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November 4, 2013

BP Unfiltered

Rereading Nate Silver: 1. GMs Getting Smarter

by Sam Miller

A note about what follows: I've long been a fan of consuming an artist or author's complete body of work. Reading everything, the hits and the deep cuts both, seems to reveal deeper themes and tendencies. I once committed six months to reading all 27 works by a notable American author, and it was (and remains) deeply satisfying. I tried the same with another author a couple years later and ran out of steam. This offseason, I'm trying something different: I'm going to knock out Nate Silver's BP archives. He wrote 241 times on this site. Some were maintenance posts, or game recaps, or other articles that were really only valuable in the moment. I'll be reading and reviewing all of the rest, at a rate of about one per day.

Silver was, before becoming an Aspen Ideas speaker and a Nobel Prize winner (no link yet; I'm projecting), the best baseball writer in the world. In my opinion at the time, at least. His topics were forward thinking, his tone was measured, his writing was funny, his statistics were both professional-grade and accessible. I've long wished to revisit many of my favorites; shoot, I've long needed to, for the purposes of my own writing, but have been putting it off because 241 is an intimidating number. I don't know exactly where this is going to go, if these recaps will all be brief synopses like the one below, or if I'll be inspired to write more (or even less). I imagine they will usually be brief, but that they will often lead to follow-up research, reading, or some other longer response. We'll see. You're invited to read along.


The 2003 Free Agent Market
Published January 3, 2003

Abstract: The apparent downturn in free agents’ market value during the offseason leads Nate, in his BP debut, to compare cost per projected win with that of the previous offseason. He measures projected wins using players’ previous three WARP totals, weighted 5:3:2. (The site’s more nuanced and brand new PECOTA system, he fears, won’t align with major-league teams’ assessments techniques of the day.) Comparing that year’s dollar-per-projected-wins figure with the previous year’s free agents, he finds that the league was spending 13-14 percent fewer dollars per win and giving out fewer long-term contracts, suggesting the league’s front offices weren’t optimistic about the game’s future —revenue and that the belt-tightening was making them smarter. “Downward economic pressure has been observed to induce this trimming-the-fat effect in a variety of economic contexts.”

Key quote: “The one hypothesis that probably can be ruled out on the basis of this evidence is that of an explicit attempt at collusion. A collusive market, although favorable from the perspective of ownership, does not operate efficiently. Because collusion imposes an artificial constraint on the number of bidders for any given player, the market is not as well equipped to estimate each player's value accurately.”

Charmingly outdated: The projection for Jason Giambi to produce 12 WARP that season.

Tables: 3
Graphs: 2
Equations: 5

On The Nate Silver Must-Read Scale: 1 (out of a possible 3)

Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Sam's other articles. You can contact Sam by clicking here

8 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links


One thing that would be important to note is when BP's WARP switched to it's current higher baseline for replacement level. My recollection is that there was a long period where WARP had a very low (Cleveland Spiders type low) baseline.

To the extent that BP has since joined everybody else with a higher baseline, then we can reasonable say that BP was then "wrong".

Consequently, any time in these older Silver pieces he is using that WARP construct to assess the moves of MLB teams he is going to make assessments different from the ones that we would make now simply due to the change in WARP.

Nov 04, 2013 12:54 PM
rating: 4

Great project. Who is the notable American author? John Steinbeck?

Nov 04, 2013 13:07 PM
rating: 2
BP staff member Sam Miller
BP staff

Yes. Got ~60 percent through Roth.

Nov 04, 2013 13:17 PM
Randy Brown

I look forward to reading along. I think this is a great idea because (1) I too am a fan of Nate Silver's body of work, and (2) I am lazy. Sam Miller to the rescue with Cliff's Notes!

Nov 04, 2013 18:15 PM
rating: 5
Andy Cochrane

Great idea. Looking forward to it.

Nov 05, 2013 09:52 AM
rating: 0

I've read everything on the site by Silver, Sheehan, Goldman, Kharl and Huckabay (who is ludicrously underappreciated).

I'm looking forward to this project Sam. It's a good idea.

It's easy to do this with great modern writers, like Nick Hornby and Junot Diaz. It's harder with some of the older writers, because most of them wrote one or two dreadful pieces. That said, you could also do this with Hemingway, Twain (very ambitious) or Orwell.

Nov 05, 2013 16:06 PM
rating: 0

That roster of writers you listed is nearly 100% on target. Great call.

Nov 07, 2013 21:36 PM
rating: 0

Great idea, Sam. Is it transferrable to podcasts?

Nov 06, 2013 06:44 AM
rating: 0
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<< Previous Article
Prospects Will Break Y... (11/01)
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BP Unfiltered: Scoutin... (10/25)
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The Week in Quotes: Oc... (11/04)

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