Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Baseball Constraints

Russell A. Carleton of Baseball Prospectus always delivers the goods:
Everything… everything… has risk in it....and this is perhaps the most important thing to know about baseball—the majority of things that people try in baseball don’t work. But you can’t judge something based on whether or not it worked, or whether or not it has a good chance of working. You have to judge it based on whether it has the best chance of all the available options, even if that’s only a 30 percent chance. We don’t have a name for “the guy whom the team could have signed to a long-term deal a few years ago, but they chickened out and now are stuck with a boringly average guy instead.” You don’t want an albatross, but you also don’t want to have a vengrette. People worry about potential albatrosses, because they know what those are. If only they knew how to counterweight that by worrying about a potential vengrette.
If the majority of things people tried in baseball worked, snarky bloggers like me would not exist. Luckily, baseball is an endless series of failures, so I can criticize from my Ivory Tower without having any skin in the game. Of course, I'm not qualified to have any skin in the actual game. 

But let's look at the Giants offseason with the benefit of hindsight anyway, with the knowledge that general manager Brian Sabean was operating in a world of constraints. 

According to Forbes, the Giants are the fourth most valuable franchise in baseball, worth $2 billion now. Last season, they had an operating income of $68.4 million on revenues of $387 million. Be that as it may, Sabean cannot spend more than ownership allows him to spend. 

This winter, ownership apparently told Sabean that he could open the season with a payroll $20 million higher than last year ($170 to $149). Assuming Sabean spent the full amount allotted by ownership this winter, he was given $30.8 million to play with after factoring in free-agent defectors and raises to players already contract. 

Sabean spent that money as follows: Casey McGehee ($4.8 million), Nori Aoki ($4 million), Jake Peavy ($11 million), Sergio Romo ($7 million), and Ryan Vogelsong ($4 million). The Giants have a club option on Aoki for next season, they owe Peavy $13 million next year, and they owe Romo $8 million in 2016. There were no long-term contracts distributed, and no crazy overpays as Peavy, Romo, and Aoki all reportedly had competitive offers elsewhere. 

Of course, before settling on those five players--the Giants traded for McGehee's final year of club control--Sabean chased three big fish: Pablo Sandoval, Jon Lester, and James Shields. Sandoval spurned a similar offer to go to Boston where he apparently thinks he won't have to deal with an organization worrying about his weight, Lester chose to reunite with his first boss, Theo Epstein, in Chicago, and Shields decided to wait the market out, which caused the Giants to rescind their offer. Any contracts for Sandoval, Lester, or Shields would've been significantly back-loaded. Thus, Sabean would've borrowed from future payrolls in order to add additional pieces for 2015. 

My feeling is that the Giants dodged long-term bullets in getting left at the altar by Sandoval, Lester, and Shields. Regardless of his weight issues, Sandoval just hasn't been a star player with the bat since 2011. He's remained above-average when you factor in the unfriendly confines of AT&T Park, but he's also been declining. Would you want to pay an overweight, declining player $100 million for five of his post-peak seasons? I'd rather pocket the draft pick, trade for a season of McGehee, and save the excess funds for a rainy day. 

Lester, or Jonny Facking Lestaaaaah as he's affectionately called in Boston, is a 31-year-old pitcher. That's all I really need to know about him to say no thanks. Pitchers like Lester and Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia and Barry Zito and Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee are effective and durable until, shockingly, they suddenly are not. It's good to get them while the getting is good, and that tends to be when their prices are controlled by the MLB cartel via three seasons of league minimum service time followed by three years of below-market arbitration costs. If you're lucky, you might get them to sacrifice some free-agent years with a long-term contract extension at below-market prices, as the Giants wisely did with Madison Bumgarner. Pitchers break, and if anyone knows why, they aren't saying. Even the cyborg Matt Cain finally broke down. If there is a general area to be extremely conservative, it's with long-term contracts to pitchers on the wrong side of 30.

Sabey-Sabes, as he's called in Moneyball, got a compensation pick for losing out on Sandoval, and he got to keep his first-round pick when Big Game James Shields decided not to come to San Francisco. Lester was traded mid-season, so the signing club would not forfeit a draft choice for acquiring him. The Giants pick moved up to 18th when the Padres, Mets, Blue Jays, and Mariners signed players who were offered the qualifying offer. By getting spurned on the free-agent market, the Giants added or kept valuable draft choices while saving money on all future payrolls beyond 2016. 

If I had been in Sabean's shoes, I wouldn't have negotiated with Sandoval, Lester, Shields, or any free agent on this year's market that was attached to draft-pick compensation. Draft picks have value, as seen by the core of this team: Cain (2002 1st rounder), Bumgarner (2007 1st rounder), Posey (2008 1st rounder), Romo (2005 28th rounder, Tim Lincecum (2006 1st rounder), Brandon Crawford (2008 4th rounder), Brandon Belt (2009 5th rounder), Joe Panik (2011 1st rounder), Andrew Susac (2011 2nd rounder), Matt Duffy (2012 18th rounder) and Hunter Pence (acquired for 2009 2nd rounder Tommy Joseph). Okay, so Duffy is not a core piece but I love him and believe he's going to hit .330 in the big leagues and make several All-Star teams and we all have our dreams so fuck off. 

