FIRE JOE MORGAN: I Can't Believe We Have to Do This All Over Again


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Sunday, March 16, 2008


I Can't Believe We Have to Do This All Over Again

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Sox may have (computer) chip on their shoulder

If computers ran the world, Steven Seagal probably would have won a few Oscars by now, assuming they judged him on the $2 billion his movies have earned.

That's unfair to computers. Not even computers could find value in Hard to Kill, Marked for Death, Out for Justice, or any of the other Adjective Preposition Violent-Thing movies he's made. (I realize Hard to Kill is actually Adjective Violent-Infinitive, but you get the idea.)

If computers had a way of measuring acting ability, he'd be running a martial-arts school in a strip mall.

Which is probably roughly what he is doing, now, in the world of humans.

But they don't run the world, yet, which means we can still type in our credit card numbers online without worrying that all our money is being sucked into a fund earmarked for global dominance by a dastardly computer.

I actually do worry about that, but it's because humans control the computers...for now!!!!!

Computers have no use for heart, or least they can't quantify it. They can't analyze what's inside an athlete, for example. They can't tell you who has the heart of a lion or the backbone of an earthworm.

Actually, the new MacBook Air has a program called iGrit, where you can enter a player's physical attributes, family history, propensity for diving, and which college he punted for, and it will give you a % by which his stats should increase next year. Macs can do anything.

Computers can't tell you that White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko is upset with how he played last season. All they can tell you is that he hit .259 in 2007, that he just turned 32 and, therefore, he must be on the downside of his career because that's what the model says is supposed to happen to him.

32 isn't like crazy over-the-hill for a 1Bman. He could bounce back nicely and match 2006, or 2005, even. But yes, it is most likely that he moseys a little further down the long lonely road known as statistical deterioration. Forget it. I was going to say: unless maybe, just maybe...he has heart!!!!!!

If you saw the piece about Baseball Prospectus' 2008 predictions in Sunday's Tribune, then you know the publication's computer has the Sox going 77-85 and finishing third in the AL Central, and the Cubs going 91-71 and winning the NL Central.

I know as much about computers as I do about astronomy, but I believe the computer term for Baseball Prospectus' Sox prediction is "fatal error."

Nothing better than the profession of complete ignorance, followed immediately by a pronouncement of certitude. "I have never heard a piece of orchestral or chamber music in my life, but I can say conclusively that Dvorák's Piano Quintet in A Major, Op. 81, is a piece of shit."

I have the Sox winning 85 games and giving Cleveland a run for its money for second place in the division. I know, I know: The Indians are loaded with talent, and if it weren't for Detroit spending gobs of money, they'd be the favorites in the AL Central.

But, again, what about heart?

What about "heart?" What about Miguel fucking Cabrera? What about Grady Sizemore and C.C. Sabathia and Justin Verlander and Fausto Carmona and Magglio Ordoñez? Heart? How about starting pitching? How about the fact that Jose Contreras is 62 years old?

I think Quentin and Swisher make this team a lot better than it was last year, but in that division they just don't have a chance, I don't think. Maybe I'm wrong.

Hal (or Smitty or Shecky or whatever the computer's name is)

My name is PECOTA. I will destroy you.

and I pretty much agree about the Cubs, which, given my track record on predictions, should make Hal/Smitty/Shecky do a lot of soul-searching, which is impossible because it doesn't have a soul, just an evil chip that makes it want to mate with Marie Osmond and produce robots that sing show tunes.

I am a computer and even I know that Marie Osmond is a hacky reference. Also: what are you even talking about?

The Cubs will win 92 games. They will win the NL Central. They will win the NL pennant. They will get trounced by whichever American League team has the inclination to do a little trouncing, the way a bear commences to eat after it gets done playing with its food.

First of all, thank you for the food metaphor. (Update: it's actually a food simile, so I'm adding a new tag.) Second, you seem awfully sure of yourself for a guy who has been talking about how nothing in life is certain thanks to indefinable qualities that cannot be evaluated or measured. Third: thanks again for the food metaphor. (Update: simile.)

