The Dord of Darien

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Presidential Rankings #25: William Howard Taft

Jay Ward, creator of Rocky & Bullwinkle
Enthusiasm for a cause sometimes warps judgment.

In the popular recollection, the Progressive Era is dominated by the madness of Theodore Roosevelt and the evil of Woodrow Wilson. Stuck in between them is the forgotten progressive, William Howard Taft — Roosevelt’s protégé, though later disowned. Taft is often regarded as a more conservative interlude in between two bastions of progressivism, but nothing could be farther from the truth; in reality, Taft was, in many ways, far more progressive than either of his better-known contemporaries; he was more aggressive about regulation and trust-busting, for example, and far more willing to meddle in the affairs of foreign countries to serve American interests. Taft was, however, not a warmonger — this may seem odd, considering that Taft was not only Roosevelt’s hand-picked successor but also his Secretary of War, but he alone among the progressives truly appeared to desire peace.

The outcome of the election of 1908 was never really in question. Whatever I may have to say about him, president Roosevelt had been extremely popular among the American people, and he made quite a public spectacle of handing the reins over to Taft; there was no doubt which candidate Roosevelt’s fans should be supporting. Meanwhile, his opponent, Democrat William Jennings Bryan, was deep in the twilight of his political career; he had run (and lost) several presidential campaigns already, and his signature issue, free silver, no longer commanded the interest of the electorate the way it had in the previous century. Bryan won only one state outside the reliably-Democratic south — his own home state of Nebraska — and Taft was swept into the White House in a landslide, with a clear mandate to continue the Republican Party’s befouling of the American economy, and he leapt to it with gusto.

Theodore Roosevelt is known as the great trust-buster, but, in actual fact, William Howard Taft busted far more trusts than his predecessor, bringing more than twice as many suits under the dreadful Sherman Antitrust Act in his single term as Roosevelt had in two. In total, ninety-nine different individuals or companies were charged by the Taft administration with being "monopolistic" or otherwise operating "in restraint of trade," for the purpose, as president Taft put it, of "the suppression of the lawlessness and abuses of power of the great combinations of capital invested in railroads and in industrial enterprises carrying on interstate commerce." To put this into perspective, the actions taken by the Taft administration come down to focusing the power of the great combinations of capital invested in the federal government — a fiercely-protective territorial monopoly — for the express and singular goal of restraining other entities from engaging in trade. The attentive reader also spotted in Taft’s words the invocation of the phrase "interstate commerce," that wonderful, all-purpose phrase that can be invoked to render the monstrously tyrannical act of the government telling a private business what prices it must and must not sell its products at and who it can and cannot do business with into a perfectly ordinary act of no legal dubiousness whatsoever.

President Taft’s trust-bust-mania reached a fever pitch in 1911, with the U.S. Steel case. Having already broken up Standard Oil for its outrageous monopolistic behavior — which resulted in the wholesale price of kerosene falling from thirty cents per gallon to only eight cents — the Taft administration set its sights on Andrew Carnegie’s steel empire, which had produced similar results in its own field. This was a step too far even for Roosevelt, who complained that Taft couldn’t tell the difference between a "good trust" and a "bad trust," a trait I must confess I share with him. The prosecution of U.S. Steel dragged on for a staggering nine years before the Supreme Court ruled in 1920 that the company’s market share, having fallen precipitously during the interim, was no longer so large as to qualify as a trust. This is, of course, a wonderful case of the government winning either way; though the verdict was in favor of U.S. Steel, nine years of expensive litigation and the attendant uncertainty had weakened the company sufficiently that its competitors — most notably Bethlehem Steel, founded by former U.S. Steel president Charles Schwab — were able to overtake it. It’s difficult to see what the average American gained from nine years of expensive legal harassment and the reduced ability of U.S. Steel to compete in the marketplace, but it’s not difficult to find the people who really did benefit: government lawyers and, of course, rival steel companies that were unable or unwilling to match U.S. Steel’s performance.

To president Taft, of course, this all somehow made sense. His goal was to secure "freedom from alarm on the part of those pursuing proper and progressive business methods," which makes the point quite clear: firms that were too good or too productive were to be brought to heel so as to avoid causing "alarm" to politically-connected firms that may have difficulty competing with them. As Taft himself put it in his inaugural address:

It is believed that with the changes to be recommended American business can be assured of that measure of stability and certainty in respect to those things that may be done and those that are prohibited which is essential to the life and growth of all business. Such a plan must include the right of the people to avail themselves of those methods of combining capital and effort deemed necessary to reach the highest degree of economic efficiency, at the same time differentiating between combinations based upon legitimate economic reasons and those formed with the intent of creating monopolies and artificially controlling prices.

It is impossible to see by what means a business firm could "artificially control prices." No market price is any more or less artificial than any other; prices only become "artificial" when someone violently interferes with the normal operation of the market and compels people to exchange on terms they otherwise wouldn’t accept. It should go without saying that neither U.S. Steel nor any of the other companies attacked by the Taft administration were so much as accused of any such behavior — no, this behavior is the exclusive purview of the federal government. Needless to say, president Taft never even considered attempting to break up that monopoly.

The Taft administration sought (and received, though to a lesser extent than the president desired) tariff reductions — this is an odd position coming from a Republican, and, indeed, it caused a great schism in the Republican Party that probably, more than any other action Taft undertook, led to the party split in 1912 and the election of Woodrow Wilson. The Republican Party had historically been the party of high protectionist tariffs, and its 1908 platform had called for "revision" without clearly spelling out what that meant; the platform stated only that

In all tariff legislation the true principle of protection is best maintained by the imposition of such duties as will equal the difference between the cost of production at home and abroad, together with a reasonable profit to American industries. We favor the establishment of maximum and minimum rates to be administered by the President under limitations fixed in the law, the maximum to be available to meet discriminations by foreign countries against American goods entering their markets, and the minimum to represent the normal measure of protection at home; the aim and purpose of the Republican policy being not only to preserve, without excessive duties, that security against foreign competition to which American manufacturers, farmers and producers are entitled, but also to maintain the high standard of living of the wage-earners of this country, who are the most direct beneficiaries of the protective system.

Underneath all the scientific-sounding language, it’s plain to see that there are no definitions provided (or even possible) for most of the terms in this paragraph; the tariff called for in the Republican platform could, and would, be purely arbitrary, set at the whim of the president. This much was likely obvious to the party at large, but they probably were not prepared for Taft’s whims to be in favor of lower tariffs, and indeed no tariffs of any sort on any trade with the Philippines. Protection aside, the federal government was, in 1908, principally funded through tariffs; how did president Taft intend to make up the shortfall? Again, from his inaugural address, he declared that "new kinds of taxation must be adopted, and among these I recommend a graduated inheritance tax as correct in principle and as certain and easy of collection." Setting aside the question of how "correct in principle" an inheritance tax actually is, what did president Taft mean when he described it as "certain and easy of collection?" In a sense, his language here was rather circumspect; Taft strongly favored a graduated income tax, but the Supreme Court had already rejected such a tax once, in the 1895 case Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan and Trust Company, stating:

Taxes on real estate being indisputably direct taxes, taxes on the rents or income of real estate are equally direct taxes.

Taxes on personal property, or on the income of personal property, are likewise direct taxes.

The tax imposed by sections twenty-seven to thirty-seven, inclusive, of the act of 1894, so far as it falls on the income of real estate and of personal property, being a direct tax within the meaning of the Constitution, and therefore unconstitutional and void became not apportioned according to representation, all those sections, constituting one entire scheme of taxation, are necessarily invalid.

We’ll leave aside the question of whether or not the court was correct in its reasoning (which is a bit less than obvious, to say the least); correct or not, this ruling was very recent and was not at all unclear, meaning that an income tax simply was not possible as ordinary legislation. An inheritance tax, on the other hand, was quite widely understood to be a variety of excise, and a preëminent example of an indirect tax; the graduated inheritance tax was, thus, the closest thing to a graduated income tax that was going to be possible without a Constitutional amendment. Taft’s scheme sailed through the House, but hung up in the Senate; the Senate voted the Taft proposal down in favor of recommending "to make up the deficit by the imposition of a general income tax, in form and substance of almost exactly the same character as that which in the case of Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan and Trust Company (157 U. S., 429) was held by the Supreme Court to be a direct tax, and therefore not within the power of the Federal Government to impose unless apportioned among the several States according to population." An irritated Taft responded by chastising congress for proposing a bill effectively identical to one already struck down by the Court, claiming that such behavior could call the whole concept of judicial review into disrepute; instead, he called upon congress to propose an amendment to the Constitution "granting to the Federal Government the right to levy and collect an income tax without apportionment among the States according to population." Historians — myself included — are often inclined to blame Woodrow Wilson for the income tax, and, while it surely is true that the sixteenth amendment was not ratified until 1913, when president Wilson was in office, it was William Howard Taft who got the ball rolling to enable this most pernicious of government powers.

Taft wasn’t yet done imposing new schemes of taxation, either. In the very same address in which he called upon congress to create the sixteenth amendment, he also called for "an amendment to the tariff bill imposing upon all corporations and joint stock companies for profit, except national banks (otherwise taxed), savings banks, and building and loan associations, an excise tax measured by 2% on the net income of such corporations." President Taft believed that this would be accepted by the Court as an excise tax rather than a direct income tax because it was "an excise tax upon the privilege of doing business as an artificial entity and of freedom from a general partnership liability enjoyed by those who own the stock;" this sounds like so much sophistry, but it turns out the president was correct: the congress did enact his corporate excise tax (though at a 1% rather than a 2% level), and the Supreme Court did uphold it, ruling in Flint v. Stone Tracy Co. that this was an excise tax on the privilege of doing business, and that the fact that the level of taxation was determined by the income of the business was insufficient to show that it was an income tax; according to the court, the tax was not on the income, it was just relative to the size of the income. One is given to wonder precisely what taxes could fail to meet this "standard."

The modern United States has the highest corporate taxes in the world, and they are all pyramided atop this original tax manufactured by president Taft. Taft also is no innocent party who had no idea what evils the tax code would eventually engender, either. Here are his closing remarks in urging the adoption of a corporate income tax:

Another merit of this tax is the federal supervision which must be exercised in order to make the law effective over the annual accounts and business transactions of all corporations. While the faculty of assuming a corporate form has been of the utmost utility in the business world, it is also true that substantially all of the abuses and all of the evils which have aroused the public to the necessity of reform were made possible by the use of this very faculty. If now, by a perfectly legitimate and effective system of taxation we are incidentally able to possess the Government and the stockholders and the public of the knowledge of the real business transactions and the gains and profits of every corporation in the country, we have made along step toward that supervisory control of corporations which may prevent a further abuse of power.

