Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Tracking Baseball's Best

Regular schedule be damned. It's been a little bit since the last one of these - over a week - and now that we've closed the door on May and moved into June, it's as good a time as ever to look at the who's who of baseball leaders right now.

A few notes. The AL MVP race is heating up. All 3 players I have chosen have legitimate claims to numero uno, and Mike Trout is literally just a few good games away from making his case, too.

The AL Cy Young race is much more clear cut. 1-3 are pretty easy to slot. Max Scherzer (SP - DET)  is probably the closest thing to an honorable mention in that race.

The NL MVP race is, if possible, even more of a dogfight that last time. Joey Votto's plummeting BABIP and contact numbers has resulted in a pretty significant offensive slump for him as of the last 2 weeks, opening the door for several other players. There are about 4-5 players who probably could make a case for the best.

The NL Cy Young is as overwhelmingly easy as it could possibly get for the top two. The NL's lack of dominant starting pitchers when compared to the AL makes number 3 a bit iffy. Clayton Kershaw has slipped a bit as of late, but it's hard to pick someone objectively better than him. The honorable mention in this category would go to *gulp* AJ Burnett.

As per last time, AL is up first:


1. Chris Davis (1B - BAL) (Stock trending up):
He's got it going right now, and has supplanted Miguel Cabrera in just about every useful offensive stat; wOBA, wRAA, WRC+, and WPA, while on any given day his WAR and Cabrera's flip-flop. Whatever Davis did in the offseason, don't give it to anyone else. Davis is having a monster surge in contact, power, walks, and everything you could ever want from a slugging first baseman. Some of his home run swings are looking ridiculously easy right now. Locked in.

2. Miguel Cabrera (3B - DET) (Stock trending down):

When I say down, I am mostly reflecting on the fact that Cabrera's once obscenely torrid pace has cooled off to merely a remarkably excellent pace. Woe is him. He is stuck pacing the lead in just about every offensive category with Davis, and expect this to be a dogfight. One thing to note; Cabrera's defense has gotten pretty haphazard lately. Whether it's bad breaks, fatigue, or just not having the glovework, all are potentially valid reasons.

3. Anibal Sanchez (SP- DET) (Stock trending up):

Since I last posted, Sanchez has come within two outs of a no-hitter, torched Tampa Bay, and, all-in-all, continued to execute an excellent 2013 season. He is the only pitcher in the AL right now who can give the typically positional-player hogged MVP a run for its money. He's first in all of baseball in xFIP, 3rd in tERA, 2nd in SIERA, and 1st in WAR among pitchers (his 3.4 WAR is. 0.1 behind Miguel Cabrera and a player to be named later for the highest among all players).

AL Cy Young

1. Anibal Sanchez (SP - DET) (Stock trending up):

And his BABIP is still a bit high at .325, and his K% is 3rd in all of baseball. He's likely going to get better in the short term.

2. Felix Hernandez (SP - SEA) (Stock trending neutral):

I fully expect that by seasons end, Felix's camping out on this list and my continual repetition of highlighting his stats will get old. The dude has been the epitome of consistency, with the only exception being late last year when he slipped a bit. So, instead of spending time mentioning how he is second in baseball in xFIP, third among pitchers in WAR, 4th in SIERA, and more, let's give a moment of silence to Felix for having to suffer an entire career under the awful management of the Seattle Mariners. Amen.

3. Yu Darvish (SP - TEX) (Stock trending neutral):

Yu Darvish continues a great campaign in 2013, and has settled into a comfort zone after a bit of inconsistency through May. He's 3rd in baseball in xFIP, 1st in SIERA, 9th among pitchers in WAR, and continues to blow away the competition with his strikeout rates and swings-and-misses.


