Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Power to the Max: My National League Award Picks

Last night, Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger were named the 2017 Rookies of the Year by the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA). They were virtually incontestable picks—but the rest of the awards-reveal week won't be nearly as clear-cut. Back in September, I agonized over my own picks for the National League's top performances when voting for those same awards for the BBWAA's digital shadow cabinet, the Internet Baseball Writers' Association of America (IBWAA). Here, preemptively, is why the real awards voters are wrong. (You can read my picks for the American League here.)

Reliever of the Year


1. Kenley Jansen
2. Corey Knebel
3. Pat Neshek

This IBWAA-only award is in perennial danger of being hijacked by gaudy save totals, but, happily, in this case, the league leader in saves is also the best reliever in baseball. Not only did Kenley Jansen shut the door 41 times for the Dodgers, but he led all qualified relievers in strikeout rate (42.3%) and was one-tenth of a percentage point away from doing so in walk rate (2.7%). If you strike dudes out and don't walk them, you're going to be very, very good—like 1.32 ERA good, also tops in the circuit. Jansen also crushes all comers—pitchers or hitters—in WPA (5.33), an important stat for a situation-based reliever.

Brewers closer Corey Knebel is the only other NL pitcher in Jansen's league when it comes to strikeouts (40.8%), but he also had a huge Achilles heel: his walk rate (12.9%). By contrast, Phillies-to-Rockies tradee Pat Neshek sported the stingiest walk rate of them all (2.6%) but a more mortal 29.4% strikeout rate. By K/BB ratio, Neshek blows Knebel out of the water (11.50 to 3.15), but the less denominator-skewed K−BB% stat gives Knebel a 27.8–26.8% advantage. Neshek also led in WHIP (0.87 to 1.16) and ERA (1.59 to 1.78) despite pitching much of the second half in Coors Field. So why did I opt for Knebel? Neshek's 4.2% HR/FB percentage implies he was quite fortunate in the dinger department, and his xFIP is accordingly 3.26—much higher than Knebel's 2.97.

There were plenty of runners-up for this category, most notably Archie Bradley and Felipe Rivero, but Bradley left a lot to be desired going by true skill (his 1.73 ERA masked an unremarkable 3.71 DRA), and Rivero benefited from a .234 BABIP.

Rookie of the Year


1. Cody Bellinger
2. Paul DeJong
3. German Márquez

Cody Bellinger (.933 OPS, 39 home runs, 4.0 FanGraphs WAR) was an easy pick here. Between him and honorable mention Austin Barnes (whom I would've ranked fourth) plus Rookie of the Year Corey Seager and Kenta Maeda last year, the modern Dodgers are debuting a streak of rookie talent reminiscent of the Eric KarrosMike PiazzaRaúl MondesíHideo NomoTodd Hollandsworth run of the 1990s. Cardinals middle infielder Paul DeJong—best known for hitting the foul ball caught by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie—racked up 3.0 WAR and 25 home runs, making him a comfortable choice for second.

At 2.2 WAR in just 50 games, Phillies wunderkind Rhys Hoskins was awesome but didn't have enough at-bats to justify stiffing DeJong or my eventual number-three vote, German Márquez. The Rockies rookie was hated by Baseball Prospectus (who gave him a negative WARP!), but his FanGraphs WAR (2.4) matched Barnes's, and his Baseball Reference WAR (3.1) wasn't all that far behind Bellinger's. Despite a 4.39 ERA, he pitched 14% better than the average 2017 pitcher for 162 innings; it's rare for a rookie to be a solid contributor all season long.

Manager of the Year


1. Bud Black
2. Dave Roberts
3. Andy Green

There are so many more deserving candidates for Manager of the Year in the NL than the AL. Bud Black led Colorado to a playoff berth on the strength of their pitching (a 90 ERA−, the best in Rockies history), previously believed to be an impossible feat. That is surely a testament to this former pitching coach, who also managed his team to a great record in one-run games (21–14). Dave Roberts adeptly juggled playing-time dilemmas in his outfield and at second base, and he righted the ship after a rough stretch that set off a panic in Chávez Ravine. Immediately after losing 16 of 17 games in late August/early September, the Dodgers recovered to go 12–6 over the final few weeks.

The surprise on my ballot is Andy Green. I appreciate how Green has used his team's suckitude to experiment with unorthodox strategies, like shifting and multi-inning reliever usage. Something he did worked, as the 71–91 Padres outperformed their Pythagorean record (57–105) by more than any other team in baseball.

That's three picks, but there are two other NL skippers who would've cracked my ballot had they had the fortune to manage in the AL. Torey Lovullo was clearly a boon to the Diamondbacks, but I hesitated when I saw that they still underperformed their Pythagorean record by five wins. And Craig Counsell—he of the painfully erect batting stance—led the surprise Brewers to be the last team eliminated.

Cy Young


1. Max Scherzer
2. Stephen Strasburg
3. Zack Greinke
4. Clayton Kershaw
5. Jacob deGrom

NL Cy Young is one of those awards that everyone acknowledges is close but everyone also acknowledges there's an obvious correct choice. Therefore, I won't be surprised if Max Scherzer wins the thing unanimously on Wednesday night. At first glance, Scherzer appears to be neck and neck with his Washington teammate, Stephen Strasburg: ERAs of 2.51/2.52, xFIPs of 3.28/3.27. But Scherzer, befitting his reputation as a workhorse, pitched more than 25 more innings. He creates more distance when you note that he was the league's most dominant strikeout pitcher, with a 34.4% strikeout rate and a 15.5% swinging-strike rate. No wonder Baseball Prospectus gives him a 2.26 DRA (Strasburg's is 2.93) and a wide lead in WARP (7.41 to 5.95) over Jacob deGrom.

After Scherzer, Baseball Prospectus likes deGrom and Zack Greinke the best, while Baseball Reference ranks Gio González second in WAR among National Leaguers. But those three all had ERAs of at least 3.20, so it's clear that Strasburg is just being penalized for the three starts he missed due to injury. He is, though, second to Scherzer in FanGraphs WAR (5.6), the version that is the closest summary of the fielding-independent-pitching factors that I favor when considering Cy Young Awards.

