Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Wherever You Go, There You Are

I had a meeting with a guy to finish the purchase of some memorabilia that I found online. I told him that I would be at the appointed meeting spot at 5:30pm. After waiting in the freezing cold for 25-minutes, I get a text saying that the meeting location had changed that he would be there in 20-minutes. Anyone that knows me remotely well knows that I don't like late people and I don't like surprises. Suddenly, the calm coolness of the "fuck it" attitude washed over me. Go with the flow D. Have a junior bacon cheeseburger (or 3).
After the meeting, I hopped on the bus at my usual route, satisfied that the transaction was finally settled. I sat deeply in my seat and enjoyed an article from McKinsey & Company about the global business landscape. All of a sudden, the bus stops, the engine whimpers, and the lights go out. Once the emergency lights took effect, the bus driver announced, "My check engine light keeps coming on. You'll have to grab the bus behind me". While everyone else scrambles to call their loved ones or others that may be expecting them, I sink a little deeper in my seat and concentrate on the article more intently. The old D that I know would've cross examined the bus driver (what did you know and when did you know it?), but this modern iteration apparently just goes with the flow.
When I got home that night, recognizing that I had witnessed a monumental change in my attitude and behavior, I tried to find the words to describe how I felt in the aforementioned situations. I perused Brainy Quotes for a few minutes, finding nothing that could adequately reflect my feelings. Suddenly, a quote from Confucius jumped off of the screen at me - a whispered response to the agonizing exclamation that I had uttered in the silence of my mind many times over:
"Wherever you go, there you are."
In this fast paced world, where the news of 30-seconds ago seems like the distant past, and where the destination has taken prominence over the journey, sometimes it takes moments that we have absolutely no control over to teach us to be present in the moment that we find ourselves in.

Oftentimes, we experience stress and discomfort from the irrational wish to be in a different place/situation/income bracket than we currently occupy rather than reveling in the fact that we are where we are, when we are. How many countless billions of people have been born of a woman and returned to the dust in old age. They must be looking down on us from the starry canopy of the universe with envy that we get to exist in the physical body and manifest our thoughts into actions.

Looking back on my life, from relationships to employment, I cannot but cringe at the numerous opportunities that have come and gone, never to be encountered again, but for the simple practice of being present in the moment.

Think about all the people, places, and things in your own life that would enrich your existence if you would only choose to be present with that person, in that place, or when handling that thing. Nikola Tesla, renowned for his invention of the alternating current, famously wrote that he discovered the "key" that allowed him to invent the microwave in the 4th Chapter of Revelations. How could Tesla, and Tesla alone, pull the key to such a monumental invention from the pages of a text that has been read by millions upon millions of people if he were not in the moment?

Life is a journey, on the continuum from infinity to infinity. In between, chaos ensues. The traveler's task is to find meaning from this seemingly nondescript jumble of randomness; to make order out of chaos. The secret, if there is one, is that you cannot seek to change anything, to organize the chaos, until you acknowledge that the chaos exists and that it is what it is. It has an origin, a nature, and an end. The chaos is here, and so are you.

Once we accept who were are, where we are and why were are, only then are we truly prepared to undertake the task of turning that which is into that which we will it to be.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Is it Boehner's boner?

Have Republicans been drinking too much of the Cruz booze?

Maybe the Republicans are the ones really in touch with the will and pleasure of the American people and they are just doing their civic duty by telling Obama to take his socialized health care back to his mama.

Whichever party is on the right side of history or the dark side of the moon, this week's latest Debt Ceiling crisis tells us a great deal about the current state of the American political system as well as provides ominous warnings for the future of our Republic if the citizens don't wisen up.

