Odds and Ends

1) Jane McManus, at ESPNW, criticizes the NFL for its insufficient suspension of Ray Rice. The Ravens’ running back received a two-game punishment in connection with his assault earlier this year on his then fiance and now wife Janay Rice. McManus points out that the league metes out harsher punishments for almost everything else it considers worthy of discipline.

McManus:

Two games. This comes in the same offseason when elite pass rusher Robert Mathis got four games for, according to him, using an unapproved fertility drug as he and his wife tried to get pregnant. Is the NFL saying that knocking out your fiancé is less problematic for the league than knocking up your wife without Roger Goodell’s sign-off?

The NFL is sending a strong message by issuing such a weak suspension: It’s about as meaningful as a yellow card in a soccer game.

McManus acknowledges that the league has taken some steps to address the problem with its players. But not enough.

2) some recent stadium shenanigans.

a) Neil DeMause reports that, back in February, University of Nevada Las Vegas  President Dan Snyder said he’d look for “creative” ways to finance a nearly one billion dollar football stadium. Now, deMause says, creative appears to mean taxpayer funded. Among the arguments proponents are making is the positive economic benefit such a project would bring.

As I’ve said before, there may be no single issue on which there is more consensus among economists than that the supposed benefits of tax-payer funded arenas and stadiums are basically hogwash.

b) as David Sirota reports, Detroit is vying for most demented priorities award. The already beleaguered city is now cutting water to tens of thousands of residents.

Meanwhile, writes Sirota:

Officials in the financially devastated city announced [Monday] that current and future municipal retirees had blessed a plan that will slash their pension benefits. On the same day, the billionaire owners of the Detroit Red Wings, the Ilitch family, unveiled details of an already approved taxpayer-financed stadium for the professional hockey team.

Many retirees now face a 4.5 percent cut in their previously negotiated cost-of-living adjustments, which is part of a larger plan to cut $7 billion of the city’s debt. At the same time, the public is on the hook for $283 million toward the new stadium after giving the Ilitches key parcels of land for $1.

In case you were wondering, Ilitch’s net worth is north of two billion dollars.

3) Today, Brandon McCarthy is making his third start for the Yankees. As I am writing this, he has a 1.53 ERA so far for the “bombers” (yes, quotations now necessary for that nickname). He won’t keep that up, of course, but he’s pitched very well so far for the Yanks. He’s no Cy Young, but he pitched well for the A’s in 2011 and 2012, is only 31 and has a strikeout to walk ratio of well better than 3 to 1 since the start of the 2011 campaign.

He got lit up in Arizona in the first half of this season, pitching to an ERA in excess of 5. This prompted the Dbacks to dump him for essentially nothing. McCarthy is calling to mind Jeff Weaver, only in reverse. In mid 2002, the Yankees traded for the then 25-year old righthander. I didn’t like the trade at the time and, though he pitched OK in the second half of 2002, he was absolutely pounded throughout 2003, after which the Yanks got rid of him.

In both cases, teams clearly put too much stock in the players’ most immediate recent performance. In 17 starts with the Tigers prior to the 2002 trade, Weaver managed a 3.18 ERA. Nowadays, that just sounds OK. But back then, that was an outstanding figure. Weaver’s lifetime ERA was 4.71 and in no other season in his career did he have an ERA below 4. In other words, he was in over his head. Indeed, his peripheral stats during that first half were not all that great – his strikeout to walk ratio was little better than two to one.  What made Weaver so good for that half season? He allowed only four homers in 121 innings, a total fluke completely at odds with his otherwise homer prone career. And Weaver also had an unusually low BABIP (Batting average on balls in play), a volatile stat that usually moves around quite a bit and typically involves factors beyond a pitchers’ control.

In other words, all the signs were there that Weaver was unlikely to keep pitching as well as he had between April and June of 2002. Granted, Weaver was young, was regarded as having a really good arm and it was easy enough for Yankee management to convince itself that he was emerging as the pitcher his potential had always suggested.

But this is really just another example of a very old truth – we have a tremendously difficult time ignoring what’s immediately in front of us, even if there is more than ample distal information to suggest that what we see at any given moment is not necessarily an accurate representation of reality.

McCarthy, as I said, is not a great pitcher. But man, has he been unlucky the past couple of years. He’s had fluky *high* BABIPs since the start of 2013 and was unusually homer prone from April to June with the Diamondbacks. Apparently, Arizona told McCarthy to junk his cutter and he says that was one cause of his troubles there. The Yanks have, by contrast, told him to knock himself out with the pitch and, so far, so good.

But to the extent that McCarthy pitches reasonably effectively for the Yanks, what we’re probably looking at is, in addition to that trusty old regression to the mean – that McCarthy “true” ability level was probably hiding in plain sight, just like Weaver’s was.

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