The first thing that jumps out is that president Taft is hailing the invasive, pervasive, privacy-destroying surveillance the modern tax system has brought into being as not an accidental side effect, but a positive good. The federal government did not, in 1909, have any power to surveil the books of private businesses, which was a major impediment to those who, like president Taft, wanted to privilege those businesses "pursuing proper and progressive business methods" against their competitors; Taft, in a moment of remarkable shrewdness, clearly saw that the tax law could be used to enable the government to get away with invasions of liberty and privacy that it never could have justified otherwise — in the years since, this has become quite a regular feature of the tax law, all the way down to the Lois Lerner scandal. Since president Taft was so keenly attuned to the idea of using tax policy to effect social change, it is perhaps ironic that he promoted his new corporate tax by stating that "the tax on net income is preferable to one proportionate to a percentage of the gross receipts, because it is a tax upon success and not failure;" consider briefly that one of the primary tenets of using taxation as a vehicle for social policy is that one taxes what one wants less of.

While president Taft, much to his credit, was not a warmonger, and he neither sought out nor received any full-blown wars, he should not be misconstrued as a dreaded "isolationist;" far from being isolationist, Taft believed that America had vital interests in foreign countries, and that it was vital to meddle in their affairs. He was not, however, especially interested in Europe; nearly all of president Taft’s attention was spent on South America and Asia. Having served previously as the governor of the Philippines (following the American conquest during the McKinley administration), Taft was keenly interested in the territory, and was a passionate advocate for nearly everything that could be done to improve conditions on the islands or relations between the islands and the United States. Taft also meddled frequently in Chinese affairs, and this eventually led to disastrous consequences.

China, at the dawn of the twentieth century, was being industrialized, though not entirely of its own accord. Many years of de facto western imperial domination had left China itself weak and impoverished, meaning that its industrialization was mainly funded and directed by western powers — typically the British. With the emergence of the United States as a global imperial power following the Spanish-American War, American companies and the United States government itself began to take an interest in the commercial opportunities to be had by industrializing China as well, and began to involve themselves in the crazy mercantilism of the Chinese railroad contracts. The way it worked was quite simple: foreign powers would lend the Chinese government large amounts of money to build railroads. In return, the Chinese government would pledge to buy the materials from the lending country, and also to repay the loan with interest (typically 5%). Specific to this case, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Germany, and France had worked a contract to lend the Chinese government twenty-seven million dollars to construct a railroad between Hankow and Szechuan. The United States wanted a piece of this deal, so the Taft administration sent the Chinese a letter gently insisting that it be included. So a deal was worked out to increase the size of the loan package to thirty million dollars so the United States could become a Chinese creditor too.

Think about that for a moment. To build exactly the same railroad, the government of China agreed to spend an additional three million dollars it didn’t have, and it did so for the express purpose of becoming indebted to yet another foreign power. One can expect that this sends up red flags all over the place, and that’s precisely what happened; before long, the governments of Japan and Russia were also politely insisting on being added to the loan package, with the total amount of the loan continuing to increase for no actual reason whatsoever. Meanwhile, the Chinese people — who had by this point been exploited by these one-sided "deals" for quite a long time — became increasingly agitated, and began to protest the situation, asserting (not unreasonably) that the railroad could be constructed domestically without the dubious "help" of no fewer than seven foreign powers. They also pointed to the Imperial Edict of 1899, which stated that the Chinese would have prior right in the construction of any Chinese railroads, and which was clearly being abrogated by the government’s deal. Still and all, in 1911, the government of China nationalized the railroads and handed them over to the foreign powers, compensating the previous owners only with rapidly-depreciating government bonds, rather than with silver. This would be the final indignity that led to the Xinhai Revolution, the fall of Imperial China, and (eventually) the rise of Mao. While it’s clear that bloodshed was never president Taft’s goal as such, it’s equally clear that his meddlesome policies were not as harmless as he wished to believe.

In South America, the Taft administration was firmly committed to the Monroe Doctrine, though it was apparently also willing to pretend the Roosevelt Corollary never happened; while president Taft never openly repudiated the Roosevelt Corollary, he proceeded according to older traditions, declaring that:

there are expenditures of Government absolutely necessary if our country is to maintain its proper place among the nations of the world, and is to exercise its proper influence in defense of its own trade interests in the maintenance of traditional American policy against the colonization of European monarchies in this hemisphere, and in the promotion of peace and international morality. I refer to the cost of maintaining a proper army, a proper navy, and suitable fortifications upon the mainland of the United States and in its dependencies.

We should have an army so organized and so officered as to be capable in time of emergency, in cooperation with the national militia and under the provisions of a proper national volunteer law, rapidly to expand into a force sufficient to resist all probable invasion from abroad and to furnish a respectable expeditionary force if necessary in the maintenance of our traditional American policy which bears the name of President Monroe.

A bit Trumpian perhaps, no? President Taft was a believer in military strength, but not in aggressive warfare; he wanted a big army and a big navy to show those Europeans that America was not to be messed with, and also, evidently, to show them that Bolivia, Chile, and El Salvador were not to be messed with, per the Monroe Doctrine. Taft attempted the same kind of mercanitilist approach that so successfully destabilized China throughout Latin America, pressuring foreign governments (such as, most notably, Nicaragua) to accept loans from the United States that would be spent buying products from the United States and then paid back with interest. Latin America showed more backbone than China had, however, and the American economic imperialism led chiefly to violent backlash throughout the subcontinent, which often (again, as in the case of Nicaragua) resulted in the Taft administration deploying American troops to "protect American interests" in those countries. President Taft’s commitment to peace, however, was on full display when the government of Mexico collapsed, and the country devolved into civil war. Taft refused to be drawn into the war, stationing troops at the border as a show of force, but actually — and unusually — refusing the send them into combat. Even when violence on the border resulted in the deaths of two Americans in the Arizona Territory, president Taft still refused to pull the trigger, and the world was spared another senseless and destructive Mexican-American War.

The election of 1912 was a losing proposition from the beginning. Taft had alienated much of the Republican base, and the Morgan interests took full advantage of this, dressing Theodore Roosevelt for a third-party run. As expected, the result was a Democratic landslide, as the Republicans in most states were split between Taft and Roosevelt, leaving almost all the electoral votes for Woodrow Wilson. Taft would not fade into obscurity, however, involving himself in the Harding campaign in 1920 in return for what he had always wanted in the first place: a seat on the Supreme Court. Indeed, after some politicking, president Harding acquiesced, and William Howard Taft became Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court on 11 July 1921, serving on the court until 3 February 1930, becoming at the time (and remaining to this day) the only man to be both president of the United States and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Indeed, he remained on the court until he was physically incapable of doing so; his health declined quite rapidly after he left the White House, but he refused to leave the bench due to concerns that "the Bolsheviki" — by which he meant the court’s hard-left wing, and Justice Harlan F. Stone in particular — would take control. He finally stepped down after president Hoover assured him that Justice Charles Evan Hughes, and not Stone, would succeed him; scarcely a month later, on 8 March 1930, William Howard Taft suffered a fatal heart attack at his home in Washington. His last words are lost to history.

President Taft is often wrongly viewed as a conservative; perhaps there is some merit to this if one is looking at his career on the Supreme Court, but, if one considers only his presidency (as we are here), he is a hard-line progressive through and through. As we’ve seen, Taft worked hard (and with great success) to increase federal oversight of business, increase taxes, and increase American involvement in foreign countries, none of which is even remotely conservative. President Taft once described himself as a faithful disciple of Alexander Hamilton and John Marshall, and there’s really nothing for it but to take him at his word: that is exactly what he was, and that is exactly how he governed. This is William Howard Taft’s legacy: the wolf in sheep’s clothing — the man who sold the American people big, powerful government and somehow left them thinking they’d gotten small, weak government.

May 19th, 2016 Posted by | Liberty | no comments

Presidential Rankings #26: William McKinley

President Denali
The mission of the United States is one of benevolent assimilation.

The War to Prevent Southern Independence was a horrible, senseless waste of capital and human life. There were, in fact, only two unequivocally good things to come out of the war. The first, and most obvious, was the abolition of slavery — while it was certainly not the purpose of the war, and while no war was necessary to achieve it, the end of slavery was nonetheless a consequence of the war, and was of course an unalloyed good in and of itself. The other beneficial consequence of the war is that it took the United States off the path of empire it had been treading for fifteen years; the people were so busy with the attempt to rebuild a devastated and depopulated nation, and the would-be tyrants so busy attempting to establish and support the military junta assigned to rule over the conquered Confederate States, that scarcely a thought was given to foreign conquest, and, in the postbellum years, America no longer went abroad in search of monsters to destroy. All of this changed on 15 February 1898, when the USS Maine sank into Havana Harbor.

In 1898, Cuba was under Spanish rule, but Madrid’s grasp on the island had grown tenuous; many of the Cuban people believed that Spain was not living up to its obligations, and had organized El Partido Revolucionario Cubano under the leadership of the Georgist revolutionary José Julián Martí Pérez, marking the beginning of the Cuban Revolutionary War. The Spanish general Valeriano Weyler y Nicolau was installed as governor of Cuba in 1896 in the hopes that he would restore order and suppress the revolutionaries, but he immediately encountered a problem: the Spanish forces couldn’t easily distinguish the guerrilla revolutionaries from the ordinary citizens. Weyler’s solution was simple: he would simply herd all the normal citizens together in "reconcentration camps," thereby depriving the guerrillas of their cover, and then stamp out the revolution. It’s not known exactly how many people were "reconcentrated" under the Weyler regime, but it is known that upwards of three hundred thousand of them died of disease and malnutrition while in the camps, which, as one might expect, didn’t do much to increase the Spanish colonial government’s popularity among the people. Indeed, anger over the horrible injustice and inhumanity of Weyler’s policy fueled even more revolutionary activity, and made the situation even more dangerous. Into this situation sailed the USS Maine.

The Maine was a brand-new armored cruiser, built only three years prior to her sinking (though, as is usual with government projects, the Maine cost far more and took far longer to make than was projected, and was considered entirely obsolete before her maiden voyage), and had been sent to Cuba to meddle in internal Cuban affairs. The previous president, Grover Cleveland, had been entirely too cagey to get involved, and indeed went so far as to order that American naval vessels should no longer visit Cuba, as he didn’t wish to provoke either the Spanish or the revolutionaries; president McKinley, however, while he did not want war at first, was inclined toward meddlement, and he dispatched the Maine to Havana after being urged by his Cuban Consul, Fitzhugh Lee, that American sugar interests in Cuba were in jeopardy. The Spanish were insulted and worried, and declared that they would consider the arrival of the Maine to be an "unfriendly act," but they were mollified by the American offer to allow a Spanish warship to land in New York, and the Maine sailed into Havana Harbor on 25 January. It would never sail back out.

