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Chat: Nate Silver

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Friday March 07, 2008 1:00 PM ET chat session with Nate Silver.


Nate Silver developed the PECOTA projection system, and recently released the 2008 PECOTA cards.

Nate Silver: Let me grab some more coffee and we'll get started in a minute here. Thanks for spending your Friday with us, everyone.

jtrichey (Indianapolis): Hi Nate. What do you think of the Albet Pujols news, both short term and long term?

Nate Silver: Pujols is a guy who has always been able to play pretty successfully through injury -- which is really one of the more underrated skills at work here. Otherwise, this is principally a question for Will Carroll.

Evan (Vancouver, BC): PECOTA tends to underestimate playing time for durable players. Is that just the occasional major injury among their comps bringing down the average?

Nate Silver: This is going to sound awfully combative/defensive, but on what basis does PECOTA underestimate playing time for those players? I would argue that the conventional wisdom tends to overestimate the extent to which playing time even for the more durable players is a certainty. As we see with the Albert Pujols question, for instance -- or as we saw with someone with Derrek Lee a couple of years ago, who was one of the most durable players around, or Derek Jeter in 2003 -- injuries are a fact of life, even for the most durable athlete. And this is especially true once a player enters his 30s.

shamah (NYC): What are your predictions for two potential breakout outfielders: Matt Kemp and Adam Jones?

Nate Silver: I like them both a great deal. But the thing that everyone except Ned Colletti seems to recognize is that *Kemp has already broken out*.

Mike (Chicago): I'm expecting big, big things from Ryan Zimmerman this season, like David Wright without the speed, your thoughts.

Nate Silver: David Wright without the speed, but with better defense, which is more relevant from a non-fantasy perspective. That's certainly a reasonable interpretation of his upside, and Wright is Zimmerman's #11 comparable.

Tony (Brooklyn, NY): Fantasy question - since breakout, collapse, attrition are captured in mean forecasts, can I just draft on a player's top line (adjust for playing time, position or let PFM do it for me), be judicious about rookies & over 33s, and have an advantage in a non expert league? Thanks!

Nate Silver: For the most part, I think that's right. All of the breakout and collapse seasons are incorporated into a player's weighted mean forecast. But breakout percentage and Beta are a couple of those columns I like to look at when I'm getting toward the end of a fantasy draft and high-risk profiles become more desirable.

tfierst (MN): Nate, do you have a day job other than BP?

Nate Silver: No. This is my life.

kevinlhoyt (chicago): Random question: how are "small-market", "mid-market", and "large-market" defined re: mlb teams? I'm a big Twins fan, and I'm tiring of the 'small market' excuse when it's the 12th largest metro area. (I know this isn't your thing, but I thought you might know and I'm not sure who else to ask)

Nate Silver: Well, a lot of the time, they're defined according to the public relations department. We have done considerable work in this area (see work below), and while the notion that the Twins are the 12th largest media market is a little bit deceptive -- Minneapolis is fairly large, but there isn't that much of a secondary market surrounding it -- there's no fundamental reason why the Twins at least couldn't spend money like a club like the Cardinals.


BR (NYC): Big (BIG) fan, Nate. Do you have a quick take on how Quality Starts would affect a pitcher's PFM results compared to Wins? Any chance that it could be added to the PRM stats in the future?

Nate Silver: We are hoping to get quality starts incorporated with a PECOTA update in the near future. It seems to be a stat that's come into much more widespread use. Apropos of nothing, I once (unsuccessfully) tried to persuade a fantasy league I was in to use shutouts as a category, which would have kept things interesting right up until the end of the season.

Brent (Raleigh): Any idea how PFM for a 6x6 league (walks included) ranks Brian Roberts 15 spots ahead of Chase Utley? That seems pretty crazy to me.

Nate Silver: PFM loves scarcity, and Roberts' ability to steal bases is a huge asset that Utley can't match. But you might want to use the version of PFM that uses Standings Gain Points (SGP), which tends to damp down the emphasis on stolen bases (and other scarce categories) to some extent.

hsrhee (southport ct): 80 wins for the A's!? isn't this team much worse than last year's squad that was sub 80 wins? not to mention the probability of a Billy Bean firesale at the allstar break?

Nate Silver: The A's had an awful lot of things go wrong last year. I mean, both Chavez and Crosby were just awful. Shannon Stewart sucked up more than 600 plate appearances for them. They got essentially replacement level performance out of the 1B and DH slots, at least until Jack Cust came along. Rich Harden was (predictably) unhealthy. They also somewhat underperformed their Pythagorean record. So this is a team that was due for some regression back upward toward the mean, which in this case is enough to outweigh the losses of Swisher and Haren.

big baby (nj): I just saw Fernando Martinez take Cliff Lee the other way. I can't take it anymore. I don't want to wait for him to be ready. I want to cuddle with him every night.