Greinke slots in at third place, where he also ranks in FanGraphs WAR (5.1) and Baseball Reference WAR (6.1) if we ignore González. Despite that site's esteem for the Nationals southpaw, I just couldn't see a way that González was among my top five NL pitchers. His excellent run prevention (a 2.92 ERA) was not fully attributable to his actual pitching skills (a pedestrian 8.42/3.54 K/BB ratio; a 3.93 FIP). In the same way, but for opposite reasons, I disregarded FanGraphs WAR's own outlier, Brewer Jimmy Nelson. Nelson's 4.9 WAR was due to some significant revisionist history on the saber-site's part, dismissing many of his 75 runs allowed as products of bad luck. They may well have been, but no other site saw in Nelson (owner of a 3.58 DRA) what FanGraphs did.

Like his 2016, Clayton Kershaw's 2017 was difficult to pigeonhole. The Dodgers ace missed around five starts with a bad back, but he put up characteristically superb stats when he did pitch, including a 2.31 ERA and a league-leading 6.73 K/BB ratio. Yet, very uncharacteristically, he didn't pitch all that well beneath that veneer: he mustered just a 3.30 DRA thanks to some good luck on balls in play (.267 BABIP) and runners left on base (87.4% LOB%). That dropped what could have been a Cy-winning campaign with more innings and some better fundamentals to fourth place. Finally, deGrom rounded out my ballot. With what qualified as a workhorse season for the New York Mets combined with a strong 4.05 K/BB ratio, Baseball Prospectus makes a strong case for deGrom being one of the best pitchers in the league. But he flunks the eyeball test, with an ERA+ (119) a lot less impressive than Greinke's (149) or Kershaw's (180).

MVP


1. Giancarlo Stanton
2. Joey Votto
3. Max Scherzer
4. Charlie Blackmon
5. Kris Bryant
6. Nolan Arenado
7. Anthony Rendon
8. Zack Greinke
9. Gio González
10. Paul Goldschmidt

This messy MVP race makes the other NL awards look like the pictures of consensus. According to FanGraphs WAR (for pitchers, RA9-WAR added to their offensive and defensive WAR, for a picture of the whole player), Max Scherzer is the MVP with 7.3 WAR. At Baseball Prospectus, it's Giancarlo Stanton (8.55 WARP) in the lead by a distance roughly equivalent to one of his monster home runs. And at Baseball Reference, Scherzer, Stanton, and Joey Votto are all effectively tied at 7.6 (7.5 for Votto, but WAR is hardly an exact science).

As in the American League, I went to WPA/LI—a.k.a. the stat that best sums up all the times you contributed to helping your team win—to break the tie. By Baseball Reference, Votto leads Stanton 6.4 to 6.2, but at FanGraphs, Stanton has a clearer lead of 7.00 to 6.32. In the end, Stanton also ranks higher than Votto according to all three flavors of WAR, so he is my pick by a hair.

What about Scherzer, for whom a strong case can be made to be number one? His lead in RA9-WAR is effectively nullified by his deficit in WARP, so he doesn't clearly stand out from the pack of hitters to me. And then there's the National's WPA/LI of 3.05 (FanGraphs version, subtracting his negative hitting value from his positive pitching value)—good for a starting pitcher, but in the end he just didn't provide the constant jolts to his team's chances of winning that Stanton did for the Marlins.

The rest of the league didn't quite measure up to those three. FanGraphs ranked Kris Bryant (6.7) and Anthony Rendon (6.9) above Votto, giving them extra credit for playing the more challenging position of third base. However, Votto had more Defensive Runs Saved (11) than either Bryant (2) or Rendon (7), so a defensive penalty for him seems perverse. Rendon falls particularly far in my ranking because of his 3.29 WPA/LI; Bryant's was 5.20, third in the league.

Meanwhile, Baseball Prospectus's pet case was Charlie Blackmon, who they convinced me was at least Bryant's equal. The Rockies outfielder ranks just behind Votto in FanGraphs WAR (6.5) and is a close match for Bryant in other categories. Baseball Reference says the Rockies outfielder has the edge in WPA/LI (5.3 to 4.5); FanGraphs says the Cub does (5.20 to 4.88). But BP seemed more convinced that Blackmon was better than Bryant (7.70 vs. 6.67 WARP) than the other two sites were that Bryant was better than Blackmon (just a fraction of a win separated them at both FanGraphs and Baseball Reference). Blackmon also took 60 more plate appearances than Bryant.

Blackmon's Colorado teammate, Nolan Arenado, similarly gets a boost on my ballot because he is beloved by Baseball Reference (7.2 WAR), but unlike Blackmon, there is a wide gulf between him and Bryant in FanGraphs WAR (Arenado's is 5.6) and WPA/LI (3.43). Although Arenado is obviously an asset with the glove, his hitting (129 wRC+) is both easier to quantify and less impressive than Blackmon's 141 wRC+ and Bryant's 146. Arenado does get the nod over Rendon, though, as FanGraphs WAR is the only measure of value that believes Rendon was superior.

My last few slots give love to the pitchers—and specifically those who were valuable to their team in ways beyond balls and strikes. Zack Greinke boosted his overall value (6.70 WARP) with good defense, while Gio González, despite mediocre peripheral pitching stats, was valuable enough when paired with his team (i.e., his defense) that he prevented enough runs to tie Blackmon in RA9-WAR (6.5). However, his 1.25 WPA/LI revealed that he didn't actually boost the Nationals' chances of winning all that much. Finally, I fit Paul Goldschmidt onto my ballot in order to honor his contributions to win probability (4.3 per Baseball Reference, in fifth place) and his 6.36 WARP (good for seventh), although I could have just as easily gone with my top honorable mention, Justin Turner. Two of my other Cy Young votes, Clayton Kershaw and Stephen Strasburg, might also have shown up here, but as with Turner, I ultimately decided that their missed playing time was more of a disqualification in an MVP race. To help your team, you've got to be on the field.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Judging Aaron: My American League Award Picks

Another baseball season is in the books—and it was a weird one. Between record-breaking rookies, a total lack of parity, a rush on immaculate innings, and, of course, too many damn home runs, there was plenty to gawk at in MLB in 2017. This week, the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) recognizes the most eye-popping feats of all with its end-of-season awards, voted on by the beat writers who followed each team all season long. Meanwhile, the Internet Baseball Writers' Association of America (IBWAA) holds a parallel vote for the rest of us schlubs. Here's how I voted in that election.

