Monday, December 31, 2007

The Pats Are The Real Deal

That's obvious after they completed their historic 16-0 season against the Giants on Saturday night. The Pats became the first team since the league went to a 16 game schedule to finish with a perfect record. Not only that, they finished with a point differential of 315 (19.8 per game), which topped the 291 differential posted by the 15-1 Bears in 1985.

One perceived objection to the Pats' dominance is their schedule. They played in the AFC East, a division with the 4-12 Jets and 1-15 Dolphins. Even the 7-9 Buffalo Bills gave up 100 more points than the scored. So for all intents and purposes the Pats had six gimmie games against very weak competition.

But is the schedule as easy as it seems? Let's look at what the Pats did this season:

1) They beat the Colts and Cowboys, the second and fourth best team in the NFL based on record and point differential on the road.

2) They topped the other two division leaders (11-5 Chargers and 10-6 Steelers) by an average of 22.5 points.

3) They played the NFC East, far and away the best division in the NFC, and beat two other NFC playoff teams (Giants and Redskins), one of the road.

4) They beat the Browns, a 10-6 team that probably would have made the playoffs in the NFC (sorry Ezzie).

So to summarize, they beat 6 playoff teams this season (3 on the road), and also the Browns who just missed it by the tiebreaker. That's a tough schedule, AFC East or not.

Here are some other interesting tidbits.

1) The Pats gave up the fourth least points and yards in the NFL, and were tied for 1st in points before this past weekend.

2) The Pats' point differential per game (19.8) was better than the Titans' points per game (18.8).

3) The Pats won more games than the rest of their division combined. Despite the Jets, Dolphins and Bills combining for only 12 wins, the AFC East won more games than the AFC West, NFC West, and NFC South.

4) The Pats' 315 point differential was twice as large as every other team in the NFL besides the Colts.

The Colts/Pats AFC Championship game could shape up to be one of the best football games in NFL history.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Can We Mandate Belief?

Rabbi Yitzchok Alderstein has a post up today about the Ikkarim and the limits of our belief. As most people who read JBlogs are aware, Marc Shapiro wrote a book a few years ago about the Ikkarim, arguing that there isn't the broad consensus that Orthodox society pretends there to be. Rabbi Zev Leff responded with an unfavorable review in the current issue of Jewish Action.

Regardless of which Ikkarim are binding, we need to ask why how any beliefs can be considered mandatory. Beliefs have truth values: either they are true or they are false. My belief that I am typing a post right now is true. If I believed that the sun didn't rise today, that belief would be false. There isn't any middle ground.

So formalizing beliefs and requiring us to believe them seems to run contrary to the idea that we should search for truth. Mandating that everyone believe something requires an individual to accept a belief even if he feels it is unjustified. If the goal of inquiry is truth, then this system runs contrary to the whole epistemological enterprise.

The standard response to this problem is that Orthodoxy requires certain actions, even if a member of the society feels the action is wrong. If a majority of poskim believes that an action is required or prohibited, we must follow their ruling. If Orthodoxy can require action, why can't it require belief?

Many people reject the comparison between action and belief. Action is elective; we can choose whether to act in a certain way. But belief is involuntary because we cannot make a conscious choice about what to believe. I can't choose to believe that a car is speeding down at me while I stand in the middle of the street. I'll either believe it or I won't. There's no choice involved.

I don't like this response because it gets into difficult philosophical questions about the nature of our beliefs. There is a whole debate in Epistemology about Doxastic Voluntarism, which presumes that we can choose our beliefs. I'd rather not have to settle this debate.

I believe the analogy because action and belief is flawed on a more fundamental level. As I mentioned earlier beliefs are supposed to be the result of an inquiry for truth. When engaging in belief formation, we have as our goal the search for truth.

Halacha, however, is not the search for objective truth. We do not rule like the majority for epistemic reasons, i.e. the majority is more likely to be correct. As the Oven of Akhnai story tells us, we would still hold like the majority even if G-d himself told us the objective truth is the opposite. Determining Halacha is a substantive human practice and not a search for the divine truth.

Now we can see why the analogy doesn't hold. Halacha isn't about searching for truth and is determined by the majority. Once the majority decides a question, the "right answer" is that decision. There is no ontological gap between the decision of the majority and the correct answer. Belief though cannot be determined by majority. Belief is supposed to correlate to one single objective truth. Requiring that people believe something that isn't true goes against the whole point of the search for truth.

Rabbi Slifkin in a comment on that post makes a good point. He distinguishes between beliefs being wrong on a theological level and their acceptance being required for membership in a community. A belief might not be wrong per se, but a community can decide that its members share certain core beliefs. Anyone who holds other beliefs might be correct in the truth sense, but cannot be a part of that society.

Rabbi Slifkin's pragmatic argument resolves some of the problem. When we formalize the Ikkarim we are not saying that people with contrary beliefs are incorrect. We are merely denying that they can be part of Orthodox Judaism. Orthodoxy has drawn its red-lines and for better or worse these are the choices it made.

Note: I am not saying Rabbi Slifkin would agree with anything I said here. So don't brand him a heretic because of me. :=)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Best Offensive Team in The AL


After yesterday's megatrade, I started to wonder if the Tigers were the best offensive team in baseball. The Tigers were very good last season -- only second to the Yankees --and now they added one of the best hitters in the majors. So do the Yankees still hold the top spot?

I decided to compare the most likely lineup of the two teams using EQR, which is EQA represented in actual runs (see here). This lineup will not be entirely realistic for two reasons:

1) I'm going to use last seasons numbers, so I'm not taking into account regressions to the mean positively or negatively. We can safely assume Jorge Posada will decline somewhat as will Magglio Ordonez, and Jeter will probably play better next year. My system isn't going to take that into account.

2) I'm assuming everyone in the lineup will play 162 games. Obviously no one will do that, and some players are far less likely to play an entire season than others (Giambi won't even break 100).

Here's what I did. I took the player's EQR from last season, divided it by the number of games played and multiplied by 162. I then added up all the runs for the total runs produced by the lineup. Ready?

Here are the two respective lineups.

First the Tigers.

(Scroll down to see the tables because Blogger is making me crazy)

Detroit Tigers:

PlayerEQR Per GameEQR Over 162 Games
Curtis Granderson0.772151899125.0886076
Placido Polanco0.704225352114.084507
Maggilio Ordonez0.898089172145.4904459
Miguel Cabrera0.796178344128.9808917
Gary Sheffield0.714285714115.7142857
Carlos Guillen0.655629139106.2119205
Edgar Renteria0.701612903113.6612903
Jacque Jones0.40740740766
Ivan Rodriguez0.44961240372.8372093

Now here are the Yankees.

New York Yankees:

PlayerEQR Per GameEQR Over 162 Games
Johnny Damon0.57446808593.06382979
Derek Jeter0.705128205114.2307692
Bobby Abreu0.664556962107.6582278
Alex Rodriguez0.974683544157.8987342
Hideki Matsui0.699300699113.2867133
Jorge Posada0.777777778126
Robinson Cano0.63125102.2625
Jason Giambi0.50602409681.97590361
Melky Cabrera0.581

As you can see, the Tigers project to finish 11 runs better than the Yankees. There are a lot of factors that I haven't accounted for, but it's safe to say the Tigers are going to be at least as good offensively as the Yanks next year and will probably be better.

Update: It seemed unfair to only use last year's stats, so I decided to take an average of the last three seasons stats and use those numbers as a projection. Not perfect, but better. I'm not going to make another table, so I'll just list the total numbers.


Per Game: 5.762857783
Over 162: 933.5829608


Per Game: 6.140102444
Over 162: 994.696596

And for fun here are the Red Sox. I used Ellsbury, Pedroia, Ortiz, Manny, Youkilis, Drew, Lowell, Varitek, and Lugo:

Per Game: 5.830537782
Over 162: 944.5471207

I also wanted to run the Indians numbers but unlike the other three teams, it was hard to figure out who are the primary 9 players. Hafner, Sizemore, Blake, Peralta, Martinez and Garko are clearly everyday players. But who are the other three? I came up with a few different lineups. One used Barfield, Lofton, and Gutierrez. That lineup scored:

Per Game: 5.312430512
Over 162: 860.613743

The other substituted Asdrubal Cabrera for Josh Barfield and Trot Nixon for Franklin Gutierrez:

Per game: 5.529906373
Over 162: 895.8448324

The second lineup was the best offensive configuration I could come up with.

So it looks like the Yankees should have the best offense in baseball this season. I believe 3 years is a legitimate amount of time to use as a reference, and the Yanks come out way ahead. While other teams certainly have better pitching, the Yankees offense should carry them to the playoffs.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Runs Above Replacement and the Ruth/ Bonds/Williams Debate

After yesterday's foray into WARP3 and the 150 threshold, today we'll look at the three greatest players ever based on Runs Above Replacement per game (RAR/G). Baseball Prospectus keeps track of Batting Runs Above Replacement (BRAR), and Fielding Runs Above Replacement (FRAR). It also uses a stat called Pitching Runs Above Replacement (PRAR), but the metric is obviously very, very different and not useful to compare pitchers to hitters. I'm going to compare the three greatest players ever based on RAR/G. To show the differences between the players, I'll multiply their per game number by 5000 to get a total.

Conventional wisdom considers Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and Steriods Barry Bonds the best three players ever. I will try to ascertain how great each player would have been without his "special" circumstances: Ruth being a pitcher for the first six years of his career, Williams fighting in two wars -- including WWII during his absolute prime -- and Bonds using the juice. Here we go.

