To Fuss is Human, To Rant, Divine!!

Location: Vienna, Virginia, United States

A graduate of Dartmouth College (2005) and Washington and Lee University School of Law (2010). These are my personal blogs, and the musings expressed on them do not reflect the positions of my employer. They do reflect my readings, thoughts, and aspirations, which I figure is good enough.

Monday, June 19, 2006


In a few comments to my post on X-Men III below, someone by the name of Puke7 essentially accuses me of overanalyzing a meaningless movie by attacking my masculinity.

I still don't get the point of that one, but nevertheless, I stand by my right to analyze whatever tripe I want, because after all, the loudest statement of all might be made by a meaningless movie that grosses hundreds of millions of dollars. It's what's missing that's important.

I'd like to continue the trend of overanalyzing, because I've come to realize that there's not enough of it. Not nearly. To generalize, we're so morbidly afraid of analysis that we spout the same repetitive garbage over and over again, telling ourselves that nothing is original anymore, so why bother trying? To a large extent, I'm starting to feel that way about sports and sportswriting, for example.

But regarding cinema, I've been thinking for a while about the movie "Napoleon Dynamite." Why did people quote it so much? Why do they still quote it so much? How did it get to be such a cultural phenomenon that "Vote Pedro" and "Gosh!" among other phrases, have entered our daily lexicon?

For me, the answer is not so simple that the movie was eminently quotable, or that it spoke to the Napoleon in us, or the repressed children of the 80's that so many of us have contained within ourselves, wrapped in fetters of snap bracelets, aviator glasses, legwarmers and shoulder pads.

We are not Napoleon, for all our quoting of him.

We're merely the ones who laugh at him. And I would advance the idea that the sublimation of "Napoleon Dynamite" into our daily conversations, and consciousness, is nothing more than a guilty attempt to redeem ourselves and convince ourselves that far from laughing at him, we are just like him, and that we are laughing with him.

We'd like to believe that we were the underdog in school, the ones being bullied and laughed at. But that wouldn't be the truth. Honestly, I may have been bullied in school, but for every time that someone spoke down to me, there's probably another time that I was speaking down to someone else. There's almost always someone left to bully.

We tell ourselves, perhaps, that we admire his refusal to live by rules thrust upon him. But in the world we live in, there's one word for people who live like him. Outcasts.

And not many of us are willing to embrace that moniker. Therefore, we pretend that we're like Napoleon, that we're outcasts just like him, oh poor us, while we're in fact the ones who are casting others out.

Think about the humor of the movie - why are we laughing?

We laugh at Napoleon for shoving food at Tina the Llama (and getting angry at her, which is in and of itself intriguing, because Napoleon, like us, and like his peers, needs someone or some thing to push around). We laugh at Napoleon for his broken attempts at social interaction with the other characters in the film.

The other characters are all caricatures or stereotypes (of blondes, of girls from the 1980's, of Mexicans, or rednecks, etc.etc.), but nevertheless, what we laugh at is not the stereotype, but Napoleon's inability to deal with them.

But our laughter is never really directed at the caricatures of 80's midwestern life. No, the reactions to characters like Uncle Rico are more painful than anything else. We're meant to be repulsed by characters like Summer.

Nor is our outward laughter directed at the set-up of the jokes, the social commentary - the idea of his family eating nothing but steak, the idea of Keith meeting a woman on the Internets.

Our laughter is directly solely AT Napoleon himself, as he draws horrible pictures of the girl he has a crush on, as he gets pushed around at school, as he reacts impotently to the bullying, etc. etc. In fact, the film (and Jon Heder) does such a good job of making Napoleon the locus of all the ridicule, that I'm convinced that our ritualisitic repetitions are nothing more than attempts to compensate for laughing at him. Every time we say "Gosh!" it makes us feel a little better for laughing at Napoleon being a member of the Happy Hands Club.

We're sorry to be laughing at Napoleon. But we do it anyway, don't we? We'd like to think that we ARE him, or that we constantly deal with people who are like the ones Napoleon encounters, and that in the end, maybe we have an entertaining solo dance routine that will garner us applause from even the most popular (and banal) elements of our society.

My own words don't really sum up my thoughts on the movie as well as the anecdote imparted by a friend. She told me that the first time she saw the movie, she saw it alone, and consequently, did not get it at all. She didn't know whether to laugh, because it would have made her feel guilty, or to just sit and feel sorry for him. But it was easier to laugh the second time, when she saw it with a group of friends.

