Monthly Archives: October 2016

Silly Sports Statistics

The world of sports is a statistics fan’s heaven. Especially in baseball, but in most of the other sports as well, there are so many ways to quantify player performance that it’s a wonder some of the stats nuts have time to watch what’s actually happening on the field of play.

But in their love of numbers, the stats guys are making up bizarre combinations – sort of like a mad chef who decides he’s going to combine haggis, vanilla extract, tripe, cherries, and head cheese and make something remotely edible.

Ain’t gonna happen.

Consider these examples.

The Philadelphia Eagles had a player who was thought to have a bright future, then was looked upon as a failure, and then was considered someone who may turn out to be good after all. So why did people think he might be good in the first place? Not by watching him, but

In his first year in the NFL, he showed promise by becoming the first Eagle ever to have three interceptions and two quarterback sacks in his rookie season.

Let The Curmudgeon assure you, non-sports fans, this combination of accomplishments means absolutely nothing.

The New York Times ran a very positive piece about a forty-year-old baseball player who returned to the major leagues after a year away – a year away because no one wanted him. The player had had had a very fine career, and looking at his statistics could lead one to think he had been a great player in his time. A very good player, yes, but a great one? Not even remotely.

But then, the stats guys found a bizarre pearl and decided to ride it for all it was worth:

On Friday, he stole his 400th base, which, combined with his 912 extra-base hits, puts him in the exclusive 900-400 club with Barry Bonds, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Craig Biggio and Paul Molitor.

And then this gem:

If he can manage 12 more home runs, he will join an even more elite club: players with 300 home runs and 400 stolen bases. Membership currently comprises players with the last name Bonds: Barry and his father, Bobby.

Jimmy Rollins was one of the best players ever to play for the Philadelphia Phillies. He was an unconventional player in the sense that he is small and fast, which creates a distinct set of expectations among fans, yet also is very strong, which creates a different set of expectations. He was both loved and loathed, and those who wrote about him were always looking for a convenient pigeon-hole in which to place him. One such spot:

Only four players – Rollins, Frank Schulte, Willie Mays and Curtis Granderson – have hit at least 20 doubles, triples and home runs in the same season while also stealing at least 20 bases.

Which, when you think about it, tells the reader…very little.

Neither does this: Freddy Galvis replaced Rollins as the Phillies shortstop and in his second year as that replacement, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer,

He is just the fourth player in baseball history to hit 20 or more homers, drive in 65 or more runs, and slap 25 or more doubles with an on-base percentage of .275 or lower.

What does that mean? It means he’s good or he’s bad. The numbers aren’t revealing at all.

statsThe Phillies had a new relief pitcher who created quite a first impression, but instead of saying “wow” a sports writer felt it was important to place that start in a (bizarre) statistical context:

No Phillies reliever has ever struck out 12 batters over his first six major-league appearances, according to a Baseball-Reference.com search. Wayne Twitchell (1971), Warren Brusstar (1977) and Ryan Madson (2004) fanned 11, all in more innings than Giles.

It’s a given that the pitchers in baseball’s all-star game are the cream of the crop; after all, they’re chosen by the game’s managers, not the fans. But how good are they? Someone at the Associated Press decided he needed to find some obscure statistical measure to illustrate their excellence – and he did:

The last time both All-Star starters had ERAs under 2.15 was back in 1974, according to STATS. Gaylord Perry (1.47 ERA at the break) took the mound for the AL against Andy Messersmith (2.11) of the NL.

Thank goodness for the AP; with it, how would fans have known these all-stars were, well, stars?

Toward the end of his tenure with the Philadelphia Phillies, pitcher Cole Hamels was performing about as well as he ever had in his career but had very little in the way of positive results to show for it. Any fan of the team could see this – but that didn’t stop the Philadelphia Inquirer from feeling the need to find a bizarre statistical context into which to place the situation:

Cole Hamels is the first Phillies pitcher since 1912 (when the National League began recording earned runs) to win no more than three of his first 15 starts of a season with an ERA under 3.00, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Clayton Kershaw is a pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He is very young and very, very good: a reasonable argument could be made that today he is the very best pitcher in major league baseball. He went through an especially effective stretch of games at one point, leading baseball’s statistics idiots to search for new ways to describe his performance. They came up with this:

The 26-year-old lefty became the third pitcher in the last 100 years to win eight straight starts in one season while striking out at least seven batters in each.

