Trouble Thinking

March 31, 2011

It’s Baseball Season! 2011 Predictions

Filed under: Sports — Tags: , , , , , , — callmegeo @ 11:47 pm

Well, the Giants just lost to the Dodgers, 2 to 1, so it must be baseball season again! Enjoy the 0-1 record and 0.00 ERA Lincecum. I’m sure your teammates were just committing those errors as an opening day prank. On Saturday I’m going to Dodger Stadium for the 3rd game of the series, and my favorite player, Matt Cain, will take the mound. Remember Matt, you play for the Giants and they just LOVE scoring lots of runs, so stick to your motto:

Anyways! Onto my predictions for the 2011 MLB season:

American League Division Winners:

East – Red Sox

Central – Twins

West – A’s

Wildcard – Rays

The Red Sox have great talent, so if they can just STOP the damn pre-game workout drill of attacking Jacoby Ellsbury’s ribs with sledgehammers, things should go well for them. The Twins are the least mediocre of all the AL Central teams, and the A’s only have to compete against 3 other teams in the AL West, and one of those teams is the Seattle Mariners, so… the A’s have a 1 in 3 chance of making it to the post season by default. The Rays take the wild card because fuck the goddamn New York Yankees, that’s why. Not only are they assholes, but they’re old, shambling, and CC Sabathia keeps eating the coaching staff.

National League Division Winners:

East – Phillies *sigh*

Central – Reds

West – Giants!

Wildcard – Rockies

The Phillies win the NL East because… well… they have all the good players. I have the feeling that might help them win more games. They’ve also perfected the art of going deep into the postseason and losing, and they wouldn’t want to break with tradition. The Reds win the NL Central because- what’s that? No, the Brewers won’t win. No, they won’t. I don’t care if they have Grienke, he’s a blonde dandy with social anxiety problems who gets hurt playing basketball… and Prince Fielder keeps eating all the baseballs they try to practice with. The Giants win the NL West because they’ll somehow manage to scrape up JUST enough runs to win 90-ish games on the heavily burdened shoulders of their pitching staff. The Rockies are a streaky team. They’ll probably have some crazy winning streak somewhere in the season to bring them just close enough to make it.

Of course, now that these predictions have been published, watch the World Series come down to the Pirates vs. the Orioles. Actually, you know what, I hope it DOES come down to the Pirates and the Orioles, because no franchise can be THAT BAD for THAT LONG without violating the laws of the cosmos.

Kansas City must be a depressing place to be a baseball fan.

In any case, those are my predictions for the 2011 MLB season. I look forward to being proven wrong in an incredibly embarrassing and public manner.

January 28, 2011

Burn, chibi, burn?

Filed under: Game Reviews, Sports, Video Games — Tags: , , , , — Katherine Barclay @ 5:38 pm

So, I’ve avoided the Wii ever since it came out. I’ll admit, this had a lot to do with the fact that I was broke, and anyway, I never play games, so why exactly would I need a new console? Also, it asks you to, like … do things to make things happen on the screen, and ‘point and click’ is simple enough of a computer but gets remarkably confusing when you ask me to do it to my television. It also didn’t really help that the only games being made for the Wii  were tack-ons to franchises that I never really got involved with in the beginning — the ninth Zelda thing is probably a lot of fun for people who know who Link is, but for me he’s just That Guy Who Came Before Legolas, and it’s not really all that thrilling.

The one thing that did intrigue me was Wii-fit, mostly because it seemed too cute and soft and fluffy to be any good. I mean, everyone knows how exercise is supposed to work — you run around your dingy block fifteen times, or you go to your dingy gym, and struggle to figure out how the equiment works before the scary muscular guy waiting behind you decides you’re wasting his time and kills you over the leg press thingy. This soft-edged white board with it’s encouraging child-like voice is in complete contrast with that, and the adorable cartoon pictures that guide you through the exercises seemed too … well, silly, to be any good.

Seriously, what's up with these soft happy grey people? That's not exercise, it's interpretive dance!But my friends just got a Wii, and with nothing better to do with my evenings I bribed them into letting me try it, to see what all this fuss was about.  And, much to my surprise, I’ve actually found it to be remarkably … well, exercisey.