The immediate cause of the sinking of the Maine is not in dispute: all investigations have concluded, in unison, that a major explosion in the forward magazine occurred, led to a series of other, minor explosions, and ultimately to the destruction of the vessel. The real question is: what caused the explosion in the magazine? To this day it’s not entirely certain, but a number of possibilities present themselves: it could have been a deliberate attack by the Spanish (or a false flag attack by the revolutionaries), an act of sabotage, or an accident. It has been suggested that a mine may have come unmoored from the harbor defenses and drifted into the Maine. It’s also a possibility that the ship’s load of bituminous coal could have ignited spontaneously due to the high temperatures and confined spaces — which problem afflicted many warships of the day — and set off the magazine. The United States government’s official inquest, under the direction of Captain William T. Sampson, determined that the cause of the explosion was indeed collision with an external mine, though the Sampson Board did not reach any conclusions regarding the origin or intent of the mine. A later inquiry, held in 1911, determined that the characteristics of the mine did not match the mines used by the Spanish navy — it was a small, low-explosive mine, whereas the Spanish used large, high-explosive mines. Also of note is that, when the Maine sank, the Spanish were on the scene immediately, helping to rescue as much of the crew as possible. So who actually sank the Maine? We may never know, but it was almost definitely not the Spanish; they stood to gain nothing from such an attack, and it appeared to be as much of a surprise to Madrid as it was to Washington, as the Spanish cruiser Vizcaya would discover upon its arrival in New York on 18 February, as the other part of the mutual visitation deal.

According to the McKinley administration, it didn’t actually matter who sank the Maine. The United States was bound and determined to get into this war somehow, and this was too good a pretext to let go; in McKinley’s own words, from his War Message:

The naval court of inquiry, which, it is needless to say, commands the unqualified confidence of the Government, was unanimous in its conclusion that the destruction of the Maine was caused by an exterior explosion — that of a submarine mine. It did not assume to place the responsibility. That remains to be fixed.

In any event, the destruction of the Maine, by whatever exterior cause, is a patent and impressive proof of a state of things in Cuba that is intolerable. That condition is thus shown to be such that the Spanish Government can not assure safety and security to a vessel of the American Navy in the harbor of Havana on a mission of peace, and rightfully there.

Further referring in this connection to recent diplomatic correspondence, a dispatch from our minister to Spain of the 26th ultimo contained the statement that the Spanish minister for foreign affairs assured him positively that Spain will do all that the highest honor and justice require in the matter of the Maine. The reply above referred to, of the 31st ultimo, also contained an expression of the readiness of Spain to submit to an arbitration all the differences which can arise in this matter, which is subsequently explained by the note of the Spanish minister at Washington of the 10th instant, as follows:

As to the question of fact which springs from the diversity of views between the reports of the American and Spanish boards, Spain proposes that the facts be ascertained by an impartial investigation by experts, whose decision Spain accepts in advance.

To this I have made no reply.

Note well that the Spanish explicitly communicated a willingness to "submit to an arbitration" regarding its responsibilities in the case of the Maine, and has acceded in advance to any conclusions reached by an impartial investigation. The McKinley administration’s response was to ignore this in favor of its march to war. Why would the president do such a thing? The obvious conclusion is that the loss of the Maine was beside the point; the president didn’t want compensation, he wanted an excuse to do what he had been planning in the first place. To quote McKinley’s War Message again:

The long trial has proved that the object for which Spain has waged the war can not be attained. The fire of insurrection may flame or may smolder with varying seasons, but it has not been and it is plain that it can not be extinguished by present methods. The only hope of relief and repose from a condition which can no longer be endured is the enforced pacification of Cuba. In the name of humanity, in the name of civilization, in behalf of endangered American interests which give us the right and the duty to speak and to act, the war in Cuba must stop.

In view of these facts and of these considerations I ask the Congress to authorize and empower the President to take measures to secure a full and final termination of hostilities between the Government of Spain and the people of Cuba, and to secure in the island the establishment of a stable government, capable of maintaining order and observing its international obligations, insuring peace and tranquillity and the security of its citizens as well as our own, and to use the military and naval forces of the United States as may be necessary for these purposes.

Humanitarian intervention. Presidents in the modern day recite these platitudes and these formulas by rote, but they learned them all from William McKinley. The United States must invade and conquer Cuba because it’s for their own good. So too with Korea, Vietnam, Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and Uganda. Cuba was the first of America’s "humanitarian interventions," and, like all of them, it built its humanitarianism on a large pile of corpses: seventy thousand in this case. The fading Spanish Empire, as it turned out, did not have the wherewithal to fight a war against the rising United States — certainly not when the war was fought right at the American border, and four thousand miles from Spain — and the war lasted a mere three and a half months. In keeping with his humanitarian promise, president McKinley won independence for Cuba — independence from Spain, anyhow, as the island found itself coming entirely under the thumb of its humanitarian savior. The Platt Amendment, enacted by a congress wondering what to do with its newfound conquest, stipulated, among other things:


That the government of Cuba consents that the United States may exercise the right to intervene for the preservation of Cuban independence, the maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty, and for discharging the obligations with respect to Cuba imposed by the treaty of Paris on the United States, now to be assumed and undertaken by the government of Cuba.


That all Acts of the United States in Cuba during its military occupancy thereof are ratified and validated, and all lawful rights acquired thereunder shall be maintained and protected.

In short, the Cuban occupation that the McKinley administration so stridently insisted would not be an annexation created a Cuban government that was nothing but a shadow puppet of the United States. Cuba was required to consent in advance to all acts of the United States within its borders, and to permit the intervention of the United States in its internal affairs whenever Washington deemed it necessary. This was not independence for Cuba, of course, but the substitution of a new master for the old one.

Casting further doubt on the true "humanitarianism" of the McKinley administration’s war on Spain was the utterly ruinous peace treaty Spain was forced to sign. Perhaps, had the Americans insisted on Cuban independence and otherwise left Spain alone, president McKinley could be taken at his word as a misguided but sincere altruist. The reality of it is quite different, however; in addition to Cuba, the United States took possession of all of Spain’s colonies outside of Africa: Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. This, finally, would bring the United States the empire on the Pacific that president Polk had dreamt of, and, just as his critics had warned, brought a series of Pacific wars. The United States would be dragged into war in the Philippines almost immediately, killing two hundred thousand Filipino civilians in the attempt to subdue the nation’s independence movement — in other words, the exact unendurable crime against humanity that the Americans supposedly intervened in Cuba to prevent. The Philippine-American War is also president McKinley’s baggage, and is an undisguised war of imperial expansion and conquest.

So far, we’ve seen president McKinley engaged in a war for "humanitarian intervention" and a war for open conquest. One needn’t look too far for the third leg of the imperial stool — the foreign aid puppet regime — as the annexation of Hawaii provides a prime example. The United States had installed a puppet government (the Republic of Hawaii) in the stead of the old royal government as early as 1893, in an open attempt to annex the nation; president Harrison wasn’t able to get the job done before his term of office expired, however, and his replacement, the old faithful Grover Cleveland, refused to proceed with the annexation, as it was obviously not in the interest of the Hawaiians — Cleveland regarded the US-led ouster of queen Lilioukalani as a shameful and criminal act, and indeed began investigations to determine exactly who the culprits were. He ran out of time also, however, and in came William McKinley, who had always been a supporter of the annexation, and who made it a top priority in his presidency, in much the way president Polk had been obsessed with obtaining California; indeed, McKinley went so far as to remark to his personal secretary, George Cortelyou, that "we need Hawaii just as much and a good deal more than we did California. It is manifest destiny." That phrase again: manifest destiny. As it had in the 1840s, it presaged in the 1890s a renewed focus on American empire. Indeed, no sooner had the United States declared war on Spain than did William McKinley maneuver congress into passing the annexation — after a massive petition signed by over twenty thousand Hawaiians opposing the annexation, he failed to get the two-thirds vote in the senate that would be required to approve the treaty, however. Undeterred, president McKinley then engineered a joint resolution declaring the annexation of Hawaii. This move was clearly Constitutionally spurious; the power to enter into treaties is explicitly granted by the Constitution to the president and the senate, and absolutely requires a two-thirds vote of the senate to ratify; the house plays no role whatsoever. A joint resolution is nothing more or less than an act of ordinary legislation, and to suggest that the United States can subsume into itself entire foreign countries through ordinary legislation is absurd. What would the reaction be if the United States congress passed a joint resolution unilaterally declaring Germany part of the United States? Or, similarly, if Germany declared that, from now on, the United States is a German territory? This would obviously be regarded as beyond the scope of legislation. As senator William V. Allen explained on the senate floor during the debate:

Mr. President, how can a joint resolution such as this be operative? What is the legislative jurisdiction of Congress? Does it extend over Hawaii? May we in this anticipatory manner reach out beyond the sea and assert our authority under a resolution of Congress within the confines of that independent nation? Where is our right, our grant of power, to do this? Where do we find it?

The joint resolution itself, it is admitted, amounts to nothing so far as carrying any effective force is concerned. It does not bring that country within our boundaries. It does not consummate itself.

Senator A. O. Bacon got straight to the heart of the matter:

If we pass the joint resolution, we enter upon a revolution which shall convert this country from a peaceful country into a warlike country. If we pass the resolution, we transform this country from one engaged in its own concerns into one which shall immediately proceed to intermeddle with the concerns of all the world.

If we pass the joint resolution, we inaugurate a revolution which shall convert this country from one designed for the advancement and the prosperity and the happiness of our citizens into one which shall seek its gratification in dominion and domination and foreign acquisition.

Bacon was exactly correct.

It often gets lost in the shuffle, but William McKinley was the president who began the Progressive Era — when he wasn’t busy crusading around the world to make it safe for democracy, he was using the dread powers of government to create scientifically engineered fairness at home. Still and all, McKinley was the bridge between the older, Henry Clay progressives and the more modern, Lyndon Johnson progressives; the sixteenth amendment was still years off, and William McKinley had no income tax to rely on, so, in classic Republican fashion, he was focused on tariffs. Also in classic Republican fashion, he busied himself blurring the classical distinction between "revenue" tariffs and "protective" tariffs. As he put it in his first inaugural address:

The country is clearly opposed to any needless additions to the subject of internal taxation, and is committed by its latest popular utterance to the system of tariff taxation. There can be no misunderstanding, either, about the principle upon which this tariff taxation shall be levied. Nothing has ever been made plainer at a general election than that the controlling principle in the raising of revenue from duties on imports is zealous care for American interests and American labor. The people have declared that such legislation should be had as will give ample protection and encouragement to the industries and the development of our country.

