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Chat: Nate Silver

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Friday May 26, 2006 1:00 PM ET chat session with Nate Silver.


Nate Silver is an author of Baseball Prospectus.

Nate Silver: A few minutes late here... sorry about that. Let's get started.

bartleby (chicago): How do you see the Tigers-White Sox race shaking out. Can the Indians also take that division?

Nate Silver: I think the White Sox and Tigers are two of your four American League playoffs clubs.

Okay, that's not a satisfying answer.

I'd rate the Tigers as the slight favorites, even though it seems like they've played the Royals about 30 times so far this year. These are not dissimilar clubs, in terms of having well-balanced offenses, good pitching staffs, and an ability to field the ball.

The Indians are in a bit of trouble, I think, precisely because the White Sox and Tigers are both such strong clubs. I think Cleveland would need to win 95-96 times to be better than an even money shot for the wild card, and I don't see that happening.

Fargo (Novi, MI): Catcher overuse? Has anybody actually calculated the effects of catcher overuse on their defensive and offensive performance? Of course we know about "end of career" shifts in position as catchers get worn down. But what about within-season, age-adjusted rest days (or defensive rest days by using the DH)?

Nate Silver: I actually tried to look at this, seeing whether catchers were more prone to wear down during the late innings of a game, or the last couple of months of a season, and couldn't come up with a positive finding.

However, there might be something in terms of the career angle. Certainly, you wonder about a guy like Jason Kendall, who had always played in a ton of games.

Anthony (Long Island): Yesterday, your column listed Felix Hernandez's GB% as 69.1%. The Hardball Times has it at 54.2%. I understand there are probably minor differences in how you calculate the figure, but that is a huge difference. So which number is right?

Nate Silver: The figure I used was extrapolated from ESPN.com. ESPN lists only two times of outcomes: groundballs and flyballs.

Hardball Times lists four types of outcomes: GB, FB, popups, and linedrives.

Neither method is inherently "right", but the Hardball Times method (and we used something similar in BP2006) will result in systamatically lower GB percentages.

vinny (san diego): Nate: Sorry to be submitting early, but I'll be at work when the chat runs. Wanted to say: I love PECOTA, I live with it for six weeks a year while preparing for my fantasy league draft and it's a tremendous tool. Wanted to ask: How many NL teams would benefit from making Ryan Shealy their primary first-baseman for the rest of the year? Any chance any of them are trying to trade for him?

Nate Silver: The teams that would benefit the most from Shealy are the Padres, Friars, and San Diego. And I doubt that KT is going to be able to wrestle him away within the divsiion, so long as the Rox remain in the hunt.

rgndvo (Phoenix, AZ): Rumor in AZ is that the Dbacks are looking to pick up Dontrelle Willis for one of the big four (probably Quentin or Young) plus two more of their top 10 prospects. Seems like a ton to give up, no?

Nate Silver: I think Quentin and a B+ prospect or two for Willis is pretty much a win-win. AZ has more prospects than they're going to be able to put on the diamond and any one time, and getting a guy like Willis might boost their chances to win that division by as much as 20%. Plus he's got several relatively cheap contract years left.

Aunt Jemima (Atlanta): Jose Reyes has walked 18 times and is on pace for 71 extra base hits (I know, lots of atbats) and he's only 22. I know his batting average is low, but is this development? In a couple of years, what kind of player do you see him being?

Nate Silver: It's legitimate development. Age 22 with 2 years of big league experience is generally a happy place, particularly if the player is a good athlete. There's a decent chance that Reyes develops a Roberto Alomar type of offensive profile within a couple of years.

Tim (Boston): Thanks for the chat... How does PECOTA come up with ranges in the peripheral stats? In some pitchers' cases, the range of strikeout rates, in particular, seems very narrow. Strikeout rates might be very stable, but just looking back at previous several years' performance for the same pitchers often shows more variation than appears within the PECOTA, at least looking at the 10th-90th percentile range listed on the website. (Today's Notebook column on Kazmir and his walk rates sparked this question)

Nate Silver: Tim,

Good question. The way that PECOTA is set up, ONLY what I call the keying statistic is designed to match up to the percentiles. The keying statistic is, respectively, EqERA for pitchers and EqA for hitters.

PECOTA then uses a fun iterated regression model to match the peripherals to the keying statistic. So it says: if Pitcher X has a 4.00 EqERA, what strikeout rate is he most likely to have associated with this 4.00 EqERA, what walk rate is he most likely to have, and so forth.

Generally speaking, if a player is at one of his outer percentiles, it means that a combination of a few things have gone right (or wrong): he's upped his strikeout rate a little bit, reduced his walk rate a little bit, gotten a bit hit-lucky, and so forth.

