An East Coast Visit

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Moments before the pinata destruction began on July 4th.

We just got back from a couple of weeks on the East Coast. The trip involved CT, MA, NY, NJ, and PA (with most time spent in MA and PA). It was great to spend time with friends, converse for hours, and see so much green.

This year has been one to savor. If you look at Facebook or Instagram posts you can catch a glimpse of the year. Some people might say it is the groomed presentation of my year. The space between the posts has also been rich. Not because everything is perfect, but even in the mundane and chaotic there has been much beauty.

When a toddler has been pushed to his limits and has a meltdown, a real fall-on-the-floor-I-can’t-handle-it moment, it is such an insight into the human spirit. This is usually not a triumph of the human spirit that movies like to show, it is the the collapse of the human spirit that we all feel on occasion.

When a cold becomes croup, and you listen intently for each barking breath, then the fragility of life is real. You learn what it means to have a father’s heart.

This East Coast trip covered the spectrum of emotions. We celebrated victories, mourned losses, wrestled with challenges, anticipated changes, and laughed at the humor that managed to invade each crack. Life is beautiful in its messiness and complexity.

Now that we are back on the West Coast we are settling in for the rest of the summer. The main event for this summer is not a vacation; the main event for this summer is scheduled for August, when Baby Peanut is slated to arrive.

Now back to life between the posts. Making meals, changing diapers, washing dishes, and searching for the beautiful (that is right in front of me).

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Baseball Clones (and a blog wakes up)

This blog has been sleeping peacefully for a long time; I have not. In the silence many things happened: Dieter has been growing and developing, Baby #2 has been preparing for an August 2019 arrival, I received tenure and promotion, and life has been very rich. And thus, the blog slept quietly. Instead of writing a random thought, I read Dieter Little Bear stories. Instead of thinking deep thoughts, I tried to finish cleaning the kitchen before falling asleep. My blog might be disgruntled at this development, but life full of the sweetest mundane (and exciting) moments is one to be savored.

So what broke the blog slumber?

This morning Dieter had a dentist appointment. It went well–he was so excited to go to the dentist. After I dropped him off at preschool, while driving through San Luis Obispo, a thought crossed my mind. If I had to field an MLB team that consisted of clones of one current player, which player would I choose?

My first thought is Mike Trout. Can you imagine nine consecutive Mike Trouts coming to the plate? The offense would be crazy. But then I imagined the defense . . . I think Trout could play above average in the outfield, respectably in the infield, but the pitching would be a disaster. Could he score more than he allowed? I’m not sure.

What about an elite pitcher? A team of Max Scherzers could pitch, but what about the offense? What about everything that doesn’t happen on the mound?

Maybe it would take someone like Shohei Ohtani? Right now he is my first choice, but that seems unfair because he is not pitching right now due to an arm injury. Maybe Madison Bumgarner?

So I end with these questions:

  • What is the highest winning percentage a team of clones could achieve in MLB?
  • Would the best clone candidate be a star, or a player closer to the mean but balanced between pitching and hitting?
  • Who would you choose for your line up of clones?

I did a web search and found some Reddit discussions on this topic and some blogs that used WAR to answer the question (but using WAR is crazy, because it doesn’t account for the weaker side of the equation for a player).

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The Closing Moments of 2017

As 2017 draws to a close, I am grateful for a year to remember. In some ways 2017 was a year of chaos and brokenness. In some ways 2017 was full of the richness of life.  It occurred to me today: I believe 2017 was the best year of my life so far.

The primary reason I look on 2017 so fondly, is a small fry who waltzed onto the scene in February. Life has been sweet with Dieter . Seeing him grow, discover, and learn has been so much fun. It hasn’t been all snuggles and smiles. There have been projectile poos, rages that cannot be calmed with reason, and the destruction of sane sleeping patterns. I have not felt fully rested once in 2017. The few opportunities I have had to sleep-in were thwarted by my body being programmed to wake-up at random early morning hours.

Being Dieter’s daddy has been the best adventure. It has been great to partner with Pam on this journey. I have learned lessons about patience, reliance, and love. One of my favorite passages from this year has been Psalm 131.

A song of ascents. Of David.
1 My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
2 But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.
3 Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.

Psalm 131 (NIV)

Experiencing a little guy curled up in my arms, peacefully sleeping, has made me think about contentment and reliance.

Another aspect of 2017 that has been rich, has been the fruition of teaching preparation and research work. My classes have started to take on a more refined form, and I am excited about teaching them. I am so lucky to teach classes on topics that I love. On the research side of my job, I had three manuscripts accepted for publication in 2017, which was a goal I was striving to achieve. Those publications will make my stress level lower in 2018, when I go up for tenure.

In some respects I feel guilty about how good 2017 was for me. I am very aware of the brokenness and pain that marks 2017 for many. Discrimination, warfare, and hate have been prevalent. In this collage of life, the joy and the pain, I pray to love well.

Happy New Year, everyone!

