"It gets late early around here." - Yogi Berra
July 31, 2008
BASEBALL: Manny Blue
As deadline deals go, this is a biggie: Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers, Jason Bay to the Red Sox, a package of prospects to Pittsburgh:
Third baseman Andy LaRoche and right-handed pitcher Bryan Morris will go to the Pirates from the Dodgers. Outfielder Brandon Moss and right-handed pitcher Craig Hansen will leave the Red Sox organization for Pittsburgh.
The core of the deal is the contract status of the two stars. "Ramirez is in the final guaranteed season of an eight-year, $160 million contract. It also contains club options at $20 million each for 2009 and 2110," while Bay "has one year and $7.5 million left on his four-year contract and will make $7.5 million in 2009."
Sox fans seem to be split on this, with the majority being steaming mad and a dedicated minority happy to finally reach the end of Manny's annual rituals of exasperating the fans, teammates and front office. Pirates fans are like a wino without the energy to grab the bottle after it tips over and drains out on the sidewalk. They just sit there, watching it flow....although in the long run, they did get a decent package of players, as LaRoche has some good pop at 3B and Hansen has a decent arm, although he has yet again been ineffective at the big league level. As always with a team like the Bucs, the question is less the guys they got in return than what this says about their business model and whether it includes ever being competitive.
For the Dodgers, this is a win-now move, and one borne of the weakness of their division and the parlous state of their lineup, which is 13th in the NL in runs. I'm not sure win-now makes a ton of sense for a team that by all rights should get squashed in the playoffs, but recent history has been kind to weak teams in the playoffs.
The major attention will focus on the Sawx, though, since they are the ones dumping a Hall of Fame talent who is having a good year (.299/.398/.529, 66 Runs, 68 RBI - not the Manny of old but not bad for age 36) and who, after many years of underachieving in October, has batted .317/.548/.438 and averaged an RBI a game in the playoffs since 2004, as the heart of the Sox two World Championship teams. They deal him for Bay, a 29-year-old .281/.375/.515 hitter who is batting almost exactly that (.282/.375/.519, 72 Runs, 64 RBI) this season. (Both players are hitting marginally better at home, but Bay has been working in the comparatively weak NL Central).
How you value the deal depends entirely on whether you think the loss of Manny's bat in the postseason is worth trading a half season of Manny for a year and a half of Bay (the Sox are eating Manny's contract so it's not a financial savings). I tend to think it's a defensible deal, in the 50s Yankees sense of trading a guy a year too early rather than too late, although I frankly probably would not have made this deal myself. The Sox are, after all, defending a World Championship, and even though this has been something of a reloading year for them, they are still very much in the hunt, 3 games behind an overachieving Rays team and leading the Wild Card race. On the other hand, Manny has been enough of a distraction, and Bay is good enough, that at least the players are unlikely to look at this as a surrender.
POLITICS: John McCain Does Not Think That Campaigning Against Barack Obama Makes Him A Racist
Back when this campaign started in the beginning of 2007, I had a low opinion of many things about Barack Obama - his experience, his policy positions, his voting record, his knowledge of national security matters. But naive liberals aren't necessarily bad people, and sometimes they do have something useful to contribute to public debate. The one thing Obama's 2004 convention speech and occasional public statements in 2005-06 seemed to promise, and that lots of people who are not liberals (me included) found attractive, was that Obama was a candidate who would not engage in the old Jesse Jackson/Al Sharpton-style race-baiting politics, a guy who happened to be black but who wanted to deal with the public on a non-racial basis. Obama was not, after all, a Congressman from a gerrymandered monochrome district; he was a United States Senator, and seemed (this was before we learned about Rev. Wright, among other things) to genuinely want a post-racial politics.
That illusion has been stripped down piece by piece in the year and a half since then. Obama turned African-American Democrats, who had supported the Clintons loyally for years, against Hillary Clinton by 80-90% margins almost entirely on racial lines, without which he could not have won his party's nomination, pursuing a Southern strategy of overwhelming Clinton in the mostly Southern states where the African-American population is a large enough part of the primary electorate that you can win if you can polarize black voters against your opponent. He and his supporters endlessly touted the "historic" nature of his candidacy, and made increasingly frequent references to his race as a reason for voting for him. And now, as Erick has detailed, he has crossed the final line since winning the nomination, not only positively touting his race but repeatedly suggesting - including at three separate stops yesterday in Missouri - that the McCain campaign was being racist for suggesting that there was any risk or danger in voting for Obama to be Commander-in-Chief in wartime and chief executive during perilous times for the economy. This one's perhaps the most damning example of a direct accusation of racism:
So what they're saying is, 'Well, we know we're not very good but you can't risk electing Obama. You know, he's new, he doesn't look like the other presidents on the currency. He's got a funny name.' I mean, that's basically the argument -- he's too risky."
In other words, it's not just that Obama is claiming that he is the victim of some unspecified sort of racist attacks (the closest he comes to specificity is to suggest that the McCain ad comparing him to Paris Hilton for his vacuous celebrity status is racist because ... um, because Paris Hilton is black? You tell me.) It's that he's claiming that the entirety of McCain's critique of the dangers of electing Obama is racist.
McCain campaign manager Rick Davis called Obama out directly on this:
"Barack Obama has played the race card, and he played it from the bottom of the deck. It's divisive, negative, shameful and wrong."
Obama's remarks are appalling, they're wholly unbecoming of a presidential candidate, and they are frankly poisonous for race relations in this country, and the McCain campaign's vigorous response to this is entirely justified.
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First of all, there's no basis whatsoever for claiming that the McCain camp has been arguing that Obama being black makes him unfit for the job; Ed Morrissey and Jake Tapper illustrate the totally baseless nature of
Second, Glenn Reynolds has summarized concisely why Obama's casual deployment of this particular calumny - racism being basically the worst thing you can accuse an American of - is itself a reason to recoil from him:
[P]erhaps the best reason to vote against Obama is to spare the country an administration that reflexively characterizes any criticism as racist.
Consider the daily controversies that have swirled about President Bush and President Clinton these past 8 years - or, if you are older, most of their predecessors - and imagine each one of them being turned into the OJ trial by the Administration. I can't really imagine a better recipe for dividing people. Obama is trying to use race to delegitimize any criticism of him. But presidents and presidential candidates get bombarded with criticism, fair and unfair, pretty much continuously. If everyone who criticizes the president, or at least everyone who does so effectively, is to be branded a racist, well, it's going to be a very ugly time in this nation indeed.
Third, this response by Obama is not just revealing of his willingness to play the most brutal sort of racial politics. It's also a symptom of his ever-increasing hubris and his resultingly thin skin. The man, an obscure state legislator five years ago and unaccustomed to the mantle of national leadership, has so surrounded himself with fawning acolytes and cheering crowds at home and abroad that it has clearly gone to his head, making him progressively more full of himself as the campaign has worn on, to the point of declaring himself "a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions" at "the moment ... that the world is waiting for". As I have explained previously, Obama is uniquely lacking, by historic standards, in any of the kinds of experience we generally demand from presidential candidates. As I noted the other day, the disparity between his claims of being a great figure of history and his extremely modest accomplishments itself relies on the assumption that voters will grade him more leniently than the usual candidate because of his race. But rather than accept that a man of humble accomplishments and qualifications can fairly be criticized for such and must prove his merit, rather than accept that a man submitting himself for election must suffer the slings and arrows of the democratic process - a process that is, after all, designed in part to remind the head of state who he works for - Obama is willing to casually slander anyone who comments on the absence of the emperor's trousers. His regard for himself has now reached the point where maybe he can't even imagine any basis but racism for criticizing his thin qualifications and accomplishments, his disastrous national security ideas and economic proposals, or his left-wing extremism on social issues.
It's always the same with Obama: it can't be him; it must be us.
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I'm not sure where Ken Griffey would fit in with the White Sox. Frankly, Griffey looks pretty close to done at this point. I suppose the Sox can always use insurance against an injury by Dye, Thome or Konerko.
BASEBALL: Sell High
The interesting thing about the Pudge Rodriguez for Kyle Farnsworth deal is that both teams are trying to sell high. Farnsworth, coming off consecutive poor seasons in 2006-2007, has been pitching well in 2008, albeit not so well that anybody really trusts him, especially allowing 2.23 HR/9 IP, which is a recipe for catastrophe. Before getting rocked in his last outing, he had a 2.11 ERA in 23 outings since May 27, with only 3 HR allowed in that period. The Yankees figured they could unload him before he blew up again to a Tiger team whose bullpen has been a wreck.
Rodriguez is the same story, though - he's 36, he showed signs of age when he batted .276/.290/.444 in 2005, and after a bounce-back 2006 he hit .281/.294/.420 last season and .245/.286/.349 through June 8 of this year (He's also no longer absolute death to opposing base thieves, although his rate of catching a third of them over 2007-08 is still quite good, just not in the 50% neighborhood of yore). But Pudge got blazing hot since then - .382/.429/.536 over his last 30 games. The Yankees, desperate for catching with Posada down, obviously figured it was worth the gamble that he could stay over .300, where he needs to be to have any offensive value at all given his minimal power, no patience and negative speed at this juncture.
Of course, for Detroit this means Brandon Inge is now the long-term starting catcher, which I find a relatively dubious choice but they did not have a lot of other options, or indeed any others.
UPDATE: OK, I can't possibly top David Pinto's take: "With A-Rod and I-Rod in the fold, can E-Rod, O-Rod, U-Rod and sometimes Y-Rod be far behind!"
BUSINESS/POLITICS: A Word Means What I Say It Means
Is the U.S. economy in a recession? The Democrats and the media have been saying so for a while, but the funny thing is, "recession" is a word and it has a meaning, and the fact that the economy is throwing off a lot of scary indicators and people in particular businesses or jurisdictions are losing jobs may mean the economy has problems, but it doesn't mean we're in a recession - at least not yet - any more than clouds in the sky mean that it's raining. A recession requires multiple quarters in which the GDP declines - that's what it means, no more and no less. It's true that you have to already be in a recession before the data comes in to prove it...so how many consecutive quarters of negative growth in the economy are we working on right now?
Well, the data is in this morning, and in the most recently concluded quarter - the 2d quarter of this year - the economy grew, at a 1.9% annualized rate, the best since the 3d quarter of 2007.
Great news? No. 1.9% isn't the kind of robust growth we'd been used to since 2003, and the underlying structural worries are still there, and some reports are crediting short-term stimulus checks and weak-dollar-driven drops in imports, neither of which is cause for long-term celebration. But as usual, the bad news has been overstated by efforts to paint this as 1933 or 1979 all over again. If we elect a president who wants to jack up taxes, close off trade and hold the line against domestic energy production, though, it might be.
PS - If you want a gander at how much worse things could be, check out the Detroit housing market (Democratic mayor, City Council, Governor and state legislature for years now).
POLITICS: Inside Hardball
In fact, recent signs from McCain's message operation, his speeches, his ad strategy, and the whining, complaining and shrieking coming from Obama's camp in response to McCain's ads all point to a campaign that has found its voice, hammering consistently on Obama's weak points: national security, energy, inexperience.
UPDATE: Of course, as Dan Henninger and the WaPo note, McCain himself still has a tendency to go off script and throw bones to the Democrats, which undercuts some of the sharpest contrasts he can draw. That's the double-edged sword of a guy who is more garrolous and less message-disciplined than Bush. It's debatable which is really the better approach; as I have noted before, while Bush has mostly shined at staying on message, his inability or unwillingness to say more than the bare minimum creates a news vacuum that his opponents have often filled in ways that create whole narratives that Bush never fights back on.
July 29, 2008
BASEBALL: The Pain In Maine's Is Mainly A Strain
Diagnosis for John Maine after his MRI, as just reported on WFAN: mild strain of the rotator cuff. The "mild" part is good; the "rotator cuff" part is not. Hopefully this can be treated with a little rest - Maine's supposed to rejoin the team shortly. But the Mets should take this one more carefully than they did with Ryan Church's head injuries.