Historically, a distinction has been drawn between revenue tariffs, which are designed to make money for the government, and protective tariffs, which are designed to provide advantages to protected industries, and have raising revenue as only a secondary goal. Throughout the nineteenth century, Democrats were in favor of revenue tariffs, and insisted that the Constitution required that the burden or the protection from those tariffs must be applied equally to all people and all industries, rather than singling out specific producers or specific industries to declare "protected" at the expense of all others. The Republicans (née Whigs), meanwhile, believed that tariff policy should be used for the benefit of specific, favored industries; certain industries should be insulated from foreign competition via high tariffs, and the money so raised should be spend subsidizing other favored industries (chiefly the railroads). In this regard, president McKinley was an absolute by-the-book Republican; in his words, "legislation helpful to producers is beneficial to all." While this is obviously true in a trivial sense — we are all producers, after all, and so legislation that literally benefits all producers will benefit all people by definition — it wasn’t meant to be taken quite so literally. McKinley championed the charmingly-named Dingley Act, which raised tariffs to extraordinary rates across the board, and established new tariffs on products (such as wool) that had previously been duty-free. While this was clearly beneficial to domestic wool producers, the majority of Americans did not produce wool, and now faced higher prices for woolen articles due to the reduced supply, so clearly it’s not the case that everybody benefited from the new tariff.

President McKinley also was an avid supporter of the gold standard, going so far as to sign the Gold Standard Act of 1900 into law, famously using a gold pen to do so. On the surface, this sounds like just the sort of thing libertarians would be in favor of (not least because William Jennings Bryan and his "free silver" crowd were so far off base), but it’s important here to note the difference between what libertarians often mean when they say "gold standard" and what the McKinley administration actually did. First, however, it’s important to understand the free silver position. The silverites called for a policy known as "bimetallism," whereby silver would convert freely with gold at a governmentally-fixed exchange rate of 16:1. This was understood (by its proponents as well as its opponents) as a wildly inflationary policy; at the time, the market rate held silver at about 30:1 against gold, so bimetallism would (in accordance with Gresham’s Law) result in the gold being purchased at the artificially reduced price, along with a general, massive inflation (nearly 100%) of the currency. Supporters of free silver cited this as a benefit, because it would make outstanding debts artificially easy to pay off; while this is absolutely true, it ignores the effect of the policy on creditors, which is, of course, ruinous. On the face of it, the government refusing to stiff creditors for the benefit of debtors seems to be the sort of thing a libertarian would appreciate, but the Gold Standard Act of 1900 is anything but a free market reform. A true free market currency regime would permit the people to circulate as money whatever they see fit; under the Gold Standard Act, government paper was still granted the privilege of legal tender (meaning that, through force of arms, the government will compel people to accept it as payment). The fact that the treasury was required to maintain gold reserves, and to redeem paper for gold on demand (at the rate of 25.8 grains of 90% fineness gold to the dollar), was all to the good, and clearly better than the inflationary schemes of the contemporary Democrats, but should not be confused with true monetary freedom.

President McKinley surely had his good points. He was an avid opponent of government debt, and held that "the Government should not be permitted to run behind or increase its debt in times like the present," by which he meant peacetime. He was exactly as good as his word, too; during his wars, the federal government ran a (very small, by today’s insane standards) deficit, but the McKinley government lived within its means before and after. President McKinley was also an adamant supporter of the cold justice of the courtroom rather than the immediate hot retribution of the lynch mob; he emphasized the distinction himself by saying that:

Lynchings must not be tolerated in a great and civilized country like the United States; courts, not mobs, must execute the penalties of the law. The preservation of public order, the right of discussion, the integrity of courts, and the orderly administration of justice must continue forever the rock of safety upon which our Government securely rests.

In this, perhaps moreso than in any other regard, president McKinley walked the walk.

On 6 September 1901, only a few months after being sworn in for his second term as president, William McKinley was visiting the World’s Fair in Buffalo, New York. The day before, he had given a speech, but on the sixth he was just making the rounds, enjoying the fair and shaking hands with people. One of the people the president met that day was Leon Czolgosz, an unemployed steelworker who fancied himself a left-anarchist, and who had determined that the cause of all the injustice in America was an institutional bias in favor of the rich. Inspired by the murder of King Umberto I of Italy, Czolgosz resolved to do something for "the common man." At 4:07 p.m. that afternoon, in the exposition’s Temple of Music, president William McKinley extended his left hand to shake with Leon Czolgosz — whose right hand was wrapped in a handkerchief, as though it were injured — and Czolgosz shot him twice in the abdomen. The crowd immediately leapt on Czolgosz and began administering the peculiar form of justice known only to the mob, and William McKinley demonstrated the great steel he was truly made of and ordered them to stop. Having just been assassinated, he still found the strength of character (not to mention the presence of mind) to demand that the mob cease abusing his assassin. To my view, this is one of the few truly great acts committed by any president.

President McKinley would recover from the immediate injury, but was subsequently beset by gangrene. After initially appearing as though he would survive, he suddenly took a turn for the worse, as the infection destroyed him from the inside out. He maintained his composure until the end, eventually telling the doctors attending him that "it is useless, gentlemen. I think we ought to have prayer." On 14 September 1901, at 2:15 a.m., William McKinley died, leaving the nation in the hands of a downright madman. Leon Czolgosz was murdered by the government on 29 October of that year, announcing that "I killed the President because he was the enemy of the good people – the good working people. I am not sorry for my crime."

Virtually the entire modern United States government is the legacy of William McKinley: a man who reintroduced empire to America, who established the United States as the global policeman, and who first fancied himself capable of microengineering domestic society for the common weal. Though he is often overshadowed by his bombastic successor, this is unfair; virtually all of Roosevelt’s excesses were nothing more than extensions of the policies McKinley had already put in place. Essentially the only aspect of the McKinley legacy that hasn’t survived to the present day is his steely reverence for true justice as against emotional retribution, and we could dearly use it.

May 8th, 2016 Posted by | Liberty | no comments

Science Redux

I’m a bad man. In response to Olney’s craziness from the beginning of the year, here are Curtis Granderson’s 2015 totals: 91 BB, 151 K.

This, Buster, is why we do not jump to conclusions based on 37 PA. Now you look like an idiot.

December 1st, 2015 Posted by | Baseball | no comments

Mike Trout, Josh Donaldson, and snubbery

There’s a bit of a brouhaha going on in the internet baseball world, and that’s because Josh Donaldson won the AL MVP in a landslide over Mike Trout. Some people — such as my old friend and comic foil Jeff Passan — have gone so far as to compare Trout’s lack of MVPs with Ted Williams’. This is a bit silly; Williams finished fourteenth in MVP balloting in 1940, behind no fewer than five Detroit Tigers, very much including the legendary Dick Bartell, who played below replacement level that year. That’s a snub! Williams in 1941 set the only modern-era over-.400 BA mark — the single stat sportswriters obsess over — and lost out again. In 1942, Williams lost out again, this time to the obviously inferior (but very good!) Joe Gordon.

What’s happened with Meteor Mike, then? Is it equivalent snubbery? Well, in 2012, he lost to Miguel Cabrera, a player he was obviously massively superior to. There’s a snub! Oh, wait, except that 2012 was the year Miguel Cabrera won the Triple Crown, huh. Even as jaded and SABR-y as I am, it’s really, really hard for me to lambaste sportswriters too much for awarding their MVP votes to the first guy to win the Triple Crown in a half-century. So never mind that. 2013, then? Cabrera again, and this time it seems like a legit snub: in fact, the comparison between Trout and Cabrera is eerily similar to 1942-era Williams and Gordon, so I’ll give you that one. In 2014? This time, Trout was snubbed so badly he won the MVP in a massive landslide, taking every single first-place vote. Every one. I am at a loss to think of a single thing that makes a campaign of snubbery seem less likely than does the alleged snubbee getting every single vote.

That brings us to the present day, and Josh Donaldson. Here’s the MVP voting for 2015. The alleged snubbery is evidently based on the fact that Mike Trout’s WAR was higher than Josh Donaldson’s, which it was: by 0.6. That ain’t much of much, and, though it may get me banned from Internet Dork Kingdom, I’m compelled to point out that the MVP is not the WAR crown. Here’s the catch, and why I think a vote for Donaldson is entirely defensible: not all wins are equally valuable.

Now, obviously, every win is worth one win. I don’t mean to say otherwise. But some wins are more valuable to the team than others. Without Trout’s 9.4 wins, the Angels go from winning 85 games to winning 76 games, and go from third place to… third place. Clearly that is about as unvaluable as nine wins can possibly be. Without Donaldson’s 8.8 wins, however, the Blue Jays go from 93 wins to 84 wins, and fall into second place and also miss a wild card berth by a game. Donaldson’s 8.8 wins were clearly of immense value to the Blue Jays, as they spelled the difference between a division win and sitting at home watching the playoffs on TV.

So am I saying that the MVP must come from a winning team? Surely not. What I’m saying is that, in a very, very close race — and 0.6 WAR does count as pretty damn close — it makes sense to consider not only the player’s performance in a vacuum, but also the impact that performance had on his team’s fortunes. There is no injustice, and no snubbery, in choosing Donaldson over Trout.

December 1st, 2015 Posted by | Baseball | no comments

This time I’m sure we’re doing science

Curtis Granderson has had 37 plate appearances this year. Sample size, Olney! And why on the entire earth are you calculating rate stats to any significant digits based on 37 PA of data?

April 16th, 2015 Posted by | Baseball | no comments

And we’re back!

Baseball, I mean. It’s back. And so am I, I suppose. And so is idiotic sportswriting! It’s like the salad days of 2011 all over again. I haven’t done this in a while; I sure hope I can remember how.

Don’t Let Statistics Ruin Baseball

It’s all coming back to me. It’s just like falling off a log! Only it’s probably a whole lot more painful.

Baseball is a language unto itself, a language to be enjoyed and understood by any fan — at least until the talk turns to Babip, FIP and WAR.

You read it in the New York Times, friends: comrade de Blasio will no longer permit you to enjoy that language.

Thanks to "Moneyball" and stats-driven fantasy leagues, advanced statistics have changed how fans think about the game.

One of the surest signs that a crotchety sportswriter is really, really old is that he has no idea what the internet is. That’s where them nekkid pictures are, right? No way that’s had any impact on anybody’s understanding of baseball! The only explanation is a book Michael Lewis wrote twelve years ago.

On the whole that’s a positive trend — but not when the numbers begin to eclipse a more nuanced appreciation of baseball.

Here in the real world, mind you, having a "nuanced appreciation" of something tends to involve appreciating the nuances of it. Apparently this is not true in Angry Baseball Man World, where attempting to learn the intricacies — nuances, you know? They’re synonyms! — of the game sucks all the fun out of everybody else around you.

When it comes to watching a matchup of, say, the Mets pitcher Matt Harvey and Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins, statistical analysis is about as helpful in deepening an appreciation of the human drama unfolding before us as it would be for a Pavarotti aria.

Hog fucking wash. Look! Look! Here are Matt Harvey’s splits! And here are Giancarlo’s! You really think there’s nothing to be gained from information about how these guys perform in specific situations as opposed to just "yo brah harv b straight DEALIN?" I mean, okay.

