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Chat: Nate Silver

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Tuesday February 15, 2005 1:00 PM ET chat session with Nate Silver.

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Nate Silver is an author of Baseball Prospectus.

Nate Silver: Hi All. We're running very late today thanks to some stupidity problems on my part but there are a ton of questions so I'll try and get to a good bunch of them. My apologies for the delay.

iolair00 (LA): When should we expect to see the PECOTA cards on the website?

Nate Silver: First things first, we expect to launch both the PECOTA cards and the BP Fantasy product very, very soon. Stay tuned.

Beane Counter (Bay Area): PECOTA seems to be hard on Rich Harden, projecting a significant regression from last year. What is it that PECOTA sees to dislike when most others are projecting him to improve? And a cheat second question if I may. What plans have you got for BP Fantasy product this year and when do you think it will be launched?

Nate Silver: I think I've said before that few pitchers should really be trumpeted as breakout candidates. Whereas you can pretty reliably expect say a 23-year old hitter to become a somewhat better hitter by the time that he's 27, the same can't be said for pitchers. Some of them are going to improve ... and some of them are going to get hurt and some of them are never going to be able to overcome whichever flaws are preventing them from being lights-out to begin with. There are mountains of historical evidence to suggest that this is the case.

As for Harden, the problem is simply his walk rate. His walk rate was improved last year - but not enough by PECOTA's standards - and it's generally a stretch to assume that a pitcher's walk rate is going to improve further. He's a good pitcher, and there's certainly some *chance* that he becomes an elite pitcher - Tom Seaver is one of the names on his comparables list - but the most likely scenario is that he settles in as a #2/#3 type starter.

Justin (NYU): I asked this question last year, but it seems even more appropriate this year: What effect do you expect the steroids issue to have on baseball stats? On PECOTA's accuracy? Isn't it reasonable to think that with all the steroid discussion, fewer players will be using steroids, thereby (1) leading to a decrease in offensive stats generally, and (2) a particular drop for a number of players? And is there any way to identify which players might suffer the most?

Nate Silver: Perhaps after Jose Canseco's book comes out we can construct a profile of just which players are most likely to be using sterioids ....

Seriously, my thoughts on the matter are as follows:

1) We just don't know. There are lots and lots and lots of players throughout history who have had unusual development patterns for reasons entirely unrelated to steroids.

2) My intuition - and it's just an intuition - is that while steroids have an impact, they don't have quite as much of an impact on a player's stats as you might think.

Mike W (Chicago): The one thing about PECOTA that seems suboptimal is that is consistently projects less than 150-160 game splayed for most players. Have you considered a separate number for likelihood of 150+ and/or 120+, etc. games, and then assuming a "full" season for those whom PECOTA at least sees as full-time starters? It's fine for people who have an injury history, but it seems like even historically healthy players start losing (projected) time to injury as they get older, and while on balance I'm sure that's accurate, individually it is awkward. Whadya say?

Nate Silver: That's sort of what we're doing. If we're looking at a guy's weighted mean projection, it's going to account for some residual or specific injury risk. But the top percentiles on his projection will usually have him staying very healthy.

I know a lot of people don't like to see the conservative playing time estimates. But it's easy to forget just how dangerous a game baseball can be. Something like 35% of baseball players hit the DL at some point last season, including plenty ("green light" guys, in Will Carroll's terms) that had no real injury history to speak of. Look at someone like Magglio Ordonez - he was the picutre of health until this past summer. There are quite a few Magglio Ordonezes throughout history and my projection system would be dishonest if it failed to account for that risk.

tbwhite (San Diego): In contrast to Rich Harden, PECOTA seems to like Dontrelle Willis better this year compared to last year. Why ? By most standards his 2004 was not as good as his 2003.

Nate Silver: Willis has better command than Harden. He was also a bit unlucky last year - his ERA "should" have been better than it was, based on his peripheral stats. I like Harden better five years down the line, simply because he has better raw stuff, but I think Willis is something of a sleeper candidate for this year.

dantroy (davis, ca): PECOTA seems down on HRs this year, at least judging by the leader boards. Why do you think this is so?

Nate Silver: Another one of these tough questions. PECOTA doesn't think that home runs are going to be hit any less frequently than last year - in fact we pretty much force the system to produce league averages that are consistent with 2004. The reason that you don't see any guy projected to hit 47 home runs or something is twofold:

1) As we've discussed, PECOTA is conservative when it comes to projecting playing time. Whether you agree with this or not, it has a corresponding impact on any of a guy's counting stats, as opposed to his rate stats.

