Friday, April 24, 2015

British Election: I'm Voting Labour

And I am one of the few small-c conservative women born and bred in Britain. 

Why would I take the trouble to take advantage of a trip from my new home Canada to my old home in Britain to vote in my old constituency Coventry South when Labour MP Jim Cunningham is almost certain to win again and does not need my vote in any case?

Answer: To register my opposition as a citizen of the United Kingdom (UK) to Conservative Prime Minister (PM) David Cameron's plan, if he is re-elected, to call a referendum on UK membership in the European Union (EU)

All in all, I believe the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition has been a good government since replacing Labour in power in 2010. Based on their record, the Conservatives deserve to be re-elected and the Lib Dems do not deserve the hiding that the polls show that they are in for on 7th May. 

In order to prevent the large anti-Europe faction of Conservative MPs from defecting to the xenophobic United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), Cameron has promised to hold a referendum, renegotiate UK membership in the EU and then campaign for the UK to stay in the EU on these new terms. There is a high probability that the end result of the Cameron scheme will be Britons voting to leave the EU.

No matter how bad Labour leader Ed Miliband might be as PM, he could not possibly do the lasting damage to the UK  that Cameron is threatening with his EU referendum plan. Thus, I am holding my conservative nose and voting Labour.

I have received some pushback from ex-UK boyfriends about my position. Gerard from Orpington and my A level study group asks why I don't back the Lib Dems. Answer: Under the UK's antiquated first-past-the-post (FPP) system, a vote for the Lib Dems would be wasted in Coventry South and most other constituencies where the Lib Dems don't stand a punter's chance. 

I was one of the select few who voted to switch to the Alternative Vote (AV) system in the 2011 referendum. If AV were in place, I would rank the parties as follows on my AV ballot: 1. Lib Dems; 2. Labour; 3. Greens; 4. Tories; 5. UKIP.

My old uni (St. Andrews) boyfriend Seamus, last living Tory in Scotland, warns me that Labour can only govern if propped up by the Scottish National Party (SNP) who will run circles around PM Miliband on their way to winning the next referendum on Scottish independence. I agree with Seamus that Scottish independence would be a tragedy for all UK citizens. But, Cameron's referendum on the UK's exit from the EU seems to me to be a faster path to Scottish independence than any mistake that PM Miliband might make. 

(Postcript 24 June 2016: What a sad day to see the former Great Britain turn its back on Europe, immigration and integration in the world economy. If Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon can command a majority in the Scottish Parliament, I expect her to call a referendum on Scottish independence before 2016 is over.) 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Major League Baseball (MLB) 2015 Inter-league Recap

The American League (AL) representative has now won 19 of the past 32 World Series. The National League (NL) has won 4 of the past 6 in a run of luck for the inferior NL.  

2015 marks the 12th consecutive AL triumph over the NL in 2015 inter-league contests. The AL is the superior league by far and has been for more than a decade.

Including their All-star match and the World  Series triumphs, AL teams finished 172-134 in 2015 or 56% wins against NL teams or right in line with the AL's record of dominance over the past dozen years.

The only positive sign for the NL is that the AL's 53.5% average (including All-Star and World Series matches) from 2010 on is below the 55.9% average from 2004 through 2009 and below the annual average winning record of 54.7% for the entire 2004-2015 period of AL dominance.

The AL has also won 15 of the last 18 all-star games to reach a decision and 21 of the last 27.

Kansas City won the World Series despite KC misManager Ned Yost being a know-nothing, anti-analytics, play-hunches fool.

Yost's decisions to bat Escobar 1st in the order despite his 29% on-base average during the regular season and to play Alex Rios with a 29% on-base average, instead of Jarrod Dyson at 31% on-base and more power, reduced KC's run-scoring potential.

Admittedly, in the 6 games against Toronto, Escobar won the Most Valuable Player award with a 48% on-base average and 65% slugging. And, Rios wasn't far behind at 37% on-base and 52.6% slugging. Perhaps Yost is the wisest fool in baseball just as James I was dubbed the wisest fool in Christendom. 

In the World Series (WS), I predicted that the laws of probability told us that Escobar's on-base % would be closer to his 30% regular season career average than his 35% play-off career average and Rios' would be closer to his 29% regular season performance. Escobar led off with a 23% on-base in the WS and Rios had a 13% on-base. KC won because they have a lot of good players and Met misManager Terry Collins made many bad decisions.

