Chat with Nate Silver
Nate breaks down if he thinks David Ortiz is as good a clutch hitter as everyone thinks he is. He also tries to explain why the Oakland A's philosophy doesn't work in the playoffs. Check out this excerpt from the book.
So, send in your questions and join Nate Thursday at 3 p.m. ET.
If you want to buy the book, go here.
Jim F. (Urbana, IL)
How many media types have become incredulous when you tell them the results of your work is that David Ortiz (or anyone else) is *not* clutch? Do any promise to actually read your work?
Nate Silver (3:04 PM)
Before we get started, I'd like to thank David and Daniel at ESPN for helping us get set up with this gig, as well as everyone out there who has purchased Baseball Between the Numbers. Jim: this might be surprising, but we've gotten very little of that sort of reaction from the media. Really, it's been about 70% favorable, 10% unfavorable, and 20% "who are you guys?". This has changed a lot over the past year or two. I think there was a little bit of a backlash after Moneyball came out, but very quietly, everyone has started to get along. People realize, first and foremost, that we're huge fans of the game, and our mission is to help fans to understand and enjoy the game.
Steve - Orange County, CA
Now that all the OAK fans and writers at Prospectus have given the AL West title to the A's, don't you think they should begin planning for how they're going to advance beyond the first round of the 2006 playoffs?
Nate Silver (3:07 PM)
Steve - I don't know if you read our exerpt on post-season play, but this year's A's are actually very *well* set up for postseason play. They've got a great closer in Street, a great set of starting pitchers, and a fantastic defense. Those are exactly the kind of things that give a team an extra edge in the playoffs. One thing, though - teams like the A's and Red Sox do need to get better about planning for a 180-game season, instead of a 162-game season. That's why I don't like, say, having Curt Schilling throw 117 pitches on opening day.
John - Baltimore
Would this book appeal to the hardcore baseballprospectus fan? Or just the more casual fan who's eager to learn the game in a new way?
Nate Silver (3:09 PM)
John: to be completely honest, when we started the project, we thought it would sort of be a primer for people who were relatively new to the statistical stuff. But it turned out that there were so many questions where the sabemetric conventional wisdom was wrong that we wound up tackling a lot of topics - like steroids and post-season play - in ways that had never really been done before. There's a LOT of completely new research in the book and we think the hardcore fans will enjoy it plenty.
Justin (Chapel Hill, NC)
Would everybody be so high on Matt Cain if he hadn't posted a fluky 2.33 ERA last year? His peripherals were not particularly impressive. Is he really so ahead of the non-Felix class?
Nate Silver (3:11 PM)
Justin - I like Francisco Liriano and Justin Verlander a bit better than Cain. But Matt Cain is going to be a very good pitcher. His main weakness - giving up flyballs - is very much mitigated in [Telecom To Be Named Later] Park, and that walk rate should come down after a year or two's worth of experience.
Nate what do you think about John Schuerholz slamming MONNEYBALL people and their supporters in his book?
Nate Silver (3:14 PM)
Mike - I assume that you're referring to the "Scouts Honor" book that came out about a year ago. The funny thing about that book is that the Braves themselves had almost nothing bad to say about statistical analysis. They said "we look at stats, along with a number of other perspectives": that's EXACTLY how it should be. It was the author of the book who seemed to have an axe to grind with the stats camp.
I was surprised to see your projected NL Central rankings so close. Do you think a big mid-season pick-up by trade or unexpected health from a combo of Prior/Wood/Miller could put the Cubs or Brewers over the Cardinals?
Nate Silver (3:15 PM)
Dan: this is just a hunch, but Bonds is SUCH a competitive guy that I think he's going to go all-out for the record this year. Of course, it's easier to say that after his fine spring. I'm going to say 49 bombs, but "only" a .290 BA or so.
What are some of the peripheral stats that a fan can expect to see improve as a player ages from, say, 22 to 28? What's hopeless? For example, many believe that free swingers always will be. Is this true?
Nate Silver (3:16 PM)
Generally speaking, power hitting and plate discipline are the skills that peak late. Contact hitting ability, speed, and defense peak early.