2) More importantly, PECOTA is *not* saying that the major league leader is going to have 39 home runs or something. It is exceptionally unlikely that someone will win the league home run crown with 39 home runs.

Rather, some of those guys that are projected to have relatively high home run totals are in fact going to have extremely high home run totals. Albert Pujols' weighted mean projection has him hitting "just" 39 homers - but that represents the average of a lot of possible seasons. In some of those seasons he'll hit 54 homers. In others, his heel will keep bothering, and he'll spend four months on the DL and hit 12 homers when he's healthy. Ten percent of hitters are going to hit their 90th percentile projections, and that's where the league leaders are likely to be found.

BobD (Boise): Historical question for you - Halfway thru Barry's career, he seemed easily headed for the HoF, but no threat to Musial, Wagner, Hornsby or Mays as greates NL hitter of all time. Seems to mark him all the more as a one-of-a-kind. Has there ever been a career progression similar to BB's? Comment?

Nate Silver: There's never been a career progression anything like Barry's. Probably not in any sport. He's the outlier of outliers.

dantroy (davis, ca): Nate, How do you see the NL East shaking out?

Nate Silver: I think the NL East will be the stongest division in baseball, except possibly for the AL West.

We'll have the PECOTA-based team win totals up on the site soon, but I'm *guessing* they're going to look roughly as follows

Braves 90-72
Phillies 89-73
Marlins 88-74
Mets 84-78
Nats 70-92

That could make for one hell of a pennant race. The Phillies in particular seem to be underrated in some circles. I like things like the Jon Lieber signing, and they have a lot of guys that can be expected to improve upon their performance of a year ago.

hrwest (Marina del Rey, CA): Better career, Jeff Francouer (tools) or Nick Swisher (performance)?

Nate Silver: Swisher is 24 now and PECOTA sees him as being worth about 2.5 wins above replacement next year, when he'll be 25. Francouer is 21 now and PECOTA sees him as being worth 3.4 wins above replacement in 2009, when he'll be 25. So Francouer is the answer I think, as those tools begin to be converted into raw performance. He's also in the right organization in Atlanta.

Mark (MD): I'm still confused as to how far in a player's OWN past PECOTA looks back in preparing to look for historical comps. For a concrete example, does PECOTA know at all about Marcus Giles' multiple .300+ BAs in the minor leagues when it goes to compare him to historical players?

Nate Silver: PECOTA goes back three seasons, so a guy's early minor league numbers won't have any impact once he's establish himself in the big leagues. Sometimes you'll get a guy who looked like he was going to be a .300 hitter in the minor leagues but then hits .250 or so in his first 1500 major league at bats ... I fail to see why his minor league numbers would be of any significance at that point. This means you, Carlos Pena.

beardsly (omaha): What does PECOTA think of David Wright, long term?

Nate Silver: It likes him very well. Among his top ten comparables, we get Ron Santo, Gary Sheffield, Dwight Evans, Eric Chavez, Jack Clark, and Adrian Beltre. Wright's more advanced as a player than Scott Rolen or Mike Schmidt were at his age - in fact, Rolen and Schmidt aren't even eligible to be comparables for Wright since they weren't in the big leagues at age 21 and our minor league database doesn't go back far enough.

tbwhite (Sna Diego): one more question, Zack Greinke, how much does PECOTA love him ? I notice he has almost no chance of attrition or collapse which seems remarkable for such a young, inexperienced pitcher.

Nate Silver: Greinkie is the rare example of a pitcher that PECOTA likes a lot. Young finesse pitchers are probably safer bets in the near term than young power pitchers - not the qualifiers on that statement - which is why his attrition rates and so forth are low. The key is going to be whether he can find some way to keep the ball in the yard. If he can, he could be Bret Saberhagen.

tbwhite (San Diego): What does PECOTA think of the Padres this year ? Can Jake Peavy keep it up, will Adam Eaton break out ? Will Brian Giles and Ryan Klesko bounce back ? It seems like a lot went wrong for the Pads last year, and with the exception of Loretta and mayube Greene they didn't have any over achievers. Do they have nowhere to go but up in 2005 ?

