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Chat: Nate Silver

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Tuesday August 26, 2008 1:00 PM ET chat session with Nate Silver.


Nate Silver checks in to talk about his two areas of expertise--baseball and politics--from the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

Nate Silver: Hello from Denver, Colorado. Apologies for the delay in getting here. We're going to break the rules a little bit just this once, and allow for a couple of politics questions as well as baseball questions, but we'll strive to keep everything fun and non-partisan.

Ted (San Francisco): What are the odds of a magical synergy striking Chicago and bringing us an Obama victory shortly following a White Sox World Series win?

Nate Silver: We have the White Sox at about 73% to make the playoffs, and they'll win the playoffs about 1 out of every 8 times that they get there, so that works out to a 9% chance of winning the World Series. And Obama is maybe 55% to win the election. So we're looking at about a 5% chance for the parlay, or roughly 20:1 against.

The probability of having an El-Train Series (Cubs-Sox) and Obama winning the White House is about 3%, or 32:1 against.

TJ (El Paso): If Baseball Prospectus had someone running for president, who would it be?

Nate Silver: I really doubt that any of us would pass the vetting stage. We'd probably put Will up there if we had to.

locus3 (Pennsylvania): Today Gallup has McCain up by two, whats going on? I am getting nervous?

Nate Silver: Well, I don't think the Biden pick has gone over that well. I think it may have been inevitable that there was going to be a put of backlash from Hillary supporters whenever a non-Hillary candidate was announced.

But this is all a very near-term phenomenon. Three weeks from now, nobody is going to care what the polls said three weeks ago, and the Democrats have a chance to consolidate their vote over the next three evenings.

bctowns (Chicago, IL): Geovany Soto for MVP is pretty farfetched, but how good is this kid going to be, Nate? As a long time Cubs fan, it's been great to watch him handle the pitching staff and hit, but I'm afraid this is a mirage. Please tell me we're going to be watching Geovany succeed in a Cubs uni for a long time.

Nate Silver: I'm not necessarily convinced that Soto is going to get a whole lot better, but I'd expect him to roughly sustain this level of performance for then next half-dozen years.

Dees (Jersey): You're assuming that Barack winning and the Cubs winning are independent events. Perhaps a Cubs victory creates a wave of goodwill for Obama.

Nate Silver: Yes, but remember that the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 ... and a lot of good that did John Kerry.

uscellular91 (Chicago): How did Carlos Quentin miss the "Ultimate Fantasy Draft Top 50" as well as the honorable mention section? Do you really think that he will not be one of the best 63 players in baseball over the next 6 years?

Nate Silver: If I had to do it over again, I would probably have put Quentin on the HM list in place of someone like Clay Buchholz. So, my bad on that. But I don't think he's ready to crack the top 50. Pretty much everyone on that list either has multiple years of top-notch performance to back up their selection or plays a premium position -- Quentin does neither.

R.J. (Washington, D.C.): Nate, do you buy the Jacob Weisberg theory (http://www.slate.com/id/2198397/)on Obama, that race is the only reason he could lose? I know Obama's run an imperfect campaign, but a white guy would win in a walk, right?

Nate Silver: I think it's a bit more complicated than that. At a surface level, race undoubtedly hurts Obama. But it might make it easier for him to sell his Change brand and not to come across as a generic politician. These counterfactual questions are hard to answer, because if Barack Obama were white, he wouldn't really be the same Barack Obama.

Lis (Los Alamitos): Do you think Mark Teixeira will stay with the Angels? Will that make them less likely to resign K Rod?

Nate Silver: From what I understood, the Angels were prepared to throw a fair amount of money around last winter and just didn't find the right fit. They have plenty of money to re-sign both Tex and K-Rod; my guess is that the interest will be mutual and that they in fact will.

Evan (Vancouver, BC): On political polls - Do you have any data teling you how predictive polls are this far out in front of an election? In my experience (and keep in mind I'm Canadian) polls don't tell me much about the electoral outcome until about 2 weeks before election day.

Nate Silver: On average, a national poll conducted at the end of August will miss the eventual outcome by something like 6 points. Certainly, if you have 6 points to Obama at this stage, or 6 points to McCain, you'd have a very different looking map. The first time I'd *really* start to pay attention to the polls in mid-late September, once the convention bounces have worn off.

