Stick to baseball, 11/11/17.

I have a new boardgame review at Paste, covering the card-drafting game Skyward. I also had two Insider posts go up earlier this week, one previewing some potential offseason trade targets, the other ranking the top 50 free agents this winter. And I held a Klawchat on Thursday.

Feel free to sign up for my free email newsletter, which I send out … I guess whenever I feel like it. I aim for once a week, although I’ve gone as long as two weeks between issues when I haven’t had much to say. You can see past issues at that link.

Also, don’t forget to buy copies of Smart Baseball for everyone on your Christmas list! Except for infants. They might eat the pages. Get them the audiobook instead.

And now, the links…

Stick to baseball, 10/13/17.

For Insiders this week, I posted my first batch of scouting notes from the Arizona Fall League, covering prospects from the Cardinals, Yankees, Brewers, Orioles, Padres, Cubs, Rockies, and Twins. I also held a Klawchat on Friday.

Later today (Saturday) I will be at Changing Hands in Phoenix, at 2 pm, to talk about and sign copies of Smart Baseball. I’ll also be signing books at PAX Unplugged, a new boardgaming convention that takes place in Philadelphia the weekend before Thanksgiving.

And now, the links…

Stick to baseball, 5/6/17.

Smart Baseball is out! Buy it here or at any local bookstore. It’s available in the US and Canada, in print, ebook, and audiobook forms. I have inquired about distribution elsewhere in the world but I can only report that we’re looking into it and nothing is imminent.

My one piece for Insiders this week covered the very limited market for Eric Hosmer this upcoming winter, given his lack of production and how few teams have openings at first or DH. I held a Klawchat, a bit shorter than normal, on Thursday.

I did an interview with the folks behind the Pocket bookmarketing app, and appeared on the public radio program AirTalk, both to talk about Smart Baseball. I also spoke with ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap on his radio show The Sporting Life.

* Anti-vaxxers have targeted Somali immigrants in Minnesota and caused a measles outbreak there. While I understand that we try not to criminalize speech here, how is this – claiming vaccines cause autism, a bad hypothesis fully debunked by science – any different than shouting “fire” in a crowded theater, causing needless panic and great public harm? (And yes, the Holmes quote is itself problematic, and he started walking it back almost immediately.) And why do we permit Wakefield to operate in the U.S.? We could easily deny him entry; he’s a greater threat to the broader population than suspected Islamic militants.

* George Will dropped two strong columns this past week for the Washington Post. The one you might have seen says the President has “a dangerous disability” and calls him unfit for office. The one you might have missed argues for repealing the mortgage interest tax deduction, which costs the US government about $100 billion annually in foregone revenues. This is an unpopular and controversial proposal; passing it would cause a one-time hit to housing prices and put many people underwater on their loans. But the exemption amounts to a regressive tax, and at the very least we should limit such deductions to primary residences (not second or third houses).

* Will’s column about the President came a few days after the vulgar talking yam was inconsistent and even incoherent after a long day of interviews. Remember when he questioned whether Hillary Clinton would have the stamina to be President? That was fun.

* Dion Walters of the Miami Heat wrote a hilarious and poignant piece for the Players Tribune at the end of April, which I missed because it went up the day Smart Baseball was released.

* NPR wrote about northerners flying the Confederate flag while openly denying that it is a racist symbol that stood for and will always stand for slavery. If one of my neighbors put one up outside his house and refused to remove it, I’d take it down by force. It’s no better than flying a flag with a swastika.

* While driving around southern California this week, I spent a lot of time listening to the indispensable NPR One app, which brought me some great stories and several episodes of a new podcast, The Grift, which I highly recommend. Two stories I liked enough to share: how the autocratic state government in Texas is destroying local government powers, and on the development of the Cosmic Crisp apple in Washington, which might be the next big hit apple with consumers.

* An epidemiologist explains why science is never perfect – that studies nearly always have some sort of flaws or biases, but that those don’t invalidate the results or make the studies worthless (a common claim of deniers like anti-vaxxers).