Now, we don't know what other options Sabean had to acquire a third baseman. What would the Yankees have needed from San Francisco for Martin Prado? When we analyze these transactions from the outside, we're always operating without, well, just about all of the information. Was signing Aoki necessary with Gregor Blanco already in tow? Was signing Vogelsong necessary with Bumgarner, Cain, Lincecum, Hudson, Peavy, and Petit already on the roster? Was signing Romo necessary given the existing depth in the bullpen? 

Aoki, or another outfielder, was necessary because of Angel Pagan's injury history and Blanco's inconsistency. I probably wouldn't have re-signed Romo or Vogelsong, however. Or maybe I'd have re-signed Vogelsong instead of Peavy given that Jake is 33 with one major shoulder operation already on his resume. Then again, I fucking love Jake Peavy. 

In the end, I like the Giants winter as it was a lot more than if they'd signed Sandoval and added little else; signed Shields, lost their first-round pick, and added little else; or signed Lester to a huge deal. Then again, if Sandoval hits .300/.350/.550 with 25 home runs, I'll be all, what the fuck, Sabey-Sabes? Should have locked that dude up before he hit the market cuz once dudes hit the market, they tend to leave. It's like breaking up with cha girl: once she's out there, she ain't coming back, bruh. Duh. 

So, baseball is complicated and hard. Buster Posey has failed to reach base in 62.6 percent of his plate appearances, for example. Tim Lincecum was great until he was terrible. Matt Cain was durable until his elbow stopped being durable. Even a three-time champion GM like Sabean is going to make more wrong moves than right ones. All that is good for the blogging business, but the baseball gods are unlikely to make the game any easier in the near future. They're a conservative lot up in heaven, living the good life and getting to talk to Jesus face-to-face whenever they want. 

But one good thing working in our favor is this: when Cain, Sandoval, Posey, Lincecum, Bumgarner, Belt, and Panik were deemed ready, Sabean brought them up regardless of service time. That hurt the club's bottom line, as Belt and Lincecum reached arbitration status a year early. Sabean called up Posey in September 2009, even though he hardly played. Meanwhile, the big-market Cubs wouldn't let Kris Bryant sniff the big leagues last September, and they almost certainly won't bring him up to start the season in 2015. For shame, Cubbies. Give credit where credit is due: when a guy is ready, Sabean pulls him up without regard to long-term financial considerations. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Spring Roster Battles

Assuming Angel Pagan is in the Opening Day lineup, the San Francisco Giants don't have many roster battles ongoing this spring. The four roster battles are for the backup catcher spot (Andrew Susac vs. Hector Sanchez), the other backup infield spot next to Joaquin "Phoenix" Arias (Matt Duffy vs. Ehire Adrianza), the fifth outfield job with Hunter Pence down (Justin Maxwell vs. Juan Perez), and the final bullpen spot (George Kontos vs. Jean Machi).

Susac is a better player than Sanchez, but he's battled a wrist issue this spring and as a legitimate prospect, maybe it'd be better for him to play every day in Sacramento than once a week in San Francisco. There are those out there who see good things in Sanchez, but we all have our blind spots in life. As a backup catcher, he's fine, sure, but his defense has always been hard to watch due to his lack of athleticism, conditioning, and ability to frame the ball. To be fair, the Giants rushed him to the big leagues long before he was ready, and catching once a week has not helped his development at all during the past three seasons.

Duffy is better than Adrianza, but Adrianza is out of options while Duffy can be sent to Sacramento, even though he doesn't even live there. Adrianza is a better defender at short than Duffy, but Duffy is clearly the better offensive player. Duffy hit .304/.387/.413 in the minors while Adrianza has hit .249/.335/.345. This spring, Duffy is hitting .387/.424/.742 in 33 plate appearances while Adrianza is hitting .200/.351/.300 in 37 plate appearances. If 70 spring training plate appearances are what gets you off, then good for you. I only list those numbers to prove my point further: Duffy can hit a little and Adrianza cannot. Then again, Jon Miller enjoys enunciating Ehire Adrianza a lot more than Matt Duffy. So often in life, as we get older, there just isn't a right answer, and things don't really matter. I cannot think of anything that matters less than the 7th reliever, 5th outfielder, 6th infielder, and backup catcher on an Opening Day Major League Baseball roster.

Yet this blog marches on. Duffy has minor league options, and he's only had a little over 1,000 minor league plate appearances. It may be better for him and the organization if Duffy goes to Sacramento to play shortstop every day. Unlike Susac, Duffy projects as more of a bench player in the big leagues. However, when you consider the average big league shortstop hit .255/.310/.367 last year, maybe Duffy is good enough to be a starter at the highest level. He has bat-to-ball skills, he'll take a walk, and he can run. I'm a Team Duffy guy. The Duffster. Duff Daddy.

What else? Baggs says that Maxy has some fans in the org. I want to have some fans in the Giants org. Hell, I broke the Nori Aoki signing. No one has wasted more of his limited time on this Earth worrying about the Giants than me, Dr. Mike Blogger. Call me, Sabes.

I have nothing to say about Jean Machi or George Kontos, other than the fact that a lot of female fans find Kontos attractive. I can see it. I can dig it. I'm a get-it guy. But as Jack Kerouac wrote in Dharma Bums, when you get old and cynical and sick of this suffering life, things like physical attraction and sex start to become, I don't know, just another annoying aspect of our dumb world. He didn't really write that, per se, but that was the gist of it.

