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Chat: Nate Silver

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Monday April 03, 2006 2:00 PM ET chat session with Nate Silver.

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Nate Silver is an author of Baseball Prospectus.

Nate Silver: Let's get started just a couple of minutes early. By the way, does anyone else feel like it's already about the 15th of May or so? Sometimes, Opening Day creeps up and surprises me, but this spring I've been talking so much baseball that it's only a matter of time before I begin referring to this season as 2007.

mwball75 (Cincinnati, OH): What do you think Brian Anderson's number's will look like? He looked solid last night.

Nate Silver: PECOTA's projection - .270/.330/.470 - looks about right, although I wouldn't be surprised to see him +20 points in either the OBP or SLG departments. I like the kid, and he's big enough to add some power. Plus he's got Scott Podsednik protecting him the lineup, which is clutch.

Greg (Charleston, WV): As a Pirates fan, I was pleasantly surprised to see you picked them third in the NL Central. Is that more of a comment on them, or on the rest of the division?

Nate Silver: More the latter than the former. I try and have some fun with my picks, and I'm not above making a quasi-editorial comment about the Cubs' terrible off-season approach. The trouble with the Pirates is that I don't think they have as many high-upside players as some of the other teams in the division, so I think they're going to need to depend on the parity in that division to have a real shot.

Jim Clancy (Toronto, ON): Who's going to have the better year: Rafael Soriano or Fernando Cabrera?

Nate Silver: I would have said Cabrera 24 hours ago, but after last night, I'm less certain.

mwball75 (Cincinnati, OH): Brandon McCarthy got the first win of the year. Do you think he will be deployed in such a way that he might win 10 games this year?

Nate Silver: I think I've said this before, but I could very easily see him winding up as the closer on that club. McCarthy wins versus McCarthy saves would be a good prop bet. Either way, he'll be valuable, and is one of the major reasons why I think PECOTA's projection for the White Sox is too pessimistic.

Chris H (NYC): How does the skill level in NCAA college baseball compare to minor league baseball? I've heard it said that it's on the level of AA. How does an average AA ballplayer compare to an average college baseball player? An average player on a really good college baseball team? A college superstud?

Nate Silver: I suspect that the tougher NCAA conferences are much closer to the NY Penn League than Double-A, and the lesser conferences are substantially easier than anything in the organized minors. FWIW, I've also talked about this issue with Kevin Goldstein quite a bit, and his take is that any sort of college translations are going to be pretty rough. There are many players who post very good college numbers, Kevin says, that wouldn't be considered prospects in any way, shape, or form.

Jim Clancy (Toronto, ON): You and me both, Nate. I nearly took Cabrera off of waivers this morning and only looked at last night's box score in the nick of time. I had heard Cabrera's control was an issue, but can we still have confidence in his performance this year?

Nate Silver: A soggy mound on Opening Day in 45 degree temperatures after a 2+ hour rain delay is about as good an excuse for giving Cabrera a mulligan as I can think of. I think he'll be fine, and is still reasonably likely to take over the closer's job at some point this season. But a performance last night is going to inflate his ERA for basically the entire season.

Will (Watertown, MA): With the Twins perenially crappy offense and wealth of pitching why haven't we heard anyting about a Craig Wilson (OF, 1B vs. Lefties, DH, emergency catcher!) for Lohse trade (getting Liriano into the rotation)? Their contracts are off by about half a million bucks.

Nate Silver: Different organizations have different strengths. I love the job that Terry Ryan has done in general, the Twins are amazingly crappy at parlaying the cheaply-available talent market. I do think there's a good chance they trade a starter if they're in a tight race come July or so. But they may have been able to have their cake and eat it too if they were a little bit better at playing the veteran talent market.

TGisriel (Baltimore): Do you think Nick Markakis will stick and prosper with the Orioles this season, or do you think a trip or two to the minors is in the cards?

Nate Silver: I like Markakis a lot better than PECOTA does. He doesn't have a lot of holes in his swing and his makeup is a plus. I could see him at about 285/360/450 this year.

shamah (DC): Everyone is touting the A's depth, particularly in their rotation. Maybe I'm not crazy, but I'm not as sanguine: (1) I don't see any sure bets there at all. Zito and Haren are up and down, Harden is injury-prone, Loaiza is mediocre, and the rest are just innings-munchers. (2) Even with all that depth, their lineup is not as strong: they'll have to leverage some pitching depth into a big hitter, preferably an outfielder. I think they'll win the West, but are they any better than the Sox, Indians, or Yankees at this point?

