Nationals Review

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Money Ain't Everything

In Michael Lewis' best-seller "Moneyball," he illustrated how the Oakland A's -- through superior management and analysis -- achieved great success despite their status as a "small-market" franchise.

That lesson certainly applies to other businesses, and it applies to politics too.

Take a look at Thomas Edsall and James Grimaldi's terrific piece in today's Washington Post about how the Republicans, frankly, outsmarted the Democrats. The guys and gals running the Republican National Committee made greater use of statistical analysis to target their message to a narrow audience. This, despite the Democrats spending more money than the GOP.

Patrick Ruffini has more on the subject.

UPDATE: As Yuda points out in the comments, the Democrats technically didn't outspend the GOP, but essentially matched them and set historical fundraising figures of their own. Yet, despite it all, they lost by a rather significant margin.

Links Galore

  • George Will highlights Jason DePerle's compelling book titled "American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids, and a Nation's Drive to End Welfare" looking at the remarkable success of welfare reform.
  • In the LA Times, Max Boot opines on the need for the U.S to export the successful democracy promotion at work in Ukraine's Orange Revolution to tyrannical regimes like Iran.
  • DC Mayor Tony Williams signs Nats ballpark legislation, virtually guaranteeing the Nats are here to stay.
  • Odalis Perez is mulling over competing offers between the Marlins, Mets and Nationals. My bet's on Florida.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Second Place Nats

Echoing in much greater detail my comments, Nationals Pastime blogger John concludes that the Nats have a good chance at having the second-best rotation in the NL East -- behind Atlanta. If Odalis Perez choose the Nats over the Mets and Mariners, that chance could increase greatly:

The story is that, we have a reasonable shot of ending up with the 2nd best rotation in the NL East if we sign Odalis Perez. If we had him, we'd only need to get "very good" seasons out of any two of Perez, Armas and Rauch (I don't believe you'll ever see a good season from Patterson).

If we don't sign Perez, we could still end up in the #2 slot, but it's more of a bit more of a stretch, because it not only requires Armas to have an exceptional year, it also requires Rauch to beat Patterson handily and have a spectacular year, which is hard to project based only on scouting reports.

With an offense that should rival their NL East rivals, we could be in for a fun season.


Duke of Hazard?

Unfortunately, Josh's blog on anti-Semitism at Duke is at least partly accurate. While I don't doubt President Brodhead's intentions (he reiterated the pledge made by previous Duke President Nannerl Keohane that Duke had no intention of divesting its stock interests from companies doing business with Israel) based on the principles of free academic expression, it is certainly not a coincidence that PSM chose Duke, as they knew full well that academic institutions such as Duke (and their requisite cohort of rich, liberal, and often pretentious students), which pride themselves on sanctioning any and every form of radical, unusual, and hateful speech, would easily give the green light to a conference espousing such extremism. On the other hand, from what I can gather, aside from a handful of the usual suspects (political science types, postcolonial theorists, guilt-ridden Jews, rich white kids with nothing better to do), the conference had no impact on the "average" Duke student--that is, the rich white kid who is too busy making his latest beer run so he can get back to the frat house in time to kneel down before his shrine and make the daily sacrifice to the votive statue of Coach K. Additionally, while the pathetic Kurian op-ed showed a lot about the gullibility of The Chronicle editors, the vociferous response from both Jewish and non-Jewish students alike proved that at least a substantial population of Duke students still have their heads on straight.

So while I agree that there is certainly cause for concern, it's not time to panic just yet. Here in the North Carolina Triangle (a.k.a. Berkeley East), where you better think twice before planting a Bush placard in your yard, you won't find much political dialogue or diversity. But aside from the ivory tower playing its usual silly games with America's jaded young minds, I don't think there is much to worry about. By now the PSM, like Duke's football season, is completely forgotten--an embarrassing hiccup marring an otherwise pleasant fall.

Theo Epstein and Ali G

There's a neat profile of Red Sox GM Theo Epstein in last Sunday's Boston Globe Magazine. Epstein and I have one thing in common:

There are lots of laughs to go with the long days. Epstein is a good impressionist and can enliven even the dullest contract discussion by assuming the voice of "Borat," the hilarious Kazakh character from HBO's Da Ali G Show.

