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Chat: Nate Silver

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Friday April 29, 2005 1:00 PM ET chat session with Nate Silver.

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Nate Silver is an author of Baseball Prospectus.

Nate Silver: I'm a pretty smart guy, but I have a mental block about the size of Calvin Pickering when it comes to remembering when I have a chat. My apologies once again for the very late start; we'll go until 4:45 or so Chicago time if any of you are checking in real-time.

Ben (Baltimore): What do you think of Calvin Pickering? He got a good projection from PECOTA, but hasn't been hitting with the Royals? At what point during the season do you ditch the PECOTA projections and just go with what players have actually done during 2005?

Nate Silver: Speaking of Pickering.

Look, the guy had all of about 20 at bats before getting benched. Do I think that PECOTA is a little on the optimistic side with him? Yeah, in part because it mistakes bad weight for good weight (there actually haven't been too many genuinely out-of-shape ballplayers). But the guy will mash if given the chance.

mikebrown (Chicago): Nate, I'm trying not to let my fantasies get too out of control, but... Neifi Perez has now accumulated over 100 PA with the Cubs - in that time, he's hit like Nomar Garciaparra in his 1999-2000 prime. At what point does Neifi's PECOTA get upgraded?

Nate Silver: And then there was Neifi.

We only update the PECOTAs once a year, after all the games have been completed. However, if we regenerated them now, and included Perez' 60 good at bats or so in the equation, it would be a raindrop in an ocean's worth of hitless wonderment.

coreyk626 (Chicago): Despite what you said at a book signing a little while back, PECOTA proposes a pretty big disparity between Grady Sizemore and Juan Gonzalez. Is Gonzalez' injury the best thing that could have happened to the Indians?

Nate Silver: The Indians are one of the smarter clubs in baseball at the end of the day, and my guess is that they would have pulled the plug on Gonzo sooner rather than later, unless he really were pulling off some sort of 2001 redux. This is a tangential point, but I think sometimes the obession with fantasy baseball (mine included) makes people worry more about who is going to be the starter on April 1 than on May 15, while the later is a lot more important from a baseball standpoint. Wish Grady were hitting a little bit better, though.

denny187 (WI): Is it possible to watch Harold Reynolds and not think he doesn't know anything about baseball? I think its time to start petitioning ESPN to get someone from BP on Baseball Tonight so millions of baseball fans can see the light.

Nate Silver: The better question is whether there's some TIVO-like device that simply blocks Baseball Tonight from my Comcast lineup any time that Harold is on. I would pay good money for such a device.

Alex (Houston): When was the last time that an offense was as bad as Houston's?

Nate Silver: The 2003 Dodgers were pretty stanky.

Joe (NYC): Nate I'm freaking out over here in NY. When is Jose Reyes gonna learn to take a walk. I've realized that he will never be a walk machine but as of 4/27 he has not taken a walk in almost 100 at bats. With Rick "i don't believe in walks" Down and Willie "be aggressive" Randolph at the reins I'm afraid Reyes will never meet his potential.

Nate Silver: Plate discipline (along with power) is the one skill that usually does improve as a player ages. But it only improves so much, and, well, zero X 150% is still zero. I'm not very optimistic about Reyes from a forecasting standpoint between the plate discipline and the injury risk.

W. McAlexander (Memphis, TN): The Cubs left Andy Sisco off the 40-man roster last winter because of decreased velocity and increased wall-punching and lost him to KC in the Rule 5 draft. What's the current scouting report on his stuff and his make up?

Nate Silver: I'm not a scout, and I can't bring myself to watch the Royals on MLB.tv, so I haven't seen Sisco pitch yet this year. But my guess is that anyone with 18 strikeouts and a 1.13 ERA in his first 16 big league innings has pretty damned good stuff.

As to why the Cubs let him go - they're an organization that's big in personality, and reading between the lines it's pretty clear that the decision was made mostly for personality reasons.

Jay (Madison): When can we officially put a fork in the 2005 Yankees and pronounce "They're done!"

Nate Silver: Well, the Yankees were 11-11 exactly one year ago today, and went on to win 101 games.

It does worry me a bit that two of the soft spots have been Bernie and Jorge Posada, since both of those guys are at the stages of their careers where sudden declines would not be too out of the ordinary. That said, my guess is that the pitching is going to sort itself out a little bit, and there's still enough firepower on the club to win maybe 93 games or so any sneak into the Wild Card.

