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The Washington Nationals: A Stunning ‘Regression to the Mean’

September 14, 2013 Leave a comment

Figure 1_Lessons Forgotten

OK, Nationals fans. It was ugly and dispiriting for most of the year. Every bounce went the other way. They led the National league in errors. If they had the bases loaded and nobody out, they’d figure out a way of stranding all of them. It was so bad, I was waiting for a headline like Strasburg tosses no-hitter, Nats lose 1-0.

The absolute low point was reached at 10:26 pm, ET on Wednesday, August 7th. The Atlanta Braves entered the 9th inning at Nationals ballpark with a 12-game winning streak, a 6-3 lead and, adding insult to injury, had escaped without repercussions after drilling Bryce Harper repeatedly in the series.

A Harper double and a Jason Werth walk gave the 29,000 fans a glimmer of hope. Then Ian Desmond struck out looking and Anthony Rendon fanned swinging. Wilson “Buffalo” Ramos stepped into the batter’s box representing the tying run. He stung the baseball the opposite way toward right field; Harper and Werth in full sprint as the line drive shot out over the infield. It would end up falling into the glove of Jason Heyward. Game over.

The once mighty Washington Nationals had fallen six games below .500. The National League Eastern Division was put away for good that night. The tomahawk chops at Nationals Ballpark made for a painful reminder of the utter failure of a season gone dreadfully and inexplicably wrong.

Inexplicably, because there wasn’t a single starter in that Washington lineup you’d want to get rid of. Adam LaRoche maybe but there’s that stylish defense of his at 1st. And last year he carried the club offensively for an entire month. Rendon and Lombardozzi at 2nd. How lucky are we? Desmond at SS. Perennial all-star. Zimmerman scary at 3rd defensively and offensively anemic at the time- but the cornerstone of the franchise, regardless. The outfield of Harper, Span and Werth- untouchable. Even struggling at the plate, Span’s defense in center is gold glove quality. Wilson Ramos. Power, smarts and feel for handling our pitchers.

And who would you knock off the pitching staff? Dan Haren is the most likely answer because if he hadn’t literally been the worst pitcher in the entire sport for the entire first half of the season, the Nats would have been contending all along. But the rest of them? Really, folks, this is one of the top 5 pitching staffs in the game. And when he’s the “good Haren” he looks like he can throw a no-hitter.

But in the midst of the misery of that humid August night when they were whipped by their arch-rivals, the Baseball Gods seemed to awaken. They may be Gods but, in the end, they must abide by the rules of the universe, and specifically- the statistical theory called Regression toward the Mean. From our friends at Wikipedia:

…the phenomenon that if a variable is extreme on its first measurement, it will tend to be closer to the average on its second measurement—and, paradoxically, if it is extreme on its second measurement, it will tend to have been closer to the average on its first.

Statistics really do mean something in baseball. If a player has averaged X amount of production in pitching and hitting stats, over a 162-game season and accounting for their aging, the result is invariably within 10-15% of their career average.

Ryan Zimmerman is Exhibit A. Jason Werth is Exhibit B.

Zimmerman was showing the worst power numbers of his career. Until September. The man has hit 9 homeruns in his last 11 games. He now leads the club in that department. Nine homeruns is an insane amount for a month, much less a week and a half. That’s a pace to hit 132 homeruns over a season. Zimmerman’s Regression to the Mean has been absolutely breathtaking.

Jason Werth’s story spans three years. His first year as a National, Werth hit .232 with 20 homers and only 58 RBI’s. His injury plagued second year saw his average climb to .300 but only 5 homers. In his 3rd year is currently in third in the battle for the National League batting title. He has been the best offensive player in the game for over two months. He’s hitting .323, with 23 homers and 71 RBI’s. Werth’s Regression to the Mean is complete now.

Since the stinging loss to the Atlanta Braves August 7th, the Washington Nationals have the best record in the sport. They were 54-60 after the sweep. They have now gone 24-9. They were 6 games under .500. They are now 9 games above .500 at 78-69. They have won 7 in a row, 9 of their last 10, 13 of their last 17, 18 of their last 23.