And here's yours truly, doing his own Borat impression, costume and all -- last Halloween of course.


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Anti-Semitism at Duke

This month, Commentary magazine features an essay titled "The Intifada Comes to Duke" by Duke graduate students Eric Adler and Jack Langer. The article argues there's a virulent anti-Israel sentiment among left-wing activist Blue Devils, and an indifference from the school's administration about it. The article details some of the events at this Palestinian Solidarity Movement Conference held at Duke -- including a defense of suicide bombings and other assorted anti-Semitic rantings. The school's response?

But [school president Richard] Brodhead...issued what amounted to an outright exndorsement of the conference. Declining to criticize PSM, he asserted only that a great deal of inaccurate information was circulating on the Internet and that the "deepest principle involved [in hosting the conference] is not even the principle of free speech. It's the principle of "education through dialogue."

A week or so later, senior Philip Kurian unleashed this anti-Semitic diatribe in the Duke student newspaper.

What's in the water in Durham, Lior?

UPDATE: The folks at Powerline Blog posted an extended summary of the Commentary article, including some of the disturbing quotes from the event itself.

UPDATE 2: The magazine has now posted the full article on its website. It's now linked above.


Monday, December 27, 2004

Kate Bosworth's Pearls of Wisdom

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Actress Kate Bosworth makes some ingenious comments in the upcoming issue of GQ. Here's one of those nuggets:

ON THERMODYNAMICS: "God, I'm hot from that tea. Woo. All the sudden, I'm like, woo, warm! That actually happens to me if I have a hot drink? Yeah, yeah."

ON TAUTOLOGY: "Great Danes are just, like, so great, aren't they? They're just, like, big dogs! I know! Yeah, yeah, Great Danes are great. Oh, my God, they just so are."



Brilliant.

Timing impeccable

So, after years of fruitless waiting and unwarranted patience, my dream has come true with the requisite semi-ironic twist: Washington has a baseball team; ergo, I am thrilled. Caveat: I no longer live in Washington; ergo, I am pissed off. Great move, Bud--as soon as I move to North Carolina, where baseball ranks somewhere behind NASCAR, golf, and large game hunting in popularity, you give Washington the team it deserves, and I get squat. Of course, impeccable timing has always been one of Bud Selig's strengths as commissioner . . . I'm sorry, I can't write that with a straight face.

At any rate, my timing is clearly anything but impeccable, which is why I will continue to root for the Braves as my home-away-from-home team, while rooting for the Nats to finish a respectable second-best. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for Josh's early Nats optimism to wear off. My guess is July.

Meanwhile, Josh has convinced me to come out of graduate school-induced retirement and post occasional blurbs on sports as well as sundry other topics of interest.

Background: I went to high school in the Washington, D.C. area where I thankfully did not become an Orioles or Redskins fan, although I still follow the Bullets (Wizards) for sentimental reasons. After graduating from the University of Virignia, I enrolled in Duke University’s Master of Arts in Teaching program, where I am currently training to teach high school English by taking graduate English courses at Duke and interning at local Durham public schools. No, I don’t root for Duke. Yes, I hate coach K too. No, I haven’t been assaulted yet, although not all the teachers in my hall can confidently make that claim (I still haven’t decided whether I should be a crip or a blood backer). Among my interests on which I may be posting, in addition to baseball, are ACC football and basketball, literature, writing, education, and anything else I feel like pretending to understand.

Baseball Economics 101

The Reds today signed P Eric Milton to a 3-year deal worth $25.5 million. Eric Milton is 29 years old and has a career 4.76 ERA. Last year, he notched a handsome 4.75 ERA for the Philadelphia Phillies, and gave whiplash to Phils fans with 43 HRs given up.

Last week, the Red Sox signed P Matt Clement to a 3-year deal worth $25.5 million. Clement is 30 years old and has a career 4.34 ERA. Last year, he notched a 3.68 ERA for the Chicago Cubs, and was near the top of the National League with 190 strikeouts.

Odalis Perez is still a free agent. He is 27 years old, posted a 3.25 ERA last year and will likely cost around the same prices as the aforementioned two pitchers.