Sure, it took a while to get there – the gateway into Wiifit seems to be balance games, mini games that involve you throwing your weight around like a crazy person to walk a tightrope across a gap, or float a bubbleboat down a river without crashing into the rocks, or trying not to get hit in the head with flying soccer cleats. Each game seemed simplistic and a little big juvenile, but I quickly discovered that “doing my best” got me a measley one or two stars, and the unimpressive title of Amateur. In order to do well at even the simplest of these little games actually takes work, and muscles were aching the next day that I didn’t even really know I had.

And that’s the easiest of the options – if you’re feeling a little bit braver, the Aerobics section is full of equally chibi-looking childlike exercises … except that these ones actually make you work. A reasonably simple-looking hula hoop game that makes you swivel your hips like an idiot ended up with me panting after a minute and a half and their step-aerobics game requires a deceptive amount of precise muscle control (combined with a healthy amount of luck) to get the balance board to think you’ve done it perfectly. And if you’re feeling slightly more hardcore, there’s also free running, measured by putting the little remote thing in your pocket, and boxing, which involves flailing at the screen like an idiot while a deep-voiced black chibi man yells at you. Each of these last two start off reasonably short, with a 2-3 minute run and a 4 minute boxing set, but doing each short game a few times unlocks a longer version. And while four minutes of non-stop boxing seems easy enough, I quickly discovered that eleven minutes was hard.

No, it probably doesn’t match up to going to a gym and actually hitting the machines, but mixing and matching a combination of strength exercises (pushups still kill me, but I’m surprised by how well I did at the leg ones) and yoga and the aforementioned aerobics, I actually left the game feeling like I’d accomplished something. Sore muscles  on day two eventually started to fade, and a week later I can do a ten minute run without getting out of breath, where a week ago four minutes killed me.

It’s baby steps, but for someone with no access to a gym and a burning hatred for running around blocks, I’m surprised to say that I’m actually really enjoying this thing. Anyone who already has a Wii who’s looking for an easy-to-commit-to exercise regime that doesn’t feel like a chore might do well to check it out!

October 12, 2010

Baseball is serious business

Filed under: Sports, Statistical Anomalies — SrMeowMeow @ 2:34 am

There are two kinds of baseball fans, and I say this without condescension. There are fans who are happy to enjoy the narratives of baseball and enjoy the game as a game, and there are fans who see in baseball something more. This is true of almost everything; for example, I am a fan of movies in the former way. I’ve practically made a conscious decision to avoid movie analysis. I enjoy “behind the scenes” features but afterwards it’s harder for me to enjoy the movie I just saw exposed. My film student friend tells me that the more you learn, the more it enhances the experience; he thinks about lighting and composition while I am happy to suspend disbelief and enjoy the ride.

The parallel to baseball is almost exact. Where another fan sees a clutch hero with the ability to elevate their game when it matters most, I see a statistical oddity. Where he sees grit and guts overcoming impossible odds, I see attribution error. Where he blasts a general manager for a move in hindsight, I look for the probabilities at play when the decision was made. Where he sees a break-out season and a star being born, I see regression on the horizon.

The movie example teaches us two things: one, that there is no right way to enjoy something. In many ways, I enjoy movies how they were meant to be enjoyed and the same goes for my hypothetical “other fan”, with baseball. Two, that the two perspectives are mutually exclusive. Once you know how the magic trick is done, it’s not magic anymore. And once your knowledge reduces a movie to an assortment of techniques, or a baseball game to a cloud of probabilities, you can’t easily regain that innocence.

However, the study of baseball is too great an opportunity to pass up. It is a proving ground for intuition, statistical acumen, and logic, as well as affording frequent glimpses into the machinery of reality. Does that sound grandiose? Maybe, but it’s accurate.

Baseball is the perfect statistical sandbox. It occurs in discrete elements: pitch by pitch, play by play, game by game. The technology is improving rapidly to keep up with the demands of a growing analytical community. Pitch f/x is a free database that tracks the speed, release point, spin deflection, and many more arcane data points on every pitch thrown since it was implemented. Hit f/x is on the way. Baseball has always been a statistical game, but on the cutting edge, baseball cards have been replaced with SQL databases and Excel spreadsheets.

