Friday, February 27, 2009
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
It begins with Vernon Wells, who at 30 is poised for a monster season. He has been limited to 36 homers the past two years because of shoulder and back injuries and a broken wrist, but this winter he hired a trainer from the Athletes Performance Institute in Tempe, Ariz., took the trainer to his home in Dallas, brought him to spring training and will continue to use him all season, for a total investment of between $150,000 and $200,000.
"The workouts have made a big difference in flexibility and strength," says Wells.ESPN news item, today:
Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Vernon Wells expects to miss two weeks after an MRI showed he re-injured the left hamstring that kept him on the disabled list for a month late last season.
Gammons forgot about the hamstring.
Monday, February 23, 2009
In football, players have to run into one another, even in preseason. Not so in baseball. I appreciate that it goes strongly against a professional outfielder's instinct to just stop running at the first sight of a teammate approaching his general area. But teams just should not allow for even a remote possibility that their best player, by far, could collide with their maybe 3rd or 4th best player in the course of a drill.
Here's a non-sub version of the story.
People talk a lot about whether they "feel bad" for the bank shareholders or if they "deserve" their losses. This is a stupid discussion. These banks are insolvent, which to my mind is synonymous with the shareholders not owning anything. If shareholder equity is negative, and the government is compelled to assume the liabilities to prevent massive debt defaults and a run on the banking system, the shareholders are SOL.
The only way sympathy enters into things is if you propose government cushion the losses of equity investors, just 'cause they're probably nice people or something, which is clearly bonkers.
Anyway, the market is down 3% despite big rallies in the banks. Apparently people are taking this equity conversion as a sign that the government "sees value" in the common. I'm hoping the rationale is to own 40% of the common so that when it eventually has to be wiped out it will only be 60% publicly held.
In his post "Citigroup's Clever Plan to Screw Taxpayers Again," Henry Blodget makes the key observation that the government can either convert $45 billion of preferred into common equity or it can take only a 40% stake of the common. But doing both requires assigning a wildly above-market value to the common stock in the conversion (i.e. requires the government to give Citigroup free money.) This post wasn't misleading, since I didn't mention the $45 billion figure, just the 40%, but the fact that the story's numbers don't add up is a big deal.
If the government is going to get $45 billion worth of Citigroup common stock and be treated fairly, then the government won't own 40% of the company, it will own well over 90%.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
The reason I thought that might be necessary is that I'm thinking some people, and I'm not necessarily one of them, might question the taste of the accompanying portraits. They've got the president and the Reverend on either side of a mid-crucifixion Jim Caviezel from "The Passion of the Christ."
While the individual images themselves might be unobjectionable in a different context, the arrangement of the three vertically, as if in order of finish in an election, is very funny. And very funny gags at Jesus's expense are often controversial.
And there's no way the humor is unintentional. Obama's picture shows him holding up his hand as if to quiet an adoring crowd... it's too well done.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
In the final season of The Wire, the mayor of Baltimore finds himself in dire need of state assistance to help pay for schools and police. He is ultimately unwilling, however, to "go begging" to the governor in Annapolis. Why turn down free money? Because the mayor is planning to run for governor himself in the next election, and he doesn't want to give his would-be opponent a huge gift by appearing to be dependent on or subservient to him.
Being human, Mayor Carcetti feels badly about his cynical short-changing of the citizens of Baltimore, whom he was elected to represent, but he justifies it by telling himself that, after he does what is politically necessary and thereby becomes governor, he'll be able to help them more than he ever could as mayor.
... or Jindal's opposition could be totally principled, of course.
Last July when the Braves traded Mark Teixeira to the Angels I wrote:
What major league talent did they get back in the deal? Casey Kotchman? Good luck with that. When you're ready to field a competitive team again, come back without that stupid chant, you goobers.
Now, I stand by the sentiment, but I'm starting to wonder if they don't still have a somewhat competitive team. Here are the key questions as I see it:
1) What and how much do they get from Chipper Jones?
