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Chat: Nate Silver

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Thursday April 17, 2008 1:00 PM ET chat session with Nate Silver.

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Nate Silver is the inventor of the PECOTA projection system, and writes "Lies, Damned Lies" for Baseball Prospectus.

Nate Silver: This time, we really are having a chat! Apologies for the crossed wires yesterday. Give me three minutes here, and we'll start tackling questions.

astein (Boston): How good can Justin Upton be this year? I know he's projected to be an MVP-caliber player at some point in his career, but the kid's only 20 now! When was the last time we saw a MVP-type season from a 20/21 year old hitter?

Nate Silver: Bill Simmons made a comment yesterday -- actually he was citing a friend's e-mail -- about LeBron James, in which he asked this friend what LeBron James's upside was and the friend said "he doesn't have one". That's sort of how I feel about Justin Upton. I don't necessarily think that he's likely to be an MVP candidate this year. But given his combination of pedigree and prodigy -- it's certainly *possible*.

Jason Golub (NYC): Nate, who would you rather have on your real baseball team over the next 15 years, Delmon Young or Jeremy Hermida? Thanks! Jason

Nate Silver: Young, but only because of Hermida's propensity to hurt himself.

Ryan (Milwaukee): So Gallardo is coming back soon. I'm wondering what Yost's conundrum is....Shouldn't it be a no-brainer to move Bush out of the rotation?

Nate Silver: Ah, Ned Yost: a conundrum to us in so many ways. But I don't think there's anything wrong with the way the Brewers have handled Yovani. They very well might be playing a 170+ game season this year, and when that's the case, you can take it a little cautiously with a young pitcher.

Hokieball (DC): So did you forget what day it was? Or are you in mourning for Dan Fox's departure?

Nate Silver: I'm broken up about Dan. Seriously. Bully for him, though. But anybody know a great, underrated sabermetrician lying around under a rock somewhere? Who do you guys read?

bernard23 (NYC): Pecota has a low opinion of John Bowker despite a good season in a pitching friendly environment last year. Is there something something that Pecota is picking up that I'm missing?

Nate Silver: He's a 24-year-old corner outfield prospect, and he's in the San Francisco Giants system. Wearing those sorts of albatrosses around one's neck, it takes more than 'good' to get PECOTA's attention.

tfierst (MN): Am I just getting unlucky? I drafted Ortiz, Soriano, Dunn, Kelly Johnson this year. Last year I drafted Chris B. Young, Bill Hall, Alex Gordon. All guys who's performance was significantly disappointing. Tell me this is just bad luck. I came in 10th of 12 last year and currently in last this year.

Nate Silver: Bad luck.

rawagman (Toronto): Nate, Thanks for answering. I was at the very poorly attended Jays game last night, and beyond noting how few people were actually there, also took notice of the exorbitant concession prices. From a baseball economics perspective, does it not make some sense for teams to lower prices on concessions for expected lower attendance games? Might cheaper fare (maybe not alcohol) be expected to bring more people to the actual game?

Nate Silver: Well, why does it take $4.75 to get a large popcorn at a movie theater? (Also, while I'm here: why don't movie theaters sell beer?)

Actually, the thing about these concession prices is that it's now become the norm to build 42,000-seat stadiums. And when that's the case, your selecting out your customers to a huge degree -- it's going to be a bunch of die hards, and a bunch of rich people. And those people probably have a relatively high tolerance for $7 beer. But my concern is that this is a strategy designed to maximize profits in the short-run -- and not necessarily in the long run by bringing different sorts of fans into your environment.

Nerrad (Montclair): You've had quite the talent drain at BP. Woolner, Fox, and Smith in just the last year. How do you plan for this and where do you see the next batch of writers coming from? Oh and where should I send my application to replace Fox?

Nate Silver: Are you completely unemployable in a major league baseball front office? Did your first wife disappear into a ditch? Are you an extended member of the Bin Laden family? Are you Mike Gimbel? Any of these would be plusses, as far as BP is concerned!