PS - In case I don't get to it in more detail, the Mark-Teixeira-to-the-Angels deal is huge on several levels...definitely comes as close as a deal like this can to locking down the AL West for the Angels, clearly signals that the Braves have given up (not irrationally), and puts the Angels in the drivers' seat to sign Tex and keep him off the market, which is bad news for teams like the Mets and Yankees that have big-ticket 1B coming to the end of their contracts.
POLITICS: Polls in Perspective
We've had wild-swinging polls lately - national polls showing Obama +9 and McCain +4 - but the important thing is not to panic. Polls go up, they go down, and at any rate while the national polls can give you some idea of the direction and momentum in the race, in the end the only polls that matter are on a state-by-state basis, and those really don't get hugely meaningful until after the conventions.
Anyway, this post has an excellent look back at past July 4 Gallup polls. It's a useful reminder that these races can move in a number of different directions, and the one thing they almost never do is finish in November right where they were in July.
I think the race right now is where the bulk of the polls seem to say it is: Obama's winning, but not by a big margin, and he's a long way from putting McCain away, especially in the key swing states. Obviously, you can find people to argue that there's an underlying dynamic underway that will sweep one or the other of them away, and maybe that will look clear in retrospect. But for now, it's still a race. Which is why the Veepstakes buzz (at present, leaning towards Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney on the R side, Tim Kaine on the D side) is being scrutinized so heavily for its impact on particular states and blocs.
July 28, 2008
POLITICS: Jay Cost on Obama's Job Chapter 38 Problem
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On his website:
If Democrats are wondering why Republicans have taken to sarcastically calling Obama "The Messiah," this is a good indication. On nearly every page, we are greeted with a picture of an illuminated Obama issuing a challenge from the clouds: if you believe this special man can change Washington, rally behind him.
Yes, in the movie version, Obama will be played by Morgan Freeman...On his convention speech:
The lasting value of a good nomination speech is that it frames the general election campaign on the candidate's terms. By choosing such a venue, the Obama campaign will again frame the contest as one in which voters are asked to decide about the grandeur of Obama himself.
You will recall that I found the last Democratic convention ineffective, and Obama's me-first keynote speech was a part of that. We'll see how they frame their message this time. The irony, of course, is that he's running a George Washington campaign with a John Edwards resume; he's selling greatness but he has nothing to back it up. On the "regular guy" factor:
The common touch is not a trifling quality. Most voters are not policy experts, and they lack detailed political information. Yet they must still make a choice. In that situation, what should swing voters (i.e. those not guided by partisanship) do? It makes sense for them to vote for the guy with whom they can relate. That's a candidate who can be trusted to do what the voters would want him to do.
Read the whole thing.
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POLITICS/WAR: How Do You Ask A Frenchman To Be The Last Man To Die For Tax Cuts In Pennsylvania?
The "peace dividend" comes to Afghanistan
Barack Obama said Friday that persuading NATO allies to contribute more troops to Afghanistan could lead to U.S. troops cuts and help improve the U.S. economy, with reduced military expenditure being diverted into tax cuts to help middle class families.+++
Asked what message his traveling abroad three months before the election sent to Americans, Obama said getting commitments from the United States' partners would help address some of the domestic issues Americans are facing.
"If we have more NATO troops in Afghanistan, then that's potentially fewer American troops over the long term, which means we're spending fewer billions of dollars, which means we can invest those billions of dollars in making sure we're providing tax cuts to middle class families who are struggling with higher gas prices that will have an impact on our economy."
This is basically a replay of the early-90s Democratic theme that the declining Cold War defense budget should yield a "peace dividend" of expanded domestic spending; as it turns out, while defense cuts were needed, we still needed a military, and even in wartime the Bush Administration probably hasn't done enough to rebuild the size of the active armed forces. The last thing we need is a president who thinks that national security in an active theater of war is a prime target for penny-pinching. It's also a rehash of John Kerry's effort to turn Iraq into a domestic-spending issue. (Ironically, the same people making this argument screamed bloody murder when Paul Wolfowitz briefly floated the idea that the Iraqis themselves might be able to defray some of the costs of post-war reconstruction of their own country with their oil revenues).
Leave aside for now the fiction that Obama is going to pass a "middle class tax cut" (we all remember what happened to Bill Clinton's promise to do the same - it didn't last two weeks after the election). Obama thinks Americans will be happy to see somebody else spend blood and treasure in Afghanistan...but it doesn't seem to occur to him that Europeans are quite happy with the status quo precisely because they don't want to bear those burdens themselves.
A plea for more troops in Afghanistan was, as it happens, virtually the only concrete thing (and certainly the only one asking anything of his audience) in the warm drizzle of platitudes Obama delivered in Berlin. But he's shown no understanding of two basic facts. One, nations send their young men and women to war principally because of their own perceived interests and their own internal political dynamics. Obama, with the blithe confidence of a man accustomed to talking his way out of anything, seems to think that his silver tongue will be all it takes to shake more soldiers loose; this is a mirror image of the idea that somehow the U.S. would have some grander coalition of friendly nations if only we didn't have that meanie George W. Bush around, and it too is a rehash of the Kerry campaign. But Britain, Poland and Australia went to war in Iraq, and France, Germany and Turkey didn't, principally for reasons of their own leadership's perceptions of their national interests.
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Europeans are wary about Mr. Obama's call for more European money for defense and more soldiers for the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan....
Mr. Obama also called for a more muscular Europe to act with the United States in the common defense, a politically delicate matter here that is likely to prove an irritant no matter who wins the presidency.
President Nicolas Sarkozy of France has sent more troops to Afghanistan, but he has faced fierce political criticism for doing so. The Germans continue to be unwilling to send their troops from the safer northern provinces of Afghanistan to the south, where the Taliban is resurgent.
H/T (Note here too the irony: if Obama has any chance of succeeding in getting a more aggressive European response, it is only because parties of the Right now control France and Germany and, perhaps, will soon control Britain as well).
Second, while he gave a nod in his big national security speech to "greater contributions -- with fewer restrictions -- from NATO allies," Obama misses the fact that more European troops, especially from the Western European continental states, invariably means more restrictions on effective prosecution of war. A cumbersome joint multinational command was a serious handicap to U.S. efforts in Somalia and Kosovo, and even under Bush the Afghan operation has not been free of such difficulties with European troops who fight, if at all, under a patchwork of restrictive rules of engagement. John McCain, who unlike Obama isn't just making up his thinking about national security on the fly, has placed this obstacle at the center of his thinking about what more U.S. troops in Afghanistan should mean:
One of the reasons there is no comprehensive campaign plan for Afghanistan is because we have violated one of the cardinal rules of any military operation: unity of command. Today there are no less than three different American military combatant commands operating in Afghanistan, as well as NATO, some of whose members have national restrictions on where their troops can go and what they can do. This is no way to run a war. The top commander in Afghanistan needs to be just that: the supreme commander of all coalition forces. As commander-in-chief, I will work with our allies to ensure unity of command.
McCain is also focused on the one ally we really do need in Afghanistan: the Afghans. Just as the 'surge' in Iraq was only possible and successful in the context of a much larger increase in the number of willing and able Iraqi Security Forces, a similar contribution will be needed in Afghanistan:
Everyone knows the United States increased the number of its soldiers in Iraq last year. What's less well known is that the Iraqis surged with us, adding over 100,000 security forces to their ranks. It's time for the Afghans to do the same. The Afghan army is already a great success story: a multiethnic, battle-tested fighting force. The problem is, it's too small, with a projected strength of only 80,000 troops. For years, the Afghans have been telling us they need a bigger army, and they are right. We need to at least double the size of the Afghan army to 160,000 troops.
Of course, McCain's not selling this as a budget-cutting measure but as a battle-tested strategy for a people winning back control of their own land.
(As I have noted repeatedly, Obama's other big misconception about Afghanistan is his failure to see that the resurgence of foreign-jihadist activity there is connected to Iraq in the sense that the insurgencies in both countries draw on the same basic pool of recruits).
Unlike in Iraq, Obama's instincts in Afghanistan haven't been totally misguided. Unlike the LBJ-era Democrats in Vietnam and their modern counterparts in Iraq, he's recognized the critical role in Afghanistan of safe havens and supplies from across the border, in this case Pakistan:
Senator Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, said on Sunday, while visiting Afghanistan, that if the United States had "actionable intelligence against high-value Al Qaeda targets, and the Pakistani government was unwilling to go after those targets," the United States should strike. Mr. Obama, of Illinois, has been viewed warily in Pakistan because of similar previous comments.
I'll leave aside for now the delicate game we have been playing for years of trying to quietly interdict such Al Qaeda outposts without undermining a Musharraf government that would likely be replaced with something worse, and whether Obama really understands that dynamic. Either way, the recurring problem has been Obama's inexperience. His gaffes on Afghanistan have been embarrassingly amateurish:
Mr. Obama claimed that the U.S. simply "[doesn't] have enough capacity right now to deal with" the initial front in America's seven-year-and-counting Global War on Terror.
Part of the reason for this, said Obama, is that "Arabic translators deployed in Iraq are needed in Afghanistan."
"We only have a certain number of them and if they are all in Iraq, then its harder for us to use them in Afghanistan," he said.
This statement was a head-scratched for a pair reasons. The first is the fact that Afghans are neither ethnically nor linguistically Arabic; the second, that interpreters are almost 100% drawn from local populations, rather than deployed by the U.S. military.
Obama continued, saying that "we need agricultural specialists in Afghanistan," as well -- "people who can help them develop other crops than heroin poppies, because the drug trade in Afghanistan is what is driving and financing these terrorist networks. So we need agricultural specialists.
"But if we are sending them to Baghdad, they're not in Afghanistan."
When Obama was pressed by Hillary Clinton on his failure to hold any hearings on the Afghan war - he chairs a subcommittee with jurisdiction over NATO operations - he responded:
I became Chairman of this committee at the beginning of this campaign, at the beginning of 2007. So it is true that we haven't had oversight hearings on Afghanistan.
Now, I understand that Senators running for President sometimes miss votes and the like; that's inevitable. But committee chairs are supposed to have a role in oversight of foreign policy, if only for the purpose of ensuring that their committees have adequate information; if Obama never intended to do anything about that, he should have declined that commitee post (recent evidence suggests that he doesn't even know what commitees he is on). Dan Spencer has explained how Obama's refusal to do his actual job as a Senator is part of a wider pattern of paying attention to national security and the men and women who protect it when the cameras are rolling. But what is especially damning is this: Obama's entire purported experience to be Commander-in-Chief is his 3 1/2 year tenure in the U.S. Senate, and he admits that for nearly half of that brief span he's been too busy running for President to do the foreign policy parts of the job. Which is how you end up talking about sending Arabic translators to speak Pashtun, poppy-farm experts to Basra, and expecting European governments to send more troops without more strings attached.
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BASEBALL: Cooking With The Goose
In honor of Goose Gossage's Hall of Fame induction, go here for my Armchair GM piece arguing for the Goose in the Hall. I'd been making the case for Gossage since this January 2001 column, but the Armchair GM piece pretty much sums up all the best stuff I'd written about him in the intervening years.
July 26, 2008
BASEBALL: Hearing Footsteps
Well, two pitchers who are living on the edge were on the mound last night. Livan Hernandez, his job threatened if the Twins decide to promote Francisco Liriano, did not pitch especially well (5 runs in 8 innings), but he did what he does best, going the distance (119 pitches).
Then there's Edwin Jackson, the winning pitcher for Tampa with 2 runs allowed in 5 innings. I have to figure that Edwin Jackson is hearing footsteps at this point from the approach of top pitching prospect 22-year-old David Price, who may yet be brought up for the stretch drive for the first place Rays.
BASEBALL: X Marks The Spot
The Yankees obviously made a good deal, or at any rate a necessary one, picking up Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte from the Pirates for four youngsters, RHP Ross Ohlendorf, RHP George Kontos, LHP Phil Coke and OF Jose Tabata.
