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?"