This, precisely, is why certain small-market teams like the Reds are perennial cellar dwellars.

It's not about the dinero.

Clear Channel Fumbles with Sports Radio

As much of a free-market proponent as I am, it's very frustrating to watch a company with absolutely no innovation or management skills not experience any adverse consequences for their idiocy.

Like Clear Channel.

Clear Channel owns many radio stations in the Washington area. Out of their cluster of stations, I primarily listen to DC-101 and BIG-100 for music and SportsTalk980 for sports talk. The sports talk station, initially conceived in 1992, used to have gobs of local sports programming (which is a must when dealing with sports in a major-market), hosting talent like current Fox Sports football host James Brown and FOX NFL announcer Dan Miller. Sports fans like myself (when I was 13-14) used to call in a bunch of shows and gab with the generally-friendly hosts. Callers are the lifeblood of sports radio. If you listen to WFAN, the sports talker in New York, nearly every show features crazy callers from Staten Island to Rockland County. Sports call-in radio gives a sense of community.

That was then. This is now.

Now, the station is essentially caller-free. Aside from some Redskins post-game shows and an occasional moment on the 5:00 "Sports Reporters" hour, all you hear are syndicated drivel-fests and Tony Kornheiser re-runs. What was once a station with 100% local talk now barely features half its schedule with original, local programming.

The "suits" at the station wisely decided to bring sports columnist diva Tony Kornheiser back from 9-11 a.m. but, in their infinite wisdom, re-air the show immediately after it's over. Today, in a busy sports day, they aired the oxymoronically named "Best of Tony Kornheiser" twice instead of featuring local call-in programming. Their one talented sports-talker, Steve Czaban, moves his FoxRadio show to the mornings, yet WTEM refuses to air it in favor of the insufferable "Mike and Mike" syndicated ESPN duo.

They have former G-Town coach John Thompson on for two of the most painful hours of radio I've ever heard. (My sources tell me it's their highest rated show. That's like saying "Sugar, Sugar" is the Archies' best song.) By doing that, they relegate two talented talkers -- Comcast's Al Koken and former 'Skin Doc Walker -- into silent sidekicks to Thompson.

Money doesn't buy success. They may not have much of a budget because of low ratings. But, in this case, bad management is largely responsible for the station's microscopic ratings.

Clear Channel has driven its top talent away intentionally. Phil Wood is one of the most decent, knowledgable and entertaining baseball talkers in town but unceremoniously fired him -- without him even knowing. Now if they get the rights to broadcast the Nats, there's little chance he's coming back to host a pre/post game show. Presently, a former board-op who doesn't even know the best player on the Nats, is the baseball voice of the station. They air the Wizards games on the weak signal of AM1260.

There needs to be a new sports talker in town. It's truly amazing how poorly mismanaged some companies are, since they're small cogs in an oversized company's mega-portfolio. I'm generally for deregulation, but I think Clear Channel provides proof that in the radio business, it's backfired. You need look no further than Sports-Talk 980.

Lima Time

Jose Lima signed a one-year contract to return to the Kansas City Royals.

Mrs. Lima is bringing some Lima Time back to KC too:



(Via Offwing.)

Democrats in Denial

The paradox of today's politics is that liberals are acting more (small-c) conservative, while conservatives -- at least Bush conservatives -- have espoused the ideology of reform.

The Democrats of today have reminisced for the glory days of Franklin Roosevelt in their rejection of any reforms to Social Security, and have bashed the Bush administration's handling of post-war Iraq without any serious proposals of their own, other than a knee-jerk obsequience to the United Nations.

Michael Barone writes about this irony in his weekly TownHall column today.

A side-note: one point left unmentioned is that during the 1970s, the conservative movement emphasized the creation of think-tanks to add intellectual firepower to the Republican party. The Heritage Foundation is closely aligned with the Republican party; free-market think tanks like AEI and the Cato Institute have greater independence. Many of these intellectuals came into government during Reagan's presidency, and they have played a crucial role ever since. More have sprouted up since, like the Hudson Institute and the Defense of Democracies.

