Swing State Pres

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Yankees at the One-Quarter Mark: Hanging In, But The Next 40 Are The Real Key (May 16, 2014)

The Yankees season is slowly blowing up, a bomb going often roughly every other day.  Three starting pitchers are down, one for the season and the other two more or less indefinitely.  And now Carlos Beltran, who, on paper, became the Yankees best hitter the day he signed, which was the day after Robbie Cano signed with Seattle, is gone for a while as well.

But, through the wonders of parity and the Tommy John-surgery epidemic, the Yankees remain in the hunt.  Whether they can stay there depends a great deal on how they fare over the next 40 games, limping along with Vidal Nuno, David Phelps and Chase Whitley as three-fifths of their rotation.

How have they managed?  Largely because of two players that even the most die-hard of Yankee fans had not even heard of one year ago, Masahiro Tanaka and Yangervas Solarte.  They have easily been the team’s best pitcher and hitter, respectively, and have dragged the club to two games over .500 at the 40-game mark.

Let’s break it down, referencing my pre-season predictions here as a base: http://www.borntorunthenumbers.com/2014/04/yankees-2014-preview-is-it-2009-again-i.html

At that time I cautioned that while the Yanks had a treasure trove of new stars, this was not 2009 all over again, and I projected 89 wins based on my model.  I said they would have a Team OPS of .747 and it is at .738 after 40 games.  Not bad.  I thought they would have a 3.85 Team ERA and it is somewhat worse at 4.18.  All in all, pretty close, and they are 21-19 when I thought they would be 22-18. 

BATTERS

The batters, as I said, have been on target overall.  It may seem like they are not hitting much, but the fact is, I never thought they would be true Bronx Bombers to begin with.  I pointed out that on the 2009 champions, Johnny Damon had the lowest OPS of any starter, at .854, which was higher than the highest OPS recorded by a Yankee last year (Carlos Beltran’s .830 as a Cardinal).  So I thought the Yanks were simply an “OK” hitting team, and indeed, that’s what they’ve been.


Plan
40 Game

2014 OPS
2014 OPS
 McCann
0.800
0.621
 Beltran
0.830
0.715
 Roberts
0.700
0.663
 Johnson
0.710
0.770
 Ellsbury
0.800
0.771
 Teixeira
0.800
0.934
 Jeter
0.725
0.639
 Gardner
0.770
0.732
 Soriano
0.800
0.691
 Solarte
0.700
0.907
 Subs
0.688
0.836
 Pitchers
0.200
0.308
 TOTAL
0.747
0.738

They’ve gotten there in a bit of an odd way.  All that great talent they brought in – McCann, Beltran, Ellsbury, Roberts and Johnson, have been pretty disappointing, with only Kelly Johnson exceeding my OPS expectations (even while losing his starting job to Solarte).  The returnees – Teixeira, Jeter, Gardner and Soriano – have been mixed but collectively off.  (Tex has actually been superb.)  What has kept them on track has been the subs, most notably Solarte but throw in Ichiro and John Ryan (“Don’t Call Me J.R.”) Murphy, who have all excelled.  Looked at the batters broken down this way:


Plan
40 Game

2014 OPS
2014 OPS
Newcomers
0.775
0.707
Returnees
0.774
0.735
Subs
0.688
0.836
Pitchers
0.200
0.308
Total
0.747
0.738


Pretty amazing!  This should all level out a bit over the season – the Yankees badly need those “newcomers” to perform to expectation.  They have 44% of team plate appearances thus far, as expected, so they represent nearly half the offense.  It will be fascinating to see if Solarte is the real deal.  (And if he is, all the more reason to buy out ARod and end his days in pinstripes.)

PITCHERS

It is no secret the starting pitching has been disastrous, but the relief pitching has been nothing short of spectacular.  And for a bullpen that lost Mariano, as well as Boone Logan, a strong bullpen was hardly pre-ordained.  Dellin Betances has been lights out, better than Joba in 2007, and Adam Warren has stepped into the 8th inning role seamlessly.  Not to mention David Robertson, who has not pitched that much, but compiled Mo-like stats in his 10 outings.