I realize that's not a complete explanation, but a complete explanation would take up half the page and I've got other questions to answer like this one...

marioreturns66 (new york): Felix Hernandez vs. Francisco Liriano..... Who do you see having the brighter future of these two studs?

Nate Silver: Hernandez remains the incumbent Best Young Pitcher until Liriano has made it through the league a second time.

Fargo (Novi, MI): Omar Infante. Should he become the solution to the Tigers' DH problem (with occasional use of IRod)? He's not getting much chance in the field right now and yet he's showing he can really hit. Or is he mainly there as a reserve middle-infielder when the inevitable happens? Would rather see him playing than Alex Sanchez.

Nate Silver: Infante also had about 1300 big league plate appearances prior to this year that showed that he *couldn't* hit. I'd really like to see the Tigers pick up an extra bat of the bench for the stretch run -- someone like Todd Walker, say -- because with that roster there's too much chance that somebody gets injured in September 1st.

PilotBrewer (SeattleMilwaukee): Jose Lopez v. Rickie Weeks--who wins?

Nate Silver: Weeks will probably make more money over the course of his career, but I think Lopez will wind up as the slightly better all-around player. The main thing to realize is that Lopez' breakout is very probably legitimate and he certainly belongs in this discussion. If you combine his performance at Tacoma between 2004/2005, you have a guy who would rate as a Top 20 propsect before the season. I know his performance in Seattle wasn't as good prior to this year, but a 21-year old scuffling in his first big league exposure is nothing new.

marioreturns66 (new york): If Lastings Milledge and Mike Pelfrey could get you Miguel Cabrera would you do it? What if you would also have to include Aaron Heilman?

Nate Silver: Any time you can get proven young superstar like Cabrera for a potential young superstar, you do it. Or even for two potential young superstars. Three -- I'm not so certain, and in the near term I don't think the Mets could afford to give up that much pitching.

M LeCroy (WDC): Are my catching days over? Will Frank receover?

Nate Silver: The problem is that your catching days were effectively over a couple of years ago. I think there's a difference between a guy like LeCroy, who had averaged about 10 games/year behind the plate prior to this season, versus someone like Josh Willingham, who might be similarly defensively challenged but was at least playing the position five times a week at Albuquerque.

Jack Buck (Anchorage): Has Hank Blalock turned the corner? Is his start for real? Will he hit with a bit more power or is he now a singles hitter? Also, how do you see Edwin Encarnacion ending up?

Nate Silver: All that's happening with Blalock is that he's doing everything that his perforamnce *prior* to his 2005 campaign projected him to do. I think we need to recognize that there are sort of anti-Brady Anderson seasons too, and that they can occur at just about any point in a player's career ... think of Paul Konerko's 2003, for example.

Ed (NY): At what point does Hanley Ramirez's performance start to impact his projection for the rest of the season. He is destroying his PECOTA (and his career minor league numbers) which I would normally write off as a fluke but Ramirez is at an age where development can happen fast and he gets such high marks for projectability. What does his future look like? Renteria? Better?

Nate Silver: We have to take Hanley pretty seriously, and Renteria is about the right precedent to cite. PECOTA did actually see a lot of upside potential in Ramirez -- another occasion where it agreed with the scouts -- but it didn't expect him to get here so fast.

mscully221394 (San Diego): Nate, With the Red Sox having some apparent bullpen depth and with Wells' uncertain status, could you envision them considering a four-man pitching rotation?

Nate Silver: No way. I think they're going to have enough trouble keeping guys like Schilling healthy all season as it is.

ScottBehson (Nyack, NY): Sorry in advance for the geekitude of my question. I love BP, but I have a small nit to pick. I often read that such-and-such team (like the White Sox) are "lucky" because they are outperforming a projection. I keep hearing my old stats professor, "regression analyses do not include luck- there is explained variance and unexplained variance." So, instead of saying that a team or a player is "lucky or unlucky", isn't it more accurate to say that there's some factor not included in your analysis that could explain the discrepancy?

Nate Silver: Scott, I think you make an excellent point. The term "luck" can be thrown around rather lazily by stathead types, and particularly stathead types that happen to write for the Baseball Prospectus.

Scott Proctor (The Bronx): Am I starting to fall apart again, or does Manny just have my number?

Nate Silver: Indeed, Scott, I think that your long and glorious career has seen its best days.

dcbaseball ((guess)): Nate, thanks for the chat. I've been curious about Eduardo Nunez ever since you wrote about him in February (PECOTA Takes On Prospects, Part Three). He's clearly been challenged at Tampa and was recently sent down to Charleston (he's still the youngest player on the team). How would PECOTA assess him now?