Career Value

1) Babe Ruth - I think we all know his story. Ruth pitched primarily until 1920 (although he played a number of games in LF in 1919, his last year in Boston). Let's look at his total BRAR plus FRAR. His total RAR was 1877, which divided by his 2503 games is a RAR/G of .749 or 3750 RAR over 5000 games. That's the best ever.

Let's say we ignore his pre-Yankee seasons, then he had a total of 1648 RAR in 2139 games. His per game number was .770, and his 5000 game mark is 3852, which is almost 200 runs better than the next best player.

The problem is that Ruth's first seasons were valuable and he might have made the Hall as a pitcher. However, it's very hard to compare pitchers and batters. So what can we do to more accurately reflect Ruth's career?

Well at the very least we could give him the non-pitching RAR for his season in 1919. He played 130 games and had 115 BRAR plus FRAR for a .884 RAR/G. If we add the RAR and the games to his career totals, that bumps up his total RAR/G to .776 and 3885 over 5000 games. That's an amazing total.

What about the rest of his Red Sox career? He played 4 full seasons prior to 1919 in which he accrued 112 runs in 256 games for a per game average of .437. That's not awful by historical standards, but it way below Ruth's career numbers. We can't just assume Ruth would have put up his 1919 or 1920 numbers when started at the age of 19 in 1914, but we also can safely assume that if he wasn't a starting pitcher, he probably would have been closer to his 1919 season than his 1915-18 seasons. Since Ruth comes out head and shoulders above everyone else, there's really no reason to speculate too much. We can safely assign Ruth the spot as the best player to ever play Major League Baseball.

2) Barry Bonds - His steriod years really helped him out, but he was a great hitter before steriods and was always a great fielder. .725 RAR/G, which is 3627 over 5000 games and the second best ever. Interestingly if we only took Bonds' first 15 seasons (before we have evidence of steriod use), his per game numbers are still better than Williams'. 1494 RAR divided by the number of games he played (2143) = .697. Multiply by 5000 and we get 3486, which is still better than the mark Williams put up. Bonds probably would have played a few more seasons at less than average peformances, so his RAR/G would have dropped. Would it have gone down enough for Williams to catch him? That's the big debate. Anyway, Bonds was a HOFer before the steriods, no question about that.

3) Ted Williams - Williams was an amazing hitter who lost 5 prime years to WWII and the Korean War. He a .661 RAR/G and 3309 RARs over 5000 games. The gap between Williams and Bonds is larger than the one between Ruth and Bonds. Williams' RAR would have been higher if he hadn't missed prime seasons in the military and, as we have seen, Bonds' would have been lower if he wasn't juicing.

In fact, let's try to figure out where Williams would have been had he not served his country. He missed three whole seasons 1943-45. Those weren't just any 3 seasons; 42 and 46 were his two best years according to WARP3 and RAR. So let's assume he would have performed as well from 43-45 as he did in 42 and 46. Williams' total RAA in those two years was 277. He played 150 games in both years, so he averaged .923 RAR/G in those two seasons. Assuming he would have played 150 games in the three missing years, he would have added another 416 RAR to his career numbers giving him 1933. Add another 450 games to his career games played total and he would have played 2742 games. RAR/G= .704, multiplied by 5000 is 3525.

But we can't stop there. Williams also missed major chunks of 52 and 53 in the military. He barely played 50 total games and under weird conditions, so let's throw those numbers out. Let's perform the same experiment. In 51 and 54 he totaled 178 RARs over 265 games or .671 RAR/G. So he should have added another 178 RAR to his career. Where does that leave him? With 3007 games played and 2111 RAR for an average of .702 per game and 3510 over 5000. Still worse than juicing Bonds but better than Bonds before the steriods.

So it's safe to say that Ruth is the best player followed by Bonds and then, trailing very closely behind, Williams. Bonds vs. Williams is very close, so it depends on how much people value Williams' missing years and Bonds years on steriods.

Peak Value

Quickly, it'll be fun to compare Ruth vs. Bonds in peak value. We can't really include Williams because his peak years were spent flying fighter planes for the U.S. military. So let's take Bonds steriods seasons (2001-04) and see how they compare to Ruth's best 4 consecutive year period.

During those four years Bonds accrued 542 RAR in 573 games. That's .945 per game and 4730 RAR over 5000 games. Not bad.

What about Ruth? Ruth's best consecutive seasons are 1921-24, when he garnered 524 RAR in 567 games for a per game rate of .924 or only 4621 RAR in those years. So yes, Bonds' steriods seasons are probably the best four consecutive seasons in the history of major league baseball.

If we take each players best five seasons the equation changes drastically. Bonds best 5 seasons were 1992-93, and 01-03. In those five seasons he had a total of 691 RAR in 725 games for a per game average of .953 or 4766 over 5000 games. That's a little better than his best four steriods seasons.

Ruth's best five years, 1920-21, 23-24, and 27, are amazing. He scored 732 RAR in 750 games and his average per game was .976 and over 5000 games it was 4880. Just unbelievable.

One last thing. Imagine Williams played those 3 seasons for 43-45. If everything remained equal, he would have played 750 games over those 5 seasons and scored 692 RAR. His total over 5000 games? 4615. Not bad, but Bonds is better. So peak value we'd have to go with Ruth, followed by Bonds and then Williams.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

150 WARP3 Guys

I've been blogging less about sports recently, but the Raines post got my creative juices flowing. It's the off-season and there's nothing going on (well except the A-Rod saga, Santana being traded to NY for the entire farm system and Cano and the Bonds' indictment), so now is a good time to continue my "Derek Jeter for the Hall" series. Yes, I know, awesome.

As the season stands, Jeter has a WARP3 of 99.8. Remember WARP3 measures wins over replacement player and adjusts for position, ballpark, and era. So basically it's a very comprehensive stat.

Now 99.8 isn't that good. If Jeter retired today, I'd say he would be a borderline HOFer. But let's assume he plays 7 more seasons, or until he's 40. Right now he has played 1835 games. So his WARP3 per game is .0543 (which, by the way, is higher than every single player on the list I provided yesterday). Jeter has been a pretty healthy guy, and has only played less than 148 games once. So let's assume he plays 145 games per year over the next 7 seasons, which is 1015 games. If he plays at the same rate he's played until now, he would add 55.2 WARP to his total, which would leave him with a clean 155 wins above replacement player for his career. If he played only 140 games per year he'd only add another 53.3 WARPs, and he'd end up with 153.1.

The question now is how many players in the history of baseball have accumulated a 150 WARP3. 150 is a pretty high threshold, and there are a number of guys who are in the HOF who never came close. Sadly, I can't find a list of 150 WARP3 players, and I don't have the patience to go through every single player in the Hall to see their WARP3.

So let's look at the guys from this list. The list contains the top 40 Win Shares Above Bench players in history. Obviously Jeter doesn't compare to anyone in the top ten. The only player who didn't finish with a WARP3 over 150 is Mickey Mantle (149.1) but he only played 2401 games and has a .062 WARP3 per game, which is substantially better than Jeter. 8 of the next ten also topped the 150 mark, with only Gehrig (148.9) and Eddie Mathews (145.4) coming very close.

Certainly there is something to be said for finishing one's career with a WARP3 higher than Mickey Mantle and Lou Gehrig. While those players' careers were shorter and they were certainly better than Jeter, the very fact that he is in the conversation is meaningful.

The third group begins to drop a bit. Jimmie Foxx's WARP3 was 132.6. Pete Rose is over 150 (158.7), but Joe DiMaggio (122.4) is not. None of the other 7 players between 20-30 or any of the players from 30-40 even come close. So from the top 40 players in history based on WASB, only 18 passed the 150 mark. When we look at the players from 40-80, we don't find many more players who topped 150. Wade Boggs is close at 148.5. The only guy who beat the 150 mark was Cal Ripken.

So that's 19 players. I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that WSAB is similar enough to WARP3 that someone who finished in the top 80 in WSAB probably finished in the top 20 in WARP3.

Now certainly there are a few players on the list who are active and either will top the mark, or have a shot. There are seven active players in the top 80 in WSAB: Barry Bonds, A-Rod, Manny Ramirez, Ken Griffey Jr., Gary Sheffield, Mike Piazza, and Frank Thomas. Bonds is already in the group of 19. I think we can safely say that A-Rod (138.1) will make the list. Mike Piazza (96.2) and Frank Thomas (127.7) have no shot because of age and frailty. So that leaves Manny, Sheffield, and Griffey. Manny, despite his ridiculous numbers, has practically no chance since he's at 106.2 right now and has already seemingly begun his decline. It's hard to imagine him picking up the requisite 44 points. Even if he plays 5 more seasons (until 40) at his career average, he'll only end up with 141.6. Not gonna happen.

Sheffield seems ageless, but he's only at 116.9 and is 38. He'll need a Bonds-like revival to have any chance. Griffey is therefore the best bet. He's at 134.1 and if he can stay healthy and play three more seasons at 7.0 (his mark in 2007), he could do it. The problem is that's a huge assumption for a player who has only played more than 140 games twice this century. And he's not getting any younger.

So even if we are charitable to Griffey, that would make Jeter the 22nd player in the history of Major League Baseball to top the 150 WARP3 mark.

Obviously there are other players who were better over the course of their career who didn't make it, like Mantle and Gehrig. But there is something to be said for playing long enough to pass that threshold. It's not absurd to argue that when everything is said and done Jeter will be one of the top 40 players in baseball history. Not bad for someone who is overrated, huh?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Should Tim Raines Make the Hall of Fame?

Today the list of first-time HOF candidates was released, and no one seems to be a first-ballot HOFer. Or at least that's how the list is going to be perceived. In reality, there's one name on the list who should make the HOF without question: Tim Raines.