Jay (Boston, MA)
A 30/20/2 opens in CO and I have KTs OTB...oops...wrong chat. At what point in the seaons does an intelligent GM/Manager decide that the sample size is enough to make a good decision about a player/team for that year? Think about Foulke yesterday vs. Manny's start to the season last year vs. the Astros starting off 15-30.
Nate Silver (3:19 PM)
That was a fantastic, ballsy decision by Francona yesterday. Certainly, it was based more on a scouting judgment than any kind of statistical track record, but it was a great move nonetheless. There's so much parity in both leagues that the playoff teams could very well be determined by which manager or GM has the quickest trigger.
Why do you answer a NL Central question with Bonds crap? Answer the question!!!
Nate Silver (3:21 PM)
My bad, Jake. The controversial thing about how we're seeing the Central is that we don't expect the Cardinals to be particularly fearsome this year. And I can buy that - I think Jocketty cut just one too many corners in filing out his roster this year. This division is very likely to be determined by a rookie breakout or a mid-season trade; the former would tend to favor a club like the Brewers, and the latter the Cubs or Cards, since they have the dough to spend.
Ali Nagib (Chicago, IL)
Yankees lose 2 of 3 in Oakland, with 2 of the games tied at some point in the 8th or 9th, and Mariano Rivera doesn't throw a single pitch. How can anyone anywhere think that this is a good idea?
Nate Silver (3:23 PM)
Ali: one of the points that we make in the chapter on the playoffs is that managers can learn a TON from the way that closers are used in the playoffs. Mariano Rivera has been more responsible for any other Yankee for all of the post-season success they've had; he could be similarly valuable in the regular season if Torre used him more creatively.
Has any attempt been made to measure clutch by including the things batters DON'T do as well as the things they do. EG, I think batters get a clutch reputation by not hitting into double plays at key moments even if his flyball out does not produce a run.
Nate Silver (3:25 PM)
Jay - you're making exactly the point that we tried to make in the David Ortiz chapter, which is that a lot of "clutch" hitting is really just good situational hitting. It's avoiding the double play when the double play is particularly costly, and avoiding the strikeout when the strikeout is particularly costly. It's scoring that runner from third when all you need is one run, and just getting on base some way, somehow when your team is down by two with the based empty in the ninth.
Now that he is getting an extension where would you rank Jim Hendry among NL GMs?
Nate Silver (3:28 PM)
Lee, I've become increasingly critical of the Cubs, but I'm not sure how much of it is Hendry and how much of it is Tribune Corp. being a little bit too conservative with their budget. If it was a matter of spending that extra $1 million for Furcal - Hendry might not have had the power to do that, because the Cubs operate VERY much within a budget. It's the lack of flexibility and creativity that's the problem, especially when you compare Hendry to someone like Kenny Williams, who is very good at feeling out market dynamics.
Were you surprised to see the Red Sox, a team whose owner and GM respect sabermetrics, sign someone like Alex Gonzales, who has such a low career OBP?
Nate Silver (3:30 PM)
Todd - there are 30 major league shortstop jobs, but probably only 20-25 professional baseball players who can play an average-to-plus major league shortstop right now. Gonzalez is one of them. From my vantage point, it was a pretty good hedge. They're not locked into him long term, or for a lot of money, and Dustin Pedroia can take his time and assume the job when he's ready.
Liran , Manhattan
What do you think the future holds for Nick Markakis?
Nate Silver (3:32 PM)
Lots of Nick Markakis questions It's USUALLY a very good sign when a guy gets to the big leagues this early. He's getting a confidence boost, the intangible advantages from being associated with a major league clubhouse, and lots of experience at an early age. My projection system (PECOTA) does not love Markakis, but I think he'll hit about 280/350/460 this year,
Nate, Longtime fan, first time caller. I read the leverage/win expectancy chapter last night and was wondering if the need for more precise records to compute this stuff will create a generational barrier in analysis. Will the dawn of authoritative pitch by pitch scoring data make a huge difference in the granularity we get when comparing career 1995-2008 v. career 1965-1978? Or is this just a small incremental improvement in resolution? Or will retrosheet save the day?