Being alert to the twists and turns of a game is vital, since it’s the glimpses of character that emerge during these unlikely sequences that give baseball its essential flavor.

And this is at odds with statistical analysis in what way? They can coexist, dude. It’s not like the ghost of Tommy Lasorda hangs out at the turnstile and requires you to choose your path before you can enter the park.

I was on hand in Oakland in October 2001 when the Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter won a game — and, arguably, a playoff series — against the A’s by having the foresight to anticipate an errant throw and make an improvised little flip to home plate to nail a lumbering Jeremy Giambi trying to score.

Oh for fuck’s sake. It is the year 2015, and you people are still using the flip game as your go-to argument? Man, the simple, undeniable fact that the game you’re citing is fourteen years old should indicate to you that your argument needs a bit of assistance.

Statistical analysis had absolutely zero to do with that play.

What does that even mean? When does statistical analysis ever have anything to do with any individual, specific play? By definition, statistical analysis looks at aggregate trends. We learn how, historically, players have performed in various situations. It’s not like Joe Torre pulled out his graphing calculator and punched in

20 GOTO 10

And then sent it to the JeTron-9000 for execution.

Managers agree. "I watch the game," said Bruce Bochy, the manager of the World Series champion San Francisco Giants.

Bruce Bochy is probably the worst active manager in baseball. I know the Giants just won the World Series; this is because the Giants have great pitching and the manager matters for fuck-all.

"You don’t see me writing down a lot of things or having to look down at stats. They’re important, but there are some things that you can’t see on a spreadsheet."

Name one. Name one, Bruce Bochy, and then demonstrate one single way in which it has any impact on the game of baseball. You are the kind of nitwit who has your team’s best hitter bunt in a high-leverage situation even when he has successfully done so exactly zero times ever. So perhaps we will not listen to you on the subject of knowing anything about anything.

The real problem isn’t in the dugout, though. It’s with the way the game is discussed off the field. I grew up on vivid reporting that teased out details from the day’s action to give us a more flavorful and insightful narrative — not just by accomplished magazine writers like Roger Angell, but by the scores of beat reporters covering the game nationwide.

Yes, yes. Those young people these days have no respect, et cetera, et cetera, get off my lawn. You could consider — and this is just a wild idea I had, mind you — writing some insightful narrative yourself instead of just bitching. But, yes, back in your day…

In any press box, most reporters are texting, tweeting or Googling stats. This doesn’t work.

What, you mean like Juan Uribe has sabotaged the press box to keep reporters from getting accurate information? In what way does this not work?

You can go to the symphony and hear the music even as you’re texting with a client to close a deal. As your thumbs fly and you try not to be distracted by the dirty looks of the guy next to you, you might note the orchestra is playing Mahler’s Ninth. But with your attention so cratered, are you really listening to the music? Are you enjoying it?

Are you like some type of professional orchestra scout who’s trying to sign a hot young violoncello for your orchestra team? Because, if you are, then I expect you do need to be communicating with somebody while this is going on. Otherwise you’re going to get scooped by another, different scout, right? In this case, I gotta be honest with you: whether or not you’re enjoying the performance is neither here nor there. I’m paying you to do a job, not to go have a fun evening. So too with reporters: they’re not there to have themselves a blast, they’re there to do a job. Do you really not know this?

Also, Mahler 9 is like eighty minutes long. It would be the entire concert by itself, and you’d know that’s what’s playing because it’s on the marquee. Weirdo.

The importance of being fully present for a game, shorn of distractions, lies not in sentimentality about the nobility of baseball (even Mr. Angell once groused that "The ‘Field of Dreams’ thing gives me a pain!"), but in continuously deepening one’s understanding of the game.

But not deepening your understanding so much that you actually start to understand it, right? Because that would be bad.

The art of hitting a baseball starts with emptying the mind. As Jonathan Fader, a psychologist who works with Mets players, told me: "Essentially, what we’re trying to do in sports psychology is helping people to not think."

That sounds like the exact lesson the Mets have taken to heart.

Fans and writers need to adopt a similar attitude.

Only the Grey Lady could actually go to print explicitly telling people to stop thinking.

Also, here’s a thing: hitting a baseball needs to become an instinctive process because you have zero time. Is that the case when you’re discussing the game the next day at the office? Is it so urgent that you cannot spare the time to think, and must instead just grunt out "Lucas Duda heap good batter-man ugh?"

An overly analytical approach, centered in the cerebral cortex, is a distancing mechanism that puts a fan at a remove from how the players — and most fans — are experiencing a game.

So, in a nutshell, your point is "I’m a lazy dum-dum and everybody else agrees with me, so shut up?" Because if that says anything else, I can’t find it.

Often the greater rigor that results can be readily understood and applied, to exciting ends. For example, the shift of the game toward flame-throwing, late-game relief pitchers makes it natural that we’d be more focused on a previously obscure statistic: batting average against relievers.

Literally nobody is focused on that statistic, because it is shit.

The trouble is not with the numbers.

There’s some trouble with that last one you cited.

The imposing Babip just means "batting average on balls in play." And FIP stands for "fielding independent pitching," an attempt to offer a broader measure of a pitcher’s performance than the traditional E.R.A. (earned-run average).

I’m about 90% certain Steve just Googled those as he was writing this article. And he still managed to fuck it up! FIP is not "an attempt to offer a broader measure of a pitcher’s performance than the traditional E.R.A.," which does not mean anything anyway. FIP is an attempt to remove the influence of fielding on pitching data. That why it’s called "fielding-independent pitching," Steve. Do you see?

And BABIP should be capitalised. It’s not a word, goofball, as you yourself immediately pointed out. And "E.R.A." never ever ever has periods in it. Have you ever actually read anything about baseball?

There is a risk that numbers become an end in themselves, and arcane stats proliferate.

Steve? Numbers have always been an end in themselves. The entire point of the game of baseball is to score more runs than the other team. Those are numbers, Steve! Contra what you may have heard back when you were a wee nipper in the halcyon days of the American Association, the goal of baseball is not to look as dapper as possible.

A good rule of thumb is that the more a stat relies on abstraction, the less likely it’s going to be consistently useful to a wide audience.

I don’t think you understand what a rule of thumb is. Just as a general guideline for you, if there are more weasel-words than like regular real words, probably it’s not very good. And I guess ERA’s "earned runs" and BA’s "at bats" aren’t sufficiently abstract to disqualify them as "consistently useful." Who decides? Steve’s vote is for Steve.

Even an old stat like WAR, or wins above replacement, continues to have both backers and detractors, since it relies on comparing a given player to the abstraction of some hypothetical median player, the "replacement."

… He says, without offering any potential alternatives. Should all players across all ballparks and in all years be compared to one specific player? We’ll make a new stat, you and me, Steve. We’ll call it "wins above 2004 Neifi Perez, but only the part of the year he spent with the Giants." Since that’s a lot less abstract, I’m sure it’ll be more useful to a wide audience. Right?

Also, I hate to be "that guy," but the dreaded "replacement" is definitely not a median player. He is an absolutely minimal player. That is the whole point, Steve. Perhaps you should learn something about your subject matter before your next deadline, hey?

Baseball is slow, and in that slowness comes the opportunity to let the mind and the imagination wander and move along with the action. Mr. Angell has said that for him, even later in life as a fan, the music is still playing. If we can’t clear our attention span enough to focus on the action, if we don’t tune in to baseball the way we do music, we’re never going to hear the tune.

You’ve clearly mastered the fine art of not thinking, Steve.

April 9th, 2015 Posted by | Baseball | no comments

Suck it, 2014

Missed a whole year? Hell no I did not.

December 31st, 2014 Posted by | Meta-meta | no comments


I’m serious; this guy’s been writing for twenty years and nobody pointed him out to me until today? Like everything he writes is gold. Here’s a piece from yesterday in which he joins in the two-minute hate against A-Rod in the silliest possible fashion.

Giambi Rises as Rodriguez Falls

That’s right, not-making-sense fans: John Pudner is hitching his wagon to the Jason Giambi train. You remember Jason Giambi. He was the most notorious juicer in baseball not called Barry Bonds for years and years. Now, of course, he’s old and broken-down but still clinging to baseball life as a dedicated pinch-hitter, which is cool and all, but "rising?" The man’s OPS+ is 101. He hasn’t had more than 152 PA since 2010. Hasn’t been above replacement level since 2011. "Rising" is: the exact opposite of anything Jason Giambi is doing.

In 2007, Jason Giambi apologized for all of baseball, while Alex Rodriguez was unapologetic while winning his third MVP.

In 2007, Jason Giambi consulted with his lawyers, and they carefully crafted a damage control statement in which he apologised for "stuff" without actually specifying what "stuff" he was apologising for so the Yankees couldn’t void his contract. In 2009, A-Rod went on TV with Peter Gammons and got all weepy and apologised for using steroids, but stressed that that was only before he was on the Yankees so the Yankees couldn’t void his contract. So far, so identical.

Five years later Bud Selig appears set on ensuring Rodriguez never puts on a major league uniform again while Giambi replaced Hank Aaron in the record books Monday.

Just so you know: the record Giambi replaced Hank Aaron for is the completely weird and irrelevant record of "oldest player to hit a walk-off home run." I mean, don’t get me wrong; it’s cool and all, and I love that baseball has all these weirdo cherry-pick records, but you should probably avoid being misled by this guy into believing that Giambi just broke an important record.

Major League Baseball reportedly has more evidence against Rodriguez than they had against Ryan Braun.

I should hope so, since Ryan Braun won his appeal. I know, I know: he’s been suspended now, and hack journos like you have decided that this is proof of anything. And yet, what this actually is is: Braun wins his appeal, then gets harassed non-stop by MLB until he finally agrees to sit out the rest of a lost season in exchange for them getting off his back. It has nothing to do with "evidence" or "guilt" and everything to do with playing politics.

Further, a report Monday indicated that if Rodriguez appeals a ban, Commissioner Bud Selig will play a trump card by banning him from the game.

I am having difficulty forseeing a reality in which this doesn’t lead to massive trouble with the MLBPA. Not that it would surprise me if spitfire Bud — who’s on his way out anyhow — does it.

His name appears set to go down the Barry Bonds, as one of the greatest players of all time who will never be put into the Hall of Fame due to evidence of guilt.

You’d think that, after twenty years as a professional writer, you’d learn to proofread. Or maybe somebody at Breitbart would assign you an editor. Or somebody somewhere would do something to prevent that sentence from seeing print, because: yikes. Look out, A-Rod! Your name is set to go down the Barry Bonds! I’m picturing the Barry Bonds as a completely boss water slide, and there’s a 44.4% chance you get on base once you get to the bottom.

Also: the reason Barry Bonds isn’t in the Hall of Fame is because sportswriters are idiot assholes. By which I mean you, John Pudner, are an idiot asshole.