* How’s this for a bad headline. Something called the “Washington Free Beacon” wrote that a Democratic Congressional candidate in Montana said climate change deniers should kill themselves. What he actually said: “If any those of you that feel like this is not a problem, I challenge you to go into your car in your garage, start your car, and see what happens there.” This is obviously a ham-handed and scientifically weak attempt to point out the effects of burning fossil fuels on our atmosphere. But hey, gotta get dem clicks.

* ThinkProgress’ Lindsay Gibbs weighs in on the myth that ESPN is “liberal” simply because we argue against domestic violence or discrimination.

* Speaking of which, those liberal firebrands at Consumer Reports write that the Affordable Care Act led to a decline in personal bankruptcies.

* Someone in Russia is blinding Putin’s opponents with chemical attacks. It can’t happen here, though, right?

* You’ve probably seen the outrage among scientists that the New York Times hired a climate-change denier, Bret Stephens, in the name of “balance.” Did you also catch their publication of a bogus story on “alternative” medicine? Remember: There is no “alternative” medicine. If it works, it’s medicine. Otherwise, it’s bullshit.

* The passage of the AHCA, with many Congresspersons voting for it against the wishes of their constituents, has led to some direct financial results already:

* The Washington Post explains why that organic milk you bought might not be organic. The USDA’s organic labeling program has been a total failure, one of many examples where that agency has raised costs and wasted taxpayer money with no benefit to consumers. FWIW, I do buy organic milk because I want to support antibiotic-free husbandry, and “organic” is a fair proxy for that, but I don’t think the claimed health benefits of milk from grass-fed cows are proven.

* The James Beard Restaurant/Chef Awards are out! The winners include former Top Chef contestant Sarah Grueneberg, who won Best Chef: Great Lakes; her restaurant, Monteverde, provided one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten when I visited last July.

* This piece exhorting us to stop using public wifi networks makes sense, but is not terribly practical. Mobile data remains expensive and can’t match wifi speeds. The solution would seem to lie in making such networks more secure for most uses – although logging into your bank or credit card accounts on those networks will always be a bad idea.

* A new bill in Hawai’i’s legislature is essentially a sweetheart giveaway of state land rights to private tenants.

* Author/writer/Twitter wit Kelly Oxford discusses coming to terms with her panic disorder in an excerpt from her new book, When You Find Out the World Is Against You: And Other Funny Memories About Awful Moments.

* The Atlantic‘s Conor Friedersdorf argues that smugness isn’t a liberal characteristic, but a universal one. People at either extreme can veer into condescension of those with opposing views. Of course, the targets of condescension may have earned such disdain if they’re spouting conspiracy theories or outright falsehoods; treating cranks with respect isn’t going to accomplish anything either.

* If you live in Florida and believe convicted felons who have completed their jail terms should regain their rights to vote – as they would in 40 other states – there is a petition you can sign and group you can join to try to help make that a reality.

Stick to baseball, 12/17/16.

My main piece for Insiders this week went up this morning, on the many lost opportunities in MLB’s new collective bargaining agreement, discussing money and rights the union may have left on the table, and why the agreement seemed to come together so late. I also wrote about the Dodgers’ two re-signings earlier in the week, and I held a Klawchat here on Thursday.

At Paste this week I ranked the ten best boardgames I saw in 2016. A few folks have asked why the highly-rated Scythe isn’t on the list; I think that game is too long and overly complicated, with playing times that can top two hours (and a retail price of $90). All ten games I listed are clearly better, in my opinion.

In case you missed it, my list of my 100 favorite songs of 2016 went up here on Wednesday night.

You can preorder my upcoming book, Smart Baseball, on amazon. Also, please sign up for my more-or-less weekly email newsletter.

And now, the links…

Stick to baseball, 7/22/16.

My one Insider piece this week ranked the top five farm systems in baseball, a list that may look different by August 2nd. I also held a Klawchat on Thursday, and reviewed the reissue of the boardgame Agricola for Paste.