Nate Silver (3:34 PM)
Retrosheet is awesome. At the time we wrote Baseball Between The Numbers, we had *complete* play-by-play records going back to 1972, and now we have a continuous record going back to 1960. This is part of the reason that we're able to see something in the clutch hitting question where others might not - we're some of the first to really tackle the great data that retrosheet has put together.
Mark (Bangor, PA)
Shapiro generally has made good decisions, but how could he keep Hollandsworth when you have guys like Gutierrez ready and Dubois with a great spring?
Nate Silver (3:37 PM)
Mark, you raise a good point, and one thing that's bugged me about Shapiro is his allegience to certain veterans - not just Hollandsworth, but also Aaron Boone and Casey Blake. I said before that the GM with the quickst trigger finger is going to win the race - and that means getting guys like Andy Marte or Ryan Garko in the lineup as soon as possible.
While I agree with you regarding relievers, how do managers and GMs keep their closers happy when a) they get put into a critical, but non-save situation, when arbitrary stats like saves play such a role in contract negotiations and b) when players consistently say that they play better when they have "clearly defined roles" (regardless of whether or not it's actually true)? Will they simply end up with an effective, yet very unhappy reliever?
Nate Silver (3:38 PM)
Paul: the thing is that I've never heard a closer COMPLAIN about getting extra work. I'd also tell my closer: listen, we want you to pitch 120 innings for us this year, and if you do, you're going to get Pedro Martinez money.
Why were so many people able to hit .400 or better during the late 19th and early 20th centuries but it's virtually impossible now?
Nate Silver (3:40 PM)
Jason, Stephen Jay Gould has done some fantastic work on this very topic. The lack of .400 hitters is indicative of the extreme degree of talent in baseball right now, rather than the other way around. That said, EVENTUALLY the Rockies are going to get their hands on an Albert Pujols type talent, and we will see another .400 hitter again.
Will Chris Benson rebound under the guidance of Leo Mazonne, can he become O's #1 guy?
Nate Silver (3:41 PM)
Mike, I've watched Benson a lot over the past few years since he's an NL Central guy, and it seems like the Cubs play the Pirates 46 times a year or so. I just don't think he has the raw stuff anymore to be more than a #3/#4 guy - he's already getting full use of his skill set. I'll be more interested to see what Leo can do with someone like Daniel Cabrera.
Brett (Elderon, WI)
Nate, how important do you think a stat like Pitches Per Plate Appearance is?
Nate Silver (3:43 PM)
Brett: in a vacuum, pitches per PA means next to nothing. It's all about how you incorporate your plate approach (when to take and when to swing) with your strengths and weaknesses as a hitter. I've actually come around to thinking that a lot of hitters would do well to swing that the first pitch a lot MORE - it's often the best pitch of the at bat.
Dave (San Jose)
Regarding the earlier Shapiro question, isn't this where sabermetrics breaks down somewhat? There needs to be a balance between numbers and feel. Shapiro feels that the predictability of Boone and Blake is better than the numbers game for Marte and Garko. Isn't it better to bring some kids in slowly (when needed) instead of handing them a ML job on opening day? Any data to back up either side?
Nate Silver (3:45 PM)
Dave, I tend to take the opposite approach, which is that unless you have talent like the 1927 Yankees, you want to take a risk-loving approach. That means going with high-risk, high-reward guys instead of "safe" players. The reason is simply that it's better to finish in 1st place half the time and 3rd place half the time than 2nd place 100% of the time.
Joe E (Bordentown NJ)
If Miguel Cabrera plays 50 games at 3B and his numbers are off by 20 percent, should the Marlins consider returning him to the OF so he hits better, or is 80% of Cabrera worth the trade-off at having 80% of Cabrera at 3B?
Nate Silver (3:48 PM)
Joe, I've seen no research that suggests that players hit worse when they're playing more difficult defensive positions. In fact, a couple of people have found that players hit a lot WORSE when they're playing DH. Unless a guy is a REAL hack at a position, I think it helps a guy to keep his mind focused throughout the game by playing a more challening defensive position.
How will the Cubs use Felix Pie when he gets to the majors?