Reliever of the Year


1. Craig Kimbrel
2. Chad Green
3. Andrew Miller

The one award given out by the IBWAA that the BBWAA doesn't bother with is Reliever of the Year. This year, that's to Craig Kimbrel's detriment. The Red Sox closer led all American League relievers who pitched at least 34 innings with a 1.43 ERA, a 1.42 FIP, and a 1.50 xFIP—that last one by a mile (at number two was Joe Smith, 2.39). Kimbrel struck out almost exactly half of the batters he faced while keeping his walk rate at a paltry 5.5%. In short, there was no one hitters wanted to see less at the end of a game.

The Yankees' Chad Green, whom many of you may not have even heard of until the playoffs, edged out Andrew Miller for second place. While Miller had the edge in ERA (1.44 to 1.61), Green's peripheral stats were slightly better: he struck out 41.0% of batters and walked just 6.6%, while Miller struck out 38.9% and walked 8.6%.

Rookie of the Year


1. Aaron Judge
2. Matt Chapman
3. Mitch Haniger

The easiest award of the year—if not the decade. Yankees sensation Aaron Judge hit more home runs this year than any rookie ever had in the history of this great game. Mitch Haniger (Seattle) and Matt Chapman (Oakland) were quite close for number two—it was the classic offense (Haniger's .282/.352/.491 line) vs. defense (Chapman's 19 Defensive Runs Saved) conundrum. I gave Chapman the nod because he played the harder position (third base) better. BBWAA finalist (and my preseason prediction) Andrew Benintendi just didn't amass enough WAR (2.2, going by FanGraphs) to beat any of these three guys.

Manager of the Year


1. Terry Francona
2. A.J. Hinch
3. Ned Yost

The one award left where you have to go with your gut. I'm not a very big believer in giving managers the credit for analysts misreading a team at the beginning of the season (*cough* Twins *cough*), nor do I think that managers suddenly switch between "brilliant" and "dumb" when their team has a good or bad season. For my money, Terry Francona has emerged in recent years as the best manager in the Junior Circuit. He is beloved by his players, and his groundbreaking methods of using Andrew Miller—his best reliever—in non-save situations have drawn raves. This year, of course, he deserves at least a share of the credit for the Indians' 22-game winning streak.

Houston's A.J. Hinch is a safe second choice; he imported stat-savvy techniques from a front office that hasn't always gotten along with its players and made them work on the field. Obviously, he was also able to overcome some slight clubhouse dissent to win the World Series (although these awards, BBWAA and IBWAA, were all voted on before the start of the playoffs). As for Ned Yost... yeah, I'm surprised too, but his Royals went 25–16 in one-run games and outperformed their Pythagorean record by nine wins.

Cy Young


1. Corey Kluber
2. Chris Sale
3. Luis Severino
4. Carlos Carrasco
5. Justin Verlander

Sometimes, the truth hurts. Chris Sale is undeniably one of the best pitchers of his generation—and yet he has never won a Cy Young Award. This season looked like it was going to be his year, until Corey Kluber (who won the award previously in 2014) turned on the jets in August and September. After August 1, he went 10–1 with a 1.42 ERA and a .492 opponents' OPS. He finished with a league-leading 2.25 ERA and 2.05 DRA (Baseball Prospectus's Deserved Run Average, the best indicator we have for what a pitcher's ERA "should" be, removing the effects of luck), and he crushed Sale 8.0 to 6.0 in the Baseball Reference WAR department.

You could still make the case for Sale—the Red Sox beat the Indian 7.7 to 7.3 in FanGraphs WAR mostly on the strength of his 12.93 K/9 (Kluber's was "only" 11.71) and slightly lower FIP (2.45 to 2.50). But ultimately I decided that voting for Sale would be interpreting the evidence selectively in order to get the answer I wanted to get. Sale's strikeout advantage nearly evaporates when you look at the more precise strikeout-percentage stat (Sale 36.2%, Kluber 34.1%), and Kluber's K/BB ratio is actually higher than Sale's (7.36 to 7.16). Moreover, FIP is a useful measure, but it's really just a blunt tool in assessing true pitcher performance—DRA is a far more refined statistic.

The battle for third place followed similar contours but was much more easily resolved. Despite similar peripheral stats (K/9 ratios in the 10s, BB/9s in the twos), Luis Severino posted a 2.98 ERA in a much tougher pitching environment than Carlos Carrasco twirled his 3.29. Severino's WHIP was also a skosh lower, 1.04 to 1.10, contributing to a 3.05 DRA (3.36 for Carrasco). Two of the three forms of WAR (FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus) agreed that Severino was more valuable.

I was really close to giving Chris Archer the last slot. By FanGraphs WAR, he deserved it—registering at fifth in the league behind the above four men with a 4.6 mark, half a win ahead of Justin Verlander. Archer appeared to best Verlander in nearly every peripheral stat, including a dramatically better K/BB ratio, 4.15 to 3.04. But while I believe strong pitching fundamentals should undergird a Cy Young case, I couldn't bring myself to totally ignore end results, and Archer's 4.07 ERA just wasn't Cy-worthy. I consoled myself when I saw that both Baseball Reference and Baseball Prospectus gave Verlander the edge in WAR/WARP. In fact, per Baseball Reference, Verlander's 6.4 WAR was second in the AL only to Kluber's. In a nice little feat of balance, my final ballot thus includes five of the top six finishers in pitching value according to all three major sites.

