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Chat: Nate Silver

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Friday August 05, 2005 1:00 PM ET chat session with Nate Silver.

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Nate Silver is an author of Baseball Prospectus.

Nate Silver: We'll get started just a few minutes early today. I'm coming to you live from my new apartment in Lincoln Park, where the lawn sprinklers:Starbucks ratio is a harmonious 2:1.

Bad Doctor (Wilmington, DE): Nate, Ryan Howard lit up AAA in the beginning of the year and is posting a nifty .271/.352/.473 in 145 PAs in the bigs. Will PECOTA get him out of Josh Phelps/Sam Horn territory and closer to Big Papi country?

Nate Silver: There are a certain number of players for whom PECOTA concludes, essentially: "this is a really damned important season". Howard was one of those guys. Both his collapse rate *and* breakout rate were high, and he the Sam Horns and Franklin Stubbses on one side of his comparables list, and the Papis and Albert Belles on the other. I expect him to have a markedly better forecast next year.

dan11995 (Atlanta, GA): Hey Nate, Is Jeff Francoeur the 2nd coming of Vlad Guerrero? His walk rate, or lack thereof, is troubling but the kid has thus far consistently hit pitches off his shoelaces 400 feet. Are there just certain players out there where the conventional rules of plate discipline don't apply?

Nate Silver: I don't know that Guerrero is a fantastic comparison for Francoeur. Guerrero has always had remarkably low strikeout rates, which indicates that he's executing on the swing-at-everything approach reasonably well. Francouer's strikeout rates have generally been pretty high.

The reasons to be optimistic about Francouer are that:

1) He's very young.
2) He can hit the ball a long, long, way.
3) Plate discipline is often one of the last sills to come around.
4) The Braves like his taste in makeup.

stlcardinals08 (St. Louis): Will John Rodriguez be able to keep his production up? It just doesn't seem like there are too many 28 year olds who come out of nowhere and just start hitting. And when Sanders and Walker come back do you think that Rodriguez will stay with the Cardinals?

Nate Silver: It's hard not to look what Rodriguez has done this year without thinking of Bo Hart. It's just very rare that a guy suddnely starts hitting the tar out of the ball at age 28, and then sustains that success going forward. With a pitcher, I can buy a mid-career turnaround, since pitchers are irregular creatures, but with a hitter, I can't.

Doug (NJ): I picked up King Felix in my fantasy league for the stretch drive (I saved my #1 waiver priority all year for him.) Should I count on him to help me out or should I curb my enthusiasm a little?

Nate Silver: Felix will be a fairly valuable player for the rest of the year, both in fantasy leagues and in real life. The question is more what he's going to look like when he's 22, 25, 28.

Tim (Boston): Nate, are you the extent of the U of C - BP nexus, or are some of your coauthors fellow Maroons?

Nate Silver: Chris Kahrl is also a proud ex-Maroon.

We had the Baseball Prosepctus annual meeting in Chicago two weekends ago, and had the good fortune to have both Chris and I, as well honorary Maroons Jonah Keri and Clay Davenport, in attendance for a U of C alumni event for that Sunday's Red Sox - White Sox game. There were something like 225 people in attendance for the pregame chat that we hosted in a room that comfortably accomodated about 150. Chris pointed out, by way of comparison, that the first edition of Baseball Prospectus (1996) sold all of 175 copies, which just gives you some sense for the scale at which we've grown.

jimadams (Los Altos, CA): Nate, Giants fans are divided over the team’s prospects for 2006. The “happy face” side argues that with Bonds, Benitez, and Schmidt likely to come back strong, the team should win 85-90 games. The “sad face” side – including me – thinks things will be much worse than that. My reasons for pessimism are: 1) at least one of Bonds, Benitez, or Schmidt will probably not come back strong; 2) at least one of Alou, Matheny, or Vizquel will probably collapse; 3) the team has hit very well with men in scoring position this year, and this luck will probably evaporate in ’06; 4) the team has no good young players; 5) the farm system has no good position player prospects above A-ball. Which side do you come down on – happy face or sad face?

Nate Silver: :-(

You've answered the question pretty well yourself.

goraffe (New Haven): Any thoughts on Robinson Cano? I keep waiting him to fall through the roof, but he has shown impressive pop. Is his upside better than Adam Kennedy?

Nate Silver: Cano has been a nice find for the Yankees, but I still look at him as a B-/C+ kind of guy. His plate discipline, if anything, has regressed this year, and it's a bit much to project some sort of huge sustained power spike based on 220 or so at bats this year. He projects to me as about an average major leaguer at his peak who is probably going to be overpaid once he becomes arbitration-eligible.

