Thursday, June 10, 2021

Be Happy for Small Things

Spend a few moments watching this video from America's Got Talent and whatever minor annoyances you have will quickly disappear.

You might need a tissue handy as you watch this amazing performance by Nightbirde of her original song “It’s Okay” on Americas’ Got Talent. Jane Marczewski is thirty years old and has been fighting cancer for several years. She only has a 2% chance of survival but she is not letting it stop her from living her dream and singing on America’s Got Talent.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

All the Reasons Why It Has Never Been Harder to Be an MLB Hitter

What happens in the first month of a given Major League Baseball season isn't necessarily indicative of what will happen in the next five months, yet the 2021 campaign has already birthed an alarming trend.

Hitting, which was already notoriously difficult to begin with, is now basically impossible.

After more than a month's worth of games, hitters are tracking toward yet another strikeout record by whiffing in 24.3 percent of their plate appearances. They're also maintaining a .233 batting average, the lowest mark in the league's 150-year history.

Based on these numbers, there's never been a worse time to be a hitter in Major League Baseball. And while it might be easy to wave them off as small-sample-size weirdness, they begin to look more like an unavoidable fate as specific causes pile up.

The New Ball Is (Probably) Suppressing Home Runs

For anyone who missed the big news back in February, there's a new ball in play this year.

Contrary to the lively balls that helped facilitate record-setting home run outbursts in recent seasons, the new ball was effectively designed to curb home runs. It's lighter, but also less bouncy and supposedly more prone to drag in the air.

So far, it seems to be working as intended.

Overall, hitters have made gains with their overall fly-ball rate (25.1 percent) and on their average exit velocity on fly balls (92.6 mph). Yet even when compared to past Aprils, there's a conspicuous gap between the expected and actual performance of fly balls this season:Data courtesy of Baseball Savant

This helps explain why the league is hitting 1.16 home runs per game, compared to recent high-water marks of 1.28 in 2020, 1.39 in 2019 and 1.26 in 2017.

Could this be a fluke? Maybe. Or perhaps a cold-weather thing? Also, maybe.

Yet according to Devan Fink of FanGraphs, hitters are specifically losing home runs on batted balls with lower launch angles. That makes sense because, as he writes, "A baseball with more drag would, in theory, affect these types of events the most."

So if the idea is to hit for power—which it very much is in modern baseball—the standard hitter is in a frustrating spot right now in which the execution is good, but the rewards are artificially elusive.

The New Ball Also Seems to Be Leading to More Strikes

When news of the less lively ball first broke in February, pitchers were surely happy to hear it. And they now seem to be taking full advantage by challenging hitters at will.

So far in 2021, 49.3 percent of all pitches have ended up in the strike zone. That's the highest such mark of the pitch tracking era, which began in 2008.

Unsurprisingly, this is helping to push the league's walk rate down to 8.9 percent. That's by no means a historically low rate, but it's at least down from last year's mark of 9.2 percent.

Pitchers Are Also Nastier

By upping their swing rate relative to 2020, hitters have rightfully determined that the best way to combat pitchers' increased aggressiveness is with increased aggressiveness of their own.

However, many of these swings are going to waste. Hitters are missing on 27.1 percent of their swings, which is yet another high for the pitch-tracking era. Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

Lest anyone launch into a rant about how hitters need to wind the clock back and focus on making contact instead of swinging for the fences, understand that pitchers deserve their share of credit for all the whiffs.

The average fastball in 2021 is 92.7 mph, with 24.6 percent of all heaters clocking at 95 mph or higher. These, too, are new highs for the pitch-tracking era.

Meanwhile, the league's average spin rate is still trending up:
2015: 2,127 RPM
2016: 2,196 RPM
2017: 2,219 RPM
2018: 2,226 RPM
2019: 2,253 RPM
2020: 2,260 RPM
2021: 2,275 RPM

Because more spin tends to equal more movement, pitchers have an obvious incentive to chase after it. And while it's easy and oh-so-tempting to chalk the rising spin rate up to pitchers ignoring MLB's crackdown on sticky substances, there's another possible explanation for this year's trend.

Take it away, San Diego Padres ace Blake Snell:

The implication here is that the new ball is inherently easier to spin, which hypothetically means that the spin rate will stay up even if Thanos were to come along and snap all sticky substances out of existence.

