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Nate Silver Turns His Eye To the American League

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the too-close-to-call dept.

Math 50

Lasrick writes "Nate Silver is at it again. This time, instead of the presidential election, he's focusing on the baseball's Most Valuable Player race for the American league. It's a race that embodies the split among baseball fans between those who think of it from a mathematical perspective (the Moneyball generation) and those who prefer the traditional, feel-of-the-game perspective. Here's a quote: 'On Thursday, the American League will announce the recipient of its Most Valuable Player award. The winner is likely to be Miguel Cabrera, the Detroit Tigers star who won the league’s triple crown by leading in batting average (.330), home runs (44) and runs batted in (139). It might seem as if these statistics make Cabrera, the first triple crown winner in either league since 1967, a shoo-in for the M.V.P. But most statistically minded fans would prefer that it go to another player, Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels.'"

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this is actually more his home turf (5, Informative)

Trepidity (597) | about 2 years ago | (#41984243)

He first got well-known doing statistics-based baseball analysis (aka sabermetrics [] ), and only moved into politics later.

Re:this is actually more his home turf (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41984503)

Now he just has to worry about biasing the results with his predictions. Or maybe that's his master plan.

Re:this is actually more his home turf (4, Insightful)

Trepidity (597) | about 2 years ago | (#41984695)

This is a little different in that he's not doing a purely descriptive prediction, but an attempt at objective evaluation. In the presidential election, he wasn't trying to build a statistical model that would say whether Romney or Obama was a better leader, or a better politician: all he was attempting to do was predict who would win. But in baseball his approach is to analyze objective criteria in an attempt to quantify how valuable a player is to their team. For example, one measure of value is if they get on base more than an "average" replacement player would, which typically means a player who can play the same position (e.g. a catcher compared to an average catcher). Another measure of value is whether they field better than a typical player at that position. You add all those up and you can attempt to estimate how many runs more/fewer a team would've had over the season if your 2nd baseman had been replaced with The Average MLB Second Baseman.

So in this case he's not trying to predict who'll win the MVP, but arguing who should win the MVP, on the basis that they are objectively the most valuable player to their team. Now trying to do that with presidential elections would be interesting...

Re:this is actually more his home turf (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41985951)

Now trying to do that with presidential elections would be interesting...

No it really wouldn't. Politicians differ based on what assumptions the adopt as the basis of their platform. Once you agree on a a set of assumptions any halfwit can tell you what the best candidate will be.

Baseball...? (1)

cayenne8 (626475) | about 2 years ago | (#41985495)

Is that still going on??

Geez, just how LONG are they going to have baseball season? Seems to be almost 365 a year as it is....

Do that many people still actually watch and care about it?

I get more excitement watching cars rust in a field....

Re:Baseball...? (1)

Trepidity (597) | about 2 years ago | (#41985713)

This season is over, they just haven't finished all the post-season awards, like the MVP.

A typical season lasts 7 months, from the end of March to the end of October.

Re:Baseball...? (1)

yotto (590067) | about 2 years ago | (#41986123)

If you hate baseball that much you may be reading the wrong topic. May I suggest any of the other several dozen posted on Slashdot on this very day?

Someone hacked Slashdot! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41984277)

Useless stories are escaping from the firehose!
The end is near!

Nate Silver, also known as Hari Seldon... (3, Funny)

InvisibleClergy (1430277) | about 2 years ago | (#41984319)

...founder of psychohistory. Welcome to the last Galactic Empire, folks.

Re:Nate Silver, also known as Hari Seldon... (1)

TheSkepticalOptimist (898384) | about 2 years ago | (#41984889)

Kudos to Foundation Series reference, too bad Hollywood hasn't tapped into his literary arsenal.

Re:Nate Silver, also known as Hari Seldon... (2)

lister king of smeg (2481612) | about 2 years ago | (#41985155)

No Hollywood should never be allowed near a Asimov book again especaily foundation novels, well they can do the robot and maybe the empire series' but never foundation. foundation spans several thousand years hoolywood would ruin it. can you imagine how bad it would be think i robot and then make it three books longer.

