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Chat: Nate Silver

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Thursday September 02, 2004 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, and sorry for the delay. Apparenetly I was sick that day in school that we learned about time zones. We'll go until 2 Central / 3 Eastern or so.

felton suthon (new orleans): Nate: Can you comment on how PECOTA might handle Adrian Beltre's future, especially in light of what will be an interesting off-season for Beltre and the Dodgers? Thanks

Nate Silver: PECOTA gave Beltre a relatively favorable forecast this winter, with a breakout rate in excess of 20%. Granted, it didn't see *this* coming.

I suspect that it's going to buy in on him next year as well. This is a pretty robust breakout that he has had - virtually every aspect of his game has improved - and he's young enough that it's more likely that we're seeing genuine improvement, rather than some sort of career year. I think Adrian is one of the ten or fifteen most valuable players in baseball going forward, and I hope that PECOTA will recognize it.

Sue Do Nim (All Alone in the Watchtower): After the Mets fire Jim Duquette after he has fired Art Howe, what do the Mets do? I know a lot of this was subject to TINSTAAP, but there could have been a 2006 rotation including Kazmir, Yusmeiro Petit, Matt Peterson, and Aaron Heilman. What say you?

Nate Silver: The problem, I'm convinced, in markets like New York or Boston or even Chicago, is that expectations are so high that a GM has an awful lot of disincentives to carry through with any sort of long-term plan. The Mets might have set themselves back by as much as 24 months with their ill-advised playoff push this summer; their plan for the future involves being really damned happy that they have David Wright and starting anew.

prinaldi (newark): What do you make of Javier Vazquez's struggles this year? Do you think the fact that he was tops in the league in pitcher abuse points last year has anything to do with it?

Nate Silver: It's always very difficult to link cause and effect in a situation like this but I think the possibility that Vazquez has lost something due to his heavy workload at least has to be considered. Not every abused pitcher is going to see their elbow snap in mid-delivery, a la Tom Browning; some of them are going to see a more subtle drop in their strikeout rate, as Vazquez has, and a corresponding decline in their effectiveness.

Outmaker (San Diego): I think San Diego made a huge mistake in not aquiring a bat (or 2) prior to the trade deadline. Their production from the outfield is pathetic... has got to be league worst for a team in "contention." The combined numbers for LF and CF are flat-out awful (Klesko, Long, Payton, Buchanan, Robinson, Guzman). Since chicks dig the long ball... San Diego's rookie shortstop has 11 bombs in 438 AB's compared to the above outfielders who have 15 in 1151 AB's. That will not get it done, huh?

Nate Silver: Absolutely correct. While I suspect that Kevin Towers is still trying to figure out just what sort of player will work out really well at Petco Park, the Padres do not have enough firepower to hang tough in a multiway playoff race, and they didn't do anything to improve their lot at the deadline.

Whatever else you might say about Jim Hendry, he's shown a willingness to go for the jugular in his trade deadline acquisitions, and I'm sure that fans in a lot of other cities wish that their man had the same instinct.

bctowns (Chicago): Nate, Does your statistics background help your poker playing at all? And where do you find games in the Chicago area?

Nate Silver: Success in poker is probably about

40 percent mathematical ability
30 percent discipline
20 percent fearlessness
10 percent psychology

Having a strong math background helps a *lot*.

I go down to play at the NW Indiana casinos - Harrah's, Trump - a few times a month, but most of my poker playing is online.

Dennis (Paterson): Do you know who holds the record for outperforming their weighted mean EQA? I imagine Carlos Guillen has to be near tops of that list.

Nate Silver: Javy Lopez beat his EqA projection by a wider margin last year than Guillen has this year. But, yeah, Carlos has been awesome, and it would be a shame if Joe Sheehan's contention is correct and he doesn't get any recognition at all in the BBWAA ballotting. Thanks goodness for Omar Vizquel's bum old bones and his failed physical.

Baseball Pilgrim (Delphi): First my offerings to the High Priest. Lost in PECOTA's well-deserved stroking for soothsaying the appearance of "The Pena" is the job it did on his neighbor in the Reds' outfield. Adam Dunn looked pretty lost in the second half of 2003 on the way to finishing with a .215 average. But PECOTA was a bright and eager dog on him this spring, oblivious to his year-and-a-half struggles. And damned if it isn't looking on target so far. Nice! Now a question. In looking for comparables for a player with, say, 3 or 4 years in the majors, does PECOTA look further back (into minor league numbers) to compare him to former players? Or do they "fall off the edge" in the matching process at some point? Thanks, and keep it up.

