Common Sense and Logistics Blocking trump’s Gun Reform Agenda

In light of the tragic event at a high school in Parkland, Fla., there’s understandably been a great deal of talk around how to make our schools safer. While trump supports tougher background checks and banning bump stocks which are both good ideas, he also wants to arm teachers. To be fair, making guns more accessible is not a solution that originated from the gray matter between trump’s ears. After each recent school shooting, people wanted to arm more than just teachers: arm security guards, arm the janitor, or arm a retired military person – heck, arm all of them. trump’s solution of course is music to a gun nut’s ears but it’s also remarkably, and unsurprisingly, short-sighted.

Let’s say trump signs off on new gun legislation. Part of that legislation calls for arming 20% of a school’s teachers, as he’s said here. My high school, for example, currently staffs 58 teachers. (For argument’s sake, let’s call it 60 teachers so 20% = 12 armed teachers.) Also as part of the proposed legislation, that school is required to put signage outside the school property that says, essentially, some of the teachers in this school are “packing heat,” have been trained to handle their particular weapon, and will do whatever it takes to ensure the safety of their students.

I’m not a forensic psychologist so I’m not even going to pretend I know what’s inside the head of a school shooter. But if someone said you have an 80% chance of finding gold buried underneath random yards in your neighborhood, you’d better believe there’d be a run on shovels and metal detectors at Lowe’s. If a shooter is intent on causing mass casualties like we saw at Columbine, Virginia Tech, or Parkland, I find it hard to believe that signage outside the school will be an effective deterrent. Also, will the shooter be in communication with a school official ahead of time, providing specific details about when they’re going to be at the school entrance, what they’re wearing, or what mode of transportation they’re taking to get to the school? They won’t. Then how do we know that any of the 20% of teachers will be in that particular area of the school at that particular time? We don’t.

It’s been established that kids with guns is a bad thing and they shouldn’t be allowed in our schools. However, if we’re going to arm 20% of teachers, who’s deciding which 20% to arm? Here’s what I could see happening: school arms a history teacher because he is an ex-Army Ranger. “He’s a great shot,” they’ll say, “who’s fired a gun in a real war zone. This is only a high school.” This particular ex-Army Ranger fought in Afghanistan and kept his PTSD hidden for years. His students love him and describe him as the “nicest man who loves all of his students as if they are his own kids.” Then one day, the unthinkable happens. He snaps. Administrators would say they never thought he could do something like this … blah blah blah. Did his medical records state that he sought therapy for PTSD? Who reviewed his medical records? Due to current HIPAA law, this teacher’s medical records wouldn’t be public anyway, so who’s going to work on amending that law?

Even if 20% of teachers are allowed to carry a gun, did it occur to trump that some teachers might be uncomfortable with such a plan? A February 2014 poll conducted by the Association of American Educators (AAE) found that only 26% of surveyed teachers would even consider bringing a firearm to school if they were allowed to. Applying these statistics to my high school would mean that instead of 12 teachers carrying a firearm to school, it would only be three. Not exactly a great return on investment for a “successful businessman.”

Jarrett Muzi, a high school Special Education/English teacher in West Chester, Penn., echoes the sentiments of a majority of teachers in the AAE poll. “I honestly believe that if this happens and I was selected, [that] would be the day I would start looking for a new career,” says Muzi. “I just don’t feel comfortable being responsible for the safety of the entire school.”

Surely this situation wouldn’t have occurred if someone other than a teacher had a gun. Oh right, they did and nothing happened. “Teachers would have far less training” than a highly-trained officer with hundreds of hours of training, according to a high school history teacher in New Jersey. “What’s to think [a teacher] would respond differently.”

As the father of two young kids, I’ll be damned if I send them to a school where any teachers are allowed to carry guns. With this half-baked idea, the risks truly outweigh the rewards. We’ve come to expect half-baked ideas from trump but we owe it to the victims of all school shootings to come up with a long-term solution that is comprehensive as well as practical.

