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Chat: Nate Silver

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Thursday October 13, 2005 1:00 PM ET chat session with Nate Silver.

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Nate Silver is an author of Baseball Prospectus.

Nate Silver: Greetings from Chicago, where we like our beer cold, our coffee black, and our innings with four outs.

bigpapi34 (Boston): Will we hear anything from the commissioner's office about last night's call? Is instant replay headed our way? After the umpires conferred to get the calls right in last year's ALCS, it's disenheartening that the same thing didn't really happen this year (so far).

Nate Silver: We might well see a push for a truly standardized system of verbal and visual signals on third strike calls and other plays that are naturally prone to confusion. And that's probably a worthwhile effort; it's not like anyone is watching the game to see Doug Eddings' "signature" third strike call. On the other hand, it's a little bit like building better hurricane levees after Katrina has already hit. Eddings' behavior, both during the play itself and afterward, was inexcusable, but this was a one-in-a-million play and I don't know that it speaks to a larger problem.

BridgeportJoe (Chicago): With all this talk about how "The Call" gave the game to Chicago, aren't people ignoring the fact that: 1.) The Angels were out of top quality relievers (unless they have Rodriguez go for his fifth inning in four consecutive days, despite the obvious signs of fatigue he has been showing); 2.) The White Sox hadn't touched their pen, and at 99 pitches, Buehrle likely would have pitched the 10th and maybe even the 11th; 3.) The Angels had the bottom of their order coming up, and unless someone got on, Vlad wasn't coming up until the 12th inning; 4.) The White Sox had the hot hitting Crede, then Uribe, then the top of their order coming up; and 5.) The White Sox were playing at home, always a moderate advantage in extra inning games. In my book, the Sox have a 75% chance of winning the game no matter what. Indeed, after "The Call," I think they probably have a better chance of winning the game in the 10th or the 11th then having Crede win it in the 9th.

Nate Silver: Joe,

That's a good point. Looking at our
Expected Wins Matrix:

With two outs and a runner on first in the bottom of the 9th in a tied game, the home team wins about 60% of the time.

If the game goes to extra innings, the home team wins about 53% of the time.

So this isn't a Jeffrey Maier, Fifth Down kind of thing. At worst the call costs the Angels about 7% of a win. It's not like they had the game won; they had the game tied, and as you point out, this was a tired team and Scioscia had worked awfully fast through that bullpen.

Elaine (San Diego): Uh, You need to fix the "audit team" in the upperright corner of the page. It says the Angels are from Anaheim!

Nate Silver: We'll get that fixed, but I don't know what we'll do if the Sox move out to the burbs, and rechristen themselves "The Chicago White Sox of Schaumburg".

Will (Watertown, MA): Any chance the Red Sox get creative to fix their hole at first and go after one of the Ryans (Shealy or Howard)?

Nate Silver: How the Phillies handle their first base problem is going to be fascinating. It's the *perfect* time to trade Howard. He's got a lot of buzz surrounding him, but he'll be 26 next year, and he's not the kind of guy whose likely to get too terribly much better. If you can catch Theo in a week moment and get Lester and Pedroia for him or something, that's an awfully interesting trade.

It'll never happen, of course. Even the best GM's are loath to trade their shiny new toys.

Inside the Outsiders (College Town): Nate, thanks for doing a chat. I was curious if you have plans to update PECOTA now that you have a few seasons of data to look at the strengths and weaknesses of the system. What sorts of things would be on your list, if you had unlimited time to devote to such ventures?

Nate Silver: There are two things that I'm hoping to get implemented this winter:

1) Groundball-flyball numbers for hitters. PECOTA has always come out with projections that feel too low for guys like Ichiro and Juan Pierre, who hit tons of groundballs *and* have the wheels to make that an effective strategy. (Yes, it wound up nailing Ichiro this year, but I think that's an accident).

2) Changing the weighted averaging scheme in the baseline projections to account for age. With a guy who is very young or very old, you give more weight to the most recent season, whereas with a guy in mid-career, you spread things out more between the past three seasons. I've already worked what the weightings should be and just need to get this implemented.

Tommy (North Carolina): Along the same lines as trading howard, is there any chance that the Yankees could trade Giambi while his stock is so high. Is there any legitimacy to saying a contract is too big to trade, when teams can just eat a portion of it?

Nate Silver: I hear that the Orioles are going to need a first baseman next year.

Mat (Seattle): Whoa, Nate, whoa. What does it even matter what sort of chance Eddings cost them? Eddings clearly screwed up by signalling out and then changing his mind. Then, he had one chance to make it right when Scioscia went out to talk to him. Then, after the game, he had a chance to admit his mistake. Instead, he made the bald-faced lie about that being his usual 'mechanic' and put the blame on someone else. Shouldn't this demand a bigger response from baseball than the response we got for a tied exhibition game?

