Nate Silver (THE Nate Silver) Says Cubs Owners Have an Incentive to Spend

Nate Silver is as “it” as a statistician can become, having used polling data and statistical models to correctly predict the presidential election outcome in all 50 states. A former sabermetrician who invented the PECOTA system and cut his teeth with Baseball Prospectus, Silver graduated to “the real world,” and runs fivethirtyeight, a New York Times blog featuring the aforementioned electoral prediction system (among other things). The 2012 presidential election wound up serving as a bit of a referendum on the use of statistical analysis/modeling to predict things like elections – and baseball performance – and, to the extent that was a legitimate exercise, Silver came out looking like a genius.

In the ensuing media blitz, Silver spoke with Crain’s Chicago about a variety of things, which naturally included the Chicago Cubs. You can see the video below (or at that link if the video doesn’t work for you).

Among Silver’s thoughts on the Cubs, which starts around the 2:25 mark:

  • The rational mind says, and the probabilities suggest, the Cubs will win it all within Silver’s lifetime (he’s 34). But some things, like the Cubs’ historic failures, defy statistical explanation (he was being cute, not actually making an analytical point).
  • It generally takes three or four years to turn a team around.
  • It’s a good thing that many fans have “turned against the Cubs,” which could incentivize ownership to spend sufficiently to put a competitive product on the field. That, according to Silver, wasn’t always the case for previous Cubs owners, who could reap the benefit of a packed Wrigley Field without regard to how much they spent on payroll. (I’d note only that this ownership group, I believe, has wanted to win from day one (in 2010), so fans “turning against the team” hasn’t really been much of a kick in the pants for these owners – the desire to win has been.)

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

45 responses to “Nate Silver (THE Nate Silver) Says Cubs Owners Have an Incentive to Spend”

  1. DarthHater

    Pretty lame. Call me when Nate makes a prediction about the Cubs based on his statistical know-how. This statement about fans and incentive is just a cliche. It may or may not have some truth, but it doesn’t matter if it’s spoken by Nate Silver or Long John Silver.

    1. DocPeterWimsey

      Call me when Nate makes a prediction about the Cubs based on his statistical know-how.

      Wasn’t it the PECOTA system that predicted the Dodgers over the Cubs in 4 games in ’08? That was a lot closer to correct than what the pundits (most of whom had the Cubs going all the way) projected.

      1. DarthHater

        I’m not dissing Nate at all. I’d just be more interested if he offered an opinion on whether the Cubs would be helped by investing more or less resources in players of one type or another, as opposed to his views on whether ownership should be incentivized by disgruntled a-hole fans like certain posters here who shall remain nameless.

        1. DocPeterWimsey

          Well, given PECOTA, Silver’s general suggestion (to all teams, not just the Cubs) is (or was) to pursue the tactics that the Sox, Yanks, etc., pursue(d). One, get high OPS position players. Two, get pitchers who K’ batters. Silver was the one who dubbed high K pitching as the “special sauce” that wins in post-season: it’s one of the only regular season statistics that correlates with post-season success.

          Since Silver’s sabremetric days, I think that people have moved on to groundballs as a tactic: but remember than 10 years ago, the wisdom was to fight HRs with K’s. Pitchers who did not “miss bats” were criticized. It took a couple of years to separate GB & FB in FIP stats, and for people to really be convinced that GB:FB ratios were a repeatable trait for pitchers.

        2. Cubs1967

          i don’t think your an ass-hole; just stupid. don’t be so hard on your self; loser boy.

      2. Caleb

        Too soon, Doc. Too soon.

  2. DocPeterWimsey

    If you did not read Silver’s blogs during the elections, then I highly recommend doing so for two reasons. One, he explains moderately advanced statistics quite well. Two, read the comments and then take out “Romney,” “Obama,” etc., and replace them with baseball words. In a lot of cases, you could pretty much turn them into “old school” (or “new school”) discussions about baseball.

    But that is why statisticians love baseball: there are so many general problems for which it’s a great example. (That, and it’s the only sport in which anybody who looks like a statistician ever plays…. ;-) )

    1. WGNstatic

      Quite true. I am a loyal 538 reader. I have to say, the last month has felt an awful lot like discussions on basball blogs, Dick Morris (and Karl Rove) have nicely filled in the role of caricature of the “old school” baseball folks – good old boys with a gut feeling, and Nate has been the nerdy “new school” guy. Taking any politics out of it, it was pretty funny watching Nate Silver kick their collective asses.

