Week of December 22, 2017


First and foremost, I implore you to click the link below and read the entirety of this story. It’s so well done. The writing, photography and videos bring you on a fascinating journey that picks up where most end on Mount Everest. Writer John Branch describes it better than I ever could:

Where most of those stories end is where this one begins, long after hope is gone — the quiet, desperate and dangerous pursuit, usually at the insistence of a distraught family far away, to bring the dead home. The only search is for some semblance of closure.

Here are the numbers: About 5,000 people have summited Everest since 1953. Nearly 300 have perished on their attempt. Of those, about 200 bodies never have been recovered from Everest.

Most of the bodies are far out of sight. Some have been moved, dumped over cliffs or into crevasses at the behest of families bothered that their loved ones were someone else’s landmark or at the direction of Nepali officials who worry that the sight of dead bodies hinders the country’s tourist trade.

A lot of variables go into the decision of recovering a body or leaving the body on top of the world. First, it’s expensive (in some cases more expensive than the original expedition). It’s also extremely dangerous. Rescues don’t typically happen when the climber is in danger because every other climber’s life is in peril as well with a finite of supply of oxygen.

There are also questions of religion and transcendence. This story follows the recovery efforts of two West Bengali climbers, both Hindu, who believe in reincarnation. Leaving a body on Everest would be to deny a loved one’s soul the opportunity to pass through to their next life.  

More practically, dying on Everest can make it very challenging for family members to receive death certificates and life insurance benefits in certain parts of the world.

There are about 50 other fascinating points in Branch’s story as he tracks two recovery efforts, so just click on the link below already and have a look for yourself. – PAL

Source: Deliverance From 27,000 Feet”, John Branch, The New York Times (12/19/2017)

How to Handle Fantasy Ohtani

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Earlier this week, it struck me that I should see if Shohei Ohtani is available in my baseball keeper league run through ESPN.com. I was hoping ESPN added him to the system so I could pick him up before our rosters lock in February, ahead of our draft. He was not. As luck would have it, I stumbled on this article later that day about how fantasy sports services are planning to treat Ohtani, a 22-year old from Japan who signed with the Angels. The kicker is Ohtani expects to be both a pitcher and a hitter, likely serving as a DH a couple days a week – an excellent pitcher, Ohtani can also swing the bat.

This is more complicated than you’d expect. Traditionally, fantasy sports have not counted pitcher at-bats. Players are either in a hitter pool, or a pitcher pool. The hitting stats for National League pitchers (or AL pitchers when playing in NL parks) are not counted for or against the fantasy player. Ohtani presented a unique challenge. How should fantasy sports treat a player who expects to be both a good pitcher and a good hitter? There appear to be two approaches the companies are taking.

Yahoo and CBS are splitting Ohtani into two players – you can either draft Ohtani the pitcher or Ohtani the hitter. Or, I suppose, you could draft both. But the point is there will be two Ohtanis. This comes mostly down to ease for the software engineers.

The other approach is interesting, and CBS has hinted they will use it: There will only be one Ohtani, and he’ll be eligible both as a pitcher and a hitter, but his hitting stats will only count when you don’t start him as a pitcher. This makes sense – why would Ohtani’s hitting stats count, but not any other pitcher? You’d be giving Ohtani owners an extra hitter in the lineup each time he starts.

The second approach makes the most sense to me, but the first approach creates for a very interesting draft strategy. Ohtani the pitcher would go fairly early – but how would owners treat Ohtani the hitter? Ohtani the hitter might not be draftable – it’s possible he only DHs twice a week, in addition to his weekly start. If he is a phenom, then those at bats might be worth it. But who is gonna risk it to find out? Rowe. The answer is Rowe. -TOB

Source: Shohei Ohtani Is Already Breaking Fantasy Baseball”, Danny Heifetz, The Ringer (12/20/2017)

PAL: I mean – you’re play a game with “fantasy” in the title. Why wouldn’t you want to draft this guy?

Houston Hittin’ Switches

The Houston Rockets are 25-4, and looking like a real threat to the Warriors in the West this season. The Warriors have been alternately banged up (Steph, KD, and Draymond have all missed significant time), and when they haven’t been hurt they’ve been unfocused, says coach Steve Kerr. The Rockets, though, are hungry – and talented. They don’t seem to have any weaknesses, and run Coach D’Antoni’s offensive system to perfection – they lead the league in offensive efficiency, and they take an astouding 43.2 three-pointers per game, by far the most in the league (by contrast, the Warriors are 8th in the league, taking 30.6 threes per game, and the Rockets take almost ten more threes per game than the Nets, who take the second most threes in the league at 34.0 per game). But what makes the Rockets a real threat to the Warriors come May is the Rockets surprising defensive performance. The Rockets are a surprising 7th in the league in defensive efficiency, an improvement from 17th last season, allowing 4 fewer points per 100 possessions than last season.