Baseball Prospectus's PECOTA system has Larry Jones projected to have the 5th highest VORP (65.0 runs) of any hitter in 2009. That's better than Ryan Braun, Lance Berkman, or Alex Rodriguez. And remember, VORP is playing time dependent, so he's already getting dinged for his expected DL trip. PECOTA has him hitting .341/.443/.564. Now far be it from me to question science, but I can't help but be skeptical that someone so old and so injury prone stays that good for the vast majority of 2009.
2) Who's their third best hitter?
Behind Jones and McCann, things get questionable fast. Jeff Francoeur would have been the obvious choice, but a funny thing happened on the way to stardom: He hit .239/.294/.359 over a full season. That's some shameful hitting, and it was evenly divided across the two halves of the season (.659 OPS pre-ASB, .645 post). The Braves also feature a first baseman in Kotchman who doesn't exactly hit like a first baseman. Their third best hitter is probably Kelly Johnson, who makes for a very handy leadoff man.
3) Does Javier Vazquez dominate?
PECOTA says yes, absolutely, and I'm inclined to agree. Vazquez gives up a few too many home runs, which keeps his ERA on the hefty side, but he's going to throw about 200 innings, and he's going to strike out about 200 hitters. He's at an age (32) where he's probably not going to suddenly break down. I wish the Mets had gotten him.
4) What do they get from their rookies?
BP's #50 prospect entering the season, Jordan Schafer is reportedly going to compete for the center field job in spring training. He's never played above Double-A before, but he was quite good at that level last year when he was all of 21. Jason Heyward is even more highly touted but is further away. And on the pitching side, Tommy Hanson seems to have some control issues but is a gigantic, overpowering righthander of the sort that tend to make effective relievers.
I don't know how all these things work out. My sense is that the Phillies are still the primary concern, but looking at the team in greater depth I'm sure I was too quick to dismiss them last year. Yes, Casey Kotchman kinda sucks, but Jeff Francoeur may not. He may come back. And you don't have to add that much to Jones/McCann/Johnson to have a league-average offense. And their pitching staff has lost Hudson but gained Vazquez and Lowe. Plus another year of seasoning for Jurrjens...They don't look as bad as I wish they did, let's put it that way.
Friday, February 20, 2009
Yglesias on finance is like Shaq at the free throw line: you live with it because he's so good at other things.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Her Twitter feed now has 62,830 followers. More than Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey or The Onion (though fewer than Barack Obama). It's also more people than could be seated at RFK Stadium. And they don't seem to tell you how fast the count has grown but my impression, having been a subscriber for a long time, is very fast.
It seems like a long time ago now that she was the original Wonkette, until she left (sold?) that operation for an ostensibly more prestigious job as a political reporter for Time magazine. Perhaps sensing that posting at Swampland, in between Joe Klein and Karen Tumulty, wasn't exactly the bleeding edge of online content, she started devoting more (like, a lot of) attention to her Twitter feed.
Many people, and by that I mean mostly nerds and some investors, are convinced that Twitter is going to be a really big deal. If they're right, AMC will be in even closer to the ground floor than she was with Wonkette as blogs were gaining popularity.
Techcrunch, which as the 16th most-followed has just over 100,000 followers, will always appeal more or less exclusively to serious geeks, so as the universe of Twitter users expands beyond serious geeks its share of the total audience is sure to shrink. AMC's feed is mostly funny, sometimes very funny political/internet coverage, with generous helpings of pop culture and non-political humor. The addressable market seems for that seems like it should be much bigger.
As a political reporter, she's not my favorite. Whatever the exact opposite of Charlie Savage is, she's in the ballpark. But she takes her comedy very seriously, and she definitely doesn't get enough credit for being consistently at the forefront of online punditry.
See, in the time it took me to write this post, 243 more people started following anamariecox.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
It's worth checking out if only because it's nice to hear a relatively optimistic viewpoint from someone (Salmon) who is more interesting than the usual permabulls on CNBC. At the same time, I agree with Eisinger that Salmon is totally underestimating the trouble that the banks are in, by overestimating the extent to which debt is being temporarily "mispriced" because of liquidity constraints. As Eisinger says here:
Eisinger also makes a point I've been meaning to make about the relationship between government policy and the stock market: Bank nationalization could be (and I think probably is) the best route to take for the country, economically. But that doesn't mean it wouldn't have dire implications for financial stocks. A lot of them would go to zero! And that's what should happen because they are at the very bottom of the capital structure (i.e. last in line to get their money back) and there's not enough money to go around. Even debtholders, who are ahead of them in line, will probably lose some of their investment.