Nate Silver: I'm disagreed. Zito seems like one of the more consistent arms in baseball, rather than the other way around. Haren has a good combination of stuff and smarts, and I think he's for real. Loaiza is underrated on account of a dead arm period at the end of 2004; he's been a plus pitcher for two-and-a-half of the past three seasons. Harden could get hurt, but with guys like Kennedy and Saarloos, the A's are better equipped to handle an injury than most other clubs.

Will (Watertown, MA): Will the Rockies soon be moving Ryan Shealy for some pitching? Since they're paying Todd Helton 3 kazillion dollars a year until 2046 why haven't they moved him yet? Could you see him as a poor man's Travis Hafner?

Nate Silver: I don't think Shealy has a lot of trade value, especially after his poor spring. And the window to move Helton probably passed about 18 months ago. I don't think the Rockies are going to be *that* terrible, but there's so much filler on the roster that I don't think they have a lot of flexibility, and it's just going to be a matter of waiting for a reset when guys like Stewart and Tulowitzki are ready.

Jim Clancy (Toronto, ON): Is using Liriano in the pen a smart introduction to the majors, or is it a waste of some of his service time? I might vote that it's a smart gradual introduction to killer hitters like Russ Adams and Reed Johnson.

Nate Silver: Personally, I'd give Liriano a two-week taste of Fort Myers, Florida after that DUI, but maybe I'm become a curmudgeon. Performance wise, the Twins have a deep enough bullpen that I think anything other than giving him a rotation slot is a big mistake.

Aaron (Boise, Id): This years PECOTA projections for hitters incorporate groundball/flyball data. You've stated that you were suprised that doing so didn't have much of an impact on the forecast of guys like Ichiro. It's not surprising to me at all because it seems intuitive that all singles hitters are groundball hitters. What really sets Ichiro apart from guys like Juan Pierre is something you pointed out last year, which is his high BABIP. Have you considered including BABIP in PECOTA? It might be more fruitful than groundball info.

Nate Silver: For all intends and purposes, BABIP is included in PECOTA. Quite literally, PECOTA looks at the interaction effects between every statistic and every other statistic. If you see some other forecaster touting the importance of a particular leading indicator, rest assured: it's already accounted for in PECOTA.

Will (Watertown, MA): J.J. Hardy just took Oliver Perez deep to center. What kind of season do you see for the two of these players?

Nate Silver: I see Hardy taking pitchers like Oliver Perez deep to center fairly frequently. As for Perez, there are lots of rumors that he wasn't 100% to start the spring. I see him making a DL stint in May or so, and possibly having a strong second half.

tschiera (Brooklyn): Nate, I am a new subscriber, and not exactly sure if PECOTA is your department, but I guess I am looking for some reassurance as to its reliability. I just finished my fantasy league draft using BP's PFM (I know PFM could be mistaken based on the info I gave it, but it seemed to me to be rendering legitemate results), however, I did not pick players I normally would pick (I love flashy talent and young guys with big upside, I used PFM -- which uses PECOTA -- to keep me "grounded"). I feel "uneasy" taking Andy Pettitte over Felix the King, Rich Harden, and Josh Beckett in a league that counts IP, W, SV, ERA, SO, WHIP -- and taking Josh Willingham over Brian Giles in a leage that counts R, AVG, HR, RBI, SB, OPS. Are these quams founded (PECOTA or PFM was off) or am I just feeling my emotional attachment to my go to fantasy names being severed by the clinical reasoning of BP?

Nate Silver: I think it's always okay to play your hunches - or play against PECOTA's hunches - when doing any kind of fantasy draft. That's what makes fantasy baseball fun.

But while people like Ron Shandler do good work, a lot of the guys in your roto league are basing their valuations on some magazine that they picked up at 7-Eleven, and those numbers aren't very well thought out.

lyricalkiller (Halfways tween Vegas and Anaheim): Heard you on local radio the other night, as the host kept pronouncing it Baseball Prospecticus -- about 20 times in all. Even did a bit about what the plural of "Prospecticus" is. What a mess. I'm in a fantasy league that redrafts from scratch in July. How quickly does PECOTA become dated? Thanks!

Nate Silver: Remember that gig. I think the host may have gotten us confused with Lisa Simpson's yearbook, the Retrospecticus.

On the other question, we're hoping to have a mid-season version of PECOTA available this year, but I'm not quite ready to promise that feature just yet.

