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.