What would be great is a miniseries based on the second foundation series which expand Asimov universe and elaborated on Hari Seldons life and work.

Re:Nate Silver, also known as Hari Seldon... (1)

yotto (590067) | about 2 years ago | (#41986147)

What would be great is a miniseries based on the second foundation series which expand Asimov universe and elaborated on Hari Seldons life and work.

No it'd probably end up on the CW and 90% of each show would be about who love whom more.

Re:Nate Silver, also known as Hari Seldon... (1)

lister king of smeg (2481612) | about 2 years ago | (#41997823)

please don't scare me with that horrible vision again. get the guy that did the dune miniseries for scifi channel (back when it aired scifi) and throw as much money as he wants at it.

Re:Nate Silver, also known as Hari Seldon... (1)

artor3 (1344997) | about 2 years ago | (#41987877)

After their foray into I, Robot, I'm quite glad that they're not making the Foundation series into the next big blockbuster. I can just imagine Michael Bay directing it. Forget the technology-as-religion approach to controlling their neighbors, the Foundation will just blast them to hell and back. Also, the Mule and Second Foundationers will all be Jedi, since the final confrontation with the Mule would be utterly unfilmable otherwise.

Re:Nate Silver, also known as Hari Seldon... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41985253)

Psychohistory? Who needs to predict the behavior of massive groups of people when drunk Nate Silver is already formulating a model for the behavior of every individual? With some tweaking it'll be indistinguishable from telepathy.

Next up, Big 10 refs (2)

smooth wombat (796938) | about 2 years ago | (#41984337)

Nate can use his statistical prowess to document and irrefutably show the bias Big 10 refs have for and against certain teams based on the number of blown calls or calls which should have been called compared to the other conferences such as the SEC and PAC-12.

Re:Next up, Big 10 refs (1)

Krater76 (810350) | about 2 years ago | (#41985177)

News flash, the Pac-12 refs suck. They've sucked for years, easily back when it was the Pac-10, and most likely when it was the Pac-8.

Re:Next up, Big 10 refs (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41985731)

Yeah, but Pac-12 refs suck with the best of intentions...the contention was that Big-10 refs suck intentionally so as to help certain teams. As a Pac-12 fan, I can't speak to the latter, but I can say that Pac-12 refs blow calls both for and against all the teams in the conference. Bad refs with good intentions are a very different thing.

Re:Next up, Big 10 refs (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41985203)

I actually have run statistical analysis on the bias for coaches poll ranking for and against certain college football teams.

There is a statistically significant subset of teams that are consistently overrated and another similar sized set of underrated teams.

Re:Next up, Big 10 refs (1)

stewbee (1019450) | about 2 years ago | (#41985769)

MSU fan by chance? That is my alma matter too, and I feel like we have a pretty crappy reputation with the refs this year. ahem *Nebraksa game* ahem.

Re:Next up, Big 10 refs (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41993743)

I have really enjoyed all the excuses and crying this year, especially from MSU fans, but also Michigan and PSU fans.

Miguel Cabrera is MVP (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41984343)

Another factor of an MVP is leading your team to the post season and that is what Cabrera did for the Tigers. Mike Trout's team, the Angels, failed to win their division and missed the playoffs.

Re:Miguel Cabrera is MVP (2)

schwit1 (797399) | about 2 years ago | (#41984947)

Angels won more games than Tigers and are in a tougher division.

Re:Miguel Cabrera is MVP (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41985065)

Also, as pointed out in the article, Trout started the year in the minors. Based on his team's win percentage after his call up, the Angels would have won 94 games if he'd played the entire season and would have finished in a tie with the A's for the division lead.

Re:Miguel Cabrera is MVP (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41988451)

Yeah, well the Tigers won more games in the second half of the season and look at what Trout and Cabrera did down the stretch.

