Ps2: Not Just A Video Game System

The Production of Molecular Positronium
Cassidy, D. B.; Mills, Jr., A. P.; Nature, 2007, 449, 195-197.

From the abstract:

It has been known for many years that an electron and its antiparticle, the positron, may together form a metastable hydrogenlike atom, known as positronium or Ps. In 1946, Wheeler speculated that two Ps atoms may combine to form the dipositronium molecule (Ps2). … Because Ps has a short lifetime and it is difficult to obtain low energy positrons in large numbers, Ps2 has not previously been observed unambiguously. Here we show that when intense positron bursts are implanted into a thin film of porous silica, Ps2 is created on the internal pore surfaces. This result experimentally confirms the existence of the Ps2 molecule and paves the way for further multipositronium work.

I just thought it was amazing that positronium has existed and had an elemental symbol (Ps) for the last 60 years and yet, as a fairly advanced student of chemistry, I had never heard of it.  These Ps2 molecules only exist for 0.4 nanoseconds before the electrons and positrons annihilate each other, so it’s not the most stable of systems, but it’s still pretty cool that its possible to create an atom that has a weight less than 1/1000th of a hydrogen atom.

A summary of the article.

Haven’t We Been Over This?

When I played hockey in high school, I used to marvel at how much time we spent practicing breakouts from our defensive zone. It seemed like every year we installed the same breakout scheme, and then spent all year practicing it over and over until I wanted to scream, “OK, we get it!! Enough already!”

Then, today comes this note from the Wild All Access blog:

It’s Thursday morning in Joe Louis Arena, and we’re watching the Red Wings’ morning skate. Coach Mike Babcock works on breakouts a good part of the time – the Red Wings base their defense on the idea that if you get the puck out of the defensive zone quickly, the other team has less opportunity to score.

I guess I shouldn’t have complained, even the pros are still running those same drills.

The Mind of Dwayne Hoover: A Graveyard for Lunatics

This is another entry in “The Mind of Dwayne Hoover”. If you’re wondering what that means, check out the introductory post for a full list of entries in this series. Enjoy!

Graveyard for Lunatics

 

A Graveyard for Lunatics by Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury is one of my favorite authors, in high school I read a few of his books and a lot of his short stories, but it has been quite a while since I read anything by him. I was recently recommended some of his later work, so when I was at the library I found a book of his that I hadn’t read yet and had a go at it. A Graveyard for Lunatics follows a screenwriter who’s Halloween becomes eerily disrupted by the appearance of a dead body. This is only the beginning though, soon people are disappearing, and his friends, both current and former, find themselves in danger.

Our narrator and his friend Roy have always been fascinated by fear. When they were young it was monsters and scary movies that frightened them. They pursued that fear into movie-making careers, where their love of that thrill is the motivation behind all of their work. They are finally working on their dream project, a horror movie, but they need a monster that will live up to their memories of their childhood fear. Through an anonymous tip, the perfect monster for their horror flick is discovered in the flesh late at night hidden in the back corner of a Hollywood diner. Inspired, the two childhood friends work themselves into a creative frenzy recreating this monster.

They are not the only people on the lot at Maximus Films fascinated with fear. Someone else is causing fear and panic by dredging up memories of the late, great founder of the studio. Pretty soon the current studio heads are running scared, trying to control the efforts of the mystery manipulator while our narrator and his friend observe their panicked moves. The two of them are surprised when they unveil their beautiful, terrible creation only to find they have incited more fear in the studio heads with their creation. It results in both of them getting fired and Roy being run off the lot and into hiding.

Now the fear is focused on the narrator, and yet he thrives under these conditions, producing a screenplay that necessitates an overhaul of an entire movie in order to live up to his grand ending (he got rehired after the initial firing). This man’s inspiration is one of several reactions th the fear that is spreading through Maximus Films. The bigwigs lash out, becoming irritable and almost sinister, while, on the fringes of the story, an autograph seeker is paralyzed into inaction by his fear. Perhaps because of his childhood affinity for this thrill, the narrator provides some of his best work in this situation, gaining more and more information about who is rattling the cages of everyone at the studio.

