Measuring Good: Sabermetrics and Spiritual Insight (originally published online in eJewish Philanthropy)

This article originally appeared in E-Jewish Philanthropy here.

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I’ll start with a story: in the 1970s, while working as a night shift security guard, Bill James developed an alternative set of stats for baseball called Sabermetrics – an unorthodox analytical model worthy of Nate Silver. For many years, James’ ideas were only known to a tiny group of extreme baseball junkies. The story of how Sabermetrics was finally embraced by a major league team’s general manager, Billy Beane, is wonderfully told in Michael Lewis’ 2003 bestseller, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game and the 2011 movie it inspired.

Beane’s dilemma was that the team he was responsible for building, the Oakland A’s, didn’t have the money to compete for the free agents who were the best players. Beane was a Bill James fan with a small budget and nothing to lose. He concluded that if James’ stats were actually better at predicting success than the traditionally used stats, then maybe he could build a winning team by acquiring overlooked players that traditional scouts would miss – players whose Sabermetric stats were cream of the crop. He did, and the A’s went on to become the winningest team in baseball for a good stretch of years.

Finally, there’s Theo Epstein, who’s in the sports headlines these days. He’s the Sabermetrics whiz kid who applied James’ model to the Boston Red Sox, finally ending their long championship drought. He’s spent the last five years doing the same with the World Series Champion Chicago Cubs.

So what’s spiritual about all this? I promise, we’ll get there, but stay with me a bit longer.

Continue reading “Measuring Good: Sabermetrics and Spiritual Insight (originally published online in eJewish Philanthropy)”

Cardinals & Homophobia

Thinking about a news story that appeared regarding Tyler Dunnington,  a 2014 minor league player in the Cardinals system who quit the sport due to the high degree of homophobic commentary he encountered. I just posted the following comment on an article discussing the steps the team is taking, along with MLB’s national consultant on LGBT inclusion, Billy Bean, on my favorite Cardinals blog,

As a Cards fan and longtime LGBT ally

…I’m saddened by this story. Great that [John Mozeliak, General Manager of the Cards] is saying he wants to do the right thing and great that Billy Bean is doing the work he’s doing. I guess I have to say that it’s getting harder and harder for me to continue being an enthusiastic Cards fan given the many deeply politically conservative and religiously conservative movements so many in the organization have been overtly and subtly supporting for years. When you have a major religious organization with key Cards involved among MLB players preaching a version of Christianity that views homosexual behavior as contrary to God’s will; when you have players on Cards WS championship teams declining to go to the White House for the team honors; when you have Pujols and LaRussa appearing at Glenn Beck’s rally; when you have Waino’s twitter promoting Chik-fil-a restaurants; and the frequent anti-choice radio ads during ballgames on KMOX, the act of trying to be an active Cards fan feels more and more like it requires me to enter into some kind of quiet fraternity of the very socially conservative. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not begrudging every American his/her right to his/her opinion, nor do I begrudge the members of the Cardinals family the right to express theirs too. I’m just saying that, as someone who has very different values and beliefs, it’s getting really uncomfortable for me to have anything to do with the Redbirds. And that’s so sad, as I’ve loved following the team since I was a child.


The article can be found here.



Regression to the mean is a #@!!%!

Wow, this past week the Cardinals have not only lost 5 of their last 7 games, but they’ve been outscored – wait a minute, let me check it – about 54,000 to 1. Their crazy-unhittable pitching is coughing up runs left and right. Their already somewhat anemic offence has gone on vacation. And they just are giving off a vibe of blech.

So, is this the beginning of an historic September collapse, ending in not making the post-season? Or is this a temporary regression to the mean?sad cards

Cardinals at the 3/4 mark of the season

My previous post on the Cardinals delved into my discomfort with the strong, visible culture of conservative evangelical Christianity (and some of the attendant politics) on the Redbirds’ team. Tonight I just want to riff a bit on the Cards, who continue to have the #1 ESPN Power Ranking for the 13th consecutive week, and who continue to have the best record in the MLB by quite a wide margin. As of their victory tonight over the Diamondbacks, they’re 81-45, with a .643 winning percentage. To put that in perspective, if they finished the season with that winning percentage, their record would be 104 – 58.

So, the thing is, they’re a team without a superstar, and in many ways they look like a team that may just be over-performing, which certainly happens some years to every team. All season long, their hitting has been anywhere from anemic to average, and their pitching – both starting and relief – has been incredibly stingy with runs allowed. They’ve allowed 374 runs over 126 games, tops in MLB. The next best team, the Pirates, have allowed 453, and there are several contending teams bunched up in the 450s after the Buccos. That’s an unusually big gap between #1 and #2 on a team stat like that. Looking at Team ERA we see the same separation:

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My Trouble with My Cardinals

I grew up in St. Louis and started going to Cardinals games around age 5. Usually I’d go with my father, sometimes with my grandfather. It was the 70s, the Cards had tons of hitting, but no pitching, and they finished 3rd or 4th every year. When I was 13, that mediocrity suddenly transformed into an exciting, speed and defense driven, small-ball-oriented team that won the World Series in 1982. While I was in high school, this team, managed by Whitey Herzog, was even further built for speed, and they won the NL pennant two more times, in ’85 and ’87, though they lost the WS each of those years.

My baseball heroes were Ozzie Smith, Terry Pendleton, Tommy Herr, Jack Clark, Bob Forsch, John Tudor, and Willie McGee, to name a few. OzzieBy the time I started college, the Cards were as deeply embedded in my sense of identity as anything else that had been a consistent force throughout my childhood. Whether I liked it or not, I was a die-hard fan, and I followed the team daily. I still do.

When the Cards won the NL pennant in 2004 (only to be swept in the WS by the miracle Red Sox of that year), my interest in the team was re-ignited. And since then it’s been a fun ride for Redbirds fans, no doubt. Between 2004 and 2014, St. Louis has won 4 NL pennants, 2 World Series, and has made the post-season almost every year. The Cards currently have the best record in all of baseball, by quite a margin, and they’re locks to be in the post-season once again.

Pretty much the one thing that could sour my child-like devotion to the Redbirds would be if, say, the star player of the team and the manager went to a huge Glenn Beck rally and gave speeches and received awards from him. Which is exactly what happened in August 2010.

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