In September, Mike Trout was 26-101, 5 HR, 6 RBI, 6 SB, 20 BB, 32 K. Nice stats for most MLBers, but below average for an MVP. September was also Mike Trout's worst month statistically, you know, the time where the MVP needs to lead his team to the postseason.

In September, Miguel Cabrera was 32-104, 10 HR, 27 RBI, 13 BB, 24 K.

Re:Miguel Cabrera is MVP (1)

JonahsDad (1332091) | about 2 years ago | (#41985189)

I'm a Tigers fan and a math geek. I hope Cabrera wins the MVP. If I had a vote, I'd vote for Mike Trout.
There are 2 big "unifying" stats, WAR (wins above replacement) and WPA (win probability added).
WAR treats every at bat the same (and base-running and fielding). Trout had a higher WAR than Cabrera, and the highest in MLB.
WPA treats every at bat based on how it alters your team's chance of winning. Trout had a higher WPA than Cabrera, and the highest in the AL (not sure about MLB).

Start placing bets ... (1)

gstoddart (321705) | about 2 years ago | (#41984393)

I think in parallel to this he should start placing bets with sports bookies or something.

Put his money where his mouth is ... and, if he's been right on so many things, he can probably make a fortune on the side.

Re:Start placing bets ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41984859)

Considering the award is voted on by the baseball writers he'd be a fool to bet based on statistics.

Re:Start placing bets ... (1)

gstoddart (321705) | about 2 years ago | (#41985061)

He's making a prediction. He has previously said his predictions are really good.

So, if he'd be a fool to place a bet, his predictions are equally worthless.

I can get out a ouija board and tell you who is going to win too -- and except for sheer dumb luck, I'd be just as wrong.

Re:Start placing bets ... (3, Informative)

bws111 (1216812) | about 2 years ago | (#41985173)

He is not making a prediction on who WILL win the MVP. He is making a case for who he thinks SHOULD be the MVP, based on his analysis of statistics. However, the MVP is not awarded based on his analysis of statistics, it is awarded by a vote of the baseball writers, who may have different MVP criteria than he does.

In the presidential race he predicted who would (not should) win. Here he is saying who should (not will) win.

Home run counts misleading (1)

whoever57 (658626) | about 2 years ago | (#41984729)

Since baseball stadiums are not a standard size, the distance that a ball must be hit to get a home run varies. If a player plays for a team that has a small stadium, the average stadium size that this player plays in will be smaller (since 50% of the games will be in the home team stadium). Thus, there is a significant advantage for home run count for players whose teams have smaller stadiums. How does this get factored into the statistics?

Re:Home run counts misleading (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about 2 years ago | (#41984789)

TFA talks about this, even noting Cabrerra tends to hit to Tiger stadium's shorter alleys, as opposed to the other guy who is more distributed.

While TFA is a good argument, it has the feel of religion, where he keeps digging until he finds the "his" guy ahead, then stops analyzing.

Re:Home run counts misleading (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41985035)

In reality, there is an absurd wealth of statistical analysis behind the points that Nate is making, but it takes more than a layman's understanding of both statistics and baseball to really understand the arguments. This is him dumbing down the points for a much wider audience than would typically see these high-level baseball discussions.

As has been previously mentioned, Nate Silver got his first bit of internet fame by developing the PECOTA projection system for Baseball Prospectus, which has been shown to be far more predictive of future baseball success than traditional statistics.

TFA is really more of an attempt to bring these arguments to a skeptical public than to be a rigorous analysis of the issue, but I promise you, the rigor is there to back up every point he makes.

Re:Home run counts misleading (2)

curunir (98273) | about 2 years ago | (#41985213)

While TFA is a good argument, it has the feel of religion, where he keeps digging until he finds the "his" guy ahead, then stops analyzing.

I didn't get that feel at all. I saw it as a good explanation of the divide between traditional baseball statistics and the more modern sabermetric statistics. Based on the traditional statistics, Cabrera is the clear-cut MVP...he did something that hadn't been done in 45 years. Based on the more modern statistics, Trout is the clear winner.