I'm too young to have watched Raines in his prime, but I did get to see him play for the championship Yankee teams of the late 90s. Although he was no longer a star, he was serviceable player who split time with Daryl Strawberry to give the Yankees a solid, but not spectacular, left field platoon.

When I saw Raines' name on the list today, I decided to look up where he stacked up against some of the LFers in the Hall. In order to compare I am going to use EQA, WARP3, total Runs Above Average (RAA) and OPS+ (just so I don't get accused on using BP exclusively). I am going to include RAA and WARP3 per season and also per game, as I think the latter is probably a better indicator than the former. I will also try to use Hardball Times' Win Shares and Win Shares Above Bench when possible.

Here are Raines' career numbers. .307 EQA, 123.9 WARP3 (5.38, .049), 564 RAA (24.5, .225) , 390 WS and 203 WSAB and a 123 OPS+. He averaged around 24.5 runs above the average left fielder for his career. These are very solid numbers, but LF is one of the least valuable positions, so the bar is higher. The best way to determine the propriety of his candidacy is to compare him to the players already in the Hall.

There are two LFers who were substantially better than Raines: Ted Williams and Stan Musial. These players are in a different league and frankly only a select few major leaguers in history even enter the conversation with these guys.

The tier-two LFers are much more comparable. Let's make a list in no particular order:

1) Willie Stargell. 312 EQA, 100.4 WARP3 (4.78, .042), 491 RAA (23.38, .208), and a 147 OPS+. Stargell made about 800 less outs, which is not a trivial amount, but that's why his EQA is 5 points higher. But Raines' WARP was 23.5 wins higher. And Stargell's RAA per season was only 23.3, so Raines has the edge. Stargell also had 370 WS which is less than Raines, but had 204 WSAB, which is one better. I think the Stargell/Raines debate is a good one, but even if Stargell is better, Raines is very close and Stargell is a clear-cut HOFer.

2) Lou Brock. A good comparison because Brock was also a great basestealer, and actually beat out Raines 938 to 811. But otherwise the two players were not really comparable. 282 EQA, 88.2 WARP3 (4.64, .033) 226 RAA (11.9, .086) and a 109 OPS+. Not even close.

3) Goose Goslin. Goslin only played 18 seasons to Raines' 23, so his numbers are worse overall. .294 EQA, 426 RAA (23.1, .186), 103 WARP3 (5.72, .045), 182 WSAB, 355 WS and a 128 OPS+. A lower EQA by a double digit amount, with a higher OPS+. But Goslin produced one less run relative to an average LF, and his WARP3 was 21 points lower (although his 5.7 WARP3 per season beats out Raines' 5.38). Raines, of course, wins the WSAB battle simply by being around longer. Raines also had better WARP3 and RAA per game. Another favorable comparison.

4) Ralph Kiner. Kiner only played 10 seasons, but was great for most of the time. 319 EQA, 362 RAA, 74.5 WARP3 and a 149 OPS+. Kiner's 36.2 RAA (.245) and 7.45 WARP3 (.506) per season dwarfs Raines' numbers.

5) Joe Medwick. 304 EQA, 454 RAA (26.7, .228) 98.6 WARP3 (5.8, .049) and a 134 OPS+. Raines had the EQA advantage, and Medwick had the advantage in runs and wins per season and per game. Fairly close.

6) Al Simmons. 297 EQA, 107.9 WARP3 (5.395, .048), 461 RAA (23.05, .208) and a 132 OPS+. Raines has a 10 point advantage in EQA, a slighly higher WARP3 per game, a higher RAA per game, and a 9 point disadvantage in OPS+. These two players were very close.

7) Billy Williams. Honestly I know very little about Williams, but he was pretty good. 299 EQA, 113.7 WARP3 (6.31, .045), 535 RAA (29.7, .215), and a 133 OPS+. He also had 374 WS and 181 WSAB. Williams was arguably the better player overall, while Raines was the better hitter based on EQA and RAA and WARP3 per game.

8) Dave Winfield. Everyone who grew up in the 80s or 90s remembers Winfield. 300 EQA, 130 WARP3 (5.9, .043) 526 RAA (23.9, .176), a 130 OPS+, 189 WASB and 415 WS. Raines has a sizeable margin in per game stats.

9) Carl Yastrzemski. This guy played in a tough offensive era, when pitchers dominated. .295 EQA, 563 RAA (24.47, .170), 133.5 WARP3 (5.80, .040) 129 OPS+, 231 WSAB and 386 WS. His WSAB is the 27th highest in major league history. Pretty gaudy numbers, but right around where Raines is.

I picked these 9 because they are the most famous HOF LF. There are other guys, but frankly I don't have the time to go through everyone and I believe these 9 out of the 20 LF in the Hall are a pretty good sample.

Ok so let's review. Raines is 3rd in EQA, WARP3, and WSAB and 1st in RAA. When we look at per game stats he's tied for 2nd in WARP3 and 3rd in RAA, and the only two guys ahead of him or tied in either are Medwick and Kiner, the latter having played only 10 seasons. Raines is lower in per season numbers, but I believe per game stats are more meaningful because players play varied amounts of games in different seasons. He also has one of the lowest OPS+ on this list (only better than Brock) because he didn't have the power many of the other guys had, but OBP is more important than SLG and EQA bears that out.

Basically I think a case could be made that Raines is one of the best LF to ever play the game and is better than anyone on the above list. If that's not a HOFer, I don't know what is.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Age of the Universe and Literalism

I've been arguing from time to time with a commentator called Oshea on Harry Maryles' blog about the age of the universe. Here's the most recent thread. I've decided to write a post about.

I understand his essential argument this way: evidence of an ancient universe is insufficient to shift the interpretation of the text from literal to allegorical because the evidence does not really contradict the text. The universe was created, according to Chazal, not to look brand new, but rather to appear old. Since Adam was created as an adult and trees were created grown, the universe must have exhibited some form of age at its initial outset.

Even if the universe appears ancient, that fact does not contradict the literal meaning of the text. It actually fits quite well with the text, because the text implies that the universe would look old. Therefore the empirical evidence is incapable of generating the need for an allegorical approach because it actually coheres with the literal meaning.

This argument, from what I understand, has nothing to do with the Rambam or Rav Saadiah. Their methodology dealt with conflicts between the Torah and other disciplines (mainly philosophy), but the current science/Torah conflict regarding the age of the universe is not really a conflict since science actually fits with the Torah's account.

I believe this is a very good argument, and really makes a proponent of the allegorical approach do some serious work. First he must show that science and Torah actually conflict. If the empirical evidence fits with the literal reading, then there is no conflict. He must further prove that someone like the Rambam would have allowed reinterpretation based on a conflict between Torah and empirical science. All we have right now is arguments that the Rambam allowed the literal meaning to be trumped by philosophy. How do we know he would have allowed reinterpretation based on modern science? On top of that there's also a presumption of literalism in interpretation of the Torah. All together that's a tough hurdle to pass.

I also want to note that I don't believe Oshea considers the non-literal view to be kefira. Designating a view apikorsus is a very strong statement and can have very serious repercussions. Since Judaism has a long tradition of pluralism in interpretation of texts (especially non-Halachic texts) arguing that the view is kefira or even just not allowed (the view of some of the Slifkin banners) shifts the burden to the opponents to prove that only the recognized interpretations are legitimate. The presumption of literal interpretation does not, in my mind, fulfill that burden given how many non-literal interpretations there are in the corpus of Torah.

Ok, on to first issue, the argument that the science/Torah conflict on the age of the universe is merely illusory. That argument assumed that the evidence of an ancient universe does not conflict with the literal meaning and actually comports with Chazal's view that the universe was created already looking old. The biggest problem with that argument is the evidence is very different from what we would expect from Chazal's view. Sure, the world had to look older than it really was, because otherwise it's hard to imagine how Adam could have existed in that climate. Trees were already grown, food was available, etc. But did it have to look billions of years old? Is there any reason to expect it to look billions of years old? Why are there dinosaur bones? Cave paintings? Fossils of human-like creatures that date tens of thousands of years old? Why did scientists recently find an eight-foot long scorpion? Unless we can prove (not just assume because of the Mabul) that our dating methods are way, way off, in what way does this evidence conform to Chazal's view of apparent age?

I believe the disparity between what should be expected by the Torah's account and the actual world that we see is vast enough to generate a conflict. And since the idea of an ancient universe is not required by the sources, I believe the burden is properly shifted from the proponents of the non-literal account to the supporters of literalism to show that only the literal approach is acceptable.

Onto the second issue. Would the Rambam or others allow allegorizing because of a posteriori rather than a priori reasoning? That's a difficult counterfactual question and is hard to answer. But I think the more important issue is recognizing that the Rambam's views on this matter were clearly influenced by the philosophical constructs that existed at the time. Would the Rambam have still postulated the argument from contingency if he had read W. V. Quine? Would Rav Saadiah still consider a priori reasoning paramount if he had lived during the time of the Empiricists or the modern Foundationalists (a school of though that believes that experiences are the foundation of all knowledge)? It's anachronistic to ignore the development of philosophy and especially the philosophy of science when asking these questions.

Instead we should take the essential structure of their theories and try to strip them of their medieval trappings. The fundamental aspects of the Rambam's methodology was to allow other disciplines to influence our interpretation of the Torah. Now, we shouldn't claim the Rambam would allow reinterpretation willy-nilly because he wouldn't. But if I am correct that the appearance of an ancient universe does pose significant problems to literalism, then perhaps the Rambam's essential theory would allow reinterpretation.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A Little Too Blind

Haaretz's editorial today compares Likud to Hamas because both are unwilling to make important compromises at Annapolis. I guess that's true, but it's like saying that Hitler and Mother Teresa are similar because both ate breakfast in the morning. I don't need to explain the differences between Hamas and the Likud, as they are patently obvious.