ESPN.com wanted to explain that a certain Tampa baseball player is versatile, and to do so it dug deep deep deep into the depths of baseball’s never-ending reservoir of obscure statistics and came up with

Zobrist is the first major league player since at least 1914 to play in 200 career games at second, shortstop and right field.

In a season during which few first-year baseball players truly distinguished themselves, sports writers found themselves searching for ways to distinguish very ordinary performances. One such writer, for ESPN, came up with this to describe the National League’s rookie of the year:

Jacob deGrom became the fifth NL rookie to post an ERA under 2.75 and at least one strikeout per inning pitched.

The Philadelphia Eagles employ a wide receiver – one of the guys to whom quarterbacks throw the ball – of considerable talent. One sports writer, lacking the ability to find a way to just come out and say that, found this instead:

A shame the Eagles couldn’t get Jordan Matthews 23 more yards, so he could have become the fifth rookie since 1960 with three consecutive 100-yard games.

Really? Really?

When the football season ended, two sports writers sat down to evaluate the players on the Philadelphia Eagles from a simple perspective: should the team keep them or dump them? (Note to sports writers: a lot of fans would like to do a similar review of sports writers.) Sometimes, these writers use statistics to make their case – like in this example:

I’m higher on Matthews than Mosh. A lot higher. He’s one of only 18 wideouts in NFL history with 59 catches for 767 yards and seven TDs as a rookie.

Again, The Curmudgeon notes that none of these figures is considered a benchmark for quality performance. As a football fan he understands that they’re all good, but benchmarks? No.

The Philadelphia Eagles signed (and then quickly lost) a player who, while still good, was well past his prime. To prove his remaining value, a sports writer came up with this gem:

But there has been no dropoff yet in Gore’s game. He averaged 4.3 yards per carry this past year, and his 4.2 average since he turned 30 is 13th-highest in NFL history by a running back after his 30th birthday.

You read that right: 13th highest.

Then, just to be sure readers got the message, the writer added,

Although Gore is one of the NFL’s oldest active running backs, he’s one of only five backs in NFL history to record four 1,100-yard seasons after his 28th birthday.

And no, this is not the former vice president launching a new career.

stats2But the writer still wasn’t finished.

Only Gore and Barry Sanders have averaged 4.1 yards or better in each of their first 10 NFL seasons (with a minimum of 100 carries).

And this, too:

Only four backs — Sanders, Jim Brown, Walter Payton and Gore — have recorded nine career seasons with 200 or more carries and a 4.1 average.

A 4.1 average, as if there’s anything special about that number.

Russell Westbrook is a very good basketball player, but espn.com tied itself up in knots when it tried to explain how good:

Westbrook became only the fourth player in the past 30 years to record six triple-doubles in a season with at least 25 points (LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson).

The Philadelphia Eagles have a player whose first year as a professional football player was very successful – but not so successful that a sports writer didn’t feel the need to twist his panties into a bunch trying to quantify that success. All he could come up with was

He’s one of only 13 wide outs in NFL history to record 65 receptions, 800 yards and eight TDs as a rookie.

The Philadelphia Eagles have a surplus of people who play the same position, so a sports writer attempted to make a case for keeping one of those players in particular:

Kendricks is one of three NFL linebackers with at least 8.0 sacks, three interceptions and five forced fumbles over the past two seasons.

The Curmudgeon doubts that even an avid football fan gets much of a frame of reference from these numbers.

The Philadelphia Phillies had a young pitcher make his major league debut and he performed well, but a Comcast.net sports writer felt an irresistible need to place the young man’s performance in a historical context:

He’s only the ninth Phillies starting pitcher in 96 games this season to allow no more than six baserunners and one run over at least six innings.

