US Olympic Performance

I don’t know if you heard, but the Winter Olympics just concluded. I’m admittedly not a huge fan of the Winter Olympics, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t keep my eye on some of the stories coming out of the coverage. One that I liked was this piece from FiveThirtyEight.

US performance was lagging at this point
US performance was lagging at this point

It was about halfway through the Olympics and the US was not doing terribly well. The chart does a great job of showing how various countries were performing, or over- or under-performing, their expected total medal winnings. It did this through a filled bar chart with a bar-specific benchmark line. It was a nice combination of a couple of different techniques to incorporate not just the usual above or below the trend, but also the actual amounts.

Credit for the piece goes to Gus Wezerek.

Baseball’s Free Agency Problem

Baseball season begins next week. For different teams it starts different days, but for the Red Sox at least, pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training on Tuesday. But the Red Sox, along with many other teams throughout baseball, have holes in their roster. Why? Arguably because nearly 100 free agents remain unsigned.

I do not intend to go into the different theories as to why, but this has been a remarkably slow offseason. How do we know? Well using MLB Trade Rumours listing of the top-50 free agents this year, and the signings reported on Baseball Reference, we can look at the upper and middle, or maybe upper-middle, tiers of free agency.

The upper tiers of baseball's free agent market, as of 9 February
The upper tiers of baseball’s free agent market, as of 9 February

Kind of messy to look at with all the player labels, but we can see here the projected contracts, in both length and total value, along with the contracts players signed, if they have. And for context we can see how those contracts compares to the Qualifying Offer (QO). What’s that? Complicated baseball stuff that is meant to ensure teams that lose stars or highly valuable players are compensated, especially since they might come from smaller market teams that cannot afford superstar prices. The QO is meant to help competitiveness in the sport. How does it do that? Let’s just say complicated baseball stuff. We should also point out that some players, most notably the Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka, were expected to opt out of their contracts and try the free market. Tanaka did not, which is why his projection was so far off.

Comparing the signed to the unsigned free agents
Comparing the signed to the unsigned free agents

So is it true that free agency is or has moved slowly? Consider that approximately 100 free agents remain unsigned as of late Thursday night—please no big signings tomorrow morning—and that of the top 50, 22 of them remain unsigned. And if we take the QO as a proxy for the best players in the game, add in two players who were exempt because baseball stuff, we can say that 8 of the 11 best players remain unsigned. Though, in fairness to ownership, three of those players are reportedly sitting on multi-year offers in the nine-figure range.

But if players are unsigned, does that mean they are competing for lower value contracts? Possibly. If we use MLB Trade Rumours’ projected contracts, because in years past they have proven smart at these things, we can see that for the 28 who have signed, it’s a roughly even split in terms of the number of players who have signed for more or less than their projection. Sometimes however, non-monetary factors come into play. Two notable free agents, Todd Frazier and Addison Reed, both reportedly signed lesser value contracts to play closer to a specified geography, in Frazier’s case the Northeast and in Reed’s the Midwest.

How are the signed players doing versus their contract projections
How are the signed players doing versus their contract projections

But the telling part in that graphic is not necessarily the vertical movement, i.e. dollars, but the horizontal movement. (Though we should call out the cases of Carlos Santana and Tyler Chatwood, signed by the Phillies and Cubs respectively, who did far better than projected.) Consider that a team might not have a lot of money to spend and so might extend a contract over additional years, offering job security to a player. Or in a bidding war, the length of the contract might be what leads a player to pick one team over another. In those cases we would expect to see more left-to-right movement. So far we have only had one player, Lorenzo Cain, who signed for more years than expected. Most players who have signed for less have also signed for fewer years. Note the cluster of right-to-left, or shorter-than-expected, contracts in the lower tiers versus the small, vertical-only cluster in the same section for those signing greater than projected contracts.

