Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/2/2018: The Unreliable Authorities Edition

Good morning!

1.  Another baseball ethics dispute! This is an exciting time of changes in the traditional wisdom of how to play Major League Baseball, all sparked by that new ethics bugaboo, Big Data. Now that so many aspects of the game can be measured and analyzed, tradition and assumptions rarely challenged are now under fire. One massive shift is, ironically, in the matter of shifts, radical defensive alignments in which players are not fielding their normal positions, but rather are places where computer spray charts for each batter suggest that the likelihood of fielding a ball is highest.  This can mean anything from one lonely fielder on the left side of the infield, or four outfielders.

Shifts are not new, but they used to be used on a handful of super-sluggers with dead-pull propensities, notably Ted Williams, who famously refused to bunt for easy hits to the unoccupied side of the field, and instead usually tried to hit through or over the shift. It has been estimated that the Williams Shift, combined with the player’s infamous stubbornness, cost him many points off of his lifetime batting average, especially since Williams defeating the shift by bunting might have discouraged its use.

But he was Ted Williams, the second greatest hitter of all time.  The question of whether lesser batters should bunt against shifts, for now many teams shift against everyone, has an easy answer: Of course they should.

In yesterday’s Twins-Orioles game, Twins starter Jose Berrios had  a one-hit shutout in the ninth inning. leading with one out and no runners on base. O’s rookie catcher Chance Sisco came to the plate—he has my favorite baseball name this season–and the Twins put on a shift like the one Ted Williams despised:

So, knowing he wasn’t Ted Williams and also knowing that in baseball even seven run leads aren’t a sure thing, Chance dropped down a bunt to the left side for a single. Berrios then walked two batter Davis and Manny Machado to load the bases, but finished his shutout by getting the next two outs without further disruptions.

After the game, the Twins players questioned the ethics of Sisco’s hit. Berrios said, “I just know it’s not good for baseball [to bunt] in that situation. That’s it.” Twins outfielder Eddie Rosario said, “Nobody liked that. No, no, no. That’s not a good play.” Second baseman Brian Dozier added, “Obviously, we’re not a fan of it. He’s a young kid. I could’ve said something at second base but they have tremendous veteran leadership over there. I’m sure they’ll address that. It’s all about learning. You learn up here.”

When do you “learn” not to try to win the game and get on base? For Sisco, a rookie, sending the message that shifting against him is a bad risk also is a wise career move. There is a long-standing, and stupid, unwritten rule in baseball that it is “bush league” to try to break up a no-hitter with a bunt, but extending that dubious logic to a mere shutout breaks the Stupid Meter.

2. Coffee is good for you, but be worried when you drink it. Continuing its rapid devolution into Bizarro World, just as increasing scientific evidence suggest that coffee is good for you, California is demanding that it carry a tobacco-like warning label. Last week a judge ruled that Starbucks and  other coffee companies in California must carry a cancer warning label because of a chemical produced while beans roast has been shown to cause cancer in high doses. California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act  requires companies with more than 10 employees to warn their customers about the presence of carcinogenic and toxic chemicals in their products, even in tiny amounts. Acrylamide, a chemical compound that is produced naturally during the roasting of coffee beans, is on the state’s list of chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity. The judge ruled that the coffee company had the burden of proof  to show that acrylamide posed no significant health risk to coffee drinkers, even though there is no evidence that coffee does pose a risk.

Indeed, there is growing consensus that coffee is good for you, including providing protection against type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, liver disease, liver cancer, and promoting a healthy heart. But in Nanny State California, regulations are more important than the purpose of the regulations. California law mandates warning against a food that is, on balance, healthy.

The ethics verdict: Irresponsible, an abuse of power, and incompetent.