ESPN.com was attempting to illustrate how some football teams fire their coaches quickly but others are more patient and cited old Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry, writing that

… Landry coached Dallas for 29 years, not winning the first of his two Super Bowl titles until his 12th season. Dallas exercised patience, Landry rewarded it.

Well, it was a good thing Dallas had patience about that Super Bowl championship, considering that Landry started coaching the team in 1960 but the first Super Bowl wasn’t played until 1967.

A member of the Philadelphia Phillies played a very good game. How good? Someone assigned a Phillies employee to find a way to make it seem more special than it actually was and this is how ComcastSportsNetPhilly described his findings:

Phillies media relations man Chris Ware crunched the numbers and concluded that Herrera is the first Phillie since advanced record-keeping started in 1900 to have four runs, a homer and two stolen bases in the same game.

In trying to describe a good but not great player on the Philadelphia Eagles, another Comcast SportsNetPhilly writer with too much time on his hands informed his readers that the player

…has 26½ sacks in his three years with the Eagles. That’s the fifth-most sacks ever by a player in his first three seasons with the Eagles and sixth-most by any NFC defender since 2013.

Another Eagle made what some people thought was an impressive debut. It wasn’t good enough for some just to admire: they had to find some obscure way of defining that debut, and the Comcast Sportsnet Philly web site came up with this:

Wentz became only the fourth NFL quarterback since 1960 and only the second in the last 30 years to throw for 250 yards with two or more touchdowns and no interceptions on opening day of his rookie year.

But they were just warming up in heaping praise on the same player:

 The last time the Eagles played a game in which two different receivers 24 years old or younger caught touchdown passes from a quarterback who was 24 years old or younger was in 1975. The quarterback was Boryla and the receivers were Charles Young and James McAlister. All three were 24.

stats3And this:

 Wentz’s 35-yard touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor was the longest touchdown pass by an Eagles rookie quarterback on opening day in exactly 78 years. On Sept. 11, 1938, Dick Riffle threw a 39-yard TD pass to Joe Carter in his NFL debut on opening day, a 26-23 loss to the Redskins at Municipal Stadium, which later became JFK. It was the second-longest TD pass by an Eagles rookie in the last 35 years, behind only Nick Foles’ 44-yarder to Jeremy Maclin against the Cowboys in 2012.

A special commendation is in order for those who write about the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team. For the past three years the 76ers intentionally fielded the worst team in professional basketball history in anticipation of reaping certain awards associated with being profoundly bad. Most of the players on the team should really be starting their real careers instead because they’re in no way talented enough to play professional basketball. While their pay isn’t linked to newspapers sold, Philadelphia-area sports writers have been desperate to find even the tiniest sliver of a silver lining in the team’s performance as a way of encouraging their readers to keep up their hope and keep reading and they have latched onto one player, in particular, for those silver linings: his name is Nerlens Noel. The team expended extraordinary resources to acquire him because it expected him to be a truly exceptional player but it takes no particular expertise in basketball to see that Noel is clearly unexceptional and will, at the very most, be just a good player and not worth all the team went through to acquire him.

But the sports writers keep looking for those silver linings, such as this enterprising Philadelphia Inquirer scribe:

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he is the first rookie starting center with at least 10 points, six steals, and five assists in a game since the Phoenix Suns’ Alvan Adams had 25 points, six steals, and five assists against the New Orleans Jazz on Feb. 14, 1976.

Mr. Noel may not be Hall of Fame-bound, but the clerk at the Elias Sports Bureau who came upon this pearl certainly deserves some kind of prize for excellence in the pursuit of meaninglessness.

It’s not enough to say basketball players aren’t playing well; you need to back it up with numbers – like these:

… it’s just the 11th time in the last 30 seasons that a player has managed to turn the ball over 5+ times, and commit 4+ fouls in 12 minutes or less of playing time.

And then there’s this pearl about Noel – something that’s supposed to be good:

There are only four players across the whole NBA this season who play 25 minutes a game are averaging over 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks per 36 minutes, and Nerlens is one of them.

