Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Quick MVP Rant

Remember how I strongly I disagreed with picking Justin Morneau over MVP for AL MVP? Well I still do and here's another reason why:

As I mentioned before, shortstop is an inherently more valuable position on the baseball diamond than first base. Very few players can play shortstop effectively, while almost any major leaguer (and many minor leaguers) can be an average first baseman. So if two players, A and B, had the exact same numbers over the course of a season, while A was a 1B and B a SS, B is more valuable.

How much more valuable though? I think the best way to look at it is as so: When A produces his numbers at 1B, he relegates the team to playing an average SS. But when B plays as well offensively as A, he allows the team to pick up an average 1B. So the difference in value between A and B is the difference between an average 1B and an average SS.

Luckily we can figure that out statistically. Here's a list of the positional averages in both leagues this year. One of the comments has a link to an excel spreadsheet that breaks down the averages in each league. 1B have an average OPS of .819, while SS (not surprisingly the worst offensive position in the league) have an average OPS of .742, a difference of 77 points.
Last year Jeter's OPS was .900, while Morneau's was .934. If we add the difference in OPS between positions to Jeter's OPS, Jeter's OPS ends up being 33 points higher. (As an aside: Jeter's OPS+, which takes into account ballpark factors is 138 or 38% over average, while Morneau's is 140, only 2% higher than Jeter’s. These numbers do not take into account positional differences.)

Even more striking is Jeter's advantage in OBP, which is overwhelmingly considered the more important part of OPS by most sabermetricians (in Moneyball it noted that Billy Beane considered a point of OBP to be three times more valuable than SLG!). 1B average a OBP twenty points higher than SS. If we add twenty points to Jeter's .417 OBP, we get a .437 OBP relative to Morneau's .375, a 62 point differential. If each point is worth 3 times as much as a point of SLG, then Morneau's 21 point SLG advantage after adjustments for position (Morneau hit .559, while Jeter hit .483. But since 1B have a 55 point advantage in slugging over SS, Jeter's SLG relative to Morneau was .538) is greatly outweighed by Jeter's overwhelming 62 point advantage in OBP.

Put simply, there is no serious statistical analysis that finds Morneau more valuable than Jeter.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Sorry For The Delay

It's been a while since I last blogged, but I have a good excuse. You see, right before I started school again my computer died. And after getting it checked out, I found out it's dead for good. So now I have one semester of school left and no more laptop.

Luckily a former roommate left his old laptop in the apartment and I'm using that for now. But after spending the last two days with this computer I'm not sure I can handle the random crashes and slow response time so I might go looking for something usable for the rest of the semester. Anyway, hopefully now that I'm sort of settled in, I'm hoping to get back to blogging soon.

Over break I finished, The Missing Peace, and read Active Liberty and Moneyball. Once I'm done with with Frontiers of Legal Theory, I will have read 10 of Richard Posner's 30 or so books. Not bad, huh?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

I Don't Understand The Point

A few weeks ago, Yuli Tamir, Israel's education minister, decided to issue new geography textbooks that contain the Green Line. Last week, the Knesset Education Committee issued a non-binding directive to continue using the old books that don't distinguish between Israel and the territories.

I understand that Israel doesn't want to prejudge a final status agreement by granting the Palestinians rights to the West Bank. But how can they ignore the Green Line completely? Forget for a minute that every single country in the world recognizes the Green Line or that a large number of Israelis consider the West Bank disputed at the very least (and many consider it occupied). As Yehuda Ben Meir correctly points out, every single Israeli government, including those headed by Begin and Shamir, distinguished between Israel proper (including the areas that were annexed) and the West Bank, which is run by a military government. So the country itself recognizes the Green Line, and why shouldn't the children know that?

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Why I'm Hopelessly Conflicted

I just finished reading Dennis Ross' The Missing Peace, which is a ridiculously detailed account of the peace process going all the way back to the Reagan administration. It's over 800 pages and recounts pretty much every meeting he had with Israeli or Arab negotiators. It took months to read and it's about 300 pages too long, but it's an important read.

The amazing thing is that throughout the book I found myself agreeing with him. A lot. Maybe if Bibi was just a little more forthcoming, or if Shamir took Madrid seriously we'd have peace. But at the same time I know that Arafat had no intention of making peace and the only way to stop the Intifada was to destroy the terrorist organizations as much as possible.

The problem is these two ideas are mutually exclusive, and I'm going to explain why in my next post. Despite that I'm sympathetic to Ross' ideology as well as Bibi's. In this post, I'd like to explain why.