Lastly, are these trends hitting any specific positional type of player? Well maybe. Ignoring the market for catchers because of how small the pool was—though the case of Jonathan Lucroy as the unsigned catcher is fascinating—we can see that the market has really been there for relief pitchers as there are few of the top-50 remaining on the market. Starting pitchers and outfields, while with quite a few still on the market, have generally done better than projected. But infielders lag behind with numerous players unsigned and those that have signed, most have signed for less than projected.

Are there any trends at the position level
Are there any trends at the position level

But at the same time, I would fully expect that once these higher level free agents come off the board—while one would think they would certainly be signed, who knows in such a weird offseason as this—the unsigned middle and lower tiers will quickly follow suit.

Of course none of this touches upon age. (Largely because lack of time on my part.) Though, in most cases, getting to free agency in and of itself makes a player older by definition the way baseball’s pre-arbitration and arbitration salary periods work. (Again, more baseball stuff but suffice it to say your first several years you play for peanuts and crackerjacks.)

Hopefully by this afternoon—Friday that is—some of these players will have signed. After all, baseball starts next week. If we are lucky this post will be outdated, at least in terms of the dataset, come Monday. Regardless, it has been a fascinating albeit boring baseball offseason.

Credit for the data goes to MLB Trade Rumours and Baseball Reference.

Onwards and Upwards

Yesterday SpaceX launched the Falcon Heavy rocket on its maiden voyage, and then recaptured several, though not all, of its reusable rockets. The Falcon Heavy represents the most powerful rocket available to mankind today, though NASA’s Saturn V of the Apollo programme era was considerably more powerful. That was all the stuff you could read in the news yesterday and today.

But how much more powerful? Thankfully we have the Economist who put together a nice graphic detailing not just the standard size comparisons of the Falcon series to the Saturn V and other famous rocket systems, e.g. the Space Shuttle and its boosters. The Economist graphic also adds information about the payload capabilities and timeframes for either historical operation or expected service dates.

It's big and powerful, but SpaceX still has a long way to go…
It’s big and powerful, but SpaceX still has a long way to go…

From the illustrative side, there were three really nice touches. First, the faint Statue of Liberty to give the rocket height context to famous landmark buildings. Two, the little human figure on the left-hand side to give context to ourselves, these things are big. Three, the ridiculousness of the Saturn V is captured by having its peak break the top frame of the chrome or graphic device, i.e. the red bar, standard on Economist graphics.

Overall a solid piece. (Yes, I know these are liquid fueled.)

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist’s graphics team.

The World Grows On (Part II)

Earlier this month I wrote-up a piece from the Economist that looked at 2018 GDP growth globally. I admitted then—and still do now—that it was an oddly sentimental piece given the frequency with which I made graphics just like that in my designer days of youth and yore. Today, we have the redux, a piece from the New York Times. Again, nothing fancy here. As you will see, we are talking about a choropleth map and bar charts in small multiple format. But why am I highlighting it? Front page news.

Choropleth on the front page? More please.
Choropleth on the front page? More please.

I just like seeing this kind of simple, but effective data visualisation work on the front page of a leading newspaper.

Lots of green on that map
Lots of green on that map

I personally would have used a slightly different palette to give a bit more hint to the few negative growth countries in the world—here’s lookin’ at you, Venezuela—but overall it works. And the break points in the bin seem a bit arbitrary unless they were chosen to specifically highlight the called-out countries.

Then on the inside we get another small but effective graphic.

Page 4
Page 4

It doesn’t consume the whole page, but sits quietly but importantly at the top of the article.

The world's leading economies, on their own
The world’s leading economies, on their own

There the small multiples show the year-on-year change—nothing fancy—for the world’s leading economies. A one-colour print, it works well. But, I particularly enjoy the bit with China. Look at how the extreme growth before the Great Recession is handled, just breaking out of the container. Because it isn’t important to read growth as 13.27% (or whatever it was), just that it was extremely high. You could almost say, off the charts.

Overall, it was just a fun read for a Sunday morning.

Credit for the piece goes to Karl Russell and the New York Times graphics department.