There are a few cautions on Nady. He's never had 500 at bats in a season. His .330/.383/.535 line way ahead of his career .281/.337/.456 line at age 29. He's a career .281/.336/.476 hitter in the first half and career .300/.355/.448 hitter in August, but .266/.329/.392 in September. But then, the Yankees are looking for a capable fill-in, not expecting a .330 hitter with power. The 33-year-old Marte, of course, has always been an effective reliever and his control has only improved in recent years. If anything, his 47/16 K/BB ratio suggests that he's pitching better than his 3.47 ERA would indicate - and he has been, with a 2.35 ERA since April 5 after allowing 6 runs in 2/3 of an inning in his first two outings, and allowing just 4 of 29 inherited runners to score since then.
I've been a fan for a while of the 25-year-old Ohlendorf, who has struck out 45 batters in 46.1 IP in the bigs and has excellent K/BB numbers in the minors, but his control hasn't been good this season and since joining the Yankee organization he's been too prone to the longball. Presumably the Pirates will give him a long trial as a starter and can afford to wait out his growing pains.
Tabata is supposed to be a big prospect and he's only 19, so he has time. Like Fernando Martinez, he's generally been young for his league and responded by hitting a lot of singles and doubles and little else, but he's been overmatched so far in AA, hitting .248/.320/.310. The Pirates can wait, and the Yankees can look into him again when he approaches free agency.
The 25-year-old Coke and 23-year-old Kontos, both at AA, also seem like decent prospects, especially Coke, who in 344.1 IP since 2006 (split between A and AA; he was only just promited to AAA before the deal) has averaged 7.82 K, 3.03 BB - both decent numbers, nothing special - but just 0.44 HR/9.
POLITICS/WAR: Chuck Hagel On Iraq: Forget 2007 and 2008, That's Ancient History Now
Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow
Chuck Hagel, fresh from his trip to Iraq to provide a patina of bipartisanship to Barack Obama, tips the hand of the Obama camp's inability to explain away Obama's terrible misjudgment in opposing the "surge":
This is an amusing turn of events, given that for years now the Democrats - and anti-war Republicans like Hagel - have been eager to duck questions about Iraq's future by focusing on the decisions made in 2002-03 to go to war in the first place. Suddenly, a candidate like Obama who staked his claim to national security competence on a speech he gave in 2002 needs desperately to avoid talking about positions he took in 2007 and 2008. Hagel's remarks, in his capacity as a de facto Obama campaign surrogate, reflect that desperation. As does Obama's effort to spin the movement in the direction of a 2010 withdrawal date as somehow a vindication of his call for withdrawal by March 2008, a claim that Tony Blankley demolishes:
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For him, now that the surge he opposed is working and victory may be around the corner, to claim that he was always right is like someone in America in 1944 opposed to the Allied D-Day invasion of Normandy claiming there is no military solution to World War II and we should bring our troops home; then once our troops were on the beach, warning that our troops can accomplish nothing on the beaches -- get them out; then when they broke out, warning Americans that they never will get through the hedgerows; then when they broke through the hedgerows, warning that they never will get through the Siegfried line; then the following spring, when Hitler blew his brains out, Germany surrendered and President Truman ordered our troops to be brought home systematically, bragging: "You see? I was always right. Even the president now agrees it is time to bring the troops home."
Also from that Blankley column, we see that Obama has now conceded a very significant point that runs totally counter to his insistence way back in 2007 (remember 2007? I remember it like it was last year) that Iraq was "somebody else's civil war":
When asked by ABC News whether he is committed to winning the war in Iraq, Obama said: "I don't think we have any choice. We have to win the broader war against terror that threatens America and its interests. I think that Iraq is one front on that war, but I think the central front is in Afghanistan and in the border regions of Pakistan."
Now that Obama can no longer run on the premise that his judgment is reliable, I guess he will have to run on his national security record as evidence that we should trust his judgment about the future. Which will make for some mighty short speeches.
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Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:24 AM | Politics 2008 | War 2007-12 | Comments (22) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS/LAW: The World Court and the Texas Death Penalty
FrankJ on Mexican nationals facing the death penalty in Texas: "A lot of those Mexicans came here illegally hoping to be treated like citizens. I guess they got their wish."
I rather liked the first comment as well.
POLITICS: The Evolution of Max Cleland
2002: Martyr to scurrilous Republican attacks
2004: Absolute moral authority
2008: Under the Obama bus.
July 25, 2008
Continuing the last-365-days view, Carlos Delgado dating back to this time last season is now batting .265/.351/.473, and is one of a reputable (not truly exclusive) club of 40 major league hitters with at least 25 HR and 90 RBI over that period (Delgado has 27 and 94). When you adjust for the Citizens Bank Park effect, that actually makes Delgado's productivity comparable - not quite even, but comparable - to Ryan Howard, who over the same period is hitting .244/.346/.522 (with 225 strikeouts!). Granted, Howard's stayed in the lineup more, giving him an eye-popping 49 HR and 143 RBI, but given Delgado's age, hand injuries and early season haplessness, merely keeping the Mets competitive with Howard at first base is a major accomplishment. I remain skeptical that Delgado has enough in the tank to get another everyday job next season, but here's hoping he has one last drive in him.
July 24, 2008
BASEBALL: Stuck In Traffic
The New York media would eat Jose Reyes alive if he missed a key game the Mets lost to the Phillies because he showed up late. Jimmy Rollins isn't getting off much easier for doing just that in today's loss to the Mets.
BASEBALL: Trivia of the Day
Three major league players have 40 doubles, 30 homers and 20 steals over the past 365 days. Name them.
POLITICS: Can't We Change The Channel?
This is hilarious. It is simply impossible to overstate the importance of Fox News in the minds of the left. (Paul Krugman writes about its vast influence all the time at that little community newsletter he writes for.) I mean, the man has the three major broadcast networks' anchors following him around, but as long as there's one channel left, it's never enough.
July 23, 2008
POLITICS/WAR: Obama's Losing Bet On Defeat
Even after eight years in which every conceivable calumny has been hurled at President Bush, his advisers and his supporters, there are apparently some things you are not supposed to say in American politics, and John McCain has gone and said one of them:
This is a clear choice that the American people have. I had the courage and the judgment to say I would rather lose a political campaign than lose a war. It seems to me that Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign.
Mainstream media liberals like Joe Klein and Obama flacks like John Aravosis headed for the fainting couches at the suggestion that Obama was willing to lose the war in Iraq in order to win this election. But the facts are the facts, and they show beyond any doubt that Obama chose to pursue defeat in Iraq instead of a strategy that is leading us to victory:
1. Obama's public statements from 2004 through 2006 recognized that withdrawal from Iraq would lead to defeat and disaster.
2. In early 2007, when President Bush announced the "surge" strategy to try to win the war, leading Democrats - Obama included - publicly concluded that the war was lost and accordingly opposed the surge.
3. Obama went further and rolled out a plan to begin drawing down troops in May 2007, leading to a full withdrawal by March 2008. There was no pretense that this was to be a victorious withdrawal; Obama stated in his press release that "no amount of American soldiers can solve the political differences at the heart of somebody else's civil war" and that he was proposing to "reverse the President's dangerous and ill-conceived escalation of the Iraq war" and "bring a responsible end to this war and bring our troops home". The press release made no mention of victory or even honor.
4. Obama's opposition to the surge and calls for an immediate commencement of withdrawal proved popular with his supporters in the Democratic primary and helped him win the nomination of his party.
5. John McCain, by contrast, supported the surge on the grounds that it would lead to victory.
6. It is now obvious, and so broadly conceded that Klein paints it as beyond dispute, that the surge has succeeded and will lead to victory in Iraq.
7. Had we followed Obama's strategy instead of McCain's, it is equally clear that we would have lost the war, as the Iraqis could not have done it without us.
While Aravosis calls McCain's statement "a brutal lie," he does not take issue with any of those facts. Meanwhile, Ann Althouse delivers a devastating rebuke to Klein for his insistence that it is out of bounds to present America with the facts of Obama's choice and the necessary consequences of that choice:
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McCain said we had to win the war, he pushed for the surge, the surge worked, and now we will have that victory that he would not give up on. Obama said the war was hopeless, we'd have to accept loss, and the surge would only waste more lives.
As Glenn says, read the whole thing.
While there are a lot of issues at stake in this election, this is McCain's starkest contrast. I explored Monday the hard questions about whether we have already won, as Michael Yon argues, or still have a long way to go, but in either event, it cannot be doubted that by any metric we are are winning and will win as long as we hang on to finish the job.
Charles Bird has a tremendous collection of charts showing graphically the downward progress of all sorts of violence and upward progress of successful confiscation of the enemy's weapons. As Yon explains:
A counterinsurgency is won when the government's legitimacy is no longer threatened by the insurgents, the government is able to protect its own people and the people are participating in the government. In Iraq, all three conditions apply.
As Randall Hoven points out in an essay that is an absolute must-read, progress is being made in Iraq on pretty much every front:
*US troop and Iraqi civilian fatality rates are at their lowest points since the war began in 2003.
Hoven stresses the fact that the surge only became possible after the less visible elements of progress fell into place between 2003 and 2006 - it's worth reading his analysis at length, but just to hit a few points:
In May 2003, there were only about 8,000 Iraqi Security Forces. By the end of 2003 they had grown to 100,000. By January of 2007, when the surge was announced, there were 323,000 Iraqi forces. Today there are almost 500,000. And as those numbers grew, those forces were being trained by people like General Petraeus. They worked more and more with coalition troops. They took control over more areas of Iraq. They gained combat experience.
True as that is, the fact remains that the decision to institute the surge in early 2007 (not just the increase in troops but the more general overhaul of our counterinsurgency strategy and rules of engagement) was a critical moment, a moment when leadership called for recognizing that those conditions were in place and could be built upon. John McCain, having been deeply enmeshed in war-making policy for decades and in the Iraq war since the beginning, was able to see that; Obama wasn't, or was too busy reading Iowa polls to care. Indeed, as Hoven notes, the increase in U.S. troops was only barely enough to cover the decline in other allied forces in theater:
The surge was announced in January 2007. In 2006 the number of US troops in Iraq peaked at 144,000 in September and October. The US troop level peaked about one year later, at 171,000 in October 2007. That is a 19% increase.
Obviously, if the U.S. had been following Obama's plan for a March 2008 withdrawal, those figures would have been dramatically different.
As ethno-sectarian violence in Iraq rapidly declined, as al Qaeda absorbed tremendous military blows, and as political accommodation and legislative achievements have emerged, Democrats, rather than welcoming the progress, grew agitated. They embraced with religious zeal the belief that the Iraq war was lost; they therefore viewed the success of the surge as a terribly inconvenient development, one they sought to deny to the point that they looked silly and out of touch. Worse, Democrats acted as if they had a vested interest in an American defeat.
Of course, the left wants to argue that it's equally clear that the decision to go to war was a bad one. But even if you leave aside for a minute all the many arguments we have all been making these last six years, it's easy to envision the "but for" world in which we followed Obama's advice and bugged out of Iraq by March and the place went to hell; it's much dicier to try to explain how America and the region would be better off today if instead of an Iraqi democracy we had Saddam still running the place and engaging in the broad menu of tyranny, terror, aggression and other forms of misconduct that characterized his regime for decades. In fact, Obama almost never talks about what Iraq would be like today if we had listened to him in 2002 - if anything, his relative hawkishness on Afghanistan seems to be aimed largely at giving him something to say when he tries to imagine what else could have been done if not for the Iraq War. But even in Afghanistan, there remains the question of whether all the Al Qaeda and other foreign fighters who poured into Iraq the last several years because there were Americans to fight there would instead have joined the Afghan battle.
