Category Archives: Sports

Towards a Winning Record

Milwaukee’s magic number to finish higher than the Cubs is down to 2 games. If the Brewers beat the Mets today and the Cubs lose to Pittsburgh, it’s clinched. puts Milwaukee’s playoff chances at 7.3 percent, so I’m not getting my hopes up for that. But they can finish with a winning record. They’re 73-72 entering today’s game, so if the Brewers finish the season with 9-8 run, they can do it. An 8-9 finish puts them at .500.

Considering how the season began, this fan is more than pleased to be realistically hoping for a winning record. If they aren’t playoff-bound, that’s not a bad consolation prize.

Almost There

The Brewers have been on an extended hot streak. To the surprise of everyone but themselves, they have played their way back to .500. Their record is 71-71 entering tonight’s game against Atlanta.

The Brewers are even back in the fringes of the playoff race, thanks to the second wild card spot that MLB added this year. They’re fighting a lot of teams for it — Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Philly, LA, Atlanta — but at least they’re fighting. Considering how badly the earlier parts of the season went, 2012 actually turned out to be a good year. I doubt they’ll make the playoffs, but at least they’re playing meaningful baseball this time of year.

The 55-87 Cubs haven’t been so fortunate. By my calculations, Milwaukee’s magic number to beat the Cubs is down to 5. Both teams have 20 games left to play. I might have to set a higher goal for my Brewers.

Brewers 4, Cubs 1

It wasn’t a historic drubbing like Monday’s 15-4 victory, where the Brewers homered back-to-back-to-back for the first time since 2007. Even without extra innings in that game, the Cubs blew through their entire bullpen and had to use a position player as a pitcher for the first time since 1999.

There was none of that, but a regular old 4-1 victory counts just as much in the standings. More importantly, it brings the Brewers’ Cub-beating magic number down to 23, with 34 games left to play.

The Brewers have now beaten the Cubs 6 times in a row, and won 7 of their last 8 overall. They’re still not going anywhere near the playoffs, but it is good to see them playing well.

Beat Those Cubs

The Brewers’ magic number to finish with a better record than the Cubs is down to 27. The two teams begin a four-game series tonight at Wrigley Field. It is the last time they play each other this year.

Each Brewer victory during the series will lower the magic number by two, so a sweep would bring the magic number to 19. If Cubs manage a sweep, it will remain unchanged.

Regulation and the Green Bay Packers

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Kevin Clark offers a novel theory for the Green Bay Packers’ long run of success under GM Ted Thompson: a clone army.

Deep in the wilds of the Upper Midwest, Green Bay quietly has recruited a regiment of interchangeable players. The team’s novel idea is to find players—usually linebackers, tight ends or fullbacks—who can play in a variety of formations and situations because they’re virtually the exact same size and weight. The ideal specifications: 6 feet 2 and 250 pounds.

As Packers tight end D.J. Williams explained, only 46 players are allowed to dress for an NFL game. Every team has to cobble together its starters, reserves and special-teams players from those 46. “So if you can have one person doing what three people can do, it may only be 46 people dressed out there but it’s like having 60,” said Williams, who at 6 feet 2 and 245 pounds is roughly the magic size. “It’s a great advantage.”

It’s Moneyball adapted for football. Find a hole in the market — in this case, players who are a size that other teams shy away from — and mercilessly exploit it. Fellow regulatory scholar and (and fellow Packer fan?) Richard Belzer points out a lesson this teaches about regulation:

This is an excellent example of how market forces lead to efficient resource use, even under a stringent regulatory regime, so long as regulated parties are allowed to comply any way they see fit…

However, in other sports (e.g., stock car racing) performance standards give way to design standards that seek to prescribe every conceivable input into the production process. They inevitably fail for two reasons. First, there is always some production margin the regulators didn’t think of. Second, regulated parties invest extraordinary sums to search for and exploit loopholes.

In other words, regulation works better when it sets a standard without prescribing exactly how to meet that standard. The NFL has a 53-man roster limit, but it doesn’t prescribe how many linemen or quarterbacks the team must carry. That’s up to the GMs. Not only does this type of regulation open up another level of competition for fans to enjoy — front offices, not just players, trying to outmaneuver each other — but it prevents cheating. Lessons abound.

Beat Those Cubs

At 54-64, the playoffs are relegated to a distant memory for the 2012 Milwaukee Brewers, whose 2011 predecessors nearly made it to the World Series. But there are small mercies in this miserable season. They can still finish with a better record than the rival Chicago Cubs (46-72), who are enduring an even worse year.