MVP


1. Aaron Judge
2. Corey Kluber
3. José Altuve
4. Mike Trout
5. Chris Sale
6. José Ramírez
7. Carlos Carrasco
8. Luis Severino
9. Justin Verlander
10. Carlos Correa

Hoo boy, is there a lot to tease out here. Let's start with this: how the heck do you compare the six-foot-seven Aaron Judge to the five-foot-six José Altuve? According to the FanGraphs version of WAR, Judge has a small but perceptible lead, 8.2 to 7.5. According to Baseball Reference, though, it's the opposite: Altuve leads 8.3 to 8.1. As I often do, I broke the tie by going to the stat that comes closest to quantifying that pesky phrase, "most valuable": win probability. Judge had a 6.23 WPA/LI to Altuve's 4.59, indicating that, holding the leverage of their plate appearances constant, Judge's did more to increase his team's likelihood of winning. (Those numbers are from FanGraphs, but Baseball Reference agrees on the order.)

One problem: That pesky GOAT, Mike Trout, crushes both of them in that category. A not-unsizable part of me wanted to cast off my cloak of objectivity and lay my first-place vote at Trout's feet—his career-best 187 OPS+ made him indisputably the most valuable player on the field when he played. Ultimately, though, you can't just ignore the nearly 200 plate appearances he lost to injury. Just know I'm not happy about sticking him at fourth.

Then there's the debate everyone else seems to ignore: pitcher or hitter? Yup, both Corey Kluber and Chris Sale have a case for being better than any of the AL's position players this year. Kluber's 8.00 WARP from Baseball Prospectus leads the league, while Sale's 7.64 is second. FanGraphs and Baseball Reference put them more solidly in the muddle, though, and their WPA/LIs are far behind Judge's and Trout's. Kluber's 4.87 WPA/LI is better than Altuve's, however, which, along with his world-beating dominance in FanGraphs's RA9-WAR (the type of WAR I like to use for MVP voting), is enough to give him second place. Sale's 3.77 WPA/LI and 6.1 Baseball Reference WAR (not even in the top nine) give me an excuse to honor Trout's peak excellence a little more than I otherwise would.

José Ramírez is an easy pick for sixth place; not in the above five's league, but clearly better than everyone else. After that it's pick your poison. The next-most deserving based on WPA/LI are the Carloses—Correa and Carrasco. By FanGraphs RA9-WAR, it's Carrasco and Justin Verlander. By regular FanGraphs WAR, it's Francisco Lindor and Luis Severino. By Baseball Reference WAR, it's Andrelton Simmons and Mookie Betts. By WARP, it's Betts and Severino. The first two stats being my preferred ones for MVP, I therefore penciled in Carrasco, but then deferred to Severino given how close the two were for Cy Young. (I ranked them differently here because I believe Cy Young should assess pure pitching ability, while MVP is about the whole player, including defense, run-prevention outcomes, workload, and even hitting if applicable.) Then came Verlander and, squeezing onto the ballot despite missing 42 games with a torn thumb ligament, Correa, who, when he did play, increased his team's chances to win more than any other player remaining on the board.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Your Complete Guide to Election Night 2017

Tuesday marks the first regularly scheduled elections of the Trump era—and, probably in a related development, interest in this year's off-off-year campaigns has reached unprecedented highs. Democrats are eager to strike a blow for "the Resistance" by winning the high-profile Virginia gubernatorial race, but they also sit on the verge of taking complete trifecta control of two more state governments (no small feat when they started the year with only six). Tonight's 214 legislative elections will be the best bellwethers yet of the 2018 midterms. Maine may become the first state in the nation to popularly vote to implement a key provision of Obamacare, or New York may decide to tear up its constitution and start from scratch. Some of the biggest cities in the country face stark choices between sending their city halls leftward or rightward—or choosing which vision for the future of the Democratic Party to put their faith in.

In all, 34 states will decide governorships, congressional seats, ballot measures, mayor's offices, constitutional offices, legislative seats, and much, much more. To help guide those who haven't been following these hyper-local campaigns but are interested in tracking them on election night, I've created this viewer's guide for Tuesday night. Sorted by poll-closing times (all times Eastern), it's a state-by-state rundown of what's on the ballot on November 7, 2017.

7pm ET


Florida: Municipal elections, including for mayor of Miami (unofficial results) and mayor of St. Petersburg (unofficial results), where the Rays-supported Democratic incumbent faces a stiff Republican challenge.
Georgia: Special all-party primary elections in SD-06, SD-39, HD-04, HD-26, HD-42, HD-60, HD-89, HD-117, and HD-119 (unofficial results); municipal elections other than Atlanta's.
Massachusetts: Municipal elections in four cities.
New Hampshire: State House special elections in Hillsborough County District 15 (unofficial results) and Sullivan County District 1 (unofficial results); most municipal elections, including a Manchester mayoral race that has drawn some big names.
South Carolina: A special general election in HD-113 (unofficial results); municipal elections.
Virginia (unofficial results): A well-publicized governor's race, but also close lieutenant governor and attorney general elections; all 100 seats in the House of Delegates; municipal elections.

7:30pm ET


North Carolina: Municipal elections, including for mayor of Raleigh (unofficial results) and a close partisan contest for mayor of Charlotte (unofficial results).
Ohio: Two ballot issues, one to strengthen crime victims' rights and another to require the state to pay the same prices for prescription drugs as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (unofficial results); judicial and municipal elections, including mayoral races in Cleveland (unofficial results), Cincinnati (unofficial results), and Toledo (unofficial results).