Nate Silver: Yeah, Nunez has gotten killed this year. It may be the case that there's just too much uncertainty assocaited with a projection based on 250 PA of short-season ball for it to really pass the sniff test.

In his defense, though, that was an aggressive promotion the Yankees made. And in PECOTA's defense, Philip Hughes has looked pretty good.

Fargo (Novi, MI): Infante Redux. Not to be annoying, but Infante is "only" age 24, even though he's a multiyear big league veteran. I realize it's early in the 2006 season, but don't some hitters blossom at this young age, perhaps after changing their approach to the plate?

Nate Silver: Fargo,

There's sort of a sliding threshold in terms of age and offensive prowess and below that threshold a guy is very unlikely to ever be a real premium offensive player. Do I think Infante is a big league regular in the middle infield? Probably, but I don't think he's the guy you want as your DH in the middle of a pennant race.

El Duque (En route to NY): Hey, sonny. I think New York and the effects of pitching at Shea will revitalize me once again. And what do think about my brother and his chances of moving?

Nate Silver: El D,

You are old and wise enough to know that a big, sea-level park with Carlos Beltran getting your back in center field is about the best news your career could imagine at this point.

Bill (Toronto): What do you see the Jays doing about their middle infield problem? Is bringing back Hudson a realistic option or just blind optimism?

Nate Silver: I see the Jays going back and re-assessing whether a draft strategy of picking low-risk, low-upside guys is really the way to win pennants. In the nearer term, I think J.P. needs to wait for D-Lee to get healthy and see if he can't flip one of those low-upside propsects to the Cubs for Todd Walker.

doog7642 (Blaine, MN): Is the value difference between Kendrick and Pedroia greater than PECOTA believes? What I mean to say is this -- the argument was made during the prospect ranking discussion that a good deal of Pedroia's value comes from the likelyhood that he will meet his projection. As Kendrick continues to put up numbers that indicate that his ceiling is quite high, and that he is progressing toward that ceiling, does the distance between his value and Pedroia's increase?

Nate Silver: Doog,

PECOTA is fairly sensitive to even a marginal amount of additional information early in a player's career. In other words, yes.

Andy (Berkeley): It seems to me that PECOTA might tend to overrate AAAA-type hitters, due to selection bias in the historical comps - the guys that the scouts like will be given a chance at the major-league level, and will often succeed, while those who they don't like will more frequently be left in the minors, and avoid having their flaws exposed. Is there anything to this, and do you do anything to adjust for it?

Nate Silver: Look at Ross Gload's projection and tell me if you still think this.

phil44 (Boston): The Jays are reportedly close to signing Edgardo Alfonzo. While I realize he's more than done, I'm curious as to what you think happened to Alfonzo who was once really good (3 years of 8+ WARP).

Nate Silver: Alfonzo was always a guy that played a couple of years older than his biological age. He never had much speed, developed an older player's plate approach fairly early on ... he even *looked* old. In any event, he's somewhere between done and burned all the way through and I think this is very much the wrong direction for the Jays.

Aaron Schatz (Framingham, MA): Hey Nate, an idea here about Scott Behson's question above. At Football Outsiders I like to use the term "non-predictive events" to describe things like successful onside kicks that aren't really "luck" per se but don't indicate that the team will win more games in the future. I would think that some of the things termed "luck" in baseball would fall into that same category -- it isn't that they don't take talent and/or quick thinking, but rather that they only explain the past and do nothing to help you figure out the future. A triple play, for example -- I assume that BP stats account for double plays but don't even consider triple plays, even though clearly they do require skill. And AJ Pierzynski's little stunt against the Angels last year certainly required quick thinking but wasn't really an indicator that Pierzynski was going to be reaching base on phantom dropped third strikes on a regular basis.

Nate Silver: Just posting Aaron's response as is.

doog7642 (Blaine, MN): Most long term value -- Andrew Miller or Daisuke Matsuzaka?

Nate Silver: That's kind of a fun prop bet. I'd take Miller.

dianagramr (Brooklyn): Hiya Nate! A possible Tony Womack sighting in Wrigley soon?? Could they shoot themselves in the foot any MORE? If they were so concerned with maintaining some semblance of normalcy in Lee's absence, why didn't they go (or go after now) J.T. Snow? Sure he isn't the bopper Lee is, but he wouldn't cost that much, and would be a big upgrade defensively. Oh yeah ... I know why ... they're the Cubs!

Nate Silver: Diane,

You're missing the worst part of the Womack signing, which is that there's about a 50% chance that he hits .301/.302/.302 on the rest of the year and becomes their long term "answer" at second base.