Jay (Madison): What's the over-under on ABs for F. Thomas this year? I'd say 100.

Nate Silver: Frank Thomas AB or Frank Thomas AB with the White Sox? I know that Thomas is regarded as an immovable object in all sorts of ways, but if Ozzie does anything other than play him six times a week once he's available to play, it wouldn't surprise me if some enterprising GM found a way to pick him up for the stretch drive with the White Sox eating most of the contract. Hell, it wouldn't surprise me if he comes off the DL, hits .220 in sporadic playing time, and the White Sox simply release him.

mikefast (Santa Clara, CA): What predictive value do strikeouts have for young hitters, particularly at the high extreme? I've been involved in a discussion with a friend about the futures of McPherson and Pickering, and my friend thinks they strike out too much to ever be more than "AAAA" players, mainly because the K's limit their batting average. I can see that Pickering has other defensive and baserunning limitations, but as a hitter, it seems like the strikeouts are the price of admission for the power, like with Adam Dunn. Is their a point at which strikeouts presage a problem translating hitting ability to the majors?

Nate Silver: Here's a secret: strikeouts are a good thing for a young power hitter.

Let's reverse things for a moment and think of things this way: if Adam Dunn hits .266 and slugs .569 in a year in which he strikes out 195 times, that means he's absolutely murdering the ball those times that he does make contact. In other words, *if* he's able to improve his ability to hit for contact at all, the upside is real, real high as compared with, say, Sean Burroughs or someone.

Now, it isn't quite that simple, but that's the big picture. Perhaps the subject of a future LDL.

Race Bannon (Montevideo): Man, I'd say Harold Reynolds is Steven Hawking to Jeff Brantley's (or Kruk's) Mortimer Snerd. Recent Brantleyism: "Mike Matheny's game-calling plus defense literally saves his team a run and a half a game." Harold would never say anything remotely that stupid. Anyway Nate, how did PECOTA see hitless wonders J.J. Hardy and Yadier Molina doing this year? Thanks!

Nate Silver: Brantley's overall creepiness is really underrated. He's like some NASCAR driver on ludes.

The only thing that Molina has going for him is that he's young; he's never been much of a hitter and it shouldn't be a surprise that he isn't hitting now. His third best PECOTA comparable, ironically, is Buck Martinez, which represents about the upside there - tolerable bat, okay defense. The downside is a perennial offensive cipher in the Matheny mode.

Hardy's a tough player to forecast because the injury last year makes him difficult to read. Personally I think he'll come around, and the upside will be worth waiting for, since a 22-year-old shortstop with even a modicum of plate discipline and power potential is a rarity. PECOTA was surprised to discover, by the way, that J.J. Hardy is white.

Suraj (NY, NY): Is Jon Garland for real or is he merely a product of an absurdly low BABIP? Because he doesn't strike out many people (3.3K/9)

Nate Silver: The low strikeout rate means that he's going to come back to earth a little bit, and probably a lot. That said, his command has been much better this year, and he's been doing a great job of keepin the ball down, which you think ought to be true for a sinkerball pitcher but hadn't really been the case before. On the other hand, if you want to be a pessimist about it, you can recall what Nate Cornejo did in the first half of 2003, and what has happened to him since.

Anthony (Long Island): How much would upgrading from Bernie Williams in center to Mike Cameron improve the Yankees? Is there any chance of Cameron ending up in the Bronx?

Nate Silver: My guess is that it would make a difference on the order of three or four wins in the field alone, provided that Cameron gets back to health reasonably soon. My guess is also that a New York-to-New York trade will happen about as soon as the Cubs win the World Series.

J. Hendry (The second city): What are our chances to catch the Cardinals, Nate? (I'm terrific at mid-season acquisitions, you know.) Even if Walker & Edmonds suddenly age, can St. Louis fall below 93-96 wins? Thanks for the chat!

Nate Silver: My gut feeling - and I'm not entirely sure why - is that the Cubs are going to go 79-83 this year. I'll be very happy if my gut feeling is proven wrong.

lex domica (lawrence, ks): The answer about J.J. Hardy leads me to ask a question I've never considered and don't recall ever reading: does PECOTA use race/ethnicity to find comparables?

Nate Silver: It doesn't. For one thing, there isn't a field for "race" next to "bats right-handed" or "weighs 200 pounds". But even if there were, I don't see how it could possibly make a difference.

One thing that *might* make a difference for developing players is "pedigree": e.g. College, High School, Latin America/International. I'd like to investigate that at some point in the future when I have the time.