I think it makes a lot of sense. It take a special kind of person to laugh at the misfortune of others alone. It's a lot easier when we're in a group. "Napoleon Dynamite" is a movie that appeals to groupthink - it appeals to the power of the group to ridicule as a single entity, with a single focus of ridicule. As a fortunate consequence to the moviemakers, most of us then feel so guilty that we must necessarily justify our laughter by deifing the object of the ridicule.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

300 Game Winners

I was meaning to post this a few weeks ago, but I might as well just post it now.

A recent article by Ken Rosenthal presents several barriers that could prevent pitchers in the future from winning 300 games.

The barriers are

1) Five Man Rotations
2) Fewer complete games (and thus, fewer decisions)
2b) Specialized Bullpens
2c) Injury Paranoia
3) Emphasis on power pitchers
4) Late starts to careers

Are any of these factors truly obstacles though?

For the purposes of this article, the 300 game winners I will look at will all be post-WWII pitchers – there really is no point in comparing today’s pitchers to say, Cy Young or Christy Mathewson. The post-WWII group comprises 10 of the 22 individuals to win 300 games.

1) Five Man Rotations

Warren Spahn never started more than 40 games in a season in his career – but he did start 35 or more games a total of 10 times. In comparison, Greg Maddux has also never started 40 games in a season. But he has started 35 games or more 9 times in his career. One thing to remember for Spahn and Early Wynn is that they pitched most of their careers in a 154 game format, which depresses the start total slightly. The overall effect is that a 4 man rotation doesn’t factor in nearly as much as one might think.

In fact, if we take a 300 game winner’s games started and divide by total seasons pitched, we see that there is a very small range of starts in a season. At the low end, Early Wynn averaged 26.6 games started a season en route to 300 wins. This is significantly lower than the next 300 game winner however – the next individual, Nolan Ryan, averaged 28.6 starts a season, a full two more starts per season than Wynn. Don Sutton represents the high end of the spectrum with 32.9 starts a season – and Sutton pitched in numerous 5-man rotations. The small range just shows that more than 4-man rotations, longevity and health have a much larger impact on how many starts someone will get. In addition, Sutton began his career with a full season starting, something few of the other pitchers on the list can claim. It is a fairly intuitive conclusion, but it needs to be stated in order to emphasize how one full season at the beginning of a career or one fewer injury can compensate for the effects of a 5 man rotation.

2) Fewer complete games and more decisions.

While complete games have obviously diminished, this does not mean that future star pitchers will win less. Dominance and good offensive support have a much larger impact on win percentage – the individuals highest on the list in terms of win percentage are Clemens and Maddux.

By adding wins and losses, and subtracting that number from games started, we can get an approximation of how many no decisions a pitcher had (approximate because some pitchers, especially older ones like Perry, appeared in many games they did not start, and recorded wins or losses in those games). We can then calculate a % of No Decisions over a career (henceforth ND%).

We find that while the newest members of the club (Ryan, Clemens, Maddux) all have ND % over 20%, the only 300 game winners with a ND% below 16% were Warren Spahn and Early Wynn.

In addition, ND% has little correlation with complete games pitched for the more recent 300 game winners. For example, Tom Seaver pitched 231 complete games, 123 more than Greg Maddux’s 108. His ND% and Maddux’s ND% are extremely similar (20.25% for Seaver and 20.66 for Maddux).

3) Emphasis on power pitchers

I don't really buy this. Sure, everyone loves the Kazmir and Verlander types, and these guys do rank high on prospect lists. But no one tells crafty lefty control artists with 90 mph fastballs that they should go take a hike. There have always been power pitchers and control artists.

Power pitchers also don't really factor into the argument because it's not a given that a power pitcher or a strikeout based pitcher is more prone to injury.

4) Late Starts to Careers

There is something to this one, although there are exceptions. Most of the 300 game winners did in fact start their careers early. Phil Niekro stands out as the only one to start his career in his mid twenties, and had the most wins after age 40.

None of the above factors make it impossible for a pitcher to reach 300 wins – consider that the effects of a 4 man rotation are outweighed by the longer season and service time, that complete games may also have but a small effect on wins, and that there are still pitchers who are starting their careers early, it strikes me that it is entirely possible, and in fact very likely that we will have another 300 game winner in the next 40 years.