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Smart Baseball (Keith Law)

I regularly read the writing of Keith Law. He has a blog, works as a senior baseball writer for ESPN, and he writes game reviews for Paste magazine. We agree on many things related to baseball (1), games, and science. When he announced last year that he was writing a book focused on baseball statistics and analysis, I knew I would be reading it. At the beginning of the summer I picked up a copy of Smart Baseball.

The book was a delight to read. Admittedly I didn’t get this book to be converted to a new way of thinking about baseball–it was preaching to the choir. I am in the new analytics camp when it comes to baseball, so none of the information was disturbing or startling. It has been a slow change for me, a conversation here and an article there. In 2005 I endorsed many more bunts than I do today (today I value the bunt for attempting to get a hit in some scenarios, but almost never to advance a runner at the cost of an out). In 2007 I valued pitcher wins and saves far more than I do now. In 2010 I would have preferred to see batting average to on-base percentage, but now things have changed. My baseball appreciation continues to grow, and I enjoy thinking about strategy and analysis (2).

Highlights of the book include a discussion on how the save rule results in the reduction of value of players in the closer role, detailing expected runs in relation to bunting/stealing/walking, and the measure of prospects and defensive performance.

In the last section of the book Law taps in to his experiences as an MLB front office statistical analyst and prospect scout to address how players are scouted and quantified. I really liked this glimpse into the front office world.

I think there are two primary groups of people who will appreciate Smart Baseball:

  1. The baseball fan. If you enjoy baseball this is a good book to read and savor. The mix of baseball talk, real-life examples for points, and clear presentation of logic (and logic breakdowns) is refreshing. I found myself reminiscing frequently when Law used a particular examples, many of which I had direct memories of or I had heard stories about. Even if you have a strong grasp of sabermetrics, this book is still an entertaining read.
  2. The thinker/statistician. If you enjoy seeing how people embrace logical fallacies despite glaring evidence to change, then this is a worthwhile book. Law lays out the oldest and earliest numerical measures of performance in baseball, and in most cases, why they have limited value. It is a good reminder that metrics that fail to measure something meaningful can survive due to nostalgia of familiarity. It is also a good reminder that in the world of baseball experts, at one time the primary measures of a player’s value were based on luck and the performance of others (and many current “experts” continue to hold these views).

By the way, the title of the book comes from a hashtag Law created to showcase bad baseball decisions (#smrtbaseball), which is derived from this:

The alternative to smrt baseball is smart baseball.

Good stuff.

(1) The biggest baseball difference that we have relates to the designated hitter. Law does not believe pitchers should be hitting; he supports the National League adopting the designated hitter rule. I feel the designated hitter is an abomination. 

(2) I use baseball stats in my Experimental Techniques and Analysis class. One of the lab exercises involves determining which MLB metrics are the best predictors of team success. The first table In Chapter 1 of Smart Baseball, Law presents correlations of batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS with team runs per game. These data looked very familiar to me, because I have had my students figuring out these r values for the past few years. It’s a powerful lab exercise (especially for a baseball fan). 

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You’ll Know When It’s Time: Dieter Wants Food

During Dieter’s 4 month check-up the pediatrician asked us what our plans were for introducing Dieter to solid food. Pam and I both approach parenthood with substantial humility, so we mentioned we had heard 6 months was a good time but asked for his opinion. He told us to follow Dieter’s cues. “Have you ever seen a dog at the dinner table” he said, “just eyeing the food longingly? He will let you know when he wants to try the stuff you are eating. You’ll know when it’s time.”  He also told us there was more folk-lore and tradition behind the wait-till-6 months recommendation than science. So we left the appointment prepared to observe Dieter at meal times. I will admit, I was a bit skeptical that I would really know when it was time to give Dieter solid food (1).

Last weekend we took a stroll to Pismo Beach. Dieter got his milk lunch on the boardwalk, looking out at the Pacific Ocean. After he ate, we began our walk home. Pam and I decided to stop at Fay’s Fusion for a late lunch. We ordered, got our food, and began to eat (I was holding Dieter).

Soon after I began eating I noticed Pam was laughing. And Fay was laughing as she worked the counter nearby. They were seeing this:

Food1

Dieter wanted my lemon crispy chicken.

Dieter was watching my food like a hawk. He was excited, riveted, and certain he needed some of my crispy lemon chicken.

Just look at that expression:

And the next day Dieter got to try some bland rice cereal. It was time. He managed to sneak solid food in just before he hit 5 months.

In the past week Dieter has sampled avocado and carrot, with peas coming up soon. It’s a big, scrumptious world out there–I look forward to introducing him to it.

(1) I do not believe as a parent I am naturally all-knowing about taking care of my kid. As a scientist I do my best to make good decisions, and I am blessed to have a fellow scientist (Pam) to collaborate with on this journey. We read books and articles, we ask questions of experts and family/friends, and we try to make good decisions. When someone tells me I’ll just know something, I am wary. . . 

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