Oh, Noel!

And after the season, a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter found still more ways to distinguish Noel’s performance with obscure statistics:

The 6-foot-11, 220-pounder also averaged 9.9 points and was the league’s only player ranked in the top 10 in both steals (10th) and blocks (seventh). The first-team all-rookie selection also joined Hall of Famer David Robinson as the only rookies to average at least 1.50 steals and 1.50 blocks. Robinson did it for the San Antonio Spurs in the 1989-90 season.

After his best game as a professional earlier in his career, one sports writer pointed out that

He became the franchise’s first rookie forward or center to finish with at least 17 points and 12 rebounds since Jerry Stackhouse in 1995.

Now that’s one silly sports statistic.

For The Curmudgeon this all calls to mind the very end of one of his favorite sports books. It’s called Ball Four, it still sits about five feet from where The Curmudgeon writes his blog, its tattered paperback spine held together by scotch tape. It’s arguably the first behind-the-scenes, tell-all sports book, and at the end, the writer, baseball player Jim Bouton, placed the following caption above his career statistics:

Tell your statistics to shut up

And with that, The Curmudgeon will now do the same about this subject.

If We Can Put a Man on the Moon…

coughing…invent cars that can go places without drivers, and transmit voices, images, data, and more through thin air, then why can’t someone develop an effective cough suppressant that doesn’t totally wipe out the person taking it?

Is This the New “Curvy”?

Like most men, The Curmudgeon doesn’t understand women’s clothing sizes at all. Even so, when he strolled past a store recently and saw the name on its canopy he asked himself “This can’t be right, can it?”

curvyNo, he may not understand women’s clothing sizes but he’s pretty sure that while there are certainly curvy women who wear a size 12 that’s not what these folks mean when they say “curvy” and he’s also pretty sure that there are thousands – millions? – of women out there who would give their left arm (figuratively speaking, of course) to be a size 12.

Is he wrong about this?

An Argument That Doesn’t Hold Water

As the election draws nearer, reporters are talking to Republican voters who aren’t happy with Donald Trump and The Curmudgeon has been hearing and reading the fruits of those interviews a lot the past few weeks. These Republicans – some “traditional” Republicans and some much more conservative – can’t stomach Donald Trump and can’t see themselves voting for Hillary Clinton. A lot of them, in dismay, voice the following sentiment:

More than 300 million people in this country and this is the best the parties can offer us?

It’s a ridiculous premise, and while The Curmudgeon feels their pain he thinks the reasoning behind it is seriously flawed.

He won the Democratic nomination in 1968 without running in a single primary.

He won the Democratic nomination in 1968 without running in a single primary.

First of all, once upon a time the political parties really did the choosing: every presidential candidate came with their seal of approval. Of course, they were mostly picked in the proverbial smoke-filled room, but they were the choices of the parties nonetheless. Voters revolted over that way of doing business, though, and demanded a voice in the selection, hence presidential primaries – which have not been, you surely know, part of the process of choosing presidential candidates throughout most of this country’s history. As recently as 1968, a major party nominee, Hubert Humphrey, did not compete in ANY presidential primaries.

Not a single one.

And that leads to our second reason: Republican voters who complain about the parties not giving them a good choice of presidential candidates have only themselves and their fellow Republicans to blame because THEY chose their candidate.

Amazingly, his one-on-one opportunity against Trump died when Republican voters found him even more repulsive than The Donald.

Amazingly, his one-on-one opportunity against Trump died when Republican voters found him even more repulsive than The Donald.

