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Week's End Thoughts & Reflections, November 17, 2018

Resist Trump Tuesday, November 13, 2018

I stand corrected. My first thought on the day after last week's midterm elections was that the Democrats accomplished the bare minimum that we needed from them but precious little more. I have since been swayed by plausible arguments that we did indeed see a blue wave. I quote at length from Stuart Rothenberg, senior editor and analyst at Inside Elections:

Yes, I think the narrative didn't change two or three days after the election. I think it changed two or three hours after the votes started being counted, actually.

I understand why Democrats were fully invested in the Texas Senate race and the Florida governor's race and the Georgia governor's race. And Amy McGrath didn't do as well in Kentucky 6, in an early state.

But, look, once we got into the large number of districts that were competitive and that we were really watching, it was very clear we had a wave. I mean, between 35 and 40 seats flipping is a wave.

A national election is a wave. It's not a cherry-picked election, where a district here flipped and a district there flipped.

There were — there were upsets, significant upsets, in Oklahoma, in South Carolina's 1st Congressional District. So, look, we just had a wave...a good Democratic wave. (Tamara Keith and Stuart Rothenberg on election process vs. outcome, PBS NewsHour, November 12, 2018)

They say it takes a big person to admit to being wrong. It seems I am a big person a lot these days, or at least have ample opportunity for it.

The stats gurus at FiveThirtyEight's weekly politics chat also declared it a wave (Yes, It Was A Blue Wave. No, It Doesn’t Matter For 2020., November 14, 2018). The headline notwithstanding, they are not agreed on what exactly that portends for 2020. I predict we can look forward to a bloviation wave coming at us from all quarters for the next two years.

Phillies ace Aaron Nola finished third in voting for the National League Cy Young Award behind Jacob DeGrom of the Mets and Matt Scherzer of the Nationals. The ranking seems right to me. Nola was good, a certifiable ace. DeGrom and Scherzer were even better.

The Phillies website trots out a dazzling array of statistics to document Nola's great season. Some of them sound pretty esoteric, although I gather that barrels per plate appearance, wOBA, FIP, and WAR are standard fare for the cognoscenti. I do not dispute that this stuff has value and can even be an object of fascination for individuals of a certain intellectual bent. The same might be said of getting down into the weeds with Marx on Hegel and the dialectic, negation, alienation, estrangement, capital, and all the rest. For me each is a slog that soon enough has my eyes glazing over.

Sometimes a little context may be in order, and you might wonder why the scribe penning the story, or maybe the editor, was blind to it. This one jumped out at me: Nola's 19 starts allowing four or fewer hits are three more than any other Phillies pitcher since the mound moved to 60 feet, 6 inches, from home plate in 1893. Okay, that is impressive. But shouldn't the disappearance of the complete game be taken into account? Complete games are no longer typically included in pitchers' stats. Nola started 33 games in 2018. He pitched eight innings on three occasions, fewer than eight on the other 30. Is giving up four hits in seven innings a greater accomplishment than giving up five or six in nine innings? In 1972 Steve "the Big Lefty" Carlton logged 30 complete games, eight of them shutouts, in 41 starts while posting a 1.97 ERA, and notching 27 wins for a terrible team that won only 59 games the entire season. Today's game is played much differently than it was in the 1970s. Carlton would have had no more opportunity to post those numbers if he were pitching in 2018 than Nola did. How do you compare the two?

The point is not to knock Nola or highfalutin statistics but rather to suggest that we might be well advised to temper our inferences and conclusions with a generous dose of perspective and humility. This goes for politics as well as for baseball.

Keep the faith.

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