We rarely talk about baseball here at the Salad. This is largely because our particular brand of deconstruction doesn’t seem to advance the cause of sabrmetrics. (There is the notable exception of my piece on Kyle Drabek, where I argued that the residue of the signifier was enough to make him a good draft pick. Leider, I left out the jargon so it doesn’t count.) No, until such time as we’re able to do away with the ball-strike and out-safe binaries, Yesterday’s Salad will mostly sit out commenting on our national pastime.

But we will comment on Ryan Howard’s contract since lost in the kerfuffle over whether Ryan Howard’s extension is a good deal or a bad one are the discrete pieces of knowledge it gives us about Ruben Amaro, the Phillies GM.

1. Amaro is not afraid of old position players. We already knew this from the Raul Ibanez signing, but the Howard extension confirms that Amaro suspects that so called “old player skills” can now translate into production by old players. It doesn’t hurt that Ryan Howard’s conditioning has improved considerably in recent years and he looks less and less like Mo Vaughn and Cecil Fielder every day.

2. The Hometown penalty is real. Credit goes to Will Leitch for this one. It used to be said that  players would offer “hometown discounts” to continue playing with their current teams. If anything, the opposite is now true. Certain players are more valuable to their current teams than they are to other teams because they already play there and are identified as being singular causes of winning. Consider the outrage over the Phillies’ trade of Cliff Lee. Lee wanted more money than the Phillies were willing to offer, and a large portion of his demands clearly resulted from the Lee mythology that had developed in Philadelphia during last year’s postseason.

3. Conversely, being a winning team is/enables/exposes a market inefficiency. Roy Halladay took a below market deal to come to Philadelphia since he determined that being a Philly was a good way of getting to the postseason. There are players of a certain caliber who value winning as much or more than money itself. These players want to be on winning teams and will take less money to be on the winning team, lowering their acquisition cost. Yet this efficiency is only available to teams with the demonstrated ability to win (some matrix of actual won-lost record, perceived strength of franchise, and payroll).

Consider a hypothetical from the independent film world where actors will often work for scale to make a prestige picture with a high-chance of winning Academy Awards. John Travolta might normally want 10 million plus to star in “Pulp Fiction 2: Where Vincent Vega Never Goes to the Bathroom,” but he’d be willing to sign for much less if Uma Thurman, Samuel L. Jackson, and Ke$ha (in a “heart-rending dramatic turn” that “could only come from the mind of Quentin Tarantino”) all took reduced salaries to make the film a-go.

Could investing in Howard and locking in those wins actual lower the cost of the next win? In other words, there might be an additional value to sunk costs.

4. Baseball economics vs. Real Economics. Finally, what will the global market be in a few years? Obviously the baseball market is influenced by the real economy but we don’t quite know in what way. Is it a lagging indicator or reasonably recession proof? Certainly inflation will help balance out Ryan Howard’s contract but will it really balance it out? Rob Neyer suspects not, though there’s always the possibility that it could.

For example, what if we were to experience another financial panic (let’s bring back this term once and for all)? Ryan Howard’s contract might end up looking pretty good compared to the cost of a win in the miserable “Oops! I did it again Depression of 2013” free agent market (a result of president Palin dismantling derivatives controls coupled with a strict no-bailout policy that leads us into a hyper-inflationary mess [shudder]). Or, more reasonably, what if the US economy resembled that of the late 1970s and we were suddenly in an era of double-digit inflation? Again, Howard’s contract might look a lot better.

Teams certainly consider all sorts of baseball and financial factors when offering a contract. What this clause presupposes is, maybe they also consider macroeconomic factors? Unfortunately that’s an area where no one really knows what’s going on, and Glenn Beck style gold purchasing might be a real loser in a deflationary economy. So to with Ryan Howard.

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Whither the NFL?

February 9, 2010

As a contrarian and New Yorker I have to take issue with much of the post-Super Bowl chatter that I’ve heard.  Though there was a decent narrative (local wunderkind Peyton Manning takes on his hometown team, a franchise representing a beleaguered city) I do not believe it was a great game.  The NFL has continuously approved rule changes that favor the passing game.  Not only does this cheapen certain benchmarks (10 NFL QB’s threw for 4,000 plus yards this season) it brings a great imbalance to the game.