And now, the links…


My ranking of all 30 MLB farm systems is now up for Insiders! The top 100 prospect list goes up in the morning, and I’ll hold a chat here at 1 pm ET.

Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking felt, at first glance, like a fluffy self-help book. It certainly opens that way, as if the book’s purpose is to make introverts feel better about their introversion in a world that does indeed reward and revere the gregarious and the garrulous. But there’s a modicum of science behind Cain’s arguments and a lot of insight from experts that allow her to present the case that introverts can be just as important and productive and happy as extroverts can, as long as we allow them to be who they really are.

Cain starts out on the wrong foot, talking about the history of extroverts and introverts, explaining how we got to this point where extroverts are lauded as, essentially, better people. It helps create a narrative, but feels like padding when there’s real insight coming shortly afterwards, like the third chapter, where Cain goes into the evidence (some anecdotal) on how extroverts working together come up with inferior results to introverts working alone, and how forced teamwork can subvert the creativity of introverts by muting them and putting them in a space where they can’t produce. Not only is it well-presented and well-argued, but it’s insight with a specific call to action for employers, teachers, group leaders, anyone who is responsible for overseeing a team or collection of people in pursuit of a common task or goal.

(This is probably where I should step in and reveal myself as something of an introvert. I fell right in the middle of the twenty-question quiz Cain presents, which would make me an “ambivert” – kind of like Pat Venditte – but my introvert tendencies are very strong. I enjoy solitude, I do my best work on my own – this isn’t even close – I like celebrations to be small and intimate, and so on. I was very shy as a kid, and I still have a lot of shyness even today. I can get on a plane, read one book for five hours, speaking to no one but the flight attendant, and call it an afternoon well spent. Or on that same flight, I can sit down and write four articles or dish posts in a row like it’s nothing, because I get focused and thrive in an environment without interruptions. I can also sometimes come across as aloof or diffident, have people think I don’t like them when that’s very rarely the case, and I get lost in my own thoughts at least once a day. Prior to taking anti-anxiety medication, I was very sensitive, not just emotionally but even physically, being oddly jumpy when hit or touched. It’s just who I am, and big chunks of this book spoke very directly to my sense of self.)

Cain takes advantage of recent fMRI studies, without which I think the entire subgenre of pop-science books may not exist, in this case showing neurological responses like extroverts having more active dopamine pathways, so they get a faster reward response from activities like stock-trading or gambling, whereas introverts get less of a buzz and thus are better able to regulate their activities. She also discusses the relationship between the amygdala, an ancient part of the human brain found even in primitive mammals, and the relatively new prefrontal cortex, which helps regulate the high-reactive features of the amygdala. When you learn a fear or anxiety, your amygdala holds on to that pretty much forever; your prefrontal cortex is where you learn that, hey, you’re really not bad in crowds, and you’re totally fine to give that speech. Extroverts work better in situations with distractions like loud noises. Introverts are more sensitive and thus more empathetic.

Where Quiet gets really interesting is when Cain looks at introverts in marriages and in the classroom. She examines conflicts between couples comprising one introvert and one extrovert, dismantling the inane axiom about Venus and Mars and pointing out how two people of such different personality types can argue right past each other and end up with one partner feeling like the argument was productive while the other is deeply wounded. She also looks at introverted kids in the classroom and how the growing emphasis on group learning may leave those kids behind. My daughter, who is quite extroverted, is in a Montessori school, where most activities are done collectively; it’s a great fit for her, but would have been a total disaster for me.

I may have felt the greatest connection with Cain’s book in chapter 9, “When Should You Act More Extroverted?,” which looks at introverts who have to gear up to play the extrovert, often for work. I go on television a few dozen times a year, often for an hour at a clip, as part of my job. Doing so, especially when it’s two hourlong shows in one night, is absolutely exhausting. It is not physically demanding – although standing for an hour in dress shoes is no picnic for my joints – but the physical exhaustion is quite real, because I have to shift modes to become the extrovert on TV. (It turns out that I am a “high self-monitor,” a term that relates to how people behave around others and whether such behavior is dictated by internal controls or social cues.) As it turns out, what I do – playing the extrovert in my work life – is quite normal, but it’s also legitimately taxing, and playing someone you’re not too often can have physical consequences. Too much TV really might be bad for my health. (It probably doesn’t help that my TV work often ends at 1 or 2 in the morning.) Going to games, on the other hand, where I am often working alone and rarely talk to more than a couple of people, is quite relaxing even though it’s every bit as much an evening at the metaphorical office as a night in Bristol.

