Month: September 2020
by Ken Arneson
2020-09-07 23:30

In its ordinary usage, the word “robustness” is an noun that describes the state of being strong and healthy. But in the tech world, the word “robustness” has a more precise and subtle meaning: robustness means having the ability to stay strong and healthy despite errors and failures of various kinds. In a robust system, a weakness in one or multiple parts of the system does not cause the system as a whole to fail.

A well engineered technical system tests for errors at every step, and has contingency plans to handle those errors. There are limits on this, of course. There are tradeoffs between robustness and cost. Sometimes it’s cheaper to build or buy a new system than to fix a broken one. Other times, it’s better to build in safeguards against errors, because an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

The various crises of the year 2020 have exposed a number of major failures of robustness in the American system. In normal times, the system of free markets handles a lot of the robustness required in America. If there is some part of our system that is weak and/or lacking, then in a free market, the opportunity to profit from that weakness should create incentive enough for someone to come along and fix the problem.

What happens when there are problems that free market does not or cannot handle well? What provides robustness for America when the free market has errors and failures? That’s what government is for, or at least, that’s what you’d think.

The American government is designed to be robust. It divides power among three independent branches, so that if one of the branches fails, the other two branches can correct it.

But what happens if the three branches fail to operate independently? What happens if they instead become dependent, where an error in one branch, rather than being fixed by the other branches, gets spread and amplified into the branches instead?

In that case, America loses robustness. When the free market fails, and American government lacks independent branches, errors can happen that cause the whole system to fail. In that case, it requires someone brave to step up and be independent once again, to point out the errors, take steps to fix them, and right the course.

A baseball season is (usually) long. Slumps and injuries and errors will happen. Part of what it takes to win a baseball title is the robustness of the team roster to overcome those setbacks. If one player is in a slump, another player needs to get in a groove to compensate. If someone is hurt, the backup needs to come in and play well to hold the tide.

The A’s starting pitching has been a little shaky this year. So Chris Bassitt’s 6-0 shutout victory over Houston in the first game of their five-game series was just the kind of thing the A’s needed. Bassitt was not good in his previous start against Houston in the doubleheader last Saturday, feeling he had not prepared properly for that game, so he was determined to correct his mistake and correct the problem. He was excellent, pitching seven innings, yielding seven hits and no walks on his way to the victory. It was just the kind of performance an organization needs to avoid a collapse when all sorts of things seem to be going wrong.

by Ken Arneson
2020-09-06 23:30

The three best baseball players in the world right now are Mike Trout, Fernando Tatis Jr., and Mookie Betts. All three of these players play in western divisions.

So in a year when western teams only play other western teams, that means a western team like the A’s which does not have one of these three players has to face these three players a lot. 16 out of the 60 games the A’s play this season will be against these three players. That’s 26.7% of the schedule. Ordinarily, it would be between 12 and 16%.

When you play 26.7% of your games against the best three players in the world, those three players are going to beat you sometimes. By themselves, even if the rest of their teams aren’t as good as they are.

The A’s played 10 games against the Angels this year. They went 6-4. Two of those four losses you could directly attribute to Mike Trout beating them. They just lost two of three to the Padres, including Sunday’s 5-3 loss, and both of those losses you could say were a direct result of Fernando Tatis, Jr. beating them.

So four of the A’s 14 losses this year, or 28.6%, are directly caused by two of the three best players on the planet. The A’s have 23 games left to play. Only three, against the Dodgers and Mookie Betts, are against those three great players. That’s 13.0%. They are now done with Trout and Tatis.

So ordinarily, you might say it gets easier from here. But the A’s are getting banged up, with Matt Chapman coming out of Sunday’s game with hip tendonitis, after Marcus Semien has already missed several games with a side injury. Even if those two players aren’t among the three best players in the world, they were in the top 20 last year, if not this year, and so if those two are out, it gets easier for the other team, too.

There’s a five-game series against the Astros starting Monday. These five games will probably determine who wins the AL West in 2020. It’s not a good time for the A’s to be hurt, but the Astros are a bit banged up, too.

