red Sox are the other one, and they're in second in both the AL East and Wild Card). That's pretty bad. There's still a lot of baseball to be played, however, and, with the exception of the Phillies, I think the above-mentioned teams will still turn it around.

As for the individual award picks, A-Rod and his nine homers still are in good position to win the AL MVP (although Brian Roberts, whom I said "isn't spectacular," has been ridiculous, leading the AL in runs (23) and steals (12), and posting other phat numbers, too). Miguel Cabrera has been solid (17 runs, 18 RBI), although not MVP material so far in the NL. Derrek Lee, leading the league with eight homers and 30 RBI, is probably at the front of that race.

As far as pitchers go, Randy Johnson is also doing alright (43 strikeouts), but not Cy Young alright. Johan Santana, with 52 strikeouts, is looking like he might repeat as the winner of that award. Santana's very long win streak was snapped the other day despite the fact that he pitched a brilliant game himself. I wouldn't be surprised to see him snap off another 10-plus straight wins. Dontrelle Willis, at 5-0 the NL's only five-game winner, looks like the early favorite for the NL Cy Young award. Don't count out my pick Jake Peavy, though - he's second in the league with 41 strikeouts, and he hasn't lost yet (2-0) with an ERA under 2.00 and a WHIP under 1.00.

Early favorites for Rookie of the Year have to be Gustavo Chacin in the AL (4-1, 1.04 WHIP) and Clint Barmes in the NL (.417, 20 runs). At 0-2, Scott Kazmir, my AL pick, isn't looking too good, and neither is Gavin Floyd (14.14 ERA in 14 innings pitched). Floyd's just been rocked in his last three outings, in which he actually has a 27.00 ERA. So he fits right in with the Phillies bullpen.