Haaretz's rationale for supporting Annapolis is that,

[a]t Annapolis, Israel has a partner. It may be weak, it may represent only part of the Palestinian people, but finally there is another side that sees eye to eye with most of the people in Israel, a side that opposes using terror to achieve political goals and is willing to give up some of its original aspirations to reach an agreement.
Even if true, much of the opposition to Annapolis is based on the idea that Abu Mazen barely controls only part of the Palestinian people. He has no authority and little support in Gaza and it's not even completely clear he can control the West Bank.

Haaretz's editors don't care. They argue that

The Annapolis conference is an opportunity to forge an agreement with people who are willing to sign it, while hoping that the entire Palestinian people follows suit.
I'm not completely opposed to the idea of working with leaders and then hoping that the subjects will follow suit. That idea underpinned Oslo. If Arafat would agree to a deal, the positive benefits would manifest themselves in a way that would change the minds of the average Palestinian. If his lot improved and he had a measure of freedom from Israel's occupation, he would view Israel more favorably and the conflict would end. Basically the idea is that a peace process would jump-start a shift from hatred on both sides, to a more congenial acceptance of each other's existence.

Ok, that idea might have worked in 1993 or 2000. It's one thing to make a deal with a Palestinian leader like Arafat who enjoyed immense support (certainly early on) and could implement the agreement. It's totally another to negotiate and sign an accord with a leader with a minimal amount of support even in the area where he's supposed to reign supreme. Is anyone willing to assert with confidence that Abbas enjoys the support of 50% of Palestinians? Does he even supremely control his own security forces? If not, how exactly is he supposed to make the future benefits of the peace deal a reality?

Israel can't just negotiate with anyone. If the Palestinians can't get their act together, what kind of deal is worthwhile when it won't be worth much, if anything at all?

Update: Israel's intelligence agencies seem to agree that Abbas is a powerless leader.

A recently exposed joint document by the General Security Service (Shin Bet), the Mossad and military intelligence states that "even if understandings are reached in Annapolis, the chances of implementing them in the field are almost zero."

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Fun Game

This game purports to judge whether a person's religious beliefs are internally consistent. I got hit once and bit two bullets. I completely disagree with how the test uses the word "rational" but nothing is perfect.

Check it out.

Authority and Bias

Jak Black, semi-frequent commentor on Haemtza, posed a good question (here and here) about Harry's Daas Torah post:

We all have personal biases. How can a person know if his choice not to listen to the decision of a gadol is not simply based on some bias? Once you establish that the words of a gadol are not truly binding, what worth are the words of a gadol at all? Essentially, it seems to me that they have become (again, for all intents and purposes) meaningless.


However, if the decision really has grave spiritual impact (schooling, shuls, etc.), and a person simply cannot decide which house to purchase because he is having difficulty balancing the various spiritual factors, and a rav says that clearly one is superior, I cannot fathom why he shouldn't heed that advice (unless perhaps the question changes, i.e. a new element comes into play.)

Perhaps you ask questions about every subject under the sun. Which tomato do I purchase - the Roma, or the vine? If so, then I can see why you don't feel an obligation to listen. But I only ask questions to which I truly do not know the answer. Therefore, regardless of the true status of such advice, it seems to me obvious that it should be personally binding.

I think bias can be overcome, but not always. Jak's example about judges recusing themselves is right on point. Judicial ethics require a judge to recuse himself when he has a personal stake in the case. Surely a judge who is the majority owner of a corporation that is in court should recuse himself. But the canons of ethics do not require a judge who owns a few shares or a judge whose son happens to go to the school that is being sued to recuse himself. That's because bias is everywhere but we assume that bias can be overcome in some cases, but not others.

Jak's suggestion about making a Rav's advice binding is far from the only solution and probably not the best. If a person is truly worried that his biases are influencing his decisions, he could consider his wife's views binding. If the sole problem is that biases blind and other people who do not share the same bias are more objective, then why ask a Rav at all? Why not get a therapist or someone else trained to deal with identifying biases in people? We can solve the bias problem by appointing anyone as an authority.

So why choose a Rav? The answer must be because the Rav is more likely than other people in question to get the answer to the question correct. As Joseph Raz would say, we accept an authority because he is more likely to determine what right reason demands than the subject. In some cases a Rav is clearly most competent in figuring out the answer. Since Rabbanim tend to specialize in Halacha, his opinion should be granted great weight. But I'd demur against making his authority preemptive, because no one but the questioner is ever completely capable of understanding his situation as well as the person himself. Language and other factors are a barrier to transmitting information efficiently, so it becomes impossible for the Rav to fully comprehend the issue at hand in its entirety. People, even biased people, should be willing to evaluate the answer and weigh it against other factors.

This is an epistemological problem and one not easily solved. From a practical perspective, I'd suggest a person accept a Rav's psak unless he feels the psak is completely wrong. In that case, he should follow the procedures laid down in Halacha and ask another Posek of "greater" stature and inform him of the earlier Posek's ruling. So basically when it comes to personal psak for a single individual we don't disagree in practice, only in theory.

The difference is when it comes to global pronouncements or advice not of the Halachic nature. Let's focus on the latter issue, because I'd rather not get into the whole Askanim problem that Harry properly brings up. When the issue is not Halachic, it is less plausible that the Rav is more likely to come to the correct conclusion than the person asking the question. So the Rav's opinion should be given less weight. What about bias? It's a problem. But at this point it becomes a question of weighing factors. The Rav might be more objective, but he is less qualified to answer the question. So the individual has to make the decision for himself. If it's an important issue he seek advice from a number of sources, preferably from people who are aware of the problem, but also from people who are detached. I believe different perspectives will illuminate the underlying problems and expose biases.

Not considering a ruling or opinion binding does not render it meaningless, even practically. Imagine someone goes to a doctor and is told he has a fatal illness and only treatment A will save his life. Further imagine that treatment A is risky. Now, most people respect their doctor's medical advice and don't frequently reject the advice out of hand. But in such a case, most people would look for a second opinion. Why? Because doctors, like other experts, might be wrong.

Jak is essentially arguing that advice is meaningless because people will decide what they want to do with or without the advice. But that just isn't true. The patient will speak to other doctors, do his own research, etc. But his decision will be at least partly based on how much he respects the first doctor, and the odds that the doctor is right. I believe that if the person had spent months researching the issue and never spoken to the doctor, he might have come to a different conclusion or at the very least would reach that conclusion differently.

Torah U'Madda at its Clearest

"It is clear that the hours spent studying in the college will take away from time spent learning Torah, but, on the other hand, such study will give a student much more breadth, and a better hekeif of the whole world in general. In a certain sense he may lose out, because he’ll have less time for learning Torah, but secular studies grant a student a greater depth. Torah is not just a collection of dinim. When a person learns Torah, it should put the entire world in context. If a person has a real understanding of secular knowledge, then that, together with the Torah, will give him a better perspective on life."

-- Rabbi Herschel Schacter

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Oh Really?

Barry Bonds has promised to refuse an invitation to the Hall of Fame if his record-setting ball is entered with an asterisk. Here's his rationale:

"I don't think you can put an asterisk in the game of baseball, and I don't think that the Hall of Fame can accept an asterisk," Bonds said. "You cannot give people the freedom, the right to alter history. You can't do it. There's no such thing as an asterisk in baseball."

Perhaps Barry hasn't been introduced to a guy named Roger Maris, who some of you may know broke the single-season home run record in 1961, but his record was recorded with an asterisk until McGwire shattered it in 1998. Bonds isn't much a student of the game, huh?

Claire and the Dolphins

I have to give props to TMZ for showing this video. TMZ is one of those awful paparazzi news groups that follow celebrities around all the time. They even have a TV show at 6:30 on Fox-5.

Here they found a news report about how Japanese fisherman kill approximately 23,000 dolphins a year. A group dedicated to saving the dolphins went out there and tried to stop the slaughter. Hayden Panettiere, who plays the regenerating cheerleader Claire on NBC's Heroes, is a member of the group and was interviewed.

Animal rights and all, I don't understand what motivates someone to fly all the way to Japan and swim into danger just to save dolphins. I understand how the West views dolphins differently from other water dwelling creatures (except maybe whales), so I can see why people are appalled by dolphin killing. But aren't there more important issues in the world? There are homeless people all over the place. If someone has the time, wealth, and energy to go all the way to Japan just to save dolphins, she can certainly muster up the strength to volunteer at a food kitchen. It's less glamorous but much more meaningful.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Liberals/Moderates Good, Conservatives Bad

That's pretty much the thesis of Geoffrey Stone's recent blog post on the University of Chicago's Law Blog. I guess if someone is as far left as Professor Stone, perhaps it is self-evident that liberal jurisprudence is correct and conservatives use the Constitution to further their policy aims. But for most of us who are somewhere in the middle, this article is sorely lacking.

Stone actually starts off well. He correctly notes that the court has moved to the right since the halcyon days of the Warren Court. But since that court had Black, Brennan, and Douglas it was very liberal and it was inevitable that the Court would shift back towards the middle.

He's also right that the plethora of 5-4 decisions last term does not prove that the court is evenly split. The Court only accepts a small numbers of cases and selection bias limits those cases to the difficult ones. When a case is "hard" even like-minded justices will sometimes disagree, so it's not surprising that the court is so divided. This isn't the greatest argument, but it's better than what comes next.