1. Paul Goldschmidt (1B - ARI) (Stock trending neutral):

It's dartboard time again in the NL. Joey Votto's BABIP has dropped .033 since I last posted, which has caused his offensive numbers to slip, and allow everyone else to move up a bit. Goldschmidt wins this edition for not slipping up and continuing to excel in an all around game of great offense, good baserunning, and good defense. 3rd in baseball in wOBA, 3rd in wRAA, 3rd in WRC+, and 8th in WAR. Paul right now has the ever glorious award of "The Best Player Nobody Has Ever Heard of and Nobody is Covering"

2. Carlos Gomez (OF - MIL) (Stock trending up):
He may have the best all-around game of any NL MVP candidate so far, a combination of hitting, good power, good speed, and good fielding. This is reflected in the fact that while some of his pure offensive stats are a bit lower than other NL candidates, overall stats like WAR are right at the top of the entire MLB.

3. Adam Wainwright (SP - STL) (Stock trending up):

Much like the aforementioned Anibal Sanchez, Wainwright's overwhelmingly great stats put him on the radar for best player in the league. This is the player to be named later. His 3.5 WAR is tied with Miguel Cabrera for MLB's best. He is also 4th in baseball in xFIP, and 5th in SIERA. And that absurd .75 BB/9? It's actually dropped. To 0.61.

NL Cy Young:

1. Adam Wainwright (SP - STL) (Stock trending up):

Woah, what a shocker! Did I also mention his BABIP is .328? Much like Sanchez, he might get even better in the short term.

2. Matt Harvey (SP - NYM) (Stock trending neutral):

For those waiting for the rookie to slip up, seems like you're going to have quite the wait on your hands. Harvey continues to demonstrate control and skill usually reserved for people who at least have a few years under their sleeve. Essentially, every single stat of his, including xFIP, WAR, and SIERA, is second best in the NL to Wainwright. He's every bit as a clear the 2nd best in the NL right now as Wainwright is the first.

3. Clayton Kershaw (SP - LAD) (Stock trending down):

Clayton has been slowly going through a bit of a funk by his excellent standards. While nothing about his last two starts was egregiously bad, he did let a couple teams string together some baserunners and scoring on him. It's perhaps scarier on my part that I almost gave this spot to AJ Burnett. Clayton is buoyed by good WAR and WPA numbers, but some of the pure pitching stats like xFIP and SIERA are floating around the upper teens and twenties in terms of MLB ranking. If he was in the AL, he probably wouldn't even crack the top 7-8 pitchers or so.

-End Post

Monday, June 3, 2013

On Blowback

Professor of International Studies at Harvard, Stephen M. Walt, reported in 2009 that, since 1980, the US has caused the death approximately 1 million Muslims in the Arab World. This was the number given to us 4 years ago. It has risen substantially since then.

Let that sink in for a second.

When we talk about blowback, pushback, retaliation, it is often with an innate disassociation from it. To suggest that terrorist attacks are a response to perceived injustices is to side with the terrorists. There is no rationale for what they have done; it is merely a facet of their existence. So the narrative goes.

And yet, we stand here, in a period of 33 years, with now well over a million corpses on our hands; the majority civilians. From drone strikes in countries like Pakistan and Yemen, to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to incredibly harsh economic sanctions in Iran, going back to Desert Storm, 90s sanctions on Iraq, and more.

When the 9/11 Commission Report specifically called out 9/11 as a response to American policy in the Middle East region, it was glossed over. When a murderer in Woolwich beheads a man and claims it is retaliation, the idea is laughed at.

Farea al-Muslimi was one of several Pakistani witnesses who spoke at the US Senate's very first hearing on drones, back in April. As is customary of the current world, before the hearing even went about, his words and ideas had spread across the internet. On his Twitter account, he Tweeted about mixed feelings for the US; a country who provided him the best years of his life in high school, and much more opportunity, security, and freedom than his home country of Pakistan. He told his villagers, friends, family the same, and the overwhelming sense of the US from those he knew in Pakistan was one of positivity.

And then, it all came shattering down in one quick missile strike.

Several civilians died. A terrorist target did too - one who was very public and made frequent stops to government buildings, where a collaborative arrest with Pakistani officials would seem possible - and just like that, opinions changed. The US was not a beacon of hope to Farea's villagers. It was now a source of fear.