The other interesting aspect of the World Series match-up was that the Mets are one of the most AL-type teams in the NL. The Mets are Oakland East with Sandy Alderson in charge and two of Billy Beane's assistants assisting Alderson. With the Mets and Chicago Cubs bringing AL-style analytics to the NL, the years of NL inferiority may be numbered. 

Toronto Blue Jays

I had a conflict of interest when Toronto faced a NL squad -- 12-8 for 2015. Official Godiva toy boy and fiancé Archibald and I had a friendly wager. If the AL's winning % against the NL for the entire 2015 season betters the Blue Jays' record, dearest Archibald has to treat me like the Queen of Sheba for a day. Conversely, if the Blue Jays better the AL's mastery over the NL, I have to dress up and act like the Queen of Sheba paying court to King Solomon for a day. I have been rehearsing with my favourite recording of Handel's Entrance of the Queen of Sheba.

Arch and his beloved Blue Jays finished 1st in the AL East at 93-69 or 57.4%My prognostication of continued Lady G mastery over Archibald based on AL domination over the NL exceeding the Blue Jays' win percentage is in jeopardy with only play-offs left for Jays and World Series as the culmination of inter-league play. 

Blue Jays led MLB averaging 5.5 runs/match scored in the regular season and 13th best allowing 4.14 runs/match for a MLB-best run differential of +1.36/game. They are in the playoffs for the 1st time since 1993. The only reason that they were only a 57% team was their 15-28 regular season record in one-run matches, which was almost entirely due to bad luck. Also, bad luck that the Jays were eliminated in game 6 of the semi-final series against KC in another one-run loss -- so, 15-29 combined regular season + play-offs in one-run matches.

I am amazed at what they did with minor-leaguers Pillar, Colabello, Thole, Pennington and Goins in the line-up regularly. Colabello hit like an all-star this year rather than the career journeyman that he has been up to now. Pillar and Goins both impersonated major-leaguer hitters with Goins leading the AL in on-base % in August. This was amazing for a player who was one of the worst hitters in the MLB last year. Goins at age 27 came close to matching his minor-league hitting numbers this year in MLB, which is very unusual. Devon Travis was doing the same (at age 24 and a bit less surprising) before he went down with injury. I kept waiting in vain for the true minor-league talent levels to emerge as the season wore on. Justin Smoak at a relatively advanced age for making a breakthrough also hit this year well-above his prior MLB levels. I owe all these guys an apology for doubting them all year. It's the way-above-expectations production from their back-end hitters that made the Jays 1st in runs scored. As we cricket fans say: "The tail wagged." And, the tail of the Toronto's batter order continued to wag for part of the play-offs. Pillar was well above his regular season in the play-offs with a 1/3 on-base average while slugging almost 50%.

Could they really continue producing like the regular season in the play-offs? The Jays had uncanny good luck hitting with runners in scoring position in the regular season. They led MLB with a 35.9% on-base with runners in scoring position (RISP) vs. 34% overall. My premise is that what looks like clutch hitting is just dumb luck. RISP on-base % fell way off in the play-offs. I expect to see the Jays' runs/match fall back to the pack next year. 

Including the playoffs, the Jays were 8-53 or less than 15% in matches when they scored 3 runs or less and 90-22 or better than 80% when they scored more than 3. All teams have a split like that, but my guess is that the split is particularly extreme for the Jays and that more than 1/3 of matches with 3 runs or fewer was unusually high for a team averaging 5.5 runs/match. I predicted that this did not bode well for play-off success when the Jays were more likely to be in close, low-scoring matches against elite pitchers. And, I was correct. The Jays were 0-5 in play-off matches when they scored 3 runs or less.

The trade of declining-with-age, overpaid Reyes for declining 30-year-old Tulowitzki did not help the Jays much this year and I predict will hurt in future years as Tulowitzki continues to decline as a hitter while making $20 million/year through 2019 followed by $14 million in 2020 when he will be 36

That being predicted, I have to note that the Jays started 31-9 with Tulowitzki. Tulowitzki is certainly better defensively than Reyes, but not by enough to account for the 31-9 streak. It's just a coincidence that Tulowitzi arrived just as the rest of the Jays got hotter than Archibald under the influence of a full moon. Tulowitzki batted poorly in the play-offs with a 24% on-base average. With 2 3-run homers and one bases-loaded double, he was the AL play-off RBI leader. But, in my view that was just a small sample fluke. 