Stone believes the current court is very right wing and contains "five conservative Justices, four of whom are very conservative, and four moderate Justices, one of whom, Ginsburg, is moderately liberal." Whether someone is liberal or conservative is obviously a relative term and depends on the competition. Surely Breyer is a moderate when compared to William O. Douglas but not Clarence Thomas. So Stone starts with the presumption that the Warren Court was proper and anything to its right is conservative.

OK, here comes the good stuff. Stone goes on to define "Liberal" and "Conservative." First comes the liberal justices:

"To begin with, they shared a common vision of the purpose of judicial review. They believed that a primary responsibility of the judiciary is to protect individual liberties, and most especially the rights of minorities and others whose rights might not be fairly protected in the majoritarian political process. They believed that this responsibility was both contemplated and intended by the Framers of our Constitution as a fundamental check on the power of the elected branches of government, and they believed that courts can fulfill this responsibility only by actively interpreting the Constitution to ensure that democracy operates both properly and fairly." (emphasis added)

There is nothing controversial in this statement and it is more or less the views of John Hart Ely and Stephen Breyer. The idea that the courts should ensure Democracy and protect individual rights is a legitimate judicial methodology, albeit one I disagree with.

Stone then breaks down conservatives into three groups:

1) Judicial Passivists - judges who only exercise judicial review when the decisions of the democratic branches are clearly unconstitutional.
2) Originalists - judges who interpret the Constitution according to the Founder's intentions.
3) Conservative Activists - judges who aggressively interpret the Constitution to fit with their policy preferences.

Notice something missing? How about "Liberal Activists?" Stone completely ignores the idea that liberals could be activists pejoratively because he basically defines liberal jurisprudence as a form of judicial activism!

So once Stone is willing to admit that the Court should "actively" interpret the Constitution based on liberal values, what conceptual distinction can he draw between liberal activism and conservative activism? What's the difference between "actively interpreting the Constitution to ensure that democracy operates both properly and fairly" (which of course includes individual rights, a liberal political value) and "aggressively interpret[ing] the Constitution and invok[ing] the power of judicial review to implement conservative political values?" Why is it OK for the Court to decide that welfare payments cannot be terminated without a prior hearing (Goldberg v. Kelly) but not acceptable for the Court to strike down minimum wage laws (Lochner v. United States)? Both cases involve the judges making value judgments and then "actively" interpreting the Constitution in that mold. Even more pointed, what distinction can we draw between Roe and Lochner?

There's no difference. The disagreement is about the initial value judgments the judges make. But it's absurd to say one's opponents are wrongfully interpreting the Constitution because they disagree with one's initial value assumptions. Or at least it's ridiculous to do so without supplying some evidence or argument that one's viewpoint is correct. Stone basically assumes he's right and anyone who disagrees is wrong. It's amazing.

One more short point: It's beyond belief that a law professor would criticize Originalism in 2007 for being about what the Framers intended. The vast majority of Originalists today do not favor Framer intent but focus on clause meaning at the time of the Founding. Certainly Scalia and Thomas are not intentionalists and Scalia has expressly repudiated original intent Originalism on many occasions. Stone has apparently not kept up with the literature, so how can he criticize a methodology he doesn't understand?

Real Conversation Overheard

I was waiting with two people, a man and a woman who apparently knew each other.

Woman: My mother had Rheumatoid Arthritis for 32 years.
Man: Is she doing anything for it?
Woman: She used to take (two medications I couldn't make out).
Man: Yeah, but is she doing anything for it (obviously referring to something nutritional)?
Woman: Well, she died in an ambulance when she was 63.
Man (obviously feeling bad): Oh, I'm sorry.
Woman: She was resuscitated and the two medications she used to take apparently were causing her lungs to fill up with water.
Me: ????!!!!!!!

Reminds me of this dialogue from the world's greatest TV show:

Kent Brockman: Dozens of people are gunned down each day, but until now, none of them was important. I'm Kent Brockman. At 3:00 PM Friday, local autocrat C. Montgomery Burns was shot, following a tense confrontation at town hall. He was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead. He was then taken to a better hospital where his condition was upgraded to "alive."

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Semantic/Normative Originalism

Anyone interested in understanding the points of view of sophisticated originalists should check out this post by Lawrence Solum. It's a comment on a response by Randy Barnett to Brian Leiter about the normative bases of originalism. No one is clearer than Solum.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A-Rod Opts Out

The guys broadcasting the World Series just reported that A-Rod is opting out of his contract. is confirming it.

The official reason is that he's unsure of the team's direction. They haven't signed Posada or Mariano, and Pettitte isn't sure what he whether he wants to retire.

Come on. These are the Yankees. Is there any doubt they're going to put a highly competitive team on the field? They can offer more for those players than anyone else in baseball, so I'd be very surprised if they don't re-sign Posada and probably Mariano. Plus they have a lot of top pitching prospects who are major league ready and will probably form a pitching core that'll last for the next ten years.

So what's really going on here? I doubt it's about money because what team can offer as much as the Yankees? The latest rumor was to extend his contract to make it 8 years, $231 million. How many teams have the resources to match that? And how many of those teams can match that and still compete?

My guess is he just doesn't want to play here. A-Rod doesn't have Jeter's personality and seems to be bothered more by jeers and boos than guys like Mariano. Some guys just don't like New York. But if he's going to take less money to play for a worse team, then he'd better get earplugs because his next game at the Stadium is going to really, really loud.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Public Service Announcement

My wife and I are selling a brand new copy of the out-of-print and banned The Camel, The Hare, And The Hyrax. We recently bought the book and it's brand-new, not one of the used copies that are floating around online.

Check it out.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

How Powerful Is The Israel Lobby?

Not as powerful as Mearsheimer and Walt might believe. Walter Russell Meade reviewed their book The Israel Lobby in the recent issue of Foreign Affairs, and I pretty much agree with everything he has to say.

To summarize, he lists three major problems with their thesis and its execution, two of which I'll list here:

1) They don't define the Lobby at all, and their amorphous, wide-ranging definition of the Lobby is so unbelievably broad that it would include any group in America that recognizes Israel's right to exist no matter what its view on Israeli politics, and amazingly the authors themselves!

2) They don't show how the Lobby affects American policy towards Israel. They show how Congressmen and Senators routinely affirm Israel's right to defend itself in great numbers, but they don't show how the Lobby "persuades" them to do so. They also don't show how these congressional resolutions relate to actual foreign policy, which is formulated and executed by the Executive Branch and not Congress.

I'll take Meade's word for it that the authors are not anti-Semites, although these were formerly respected academics, teaching at the highest levels of academia who just produced a highly biased polemic with little basis in truth.

Read the whole thing.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Great Sports Moments From Yesterday

1) No football Sunday would be complete without Chad Pennington throwing an INT returned for a TD. The 1-6 Jets are probably the most frustrating team I have ever watched because every game follows the exact same script: the Jets take the lead, blow it in the second half, have a chance to come back, but Chad throws one of those weak out routes that the DB jumps and returns for a TD. The same thing happens every single week.

2) On to the Indians, the team that got outscored 30-5 over the last three games. I love the baseball playoffs but this series when contrasted with the Yankees series is exactly why the playoffs are not a meaningful indicator of which teams are the best. The Indians had an excellent pitching staff this season, especially at the top of the rotation where they boasted C.C Sabathia and Fausto Carmona, two of the top pitchers in the majors. So what happened? Both Sabathia and Carmona have a double digit ERA over the four games they pitched, the Indians bullpen does not get the job done, and the team ERA is 6.82(!). That's almost 3 runs worse than their regular season ERA of 4.05.

How did they do against the Yankees? Sabathia wasn't great, but his 5.40 was almost half of his ERA against the Sox. Carmona's only start was for 9 innings and 1 run. The team ERA was 3.41, which over the course of the season would have been the best ERA in the majors. Well, the Red Sox have a good lineup so it makes sense that the they pounded the Indians pitching, right?

Wrong. The Red Sox offense is very good, with a OPS+ of 107. Not great. The Yankees, however, had a 123, which is better than the 61 Yankees, 99 Indians, and the 98 Yankees. This Yankees lineup was one of the best offenses in major league history. So you'd expect the Indians pitching to be at least equivalent to how they pitched against the average major league team. But it wasn't meant to be. Luck, small sample size and whatever played a major role, and pitchers such as Carmona, Sabathia, and Wang were all terrible in the postseason, while Paul Byrd and Jake Westbrook were actually pretty decent (and lucky).

Well that's over. At least when it comes down to it, the best team in the AL advanced to the World Series, which is as it should be. Let's hope the Rockies do well and small sample size becomes our friend this time.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Check out this article by Maureen Dowd (who I've read maybe a handful of times). The Op-Ed is supposed to be an "admission" by Clarence Thomas about why he only supports "White causes" and how he made Bush President. Here's what David Bernstein had to say:

Dowd writes, satirically, in Thomas's voice: "I used to have grave reservations about working at white institutions, subject to the whims of white superiors. But when Poppy's whim was to crown his son — one of those privileged Yale legacy types I always resented — I had to repay The Man for putting me on the court even though I was neither qualified nor honest. ... But having the power to carjack the presidency and control the fate of the country did give me that old X-rated tingle."

"Repay The Man?" "Carjack the presidency?" Not "qualified"? "X-rated tingle"? I find this about as funny as a David Duke speech, and for the same reasons.

Basically she only forgot comments about Thomas' favorite food being watermelon or how he likes White women, similar to every other Black man.

How could the Times publish that article?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Why I Hate the Division Series

This post might sound like sour grapes and to a degree it probably is. But the problem with a short series, as we saw during the World Series last year, is that anything can happen and the best team doesn't always win.

