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Chat: Nate Silver

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Friday January 27, 2006 1:00 PM ET chat session with Nate Silver.

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Nate Silver is an author of baseball Prospectus.

Nate Silver: Hi, gang. For those of you who missed the link, the 2006 weighted mean PECOTAs are now available for download in the Fantasy section of our site. The goal is to have the full, web version of the PECOTAs available by Super Bowl Sunday. I know that's a longer wait than usual, but your patience will be rewarded: there are some *very* cool new features on the web PECOTAs this year. Besides, looking at Jeremy Hermida's Five-Year Forecast has to be more exciting than anything involving two teams from Pittsburgh and Seattle.

Jake K (Chicago, IL): If the trade is revitalized, is the Indians trade of Coco Crisp an example of selling high? It seems that much of Crisp's value is tied to his batting average, and considering the Indians already have a CF, whatever defensive value he has is reduced in LF. What are your thoughts on the possible trade rumors?

Nate Silver: Literally a third of the questions in the queue have some sort of Coco Crisp angle, so let's just get a big thought dump out of the way.

1. Crisp is a very good player and should continue to be a very good player in the near future. He does enough things well that he can't really be written off as an "empty batting average guy". PECOTA expects him to age favorably, perhaps having a career along the lines of Johnny Damon himself.

2. Crisp is substantially better than someone like Jason Michaels.

3. Marte is almost certainly more valuable than Crisp from the strictest valuation standpoint, but that has mostly to do with the fact that he's got two more arb-eligible years left. It's something of a toss-up as to who is going to have the better major league career.

4. This is just a gut-feel thing, but it wouldn't shock me if Marte has a little bit of an Aramis Ramirez career path, disappointing people a little bit at first but ultimately developing into a very good player.

5. Adam Stern isn't Bubba Crosby, but c'mon.

Matt (St. Louis): Going into the coming season, the Cardinals seem to be worse at the outfield corners. How does John Rodriguez project in PECOTA in his first full major league season? How about Encarnacion -- does he project to maintain last year's numbers or to regress to his career averages? As a Cards fan, I'm just hoping a full year of a healthy Rolen offsets some of the loss of offense from last year.

Nate Silver: Matt, I think the Cardinals are going to miss Larry Walker and Reggie Sanders more than you'd think. Rodriguez projects to be about a league average hitter for his position, but right now we have Larry Bigbie ahead of him on their depth chart. Encarnacion is a known commodity, and a downgrade. PECOTA isn't that keen on Junior Spivey, and thinks that David Eckstein is going to regress to 2003/04 levels, which is a disaster if he's in the leadoff spot. We have the Cards scoring 750-775 runs next year, which really leaves the door open in the Central.

ChuckR (Addison, IL): Looks like Pecota is pretty bearish on Ichiro - VORP less than 20 and collapse at practically 50%. Is this one of those outliers, Ichiro being a fairly unique player in MLB history? If so are there any other modern day players who you see as 'unique' and thus not subject to the deadly accuracy of the system?

Nate Silver: It's easier to say this after last year, but I've started buying into PECOTA's pessimism on Ichiro. One of the improvements we made this year was to look at groundball-flyball numbers for hitters. That does help his batting average a bit. But it has the opposite effect on his isolated power, and doesn't lead to a more optimistic projection overall.

mbring (St. Cloud, MN): Can we assume another third of the questions involve requests for you to praise the Frank Thomas signing? Does it make the A's the AL favorite right now?

Nate Silver: The A's were pretty clearly the AL West favorites even before the Thomas signing. But ... sure, it's a great deal for them. I think it's a better deal for them, actually, because they *do* have reasonbly adequate contingency plans in the place in the event that Frank isn't able to play very often.

Phil (Austin): Is it just me, or does it seem that this year center fielders are suddenly in a higher demand? Have the fielding expectations for the position gotten higher, or are teams becoming less likely to tolerate some of the Brian Hunter-ish low OBP hitters that have always had a job in the past?

Nate Silver: There has developed something of a fetishism for center fielders that goes above and beyond what is really called for from a valuation standpoint.