Dave Chan (Albuquerque): Nate, thanks for the chat. Your piece this week on contract value is very similar to the method Gary Huckabay described at a seminar at Stanford. Are many teams using that kind of modeling to determine what they should pay a player? Do Agents do the same thing, and are most free agents good deals?

Nate Silver: I think it's pretty much a necessity that teams (and agents) explore this kind of analysis, and the better clubs are surely doing it in a way that is far more robust than what I was able to present in my last column.

The other option is to apply a sort of "Monkey See, Monkey Do" approach - you offer $8 million/year for your guy because his twin brother got $8 million/year from Omar Minaya - and that's pretty much the birth seed of bad contracts.

Peter Bean (Washington, D.C.): Nate Dog! Love all your work, especially all the goodies that PECOTA provides. Question for you: using PECOTA and your own analysis, tell us who among the following NL 2B will be best over the short (1-2 years), medium (3-5), and long (6-8) years) terms: Ricky Weeks (22 years old), Chase Utley (26), Marcus Giles (27).

Nate Silver: Giles, Weeks, and Weeks in that order. Weeks is another one of those guys, like Ryan Howard, for whom PECOTA thought 2005 would be a Really Important Year. I think we can now start taking some of the Aramis Ramirez type names on his comparables list more seriously.

Tom Hanrahan (Lexington Park MD): A pet "Lies" peave - I hear the phrase "good pitching and timely hitting" way too often. It has become a catch phrase to describe the ultimate success of any team. This implies that pitching is generally "good" or "bad", while hitting is generally "clutch" or "unclutch". Why constantly quote "batting average with RISP (and 2 out)", and never mention a pitcher's "batting average allowed with RISP", as if the ability to be timely lies solely on the man with the stick. Why do I not hear "we got good hitting and timely pitching"? How might some of us make some inroads to changing a misled culture?

Nate Silver: Much of the reason why, I think, is that a pitcher's success in pitching in the clutch is pretty well reflected by his conventional statistics (ERA and, to a lesser extent, W-L record). If a pitcher manages to find particular success with RISP, that can easily reduce his ERA a point or more below what it "should" be based on his peripheral statistics.

The more interesting conversation, in my mind, is whether there is such a thing as a "clutch pitcher". Some guys like Tom Glavine have consistently demonstrated the ability to bear down or change their approach with RISP in effective ways.

Mike (Harrisburg, PA): Hi Nate. Tough question for you. With Boston's Jon Papelbon dialing up his fastball into the mid-90s and with 2-3 other complimentary pitches, why was he only a 4th round draft pick in 2003? That's pretty low for a pitcher that's come this quick to the majors. Thanks.

Nate Silver: If I'm not mistaken, Papelbon was a reliever in college, which surely harmed his draft stock some. My guess is that we're going to see more and more teams taking shots at college relievers, figuring not only that the transition to the starter role is possible, but also that these guys will come in with far less mileage on their arms.

Mick (Naperville, IL): I too live in the Chicago area and have a degree in Economics. I am very statistically minded and am trying to find a way to do what I love, work with baseball statistics, in anyway possible, whether it be working for a front office of a team with a Saber Minded GM, a team starting to trust more in statistics or a company like yours that works with them everyday. How would you suggest going about doing this.

Nate Silver: I get this question a lot, and the answer is really very simple:

Start doing work, and find some way to get it in front of people.

Baseball Prospectus is essentially one big 'ol meritocracy. Whether it's contributing in some substantial way in the old days of rec.sport.baseball, or creating a system like PECOTA and trying to sell it, or starting their own website like Keith Woolner's stathead.com, or generating your own four-figure subscriber list like Will Carroll's UTK, just about everyone was making a major splash in some form or another before they joined BP.

Adam J. Morris (Houston, TX): Per BP's stats, Alfonso Soriano is on pace to be 30 runs below average defensively this year, with Mike Young not far behind him. Are you comfortable with the accuracy of those figures, or do you think some of that is a product of the pitching staff, or just bad luck?

Nate Silver: It should go without saying that defense is tricky to measure. I think we're making progress, and that a good result is ultimately going to emerge from some combination of the allocation system that Clay Davenport and Bill James use, and an intelligent analysis of hit location data like Mitchel Lichtman has done.

In Soriano's case, however - Soriano has very consistently rated as an awful defensive player, both in NY and in Texas, and under several different systems. I feel pretty comfortable with Soriano's rating.