  3. Slak

    I guess my issue is that people talk about Wrigley like they were drawing 3 million a season forever and ever. That simply isn’t true. And since we continue to talk about the failure to win a title as this singular thing as opposed to in the context of individual regimes we should probably make it clear that not every era of Cubs baseball was able to get by on just expecting people to show up to Wrigley Field and profit no matter what kind of dogshit was on the field.

    1. Frank

      Yes–when I was growing up, they used to give tickets away to the kids who helped flip the seats up after games. I’ll bet they didn’t average 20,000 a game back then.

      1. Slak

        Hell, the Lee Elia speech was half him bitching about the crappy crowds who showed up just to heckle.

      2. TSB

        I was at a game in the mid-1960s (last day of the season, cold and wet) where the actual attendance was 910…paid general admission, sat in a box behind home plate…

        1. daveyrosello

          Lulz…..we went to a game in 1975, rain was forecast but didn’t show up, if there were 500 people in the stands I’d be shocked. I can also remember that up until the Dallas Green era, you could almost always walk up to the ticket offices at Wrigley on game day and get the seat of your choice. Bleacher seats for a buck, yeah, those were the days……….

      3. Cubs1967

        yes-those of us who watched the team in the 1970′s remember the 1.5M fans that showed up; becuz after 30 plus years of losing and a dump of a park back then; fans gave up.


        those that forget history are doomed to repeat it. (that’s a hint for tommyboy and team theo……….)AND dumbfuckdearthhater.

        1. Randy

          You would think this guy miss all the 2000′s and how many times the Cubs were in the playoffs. I guess he got spoiled with the Tribune Company overspending and not caring about anything but selling the Franchise. Maybe he hasn’t realized how much money the Ricketts are putting into improving the stadium and other facilities the Cubs own. Sometimes you have to fix those 30 years of mistakes and it might take a few seasons. He thinks the Cubs owe him everything because he has been such a great loyal fan. I bet he has gone to a total of 2 cubs games in his whole life. Maybe he is really a Cardinals fan.

          1. Drew7

            He didn’t miss them, he’s simply choosing to ignore them. This is trolling at it’s finest.

  4. ETS

    Anyone read The Signal and The Noise yet? Been meaning to pick it up. I hear good things from people who know math modeling.

  5. cubzforlife

    In the 1980′s I remember bragging that Cubs drew over a million fans! I was in federal prison in Lexington Ky and the area was loaded with Cardinal fans.

  6. MikeW

    Real big fan of Nate’s work, going all the way back to BP (where I’ve subscribed for years), but to me this is pretty blah. Its not anything most of us intelligent fans don’t already know. I’d be more excited if I heard he was going to be a consultant for the cubs. :)

  7. Internet Random

    Nate Silver . . . used polling data and statistical models to correctly predict the presidential election outcome in all 50 states.

    … and DC, making him 51 for 51 in that race. In 2008 he was 50 for 51. Dude knows numbers.

  8. Carne Harris

    That, according to Silver, wasn’t always the case for previous Cubs owners, who could reap the benefit of a packed Wrigley Field without regard to how much they spent on payroll.

    Amen to that. Pretty shitty world where the more loyal the fan base, the shittier the team the owners field to maximize profits.

  9. Fastball

    I’m not an A-hole fan. But I do believe the Cubs have been awfully cheap these past few years. Just my opinion. I think people who believe everything they are told are often misled.
    Not saying the FO is misleading everyone but in turn I don’t believe everything they say. I saw no reason why last year was thrown in the crapper. I don’t believe every year is sacred and that kind of babble. I think there is a plan but it was taken to the extreme so Ricketts could bank some $$ on his investment. I know they are building new facilities etc. I didn’t say he was raping and pillaging just banking some against his dad’s investment. :)
    I hope the Cubs use Free Agency to build up the lack of talent in the organization at AAA and the ML level. They can afford to spend as much as it takes to do that and not blink. The long term goal is not compromised in any way as we don’t have any impact players ready to make an impact for two or three years.

    1. GoCubs

      I completely agree with you, except that I think the last few years the Cubs were digging out of awful contracts. Now that they are nearly out I think they are banking $’s on their investment if payroll ends up only around $90M in 2013.

      If contracts are structured correctly signing some proven guys now is not going to hurt the future. IMO, the signings will help the future because you have a proven talent at the MLB level. For example, sign BJ Upton and front load the deal in 2013. If Almora and Jackson both pan out (how awesome would that be) then you can trade for a need from this strength or fill in your corners with these guys in two to three years. You can throw Soler in the corner mix as well. If a guy can play CF he can definitely play a corner. The outfield defense would be awesome if we had a CF caliber player in all outfield positions.