Nate Silver: To clarify one thing: there's no doubt that Eddings screwed up. What does make things more confusing is that his mechanic on the Pierznyski play was delayed. He extends his arm out to signal no contact, as he'd done throughout the game, but then waits for a few seconds to make the pumped fist motion to indicate the out, after Paul had already rolled the ball back to the mound and was starting to leave the field. So the problem isn't so much that he signaled the out clearly and then reveresed himself, but that he hesistated and allowed all hell to break loose.

But it's worth keeping things in perspective. The Angels were no better than even money to win the game anyway, and they still had to find a way to lose it. This may be projecting, but they looked a little bit shellshocked for the rest of the inning. Ozuna is *obviously* going to steal; he'd attempted something like 21 steals in maybe a third of a season's worth of playing time, and that's a spot where the breakeven success rate is maybe 50%. You've gotta do everything you can to hold the runner. If it's a basketball game, you call a timeout, huddle everyone up, and say "fellas, that call was terrible, but we still have a game to win". You can't do that in baseball, and it might have cost them.

DavidC (Canada): How many Molinas do you expect to see in the World Series?

Nate Silver: Uno.

jabrch (Chicago): Nate Said "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. " Well Nate, I got the pleasure of seeing Pods doused in Dom! He got the pleasure of swimming in $100 a bottle booze (thanks Frank!). Do you believe the models out there that you propellerheads use to evaluate baseball players need to be adjusted to better account for speed and its impact on a game? Pods Figgins Jeter Biggio Eckstein Those are the remaining leadoff hitters of playoff teams. All run. All make pitchers think. Iguchi, Taveras, Edmonds, A-Rod and Cabrerra Those are your #2 hitters. Except Edmonds, all have legit speed. I know your math hasn't proven it out yet. But speed kills.

Nate Silver: Listen, there's no doubt that Podsednik's speed is a huge asset. If he doesn't have his speed, he hits .250 instead of .290, plays a margainl left field, and finds himself doing time for the Joliet Jackhammers or softcore porn on Cinemax.

But the point is that *apart* from its effect on the standard batting and defensive numbers, speed doesn't make a hell of a lot of difference. In the SOB article I did earlier this year, I found that baserunning *maybe* makes a difference of 20 points worth of OBP, and that's only if you steal with a much better success rate than Podsednik. It's worth keeping in mind that, until the dropped third strike last night, the big story of the series was that the Sox might well have run themselves out of each of the first two ballgames. You think Rowand wasn't buying beers last night for A.J. and Crede?

Steven (Manalapan): It’s been said that plate discipline can’t be learned; either a batter has it or he doesn’t. If this is the case, why? Is it the ability to recognize pitches, or just the mental aspect of understanding the importance of being selective?

Nate Silver: The problem is that hitting is probably the most instinctual act in all of sports. You have just a split second to determine when to start your swing, where to swing, whether to swing at all, etc. Hitters can *learn* to improve their plate discipline, but the effort has to come from within, through a gradual process of trial and error. I don't think it's going work to try and force plate discipline upon him.

horn75 (Chicago, IL): Who do you think will take a flyer on Nomar or Sosa next year?

Nate Silver: I think there's a chance that Sosa almost gets blackballed, or anticipates this happening and just go ahead and retires. He's a marginal major leaguer at this point anyway, and you throw in the cloud of suspicion from being associated with the Orioles, and the perceived or real attitdue problems, and it's hard to think about what the upside is from giving him a second chance.

I haven't thought much about Nomar. Houston might be an interesting fit, but I'm sure they're attached to Adam Everett.

Dennis (Newark): Is it possible to expand on the fine work done with Pecota to isolate specific areas of an individual. For example, can you isolate the effects of corrective eye surgery and then adjust the projected performance of the hitter accordingly? Or look at other players who have suffered the same type of injury and decrease the player’s projections accordingly? In other words, can Pecota go above and beyond just finding similarities between full players and become more specifically tailored?

Nate Silver: I get a fair number of questions like this from time to time. The most obvious problem is that it's hard to collect reliable statistics for something like that; I don't think there's a comprehensive database of major leaguers who had LASIK surgery. But the other problem is that PECOTA is already trying to account for enough similarity factors that it becomes a rather precarious balancing act. If David Eckstein has LASIK surgery, does that suddenly make Jeff Bagwell a valid comparison for him?

Will (Boston, MA): One aspect of "plate discipline" that is overlooked is the "Boggs principle". You can't just go up and look for walks by taking 4 out of 5 pitches, major league pitchers hit corners. A major skill in being plate disciplined is having the ability to foul off less than ideal pitches. A good hitter recognizes pitches and fouls off tough pitches until the pitcher either misses by leaving a fat one over the plate or sending the guy for a stroll to first. Nate what do you think? Is this not a skill that better hitters are more capable of than lousy hitters?

Nate Silver: There are a few major league hitters that have great discipline and are also very adept and fouling off pitches. Frank Thomas was one of them, at least in his prime. I think it's probably most important for a tall guy like Thomas who has a big strike zone to defend.

In general, though, as Jim Baker detailed in a column a week or so ago, there's a pretty strong *inverse* correlation between fouling off pitches and taking walks. Trying to foul off pitches is a pretty difficult balancing act, between the risk that you fail to make contact at all, and the chance that you make weak contact into fair territory.