By my calculations, the magic number for this secondary goal is 47. Any combination of Brewer wins and Cub losses adding up 47 guarantees Milwaukee’s bragging rights entering next season.

As of this writing, there are 44 games left to play. Of course, the Brewers are losing to Philadelphia, and the Cubs are beating Cincinnati right now. Both margins appear decisive, so call the magic number 47 with 43 games left to play, barring a heroic comeback in either game. The playoffs may be out of the picture, but this will still be a fun race to watch.

Salvaging a Lost Season

It’s been a bad year for my poor Brewers. A rash of early injuries, many of them season-ending, contributed to a weak start. The bullpen isn’t nearly as successful as it was last year, and neither is the run production. The result is a 45-54 record coming into tonight’s game against the Washington Nationals. They trail first-place Cincinnati by 14 games.

It’s that time of year to trade away some players to contending teams in exchange for young prospects who could help next year and beyond. So star pitcher Zack Greinke is now an Angel, and catcher George Kottaras is now an Oakland Athletic. Aramis Ramirez and Corey Hart’s names have shown up in rumors, as has reliever Francisco Rodriguez.

This season’s playoff hopes are gone. But Brewer fans can still have some fun. According to my back-of-the-envelope calculations, Milwaukee’s magic number is to win their division is currently 78. If the total of Brewer wins and Red losses adds up to 78, the Brewers will repeat as division champs.

Of course, there are only 63 games left. That’s why I like to set secondary goals around this time of year, such as finishing with a better record than the Chicago Cubs. They’re 4 games behind the Brewers right now, which bodes well. That magic number is 60.

This blog will be keeping an eye on that number as it dwindles, along with the hopes and dreams of Cub fans everywhere.

Baseball and Relativity

What would happen if a pitcher could throw at 90 percent the speed of light? One intrepid physicist’s answer will surprise you.

Today is Opening Day

At least it is for my Brewers. The A’s and Mariners played two games in Japan last week, Miami and St. Louis christened the Marlins’ new stadium on Wednesday, and a good chunk of the league began the season yesterday. Today, the Brewers and the other remaining teams get their start.

They open up at home against the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals (1-0). That championship came at Milwaukee’s expense, in a heartbreaking repeat of 1982. So the rivalry is a little more intense than it was this time last year, even though Tony LaRussa, Albert Pujols, and Prince Fielder have all moved on.

By my calculations from Wikipedia’s handy formula, I put the Brewers’ magic number to clinch their division at 163. Any combination of Brewer wins and Cardinal losses adding up to 163 makes the Brewers NL Central champs.

It is far, far too early to be calculating this kind of thing, but that’s precisely why it’s so much fun. This blog will be keeping an eye on the magic number throughout the season.

The $400 Pizza

Baseball season is coming up. This time of year I’ll usually read a book about baseball to psyche myself up for the season. Some of the best ones I’ve come across in recent years are George Vecsey’s Baseball: A History of America’s Favorite Game and George Will’s Men at Work. This year I chose Ball Four by Jim Bouton.

Bouton was a pitcher who bounced around the league after having early success with the Yankees. Ball Four is a diary of his 1969 season with the expansion Seattle Pilots, who lasted only one year as a franchise; after the season ended they moved to Milwaukee and became the Brewers. Bouton ended the 1969 season with the Houston Astros after a late-season trade. Besides being wickedly funny, the book is something of a tell-all, and is surprisingly cynical for a book about a children’s game. It also made him persona non grata in the league.

What does all that have to do with the title of this post? Ten years after Ball Four came out, Bouton added an epilogue titled “Ball Five” for a new edition. In it he writes about his post-playing career as a sports reporter for New York-area tv stations, and he shares a story about friend-of-CEI John Stossel:

I also had a lot of respect for our intrepid consumer reporter John Stossel who exposed rip-offs in the marketplace. I particularly remember one of John’s rip-off stories that never got on the air. John was doing an exposé on the fast food industry and one Sunday he bought a pizza for $400. The reason it cost $400 was not because of restaurant business practices but because of television labor practices. John needed a pizza for a prop but he couldn’t get it himself. A set decorator had to get it. Then a prop man had to hold it. Then a stagehand had to give it to him. By the time they figured out the overtime and holiday pay, it came to something like $400. Of course, if John had tried to expose the cost of the television pizza he might have had to finish his story in a suddenly darkened newsroom.

Bouton doesn’t say in what year Stossel’s story didn’t air. So let’s assume it’s 1980, when he wrote the chapter. According to the Minneapolis Fed’s handy inflation calculator, that $400 pizza would cost $1,128.43 today.