The Shitholes

Today’s post is a very quick reaction to the news last night about President Trump calling Haiti, El Salvador, and African countries “shitholes” and trying to get rid of immigrants from those countries in favour of immigrants from places like Norway.

Norwegian contributions to American immigrants peaked well before the 21st century. At that time, Norway was poor and lesser developed. The data was hard to find, but on a GDP per capita level, Norway was one of the least developed countries in Western Europe. On a like dollar-for-dollar basis, El Salvador of 2008 is not too far from Norway 1850.

I wish I had more time to develop this graphic for this morning. Alas, it will have to do as is.

I'm just really hoping Africa isn't a country again…
I’m just really hoping Africa isn’t a country again…

Where It’ll Be Too Warm for the Winter Olympics

The Winter Olympics are creeping ever closer and so this piece from the New York Times caught my eye. It examines the impact of climate change on host cities for the Winter Olympics. Startlingly, a handful of cities from the past almost century are no longer reliable enough, i.e. cold and snow-covered, to host winter games.

This screenshot is of a bar chart that looks at temperatures, because snow and ice obviously require freezing temperatures. The reliability is colour-coded and at first I was not a fan—it seemed unnecessary to me.

At first I did not care for the colours in the bars
At first I did not care for the colours in the bars

But then further down the piece, those same colours are used to reference reliability on a polar projection map.

But then this map changed my mind
But then this map changed my mind

That was a subtle, but well appreciated design choice. My initial aversion to the graphic and piece was changed by the end of it. That is always great when designers can pull that off.

Credit for the piece goes to Kendra Pierre-Louis and Nadja Popovich

The World Grows On

January is the month of forecasts and projections for the year to come. And the Economist is no different. Late last week it published a datagraphic showcasing the GDP growth forecasts of the Economist Intelligence Unit. I used to make this exact type of datagraphic a lot. And I mean a lot. But what I really enjoy is how successfully this piece integrates the map, the bar chart, and the tables to round out the story.

Take a note at how the chart distributes the bins as well
Take a note at how the chart distributes the bins as well

The easy thing to do is always the map, because people like maps. They can be big, and if the data set is robust, full of data and colour. But maps hide and obscure geographically small countries. And then you have to assume that people know all the countries in the world. Problem is, most people do not.

So the bar chart does a good job of showing each country as equals, a slim vertical bar. In such a small space, labelling every country is impossible, but the designers chose a select number of countries that might be of interest and called them out across the entire series.

Lastly, people always like to know who is #winning and who is a #loser. So the tables at the extreme ends of the chart showcast the top and last five.

I may have rearranged some of the elements, and dropped the heavy black rules between the bins on the legend, but overall I consider this piece a success.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.

Data Displays

This past weekend I saw the film Darkest Hour with one of my mates. The film focuses on Winston Churchill at the very beginning of his term as prime minister. Coincidentally I was walking through some of the very rooms and corridors depicted in the film—and rather accurately I should say—just one week prior.

One of the things in the real place that caught my eye in particular was the Map Room Annex. Most people know about the Map Room proper, from which the British Empire’s war effort was coordinated, but the annex contained data on wartime casualties, material production, &c. Consequently the walls were lined with displays of that data. But this was also the early 1940s and so none of it was computerised. Instead, we had handmade charts.

Alas, the space is quite narrow and the museum was quite crowded. So I only managed a snapshot or two, but I think this one does some justice to the hardworking folks producing charts about the war.

They were not made to be mobile-friendly or responsive…
They were not made to be mobile-friendly or responsive…

Credit for the piece goes to some junior officer/staffer back in the day.

So Much for Jamaica, (Ger)Man

Last week we saw a lot of news break, and then here at Coffeespoons we had the usual American Thanksgiving holiday with which to contend. So now that things are creeping back to a new normal, let us dive back into some of the things we missed.

How about those German coalition government talks?