The ending had some twists (some of them more obvious than others). Normally, I enjoy twists at the end but in this story I wasn’t really with them. I didn’t feel like they fit with what I had learned about the characters. That was my one complaint about this book. Some of my favorite writing of Bradbury’s is about the necessity and wonder of fear. Something Wicked This Way Comes approaches it from a child’s eye view and is my favorite novel by Bradbury. Also excellent are the short stories Pillar of Fire and Usher II which are both odes to Edgar Allen Poe, the master of literary fear. This book didn’t quite reach the level of my favorite Bradbury stuff, but it had enough good writing that it was certainly an enjoyable read.

Wins, Losses, and Saves (A New Look)

Is the save a misleading statistic? It is certainly governed by a strange set of rules. Most simply stated, a save is awarded to the pitcher who finishes a game (who isn’t in line for the win) who entered the game with a lead of three runs or less unless there are less than three outs remaining when the pitcher entered. Then you have to consider runners on base and outs in the inning to determine whether a save should be awarded. This doesn’t even bring up the elusive three-inning save, but the point is that the save could be considered a somewhat overengineered statistic. Personally, I’m in favor of overengineered statistics (just wait, you’ll see) but given that current bullpen usage is designed to maximize save opportunities for the designated “closer”, the number of saves across the board has become inflated and almost the sole property of designated closers.

There is a growing sentiment which holds that the save, in the current era, doesn’t necessarily measure what it claims to. For example, consider the Twins game of July 29, 2007:

Neshek enters with one out in the 8th inning, Twins lead 3-1, one runner on, one out. He gets Ryan Garko to ground into a double play to get out of the inning.

Lew Ford hits a homer before Nathan enters in the ninth with a three-run lead. He doesn’t allow a run and is awarded a save for his efforts.

Now, both pitchers were effective, but one could argue that the situation that Neshek stepped into was more crucial to the outcome of the game, with the tying run at the plate Neshek ended the threat. That seems deserving of a save as well.

Inspired by this situation, and borrowing a bit from a Baseball Prospectus article, I set out to generate some new criteria for bullpen performance making use of Win Probability Added (WPA, which can be found at fangraphs.com). Going forward, these criteria will be used to award a save (remember, I promised overengineering):

  • WPA of 10.0 or higher.
  • Highest WPA of relief pitchers not earning a win.
  • If starter has WPA greater than or equal to 10.0, the win goes to the starter, otherwise, highest WPA (over 10.0) gets the win.

You may notice that for relief pitchers, there’s not much difference betwixt a win and a save, so I’ve combined the two under the heading Relief Win in the table at the end of this article.

This method makes it a little more difficult to determine save opportunities so its difficult to see if someone is converting opportunities at a high rate, or just receiving a lot of chances. So, let’s check out the opposite of a Relief Win, the Relief Loss:

  • Loss goes to the lowest WPA less than or equal to -10.0
  • Blown save awarded if WPA less than or equal to -10.0 and lead is lost or goes from tied to behind when the pitcher is in the game.

Using these two stats (Relief Wins and Relief Losses) we can get a rough percentage of how a relief pitcher has affected a teams wins/losses. Collecting all this data for the 2007 Minnesota Twins bullpen gives the data below (+G = WPA over 0.0, ++G = WPA over 9.9, –G = WPA under -9.9). The “Score” column gives more positive weight to higher WPA and Relief Wins, while also punishing lower WPA and Relief Losses.