Nate Silver: San Diego is going to be competitive this year, but I don't know that it's right to consider them a team on the upswing. In particular, I'm concerned about the age of their hitters. Giles and Klesko are not likely to bounce back to their vintage seasons - in fact the opposite is true.

Bryan (Maryland): Last offseason, I remember a few media outlets discussing that the Mets had done an internal study that yielded the conclusion that, from both a risk and flexibility standpoint, teams should offer no more than three-year deals. I have also heard that the BoSox had a similiar theory. Clearly, this is not a hard and fast rule as both organizations made signings this offseasons of longer than three-years. Since you are well-known for your projections, how do you feel about three-year contract general guideline even if it means avoiding some superstars who command longer deals (see the reigning AL MVP)? As a follow up, since it seems more than reasonable that each case should be looked at isolation, what is the longest deal that you be willing sign a player to?

Nate Silver: Excellent question.

Generally speaking, I think major league clubs grossly underestimate he risk associate with longer-term contacts, even for players who have been relatively young, and relatively healthy. If you take a look back at say the VORP leaderboards in a random season for hitters who were age 26 or so, you'd be surprised at just how many Bob Horners and so forth there are - the attrition rate is pretty high.

That said, there's nothing magical about three years in particular. The risk of something bad happening is higher in Year 4 than in Year 3 - but it's higher than in Year 3 than in Year 2, and higher in Year 7 than in Year 6, and it's higher in Year 1 than people realize. I'd be willing to sign a player to a lifetime contact if the price were right - most times it won't be.

Jeff (Chicago): It seems like Sean Burroughs will never hit for power. Was age 12 his peak season?

Nate Silver: Heh-heh.

PECOTA's not very optimistic about Burroughs, and I'm not either. In general, a position player's power is the last thing to keep developing, and it can continue getting better well into a guy's twenties, and even his early thirties. But there seems to be some sort of threshold involved - you need to have some amount of power to get more power. Burroughs' swing doesn't generate any power at all and I think he's below that threshold. There's some chance that Burroughs could hit for Bill Buckner type power - but there's almost no chance that he'll hit for George Brett type power, or anything within a standard deviation of it.

Harry's ghost (Rush Street): Holy Cow, Nate! How does P-pec-cotasssh like the new-look Cubs? I see the starters as improved even without Matt Clement, since Prior and Wood should pitch a LOT more innings! Cubs and Cards will both win 92-96 games, I say.

Nate Silver: PECOTA spelled backward is ATOCEP.

PECOTA is a little bit sour on this year's Cubs. The pitching depth is tremendous, and while it's unlikely that any group of young pitchers is going to be entirely injury-free, as you pointed out the Cubs' staff had its share of injury problems last year and still gave up just 665 runs.

The bats are the problem. Just taking a whirlwind tour through last year's lineup:

C - Mike Barrett. Age 27 last year, numbers were out of line with his past history. Moderate decline likely.

1B - Derrek Lee. Moderate improvement likely.

2B - Todd Walker. He'll be 32, which is a dangerous age for a hitter, and he's not much of an athlete. Some decline likely.

3B - Aramis Ramirez. Fantastic hitter, but last year was so far out of line that it was likely somewhat attributable to luck. Some decline likely.

SS - Nomar Garciparra. Injury prone, getting old, isolated power has been dropping. Futher decline likely, though I still like the signing. That said, a full year of Nomar + Neifi should be better than what they got from the position last year.

LF - Moises Alou wouldn't have matched last year's numbers anyway, but whichever combination of Hollandworth and Dubois and Harriston that gets trotted out there almost certainly won't. Serious decline likely.

CF - Corey Patterson. PECOTA isn't super optimistic about him, but I really like what he did in the second half. Improvement likely.

RF - Sammy Sosa. Burnitz is not likely to match his production, even though Sosa had a down year.

So by my accounting that's three positions where they're likely to get improved production, versus five at which they're going to suffer a decline. I think Hendry's going to regret not going after a big bat.

Anthony (Long Island): Last year Nick Johnson had a monstrous PECOTA profile...he seemed to have a legit shot to be the next Todd Helton. So where is he now?

Nate Silver: I think even Nick Johnson's fans have to concede now that injury problems are going to be the major theme of his career. I can't think of a guy who got hurt as often as Johnson has and went on to become an All-Star type talent -- Zydrunas Ilgauskas, I guess, if you want to go to basketball.