3.  From the “Polls are untrustworthy unless you like what they say” Department. Rasmussen, the polling service that always shows conservative views stronger than its more left-leaning competitors, has a new poll showing President Trump’s approval rating at 50%, with disapproval at 49%. Let’s see if anyone but Fox News and conservative pundits highlights this. I assure you that the left-leaning polls showing the President in the 42%-38% range are cited constantly, in part because they make journalists feel that their unrestrained sabotage is working.

For the record, all “approval polls” are contrived garbage. Hard right conservatives disapprove that Trump hasn’t built a wall and signed a compromise budget; progressives disapprove of his existence, but they are lumped together in the same box. The only significance of the Rasmussen poll is that it suggests that the news media has effectively undermined its credibility, and its relentless attacks on the President only have an effect on those who hated him to begin with. This means that the news media can no longer be a watchdog on this administration. A watchdog that attacks without provocation is a liability, not a benefit.

In case you wonder, and you shouldn’t, I would never tell a pollster that I approve of Trump’s Presidency. His leadership style, rhetoric, management habits and personal character in office are destructive and divisive, as we knew they would be.

4. Wait: I thought “Nobody was calling for the repeal of the Second Amendment”! Karen Carter Peterson, Chairwoman of the Democrat Party of Louisiana, and a Vice-Chair of the national party, has called for the repeal of the Second Amendment.

Good for her: at least she’s honest. Apparently she was persuaded to out herself and her party by John Paul Stevens’ op ed, which is rather amazing. A reiteration of an old and losing minority dissent on a major Supreme Court ruling would normally be regarded as pathetic, futile, and irrelevant, because it is pathetic, futile, and irrelevant. Then again, I suppose it shouldn’t be surprisng that a party that is currently appealing to the authority of teenagers would also appeal to the authority of a retired ninety-year old judge.


Pointer and Sources (#1): NBC Sports; (#2) NPR, 

38 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/2/2018: The Unreliable Authorities Edition

    • This was one reason Ty Cobb and Ted ended up not speaking with each other. Cobb told Ted that he was obviously a skilled enough batter that he could beat the shift at will, “hitting the where they ain’t” and was an idiot not to.

  1. 2. At this rate even salads will carry a warning label in California about pesticides, et al. But they say California is the future, right? Overregulation of everything except sex and immigration. Sign me right up…

    3. These kind of polls typify the statement that “statistics is just making numbers say what you want them to say.” Then you can bury the stats that don’t say what you want and trumpet those you do. I just wonder what the media is going to do when the next Democrat is elected president.

    4. I don’t know about that. Yesterday’s dissent is frequently tomorrow’s majority opinion, and the only difference between a bad law and an unconstitutional law is five votes. We dodged the court getting a solid liberal majority for now, but Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas can’t serve forever, and what if 2020 is another 2008-style Democratic wave? I believe that the current anti-gun moral panic will burn hot, fast, and out, but what if I’m wrong?

    • If you are wrong, then what?
      Well, the Second Amendment will be repealed, but, then what?
      Well, some will turn in their guns and others won’t,  but, then what?
      Well, the government will decide the others have to give them up anyway, but, then what?
      Well, just as we do sometimes in combat areas, heavily armed forces will enter homes, lock everyone in a room, demand to know where the guns are, and confiscate them, but, then what?
      Well, Americans will meekly agree that there is no natural right to self-defense, that gun control is very important, that the Fourth Amendment is not very important, and that no one really needs guns anyway.
      Then we all will be safe.
      That’s what.

      • This is literally the most ridiculous thing I’ve read all day. In your opinion, so few Americans are patriotic enough to fight to retain their rights.
        The Constitution does not give us our rights, it guarantees our rights against government overstep. Coming into my home in an effort to remove my guns would be government overstep, and would be met with fierce resistance.
        It also assumes that those who took an oath to defend our Constitution would be willing to set that aside and forcibly remove guns. Unlikely.
        Further, your safety isn’t my primary concern. While you may choose to live your life in a place or manner that doesn’t require you to own a gun. I hunt, conceal carry, and participate in shooting sports. I’m prepared to shoot a deer, or an intruder. Unless you break into my home, you’ll be completely safe from my guns.