Even though most of the damage has already been done (bonus Salmon link), bank nationalization would almost certainly result in "another leg down" in the equity markets. Just mechanically, with index funds and ETFs, you can't literally wipe out a lot of shareholders in one industry without affecting shareholders in a bunch of other industries. It would almost certainly be Bad For Stocks.
But the real economy would survive bank nationalization just fine. Individuals and businesses would still go to the same bank, it would just be owned by the government instead of a bunch of really pissed-off stockholders.
Anyway my guess is Obama really doesn't want to go the "Swedish route" but people should realize that the stock market should absolutely be expected to react poorly to bank nationalization (or an increasing perceived probability of it), and that the declines are in no way evidence that nationalization is a bad idea.
Rick Reilly sets out to "right some wrongs, one MVP at a time,":
I have a U-Haul of hardware here for Jose Alberto Pujols Alcántara of the St. Louis Cardinals. You already have two MVPs, Albert, and you're about to get three more, since Barry Bonds ripped you off worse than Bernie Madoff to win the award from 2002 to 2004. You hit .335 and averaged 41 bombs those years and yet you finished second behind the clearly creaming Bonds in '02 and '03 and third behind Bonds and Adrian Beltre in '04. We're throwing out Beltre since, while he denies ever using PEDs, he fell off the face of the planet once baseball put in stricter steroid suspensions in 2005. If he wasn't cheating, I'm the Queen Mother. And this is history we're making here. It gives you five MVPs, and nobody else in baseball history now has more than three. Just don't let us down on this thing, Albert. You know what we're talking about.
It's hard to know where to begin with this.
1) You have to be a total sucker not to suspect Albert Pujols of using performance enhancing drugs.
Albert Pujols' long-time strength and conditioning coach, Chris Mihlfeld, was named in the Jason Grimsley report as having referred Grimsley to a source of "amphetamines, anabolic steroids and human growth hormone." Here's a completely non steroids-related story about how Pujols got started training with Mihlfeld:
"[Pujols] was really kind of a pear-shaped kid, heavy from the waist down, and that scared some scouts off," Meyer remembered. "And, like with a lot of Latin players, there were always the inevitable questions about his age."
There were other concerns about his defensive ability and where Pujols would fit on a Major League team.
Consequently, a frustrated Albert Pujols -- after spending a year at Kansas City's Maple Woods Community College, where he met strength and conditioning guru Chris Mihlfeld and started the process of building an Adonis-like upper body-- waited 13 rounds before getting the call from the Cardinals. [Emphasis mine]
2) If you're not going to suspect Albert Pujols of using performance-enhancing drugs, then maybe you should have more evidence against Adrian Beltre than an isolated fluke year before you write "If he wasn't cheating, I'm the Queen Mother." Had Beltre just not discovered steroids before 2004? If you're going to operate on the assumption that abnormal performance requires cheating, then why would you possibly give Pujols the benefit of the doubt?
Which brings me to
3) "Just don't let us down on this thing"??? WTF? Rick, if he used steroids then it's already happened! It would obviously just be a question of whether it will become public or not. See, Reilly's not a sucker at all. He absolutely suspects Pujols. Other than Barry Bonds, nobody has hit like Pujols, ever. As per point 1, you'd have to be a sucker not to suspect.
The only reason Reilly is pretending to believe that Pujols is "clean" is because after touting him as such, and larding him up with 3 MVP awards he didn't win, if he does turn out to have been dirty it will be that much more of a betrayal for him to write about.
Like an expert pool player, Reilly's setting up his next shot. So when someone comes forward a year or so later with a bunch of needles they claim to have injected into Albert Pujols' ass, he'll be able to put on his biggest hissyfit EVAR.
photo courtesy of Fredbird
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
For the S&P to be down almost 5% in a day is serious business, even by recent standards of volatility.
