In the winter months of 2007, I had given up on baseball.
I was a casual Rays fan that grew up on the east side of Florida, and every summer my dad and I would drive two hours each way to go see a few games. We had been going since 1998, and I always enjoyed the experience. Baseball was in my blood, attending games was a given. I thought my Rays fandom had reached its peak in 2007 - the year I graduated from high school - when Carlos Peña came from obscurity to mash 46 home runs. Alas, the Red Sox went on to win their second World Series in less than five years, while the Rays still finished in last place, and I stopped believing in the promise of baseball.
The following offseason, the new uniforms were announced. Tampa Bay was dropping "Devil" and changing their color scheme in a full rebranding effort. Improvement? Sure, but I still wasn't buying it. The Rays would inevitably be terrible. In February, I was reading Sports Illustrated and some guy named Nate Silver predicted the Rays would win 22 more games than last year. I scoffed. The new season started, and I distinctly remember watching the Rays sweeping the Red Sox, with a new phenom at third base named Evan Longoria. "Good for them," I thought, "but it will end the same way."
Then, one day in early June, I was watching Countdown with Keith Olbermann (I didn't really have a political affiliation yet, but I knew I would be voting in the upcoming election, and I remembered Olbermann from Sports Center, so I watched his show occasionally), and who should make an appearance but Nate Silver. During the broadcast, the two talked about the upcoming election, his political blog fivethirtyeight.com (now licensed by the NY Times), and finished the segment discussing his PECOTA system, and how he predicted the Rays would find their way to the World Series. I was suddenly reminded of that article in Sports Illustrated. I had to look this guy up.
Quickly, I was introduced to Silver's "Lies, Damned Lies" column at Baseball Prospectus, and learned about advanced statistics called Sabermetrics. I started researching how they were invented by a guy named Bill James, how he was hired by the Red Sox and was likely the reason for their two championship rings, and it was during my research of Boston that I wondered how the Rays were succeeding so well. That's when I found DRaysBay. By the end of June I was watching every single game and reading every post on this site.
Do you remember the benches clearing as James Shields took a swing at Coco Crisp? The Rays clinching their first post season birth? The ALDS? - which was hard on my father, as he watched his White Sox lose to the local team. Do you remember the gut wrenching seven games of the ALCS against Boston? Then David Price shut down the Red Sox, striking out J.D. Drew in eighth with bases loaded, and saving the ninth? The Rays were in the World Series! These are some of my fondest memories, and I owe them - in part - to Nate Silver. Otherwise, I might still be ignorant to the world of baseball statistics and may never have considered a career in numbers with an accounting firm - Silver's previous profession - something to be valued. (So, thank you, Nate!)
Nate Silver went on to earn a career predicting the results for presidential elections by state, going 50-for-51 (including DC) in 2008, and most recently, 51-for-51 in 2012 (read more about the process here). In response to Silver's accomplishment and his humble beginnings, Dave Cameron and Grant Brisbee each discussed the art of Statistical Modeling, how the pundits could have learned from Nate Silver, and why election day was undoubtedly a win for advanced statistics in mainstream media.
- The GM Meetings began yesterday - not to be confused with the Hot Stove Winter Meetings - but there were some minor reports. Andrew Friedman answered a few questions for MLBTR's Ben Nicholas-Smith, Kevin Towers is apparently fielding offers for Trevor Bauer - who had significant and surprising velocity concerns after four innings last season, and Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik told Nick Cafardo, "Think I'll carry around a recording: 'I am not trading Felix Hernandez'."
- Joe Maddon will be hosting his seventh annual Thanksmas event, December 10-12.
- The Mets have cut ties with Jason Bay, electing to pay the rest of his contract, if he would please-leave-thank-you-very-much. Bay batted a .234 /.318 /.369 slash line with a combined 1.4 WAR in only 288 games over three years with the 'Ropolitans,
so let's not go there but only needs paid the league minimum next year! Worth a flier?
- Fangraphs: The Best Bunts of 2012.
- Fun Fact: Can you guess what other topic Nate Silver has focused on in his writing career?