Going Crazy Over Baseball ERAs

Louise from Bob's BurgersAs you may know, I am a baseball fan. I just like the game. I kind of understand it and it suits me. Unusually, I’ve been drawn into watching the Major League Baseball playoffs. In fact, I watched the entire six and a half hour 18-inning game between the Giants and the Nationals. Normally, I’m not that interested in “the majors,” but it is unfortunately the main kind of baseball that I have the opportunity to watch. Some time ago, we got some little station that allowed us to watch the A-advanced San Jose Giants. That was very cool.

Anyway, I watched most of the Cardinals-Giants game today, and so I was looking at the box scores. One of the great things about baseball is that it has a whole bunch of statistics. I remember reading an essay by Carl Sagan in which he talked about how his first real introduction to mathematics was reading baseball box scores with his father. That was also true of me too, although I was alone because my father has never especially cared for sports. One of the more mysterious statistics in the Earned Run Average or ERA.

ERA Basics

The ERA is the number of runs that a pitcher allows in a nine-inning game. (The “earned” part of this is that the run must not have been scored because someone made an error.) But given that pitchers rarely play entire games, the ERA must be prorated. For example, in today’s game, John Lackey allowed four runs over the course of six innings. This is equivalent for allowing six runs over the course of nine innings, and so the box score indeed shows an ERA of 6.00. Via Wikipedia, this can be calculated very simply:

Earned Run Average Calculation

What’s interesting about the ERA are the details. For example, players don’t necessarily play complete innings. So given that there are three outs in an inning, the inning is broken up into thirds. So if a player retires one batter in an inning, he is said to have played one-third of that inning. For example, in today’s game, Tim Hudson pitched the first six innings and then got one batter out in the seventh before he was removed. Thus, he pitched six and a third innings. (This is confusingly indicated by 6.1 in the box score.) Because he allowed four runs during that time, his ERA was 4/6.33 or 5.68. And indeed, that is what the box score shows.

He Never Pitched at All!

But what about the situation when a pitcher doesn’t get anyone out? This isn’t that uncommon. A team can bring in a pitcher for one particular batter. If that batter hits a home run, the pitcher could have allowed up to four runs. If the pitcher is taken out at that point, he hasn’t pitched any innings, because he has not retired any batters. Thus, in the worst case scenario, his ERA would be 4/0.00 or ∞?! Well, unfortunately, yes.

Just such a thing happened in today’s game. It was tied at the end of nine innings, so the game went into extra innings. In the bottom of the 10th inning, the Cardinals did not score. That meant all the Giants had to do was get one run and the game was over. Randy Choate was brought in to pitch that inning. He walked the first batter. The second batter got a single, leaving men on first and second base. The third batter bunted, allowing the player on second to score and the game was over. So Choate didn’t pitch any part of an inning because he got no outs.

Normally, this would provide an ERA of ∞. But in this case, there were no earned runs, because the run was caused by an error. (Interestingly, the error was by the pitcher Randy Choate himself — he made a bad throw to first base.) So this provides an ERA of 0/0.00 which is simply undefined. Nonetheless, the MLB box score from the game gives Choate an ERA of 13.50. But it gives the same ERA to the Giants’ Sergio Romo, who pitched to a single player (the last) and got him out. That should be an ERA of 0/0.33 or 0.00 — not 13.50.

Am I going crazy?!

My friend and business partner Will tells me that the ERA is not really a stat that anyone pays attention to anymore. More interesting is WHIP (Walks and Hits per Inning Pitched). Clearly, the same problem applies to the WHIP as to the ERA. He is too practical to be interested in such cracks in the system. And he is right that these statistics are really meant to apply to seasons or even whole careers — not single games. But it drives me crazy.

If MLB is going to post an ERA for a game, they ought to get it right. And if there is some special calculation that goes into dealing with players who don’t pitch for at least one out, it ought to be made clear. Instead, I find no explanation. What’s worse, people set up whole ERA calculators that do nothing but spit out the simple calculation above. And if you enter 0.00 innings, they say, “Please make sure the number of innings pitched > 0.” Great help!

As Louise on Bob’s Burgers would say, “Am I going crazy?!”

How to (Sorta) Spell -Able and -Ible Words

SpellingAmong educated people, there are only two things that people take pride in being ignorant about: math and spelling. I believe people are proud of their mathematical inability because they think it says they are creative and not rigid. The implication is that mathematics is rigid, but this belief is just further evidence that such people don’t get math. I was never like that, of course. But at one time, I provided myself a kind of apologia for being bad at spelling. According to it, spelling was an arbitrary system that was just a matter of memorizing thing and therefore had nothing to do with real thinking.