Look at it this way – There were two 300 game winners from the post WWII era – Warren Spahn and Early Wynn. Robin Roberts came close as well with 286 wins, and was actually a slightly better pitcher than Early Winn. Bob Feller was probably better than both Wynn and Roberts, but lost three years to WWII.

Other than those men, there were few other candidates for 300 wins from the era. But starting in the early 60’s numerous pitchers entered the scene that would challenge 300 wins. Perry, Niekro, Carlton, Ryan, Sutton and Seaver all made their debuts in the 60’s. As did stalwarts Juan Marichal, Tommy John, Fergie Jenkins, and Jim Palmer. Jim Kaat made his debut in 1959, as did Bob Gibson. They make up 12 of the top 51 winningest pitchers of all time (Marichal is #51, but I included him just for the sake of completeness).

Periodically, a pitcher enters the scene who has the longevity and luck to have a chance at 300 wins. The 70’s saw the careers of Bert Blyleven, Jack Morris and Dennis Martinez start. The 80’s was another good decade to say the least, as we witnessed the births of the careers of Glavine, Maddux, Clemens and Randy Johnson.

More importantly, the 80’s spoiled us by giving us a decade where 5 pitchers reached 300 wins – Gaylord Perry, Phil Niekro, Don Sutton, Steve Carlton and Tom Seaver. Nolan Ryan reached the mark in 1993.

To have such a large group of pitchers reach a landmark in the same decade was unprecedented. And it is happening again with Clemens, Maddux and possibly Glavine. The clustering of 300 game winners appears to be by chance, but that has simply been the pattern we have seen recently.

The other reason we’re currently debating 300 game winners is because the 90’s were like the 70’s – while we saw great pitchers like Mike Mussina, Kevin Brown, and Pedro Martinez, they are not looking durable enough to reach 300. Neither are we far enough removed to make any conclusions about their greatness. It is distinctly possible that at 34, Pedro has 8 years left in him. If he wins 13 games a year, he will reach 300.

300 Wins is a very difficult task, requiring a long period of active duty as a starter, few injuries, if any, at least decent offensive support, and quite a bit of luck. Size of rotations, complete games, and bullpens actually have a much smaller effect that Rosenthal surmises.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Too Bad About Pujols, But....

It's very unfortunate that Albert Pujols is now out for up to 6 weeks with a strained oblique, but unlike what the guys on Baseball Tonight were saying, this doesn't exactly mean that there's nothing left to look forward to this season. In fact, there a quite a few stories still worth following, including:

Jim Thome - I said before the season that he would come back to his pre-injury form, but he's setting a pace that would rival, perhaps even eclipse his best years in Cleveland. He's currently batting .295 with a slugging percentage of .661, and a K/BB ratio if 54/43 in 183 ABs. This has translated to 20 HR in 52 games played.

His best season for power production was 2002, when he slugged 52 HR in only 480 ABs. At his pace this year, if he can accrue 550 total ABs, Thome will hit 60 HR. It's not out of the question - the White Sox just passed the 1/3 point, the 54th game. Of course, that also means sustaining his current average, which is over 10 points higher than his career average, but it's certainly within the range of possibilities.

Other surprising sluggers include Alfonso Soriano, who most people (including myself) thought would struggle in a move to RFK, and Ryan Howard (not surprising, perhaps, but still beyond most expectations). Soriano has 20 and Howard has 19, and both have an excellent chance of surpassing 50.

Guys hitting for average

Derek Jeter - Jeter hit for great average in 1999 and 2000, and has been remarkably consistent this year. His defense may be lacking, but this year, his bat has been superb. The only concern in his injured hand, which may have just been reinjured on a HBP.

Alex Rios and Miguel Cabrera - We're not hearing a lot about these guys, especially Cabrera, who is silently having a career year. In fact, if you look at his last three years, his average, OBP and SLG has climbed every year. He is on pace for nearly 70 doubles this year, which would eclipse Earl Webb's 67 in 1931. His pace would easily carry him past Joe Medwick's NL record of 64 in 1936. And Alex Rios has silence doubters by carrying a high average in June with no sign of slowing down.

Ichiro - What do you know? After a bit of a slow start, Ichiro has raised his average about 60 points since May 1, and is now batting .342. 200 hits are within reach (which is never that hard for him since he averages about 700 ABs a season), which would be his sixth straight 200 hit season since coming to the US.

Nomar - I don't want to jinx him, but Nomar finally looks healthy. He is hitting the ball with authority, sporting a .369 average and extremely respectable power numbers. Even more impressive, he has only struck out 5 times in 149 ABs. Along with 15 walks, his 3-1 BB/K ratio is incredible.