I have great respect for Drew Brees’ efficiency and the highly cerebral approach and rigorous preparation of Peyton Manning.  I also recognize that there great skill is required to protect these passers as well as these offensive linemen do.  Quick: think about the number of sacks and relative pressure in this Super Bowl; now compare that to how the Giants rattled Tom Brady’s cage two years prior.

But getting quick leads on opponents because of big passing plays leaves a sour taste in my mouth.  Watching a team march down the field consuming yardage and game clock like a pack of ravenous animals is true victory.  It is disheartening for a defense to be pushed backwards – it requires a psychological victory that the passing game simply does not.  While I recognize that Peyton Manning has revolutionized the position and I have tremendous respect for his ability to process, analyze and disect a defense in roughly 40 seconds, I’m not as impressed by the fact that “there’s no defense for a perfect throw”.  Watching a 300 guard pull block or a big halfback get out to the next level and take on a middle linebacker is not as aesthetically pleasing to the untrained eye, but it’s what football’s always been about to me.

“Smart bombs” and aerial bombing campaigns do not give us actual victory or any real sense of a “mission accomplished”.  Territorial acquisition is control.

Eric ChavezOk, so I’m going to say upfront that I like Nate Silver.  I read Five Thirty Eight.  I definitely would have read Burrito Bracket had I been aware of it.  He seems like a cool guy.  For those of you who were not interested in the future of the country back in October, Nate Silver is the stat-head who launched the poll aggregating website Five Thirty Eight.  Given the infantile way most website and media outlets measured polls (yes, RealClearPolitics, that means you), Five Thirty Eight was a breath of fresh air.  Silver did a solid job analyzing polls and conveying to non-math oriented people (ie just about everyone) what a poll’s data actually means.  So what’s the problem?  Everybody. Loves. Him.  They can’t stop raving about him, like he’s the ayatollah of poll aggregation.

He built an interesting website, give the man his credit.  This has gone way too far, though.  Much like Jack Donaghy, I think it’s hard to call the man a genius based on this work (Burrito Bracket, however, is another matter altogether).  But that’s exactly what’s going on.  Everybody treats his website like it’s gospel, or the latest dailysalad post, as though he can do no wrong.  Really, he’s the Bill Simmons of electoral projections.  Yeah, he’s still cool, but the hype is just too much.  And it’s just getting worse.  The other day, he projected the Minnesota recount down to the individual vote (Franken by 27).  Recently he signed a lucrative two book deal.  He was named one of the sexiest men of the year.  Just last week Rachel Maddow claimed that Silver was the best prognosticator ever, that he exactly nailed the election results, and that everyone in America should buy him a beer (all 300 million of us).  But really?  This should be a pretty easy claim to verify.

Actual Results:

2008 Election Results

Nate Silver’s Projections:

Nate Silver's Projection

So that’s pretty close, right?  I guess Ms. Maddow and I have a different definition of what “exact” means, though.  While I would wholeheartedly endorse ignoring Indiana and Omaha out of general principle (let’s face it, the world would be much better off), the fact is that Silver did not get those electoral votes right.

So what is The Terrible Secret of Nate SilverRead the rest of this entry »

Solidarity Forever

November 8, 2007

As the great Rabbi Dr. Professor Jurgen Haverstam, DHL pointed out in his very first post, Yesterday’s Salad is an indiscriminate supporter of any and all revolutions. So it is that several saladeers recently took part in a sympathy strike and went out to support their WGA brethren (even though that may mean the continued existence of YS’ 40th favorite new show of the season, Cavemen). Though we have once again taken to our keyboards (or, in the case of the Ciceronian, resumed hounding a baffled stenographer with his declaimations) and have begun to resume a normal “schedule,” this in no way means that we have turned into scabs (c’est a dire: Kerry Lightenberg). Rather, we will do whatever we can to help both the writers (who verily deserve increased shares of the pot; also, all those who wish to do their part should consider viewing the movie Newsies, probably the most accurate cinematic portrayal of the plight of the working class–with a singing and dancing Christian Bale–before getting involved) and society, who may never get to find out what happens between Ross and Rachel, Jim and Pam, Kate and Jack.

To that end, we bring you this footage of the new Beijing line 5:

and this awesome video/propaganda piece produced to inaugurate the Disneyland monorail (with special guest appearance from the nearly-handsome Vice-President, Richard Nixon):

I know that last video must have been hard for the fair people of Seattle. Only a few years after the planned Seattle Monorail was repealed, the massive infrastructure tax that would have supported Sound Transit expansions failed. Now Seattle residents find themselves in a double bind: no new “Office” episodes after next week, and no end to congestion in sight. And their basketball team is probably leaving town.

