Nate Silver

Old story: The insiders go after the stat guys. New twist: in politics

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Nate Silver is known for two things: (1) being one of the old school Baseball Prospectus people, where he developed the PECOTA projection system; and (2) being a political polling analyst/prognosticator and proprietor of the FiveThirtyEight.com blog, which appears in the New York Times. He used to crunch baseball numbers. Now he crunches political polling data. Viva varied interests and transferable skills.

One of the facts of life for the early Baseball Prospectus folks was the skepticism to the point of disdain they received — and in some cases still receive — for their methods, conclusions and tone, with said skepticism and disdain coming most significantly from the establishment baseball press.  The worst of that is long over — most baseball writers now accept that general take — and it’s actually notable now when someone whips out a decade-old criticism of sabermetrics and other Baseball Prospectusy things.

Silver is reliving the bad old days in the political arena, however, as in recent weeks a healthy portion of the political punditry has become consumed with attacking Silver, his methods, his conclusions and his tone. While I don’t have nearly the investment in the political stuff as I do the baseball stuff, as far as I can tell, most of the criticism of Silver’s work is based on (a) a basic misunderstanding of statistics and what they can and cannot prove; and (b) a resentment of sorts that someone from the outside, as opposed to political writers who have made their bones pressing the flesh, is making headlines and earning a paycheck in their business.

Gee, sound familiar?

I am not going to jump into the specifics of that debate here because this is a baseball blog and not a political one, but the broad strokes of it all are instructive for our purposes.  The best summary of it I’ve seen so far — one which actually explains why these camps fight the way they do as opposed to merely arguing up one side or down the other — comes from Mark Coddington, who has a great post up today talking about it all.

The executive summary: when someone gets their information and their authority from being on the inside, they are inevitably wary, and often hostile to those who seek to play in their sandbox without getting their information and authority from the inside themselves.

I would also add that those on the outside have historically tended to be overly dismissive of information from people who work on the inside, and have their own history of hostility toward their inside counterparts. There are differences in how that is all manifested — one side clearly is the establishment here and one side the newcomers, which shapes the rhetoric of it all — but it’s mostly a fight about how one comes by information and what one considers to be legitimate information.

It’s a fascinating topic. One which I think serves all of us who care about the information we get and are critical of its sources. And Coddington, I think, does a great job of laying it all out without getting sucked into the minutiae of the actual warring camps.

There will be no criminal charges arising out of Curt Schilling’s video game debacle

Curt Schilling
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In 2012 Curt Schilling’s video game company, 38 Studios, delivered the fantasy role-playing game it had spent millions of dollars and countless man hours trying to deliver. And then the company folded, leaving both its employees and Rhode Island taxpayers, who underwrote much of the company’s operations via $75 million in loans, holding the bag.

The fallout to 38 Studios’ demise was more than what you see in your average business debacle. Rhode Island accused Schilling and his company of acts tantamount to fraud, claiming that it accepted tax dollars while withholding information about the true state of the company’s finances. Former employees, meanwhile, claimed — quite credibly, according to reports of the matter — that they too were lured to Rhode Island believing that their jobs were far more secure than they were. Many found themselves in extreme states of crisis when Schilling abruptly closed the company’s doors. For his part, Schilling has assailed Rhode Island politicians for using him as a scapegoat and a political punching bag in order to distract the public from their own misdeeds. There seems to be truth to everyone’s claims to some degree.

As a result of all of this, there have been several investigations and lawsuits into 38 Studios’ collapse. In 2012 the feds investigated the company and declined to bring charges. There is currently a civil lawsuit afoot and, alongside it, the State of Rhode Island has investigated for four years to see if anyone could be charged with a crime. Today there was an unexpected press conference in which it was revealed that, no, no one associated with 38 Studios will be charged with anything:

An eight-page explanation of the decision concluded by saying that “the quantity and qualify of the evidence of any criminal activity fell short of what would be necessary to prove any allegation beyond a reasonable doubt and as such the Rules of Professional Conduct precluded even offering a criminal charge for grand jury consideration.”

Schilling will likely crow about this on his various social media platforms, claiming it totally vindicates him. But, as he is a close watcher of any and all events related to Hillary Clinton, he no doubt knows that a long investigation resulting in a declination to file charges due to lack of evidence is not the same thing as a vindication. Bad judgment and poor management are still bad things, even if they’re not criminal matters.

Someone let me know if Schilling’s head explodes if and when someone points that out to him.

Andrew Miller for Lucas Giolito: WHO SAYS NO?!!

BALTIMORE, MD - JUNE 28:  Lucas Giolito #44 of the Washington Nationals pitches in the first inning during a baseball game against the New York Mets at Nationals Park on June 28, 2016 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
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The rumor mongers are churning up some good stuff about the Yankees and the Nationals maybe talking about an Andrew Miller for Lucas Giolito deal. It started with Jon Morosi saying that the Nationals were willing to trade Giolito, one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball, to the Yankees for Miller straight up.

Taking two steps back, the idea of a Miller-for-Giolito deal seems like it’d be something the Yankees would jump at in a heartbeat. Giolito would, in the normal course, be worth more than a relief pitcher. Even a good one under team control like Miller is. So if the Nats were willing to do this, the Yankees would be fools not to accept, right?

Well, no. Jon Heyman and Joel Sherman are saying that the Yankees are looking for a massive return for Miller, more than what Cubs gave them for Aroldis Chapman. That deal netted New York prospect Gleyber Torres and three other players who have future value. Gioloto is worth more straight up than Torres, but the Yankees want another big package, not just one guy. Assuming those reports are true, are the Yankees being greedy?

Maybe not! Maybe it’s not about the Yankees’ eyes being wide. Maybe it’s about the nature of prospects and how all of our eyes get a bit wide over them, especially when national rankings are released each spring. We see Giolito or someone like him named the top prospect — or maybe a top-3 prospect — and immediately believe they are untouchable or, at the very least, close to invaluable.

But here, if the rumors are to be believed, the Nats are offering him for a relief pitcher. And the Yankees are saying “nah, we need more.” Maybe they both see something the prospect raters and coveters don’t. Maybe, in the abstract, they’re just as high on him as the raters and coveters are but maybe they don’t live in the abstract. Maybe they have the added benefit of (a) experience with the fortunes of young pitching prospects; and (b) a downside risk in loving them too much that the raters and coveters don’t have. No prospect rater risks being fired if the guy they rank #1 in any given year blows his shoulder out. Team employees have been.

I have no idea if there are legs to these rumors. I know that I like Giolito as a prospect, for whatever that’s worth, and the Yankees definitely have a need for young, projectable and controllable pitching talent. Likewise, given that they’re in a transitional period right now and given that they Have Dellin Betances, they could do without Andrew Miller if they needed to. He’s someone they could deal in order to get a guy in Gioloto who would instantly become their top prospect.

But it’s the deadline and people get a bit nuts. Teams ask for the stars, yes, but those of us on the outside tend to forget that a huge number of prospects, especially pitching prospects, never pan out. For all of the hype a deadline occasions and for as much as we see a beautiful future for each and every young hurler that comes down the pike, there are no clear answers about who is or who isn’t being unreasonable here. That is, if any of this stuff is true.

Enjoy the trade deadline, everyone. Just remember that no one knows anything and everyone, on some level, is making a bet.