Catchers - Joe Mauer, Brian McCann - Before hitting the DL with an ankle sprain, McCann was batting around .350. Mauer is batting .357. We haven't seen a catcher lead the majors in average for a long, long time, and if McCann's injury is not a lingering one, both these players could contend of the batting title (assuming sufficient at bats).


Brandon Webb currently sports a GB/FB ratio of 4.30 - meaning for every 3 fly balls, about 13 are hit on the ground. I believe in a start against Atlanta, he induced 18 grounders and 1 fly. He is riding a 25 innings scoreless streak, and has a perfect 8-0 record.

Meanwhile, Tom Glavine has had one bad outing this year, and has otherwise not allowed more than 3 earned runs in any start. He and Pedro Martinez are performing beyond the Mets' wildest expectations, and could be the 1-2 starting pitching punch that will carry the Mets into the postseason.

Where are you, Larry Walker? Fellow Colorado Rockie and native Canadian Jeff Francis is pitching very effectively, although he isn't getting a whole lot of run support - his 3-5 record includes 2 losses in which he allowed 3 ER or less and 2 no-decisions in which he allowed only 1 ER. His home ERA is .330

So Pujols is out, but there's still plenty of great baseball to watch, and some players who are on pace for career years.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

In Response to Tom Verducci

A couple days ago, Tom Verducci wrote an article about the Detroit Tigers. In it, he mentions that although they have a difficult schedule in the next two weeks (which is absolutely true), he thinks the Tigers are "for real" and can hold on to win about 90 games.

He gives five reasons for this, but in my opinion, he fails to mention the crucial factor which will decide the fate of these Tigers, one which indicates to me at least that it is impossible to predict right now how the AL Central will play out.

First, his reasons the Tigers are "for real" are

1) Pitching (focusing on the bullpen) - this partially is true - Zumaya and Rodney throw hard. They're the best pieces of the pen, and the most likely to be consistent. Jamie Walker is an underrated 35 year old who has served Detroit well for four years now, but he's not going to keep up his 0.63 ERA. Todd Jones just took the loss last night against the Yankees, and even before that, he was giving up a lot of hits. The bottom line is that the bullpen is good, but it's not THIS good.

2) Jim Leyland - the manager is "changing the atmosphere" in the clubhouse and using his relief pitchers and bench players well. I don't really know about that. He has deployed his pitchers well, as far as I know, but his team has also been caught stealing more times than it has been successful. I don't know if Leyland's positive impact is outweighed by the bad baserunning decisions.

3) History - Teams that historically start out well make the playoffs. Well, it makes sense - teams that start the first third of the season well are typically good teams. The Tigers are a good team. This reason doesn't really explain why they're good so much as it indicates that probably won't be sitting at home come October.

4) Defense - The Tigers have a good defense. I don't agree with this at all. They have a good middle infield. But their left fielders (Thames and Monroe) are slow and prone to bad decisions. Chris Shelton is no better than average at first. Inge is probably average to a little above average at third. Pudge is solid. That adds up to an above average defense, although one with a couple of holes in it.

5) Justin Verlander - I'm a huge fan of Verlander. But nevertheless, he's currently having some kind of problem with a blister or a cut on his finger, and furthermore, the Tigers might be tempted to limit his innings. If he has thrown 140 innings and the Tigers are tied with the White Sox in September, will they continue to start him?

Verducci also looks at the strength of schedule by mentioning that six of the Tigers' last nine games are against the Royals. But this is a bit misleading. The Tigers will play the Royals 10 more times. So will the White Sox. Neither team is likely to gain any advantage there, as they're both more than capable of going 8-2 or 7-3 against the hapless Royals.

These reasons don't adequately analyze the Tigers. It's actually very hard to assess the Tigers' chances right now, for one huge reason - they haven't played many games against their biggest division challengers - the White Sox, and their schedule has not been very difficult thus far.

The two teams will meet 16 more times between now and the end of the season. I think it is possible that one of the two teams will pull away during a 4 game series in late August. Head to head matchups are the best way to make up ground against a rival, but they're also the best way to dig yourself in a hole. Both teams will also play several series against teams in the AL East, each team presenting significant obstacles to the Central Division foes.

Let's face it - the season, even though we are about to pass the 1/3 mark, is still young. Both these teams have yet to face their biggest challenges, not to mention each other. There's no telling what this division will look like in August.