One thing I was worried about before the playoffs this season was that they wouldn't be as meaningful to me as they were in the past. Since becoming interested in Sabermetrics I've learned that clutch hitting isn't a skill but is luck, Derek Jeter is not a good defensive shortstop, and that anything can happen in a short series. The last point is obviously true. Just last season we saw an 83 win team from the worst division in baseball, handily beat a 95 win team that led the majors in ERA and played in a division with two other 90 win teams. Anything can happen.

So now I realize that a short series and especially the Division Series is often determined by fluke and lucky events. Just look at the Yankees-Indians series. In Game 2 Joba was dealing but then got attacked by a swarm of insects and gave up a run. Maybe he should have pitched through it, but does anyone seriously think he would have thrown two wild pitches in a normal environment?

I only got to watch part of Game 4 this series (thanks to TBS' unwillingness to allow the home markets to play the games on broadcast TV), so maybe my experiences were skewed but the Indians got a lot of cheap hits with runners in scoring position and two outs. Their average with RISP and two outs was close to .500. That's insanely high, and frankly it's very lucky. The Yankees, however, managed ten baserunners in five innings, hit three home runs, and only managed four runs. Were the Indians better "in the clutch?" I doubt it. The Indians were luckier and played better over a four game stretch.

A series like this is why the playoffs are such a crap shoot and are not a better indicator of the quality of a team than the regular season. Besides luck, a major element of postseason play are matchups. The Yankees were at least as good as the Tribe, as evidenced by the 85 more runs they produced, which is not an insignificant amount and is why BP put the Yankees 6 games ahead of the Tribe. And that's not even taking into account the better competition the Yankees had to face.

But the Indians have two frontline dominant starters, one of which is lefty. They also have an excellent bullpen and an above average offense. The Yankees scored a ton of runs but their biggest weakness was hitting power lefties. This was a bad matchup for NY. But if the Yankees played the Indians 100 times, I think the former would come out ahead, owing to its superior offense.

Oh well. Either way I'm going for the Tribe the rest of the way.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Some Baseball Thoughts

1) You gotta feel for the Mets. Mets fans, not as much, but for the Mets players. I strongly dislike Mets fans because -- and I don't think this is only my perception -- they seem to care more about the Yankees losing than the Mets winning. I'm not kidding. I remember watching the Yankees lose Game 7 to the Diamondbacks in 2001 and listening the Mets fans get more excited about the Yankees losing that series than they were just the year before when the Mets played the Yankees in the World Series. I've heard stories of Mets fans who cheered for the Braves over the Yankees in 1999, merely days after their biggest rival beat the Mets in the NLCS.

So yeah, like everyone other Yankee fan, I get a sense of satisfaction watching Mets fans squirm after their team made history. But Yankee fans should not get too smug. Remember, we made history too in 2004.

I've always believed the "rivalry" between the Mets and Yankees is illusory, something cooked up in the minds of Mets fans to help them get over their sense of inferiority. The Mets and Yankees didn't play each other in a single meaningful game until 1997. Since then they've faced off in a mundane World Series and play average of six somewhat important regular season games a season (although the importance of those games are now open to dispute given how the Mets might have lost the division because of the yearly subway series).

These two teams are not rivals. If the Red Sox blew a seven game lead with seventeen to play and had to watch the postseason from home, I'd be feeling pretty elated. But as I watched Glavine get pounded yesterday, I felt myself pulling for them. They are a New York team afterall. I would have loved another Subway Series. Too bad it's not going to happen this year.

But when you see that Mets fan, remember 2004. That's how he feels.

2) How awful is the NL? Only 1 team in the entire 16 team league won 90 games, and that team game up more runs than it scored. 9 of the 14 AL teams had a better run differential than Arizona. The Tigers, who finished 6 games out of the Wild Card, had a better run differential than any team in the NL but the Rockies. Six AL teams would have won the NL Central. The Brewers, everyone's darlings, finished with the same record as the Blue Jays, but had a worse run differential in a far worse division.

After last year's World Series disaster, I'm not going to arrogate myself to pick the AL in a cakewalk, but whoever makes it out of the AL is going to be far better than the NL representative.

3) The Red Sox really helped the Yanks by finishing with the best record in baseball (thanks to the tiebreaker). The Sox chose the long schedule, forcing the Indians to pitch four starters (or pitch people on 3 day's rest) and Carmona only once. Sabathia is clearly the best pitcher in this series and I don't see the Yankees hitting him hard once (forget about twice). Carmona is an excellent pitcher, but someone the Yankees should have less trouble with. So basically I think the Yankees will lose Game 1, but win Game 2. The pitching matchups for Games 3 and 4 are fairly even (especially if Clemens can pitch) and the Yankees offense kills pitchers like Westbrook and Byrd.

So I'm calling it Yankees in 4. If it goes 5, the Yankees might be in big trouble.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Jorge Probably Belongs in the Hall

Continuing Noyam's HOF series (I,II, III), I'm going to take a look at Jorge Posada's HOF chances.

First let's look at his numbers:

126 OPS+, 302 EQA, 80.5 WARP3 and a total of 304 runs above average (274 BRAA and 30 FRAA). These are pretty good numbers for a catcher, but his career isn't over yet, so we have to try to ascertain where he'll end up.

Obviously it's hard to know for sure. Unlike Jeter, Posada is very old for a catcher, and although he hasn't caught that many games for a catcher relative to his age, most catchers decline rapidly by their late 30s. With Posada, it's even more difficult because he didn't play full-time until 2000, so only has 8 full seasons under his belt.

If we take the average of his 8 seasons, he has averaged around 51 runs above average a season. The problem is Posada was only a full-time catcher during his prime, so unlike with other players where one can assume the player's declining years won't be greatly worse than his early years, Posada doesn't really have any early years to take into account.

Ok let's assume Posada plays 3 more seasons at around 25-30 runs above average, and about 5 WARP3. That'll leave him with somewhere between 375-400 runs and a 95 WARP3. Let's further assume his EQA drops and he ends up with a number around .295.

Ok let's start comparing, although in no particular order:

1) Johnny Bench - Here's a guy who is generally considered the best catcher ever. 126 OPS+, 291 EQA, 120.8 WARP3, and 463 RAA (327 BRAA and 126 FRAA). Clearly better than Posada's projections, although Jorge might be the better hitter.

2) Yogi Berra - Another all-time great. 125 OPS +, 288 EQA, 113.7 WARP3 and 401 RAA (271 BRAA and 130 FRAA). Closer to Posada based on runs above average, but the WARP3 is out of reach.

3) Bill Dickey - The first great Yankee catcher. 127 OPS+, 292 EQA, 107.2 WARP3 and 394 RAA (288 BRAA and 106 FRAA). Another guy who is slightly better than the projections, but not in another league.

4) Roy Campanella - A great catcher who was paralyzed in a car accident and lost a few years to baseball's segregation policies. Like Posada, he didn't start catching full-time in the majors until his mid-20s. 124 OPS+, 293 EQA, 71.6 WARP3 but only 265 RAA (188 BRAA and 77 FRAA). Although for different reasons, Posada and Campanella had similar careers, with similar numbers.

5) Mickey Cochrane - Played on those great A's teams of the late 20s, early 30s. 128 OPS+, .297 ERA, 87.5 WARP3, and 297 RAA (248 BRAA and 48 FRAA). Like Posada (assuming he doesn't play until 40), he didn't have a long career, and his numbers are right around where Posada is now. Since Posada should add to those numbers, I think he'll end up ahead of Cochrane.

6) Carlton Fisk - Played forever. 117 OPS+, .285 EQA, 117 WARP3, 325 RAA (288 BRAA and 37 FRAA). Posada won't catch the WARP3, but should end up with more RAA, and a higher EQA.

Ok one more HOFer.

7) Gabby Hartnett - Great catcher. 126 OPS+, 294 EQA, 111.4 WARP3, and 398 RAA (286 BRAA and 112 FRAA). The RAA and EQA is right around where Posada should end up, but he won't get near the WARP3.

Let's look at two of Posada's contemporaries:

1) Mike Piazza - 143 OPS+, 313 EQA, 98.8 WARP3, and 343 RAA (494 BRAA plus -151 FRAA). Piazza is undoubtedly the best hitting catcher ever, but his defense really drags him down. He's Jeter behind the plate. Posada should finish with more RAA and maybe a similar WARP3.

2) Pudge Rodriguez - 112 OPS+. 282 EQA, 125.4 WARP3, 439 RAA (225 BRAA + 214 FRAA). Arguably the best defensive catcher in history, but not really on par with the all-time greats offensively. Posada will not be able to catch his WARP3 or RAA, even if Pudge is really done.

I think when it comes down to it, Posada is better than some of these guys on a per-year basis, but his career might not have been long enough. His WARP3 certainly does not compare to some of the all-time greats, but he already has more RAA than Cochrane and Campanella, and will probably finish ahead of Fisk and Piazza. If he ends up with a .295 EQA that'll put him ahead of Bench, Berra, Dickey, Campanella, Fisk, and Pudge.

I think Posada is borderline and right around where Bernie is, as good as some of the HOFer, but maybe not good enough to get in.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

More on Jeter and the Hall

I responded to some of Ezzie's comments on my post below here. However I thought of two better counter arguments that rebut Ezzie's argument that I feel are post-worthy.

Ezzie is arguing that Jeter's defense is so bad that he should be compared with other position players and not other SS. And although Ezzie has never explicitly concluded that Jeter shouldn't make the Hall, he's implying that compared to other position players Jeter wouldn't stack up. I have two responses:

1) Ezzie is penalizing Jeter twice for being a bad fielder. BP puts Jeter at -128 for his career, so basically his bad fielding is very much taken into consideration. Jeter gets a boost because he's a SS, but his bad fielding at the position definitely hurts him.

