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Weekend Links: Outliers, Punting, Pakistan (yeah, you know me)

27 December 2008

The return of the Links is brought to you by Dean Palmer. I started playing fantasy baseball in the early 1990s. The player I probably owned more than any other in those nascent roto years was Palmer. Check out Palmer’s numbers in his prime–here was one of the most consistent sluggers in the game, putting up huge power numbers every year, all while playing most of his career at third base. I won a bunch of championships in those early years, and Palmer was a big reason why. Which is why it saddens me to learn that Dean Palmer turned 40 years old today. Happy birthday, Deano. I am officially old.

–With my interest in the Tampa Bay Rays now rivaling even the most exciting Expos seasons ever, I’ve found myself becoming more and more immersed in the team’s roster of blogs. Fortunately, the Rays have some good sites on the case. I’ve recently tossed RaysIndex and RaysDigest onto the short list of sites on my Google Reader. The one Rays blog I’ve been reading longest is DRays Bay, run by friend of the site Tommy Rancel. Rancel, R.J. Anderson (also a contributor to the excellent FanGraphs site), Erik Hahmann and company provide an excellent mix of Rays news and numbers-driven analysis that’s well worth reading, even for non-Rays fans.

One of my favorite recent DRays Bay posts is Hahmann’s look at the birthdates of some of the team’s top players, through the prism of Malcolm Gladwell’s date-of-birth analysis in his new book, “Outliers”. I have few immutable rules in life, but this is one of them: Any time you can combine the terrific work of my fellow Canuck Mr. Gladwell with David Price analysis, you’re going to get linked.

–Speaking of FanGraphs, I’ve really enjoyed the recent work done there by Dave Cameron, Tom Tango and others. The Wins Above Replacement stats they include on the site, when combined with payroll data, offers a quick and easy way to settle debates on player value. FanGraphs is now on my go-to list for research, along with Baseball-Reference, BaseballProspectus and a handful of other sites. Cameron’s work in particular is always a good read. Check out his latest on Neifi Perez, a seemingly low-cost signing that actually rivals Andruw Jones in terms of sheer suckitude.

–This MLBTradeRumors post from the tireless Tim Dierkes continues the theme of examining player value, by looking at the biggest free-agent bargains and busts of 2008. It’s pretty safe to say that Three True Outcomes overlord Russell Branyan will make the Bargains list again in 2009, by the way.

–I’ve heard all kinds of wildly different opinions on the work of my (sort of) Page 2 colleague Gregg Easterbrook. I give him mixed reviews myself. But one area in which he’s always spot on is his harsh criticism of football coaches who are obsessed with managing risk and avoiding getting second-guessed (and by extension saving their own butts) that they punt in almost any game situation. They do this despite a mountain of compelling statistical evidence that suggests that punting is very often a bad idea–much the same way bunting with a non-pitcher in a major league baseball game is almost always a bad idea. Kudos then to this Pulaski (Arkansas) Academy, a high school football team that NEVER punts. PS: Pulaski won the state title (h/t Rob).

Uh-oh. Looks like the saber-rattling between India and Pakistan is getting worse by the day. I can only hope this is just posturing and not something more. We’ve already seen terrorists play rope-a-dope with foreign powers before, prompting the U.S. to not only hunt down al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan, but to wage a completely pointless, deadly and brutally expensive war in Iraq–thereby building support for global terrorism more than any unaided propaganda efforts ever could. If Indian leaders and citizens let themselves scapegoat the entire Pakistani nation over the Mumbai attacks waged by a small group of wackadoos, and if Pakistan responds in kind by escalating the simmering conflict with its neighbor, both nations will have fallen into the same trap.

Not to oversimplify centuries of regional strife and complicated global attitudes toward terrorism but…dudes, stop being so stupid.

–Liked this Slate piece on media stars who snub TV invites, and the reasons for their snubbery. In some cases I agree with this stance. If you want to stage a true protest against the small-minded or even dangerous views of a certain individual or group (“…doctors’ organizations will often refuse to appear with paranoiacs who say vaccinations cause autism”), I can understand that. But people who reject media invites because they think they’re too big to debate an issue with someone below their perceived stature are just asking to be hated–both by media outlets that will stop inviting them, thus lowering their fame, wealth and power, and viewers who see them as snobs whose ideas will soon fade into irrelevance.

Not that I’ve ever had to deal with this issue. When ESPNews or other TV outlets invite me on to talk with other guests, it’s pretty much a given that I’m going to be the low man on the totem pole. So if anything, I’m grateful to my colleagues for not refusing to share the stage with that loopy dude in the bottom right corner of the Quad Box, the one who finds excuses to slip Nelson Santovenia references into every second sentence.

–Nate Silver points to changes in the Change.gov Web site, with President-elect Obama apparently stepping up his office’s efforts to reach out to the gay community, especially after all the backlash that resulted from his inviting gay-bashing megachurch leader Rick Warren to preside at his inauguration. Nate notes that this is a stark departure from Obama’s previously stated views, when he never even mentioned the word “gay” on the Civil Rights section of the BarackObama.com site during the election. As the fivethirtyeight.com post explains:

What to make of the difference? On the one hand, this would seem to demonstrate Obama’s (over)sensitivity to the politics embedded in gay rights issues. A waffling, now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t attitude toward gay rights is exactly what many in the community fear from the administration. On the other hand, one can argue that Obama is moving in the right direction, now willing to make a more explicit and comprehensive series of commitments to the gay community than he was while in campaign mode.

I believe it’s the latter. Obama’s won the election, and now he’s using his mandate to make sorely needed moves in many areas, repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and other anti-gay discriminatory practices being just one of them.

I’m hoping we see this more aggressive style of governance spill over to many other subjects too. I’ve vented about Obama’s caving on FISA during the election, worrying that he might be just another politician able to go only so far with his convictions before yielding to political pressure. Obama’s shift on gay rights issues makes me hopeful that he’ll follow through elsewhere too, warrantless wiretapping being one of those domains.

–I hate romantic comedies. They’re completely vapid and pointless, and offend me as a consumer of entertainment. Believe me when I say that I thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster every day that I have a wife who shares that healthy contempt for these supposed “chick flicks” that no self-respecting chick should ever want to watch. With that said, if we need romantic comedies in our lives to inspire awesome McSweeney’s posts like this one…I think I might go along with them anyway.

–I admit it. I occasionally talk during movies. Only in whispers, and mostly when really wound up, like when I’m getting my Megatron geek on. After reading this unbelievable story, though, I think I can safely say that I will never utter a peep in a movie theater again (h/t Rob, again).

–Finally, Keith Law’s entertaining blog The Dish passes along this jaw-dropping college football recruiting tale from The New York Times. My attitude toward the shenanigans that ensue in these recruiting battles falls roughly into the category of “Meh.” Everyone knows this stuff is happening, and I’ve seen “Blue Chips” a dozen times. Still, you have to pause for a second after reading Jamarkus MacFarland’s account of a Dallas-area party held in an attempt to woo the star defensive lineman to the University of Texas:

Alcohol was all you can drink, money was not an option. Girls were acting wild by taking off their tops, and pulling down their pants. Girls were also romancing each other. Some guys loved every minute of the freakiness some girls demonstrated. I have never attended a party of this magnitude.

The attitude of the people at the party was that everyone should drink or not come to the party. Drugs were prevalent with no price attached.

This never really came up when my buddy Elan and I cracked the starting five at Marianopolis College. The halftime orange wedges were excellent, though.

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