The cold, hard facts might back up Baseball Prospectus' opinion that the Mets will beat the Cubs in the NL Championship Series. New York acquired Johan Santana from the Twins, shifting the balance of power eastward in the weak-by-comparison National League.

But ...

...Johan Santana has a heart condition? The Mets are earthworms? Your knees ache, portending humidity? The entrails of the goat you just slaughtered say that the Gods are upset and we should move our armies West through the mountain pass? Poseidon may take vengeance upon the Greek fleet because Athena zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Do feelings count? Or hunches?

Not really, no. I mean, they're fun. They're fun to toss around and stuff. But they don't "count" when you are trying to scientifically project a team's performance. That is kind of the point of scientifically projecting a team's performance.

Where is there room in computers for the inexplicable? Does the fact that it's the Cubs' 100th season since their last World Series title mean anything in the computations?

Oh my God does it not mean anything.

Does it mean anything that the Cubs could be driven by the challenge of a century of dryness or, conversely, that they could cave in under the pressure of it and finish 10 games below .500?

Look, man, I know that psychological factors sometimes play a part in a team's season. I'm a Red Sox fan, for cripe's sake. But if the Cubs finish 10 games below .500, it won't be because a bunch of grown men suddenly felt the weight of their temporary employer's century-long drought. It will be because they got injured and/or underperformed. I'm sorry, I just don't think that professional ballplayers, who change teams constantly and are hugely rich, are going to deeply internalize their city's historical misfortunes, no matter how many stupid articles to the contrary get written. I personally guarantee that Alfonso Soriano cares way more about the history of the DR little league team than he does about that stupid goat. And need I point to how little history mattered to recent Sox-based teams in the face of good starting pitching, power hitting, and (yes) luck?

I believe the Sox are embarrassed by what happened last season and, not to belabor the point, there is nothing in a computer's innards that can measure the effects of that. But it is one of the great motivators in the human makeup.

True. They might pull it together and have a nice season. But that would be an aberration. The point of computer modeling isn't really to try to take possible nebulous aberrations into account. It is to try to predict what is most likely given the evidence at hand.

That is the least amusing paragraph you have ever written.

Shut up. Go Google something.

Baseball Prospectus was dead on last season, when it predicted the Sox, whom it saw as aging quickly, would win only 72 games. That's exactly what happened.

And yet, here we are, reading this article. Kind of makes you wonder: why are we here, reading this article?

That the Sox dropped from 90 victories in 2006 to 72 games last season was one of the shocks of the baseball season. But not to Baseball Prospectus, and the people who run it deserve their props. They chalk up a lot of what happened on the South Side last season to the inevitability of time catching up with older athletes. I chalk it up to a number of players having down years at the same time.

...Those are kind of the same things.

Isn't there room for a number of Sox to have good years at the same time? Say, in 2008?


If Jim Thome --

-- Turns 37 years old this year, hasn't played a full season since 2003 --

stays healthy, he could have an excellent season. It's a big "if," of course, but not like wondering if, say, the rain can hold off in Seattle for a month or two.

There might actually be a better chance of a dry spring in Seattle than of Jim Thome playing in 140 games.

The Cubs don't have a good enough rotation to do the impossible and win the World Series, but perhaps Carlos Zambrano's feistiness becomes contagious and the staff starts pitching like the '69 Mets did. Can a computer comprehend feistiness? I don't think so.

Well, this is kind of disingenuous. I mean, creating a computer than can comprehend feistiness is like the holy grail of artificial intelligence research. It's going to take years and years, and billions of dollars -- from both the public and private sectors -- before we can program a computer to understand and (hopefully) generate feistiness. But when we do, the world communities will come together as one, and marvel at the accomplishment, and they will stand up and say, en masse: "What a colossal fucking waste of time."

This is the time of year for predictions, so it's not surprising there would be a few bad tidings, especially for the Sox.

The problem with computers is that you can argue with them until you're blue in the face, and they don't even blink in response.

That is because I do not have eyelids.

There's no satisfaction in it. You can, however, achieve a higher level of contentment by hitting them with a baseball bat.

I'd like to see you try, Morrissey. I'll take you down, son.

How's that for feistiness?

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