But cheer up Seattlites: life isn’t all sadness (and rain)! After all, there are still a few days of National Split Pea Soup Week left, and Sunday brings National Vanilla Cupcake day. Perhaps even an end to the strike? Who, I ask, could strike in the face of something so beautiful as national vanilla cupcake day?

This morning, I was contacted by our Saladeer-In-Chief, who requested that I write a post on Why The Boston Red Sox Will Not Win the World Series. Why I agreed to do it (I am a Red Sox fan!) I do not know. Ibitemyowneyes.

But a promise is a promise, and so…

Why The Boston Red Sox Will Not Win the World Series

  1. Mascot inferiority. The Colorado Rockies are named after…Rocky Mountain Oysters (follow the link to see how to buy this delicacy). A much more interesting mascot than socks. Never mind the liberties those Bostonians take with spelling their team name.
  2. Misplaced faith. As reported by the New York Times, The Rockies “…Place Their Faith in God, and One Another.” It is rumored that God has slightly more zip on his fastball than Josh Beckett – the primary holder of the Red Sox “faith.” The only glimmer of hope for Red Sox fans, in this regard, is another rumor, started in 1989 by Cleveland Indians veteran pitcher Eddie Harris – that Jesus Christ (part of God’s triple play) may not be able to hit a curve ball.
  3. The contract between Lucifer and Scott Boras. Multiple reports pouring in from the depths of hell (you all smell like cheese) have confirmed that Boras and his superstar client (Alex Rodriguez – pictured here, with his wife-in-a-swimsuit) have been performing “just about every evil incantation” they can think of, in order to assure a Red Sox World Series loss. The thinking behind this strategy: it worked for the Yankees when they were desperate for a return to grace – why wouldn’t their biggest rivals want to follow suit? Boras and A-Rod (pictured here, with his wife-in-a-swimsuit) would then seek a deal with the Red Sox that would reportedly be worth $20 million a year for seventeen years and all the Coke in the Coke bottle at Fenway.
  4. The unborn second child of Bill Simmons. This little ‘fetus,’ as Simmons is calling him, is keeping the arguable spiritual leader of Red Sox Nation (WARNING: Do not say something like this in front of the RemDawg!) away from Fenway park during the World Series. With the return of the Rockie’s spiritual leader on hold for the time being, having Simmons in attendance could provide an advantage to the Red Sox. Yesterday’s Salad’s Rocky Mountain correspondent has learned, however, that Jesus may in fact be very close to Coors Field. So the point may be moot as a boot…in a suit.
  5. A Manny Ramirez Joke.
  6. The Rockies are not the Yankees. If the Red Sox find themselves in a 3-0 hole – which they very well may given all of the above – they may find it difficult (as nigh impossible as moving a well) to fight back and win the series. Not all teams suffer historic collapses in the face of victory.

To learn Why the Colorado Rockies Will Not Win the World Series, click here.

Best of luck to both teams!

With the prospect of nuclear war with North Korea temporarily averted, Major League Baseball, Major League Baseball Advanced Media, and the Major League Baseball Players Association have decided not to cancel the World Series as they did to celebrate the release of Hoop Dreams in 1994. And with the arrival of a World Series (as with a Superbowl) comes the need to FUTURECAST the fore, and to predict qui va [Eric] gagner cette evenement mondiale.

So without further delay, here are but four of the reasons why your Colorado Rockies are doomed to lose to the provincial proletariat’s team, the Boston Red Sox.

1) Getting Around Town. As we learned in our discussion of the Superbowl (two links to that post in the same article; a new record!), having a good transit agency is integral to a team’s postseason success. And while the T is nothing to write home about (especially not in the Massachusetts Bay, where mail is delivered by T and thus takes over a fortnight to arrive at its destination), Denver’s light rail is quite paltry. Besides, much of the T’s problems are a result of the overcrowding caused by being the hub of the universe. FasTracks may someday reify the Denver transit scene, but for now Boston’s system is far more extensive–and not 1.5 Billion over budget. Advantage Boston.