            • No need for an apology, Michelle. I didn’t know how to add a wink at the end of my comment. Like you, I can’t imagine the military, nor even law enforcement officers, forcibly taking guns from law abiding citizens. Nor can I imagine most gun owners meekly complying with any confiscation attempt.

              • You could always write /sarcasm. The sad fact is that a lot of folks, led by David Hogg and his buzz-cutted, unreconstructed Cuban dyke friend, would write something like that post in deadly earnest.

                • Unfortunately, this has become pretty common among my non-gun owning friends. It’s getting harder and harder to see any humor in comments about gun control. People don’t understand that rural areas (I live in north western WI) almost have to own a gun and know how to use it. And the more I try to explain, the nuttier I sound, or the more they twist it.

                  • Ever considered telling these people that adults don’t have to explain themselves to other adults, unless the other adults are wearing a black robe or signing their paychecks?

                    • I suffer from a condition that causes me to think people can be reasonable when presented with facts.

                  • “Joke ’em if they can’t take a fuck”

                    Smug urban low information progressives who would die within two weeks of the just in time supply chain breaking down are unable to comprehend rural life. They have no honor with which to have an open mind, and therefore use unethical tactics to make you look bad, twisting your words and ridiculing you.

                    Explaining to them is a waste of your time.

                    Note that there are rural traditionalists (as opposed to conservatives) who behave the same way about the urban folks.

                    • These arenthe same folks who ‘complement’ me by telling me they’d be the first to arrive at my house in the event of a zombie apocalypse. I guess the irony is wasted on them.

                    • The immediate answer is “you would not be welcome, with extreme prejudice”

                      When they get that deer in the headlights look (just before they get angry) explain that you prepared for YOUR family, who would be jeopardized if everyone else showed up. IF they are concerned, start preparing for themselves. Otherwise, FOSF.

                      (Introducing my new acronym: FOSF, for ‘Fuck Off, Snow Flake’ in honor of all the teens who object to clear backpacks violating THEIR rights after they advocated violating mine. Coming soon to a blog near you)

  2. Also happened at Astros at Rangers. Forget who the Ranger batter was, but the ‘Stros pulled everybody to the first base side. The grounder base hit went where the short-stop should have been and the fielder had to make the play. And, this was not a bunt…the batter was swinging away.

  3. “According to the State of California, this product is contains chemicals known to cause cancer….”

    “Yes, but this is America!”

  4. If coffee were a predicting factor to cancer, don’t you think it would have come out by now? Given that some people never drink any, while others seem to drink little else. Cali is a riot.

    The gun control lobby is all about taking guns away. This has always been true. They are out in the open about this now. Good.

  5. 1. In the same “Big Data” Baseball era, it has also given the manager a new excuse. In yesterday’s Yanks & Blue Jays game Aaron Boone walked a batter to load the bases & the next batter hit a grand slam. When questioned he laid it all off to “ the numbers” & said he was just following the “data” that said one batter was less successful against that pitcher. With analytics being the rage, from everything to dictating the lineup to shifts to probabilities, Managers will never have to make gut decisions. Sports writers will go mad trying to place blame somewhere.

    • Boonie wasn’t being honest, though. “The numbers” dictated pitching to Donaldson. He was using old-fashioned concepts like alleged clutch-hitting skill to justify walking Donaldson. The numbers also say that any tine you walk the bases loaded, it’s a bad risk,

      • When one is faced with a situation where the statistical rules say that even the optimal strategy has a very low chance of succeeding, human nature…dare I say “honor”, dictates that higher risk strategies with very high pay-offs are the appropriate option to select.

    • “Managers will never have to make gut decisions.”

      I disagree.