One of the columns I've been meaning to write is that I think center field defense is overrated *relative to corner outfield defense*. Look at a guy like Aaron Rowand, who is certainly one of the best defensive center fielders in the big leagues right now, but played as much in the corners as in center when he was coming up through the system.

mbring (St. Cloud, MN): PECOTA is predicting 642 PA's for Bonds this year. How does that happen?

Nate Silver: Yeah, I'd take the low side on that. It results from a combination of using somewhat more optimistic algorthims to predict playing time, and Bonds being such a unique player that it's hard to self-correct for an overpredition by means of his comparables.

jerjapan (Toronto): Despite the mixed feelings about the various signings and trades J. P. Riccardi has made this off season, the Jays are clearly an improved team. What do you think of rumours of signing Molina to catch, or of luring Larry Walker out of retirement midseason? If the Jays are going to contend this year, what's left for Riccardi to do?

Nate Silver: I'm really not that enamored with the Jays. You've got one great player in Halladay, three or four very good players in Burnett, Ryan, Glaus and Wells, but beyond that a lot of dead weight. I'm not really sure that Russ Adams should be a big league regular, they're not getting a lot out of their corner outfield and DH slots, and the rest of the bullpen beyond Ryan is awful.

rudd48 (Lexington, KY): No love from Pecota for Matt Cain in 2006. How about beyond this year? Will he reduce the walks a little bit and become a top of the rotation starter?

Nate Silver: The projection for Cain doesn't strike be as abjectly pessimistic. We have him at, what, a 4.33 ERA?

To answer your question: his walk rate isn't so high that it can't be improved. In fact, it almost certainly will improve. But it's going to be kind of a race to see if he can get the walk rate down before the strikeout rate starts coming down too, and he isn't getting any help from his groundball-flyball numbers. I 100% buy that he has a lot of upside, but there are a lot of downside cases in his forecast too.

rscully (Fairfax, VA): PECOTA seems pretty high on Chris Young (OF)... Beyond playing time, are there any qualifications you'd add to that projection? How much does his lowish contact rate bother you?

Nate Silver: No qualifications at all. Young is a fantastic prospect. If he doesn't improve his contact rate then he becomes ... Mike Cameron with 10% less defense but 20% more power? I'll take that five days of the week and twice on Sunday.

OrioleDog (Maryland): Are there any pitchers that the use of GB/FB data (new this year, right?) have "changed the stars" of, in terms of how they look long term, esp. minor leaguers whose GB/FB numbers are less well known?

Nate Silver: Jered Weaver is the name that comes to mind. He gives up huge numbers of flyballs, and unlike Matt Cain, he doesn't have the stuff to overcome it. Nor does his big league club play he play in [Telecom-to-be-Named-Later] Park.

Steve (Philly): I see you project 568 AB for Chris Young of the Diamondbacks. Is that a mistake or do you really believe it? Do you over project AB at this time of year?

Nate Silver: One change that we made this year is to have PECOTA treat a professional plate appearance as a professional plate appearance. So, it's projecting that Young will get 568 PA between the majors and the minors. It isn't trying to guess whether those will come in Phoenix or Tucson, which is for the D'Backs to decide.

astopel (Oakland): A's question not related to Frank Thomas: It turns out that Dominican pitching prospect Jairo Garcia is really 25 years old (not 22) and is named Santiago Casilla. In general, how does this affect his PECOTA projections, and is/how is BP handling the mystery of the age of Dominican players?

Nate Silver: For a pitcher, it doesn't matter very much at all. In fact, between those particular ages, it might lessen the injury risk.

More generally: we should have almost all of the age-gates fixed in the database, and I don't think there are going to be more than a trickle of new cases from here on out.

ScotMartin (Bedford, TX): What does PECOTA use to predict BABIP? I thought that was mostly luck (with the rest being park and defense behind the pitcher)?

Nate Silver: It's *mostly* luck, but PECOTA is able to account for a lot of information that other systems are missing, like groundball/flyball rates, and much more detailed park effects than you'll see elsewhere. We get rid of a fair amount of the noise.