Little is known about the villagers who live with the fear of drone strikes. US drones are often operated in rural, militant stronghold areas of Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan; places where troops are rare and journalists are rarer. What we do know from those who have ventured in is that the drone campaign provides a nearly limitless source of recruiting material for terrorists. Doctors and journalists have reported men, women, and children suffering from PTSD, living in fear due to the 24/7 buzzing of drones high above, wondering if their home or village is next. It becomes a rallying cry for disillusioned young males, an easy route for groups like Al-Qaeda to recruit new soldiers. The story sells itself.

But, as with many things Middle East policy, the roots of hostility towards the US, the UK, and other countries, goes back decades. British Colonialism from their Imperial heydays carved up the Middle East much like European powers did in Africa. They oversaw and controlled areas in the early 20th century much like they did with India or Malaya.

It was hoped that the fall of colonialism would lead to the fall of western interference, but it was too much to hope. Perhaps we will never know exactly how much influence the possibility of oil has wielded over western powers. Certainly, it's hard to quantify. What we do know is that when Iran democratically elected a new government in 1951, lead by Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, oil began to tighten its grip. The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company - now known today as BP - complained to Britain about Iran's legislative passage to nationalize the oil industry. And so, into motion went a UK and US lead coup, to overthrow the elected government, and replace it with a prime minister vetted by the two countries, who would not continue the policy of oil nationalization. History can debate if the man the west picked, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was a good leader or not, but it is impossible to deny that no country in the world would like a coup instigated by foreign powers, to overthrow an elected PM and replace with one of "their own." And now, to this day, our UN-based economic sanctions do what they do in every other country; much like North Korea, they only hurt those who need money the most. The rich and powerful suffer little from rapid inflation, costs of goods fluctuations, or a shrinking economy - they are protected by the amount of their wealth. But the average citizen, just trying to make it by, now sees their cost of living too high, the food too expensive, and jobs too hard to come by.

To say that this is the only interference is, of course, silly. From massive military support of Israel, who continues to evict Palestinians to create new settlements, even to the chagrin of their largest ally, the US, to the Iran-Iraq War, to Somalia, and more; military policy from the US has been hands-on in the region for decades now.

And that leads us back to today. Where drone strikes have killed over 3,000, about a third of them being civilians. Where years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq have left little but shells of countries, the former overrun by corruption, drugs, and violence, and the latter barely hanging on to any security by a thread, with sectarian violence bubbling and threatening to spill over to all time highs. And now, politicians like John McCain beg Washington to throw their hands in even farther.

Over one million Muslims dead. Decades of colonialism, interference, and more. Years of torture under President Bush, the same torture we admonished the likes of the Vietcong and Imperial Japan for.

Is blowback really a surprise?

Is the fact that when you mix poverty, religion, and contemptible actions by foreign militaries, you get people willing to strike back all that odd?
In India, they struck back against Imperial Britain. In China, they struck back against Imperial Japan. And yet, those were rather closed end cases. The UK left India largely to its own devices once it left. Same with Japan and China. It is not hard to see the major difference between these countries and countries like Iran and Iraq. It starts with an "o" and rhymes with "boyle."

And here we are, in 2013, ignoring Pakistani calls to end our drone strikes. We ignore their claims to sovereignty, their attempts to dissuade us, and fire away. We use drones in Yemen. In Somalia. In countries we are not at war with and probably never will be, and often, with little support, or even the opposite thereof, to our use of drones. We have uncorked a sectarian bloodshed in Iraq, and then threw our hands up and merely wondered how a country could be so "violent" or "wrong" and why we should bother to try to fix it. You do not open a gladiator rink and then question why the gladiators fight.

Until the US takes a good hard look at its policies in the Middle East, we will be doomed to our same mistakes. We will continue to do terrible, terrible things to a region of the world that has been on the receiving end of over a centuries worth of military and economical command from western powers. And when a bomb goes off in Boston, or New York, or London, the narrative will be the same.

"Why do they hate us?"
"Why do they kill civilians?"
"What did we do to them?"
"Why can't they leave us alone?"

Today, in all likelihood, a missile will be fired from a US military drone in Pakistan. It will kill people. And across the world, in a city, or a village, a Pakistani civilian will cry, and weep, and wonder.

"Why do they hate us? Why can't they leave us alone?"