Whatever your view of the war's inception, we are now winning it decisively and doing so in spite of Obama and in defiance of his proposed March 2008 withdrawal date - and when Obama tries to gloss over his inexperience and his naivete by appeals to his "judgment to lead," he needs to be reminded at every turn that not only did he not have the judgment to lead us to victory in Iraq, he didn't even want to try, not when he could make more immediate political hay out of proclaiming defeat and seeking to consummate it.
If that can not be said in America about the man who wants us to vote him the Commander-in-Chief, then really, what is even left that we can talk about?
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POLITICS: How Popular Is Abortion? Listen To The Candidates
So, what position on abortion is a greater asset in a national election? Well, you could look at history - abortion wasn't really a sharp distinction in 1976, the first election after Roe, but since then the four candidates to win popular majorities all did so as pro-lifers. Assuming that the candidates' rhetoric on the trail is some indicator of where they think popular sentiment lies, let's compare and contrast their recent moves on this.
First, John McCain:
Sen. John McCain went out of his way to speak against abortion twice today at a town hall meeting before a friendly audience that vigorously applauded a range of conservative proposals. It's a subject he rarely raises on the campaign trail unless asked directly about it...
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The first question concerned sexually graphic material on the Internet. McCain segued from that to abortion.
Now, Barack Obama:
On June 23, Barack Obama kicked off a "discussion for working women" with a speech directed at working mothers that criticized John McCain for his support of conservative judges, decisions and legislation.
Meanwhile, Obama has tried backpedaling so much from his prior record of extremism in defense of late-term abortions that Jan Crawford Greenburg has noted that his current position, if he actually meant it, would require him to oppose the federal "Freedom of Choice Act," of which he is currently a co-sponsor.
There's layers of irony to Obama's focus on equal pay and Ledbetter. One is that Obama himself has consistently paid the women on his own staff less. His followers would doubtless explain that there are perfectly logical reasons for this, but those are precisely the explanations Obama and his followers would deny to businesses. Another is the contrast between Roe, which bulldozed scores of democratically elected statutes without any textual support and created a cast-in-stone Constitutional rule that can be fixed only by overruling by the Court or by Constitutional amendment, and Ledbetter, which construed a Congressionally-enacted statute and can, if there is sufficient support, be overturned by another such statute without the need to get the Court involved. Such is frequently the distinction between Right and Left on judicial business.
But the bottom line of this contrast between the candidates remains: McCain feels the need to cater to pro-lifers. Obama feels the need to cater to pro-lifers and to moderates on life issues. Nobody feels the need to cater to NARAL in a general election.
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July 22, 2008
BASEBALL: Welcome To The Doghouse
I believe tonight's game officially ends the honeymoon for Jerry Manuel. The manager can't be blamed for his closer not being available, but there will be a lot of questions about why Johan Santana wasn't left in to finish the game with a 3-run lead after throwing 105 pitches, instead letting three middle relievers (Sanchez, Smith and Feliciano) blow the lead.
I still maintain that I trust Heilman more than I trust Sanchez.
UPDATE: This was not as excruciating a loss as some of the losses last fall, if only because the circumstances are not as dire. But combined with the narrow escape in the last game of the last Phillies series, it was pretty horrible, just one of those endings that leaves you gaping in shock that this actually happened.
BASEBALL: Who's Not On Third
September 14, 2005. Before Sunday, that was the last time Carlos Beltran was caught stealing third base.
WAR: Srebrenica and The Price of Not Making War
On the occasion of the arrest of Radovan Karadzic, I thought it worthwhile to re-run a post I wrote in July 2005 on the tenth anniversary of Srebrenica. It remains a signal lesson in the danger of returning to the era when "nation building" and "peacekeeping" were considered not as supplements to war aims but as ends in themselves.
There is peace, and there is war. Srebrenica is a reminder that there is no halfway between the two. The Wall Street Journal remembered Srebrenica, on the tenth anniversary of the 1995 massacre:
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Ten years ago today, Bosnian Serb forces under the command of General Ratko Mladic entered the Bosnian Muslim town of Srebrenica, then being defended by Dutch peacekeepers. General Mladic made three demands: that the townsmen surrender their weapons; that all males between the ages of 12 and 77 be separated out for "questioning"; and that the rest of the population be expelled to Muslim areas. Within two days, 23,000 women and children had been deported. Another 5,000 Muslim men and boys who had taken refuge on a nearby Dutch base were also delivered to the Mladic forces.
It was . . . unclear whether the U.N. soldiers in safe areas were actually authorized to use force to defend the people in their care. Worst of all, the price Muslims paid for U.N. protection was to abandon their weapons, which they did within a week of the safe areas' creation.
. . . Europeans alternated between half-measures and attempts at negotiation with the Serbs, even as they exposed thousands of their own soldiers to risk in futile operations. When Margaret Thatcher, by then a former prime minister, called Serb atrocities "evil" and said "humanitarian aid is not enough," her views were dismissed by British Defense Minister Malcolm Rifkind as "emotional nonsense."
It's easy enough to mock the UN and the Europeans for failing to live up to even the limited mission objectives they set for themselves. But the real problem at Srebrenica was a problem I've written about since the early days of this blog: deploying troops without identifying an enemy and taking sides against that enemy. Had the Dutch seen the Bosnian Muslims as allies they needed to win the war, they would not have surrendered them to be slaughtered without a fight. More to the point, had the European powers seen themselves as being at war with Milosevic, they would never have allowed the situation to get that far; they would have done, at the barest minimum, what Clinton eventually did in Kosovo, and launched an air assault on Milosevic's troops. And they should, were they serious, have done more than that, and resolved to smash his war machine before it could inflict such atrocities.
This was the fundamental weakness of so many of the interventions of the 1990s: lacking the will to make war, the Western powers turned soldiers into sitting ducks, hunched in a defensive crouch, unable to protect the weak and the defenseless and unwilling to disable evildoers before they could carry out their plots. The contrast with our presence in Afghanistan and Iraq could not be clearer: while we are certainly engaged there as well in "nation-building," the main role of our soldiers is to hunt down the enemy, and our mission objectives are not in any way limited to being reactive.
Now, I confess that I didn't follow the crises in the Balkans closely enough in the 1990s to have a firm opinion at the time of what should be done, and even in retrospect I can't say for certain what the right answer was. As in Vietnam, there were hard choices and no good ones. But Srebrenica was the worst of both worlds: without the UN, the Bosnian Muslims could at least have remained armed to defend themselves.
I was fond of saying at the time that the US should not draw its sword in anger lightly, unless we were willing to keep it unsheathed until the job was done, and that lesson remains a vivid one today. There is peace, and there is war. Pretending you can play a halfway game between the two is a recipe for more Srebrenicas.
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July 21, 2008
BASEBALL: The Man Who Ruined Relief Aces
Sportswriter Jerome Holtzman has died at age 82. I can't say I ever read much of his work, so to me and generations of baseball fans to come, Holtzman will be best remembered as the inventor of the save rule, the statistic that probably does more than any other to shape the way the game is played, as managers since the late 1970s and especially since the early 1990s have increasingly defined the job of the relief ace as that of a "closer" who pitches when, and only when, the rule defines his job as a "save situation."
Anyway, Holtzman didn't anticipate that; his idea was a reasonable enough one at the time, but it created a Frankenstein's monster.
WAR/POLITICS: Are We There Yet? Victory in Iraq and the 2008 Election
"Events, dear boy, events."
--Former British PM Harold Macmillan on the greatest threat to any government's plans.
"In chaos there is opportunity"
It's time for Republicans to decide: are we willing to stake the election on the proposition that we have won the war in Iraq?
I. Prelude: Early 2007
Way back at the beginning of 2007, at the beginning of the marathon primary race, the Republican frontrunner, John McCain, and the Democratic upstart, Barack Obama, committed themselves to their respective strategies for the Iraq War. McCain, a vocal supporter of the war and leader in the debate about the war as far back as 2002 - and, indeed, one of the leading voices on every public foreign policy controversy of the last two decades - stubbornly declared that he would "rather lose an election than lose a war," and committed the success of his campaign to the success of the "surge," the decision by President Bush after the 2006 elections to revamp his Iraq strategy with more troops and a freer hand for Gen. David Petraeus to pursue an aggressive counterinsurgency. The surge wasn't entirely McCain's idea, but McCain had been the most vocal advocate for years for a larger and more agressive troop presence, and with the President finally having taken his advice, he staked his political fortunes on a turnaround in Iraq.
Obama, by contrast, had blasted the Iraq War in an October 2002 speech, but had been cautiously distant from the war debate since then (as documented in this video and the McCain campaign briefing paper linked here, Obama's few public statements on the war between 2003 and 2006 indicated that he was opposed to a precipitous withdrawal); he could have chosen a more moderate position, but instead came out opposing the surge, saying in January 2007:
I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse. . . . [I] did not see anything . . . that provides evidence that an additional 15,000 to 20,000 more U.S. troops is going to make a significant dent in the sectarian violence that's taking place there.
Typically of Obama's approach to the primaries, he then went even further, calling for troop drawdowns beginning in May 2007 and the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by March 31, 2008. (His plan also called for a desperate effort at "regional diplomacy" with Iran and Syria, under an absurd 60-day deadline). Obama, in short, banked on the political unpopularity of the Iraq War - which had been a factor in the just-completed rout of the Congressional GOP in November 2006 - and staked his credibility on the proposition that the surge would fail and the U.S. should be leaving Iraq immediately.
II. State of Play: Spring 2007-Spring 2008
Politically, most of 2007 and the first half of 2008 were taken up with McCain and Obama fighting opponents within their own parties, although the GOP primary field didn't include anyone other than Ron Paul who challenged McCain head-on on Iraq, preferring to attack him on domestic issues. Nonetheless, McCain's political fortunes rose as evidence poured in that the surge was succeeding, winning him the respect of GOP voters who often disagreed with him on other issues.
Meanwhile, Obama used his newly unambiguous hostility to the Iraq War to seduce the anti-war Left and paint his opponent, Hillary Clinton, as insufficiently principled and lacking in judgment for not having opposed the war from the beginning. New facts on the ground in Iraq never really figured into the Democratic debate, since neither candidate could afford to alienate voters who saw the war as a bad decision and irretrievably lost.
Republicans, having lost most of the PR battles about the war's commencement, and given the unpopularity of President Bush, assumed that the best strategy for the fall campaign against Obama would be to look forward and draw contrasts with his plan - still on the shelf, but with only the dates changed - to begin a withdrawal from Iraq on a fixed timetable, with little regard for intervening developments on the ground and even less for the sentiments of an Iraqi democracy that Obama would have been just as happy to see never called into existence. McCain's own declared strategy was to continue keeping our commitment to Iraq open-ended, with no more specific timeframe than a general promise of McCain's goal to win the war by the end of his first term. Obama's campaign, recognizing the limits of running as a peacenik, seemed content to do a lot of the same, not avoiding the issue of the war's commencement but focusing less energy on 2002 and more on an egregious misquoting of McCain designed to make it sound as if he wanted 100 years of war in Iraq.
As late as the end of June 2008, the status quo held - McCain kept talking about doing whatever it takes to win, Obama about a fixed schedule for withdrawal to formalize defeat. But finally, the facts on the ground have started shifting dramatically enough to force the terms of the debate to change.
III. New Realities: July 2008
The first cracks in the lines of battle came just before the July 4 weekend, when Obama made statements suggesting that he was open to considering a more flexible approach to Iraq based on the facts on the ground. Conservatives generally took this as a disingenuous effort to blur the contrast with McCain's successful and facts-based approach, but Obama hastily called a second press conference on the same day to walk back his comments, leaving open again the possibility of a clear contrast.