To help the victims of the Florida school shooting, visit https://publicgood.com/media/cnn/campaign/help-parkland-school-shooting-victims

Don’t Shun Non-Technical Users – Teach Them

Working in tech support for a large electric company, I see customers with a wide variety of technical website issues – some issues are user error while other issues stem from a “blip” in a back-end process. Conservatively speaking, I’ve fielded between 2,000 and 2,500 technical website issues and, more often than not, it’s some combination of customer and company issue.

While my company trains our customer service representatives on how to use the website, who can do the same for customers in an attempt to reduce user error? If utilities are serious about catering to all customers, they should take the initiative and offer FREE, online, website navigation workshops for all customers who want to participate.

The obvious question you’re asking yourselves is: ‘what responsibility does a utility (or any company) have to educate its customers on how to use its website?’ Stakeholders would argue the company’s responsibility is to make money. If customers can’t use Company A’s website to pay their bill or view their daily usage, for example, assume that they’ll look for another company, Company B’s website, that does. I’m no economist but that can’t be good for Company A’s bottom line.

Or maybe a majority of customers don’t feel like they need to know the website or don’t believe a free workshop would help them anyway. Maybe they feel like it’s easier to simply call Customer Care who will submit a web form to Tech Support who will call them back in less than three business days.

But if there’s data supporting the fact that enough customers are struggling to figure out the exact same website functionalities, and said company has the resources and the means to educate them, it would be foolish for the company to dismiss those customers as “lost causes.”

Great, I’ve identified that there are customers who could have self-served on the website, but didn’t. Now what? If I was running the show, I would want my Tech Support person to sit down with my Training person and my Customer Service Supervisor and hash out a few things:

  1. What is the most frequent complaint that the Care Center hears (“I can’t pay my bill online”) AND;
  2. Does that align with the most common technical support issue (“I click ‘Submit’ on the Pay My Bill page and nothing happens”) AND, if so;
  3. How do I give the customer the knowledge and tools to work through the issue themselves, via an online workshop?

If it’s check and check, I would move forward with a pilot workshop to address the third item.

Analysis of Week 1 Featured Pick

If you made your picks based off of Section 426’s Week 1 post, some of you, namely the Survivor pool people, were really happy. Others, those who participate in a football pool with spreads are in play, not so much. Atlanta won the game but they didn’t cover the seven-point spread.

What I Got Right

With Chicago missing its top WR from last year, I had a good feeling they’d struggle moving the ball downfield. As it turns out, the Bears attempted one pass of more than 15 yards in the air – it was to the RB out of the backfield and it was incomplete. For comparison’s sake, the Falcons attempted three such passes, catching two of them for 106 yards and a TD. This was 88 yards of it in one fell swoop:

Zach Miller was targeted four times between the 20s, catching three passes for 28 yards. Two of those targets came on the Bears’ last drive of the game.

What I Got Wrong

Takkarist McKinley was a non-factor. He had two tackles. Oh and he told some really good jokes to his teammates on the sidelines. Lots of laughs.

Devonta Freeman had a TD, but don’t be fooled, he wasn’t “on.” Last year, the Bears surrendered the sixth-most rushing yards in the league (1,950) and the sixth-most rushing yards per game (121.9). Freeman managed 37 yards on 12 carries.

Featured Pick

Baltimore Ravens over Cleveland Browns (+8)

First off, I’m comfortable picking Baltimore over Cleveland in Survivor as well as ATS (against the spread) pools. Since 2010, Cleveland has only won one time in Baltimore. WR Mike Wallace scored two red zone TDs against Cleveland last year when the teams met in Baltimore. Now there’s no shutdown corner in Cleveland as Joe Haden is now playing for the Steelers. I know it’s only one week into the season but Baltimore’s defense is playing out of its ever-lovin’ mind: per Pro Football Reference, five takeaways and five sacks and kudos to you if you started the Ravens defense in fantasy last week.

How does that saying go? You can take Jared out of Fantasy Football but you can’t take Fantasy Football out of Section 426.