Nate Silver: Howdy, Pilgrim.

Once a player is established in the major leagues, PECOTA only uses other major league comparables in order to evaluate him.

bmarquardt (Ohio): Can we expect to see an expanded Fantasy section in 2005 at BP.com?

Nate Silver: That's the plan at least. We were a little bit late to the Fantasy market last season, but we expect to have both an earlier launch and a substantially improved product ready to go for 2005. Not to sound too smug, but BP is fortunate enough to have the best forecasts, the best injury information, and the best analysis, and I think that ought to make for the best fantasy product out there.

Chris (San Diego): Do you think with your statistical knowledge, that you can beat the vig in baseball gambling? I bet on each team's total wins over/under in the beginning of the year based on BP articles, and are on pace to rake it in.

Nate Silver: Believe it or not I have *never* placed a bet on a baseball game or proposition. I suppose I see it as a conflict of interest of sorts.

From what I've read, though, Vegas makes only a one or two percent profit margin on their baseball wagers, as compared with three percent for basketball and five percent for the NFL. I suspect that the vig probably could be beaten, and possibly by a lot.

dorkus14 (Matt (SF)): Hello Nate, Waiting for someone at BP to give the Giants band of misfits some props after all the negativity - 2nd in the NL in runs scored...

Nate Silver: There's no way that I'm qualified to challenge the font of wisdom that is Harold Reynolds.

steve (manalapan): The fantasy forecaster was a great tool this year (except that I got Eric Hinske and Orlando Cabrera in all my leagues). Do you anticipate that it will be more accurate next year?

Nate Silver: Well, we're going to miss on a few players just about every season; Hinske was one that took me by surprise, as I thought he was someone who would *exceed* his projection. The whole Montreal debacle, however, has been enough to convince me that I need to change the way that PECOTA handles park effects, so we shouldn't have that problem next season.

Outmaker (San Diego): As great a player as Carlos Beltran is, he still seems underappreciated. His combined numbers this year are ridiculous. He clearly is one of the top players in the game and he's just now entering his prime years. Is it a foregone conclusion that he's wearing pinstripes next year?

Nate Silver: Beltran rulz!!!! I can almost see a scenario in which he hits 350/475/800 or something down the stretch and the Astros sneak in and grab the Wild Card. He's also the sort of player that make GM's of every stripe drool and I think he'll get plenty of offers during the winter.

TheLaird (Williamsburg, VA): I liked your Wily Mo article. Maybe you can help clear up another player for me. When PECOTA takes a look at Rick Ankiel in the offseason, what will it see?

Nate Silver: PECOTA's fuel is data, and it just doesn't have very much data to work with in the case of a player like Ankiel. Personally, I'm on the buy side on Ankiel, but I don't think that PECOTA will have much useful to say about him until 2006 or so.

Paul Mocker (Goleta, CA): Edgar, Olerud, Spiezio and perhaps Boone have all collapsed (>20% decline from their PECOTA Projections.) I was wondering if there is some synergy that occurs between groups of players on the same team that PECOTA captures in its formulae. I think only Edgar had a high chance for collage, about 33%.

Nate Silver: PECOTA certaily does not account for any sort of correlation in performances between players on the same team. Does that mean that there's never anything to it when a bunch of guys on one club substantially over- or underperform their forecasts? I don't know; I suppose that a hitting coach or even the clubhouse environment (!!) can make a certain amount of difference.

What has happened with the M's this year, however, doesn't require any such mystic explanation. Seattle had a very old batting lineup, and old players have a much greater chance of having a substantial collapse; sometimes it happens gracefully and sometimes you get Rich Aurilia or John Olerud.

prinaldi (newark): Have you watched Baseball Tonight recently? If so, what emotion overwhelms you - Anger or Sadness?

Nate Silver: Nausea?

It really is a shame, because that show had some rocking moments last season when both Gammons and Bobby V were on the set at the same time.