What has happened since then is a snowballing of momentum, driven largely outside the control of the two candidates, by another candidate running in his own elections: Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. As is often the case in countries defended under the U.S. umbrella - Germany, South Korea, the Philippines - Iraqi public opinion, as variously measured, has been decidedly ambivalent towards its U.S. protectors, and statements over the years by Maliki have reflected that - Iraqis would like the U.S. to leave, but have generally not felt that their leaders and institutions were ready to stand up and take the place of the Americans. Thus, Maliki has frequently spoken of wanting to end the large-scale U.S. presence (while engaging in back-and-forth negotiations with our government over a more limited presence in permanent bases), but he has never called for an immediate withdrawal, or even an immediate commencement of any long-term plan for withdrawal.
Now, however, that is beginning to shift. First, came the news that Maliki and President Bush have reached an initial agreement on the long-term withdrawal plan:
President Bush, who'd been opposed to any timetable for removing American forces from Iraq, reached an agreement with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to set a "general time horizon" for a withdrawal.
Next came the news from fiercely anti-war and anti-Bush German magazine Der Spiegel that Maliki appeared to have endorsed the 16-month timeframe now pushed by Obama. This was met with predictably fatuous commentary from the Democrats suggesting that somehow Obama had been right all along:
"It's a devastating blow to the McCain campaign - not just that Maliki moved to Obama's position but that Bush did as well," said Richard Holbrooke, a former United States ambassador to the United Nations for the Clinton administration.
Of course, it's nonsense to suggest that a withdrawal by, say, May 2010 is the same as a withdrawal by March 2008. In the business world or the sports world, being wrong by a margin of more than two years is called "being wrong." Only in politics can you get away with such a thing. It's also nonsense to say that Bush is listening to Obama when Bush only got to where he is now by doing the exact opposite of what Obama was telling him to do for the past year and a half. If someone tells you, "don't eat that sandwich," and you eat the sandwich, and you stop eating when there's no sandwich left, can he then say "you followed my advice! See, you are not eating the sandwich anymore"? Obama is just stealing the credit for other people who succeeded by ignoring him.
Moreover, subsequent news reports revealed that Maliki's statement had been mistranslated and/or baldly misquoted by Der Spiegel, as evidenced by the fact that even the New York Times now translated his statement as follows:
The following is a direct translation from the Arabic of Mr. Maliki's comments by The Times: "Obama's remarks that - if he takes office - in 16 months he would withdraw the forces, we think that this period could increase or decrease a little, but that it could be suitable to end the presence of the forces in Iraq."
Patterico also notes that Der Spiegel initially qualified Maliki's remarks as saying "[a]ssuming that positive developments continue", a position wholly at odds with the 16-and-out timetable approach. Certainly Maliki is distancing himself now from Der Speigel's account, so even if it was accurately reported, no honest person can claim that it represents the position of Maliki's government. (More from Mark Impomeni here).
IV. McCain's Dilemma, McCain's Opportunity
A. The Right Policy
Where does this all leave McCain? Regardless of the flap over Der Spiegel, the fact remains that momentum for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq is suddenly building faster among the staunchest supporters of the war - specifically President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki - than anyone would have anticipated. A general but flexible "time horizon" is slightly less rigid than fixed timetables, but it's not actually a large difference; the large difference is the extent to which conditions on the ground are suitable for announcing such a schedule. All (but the diehard Barackheads) now agree that the conditions for a time frame for withdrawal were not in existence when Obama proposed his schedule in early 2007. In fact, Obama himself has effectively been forced to admit this, in this grudging passage in last Tuesday's speech:
It has been 18 months since President Bush announced the surge. As I have said many times, our troops have performed brilliantly in lowering the level of violence. General Petraeus has used new tactics to protect the Iraqi population. We have talked directly to Sunni tribes that used to be hostile to America, and supported their fight against al Qaeda. Shiite militias have generally respected a cease-fire. Those are the facts, and all Americans welcome them.
In other words, even if we really do start withdrawing troops, it will be on far better terms than if we had fled the field behind Obama's call for retreat last spring. But is it wise to do so?
Let's recall a few basics here. First, while the primary goal of the war in the first place was to remove Saddam's regime, a goal that many of us recognized would result in huge dislocations as Iraq sought new institutions to replace the regime, goal #1 of the post-invasion period has always been an Iraqi government that has popular legitimacy and the willingness and ability to defend its own territory against foreign jihadist groups like Al Qaeda and aggressive neighbors like Iran. The necessary corollary of that goal is that once the Iraqis were willing and able to do the job without our help, we would leave. McCain in 2004 took that view as well:
[In] a 2004 interview with McCain ...he responded to a question asking what he would do if "a so-called sovereign Iraqi government asks us to leave, even if we are unhappy about the security situation there" by saying, "If it was an elected government of Iraq ... I don't see how we could stay when our whole emphasis and policy has been based on turning the Iraqi government over to the Iraqi people."
Increasingly, Maliki is saying they will be willing. But when the time comes that they are ready to put that to the test, will they be able? It seems unavoidable that for our larger long-term project in the region to succeed, we have to step back and give them the chance to determine their own path, even if it's against our better judgment, just as we have stood by with only periodic and limited interference as the post-Communist and Communist-aligned states have gone their many different ways since 1989. The job will never be done in Iraq, any more than it is done today in Ukraine or Nicaragua.
Second, and relatedly, there were always two distinct lines of conservative criticism about setting timeables for withdrawal:
1. Iraq isn't ready for us to leave, so we can't start leaving.
Realistically, both of these criticisms are based on the same factual assumption: that we have not yet vanquished the enemy. Nobody ever said timetables were a bad idea once you have cemented a victory. The question is whether we have sufficiently passed the point of no return where victory is inevitable regardless of what the enemy does, so that we can openly start drawing people down and trust that the Iraqis have the situation in hand without us. No serious person thought last spring that we could reach that point by now - but are we there yet?
I must be honest: I don't know. I would love to believe that we have; an unalloyed American victory in Iraq and the ability to get most of our troops out of there would be the greatest news we have had in a long time. But progress over the last several years has been frustratingly slow, often of the four-steps-forward-three-steps-back variety, and sometimes the other way around, and we've had false springs before - Al Qaeda in Iraq in particular has looked dead and vanquished at times, notably with the death of Zarqawi and rolling-up of his leadership cadre, only to regenerate itself. (Then again, the renewed vigor of the Taliban forces in Afghanistan of late would seem to support Hitchens' point - our enemy in both theaters is drawing from the same basic pool of jihadists, and more of them pouring into Afghanistan may indicate that they are finally giving up hope of beating us in Iraq as a futile drain on their efforts). Jeff Emanuel explained in detail last fall why the surge's progress was too fragile to survive a coalition withdrawal; it's an open question and not an easy one for Bush, McCain, Gen. Petraeus and the other serious adults to decide whether it's really a good decision to start announcing even a relatively flexible and open-ended withdrawal plan. If they don't feel that it is, it will at least be incumbent on them to make their case forcefully to Maliki for more patience.
B. The Right Politics
Republicans, saddled with the responsibility of actually carrying out policy, have not had the freedom the Democrats have had to press simple slogans of the moment, paint with broad-brush generalities, and advocate mutually inconsistent policies at different times. Combine that with the Bush Administration's congenital inability to do the hard work of defending its past decisions and explaining to the American people what was happening as it happened, and Republicans have missed many opportunities to bolster public support for the war, to the detriment of the party and, far more importantly, to the detriment of the war effort. The stakes remain high: we can't afford Obama's weak, misguided and uninformed leadership if we are to win the broader war. To beat Obama, we need to tell a clear, simple story that illustrates the contrast between McCain and Obama. Victory in Iraq is a tempting opportunity to do this...but is it a case that can fairly and honestly be made, or would it be dangerously premature?
If we really are facing a convergence on the future - if we're close enough to victory in Iraq that victory could now survive even an Obama presidency - then John McCain may truly have lived up to his mantra, losing an election while winning a war. But there's no reason why the party that has been solely responsible for setting our course in Iraq should suffer from the success of that endeavor. If McCain believes that he can make a responsible case that victory really is at hand, he should not hesitate to make it, and use it to drive home the point that with the nation still at war in Afghanistan and still threatened by radical Islamism in Iran and around the globe, the man whose strategy for finishing the job in Iraq should be trusted over the man who counseled retreat when it turned out we were one final surge from victory. Americans, after all, like winners, and don't so much like people who make losing bets with our lives and our money.
As a political strategy, declaring victory has its risks, not least that it will work only if McCain and Bush can stay on the same rhetorical page on this issue, and that it gives the enemy a say - events, dear boy, events. As a matter of national security strategy, though, it comes back to the same dilemma that Obama never need worry about and isn't qualified to judge anyway: actually doing the right thing to ensure that we win the war. Because if the nation needs to hear that American troops have much more work to do in Iraq, then perhaps the GOP will need to take its political lumps to do what is right, and let Obama take credit for whatever happens to be popular. The pundits can't answer that question for McCain and Bush (although they are doomed on both fronts if they come to different conclusions). They must face that decision themselves.
BASEBALL: Pelfrey's Stuff
A more detailed breakdown of what Mike Pelfrey has been doing differently (this is before yesterday). Via THT.
July 18, 2008
POLITICS: Now, Who Is "Confused"?
Barack Obama and "the bomb that fell on Pearl Harbor." Kinda like how he thought FDR and Truman had negotiated directly with our enemies when they...demanded unconditional surrender. Or forgot that it was the Red Army that liberated Auschwitz. It's as if Obama studied his grade-school history in a foreign country. Oh, wait...
WAR: Robin Meade and the Hostages
News flash: three men held in captivity and isolation for several years decide they would like to talk to....a really attractive woman. The Observer finds this to be a puzzler worthy of an entire article:
Ms. Meade said she never did find out why the former detainees had decided to appear solely on her show.
Wonders never cease.
BASEBALL: Get Over Yourself
Greg Genske has asked the players' union to investigate why Liriano remains in Rochester despite going 7-0 with a 2.73 ERA in his past nine starts.
Seriously, get over yourself. Three points:
1. Genske seems to have amnesia here. After he missed the 2007 season with elbow surgery, the Twins rushed him back to the big club on April 13 of this season. Liriano wasn't ready, he lost three straight starts with an 11.32 ERA and walked 13 men in 10.1 innings. The Twins are in the middle of a pennant race, 1.5 games out of first place. They could certainly use a healthy Liriano, but I can understand why they want to make extra certain that he's ready this time. Liriano has pitched well in the minors, but his 3.34 ERA isn't really that much more impressive than the four Twins starters presently between 3.47 and 4.26 for the big club. I'd be ready by now to slot him in for Livan Hernandez (5.44 ERA, third straight season above 4.80), but that effectively means giving up on Hernandez, and teams are often slow to make those decisions. It's not like Liriano would be stepping into an open hole or bumping a struggling rookie.
2. I'm no expert in this area, but since when does the collective bargaining agreement give the union authority to supervise these kinds of decisions? The CBA makes arbitration and free agency dependent on the amount of major league usage a team gets from a player. That system has some benefits to the players, specifically guys like Liriano who come up pretty young (personally, I'd prefer a minimum age) but also creates some perverse incentives; that's the deal. Small-market teams have regularly played games with service time (why do you think Evan Longoria started the year in the minors?), albeit at a cost to their own competitiveness on the field, but unless there's something in the CBA saying they can't, I don't see what stops them.
3. Personally, I'd have brought Liriano up by now....before he did this. Now, if I were the Twins, I would definitely keep him cooling his heels a bit to make a point about who runs the team, because if they let the agents dictate this kind of stuff, they will have problems well beyond this one incident (plus, they will need to negotiate with Genske and Liriano in the future - you need to demonstrate that they can't just dictate terms). Bill James made this point emphatically when Whitey Herzog traded Ted Simmons when Simmons refused to move out from behind the plate - if the manager can't tell the players what to do, he's no longer the manager of anything. Ron Gardenhire understands that:
"I just back into town and I hear all this stuff, and Buster Olney is making my team up now and [Genske] wants to tell me who is going to pitch here," Gardenhire said. "No one is going to tell us who to put on our team and no one on ESPN is going to tell us who should pitch for my team....