Friday, May 24, 2013

Tracking Baseball's Best

I've been meaning to do this as a weekly or bi-weekly thing, when politics or life is too frustrating to write about.

Consider this basically a "tracking" of who should be MVP and Cy Young of each league, while marking stock up or down. That's basically all this is. I'll make the case for each player and talk about where they might be headed and try to keep up to date on who really is the best of the best in baseball right now.

I'll start with the AL:

The AL MVP race, as of right now, is fairly easy to get a handle on. We have an overwhelming number one, and a fairly clear drop off from the top 3 to the next bunch of players.

One thing to note; keep an eye out for Mike Trout - he's been heating up lately.

1. Miguel Cabrera (3B - DET) (Stock trending up):

If the season were to end today, there's a very good chance that Cabrera would be a unanimous MVP winner. His stats so far are well beyond even his last two years (which were his already very good career's best), and he is on pace to have one of the 80 or so highest WAR seasons of all time, which is much more amazing when you consider the vast majority of top 80 WAR seasons came in the 19th and early 20th centuries. What's perhaps most remarkable so far, however, is how much of a gap there is between him and the next best players in all of MLB. His wOBA is 30 points higher than 2nd place. wRAA? 7.2. WRC+? 21. Even his WAR is 0.4 higher, which, considering his defense and baserunning are still pretty mediocre, tells you how dangerous he has been with the bat.

2. Chris Davis (1B - BAL) (Stock trending neutral):

While 1st place for AL MVP is easy, 2nd and 3rd is pretty much a tossup at this point. You can make a fairly convincing argument for Chris Davis or Evan Longoria. I ultimately went with Davis. While his position and defensive skills don't equate to his glovework being that valuable, his overall offensive numbers are better across the board just enough for me to give him the nod. In most batting categories, he is only beaten out in the AL by Cabrera, and his Win Probability added is comparable to Cabrera.

3. Evan Longoria (3B - TB) (Stock Trending neutral):

Again, a tossup here. Evan Longoria offers a more well-rounded game defensively and plays a more demanding position than Chris Davis. Interestingly, his baserunning has been faulty so far this season. Offensively, he hasn't been quite as strong as the top two guys on this list.

AL Cy Young

Unlike the AL MVP, the Cy Young race is a mess so far. Anibal Sanchez, Felix Hernandez, and Clay Bucholz all have claims to be made. Max Scherzer is just barely on the outside looking in, and while Justin Verlander has been beaten up a lot lately, and Yu Darvish has been slipping too, they're just a couple good starts away from jumping right back into the discussion.

1. Anibal Sanchez (SP - DET) (Stock trending neutral):

Sanchez had his first truly bad start of the season the other day, but he still has well-rounded stats and has had an excellent season so far. His stats across the board are at or near the top of both the AL and NL: he's first in xFIP, third in WAR, 5th in SIERA. Right now, his BABIP is at an exceedingly high .356, much higher than just about all other top pitchers, so his numbers may yet get better, assuming that regresses.

2. Felix Hernandez (SP - SEA) (Stock trending neutral):

Could be picked number one and I'd have no problem with it. Much like Sanchez, he has a baseketcase of stats at or near the top of baseball: 3rd in xFIP, 5th in WAR, 4th in SIERA. Just another year on the job for one of the best pitchers of the last several seasons.

3. Clay Bucholz (SP - BOS) (Stock trending up):

Bucholz has been pitching very well as of lately, and continues to climb up the leaderboards in a variety of stats. Some of his peripherals aren't quite as good as the top two here; he's 15th in xFIP, and his SIERA places him 22nd. But his WAR is second and his WPA (a bit of an iffy stat, but combined with WAR, demonstrates his overall value) is 3rd, and he's clearly anchoring a staff that has started to slip quite a bit over the last week or two.


Much like the AL MVP, the NL has a fairly clearly defined number 1 right now. After that, it gets a bit murky. And by a bit, I mean a lot. Two through five in the NL really is a total washout. Close your eyes and throw a dart.