For me, the holy grail of baseball analysis is measuring true talent. True talent is the mythical exact “value” of a player: he “is a .305 hitter”, and then luck and defense and the quality of opposing pitching and wind blowing in and wind blowing out all conspire to give us a number, his batting average for the season, that is a function of his true talent but not the thing itself. We will never know a given player’s true talent; the story of baseball analysis is the story of approximations and the story of incomplete information. The key concept is context neutrality: take a player’s season batting average and factor out his bad luck and his good luck and the stadium he played in and the defenses he played against and the pitchers he faced and many, many more things, and the more you work, the closer you get to his true talent.

Baseball has everything a keen mind could want, and every question you ask raises deeper ones, until you’re wondering about the nature of value itself, all because you want to know if your favorite team would have done better to sign Player X than Player Y after all. You ask yourself about determinism: was making Trade Z a bad decision because it played out badly and couldn’t have played out any other way and therefore should have been predictable and therefore should have been predicted, or do you just look at the information available at the time?

Think about it. Read about it. There are hidden depths to be uncovered, and this is a living science. Seriously, I’m neither exaggerating the potential for unique, creative thought nor the difficulty of some of the questions you’ll find yourself confronting.

July 29, 2010

There’s more to life than just comics…

Filed under: Interesting Things, Sports — Tags: , , , , — callmegeo @ 11:51 am

Yes, I said it.  Go ahead, take a moment to recover from your mind just being blown.

Now, let us proceed to a topic of lasting importance which I have been too lazy to write about for a while:  BASEBALL!

Fig. 1: The socially acceptable reaction

Yes, yes… go ahead and emulate the great Captain Picard if you must, but I will not be daunted by your exasperation.  You see, formal leagues of athletic competition, known to the layman or yeoman as “Sports”, exist all around the world.  The concept may seem foreign to readers of this blog, who choose to avoid physical exertion in favor of reading comics like “The Sentry”, but you must embrace the pain and expand your horizons my friends, if you wish to be a well rounded and charming person like yours truly.

“But Geo,” I hear you ask, voice trembling in awe and confusion, “How do I know which team to follow in the great american sport of baseball?”

Simple my friend, The San Francisco Giants.

A few months back I spoke about this team and some statistics related to them.  I’m pretty sure no one read that, as with all the articles of this magnificent blog, but I shall persist.  The fact of the matter is the Giants are like butter right now… because they are on a ROLL (see Fig. 1).  They have won 17 out of the their last 21 games, and stand a very very good chance of making it to the post season barring some tragically ironic losing streak beginning right after I post this article.

It seems after that asshole Barry Bonds retired, the Giants decided to put together a real baseball team, as opposed to their original strategy of going with a single steroid enhanced proto-human and 24 random dudes wearing baseball jerseys.  There are a lot of players worth mentioning who have contributed to the Giants’ success, but I would like to point out two rookie players in particular:

Buster Posey

How many guys are named "Buster" these days?

23 year old catcher, and secret ingredient needed for producing rings around the rosey (1 pocketful each), Gerald “Buster” Posey has been nothing but money since being called up to the major leagues in the early summer.  For the month of July, he’s hitting somewhere close to .450  (ungodly in baseball), and has a season batting average around .363 (still ungodly in baseball).  At the time of this writing he’s also working on a 21 game hitting streak, 1 game shy of the San Francisco rookie record of 22, set by Willie McCovey.  Studies suggest that possessing even peripheral knowledge about this player makes one more attractive to the opposite sex, and wildly successful as a business professional.

Madison Bumgarner

This expression strikes overwhelming fear in opposing batters, and a vague sense of discomfort in everybody else

Madison Bumgarner has a woefully mockable surname, which naturally has forged him into a tremendous athlete after years of verbal abuse from peers, role models, and figures of state.  He’s 20 years old, and will make far more money over the span of his career than any of us can hope to match.  Since being called up from the minors this season to replace Todd “Groovemaster” Wellemyer, he has a very sharp 4 – 2 record with a 2.43 era.  Even in his two losses he’s pitched admirably, bouncing back to finish strong against powerhouse teams like the Red Sox.  Sometimes I wish I was better that throwing baseballs so I could become amazingly wealthy doing nothing but throwing baseballs for my career, as opposed to the soul-crushing void of life as a professional rocket scientist.