On Defensive Shifts and Day Games

Even apart from the new ball, hitters still have other disadvantages to contend within 2021. Defensive shifts, for example.

Teams are using them on the infield less often than they did in 2020, but with greatly improved efficiency. There's a 47-point gap between the actual (.213) and expected (.260) batting average on ground balls against shifted and strategic infields, which is easily the biggest such mark of the seven-year Statcast era.

And if you've been wondering if there's been an unusually high number of day games in 2021, that's because there have been.

Whereas somewhere between 30 and 35 percent of the action (i.e., plate appearances) in a normal season takes place in day games, this year it's 43.3 percent. That may be getting to hitters, whose production hasn't been the same during the day as it has been at night: Data courtesy of Baseball Reference

This almost certainly isn't a complete list of factors behind the struggles that hitters are having early in the 2021 season, but it'll do as a greatest hits compilation. And in any case, the big question is...

What Comes Next?

In all likelihood, probably more of the same.

Unless MLB is going to reverse course and replace all of the new balls with balls from previous seasons, batted balls are likely to continue underperforming while pitchers keep filling up the zone with high-velocity, high-spin pitches.

As for the defensive shift, it's notable that MLB is already experimenting with regulating shifts at the minor league level in 2021. And frankly, it's a good idea. Nonetheless, regulations on shifts are likely years, not months, away from being a reality at the major league level.

Which is to say that hitters are going to have to keep doing the same thing and hope for better results, or perhaps make some changes so as to avoid all-time offensive infamy.

It would make for a fascinating story if hitters moved en masse through Door No. 2, but don't count on it. Because as rough as this year has been, it hasn't exactly been a 1968-level disaster from either a home run or runs scored perspective. Between that and the reality that warmer weather will help balls carry, hitters have two good reasons to stick to stay the proverbial course.

However, the 2021 season could lead to changes for the long run.

If nothing else, it could further move the needle in favor of policing shifts. It could also convince MLB that more work is needed to bring the ball to an agreeable middle ground. For instance, there might at least be a way to make the current ball less conducive to spin.

Until then, it's about time everyone made peace with the likelihood that the 2021 season is going to be one for the books. Even if it's one that hitters will never, ever want to revisit.

Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

The After Action Report (AAR) from Joint Base Langley Eustis (Virginia) 22-24 June 2021

Here’s the set of first impressions from our tenure at JBLE, 19-24 May, 2021:

The MWR shop was a pleasure to work with; they could not have been better organized and more accommodating. 

They produced rosters with contact information and made every attempt within their power to optimize our tenure. In the aggregate, we had approximately 500 runs on the course. They even made phone calls to check up on stragglers.

The sponsors all appeared to be pleased with the event- both in terms of the population and their position on the course. There was a lot of foot traffic generated for the free stuff- products that I had never heard of but would not have likely survived absent the calories of energy from some healthy alternatives to Red Bull.

We started as early as 0500 and ran until 1800. Very few hours were not used to maximize our throughput.

Coming out of a nearly two-year, COVID-enforced quarantine, it was good that we had 3 days to find all the pieces and parts and resurrect the course.

We powered up our impressive sound system and heard a loud “pop” in the amp. This was on Friday afternoon. I started with a search of Craigslist, finding no replacements turned to eBay. Found the exact model in a pawn shop in Fredericksburg. With closing time fast approaching, I needed to consummate the the deal before 1700 so Brent could pick up the unit on the way down Friday. Brent went to the office and brought with him our old Crate unit (≈1,000 watts, RMS), but we weren’t’ sure that it actually functioned. We swapped out the older QSC for the replacement, tested the Craig and now have it rack-mounted as a back up. Whew.

The “Best Time” is, of course, a constant topic of interest. Since we have gone back to our original requirement to touch all the crossbars on the “Battle Bars” the times set by USMC E-5s Verity and Cox need asterisks. These two incredible athletes have an amazing wing-span and resemble orangutans by touching the first bar, leaping to the middle bar and one-swing later are done.

There was a $500 purse for top man and women that did provide some motivation. I also believe that the top 3 male/females would be nominated for an Army achievement medal.

Being in front of the Commissary (see the 180° view: was a great location for a lot of reasons. While the Airmen who delivered the bleachers were refractory to any direction for placement by MWR, (we wanted them to assume the Box Seat-3rd Base Line position), it was great to have a cheering session. On Saturday, 80 troops were assigned the role of calling penalties for anyone who showed the muzzle of the AR-15 through the mouse-hole shot. Did they LOVE that mission. It was hilarious. Especially when they were able to gig their drill sergeant. The only thing missing were the cabbages or rotten tomatoes that they could have hurled onto the course. And then, the DI failed to set his rifle on “Safe’ a two-second penalty. The place went wild.