Cain’s book may have just been marketing incorrectly – or maybe marketed well, for more sales to a wider audience, when in fact she has crafted a scholarly work on a topic that generally doesn’t get such serious treatment. You might wish for more science to back up some of her theories, but she does include quite a bit of research and brings in a number of scientists and researchers to discuss their ideas. It’s also a book with a number of clear calls to action, for parents, bosses, teachers, and introverts themselves looking to find a bit more self-assurance in a society that tends to praise the things they’re not.

Saturday five, 8/7/15.

This week’s Klawchat transcript is up, and I also reviewed Broom Service, a fun family-strategy boardgame that’s been nominated for the Spiel des Jahres award, for Paste.

And now, this week’s links…saturdayfive

Saturday five, 8/1/15.

So I was kind of busy this week, writing these pieces for Insiders on the major trades leading up to Friday’s trade deadline.

Yoenis Cespedes to the Mets
Mike Leake to San Francisco
Latos/Olivera/Wood three-team trade
David Price to Toronto
Joakim Soria to Pittsburgh
Carlos Gomez/Mike Fiers to Houston
Brandon Moss to St. Louis
Cole Hamels to Texas
Jonathan Papelbon to Washington
Ben Zobrist to Kansas City
Troy Tulowitzki to Toronto
Tyler Clippard to the Mets
Johnny Cueto to Kansas City
Several smaller trades
The Mets/Carlos Gomez trade that didn’t happen

I also have a scouting post up on some Mets and Yankees AA prospects.

And now, the links… saturdayfive

  • Earlier this month, a fan at a Brewers game was hit in the face by a line drive, severely injuring her and missing killing her by centimeters. There’s a fundraising page for her medical bills if you’d like to donate.
  • Twitter is now hiding plagiarized jokes and other tweets if the original authors file complaints. It’s a minor issue compared to some of the abuse hurled at women and minorities on Twitter, but I’ll take any step toward greater editorial control on Twitter as a positive.
  • Molly Knight talked to Lasorda’s Lair about her book on the Dodgers and her history of anxiety disorder. If you haven’t yet, you should buy her book.
  • The Shreveport Times has a sharp opinion piece on how the Lafayette massacre won’t change anything. The piece specifically singles out Louisiana’s “weak and non-existent gun control.” It’s on us, though; you vote for candidates who take money from the NRA, this is what you get. If you don’t like it, get out there and campaign for the other side.
  • Is the song “Happy Birthday” still protected by copyright? It appears it may not be, although we’ll need the judge’s ruling to be sure. There’s a big fight coming in 2018 over expiring copyrights, one that puts me (in favor of putting many older works in the public domain) on the opposite side from my employer (Disney, which has a fair concern about Mickey Mouse falling into p.d.).
  • The Fibonacci shelf takes the mathematical sequence and turns it into stackable furniture. I want this.
  • Three “next-level” recipes for rum punch. That first one, a planter’s punch with homemade grenadine, sounds right up my alley; planter’s punch is the first strong (may I say “grown-up?”) cocktail I liked.
  • Go ahead, be sarcastic, at least with people you know well: it can boost creative thinking, according to a new study by three business school professors.
  • A fantastic profile of prodigy turned mathematician Terry Tao, considered (per the piece) “the finest mathematician of his generation,” and more broadly a piece on number theory. I share Tao’s love of the original computer game Civilization and the difficulty in putting it aside; it occupied a huge portion of the fall semester of my junior year of college, unfortunately. That said, it kills me that the article’s author felt that “prime number” required a definition. You shouldn’t be able to get to high school without knowing what that means.