Nate Silver: Well, I hate to say it, but Martinez is a guy that PECOTA is pretty far down on. One of the interesting changes we added this year was to incorporate a variable to account for a player's draft slot. But this leads to a bit of a dilemma with Latin American players, since it's not fair to treat them as though they were American players who got no signing bouns. So what we wound up doing is essentially placing foreign-born players (mostly Latin American) into their own category; PECOTA prefers to compare them to one another. And when we did that, it seemed to hurt the projections for certain kinds of players, particuarly guys like Martinez who's primary claim to fame is their age. This could be for any number of reasons, but I think it's worth remembering that Latin American players may be playing baseball essentially for a living by the time they're 14 or 15. So in some sense, they're effectively a bit older, if age is taken as a proxy for accumulated baseball experience.

David (USA): If you were building a Scoresheet team in a NL keeper league, would you rather have Dan Haren or Clayton Kershaw for the next 5 years?

Nate Silver: Haren, and I think that question is pretty much a slam-dunk.

Tim (MA): Hey Nate. I love using the PFM, as it's a powerful tool. I was wondering...the saves forecasts seem really high. And they seemed to be adjusted with the new pitching cards, from the inital '08 release. Any thoughts, explanations, or corrections on this?

Nate Silver: We are investigating the issue, but for the time being it just appears to be one of those things.

mark (oakland): any expected spring training trades? where does crisp, mark ellis, dan johnson go?

Nate Silver: One of these things is not like the other! The A's would be fortunate to trade Johnson for a wet sack of cheeseburgers. But I'm a little surprised that Crisp hasn't been moved yet, and I wonder if the Red Sox haven't missed their window on him a little bit as teams start to get comfortable with their prospective 2008 lineups.

hsrhee (southport ct): thx for answering my previous question. Have you ever looked at any of your pecota projections and thought to yourself...wtf? I love your work, dont take this the wrong way. and i agree that tampa is due to bust out...but 89 wins must have surprised you as well!

Nate Silver: If we weren't surprised by PECOTA from time to time, I don't think it would be a very worthwhile forecasting system! But with the Devil Rays, PECOTA is actually not alone in this respect. I think another of the forecasting systems -- Chone maybe -- also had them in the 88-win range.

sinfonian11 (Champaign, IL): How much of an upgrade would Brian Roberts be for the Cubs over DeRosa at 2B. Obviously, he'll give you more steals, but their other numbers from 2007 look quite similar. Along the same lines, it appears the Cubs aren't sold on Felix Pie being their starting center fielder, as they seem to be putting out feelers on players like Coco Crisp. Should they be looking for a center fielder?

Nate Silver: I was boarding a plane the other day when I heard, of all things, a Cub fan belittling Felix Pie's offense. Which means absolutely nothing, of course, since Freddy the Frequent Flier from Elgin is not responsible for setting the team's lineup. But it does go to show you how these sorts of memes tend to flow from the team brass on through the media and into the perceptions of ordinary fans. Pie got all of 194 plate appearances in the major leagues last year, and much of that time came in crappy situations where he was being shuffled into and out of the lineup and had to press for at-bats. He's hit like gangbusters on the other hand over nearly 900 plate appearances at Iowa the past two seasons. It would be a shame if the Cubs' misunderstanding of small sample sizes got in the way of Pie's development.

Momar (USA): Who do you think comes up first, Gio Gonzalez or Johnny Cueto, and which do you think has the better chance of having success for this year?

Nate Silver: Gonzalez, I think, just because the A's rotation is a little more unsettled, and he's more or less considered a medium-risk, medium-reward guy who should be ready relatively soon. Gonzalez is a good example of a prospect you might grab late in a fantasy draft with an eye toward actually getting something out of him in the second half of 2008.

doclove (Chicago): One year decision, in a k/9, quality start based league--would u prefer Chris Young (SD) or John Smoltz?

Nate Silver: Gut says Smoltz, and I think that's what PECOTA would say too. Smoltz's career has become profoundly underappreciated.

collins (greenville nc): So how did the Rays go from projected 83 wins to 89 wins now? Is this a change in the projection system, or a change in the Rays (or in their opponents)?

Nate Silver: That's a great question, and in this case it has a pretty simple answer. On the first version of PECOTA that we do each year, we make a very simple assumption about a team's defense -- namely, that the defense will be the same as it was last year, regressed to the mean last year. The Rays had a very, very bad defense in 2007, involving experiments like Brendan Harris playing shortstop, B.J. Upton playing second base, and Delmon Young playing center field. So, that was flowing through into the ERAs of each of the pitchers.