Zach Tavlin (Essex Jct., VT): When is Hockey Prospectus starting up? I want to read about the importance of a high shot/turnover ratio. And would like to know Brandon Dubinsky's VORS.

Nate Silver: We actually get a couple of requests a month for Hockey Prospectus. And I know I make fun of the sport -- but there were times growing up when it might have been my favorite sport, particularly the college game. But hockey's market footprint is a lot smaller than baseball's or basketball's -- a lot smaller at this stage, alas. What I think we'd need is for someone to come with us hat in hand and say "I'm *really* good at this *and* I'm a complete self-starter who will make your life really easy". Under those circumstances, it's certainly something we'd take a look at.

Andrew (Chicago): re: concessions This is in no way scientific, but I have noticed since moving to Chicago, the concessions prices at Wrigley *seem* to be cheaper than most other stadiums I've visited. I am left with the question of whether or not the concessions are cheaper because they allow fans to bring in their own food/drink (not alcohol), hence they must lower in-stadium prices to 'compete.' Any clue as to if this is the case?

Nate Silver: Well, Wrigley also has among the worst food in the majors, and has had for years. (Although, I think it's actually improving). But the thing is, people are less captive there than they are at other places. There are dozens and dozens of places within just minutes of the ballpark that are willing to serve you a decent meal at a decent price.

baconjeff (cleveland): C.C. Sabathia?

Nate Silver: On a scale of 1 to 10, my worry level is a 5.8.

lpiklor (Chicago): Who did Matt Murton piss off and how?

Nate Silver: Good question. It's gotten past the point where the Cubs are even pretending to give him a fair shake right now. And one of Jim Hendry's lesser qualities is that he has this tendency to play his hand out in the open, so everyone knows exactly what he's holding. They need to move him -- but given the way they've treated him, they won't get anything for him.

Eric J (Norman OK): So are you guys like the mid-major college basketball program of baseball analysis? You have to bring in the talented coach/analyst to keep the product good, but they eventually move up...

Nate Silver: We also have several people on staff who have turned down offers to work for a front office at some time or another, or who do work with them, but via a consulting relationship. I don't think we necessarily see it as an upward move so much as a lateral move that is going to make a lot of sense for different of our people at different times. But we look at is as part of our cost of doing business, and I think we're flattered when it happens, in certain ways.

Jay (Phi Town): Should Victorino be Pipp'd by Werth?

Nate Silver: I don't think that's manifestly the case. We have Victorino projected at 279/341/414 against righties, and Werth at 255/357/419, so Werth is giving you a little more with the stick, but might give that back on defense. But I also think Jayson Werth is weerrrr-thy of being a major league regular somewhere, so you can't go too wrong either way.

rawagman (work): Nate - thanks for answering my concession question. As an FYI - the Jays were charging $4.50 for a slice of plain pizza. The beer was $10.00 for a(n almost) pint. I could have saved 50 cents if I wanted Bud Light. The Jays brain trust should realize that Toronto sports die-hards tend to be of the hockey variety - there's a very small group of baseball die-hards. Much of the remainder were business types. Tickets as swag sort of thing.

Nate Silver: But isn't Canadian currency like Monopol^Z^Z -- wait, that joke's on us now!

TheDumbSmartGuy (Cambridge, MA): Miguel Tejada just got two years older: http://tinyurl.com/6gfzre This worsens your (and PECOTA's) opinion of him considerably, yes?

Nate Silver: I'm utterly unsurprised, both based on rumors that had been circulating about him for years and his career track. And I do think it will harm his PECOTA. People ask sometimes: what if Albert Pujols turned out to be two years older? For Pujols, it wouldn't matter very much in the near-term, because he's in the peak of his career, and the age curve for players at the peak of their career is very flat. But for Tejada, it will do some damage.

tonipeluso (Oakland, CA): Should Oakland sign Bonds and make a play for the division title? Considering how flawed the AL West is currently (with the rash of pitching injuries).