Mike W (Chicago): Dusty's back. Rothschild's back. Macias and Neifi are probably back. 75 wins next year?

Nate Silver: I begged off the Cubs chapter in the book this year because I felt that I'd already said my piece on them, but I do think this winter will present some particularly interesting decisions. The first thing they need to figure out is whether they think they're an 80-win team, or a 90-win team that just had a lot of bad breaks. I suspect that the former is probably closer to the truth, especially as I just don't know that you can count on anything from Wood and Patterson going forward.

ClubberLang (Chicago): Is there any precedent for 'benching' a third base coach? The Sox ought to consider at least flipping the first and third base guys, Rock couldn't possibly be as bad as Cora's been lately -- not just Rowand, but what in God's name is Crede doing that far away from 2nd in that situation with one out? If he's fairly close to 2nd and it falls in, he's at worst to third with one out, if not scoring anyways, and if it's caught he doesn't get himself doubled up. With apologies to Homer Simpson, Smartball has become S-M-R-T-ball the last few days.

Nate Silver: Clubber,

I think you're getting at the right point, one that even McCarver was almost able to make last night, which is that good baserunning isn't *aggressive* baserunning, but *smart* baserunning. A third base coach ought to know that sending the runner from third with nobody out is a situation that calls for extreme risk-averseness; the guy probably needs to have at least a 90% chance of success, and Rowand was nowhere near. Too many clubs use their base coaches as a glorified patronage system.

DrLivy (Charleston, WV): Nate: I've watched the Cubs a great deal this year and I think you can go back and count up, easily 15-18 games where effective use of the bullpen (identifying Dempster as a closer much earlier, giving up on Hawkins sooner, etc) could have produced another ten wins. If the Cubs were to dump Wood and Patterson and spend some of that money they'll have this winter, I don't see why they can't contend next year.

Nate Silver: The problem is that you can play that game both ways. I love Derrek Lee, but he's probably not going to be an 11-win player against next year. Dempster was effective, but he well outperformed his peripheral statistics. It wouldn't shock me to see Mike Barrett lose 50 points off his OPS next year.

Mat (Seattle): Thanks for the response, but I guess we'll just have to disagree here. If Eddings had owned up to his mistake at either opportunity, I'd be able to accept this more. Eddings should at least be removed from the LCS. There has to be some accountability. And here I go arguing to someone who's already told me his position. Sorry, this just has me really riled up.

Nate Silver: One thing I wonder about is who was on the phone with Eddings from MLB before that press conference last night, because that was pretty much perfect execution of the Selig "daze and confuse" strategy. People attempt the opposite, contrition strategy so rarely that it's almost always tremendously effective when it happens.

marlette (reno): I know this is wishful thinking, but what would be different if the Mets had signed Delgado? And if you're Omar, who plays first next year?

Nate Silver: Delgado was almost exactly 6 wins better than Mientkiewicz last year, and the Mets finished six wins off the wild card pace, so you can do the math. It was a fascinating strategy by Minaya in certain ways; the Beltran acqusition becomes better after you've signed Pedro, and the Delgado acquisition would have become better after you'd signed Beltran.

There's not a ton of first base talent available this winter, which is unusual. There might actually be a market for Jim Thome.

ChrisWinters (Alexandria, VA): Where is Brian Giles going next year? At 35, he's past his prime, but his PECOTA comps are people who have aged extremely well, like Darrell Evans, Gary Sheffield, Brian Downing, etc. Is he the best hitter on the free agent market, and how much will he command?

Nate Silver: Giles is an interesting target. He's been pretty out of the way in San Diego, and PETCO makes it look like he's been through more of a decline than has actually happened. That said, there's going to be a lot of money spent this winter, between the new TV contracts, the luxury tax amnesty, and the survivalist "win now" instinct that kicks in when there may be a strike pending before 2007. I expect Giles to get something like Steve Finley money.

Peter (Long Valley): What affect does pitching in the post-season have the following season? While other pitchers are already resting, some of these guys are asked to pitch 6 or so more games…occasionally on short rest.

Nate Silver: I've never looked at that, but I do know the planning needs to be different if you're hoping to play a 180-game season instead of a 162-game season. For what it's worth, each of the four teams remaning have managed their pitching staffs relatively intelligently.

There seems to be a consensus about pitch counts that's emerging, and the White Sox embody this best, which is about as follows:

1. Don't think about pitch counts until we hit 100 pitches.

2. Also don't think about pitch counts after we hit 120 pitches. The guy comes out, no questions asked. Unless he's Livan Hernadnez.

3. Between 100 and 120, it's a judgment call, depending on who the pitcher is, what his mechanics are looking like, what the game situation is, and so forth.

That's really a pretty good compromise; it's probably better than reflexively pulling a guy at 100 pitches, and it avoids the truly dangerous outings that come after the 120-pitch mark.

Nate Silver: Lots more good questions in the queue, but work and my stomach are calling. Hope to answer a few more at the pizza feed tonight.


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