1. Joey Votto (1B - CIN) (Stock trending up):

Joey Votto doesn't have quite the numbers of Cabrera, but he is, much like Cabrera, clearly leading everyone in his own league. He has the best wOBA, wRAA, WRC+, and WAR out of all NL players. He's been getting better over the last couple weeks, too. One thing to note; his BABIP is .427, second in all of baseball to only Joe Mauer. That is probably not sustainable.

2. Shin-Soo Choo (CF - CIN) (Stock trending neutral):

While I didn't throw darts, I did agonize over this pick a lot. Choo's defense has been pretty terrible at times, and it's debatable if his offensive stats are good enough to makeup for it and propel him to second, but I am giving him the benefit of the doubt. The usual applies here; good stats across the board, it's just that third place is so close...

3. Paul Goldschmidt (1B - ARI) (Stock trending neutral):

If you haven't heard of this guy, you might want to check him out. For three years in a row now, he has gotten better at the plate, but this year, he has made huge strides in defense, where he has gone from a definite liability to a big-time asset. His offensive numbers across the board are near the top in all of baseball.

Note: Apologies to Troy Tulowitzki. Honestly, he could be as high as second here. Or as low as fifth. Same as Choo and Goldschmidt (Carlos Gomez is the 5th man here who is also in the discussion).

NL Cy Young

The number one pitcher in the NL right now is pretty clear-cut. Infact, 2nd and 3rd place are too, making the NL Cy Young race the easiest to analyze.

1. Adam Wainwright (SP - STL) (Stock trending up):

All things considered, he's the best pitcher in baseball this year. First in the MLB in xFIP and WAR. Third in SIERA. Perhaps the most amazing stat is this; 0.75 BB/9. He is walking less than one batter per nine innings. That's impeccable control.

2. Matt Harvey (SP - NYM) (Stock trending up):

For a rookie, Matt Harvey is doing some really impressive things on the mound. How about these stats; 7th in baseball in WAR, 7th in xFIP, and 8th in SIERA (just off of 777, sorry to casino fans). His numbers are pretty much 2nd best in the NL in every category. One thing to note, and it's that pesky BABIP again. Hitters are hitting just .220 on balls in play against Harvey. That will probably rise here shortly.

3. Clayton Kershaw (SP - LAD) (Stock trending neutral):

Another year, another Kershaw Cy Young sighting. Here we go; 11th in baseball in xFIP, 8th in WAR, 11th in SIERA. His WPA is number one in baseball, and he remains one of the few bright points on a wholly disappointing Dodgers team. Much like Harvey is in 2nd, Kershaw occupies 3rd place in the NL in most key pitching statistics.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A Crude Attempt to Statistically Determine Baseball's Best Player for both Pitchers and Hitters

I was bored at work, and with the 2013 MLB season starting, I wanted to go back and see if I could statistically quantify last year's MVP race (and eventually the Cy Young race). As many know, Miguel Cabrera won the MVP voting, as much as the stat geeks/sabermetricians/general managers disagreed.

(For a Glossary behind the stats being used, see: )

I started with the basis that no one stat is perfect (ESPN has fetishized WAR to the point of no return, but then again, ESPN is the worst example of sports journalism pretty much ever). From here, I basically took a basket of accurate and well-supported advanced stats among the baseball community, and assigned a percentage to them in how they would eventually weigh on the final evaluation. This percentage was based roughly on accuracy and general support among statisticians.


For pitching, I came up with the following formula to determine how good a player was:

SIERA (25%) WAR (30%) WPA/LI (15%) WPA (5%) FIP (8%) xFIP (8%) tERA (9%)

The percentages measure how much that stat will eventually be weighted in the final calculation.

I gave WAR the most precedence of any stat because it is still a good catch-all for how good a player is, and more than raw stats, wins are the ultimate goal of baseball.

SIERA is still a relatively new "true" ERA measure that has outperformed tERA and xFIP in recent years in terms of predictor and evaluation powers. I made that the second most weighted stat.

WPA stats have some flaws, what with being somewhat prone to "well, in hindsight..." looks, but are still decent ways of accounting for what we want most here; how the player helped garner victories.

I used the standard advanced pitching statistics trifecta to make up the remaining 25%; FIP, xFIP, and tERA.