Wayne (Thunder Bay, ONTARIO): Hello, Nate. When is the media in general and the baseball world going to pick up on the fact that JP Ricciardi just isn't good as a GM? He had the Billy Beane glow when he came on, and he's had praises sung by scouts and statheads within the game, but his results have completely sucked, when you take a look at what he's actually done, and the budgets he's had to work with. The owners haven't been afraid to spend money, and he's just plain spent it badly, and hasn't done anything (well) in terms of shoring up the organization as a whole. It's stagnant and buried. How long until the wielder of the axe finally shows up for JP?

Nate Silver: Who is still singing J.P.'s praises? The Blue Jays aren't taking our phone calls anymore ... okay, that's not true, but we've had some pretty critical things to say about them over the past 24 months or so.

Heybale (austin, tx): have you ever seen a team basically give every baserunner the green light like the astros did yesterday against LeCroy and the Nationals? Also, how do you integrate SB attempts as a measure for catcher's defense over the long run? In other words, would you rather have a catcher who nails 30% of stealers who attempt steals an avg of 3 times per game than a catcher who throws out 50% of attempts at 4 attempts per game?

Nate Silver: I saw a precursor to the LeCroy thing happen just last week when I decided to see what would happen if I made Nick Swisher my catcher in MLB 2K6.

To the second part of your question -- you'd rather have the guy that throws out 50%, since a catcher is really only generating value when he's throwing out runners at a rate greater than the breakeven threshold of 70% or so. Although, one of the paradoxes of catcher defense is that a guy that throws out 50% of baseunners will usually not do so for long, since runners will quit trying to steal against him.

Adam Dunn (Ohio): Over/under: .220/.380/.540, 50 HR

Nate Silver: Over easy, with a side of bacon.

William (New York): Aaaaaaaand your NL West winner is...

Nate Silver: I'll take the Diamondbacks. There are going to be so many teams in contention this summer that's it's going to wind up really favoring those teams with strong farm systems, either in terms of providing immediate reinforcements or chips in trade. Of course, the Dodgers have a fine farm system too.

pinchyqat (Seattle): I've managed to corner the market on low-WHIP pitchers who are getting the snot beaten out of them thus far (Lieber, Scott Baker, Bush, Radke, Westbrook). Who do you think are the best bounceback candidates out of that bunch? Also, I've got Sheets and Hamels sharing donuts on the DL - should I cut bait?

Nate Silver: Probably Westbrook, but I'd play for next season.

William (New York): Very quietly, Giambi's been in a major slump for the whole month, even though he's still getting on base. Just a blip?

Nate Silver: Just a blip. Giambi is probably like a "true" .245 hitter at this point. That means he's going to have some 6-for-34 stretches and so forth and that's hard to watch when it happens. Fortunately, his value isn't in his batting average, so there's not much to worry about.

Ben (NYC): Is the plate discipline that Melky Cabrera has shown thus far a mirage? He's looking more and more comfortable every game, both at the plate, and in the field, and if he can add a little pop, do you think he has a chance to be a regular? Also, what kind of ceilings do you see for the 3 Charleston prospects--Tabata, "Action" Jackson, and CJ Henry?

Nate Silver: Caberea's a weird case. Usually Yankees prospects are overrated, but for some reason people were really turned off because he wasn't Joe DiMaggio in his week in the big leagues last year, and ignored a relatively promising minor league track record. I think he's a regular within a couple of years. Since he's just 21, he could become a plus regular.

dannew (DC): One more quickie - is Francouer's inability to take a walk so severe as to remove the possibility of hitting like Juan Gonzalez from his upside?

Nate Silver: Quick answer: no.

David Wells (Boston, MA): I feel a 10-3 stretch coming up for me, with a 3.75 ERA and a lot of run support. Am I crazy?

Nate Silver: Quick answer: batshit crazy.

Leon (southside): Is Joel Guzman any good? I saw that article on him today. Not. Too. Promising...

Nate Silver: I'm not down on him like Kevin's down on him, although we should recognize that a .294/.356/.441 isn't all that great at Las Vegas. Still, he's one of those players that scouts seem to look for things wrong with.

"Steady" Eddie Guardado (Seattle): Seriously, I can reclaim the closer gig from a guy name Putz, right?

Nate Silver: I'm not sure I wouldn't rather have Putz closing games for me at this point. And there's certainly more long-term upside to getting Putz established in that role.

panicvol1 (Nashville, TN): Nate, Austin Kearns has finally stepped up and nobody seems to be talking about it. How good is he long term? Thanks

Nate Silver: Kearns is hitting at about his 75th percentile PECOTA projection, which means that ... wait, I'm supposed to make a point here? I think he's a plus regular for the next five years in sort of the Rusty Greer/Bobby Higginson mold but does not have much chance at superstardom.

Nate Silver: Ciao, and Go Motown.

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