Prediction: Baltimore 24, Cleveland 3

Football Pools: As Fun As Fantasy Leagues

I gaze out the living room window on a surprisingly cool and rainy late August morning. I just finished my second cup of coffee and I’m feeling a bit relieved. Not only because I sidestepped a caffeine (or lack of caffeine) headache one more day, but because I’m not playing in a Fantasy Football league this year.

Like many fantasy gamers, I have an undiagnosed case of FFOCD (Fantasy Football Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder). This year, however, I sought help for the debilitating disorder. Well not really help in the classic sense of the term. I just decided not to join a Fantasy league. Instead, I organized a less time-consuming football pool – there’s a favorite and an underdog, the favorite “gives points” to the underdog, pick who wins the game. That’s it.

Now it wouldn’t be a Section 426 post without an attempt at number-crunching, would it? With the first game of the regular season nine days away, I’ll try to predict 2017 Week 1 performance based on Week 1 performances from 2016 and 2015. Apples and oranges (and bananas) you say? Maybe not.

Featured Pick

Atlanta Falcons over Chicago Bears (+7)

Chicago was a 6.5-point “home dog” in 2015 to Green Bay and they lost 31 – 23. They were a 4.5-point underdog in Houston last year and lost 23 – 14. The Bears just lost their primary WR, Cameron Meredith, for the season. Here’s why that’s important. According to Pro Football Reference, Meredith led the team with 77 targets for nearly 750 yards and 3 TDs between the 20s (in other words, a majority of the field). Who’s going to pick up the slack for the Bears? TE Zach Miller? Maybe. In comparison, Miller was targeted 49 times for almost 400 yards and zero TDs between the 20s last year. Zach Miller has also not been what you’d call good in Week 1 the past two seasons. In 2015, he really wasn’t the featured TE, in the game for only 11 offensive plays. But last year he was in the game for 77% of offensive plays and caught 3 passes on 4 targets for 14 yards. One more thing about this game that I think is significant is Atlanta had a really horrible pass defense last year so they drafted Takkarist McKinley, a defensive end out of UCLA, who I see causing problems for a shaky starter in Mike Glennon.

Two words: Devonta Freeman. Five more words: Matt Ryan. Chip on shoulder.

Prediction: Atlanta 31, Chicago 17

Stay tuned for more Featured Picks throughout the season, unless I really botch this one.

Flopping FIPers as a Formula for Victory?

Lefties hit righties and vice versa and I don’t mean that in a political way. The effects of hitters playing in their home park versus away from home is marginal improvement, at best. With all the data flying around out there in the sports world, I refuse to believe there’s no way to determine if a hitter is going to hit safely. In my first full season of MLB.com’s Beat the Streak, I’m going to put on my analyst’s hat and try to come up with an algorithm to predict if a batter will hit safely.

There may be tweaking going forward but here’s what I surmise right now: choose hitters who have above average Weighted On-Base Averages, or wOBA, against starting pitchers who have below-average Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) numbers. Since I’m not looking to project a full season, I only want to cover a narrow scope so I’m only including data over the past seven days.

FIP

For today, the two starters I’m targeting are Masahiro Tanaka and Jhoulys Chacin who, over the past seven days, have the third and fourth highest FIPs. (In case you’re wondering, the first and second highest FIP starters are not in action.)

In addition to Home vs. Away and Left vs. Right, here’s what else I’m NOT targeting in this first algorithm:

    • Batting average
    • Earned-run average
    • Head-to-head matchup
    • Strikeout rate
    • Contact type generated (e.g. fly ball, ground ball, etc.)

The hitters I’m targeting, Adam Jones and Brandon Belt have above average wOBAs. While it’s a small sample size to examine, I’m hoping to ride their hot streaks a little bit longer before they regress to the mean.

Let’s see what happens.

Playing Hit and Run With Line-Drive Rates

Balls in play can travel one of three ways: on the ground, on a line drive (minimal arc) or on a fly ball (deeper arc). In its description of batted balls, FanGraphs says: “Generally speaking, line drives go for hits most often, ground balls go for hits more often than fly balls, and fly balls are more productive than ground balls when they do go for hits (i.e. extra base hits).”

