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Nathaniel Read "Nate" Silver (born January 13, 1978) is an American statistician, psephologist, and writer. Silver first gained public recognition for developing PECOTA, a system for forecasting the performance and career development of Major League Baseball players, which he sold to and then managed for Baseball Prospectus from 2003 to 2009.

In 2007 Silver began to publish analyses and predictions relating to the United States presidential election, 2008, initially under the pseudonym "Poblano." At first this work appeared on the political blog Daily Kos, but in March 2008 Silver established his own website, FiveThirtyEight.com. On May 30, he revealed his real name to his readers and dropped the use of the "Poblano" moniker on his website. By summer of that year, he began to appear as an electoral and political analyst in national print, online, and cable news media.

The accuracy of his November 2008 presidential election predictions – he correctly predicted the winner of 49 of the 50 states – won Silver further attention and commendation.

In April 2009 he was named one of The World's 100 Most Influential People by TIME Magazine.

Early years

Silver was born in East Lansingmarker, Michiganmarker. After residing in Chicago, Illinoismarker for thirteen years, he moved to New York Citymarker in 2009. He was an early math wizard. According to the New York Times, "By kindergarten, he could multiply two-digit numbers in his head. By 11, he was conducting multivariate analysis to figure out if the size of a baseball stadium affects attendance (it doesn’t). By age 13, he was using statistics to manage a fantasy baseball team. When his parents refused to buy him computer games, he taught himself the BASIC programming language and created his own".

According to journalist William Hageman, "Silver caught the baseball bug when he was 6, growing up in East Lansing, Mich. It was 1984, the year the Detroit Tigers won the World Series. The Tigers became his team and baseball his sport. And if there's anything that goes hand in glove with baseball, it's numbers, another of Silver's childhood interests. ("It's always more interesting to apply it to batting averages than algebra class".)

As a student at East Lansing High School, in 1996 Silver won first place in the State of Michiganmarker in the 49th annual John S. Knight Scholarship Contest for senior high school debaters.

Silver earned his journalism chops as a writer and opinion page editor for The Portrait, East Lansing High School's student newspaper, from 1993-1996.

In 2000, Silver graduated with Honors with an A.B. degree from the University of Chicagomarker, where he studied economics. He also wrote for the Chicago Weekly News and the Chicago Maroon. He spent his third year at the London School of Economicsmarker.

Career

After graduating from college, Silver worked for three and a half years as an economic consultant with KPMG in Chicago. When asked in 2009, "Q: What is your biggest regret in life?" Silver responded "A: Spending four years of my life at a job I didn’t like." During that time, however, Silver continued to nurture his life-long interest in baseball and statistics, and on the side he began to work on his PECOTA system for projecting player performance and careers. He quit his job at KPMG in April 2004 and for a time earned his living entirely by playing online poker.

Silver became a writer for Baseball Prospectus (BP) in 2003, after having sold PECOTA to BP in return for a partnership interest. After resigning from KPMG in 2004, he took the position of Executive Vice-President, later renamed Managing Partner of BP. In this role, in addition to providing executive functions, Silver maintained and further developed PECOTA as well as wrote a feature column under the heading "Lies, Damned Lies". In this column he applied sabermetric techniques to a broad range of topics in baseball research—including forecasting the performance of individual players, the economics of baseball, metrics for the valuation of players, developing an Elo rating system for Major League baseball, and many other topics.

Between 2003 and 2009, Silver was a co-author of the Baseball Prospectus (ISBN 0-7611-3995-8) annual book of Major League Baseball analysis and forecasts as well as a co-author of other books published by Baseball Prospectus, including Mind Game: How the Boston Red Sox Got Smart, Won a World Series, and Created a New Blueprint for Winning (New York: Workman Publishers, 2005) (ISBN 0-7611-4018-2), Baseball Between the Numbers (New York: Basic Books, 2006) (ISBN 0-4650-0596-9), and It Ain't Over 'til It's Over: The Baseball Prospectus Pennant Race Book (New York: Basic Books, 2007) (ISBN 0-4650-0284-6).

He was an occasional contributor of articles about baseball to ESPN.com, Sports Illustrated, Slate, the New York Sun and the New York Times.