8pm ET


Connecticut (unofficial results): Judicial and municipal elections.
Georgia: Municipal elections in Atlanta (unofficial results), where the battle to succeed Mayor Kasim Reed has gotten divisive.
Kansas: Municipal elections across most of the state.
Maine (unofficial results): Four ballot questions, including Question 2, which would expand Medicaid in Maine after multiple vetoes by Governor Paul LePage; a special general election in HD-56; municipal elections, including one ballot initiative instituting rent control in Portland and another asking whether Maine's second- (Lewiston) and fifth- (Auburn) largest cities should merge.
Maryland: Municipal elections in 13 cities and towns, including a close mayoral election in Annapolis.
Massachusetts: State House special general elections in the First Berkshire District (unofficial results) and Third Essex District (unofficial results); a State Senate special primary election in the Worcester and Middlesex District; municipal elections in 69 cities and towns (unofficial results), including a sleepy race for mayor of Boston.
Michigan (unofficial results): Special general elections on opposite ends of the state, in HD-01 and HD-109; municipal elections across most of the state, including for mayor and city clerk of Detroit and an attempted recall of the mayor of Flint.
Mississippi: Nonpartisan special elections in SD-10, HD-38, and HD-54; judicial and municipal elections.
Missouri: Special general elections in SD-08, HD-23, and HD-151 (unofficial results); municipal elections, including referenda on building a new terminal at Kansas City International Airport and increasing St. Louis's sales tax to give raises to police and firefighters.
New Hampshire: Municipal elections in cities with extended voting hours.
New Jersey (unofficial results): A gubernatorial/lieutenant-gubernatorial race that's looking like a blowout; all 40 State Senate seats; all 80 General Assembly seats; two ballot questions on fiscal issues; municipal elections, including a mayoral race in Jersey City that's been rocked by scandal and elections for Edison school board and Hoboken mayor that will test whether racist campaign tactics are effective.
North Dakota: A local referendum to raise the sales tax in Grand Forks.
Pennsylvania (unofficial results): A state constitutional amendment to allow the legislature to allow local governments to exempt residents from property taxes; judicial elections, including for three state Supreme Court seats that some angrily claim that Democrats have ignored; municipal elections, including a nationally watched race for Philadelphia district attorney and the tight re-election campaign of Allentown's indicted mayor.
Rhode Island: Local ballot initiatives in East Providence, Lincoln, and Scituate.
Tennessee: An uncontested special primary election in SD-17 (unofficial results); municipal elections.
Texas: Municipal elections across most of the state, including six city propositions in Houston (unofficial results).

9pm ET


Arizona: Municipal elections.
Colorado (unofficial results): Municipal elections, including for the Douglas County school board, the latest of Colorado's local school elections to be turned into a national referendum on education reform.
Kansas: Municipal elections along the western edge of the state.
Michigan (unofficial results): Municipal elections in parts of the Upper Peninsula.
Minnesota (unofficial results): Municipal elections, including for mayor of Minneapolis and a chaotic open-seat race for mayor of St. Paul.
New Mexico: Judicial and municipal elections in Las Cruces.
New York (unofficial results): Special general elections in SD-26, AD-27, and AD-71; three ballot measures, including Proposal 1, the vicennial referendum on holding a new constitutional convention for the State of New York; judicial and municipal elections, including mayorals in New York City and Syracuse as well as spirited county-executive races in Westchester and Nassau.
Texas: Seven proposed constitutional amendments; municipal elections in the western tip of the state.
Wyoming: A local referendum to raise the sales tax in Campbell County.

10pm ET


Idaho: Municipal elections in the southern part of the state.
Iowa: Municipal elections, including for mayor of Cedar Rapids.
Montana: Municipal elections, including the open Billings mayoral election.
Utah: The special general election for UT-03 (unofficial results); municipal elections.

11pm ET


California: Municipal elections in 31 counties, including for mayor of Santa Barbara.
Idaho: Municipal elections in the Panhandle.
Oregon (unofficial results): Municipal elections.
Washington (unofficial results): Three nonbinding advisory votes; State Senate special general elections in LD-07, LD-31, LD-37, LD-45 (a Republican-held seat in Democratic territory that, if flipped, would give Democrats control of the State Senate and therefore all of Washington state government), and LD-48; State House special general elections in LD-07 (Position 1), LD-31 (Position 2), and LD-48 (Position 1); judicial and municipal elections, including a Dem-on-Dem race for the open Seattle mayor's office (unofficial results) and a ballot initiative to overturn Burien's sanctuary-city status, where proponents accused immigrants of crimes in a widely criticized mailer.

Monday, October 16, 2017

2017 Downballot Race Ratings for Louisiana and Virginia

The year following a presidential election is often the sleepiest time for elections (although certainly not for politics). Indeed, this November will feature only three of this blog's favorite races to analyze: downballot constitutional offices. As always, Baseballot will be the only site on the World Wide Web handicapping these under-the-radar yet multi-million-dollar campaigns. As my colleagues at Inside Elections do for congressional elections, I rate each state executive race on a Solid-Likely-Lean-Tilt scale, with the very closest of races earning the coveted label of "Toss-up."

According to my Big, Bad Chart of Constitutional Offices, the seats on the ballot this year include one lieutenant governor, one attorney general, and one treasurer. As it turns out, all of these elections will probably continue the status quo in the two states where they are taking place. Below are my initial ratings for the three seats; in the future, these ratings can be found on the "2017 Ratings" tab in the menu above, where they will be updated through Election Day.


Louisiana

  • Treasurer: Solid Republican. After Treasurer John Kennedy was elected to the U.S. Senate in December 2016, a statewide special election was called to fill the remaining two years in his term. After six candidates squared off in the low-turnout October 14 jungle primary, Democrat Derrick Edwards (31%) and Republican John Schroder (24%) finished first and second to advance to the November 18 runoff. Democrats might have once had an outside shot at winning this seat: the party has overperformed in special elections thus far this year (probably due to the unpopularity of President Donald Trump), and the treasurer election just so happens to coincide with a competitive open mayoral race in dark blue New Orleans, meaning Democrats may constitute a disproportionate share of the electorate. However, it has quickly become apparent that Edwards isn't taking his campaign seriously. Despite an inspiring backstory (the wheelchair-bound Edwards was paralyzed by a brutal collision in a high-school football game; after doctors told him he would have to be cared for in an institution for the rest of his life, he instead got two graduate degrees and is now a practicing lawyer), Edwards has barely campaigned, missed campaign-finance deadlines, skipped debates and media events, and refused to talk about his plans until after he is elected. As a result, the Louisiana Democratic Party isn't even supporting his campaign, effectively ceding the race to the Republican Schroder, a former state representative. Schroder was the only candidate able to accrue significant funds from a tapped-out Louisiana donor class in the first phase of the campaign, raising more than all of his opponents combined ($436,954, compared to only $9,678 for Edwards). Now that he's the only Republican in the race, he'll use that dough to consolidate support and win easily.