But real baseball is getting closer. I watched a few pitches on Friday night. Buster Posey struck out swinging at a slider. Could be time to get rid of that entitled loser. If NCAA players will play for free, why do the Giants have to pay Posey? That seems dumb. Get on it, Charles Johnson. You don't owe these entitled pricks shit.

Baseball. It was once a thing I wrote about a lot which gave this particular American life a lot of meaning. Will you dance with me again, baseball? One pitch at a time, and the thirty seconds between each pitch, for three hours a night, will you be my salvation? Are you there? Why don't you answer my calls anymore? No one loves you like I love you. No one needs you like I need you.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The NC Double Assholes (NCAA) and More Musings

Brian Phillips of Grantland writes about the continuing decline in the quality of the NCAA hoops product, "But men’s college basketball can’t prioritize entertainment too openly, because then the commercial motive would be obvious and would threaten the NCAA’s supposed reason for being." 

Doesn't the fact that the NCAA has instituted eight media timeouts, one at each stoppage for every four minutes of play in a 40-minute game, already prove that the NCAA is prioritizing the "commercial motive"? What could be more obvious than that? The NBA game, which is 48 minutes long, also has eight mandatory media timeouts per game; however, if a coach calls a timeout before the mandatory stoppage time, that timeout becomes a substitute for the mandatory media timeout. Not so in college. Thus, even though the college game is eight minutes shorter, it has even more timeouts than the for-profit NBA! 

How can you write an article on the college game without mentioning that? That fact right there is the smoking gun that shows that this isn't about amateurism, student athletes, or even entertainment; this is all about money, namely withholding the revenue generated by "student athletes" so that verbally abusive, hypocritical dictators like Coach K and athletic departments can keep all of the money for themselves. 

I grew up a college hoops fan, but I now barely watch. I've watched about 10 minutes of the NCAA tournament so far. The quality of the product is awful, the NCAA is a despicable, lying scam, and I'd much rather watch Steph Curry and the amazing Warriors with my most limited resource--time--because at least NBA players are paid something approaching their fair-market value. 

Of course, the draft, the rookie wage scale, max salaries, and the salary cap prevent NBA players from being paid a true-market price, but taxpayer funding for stadiums and lucrative, rent-seeking cable deals probably make up the difference. What I mean is that if we had a true free-market with no salary cap, draft, rookie wage scale, or maximum contracts but also no taxpayer support for the product and no cable deals that prevent in-market fans from watching their team online, NBA players would be making about what they're making in the current distorted market. But that's just a guess on my part. I'm not an economist. I'm a 29-year-old unemployed white dude with a blog that 50 people sometimes read.

Anyway, @theshrillest tweets that, "if [NCAA] players didn't have any market value, then if the NCAA allowed schools to pay players, the market wage would be zero." And we know that, in fact, the market value of an NCAA basketball player would be a lot more than zero. A full-ride scholarship to go get screamed at by Coach K is worth $63,530 right now. (Full disclosure: I was also a verbally abusive, lunatic coach from ages 19-21 when I coached high school basketball during my college years. I did not make $7.2 million off of underpaid employees, however.) Studies have shown that the fair-market price for a college basketball player would not be zero, and it would be a lot more than $60,000 per year. Instead, it's closer to $400,000. I think Coach K would survive if Duke paid him $3 million and distributed the other $4 million he currently gets to his players each season. 

If the NCAA really wants this to be about amateurism, they should stop selling the rights to broadcast these games, stop selling merchandise, and stop charging for tickets. Then, there'd be no revenue to distribute to the players, no scholarship money, and this would really be about student athletes from the schools' student body. But that's not what this is about, and when NCAA coaches and officials and media pundits who are paid to cover the NCAA talk about the need to protect amateurism, remember that it's really hard to get someone to understand something when their lucrative career hinges on them not understanding that something. 

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When news broke that San Francisco Giants center fielder Angel Pagan was already missing time with recurring back problems after having season-ending surgery last season, it further convinced me of the need for eastern medicine in western sports

Tom Brady trains with an expert in Chinese medicine, Alex Guerrero. It's no coincidence that Brady is going strong at 38 years old. His guru had him forgo a surgery on his groin that the Patriots were recommending, and they were able to fix the injury without an invasive surgery.

The difference with eastern medicine is that it takes a more holistic approach to health. I'm not saying that Pagan shouldn't have had surgery. I'm not a medical expert. However, the best predictor of future injury that we have right now is prior injury, as athletes who are hurt often tend to stay hurt or keep getting hurt. Brady's training program focuses on mental toughness and physical durability through flexibility more than via strength training. My guess is that the focus on strength training at the expense of all else is causing athletes to become less flexible and thus more injury prone. 

Similarly, it's my feeling that when it comes to mental health among the general population, we tend not to take a very holistic approach. Are you feeling depressed and anxious? Here's some pills. But, are you sleeping enough? What's your diet like? Do you exercise? Do you spent a lot of time alone? Do you you have meaningful friendships? Do you have a job that gives your life meaning? Are you spending too much time alone? Do you drink a lot? (Alcohol is a depressant, after all.) For me, spending too much time by myself is the absolute worst thing that I can do. We're social animals who need meaningful human interaction. I'm not saying that people should not take medication. I'm not a mental health expert. 