Anthony (Long Island): Barry Zito. What is the deal with this guy?

Nate Silver: Zito's peripheral numbers this year haven't really been any worse than they were in 2004, so his problems have mostly been on account of poor luck and poor run support. He'll be fine. That said, it's pretty unlikely that he's going to get back to a point where he's considered one of the best pitchers in the league. I don't know if it's a matter of batters learning to take his curveball and waiting for him to come back at them with a fastball or what, but he'd always given up a lot of flyballs, and at some point, those flyballs began turning into lots of doubles and home runs allowed, which is likely to be a persistant problem.

Cris E (St Paul, MN): Does player size matter over the course of a season? That is, do little guys wear out as the summer goes on?

Nate Silver: I haven't investigated whether it makes a difference over the time span of a season, but bigger players are generally a fair bit more durable over the course of their careers.

KT (Toronto): Do you think there is a method to JP Ricciardi's recent madness in terms of his decisions (for example, signing Koskie and Schoeneweis, and having the Jays revert to back to focusing on defence and smallball) or has he simply lost touch with the type of philosophy and style of baseball that landed him the job in Toronto?

Nate Silver: One of the things that's a little bit difficult when it comes to evaluating baseball management regimes is that a club's public stance on the stats issue isn't necessarily the same as how they behave in the conference room. Ricciardi didn't mind mentioning that statistical analysis was cool with him, or that he trained under Billy Beane, or that he was happy to have Keith Law on his staff, and all of those are good things. But I don't think that Ricciardi is particularly married to the stathead model, and the Blue Jays haven't behaved that way under his tenure.

Conversely, I know of at least two or three MLB clubs that are supposedly about as close to the "scout" end of the spectrum as you can possibly get, but recently hired full-time employees to concentrate on statistical work for them. They just haven't made any noise about it.

Larry Bowa (Philadelphia, PA): So, are you ready to say last year wasn't all my fault yet?

Nate Silver: I'm playing the Phillies in MLB 2005, and just traded Chase Utley, Gavin Floyd and Marlon Byrd for Hank Blalock.

Ed Wade (Philadelphia, PA): Whatever shall I do, Nate? I've tried everything!

Nate Silver: Oops, that answer was in response to the wrong question. In any event, the Phillies are all of three games out of first place as of this afternoon, so I think some patience is advised.

Anthony (Long Island): Considering Rob Neyer & Bill James's recent book on pitchers, would it be at all possible to work pitchers' repertoires into PECOTA?

Nate Silver: As I think Rob and Bill would admit, the distinctions between various types of pitches is still far too murky for that, and the permutations are far too complicated. For example: are both Eric Gagne and Jamie Moyer "changeup pitchers?"

tphoskin (Atlanta, GA): One thing I was interested in this year's BP was how the Nats (should have been the Gray's but whatever) might have problems catering to DC's demographic. What do you think they could do? Would it be something like the Braves where you have the local acts, both black and white in the commercials?

Nate Silver: Good question. We talked about the Nationals in this year's book and the Braves in last year's book, about how, for some pretty obvious demographic reasons, it would really behoove them to get more black fans through the turnstiles. But to be fair, that is much easier said than done.

It isn't just a Braves thing or a Nationals thing, and it might not even be a baseball thing: I went to the Chicago Bulls playoff game the other night and maybe 8 or 10 percent of the fans were black. There's something more deep-rooted, I think, that discourages African-Americans from coming to professional sporting events, even if they're big fans of the teams.

On the other hand, almost anything would be better than the White Sox' recent "Jalapeno?!? Wasabi!!!" advertising campaign.

Steve (NJ): Can you recall any recent players suddenly "learning" plate discipline at the ML level having never shown it before? IOW, has Victor Diaz figure something out, or does hitting in front of the pitcher, and therefore seeing pitches even a true hacker can't hack at, have more to do with this?

Nate Silver: Last question. Thanks, all.

Another column I've been meaning to write is about how improvement among baseball players is fairly non-linear. That is, if you take four ballplayers who walk an average of 30 times a year when they're 22, and they walk an average of 40 times a year when they're 23, it's probably not that all of them improved a little bit but that one of the four started walking 70 times a year and brought up the average, while the rest didn't improve at all.

That's a long-winded way of saying that I think Diaz' improvement is genuine. As for precedent, there is plenty; Albert Belle is an obvious one.

Nate Silver: Take care, folks.


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