Meanwhile, with one swing of the bat Monday, Giambi put his name next to Hank Aaron – who most will always accept as the true home run champion after discounting Bonds for cheating.

Actually, most people — including Hank Aaron, dummy — understand that "player who hit the most home runs" is pretty much not a matter to be decided by your feelings. You can go ahead and create a new title called like "player who made me feel really good about myself while also hitting home runs and being nice to reporters like me" if you want, and give it to anybody for all I care. But the "true home run champion?" Bonds. Sorry.

Also, correct me if I’m wrong, but: didn’t Giambi also do steroids? Giambi did steroids, admitted it. Bonds did steroids, admitted it. Bonds can’t break Aaron’s record, because he did steroids. Giambi can break Aaron’s record, even though he did steroids. Your logic has one or two flaws.

Giambi will never approach Aaron’s home run record, or overall status as one of the top few players in the history of the game.

Bold prediction. Giambi’s 42 years old, and only 319 homers behind Aaron! Also only 326 homers behind the real record, which is held by Barry Bonds.

However, it was fitting that a player who admitted his mistakes and apologized for those of so many others would top Aaron for a moment Monday.

If only Bonds had held a press conference in which he said he was sorry for "stuff," then just imagine how legitimate his actual real accomplishments would be in the eyes of idiots!

Of course, he’d still be a guy who was a huge penis to the media. Which is what this sad little grudge is really about.

Giambi’s walk-off home run let him replace Aaron on one small mark – as the oldest player to ever hit a walk-off home run. Giambi came into the game hitting only .187, but his blast was his 7th homer in just 124 at bats this season – one of the top few ratios in the league.

Sample size. Sample size, sample size, sample size. Also: 124 at-bats is not a qualifying number. Because of sample size.

Chris Davis: 38 HR in 384 AB. Is that a topper ratio? I have no idea, so I rammed some alpha wolves, and they made no sense at all, but I’m pretty sure that chart says Chris Davis is better.

He has found a way to contribute and provide leadership and example to a surprisingly strong, but young, Cleveland Indians team. Most important, he is winding down his career as a player who is admired by those to follow despite playing in an era that will not be fondly remembered in baseball history.

And that’s what I did on my summer vacation, by John, age 8.

You know what’s awesome? John is such a screwloose that he spent more time bitching about Barry Bonds than he did about A-Rod in his explicitly-titled A-Rod smear article. Hey John, next time you set out to assassinate somebody’s character, you might try mentioning him once or twice.

July 31st, 2013 Posted by | Baseball | 4 comments

This is the best ever

I swear I’m not making this up. Over at Breitbart Sports — which is such a hilarious idea I can’t believe I haven’t written about it before — some clown called John Pudner has just written… this. Let’s not beat around the bush here: this man has just revolutionised baseball analysis.

Breitbart Sports Introduces Value Add Baseball

When the name of your metric is incoherent, you know you’re off to a good start. "Value Add Baseball?"

Breitbart Sports today introduces Value Add Baseball (see the top 100 pitchers here), a much more accurate measure than WAR for evaluating the value of starting pitchers by analyzing every start.

Apparently WAR only considers every third start. Who knew? Incidentally, I was very disappointed by the list of the 100 top pitchers; it turns out that this crazy metric doesn’t generate results so balls-out lunatic that I can really laugh at them. I mean, no, Patrick Corbin is not anything resembling the best pitcher in baseball, but he’s at least a good pitcher. I was really hoping it would pick somebody completely weird, like Kevin Correia.

A solid starting pitcher has only a 21 percent chance of getting his team a win if he needs an ERA of 1.00 to 1.99 for the game, but if his team gets him just one more run he has a 63 percent chance of winning.

I — what? I think that’s an incredibly weirdy-beardy way of saying that it’s easier to win a game if you score three runs than if you score two. Which, I mean: thank god we have Value Add Baseball to tell us this, because otherwise, how would we know?

The simple "Runs Support" models simply do not work.

Apparently they only "work" if you rephrase them in some incredibly complex fashion involving target ERAs.

While WAR (Wins Above Replacement), like Value Add Basketball, is an excellent measurement of other players on the field, the pitcher’s position is unique.

Value Add Basketball? Did he just say "Basketball?" Let’s look again.

While WAR (Wins Above Replacement), like Value Add Basketball, is an excellent measurement of other players on the field, the pitcher’s position is unique.

I harbour a deep suspicion that Value Add Basketball is unsuitable for evaluating pitchers. Never mind that. Here’s a brief list — just off the top of my head — of ways in which WAR is not like Value Add Baseketball:

  • Not created by a crazy man
  • Reflects actual value rather than crazy-man things
  • Is a real thing that actually exists and people actually use

I could keep going, but the list sort of peaks there.

The starting pitcher is the one player who has responsibility each game for getting his team the win.

All those position players? God only knows why they’re there. Probably just to keep the starting pitcher from getting lonely. And relief pitchers? Fuck them, I guess. They’re only responsible for getting their team the "save," unless they’re middle relievers, in which case extra-fuck them.

He is the most important player on the field whenever he pitches, and yet he sits out most of the games.

Who cares? I’m happy that you get paid by the column-inch, but get to the point already.

To win, he needs to stay below an "ERA Needed" in each game, which is the total of: His team’s offensive runs that day MINUS unearned runs allowed by his defense MINUS relief runs allowed, DIVIDED BY his innings pitched TIMES nine.

Fuck the hecking heck? That is the most insane thing I have ever heard. All that hopeless bullshit math amounts to absolutely literally nothing. It is an unstoppably weird way of rewriting the following formula:

(runs scored) – (runs allowed)

If it’s positive, you win. If it’s negative, you lose. Baseball! Or, alternatively, we could use this weirdo formula that — for some reason — is attempting to piece together an approximation for runs allowed by adding together a bunch of other stuff.

Of course, this is all notwithstanding the fundamental crazy conceit behind this whole "system," which is: this metric, which is touted as a definitive stat for valuing pitchers, is derived almost entirely from run support. He’s done like the exact opposite of FIP; he’s discarded practically everything the pitcher does control. Unreal.

We ran this formula on 2,157 starts this year by pitchers who were part of their team’s four man rotation, so these numbers do not include the poorest pitchers (No. 5 starters, spot starters, or fill-ins).

Why the hell not? I’m serious. What is the point of leaving out a bunch of data? Did that break your "formula" and you left it out so you wouldn’t look bad? Or are you just lazy?

For reference: WAR totals are available for all those pitchers unworthy of being Value Add Basketballers.

Here are the team’s records based on the ERA Needed they gave their pitcher.


Then there’s this chart that just proves that teams win more games when they score more runs. Which is, and I cannot sufficiently stress how incorrect this is, credited to the pitcher by this crazy person.

A pitcher is credited with a "victory" if he either gets the "Win," or if he pitches at least five innings and his team wins.

We all know how much I love pitcher wins. If I’m reading you correctly, you’re just adding wins and "wins lost," the existence of which goes a long long way toward justifying why I hate wins.

Obviously, a pitcher cannot get his team a win if the team never scores in the game, or the defense or relievers give up more runs than the team scores. Therefore, these pitchers did not win any of these 509 games in which their ERA Needed was 0.00 or less.

This is not so obvious, apparently, that Value Add Baseball doesn’t still consider it a failure of the pitcher. Seriously, if you throw nine perfect innings, allow a baserunner on a dropped third strike, and then that guy scores on three consecutive passed balls because Russell Martin was adjusting his mask and forgot to catch the ball, you’ve had a pretty damn good game. WAR will tally it accordingly. Value Add Basketball? It says you did a shit job if your offense — you know, all the guys on the team who aren’t you — didn’t score.

In 239 other games, pitchers had to throw shutout ball to get the team the victory, and they were successful 49 of 239 times, with two pitchers accomplishing it three times. Justin Masterson has guided the Indians to three 1-0 wins this year, throwing complete game shutouts when the White Sox visited April 12 and when the Yankees dropped in May 13. When the Rangers came July 27, Masterson needed a little relief help after leaving in the eighth inning of a 1-0 win. Jorge De La Rosa is the only other player to accomplish the feat three times, but those were all games in which his relievers gave up just one less run than the offense scored.

So… okay? I’m lost. What does that meandering mess have to do with anything?

These are the truly hard wins.

Ah. Your presumptive 2013 Cy Youngs: Justin Masterson (150 IP, 7.1 H/9, 0.6 HR/9, 3.3 BB/9, 9.2 K/9, 111 ERA+, 2.7 WAR) and Jorge De La Rosa (126.1 IP, 8.7 H/9, 0.5 HR/9, 3.1 BB/9, 6.1 K/9, 138 ERA+, 3.7 WAR). Why? Because they just win, baby! When it counts!

Presumptive Cy Young runners up: Jack Morris and Jack Morris.

However, when teams get good pitchers just two runs to work with – the winning percentage jumps incredibly to over 60 percent.

What? No! That is the opposite of incredible! That is very, very credible. When you score twice as many runs, you’re considerably more likely to win. I mean, look at games in which teams give their pitchers thirty runs to work with — can you believe it? They win 100% of the time! The funny thing is, according to this crazy system, either those pitchers are awesome, because they won, or they’re shit, because that win was so "easy." No way to tell!

Aside: Wes Littleton earned a save in that game. The Rangers won goddamn 30-3, but Wes Littleton still recorded a save. I’m sure we all stopped caring about fucking saves when that happened, right?

Replacement level pitchers do not fare as well of course, so the right hand column gives the chance a replacement player would have had to get the victory if given the same ERA Needed.

Wait, what level? Replacement level? You mean, the sort of thing you determine as part of WAR? Hmmmmmmmmmmmm.

The actual formula used to pinpoint this approximate curve is the square root of the ERA Needed to win up to a 4.99 ERA Needed. From 5.00 to 6.99 the formula is the square root plus one, and from a 7.00 ERA up it is the square root plus two, with a maximum Replacement Chance of 8.00.

Hahahahahahahaha what? That is blindingly arbitrary. I mean, my goodness. I can think of lots of terrible methods of determining replacement level, but that’s very very close to the worst. Why did you even bother?

Also: I call bullshit on a replacement-level pitcher having a 50% chance of winning a game in which his team scores nine runs. I think I probably have about a 50% chance of winning that game.

The flaw in simply using “Runs Support” is that three equal pitchers could all get 20 runs to work with over 10 games. A pitcher who had two runs to work with every game would likely win six games, while a pitcher who got four runs in half the games and none in the other half would likely win three games, and a pitcher who received all 20 runs in one game could only win that one game.

Well, no; the flaw with using run support — aside: has anybody ever seen it written as "Runs Support" before? — is that it has nothing to do with the pitcher at all.

Calculating Value Add

This same pattern has played out – with slight adjustments during the high scoring years – since I introduced it in the New York Post more than 20 years ago, and it continues to measure the one position player that WAR cannot.