It’s been a year of attrition. It could all fall apart at any moment, off the field or on. When the A’s had a positive COVID test last week, it was difficult to know if they would even make it through the season. Two of the A’s best relievers this year, Liam Hendriks and Jake Diekman, are both at high risk for COVID complications. If the disease had spread beyond just Daniel Mengden, those two players, the most consistently good members of the most consistent part of the team, might have dropped out. The A’s are suffering a rash of injuries right at the most critical juncture of the regular season. If those injuries cost them some games against the Astros in the next few days, they could end up losing a division that they’ve led all season.

But it’s a blessing to be able to be worried about that, when the alternative is to be worried about a deadly disease, and record heat, and unbreathable air. It’s a blessing to still even be here.

by Ken Arneson
2020-09-05 23:30

Once upon a time, there was a bad college essay that began by quoting Wikipedia:

The term “Whac-a-mole” (or “Whack-a-mole”) is used colloquially to depict a situation characterized by a series of repetitious and futile tasks, where the successful completion of one just yields another popping up elsewhere.

This is either laziness, or what you do when you were planning to pull and all-nighter, but you fell asleep instead, and you have an hour before class to pull some crap together before class.

In my case, it’s sort of the latter, as I was planning to write this essay Saturday evening after dinner, but at 8:19PM, our power went out. It stayed out until after midnight, by which point I had gone to bed.

This is the third time in the last month or so that we’ve lost power. The first one was a planned, rolling blackout. The past two have been from some sort of technical malfunctions, the manner of which we have not been informed. This most recent power loss was also the first one that happened after sunset, so we were left completely in the dark.

But that’s what life is like right now. Maybe there’s a pandemic, and you have to take precautions. Maybe you take precautions, and someone in your family gets sick anyway. Maybe you take a test and that person isn’t sick with the pandemic disease, but you still need to be careful and air out your home and isolate everybody. Maybe once you isolate, there’s a fire somewhere, and smoke, and you need to need to stop airing out your home, and seal everything up. Maybe after that there’s a record heat wave, so you have to cover all your windows up to keep the heat out. You get something into a manageable state of affairs, and then the power goes out. Something else is always popping up.

The A’s aren’t immune to that phenomenon. Just as my family member got sick and we had to isolate (all better now thank goodness), the A’s had Daniel Mengden test positive for COVID-19, and so everyone had to isolate, and then a whole cascade of other issued followed. The A’s only played two games in a week and a half, and were quite rusty at the plate on Friday, but seemed to fix that problem on Saturday, with a few exceptions.

Every part of the A’s team has had to play a bit of whac-a-mole this season, where one part struggles, and the other part has to pick up the slack while that part gets fixed, except for the bullpen. The bullpen, led by Liam Hendriks, has been pretty much rock solid all year. Jake Diekman has discovered a new, nastier slider, which has made him a much more effective, almost dominant, left-handed arm out of the pen. Joakim Soria and Yusmeiro Petit has been quite consistently good, as well. Even the back of the bullpen, with Lou Trivino, J.B. Wendelken, T.J. McFarland, and Jordan Weems. Not a single one of those names has an ERA over 3.00.

The rest of the team, however, has had success come and go. None of the starting pitchers–Frankie Montas, Jesús Luzardo, Sean Manaea, Chris Bassitt, and Mike Fiers– has been consistently good. They’ve all had good days and bad days. Thankfully, not all of them have been bad at the same time, so the A’s have avoided any long losing streaks. They’ve been good enough to keep the team close enough through the middle innings to let the strong bullpen take over.

When the season began, it looked like Fiers and Manaea were broken, while Montas and Bassitt were dominating. But Bassitt has been a bit rocky lately. Luzardo alternates between being unhittable and struggling, sometimes in the same game, like Friday’s game. Montas had a bit of a small injury a few weeks ago, and ever since then, he’s been broken.