As surprising as it might sound, I did not follow politics in high school. I knew the President and Vice President but I couldn't tell you much about Madeline Albright or William Cohen. I barely knew anything about the Monica Lewinsky fiasco and there's no way I could have named a single Supreme Court justice.

That all changed when I decided to spend a year in Israel (it ended up being extended to two years). I went to Hakotel from 98-00, which were the two years before the Intifada started raging. As one might guess Hesder Yeshivas are typically right-wing, and I was no different than anyone else. Like th rest of the place I "knew" that the Palestinians had no interest in making peace with Israel and only wanted to carve up the land so they could take it all. I "knew" that Barak was an idiot for even talking to them (forget about promising to transfer Abu Dis) and that Bibi's electoral loss was a tragedy. In all honesty I probably would have voted for National Union if I was a citizen.

After my two years I came back to the U.S. and started YU. The Camp David Summit happened over the summer, and I didn't really follow what was going on. I was astounded that Barak was crazy enough to offer the Palestinians a state, but I doubted that anything would actually happen.

Then the Intifada started. Given my argumentative nature I started perusing message boards on the Internet, especially the Israeli Politics board on AOL. At that point the message board had some intelligent people on both sides of the issue, and I was shocked to hear legitimate arguments coming from a pro-Palestinian poster. As I decided to do some research I realized that not all Palestinians are bad and that Israel has not always been historically right.

And one day I realized that my views were irretrievably flawed. I had no solution. I had spent months arguing that Israel did not start the Six Day War, did not expel the Palestinians in 1948 en masse, and had a right to exist. I was sure (as I still am) that the Palestinians were to blame for the Intifada and that Israel was getting a bad rap. But while all of that might be true, I had no answer to the central question underlying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: what's the endgame?

Despite flirting with Kahane's theories (I actually wrote a paper defending his views for an English class), I knew that solution was too fraught with moral and practical mines to even take seriously. On the other hand, annexing the territories is a bad idea because of the Palestinian demographic advantage. Nevertheless something had to be done. The status quo was not an endgame. We couldn't keep the territories forever.

The only answer was to create a Palestinian State and withdraw from most of the West Bank and Gaza. I still believe that's the only solution. But I knew that solution could not be implemented under the Arafat regime because he had no interest in peace. So Israel should remain in control of the territories until the Palestinians get their act together and focus more on nation building than destroying Israel.

But it doesn't take a genius to realize that the IDF imposing curfews, checkpoints, and engaging in military action will make the average Palestinian want peace with Israel less. At the same time, relaxing these conditions is a grave threat to Israel and strengthens the terrorist groups. So what do we do?

That is the essential paradox. On one hand we need to make life for the Palestinians better because only then will they feel they have something to lose by killing Israelis. On the other hand making their life better requires making Israel's life worse.

In my next post I intend to show why this paradox cannot be solved and why we have to make a difficult choice.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Intellectuals Really Are Second Best

Time and time again we hear how intellectuals are out of touch, in ivory towers, or clueless. And for years I never understood the argument. The simple version of the argument assumes that intellectuals are too focused on abstract concepts and ignore reality, while the people on the ground know the ideas can't work in the real world. For example, criminologists and police officers often disagree over how to approach crime. The former deal with the concept of crime and try to use intellectual tools to fix the problem. Cops, on the other hand, are on the ground and focus on crime on a day to day basis. They understand that the plans coming from the universities won't work in the real world because they live in that world, while the intellectuals live in the world of the abstract.

I never bought this argument. Not being on the ground would seem to be a positive, not a negative. The people who rationally study the subject matter and are not affected by the day-to-day happenings are more likely to be dispassionate and objective. Police officers are probably more emotionally invested and less objective. If intellectuals are less emotional and more objective, why not listen to them?

I think I finally understand the argument. Economics (and now legal theory) understands that theory presupposes ideal conditions that cannot be obtained and therefore theory should look for the "second best" possibility. For example, many theories of constitutional interpretation presume judges of great intellect, conditions which are impossible to fulfill. They also ignore institutional constraints (such as how Congress or the President will react to certain constitutional ideologies). In short most legal theories assume optimal conditions, which are not just practical.

I think the same idea applies to intellectuals across the board. The ability to perceive flaws in the system that render it not ideal is the difference between judges and law professors. Judges, especially on the lower courts, deal with the day-to-day minutia of the system and understand that some methods of interpretation(without pragmatic overrides) are impractical and would make the problem worse. Law professors don't have that experience and are lacking information that would lead them to recognize that the legal system can only strive for second best.

Intellectuals, by virtue of their inexperience with the real world, are incapable of recognizing that the world is really only second best. They incorrectly assume ideal conditions, which are utopian, and therefore their theories fail.