The vote will really be a referendum on these new statistics and how well baseball writers feel they quantify a player's contribution. As a statistician, Silver has a clear bias, but it's not towards a player, it's towards the measurements that evaluate all players. Baseball's general managers have already accepted these new measurements (as covered in Moneyball), but now writers are being forced to confront the same issue. And, for them, it's a more complicated issue. Whereas GMs can rely on the on-the-field results speaking for themselves, writers have the task of making the game accessible to fans. RBIs, HRs and AVG are very easy to explain to viewers/readers. WAR and the newer statistics require what is often college-level math to grok.

This article does a good job of describing the context of this interesting vote for people that aren't already aware.

Re:Home run counts misleading (1)

mcspoo (933106) | about 2 years ago | (#41984899)

Considering that Cabrera plays in Comerica Park 82 games a year. The largest park in the league, where may sluggers get swallowed up by 'Comerica National Park'... The fact that he led the league in home runs is entirely remarkable in and of itself.
No knock against Mike Trout. He's definitely the Rookie of the Year... but let's see him do it twice. Let's see if he's a flash in the pan.
Cabrera? Not just this year, but ever since he's started, has been at the top of the league. Hands down, the best hitter in the game, no questions asked unless you're stoned or a die hard Angels fan. PLUS... he moved to a different position this year (1st base to 3rd base).
The article makes an excellent statistical argument, so here's the mental/emotional argument... Top of the Ninth, 2 outs, your closer on the mound. You get to choose who you pitch to... Cabrera or Trout. betcha 5 out of 6 managers pick Trout, and that says it ALL.

Re:Home run counts misleading (1)

schwit1 (797399) | about 2 years ago | (#41984993)

The article says this was true up to 2005 when the Comerica fences were brought in. Now it is the opposite.

"axlotltanks"? (0)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 2 years ago | (#41984955)

Why the hell is this story tagged with "axlotltanks"? Or it there something fishy with Nate Silver? :)

Re:"axlotltanks"? (0)

DemonGenius (2247652) | about 2 years ago | (#41985047)

Maybe Nate Silver is really a Tleilaxu face dancer?

Angels? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41985069)

Wow, I didn't realize how out of the loop I was. I thought it was a typo and was supposed to be the Dodgers, but no the Angels actually exist!

miss the point (4, Insightful)

PopeRatzo (965947) | about 2 years ago | (#41985075)

The thing that makes Nate Silver is not so much that he uses Math. Lots of people used math to predict the outcome of the election, including Princeton's Sam Wang and the pollsters at PPP (who were the most accurate polling organization).

What makes Nate Silver valuable is that he can write. He explains what he's doing and why. He describes his model in detail and lets us in on what elements go into his predictions.

There are probably a fair number of handicappers who can do as well as Nate Silver in the predicting department, but while we can make money betting their predictions, we're not going to gain any valuable insights. You can learn from Nate Silver.

Re:miss the point (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41988165)

He describes his model in detail and lets us in on what elements go into his predictions

Where does Nate describe his model in detail?

Re:miss the point (1)

destinyland (578448) | about 2 years ago | (#41989095)

It's his commitment to openness that makes him special. It's WHY he writes. But it also gives him more credibility.

Kind of like Linux.

Easily Cabrera (3, Insightful)

Krater76 (810350) | about 2 years ago | (#41985315)

Mike Trout is a great player, no doubt. He should definitely be on the short list for MVP. The problem is that this isn't just a statistical/quantitative award, there's a qualitative measurement as well. Were you just 'good' but on a terrible team? Were you 'great' but on a great team? These things matter. Felix Rodriguez got the Cy Young award even though he had barely a winning record as a pitcher. His team gave him ZERO help but he was the best pitcher in the AL that year.

