Having just read Silver’s forthcoming book, The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail—But Some Don’t, and followed his political blog FiveThirtyEight for several years, my notebook was groaning as I rode the D train back from the Bronx. Silver may have been sucked into psephology—the study of elections—but he often circles back to the field where he first made his reputation. And so, with a nod to the political season and his book’s publication on Sept. 27, I’m sharing an info dump of Silver on sports.
In baseball, he reports, the nerds have won; GMs, scouts and other “good baseball men” have essentially accepted the Moneyball paradigm. After years in which conventional thinking prized batting average above all, on-base percentage is now the stat most highly correlated with free-agent money.
Silver remembers when it wasn’t that way. A decade ago, attending the Winter Meetings in New Orleans, he could feel the frost from scouts bellied up to the bar, warily eying the recent analytics grads from MIT and Ivy League schools across the lobby as they pressed resumes into the hands of GMs. Now front offices are no longer like high school cafeterias, and Silver believes the game is better for it.
Their détente, he explains in his book, makes perfect sense: Each has data the other lacks, but needs to deliver the best possible forecast. Silver profiles Los Angeles Dodgers scout John Sanders, a former bonus baby whose pedigree might mark him as a Moneyball skeptic. Instead, Sanders charts a middling path between the speed gun and the mainframe.
...Right now Silver’s PECOTA is imperiled by emerging digital programs like Pitch f/x, which can track in three dimensions over time how a pitch moves on its way to the plate—in other words, literally tell you if Tim Lincecum has lost a foot on his fastball. “That was traditionally considered the domain of scouting,” Silver says. “Now it’s another variable that can be placed into a projection system. Someone will come along and figure out how to fuse quantitative and qualitative evaluations.”