Plan
40 Game

2014 ERA
2014 ERA
 Sabathia
4.00
5.28
 Tanaka
3.50
2.17
 Nova
3.50
8.27
 Kuroda
3.50
4.62
 Pineda
4.00
1.83
 Nuno

6.43
 Phelps
4.50
4.09
 Robertson
2.20
1.74
 Warren
3.50
1.54
 Kelley
4.20
3.52
 Claiborne
4.50
2.31
 Thornton
3.50
5.40
 Betances

1.61
 Other
3.85
8.33

But the season rests on the starting pitching.  Ivan Nova is gone for the year, Michael Pineda is out for another month, and C.C. Sabathia is on the shelf with no return date set.  The Yanks thought they had depth – they had four pitchers competing for the fifth spot in spring training, which Pineda won.  But of the three who lost out in that competition, Adam Warren is entrenched in the bullpen, Vidal Nuno has by and large been a disaster, and only David Phelps has been adequate.  Chase Whitley had a nice, albeit brief, debut against the Mets, but he is hardly a given going forward.  Do I smell Cliff Lee on the horizon?  But for what trade bait?  The Yanks have little to offer from their minor league system.

Breaking it down further (in the chart below) summarizes this quite nicely.  The starters have underperformed (aside from Tanaka), and their substitutes have been worse.  The relievers have been amazing, though the replacement relievers (Aceves, Daley, LeRoux, Cabral, Billings et al) have been simply dreadful in their 22 1/3 innings.  They resemble Dean Anna, the former backup infielder who gave up 2 runs in one inning of mop up work in a blowout.


Plan
40 Game

2014 ERA
2014 ERA
Starters
3.68
4.15
Sub Starters
4.50
4.94
Relievers
3.58
2.31
Sub relievers
3.75
10.08
TOTAL
3.85
4.18

So the Yankees have held up after 40 games.  Presumably by midseason they will have a stronger rotation, with either the return of Pineda and an (injury-free) Sabathia (though he was pretty terrible in the early going) or some replacement(s) from the major league trade deadline group.  But if they are 10 games out, it may be too late by then.  Unless parity continues to reign!

Monday, May 5, 2014

April Month in Review: Republican Key Campaign Themes Under Direct Assault (May 5, 2014)

The Republican Congressional campaigns this November are being run on two basic themes:  1) Obamacare is a disaster and emblematic of a Federal government that is out of control, both economically and in encroaching on the “rights” of private citizens, and 2) Obama’s economic policies are failing and we are stuck in a rut accordingly.  (The GOP knows that Benghazi and Ukraine are not terribly important to swing voters.)

Both tenets have had currency in the marketplace, and if the election had been timed for November, 2013 instead of November, 2014, it is highly likely the mid-terms would have been the rout many still expect.

But the last month has been sobering for the Republicans.  Obamacare soared past 8 million in enrollment, well exceeding the 7 million goal, and payment data, trickling out from private insurers, is validating premium payment rates in the 85-90% range.  And last month’s unemployment report showed a robust 288,000 new job figure and the unemployment rate dropping to 6.3%.  All of a sudden, the scenario I put forth last month looks ever more likely; you will recall my conceptual “formula” to guarantee that Democrats hold the Senate and not lose many, if any, House seats:

       Meet goal of 7 million sign-ups for Obamacare
       Unemployment rate drops below 6%
       Obama approval rating at 50% or above

The first box has been checked, the second box is suddenly far more likely, though not a laydown (we’ve seen the economic promise of spring turn into summer stalls before).  Will the third follow?  Not as yet (as we’ll see below), but possibly in time.

On the Republican presidential side, the buzz around Jeb Bush has ramped up in the wake of the Chris Christie implosion.  The “will he or won’t he” dance is in full flower, as well as press pieces finding the skeletons in his closet (big-time consulting to Lehman Brothers, for goodness sake).  The sudden potential for yet another Bush-Clinton brawl is setting off the predictable frenzy.  (And for you generational dynasty fans, there is already talk of Chelsea versus George P. a decade or two from now.)

One thing for sure…this is not a great time to be a Tea Party devotee.  The Cliven Bundy spectacle was the latest debacle, as FOX News’s Glenn Beck gave Bundy the biggest embrace one can imagine in his standoff over land-use rights with the Federal Government, only to recoil in the face of his Donald Stirling-esque pronouncements on race (“Let me tell you about the Negro…”).  Not a good scene for those on the far right.