If we compare Jeter to other players we cannot automatically take his -128 runs defensively into account. If Jeter played a different position, we can safely assume he wouldn't be that bad defensively. How would he do? There's no way to know. But let's assume Jeter had played CF his whole career and was an average CF. That would leave Jeter with 411 runs above average for his career. He's 33 and should probably play another solid 6-7 years.

Let's assume he averages 15 runs above average for the rest of his career (a reasonable assumption considering just last season he was 53 runs above average offensively). That'll leave him with around 500 runs above average. That would put Jeter ahead of all the CF I mentioned on Noyam's Bernie post plus Duke Snider and a whole bunch of other nondescript HOFers.

Even if Jeter played LF, a position he would surely be at least average at, he would be ahead of Joe Medwick, Lou Brock, Ralph Kiner (although his career was cut short), Al Simmons, and would compare favorably with Willie Stargell and Dave Winfield. If I assume Jeter would have added 10 runs defensively a year and adds 10 runs offensively a year until he retires after 20 seasons, he'd end up with close to 700 runs above average. At any position, that's a HOF.

2) Instead of using Batting and Fielding Runs Above Average, I'll instead look at Batting and Fielding Runs Above Replacement, BRAR and FRAR. The difference is FRAA only takes into account the player's peers at his position. FRAR instead starts a player at a different amount of runs based on position. So for example, a SS will start with 33 runs automatically, while a 1B will only start with 10. That makes the positional difference 23 runs, which seems about right.

This allows us to compare players at different positions. Jeter right now is 908 runs above replacement. Let's assume he plays another 6 years. If we discount his first season, where he played 15 games and was actually a subpar performer, he's played 12 seasons. He's averaging 21.6 FRAR and 54 BRAR, so he's 75.6 runs above a replacement player. If he keeps that rate, for 6 more seasons, he'll end up with 453 more runs, which will leave him with 1360 runs above replacement. Let's say he drops off a little and only averages 60 runs above replacement. That's 360 runs so it's about 1260 runs above bench for his career.

Of course all of this assumes he stays at SS. If he moves to LF, he'll lose 19 runs a season based on positional value, but he'll probably be a better LF than SS, so I'm assuming he'll get a decent amount of that back.

So let's see how he compares with some HOFers.

1) Kirby Puckett finished with 842 runs above bench.
2) Harmon Killerbrew ended up with 889 runs above bench.

Jeter is already ahead of two clear-cut, well-known, HOFers.

What about someone like Eddie Murray? He finished with 1238, below Jeter's projected finish. How about a great hitter like Wade Boggs? 1347, right around Jeter's lower projected finish. How about the great Tony Gwynn? 1107. Brooks Robinson was an amazing defensive 3B. Where did he end up? 1066.

The list goes on and on. I'm not picking random, lower tier HOFers. These guys are all well-known and at least a number of them were first ballot picks, including Gwynn just last year. I'll pick another very famous player who just recently made into the Hall. Paul Molitor. Received 431 of 508 votes in 2004 or 84.8%. What did he finish with? 1189, below Jeter's projections.

There just aren't any serious arguments against Jeter's future Hall induction.

Update: Since I've been using BP's stats primarily, I decided to look at the HardBall Times' numbers to see where Jeter should rank. Unlike BP, THT does not have a lot of free stats on current players and nothing on past players. THT basically has the stats of the players' last four seasons and career numbers.

Here's Jeter. At the bottom there's a stat called Win Shares. Win Shares is a Bill James creation (for those of you who have never heard of Bill James, you should get to know his work). Unlike BP's WARP3, which looks at a player's numbers and calculates how many wins above a replacement player those numbers should added up to, Win Shares takes a team's total victories, multiplies them by 3, and then divides the total among the player's on the team.

Some would argue that Win Shares are not as fair a metric simply because players on winning teams are going to get more Shares due to the contributions of their teammates. That's not a bad argument, and I wouldn't only use Win Shares when evaluating a player. THT has also come up with Win Shares above Bench, a stat that compares a player's Win Shares with the amount an replacement player would have received at that position. WSAB might be a better stat, but THT doesn't have career win shares on it site, so I don't have access to it.

Ok, on to Jeter. Jeter has 300 Win Shares. He has played 12 full seasons so that comes out to a clean 25 WS a season. Assuming he plays another 6-8 years at that average and he'll end up with between 450-500 WS. That's a reasonable estimate given his past performance.

Luckily Dave Studeman ranked the top 80 players ever before 2007 based on WSAB and also included their WS total. We can go down the list and look at some of the best players of all-time.

The first 20 or so guys are clearly out of Jeter's league. After that, the WS totals begin to drop. Sam Crawford and Reggie Jackson both have around 440 WS for their career. Willie McCovey has 408. George Brett has 432. Arky Vaughan only had 356. Tony Gwynn? 398. There is no doubt in my mind that Jeter can easily reach 400 WS for his career.

This is just another stat that confirms what we already know: Jeter is a HOFer.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Importance Of Sabermetrics

This post was a comment on Noyam's Jeter post.

Somewhere between 25-30 years ago, people started taking a serious look into what makes a baseball team successful. Analyzing the various statistics, they looked for links between specific numbers and winning. One thing they noticed is that, almost universally, winning teams had a high OBP. They reasoned that there was a correlation between winning and a high team OBP. They concluded that successful teams are the teams that get on base the most. The second most common feature was a high SLG. Teams that hit for power also tended to do well. In other words, OBP and SLG were, by far, the best indicators of a team’s success. Better than batting average, home runs, stolen bases, runs, and RBIs.

These analysts reasoned that if successful teams are those which get on base the most, the most valuable players are the ones with the highest OBP. If getting on base is the single most important component of a winning team, a smart team should look for players who make the least outs. Those players are the most valuable. Obviously not all teams have figured this out yet, but that’s to their detriment.

What makes a player “good?” A good player is one who is valuable. The “best” player on a team is the one who is the most valuable to that team. Value is best determined by looking at a player’s OBP first, then SLG, and then going to other stats. This is true whether looking at the MVP race or trying to figure out who should make the Hall.

While this strategy makes sense, people soon realized some obvious flaws. Some players play in great hitters parks, while others hit in stadiums with huge outfields. Moreover some players played in eras with dominant pitching or rules that tilted the game towards pitching. For example, in 1968 Carl Yastrzemski won the batting title with a .301 batting average. In 1930, the mean batting average was .301. Obviously Yastrzemski was much more valuable to his team in 1968 than the average player was in 1930. Therefore OPS (OBP + SLG) is greatly flawed when comparing players from different eras, and sometimes even players from the same era.

That’s where OPS+ comes in. It takes into account stadium and league differences and calculates the player’s OPS in relation to the rest of the players in the league. For example a player with a OPS+ of 120 has an OPS that is 20% better than the average player in his league, taking into account ballpark advantages/disadvantages. OPS+ is very useful because it allows us to compare Derek Jeter to, say, Honus Wagner even though the latter played in the dead ball era when no one hit home runs or slugged at a very high percentage.

While OPS+ is a major improvement over OPS, it suffers from similar flaws. OPS+ does not take into account positional value. Sabermetics assume that the further down one gets on the defensive spectrum, the more valuable the player is, everything else being equal.

Here’s an example. Take a look at a regular baseball team. Let’s use the Mets. How many Mets starters (excluding pitcher) could play 1B adequately (not average, but good enough that his defense isn’t so atrocious that it greatly outweighs his offensive contributions)? I would guess all 8. How many could play LF? Probably everyone except Delgado. What about RF? Again probably everyone besides Delgado. What about 3B? Here’s where the biggest drop off occurs. Obviously Wright, probably Reyes and Castillo, and with enough practice, maybe Lo Duca. What about SS? Reyes and that’s probably it. Maybe Wright could figure it out or Castillo in his prime could be decent. But that’s it.

That’s the point. SS consistently rank at the bottom or next to the bottom offensively. The average 1B is a much better offensive player than the average SS. A team could increase its offensive output tremendously by playing an average 1B at SS. Why don’t teams do that? Well let’s ask why don’t the Cardinals play Pujols at SS and find a league average 1B to take his place? Because he would be so bad defensively that the offensive improvement from a league average SS to a league average 1B would be negated and then some.

Basically only a few select players can play SS, while almost anyone in the majors can play 1B. So everything else being equal, if two players have same numbers but one plays 1B and the other SS, the latter is more valuable because he can play a prime defensive position.
OPS+ doesn’t take this problem into account. It equates a SS with a 120 OPS+ with a 1B with the same OPS+. The two are not equally valuable.

Another major problem is that OPS+, like OPS, overvalues SLG relative to OBP. As I showed earlier, OBP is the statistic more closely correlated with winning and is the more important statistic. Equating OBP and SLG by simply adding them up does not paint an accurate picture of value.

EQA takes into account the latter problem by weighing OBP more than SLG, while VORP and WARP3 adjust for positional differences. That’s why despite David Ortiz’s power being down this season, his EQA is the highest of his career (his OBP is much higher than in past years). It’s also why Hanley Ramirez is second in VORP (behind ARod), even though Prince Fielder has a higher OPS+. WARP3 tries to take into account defense as well, and is probably the most comprehensive statistic available (although it’s not without its share of flaws).