Remember two months ago when we looked at Die Welt and the German election results? Well it turns out that the FDP, the liberal (in the more classical sense that makes them more centre-right) Free Democrats, have walked away from coalition talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU party (it’s actually two separate parties that have an alliance) and the Green Party. That leaves Merkel with the the Social Democrats as the only other option to form a majority government. (She could attempt to hold a minority government, but from her own statements that appears unlikely.) But the Social Democrats do not appear too keen on joining up in a grand coalition.

So where does Germany stand? Well thankfully the Economist put together a short article with a few graphics to help show just how tricky putting together a new coalition government will be.

Crossing the finish line…
Crossing the finish line…

In terms of design, there is not too much to stay here. The colours are determined by the colours used by the political parties. And the 50% vote threshold is a common, but very useful and workable, convention. The only thing I may have done to emphasise the lack of change in the polling data is a line chart to show the percentage point movement or lack thereof.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.

Voting in Virginia

Today is Election Day here in the States, but neither for the presidency nor for Congress. 2017 is an off-year, but it does have a few interesting races worth following. One is the New Jersey gubernatorial election across the river here from Philadelphia. Further down the Northeast Corridor we have the gubernatorial election in Virginia. And then I am going to be following the special election for a Seattle suburb’s state-level district. Why? Because it all gets to setting the table for 2022.

These three elections are all important for one reason, they relate to the idea of solid political control of a state government. The analogy is what we have in Washington, DC where the Republicans control the executive branch and both chambers of the legislative branch. In New Jersey, Democrats control the state legislature while (in?)famous Chris Christie, a Republican, is governor. In Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, is governor whilst the General Assembly is solidly Republican—we will get to that in a minute, trust me—and finally in Washington, the governorship is Democratic, the lower chamber of the state legislature is Democratic, but the state senate is Republican by one seat. And one of those very seats is up for a special election today.

So why am I making the big deal about this? Because solid political control of a state allows for biased redistricting, or gerrymandering, in 2020, when the US Census will reapportion seats to states, and thereby electoral college votes. If the Republicans win in Virginia, which is possible in what the polls basically have as a toss-up, they can redistrict Virginia to make it even harder for Democrats to win. And if the Democrats win in New Jersey and Washington, as they are expected to, they will be able to redistrict the state in their favour. Conversely, if the Democrats win in Virginia, and Republicans in New Jersey and Washington, they can thwart overly gerrymandered districts.

Which gets us to Virginia and today’s post. (It took awhile, apologies.) But as the state of Virginia changes, look at the dynamic growth in northern part of the state over the past decade, how will the changing demographics and socio-economics impact the state’s vote? Well, we have a great piece from the Washington Post to examine that.

The growth has been in northern Virginia thus far
The growth has been in northern Virginia thus far

It does a really nice job of showing where the votes are, in northern Virginia, and where the jobs are, again in northern Virginia. But how southern Virginia and Republicans in the north, might have just enough votes to defeat Democratic candidate Ralph Northam. The last polls I saw showed a very narrow lead for him over Republican Ed Gillespie. Interestingly, Gillespie is the very same Gillespie who architected the Republican’s massive victory in 2010 that obviously shifted the House of Representatives to the Republicans, but more importantly, shifted state legislatures and governorships to the Republicans.

That shift allowed for the Republicans to essentially stack the deck for the coming decade. And so even though in 2016, Democrats won more votes for the House of Representatives, they have far fewer seats. Even if there is a groundswell of new support for them in 2018, that same gerrymandering will make it near impossible for the Democrats to win the House. And so these votes in Virginia, New Jersey, and Washington state are fun to follow tonight—I will be—but they could also lay the groundwork for the elections in 2022 and 2024.

Basically, I just used today’s post to talk about why these three elections are important not for today, but for the votes in a few years’ time. But you really should check out the graphic. It makes nice use of layout, especially with the job bar chart organised by Virginia region. Overall, a solid and terrific piece.

Credit for the piece goes to Darla Cameron and Ted Mellnik.