But in the second version of the PECOTAs, we instead project defense based on the individual defensive projections from our depth chart starting lineups. And we actually expect the Rays to have a slightly *above average* defense this year, particuarly given the addition of Jason Bartlett. So this turned out to make a huge difference at the margins. And there's a hidden benefit too, which is that it actually increases the innings pitched projections for the starting pitchers, which means fewer innings from the back end of their bullpen.

Ryan (Santa Barbara): # of Teams in southern California: 3 # of BP signings in southern California: 0 Where's the SoCal love?

Nate Silver: Ryan: to be more blunt than I should be, we've actually had some mixed experiences in SoCal in the past, in terms of getting a quorum of people concentrated into any one space. But, we'll see if we can't get a Padres event scheduled this year -- those have been very successful in the past.

Mike (Boston): What did Morneau due to Pecota this year? 24 HR's! I then opened up my BP book and read a line that says 40HR's wouldn't be a surprise. Can you please tell me he will hit more than 24 HR's this year?

Nate Silver: Sorry, but from my points of view Morneau is a pretty ordinary ballplayer. Over his last three season, he had one very good year, one year in which he was about league average for his position, and another year in which he stunk. He has a low Beta and is a player whom is fairly easy to project. I like the guy -- and it's funny that Kent Hrbek is his #1 PECOTA comparable -- but I think he's a superstar in name only.

dw (nyc): AL-only keeper league, can't decide between Melky and Ellsbury. What's the latest word on Boston's CF spot?

Nate Silver: In real life, I think this is a pretty easy call for Melky, acutally. He's a year younger, I don't know that his upside is necessarily any less, and he's going to have to do less to fight for playing time in the near-term. But in a traditional, 5x5 roto type format, Ellsbury's upside in the stolen base department might be worth gambling on.

Ben B. (San Diego): PECOTA is really down on Chase Headley. Any thoughts on why that is?

Nate Silver: Headley is one where I'm surprised the forecast came out so low, but to sort of present the Devil's Advocate case as PECOTA and the DTs seem to see it: so here is a player who really hadn't done that much prior to this season, having posted some superficially good numbers in the California league in 2006, but in a league environment were decent numbers are easy to come by. And then he had a legitimately outstanding year in 2007, but it was driven in part by an unsustainable high BABIP, and it also came as a 23-year-old in Doulbe-A, which is a little behind the developmental pace you'd like to see for an elite prospect. So, that's enough for PECOTA to lump him in with the Tom Evanseses. But I'd certainly take the over on that projection.

Or (Dallas): Are we seeing the real Michael Young; a declining singles hitter who doesn't take walks, or will he revert to '05 form and justify that big extension and designation as face of the franchise?

Nate Silver: Or: you don't want your #1 PECOTA comparable to be Jeff Cirillo. A singles hitter with mediocre speed is not a good profile for a player entering his 30's.

Joe (Boston): What are the chances that Joe Nathan finishes the season in Minn.?

Nate Silver: About 4-to-1 against, IMO. Closer is one of those positions where teams almost seem to get more if they wait to trade their guy until July. But he has no business being on (what will likely be) a non-competitive club with his contract expiring at the end of the season.

tfierst (MN): When does the PECOTAs take on Prospects piece come out?

Nate Silver: We should get started next week. I'm going to have to write at a breakneck pace to get caught up with everything, but I hope you guys will enjoy it.

westy21 (Chicago): If Jerry Owens plays 162 games and hits lead off for the White Sox how many wins would it cost them? Opposed to Swisher batting lead off and Quentin taking Owens' ABs.

Nate Silver: I don't think the White Sox are going to screw around with Jerry Owens too much. They're tired of being cutesy and there are some jobs on the line there. They also like Alexei Ramirez a good deal, who is having a *great* spring, although whether they consider him an outfielder or an infielder isn't quite clear.

jgalt73 (Portland, OR): Nate, Fukudome's latest defensive projection is now -8 in RF. This seems counter to the popular opinion of his defense. Are Japanese Gold Gloves the same joke at American ones?

Nate Silver: Looking at his player card, this actually looks like a bit of a bug; we don't have defensive ratings for Japanese players and we have to fill it in manually, and so it looks like Fukudome got treated as a DH. Thank you for the catch, and we'll get him fixed.

Richard (San Diego): Why are the Padres expected to be twelve wins worse than last season?