Virginia

Sometimes, a state's downballot races are decided by turnout at the top of the ticket, and it looks like that will be the case in Virginia this year: so far, the commonwealth's two constitutional-officer elections have tracked extremely closely with its hard-fought gubernatorial race. That contest is rated Lean Democratic by Inside Elections, but if it ends up being more Democratic or Republican than predicted, the two elections below will too. (All three elections take place on Tuesday, November 7.)
  • Lieutenant Governor: Lean Democratic. With a truly batty Republican primary behind us (which State Senator Jill Vogel might have won by spreading rumors that her opponent had an affair), the general election for lieutenant governor has been as uninteresting as the actual post, which is part-time and mostly consists of breaking ties in the State Senate. Vogel has struck an interesting balance between distancing herself from the rest of the Republican Party on issues like gay rights and also not showing any of Ed Gillespie's hesitance to embrace President Trump. Meanwhile, Democrat Justin Fairfax, who lost a close primary for attorney general in 2013, is attacking Vogel for her legal defense of various dark-money groups and a bill she sponsored to require women to have an invasive ultrasound before getting an abortion. Vogel also caused a mini-stir by saying Fairfax, who is black, couldn't "talk intelligently" on the issues. Ultimately, though, that gaffe is unlikely to make a splash in an ocean of daily Trump tweets, and, with each candidate having only about $300,000 in the bank, the LG race has been the quietest of Virginia's three campaigns on TV thus far. Polling shows Fairfax with a lead comparable to Democrat Ralph Northam's in the governor's race.
  • Attorney General: Lean Democratic. Instead, all the downballot action in Old Dominion is here. The Republican Attorneys General Association has poured $2.75 million into the campaign coffers of Republican candidate John Adams—and yet he still trails Democrat Mark Herring in total fundraising by $2.8 million. In response, the Democratic Attorneys General Association has given Herring $1.7 million, helping to fund a major TV blitz by the incumbent AG. Adams's campaign has responded in kind, and he is further buoyed by the air support of the NRA's political action committee, the only outside group advertising in a downballot race so far this year. Adams and his Republican allies are accusing Herring of politicizing the attorney general's office (Herring has sued the Trump administration over immigration and tried to prevent out-of-state gun permits from being used in Virginia), but this light blue state might actually be on board with that: Herring leads polls by as wide a margin as any of Virginia's three Democrats on the 2017 ballot.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Previewing Florida SD-40: Three Questions That Will Tell Us the Most About 2018

There's a special legislative election almost every week, but today we have a special special. Ever since Florida State Senator Frank Artiles called a fellow state senator a "fucking asshole" and a "bitch," called the Senate President a "pussy" who was only elected with the help of "six niggas," hired a Hooters calendar girl and a Playboy model as "campaign consultants," and resigned from office in disgrace, the race to replace him has been circled on my calendar—not for any reason related to the Florida-man antics on display from its former occupant, but rather due to the district itself.


Florida Senate District 40 covers Kendall and other dense suburbs southwest of Miami, stretching from South Dixie Highway (U.S. 1) near Dadeland Mall in the east to Krome Avenue in the west. According to Florida data consultant Matthew Isbell, it voted 57.1% for Hillary Clinton and 39.5% for Donald Trump in 2016 yet preferred Republican Marco Rubio to Democrat Patrick Murphy in that year's U.S. Senate race, 50% to 47%. At the same time, Artiles, a Republican, defeated Democrat Dwight Bullard 50.6% to 40.7% for what was (like it is today) an open State Senate seat.

Why the wide variation in results? A plurality of Florida SD-40's voters belong to the difficult-to-pin-down community of Cuban Americans. This historically Republican bloc has edged into competitiveness as young Cuban Americans (who are more liberal) come of age, the national parties have become more racially polarized, and/or President Trump has alienated the Hispanic community writ large. That explains why SD-40 largely rejected Trump in the 2016 presidential election while still supporting Rubio and Artiles (who are both Cuban American themselves). According to Isbell, an estimated 38% of the district's population is Cuban American. Overall, as of the 2010 Census (and, fair warning, South Florida is a rapidly changing area), the district was 74.6% Hispanic, 14.5% non-Hispanic white, and 8.0% non-Hispanic black.



Today, Democrat Annette Taddeo (who is half Italian American, half Colombian American) faces off against Republican José Felix Díaz (who is Cuban American). It's been an expensive campaign (political committees have spent $4.1 million on the race on top of the $1.8 million spent by the campaigns), and the outcome is legitimately in question (the only poll of the race, a three-month-old Democratic internal, gave Taddeo a 42–38% lead). The final results, which will trickle in starting at 7pm ET tonight, will be a particularly useful data point in our never-ending quest to figure out what's going to happen in 2018. There are three crucial questions that we need answered in order to understand how and whether Democrats can take back a U.S. House majority in next year's midterms, and, more than most special elections this year, Florida SD-40 will hold a clue to each of them.

1. Will the election be nationalized, or will voters consider it locally?


This is pretty simple. Unlike more uniform legislative and congressional districts, Republicans have recently done much better here downballot than at the top of the ticket. If voters cast their ballots based on their feelings toward Donald Trump and what is happening in Washington, it's good for Democrats. If they consider the two candidates in a vacuum, it's good for Republicans. Knowing this, Taddeo has tried to tie Díaz (who is a former contestant on The Apprentice!) to Trump with a contrastive TV ad, while Díaz has attempted to play up Taddeo's weaknesses, such as her support for the Colombian peace accord with the FARC and her alleged tolerance of the communist regimes in Cuba and China.

The final result will tell us which candidate was successful. If Taddeo approaches or even exceeds Clinton's 57% here, it could be a sign that this election was decided along national battle lines. That could bode well for Democrats in 2018 if everyone goes to the polls with the unpopular Trump in mind, not their local congressman. If Díaz wins, it's pretty solid evidence that local considerations can still win out in the age of Trump.