      The number crunchers analyze patterns. Hypothetically, once all the numbers are crunched to perfection and every manager knows what the *most likely outcome* of any pitcher – batter face off is, we face two options:

      1) Play what the numbers say to play, in which case, if every manager does this every time, baseball will boils down to a pure odds gamble.

      Or, what I think really happens when everyone knows the patterns and rules that the patterns follow is that everyone adapts to the new “meta” and changes styles to break those patterns:

      2) Managers find the areas where the patterns aren’t so predictable and start playing the game from those angles.

      Occasionally I’ll see some internet article about “playing the stock market with 5 simple rules” or something like a “calendar of when to buy certain stocks and then dump them as they follow seasonal patterns”…. Except, capitalizing on those “Tricks” ONLY works if the entire market of investors do not know those rules. Just as soon as they all know those patterns, they adapt their behavior to theoretically capitalize the most on those patterns.

      The only thing is: once the *entire* market notionally follows the rules that the patterns dictate, an entirely new set of patterns develops, and new rules predicting those patterns must be discovered.

      Same thing will happen in baseball. I don’t think it boils down to becoming a boringly predictable odds game… in some aspects it will…in other aspects it will make the game require even greater finesse especially in managers and players trying to out-guess which paradigm of rules any other manager or player is planning on following to best harness the patterns they expect to see and confuse their opponent’s preferred paradigm…or “get inside their OODA loop”.

      OR, the patterns will reveal an angle where rules need to be adjusted.

      • When sabrmetrics discovered that winning players had an “optimal” on base percentage, all that told young baseball players is that by the time they go to the pro’s, their number one skill will have to be on base percentage.

        When the market is saturated by players that all generally have “winning” on base percentages, the game will again switch back to looking for power hitters where that edge *on top of* the on base percentage make them a little bit better than the rest, or pitchers who can consistently marginally reduce the on base likelihood of any batter who faces them.

  6. Aren’t shifts bush league? Are they playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played? I don’t think so. It’s not easy playing by the book when the book is unwritten.

    • There’s nothing in the Rules that requires infielders to play on their bases. Outfielders always have played back for sluggers, in for light-hitters. That’s a shift. So is infielders playing in close when a bunt is expected. When Orlando Cepeda was a DH and running on two ruined knees, infielders played way, way back on him because he was so slow. They did the same with catcher Ernie Lombardi in the 30s-40s…he was sometimes thrown out on singles to the outfield.

      • But seriously, I wonder whether moving a third baseman to where the second baseman should play and the short stop to short right field and the second baseman into the hole is sufficiently manly. It’s kind of chicken shit, when you think of it, that guys aren’t studly enough to adequately field their positions. Kind of like having an extra outfielder in girl’s, emphasis on girl’s, softball. Just playing devil’s advocate to a certain extent. Moving in and out isn’t really the same as the extreme shifts they’re using so much these days. If I were managing against a shift, I’d tell Babe Ruth to keep bunting into the abandoned space until the opposition stopped doing it and then let him go back to swinging away.

  7. 3. Your argument here is incoherent. It can be summarized thusly:

    An outlier polling agency found a higher approval rating for an unpopular president than all the other polling agencies, and this should be news even though they always find higher ratings for Republican politicians than the other polling agencies, and the fact that it isn’t news shows the media is hopelessly biased, but polls don’t mean anything anyway, and the only reason so many people say they disapprove of Trump is because the media has made them disapprove of Trump, but I disapprove of Trump.


    Either Rasmussen is a reliable polling agency as far as polling agencies or it isn’t. You may think all poling agencies are unreliable, but that doesn’t change the fact that some polling methodologies are better than others, and if Rasmussen is the outlier it’s likely their methodology simply isn’t as good as the others. You can’t blame the media for Trump’s low approval rating and then bring up perfectly good reasons to disapprove of Trump that everyone else who disapproves of Trump agrees with. This is simply grandstanding; Yeah, I disapprove of Trump, but for valid reasons, not like all those other icky people who disapprove of him because they are liberals.

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