  1. Special Interest Groups Run Washington - In school, our first lessons on American governance usually come in the form of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, in which the Great Emancipator exhorts a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. In contemporary times, this notion of representative government has morphed into mythology. A very small, dedicated, well funded group of donors dictates the message in any given election cycle. Their foot soldiers then disperse the message amongst a rabid electoral base who, in tern, gerrymander districts and elect representatives to office that fit this myopic profile of what it means to govern. Need evidence? look at the mid-term elections of 2010, in which the upstart Tea Party faction of the Republican Party was pushed into power with the expansive mandate of getting the government out of the citizen's lives. 3-years later, we are reaping the molded, rotten crop that was sown.
  2. Citizens Are Bargaining Chips - Republicans would rather shut down the government than see President Obama's signature piece of legislation remain law. Democrats would rather shutdown the government rather than appear weak in the face of Republican demanded concessions. The Democratic blather machine has painted the Republicans as "hostage takers". The fact of the matter is that most politicians that end up in Washington are adept at the art of hostage taking and hostage negotiations. Just look at the tactics. When President Obama was pushing the Affordable Care Act forward, his administration conceded to spending cuts and tax hikes that affected the very base that elected him. Look at the Republican's current strategy. They are willing to cut food stamps for citizens in poverty, risk service member's paychecks, and take the chance that senior citizens won't be able to get their prescription, just to repeal or delay legislation that their base and donors don't like.
  3. Poll Numbers Drive Beliefs - There was a time, not so long ago, when citizens ran for elected office because they had deep-seeded convictions, and wanted to see those convictions come to fruition in the seat of government, for the benefits of all citizens. Maybe I'm just an idealist and this sort of politician never existed because they sure as hell don't exist now! Mitt Romney passes health care reform as governor of Massachusetts; magically against it when he runs for POTUS. Then Senator Obama votes against the war in Iraq; President Obama launches attacks in Pakistan and Libya, with a failed attempt at conflict in Syria. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas rides the Tea Party wave all the way to Washington on the promise that he would repeal Obamacare; Now, Senator Cruz is willing to accept a delay because he see's how hard this governing thing actually is. Why did all three of these men magnanimously flip-flop on previous positions that appeared to be heartfelt? Simple. The poll numbers told them to. Dance, puppets, dance!
  4. Crisis of Conscience - Nothing shows the ability (or lack thereof) of a leader more than their reaction in the face of crisis. Politicians have known this for literally a milenia. What happens when there's no crisis to pivot off of? You create one. Our leaders in Washington have become very adept over the past few generations of being master arsonist and firefighters. Thesis - Antithesis - Synthesis. Create the problem - Come up with the solution - Solve the problem. Here comes the fame, massive donations, committee chairmanships, and invitations from cable news. The citizens have become a means to an end, instead of the end itself. Politicians now use public service as a giant trampoline to book deals, speaking engagements, cable news shows, and lucrative contracts in private industry. With this blueprint and thousands upon thousands of citizens willing to follow the plan, can the citizens really trust that the people they send to govern have the best interests of their constituents in mind, or just their own.
These are just some of the revelations that the recent Debt Ceiling crisis has unveiled to the American people. The question now becomes, what can we do moving forward.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The 2013 Chicago Cubs by the Numbers

Mercifully, the 2013 Chicago Cubs season has come to an end, both for the team and the die hard fans that follow them win less year after win less year. Although the eye test tells us that the Cubs were a deplorable team, the numbers help us connect the dots across the entire team and explain why our Cubbies were as bad as they looked, and why there a flicker of hope for the future.

  1. Wins Above Replacement - Cubs catcher Wellington Castillo led the team with a WAR of 4.4. WAR is the measurement of how many wins a particular player adds to his team's total above what a replacement player could produce (think AAA or the metaphorical 4-A player). Conversely, Cubs budding superstar Starlin Castro was tied for last on the team, with a WAR of -0.6! Last year, Castro had a WAR of 3.6. In 2011, his WAR was 3.0.
  2. Runs Batting - Continuing the Cubs dominance at the catching position, 2013 acquisition Dioner Navarro led the club a Rbat of 10. Rbat is the measure of how many runs better or worse than average a player was as a hitter. On the tail end of things, Gold Glove 2nd baseman Darwin Barney pulled up the rear with a Rbat of -33. This is nothing new for Barney. In 2011, he had a Rbat of -8. In 2012, Barney's Rbat was -12. In his defense, Barney's extensive stints on the disabled list didn't help him much.
  3. Runs from Fielding - The unsung hero of the Chicago Cubs, Wellington Castillo, pops up again here at #3. Castillo led the 2013 Cubs with a Rfield of 19. Rfield is the number of runs better or worse than average a player was for all fielding. Anthony Rizzo came in a close 2nd, with a Rfield 0f 16. Gold Glover Darwin Barney was 3rd at 11. Starlin Castro pulled up the rear, being 8 runs worse than an average player at saving runs with his fielding. Anyone that watched 25% of the Cubs games this year didn't need a stat to know that.
  4. Runs Better Than Average - RAA is the measure of how many runs better than a league average player this player is. Once again, Wellington Castillo drove the bus for the 2013 Cubs. Castillo led the team with a RAA of 28 (Navarro was 2nd with 11). In their all too familiar positions, Darwin Barney and Starlin Castro occupied the caboose with RAAs of -18 and -22 respectively.
  5. On-Base + Slugging Percentages - OPS is the combination of a player's on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Dioner Navarro and mid-season pick-up Donnie Murphy led the team with .856 and .849 respectively. Any clue as to what dynamic duo came in last?
  6. Walks Hits to Innings Pitched - Jake Arrieta, who the Cubs acquired from the Orioles as a part of the Scott Feldman trade, led the Cubs with a 1.12 WHIP. Edwin Jackson, fresh off of a 5-year, $50 million contract with the northsiders, led the team with a 1.46 WHIP. With WHIP, the closer the number is to 1.00, the better.
  7. Home Runs to Innings Pitched - Conversely, Edwin Jackson gave up the fewest home runs of all eligible Cubs pitchers in 2013. Jackson had a HR/9 of 0.8. On the flip side, Arrieta had a HR/9 of 1.2. What does this mean? While Arrieta didn't walk as many batters as Jackson, he didn't miss many bats within the strike zone.
  8. Strikeout to Walk Ratio - Matt Garza, who was traded to the Texas Rangers at the deadline, led the Cubs with a SO/BB of 3.10. This means that Garza had 3 strikeouts for every walk that he issued. Jeff Samardzija and former Cub Scott Feldman were round out the top 3. On the other end, Cubs closer Kevin Gregg was close to last with a SO/BB of 1.75. With a nearly 2 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio, it's no wonder the Cubs had significant issues getting the final 3 outs.
  9. Defensive Runs Saved Above Average - Rdrs is the number of runs above or below average a player was worth based on the number of plays made. of the 4 players that each played over 1000 innings for the Cubs in 2013, Anthony Rizzo led the team with a Rdrs of 16. Darwin Barney was 2nd at a Rdrs of 11. Nate Schierholtz was a perfectly average player, with a Rdrs of 0. Starlin Castro takes his customary position of last, pulling in with a Rdrs of -8.
  10. Wins Above Average - Cubs All-Star representative Travis Wood led the 2013 Cubs in WAA with a 2.8. Wood was roughly 3-wins better than a minor league call-up. As a comparison, Edwin Jackson was roughly 3-wins worse than a minor league call-up (2.7 to be exact). Jackson and Wood typically pitched back-to-back in the Cubs rotation. Based on the WAA for both pitchers, it's safe to say that whatever positive effect Wood's performance had on the team was immediately extinguished by the performance of Jackson.