But for some reason I'm having trouble enjoying this video of him and his wife doing infomercial-style promotion for their own brand of tequila on Denver television. Some things are just too hard to watch. To give you an idea how awkward Schaffer is, here's his answer when the local TV reporter jokingly asks if the genesis of the tequila venture was campaign-related stress relief:
"It would be an awful lot of fun to, uh, go along with you on this. But the reality is that this [gesturing to the tequila] didn't play any role in the campaign."
h/t Josh Green
Update: TPM has the money clip...
The model that he used is a free one whose only inputs are OBP and SLG (blind to baserunning), so it's not as robust as it could be. But Sokojoe fed it two different sets of projections for each player. One from the all-seeing eye of PECOTA, and the other from a system I'd never heard of called CHONE (which, if it's named after Chone Figgins, should be pronounced "Shawn").
No matter which projections he put in, the optimal lineup came out:
Interestingly, the PECOTA projections recommend this order despite pegging Reyes for a .374 OBP, which is 20 points higher than he's ever had before, and Castillo for a below career-average .347 OBP. So you don't even need to think especially highly of Castillo, or poorly of Reyes, in terms of getting on base. The difference in their respective slugging percentages (.307 to .478) alone is enough to make one guy the table-setter and the other guy the three hitter.
Monday, February 16, 2009
I hated Slumdog Millionaire. It's just a horribly told story. Given the title and the first fifteen minutes of the movie, you know...
a) that the hero wins on "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?"
b) that he wins because the questions all happen to pertain to things that have personal significance to him.
Again, you know these things in the first fifteen minutes. So why is this a two hour movie? Because of the flashbacks that explain the personal significance. With each question from the squirrelly game show host, asked in biographical order of course, we get more backstory on the hero, his brother, and his true love.
But it's just backstory! Nothing actually happens in any one or any set of flashbacks that constitutes a second plot. I spent most of the flashbacks waiting for them to end so we could get back to see what happens in the main plot, only to remind myself that we already know he wins and that this, the flashbacks, is really what it's all about. At which point I check my watch. The "Three Musketeers" grow older and go their separate ways, but the hero never gives up on them. etc. etc.
So that's how the Best Director of the year stretched out a simple, stupid gimmicky plot that he gives away immediately into two hours of motion picture magic: flashbacks*.
There is only one conceivable reason why a movie this bad is almost certainly going to win multiple Oscars, and it is the fact that the hero of the pointless story is Indian, and he wins on the Indian version of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" after being asked India-related questions that are coincidentally relevant to his Indian life experience.
I would have thought by 2008 the idea of India being a real country where people had hopes and dreams and game shows, just like in America, would have lost some if not all of its novelty. But "Slumdog" owes everything to its being-set-in-Indianess (with a director named Boyle it is not an Indian film).
Making matters worse, it seems to acknowledge as much. The film constantly invites the audience to feel more worldly just for having watched it, never more openly than in the tour guide scenes (featuring tourists who are so clueless as to elicit embarrassment and pity from even the least-traveled viewer).
Apparently it worked, because nowhere in all these glowing reviews does anyone mention that the film is stone cold boring. The closest anyone comes is Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle, who acknowledges that it "has a problem in its storytelling," and that it "unfolds in a start-and-stop way that kills suspense, leans heavily on flashbacks and robs the movie of most of its velocity." But even this, the film's harshest review is entitled "'Slumdog Millionaire' Ultimately Pays Off."
No! No it doesn't! That it is a Nate-Silver-Says-99% lock to win the Oscar for Best Picture is only proof that you don't need a good story if you manage to flatter your audience's sense of sophistication.
* Screen time breaks down approximately as follows:
20% - Scenes from a game show whose outcome is known in advance
10% - Post-victory interrogation scenes, setting up flashbacks
70% - Assorted flashbacks
As I said, the one concern I've got on the stimulus package in terms of the debate and listening to some of what's been said in Congress is that there seems to be a set of folks who -- I don't doubt their sincerity -- who just believe that we should do nothing.
Ambinder says this is unfair because "[e]xcept for a Republicans on the fringe, the opposition party did want to do something: they wanted more tax cuts and [less] spending."