2. Will the electorate be more Democratic than usual?


The conventional wisdom about midterm elections is that the electorate is older, whiter, and more Republican than in presidential elections. But most of that conventional wisdom is rooted in the Obama midterms of 2010 and 2014, and the longer-term trend is that the president's party tends to suffer in midterm elections. Indeed, an enthusiasm gap in favor of the Democrats has been apparent lately in measures from the generic ballot to demonstrations. Democratic overperformance has also been a crystal-clear pattern in special-election results so far in 2017, but it'll be important to see whether it holds in SD-40 in particular. Because SD-40 is so heavily Hispanic, there is greater danger than usual of midterm dropoff voting harming Democratic chances. If Taddeo tonight follows in the footsteps of other Democratic special-election candidates across the nation and exceeds the typical Democratic performance in her district, it's a good sign for the party that the typical demographic forces of midterm elections can be overcome. If Díaz does better than expected, it'll suggest that Democrats still have a turnout problem among minority voters. (Note: the best basis for comparison here is not the district's presidential lean, for reasons explained above; instead, keep an eye on how Taddeo and Díaz perform relative to Bullard and Artiles in the last open State Senate race in this district just ten and a half months ago.)

3. Was 2016 a political realignment, or will election results revert to their pre-2016 norms?


Most special elections this year have taken place in districts that shifted toward Republicans in 2016 with Trump on the ticket—enough that we can be pretty sure that "Trump Democrats" aren't lost to Democrats forever. But we know a lot less about the opposite case: historically Republican Clinton voters. Will Democrats be able to hold onto them in future elections? Many of their best paths to a U.S. House majority go through districts, including several in heavily Hispanic California and Florida, that shifted toward Democrats in 2016.

Florida SD-40 is one of those districts. According to Isbell, voters within its lines went for Barack Obama over Mitt Romney 54.5% to 44.9% in 2012. In a scenario where Democrats succeed in nationalizing this special election, a smaller Taddeo win might suggest that voters are sticking with their 2012 preferences; a Taddeo blowout might suggest that the 2016 baseline is more accurate. However, because of this district's unusual ticket-splitting tendencies, it may not be easy (or appropriate) to directly compare the 2017 State Senate results with the 2016 and 2012 presidential results, as explained above. So while the district's (new or old, 2016 or 2012) partisan baseline will certainly factor into tonight's results, it will probably be the trickiest thing to tease out. Simply put, the race is expected to be far closer than either Obama's 9.6-point win or Clinton's 17.6-point win, so a nail-biter wouldn't necessarily mean that the more Republican-favorable (i.e., 2012) baseline is the correct one.

* * *


Indeed, all three of these factors are going to affect the final verdict in Florida SD-40 tonight—and yet we're only going to see one set of topline results. Admittedly, that may make it difficult to tease apart exactly what to take away from the election; for instance, the variables listed above could pull in multiple directions, muddling the analysis and leaving the door open to more than one explanation. There's another major confounder: the cleanup after Hurricane Irma. Many areas of the district, which was hit hard earlier this month, are still without power, and voting may simply not be many people's top priority. (Governor Rick Scott rejected the Democratic Party's request to postpone the election until life in South Florida returned to normal.)

So even though the answers to all three questions will lie hidden in tonight's two simple results—Taddeo X, Díaz Y—they may not be obvious. But the election will still be able to tell us something. Certain results could eliminate certain 2018 theories, and a select few results would offer unambiguous lessons. If Taddeo wins by 17 points or better (i.e., she does better than Clinton), all three questions will have been answered in Democrats' favor. If Díaz outperforms Artiles's 10-point win from 2016, Republicans will be dancing a jig of glee.

If you're looking for a more definitive lesson to take away from tonight's results, though, you're in luck. If nothing else, this election is likely to foreshadow the open race for Florida's 27th Congressional District, which is being vacated by Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in 2018. Both FL-27 and SD-40 voted similarly in the 2016 and 2012 presidential races (both moving toward Democrats), both are three-quarters Hispanic, and both are open seats. In fact, they share many of the exact same voters: 24.1% of voters in FL-27 live in SD-40, and 34.7% of voters in SD-40 live in FL-27. Whichever party prevails tonight has to be considered the favorite in FL-27 next November—and that's one-twenty-fourth of Democrats' way to a majority.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Thanks to a Constitutional Quirk, Nothing to See in New Hampshire or Vermont in 2018

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu and Vermont Governor Phil Scott just took office seven months ago, and yet they are already having to run for reelection. New Hampshire and Vermont are unique among the states in that they elect their governors to two-year, rather than four-year, terms—resulting in nearly never-ending gubernatorial campaigns.

Democrats eager to start rebuilding their gubernatorial bench in 2018 are practically salivating over these two northern New England states. They doubtlessly look out on the Granite State’s political landscape and see a state that’s among the swingiest in the nation—one Donald Trump lost by just 2,736 votes in 2016—entering what could be a dramatic Democratic wave election. Meanwhile, in the Green Mountain State, a Republican sits on the throne of one of the most liberal states in the union—the home state of Bernie Sanders that went for Hillary Clinton by 26 points. You can understand why Democrats think they have an opening.

Unfortunately for them, their thinking is flawed; both Sununu and Scott are heavy favorites in 2018 due to the same underlying campaign context that Democrats think will help them. While New Hampshire and Vermont voters can be quite independent, that doesn’t mean they’re impatient enough to give up on their governors after just two short years. Indeed, these states’ unusual election calendars raise a very simple question: how often do governors lose reelection after only two years in office?