Meanwhile, however, the dominant Sean Manaea, the one who threw a no-hitter against a very good Red Sox lineup a couple years ago, suddenly returned in this game. At the beginning of this year, he was having trouble hitting 90mph with his fastball, but here, he was touching 95mph, and sitting 93mph the whole game long. What a difference that makes! He did give up a run on one inning, but he was never hit hard– a couple of the baserunners in that inning were from a bunt single and a bloop.

Offensively, only Mark Canha and Robbie Grossman have been consistently good all year. Stephen Piscotty has been clutch, making contact and getting hits with runners in scoring position, something nearly everyone else in the lineup has struggled to do. Matt Chapman and Matt Olson have both hit for a lot of power, but have had long stretches where they haven’t hit anything at all, and have swung through a lot of fastballs in the zone that they usually punish. Olson seemed to snap out of his funk in this game with three hits, but Chapman struck out five times, despite being ahead in the count during many of his at bats, simply because he was flat out swinging through fastballs inside the zone. His timing and/or mechanics are off somehow. Ramón Laureano started off the season in quite a groove, but then got ejected and suspended by fighting the Astros, has also been in a similar funk ever since. But he homered in this game on a down-and-in fastball, so maybe that problemed has been whacked.

But despite all these ups and downs, the A’s find themselves after their 8-4 win on Saturday with a 3.5-game lead over the Astros coming into the series finale vs the Padres. They’ve been one of the best teams in the league despite not having everyone playing well at the same time. You just would like to see one of those damn moles stay down once they’re whacked, so we can finally see how great things can be if everything functions smoothly at the same time, just for once.

Not Ready for Prime Time Players
by Ken Arneson
2020-09-04 23:30

For the Oakland A’s, the 2020 regular season re-began on Friday, September 4, at home against the San Diego Padres.

The A’s had only played two games since last Wednesday. They had two games postponed last Thursday and Friday for Black Lives Matter strikes. They played a doubleheader on Saturday against the Astros, and lost both games. Then on Sunday morning, Daniel Mengden had a COVID-19 test come back positive, and the A’s had to shut down, isolate, and stop playing, in order to keep the disease from spreading any further.

So when the A’s came back to play, they had only played one day in a week and a half. It was to be expected that they would not be sharp, and in particular that their bats would be rusty.


The San Diego Padres are a very good team. They have restored their classic brown uniforms. They are fun, youthful, and energetic.

They can bash home runs, and grand slams if you are not careful. Fernando Tatis, Jr. is the Mike Trout of the next generation.

And to the extent that the Padres had any weaknesses, they made fifteen gazillion trades at the trade deadline to fill any holes they had. Fifteen gazillion trades! Even that is fun!

If you are expecting any story about one of their games to focus on their opponent, you need to get a wider perspective. A lot of bad things are happening in the world, and to the extent that baseball is a relief from those problems, the San Diego Padres are the best thing about the 2020 MLB season.

Wake up, people! It’s prime time! The San Diego Padres are here. They are for real. If you are not ready to match wits with the new superstar, if you are not prepared to play at the top of your game, the San Diego Padres will chew up the scenery with you in it, and spit you out, leaving you a forgotten bit player buried in the end credits never to be seen again.

So that’s it, we’ve come to the end, 7-0. I want to thank special pitching guest Zach Davies, Trent Grisham, who had three hits, plus the home run hitters: Fernando Tatis, Jr., Manny Machado, and Luis Campusano, which was his first major league hit!

It’s been a great show! Good night, everybody!

Also appearing:

Laureano 0-3, 1BB
La Stella 0-4
Chapman 0-4
Canha 1-4
Olson 0-1, 3BB
Grossman 1-4
Piscotty 0-3
Machín 1-3
Murphy 1-3

Luzardo 4.2IP, 4R
Wendelken 1.1IP, 0R
Minor 1IP, 2R
McFarland 1IP, 1R
Weems 1IP, 0R

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This is Ken Arneson's blog about baseball, brains, art, science, technology, philosophy, poetry, politics and whatever else Ken Arneson feels like writing about
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