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Chat: Jeff Ma

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Monday May 15, 2006 2:00 PM ET chat session with Jeff Ma.

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Jeff Ma co-founded PROTRADE in 2004 and leads PROTRADE's efforts to produce state-of-the-art tools and methods for athlete valuation and performance assessment. He gained notoriety as the protagonist, under the name Kevin Lewis, in the New York Times bestseller Bringing Down the House, the story of the MIT blackjack team.

Jeff Ma:

Darren (Milwaukee): Hi, Jeff! How is Protrade different from the old Wall Street Sports Exchange, and how do you make your money?

Jeff Ma: Hey guys, I'm going to get started a little early... Conceptually we are very similar to Wall Street Sports. Some differences are that we are incorporating Moneyball type analysis in our player values also we support different types of competitions etc that they did not. Finally, we will be launching a host of different products around our market that they did not have.

We will eventually make money through advertising and sponsorship primarily with some other interesting revenue sources down the line.

metsRok (nyc): i dont understand...what is it that you do exactly?

Jeff Ma: Not sure what you mean by this but right now I'm VP of Research for www.protrade.com, a sports stock market focused on revolutionizing the way we follow sports

AdamAJP (New York): What possible formula, either rate or volume based, could have Endy Chavez with a Moneyball salary that's more than twice David Wright's YTD?

Jeff Ma: Our Moneyball salary system attempts to take into account all portions of a players performance. Our fielding numbers show that so far this season Wright has cost the Mets runs with his defense while Chavez has been a very positive contributor defensively demonstrating great range in Beltran's absence. Wright's defense has been pretty poor even by traditional measures as he is on base to have close to 30 errors. Of course, if I owned a team I'd never pay Endy Chavez anything close the amount of money I paid Wright.

TheRedsMan (Chicago): Jeff, what do your methods have to say about Edwin Encarnacion? Are people still trading him like a flash in the pan, riding streaks and sellin high? Or perhaps he's becoming increasingly stable as a reflection of his improving approach. His performance this year is VERY similar to David Wright's and he's actually a month younger. Yet, Wright is heralded as the next great 3B while EE is getting little pub. Your take?

Jeff Ma: We like EE here. He has demonstrated decent plate discipline in the minors and will likely hit for a bit more power as he matures. I'm sure the hype difference between he and Wright has as much to do with where they play as it does with any real skill they possess

bradmotl (Crystal Lake): I don't understand what you do either. On that note, what are your thoughts on Roy Halladay early on? Is he back to his normal self or are his low strikeout totals worrisome?

Jeff Ma: Are you guys asking what my company does?

If so, take a look at our site, www.protrade.com... We launched in September and are a sports stock market for athletes. We will be addding new features in the future but essentially we are a game where people can buy and sell athletes like they were stocks trying to maximize portfolio returns and win cash and prizes.

Also, we have a lot of content and analysis along the lines of some of the great work done by those at BP.

As far as Halladay goes, I'm a little worried about his health. With a relatively small sample size of games, I'm not going to read into his low strikeout total yet but I would be a little cautious.

goiter6 (MN): A friend and I are arguing about whether power is really necessary to keep outfielders back. Does the threat of a line drive rolling between two fielders keep the outfielders back far enough to allow hits to drop in front of them?

Jeff Ma: Positioning of fielders is a tough question and one that is a bit hampered by the level of data we receive. It would be very interesting to chart where the fielders started on each play and look at different corrleations with SLG%, BA, etc.

jay2436 (bethlehem): How accurate is your fielding data when you don't use precise hit location data such as Baseball Info Solution provides? I ask this because, for example, you negatively credit a fielder who cleanly fields a ball off the wall for a double. I find many plays where there can be no expectancy for the fielder to make the play, yet he is given negative credit. So theoritically, you fault fielders who have balls hit at them with no possibility of an out. Shouldn't you sacrifice second by second data for accuracy by posting defensive numbers the morning after? Thanks

Jeff Ma: We actually do use precise hit location data. The data is provided to us by STATS Inc. real time. Our models are built on the historical probability of a ball being fielded based on its hit characteristics, i.e. distance, type (pop, fly, liner, etc), direction (26 different slices)...

There are a couple issues right now that you may be uncovering. For some ballparks we don't have sufficient data to perfect the model and also because we have a desire to be real time (powering a market) we don't have the most accurate information

efeder21 (n.y.): do you agree that doumit should be catching in power starved pittsburgh

Jeff Ma: Ummm... one of our employees, Lucas Ruprecht has made this his personal crusade... Free Ryan Doumit. Seriously there are a lot of questions about his defense but I'm not sure where the Bucs are in a position to take such a conservative position. Doumit's D isn't getting any better sitting on the bench.

jay2436 (Bethlehem): Why is fielding and hitting given equal weight in your system. If we all agree hitting produces more runs than fielding, shouldn't this be reflected in your scoring system?

Jeff Ma: Actually, hitting has more of a weight in our system. The best hitters will earn near 80-100 runs at the plate when the season is said and done, and the worst between -40 and -50. In contrast, the best fielder will account for 20-25 runs and the worst around -25 runs.

harry (n.y.): does oliver perez ever pitch succesfully again?