In November 2007, while still working for Baseball Prospectus, Silver began to write about politics, specifically the 2008 U.S. Presidential race. Until the end of May 2008, this writing was under the pseudonym "Poblano" and appeared on Daily Kos or on his blog FiveThirtyEight.com. Beginning in June he began to publish political analysis under his own name, including in his blog, newspapers, and The New Republic. He first appeared on national television on CNN's American Morning on June 13, 2008.

In March 2009, Silver announced that he had stepped down as Managing Partner of BP and that he had handed over responsibility for producing future PECOTA projections to other BP staff members. But he intended to continue as a writer for BP, including for BP's partner, ESPN.com. In April 2009, he first appeared as an analyst on ESPN's Baseball Tonight. However, after March 2009, he published only two "Lies, Damned Lies" columns on BaseballProspectus.com.

In November 2009, ESPN introduced a new Soccer Power Index (SPI), developed by Nate Silver, for predicting the outcome of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Baseball analysis

Silver uses a wide variety of research methods and statistical tools in his writings about baseball. However, he has developed three tools that are identified with his name.

PECOTA

PECOTA (Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm) is a statistical system that projects the future performance of hitters and pitchers. It is designed primarily for two uses: fans interested in fantasy baseball, and professionals in the baseball business interested in predicting the performance and valuation of major league players. Unlike most other such projection systems, PECOTA relies on matching a given current player to a set of "comparable" players whose past performance can serve as a guide to how the given current player is likely to perform in the future. Unlike most other such systems, PECOTA also calculates a range of probable performance levels rather than a single predicted value on a given measure such as earned run average or batting average.

PECOTA projections were first published by Baseball Prospectus in the 2003 edition of its annual book as well as online by BaseballProspectus.com. The formulae have been updated steadily since then. Silver produced the annual PECOTA forecasts for each Major League Baseball season from 2003 through 2009. Beginning in Spring 2009, Baseball Prospectus took responsibility for future editions and products based on the forecasts.

QERA

Because of the dependence of earned run average statistics on factors over which a pitcher may have little control, sabermetricians have developed several defense independent pitching statistics, including Defense-Independent ERA. One that Silver has created for quick calculations that do not require detailed adjustments for the park or era in which a pitcher is performing is the "QuikERA" or QERA. It may be useful for early- or mid-season assessments of a pitcher's performance, since it attempts to reduce the effect of luck in summarizing a pitcher's ERA. Silver explains,
I call this toy QuikERA (QERA), which estimates what a pitcher's ERA should be based solely on his strikeout rate, walk rate, and GB/FB ratio.
These three components--K rate, BB rate, GB/FB--stabilize very quickly, and they have the strongest predictive relationship with a pitcher’s ERA going forward.
What’s more, they are not very dependent on park effects, allowing us to make reasonable comparisons of pitchers across different teams.


The formula for QERA is as follows: QERA =(2.69 + K%*(-3.4) + BB%*3.88 + GB%*(-0.66))2.


Note that everything ends up expressed in terms of percentages: strikeouts per opponent plate appearance, walks per opponent plate appearance, and groundballs as a percentage of all balls hit into play.


"Secret Sauce"

Silver has also developed a formula, which he calls "Secret Sauce," to predict whether Major League teams are likely to be successful in the playoffs if they somehow manage to reach them. This formula comes out of research that he initially conducted and published with Dayn Perry. Although during the regular season having an excellent offense above all else may get a team to the playoffs, once in the playoffs a team's success depends much more on strong defense, including pitching.

The "secret sauce" formula includes
"[three] key ingredients that strongly correlate with postseason success: a team's [pitchers'] strikeout rate, or Equivalent K/9 (EqK9), adjusted for a team's league and ballpark; its quality of defense, or Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA), an estimate of the runs a defense has saved or cost its pitchers relative to the league average; and its strength of closer, or Win Expectation Above Replacement (WXRL), which measures the wins the closer has saved versus what a replacement-level alternative would have done.
In other words, teams that prevent the ball from going into play, catch it when it does and preserve late-inning leads are likely to excel in the playoffs."