Meanwhile, for the Democrats, status quo reigns when it comes to 2016.  Hillary remains a 66/12 preference over Joe Biden.  Chelsea’s pregnancy set off an amazing round of speculation on what it means for Hillary’s candidacy.  And John Boehner keeps up the chatter on Benghazi. He may have to.  As Obamacare improves, the Econometer rises, and his own party rejects immigration reform (against his wishes), he may soon have no other arrows left in the quiver.

OBAMA APPROVAL RATING

The good news on healthcare and the economy has yet to translate into political gain for Obama, as his approval rating remains solidly in the 44-45% range and the net is sticking at about -7 points.  But I would bet a month from now we will see a modest uptick.  And that’s all the Dems may need for Obama to become the rising tide that carries the boats upward in tight Congressional races.

Obama Approval Rating
Election Day 2012
11-Feb
10-Mar
6-Apr
4-May
  Approve
49.6
43.8
44.6
44.2
44.5
  Disapprove
47.4
51.4
51.7
51.9
51.4
  Net
2.2
-7.6
-7.0
-7.7
-6.9

OBAMACARE RATINGS

As predicted, Obamacare ratings continue to improve.  Opposition to the law is abating, down to about 50% (from a high of 57%) and the net negative is now in single digits, having dropped from -18 points in early December in the wake of the website fiasco, to about -9 currently.  Nothing is scarier to Republicans than the thought that this net negative could close by Election Day.  Continued payment data, and, over the summer, the announcement of premium increases for next year, are the next important milestones.  But one interesting indicator…for the first time, a prominent Republican Congressperson (Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington) has started talking of “reforming” Obamacare rather than “repealing” it. 

Obamacare
Election Day 2012
11-Feb
10-Mar
6-Apr
4-May
  For/Favor
40.0
39.0
40.0
39.8
41.7
  Oppose/Against
50.8
52.1
55.2
52.0
50.2
  Net
-10.8
-13.1
-15.2
-12.2
-8.5

ECONOMETER

The Econometer held in the low 50’s, as the good news on unemployment was offset by rising gas prices and an anemic (and weather driven) 1st quarter GDP growth rate of 0.1%.  This underscores that the economic story is not completely rosy, nor is the unemployment figure the only data point.  Personal income has remained flat, and thus economic improvement has not really penetrated to Main Street, apart from possibly seeing a few neighbors get back to work.

Econometer
Election Day 2012
11-Feb
10-Mar
6-Apr
4-May
Econometer
0.0
50.6
48.1
53.3
52.5






  Unemployment Rate
7.9
6.6
6.7
6.7
6.3
  Consumer Confidence
73.1
80.7
78.6
83.9
82.3
  Price of Gas
3.71
3.38
3.48
3.62
3.74
  Dow Jones
 13,330
 15,993
 16,208
 16,339
 16,339
  GDP
3.1
3.2
2.6
2.6
0.1

CONGRESSIONAL GENERIC BALLOT

The Democrats continue to retain a slim lead in the generic ballot, under a point.  That is way too close for comfort.

Generic Ballot
Election Day 2012
11-Feb
10-Mar
6-Apr
4-May
  Democrat
46.3
39.9
41.0
41.0
43.0
  Republican
46.0
40.7
39.2
39.4
42.5
  Net
0.3
-0.8
1.8
1.6
0.5

REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL RACE

March/April polling gives evidence of the Christie demise.  The other candidates are all hanging within close range, none making a move.  Paul Ryan seems to be fading, as he plays his own Hamlet maneuver, raising skepticism that he will actually take the plunge.  The Republican leadership is surely unhappy to see Mike Huckabee and Rand Paul at the top of the polls.  Is it possible that only Jeb Bush is really “electable” among this group?  Yes, it is…the plight of the GOP in bold-faced type.  The only viable nominee shares the same last name as both our last one-term President (41) and one of the most reviled Presidents of all time (43).


2013
2013
2014
2014

Jan-Oct
Nov/Dec
1/1 - 2/11
Mar/Aprl
Paul
13
14
11
14
Huckabee
13
13
15
14
Bush
12
10
12
12
Christie
16
19
13
11
Ryan
14
11
12
10
Cruz
10
12
8
7
Rubio
14
9
8
6
Walker
3
5
5
5
Perry
    n/a
     n/a 
    n/a
5
Jindal
3
3
4
3


In case you missed it, our President did a fabulous job at the White House Correspondents Dinner, check it out:  https://movies.yahoo.com/news/president-obama-correspondents-dinner-digs-fox-news-cnn-031434519.html