I had reasons for believing this. Most spelling rules seemed hopelessly riddled with exceptions. For example, “I before E, except after C.” Even when I learned the full rhyme I wasn’t helped, “I before E, except after C, or when sounding like A, as in neighbor or weigh.” But the problem was not actually that little rhyme. The problem was that no one ever taught me what it all meant. That little rhyme is actually shockingly helpful. I can’t offhand think of any examples when it isn’t true.

To -Able or to -Ible, That Is the Question!

As I’ve gotten older and become a far better speller, the things I struggle with has greatly decreased. And the one broad area of spelling that I still struggle with is when to use “able” and when to use “ible.” Luckily, I’ve found an excellent set of rules in The Grammar Bible by Michael Strumpf and Auriel Douglas. And if for no one’s benefit but my own, I figured I would go over it.

Let me start with a rule that is not in the book. It is not in the book because only the truly clueless would not know it. But given I went for decades of my life without knowing it, I think it bears noting. There is no “eble” ending. It isn’t a thing. I’m not saying that there are no words that end with “eble.” But the ending would not indicating being able to do whatever the root of the word indicated. If the word “breakeble” existed, it would not mean, “Able to be broken.”

Base Rule

The most basic rule is that if the root that you are modifying is a complete word, add “able.” So “avail” becomes “available” and not “availible.” If the root is not a complete word, add “ible.” So “incredible” is a word and “incredable” is not. And that’s all you have to remember. Oh, I’m kidding! It isn’t that simple. But it isn’t that much worse.

If the above rule indicates that you should add “ible” there is an exception. If the root ends with a hard G or C, then you should add “able.” Supposed you wanted to say “able to navigate” with one word. Since “navig” is not a word, we would think it ought to end with “ible.” But because “navig” ends with a hard G, we go with “able.” So “navigable” is the word and “navigible” is not. Notice, however, that it is a hard G. The word “illegible” has the “ible” ending, because “illeg” ends with a soft G.

Similarly, if the base rule indicates that you should add “able” there is an exception. If you can add “ion” to the root to create a proper word, you should add “ible.” So the word “suggest” can be turned into the word “suggestion.” Thus, the word to describe someone who is prone to suggestions is “suggestible” and not “suggestable.”

Silent E

Knowing these rules can take you quite a long way in spelling such words. But there is one aspect that it is still just crazy: root words that end with a silent E. Should you keep the E as in “changeable” or drop it as in “believable”? I wish there were some rule for this, but there really isn’t. Some people claim that more common words drop the E, which makes sense because the language does tend to simplify itself with use. There does seem to be something to this. All these words are pretty common: believable, pleasurable, desirable, lovable, conceivable. Then again: knowledgeable?

What’s more, all of these rules are of the thumb kind. There are still many exceptions. In fact, there are even exceptions to the silent E cases: responsible, reversible, plausible. Is there a rule about roots ending with S sounds? I don’t know. It does seem to be the case that you never keep the E when you add “ible.” But the point is that these rules will take you at least 80% of the way to correctly spelling such words. And the words that break the rules will stand out to you and you can make exceptions for them.

Media Normalizes Extreme Policy

Joni ErnstOver at Political Animal, Ed Kilgore wrote a very interesting article, Presuming Extremism Right Out of Existence. It’s about how the media ignores right-wing extremist beliefs of politicians like Joni Ernst and Cory Gardner. He quoted a couple of people about why the media does this, but his own theory sounds the closest to the truth. The vast majority of the journalists who cover politics simply don’t believe that people like Ernst and Gardner hold the kind of extreme positions they claim to. They think that support for “personhood” amendments are just pandering to the base.

This dismissal of extremism always reminds me of the journalistic reaction to the Nazis in Germany. Many journalists (including Jewish ones) dismissed Hitler’s rhetoric — claiming that it was just used for the purpose of firing up the base. Since many of the things that Hitler said were so beyond the pale, many respectable establishment types just couldn’t see that Hitler really meant it. I’m not suggesting that people pushing “personhood” amendments are the same as Nazis. I’m just noting that there is a history of dismissing truly radical policy ideas as “just politics.”

Cory GardnerThis is a very bad idea for a couple of reasons. Just on its face, politicians are not in complete control of their environments. A politician may not actually believe his own rhetoric. But once he whips up people’s emotions about the issue, he may have no power to stop it or even tone it down. So it is still extremely dangerous even if the reporters are right that Ernst was just, as Kilgore put it, “cynically shoveling out to the yahoos.” And this is the best case scenario.