Nate Silver (3:49 PM)
Knowing Dusty Baker, it will probably be as a leadoff hitter, which is making a huge mistake.
Tim (Cincinnati, OH)
Danny Baez seems to be a great closer..He was lights out last year and is so far this year again...Dont you think the Dodgers are best served to lock him up in contract and make Gagne a setup man or trade him off while they can.
Nate Silver (3:51 PM)
Tim: I think it's easy to be deceived by what a pitcher can do in 60, 70 innings, pitching to only three or four batters at a time. This time a year ago, people thought Dan Kolb was some kind of savant. I think the Lidges and Riveras of the world are REALLY valuable - but there are only six or seven of those guys, and the rest of the "closers" in the league are barely distinguishable from middle relief filler.
Vlad (New Jersey)
Earlier in the chat, when you addressed Matt Cain question, the term "non-Felix class" caught my eye. Is Felix really THAT far better than Liriano/Cain/Zumaya/Verlander/etc of the world? If so, realistically, what can we expect from him in a season during his prime years?
Nate Silver (3:53 PM)
Felix is VERY, VERY far ahead of the pack. Bar none, he's the best young pitcher we've seen since Doc Gooden twenty years ago. If his arm holds up, he's going to be capable of some ridiculous seasons: 22-5, 1.95 ERA, 312 K, that kind of stuff.
Travis (Indiana State)
What do you think is the most over rated stat used by most baseball analysts?
Nate Silver (3:54 PM)
Travis, I'm not a big fan of guys who draw walks but do little else well, especially young players who fit that profile. Major league pitchers are smart - and will usually adjust to a guy like that by simply throwing more strikes. Look at the first/second half splits for a guy like Podsednik last year. Pods NEVER swings at a bad pitch, but once pitchers realized that he had no sort of power stroke left, he wasn't *getting* any bad pitches.
Do you miss bullpen carts?
Nate Silver (3:55 PM)
I miss the San Diego Chicken a lot more.
Tim (Cincinnati, OH)
Why do you think there are so many high scoring games so far?
Nate Silver (3:56 PM)
Just a theory, but I think as opposed to steroids, banning greenies is something that might hurt the pitchers a little bit more. I'm not going to name any names in particular, but a LOT of pitchers liked to get "amped up" before the enter the game.
Speed Round: Papelbon, Lester, or Hansen
Nate Silver (3:57 PM)
Hansen's one of the best pure relief pitching prospects that we've seen in a long time. The Red Sox are taking a longer-term approach with him, lengthening out his outings in an effort to get him to throw his secondary pitches more often, but I think he'll have the best career.
Michael (Portland, ME)
The inevitable question: love stats and can't wait to read your book- How is real statistical analysis best applicable to fantasy baseball?
Nate Silver (3:58 PM)
Michael: our feeling is that understanding real baseball will help you to succeed at fantasy baseball, rather than the other way around.
JB (Lincoln, NE)
Who would you rather have, Bobby Jenks or Todd Jones?
Nate Silver (3:59 PM)
Jenks in a heartbeat. Jones is one of those Danny Kolb types that I was talking about before. As a Tigers fan, I'm hoping that Joel Zumaya continues to impress and takes that closer's job from him before Jones' hammy heals up.
Speed Round: Taguchi, Bigbie, or Schumaker? Spivey, Miles, or Luna? ugh...
Nate Silver (4:00 PM)
This is why the Cards are looking at 86-76 this year.
Who gets to the rotation faster -- Liriano or Zumaya? Who has the best '06?
Nate Silver (4:01 PM)
Everything about Zumaya says closer to me.
I am a HUGE Cubs fan. I know it is a big if, but if Prior and Wood can stay healthy once they come back, is there a chance the Cubs can get into the playoffs?
Nate Silver (4:03 PM)
We'll close this out with a Cubs question. Thanks again for all your support, and please buy our book! Kevin, as much as I disliked the approach that the Cubs took in the off-season, we have to remember that virtually everything that might have gone wrong with the Cubs did go wrong last year. They're certainly a playoff contender - and maybe even the favorite in the division - if they can get 250 innings out of Prior and Wood combined.