For a team that won 98 games last year, clearly, Regression to the Mean was due and is in full swing.

To Nat’s fans- a note of caution over the next 15 games. So yes, they have gone 24-9 since the Atlanta sweep, but remember that after each of the 9 losses, the conventional wisdom was that the season had just ended. Some of the 9 losses were ugly. So ugly they obscured the winning tempo that was beginning to build. We almost didn’t see it, even as it was happening. Baseball and its 162 game marathon have a funny way of doing that to you.

But the trend is unmistakable now. The Nationals have found themselves but only at the very last possible, friggin’ moment. They will not win out. They can afford to lose probably three games at most. Do not panic when one of those three losses happen. The other 12 wins will have us “crashing the party,” in one of the most inspiring turn-arounds since the 2011 World Champion, St.Louis Cardinals.

And if they don’t get to the playoffs, rejoice that you got to see this kind of drama and heart and grit and pressure in the middle of September. Most ball clubs don’t get to the cooler temperatures of autumn with much of any hope at all.

The Governor of Texas and the Woeful Cowboys

November 8, 2010 Leave a comment


The weekend prior to the NFL opener between the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins, Texas Governor, Rick Perry, wrote a letter to Skins fans that was published in the Washington Post. Now that “America’s team” is sporting a 1-7 record, the Governor’s letter seems worthy of a re-analysis.

On the face of it, Governor Perry’s letter was rather humorous. That is, it contained language that, while dripping with sarcasm, could ostensibly, leave a reader slightly amused.

The article is entitled, “Rivalry? What Rivalry? In the Governor’s words:

For as long as I can remember, the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins have been a defining rivalry in the NFL –if “rivalry” is defined as “a hopelessly one-sided” series of stinging defeats.

To be fair, the rivalry’s not really that one-sided. Heck, Dallas only owns a 20-game advantage in the series. That deficit (and what’s Washington without a deficit?) could be overcome with only 10 short years of consecutive Redskin wins, and perhaps even faster if the teams were to meet in the playoffs.

To put this in terms a Redskin fan can understand: The “playoffs” are what happen at the end of the “regular season,” or, as it’s known in D.C., “the end of the season.”

By now, I suspect you are beginning to catch on to the bitter irony here. If there were a picture of the term “eating crow” in the dictionary, the honorable Governor from Texas would have his picture next to it. The Dallas Cowboys were eviscerated last night by the injury-plagued Green Bay Packers 45 to 7- the 3rd worst defeat in the history of the Cowboys franchise. They are now 1-7 on the year.

Oh yeah, they’re playing the Super Bowl in Dallas this season, did you hear? I do believe the Governor mentioned that in his letter.

From their perspective, the Cowboys have their eyes on the prize. I’m not afraid to admit that with a young quarterback in his prime and a top-tier defense, the Cowboys have folks in Big D thinking “hometown Super Bowl.”

Redskins fans, meanwhile, have to be content as management continues to tweak the team’s three remaining “trouble spots”: offense, defense and special teams.

What a coincidence! Why, we seem to have the very same “trouble spots.” Well, maybe slightly less troublesome than the issues America’s team is facing right now.

I do wish the Redskins well as they play the Cowboys. As we always used to say when I played small-town, six-man football in high school, the most important thing is to play fair, play hard.

In fact, I invite Redskin fans to visit Texas and enjoy the oddly-familiar experience of seeing at least six players on a team actually exert themselves.

Ah, if only the Governor could have foreseen what the nation watched last night on Sunday Night Football. “Exerting” much of anything does not come to mind when analyzing this year’s edition of the Dallas Cowboys.

Now, granted, the Washington Redskins are not perfect. They have a woeful offense. Their defense, while among the league’s best in take-aways, gives up yardage at an alarming rate. Our head coach benches his star quarterback in the last 2 minutes of a game in a moment of temporary insanity and then covers up the truth with bizarre explanations about hamstrings and brain cells incapable of understanding 2- minute drills.