Nate Silver: I think it's mostly just a question of sort of being lapped by the rest of the National League. The Padres are an old team that didn't really get better this winter, whereas the D'Backs, Rockies and Dodgers are all organizations on their way up.

dws (Phoenix, AZ): Hi Nate...love the platoon split projections. Are they normalized for league and park factors? Some of seem to indicate both sides are higher than the player's weighted mean EQA.

Nate Silver: DWS: please e-mail me offline if you can find examples of a player's platoon split projections not seeming to match his overall numbers. Those *should* be normalized for league and park factors and so that shouldn't be happening.

Trey (LA): Why don't the Angels stop screwing around with Brandon Wood and give him a chance as the starting SS? His glovework is pretty solid and as a #9 hitter, let him work through his youth issues.

Nate Silver: I was making this very case for Wood at a book signing the other day. The Angels actually have one of the easier paths to the playoffs of any team in baseball, with the AL West not being particularly competitive, and that means it isn't a bad time to take your lumps and commit to Wood through at least the All-Star break, which is something you're going to have to do sooner or later.

dootstev (MI): PECOTA loves Chris B. Young. Do you see him making a large enough stride in his plate discipline to fulfill that lofty projection?

Nate Silver: Probably, but one question with Young is whether he has some exploitable holes in his swing against breaking balls, for instance. Eventually, we will get around to looking at batting splits against different types of pitches, and I would guess that guys that have a relatively even distribution against fastballs and breaking balls tend to develop a bit better.

JTR (Brooklyn): I'm a bit unclear about what goes into deciding the "weighted mean" forecast for each player and how it relates to their percentile projections. Is there a particular range where the "weighted mean" usually falls, i.e. between 65-70 percentile? Thanks.

Nate Silver: JTR: I did an article on this very subject just last week, so in the interest of brevity, let me just link you over there:


mattstupp (bklyn): If you were Omar Minaya, would you sign Barry Bonds? Why or why not?

Nate Silver: No, because I think the Mets are a team that can afford to be a little risk-averse, and also because I think Bonds stands to gain more on a team where he can DH. But there are at least a dozen other GM chairs from which I'd sign Bonds in a heartbeat.

stewbies (WNY): where do I find the teams' projected records on the site? Thanks!

Nate Silver: Yeah ... we have those buried a bit.


Tim (DC): Nate, is it nearly an absolute certainty that Saltalamaccia starts the year in Texas? Is there any conceivable situation for them to start him in AAA?

Nate Silver: It's certainly conceivable because the Rangers aren't really playing for this year, and so it's just a question of how they see him optimizing his long-term development.

...I've got to wind this down in a couple minutes, gents.

Rick (Philly): So even with all of the Mets injuries and their aging roster, they still can treat the regular season as their toy and do whatever they want and still end up at 100 wins? I think you may be overestimating them at this point.

Nate Silver: It's true that you probably need to cut a couple of wins out of that projection once you account for their spate of injuries, but at the same time, singing Barry Bonds *isn't* without risk. He can't really play defense any more and this is one of those outlier situations where it's hard to quantify the effects on the clubhouse -- I know, I know, we're not supposed to believe in that sort of thing, but sometimes statheads make the mistake of pretending those things they can't quantify are things that aren't there.

Matt (St. Paul): PECOTA seems to think Justin Upton is ready right now. I understand that in terms of potential, we are probalby talking about one of the better prospects of our time, but do you actually think he is capable of pushing 20/20 at twenty years old? He looked really over-matched last year against the breaking stuff.

Nate Silver: The 20/20 numbers aren't the ones I'd be worried about with Upton. If he has a bad year, it'll probably be because he hits .245 or something.

raygu1 (burlington, nj): NAte-thanks for the chat. Chicago's handling of Pie is very similar to the Dodgers handling of Laroche, and the resulting perception by Dodgers mgmt-Colletti-that Laroche isn't ready for the 3b job. Laroche almost single handedly won the Baseball World Cup last year for the US, no

Nate Silver: You're preaching to the converted here, Raygu. Dodger ownership needs to understand that this is about a 94-win talent core they've assembled, and if Colletti can't muster at least 90 wins out of that group, it's time to look for another alternative in the GM chair.

BR (NYC): Lighting Round: Over/Under Smoltz 206 IPs

Nate Silver: Gah -- is that where PECOTA has him? A rare case of it's being overly sanguine about playing time, and I'd take the under.

Rob (Oakland): Isn't it ironic that the team that could probably really use Bonds this season is the Giants?

Nate Silver: What, you're not just completely giddy about Daniel Ortmeier?

Nate Silver: Time for me to run, but thanks again to all of you for joining me today and we will be seeing LDL back in heavy rotation very soon.

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