My only point is that, for me, as I sit here and scarf down a fucking Cup of Noodles and sunflowers seeds, my guess is that I would feel consistently better if I ate better, meditated more, spent less time alone, became even just one percent less self-obsessed, and found meaningful, gainful employment that didn't make me totally miserable. 

Baseball writer Keith Law has talked about treating his anxiety with medication IN CONJUNCTION with meditation, diet, and exercise. I'm not going to go all Tom Cruise on Keith and call him glib and tell him to get off the meds. His private medical decisions are only my business in that he's written openly and courageously about them. That doesn't give me the right to tell him what he ought to do. However, just because he uses medication as part of his treatment of anxiety and that works for him, doesn't mean that I necessarily have to follow suit. 

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Lastly, I read this week that people, like me, whose number one news source is The New Yorker, tend to be extremely ideological, even more than Fox News viewers. Of course, I read that information on the left-leaning website Vox. I do not watch an televised news or listen to the radio. I listen occasionally to NPR's Fresh Air and This American Life

So, I'm guilty of not only reading and listening to folks who I'll probably already agree with, but I'm also guilty of pretending that I'm not very ideological. 

When I was 18, I first registered to vote for the Green Party before switching to the Democrats so that I could vote for Dennis Kucinich over my second choice, John Edwards, in the 2004 primary. I voted for John Kerry in the 2004 general and Barack Obama twice, though I found his self-aggrandizing hope and change spiel to be a bit much in 2008. 

I felt like I was becoming less and less liberal during my college years and early-to-mid 20's, but recently I feel like I've become re-radicalized. I don't think I'll vote for another middle-of-the-road Democratic politician in 2016. Why bother with that bs again? And I certainly won't for a Republican unless they nominate someone who believes in evolution and supports gay marriage. Does such a Republican exist? 

So I guess when I say that I'm not ideological, what I really mean is that I'm conflicted on many issues and would be in favor of many outside-the-box ideas that will never actually come to fruition. For instance, instead of having a million trillion federal and state programs--food stamps, welfare, unemployment insurance, social security, Medicaid, Medicare, Pell Grants, public housing, etc.--why not just distribute entitlements via cash payments or the earned income tax credit? 

As with my point on eastern medicine earlier in this blog, we do not treat issues in this country holistically. Instead, we separate everything as if it isn't all interconnected. Food insecurity, a lack of health care, a lack of housing, a lack of savings for retirement, an ability to afford education--what's the common denominator there? A lack of money. How do you fix that? By giving people money so that they can purchase health care, food, and housing. Instead, we create 75,000 programs with complex rules and regulations to ineffectively treat causes instead of the symptom. 

Now, I'd be fine with a single payer healthcare system, but that isn't going to happen in this country. But what I don't understand is why people care so much about avoiding having their healthcare dollars go to the government. When I was gainfully employed and had employer-based health insurance, I didn't give a shit that the $60 per month I paid and however much my employer paid (probably $750 I'd guess) went to the private company Cigna anymore than I cared that my Medicaid and Medicare taxes went to Sammy. At the end of the day, I earned what was paid to Cigna and what Sammy took out of my paycheck. I wasn't more upset with Sammy getting his than I was with Cigna getting his. At the end of the day, it was MY compensation being taken out of my wallet. I didn't have the choice to forgo insurance and convert the Cigna dollars into cash compensation anymore than I could refuse to pay Medicare and Medicaid taxes. 

If we don't have the political will to have a single payer system, then let's put our free-market ideology where our mouths are as a country and abolish Medicare, Medicaid, employer-based insurance, and those insane in-network contracts. Instead, let's make everyone buy private insurance on the open market and subsidize those who can't afford it via an expansion of the earned income tax credit or a cash subsidy. 

At the end of the day, we shouldn't have 87 different ways of getting people health insurance and paying for healthcare services. It just doesn't have to be that complicated. 

Lastly, I think the main reason newspapers are dying is that, at least for me, as a consumer of news, I can get The New Yorker for like $70 per year. It's inexpensive (a New York Times digital subscription costs $455 per year or $8.75 a week), it offers online access as well as the weekly magazine, it has long, in-depth reads that are exceptionally detailed and well-written, and it has short news blurbs that keep me somewhat informed about the goings-on in the world. That, combined with online news sources that I don't have to pay for like Vox and sports sites that I love like FanGraphs and Grantland, means that I'm getting plenty of well-written information extremely cheaply. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Humbling

Today, I found out that I was not accepted into the graduate Creative Writing program which I wanted to attend next Fall. Which, like, fuck you. Big mistake, assholes. The generic rejection e-mail suggested that I consider taking an extension course, which I've already been doing, but thanks for the advice. Have you considered fucking off? Please process. Thanks. 

Adult life is filled with these types of ego-shattering rejections. Want to get paid to write? How about writing for free instead for an indefinite period of time? (I should note that I have subsequently been paid to write.) Want to go to this MFA program? What about applying next Fall instead? Still want to be my boyfriend? Too bad, because I'm onto the next dude. Hey, Mike, how about you quit the disparaging blog posts and file some TPS Reports before we fire your ass? 