So, what did we learn about the 2013 Chicago Cubs from this orgy of statistics and baseball jargon? Well, we learned definitively (if our eyes had not already borne witness) that the Cubs just weren't a very good team. On a general level, the hitters at the top of the order didn't get on base, the big boppers in the middle didn't drive anyone in, fielding up the middle was spotty, and the pitching in both the starting rotation and the bullpen leaves a lot to be desired.

Specifically, there are several areas that Theo, Jed, and the rest of the Cubs brass have to address directly if they want 2014 to begin with more enthusiasm than 2013 ended:
  1. Who do you want Starlin Castro to be? Do you want a 200-hits per season line drive hitter or do you want a top of the order hitter that takes pitches, draws walks, and steals bases? The Cubs really need to have one vision and one voice on the type of player they want Castro to grow into. Right now, he has so much information in his head, that he's not doing anything well.
  2. After Samardjiza and Wood...? Who fills out the starting rotation after Jeff Samardjiza and Travis Wood? Jake Arrieta will be in the mix in 2014 due to his late year performance after being recalled from AAA Iowa. However, Arrieta has a history of walking too many batters and giving up some long home runs. Edwin Jackson has had a career marred with the inability to throw strikes at key points and keep his pitch count down. Jackson has a strong arm and typically pitches over 150 innings per year. However, his inconsistency and lack of a breaking ball make him no better than a 4th starter moving forward. Carlos Villanueva filled in admirably as both a starter and a reliever. Though serviceable, you would like to see the Cubs replace Villanueva with a young power arm, moving Carlos to the bullpen where he has thrived in the past.
  3. Up the Middle! The Cubs have to continue to develop up the middle of the field. Wellington Castillo all but earned the starting job going into 2014 with his standout play behind the plate and at-bat. However, Castillo has been oft injured, so a serviceable back-up would be nice. Castro and Barney are in mirror images of each other. Castro can hit, but can't field. Barney can field, but can't hit. For both players, their weaknesses need to turn into strengths very soon if the Cubs are to compete. Lastly, the Cubs have to solidify center field. There has been veritable revolving door in center since the Cubs traded Marlon Byrd to the Red Sox last year. Ryan Sweeney filled in admirably, posting a .266 average at the plate and a .993 fielding percentage. However, Sweeney's aggressive play make him a candidate for the 15-day disabled list at any time. Sweeney will get a look out of Spring Training, but the Cubs need a young option in the pipeline.
  4. Enter Sandman - The Cubs have to solidify the back end of their bullpen if they expect to compete for a World Series title. There were some promising signs in 2013. Lefty reliever James Russell led the team with 74 appearances. Pedro Strop, who the Cubs got from the Orioles in the Scott Feldman trade, had 42 strikeouts in 35 innings pitched. Blake Parker and Shawn Camp also get honorable mention recognition for their efforts. However, the Cubs have to make games essentially 6-inning affairs by having shutdown relief pitching in innings 7-9. No where is this need more glaring than in the closer role. Kevin Gregg had a respectable year, recording 33 saves for a last place team. However, Gregg also gave up 53 hits and issued 32 walks in just 62 innings of work. Compare this to Craig Kimbrel, the all world closer for the Atlanta Braves, who had 98 strikeouts and 20 walks in 67 innings.
  5. Youth Movement - The young players that Cubs organizations has continuously lauded will have to show up, and show up big! Anthony Alomora, Kris Bryant, and other top prospects will have to take their lumps in the big leagues rather than away from the lights and cameras of Wrigleyville. This will give the fans something to hope for while giving the kids the major league at-bats they need to be properly evaluated.