Benton Quest (Montevideo): Thanks for the chat, Nate. Can PECOTA forecast pitchers from A+ or AA numbers? If so, does a dominant AA starter who's 22 (e.g. Anthony Reyes 12 K & 1.5 BB per 9 IP) rate just a little or a helluva lot behind a very good AA starter who's 19 or 20 (Felix H., Matt Cain)? Any organization would MUCH rather have the teen phenom, but isn't the injuryattrition rate significantly larger for the kid pitchers?

Nate Silver: This year, we have our historical database of minor league pitchers up and running for the first time, which should lead to substantially better, more robust projections for minor league pitchers. You'll get to see the results very soon. PECOTA absolutely loves Anthony Reyes.

bigpapi (Simsbury, CT): Whats with Dustin Pedroia's projections. 300 average, .370 obp. That'd be shocking for a guy who just began double a.

Nate Silver: We've had a couple of comments about Pedroia, who has one hell of a projection. The main problem here is the sample size - PECOTA only had 175 plate appearances or so since he was a June draftee and PECOTA wasn't really designed to adjust for partial season minor league numbers. We only need go back to Rickie Weeks last year to have an example of how that can be misleading.

That said, hitting something like .350/.440/.540 in your minor league debut is damned impressive. At the very least, I like him a heck of a lot better than Hanley Ramirez.

Jim Hendry (Toddlin' Town): Not to worry, Nate. I'll trade big Brian Dopirak (or B-Dope, as I call him) for Aubrey Huff in late July. And Angel Guzman for B.J. Ryan to top off the bullpen. Trust me. And thanks for da chat!

Nate Silver: In all seriousness, this is probably the best reason that one should err on the side of optimism with respect to the Cubs' chances. What Hendry might lack in creativity in January, he makes up for in July. And the Cubs have a deep farm system to work with.

Cris E (St Paul, MN): Before you yanked his numbers, how was PECOTA treating Julio Franco? Was he starting to look like a knuckleball pitcher?

Nate Silver: We didn't yank Franco's numbers ... it's just that there haven't been any hitters who were major league regulars at Age 46 like ever. We can come up with a baseline projection simply by extending out a standard aging curve by another year, which is what we did to come up with his projection in the book, but otherwise there's nobody to compare him to.

Cardinal991 (New York): How bad does it look for Jose Reyes? His 2005 PECOTA is so bad, does he still project to be an above-average SS down the road? His star has faded about as fast as any once-coveted prospect I can recall.

Nate Silver: Reyes' PECOTA has also faded about as fast as anybody that I can remember, at least in the three long years that I've been doing this. PECOTA expected him to stay healthy and post a .261 EqA last year, which would have been fantastic for a 21-year-old shortstop; instead he got hurt and had an ugly .237 EqA. He's off the Roberto Alomar career track and on the Garry Templeton career track.

Suraj (NY, NY): Isn't the Mets pitching staff tremendously overrated, considering the age and the bullpen??

Nate Silver: We're running out of time so I'm going to try and be a little bit more concise with my answers.

I think Glavine and Benson are tremendously overrated. However, I think the Pedro signing was tremendously underrated.

Chase Utley ((Philly)): PECOTA seems to think that I am going to be the next Joey Thurston rather than the future All-Star that eveyone keeps telling me. Which is it?

Nate Silver: You're already 26, Chase, so it's unlikely that you're going to get a heck of a lot better. But you've been the equivalent of about an average major league regular in Scranton the past couple of seasons and that's what you should be in Philly as well.

Optimist (KC): With what you just said about Sean Burroughs in mind, is this going to be Mark Teahen's fate, too?

Nate Silver: Yes. Teahen's power numbers are below the Sean Burroughs Threshold and I think he's going to have some trouble developing. 'course I woulda said the same about Kevin Youkilis a year ago.

darkredcrayon (New Olreans): Nate, name three guys who the average baseball hasn't heard of that could come onto the map this year? (Ex. Willy Mo Pena, or Oliver Perez last year)

Nate Silver: - Jonny Gomes
- Josh Willingham
- Chad Orvella

Bill (LA): What kind of player does PECOTA handle best? Worst? Does it have a tougher time with older players where there are fewer comparables or younger players where the future is seemingly more wide open?

Nate Silver: PECOTA has a lot of trouble with injured pitchers. I think it also has some trouble handling Ichiro Suzuki type players.

alan (pomona, ca): Who looks like the better pitcher in the long run, Dan Haren or Dan Meyer?