Which, like, two months into my retirement from TPS Reports Inc., I can see how, ya know, oops! Probably wouldn't have started writing those blog posts, if given a fourth chance. That's on me. Probably wouldn't have quit twice without a real go-forward agenda in place. I did sort of like getting paid every two weeks and getting those health bennies. Still didn't really like the way I was communicated to and treated quite a bit of time there, and there are others who would verify and share in my grievances, but that doesn't mean I handled things in a necessarily constructive way. The blog posts and the temper tantrums and the foul language and the kicking of trash cans and my other crimes against humanity were regrettable, and I was more upset with myself at my inability to control my emotions than with anything else. That written, in nearly six years of employment at TPS Reports Inc. I was only called into The Boss's office and reprimanded twice--once when I was still a good egg after I threw a temper tantrum in the kitchen, and once last August for writing a scathing e-mail to a co-worker after I had already submitted my resignation. I subsequently apologized in both cases. My first therapist told me I would need to develop good cleanup skills because I was never going to be able to control my temper too good. I have heeded his advice; hence the decision of TPS Reports Inc. to hire me on three different occasions.
So, we get fired, we get dumped, we quit and go looking for greener pastures only to end up in the Texas Hill Country trying to farm on rock, we get lost on the subway, we don't get paid for our labor or we don't get paid enough for our labor, we get taxed too much, we don't get generous enough benefits, we fuck up, we drink too much, we make bad decisions. We, meaning I, and maybe meaning we, too. I can only speak for myself, Dr. Mike Blogger, student of Advanced Fiction Writing at the UC Berkeley Extension. 

When last I left you, I was headed to Cal to check in on noted blog character Dr. Nicole. I eventually found her, though, as per usual, I did get severely lost. As her brother, Redacted, has often said, "What is wrong with that guy?" To which I would respond: I have no spatial awareness, sense of direction, or common sense. That's on me, Redacted. But we can build on this. I apologize if I embarrassed you at the Super Bowl party, but the record will show that I did not vomit that time! Progress!  

There we were, Dr. Mike and Dr. Nicole, approaching 30 years old, 27 years since we set foot on the campus of Happy Days Preschool. I can't confirm this, but I'm pretty sure Tamara was our preschool teacher. That could explain where this whole thing went wrong. 

I read my short story, The Girl in the Mickey Mouse Shirt, to the class and, whatever my limitations are, I do have a strong voice in my writing. I'm not terrible at this. Objectively, I wouldn't say that I'm particularly good, either. Good enough to be in an MFA program, perhaps, but not particularly gifted or brilliant or anything. I mean, if they'll let Silverstein and Tommy Tomsula, Jr. into law school, and Tommy Tomsula, Sr. coach an NFL team, you'd think I could get mine!

When I got home from class, I wrote a short story called No Country for Young Men about a man who doesn't want to have a child with his wife because what good would it do to bring a child into this godforsaken world? I wrote another short story recently called Zen Baseball in the Santa Cruz Mountains, which I also didn't publish on here. So that's what I've been working on recently, in addition to still probably drinking too much and not reading or writing enough. I've decided that I've gotten myself and my co-workers and my friends into enough trouble on here with my more controversial pieces, so those are staying in Microsoft Word with Creed Bratton's blog. This blog will mostly just be my random musings, unless I say fuck it and decide to keep sharing everything on here. It doesn't matter. None of this is "really real" to quote The Bachelor. It's also more freeing to write when you know your friends, family, ex-bosses, and ex-girlfriends aren't going to be reading your shit. 

And so but life is always hard, it's always impossible, it's always insurmountable, and that's what makes it whatever the fuck it is. There's a friend of mine out there who isn't really a friend of mine but I envy his life terribly. He's a hell of lot smarter than I am and he's made some money, which is sort of the name of the game in this wonderful Century of Capitalism. If you don't accumulate lots of capital, then what the fuck are you? But my guess is that he suffers just as terribly as I do, if not more. He's probably filled with just as much self-loathing as I am, even though he has less to be humble about. 

And so my shortcomings are ever present, and my failings only increase with the years. Which is okay. That's  seemingly what makes life interesting. A utopian Socialist paradise might be awfully boring. 

A while back, during my final days of employment at TPS Reports Inc., I was admonishing myself to Tamara and Dr. Nicole and my attorney, and Tamara was all, "Yeah, but you're not malicious." Meaning, I don't intentionally fuck up or suck or disappoint people or fail. And she's right. I always wanted to do the right thing. I always wanted to be the best TPS Reports Processor I could be. I always wanted today to be the day I got it together and behaved like Gandhi in my cubicle. But, if I could overcome myself at all, it was never "long enough" to quote that expert on the Texas Hill Country, that man who has to be the greatest writer to ever live, that man whose wife was forced to tell him that she had just sold the very house they were standing in because they were broke--Robert Caro. 

So, there are more programs to hear back from, more TPS Reports to one day file, more opportunities to improve, to do better, to get it right, to perfect what will always remain flawed, stained, and imperfect. Hell, the Giants won the World Series last year after a fairly weak, 88-win regular season and with Travis Ishikawa in left field and Gregor Blanco in center field for the postseason run. It's always impossible until it finally becomes possible, I suppose. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Steve Kerr and the Dubs Dubs Dubs are Dubbin'

I was never a huge fan of former Golden State Warriors head coach, preacher, and motivational speaker Mark Jackson; however, I didn't think it was all that fair for him to be fired after losing to the Clippers in seven games without Andrew Bogut. After back-to-back playoff appearances and a 51-win season, Jackson's reward was to be fired and scolded for not managing up the food chain by owner Joe Lacob. Yes, what this country needs right now is more catering to the whims of the one percent by the rest of us, Joe!