We do also account for team defense. In fact, I'm just now running another iteration of the PECOTAs - what will eventually become the web version - that tunes up the defensive adjustment based on projected FRAAs and depth charts. This should help the A's pitchers, for example.

darkhorse (Haltom City, TX): Are Coco Crisp's defensive abilities overtaxed in centerfield? His RATE figures in that position are pretty poor and it seems he hasn't hit very well (sample size issues) whilst playing center. If he is a subpar glove in center, a Manny/Coco/Trot outfield would be pretty bad.

Nate Silver: As best as I can tell, there *isn't* a lot of drop-off in transitioning from a corner position to center. If Crisp is an above-average defensive corner, which I think he is, then he should be at least solid average in center. It's *not* like moving from second base to shortstop or something.

ameer (New York): If the PA estimate doesn't differentiate between level, how do you account for difference in competition? If Chris Young gets 600 PA at the major league level his EqA is going to be smaller than if he gets 300 and 300 at Triple A and the bigs?

Nate Silver: All of the forecasts are major league equivalents. That represents what Young would do in Phoenix this year ... *if* the Diamondbacks choose to play him there.

Bill Johnson (New Mexico): Simple one. How good is Anthony Reyes going to be?

Nate Silver: Very good. He's another guy that has some high flyball numbers, but that's the only real concern. I'm surprised that he doesn't generate more buzz.

wileecoyote121 (Larchmont): Jim Ray Hart? Jim Fregosi? Dick Allen? Somehow I was expecting better comparables for David Wright, especially since PECOTA sees such a high breakout percentage for him. How do you see Wright performing this year?

Nate Silver: Dick Allen is a very favorable comparable so long as you're not considering character issues. Do a b-ref search on Hart; he was a very good player at the start of his career, though sort of pulled a Bob Horner later on.

In any event, the projection looks Wright on to me. The one thing we need to keep in mind is that a player who is already as good as Wright isn't typically going to get as much growth as someone who has more obvious holes in his game.

usedumdixey (los angeles): you project Howie Kendrick to be better than Jeff Kent, now? It seems PECOTA often overstates prospects, no?

Nate Silver: PECOTA is making a judgment call on Kendrick. It thinks he's one of the three best prospcts in baseball right now, along with Delmon Young and Ryan Zimmerman. I don't think it's particularly optimistic about propsects in general.

lyricalkiller (the OC): PECOTA! I'm so excited! Big shout outs to Nate Silver

Nate Silver: I'm pretty sure I know who this is, which scares me.

Dustin Pedroia (Pawtucket): Theo reads BP...PECOTA just LOVES me, this year and last...Why are the Sox even thinking about Alex Gonzalez? I'm really a SS, too!

Nate Silver: Isn't trading Renteria a pretty damn strong ringing endorsement for Pedroia? There's *nothing* wrong with signing a guy like Gonzalez to a one-year deal and hedging your bets in the very near term.

andrewfrance (Jax, FL): A: Eddie Yost, Dwight Evans, Chris Speier Q: Who are Rickie Weeks' PECOTA comparables? What the heck kind of messed up troika is that?

Nate Silver: I think it's picking up on the fact that Weeks doesn't profile like a typical second baseman, which dovetails with the fact that he's probably not a second baseman long term. But, we expect to see a lot of growth in his offense this year, and his defense should be tolerable there for the next couple of years.

dirk (Canadia): Who do you like best... Sizemore, Cain, Francouer, Hermida? In what order?

Nate Silver: Sizemore is #1 with a bullet. I'd probably rank the other three Hermida, Francouer, Cain, but those could go in any order.

Mike (Florida): Are the Yankee fans expecting too much from Wang and Cano? Or will those two build on their promising '05 seasons?

Nate Silver: This reminds me of when I went to an Italian restaurant recently. This is not a fantastic restaurant, but it's just a couple of blocks from my apartment, it has some good wine specials, and the food is passable.

Anyway, the waiter came by and asked us: "is everything up to your expectations?". Well, my expectations were pretty damn low, so the answer was a resounding YES!

mbring (St. Cloud, MN): The Twins' signing of Tony Batista just seems inexplicable to me. Is there anything at all that makes this even a remotely good idea?