The nice thing about this is we have a 50/50 split between probability and value based stats (WAR, WPA/LI, and WPA) and raw pitching stats (SIERA, FIP, xFIP, tERA) which I feel strikes a decent balance.

Positional Players

Positional players were more straightforward. In previous years, I have considered wOBA a very good statistic, but it's not park adjusted, and I didn't want any non-neutral stat to enter the formula - especially given the huge discrepancy between, say, the Yankees "Little League" Stadium, and the Padres "I swallow all of your flyballs" stadium.

wRAA (25%) wRC+ (25%) WAR (30%) WPA/LI (15%) WPA (5%)

Once again, WAR is given a slight emphasis over all other stats. wRAA and wRC+ make up the raw statistical side of the equation, which once again comes out to a 50/50 split in projection/probability and pure numbers. This is eventually what I worked with to crudely calculate a true MVP, although it's way less crude than "he plays hard" or "it's the Triple Crown, stupid!" or whatever other regurgitated garbage pundits come up with.

Mike Trout vs. Miguel Cabrera (2012 MLB Season)

So, how I did this. I wanted to base this off of separation from the median player for one simple reason. If I had settled, as I originally planned to, on simply assigning a points system based on ranking, it would have penalized a large lead. For instance:

Batting Averages: Scenario A
1. .364
2. .328
3. .327

Player 1 is clearly way ahead of Player 2 in this, but a points based structure would have assigned equal difference to player 1 and 2 as player 2 and 3. Not good. So medians it is.

All medians are based off of minimum plate appearances to qualify for end of the year stats, which meant that 143 players were qualified, so median was rounded to 72nd player. I used both NL and AL to make sure the sample size wasn't cut even smaller.

So, here's the data for each player with their stat totals and the league (AL & NL) median.

Median WAR: 2.8
Trout WAR: 10.0
Cabrera WAR: 6.9

Median wRAA: 8.5
Trout wRAA: 48.2
Cabrera wRAA: 57.3

Median wRC+: 110
Trout wRC+: 166
Cabrera wRC+: 166

Median WPA/LI: 0.94
Trout WPA/LI: 6.00
Cabrera WPA/LI 6.34

Median WPA: 0.99
Trout WPA: 5.32
Cabrera WPA: 4.82

From here, I quickly calculated how much better each player was than the league median.

Trout WAR: 3.57143 times better than league median (357.143%)
Cabrera WAR: 2.46429 times better than league median (246.429%)

Trout wRAA: 5.67059 times better than league median (567.059%)
Cabrera wRAA: 6.74118 times better than league median (674.118%)

Trout wRC+: 1.50909 times better than league median (150.090%)
Cabrera wRC+: 1.50909 times better than league median (150.090%)

Trout WPA/LI: 6.38298 times better than league median (638.298%)
Cabrera WPA/LI: 6.74468 times better than league median (674.468%)

Trout WPA: 5.37374 times better than league median (537.374%)
Cabrera WPA: 4.86869 times better than league median (486.869%)

Trout: ((3.57143 * 3) + (5.67059 * 2.5) + (1.50909 * 2.5) + (6.38298 * 1.5) + (5.37374 * .5)) / 10 = 4.092483 total value

Cabrera: ((2.46429 * 3) + (6.74118 * 2.5) + (1.50909 * 2.5) + (6.74468 * 1.5) + (4.86869 * .5)) / 10 = 4.056991 total value

Trout was roughly 409.2483% better than median player
Cabrera was roughly 405.6991% better than median player

Ok, so what happened here. I basically took each player's stats in their respective category, compared it to the league median, and ran it through the formulas from earlier in the article (the ones with the percentages).

Trout should have won MVP (as the stat geeks proclaimed. Even if Ichiro hit .450 with 30 HRs and 100 stolen bases as a leadoff hitter one year, he'd never win triple crown because of RBI dependency, to use a crude example of how crappy the Triple Crown is). This was widely supported among voters at sites like Fangraphs and BaseballProspectus, but I wanted to lend a somewhat simplistic and crude if fair and accurate number to it.