You’ve been doing this madness for twenty years? Twenty years? The fact that absolutely fucking nobody has paid attention at all in that entire time is probably a sign, John.

Also: WAR seems to have done a fine job of measuring pitchers. Here are your 2013 WAR pitching leaders: Kershaw, Hernandez, Wainwright, Sale, Harvey. Pretty good. 2012: Verlander, Price, Kershaw, Harrison, Cueto. All-time: Young, Johnson, Clemens, Alexander, Nichols. CANNOT BE MEASURED.

Also also: pitchers are not "position players," you crazyass. Are you really sure you’ve been writing about baseball for twenty years?

To determine each pitcher’s Value Add, he gets credited one Victory for any Win, or when he pitches at least five innings and his team wins. For each game we then subtract the likelihood that a replacement player could have won with the same ERA needed (see table for basic guideline). The result of those two figures is a pitchers Raw Value Add.

Any time a pitcher fails to go five innings he is given a “Blown Game,” and the best score he can receive is a -0.6 in Raw Value.

A player’s Value for that game is then adjusted by one of two figures. First, if his ERA Needed was 0.00 so he had no chance to win, his Raw Value Add is 0.0, but his Adjusted Value Add is +2.0 – a figure that continues to be as accurate as it was when first introduced when running all starts for all pitchers.

In any other case, the pitcher is given the ballpark adjustment for where the game is played. The biggest adjustment by far is a +0.09 a player gets any time he pitches in Colorado

And this is why people complain about stat wonks. Because dipsticks like you invent these bizarro mathematical mazes for no real purpose. I mean, all you’ve done is take wins and exaggerate the effect of run support on it. Actually, you know what you’ve done? You’ve created a metric that’s like a way, way more complicated, fiddly version of "quality starts." QS is a metric I don’t love, but which has some value; a pitcher gets credited with a "quality start" if he pitches at least six innings and allows no more than three runs.

So, in conclusion, I’d just like to reprint the very first comment on the bottom of this article:

This is by far the dumbest thing I have ever read in my life. I am impressed.

July 31st, 2013 Posted by | Baseball | no comments

Half-season is the best season

Ah, the All-Star Break. The three worst days of the year. The only good thing about it is reading people’s crazy half-season awards, which usually amount to "who has the most SportsCenter highlights this week?" Here’s Jeff Passan to get the crazy rolling:

AL MVP of the Half: Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Detroit Tigers

The correct choice. Any bets that it’s for all the wrong reasons?

Chris Davis is having an all-time first half. He may well hit 60 home runs. The last person not on steroids to finish the season with a slugging percentage over .700 was Larry Walker in 1999, and Davis’ is .712. It is not easy to put into words how good Davis has been.

Good. Good arguments in favour of Miguel Cabrera. Look at all those team-killing home runs! Some of them were probably three-run homers, which anybody who’s ever seen, read, or heard a piece of sports journalism knows is the worst possible outcome for a hitter. Also: nice baseless assumption that 1999 Larry Walker was not on steroids. Also 2013 Chris Davis, for that matter. I guess it’s awesome for the rest of us that you’ve spoken with God on this subject and have The Truth.

Which is why this is so shocking to say: Cabrera has been better. He more than makes up for whatever slugging deficiency he has with an on-base percentage of .457 to Davis’ .395.

Well… here’s the thing. As of today (Jeff wrote this a few days ago; I’ve just been lazy) Miggy’s OBP is .456 and his SLG is .676. Those are awesome. Awesome numbers. Crash Gordon’s? .389 and .690. So, uh, yeah; Miguel Cabrera’s extra 70 points of OBP do in fact overpower Davis’ 14-point SLG lead. This is why we have analysts: to tell us these unpopular truths.

He plays a far more difficult position – and even if he’s not very good at third, there’s more value in playing there than first base.

Whoa, whoa, whoa there, hoss. This is not true. A good defensive first baseman is vastly more valuable than a butcher at third. You don’t think this might be the case? Otherwise, why not just stack all of our fielders at short and let the other positions lay empty? Just think how much more value we’d get from having all those shortstops!

No, the real reason Miggy’s shit 3B play is more valuable is because Davis is a horrible butcher at 1B, too! He’s showing -7 DRS, which is awful. Granted, Miggy’s at -12, but the positional adjustment just cancels that out, leaving Davis at -1.2 DWAR and Miggy at -1.0. So, actually, it turns out that your 1B has to be as awful as Chris Davis before he’s worth less defensively than Miggy at third!

NL MVP of the Half: Carlos Gonzalez, LF, Colorado Rockies – Were one to rely on Wins Above Replacement, the choice is Carlos Gomez, the dynamic center fielder from Milwaukee. Problem is, WAR weighs so heavily on defensive metrics that aren’t altogether reliable.

So, what, then? We just let sportswriters decide for us based on what their entrails tell them? I mean, don’t we have more than one metric we can consult? Seems to me that if Carlos Gomez looks great according to multiple metrics — just to take a random example, if he’s at 24 DRS, 11 TZ, and 14 UZR — it’s probably safe to conclude that he’s pretty good in the field. What’s so scary about that?

Also: weren’t you just — in your very last entry — comparing the value of Miguel Cabrera’s defense to Chris Davis’? So if you weren’t using defensive metrics, what, you consulted with your shaman and he asked Great Spirit?

Scouts, on the other hand, love Yadier Molina. Love. Him. They love how he handles a pitching staff, how he has made himself into an elite hitter, how he barely strikes out. There is indeed a lot to like about him, too.

Fucking everybody loves Yadier Molina, Jeff. This is no longer 2006, where scouts kept gushing about his "potential" while he busied himself hitting .216 / .274 / .321. Yadier Molina, 2013: .343 / .388 / .485. That is awesome hitting for a catcher. I don’t give two shits about his strikeouts — he’s still striking out half again as often as he walks, which is bad — but he’s a good hitter who catches 45% of baserunners this year, and by all accounts (and framing science is super young) is a terrific pitch framer. So, yeah: Yadier is awesome, and we don’t need crusty old scouts spinning us anecdotes about the fire in his eye to know that.

Each is a worthwhile candidate, which is why the support here thrown behind Gonzalez isn’t as much half-hearted as it is fleeting. His first half for the Rockies has been spectacular. He leads the NL in slugging percentage by 36 points, and his 24 home runs top the league as well.

So that was, what, three paragraphs of disclaimers (one of which I didn’t quote because it was boring) before your utterly conventional pick? There are no guarantees! I could be wrong! Things could change! Don’t listen to this! Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!

He plays a reasonably good left field and is a superb baserunner, with 15 steals in 16 attempts.

So. Fielding metrics should not be used to evaluate Carlos Gomez and only Carlos Gomez. They are suspect when it comes to Carlos Gomez, but rock-solid for every other player. Got it.

All of this could change this week, of course.

Confident predicting, Jeff.

AL Cy Young of the Half: Max Scherzer, SP, Detroit Tigers – The perfect candidate: He appeals to traditional fans with his 13-0 record and statheads with an absurd strikeout rate.

Is it only statheads who care about strikeouts? I thought that was a fairly mainstream pitching statistic, personally. But what do I know? My entire head is a stat, so I can take my statty head and my made-up "strikeouts" and "walks" and "home runs" and fuck entirely off.

He could induce more groundballs, and he could give up fewer home runs, and there are others – Chris Sale, Felix Hernandez, Yu Darvish – who could thieve the award were the luster of that zero to turn into a one before the break.

Backpedal, backpedal, don’t commit

For now, it’s Scherzer’s alone, and on a staff with a Cy Young-winning MVP and an $80 million man, that’s even more impressive.

Verlander didn’t win the Cy Young or the MVP this year, man. Greg Maddux won four Cy Youngs, and he’s currently working for the Rangers; so, hey, Yu Darvish can fuck right off, yeah? Come back when you’ve won four Cy Youngs and maybe we’ll consider you, Darvish. You shit.

Also: who cares how much Anibal Sanchez gets paid? Or is this the real reason you picked Carlos Gonzalez as your NL MVP: because Todd Helton makes a lot of money?

NL Cy Young of the Half: Matt Harvey, SP, New York Mets – No disrespect intended to Clayton Kershaw (who’s got a better ERA than Harvey), Adam Wainwright (who’s got a better strikeout-to-walk ratio), Cliff Lee (who’s got more victories) and all of them (who have got more innings). Harvey simply has been better.

NL Pitching WAR leaderboard:

Kershaw, LAD (5.3)
Wainwright, STL (4.9)
Lee, PHI (4.4)
Harvey, NYM (4.3)

Huh. Maybe he meant, like, ERA?

Kershaw, LAD (1.89)
Locke, PIT (2.15)
Wainwright, STL (2.30)
Harvey, NYM (2.35)

Oh. Wait, park factor! Dodger Stadium is a huge pitchers’ park. Harvey must be dynamite in ERA+.

Kershaw, LAD (194)
Locke, PIT (169)
Corbin, ARI (162)
Wainwright, STL (160)
Strasburg, WAS (155)
Harvey, NYM (154)

For fuck’s sake. To save us a little time: the only thing Harvey’s leading the league in is strikeouts. So I guess Jeff is just too much of a stathead for me!

More dominant with a 10.3-strikeouts-per-nine rate that leads the NL. Stingy with home runs, his rate fifth lowest in the NL. He is Justin Verlander: a complete monster.

He is about 3/5 as good as Clayton Kershaw. Much like 2013 Justin Verlander!

NL Rookie of the Half:

(get this)

Shelby Miller, SP, St. Louis Cardinals

Hahahahahahaha what?

Much like last year, when Wade Miley won the award with full knowledge he’d cede the actual one to Bryce Harper, Miller is but a placeholder for Puig.

Seriously, what is wrong with this man’s brain? If Miller is just a "placeholder for Puig," then give the damn award to Puig. Is that a challenge to comprehend? It’s not like Puig is still in AAA — he’s been in the majors long enough to accumulate more WAR than Miller, in fact. Especially since you gave your AL Rookie of the Half to Jose Iglesias (in an entry so dull I didn’t make fun of it) who has exactly as much time in the bigs this year as Puig.

AL Manager of the Half: Joe Girardi, New York Yankees

Fuck the heck? Now I get that the manager of the year (or half, or whatever) is a stupid award. But how could you conceivably not give this award to John Farrell? The Red Sox were supposed to finish, like, fifth. They were supposed to be in a massive rebuild. And here they are, leading the division wire-to-wire. Maybe that should be worth more than Joe Girardi’s amazing achievement of "managing in New York."

Seriously, have you seen some of the lineups the New York Yankees have used lately? This is one from 10 days ago: Gardner-Nix-Cano-Wells-Ichiro-Almonte-Stewart-Adams-Gonzalez. Where do you even begin with that? Jayson Nix hitting second? Vernon Wells in the cleanup spot? And at DH? David Adams, career utilityman, playing first base? And Alberto Gonzalez? Who is Alberto Gonzalez?