Nate Silver: Getting shut out by John Danks for 7.2 innings is usually a sign from God that your offense needs some help. With the A's, though, I think a big factor is whether they expect Rich Harden to come back soon and stay (relatively) healthy. It's not like you should be banking on Rich Harden staying healthy for any length of time -- but any scenario where the A's do back into the playoffs, I think that has to coincide with Harden making 26 starts for them.

Tommy (OPS,FL): What are your thoughts on Edwin Jackson now that we've seen the good and the bad this season?

Nate Silver: I think the same thing I thought about him at the start of the season, which is that he's a #4/#5 starter. His numbers are unchanged from last year in the major peripheral categories, but his BABIP is a ton lower (in part because Tampa has radically improved his defense).

PECOTA (parts unknown): Sorry about that felix pie projection, I just have a sweet tooth.

Nate Silver: Did someone change the rules when I wasn't looking and decide that if a ballplayer has an underwhelming first 200 at-bats in a major league uniform when he's 22/23, he's completely done as a major league prospect? Yes, there's the Soriano injury now to force Lou's hand, but the Cubs just needed to commit to giving him 500 at-bats in a major league uniform this year, no questions asked. That's what the Red Sox were prepared to do with Dustin Pedroia last year, and that turned out very well for him. That's what organizations like the Braves, who know how to develop talent, do with their players.

David (New York, NY): Hey Nate - FYI they do sell beer in movie theaters in Wisconsin!

Nate Silver: They sell beer at elementary school cafeterias in Wisconsin.

ChrisLDuncan (Ames, IA): Ortiz looks MUCH smaller, though still just as fat, compared to -2007. His numbers are also down and at this point he's more likely to be voted Mr. Universe than get an Extra Base hit. Why aren't there steroid rumors surrounding him? He is the perfect candidate for a roider, the power came out of nowhere, and after the Mitchell Report the power disappeared like cup cakes at a pot party.

Nate Silver: See, I'm really not a big fan of convicting guys based on circumstantial evidence, whenever something good -- or bad -- happens to them. Ortiz hit for a .500 slugging average at age 26 in Minnesota; it was by no means all that unusual for a guy like that to tack onto those numbers, especially moving to Fenway. And frankly it would not be all that unusual for the decline to come relatively quickly when it comes for an unathletic player like Ortiz. Mind you, I think it's way premature to conclude that he's actually in decline -- one of the amusing things about doing a chat this time of year is the sheer number of questions we get that stem from reading into tiny sample sizes, so pretty much everything can be answered by a "wait and see". But even if Ortiz atrophied into a Jason Giambi type of performer this year, there wouldn't be anything in his career track that would set off alarm bells for me. And even if there were things that set off alarm bells for me, I would leap to the conclusion that he's a steroid user.

Rick in Boise (uh...): Do you salivate over someday incorporating pitchFx data into PECOTA? (If not, what data DO you fantasize about having one of these days???) TIA

Nate Silver: Man, there are a lot of pitchFx questions today. You guys are really going to miss Dan. The thing about all these new kinds of data is that from PECOTA's standpoint, "new" is a bad thing. There isn't enough of a track record for us to come to firm conclusions about which things are value-adds from a predictive standpoint, and which aren't. So I'm definitely excited about incorporating pitchFx data at some point -- but it's something that's more realistically in that 3-5 year time window than something we'er going to do next season.

MikeJordan23 (BK): What do you think of Anthony Reyes in the bullpen? He's pitched well so far, and velocity is way up.

Nate Silver: When I watched him pitch a few times last year, Reyes was always the sort of guy who -- I don't know, was like a good character actor who was struggling to find the right script. I can see him working pretty effectively out of the bullpen.

ed (NY): Hey - Are you planning to do a "Top 50 Most Valuable Commodities" list this year?

Nate Silver: Yes. We've traditionally* done that piece around the 1st of May, and we'll probably do the same this year.

* Traditionally being defined as "more than once".

Matt (Boston): You don't serve beer at a movie theater because people behave abyssmally enough at the movies as is. (No lights, no accountability.) On topic: how concerned do Sox fans need to be about the erratic start of Misters Lester and Buchholz? Have we been irrationally exuberant about these guys, or are the ups and downs just typical young pitcher growing pains?