For awhile there this week, we were, in fact, pretty much the laughingstock of the National Football League. Until, Governor Perry, your boys suited up for a game at Lambeau field before a national televison audience last night.

On the bright side, sir, you will have some hellacious early draft picks next year.

——-
Note: The Dallas Cowboys fired Head Coach Wade Phillips this afternoon.

Revenge of the Peeps

Yeah, yeah, Easter’s over. You think you’re safe. But do you realize how many uneaten peeps there are out there? Three words, my friends: They are organizing. Watch your back.

The World Wide Web is full of images of their troubled marshmallowy existence:

Peeps gather after an, uh, unfortunate incident.

A peep discovers the uncomfortable qualties of hot chocolate.

A peep as an egg replacement for Sunday breakfast.

Peep thinks he’s all so comfy in a little graham cracker bed.

Revenge of the Peeps

A rebel peep sneaks a smoke.

Peeps in training for the worldwide takeover.

The first wave of peeps awaiting invasion orders.

Weeks after Easter, a peep spy gathers intelligence.

Now It Can Be Told

They’ve attacked before. Remember 1971? When Paul McCartney supposedly died? This little-known picture was recently uncovered in the Apple studios archives.

Sure. Go ahead. Eat them. It’s our only hope.

Here Comes the Storm!

February 5, 2010 1 comment


I was scheduled to head back up to New York for the weekend anyway and, if all works out, the 11am Acela should be going approximately 100 mph faster than the snow storm of the century. I think I’ll see some of it in Gotham on Saturday, but only three inches or so according to the Weather Channel.

But good luck to everybody in the nation’s capital! It’s going to be a truly historic storm by any standard. You’ll get your five inches by the end of the afternoon and than another 10-15 overnight through all of Saturday. If DC gets 20 inches it will be only the third time ever. Counting Philadelphia and Baltimore and 10 million people are going to get clobbered by this thing.

I got in a fairly long line at the Chinatown CVS store last night to buy some computer paper and some picture hangars and saw one guy with 10 rolls of toilet paper. The bread was almost out. A nice delivery guy from Safeway dropped off my groceries Wednesday and told me one lady had ordered a dozen cases of bottled water ahead of the storm. What is it about scary snow storms that cause people to buy so much toilet paper, bread and water anyway? I know the plows don’t hit all the streets but surely by Monday, rescue teams will probably be getting to you, don’t you think?

Of course this storm is a little different because it comes over the two days leading up to the Super Bowl. I think, therefore, that it would make a lot more sense to be stocking up on nachos, Buffalo wings and beer.

And here’s a drinking game you can play. Tune into your local TV news and take a shot or a swig every time you see a reporter doing a stand-up in front of a salt pile. If you use the remote fast enough around 6pm tonight you may end up doing 5 or 6 shots within about three minutes. You can repeat this exercise again at 11pm.

If any of my DC buds need any supplies Monday, give me a call over the weekend, and we’ll get ‘em to you by mid-afternoon or so. Good luck, people.

One Small Victory in Haiti

January 15, 2010 Leave a comment

Two year-old, Redjeson Hausteen Claude, has been rescued from the rubble of his own house in Port-au-Prince.  These moving photographs were taken by Gerald Herbert of the Associated Press who was in the right place at the right time.  In the larger photo on top, Redjeson had just been reunited with his mom.

Here are the first few paragraphs of Graham Keeley’s account from The Times of London:

He must be the luckiest little boy in Haiti.

After two days trapped beneath the rubble of his own home, two-year-old Redjeson Hausteen Claude was rescued this morning.

The toddler was clearly shocked as he was pulled free by a joint Spanish and Belgian rescue team. But a broad smile spread across his face when he came face to face with his parents, Daphnee Plaisin and Reginald Claude.