Do line drives really go for hits most often? For argument’s sake, let’s just say they do. That being the case, I proposed this thesis:

1. The team that hits the most line drives will also score the most runs in their respective league.

After some research, I found that only three times since 2012 has a league line-drive percentage leader also finished in the top five in runs scored (Detroit Tigers in 2013 and 2014, and the St. Louis Cardinals in 2013).

So there went that theory. But I wanted to dig a little deeper (shocker, I know) and came up with a revised thesis:

1a. Line drives are directly responsible for more runs for a team than their fly ball or ground ball counterparts.

I tested this statement in the American and National Leagues, using a small, seven-day sample size. The Tigers and the San Francisco Giants were the teams I chose since they were leading their respective leagues in line-drive percentage at the time this data was compiled.

I also took some liberties when considering what batted balls to count. For example, I didn’t count pop ups or line drives to an infielder, since neither of those outcomes typically result in a run scored. Sacrifice flies were counted as fly balls, even if the ball’s arc was flat. As far as what constituted a line drive and what constituted a fly ball, I based it off MLB.com’s play-by-play application.

Here were my results, displayed in a chart:
Continue reading

Phils’ Relievers Keeping Hitters Off-Balance With High K/9

Most baseball experts would agree that the strikeout is the worst possible result for a team batting – an out is recorded, no runs score, and no base runners advance. While ERA is the “sexy” pitching stat, it’s strikeouts-to-innings pitched that can tell you how effective a relief pitcher is at keeping runs off the board and base runners where they stand.

Rick Ingalls, a scout with the Cincinnati Reds, prefers strikeouts-to-innings pitched, or K/9, to similar metrics to gauge the efficacy of relief pitchers. “It means there must be a fastball or a slider or split-finger, whatever the pitcher throws, [and] he’s missing bats,” said Ingalls. “If a reliever has a plus fastball (velocity) and a plus slider, they have a chance to pitch out of the bullpen in the big leagues because their stuff is above average.”

Of course a team’s relievers’ K/9 metric won’t determine overall success or failure, but the Phillies relief corps has been a surprising bright spot this season. So I wanted to see where the team’s relievers stood in K/9 through March/April this season and last season, with respect to the March/April National League averages.

Source: Fangraphs

As you can see from the chart, the Phillies relievers are above average so far this year for K/9, ranking third in the NL behind the Cubs and Mets.

While not taking any credit away from the Phils, their relievers’ K/9 may be slightly inflated. They’ve pitched against two teams so far (Brewers and Padres) whose plate appearances end in a strikeout a quarter of the time (25.9% and 25.3% respectively). These numbers are also worst in the NL.

Can the Phils’ relievers keep this pace up with respect to K/9, or will it normalize to league average by the All Star break? Let me know what you think.

7 Phillies Pivotal for an Improbable Playoff Push

Phillies fans know the next parade we can look forward to in Philadelphia will be the one that takes place next month. But revelers fans will be decked out in green instead of red for St. Patrick’s Day.

The staunchest of Phillies’ fans knows the odds of a World Series victory in 2016 are slim to none. A playoff spot, however, is entirely within reach and here’s why.

According to projections from USA Today, the 2016 Phillies will win 61 games this season, finishing 27 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers for the second wildcard spot (88 wins). Fangraphs, a baseball statistics website, is a bit more bullish, projecting the Phightins to win 66 games, finishing 19 games behind the San Francisco Giants and New York Mets for the second wildcard spot (85 wins).

For argument’s sake, let’s just say the Phils perform much better than expected and post a high-70/low-80 win total. Then let’s say those three teams, the Dodgers, Giants and Mets, have underwhelming seasons and end up in the high-70/low-80-win range. The playoffs don’t seem like such a long shot if things break this way, do they? Minor and major injuries are an almost certainty in a 162-game season, so let’s remove them from the equation. Injuries aside, here are seven key players whose performance could determine the team’s success in 2016.