Kenny (Boston): For some time now the Red Sox have been about 4 games behind the Rays in the standings while being 3 games ahead of them in third order wins. Do you see the AL East race 'regressing to the mean'? Or are the Rays capable of playing above their expected record for the rest of the season to win the division?

Nate Silver: The Rays are a little bit beat up right now, without Crawford and Longoria, and are probably more like a true .500 team until they get those guys back. So, they are overachieving a tiny bit. But both of those teams are looking good to make the playoffs, so I'm not sure if the division crown is all that meaningful.

james (chicago): any possibility for soriano for mvp? cubs weren't same without him and if they finish with best record it would be hard not to name a cub...who pujols again?

Nate Silver: Oh, I think you have to give it to Pujols. Or Hanley Ramirez.

costa24 (Montreal): What's the ratio of Baseball-to-Politics questions, roughly?

Nate Silver: Almost exactly 50:50.

Shane (Miami): Nate, While I know there's no rush to bring up Wieters, would it also not make sense to see what he can do? If he performs they might be able to free-up some money this off-season by trading Ramon Hernandez, what do you think?

Nate Silver: Wieters is so good that I don't really know that you need to bring him up to the big leagues to give him a look-see. If Hernandez actually has some trade value, they have every reason to move him.

locus3 (peensylvania): What do you know about the Obama team, are they any good?

Nate Silver: They need a better shortstop.

Nolan Ryan (Arlington, Texas): Do you think I'm going to fire Jon Daniels and/or Ron Washington after the season?

Nate Silver: Why would you? In Hamilton and Kinsler, the Rangers have two franchise players to build around. It's been a losing year, but one in which the organization has made progress.

Dills (Chicago): If Obama and McCain suddenly began playing ball... what position would you put them at? I see Obama pitching and McCain platooning at 2B...

Nate Silver: McCain is short and has limited mobility, so he'd most likely be a catcher. Obama is tougher to say, but I think he profiles most like a center fielder.

pjm (Los Angeles): Let's combine sports AND politics: If Obama is elected, what do you think that will that do for Chicago's Olympic bid? The proposed Olympic site is right across Cottage Grove from Hyde Park, just a few blocks from Obama's home...

Nate Silver: I think Chicago is probably going to get the Olympics anyway. They're not likely to go back to Tokyo eight years after Beijing, or Madrid four years after London. And the Chicago bid beats the Rio Bid across most types of logistical criteria. But if Obama wins, he'll start out quite popular on the world stage and could probably lock the Olympics in for Chicago if he made that a goal of his.

Tommy (OPS, FL): David Price's struggles in Triple-A: Good for him or cause for a little panic?

Nate Silver: I think people are focusing too much on the really good ERAs and W-L records he put up at Vero Beach and Montgomery, rather than his key peripherals. In terms of those peripherals, you should have a pitcher who should be capable of being a good, Triple-A pitcher right now, but not necessarily someone who is going to dominate and throw a shutout every time out. So basically, I don't think there's any reason to panic, but I also think Price was a touch overrated before.

Tommy (OPS,FL): Evan '08 or Alexei '08 for Rookie of The Year?

Nate Silver: Our numbers would say Longoria, because the DTs don't like Ramirez' fielding at all, even though from what I've seen it's been quite good. In general, the BBWAA tends to pick the guy who has the higher long-term upside, so I think the award remains Longoria's to lose provided that he gets back on the field reasonably soon.

links (Los Angeles): Do you think the Brewers can catch the Cubs and win the NL Central?

Nate Silver: Can they? Sure. Will they? The Cubs have a decent-sized lead and also the better top-to-bottom talent, so it's not something I'd want to wager a lot of money on.

Steve (Chicago): Is there a really good argument that the electoral college is necessary, and that straight popular vote isn't a better way to choose a president?

Nate Silver: None of the arguments for the Electoral College are really terribly persuasive, but in practice, to get the sort of supermajorities you'd need to amend the Constitution, too many states will have an incentive to keep the Electoral College and it would be very difficult for any change to occur.