Dramatic photographs captured the moment when Félix del Amo, a Spanish mountain rescuer and diver, is seen pulling the terrorised child from a collapsed house. Óscar Vega Carrera, a Spanish firemen, also helped to get Redjeson out of the rubble.

A much needed heart-warming story in an otherwise heart-wrenching situation.

Donations are also coming in like gangbusters to every relief agency under the sun.  $8 million alone just from text messaging.  The good people of the United States and the world are responding to this situation in an unprecedented manner.

Categories: Haiti, Media Tags: , ,

Verbal Narcissists

January 15, 2010 2 comments

Narcissism (nahr-suh-siz-em)- noun: Inordinate fascination with oneself; excessive self-love; vanity. Synonyms: self-centeredness, smugness, egocentrism.

I didn’t want to write about this.  I just wanted to ignore them.  But, I couldn’t.  Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh are very good at getting publicity.  This is how they help maintain their respective empires.  I don’t mean to give them even more attention.

But when Pat Robertson concludes the people of Haiti deserved what they got because they made a deal with the devil; when Rush Limbaugh criticizes President Obama for acting too quickly on Haiti-I have to add my two cents to much that has already been said about this.

First the record.  Here’s Pat Robertson on the 700 Club Tuesday:

Something happened a long time ago in Haiti and people might not want to talk about. They were under the heel of the French, you know Napoleon the third and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said ‘We will serve you if you will get us free from the prince.’ True story. And so the devil said, ‘Ok it’s a deal.’ And they kicked the French out. The Haitians revolted and got something themselves free. But ever since they have been cursed by one thing after another.

Is he trying to impress us with his facile grasp of world history?  Let me get this straight.  The Haitian people made a deal with the devil to get the French to leave and are bad because they rebelled against the system of slavery?  Exactly what is he trying to say?  Is there a hidden message here about practitioners of voodoo?  Does anyone really deserve to be crushed by collapsing buildings in a massive earthquake, let alone tens of thousands?  Do children deserve to die in their school uniforms because their descendants kicked the French out?  What kind of man, what kind of representative of faith and God, reaches such bizarre and cruel conclusions?

Here’s Rush Limbaugh:

This will play right into Obama’s hands. He’s humanitarian, compassionate. They’ll use this to burnish their, shall we say, “credibility” with the black community–in the both light-skinned and dark-skinned black community in this country. It’s made-to-order for them. That’s why he couldn’t wait to get out there, could not wait to get out there.

The worst humanitarian disaster of the last half-century strikes the hemisphere and there’s something suspect about a quick reaction from the United States government- while people lay injured in rubble, and there’s a desperate race against time to save their lives?  I ask again- what kind of man reaches such conclusions?

In both these cases, I believe we have the kind of men who are in love with the sound of their own voices but oblivious to the content that actually passes their lips.  It’s verbal narcissism.  It’s the only way to explain it.

No Words

January 14, 2010 Leave a comment

It is times like these when the things that matter- and don’t matter- are put in stark relief. We will probably never know how many men, women and children perished in Tuesday’s horrific earthquake in Haiti. One hundred thousand, five hundred thousand. Whatever the number, it is beyond comprehension.

The images are haunting and frightening. Hell unleashed upon the earth. The bodies of dead children lined up under blankets next to their shattered schools. The woman, pictured above, perhaps the iconic still-photo of this terrible disaster, dazed and covered with dust after she has just been rescued. The flattened Presidential Palace. The video on CBS News of the earth shaking as if highways and buildings had been placed in a dice tumbler. That is the horror of an earthquake-it is the land beneath your feet no longer being dependable. Nowhere to run.

Here’s what seemed important or interesting recently and no longer matters in the slightest:

– Jay Leno’s ego
– Sarah Palin’s book sales
– Harry Reid on Obama
– Mark McGwire on steroids
– Fat Cat Bankers (send your bonuses to Haiti)

Life and silliness will resume soon enough. For now, the misery of a small, decimated nation with grief and terror heaped upon poverty and hopelessness, fills the screen and obscures all else.

Categories: Haiti Tags: , , ,