Jeff Ma: He seems to have lost his command and confidence but he's young enough, 24, that he could/should get things figured out. He still has great stuff as his strikeouts are still there but his walk rate is alarming. He may need a change of scenery though as Pittsburgh may not be the place for him to get it figured out. Remember how long it took Randy Johnson to get it under control.

jay2436 (bethlehem): How do you want protrade to be viewed? A type of fantasy gaming service for fans or a unique business model that has an impact on the sports community and becomes mainstream?

Jeff Ma: That's a good question. We'd like the latter. My personal goal when I got involved was simply to work in sports. Since we started PROTRADE two years ago we've had the opportunity to work with three professional teams and many different "players" in the industry, including Bill Walsh, Billy Beane, Jerry West, Brent Jones, Troy Aikman.

The more people that we meet in the industry it is becoming clearer that there is increased acceptance of many of our principals and themes

brian (oakland): Eric Chavez is off to a hot start for the first time in his career. He's great with the glove, and if he continues hitting the way he has in the first month, is there a better "all-around" third baseman in the league?

Jeff Ma: Hmmm... Chavez seems poised for an MVP type season. With ARod playing third base like Aramis Ramirez, it's hard to think of a better all around third baseman.

jay2436 (bethlehem): Well it looks like i'm powering this chat... Of the basketball, baseball and football service you provide, which do you enjoy the most and believe has been the most successful?

Jeff Ma: Well at least someone is... thanks for that...

I think our baseball stuff has the potential to help teams the most simply because the level of data that we get in baseball is better than the other sports. We have some analysis which is more targeted to teams and player valuation which has not yet hit the site. But it looks at many ways that traditional stats are misleading and will be very useful to teams and consumers. We showed it to an Assistant GM for a MLB team and he thought it was very compelling

mgibson (DC): Any theory on the Brian Giles power outage? I understand people may be pitching around him in that lineup, but nonetheless .276/.419/.358 is a weird line to see (especially the SLG).

Jeff Ma: There are almost too many reasons to list...

1. It's early
2. The friendly confines of Petco Park
3. New "training" regimen

Many people believe that Giles doesn't even try to hit for power anymore playing in that ballpark just trying to get on base etc. I think his power will come around.

jay2436 (bethlehem): I am a big fan of what your doing at protrade Jeff and think it has great potential. However, are you concerned that as the site uses more in-depth statisical analysis and more advanced metrics, you will lose the casual fan and observer, srinking your market?

Jeff Ma: That's a great question and one that we often struggle with here. The goal is to make something that is very complicated on the back end, seem very simple on the front end.

Then, we need to balance this simplicity with a desire to provide compelling content. If we dumb it down too much it can lose it's interest.

It's all in our ability to present the data, i.e. presenting our onfield valuation system as salary was an attempt to make numbers that people could quickly resonate with.

Kevin (Las Vegas): Do you think that the Yankees made the wrong choice in putting A-Rod at third and keeping Jeter at short? I though A-Rod was one of the better shortstops when he used to play there. Now it seems like neither is helping the team, what do your numbers show?

Jeff Ma: Like any non-traditional more advanced fielding metric, Jeter is not a good fielder in our system And Arod actually cost the Yankees runs in the field last year. They clearly would be better served with ARod at SS and Jeter DH'ing but I'm a Red Sox fan so I'm fine with how it is.

Last week in that fateful inning against the sox you saw why the Yank's won't be winning anything this year... Defense...

Bernie's misplay and Jeter's joke of a dive to stop a ball four feet to his left...

Arathorn (Chicago area): Should Baird and Bell be imprisoned for their criminal misconduct of Justin Huber? Or merely fired?

Jeff Ma: Probably executed... I think lethal injection...

Brandon (Boston): Whats the deal with closers in your system? Among the saves leaders, Turnbow (-$3.49), Issy (-$7.68), and Jenks (-$0.95) are all negative but have double digit saves. How is that possible?

Jeff Ma: Good question and an interesting one that points to the difference between our numbers and traditional numbers. We don't credit players for getting things like wins or saves. A potential weakness of our system right now is we don't account for the leverage of a situation so closers don't actually get any increased value for pitching in the ninth. This may be something we change for next season.

Arathorn (Chicago area): I'll admit I'm not too up on protrade...can you "short" a player, like you do stocks? How long is the thing played for?

Jeff Ma: At this point you cannot short players but this is a feature we will be adding in the next few month.

You can play PROTRADE for as short as one week and as long as forever, well at least as long as we are in business for :)

ssimon (Pelham, NY): Jeff, I read "Bringing Down the House" several years ago. What have you done in the interim?

Jeff Ma: It took me a while before I was comfortable coming public with the whole Bringing Down the House thing. Since the book was written I've been working on PROTRADE and have been working on some other projects. I'm hoping to help out with the movie.

ssimon (Pelham, NY): Jeff, Protrade is like the stock market, but it's also like placing a wager. How do you feel about legalizing internet gambling?