As Gardenhire noted, Liriano should let his arm do the talking, not his agent:
"He's pitching well, and he's trying to force the issue," Gardenhire said. "And what should all Minor Leaguers try to do? Try to force the issue. That's the greatest thing in the world. We have depth, now. We have a guy that is knocking on the door and trying to take someone's job. What is wrong with that? I don't get it."
UPDATE: It would be unfortunate for the Twins if this keeps Liriano in the minors too long, but as I said, they gotta do what they gotta do now. Ironically, you will remember that Tom Kelly had something of a power struggle back around 1999-2000 in which he pointedly sent a bunch of guys back to AAA and made them rot there - the incident ended up holding back the careers of Doug Mientkiewicz, Todd Walker, AJ Pierzynski, and to a lesser extent Matt LeCroy and David Ortiz, but the Twins improved by 16 games in 2001 once all those guys were back in the lineup.
July 17, 2008
BLOG: Bomb The Smurfs
BASEBALL: Beane Overboard
You know, I've been more down the more I think about it on the Rich Harden deal from the Oakland standpoint - yeah, Harden's value is ephemeral given his injury history, but why'd they throw Chad Gaudin, who had value of his own, into the deal? I get that Billy Beane thought Matt Murton could help his offense ASAP, which makes sense when you look at some of the people they are running out there these days. Sean Gallagher looks like a serious prospect, albeit one who is not yet even with Gaudin as a major league pitcher. Eric Patterson doesn't. Josh Donaldson tore up low A last year but has crapped the bed this season in high A and thus has to be a few years away, if anything.
But even if you write off Harden, following up by dealing Joe Blanton to the Phillies for prospects really smacks of Beane having decided up front that no matter how competitive the A's are, they would stick to a rebuilding schedule this season. Yes, Blanton's pitched poorly (5-12, 4.96 ERA), yes the A's still have a lot of pitching, and yes Blanton's a free agent in the offseason. (You can read my offseason analysis of Blanton here).
There is some logic to deciding that 2008 is not Oakland's year. They're 6 games back of the Angels, who have the game's best record. They are third in the wild card race, five games behind Tampa in the loss column and with the Yankees breathing down their throats. Still, that's certainly a team that could still pull out a playoff slot. It's hard to sell the fans on coming to the park when you are so clearly signalling surrender when you are 7 games over .500 at the break.
I suppose the counterargument is just that the Oakland fans have had enough of first round playoff exits. Playing to bring home another one may be secondary to stockpiling young talent for a run later on, when the new stadium arrives.
So, what about the returns? The delightfully named Josh Outman is a 23-year-old reliever in AA with good K and HR rates but a poor control record. Adrian Cardenas, a 20-year-old 2B in high A, was presumably expendable to the Phils with Chase Utley in the way; Cardenas smacked 30 doubles last year as a teenager and is batting .309/.374/.444 with 16 steals, so he may be a real prospect but hasn't yet proven himself as a real high upside guy. His teammate Matt Spencer is two years older, an OF and a career .254/.318/.405 hitter with a more than 2-to-1 K/BB ratio, so I would assume he's a throw-in. Not a terrible yield for Blanton compared to letting him walk, but I don't see a major established blue chip here, either. I have to think Beane just feels that Blanton's not going to be that useful the rest of the season (to Oakland; to the Phillies, a 4.96 ERA looks real tasty). But he's really putting the fans' faith in him to the test.
POP CULTURE: Every Time I Think I Am Out, They Pull Me Back In
The new animated Star Wars film may actually be pretty good. It actually sounds as if the director is following the same lines of thinking I laid out in my argument about how the prequels could have been better.
BASEBALL: Any Way You Count It
This Slate article does a pretty good job of capturing why anybody who takes statistical analysis of baseball even remotely seriously ends up sooner or later writing about Derek Jeter's poor defensive performance. (Note, of course, that most of those analysts don't dispute that Jeter is justly headed to Cooperstown - analysts may feel Jeter is overrated by the media and Yankee fans who think he walks on water because the Yankees win the World Series every year, but, as I argued last January, his bat still makes him one of the all-time greats at his position). I would quibble with just this part, at the end of the discussion of the many complex and sophisticated defensive statistics that have been developed and their unanimity that Jeter has been a bad defensive shortstop for most of his career:
Until defensive numbers have the same score-at-home simplicity of ERA or batting average, Jeter's reputation is probably safe (as long as he keeps his error totals down).
First of all, errors also couldn't dent Jeter; he was second in the league in errors in 2000, and it didn't leave a mark (although for his career, Jeter's error rates have been pretty good - not great, but good). Second, you don't need complicated statistics at all to suspect that Jeter's a bad defensive shortstop - Range Factor is the simplest of defensive stats (it asks how many plays a guy has made per game or per 9 innings), and Jeter's Range Factors have often been quite bad. Per 9 innings, the average AL shortstop over Jeter's career has turned 4.58 balls into outs; Jeter's rate is 4.18. Jeter was slightly below average by this easy-to-tabulate measure in 1996 and 1997, and again in 2004, and above average in 2005; otherwise he's been way below, and frequently dead last in the league - making only 84.8% of the league average number of plays in 2001, 83.5% in 2002, 82.6% in 2003.
The burden of proof of invoking complex (and more accurate) measurements of defense, then, is on Jeter's defenders, who must substantiate their excuses for why he doesn't make more plays. As it turns out there have been some mitigating factors - the Yankees had a high-strikeout, high-flyball pitching staff in the early 2000s (the 2001 team set the AL strikeout record, whiffing 22% more batters than average), and Jeter's numbers got better by virtually any measurement in 2004, when Roger Clemens left the team and A-Rod joined. One of the problems with individual defense (not just in baseball but in other sports) is the tendency to think of it as a fixed characteristic, rather than a matter of performance that varies from year to year and changes over time just like hitting or pitching - most analysts agree that even aside from the illusions created by the pitching staff, Jeter really did improve with the glove for about two years there. But there is nonetheless unanimity among virtually every statistical measurement in the business that Jeter has been a significantly below-average fielder for the balance of his career (and, indeed, the more concrete measures of team defense have shown the Yankees to be a poor defensive team for much of this decade), which is why the argument is not between simple and complex measurements of performance but between those who are interested in measuring performance and those who simply refuse to accept the idea that defensive performance can be measured by anything but the eyes of sportswriters. And that is why analysts return to this issue again, and again, and again.
July 16, 2008
POLITICS: John McCain Is Doubleplus Unyoung
If ever you wanted a perfect illustration of the difference between the coordinated, top-down nature of the activism of the online Left and the way normal people think and write, check out Jim Geraghty's review of how they refer to John McCain:
The liberal blog The Carpetbagger Report uses the word "confused" in almost every post about McCain; same deal at ThinkProgress. At AmericaBlog, the words "McCain" and "confused" have appeared together 108 times. DailyKos.com, hundreds.
As Geraghty notes, this is an unsubtle effort to suggest by sheer repetition that the 71-year-old McCain is doddering and senile (based on little more than his age and the fact that, like most politicians, he is subject to occasional verbal stumbles while talking, and talking, and talking, and talking for hours on end every day), and it has also been repeatedly deployed by the Obama campaign itself, including both the nominee (the guy who thinks we have 57 states, thinks Afghans speak Arabic and once told a crowd that 10,000 people had died in a tornado in Kansas) and his surrogates (Joe Biden and John Kerry, neither of whom is exactly a stranger to confusion). There is not even the remotest chance that this is all a coincidence, coming from the sorts of folks who routinely practice Googlebombing and coordinate their message - or silence - with email groups covering multiple blogs; rather, it appears that the likes of ThinkProgress (two lies for the price of one!) and the Carpetbagger Report have put their very vocabularies in hock to the Obama campaign's 'message' operation.
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It matters not whether those bloggers actually believe that McCain is perenially "confused," just as it matters not whether they believe what they are saying when they apply the term "McSame" to a man so well-known for butting heads with President Bush and the GOP base that Jonathan Chait once called him "the most effective advocate of the Democratic agenda in Washington". What matters is the mere repetition of the campaign's talking points, whatever they happen to be at a particular time, in the hopes that by doing so they can turn these shiny objects into conventional wisdom - today it's "McSame" or "confused," tomorrow it's whatever other message Obama's marketing department desires them to sell.
We on the Right occasionally aspire to hammer a consistent theme against an opponent. But these sorts of efforts never achieve the levels of disingenuous groupthink found on the Left - we don't have the coordination, and more importantly we have more people interested in using their own independent critical faculties and their own words than in repeating whatever precise verbal formulations are focus-grouped by the leadership.
« Close It
BASEBALL: Stat of the Day: RBI%
Who has been baseball's best and worst RBI men this season? Well, RBI alone won't tell you that, any more than the hits leaders tell you who has the best batting average. I decided to divide the number of RBI with men in scoring position by the number of plate appearances each player had with men in scoring position. It's not a perfect measurement, since (1) this excludes driving in runners from first and (2) players on good offensive teams are more likely to bat with multiple men in scoring position and/or with a man also on first. Still, for a rough cut on the data, it's useful and interesting. I excluded intentional walks from plate appearances for these purposes, since it would be unfair to penalize the guys who are sufficiently feared to regularly get the bat taken out of their hands. Minimum number of plate appearances with RISP to count: 50. Source is David Pinto's database.
Best in MLB this season? Jesus Flores. No kidding.
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POLITICS: JibJab Is Back
Maybe the comedy writers who can't manage a joke about Obama could learn a few things from the JibJab guys:
Send a JibJab Sendables® eCard Today!
BASEBALL: Earning Their Rays
Before the season, my Established Win Shares Levels assessment had the Tampa Bay Rays as a 71-win team based on the established major league performance of their roster, and I explained why I was optimistic about the Rays but unwilling to buy into the idea that the most likely outcome for them was 88 or more wins.
Well, here we are at the break, and the Rays until recently had the best record in the game, and even if you assume (as I do) that they are likely to tail off in the second half, they are highly likely to win more than 85 games. How have they exceeded their track record? Let's look at Win Shares through July 10 on the Hardball Times website and compare the pre-season EWSL to the per-162 game pace of the Rays as of that date:
As you can see, most of the Rays' improvement against expectations came from young (25 and under) talent coming together all at once - Longoria, Jackson, Garza, Navarro, Sonnanstine, Upton - the classic recipe for a 'surprise' team. This exploits a known issue with EWSL: it may project rapid improvement from some base of major league success for a young player, and it gives a certain amount of standard credit for a rookie like Longoria, but what it doesn't do (since there's no reliable way to do this at present) is project leaps forward based on minor league numbers. I expect those guys as a group to cool off a bit in the second half, but it won't be a huge upset if they don't, at least in the case of Longoria and Upton; given the unimpressive K/BB ratios of some of the starting pitchers (notably Jackson), I expect less from them in the second half, especially if Jason Bartlett's knee doesn't heal 100%. Either way, though, hats off to the young players who have made so much difference for this team.
Hinske is the one real and unpredictable surprise (none of the people touting the Rays in March mentioned him), but if he tails off that could be offset by Carl Crawford, who traditionally has had a lot of good second halves (career: .288/.327/.428 before the break, .301/.332/.442 after).
By the way, my rough adjustment this year assumed that the average team, historically, gets 38.57 Win Shares from players not on the pre-season 23-man roster I run the numbers from; that should translate to 21.67 Win Shares so far, and the Rays have 26, so they have been only mildly dependent on a better-than-expected showing from guys who came out of the woodwork, some of which is simply the fact that Riggans and Howell have stepped in in place of Paul and Salas.
Honestly, when I added that up, it surprised me; I thought they were more dependent than that on the large number of guys performing well in limited at bats and innings, but some of those have fizzled a bit in recent weeks.