2) Religious Identity: Although the Colorado Rockies’ rise to power would seem to be contemporaneous with their adoption of Jesus as the team’s personal lord and saviour, this success is abnormal. In this new American Secular Age the Rockies, like much of evangelical America, are hopelessly behind the time, strictly qui est out. Have not the Rockies’ brain trust heard of Mr. Sam Harris and his “The End of Faith“? If they have, the Rockies defense is probably along the lines of Mr. Stephen Colbert on his eponymous program:

“Harris begins his standard rap about how “we’re all atheists with regard to Poseidon.” Colbert sternly overrides him, insisting that not all gods are created equal and ‘My god can kick your god’s ass.'” [fuller recap of the interview here]

But what makes the Rockies so sure that their God is superior [full disclosure: this post does not reflect the beliefs of all Saladeers. But for the record, Dash supports Sabbateanism, while the Ciceronian worships at the altar of his own oratory], what makes them sure that the Greek Gods do not walk among us today? After all, the Greek God of Walks plays for the Red Sox and his ability to be both Greek God and Jewish is proof of the ironic nature of identity athetically described by Derrida in his “Interpretations at War: Kant, the Jew, the German.” And until the Rockies embrace the multiplicity of identities, they are doomed to failure (or, at least doomed to being considered structuralist). Read the rest of this entry »

One of the funniest little moments on 30 Rock last year involved Liz Lemon (Evanston’s own Tina Fey) and her boyfriend leaving New York City, New York for a romantic getaway to “The Forest City,” the Manchester of Mid-America, the Metropolis of the Western Reserve, Cleveland Ohio.

My own experiences in 32205081empandmonorail1024.jpgCleveland are limited, and not quite as magical as Ms. Lemon’s. My most recent trip didn’t even merit a full post (said post does emphasize why I should not write music criticism, Cheap Trick not withstanding), my second to last visit was a 4 hour layover during a greyhound ride from New York to Chicago (though I had a terrific grilled cheese at the Cleveland bus terminal), and my only other trip to Cleveland took place about 10 years before the creation of this blog. I did really like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but it’s been eclipsed by the Seattle EMP in my mind, if only because of the monorail that runs through it. Still, fond childhood memories of the mid-90’s Indians (the best of the 90’s mini-dynasties that didn’t win The World Series), coupled with the Major League franchise do make me irrationally connected to Cleveland (Major League 3: Back to the Minors, with its ties to Minnesota, either never happened or will soon be aufheben by YS as the lost gem of family baseball movies).

But a funny thing happened recently to the mistake by the lake, something that shouldn’t go without notice. Cleveland was somehow named the top large transit agency in America. The award cites Cleveland’s expanded Downtown trolley service and an emphasis on customer service. I’m really not surprised by this development. Cleveland has a rather extensive metro system for a city of its size, with one heavy rail line and two light rail lines. Cleveland is well served by its transit agency, with (relatively) low traffic. According to a data set in this report on the Portland Light Rail system (YS: scouring the internet far and wide for data), Clevelanders lost only 10 hours to congestion in 2003 while their subway-less Cincinnati brethren lost 30. Of course Cleveland’s system would be totally insufficient for the Cleveland of 50 years ago, but such are the ironies of deindustrialization (see Season 2 of The Wire).

The report also cites Cleveland’s upcoming Bus Rapid Transit system, the Euclid Avenue Silver Line. While I support anything that gets people out of cars (like bike share programs, rickshaws, and the reintroduction of horses to city streets–a curse upon the dehorsifying New York!), I’m not particularly bullish on Bus Rapid Transit, mostly because the term is meaningless, describing a widely varying set of practices (I’m also suspicious of anything the Bush administration actively promotes, although my views on this may change if I can somehow figure out a way to get Yesterday’s Salad to qualify as a faith based initiative). Even better designed systems like the Eugene Oregon EmX have their critics and the most successful systems are too successful, indicative of the need for rail transit. This is not to mention the misfortune that befalls poorly planned systems. But, in my opinion, the biggest problem with BRT systems is their low passenger capacity. They may increase comfort and ease of use, but they don’t really offer much room for growth.

Planning a single BRT line is really planning for the city of today, and not the city of tomorrow. Metropolis, Illinois may claim to be the hometown of the Man of Steel, the Man of Tomorrow (what a segue!) but Superman was born in Cleveland, Ohio. Something tells me that our stable of Superman writers would look very different if Superman were “more powerful than a Silver Line bus,” and not “more powerful than a locomotive.”

Note to the Readers: Unlike this post, most transit columns are far more likely to be semi-controversial than they are semi-cogent. I was simply too astounded by Cleveland’s award not to comment.