Jeff Ma: Actually, it's not like placing a wager... It's treated legally like fantasy sports and is therefore a game of skill.

ssimon (Pelham, NY): Jeff, Above you mentioned that you're getting real-time updates from STATS, Inc. How do you feel about MLBAM and the MLBPA forcing companies that run fantasy leagues to license baseball statistics? Does Protrade have such a license?

Jeff Ma: Well this is a very sticky question. With our relationships with owners and former player and executives we have taken a stance to "play by the rules" we do have a license with MLBAM and have had a great relationship with them working on different projects including providing them content for MLB.com

ngguy1 (Long Island): Who do you think will win the NL East?

Jeff Ma: I like the Phillies to win the NL East lead by rookie phenom Cole Hamels. We actually had a moment of silence here last friday for his first major league pitch. With Lieber and Myers throwing well they may finally have the pitching to do it...

TGisriel (Baltimore): How do you evaluate Daniel Cabrera? Should we trust in his stuff or let all those walks and lack of command lead us to give up on him?

Jeff Ma: Again another young guy with great stuff. I think Cabrera should just try and throw the ball directly down the middle on over pitch knowing that it will likely move somewhere that won't be hittable. Any buy with his kind of stuff who is still young is a guy I'm willing to back.

ssimon (Pelham, NY): Jeff, with all due respect, with the work that BP and others have done measuring players' values, why create your own valuation system rather than use what's already available? Also: if people are "buying" a player in the system you use today, how can you justify "changing" the system for next season? That's not how a stock market works...

Jeff Ma: The market will never change... It will always be based on buy sell pressure. Our valuation system which supports the market will constantly improve.

In terms of creating a system versus using someone else's work. We've been able to leverage all of the great work that has already been done by the pioneers in our work... For example, we work in football with Aaron Schatz and in basketball with Roland Beech.

JJ (Milwaukee): Are you at all worried that your system can be exploited, in terms of "holes" being found in the system...i.e a middle reliever gains to much value based on holds where he hurts his team? And I get how you try to apply sports players to stocks, but where are the benchmarks? Stocks have forecasts of where they should be based on Earnings, Balance Sheet. It seems that if you don't have a baseline, it would be hard to trend up or down?

Jeff Ma: Our system is based totally on how a player has impacted his team's ability to score or keep his opponent from scoring so a middle reliever that gets "holds" will never simply get value for his holds.

Our Moneyball valuation system is an attempt to provide a baseline for a player's value akin to a company's earnings.

ssimon (Pelham, NY): Jeff, what sabermetric research have you found most influential? Where can I find the research articles you've published?

Jeff Ma: I like the work done here by guys like Nate and Gary... also, I like MGL and TangoTiger's work... The stuff at Hardball times is also great. Most of the work that we have done is available at www.protrade.com

lorenbr (Madrid, Spain): Let me admit that I have only casually glanced at your site before this chat began. That being said, I am wondering how can I use the information from PROTRADE site to help me in my fantasy league?

Jeff Ma: There are a couple ways... we've started to publish a list of who we consider to be our luckiest and unluckiest hitters. Three weeks ago if you looked at that list it would have told you that some of slumping guys were actually hitting the ball well just getting unlucky (Khalil Greene, Jeff Kent, Matt Holiday) I publish that in my blog each week. Also, you can look at the market movers to see who the fans are buying and who are the sleepers for the week.

Dennis (Newark): Who plays third when Jeter is DH'ing?

Jeff Ma: Good question... I was being a bit cynical when I said Jeter should DH. I just don't think he's a good fielder but I do think he's a great hitter. Maybe they could make a trade for Hank Blalock... He'd fit in well with the great hitting, no fielding yanks... but they usually target guys who are a little older and more decrepit

jay2436 (bethlehem): Have you looked into getting a bigger staff including more analysts and writers are is protrade comfortable with the small size of the company so far?

Jeff Ma: We are about 35 people currently. We are growing but only as fast as makes sense financially.

ssimon (Pelham, NY): "Our Moneyball valuation system is an attempt to provide a baseline for a player's value akin to a company's earnings." Right, but I can see a company's publicly-filed 10-K's and 8-K's to make valuation decisions for myself as an individual investor. It seems that in your case Protrade is the only entity with the bottom-line valuation ability. A free market depends on the free flow of information, no?

Jeff Ma: This is a very good discussion. At the end of the day the market should be about forecasting a player's future value, just like the stock market is forecasting a company's future value.

We are committed to providing our customers all the best tools and information to make those decisions.

jay2436 (bethlehem): I completely understand your concerns. Have you actually competed in any of the challenges on the site as a fan and if so, have you found anything frustrating that didn't go how you thought it would?

Jeff Ma: I think the most difficult part is trying to figure out what is truly simple. What is simple for you may not be simple for others. This is something that we must get better at.


ssimon (Pelham, NY): "We are committed to providing our customers all the best tools and information to make those decisions." But isn't Protrade providing *both* the information (valuation system) and the decisionmaking process (market to buy/sell)?

Jeff Ma: The customers are the ones controlling the decison making part of the market, we have simply created a way to measure their opinions.

Okay guys, thanks for the time...

If you guys have any more questions you can feel free to email me at jma@protradesports.com.

Jeff Ma: Thanks again...


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