More than that, I just didn't think there was a whole lot more to get out of the roster management had constructed. Sure, the offense needed to be modernized. They needed more ball movement and fewer iso's. But how many more wins would that roster have had last year with an advanced offensive system? I figured maybe a few.

Oops. The answer appears to be 15, as Steve Kerr's Dubs are on a 66-win pace this year.

Now, Kerr has two things going for him last year that Jackson lacked: the addition of a very good backup point guard in Shaun Livingston, and the subtraction of starting power forward David Lee. Patriots assistant coach and former Raiders GM Michael Lombardi used to say that when he was with the Raiders, he'd joke that his club was one injury away from being a good team, meaning that if one of Al Davis' guys went down and the better guy could play, the Raiders would be better off. The advanced metrics always showed that despite Lee's ability to fill the antiquated box score, the Warriors would be better off with less of him.

People who don't like sabermetrics are like the people who don't think global warming is real, who don't vaccinate their children, and who are skeptical of evolution: willfully ignorant. As Joel Achenbach recently wrote, "...except that evolution actually happened. Biology is incomprehensible without it. There aren't really two sides to all these issues. Climate change is happening. Vaccines really do save lives. Being right does matter--and the science tribe has a long track record of getting things right in the end. Modern society is built on things it got right."

Or, as Adam Gopnik put it for The New Yorker, "What the question [Do you believe in evolution?] means, and why  it matters is plain: Do you have the courage to embrace an inarguable and obvious truth when it might cost you something to do so? A politician who fails this test [as each Republican presidential candidate does] is not high-minded or neutral; he or she is just craven, and shouldn't be trusted with power."

Kerr was lucky that Lee strained his hamstring in the first game of the season, but he's a smart enough coach to have eventually adjusted. How do I know that? Kerr was smart enough to hire defensive guru Ron Adams and offensive coordinator Alvin Gentry. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli, and Marreese Speights have improved their Player Efficiency Ratings (PER) under Kerr. The Warriors have moved from 12th in offensive efficiency under Jackson to second under Kerr. After Lee returned from injury, he didn't get his starting job back, and he's now virtually out of the rotation entirely. Kerr does what is best for the team and what will contribute to the ultimate goal of winning, which means starting Barnes over Igoudala and sitting Lee.

The Warriors are the best team in basketball with virtually the same roster as they had last year. They have the best record in the game and by far the best point differential. In fact, by point differential, they are one of the greatest regular season teams of all time.

I have provided statistical evidence which shows that Kerr is a superior coach to Jackson. These are facts. These things have really happened.

So, I guess I've never been more wrong than when I figured Mark Jackson got a raw deal. It's okay to admit to being wrong; it's okay to adjust to new information. And that is why ideology is so dangerous: it prevents us from evolving with changing circumstances and facts.

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Speaking of getting a raw deal, the Anthropologist David Graeber provides additional commentary to a long-held feeling of mine about the absolute pillaging of the common person in this country when he writes, "Almost every institution in America--from our corporations to our schools, hospitals, and civic authorities--now seems to operate largely as an engine for extracting revenue..."

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My friend and noted character on the blog, Tamara, attempted to boycott the National Football League this year due to its cover up of the concussion crisis and its poor handling of domestic violence issues. We made her snap out of it by putting hummus near the television during Week 1. She loves food more than her principles apparently, or maybe her love of food is her number one value. Either way, I'm sure she isn't watching the NCAA tournament or filling out brackets. I, too, am boycotting the corrupt NCAA cartel after watching this John Oliver segment.

One coach had the audacity to suggest that paying the labor contributes to "entitlement."

That's where we're at as a country right now: so stupid and beholden to corporate hegemony that we now think paying people for their labor is an entitlement. Entitlements aren't just government transfers for health care, food, education, and retirement; they're also wages paid out by employers!

I hate everything. I really mean that. Things have, in large part, become so vapid, so shallow, so hollow, so utterly meaningless, that I'm almost starting to think I'm not even insane, that it could just be the society I live in!

Anyway, I'm not really boycotting college hoops because the NCAA is a joke. I'm just not watching because the product is absolutely awful. Noted blog characters Mr. and Mrs. Galindo strongly disagree with me there, and I tried desperately to get on the San Diego State bandwagon last March. I think that's because I was going through another breakup, and I had a promising first date with an SDSU graduate around that time. Who can say?

Also, I haven't seen you in a while Tamara, what's up? I feel like we're still communicating better on my blog than in reality.

Also, where's my attorney at though? Am I fired as a client again?

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On a personal note, I remain an insane human being desperately in need of psychological help for depression, anxiety, and probably a myriad of other neuroses. However, the first step is to become more self-obsessed by announcing the problem continuously to anyone who will listen before finally deciding on a course of treatment. That step being so thoroughly taken, I feel hopeful that things are going to get better soon. If I could hike in nature for five hours a day, I think things could really take off for me. I'm a great buy-low candidate right now for anyone who seeks to employ me or become my wife. Some would say that I'm the Chimdi Chekwa of the National Football League.