I could not have been more pleased with our new shooting solution. We are no longer dependent upon any outside organization. The Mantis-X Blackbeard performed flawlessly. Best of all, being a laser in the green-light spectrum, shooters had instant, positive feedback on target acquisition. The yellow ScotchLite target, approximately one-foot square was not unlike an LED when struck by the beam. In our prior experience with the IR- shooters did not have the same level of confidence (nor did we).

The sound-effects however did not work- a minor point. Turns out that the 3M product is designed to return almost all of the energy from the point of origin. Our smart phone monitors that produce the rifle report (and brass hitting the ground) needed a scatter effect to activate. So, we’ll figure this out for next time.

We have assembled our own inventory of AR-15s and were provided gun cases by our sponsor SKB cases.

I had conversations with the Four-Star (Paul Funk II) and and the Two-Star (MG Lonnie Hibbard) Generals who were both effusive in their praise and wanted to see more of us. In fact MWR has already requested a return engagement next year. We had extended conversations about the ACFT and the value of the Battle Challenge in affirming the validity of the test components. A considerable amount of our conversation was a topic close to my heart: scientifically validated performance standards (where the mission comes first and the social engineering follows).

No known loss-time injuries- including the free-fall of Eddie the Eagle, the flightless base mascot bird (now on Vimeo: click here: A few of the participants were hurling on the trees on the median strips post-event. But that always happens. Cops and firefighters, even wives(and their progeny) took a turn. Some of the MWR people never held a rifle and were pleasantly pleased to hit the target with very little instruction. No bang or recoil removes some of the hesitancy to pulling the trigger.
Getting Help From the Boys

I spent a lot of time talking to the participants and never met a finer bunch of engaging people from all over the place. It’s great to hear how they got to where they are. A Captain was wearing a Surface Warfare Qual Badge- something you don’t see every day. He was prior Navy and wanted to be a frogman. When his time came, they cancelled the BUDS class so he transferred to the Army to go into SpecOps.

We are working on a punch list for the future. Handing out numbers might help eliminate having to stand in a very long line. Also, developing a system that captures Rank and Name - such that can be conveyed to our announcer would be a nice touch. The sweetest thing to the ear is hearing one’s name over the PA; (assuming that it’s not in connection with an indictment.) Huan did yeomen’s work keeping everyone informed and the competitors motivated.

LTC Carl Ey, USA (ret) to his credit, pulled this together. I have no idea as to the finances. He’s already cut the check and asked that we hold it until he gets his money this week. Good news.

We’ll have photos and videos going up. Brent did a live-feed to Facebook.

Here’s the piece d’restance: The fastest time was posted by a member of the Montgomery (AL) Fire Department’s World Record Holder Firefighter Combat Challenge® Team Blue. Cody Thompson is a Guardsman and was on post for AIT. A blistering 1:26. I have the splits elsewhere and will put out more information on this topic. The best time for a female as 2:10. She was impressive; clearly a 6-sigma performance and didn’t even look winded. The next closest female was a minute and ten seconds slower.

The ABC local affiliate did a nice piece: and the Virginia Pilot wrote an article. (

We have video of these runs and will put it up on the website and Vimeo. Cody never expended one calorie more than required to surmount any obstacle.

One of the take-aways is the ability to find the Alpha Males vs. the suits doing their version of “mandatory fun”. If you needed a seletion tool for motivation, this is it. From the siren start, the hard chargers do exactly that: charge hard in a full-on sprint down the carpet.

We now have established our sea legs, document via photography and video all of the set-up and protocols.

I could write a lot more - and I will- of lessons learned and look forward to our next outing to implement the tweaks.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Highway to Hell

This video is self-explanatory.  Maybe you've run a similar call, but I suspect nothing quite like this. An unsecured load of LPG in a flatbed on a freeway, in Russia. What could possibly go wrong?

Click Here

Sunday, May 16, 2021

John William Tully, A Man Among Men

John Tully, former Fire Service Marketing Manager for Scott passed this life on Monday, May 10, 2021, at his home in Lawrenceville, GA. He was 74 and died of a massive heart attack, with no warning and a clean bill of health from his recent medical checkup. 