These statistics are far more advanced and useful than batting average or RBI. They remove a lot of the subjectivity that plagues baseball analysis. Rather then simply looking at a player and saying “eh, .317 average and only 200 homers, that’s not great” they allow you to compare Jeter to other players and especially SS of other eras. And Jeter clearly stacks up to those guys.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Is Jeter A Hall-Of-Famer?

Inspired by this post by Noyam, I'd like to take a look at Derek Jeter's qualifications for HOF membership. But first it's important to note that the question "is Jeter a HOFer?" is really three distinct questions:

1) Should Jeter be a HOFer? This question, which is normative, requires looking for a standard which someone would have to reach in order to be a HOFer. It does not consider the admission of other players dispositive. So while Phil Rizzuto's induction might be relevant, it does not definitively answer the question.

2) Will Jeter be a HOFer? This questions looks to who is already in the Hall and gleans a standard from the current inductees. This question is more descriptive: based on who already made the Hall, does Jeter reach that standard? Unlike the first question, Rizzuto's induction is definitive because it shows that the standard is low enough to encompass shortstops who aren't even average major league hitters.

3) Will the writers vote for Jeter? This question is purely predictive. While there is overlap between the predictive and descriptive questions, they are not the same. Rafael Palmero might be a HOF based on who is already accepted into the Hall, but the voters will likely vote to keep him out because of steroid suspicions.

I believe the answer to all three questions is yes. I'm going to answer the to answer each question starting with the 3rd.

Will the writers vote for Jeter? Absolutely. This one is a no-brainer. Here's the evidence:

1) 3,000+ hits with a .300+ batting average (at worst).
2) 3+ Gold gloves.
3) 4+ rings.
4) A penchant for coming up big in the clutch.

The voters will see a very good hitter (somewhat warranted), a very good defender (not even close), and a winner. Seems like the quintessential HOFer in their eyes.

2) Will Jeter be a HOFer? This question is pretty easy too. Middle infielders such as Rizzuto (93 OPS+), Bill Mazeroski (84), and Pee Wee Reese (99) are in the Hall, despite mediocre to bad offensive numbers. Jeter's OPS+ is 123, which means, given modifications for era and home park, Jeter is 23% better than the average player and much better than the above players. Sure they were better defensively (in some cases much), but they weren't Ozzie Smith, who was a first-ballot HOFer. So Jeter will make it considering the other players who made it before him.

3) Should Jeter be a HOFer? This question is the most difficult and requires defining some standards. The HOF should be a place for the "best" players, and the best players are the ones who are the most valuable. Value is often position dependant, which means players playing SS should not be compared to 1B and LF. A SS can be just as valuable with worse offensive numbers solely by playing SS adequately.

So Jeter's candidacy does not hinge on his ability to hit like Pujols, Frank Thomas or Barry Bonds (three contemporary HOF-worthy players). He just needs to hit well enough to, with his position, be considered valuable enough to be considered good enough to make the Hall.

Obviously this question will overlap with the last question a bit. In order to determine who is valuable, we must look for some paradigms. In other words, who are the shortstops who should be in the Hall? Well at the top there's Honus Wagner (150) and Arky Vaughan (136), both of whom were far better than Jeter and are probably the top 2 SS in major league history (although if ARod had stayed at SS, he might have had something to say about that).

Let's look at two first ballot HOFers, Cal Ripken Jr. and Robin Yount. Both were surefire HOFs and fall within the top SS of all time. How does Jeter compare?

Ripken's OPS+ was 112, probably below where Jeter will end up when he retires. What about more advanced stats such as EQA and WARP3? Ripken's EQA is .285, which is way below Jeter's .303. While Ripken's WARP3 is 170.7 to Jeter's 101.1, Jeter still has another 7-8 years left and while he probably won't catch Ripken's WARP3, he'll be close.

Yount, of course, moved to the outfield later in his career, like Ernie Banks (.288 EQA), who also switched positions (and hopefully one day Jeter). Yount's EQA was .287, closer to Ripken than Jeter, and his WARP3 was 136.8, which Jeter should be able to top.

I've searched in vain for many SSs with a .300+ EQA. Here's a list of all the SS in the HOF. Only Wagner and Vaughan qualify. Only Luke Appling even had a .290 + EQA. In other words even if Jeter's decline is drastic and he ends up at around .290, that'd still put him in the top 4 offensive SS in major league history.

Yes, Jeter's defense is far worse than most of the players on that list. But his offense is so much better, that it's hard to imagine him falling below those players. Even if we set the line for induction at .280 EQA and/or above average defense and get rid of players such as Reese or Rizzuto, even if we take into account Jeter's terrible defense, and even if we assume a drastic drop off in performance as he gets older (which I doubt), it's hard to imagine Jeter not being as good when everything is said and done as Appling, Yount, or Banks. His numbers will basically be a carbon copy of their careers.

Sometime around 2020 Jeter will have his own well-deserved plaque in Cooperstown.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Shifra and I are currently in London and have have meals in Hendon on Shabbos, but we don't have a place to stay yet for Shabbos and Saturday night. If anyone has any ideas, we'd appreciate it. We're calling Chabad there, but if anyone knows anyone personally, that'd be best.

Update: We found a place.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Hey Remember Me?

Wow, how long has it been? Months. Since my last post I officially graduated law school, studied 8-12 hours a day for a month for a ridiculously long and intense 3 day exam, and took (and hopefully passed) the Bar. Then it took 2-3 weeks to even be able to read anything with the word "law" in it.

Luckily I've been following the Yankees all season. What a crazy season. At one point the Yankees were 14.5 games out of 1st and left for dead. Now they only 4 games behind Boston and tied for the Wild Card. They have the highest run differential in the majors (by far) and their differential is twice as large as any other team in the majors besides Boston. Over the first 115 games of the season they are hitting at a better clip than they did last season.

Since the All-Star break the entire Yankees team is OPSing at the same rate as last year's AL MVP. I expect the team's performance to drop a little since they are now hitting a rough patch in the schedule, but there's nothing keeping this team out of the postseason. They are clearly better than Detroit, Seattle, and as we saw this weekend, the Indians. And they can probably catch Boston, depending on how they do head-to-head in the last 6 games.

I'm gonna miss the first 3 game set against the Sox because I'll be in London (delayed honeymoon), but it's going to be exciting. I can't wait for the playoffs.

Now all I need is a job....

Update: Since July 13, the entire Yankee team has an OPS of .953. To put that into perspective there are only 13 players in all of baseball who have a better OPS than that this season. It's better than Vlad Guerrero. Better than David Wright and Sheffield. What an amazing offensive outburst.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Why I Believe The Cosmological Argument Fails

ExGH has decided to focus his blog on dealing with the issues of "truth." To start off he made a few arguments against the Cosmological Argument for G-d. To get us started, the Cosmological Argument for G-d contends that (to use ExGH's formulation):

1. Every physical thing has a cause.
2. The universe is a physical thing.
3. Therefore the universe has a cause.
4. It is impossible for there to be an infinite regress of causes.
5. Therefore there must be first cause which had no prior cause.
6. This first cause is also known as God (or is God).
7. Therefore God created the universe.

Put more simply since everything must have a cause, and we cannot have an unlimited chain of causes, there must be a first cause that is not bound by the rules of causality. That cause must be immaterial and outside of the SpaceTime continuum.

My biggest problem with this proof is the assertion that the Universe must have a cause; I basically argue against the first premise. Our experiences tell us that everything observable has a cause and using induction we can derive a principle that everything material has a cause. My problem is that our observations only take place within spacetime. It seems like faulty logic to presume that the same rules that apply to material items within spacetime also apply to the origin of spacetime itself. Sure, spacetime is material and probably bound by the physical laws of the universe, but when spacetime came into existence those rules could not have existed since spacetime itself did not exist yet. If the rules of the universe are contingent on spacetime's existence and spacetime did not exist, I fail to see why spacetime itself must have been caused.

Basically there are two ways to answer the infinite regress problem: 1) an immaterial object outside of spacetime created the universe or 2) the universe came into existence on its own. Supporters of the First Cause argument will tell you that (2) is a poor answer because the Universe itself is material and therefore is bound by the same rules as everything in it. I, as noted above, disagree. But here's the problem with (1):

Remember the original premise is that all physical objects need a cause (or stated more philosophically, all material objects must be caused). Why? Because everything we've ever encountered required a cause, so it seems plausible that even things we don't understand were caused. Ok that's reasonable. But why stop there? If everything we've observed could not have come into existence without a cause, then why don't we assume that immaterial objects too require a cause?

One possible response is that we have no experience with immaterial things so we can't apply the observable rules to them. But that's not a good answer. First of all that could mean that immaterial objects don't even exist. If we have no experience with them, how do we know they exist at all? But even if one concedes that they do exist, why do we assume they aren't bound by causality? If everything we know has a cause, and supporters of the First Cause proof are willing to apply that principle to the universe and then conclude it must have a cause, why not apply it to immaterial things as well?

Another response would be that the universe is sufficiently similar enough to the material objects we can perceive in order for us to justify applying the general principle of causality to it. Since the universe is material and everything else that we experience is material and caused, we can therefore assume that the universe, since it exists, must have required a cause. On the other hand, immaterial objects are so different from material ones that we cannot make the comparison. Why not? Because immaterial objects exist outside of spacetime, so causality doesn't necessarily apply.

But "before" spacetime existed, it also existed outside of spacetime. What that ambiguous sentence means is that at the time spacetime came into existence, spacetime did not yet exist and therefore the spacetime was created within the same conditions as immaterial things --outside of spacetime and causality. So I don't see the distinction.

Maybe I'm missing something, but I just don't understand how this argument substantiates anything. Why is the possibility that an immaterial object caused the universe more compelling than the argument that the universe caused itself?