That’s right: the voters chose. Republican voters CHOSE Donald Trump to be their candidate. They never gave a second thought to Chris Christie, George Pataki, Rand Paul, Lindsay Graham, Mike Huckabee, Carly Fiorina, John Kasich, and Rick Santorum; they flirted briefly, but never really seriously, never for very long, and never in meaningful numbers with Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, and Marco Rubio; and they spent a lot of time checking out Ted Cruz but only because he managed to be the last man standing other than Trump, and Republican voters found themselves repulsed by what they saw – even more repulsed, incredibly, than they were by Trump. There are some decent, credible candidates in that bunch, including some who would have had a very good chance of beating Hillary Clinton, but Republican voters showed no sign of taking any of them seriously. Most of those fringe candidates, moreover, contributed to the mess they left behind by staying in the race too long, failing to recognize the manner in which Trump was disgracing their party and debasing their country, and in a snit of self-pity refusing to encourage their (few) supporters to rally around a reasonable alternative to what they knew was the ultimate in terrible choices and instead allowing Trump to emerge from the pack like a snake uncoils from under a rock. They put their own interests and hurt feelings ahead of those of their party and their country and, in so doing, proved themselves only barely – maybe – more worthy of higher office than The Donald himself.

Certainly the Democrats aren’t responsible for failing to give these Republican voters a choice they prefer. If Republican voters want better Democratic candidates to choose from they need to change their registration and vote in Democratic primaries. (When he lived in Philadelphia, The Curmudgeon, who once considered himself an independent, registered as a Democrat because when you live where he lived, winning nomination as a Democrat in local races meant winning the race and he wanted a voice in such contests. At least twice, though, he temporarily changed his registration to vote in Republican primaries because he strongly preferred one Republican candidate over another.)

So this business about “the parties giving us such a poor choice” is a load of hogwash. Republican voters who aren’t happy with the choice of presidential candidates today have only themselves and their fellow Republicans to blame for their predicament. They are, as the old expression tells us, reaping what they have sown.

And one more thing: if these sad sacks still find themselves unable to choose between Trump and Clinton then they’re even dumber than The Curmudgeon already suspects.

Technology Overkill

As travel-averse as he sometimes is, even The Curmudgeon is well-acquainted with the experience of descending an airport escalator toward the baggage carousels and finding at the bottom a line of men, often in some kind of uniform and silly hat, holding up pieces of paper with the last names of people they have been hired to pick up and transport to their next destination. It’s as much a part of the airport experience as the four-dollar bottle of Snapple, TSA employees who practically want to perform a cavity search, and inch-high water on the floor of the men’s room.

So The Curmudgeon was surprised, during a recent trip to an airport (to greet a returning traveler), to see that at the bottom of that escalator, among all those drivers with their silly hats there to pick up passengers, about half of those drivers displayed the last names of those passengers on…tablets.

Do you think it's a status thing among them?

Do you think it’s a status thing among them?

Not exactly iPads, he doesn’t think, but tablets nonetheless.

What a thing! Someone sat down, maybe in a meeting or on his or her own, and decided that their company’s drivers would look more professional if they displayed the names of their passengers on a tablet instead of a perfectly functional and legible piece of paper. Of course, these are the same people who decided they wanted their drivers to wear those funny little hats, so…

But if that isn’t a silly and unnecessary overuse of technology The Curmudgeon doesn’t know what is.

A Tale of Two Shoes: Another Battle in the War Against Working People

Much to their dismay, publicly traded corporations are required to report on their financial performance to the federal government. The people who run these corporations bitterly object, insisting that they are good guys and would never mislead anyone about their operations and that really, it’s no one’s business – really, not even people who own stock in their companies, who should just trust them.

When we all know you should never trust a guy who says “Trust me.”

The first shoe:

On April 22, Beneficial Bancorp, the largest bank corporation based in Philadelphia, reported its financial performance for the first quarter of 2016.

Among the highlights:

  • Net income rose seven percent ($2.1 million).
  • Net interest margin was up over the previous quarter and up over the same quarter of 2015.
  • Net charge-offs were down.
  • Deposits rose two percent, to $2.87 billion.
  • The bank repurchased more than six million of its own shares.

Not too shabby, huh?

The company’s president certainly thought so: “We are pleased with our performance during the quarter,” declared Gerard Cuddy, Beneficial Bancorp’s president and CEO. “We are excited to have completed our acquisition of Conestoga Bank on April 14, 2016. We believe the acquisition, which will increase our total assets to approximately $5.5 billion, will provide even greater strength, size and stability for our customers, employees, shareholders and the communities we serve.”