What is all comes down to is the Triple Crown. The last guy to do it was Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. Of 16 Triple Crown winners, only 14 players have ever accomplished it (two of them did it twice). In this age of hitters that are specialists, it's incredible that someone accomplished the feat. I honestly never thought I would see it in my lifetime.

So unless Nate Silver can put some weight on the psychological importance of the title - Triple Crown - then his calculation will be flawed. Knowing that Nate Silver is a baseball fan, I assume he is well aware of the importance of the feat.


Re:Easily Cabrera (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41985499)

Felix Rodriguez???

Just for that boo-boo, we're changing your vote to "TROUT 2012".

Re:Easily Cabrera (1)

sconeu (64226) | about 2 years ago | (#41985749)

So if Josh Hamilton had had a slightly better series against Oakland to finish the season, Cabrera would not have the Triple Crown. Therefore, what Josh Hamilton did or did not do affects how valuable Cabrera and Trout are.

*THAT* is the problem with saying, "ZOMG!!!! TRIPLE CROWN!!!!"

Re:Easily Cabrera (1)

Krater76 (810350) | about 2 years ago | (#41986855)

Therefore, what Josh Hamilton did or did not do affects how valuable Cabrera and Trout are.

Absolutely. Had Josh Hamilton hit just one more home run, or maybe not have missed a couple games during the season, or maybe the yen did this, or maybe the weather in Pamplona been just a little better, Cabrera woudn't be a Triple Crown winner. What if, but he did.

*THAT* is the problem with saying, "ZOMG!!!! TRIPLE CROWN!!!!"

It's not a problem, it's just the way it is. It just shows another reason why it's so hard to accomplish.

Re:Easily Cabrera (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41992215)

IMNHO simply by not making the playoffs Trout was already eliminated from consideration UNLESS every single other player up for MVP were also on teams that failed to make the playoffs. Inventing new statistics doesn't help the Trout case much either IMNHO as already you're getting onto more speculative ground with quite a number of those so-called "statistics".

this is old news (2)

Rogue Haggis Landing (1230830) | about 2 years ago | (#41985465)

As a baseball fan, I have read literally dozens of articles and hundreds of message boards rants on this subject. If you're interested, a little wading through Baseball Think Factory [] will allow you to relive the endless re-hashings at your leisure. More generally, this sort of statistical talk is very common among a certain segment of baseball fandom, and is (as has been mentioned before) the milieu from which Nate Silver emerged.

What's interesting about this specific issue is that Cabrera vs. Trout has been painted as a traditionalists vs. stat-heads vote, but an argument for Trout can be made with no reference to advance statistics. It goes like this:

Trout's traditional "slash line" (batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage) is very similar to Cabrera's. Cabrera hit for more power, but otherwise they are nearly equal. Trout's home ballpark is harder to hit in than Cabrera's. Trout led the league in stolen bases with 49, Cabrera had 4. Cabrera grounded into 28 double plays, most in the league. Trout grounded into 7. Cabrera is a poor defensive player, Trout is an outstanding defensive player. Trout's team even had a better record than Cabrera's, even though Cabrera's Tigers made the playoffs and Trout's Angels didn't.

Nothing in that argument requires anything more complicated than the division required to work out batting average and the like. The fact that Trout's candidacy has been painted as just the result of statistical mumbo jumbo is ridiculous.

(It should be pointed out that there is a lot of mumbo jumbo in baseball's defensive statistics. They are not at all mature yet, and are heavily influenced by very subjective inputs. This is part of why I prefer the non-statistical argument for Trout. When someone says that Trout's glove was worth 2.1 wins above a replacement player (the number given at Baseball Reference [] he is speaking with a false precision. Silver, it should be noted, doesn't fall into this trap, and I should say that Sean Foreman at Baseball Reference doesn't believe that his 2.1 win number is anything more than an educated guess.)

Nice article, but... (1)

Nihilanth (470467) | about 2 years ago | (#41985531)

Was hoping there would be data visualization. Disappointed.

Women (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41987413)

Can't live with them ,and well thank god for the artificial womb.

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