So we beat on, boats against the current, onward to the campus of UC Berkeley where I am attempting to learn how to write more good and stalk the great Dr. Nicole, though she may have dropped out to pursue a more purposeful career filing TPS Reports!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Goodbye, Revis Island

It was fun while it lasted, but it was never going to last long. Darrelle Revis wasn't a True Patriot because True Patriots only exist when they're willing to play below their fair-market value, which Revis did in 2014. After another elite season and a Super Bowl title, Revis wasn't going to take a below-market deal again this off-season, and Bill Belichick sure as shit wasn't going to pay a 29-year-old corner top dollar. Hell, he barely swooped in to re-sign his favorite son, safety Devin McCourty, who is referred to as Bill's golden boy in the locker room.

Jason Cole of Bleacher Report wrote, “Finally, there was calling New England to let the team know where the situation stood. Belichick was apprised and politely declined further negotiation.

The NSA was kind enough to present me with a transcript of that call:

BB: Darrelle, it's Bill. What's the price?

Revis Island: 5 and 70, with $40 guaranteed. Do you want to match that?

BB: Well, Tom is going to play for half of his market price this year. So I'd be willing to do 5 and 35 with $20 million guaranteed. 

Revis Island: Are you serious?

BB: Look, Darrelle, I got Chimdi Chekwa's agent on the other line. You did okay last year, but we're moving onto 2015. Have fun going 7-9 again, and let me know if you want any tickets to our AFC Championship Game next year. Thanks. 

Oh me, oh my, what will the Patriots possibly do without Revis Island and Brandon Browner. I guess they'll settle for going 14-2 as they did in 2010 without any corners. Or maybe they'll go 13-3 and lose the Super Bowl as they did in 2011 with Julian Edelman playing corner. Or they could go 12-4 as they did in 2012 and 2013. It's really hard to see them going 12-4 as they did in 2014, however. Not without Revis and Browner. Bill Belichick is a cheap idiot, obviously. 

The Patriots never did get over the losses of Drew Bledsoe, Ty Law, Willie McGinnest, Richard Seymour, Deion Branch, Randy Moss, Wes Welker, or Logan Mankins, did they? 

Belichick's strategy is a lot like that of Oakland A's GM Billy Beane: it's all about that depth. Football happens to be a rather violent, despicable sport. As such, these guys get hurt a lot. When Browner was willing to sign a below-market deal due to a PED suspension, Belichick pounced. When Revis was willing to sign a one-year contract with an expensive option the Patriots had no intention of picking up, Belichick was happy to have him. But when it came time to tie up the team's cap space in one position, Belichick declined both of their contract options and moved on. 

Instead of throwing big money at replacements, he's spent money on special teams players--the Patriots are always outstanding in the kicking game--and back-up defensive end Jabaal Sheard to spell incumbents Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones. If you aren't going to cover as well as you did last year, you might as well bolster the pass rush. Sheard is a high character, versatile player who was willing to sign what looks like a below-market deal to come to New England. That's the Patriots way--the only reason Tom Brady is still on the roster is because he was willing to sign an insanely team-friendly contract. If he was making his full-market value--you know, Colin Kaepernick money--we'd be moving on to Jimmy, who Belichick drafted in the second round last year despite having the greatest quarterback of all time already on the roster at a cheap price. Why? Because players get hurt, and it's nice to know you can still go 11-5 if Brady does get hurt again. 

The other issue with employing Revis, as great as he was and might remain, is that even though he takes his guy out of the play on almost every down, we've still got to cover the other three or four guys running routes. Browner was really just a penalty prone, average player in New England, which was still a huge upgrade on what we ran out there in the 2013 AFC Championship Game in Denver. In the Super Bowl, Revis allowed one catch and Browner didn't allow much, but back-up corners Logan Ryan and Kyle Arrington were torched, which led to the insertion of undrafted corner Malcolm Butler. 

In 2015, with man-to-man, bump-and-run corners Revis and Browner gone, the Patriots will likely get back to a zone-based scheme. Ryan, Arrington, Butler, Alfonzo Dennard, and anyone else New England signs or drafts won't be as good as Revis, though Butler obviously showed some promise during his rookie year which culminated in the Super Bowl winning interception. And that is the thing: the individual players at corner won't be as good next year, but that's no matter. All that matters is the team, that's T E A M, and winning. Who wins more than Belichick, Brady, and the Patriots? No one. 

The players who are here in 2015 will be put in positions to succeed by the coaching staff. They won't be asked to do things they aren't capable of, like attempting to replace Darrelle Revis. Revis is a Hall of Fame player. Those don't grow on trees. 

What does seem to grow on trees in New England are wins. The results are the same, only the names change. Revis could've stayed in New England and probably won another Super Bowl or two. Instead, he wanted to maximize his earnings, and no one should fault him for that. If I could go 6-10 and play with Geno Smith while making $40 million or go 12-4 with Tom Brady while making $20 million or whatever, I'd go back to Jersey too. 

But I've also learned to trust Belichick's system. He manages the cap, builds depth, creates a robust middle-class of the roster, and gets his players coached up better than anyone whose done this since Bill Walsh. Yes, he has Tom Brady, but who do you think drafted and developed Brady? 