Nate Silver: He plays a much better third base than Tuffy Rhodes.

mikebrown (Chicago): Nate, thanks for the chat. A few Cubs questions... #1 - Jaque Jones = Cory Patterson (+ 5 years older). True or False? #2 - Has Jim Hendry made any legit impact moves over the winter? #3 - Cubs prospects for 2006... A) if Prior + Zambrano + Wood start 95+ games and B) if P + Z + W start fewer than 60 games?

Nate Silver: Had to dig for a Cubs question.

#1) I was really hoping that they'd keep Patterson instead of Pierre, promote Pie to play left field, and still sign Jones to play right, so they could field a lineup of Corey Patterson past, present and future.

#2) No, it's been a terrible winter. I think they were very much counting on signing Frucal, and had never really thought about a Plan B.

#3) In spite of all of that, we have to recognize that 2005 is really on the low side of what the Cubs are capable of, particularly on the pitching side. Zambrano (finally!) and Prior get great projections, PECOTA thinks Maddux could have a nice last hurrah kind of season, and I like the flexibility at the back end of the rotation.

ccweinmann (seattle): Who do you like best... Liriano, Verlander, Cain, Duke? In what order?

Nate Silver: Duke, Liriano, Verlander, Cain, but it's extremely close between the four of them. I also don't know that I'd trade Felix Hernandez for any *three* of them.

ChuckR (Addison, Il): Given the costs paid in cash and prospects for Jacque Jones (Pecota VORP 6.0), Juan Pierre (13.0), Scott Eyre (5.6) and Bobby Howry (6.7), is it possible to qualify the Cubs' offseason as anything short of an absolute disaster? Is it safe to say that Jim Hendry does not have a copy of BP on his desk?

Nate Silver: One of the underlying themes with the Cubs is that they're tied to a budget/payroll, perhaps more than any other organization in baseball. So that means they won't go the extra couple of million with Furcal when it's out of budget but necessary to salvage the off-season, while they will throw cash at guys like Jones and Scott Eyre once they've got that extra Tribune Co. cash lying around. This is one decided advantage that the team on the other side of town has; Kenny Williams can be hit-and-miss, but he takes a much more flexible approach.

mwball75 (Cincinnati, OH): Will trading Kearns for pitching really improve this team enough to contend? Why not hold onto him and try to improve via free agency next year?

Nate Silver: A great number of Kearns questions. I think it's telling that his #1 comparable is Pat Burrell. Like Burrell after 2003, he's a guy that should expect some rebound at the plate. But he's also looking like more of an "old players skills" guy than the all-around player people were hoping they'd get a couple of years ago, and I don't know if he's going to be a good big leaguer past the age of 30.

mbsmith76 (Houston, TX): How far into park effects has PECOTA gone this year? Does it break it down into how each park inflates or deflates singles, doubles, triples, HR for lefties and righties?

Nate Silver: We've gone deep, deep, deep down the park effects train. There are separate component factors for 1B, 2B, 3B, HR, BB, K and GB%, broken down by left-handed and right-handed batters. These are done with a great deal of care. For projection purposes, it isn't just enough to take a park factor at face value, but you have to consider how far to regress it to the mean on account of things like altitude, playing surface, and field dimensions.

Matt Cain (San Fran): Me or Matt Morris (I just don't want to come in last on another one of your lists)

Nate Silver: Ah-ha! Don't get me wrong: I do like Matt Cain (and would certainly take him ahead of Matt Morris). But he's got both the flyball issue and the command issue to work on. I think Cain has better-than-usual odds to get that work done, but there's a difference between him and someone like ... I don't know ... Brandon McCarthy, who is a very complete big league pitcher in the present tense.

darkhorse (Haltom City, TX): Is Ian Kinsler a legitimate candidate for AL Rookie of the Year? Who would you favor in this category for 2006?

Nate Silver: I'd go with #1 White Sox prospect Bobby Jenks.

Nate Silver: That's all the questions I can handle for now. You'd probably get another twenty minutes out of me if I had a Starbucks built into my apartment, but until I win the World Series of Poker someday, that's going to remain a pipe dream. I'll see if I can't get Jonah to set another one of these up to coincide with the release of the Web PECOTAs.


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