Starter G +G ++G –G RW-RL Score
Joe Nathan 62 54 23 7 18-7 16.5
Pat Neshek 74 56 20 5 9-4 12.3
Matt Guerrier 69 48 13 6 6-6 5.5
Nick Blackburn 3 3 2 0 1-0 1.6
Ramon Ortiz 18 12 1 0 1-0 1.5
Carmen Cali 24 17 2 1 1-1 1.4
Glen Perkins 13 8 1 0 0-0 0.7
Kevin Slowey 2 1 1 0 0-0 0.4
Jason Miller 4 3 0 0 0-0 0.2
Matt Garza 1 1 0 0 0-0 0.1
Jesse Crain 18 12 3 3 1-3 -0.4
Juan Rincon 59 38 4 6 1-6 -1.6
Julio DePaula 12 8 0 2 0-1 -0.9
Dennys Reyes 50 30 1 4 0-2 -1.2

No surprise that Nathan, Neshek, and Guerrier are the top three, but it’s pretty surprising that there is such a dropoff after that. Nick Blackburn has only pitched in three games, but well enough to earn one Relief Win (a save) and lead the middling pack of relievers (Miller, Perkins, Cali, Ortiz). Rincon and Reyes have been pretty bad, and they’ve gotten lots of chances to prove it (again, not groundbreaking, but it shows that the method holds some water). Recently it seems that Neshek and Guerrier have been getting used a lot, but looking at these numbers, there aren’t many effective options in an important situation.

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Series Preview in Blog: Kansas City Royals (Round 5)

Minnesota Twins (70-73) @ Kansas City Royals (62-80)

The Twins enter the final six series of the season looking to finish with a record better than .500 for the seventh straight campaign. They haven’t helped themselves out too much recently, they snapped a six-game losing streak on Sunday, winning the final game of their weekend series in Chicago. The Royals are currently riding a five-game losing streak of their own, which has been excruciating because they only need a single win to avoid another 100-loss season. The Royals lead the season series 8 to 7 so far. The Twins have a 33-38 record on the road, while the Royals have identical 31-40 records at home and on the road.

In the last series betwixt these two teams, the Twins managed to win two of four which was enough to keep the Royals from having a winning record in three straight months, something the Royals haven’t done since 1994. After that series, Baseball Prospectus calculated the Royals as still having a chance at the division title, although there is clearly some funny math going on there so I’m not sure that I trust it.

Royals Review is remembering (in two parts, one and two) Terrence Long’s 2005 season and Buddy Bell’s addiction to his presence in the lineup. Here’s the thing: Long appeared in 137 games that year and amassed a VORP of 6.7! If they’re still discussing this two years later, how long will Twins fans be discussing Nick Punto’s 2007 (already appeared in 133 games with a -28.0 VORP)?

Pitching matchups for the series begin with Boof Bonser against Billy Buckner. First of all, it’s not that Billy Buckner. His full name is William Jennings Buckner, but if we go with Billy, we can pair him with Boof Bonser and have fun with alliteration. Unfortunately, I already did that last time with Brian Bannister and Boof Bonser, so instead, let’s look at the Twins record against alliterative starters (with same first letter in first and last names). The Twins have played 10 games against starters like this and have scored 5.30 runs per nine innings (opposed to 4.62 against everyone else). The list consists of Brian Bannister, Chris Capuano, Josh Johnson, Mike Maroth, Mike Mussina, and Virgil Vasquez. Buckner looks to be a part of the rotation next season, and he made his first major league start last Tuesday against Texas, he allowed six runs in four innings. Boof makes his sixth(!) start against the Royals this season, he’s been pretty average against them posting a 4.91 ERA and 1.63 WHIP in his previous five starts.

Tuesday brings Scott Baker vs. Kyle Davies. Both of these starters had their best start of the season against their opponent this series. Scott Baker’s near-perfect gem combined with his other start against the Royals (8 innings, 1 run) has to have him looking forward to this one. Kyle Davies makes his fourth start against the Twins. There are 13 pitchers the Twins have faced three times or more, and Davies falls right in the middle of the pack.

Pitcher ERA WHIP
Carmona 1.45 1.10
Sabathia 1.51 0.90
Bannister 2.05 1.00
Jered Weaver 2.11 0.80
J. Vazquez 2.51 1.05
Washburn 3.26 1.34
Byrd 3.41 1.07
Davies 4.10 1.17
Lackey 4.95 1.45
Contreras 5.12 1.71
Danks 5.63 1.56
Odalis Perez 6.43 1.64
Garland 9.35 1.79

The finale will pit Carlos Silva against Gil Meche, who has been the Simpsons movie of the Royals rotation.