When Belichick traded Seymour, I was incensed. Last year, when he dealt Mankins for just a fourth-round pick and a little-used tight end and the Patriots couldn't block anyone early in the year, I honestly thought Belichick was senile and that the Patriots were going to go 4-12. I thought it was over. 

With Revis going back to the Garden State and all the problems Belichick has had drafting corners--Ras-I Dowling, Jonathan Wilhite, Darius Butler, Terrence Wheatley, and this current crop of undistinguished nobodies--I would normally be very worried. But while there's not another Revis out there, I'm sure Belichick will find another Leigh Bodden or Aqib Talib off the scrap heap to fortify the position. 

Somehow, the Patriots will find a way to win the AFC East for the 13th time in Belichick's 16 years at the helm. If not, we'll always have those four Super Bowls and six AFC titles. You can cry Spy Gate or Deflate Gate, but nothing Belichick has ever done has been as awful as tampering with another team's player. Shame on you, Jets. Not only do you suck, but you're a bunch of goddamn cheaters. 

Friday, February 27, 2015

Statement of Purpose

I recently edited two statement of purpose essays for some friends of mine who are headed to law school. Additionally, I had to e-mail someone my own statement of purpose for a letter of recommendation I need for another MFA program I'm applying to. The statement of purpose essay was the hardest part of the application for me.

Why do I write? Quite frankly, I worked at a law firm for a long time and the only way to pass the down time was to read the internet or write. You had to be at your cubicle for eight hours a day and posting up to read a book was bad form. If it was slow, you couldn't just dip into your PTO. So my adult writing career really began as bored e-mails to co-workers and friends, and then I started a blog to widen my audience. Now I'm 29 years old and no longer employed at the law firm in large because of my writing notions.

Today, I spent the morning editing my work for the month of February. Normally, when I re-read my stuff, I get severely depressed and stop. Today, I almost kind of liked some of the stuff I had written. I'm sure my opinions will become more harsh as those pieces age. Still, it was a nice of change of pace to read my own writing and not conclude that starting a Christian mission at 30, like Jesus, was a better option for me.

Last night during my Advanced Fiction Writing course at UC Berkeley, the Prof said, "The writer has to become his or her own teacher." For the last five years or so through many stops and starts, that is, for better or worse, what I've slowly become for myself. My process has been to write a slew of blog posts, save them in a word document each month, and then go back and re-read them, sometimes over and over again, basically trying to make something out of nothing through my poor powers to add or detract.

Another thing the Prof talked about was the difference between a story and an anecdote. Most of what I've written to this point falls under the category of an anecdote, which is the telling of something that happened to you and which isn't that interesting to strangers because it has no narrative arc or universal element to it. My friend Nicole's oldest brother was getting at that difference when he angrily told me at a party, "I thought this guy was a writer, but all he does is write about his weekend and getting drunk and shit."

So, what is my statement of purpose? Last night, I looked around the class and thought to myself, "I'd rather do absolutely nothing than anything. But we're all here because, in our society, one has to do something." I suppose I started to write because it was a subversive thing, it was something I thought no one else really did. I thought it was something outside of capitalism. In reality, everyone is a writer, and writing is just another terrible aspect of the capitalist system, one in which I probably shouldn't have ever gotten caught up with! But, to use a popular internet hashtag, #WeHereNow.

I have applied to go back to school because I'm out of ideas. I don't know what else I can possibly do. My last job sucked and I'm sure my next one will, too. Writing for free at Bleacher Report wasn't that cool, either. What do you want to do, Dr. Mike? In a utopian world, I'd do very little. In this reality, I suppose I'd better do something.

I don't write because I'm a genius who has a talent for this. I don't write because I think I've got a best-selling novel waiting to ooze out of my pores. I write because it's 2:37 p.m. on a Friday and I haven't done anything else today except for drink coffee and shower.

A college Prof of mine told me that you should do something in life that you're so passionate about, you forget to eat. I didn't forget to eat today; we just don't have any food in this apartment in which I pretend to live sometimes, and in which I pay rent by purchasing cigarettes for my buddy each month.

I don't write because I want to be a writer or a novelist or some such pretentious thing. I don't actually want to write. I don't want anything or anyone. Or, I don't think a certain career or wife would fill the void somehow. I suppose I've stuck with this for so long as a hedge against a job I didn't like and, more importantly, because when I look at adult life, I sense that my happiest moments were those in which I was immersed in learning.

I showed up to class last night feeling depressed and disgusted with myself for having gone to the wrong place and thus showed up a half hour late. Why was I so incompetent? Why was I always having these blonde moments? Why, at age 29, was I so helpless still? And what the fuck was someone with my limitations doing in an Advanced Fiction Writing course? Was I delusional?

Three hours and three pages of notes later, seven years after I'd last set foot in a classroom, I felt fucking giddy. An expert in the field had brought out of me things I already knew: the writer has to be his own teacher, there are very few rules to this craft, the biggest key is to actually do it, fiction tells the truth impeccably by lying, and fiction writing is all about THE PARTICULAR, which is something Philip Roth wrote about in the novel I Married a Communist.

Most importantly, those memories I have which I can feel but never shake, those are the elements of fiction. What I remember in life isn't accurate, but it tells the truth in a narrative which at least allows me to make sense of the world. Besides, if fiction is lying, well, at least I have a knack for dishonesty.