Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Stephenie Meyer self-deprecates

Periodically, I like to put quotes that I've written down up on  (That's where the quotes you see to your right come from.)  Today, I was looking through those quotes, and I noticed this one from Stephenie Meyer's Eclipse:
[Edward:] "I still think it would be a better story if either of them had one redeeming quality."
[Bella:] "I think that may be the point," . . . "Their love IS their only redeeming quality."
For my part, the Edwardobellan romance did less to redeem the saga than did all the interesting trivia associated with vampires.  Those of you who know both me and the saga well know that there was one romance that would have made the saga compelling for me . . .

Sunday, September 27, 2009


After publishing my last post, I realized that it was very, very long.  Here is the poetic gist---iambic pentameter!---of my statistical harangue:
I've given up on baseball for the year.
The Rangers disappoint me every time.
I should have seen it coming back in June.
Thank you and goodnight.

Save the Wettelands

Warning: baseball post.

The closer is under attack.  His main stat---the save---they call illegitimate.  They say he's overpaid, overglorified, and underqualified.  But I say he's the missing piece of your 2009 Texas Rangers.

A pitcher is credited with a save when he obtains at least one out to finish a game won by his team.  He cannot be the pitcher credited with the win, and he must have entered the game with at least three innings left or with the potential tying run on base, at bat, or on deck.*  You can see the value of a stolid closer---a fireman in the mold of the fabled Goose Gossage---by looking at conversion rate.  The conversion rate is the percentage of times a closer records a save when he has the opportunity to.  Mathematically:

Saves / (Saves + Blown Saves)

A pitcher blows a save when he gives up the lead, regardless of the end result of the game.  The value of the conversion rate lies in its measure of a closer's reliability, of his ability to do what he's supposed to do.  To illustrate, we'll compare a pitcher who recorded a high number of saves to the closers for recently successful teams and the closers of one of the most consistently dominant teams in recent history.

In 2008, Francisco Rodriguez saved a record-breaking 62 games for the Angels, helping them win the AL West for the fourth time in five years.  But he also blew 7 saves.  His conversion rate was only 90 percent.  In Game 2 of the ALDS against the Red Sox, he came on in the top of the 9th to keep the game tied at 5.  Instead, he gave up a two-run home run to J.D. Drew.  The Angels lost 7-5 and fell behind two games to none as the series headed to Boston.  The Angels won Game 3, despite Rodriguez's nerve-wracking, six-batter 10th inning, only to lose the series in Game 4 on Jed Lowrie's walk-off single.  You'll notice who they didn't bring on in the bottom of the 9th to keep the tie.  Rodriguez signed with the Mets in the off-season, and the Angels didn't much care.**

Now let's look at recently successful teams.  Philadelphia's Brad Lidge converted all 41 of his save opportunities in 2008.  At the same time, Tampa Bay's Troy Percival and Dan Wheeler combined to convert only 41 of their 50 save opportunities---a paltry 82 percent.  The Phillies won the World Series in 5 games.

In 2007, Boston's Jonathan Papelbon converted 37 of his 40 save opportunities (93 percent), and Colorado's two closers combined for 7 relief losses and 10 blown saves---a conversion rate of only 80 percent.  The Red Sox swept the Rockies, and Papelbon is credited saving three of those games.  (To be fair, Colorado never presented its closers with a save opportunity.)

What about the 2007 Cleveland Indians?  Their rotation included CC Sabbathia, Fausto Carmona, Paul Byrd, and an up-and-coming Cliff Lee.  They started games just fine.  But when they needed somebody to hold onto a close game, they could only turn to Joe Borowski.  His 5 relief losses and 8 blown saves limited his conversion rate to only 85 percent.  The Indians slipped past the Yankees with two blowouts in the ALDS, then fought Boston to the bitter end in the ALCS.  Borowski finished Games 1, 2, 3, and 6 against the Red Sox, racking up a 4.50 ERA while giving up 6 hits and 3 walks and striking out only 1 batter in 4 innings.  It's hard to say how much his performance mattered.  He didn't blow any saves, but Game 3, for which he earned the save, was the only close one.

Finally, let's talk about America's team: the Atlanta Braves.  From 1991 until 2005, they won their division every year except 1994.***  The 1991 Braves won the pennant but lost the World Series.  Three relievers were presented with at least 10 save opportunities, and their combined conversion rate was 90 percent.  The 1992 Braves tried the same tri-closer strategy.  The trio combined to convert 74 percent of the time, and the Braves lost to the Blue Jays in the World Series.  In 1993, they dropped one of their closers, converted only 85 percent of their opportunities, and lost the NLCS to the Phillies.  In 1994, Greg McMichael was their ninth-inning guy, and he converted only 68 percent of the time.  (That's the year they finished second in the NL East.)  In 1995, Mark Wohlers took over closing duties, but he only converted 86 percent of his opportunities.****  Over the next decade or so, their closers, on average, converted only 85 percent of their save opportunities.  The best three years came when an aging John Smoltz took over ninth-inning duties. Even he, however, could convert only 91 percent of the time from 2002 to 2004.

The lesson: If you don't have a reliable closer, you probably won't win the World Series.  That is why, my friends who have held on this long, the Rangers will probably not win either the AL West or the AL Wild Card.  Even if they did, they would probably not survive the ALDS, much less the ALCS or the World Series.  C.J. Wilson and Frank Francisco have combined to convert only 38 of their 46 save opportunities, a lame 83 percent conversion rate.  I like C.J., and I like Frank, but without a stolid closer, we lose too many heartbreakers.  Like tonight's 7-6 tear-jerker against the Devil Rays.