Obvious Flaws:

One thing that stands out is that some stats have larger spreads than others, and thus will play a bigger role in the final tally than others because of a higher total. Because over the course of the year, the best players will generally congregate towards similar stats anyways, I wasn't too worried about this. You'll notice that the spread between Trout and Cabrera; whether the players were ~3 times better or ~6 times better, were very similar in all 5 categories.

This measure tends to still tilt towards hitting at the expense of fielding and baserunning a bit much, but the WAR and WPA stats help negate that a bit.

As we can see, the final numbers gave Trout a small but noticeable higher score than Cabrera. Given that Trout was a much, much, much better fielder and baserunner, that also lends credence to his season being better.

Friday, March 8, 2013

On the Death of Hugo Chavez

I've been trying to get back into blogging for months now. I've got a veritable wasteland of incomplete posts and the like, from economics, to personal updates, to good movies, and more, and yet nothing clicks. Why this particular subject ended up being the first is a bit odd, but nonetheless...

With Hugo Chavez' recent passing, the future of two countries has been thrown a dramatic curveball. Outside of those two countries most affected by his passing - Venezuela, obviously, and Cuba - many try to clarify what his legacy is and was to both his own country and the international community.

One thing that has somewhat irked me has little to do with Chavez himself, but how some of the more extreme leftists/progressives have upheld him as an ultimate role model. If Chavez is the greatest example of socialism, then socialism has a ways to go before it can be truly lauded. While Chavez' anti-imperialism and ability to withstand the US - which has had a long history of war crimes and supporting murderous dictators in Central and South America - were both commendable, his economic programs at home were erratic at best, and marked by both strong successes and strong failures. Under 14 years of Chavez' rule, university enrollment doubled, GDP doubled, poverty was cut dramatically - extreme poverty even more so - infant mortality and unemployment decreased, and literacy rates increased. It needs mentioning that all of these things were improvements also seen in other countries around the world, especially oil-rich ones, but Chavez' economic numbers when compared regionally are largely indicative of successful welfare programs. Sadly, inequality has spiked among Venezuelans with the difference in wealth between the rich and poor, and the violent crime and murder rate have also been spiraling out of control. Blackouts are still somewhat common, and access to safe drinking water is a bit hit-and-miss. His expensive programs and high deficits leave whoever takes over in a difficult position of deciding what subsidies and safety nets to continue, and what to axe. Perhaps his biggest deficiencies, however, were in civil liberties, where Chavez strong-armed his way into a president for life position and gerrymandered the country to make opposition difficult, and upheld rigorous censorship laws and regulations. The prison system is dangerous and unkempt, and police abuses are widespread.

But Hugo Chavez' death also means potential changes for Cuba. Cuba has long provided doctors and health practitioners to Venezuela, while Venezuela has provided heavily discounted oil in return, and very large amounts, at that. Chavez was an extremely close friend of Castro, and was able to use his personality at home to continue to dissuade questioning of the cheap oil to Cuba. With the aforementioned high deficits and a new leader for Venezuela impending, it is expected that these oil deals may be some of the first on the chopping block, as they do little for the average Venezuelan. This has a large effect on the Cuban economy, which is stagnant and struggling right now, and heavily relies on the Venezuelan oil subsidies to stay afloat. Without them, Cuba could very possibly enter a strong recession or even depression economically.

Internationally, Chavez' death represents the passing of another iconic anti-American leader. And perhaps that will be what is most remembered of him. He presented a different option to the imperialism, banana republics, and Pinochets that saw direct western involvement and/or support. The differences in opinions on him continue to drive further apart as neither side agrees; the right calls him a brutal dictator, which is probably a bit unfair, and the left seems to idolize him as a socialist vision of perfection, which is probably an exaggeration. What Chavez was is complicated by confounding statistics, national fervor that reveals both deep love and strong distaste; the latter in particular on an international level. Perhaps, like some other iconic national leaders around the world, we simply have to consider him a flawed individual, prone to both success and failure, a thirst for power, and a strong sense of personal justice. In that sense, maybe he was an everyman, but it remains up for debate whether he truly did the best for every man.