In general, I think politicians believe what they claim. There is no doubt Hitler was actually antisemitic. And there is no doubt in my mind Joni Ernst is very much in favor of “personhood.” Republicans get into trouble because what they actually believe is incredibly unpopular. Consider one of the slimiest politicians ever: Mitt Romney. Like me, all he really cares about are economic issues. That’s why he was pro-choice when he needed to be and anti-choice when he needed to be. What he believed in was that people like him deserved a five trillion dollar tax cut. And even at that time, a lot of journalists apologized for this, claiming that the fiscal situation would have made him change that policy if he became president. Not true. The one thing you could absolutely depend upon in a Mitt Romney presidency was that he was going to get his tax cut.

More than just this, however, there is the incredibly lazy journalistic practice of simply taking the parties as the poles of the debate. I noted this during the Todd Akin dust-up. What he was arguing was a hair’s breadth away from Republican orthodoxy. The official (and uncontroversial) position is that there should be no abortion right except in the case of rape, incest, or the life of the mother. The truth is that Akin’s “no exception” position is far more defensible. Either the fetus has rights or it doesn’t. The establishment position is basically, “Women who enjoyed the sex should have to pay for it.” From a policy standpoint, there really is no difference. But to mainstream journalists, there is every difference in the world.

What this means is that Republicans could come up with literally any policy position, and as long as they got to it gradually, the media would never counter them. This doesn’t work, by the way, with the left. Apparently because most reporters think of themselves as being on the left, they tend to treat any idea more liberal than their own as far outside the Overton Window.

All of this makes the media incredibly dangerous. It normalizes what is not normal and makes even more extreme policy acceptable. It also, of course, allows wackjobs like Joni Ernst and Cory Gardner to get elected.

More Education Will Not Make a Country Richer

23 Things They Don't Tell You About CapitalismThere is remarkably little evidence showing that more education leads to greater national prosperity. Much of the knowledge gained in education is actually not relevant for productivity enhancement, even though it enables people to lead a more fulfilling and independent life. Also, the view that the rise of the knowledge economy has critically increased the importance of education is misleading. To begin with, the idea of the knowledge economy itself is problematic, as knowledge has always been the main source of wealth. Moreover, with increasing de-industrialization and mechanization, the knowledge requirements may even have fallen for most jobs in the rich countries. Even when it comes to higher education, which is supposed to matter more in the knowledge economy, there is no simple relationship between it and economic growth. What really matters in the determination of national prosperity is not the educational levels of individuals but the nation’s ability to organize individuals into enterprises with high productivity.

—Ha-Joon Chang
23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism

A Conservative With Conscience, John Dean

John Dean SpeaksJohn Dean is 76 today. He was White House Counsel under President Nixon and the star witness against the administration at the Watergate hearings. I am a big believer in loyalty, so you might think that I’d be against what Dean did. But I’m not. Dean was just smart. He understood that he was the odd man out and that Nixon’s inner circle — very much including Nixon himself — was trying to make Dean the fall guy. I don’t doubt that he would have stayed loyal had he not been pushed in that direction. But it is also possible that he was the George Stephanopoulos of the Nixon administration — idealistic and shocked by what he found. Certainly, that is the way that Dean portrays it now.

Dean is an interesting character. I link him very much with Barry Goldwater, and it turns out the two of them were close friends. But here’s the thing. Goldwater was as crazy a right-winger as anyone in the 1960s. The John Birch Society loved Goldwater and he loved it back as much as was politically viable. But in the 1980s, Goldwater became one of the most insightful critics of the right in this country. He seemed to be forever criticizing Reagan. And these criticisms were not that Reagan was making nice with the Soviet Union and other things the far right hated. Goldwater went after the authoritarian aspects of the Reagan administration. What happened? Because Goldwater of 1964 was, if anything, worse.

Now, this isn’t the case with Dean. I don’t really know what his politics were early on. But he was and is a great admirer of Goldwater. But now he is an even better critic of the right than Goldwater ever was. His book, Conservatives without Conscience, is very good. It discusses authoritarian personalities and how the conservative movement has been taken over by authoritarians. He’s right. And maybe that wasn’t so much true in the period between Goldwater’s defeat and Watergate. But it was probably even more true in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

So I don’t really understand John Dean. I’m always interested in listening to what he has to say, however. But he seems pretty confused about the past. And I think if he looked seriously at his own conservatism (I suspect he is pretty much a libertarian), he would see that it too is based on authoritarianism. As Corey Robin wrote in The Reactionary Mind, all that conservatism has ever been is the reaction to liberation movements. It has always been about suppressing the rights of the weak. On the other hand, I can’t imagine Dean voted for Bush the Younger. So maybe he’s a Democrat now. (Not that it would mean he wasn’t conservative!) It is hard to say because he really doesn’t talk about things that touch on policy — just what idiotic stuff the Republicans are doing now. And that’s always fun!

Happy birthday John Dean!