Despite how obviously exciting it is to watch rookie players during their breakout seasons, I fear that my unwilling audience is struggling to see the relevance to their own baseball ignorant lives.  Well, fear not my friends, because I leave you with a humorous Giants-related tidbit I think anyone can enjoy:

Giants closing pitcher Brian Wilson was just fined $1000 for wearing bright orange cleats during a recent ballgame against the marlins:

Pitching in style with the loudest cleats on planet earth

The Marlins’ manager complained that the shoes were “too bright”, and the National League slapped Wilson with a $1K fine, stating that at least 50% of his cleats must be the team’s primary color (black), whereas orange is San Francisco’s secondary color.

Wilson had this to say: “I’m surprised he hasn’t asked for these to be drug-tested for performance-enhancing cleats, because apparently they throw 97 to 100 with cut if you put them on and the ball magically disappears. It was a $1,000 fine for my cleats being too awesome. It will go to charity so it’s money well-spent.”

Well said, Wilson. Well said…

Thats it for my inane baseball ramblings today.  Whenever Durandal is finished playing Starcraft 2, I would expect a full review filled with laughter, drama, and thrilling plot twists.  If he does not live up to expectations I will be forced to hijack this blog even more frequently.  As you were, citizen.

May 31, 2010

Tropicana Field is a Cold, Dark Blight on the Very Soul of Humanity

Filed under: Sports — Tags: , , , , , — Chris @ 1:24 pm

Shown: Tropicana Field Not Shown: Any Rays Fans

By all accounts Tropicana Field, home of Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays, is an abortion of a ballpark. Built upon the chemically seeped soil of an old coal gasification plant, the modern equivalent of an ancient Indian burial ground, Tropicana Field is cursed by dark powers to torment both fans and players alike.

Its architect was a madman; a crazed evil genius who either had no idea what baseball was or how it was played, or was a bitter deviant, who grasped desperately onto a seething, unnatural hatred for the game. The dome’s rooftop lights blind and confuse visiting outfielders; looking up to catch a soaring fly ball, the player cranes his neck upwards, only to find gazing back down upon him hundreds of small, spherical, white lights—a swarm of false baseballs! His eyes are ensorcelled, and what should have been an easy out becomes a successful, ill-begotten, hit.

Oh god the horror

In addition to the baseball imitating lights, a vile network of catwalks and wires stretch across the ceiling like cold, metallic spider webs. These catwalks seem to serve no practical purpose (what use have cats for a ballpark!), but to bedevil batters. Oh yes, occasionally a hit to the catwalks grants a homerun, but just as often it may be caught for an out, or ruled as that most back-handed of baseball compliments, the ground-rule double.

Tropicana Field is also ugly. Repulsive. An eye sore in the sense that looking at it will actually make your eyes sore. Its horrible, hardened dome blocks out the warm Florida sun, creating claustrophobia in even the most relaxed of baseball fans. The walls of the park are drab and gray, covered in no decorations but despair.

Yet, despite all this, the Rays currently have the best record in all of baseball. How is such a thing possible? Don’t they know where they play? Haven’t they seen the fans’ eyes bleeding in the stands, while baseballs bounce around the rooftop catwalks like pinballs? How has walking into this decrepit hellscape for an entire season not wracked them down with such despair as to make them unable to even lift a baseball, let alone obtain an over .600 winning percentage?

I believe I have the answer.

Around what time is it, that the Rays went from being the worst teams in baseball, to one of the best? With the introduction of manager Joe Maddon. Maddon’s unorthodox managerial style has often caused him to be jokingly referred to as a “mad scientist”—but I ask you, what if it is no joke? What if Joe Maddon is an actual mad scientist?

It’s the only possible explanation. Deep underneath the polluted soil of Tropicana Field, Joe Maddon has constructed massive subterranean machines. Enormous, other-worldly, steam-powered devices designed to channel and focus the eldritch powers of the Trop itself into his players, creating a team of inhuman, unstoppable supermen. How else would you explain Evan Longoria?

The only possible alternative is that they are an exceptionally talented ballclub, who play in an uninspired, but otherwise serviceable, park—an idea naïve to the point of madness. Simply look into the crazed, bespectacled eyes of Joe Maddon, and you will see the truth.