Okay, maybe not all of those employees.

The other shoe:

Kicked to the curb.

Kicked to the curb.

CEO Cuddy is pleased with his company’s performance but apparently not pleased enough because the very same day Beneficial Bancorp announced its financial results for the first quarter of 2016 it also announced Cuddy would usher 11 percent of those employees to the door before the end of the second quarter of 2016.

“It is painful. It is the worst,” CEO Cuddy said. For some reason, he seemed to think that the bank not having laid off people in recent years justified doing so now.

Wall Street, of course, loved it: the value of Beneficial Bancorp’s stock immediately rose.

It was a business decision and my personal benefit wasn't a consideration at all.

“It is painful.  It is the worst.”

The Curmudgeon wishes there was a third shoe, because he knows exactly where he’d like to stick it.

The Rigged Election

So let’s take a closer look at this suggestion.

Elections are regulated and overseen at the state level.

And there are 50 states.

voting-machine31 of which have Republican governors, 18 of which have Democratic governors, and one (Alaska) that has an independent governor who previously ran for public office as a Republican, so we should be comfortable calling him a Republican in the same way that we’re comfortable calling Bernie Sanders a Democrat even though he, too, was elected as an independent.

So if this election is rigged, surely it wouldn’t be rigged ­ – couldn’t be rigged – in favor of a Democrat, right?

Right?

Right.

What If They Rang the Fire Alarm and No One Showed Up to Fight It?

It could happen in New Jersey.

That’s because a bill introduced in the state legislature would require first responders – firefighters and police officers – to live in the towns they serve for at least the first five years of their careers.

It’s not a terrible idea in theory, giving first responders a bigger stake in the communities they serve. More than a few cities and towns have residency requirements for some of their civil servants.

But in practice? There’s a problem with it.

Starting with how much money these towns pay their police officers and firefighters.

fire-truckAccording to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, starting salaries for police offers range from $26,600 to $49,500 a year; the median annual salary for police officers in 2011 was $54,230.

And firefighters? The median salary, as of April of this year, is $43,976.

So here’s the problem: who’s going to police the streets and fight the fires in expensive New Jersey shore towns like Stone Harbor (where the median home value is $1.3 million) and Avalon ($1.1 million) and high-end suburbs like Moorestown ($708,000) and Short Hills ($1.5 million) And looking outside New Jersey, who’s going to do those jobs in places like Malibu ($2.5 million), like Greenwich, Connecticut ($1.6 million), like Jupiter Island, Florida ($2.8 million), and like Gladwyne, Pennsylvania ($1.2 million)?

Where The Curmudgeon lives, in New Jersey, there are laws that require towns to create opportunities for the development of what a court calls “affordable housing.” In The Curmudgeon’s town, Marlton, people and public officials erect every obstacle they can think of to prevent the development of affordable housing. Really rich New Jersey towns take out their checkbooks and pay less-rich towns to assume their affordable housing obligations for them – something apparently permitted by the same courts that established the requirement in the first place.

Does anyone expect someone making $35,000 to buy a $500,000 house?

Is any town going to subsidize their first responders’ mortgages or rents?

Didn’t think so.

Require first responders to live in the towns they serve? A nice idea in theory but one that’s so impractical that you really have to question what the people who proposed it were thinking.

Back on the Chain Gang

keysHave you ever looked at your key chain and discovered that…

…you have absolutely no idea what one of those keys is for?

Sure, You’ll Get High, But…

The New York Times reports that drug addicts who can’t score the painkillers they need to get high are turning to…

…are you sitting down…

anti-diarrhea medicine.

According to the Times the high is real and can be powerful, and while there’s no data on Imodium addiction, doctors are even seeing cases in emergency rooms and deaths from diarrhea medicine.

So the junkies are getting high on Kaopectate substitute these days, but you have to wonder: how are they dealing with the, um, side effects? Or if you’re that high that often, does it just not matter anymore?