BASEBALL: Like An All-Star Game
Last night's game was, when you stripped away the hype and the usual nonsense that surrounds the All-Star Game these days, just some really, really good baseball. I think the guy I came away most impressed with was Russell Martin - I can't remember the last time I saw a catcher handle that many plays at the plate in extra innings in one game, topped off by the game-saving throw by Nate McLouth to cut down Dioner Navarro at the plate (you would not have gotten odds before the season on Nate McLouth throwing out Dioner Navarro in the All-Star Game).
Highlight of the night from the fans:
1. The Yankees, at least in theory, hope to be in the World Series this year.
2. The outcome of the game had the chance to make it easier or harder for them, if they do so, to win the World Series.
3. Papelbon came in to pitch for the AL in a key late inning situation. If he could help the AL win, it could help the Yankees, if they make the World Series.
4. The Yankee fans decided to taunt Papelbon.
5. Papelbon responds by giving up the tying runs.
Great work, Yankee fans!
A few other random thoughts:
*My two-year-old daughter got confused and annoyed that we were watching a baseball game and not all chanting "Let's Go Mets".
*Yogi is still the coolest guy in baseball.
*Joe Buck called Yankee Stadium "our Coliseum". Does that make the Red Sox the Christians?
*I don't know who Josh Groban is, but I now know he's a weenie. He sang "God Bless America" like he wanted America to go to bed with him.
POLITICS: Meet The New Boss
One of my longstanding dictums in politics is that when a politician uses the word "lobbyist" in a sentence, every word of what he or she is saying is utter horse manure. (Ditto for "special interests"). So it's amusing to see Barack Obama, who loves to rail against lobbyist money, once again turning to....a big-time lobbyist to bail out his troubles financing the Democratic convention.
Hope nobody was fool enough to believe him.
This is, by the way, one of the side benefits of the cynicism of the GOP base about so much of what passes for 'reform' proposals inside the Beltway. Conservatives have spent years arguing that John McCain's campaign finance reform crusades were misguided and counterproductive; we don't have a whole lot of emotional energy wrapped up in the idea of McCain's crystalline purity. But pity the Barackheads who have actually bought into his "new kind of politics" hustle.
July 14, 2008
BASEBALL: Going To Ground
The national ESPN audience got to see last night what Mets fans have been seeing for a few weeks now: Mike Pelfrey has become a major league pitcher, and the Mets' insistence on keeping him in the rotation this season has paid off. In his last nine starts through last night, Pelfrey is 6-0 with a 2.26 ERA.
To start with the obvious problem he still has: Pelfrey still needs a strikeout pitch. Pelfrey is averaging 5.3 K/9 on the season; even in his eight "quality starts," in which he has a 1.29 ERA in 55.2 IP, he's averaging a pedestrian 5.98 K/9. Strikeouts are a pitcher's most potent weapon for keeping men off the bases without the assistance of his defense, and Chien-Ming Wang aside, few pitchers get to the front of the rotation if they can't get past 6 K/9 or so. That said, Pelfrey's K rate has been going up lately, a positive sign.
But when the Ks aren't there, you have to max out in other areas, and a guy with Pelfrey's hard, heavy sinker and good control has the weapons to do that. First, he has cut his already low HR rate to microscopic levels - at 0.33 HR/9 he's second in the majors to Dana Eveland. Opposing batters are slugging .381 against Pelfrey on the season, compared to .374 against Scott Kazmir, .376 against Johan Santana, .380 against Cole Hamels. Second, cut off the running game - with the help of Brian Schneider, Pelfrey has allowed one stolen base all year (in five attempts). That helps set up the DP - Pelfrey's induced 14 GIDP on the season (the MLB leader, Mark Buehrle, has 23, but Pelfrey is among the leaders if not that close to the top), and 9 in his last 8 starts. Durability helps too - Pelfrey's averaging 104 pitches per start and has thrown at least 95 pitches in every start this year. It helps to be big, young, strong and have good mechanics (this is also a byproduct of not throwing a lot of breaking balls). And the more times a guy like Pelfrey throws a full game's worth of pitches to major league hitters, the more he learns about how to command those pitches and what works and doesn't work in getting hitters out.
Command is key. Pelfrey's always around the strike zone; he never struggles to find the plate. But he gets in trouble when he nibbles or just can't place his pitches exactly where he wants them. His 3.56 BB/9 and opposing OBP of .359 are way too high for a control pitcher. Even in the last 9 starts, Pelfrey's walk rate is 2.87 BB/9, decent but not where you want a low-K ground ball pitcher to be.
Again: Pelfrey still has his weaknesses. He's been reliant on Shea Stadium - his ERA is 2.35 at home, 5.56 on the road. Lefties are batting .317/.398/.457 against him on the season, sitting on his sinker; his K/BB ratio is 45/15 against righthanded hitters, but an unsightly 19/28 against lefties. All of which explains why, for now, he's still a fifth starter. But what you ask of your fifth starter is to go out there, eat innings, and keep his ERA around the league average, and Pelfrey has gotten good at the first and, for the moment at least, now exceeded the second. He's still got more to learn, but he has rewarded the Mets' preference for starting him rather than sending him back to AAA while they start the likes of Claudio Vargas or Tony Armas in his stead. And if Pelfrey can give us more in the second half of what we have seen in the last 9 starts, he may find himself ahead of Oliver Perez on the depth chart before the season is over (maybe Pedro too, but that will be all about what Pedro does, not about Pelfrey).
Welcome to the big leagues, kid.
UPDATE: I checked, and Justin Verlander has the largest number of consecutive starts this season (20) throwing at least 95 pitches; Pelfrey is third behind Verlander and Ervin Santana. Since 1988 - as far back as there seems to be reliable data - the longest such streak is 44 starts by Jake Peavy from September 2006 to May 2008; three of the top 6 are by Randy Johnson. Across seasons, Verlander's streak of 24 is rthe tops, and Pelfrey's current streak is tied with Ervin Santana at 19.
July 13, 2008
BASEBALL: RIP Bobby Murcer
Bobby Murcer has lost his battle with cancer at age 62. Murcer had a long career with the Yankees in several capacities; as a player, he will always be remembered as the poor man's Mickey Mantle, a power-hitting center fielder from Oklahoma who could do at least a little bit of everything. The Mick was one of the 5 or 6 greatest players ever, so being a lesser Mantle is not a bad thing at all; Murcer was a legitimately great player for two years (1971-72, when he batted .331/.427/.543 and .292/.361/.537), a quality regular for a decade, and a valuable bat off the bench in his second go-round in the Bronx. He was also a classy, likeable guy, like his hero and mentor, Mantle, but unlike Mickey he didn't make an irresponsible wreck of his own life off the field. Murcer fits neatly in the second tier of Yankee outfielders, the ones ranging from borderline Hall of Famers to long-time quality regulars - Bernie, Maris, O'Neill, Roy White, Keller, Henrich, Combs, Meusel, etc.
July 12, 2008
BASEBALL: Is Richie Sexson Done?
David Pinto seems to think so, given his terrible numbers this year. The Yankees, in particular, are a focus of debate about signing him.
Sexson's 33, so while he may be done, it's just a little early to write him off without one last look. As I often do for players in his position, former stars who just seem to have hit the wall awful quickly, I looked at his splits. Here is Sexson this year vs RHP and LHP:
vs RHP: .178/.281/.304
Last year is less dramatic...Sexson has only 61 at bats this year vs. lefties, and his 2007 splits are less dramatic, but I'd guess that even if he's done as a regular, he could well be a useful platoon partner (Carlos Delgado comes to mind here) and may still have something to contribute against lefthanded pitchers.
Then there's the home/road:
Again: Sexson's got a huge swing and tons of power when he connects - a big pitcher-friendly ballpark is death to him at this point. (That probably rules out Shea, even if it's been friendlier to power hitters this year). But put him in the right place, and he can still mash (caveat being that his 2007 splits, again, are not as dramatic).
Bottom line: Sexson still has some value as a bench/platoon player, used judiciously. I agree that he's probably finished as a regular. But that should not stop the right organization from squeezing the remaining value out of him.
July 11, 2008
POLITICS: What Does John McCain Believe About Barack Obama?
Here's the thing I keep coming back to about this election and what it will take to win it. It's a point that Hillary Clinton grasped, albeit too late to save her. And it's an open question about our own nominee and how he will approach the next 116 days.
BASEBALL: Being Manny
Pinto links to a classic Manny Ramirez photo.
July 9, 2008
POLITICS: Winning The Battle on Drilling
"There's clearly a dramatic shift across the ideological divide in America in favor of producing more energy here at home," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters.
A top U.S. Democratic senator said in a newspaper interview published Wednesday that he would consider supporting opening up new areas for offshore oil and gas drilling.
Your move next, Speaker Pelosi and Senator Obama.
POLITICS: Presidential Election Quick Links 7/9/08
*Heckuva job, Barack. A pictorial illustration of the value of Obama's friendship. And a Judicial Watch complaint on more favors Obama received.
*Here's the writeup on that Obama ad I saw in Florida, and how it departs from the truth. Hint: when you can only come up with three accomplishments to list and two of them are this shaky, you don't have much of a record to run on (and note that the "tax cuts" he trumpets are EITC programs, which give money to people who have not paid taxes - not exactly a cut in taxes paid by anyone).
*This is the John McCain we all know. Frankly, McCain will be more successful on the trail if he gives himself permission to say things like this. Dole in 1996 suffered from reining himself in too much. Let McCain be McCain, and people will understand when he says this sort of thing.
*Your Obama moment of the day:
*Geraghty on the trials of trying to get information about Obama's Illinois years. I tell you, this guy has put a huge amount of his life and career down the memory hole. It's as if he sprung fully formed on the national stage in July 2004.
*I still cannot believe that the Democrats are ripping McCain for associating with America's most decorated living veteran, who also happens to be a guy McCain credits for saving his life in prison. But sometimes, they really are that tone-deaf.
*Obama, the soldiers' candidate...that is, only the soldiers they show on TV. The other 90% for McCain (in this example) don't count.
*Yes, Bush is unpopular. But he's still three times as popular as the Pelosi-Reid-run Congress, as well as more popular than the Supreme Court. You gotta work really hard to get your approval ratings into single digits in a year and a half running Congress, but the Democrats are up to the task.
POP CULTURE: Wall*E World
Unlike past vacations, I don't have much to report in the travelogue from last week's brief trip to West Palm Beach. I did finally get to see an Obama ad on TV, which featured him taking credit for welfare reform, tax cuts and other Republican-sounding things, and catch just a little of that epic 18-17 Rockies-Marlins game, and we did get to experience the joys of daily thuderstorms. During one of those, we took the kids to see Wall*E.
I'd definitely give the film a thumbs-up, especially the first half and the short at the
There's been some minor debate over the movie's anti-consumer environmental politics, but the movie wasn't dominated by heavy-handed propaganda like the NGO-shilling penguins of Happy Feet or even the enviro-silliness of Evan Almighty, and in any event the trash-will-overwhelm-us doomsday scenario was self-evidently absurd even within the context of the movie (they show the humans' new spaceship home as gleamingly spotless because they have the technology to jettison their garbage into space). I did think they hit one or two slightly sour notes when Fred Willard tried to sneak in Bush-bashing references to his dialogue (a completely out-of-context "stay the course!" interjection), which I didn't find annoying so much as sad in the way it will date the film - imagine watching that 40 years from now, as if you were watching Peter Pan and they threw in a random potshot at Dwight Eisenhower.
A marketing note: when we talked about going to a movie, my 2-year-old daughter piped up with "I want to see panda movie." She watches only Sesame Street and Teletubbies videos and Jetsons and Muppet Show DVDs - nothing with ads (my wife and I have no particular axe to grind with commercial TV, but aside from baseball the kids don't really watch it, mainly because the things we think are worth showing them are the things we grew up with on video or DVD). So, how did she know about Kung Fu Panda? Maybe she saw it on a breakfast cereal box or something, I do not know (my son thinks maybe she caught an ad for it on a Mets broadcast).