Andy (Oak Park, IL): What data do you wish you had that you think would help improve PECOTA? Feel free to shoot for the moon on this one.

Nate Silver: 1. Injury data.
2. Injury data.
3. Injury data.

Dan McKay (Albuquerque, N.M.): How important are pre- and post-break splits? Do players who improve in the second half of the season tend to carry it over into future seasons? Would PECOTA be more accurate or less accurate if it tried to account for this? Thanks for taking questions.

Nate Silver: Dan,

First/second half splits do make some difference, and in a perfect world, PECOTA would account for this. But it's probably not more than +/- 10 points of OPS or ERA in most cases. There are some exceptions - someone like Jose Contreras who completely revised his approach in the second half of last season is going to be underrated by PECOTA.

TGisriel (Baltimore): One of the issues the Orioles are dealing with this spring is Melvin Mora's desire for a contract extension. News reports say that Mora wants $27 million for 3 years, and the Orioles are offering $24 million for 3 years. In light of Mora's production the last several years and his age, would you sign Mora if you were the Orioles?

Nate Silver: I see very little incentive to lock Mora up for the long term. Once a player gets past the age of 32 or so, a big statistical decline like Mora had in 2005 is usually going to be closer to what you'll get going forward.

Ryan Howard (philly): The distribution on my PECOTA is crazy. At the top end, I'm Barry Bonds, at the bottom, I'm Adam LaRoche. Who am I?

Nate Silver: Uh, Ryan Howard?

geehal (LA): Can you explain why PECOTA has BJ Ryan earning much more saves than any other closer?

Nate Silver: Ryan's younger than Mariano Rivera, healthier than Francisco Rodriguez, and strikes out more guys than Huston Street. I don't know why he *shouldn't* be the odds-on favorite to lead the league in saves. FWIW, it also helps that the Blue Jays are projected to have an above average rotation but a below average offense, which tends to lead to a lot of save situations.

TGisriel (Baltimore): Corey Patterson has not impressed during the spring. How long would you give him to start showing some improvement before you decide last year was a true showing of his ability and give up on him?

Nate Silver: I leave him alone and give him 250 plate apperances. I'm not generally much on considering backstory issues, but his head was in a pretty bad place after getting reamed out by Dusty Baker, booed by the bleacher bums, and working with several different hitting coaches.

Anthony (Long Island): Felix Hernandez's 2006 stat line will be...?

Nate Silver: 12-8, 177 IP, 159 K, 68 BB. Wait, isn't that what PECOTA said?

Jason Bartlett (Not Minnesota): Why am I at AAA when Juan Frickin' Castro is the shortstop? Do the Twins not realize I'm a better a hitter and have excellent range?

Nate Silver: As I've alluded, this winter has been enough for me to demote Terry Ryan from about #4 to #14 on my never-to-be-published GM rankings list.

Brent (Raleigh, NC): In North Carolina right now, the Nats-Mets game is being blacked out on ESPN b/c we're considered to be Nat's "territory." Of course, there is no other way to watch Nats games since (unlike the Orioles, our other "home" team) they have no TV station down here, so basically the result is that you never see them play unless you make a trip to RFK. I hear the same is true even for DC residents. Do you have any thoughts on this situation?

Nate Silver: It's tragic, but I don't see the situation persisting for too much longer, particularly once baseball gets the chance to renegotiate its TV contracts. Blackouts are about as outdated as Betamax.

ScottBehson (Nyack, NY): I am an avid fan of BP, and I know that when smart people have access to good data, they tend to come to similar conclusions. But my one qualm about BP is that it seems as if there are few areas of disagreement among your writers. Can you fill us in on what some of these areas for disagreement may be?

Nate Silver: Major areas of disagreement among the staff:

1) Pitch counts;
2) Importance of stats versus scouting when evaluating prospects.

There are others, too. I recognize that groupthink might have been a problem a couple of years ago, but I think we've largely gotten away from it, especially after adding talent like Kevin Goldstein to the staff. It also helps that the analytical approach has gained so much more currency in industry and fan circles. We can afford to make more subtle and nuanced arguments than we could a couple of years ago, whereas before saying something like "Derek Jeter is a mediocre defensive player" caused so much controversy that the debate tended to begin and end right there.

Nate Silver: I'm going to scoot and leave a bit of energy for the second half of the roundtable tonight. Thank you for all the questions, and happy Opening Day.


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