WHS (Ireland): No one seems to know what's causing Obama's recent slide in the polls. Frank Rich wrote about how 70% of Obama's media coverage is negative, and it made me wonder if the decline is the cumalative effect of constant, vaguely critical media chatter. Or do you think there's a single major factor behind it?

Nate Silver: I don't think there's any one magic bullet that is causing the decline in his numbers. Some Obama fatigue, some effective advertising by the Republicans, some failure to gain traction on issues like energy security. But remember that the polls are often going to lag a couple of weeks behind what's happening on the ground, as information filters down from high-info to lower-info voters. The Obama campaign seems to have hit more of a stride within the past couple of weeks, so there may be some improvement in his numbers down the road.

Josh ((Sacramento)): As long as this looks to be an all-Chicago talk, what is the outlook on Jeff Samardzija? Can anyone accurately predict what's in store for him? Because his performance so far seems to be puzzling both statheads and scouts alike.

Nate Silver: In general, the rule of thumb is that when a pitcher as young as Samardzija achieves a breakout level of performance, most of that performance tends to stick. But I sure as hell didn't see it coming.

Eddie (Ohio): James Skelton: too small to catch, not enough power to keep getting on base at the upper levels, or future MLB catcher?

Nate Silver: I don't understand the critique that he's too small to catch -- you usually prefer a catcher who is a bit undersized. But I'm suspicious of his profile as an offensive player -- guys who draw a ton of walks but don't hit for much power often have trouble maintaining those high OBPs as they advance levels.

collins (greenville nc): On your recent fantasy draft articles, you said that anyone in a professional league was eligible, but you listed no Japanese players in the top 50. Do you really think no Japanese player in Japan or America is one of the 50 most valuable properties?

Nate Silver: You could make an argument for Yu Darvish, but no -- I don't think any of them are in the Top 50 right now. Darvish's track record isn't as impressive as Matsuzaka's was, and Matsuzaka certainly does not look like Top 50 material at this point.

John (Tampa): Is Price still the best pitching prospect in the minors or has he been passed by Cahill and Bumgarner?

Nate Silver: It's a question of risk versus upside. I don't think very many people would tell you that Price has the highest upside of any pitching prospect in the minors. But he might be the safest, by some margin.

Eric (Memphis): Nate, if Alexi Ramirez maxes out his potential, does he have the potential to be a Hanley Ramirez-lite type player?

Nate Silver: He's a Cuban 26, so I don't know that there's necessarily going to be a whole ton of growth. I think Ramirez will settle in as a .300/.325/.500 guy, which is fairly valuable coming out of the middle infield.

Mike (LA): No Kershaw on your list. Explain yourself.

Nate Silver: I just don't think what he's done this year has been all *that* impressive. I hate to sound like a broken record, but the first things I'm going to look at are strikeout rate and walk rate relative to his leagues. The K rates have been good, but not terrific, and the walk rates have been pretty marginal. I think he has a very bright future, but I don't think he belongs in the Top 50 simply because he got promoted early.

Dan (Denver): Nate, have you had to divorce yourself from your own political views to ensure that you are offering up non-biased information? Has your site been labeled "liberal" or "conservative" by any national commentators? If so, was it justified?

Nate Silver: I disclose on the site that I'm an Obama supporter, and I'm sure that that influences the commentary sometimes, but from what I can tell based on comments, e-mails, etc., the readership is pretty evenly divided, probably about 60-65% liberal, 35-40% conservative. That's a pretty good ratio for most any kind of political media and it's something that I'm proud of.

Eric (MD): How come AJ keeps getting these calls?

Nate Silver: Well, he's kind of the Forrest Gump of baseball, just happening to end up in the right places at the right times. What a terrible call. I was at that game, and even the White Sox fans there were like "What the hell? I guess we'll take it".

Kirk (NY): So tonight what is Hillary trying to accomplish with her speech?

Nate Silver: To be relatively specific about this, I think she needs to show a little emotion out there -- anger, even -- and find a way to direct it against John McCain rather than Barack Obama.

Nate Silver: There are a ton more great questions I'd like to take, but I have a couple of appointments to keep so we're going to need to save them for next time. Thanks to all of you for spending time with us today.

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