Nate Silver: I'd take Haren. Another new thing we've been able to look at for this year's projections is minor league groundball-flyball data. Meyer had a good year in part because his home run rate was way down after having been poor in the past ... but he still gave up a ton of flyballs. That's likely to catch up with him.

Anthony (Long Island): Yankees or Red Sox?

Nate Silver: Red Sox.

I don't bet sports, but I do look at the futures markets from time to time as a matter of intellectual curiosity. (Seriously, though I know this sounds like reading Playboy for the articles). The Yankees are something like 3:1 favorites to take the AL East, which seems absurd.

darkredcrayon ((New Orleans)): Does PECOTA think that Adrian Gonzalez will ever live up to the hype of being a #1 pick?

Nate Silver: No. Fringe player.

dantroy (davis, ca): You said: Young finesse pitchers are probably safer bets in the near term than young power pitchers - not the qualifiers on that statement... Does that suggest that power pitchers are better bets in the long run, which has been something of a sabermetric principle, assuming power = K rates?

Nate Silver: Yes, that's almost certianly true. But they can take a little longer in developing.

jcaruso (Boston): How long does it take for PECOTA to adjust to new medical procedures. Take Tommy John surgery, for example. The success rate is going up and recovery time is going down. I'm assuming you need a few years of data to better project recovery from certain injuries because some comparables may not represent new medical advances.

Nate Silver: Sports medicine has improved enough that I think it's probably at the point where PECOTA is systmatically underrating older players by a couple of percentage points.

Edna Krabappel (Springfield): Thanks for the chat, Nate! I'm a neophyte in these matters--can PECOTA project forward (relatively reliably) based exclusively on minor league numbers? If so, how far down? AA? Low-A? Thanks much.

Nate Silver: This is Clay Davenport's area of expertiese. We feel comfortable going down to Low-A - pretty much everyting except rookie ball and NCAA statistics. But the error bars are higher for young players than they are for established players. If a 22-year-old is projected for a .260 EqA, and a 27-year-old is projected for a .260 EqA, it's more likely that the 22-year-old will in fact have a .290 EqA. It's also more likely that the 22-year-old will have a .230 EqA.

wgobetz (Hoboken, NJ): Does PECOTA perform projections on guys without professional experience? For example, can it project Phil Humber, Jeff Nieman, Jered Weaver and Justin Verlander? Who does it like best?

Nate Silver: No. I'd like to sit down with Clay at some point and work out a way to project college statistics, but we're not there yet. I do remember being decidedly impressed by Jeff Niemann when I saw him pitch in the championships in 2003, and decidedly unimpressed with Justin Verlander's NCAA stats.

Lincoln Hamilton (Irving): What was the best SS signing this offseason?

Nate Silver: In terms of likely value over the life of the contract? Nomar Garciaparra in a landslide.

adambennett (CO): Who are Ichiro-type players?

Nate Silver: Essentially, groundball hitters who hit for very high batting averages. We use groundball-flyball numbers for pitchers, but not for position players. My guess is that if we did, guys like Ichrio and Juan Pierre would do a little better.

Brian Giles (Pittsburg): What happened to me?

Nate Silver: You aged.

Marvin Miller (NY): Do your interns have Union representation? I have a number of studies that suggest sitting in front of Excel for too many hours causes acute mathematical paralysis of the numerical lobe.

Nate Silver: Don't give our Interns any bright ideas. PECOTA thinks there's a 25% chance that John Erhardt gets carpal tunnel by the end of the year.

Lincoln Hamilton (Irving): Do the D-Rays have enough young talent to contend in that division in the next few years?

Nate Silver: Not in the AL East they don't, but the D-Rays are a better organization than a lot of analysts are giving them credit for.

ttjackson (Cincinnati): How much will Beltran be affected by Shea stadium when it comes to his power numbers and batting average? Will his productivity decline do to the ballpark?

Nate Silver: His counting numbers will decline some, but his value to the Mets won't. Occasionally you get a guy who is a particularly appropriate or inappropriate fit for his ballpark but Beltran isn't in that category. If anything, he's a pretty good fit for Shea, as power guys generally hold up better in pitchers' parks than batting average guys do. His defense will also be valuable in Shea.

Nate Silver: That's all the questions I can take for today. Thanks so much, guys, and my apologies again for the delay.


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