At the heart of their defensive improvement is a strategy akin to their offensive strategy – take something that works and take it to its extreme. On defense, for Houston, this means switching every single screen, even those off the ball. They’ve created a roster of long, strong, athletic, and versatile players who can guard almost every possession in a pinch, preventing teams from taking advantage of mismatches after a switch. In this article, Dylan Murphy highlights the defensive play of Ryan Anderson, who we’ve profiled here before. Anderson has long been known as a stretch-four who can shoot the 3 and rebound a bit, but is not known for his defensive abilities. Murphy, though, argues that Anderson has become an excellent defender by defending smart. Historically, when a big gets switched onto a smaller player, the big backs off to avoid a blow-by, and then tries to use his length to contest a shot if the offensive player pulls up. But when Anderson gets switched onto a smaller player, especially a 3-point shooter, he crowds the player, making him uncomfortable, and forcing him to either take a well-contested three, or funneling him into the rest of the defense in the player tries to drive. Here’s an example of Anderson (and Capela) using this strategy after being switched onto Steph Curry back on opening night:

Curry seems very uncomfortable, and in both cases ends up taking (and missing) well-contested shots (the Anderson possession, in particular, reminds me of Kevin Love’s defense on Curry at the end of Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals). As Murphy points out,

“Although his feet aren’t moving as quickly as Curry’s, Anderson is not trying to play angles in space. Just touching Curry’s jersey gives him a frame of reference and cuts down on how far he has to slide. Despite each Curry move, Anderson doesn’t overcommit his feet. Reaching out for a touch keeps him grounded, and does not allow Curry to toss him around in space. When Curry decides to fire, the contest is right there.”

Contrast that with the way most bigs defend someone like Curry:

While Curry will be able to blow by a player like Anderson if he chooses, Murphy notes that most players, especially shooters as good as Curry, will not choose to do that all game. As Murphy argues, this is a team set up to give the Warriors a real run in May. Should be fun. By the way, the Athletic is running a 20% off sale with a free trial right now. Check it out. -TOB

Source: The Defensive Versatility of the Rockets Could be a True Threat to the Warriors”, Dylan Murphy, The Athletic (12/20/2017)

Winning by Getting to Average

Mike Trout is the best baseball player of his generation, but he has only made the playoffs once in his career (where the Angels got swept) because the team around him has been so unbelievably bad. despite a Top 10 payroll. In his 6 full seasons, Trout has averaged just over 6.1 WAA – a simple to understand stat; using all sorts of metrics, WAA measures how many wins a player created for his team over a league average player. A single-season WAA of 6.1 is extremely good, and Trout has had a couple seasons over 8.0. In other words, the team has utterly wasted his talent, averaging just 84 wins in his career. Even worse, they’ve averaged only 77 wins the last two years.

Sad Trout.

Rebuilding a bad team is a difficult task…but the Angels have been so bad, and Trout is so good, it makes things a bit easier. In August, the Angels traded for left fielder Justin Upton, who post a very good 3.5 WAR last year. For the season, Angels left fielders posted a WAA of -0.3. Last week, they picked up Ian Kinsler, who was a 0.1 WAA last year, the lowest of his career. Very average. But he replaces Angels second basemen who combined for a -3.0 WAA last year. Then they picked up former Reds shortstop Zach Cozart, who they’ll move to third, where they collectively had a -2.0 WAA last year. Add it up, and they can expect to improve by ten wins, even if Kinsler doesn’t have a bounce back, and that’s before you take into account their signing of two-way Japanese star Shohei Ohtani (see above).

Happy Trout

That’s far more than the Yankees can expect to improve in their trade for Giancarlo Stanton (6 WAA), and the Angels did it simply by turning their extreme weaknesses into mere mediocrity. -TOB

Source: The Angels Might Finally Stop Wasting the Best Baseball Player of His Generation”, Michael Baumann, The Ringer (12/19/2017)

PAL: When measured by way of WAR, I thought this quote summarized the the premise of the story perfectly:

That’s why it’s so important to understand where the Angels are starting from: These two unremarkable moves [Kinsler and Upton], paying the going rate for competent big leaguers, could very well improve the Angels as much as trading for Stanton improved the Yankees.

Obviously, having a once-in-a-generation talent like Mike Trout on your team is an advantage, but I’ve never really thought about him as a differentiator in terms of how the team can be built to improve. They don’t need more great players to get better. They need less terrible players. That should be a comparatively low bar to meet.

A League of Her Own: Mamie Johnson (9/27/35 – 12/19/17)

Did you know three women played in the Negro Leagues? I did not, and so it was very cool to learn about Mamie “Peanut” Johnson, albeit from an obituary.

After being turned away from the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (the league fictionalized in A League of Their Own), the then 17 year-old Johnson joined the Indianapolis Clowns. And she wasn’t just marketing ploy to sell tickets. As the only woman to pitch in the Negro Leagues. “Peanut” posted a 33-8 won-loss record in three seasons, not to mention batted .270, and crossed paths with the likes of Hank Aaron and Satchel Paige along the way.

During the offseason she attended NYU and later earned her nursing degree (she was a nurse for 30 years after her playing days were over). She’s gave speeches at the Library of Congress and the White House, she’s featured in not one, but two, exhibits at the Baseball Hall of Fame, and has what looks like a great stocking stuffer of a book:

Here’s to a full and inspiring life! – PAL

Source: SC native, baseball pioneer Mamie ‘Peanut’ Johnson dies”, Noeh Feit, The State (12/19/2017)

Video of the Week

PAL Song of the Week: Bing Crosby & The Andrew Sisters – “Mele Kalikimaka (Hawaiian Christmas Song)”

Tweet of the Week

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Ooh the Crunch Enhancer? Yeah, it’s a non-nutritive cereal varnish. It’s semi-permeable, it’s not osmotic, what it does is it coats and seals the flake and prevents the milk from penetrating it. 

-C. Griswold

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