Well... okay, I guess. Technically, I suppose cutting taxes in the fashion contemplated by the DeMint amendment, and cutting government spending, qualifies as "doing something." But it would obviously constrict rather than expand the government's ability to prop up aggregate demand. So it would have actually been worse than doing nothing.
But that's not even the worst part of the post. Ambinder then segues into an accusation that David Axelrod has a "persecution complex":
"Indeed, Axelrod has a similar habit of discovering new opponents, a tendency that manifested itself at various points in the presidential campaign. Obama's going through a rough patch; the cable news networks are Availability Biasing the present, turning bumps in the road into insurmountable boulders, reporters are asking normal questions, and - boom - persecution complex . Washington thinks one thing, but Obama thinks another. The smelly denizens of the Beltway are totally out of touch with the American people. The American people know exactly what Obama is doing. Washington's ways are the problem."
In Ambinder's world, reporters were just "asking normal questions." There certainly was no conventional wisdom that congealed around the idea that Republicans were "winning the argument" on the merits, or that the stimulus bill was getting more and more unpopular. Never happened!
After gamely defending the "punditocracy" from such (entirely fair) accusations, Ambinder's final gambit is to deny the very existence of such a group:
"[T]he p-tocracy doesn't exist in the way Axe and Rich believe it does. There are so many different types of pundits, analysts and reporters, all broadcasting to an immensely sophisticated audience that sifts, filters and chooses what to believe."
Translation: We in the political journalism business are a freethinking collection of empiricists; it's the audience that sucks.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
.361 Derrek Lee (1B)
.361 Adrian Gonzalez (1B)
.349 Jimmy Rollins (SS)
Castillo himself came in at .355 last year, just under his career mark, and that was despite having an uncharacteristically horrible batting average (.245). In years past his OBP was more a function of beating out infield singles than actual plate discipline. If he can keep last year's selectivity and get the average closer to his career .292, he could be more valuable than I was giving him credit for.
It's not that Castillo represents an "upgrade" over Reyes, exactly, no matter what lineup slot you're talking about. But it seems to make sense to put light-hitting OBP guys at the top of the lineup and power-hitting free swingers in the middle. That rule of thumb has Castillo hitting in front of Reyes every time.
The leadoff spot seems like an intuitively good place to hit your best basestealer, and Reyes did steal 56 bases last year, but he also got thrown out 15 times, more than 25% of his attempts (enough to negate most if not all of the runs created with the successful attempts). Luis Castillo stole 17 bases and got caught twice, less than 10% of the time.
So both in terms of getting on base and base-stealing effectiveness, Castillo actually looks like at least Reyes's equal. The third reason this is a good idea is that Reyes has too much power for the leadoff spot.
It's true that his slugging percentage is slightly misleading, because so many of Reyes's extra bases are collected because he's fast enough to take them, not because he's hitting the ball so hard. He managed to actually clear the fence with only 16 home runs last year, in 688 at-bats. But even after discounting his doubles and triples to a certain extent, you're still looking at a player who hits hard line drives very often. He was also, let's not forget, still just 24 last year, which means he's almost certainly becoming a more serious home run threat.
The best argument, as I see it, for leaving Reyes is to have the team's best hitters come to bat as often as possible, which makes, say, Reyes-Beltran-Wright-Delgado more appealing than anything that starts with Castillo. But since Castillo is going to need to fit somewhere on the lineup card every day, even in the best of circumstances, I do think he would work fairly well as a table-setter for the more devastating bats.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
But no, Stark isn't interested in the outlook for Sabathia's 2009 season or analysis of whether he (or Roy Halladay) is the really the best pitcher in the division. His readers are instead treated to an entire column about how the A-Rod steroid scandal has made Sabathia's arrival a secondary story. That the only thing reporters are asking the just-arrived Sabathia is how he feels about A-Rod, whom he hasn't actually played with yet, etc. etc.