The fact that his sister has recently also died in a similar set of circumstances seemingly validates the familial increased risk for CAD.

John was a great believer in the Challenge for its emphasis on personal fitness. He earned a length of service retirement with the Columbus (OH) Fire Department, topping out as a Captain.

Along the way, John was awarded a Bachelor's Degree in Marketing, which put him in good sted with Scott.

During the troubled year of 1996 when the IAFF was attempting to thwart the popularity of the Challenge, John, an imposing figure and card-carrying member of the IAFF engaged in verbal combat with Union membership and their myopic viewpoint on personal fitness. 

He was the inspiration behind Scott going on record extolling the benefits of a highly spirited, job-related competition that validated the value of above-average levels of fitness where no standards existed. 

In retirement, John provided security for the Gwinnett Arena, Ameris Bank and and Amphitheater and the Roxy. John would greet the touring entertainers and ensconce them around the city. John was the kind of guy with whom people felt that they knew him instantly. 

John was a Vietnam veteran, having served in the Air Force and an ardent patriot who called out draft dodgers. 

John spoke constantly of his love for his family- wife Cathie and daughters for their athletic prowess. 

While John had been a regular fixture at FDIC, upon retirement we had to settle for phone calls about twice per year. 

John's devotion and dedication to the fire service never abated. We keep looking down the pipeline for a replacement- but guys of his type are hard to come by. 

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

2,000 Calories and 10,000 Steps a Day Is Probably All You Need to Be Healthy, According to Experts

By Jessica Stillman

INC Magazine

If you've packed on a few pandemic pounds in the last year, you're not alone. Since stay-at-home orders began last year 42 percent of Americans have gained weight, averaging an additional 29 pounds each. And while some folks used the disruption in their schedules to start new healthy habits, many of us discovered being stuck in the house with hoarded snacks and a lot of stress isn't great for fitness.

Now with a less virus-constrained summer beckoning, many Americans are looking down and thinking it might be a good time to recommit to a healthy lifestyle. If that's you -- and particularly if you're more likely to meet the idea of returning to the gym with groans and cheers -- there is an article you really need to read.

10,000 and 2,000

Written by Graham Isador for GQ, it tells the tale of a group of his friends who banded together to tackle their pandemic pounds with a simple commitment: each member agreed to walk 10,000 steps and eat no more than 2,000 calories a day.

How far did this modest-sounding fitness plan get the group? A lot farther that you'd probably predict. "After four months following those guidelines, my friend dropped 43 pounds. Collectively the group chat was down 105. Those are life-changing, infomercial-pitch numbers," reports Isador.

Surprised by the effectiveness of what could be seen as a slacker's approach to fitness, Isador surveys experts to see if his friends' simple strategy could really be so effective or if there were any hidden downsides.

A long list of caveats...

He certainly rounds up a hefty list of caveats. Ten thousand steps, for instance, is a random number made up by fitness gadget manufacturers, not a number imbued by the universe with magical health-giving properties. Consider recommendations to walk 10,000 steps to basically translate to 'walk a fair amount at a decent pace.'

Consistency is also key, the experts stress, and as humans are incredibly diverse, different people will see different results. No solution, even one this straightforward, is right for everyone.

Nor is this program going to get you ready for a marathon or a fitness magazine cover shoot. Expect dad bod not Arnold Schwarzenegger. Finally, the evidence that some kind of resistance exercise like weight training has specific mental and physical benefits is strong enough that you should definitely consider adding some to your routine.

... but no excuses.

But all that being said, the experts also agree that just walking 10,000 steps a day and eating whatever amount of calories the FDA recommends for someone of your age, build, and gender (generally around 2,000) will get you a whole lot further towards basic health and fitness than you probably think.

"Walking is probably the single most underutilized tool in health and wellness," personal trainer Jeremy Fernandes tells Isador. "Most people want to believe that working out and fat loss needs to be hard. If you need impossibly crushing workouts to get in better shape, then you're not responsible when you fail, but a basic program performed consistently--even a half-assed effort done consistently--can bring you a really long way."

So if you want to get back to your old energy levels and into last year's pants, consider Isador's article both a call to action and a massive excuse buster. The good news is getting back in decent shape is simple. The (sort of) bad news is, barring any big physical or psychological impediments, you now have no reason not to get started.