Saturday five, 12/13/14.

My Insider content from this week’s activity in San Diego, which was the best setup I’ve ever seen for the winter meetings and resulted in more trades and signings than any meetings I can remember covering:

* The Jimmy Rollins trade
* The Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon trades
* The Matt Kemp trade
* The Rick Porcello/Yoenis Cespedes trade
* The Wade Miley trade
* The Howie Kendrick/Andrew Heaney trade and Brandon McCarthy signing
* The Dee Gordon trade
* The Jon Lester signing
* The Francisco Liriano re-signing
* The Miguel Montero trade
* The Jeff Samardzija trade (and David Robertson signing) and Oakland’s return
* The Jason Hammel signing
* The Brandon Moss trade

Outside of ESPN, my review of the boardgame Concordia is up at Paste. I’ll have my top ten games of 2014 up for them next week.

Here on the dish, I posted my top 100 songs of 2014 and top 14 albums of 2014, as well as this week’s Top Chef recap.

And now, this week’s links…

Leaving Arizona.

I had columns up this week on picking players to try to win one All-Star Game and on the Futures Game rosters. I talked to San Jose mayor Chuck Reed on this week’s Behind the Dish, and was a guest on Slate’s Hang Up and Listen podcast this week. And I chatted today as well.

I mentioned on Twitter last week that after two years and nine months, we’d sold our house in Arizona and decamped for the east coast, choosing Delaware as our new landing spot. It wasn’t exactly a secret, but the sale of the house happened on such an odd schedule – the appraisal took forever, arrived three days before the draft and we closed just 16 days after it came in – that I never quite made the Big Announcement that, hey, we were leaving paradise.

Many of you asked why – why leave Arizona, and why choose the drive-through state of Delaware. If you don’t care about personal stuff like this, feel free to skip this post.

Why leave Arizona? That’s simple, and it’s complicated. My wife did not enjoy living in Arizona, and especially did not like being so far from family and friends in the northeast. My daughter wants everything – she loved the weather and the pool in Arizona, and she hated leaving her friends, but she missed her grandparents, aunts, uncles, and year-old cousin (my niece), all located between New York City and northern Virginia. It would be easy to just say that I go where they go, and it would be true, but the decision for me was a bit more involved than that.

I loved living in Arizona. I suffer from seasonal depression when the winter grey and the winter darkness become too much. If you thought the top 100 prospect packages were better the last three years – I did, at least – my improved mood in those three Januaries probably had something to do with it. It’s a lot easier to get up and get rolling in the morning when the sun is practically screaming at you to start your day. I loved the near year-round baseball, with spring training and Fall League suddenly home games, and access to rookie ball and two Pac-12 schools, as well as the ability to commute trips to SoCal and Vegas. The food scene in Phoenix exceeded all of my expectations for it going in, and it’s improving rapidly, with more emphasis on seasonal and local ingredients where possible. And while I’m not a particularly materialistic guy – the move reminded me of how little stuff I have beyond kitchen tools and something like 36 cubic feet of boardgames – I did love our house, which we built new through Shea Homes. (Other than dealing with their partners Foresight Security, the process overall was very positive, as was our experience as homeowners.)

I relented on the move primarily because of work – with a commitment from Baseball Tonight for a minimum number of dates, and the difficulty of getting from Phoenix to Bristol, it made more sense to return to somewhere within driving distance. It has been bothering me that I’ve only seen my niece twice in the fourteen months since she was born, and that my grandmother just turned 99 while I haven’t seen her since Christmas. (Phone calls with either of them are about equally productive at this point.) Minor league scouting beyond rookie ball was difficult over the summer as well, because the only team within driving distance is the Tucson Padres, who are about to head down the highway to Hell Paso next year anyway.

The political environment itself didn’t drive me out of Arizona, although the support for Joe Arpaio, who violates civil rights with impunity and ignores the pile of unsolved sex crimes while chasing cameras and headlines with his anti-immigration sweeps and blatant racial profiling, boggles my mind. We lived in a moderate area, highly educated and higher income, and I can’t say that the gap between the state’s overall political leanings and my own ever affected my life in any material way.