Jason (DC): Are you aware of any teams that use your PECOTA projections, or at the very least, generate their own? It seems odd that all a GM has to do is get a premium subscription to BP, and have an immediate competitive advantage.

Nate Silver: There are a number of teams that use PECOTA; that much we know. We have thought once or twice about upping PECOTA's price point from $39.95 to $10K or so, but you guys wouldn't like that very much, now would you?

Ernie (San Diego): Trying to settle a debate with my buddy, who would you rather have ~15M per for the next 6 years, Vlad or Beltran. Pecota has Vlads 5 yr decreasing from 4 to 2.8 wins and Beltran from 3.5 to 2.5. I say Beltran's D, baserunning and age (1 yr younger) give him the edge.

Nate Silver: I'd take Beltran. His pristine health record is another nice tiebreaker that resolves in his favor.

Justin (Los Angeles): Damon is having a pretty good year, better that most expected. Do you see the Sox keeping him around after his contract expires? Also, do you see the Sox trying to release Manny in the off-season again?

Nate Silver: Damon is one of those guys for whom a good season has the potential to be a little bit dangerous for the club that eventually signs him to a contract. Almost all of his improvement this year has come on the batting average side, and while he figures to age relatively well, he's also likely to get paid about $3M more a year than he's actually worth. I suspect that Theo is smart enough to see through this, however, and that the Sox will only sign Damon for say $2M more than he's really worth.

As for Ramirez, I don't think the Sox are going to try any similar stunt next winter, both because of the sort of PR makeover than Manny has had this year and because trying to release him simply isn't going to accomplish anything.

DavidCrowe (Canada): I used you PECOTA spreadsheet to pick my fantasy team this year - did pretty good on offense despite all those Expos but I got killed by my pitching as PECOTA rated pitchers pretty low in relation to the available hitters. This worked out fine for relievers as new 'closers' were discovered all season but my starters were brutal. Shouldn't blue chip startes be of greater value?

Nate Silver: The problem isn't that starting pitchers are less valuable in roto than closers or starting position players, but that it's significantly more difficult to predict which starting pitchers are going to have great years, especially when Wins are such a fluky category. That said, the fantasy manager tool was perhaps undervaluing starting pitching in leagues with an IP requirement, and we will try and build in an adjustment for that next year.

vince (oxford): Have you ever thought about creating a pecota forecast for football or basketball? Do you think the fact that so much of a player's stats are team dependent, would make it impossible?

Nate Silver: I suspect that you could put together a pretty decent, PECOTA-style projection system for basketball. Football is a lost cause.

Jake (PHX): Where is Justin Morneau's PECOTA card? What do you see as his peak season, HR OBP SLG?

Nate Silver: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/pecota/morneju01.php

I suspect that he'll have at least one or two seasons along the lines of .340/.455/.675. Think left-handed Bagwell.

Adam J. Morris (Houston, TX): How big an impact do you anticipate Alfonso Soriano aging two years will have on his PECOTA projections, particularly in light of his underwhelming performance this year?

Nate Silver: I did an article on this back in the spring and found that Soriano's new birthdate *didn't* have a huge impact on his projection in the near term; long story short, someone moving from age 26 to 28 isn't nearly as important as their moving from 21 to 23 or say 32 to 34. PECOTA did have a pretty high collapse rate on Soriano this year, so his mediocre performance isn't entirely surprising, but that was owing to his statistical profile rather than his age.

brad (morristown): Is there still a question about Pujols' actual age? If he really is only 24, is there any reason to believe he is not the NL MVP for the next 10 years post-Bonds.

Nate Silver: Last question. Thanks to everyone for turning out and my apologies again for the late start.

Nobody that I know has been presented with any sort of evidence that Pujols is in fact older than he is listed. And while I am not nearly as well-informed as I pretend to be, I do know of a couple of other prominent players who *are* widely believed within baseball circles to be older than listed.

Pujols profiles something like Hank Aaron - extemely good and extremely consistent for a long time. He's probably not quite the athlete that Aaron was, but like Aaron he's shown a propensity to stay healthy early in his career, and that's a very positive sign for his future. The thing is, though, that Hank Aaron won just one MVP award; Pujols will have a lot of great seasons, but so will a lot of other guys.

Nate Silver: Thanks!


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