Stare into the face of evil

April 21, 2010

Baseball Ramblings

Filed under: Sports, Statistical Anomalies — callmegeo @ 4:40 pm

Now before anyone does something rash and violent to wake themselves up from a suspected dream:  No, you are not hallucinating.  The topic line for this post does in fact contain the word Baseball.

“But, Trouble Thinking” I hear you ask, “Why would such esteemed gentlemen such as yourselves, who are clearly men of character and conscience,  defile this blog with mention of the lowly sport of baseball?”  It is a fair question, but sadly a misguided one.  For you see, Baseball isn’t just a slow and largely uninteresting game watched by middle aged men who are on medication for erectile dysfunction and an enlarged prostate.  Baseball is very much a game of numbers and statistics; Which intelligent handsome males such as yours truly find interesting.  Additionally, as an admitted follower of the sport, I seek solace and comfort in ranting about a string of unlikely losses by my favorite team through online text-based media.

Let us begin:

On the night of April 20th, the San Francisco Giants squared off against the San Diego Padres at the Padres home stadium of PETCO Park (enlightened sponsorship, to be sure).  For those of you unfamiliar with the teams, a quick rundown:

The Giants in times past were the home of a few well known baseball players like Willy Mays and Barry Bonds, so you should at least be aware of their existence as a professional baseball team.  Last season they finished 4 games shy of making the playoffs, and are blessed with incredibly talented young pitching.  Unfortunately, the Giants also have the batting ability of that 7 year old pigtailed girl you knew from gym class, who couldn’t hit a baseball sitting stationary on a tee, and cries when you yell at her for having total motor skill ineptitude (which I will elaborate on later).

And in the blue corner:

The Padres, or as I like to call them, “That Stupid Team from San Diego”.  They’re an unremarkable team, in that they have a penchant for locking up 4th place in the division every year.  They aren’t the worst team in baseball, as it takes a lot of work to lose more games than the Orioles, but they certainly are in the bottom third in my opinion.  Their stadium is sponsored by a pet supply company, and they’re named after Spanish missionaries.  Their alternate home uniforms are desert camouflage.  To answer your impending question: No. I don’t believe they actually have a common theme linking these three things.

Now that you’re introduced, on to the actual numbers:

Giants: 0 Runs, 6 hits, 0 Errors

Padres: 1 Run, 1 Hit, 0 Errors

Since the winner of a baseball game is the team which scores the most runs… the Padres won.  It was the second time in Padres history that they won a game in which they only had 1 hit.  That’s the second 1 hit win out of nearly 6500 games played.  For the Giants, it was the first time they lost a game in which they gave up only 1 hit to the opposing team since moving from New York to San Francisco back in the 50’s.  What makes it even more remarkable is that the Padres’ one hit was only a single, which scored after a steal of 2nd base, advancing to 3rd on an out in foul territory, and a sacrifice fly to bring the runner home.

On the other side of the coin, the Giants out hit the Padres by 600%, but went 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position, including failing to score a runner from third with no outs.  Even if the team collectively batted a lukewarm .250 average, that equates to two hits with runners in scoring position.  What’s more remarkable is that over the past 3 games, the Giants are 1 for 25 with runners in scoring position: a pathetic .040 batting average when it counts.

The Giants’ starting pitcher, Jonathan Sanchez, earned a Loss that game despite a pitching performance that was outright dominant: 7.0 Innings Pitched, 1 Hit, 1 Earned Run, 3 Walks, and 10 Strikeouts.  Talk about being a hard luck loser.  Enjoy your loss, Jonny.

A similar unfortunate event happened the game prior where the Padres’ David Eckstein hit a winning 1 run home run off of Giants pitcher Jeremy Affeldt in extra innings.  The statistics nerds over at estimate that such a homerun would occur only 31 times in 10,000 plate appearances between the two, which equates to a 0.31% chance of soul crushing heartbreak, if like me, you actually care about the Giants.

So in conclusion… should you care about all this stuff? Probably not, but you’re now armed with the knowledge that I’ve been brought to my knees by an unfortunate combination of statistical outliers the likes of which the modern world has rarely seen.  Direct all complaints about the content of this update to Durandal, who is too much of a little pansy visiting his grandmother to talk about something you enjoy.  For the benefit of you readers (whose existence I still question), I’ll try to talk about other topics in the future, like rockets, or science, or scientists with rocket packs.

Until next time, good luck and godspeed…

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