Nate Silver: I don't necessarily lump these two guys together. Buchholz had two starts where he looked pretty good and then a third where he got beat up by the Yankees a little bit. There's nothing too unusual there unless your expectations were way too high -- which they were to a certain extent since these are Red Sox fans, but he's going to be a good pitcher, both this season and going-forward. But Jon Lester is someone who I've always seen as pretty fringy, as far as being a rotation regular for a first-division club.

Tony (Brooklyn, NY): Do you spend alot of time ironing collinearity out of PECOTA? I imagine coming up with stats for imputing power, etc. must give you alot of correlated inputs.

Nate Silver: Wow, a truly wonky question! The thing about PECOTA is that we have *so* much data to work with -- tends of thousands of player seasons -- that we can get away with things that might be problematic in smaller doses.

ChrisLDuncan (Ames, IA): If Tim Lincecum and Justin Upton aren't 1 and 2 on your most valuable commodities list consider your system broken.

Nate Silver: People were saying that about Jose Reyes at this time last year.

lornad11 (Northern NJ): Odds David Wright makes the HOF?

Nate Silver: These are always fun questions. At least 60%, I think.

Mr. Know (in Chica-GO): Have two Jewish outfielders ever started a game for the same team, as Ryan Braun and Gabe Kapler have done recently for the Brewers? My Jewish friend in NYC thinks not, and advises the Brewers to bring Shaun Green out of retirement for the troika!

Nate Silver: I also noticed that when the Cubs were playing the Brewers, you had two guys wearing uniform #1 starting in right field. That has to be pretty unusual too.

rich (brooklyn): rumor has it that prince fielder is now a vegan. meat-eaters everywhere are saying this has led to a demise of his power numbers? any truth to that?

Nate Silver: I actually warned people about this in my column from a couple of weeks ago. I don't think there's a problem with a vegetarian diet per se -- which, as my vegetarian friends are happy to remind me, can be a lot healthier than a lot of crap I stuff into my face on a weekly basis. But I do think there might be a problem with a guy who's having a big change in routine right at the time the season is beginning, and hasn't had practice doing it the right way. We should seriously try and run a guest feature by a nutritionist or something.

Member of (non-Cleveland) Tribe (Medford, MA): On the Jewish question -- there was an August 2006 game between the Red Sox and Tigers where Boston had Gabe Kapler and Adam Stern starting in the outfield.... and Kevin Youkilis (who's Jewish/Romanian and not actually Greek) starting in the infield. Alas, God apparently did not approve, and the game was rained out after four innings.

Nate Silver: Just passing this on.

Franklin Stubbs ((LA)): Who is the better pair: Jay Bruce & Joba Chamberlain or Adam Jones & Clayton Kershaw? And by how much?

Nate Silver: Bruce and Chamberlain are the best hitting and pitching prospects in baseball, respectively. So they trump all other permutations.

Rob (Texas): Have you guys ever considered making forums on the baseball prospectus site?

Nate Silver: We're still planning on beta testing some comment functionality in the very near future.

Greg (Iowa City): About Jose Reyes, would you still have him on your top fifty list?

Nate Silver: Oh yeah, absolutely. He'll quite possibly still be in the Top 10. Okay, guys, last question.

JP (Manchester, CT): On a scale of awesomeness between 1 and 10, how awesome is Lincecum? Probably an 11. Best pitcher in the NL within 5 years? I think so, don't you?

Nate Silver: Maybe within the next 5 months. Well, except that Johan Santana is in his league now. Even so, Lincecum is good enough to begin with that if he takes one more step forward, he's in "best pitcher in his league" territory. But for the time being, I should remember my own admonishments about small sample sizes.

TGisriel (Baltimore): Who would you rather have straight up, Adam Jones or Eric Bedard?

Nate Silver: I'd definitely rather have six years of Jones than two of Bedard, which I think is the operative question.

Nate Silver: Thanks, guys. It's been fun, and look for a real, live LDL column coming to your computer monitor tomorrow morning.


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