Offense

  • Continued Improvement of 3B Maikel Franco – his walk rate (+6.1%), strikeout rate (-6.9%), and hard-hit ball percentage (+19.4%) all improved in 2015 over his September 2014 debut. If he can hit better to the opposite field (something Ryan Howard had problems with in his career), that would bode remarkably well for the team’s run production.
  • 1B/OF Darin Ruf Finally Gets It – Fangraphs doesn’t think he’ll “play enough to hit double-digit home runs” but I couldn’t disagree more. All signs point to him serving as the right-handed counterpart in a first base platoon with Ryan Howard. Last season, Ruf hit eight home runs against left-handed pitchers in limited action. If he gets every opportunity to hit lefties, as I suspect he will, he could easily double his HR output from last year.
  • El Torito Is the New Flyin’ Hawaiian But Better:
    • Shane Victorino’s 1st full season (2006): 462 plate appearances, .287/.346/.414, 6 HR, 46 RBI, 70 R, 4 SB, .128 ISO, .334 wOBA, 12.5 Def, 2.7 WAR
    • Odubel Herrera (2015): 537 plate appearances, .297/.344/.418, 8 HR, 41 RBI, 64 R, 16 SB, .121 ISO, .333 wOBA, 11.7 Def, 3.9 WAR

Statistically they’re eerily similar. Much like Victorino, Herrera is a prototypical leadoff man, but his strikeout percentage is way too high (24%). The Phils need El Torito to show more patience at the plate in 2016. He needs to cut his strikeout percentage in half, at least, and take more walks per plate appearance. The more he’s on base, the more potential runs he can score on hits by the middle of the batting order. While he can certainly steal a base to get into scoring position, he absolutely has the speed to score from first on an extra-base hit.

Of course three players don’t make a team. They’ll need help from the entire 40-man roster, including relief pitchers.

Pitching

Word on the street is the Phillies bullpen is going to struggle this year. The idea is plausible considering they lost one of the best young closers in the game, Ken Giles, in a trade with Houston. To remedy that situation, the Phils brought in four veteran arms to help stabilize the back-end of the bullpen – guys who have been successful there in the past: Andrew Bailey, Edward Mujica, Ernesto Frieri, and David Hernandez.

  • All Star Return to Form – Bailey was an All Star in 2010 with the Oakland A’s. According to Fangraphs, he had success throwing his fastball 69% of the time and his cutter 20% of the time. He had similar success with those splits in 2011 (76%/16%).In 2012, he started to unravel. Those splits became 57%/30% in Fenway Park in Boston. Bailey wasn’t able to locate his cutter for strikes as his walks-per-9-innings went from 2.59 to 4.70, a significant increase for him.

    In addition to control problems, he was also the victim of bad luck. What were fly ball outs in Oakland became home runs in hitter-friendly Boston as his 3% jump in HR-to-fly ball ratio suggests.

    The good news is that, while pitching for the New York Yankees last season, the velocity on his fastball was around the same as it was in 2010 (about 1 mph less). If he can throw his fastball more and use his curveball, not his cutter, as his secondary pitch, he may be a key cog in the bullpen this season.

  • Watch the Relievers FIP Out – ERA is one of the common metrics used to gauge a pitcher’s effectiveness but it doesn’t isolate their performance. That’s where Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) comes into play.While they’re similar metrics, FIP only considers what a pitcher can control: strikeouts, walks, hit-by-pitches, and home runs allowed. Anything that requires the defense to make a play (e.g. fly ball, ground ball) is removed from this equation.

                                      2010       2011       2012       2013       2014       2015                                 FIP                          3.99        3.83        3.79        3.70        3.60      3.68

    Ernesto Frieri        2.92        3.28           X             3.72        X           6.39

    Edward Mujica      3.88        3.20        3.65        3.71        3.70        5.12

    In 2010 and 2011, these two relievers had outstanding FIPs. One of them should be able to handle the setup role this season for the new closer, David Hernandez.