LaTroy Hawkins, who also came to the Jays in the Tulowitzki trade, helped in the bullpen during the regular season but seemed spent in the play-offs. The three pitching prospects sent to Colorado will likely be worth more than Tulowitzki in future years. When the trade went down, I predicted that last-place Colorado would make play-offs before the Jays. I continue to believe that both Mets and Miami got the better of their trades with the Blue Jays after the 2012 season. I also predicted that both Mets and Marlins had better prospects of making the playoffs before the Jays as a result. 

I have to eat humble pie and admit being wrong with my prediction of a continued Jay play-off drought. However, I remain the only person in Canada who believes that it will be better for the Jays' long-term future now that General misManager Anthopoulos has been fired. (I know Anthopoulos was not fired technically, but the Jay owners made him an offer to renew his contract that he could refuse.)

Hiring Cleveland General Manager (GM) Mark Shapiro as new Blue Jay President is a good sign. Unlike Anthopoulos, Shapiro is a "value-for-money" operator. I thought that Shapiro would keep Anthopoulos in place for at least another 2 years, and then if the Jays stumbled in 2016 and 2017, Shapiro would bring in his own choice as GM. Gutsy move by Shapiro to get rid of Anthopoulos right away.

I view Anthopoulos as similar to a mutual fund manager who follows an active stock-picking strategy. An active stock-picker can lead the mutual fund annual tables due to good luck in any given year, but over the long haul a "value indexer" like Billy Beane in Oakland will continue to post a better record than whoever is running the Jays until Toronto brings in a quantitative analyst to run the team. Anthopoulos will get another job quickly. Let's keep track of Anthopoulos vs. Shapiro for the rest of their careers on a wins per $ basis. 

I predicted that the Jays would go 8-4 in matches started by David Price vs. 6-6 if they had put Aaron Sanchez back in the rotation. The Jays went 9-2 in regular season matches started by Price and one of the losses was misManager Gibbons' fault. The Price was not right in the play-offs -- 1-3 in games in which he has appeared and he pitched badly in 3 of 4. Small-sample bad luck had a lot to do with that. Price is a great bowler (I can't get away from my cricket upbringing), but will not be worth the huge, long-term contract that he will get from Yankees, Angels, Dodgers, Red Sox or Cubs.  

Jays finished 1st in the AL East ahead of the Yankees easily as ESPN talk radio host Mike Greenberg and ESPN commentator Rick Sutcliffe predicted right after the Tulowitzki and Price trades. 

In 2015, Jays started 23-30, then went on a 14-2 streak followed by 13-19, then 42-14 to clinch 1st or the best extended stretch in team history with 75% wins over more than 1/3 of a season. 6-10 in play-offs and remainder of regular season after clinching 1st in the AL East. As I predicted, it was hard for such a streaky team to win 3 play-off rounds. 

Bill James wrote a famous article showing that Detroit's 35-5 start in 1984 could not likely be a run of good luck by a mediocre team. Over 40 games, the chances of a mediocre team posting a 35-5 record are tiny. The same is true for the Jays 42-14 streak this year. The 2015 Jays -- right up there with the 1984 Tigers and the 2013 LA Dodgers 42-8 streak for the best hot streaks in modern MLB history -- truly were a very good team in 2015. 

I am still sceptical of the Jays' future prospects. If I get time before the start of the 2016 season, I would like to look at 2015 "batting average balls in play" (BABIP) numbers for Goins, Pillar and other Jay hitters and the pitchers as well. Is it possible for an entire team to have an unusually lucky BABIP year on both sides of the ball? Of course, a lower BABIP for Jay opponents this year might reflect better Jay fielding. Another possible reason for the Jays' pitching success this year may be that Manager Gibbons has finally embraced defensive infield shifts. Again, if and when I have time, I would like to compare the Jays' shift rates in 2015 to 2014 and 2013. 

Archibald was so confident that this is the year for the Blue Jays that he has promised to end our long engagement and marry me outside the Skydome the day after the Blue Jays win the World Series. On 2nd thought, perhaps Archibald made this rash pledge because he was not confident in his Blue Jays winning. I'm starting to think that he likes being engaged more than he wants to be married. Luckily for me, I do not have to squeeze myself into the wedding dress that I bought second-hand years ago when dearest Archibald first accepted my proposal. The dress fit like a glove then, but not so flattering now -- I look more like a sausage bursting out of my wrapping -- thanks to the calorie-rich vegan meals that Arch puts in front of me at the end of my busy day. Luckily for yours truly, love is blind and Arch still sees the ravishing figure I sported when we first met. Both the Jays and yours truly have to wait until next year for our big day.