In addition to New Hampshire and Vermont, Rhode Island also elected governors to two-year terms until it amended its constitution effective 1994. Out of the collective past 85 biennial gubernatorial elections in those three states, an incumbent governor running for reelection after his or her first term has lost just one. It hasn’t happened in Vermont since 1962; it didn’t happen in Rhode Island after 1962; and it has happened just once (2004) in New Hampshire in the past 90 years. Indeed, running for governor against a two-year incumbent could be considered insane by one famous definition—doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

This is a significant difference in job security from governors elected quadrennially. As we’ve all observed, one-term governors are hardly unusual in the other 47 and a half states. It also becomes a lot more likely that Vermont, sometime Rhode Island, and especially New Hampshire governors lose reelection or retire once they serve four years:


What accounts for this near-invincibility? Most likely, it’s an extended honeymoon period. When any politician enters office, he or she generally enjoys increased popularity and political capital. Most of them are able to convert this political capital into action and results, which in turn lifts their popularity even higher. It’s not until a few years down the line that voters begin to get sick of their governor and/or the candidate falters.

This theory arises from the fact that, not only do two-year governors almost always win their first reelection battles, but they almost always do so even more convincingly than they won the corner office in the first place. Historical results for New Hampshire, Vermont, and Rhode Island gubernatorial elections going back to 1972 point to the electoral potency of a two-year incumbency:


That’s an average boost of 7.0 percentage points to the incumbent’s vote share and an average 13.4-point widening of his or her margin of victory. That’s conservative, too; Bruce Sundlun drags down the data because he did so well in his first election that his reelection (which he won comfortably) couldn’t possibly match it. In addition, Madeleine Kunin’s vote share fell in her reelection bid even though her margin of victory increased; that was because she faced a credible third-party challenger (Sanders, of all people) in 1986 as well.

Craig Benson in 2004—the one two-year governor during this period to lose reelection—remains the only truly concerning precedent for Sununu and Scott. Indeed, he is a poster child for what not to do in your first two-year term as governor: flout ethics rules, overreach legislatively, and make enemies. However, Sununu and Scott have avoided any such missteps, and their net approval ratings are sky high. They look well ensconced in their aforementioned honeymoon periods, and they are well on the path of every non-Benson two-year governor since 1972 to comfortable reelections. If historical averages hold, Sununu can expect to receive about 56% of the vote in 2018 to his opponent’s 40%; Scott can expect to prevail 60% to 38%.

But there’s also a warning hidden in the data. Two of the three governors whose margins of victory shrank in their reelection campaigns have served within the last 15 years; the recentness of Benson’s example is certainly a red flag. Could we be entering a period of more impatience in the electorate? Are the 21st century’s heightened partisanship and increased correlation between national and state election results finally overpowering these states’ longstanding traditions of voting for the person over the party? It’s impossible to tell as of yet, but it’s something for Sununu and Scott to be mindful of. By no means can they afford to sit back and take reelection for granted. But with prepared and competent incumbents, Republicans at least have history on their side.

Monday, July 17, 2017

How Many Fans Does Each MLB Team Have?: The 2017 Baseball Census

For the second straight year, Harris failed to release its formerly annual baseball poll. Usually conducted right around the All-Star break, the survey is valuable as pretty much our only direct measure of which MLB team is most popular nationwide. But now that I fear the Harris baseball poll has met its permanent demise, anyone interested in the demographics of baseball fans has to take matters into his or her own hands.

That's what I've done for the last three years here at Baseballot. Harris may be the only pollster that canvasses the whole nation about all 30 teams, but our friends over at Public Policy Polling (PPP) love to throw a baseball question or two into their state-by-state political polls. For each state that PPP polls, I use the latest population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau to estimate a raw number of fans for each team in that state. Here are the cumulative figures nationwide for July 2017:

Team Fans Team Fans
New York Yankees 25,226,872 Colorado Rockies 5,017,208
Boston Red Sox 20,193,922 Kansas City Royals 4,830,504
Atlanta Braves 20,085,743 Baltimore Orioles 4,612,809
Chicago Cubs 18,407,160 Minnesota Twins 4,541,341
San Francisco Giants 11,353,160 Cleveland Indians 4,331,383
Texas Rangers 10,414,884 Arizona Diamondbacks 4,207,748
St. Louis Cardinals 8,743,144 Pittsburgh Pirates 4,161,965
Los Angeles Dodgers 8,380,484 Milwaukee Brewers 3,975,281
Detroit Tigers 7,594,395 Oakland Athletics 3,842,463
New York Mets 7,035,826 San Diego Padres 3,371,712
Houston Astros 6,734,407 Chicago White Sox 3,023,366
Los Angeles Angels 6,702,815 Tampa Bay Rays 3,017,097
Seattle Mariners 6,023,758 Miami Marlins 2,979,375
Philadelphia Phillies 5,402,108 Washington Nationals 2,812,690
Cincinnati Reds 5,107,524 Toronto Blue Jays* 210,801

*These numbers do not include fans in Canada, meaning the Blue Jays are surely underrepresented.

Unfortunately, we haven't gotten a lot of new baseball polls in the past 12 months; PPP was busy asking poll questions about something else, I guess. We did get a new poll of Florida, which is as much a baseball bellwether as it is a political one. In last September's poll, the Yankees reclaimed the title of Florida's favorite baseball team, just as they are America's favorite team with an estimated 25,226,872 fans nationwide. New York (AL) leapfrogged ahead of the Marlins and Rays in the Sunshine State, the two teams fighting for the dubious honor of least popular in the United States. (The numbers above don't include Washington, DC, either, so the Nationals are undercounted just like the Blue Jays.)

We also learned about the baseball preferences of Utah for the first time (finding: they don't really care too much), bringing the coverage of our makeshift baseball census to 39 of the 50 states (representing 88.5% of the U.S. population). Here's what's still missing:


Obviously, then, there are some limitations to this exercise. Missing states like Indiana and Alabama means our numbers for teams like the Cubs/White Sox and Braves are lower than they truly are. And PPP's baseball questions are worded in an opt-out manner, so 78% of poll respondents nationwide claimed to have a favorite team even though we know that only around 40–50% of Americans are baseball fans. On the other hand, PPP also only has time to ask about eight or so MLB teams per state, meaning the handful of fans of the other ~22 teams in that state don't get counted. So, yes, this census is hardly scientific, but it's a fun rough approximation of some very interesting data.