  • Closing Time – Depending on how he performs in spring training, Hernandez will likely get the nod as the Opening Day closer.The disparity between his strikeouts per nine innings and walks per nine innings has been good throughout his career (9 K to 4 BB). In 2012, his secondary pitch, the curveball (34%), was an above-average pitch. In 2013, a down year for him, he didn’t make any changes to those fastball-curveball splits so I think he became predictable to hitters.

    While he doesn’t need to have Ken Giles’ fastball to rack up saves, I think the team could benefit from him mixing up his two-seam fastball (50%) better with his four-seam fastball (11%).

Even if these seven players outperform expectations, the Phillies are and should be considered long shots for the playoffs this season. The fact that personnel decisions are now being made by someone with half a brain, though, should give us fans much hope for seasons beyond this one.

Bring the Blitz Back to the Pro Bowl

NFL fans have been critical of the Pro Bowl in recent years and with good reason. After the game in 2012, Commissioner Roger Goodell talked about the need to improve the game or “consider eliminating” it. Four Pro Bowls later and I don’t know if enough improvements have been made.

If there was a single thing the NFL could do to improve the quality of the Pro Bowl, it would be to allow teams to blitz.
probowl
I understand the NFL’s attempt to keep injuries down in a meaningless game, but without blitzes, the game just isn’t the same. For example, in the last two Pro Bowls, the quarterback dropped back to pass 178 times and was sacked a mere three times. For comparison’s sake, I looked at two random regular season NFL games over the past two seasons, Week Six of the 2014 season and Week Eight of the 2015 season. The Vikings-Lions game in 2014 featured 70 dropbacks and 12 sacks while the Chargers-Ravens game in 2015 featured 74 dropbacks with four sacks.

Keep in mind, allowing teams to blitz doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily reach the quarterback. But putting that kind of pressure on the quarterback can lead to:

  • Negative yardage plays
  • Incompletions
  • Interceptions (or Pick Six)
  • Fumbles (or Sack-Fumble Six)
  • 50/50 balls

Pick Sixes, Sack-Fumble Sixes and 50/50 balls (‘jump ball’ between a wide receiver and a cornerback) are potential game-changing plays and all have the ability to invigorate an excitement-starved crowd.

What would the MLB All-Star Game look like if stolen bases weren’t allowed? What would the NHL All-Star Game look like if no odd-man rushes were allowed? In recent years, the NFL has made strides in protecting the quarterback. When the excitement of the game is compromised as a result, it’s time to re-examine the rules.

DraftKings: Our 2 Cents on a $2 Payout

Like the phoenix that rises from the ashes, Section 426 returns to the fantasy field where we fell only a couple of months ago. Foregoing the long-term commitment of a sixteen-week NFL season, we turn to DraftKings, a FREE week-to-week fantasy football game that allows participants to pick their own players while staying under the $50K salary cap. The weekly winner takes home $2. In the event that our selected lineup is good but not good enough, that’s okay because the weekly top 5 finishers all get $2. I know what you’re wondering: since we do work with a low budget at Section 426, why do we take such big risks.

Every time we participate, we’ll show who we’re picking, how much they were drafted for, and some key notes regarding their season (for example, their NFL rank by position, their NFL opponent’s rank, etc.)

Here’s who we’ve chosen this week:

Philip Rivers $6,600 – 10th in NFL in passing yards, 6th in passer rating
DeMarco Murray $8,500 – 1st in NFL in rushing yards, 1st in carries over 20 yards, 1st in yards/game
Joique Bell $4,900 – 23rd in NFL in rushing yards
A.J. Green $7,300 – 49th in NFL in receiving yards (7 games played)
Josh Gordon $6,300 – 1st in NFL in receiving yards in 2013, 1st in receptions over 20 yards in 2013
Sammy Watkins $5,600 – 22nd in NFL in receiving yards in 2014, 19th in receiving targets
Zach Ertz $3,100
Darren Sproles $4,500 – 4 TD on 61 touches
Colts $3,200 – opponent is 2nd in NFL in Giveaways

What do you think? Can this lineup conquer all? Who would you have drafted? Let us know in the Comments section below.