BASEBALL: Rich Harden to the Cubs
BLOG: Overstayed Welcome
July 8, 2008
BASEBALL: The Wright Thing
Go here, if you can't follow the widget, to vote for David Wright for the last spot on the NL All-Star Team (I voted for Evan Longoria, the best player on the team with the best record in baseball, for the AL). (H/T). I ordinarily don't pay a ton of attention to the All-Star balloting, but this is ridiculous. Wright is one of the two or three best players in the NL, in his prime, and having a reasonably good year, .288/.382/.512 with 70 RBIs a week before the break - the very definition of an All-Star. Let's take a look at how the numbers stack up for Wright against the other guys on the end of the ballot since last year's All-Star Break:
I think it's pretty clear who the class of that field is - only Burrell really stacks up as a hitter, and that's before you consider the Citizens Bank Park effect and the difference between Wright and Burrell in the field and on the basepaths. Corey Hart, currently leading the balloting, isn't even close. Let me put it this way: if you were drafting a roster from scratch for the second half of this season, and you could pick (independent of salary considerations) David Wright, Pat Burrell, Carlos Lee, Corey Hart or Aaron Rowand to build your team around, which one would you pick? It's really not a close call, is it?
BASEBALL: Recovering Heilman
Don't look now, but yesterday was actually only the second time since April, and the first since May 20, that Aaron Heilman gave up a home run. In 19 appearances since the beginning of June, Heilman now has a 2.04 ERA, with a 20/5 K/BB ratio and 14 hits allowed in 17.2 IP, stranding all 9 runners he's inherited. (He's also hit 4 guys in that stretch - Heilman's 8 hit batsmen are second in the NL to only Oliver Perez with 10. The Mets have hit a MLB-leading 48 batters, with Arizona at 47 the only other team within 10 of them).
I still think it will be some time before we can trust Duaner Sanchez to really be a consistent setup man, so it is good to have Heilman back and maybe ready to fully take over the 8th inning duties again.
WAR/POLITICS: McCain on Obama on Iraq: "I hope that he will reach a position."
John McCain on Obama's recent wobbling on Iraq and Obama's concession that he would go to Iraq after McCain called him out on not visiting or meeting with our commander there:
Well, I think you know that I opposed the failed strategy of the Bush administration. I argued for the strategy that is succeeding. I have been to Iraq 8 times. I know the situation on the ground. I predicted we would succeed and we are succeeding. And, we are winning. That victory is fragile, it can be reversed. Sen. Obama opposed the surge. He said it would fail. He still is saying that it would fail. Now, last Thursday or Friday, it seemed for a while there he was agreeing with the surge, then maybe he's not. So, I'm glad he's going to Iraq for the second time. He hasn't been there in 900 days. I'm glad, for the first time, he's going to sit down with General Petraeus -- for the first time, a sit-down briefing, if you can believe that. And, I hope that he will reach a position. I don't know what position, because he's been all over the map, calling for immediate withdrawals, back in the primaries to now saying you know -- so it's hard to know. I hope that he'll go over there and get the kind of information he needs that he hasn't requested in the past...But, have no doubt what my position was when I called for additional troops, it was a very unpopular thing to do and many people said my campaign was dead and I said I'd rather lose a campaign then lose a war. He said it would fail, it has succeeded. [The] American people should take notice of that. So, I'll see what he has to say when he gets back from his visit to Iraq. And, I'm sure he'll be impressed with a sit down with one of the greatest generals that America has ever produced, General David Petraeus.
Of course, Obama has now apparently decided that the perception that he's a flip-flopper with no principles is an even more devastating demonstration of weakness than the perception that he would sell out our allies and abandon the mission in Iraq to pander to the anti-war left - really, it's just a choice of who he surrenders to first - so his surrogates are now claiming that it's a lie that Obama ever wavered in his commitment to abandon Iraq. Oceania was never, we repeat never, at war in Iraq! But in political campaigns, as in war, the enemy gets a say in your game plan, and McCain is unlikely to let Obama simultaneously escape responsibility for being wrong about the surge and for belatedly trying to escape the consequences of being wrong.
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As for McCain's own strategy, I agree with Ross and Patrick that the Iraq issue is a winner for McCain on multiple levels despite the war's overall unpopularity, given the contrasts it presents between McCain and Obama. The narrative of McCain's role in advocating for the surge is crucial to McCain's general-election story just as it was in the primaries, and dovetails perfectly with McCain's biography and contrast with Obama's plan to start withdrawing from Iraq at precisely the time of the surge.
Of course, as close observers of the situation in Iraq can tell you, the McCain narrative is somewhat oversimplified - many of the conditions that made the surge successful (e.g., Sunni cooperation, sufficient numbers of trained Iraqis with a government willing to use them) did not exist until Iraqis had been through the experience of living with the consequences of Sunni extremism and sectarian warfare in 2004-06, whereas some of the conditions for improving the situation were well underway before the surge came on line. And, of course, there are many other examples that could be cited of the gradual progress that was made in the 2004-06 period despite the setbacks. In other words, it's unfair to Bush and his civilian and military advisers to suggest that his strategy was a total failure that was singlehandedly rescued by McCain and Gen. Petraeus.
But while it would be nice indeed if the history of the 2003-07 period could be written accurately, McCain has to deal with the facts as the media and the general public believe them to be, not as they really are; he has to campaign in the real world, not conduct a history lesson dedicated to defending a Bush legacy that Bush himself could never be bothered to defend (or hire people competent to defend). Within that context, it makes all kinds of political sense to declare the Bush strategy a failure in toto and champion McCain's genuinely courageous and significant role in building political support for a doubling-down in Iraq. Even granting that the surge did not do it all by itself, it was a necessary condition for building on the opening that the "Anbar awakening" and other markers of progress had made possible, and it has proved the decisive difference in much the same way that the arrival of US troops proved the decisive difference in Europe in 1918. Thus, the McCain campaign narrative - McCain as the Man Who Shot Liberty Valance - is built around a significant and consequential truth, while Obama's narrative is based entirely on denying the facts on the ground. I know which I prefer.
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Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:44 PM | Politics 2008 | War 2007-12 | Comments (17) | TrackBack (0)
POP CULTURE: Bad Lessons From Hollywood
One might even say that this list from Cracked.com is the most fundamentally conservative thing you will ever read about the movies.
This is also hilarious, and could also be applied to the world at large. I like the Venn diagram about Sweeney Todd. They don't mention the worst offender of all, which was the ad campaign for the animated Lord of the Rings movie in the 1970s, which led filmgoers to believe it was the entire trilogy, not just the Fellowship of the Ring.
WAR: Sad Story
Set aside for a moment the debates over phony suicide statistics and the other tropes of the anti-war movement - it's nonetheless clear that some of the casualties of war are men who are forever changed, in some cases fatally, by what they see and experience in battle. This is one such story, and a very sad one at that. RIP, Army Spc. Joseph Patrick Dwyer.
July 7, 2008
JJ Hardy has raised his slugging percentage 176 points since June 2, when he was batting .245/.325/.319, to .295/.362/.495. In his last 23 games, Hardy has driven in 23 runs and batted a Ruthian .398/.440/.849.
BASEBALL: Excruciating Replay
Listening to Billy Wagner try to close out what should have been a rout when the Mets got a 10-1 lead...this is all too reminiscent of last fall's fiascoes against the Phils, notably this disaster, which among other things sealed Paul Lo Duca's fate in NY.
If Wagner - facing Howard as the tying run - blows this one, the season is well and truly over.
Wagner gets Howard swinging. Now Pat ^!~&!%#%&&@^ Burrell is up.
Wagner gets Burrell to fly out. Huuuuuge out. Pedro Feliz is up as the last out/tying run.
Wagner gets 2 quick strikes.
Feliz singles, 2 runs in, and Feliz gets to second on a rare throwing error by Beltran - I know Beltran was trying to nail the second runner at third and end the game, but that's a very costly error. 10-9.
Werth pops up, and it ends. Very big win, but the moral whupping the Mets could have placed on the Phils was largely dissipated, just as Friday night was the lost opportunity to make this a sweep.
For now, the Mets are 2.5 games back in the East. Given how they have played this far, it could be much, much worse. Now the real challenge: figuring out how to beat a Giants team that's 11 games under .500 and a Rockies team that's 15 under. If they can swing that, the team could actually go into the Break feeling like this is a real race.
BASEBALL: The Pitching Dutchman
Mike Carminati looks at guys who top the fluky list of pitching the most innings or seasons in the majors without allowing a run, and finds the one guy on both lists is....Honus Wagner.
BASEBALL: Big Game Ollie
When I noted a while back the Mets' good performance against good teams (they are now 21-15 against teams over .500, and looked even better than that before the D-Backs dropped below the line), one of the chief contributors to that split personality has been Olver Perez, as has become even more pronounced with outstanding starts against the Yankees and Phillies, against whom he's a combined 3-0 with an 0.82 ERA in 5 starts. Here's Perez's line against winning vs. non-winning teams:
Winning (10 starts): 5-0, 2.74 ERA, 6.64 H, 1.01 HR, 3.75 BB, 8.09 K/9, 6.2 IP/Start
It's hard not to conclude from this, as from his performance in the 2006 NLCS, that Perez' problem in very large measure is his inability to focus on what he's doing when the pressure is off.
BASEBALL: CC You Later
I'm still dumbfounded by the turn of events that has brought the Indians to the pass of trading CC Sabathia to the Brewers in exchange for outfield prospect Matt LaPorta, pitchers Rob Bryson and Zach Jackson and a player to be named later.
First, the take: LaPorta's numbers, at least, suggest a quality right-handed slugger, given his career minor league line of .294/.395/.616 in 411 at bats, mostly at AA this season, where he has 20 HR, 66 RBI and 44 walks in half a season. He's 23, so presumably he's pretty close to major league ready, but close to being on the older side for a AA slugger. Bryson appears to be a high-ceiling reliever prospect, 11.81 K/9, 2.64 BB/9 and just 0.41 HR/9 in 109 minor league innings mostly as a reliever, but he's 20 years old and hasn't pitched above A ball, so he's necessarily unproven against serious competition. Jackson, who started 7 games for the Brew Crew in 2006, does not appear to be much of a prospect. As for the Brewers, Sabathia is obviously a serious ace in his prime and on a roll; after 4 horrible starts to begin the season, the defending AL Cy Young winner has posted a 2.16 ERA in 14 starts, with 0.69 HR, 1.73 BB and 9.40 K/9. He's averaged 110 pitches per start in that stretch, with a single 98-pitch outing the only one below 100.
Sabathia has made clear that he'll be a free agent, so while the Brewers would seem an unlikely buyer, they are really just renting him, whereas the Indians really had to look to 2008 only. The list of things that have gone wrong with Cleveland is exhaustive, from injuries (Hafner, Martinez, Carmona, Westbrook) to a collapsed bullpen, all of which has offset an unbelievable year by Cliff Lee and what had, for a while, been a really outstanding performance from the rotation (Paul Byrd is 1-7 with a 7.40 ERA in his last 9 starts, Westbrook's pitched once since April, Carmona not since May, and the replacements have been less effective). While it's been rough from the outset for the Tribe, they were right in the thick of things with the AL Central in disarray; they were 22-19 and a game and a half in front of the division on May 15, but since then the team has been 15-32 and the staff aside from Sabathia, Lee, Rafael Perez and Scott Elarton has been a train wreck.
One thing that sticks out is that they are 6 games below their Pythagorean projection, and I'm starting to think we may have reached the point where Eric Wedge has to shoulder some of the blame for what no longer looks like just random chance; the team is 19 games below its projection for his tenure, including -5 in 2003 and -11 in 2006 (2007 they were +5, the only year they did not underachieve compared to their runs scored and allowed in the Wedge era).
BASEBALL: Uneasy Lies The Head
BLOG: Not Quite Back
I'm back from vacation (West Palm Beach), but still digging out. More to follow once I get a few free moments to resume regular blogging.
July 1, 2008
I'll be away from the blog until Sunday night or Monday. Happy Independence Day!