That said, I do believe Arizonans are living in a deep state of denial about what climate change is going to mean for them – for the heat, for energy usage, and for water. We had highs of 117-118 over the last two summers, and those days will become more frequent, with highs in the 120s, which are dangerous and will put ever-greater strain on the local electrical grid – one that makes far too little use of the abundant solar and wind resources available in the Phoenix area. (ASU did do something very smart recently – they covered the football/baseball fields’ parking lots with solar panels.) The state’s water policy revolves around hoarding – they have about five years’ worth of supply stored up in underground tanks, which is part of why the Colorado River no longer reaches its delta on the Gulf of California, and also is a lousy plan for long-term sustainability. Water is cheap, and there are no real conservation efforts. We had neighbors with grass lawns. Las Vegas at least pays people to replace grass with low- or zero-water alternatives. In Arizona, no one cares if you leave the sprinklers on all night.

There’s also very little attention paid to the shape and scope of development in the area. There’s no concept of zoning anywhere, and the response to sprawl has mostly been to build more highways further away from the city center, like route 303, going from out by Goodyear north through Surprise up to I-17 north of town. (My daughter often asked if there was a route 404, but I told her all I got was a “highway not found” error.) Mass transit barely exists; they just hooked up the light rail to the airport this spring, and from where we lived, it was never practical to use it whether we were flying out or going to Chase Field. When the population spreads without any planning or control, it will settle in a shape that is not conducive to mass transit solutions – which is exactly what you have in Phoenix.

All of that did add up to one very real concern for me: property values won’t just keep going up out there as they have since the market bottomed out and we bought into it in 2010. The area can only hold so many people, and water shortages could mean rapid declines in property values. I’m not keen on holding on to assets with that kind of downside risk, and the strength of the Republican Party in the state did not make me feel better, because they do not seem to have any intention of focusing on these environmental/growth issues, and because they are far more focused on things like restricting abortion or asking Obama to produce his birth certificate.

If it were just me out there, though, I would have stayed at least a few more years. I hated leaving the friends I made out there, the long list of places I loved to eat, and the spectacular weather nine months out of the year. Even the summer heat is tolerable when you have functioning air conditioning and a pool in your backyard. It also made smoking things on the grill easier, because I never had to worry too much about the temperature dropping below 180 or so unless I let the fire go out completely. The only factor that truly motivated me to move was the air – my daughter and I both suffer from seasonal allergies, and my original hope, that the dry desert air would help us, turned out to be ill-founded. The air quality in Arizona is quite poor, especially in the summer, and neither of us found much relief, while my wife had allergy issues for the first time after we moved there.

As for Delaware, it’s two hours from my in-laws, three hours from my parents and my sister, four hours from Bristol, two-plus from New York City, and has low taxes. The Wilmington area offers good schools, and I’ll have three different minor leagues within 90 minutes of me, possibly four. We’re taking a little bit of a leap of faith, but given that I had no interest in returning to the tundra of New England, wouldn’t touch the tax rates of New Jersey or New York, and won’t abide Pennsylvania’s Puritanical liquor store system, Delaware kind of won by default.

It does seem like I have quite a few readers living here in New Castle County, so if there’s interest, perhaps we could try a meetup before a Blue Rocks game at the Iron Hill Brewery that’s right by the stadium. It’d be great to get to meet more of you in person, and perhaps to learn some insider tips on living around here. So far we’ve had good meals at Two Stones and at the slightly pecular Matilda’s/Mad Mac’s in Newark, but I’m sure there’s far more for us to discover.

One final note, unrelated to why we moved, but about the fact of the move itself. I’ve mentioned a few times here and through other venues that I suffer from anxiety, and have been receiving treatment, including medication, since last summer. The move hasn’t been good for me in that department, in part because of the stress of moving itself (especially with a daughter and two cats in tow), and in part because I liked living in Arizona so much. I’ll write more on that at some other time, but the last three weeks have been less than fun.