I agree: those lineups have been awful. Horrible. Horribawful. But remember for me, Jeff, who is it who made those lineups. Why, none other than all-time best manager of the forever, Joe Girardi! It was Joe Girardi who constructed those idiotic lineups. Perhaps you should not mention them in your weirdo Joe Girardi hagiography.

With this team, this lineup, Joe Girardi has the Yankees eight games over .500 and a half-game out of the final wild-card spot. This fauxward was made for managing jobs like that.

Your 2013 New York Yankees:

3.77 team ERA (4th in the AL)
1.255 team WHIP (4th in the AL)
3.12 team K/BB (2nd in the AL)
357 runs allowed (2nd in the AL)

.242 team BA (13th in the AL)
.304 team OBP (13th in the AL)
.378 (!) team SLG (14th in the AL)
87 team OPS+ (13th in the AL)
358 runs scored (11th in the AL)

Probably you could have mentioned pitching somewhere in your screed about how great the Yankees are, Jeff. Also, before you refer to this as a "fauxward," you might consider how much that looks like "fuckwad." Or maybe don’t, because it’s really funny that you went to print with that.

NL Manager of the Half: Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh Pirates – Enjoy the midseason award. The full-season one won’t be his. Why? Well …

Ooh! Ooh! I know! It’s because Pittsburgh is a tiny city that sportswriters don’t pay any attention to, and they’ll hand this award to Mike Matheny because oh wow the Cardinals are so dreamy did you see Yadier’s eyes I think he’s just the bestest.

The Pirates’ pitching is significantly outperforming its peripherals. It’s got the highest strand rate and the lowest batting average on balls in play. And even if the Pirates’ defensive shifts can account for some of that, their groundball rate is by far the highest in the game, and groundball rate and BABIP are supposed to be inverse. The plain fact: This is not sustainable. Not even close.

Okay, but isn’t that an exact description of the 2012 Baltimore Orioles’ pitching? And didn’t they make the playoffs?

The Pirates’ hitting isn’t very good. Their .310 on-base percentage is in the bottom 10 in baseball. Their slugging percentage is just outside of the bottom 10. Only the Astros and Braves strike out more. They steal a lot of bases, but they also get caught more than a quarter of the time. There are holes, and they’re rather significant.

And we all know the old saying: pitching wins headlines, but hitting wins championships. Isn’t that how it goes?

In all seriousness: why is it that, when the Yankees suck at hitting but are really good at pitching, it’s an amazing management job by Joe Girardi and the Yankees are just the bestest, but when the Pirates do the same thing, they’re a fading mirage? For fuck’s sake, the Pirates are hitting better than the Yankees! Why won’t you give Clint Hurdle the award you jizzed all over Girardi?

The Pirates’ fielding has been excellent. That includes notoriously stone-handed Pedro Alvarez. Dubiousness is warranted.

How would you know? Oh, right — Carlos Gomez plays for the Brewers. It’s safe to evaluate the Pirates’ defense.

Fight of the Half: Dodgers vs. the World – First it was the Padres. Then the Diamondbacks. They’ve got to brawl with the Giants at some point on sheer principle. And if ever they need a reason to rumble with the Rockies, we’ve got three words: Troy Tulowitzki’s mullet.

This part’s boring. I only quoted it so I can let everybody know that mullet jokes are officially way past their expiration date. If you ever find yourself writing a joke, and the only punchline you can come up with is "mullet," you should stop writing that joke.

Defensive Play of the Half: Peter Bourjos, CF, Los Angeles Angels – Before everyone goes crowning Manny Machado’s insane throw Sunday the play of the first half, please remember: It would’ve been merely a great play if he had fielded the ball cleanly in the first place.

Sure. And Bourjos’ play would have been entirely rudimentary if he were thirty feet tall. But since neither of those things happened, maybe we should evaluate the plays based on what actually did happen. Is that novel? Did I blow your mind?

Anyway, Manny Machado did this:

which is impossible. Peter Bourjos did this:

which is really cool, but we see it like eight times a year. Bourjos’ version wasn’t even particularly interesting.

There are no such do-overs on home run-robbing catches. We tend to romanticize them in the annals of great defensive plays, and with good reason: They are the diamonds, the platinum and the gold. They are almost always the domain of the fielding freaks, whereas even the biggest infield butcher can stumble his way into a diving stop and throw a guy out.

You hear that, Manny Machado? Absolutely literally anybody could have barehanded that ball and thrown an absolute laser all the way across the infield, exactly on target, without looking. Booooo-ring.

And while Bourjos’ won’t go down in the all-time annals, it had all the elements of what makes a great fielding play.

It sure won’t, huh. Which is too bad for him, since the Angels — his team — have a habit of monstrously overpaying for center fielders who make that exact play, like, once.

He ran an absurdly long way, nearly 20 steps to the fence.

So it’s okay to penalise Machado for missing his first stab at the ball, but Bourjos gets a pass for playing way way too shallow?

He single-handedly disproved the title of a wonderful ’90s movie.

Go back to mullet jokes, Jeff. This one is worse.

He banged into the fence before the ball arrived, which meant his equilibrium was shaken and his outstretched left arm simply along for the ride.

I’ve watched the video a few times looking for evidence of this, and guess what? It’s not there. He is, in fact, so entirely non-destroyed by that fence that, as soon as he lands, he throws the ball back in.

And he caught the thing. Brought it right back over the fence, almost a year to the day his teammate Mike Trout had done so against the very same batter, Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy.

I’ll grant that that’s fun. In fact, it’s probably what you should have opened with, since the synchronicity is the only thing that makes this catch particularly interesting. Without that, it’s Machado all the way, goofball.

Bourjos’ catch barely beats Aaron Hicks’ pair of outfield robberies, the latter of which included a tip of the cap from the hitter, Carlos Gomez, who himself is one of the game’s best center fielders.

No way. His fielding is suspect. I’ve heard there’s a conspiracy of evil number-creating computers to rob Carlos Gonzalez of imaginary awards by tricking people into thinking Gomez is good. As soon as I find it, I’ll link you the article.

Other runners-up: Victor Martinez with a crazy no-look flip, Adrian Gonzalez playing extra smooth on a play at home and Yasiel Puig going all Vlad Guerrero/Dave Parker/Bo Jackson from right field.

"Going all X" is a really lousy construction for your joke. But you know what’s worse? "Going all X or maybe Y or possibly Z." There’s a reason you don’t see many jokes with like choose-your-own-adventure punchlines, Jeff.

Pitching Performance of the Half: Homer Bailey, SP, Cincinnati Reds – As difficult as it was to look past Shelby Miller’s one-hit, 13-strikeout, 27-straight-outs gem, Bailey wins because he actually threw a no-hitter.

No, Miller wins because he pitched better. As, perversely, you’re about to illustrate.

Their games were equally rare. There have been eight other one-hitters with no walks and at least 13 strikeouts and nine other no-hitters with one walk and at least nine strikeouts – including Bailey’s first.

I’m just not sure that’s what "equally" means. Eight times, nine times, fuck — that’s the same number of times! I can’t actually tell, and the internet was no help at all.

Miller did beat Bailey on Game Score, but the knowledge around the fifth inning or so that Bailey was pitching a perfect game and after the seventh that he still held a no-hitter exacerbated the physical strain of every pitch with mental anxiety.

So, to recap: if Manny Machado makes a play more difficult by not catching a ball cleanly, it’s not considered a good play when he gets the out anyhow. If Homer Bailey makes a whole game more difficult by getting super super stressed out about it — all of which is conjecture, by the way — then it’s considered a better game than it actually was. Makes sense to me!

Here’s another one: if Jeff Passan writes the phrase "exacerbated the physical strain of every pitch with mental anxiety," he still gets paid. Amazing!

The Victor Conte Award: Tony Bosch, Biogenesis founder – Want the greatest proof performance-enhancing drugs aren’t going anywhere? Players worth upward of a billion dollars thought it was OK to use a fake doctor who operated out of a strip mall and kept notes on a criminal conspiracy. Players could walk into any college chemistry lab, find the most brilliant student and offer him a million dollars a year to play Walter White with PEDs, but nooooooo. They’d rather lose their reputations and, in some cases, careers on account of this guy. Shameful in a dozen different ways.

Anybody have any clue what Jeff’s on about here? It sounds like he’s outraged about two different things, and he’s getting them mixed up. He ends up sounding like he’s mostly just outraged that players weren’t cheating the optimal way; like, hey, back in my day those guys played the game the wrong way the right way! By gum.

Good Lord You Strike Out A Lot Award: Chris Carter, DH, Houston Astros – Carter pinch hit Sunday and struck out. One could get nearly 2-to-1 odds that a Carter at-bat would end that way. He has struck out 120 times in 281 at-bats this year. In overall plate appearances, he is at a staggering 36.8 percent, almost 1.5 percent higher than Mark Reynolds in his legendary 223-strikeout season of 2010. It’s not like Carter is a dud; he averages a home run every 9.5 at-bats he doesn’t strike out, and his .784 OPS is second among Astros regulars. He’s just a microcosm of baseball today, where you can strike out an absurd amount of the time and be an All-Star. (Hello, Pedro Alvarez and a 33.9 percent K rate.)

I guess Jeff Passan has only just heard: strikeouts are just another type of out. Chris Carter has struck out a lot, yes, but his OBP is an Andre Dawson-esque .327, which isn’t good, but isn’t unspeakably bad. And he hits the ball pretty hard.

Now, Carter isn’t the best example here, because he’s actually kind of lousy. But the fact is that striking out isn’t materially worse than getting out any other way, and it really really doesn’t matter how you’re making your outs as long as you aren’t making too many of them. Strikeout rate also correlates pretty well with power, which is why players are striking out more. Turns out that striking out more but hitting moon shots is better for your team than striking out less but grounding weakly to short. Who would have guessed?

The Yasiel Puig Award For Complete Awesomeness: Yasiel Puig, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers

Completely awesome? Maybe. But definitely not awesome enough to be rookie of the half!

He can do this and look like a model while someone more than 600 home runs ahead of him takes on the creepy air of a mortician.

I kept the links in because they’re funny. Also: way to pick on Sammy for being old, Jeff. Oh, you hit 609 home runs? Good job, grandpa. And I can’t be the only one who expected that second link to be to this.

He can get thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double time after time, and it’s cool because he is cool.

It is decidedly uncool. Puig is way past aggressive on the bases, and all the way to careless and stupid.

Puig is going to make the All-Star Game despite fewer plate appearances than Omar Infante in 2010

He did not. There’s still a chance he’ll get picked by the manager to fill in for an injured player, but other than that: no. And thanks for reminding me that Omar Infante made the All-Star team in 2010, which was: batshit insane. At least Puig is actually good!

July 11th, 2013 Posted by | Baseball | no comments