Jason A (Sweet Home Chicago): Any Pizza feeds the final two months? Perhaps a patio party hosted at the park whose team has baseball's best record - or is Scott "Flea" Podsednik still holding grudges. Keep up the good work!!!

Nate Silver: We definitely need to have a Pizza Feed in Chicago at some point soon. I don't know that we have any more loyal group of readers than we have in this city.

As for Podsednik - Jonah and Chris and Clay and I had the pleasure of seeing him get caught stealing at the aforementioned Sox-Sox game that we attended. But seriously: if some reporter came up to you and said "such and such person said you're really cruddy at what you do", how would you react? I probably would have reacted far more angrily than Mr. Podsednik did.

Bill (NYC): Is it your ultimate goal to work for a MLB team? Have you ever been approached by one?

Nate Silver: I don't know what I'm going to be doing ten years from now, but I think that question underestimates just how cool it is to work for Baseball Prospectus.

Gavin (San Francisco): Has there been any analysis on the predictive value of line drive %? For example, are players with low BABIP but high line drive % more likely to see their BABIP (or other stats) increase than those with low line drive%? Or the Voros angle: are pitchers able to control line drive % better than BABIP?

Nate Silver: It's tough to do robust work in this area because the data reliability just isn't there. Some systems use two categories - groundballs and flyballs - while others use four - groundballs, flyballs, line drives, and pop-ups. And just what makes something a line drive versus a flyball, or a pop-up versus a flyball, is pretty subjective.

With that said, I have seen some work that suggests that inducing pop-ups is a skill, and that guys like Barry Zito who are very good at inducing pop-ups should pretty consistently have BABIPs lower than the league average.

Nate Silver (PECOTA): Is there anything to learn from spring training/AFL numbers, or are the smaple sizes too small? What about winter ball?

Nate Silver: The problem with spring training and AFL numbers is that certain players will have objectives other than winning the game. For example: trying out a new pitcher or a new batting stance, getting one's arm in shape, taking on a new defensive position. That's probably true to some extent in the minor leagues, but it's true to a great extent in the AFL and in the Spring, where nobody even bothers to look at the standings. I think it's tough to get an objective sense for player value under those conditions, even before considering the sample size issues.

flyingdutchman (Chicago, IL): Lincoln Park? One would think that a smart, analytical guy like you wouldn't waste his money that way!

Nate Silver: I sort of wound up in the neighborhood by accident. I work out of my home office, so it's really important to have a good working environment - a spacious place, air conditioning, nice lunch destinations within walking distance, and so forth. And I was lucky enough to find the perfect apartment in Lincoln Park.

On a Friday night, you're more likely to find me hanging out in Bucktown or some other part of the city, though I have to give a shout-out to Pequod's Pizza.

John Hart and Tom Hicks (Arlington, Texas): Help us out, Nate (God knows we need it)... We've got Mark Teixeira eligible for arbitration after this season, and eligible for free agency after 2008. Scott Boras wants to talk contract after the season. The Dallas media has been killing us for not spending any money since we traded ARod. We want to build around Teixeira, and lock him up for the next 7-10 years. How high should do you think we should go on a contract offer to Teixeira, before we finally tell Boras "no"?

Nate Silver: PECOTA has Tex as about a 6-7 win player over the next few years, which would translate to $15 million a year or so at prevailing market rates. I don't think the Rangers would be too out of line to sign him for 4 years and $60 million or something.

But the key thing is: I don't think you want to lock *any* 25-year-old up for ten years or soemthing. The risk of something bad happening increases exponentially as you go further and further out, especially once a player gets into his 30s. I'd guess that in something like 80% of deals that last longer than 5 years, the contract winds up being an albatross at some before its natural conclusion.

Race Bannon (Montevideo): Thanks for chatting, Nate! Jason Giambi's laughably impossible 6-week explosion: Back on his good old untestable, undetectable HGH? Or perhaps a different illegal/unethical substance? Thanks again.

Nate Silver: I think Giabmi is clean. I think he'd have to be pretty incredibly stupid not to be clean at this point.

One of the tragedies of this steroids thing, and Giambi's season speaks to this, is that I suspect steroids don't really make all that much difference. It's maybe a 5% improvement, but not a 50% improvement. And some number of guys have been risking a lifetime's worth of health and good public standing for the sake of an extra home run or two a year.

Nate Silver: That's it, guys. Thanks for all the questions, and now it's off to Chipotle.


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