It would meet the textbook definition of irony if, in the course of bemoaning how big and distracting this A-Rod steroids controversy is, Stark was at the same time making it bigger and more distracting. But Stark doesn't even have the decency to bemoan this state of affairs. He loves the media circus-as-story. He seems to find it more interesting than baseball. I actually did a post flagging this back in 2005, when he was writing about Randy Johnson signing with the Yankees, and making dire warnings that Johnson was "not yet prepared" for the scrutiny he was about to receive.
My theory is that Stark likes the idea that baseball writers are really important people, and believes that where he and his peers happen to focus their attention is a big deal and influences even the players themselves ("How is the fact that we're not writing about you affecting you, C.C.? Do you find it galling?"). I would submit that, while self-importance on the part of sports columnists is always and everywhere annoying, Stark manages to take it one step further by dedicating a whole column to the "issue" of a stupid story preempting an interesting story, without ever bothering to get around to the latter.
Here's how it starts:
He was supposed to be the biggest ring in the 2009 Yankees circus. Well … never mind.
Oh sure, there was a time when the sight of Carsten Charles (CC) Sabathia bursting through the gates of George M. Steinbrenner Field seemed like it might actually be a gigantic event in Yankee Land.
But that was sooooooo last week.
So there was the inimitable CC on Friday, on his very first day of enrollment at Bronx Zoo University, learning an invaluable lesson:
When you're a Yankee, you're never more than a back-page headline away from going from Most Monstrous Story in the Yankees Universe to $161-million subplot in, like, 14 seconds.Sadly, if you're reading Jayson Stark's column about C.C. Sabathia's first day in Yankee camp, you're always more than 14 seconds away from something interesting about C.C. Sabathia, or the Yankees, or baseball...
Thursday, February 12, 2009
There was another good example of this the other day when Roy LaHood, the Illinois Republican Obama picked for Transportation Secretary, proved unwilling to say on television that he would vote for the stimulus bill were he still in Congress. With a PR push like that, it's hard to believe the 'centrist'/preening narcissist caucus managed to do so much damage to the bill.
Still waiting for the proof that the strategy of sucking up to and legitimizing Republicans is a good thing. I am aware that lots of people (e.g. Chris Matthews) are demanding liberals be happy about the stimulus bill, because it's, like, sooo much money. But to paraphrase Chris Rock, that's what the government is supposed to do in a massive recession. Especially a government in which the president and the majority of the legislature aren't insane.
Anyway, I'll be curious to see who's behind Door #3 for Commerce. Larry Kudlow?
Monday, February 09, 2009
ESPN is of course in full self parody mode:
'I Was Stupid'
"In an interview with Peter Gammons, Alex Rodriguez admits to using steroids for three years with the Texas Rangers, saying, 'I needed to perform.'"
"Vote: Forgive Him?"
That's right, ESPN Nation, you get to render your personal judgment on whether to let the healing begin, or whether your feelings are still too raw. The results:
38% say "Yes [Forgive him]"
33% say "No"
29% say "No need to forgive him"
In the words of Caroline Kennedy: Have you guys ever thought about writing for, like, a woman's magazine or something?
Wednesday, February 04, 2009
This simply has to stop.
Update: I'm not sure who exactly would "work to replace" the leadership, but the underlying point about national Democrats being utterly pathetic advocates for their agenda is sound.
Tuesday, February 03, 2009
Position: Treasury Secretary
Unpaid tax liability: $48,000
Nomimation status: Confirmed
Position: Secretary of Health & Human Services
Unpaid tax liability: $140,000
Nomination status: Very likely to be confirmed. Still supported by Obama.
Position: Chief Performance Officer
Unpaid tax liability: $948.69
Nomination status: Derailed
Accountability is for women and non-cabinet appointments, apparently.
Late Update: Nevermind! Daschle took himself out, which may be bad for the cause of health care reform but will certainly mean we won't have to see as much of those stupid red glasses.
Monday, February 02, 2009
"...I spoke with a committeewoman from a southern state who echoed these concerns. On condition of anonymity, she admitted she still had strong reservations about Steele's conservative credentials and was pledging her support to [Katon] Dawson. She was incredulous when asked if the GOP needed to recalibrate its message after its recent electoral setbacks, citing Republican victories in the Georgia Senate runoff and Louisiana's congressional elections." [Emphasis mine]