But there's always next year.

* This explains the traditional rule of thumb, i.e., that the pitcher pitches at least one inning and the lead was no bigger than 3 runs.
** Nor have they much noticed his absence.  Brian Fuentes has converted 44 of 51 save opportunities (a rate of 86 percent), and they will (hopefully not) win the AL West by a comfortable margin.  Sounds like the same old song and dance to me.
*** I think it's worth noting that the Expos were only up by 6 games with almost 50 left to play when the players struck.  It's not unreasonable to think that the Braves might have caught on fire or the Expos fallen asleep during those six weeks.
****Admittedly, they beat the Indians in the World Series.  The Indians closer, Jose Mesa, converted 46 of 48 saves that year, a highly respectable 96 percent.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


The stRangers have revealed their identities, and we knew them better than we hoped. Maybe that's not fair. Two or three key players got hurt pretty late in the season, and Emperor Palpatine Jon Daniels didn't plan contingently. As The Missus told me tonight: There's always next year. Ah, that too familiar September elegy. So now, I sit tight until October 28, when Los Spurs start their unprecedented even-season domination in SA against the Hornets.

What was I talking about?

Oh, right. Why I blog. I blog because I like writing. I enjoy the process of pushing the thoughts in my head through the filter of my fingertips. I enjoy the feeling of my fingers in position on the home row and ready to light the world on fire with prose. I even enjoy the muffled sound of my keyboard doing its thing. So that's why I blog. I hope you read my stuff, and I hope you enjoy reading my stuff. And I enjoy your comments, but really, this is a very selfish thing. There are no themes---except me. I write about what I want to write about when I want to write about it. You're welcome to read whatever and whenever you want, but, of course, you don't have to. I'll be here either way, putting my thoughts out into the indelible ether of the interwebs.

Oscar Wilde once complained about the growing lack of useless information. I'm just trying to make a dead man happy.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

A Dab of Paint

One sunny Saturday summer afternoon a few years ago, I pulled out the Strathern classic, Wittgenstein in 90 Minutes and plopped down in a lawn chair next to my tanning wife. I sat down excited about thinking deep thoughts; I stood up ninety minutes later in a different world. Philosophy, I now believed, had become nothing more than a battle of dictionaries. I had become a dab of paint on a canvas trying to interpret the painting around me. From that day until this, I hadn't read two sentences of philosophy since Wittgenstein played Dorian Grey to my portrait.

This morning, I read the prologue to Will Durant's The Story of Philosophy. He advises the reader that
the philosopher is not content to describe the fact; he wishes to ascertain its relation to experience in general, and thereby get at its meaning and its worth; . . . he tries to put together, better than before, that great universe-watch which the inquisitive scientist has anlytically taken apart.
That hot summer day, Wittgenstein took my universe-watch apart. I hope that Durant can put it back together, better than before, over the next 530 pages. Maybe I can't interpret the whole painting, but I can at least get an idea of what's around me.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Twilight (movie): 7/10

After reading all four books in the Twilight Saga and watching the first movie, I have a new theory about Stephenie Meyer. She's a science-fiction fanboygirl who got tired of being the only girl at sci-fi conventions. In this, she is like Matthew Fox, who got tired of being the only cool guy at sci-fi conventions.

I also want to note that Stephenie Meyer and I have similar taste in music. (Ergo, she is also like Matthew Fox in that she is cool.) She credits Muse with inspiring the entire saga. Muse is an incredible band, whom you should listen to. The great songs "Invincible" and "Knights of Cydonia" are my favorites, as well as "Starlight" and most---but not all---the others on their debut album are well worth the investment.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Only Losers Play Clean

Warning: Spurs post.

By now, you probably know that one of the greatest defenders of the last decade, Bruce Bowen, has retired. Nobody questions his on-court skills, so instead, they'll sling ad hominem attacks. They'll call him dirty. They say he kicked players (e.g., Ray Allen and Chris Paul), kneed other players in the groin (e.g., Steve Nash), and that he stepped in too close while defending, tripping up guys coming down from a jumpshot. My personal favorite is the jumpkick.

Watching that video, I count six allegedly dirty plays, one of which isn't nearly as clear cut as Bruce's notoriety suggests. (Watch the replay. Definitely not as clear as Rajon Rondo's facemask of Brad Miller.) But here's the deal: Bruce played over 24,000 minutes in 873 games, averaging 27.6 minutes per game over his career. During his tenure as San Antonio's starting small forward, he averaged 31.2 minutes per game. He played all 82 games six times, including 500 in a row from February 28, 2002, until March 14, 2008. He missed one game for a suspension, then played the next 107 games. It's hard to play that long, that much, that intensely without stepping on a few toes, literally and figuratively.

Some call Kobe Bryant dirty. Others call Saint Timothy a stealthy brawler and accuse Tony Parker of flopping. But think about who's calling whom dirty. David Thiessen of might put it best:
Bowen and Kobe probably had as many high profile match ups as any two players over the last decade, yet we have never heard Kobe accuse Bowen of being a dirty player.
You see, there are the elite, who have consistently dominated over the past ten years, and the also-rans, who never quite had enough gas. Maybe the also-rans accuse the elite of playing dirty so they don't have to admit they don't have what it takes.