In contrast, the Democratic party -- currently in the midst of an intraparty debate over its future -- is hamstrung by such short-term reactionary thinking about how to remain viable in the future. Their response in the 2004 election was to give gobs of money to propaganda outlets like Moveon.org and liberal media watchdog group Media Matters, run by the infamous fabulist David Brock. (The hilarious thing about his site is that it usually critiques conservative commentators for... being conservative!) John Podesta has made some inroads with the Center for American Progress, but I am skeptical of its long-term viability and it has been far overshadowed and outfunded by the shrill rhetoric machine.

America is better off when two parties have a genuine battle of ideas. The country's political health will be hurt if one of our country's significant parties remain in denial about what ails them.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Nats Contenders In National League East?

During the offseason, I'm going to take a look at the National League East position-by position, and compare how the Nats fare against their intradivisional rivals.

As it stands now, I think the NL East -- along with the NL West -- is the most competitive division in baseball, with all teams demonstrating key strength but all having some major holes. The Atlanta Braves have a dominant starting pitcher (Tim Hudson), key skill players at tough positions (Marcus Giles, Rafael Furcal) and starpower (Chipper Jones). And I haven't even mentioned pitching coach Leo Mazzone and their run of 11 straight division titles. Yet they still have significant holes in their outfield, some question marks in their bullpen and weaknesses at several positions (is 46-year-old Julio Franco really still a platoon player?)

As much as the whole city is stoked about the Nats coming to town, the commentary has generally been very negative on the 2005 prospects for the team. I would give the Nats an over/under of about 82 wins, and think they have a chance to be a true sleeper next season. Last year's Expos had a brutal schedule and even-more brutal injuries. This year's team should be significantly more healthy.

And while I wasn't a big fan of Jim Bowden's offseason moves, they clearly don't hurt the team. In fact, they marginally improve the Nats despite the high cost for the marginal talent. Right-fielder Jose Guillen is a modest improvement over Juan Rivera, and Cristian Guzman will likely outproduce the Expos' combo of Orlando Cabrera and Maicer Itzuris, who struggled to put up an OPS above 600 last season.

This NL East features teams with deep pitching staffs, and the Nats are no exception. Ace Livan Hernandez sported a 3.60 ERA with over 180 Ks last year and was one of the top starters in the NL. Overwork is a concern for him, though in the last several years it seems he's pitching with a rubber arm.

Not too long ago, Zach Day was one of the Indians' untouchable pitching prospects and has produced well despite a lack of publicity in the bigs. His strikeout rate is a bit low, but he has a career 4.01 ERA and is only 26.

Tony Armas, Jr. is also only 26. has high K-rates throughout his short career and sports a respectable 4.21 career ERA. Toma Ohka has awesome career BB/K ratios, and also has consistently kept his ERA under 4.

Not too shabby, eh? And I haven't even mentioned John Patterson, who could emerge as a nice 5th starter or Jon Rauch, who was the ChiSox top pitching prospect before getting injured in 2003, which sidelined him for much of 2004. This team's starting pitching is deep, folks. And deep with quite a bit of talent, not including the potential acquisition of perennially underrated Odalis Perez. (Interestingly, the Nats rotation is filled with a lot of teams' former top pitching prospects: Day with CLE, Armas and Ohka to a lesser extent with BOS, Rauch with the ChiSox, and Patterson with ARI.)

I'm not going to go as in-depth into the offense, but needless to say Brad Wilkerson is a potential stud, Nick Johnson -- if healthy -- could become a walking machine with a smidge of power and Jose Vidro is one of the top three second baseman in all of baseball. The entire outfield (if it's Guillen-Wilkerson-Sledge) is above-average, and the only potential holes are at third base and, perhaps, shortstop. Brian Schneider is a whiz with the glove, and a competent hitter.

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to analyze the NL East, position-by-position and I think we'll see a picture emerging showing the Nats as potential contenders. I'd put better than 50-50 odds that the Nats will win more games next year than the (Sn)orioles have won since their last playoff appearance in 1997.

Debut of the Blog

So after a two-year hiatus or so, I'm back blogging. For now, the blog will focus mostly on baseball, analyzing a bunch of the Hot Stove transactions made recently. But we'll also focus on journalistic snafus, absurd columnist logic and an occasional commentary from yours truly.

Here's hoping this works well.