      We can sit back and wait for all our prospects to develop. There are no guarantees the prospects will even pan out. Remember Felix Pie and Corey Patterson? I watched many Iowa Cubs games where those guys lit it up only to be awful at the MLB level.

      1. GoCubs

        oops… “We can” s/b “We can’t”

      2. Drew7

        No team will be front-loading any contracts – it’s a bad fiscal decision.

        It has everything to do with the time value of money. Even in today’s economy, any money saved can be invested elsewhere and earn a decent return. So, if a player can be acquired for X-dollars today, it makes no sense to give him more in exchange for less money later.

        This holds especially true for the Cubs, who are in no danger of exceeding any payroll limits – now or in the near-future.

  10. Stu

    He might want to put some numbers out there. What would attendance have to be for the ownership to “get worried”? 2.5M? 2M?

    They appear to be able to safely bank $100M or so per year. Go Cubs!!!

  11. Tommy

    Nate Silver says ‘right’ a lot. Right?

    1. Carne Harris

      He’s got such a great name I bet he always refers to himself in 3rd person like Bob Dole.

      1. DocPeterWimsey

        Only when Jon Stewart is doing an impression of him (Silver)!

  12. Jeff

    Nate has said what I’ve been saying all along. Unless Cub fans show their displeasure for the type of payroll and product on the field, the ownership has no incentive to spend money on the team. I think the video that I have posted about Joe Ricketts saying himself in many words that he is the real owner of the team…

    Stating that Tom convinced him because win or lose they will make money (Wrigley Field will be packed)…. Hopefully Nate is right and that most of the posters here on this site isn’t the norm of the Cubs fan base.

  13. Sparks

    When I read most of the projections on this site, I begin to wonder if I should begin looking for another team. I read that the Cubs will not be competitive in 2013, and more than likely not in 2014. I also read that their contract with WGN expires in 2014, and it is likely that they will form their own network, similar to the Yankees “Yes” network. I don’t know what the “Yes” network is, but I assume that it will be something that will be available only in Chicago and surrounding areas, and will be a Pay per View or something similar.
    Now I am in a unique position. I live in Central Ohio, and it appears that about the time the Cubs become competitive, I will not be able to watch them- short of I am not in a financial position to make several trips to Chicago each year to see Cubs games, so it seems that I will be left out in the cold.
    I don’t think I could do it, but just two or two and a half hour drive south of me is a Major League team that is currently very competitive- though I can’t stand the manager.
    Can anyone convince me of the fallacy of this logic? I’m desparate.

    1. King Jeff

      If the Cubs get their own network, it will be a cable channel most likely, and no way do they charge pay per view for games. I am in a somewhat similar situation(besides the considering another team thing). I don’t get CSN here, so the only games I get to see are the ones on WGN, and if that goes away, it could put me in a bad spot. Luckily there is, which is actually pretty affordable, and definitely worth it.

  14. the jackal

    its crazy how i hear people on here saying “if the cubs dont put a good team out there switching to a new team” and ” if we dont win something soon im switching to a new team” i started being a cubs fan in 1989 i was 7 yrs old i remember that was the year i started hating will clark so much and as the cubs lost 4 games to won i went into my gmas closet and cried and cried. fact is if ur a die hard cubs fan then cubs will always be number one in ur heart no matter how bad they suck . hell look at early mid 90s .idc ill always love the cubs im 30 now hopefully i will see that glorious day when we win it all

  15. Sparks

    Thanks, King Jeff. Maybe there is some hope after all. Jackal– I feel sorry for you. I’ve been waiting since 1945- when they ALMOST made it. Beu we had no TV then, and I was only 13 at the tiem.

  16. hookersorcake

    Nate Silver is the man. He took down the entire media that was purposely saying the election was going to be close based on a few close polls. I imagine the media gets better ratings saying its closer than it is. And having pundits argue 24/7 than to have intelligent discusion. Silver staked his entire reputation on his numbers which said Obama was a 93% lock to win the election and gave the exact final electoral count and even popular vote. Joe Scarborough and others called him and idiot before the election and Silver told them to put his money where their mouth is and put up a grand of his own money. Scarborough or no one else would bet him.
    Funny thing was Silver said the election prediction is easy compared to baseball analysis.

  17. fortyonenorth
  18. DarthHater

    Not Cubs related, but more baseball talk (and very interesting) from THE Nate Silver:

    1. DarthHater
  19. Leroy