Applying this approach to the prospective playoff teams in 2009, in late August Jay Jaffe calculated that the New York Yankees had far and away the most "secret sauce" of any of the leading playoff contenders. In fact, the Yankees defeated the Philadelphia Phillies 4 games to 2 to win the 2009 World Series.

Political analysis

Silver describes his own partisan orientation as follows in the FAQ on his website: "My state [Illinois] has non-partisan registration, so I am not registered as anything. I vote for Democratic candidates the majority of the time (though by no means always). This year, I have been a supporter of Barack Obama." With respect to the impartiality of his electoral projections, Silver states, "Are your results biased toward your preferred candidates? I hope not, but that is for you to decide. I have tried to disclose as much about my methodology as possible."

Silver describes his ideological orientation as one of "rational progressivism":

I regard myself as a rational progressive. I believe in intellectual progress – that we, as a species, are gradually becoming smarter. I believe that there are objectively right answers to many political and economic questions.


I believe that economic growth is both a reflection of and a contributor toward societal progress, that economic growth has facilitated a higher standard of living, and that this is empirically indisputable. I also believe, however, that our society is now so exceptionally wealthy – even in the midst of a severe recession – that it has little excuse not to provide for some basic level of dignity for all its citizens.


I believe that answers to questions like these do not always come from the establishment. But I also believe that it is just as important to question one's own assumptions as to question the assumptions of others.


FiveThirtyEight.com

In November 2007 Silver began publishing a diary under the pseudonym "Poblano" on the progressive political blog Daily Kos. Silver set out to analyze quantitative aspects of the political game in a manner that would enlighten a broader audience. Silver reports that "he was stranded in a New Orleans airport when the idea of FiveThirtyEight.com came to him. 'I was just frustrated with the analysis. . . . I saw a lot of discussion about strategy that was not all that sophisticated, especially when it came to quantitative things like polls and demographics'”. His forecasts of the 2008 United States presidential primary elections drew a lot of attention, including being cited by New York Times Op-Ed columnist William Kristol.

In March 2008, Silver established his own blog FiveThirtyEight.com, in which he developed a system for tracking and forecasting the outcome of the 2008 general election. At the same time, he continued making forecasts of the 2008 Democratic primary elections. That several of his forecasts based on demographic analysis proved to be substantially more accurate than those of the professional pollsters gained visibility and professional credibility for "Poblano". After the North Carolina and Indiana primaries on May 6 the popularity of FiveThirtyEight.com "really exploded. Silver recalls the scenario: 'I know the polls show it’s really tight in NC, but we think Obama is going to win by thirteen, fourteen points, and he did. . . . Any time you make a prediction like that people give you probably too much credit for it. . . . But after that [Silver's and the website's popularity] started to really take off. It’s pretty nonlinear, once you get one mention in the mainstream media, other people [quickly follow suit]'".

As a result, his blog generated a growing following among political junkies, increasing numbers of whom contributed constructive and critical comments on his columns. In addition, he posted the results there of analysis estimating the possible impact of increased voting by African Americans, Latinos, and young people in the November election on Obama's chances of success – something that was dubbed "The Poblano Effect".

At the end of May, Silver revealed his identity to his readers on FiveThirtyEight.com.

As a CNET reporter wrote, "Even though Silver launched the site as recently as March, its straightforward approach, daring predictions, and short but impressive track record has put it on the map of political sites to follow. The Washington Post featured Silver in its 14th annual election prediction contest this year, and he'll be reporting on Tuesday night's results with Dan Rather on HDNet".

Silver's final 2008 presidential election forecast accurately predicted the winner of 49 of the 50 states as well as the District of Columbia (missing only the prediction for Indiana). As his model predicted, the races in Missourimarker and North Carolinamarker were particularly close. He also correctly predicted the winners of every U.S. Senate race. The accuracy of his predictions won him further acclaim, including abroad, and added to his image as a seer.

Mainstream media

On May 30, 2008, Poblano revealed his identity with the following statement:
"There are certain pleasures in writing anonymously.
Particularly in the political world, where there is a whole mythology associated with anonymity – think Deep Throat or Primary Colors or Atrios.
But I'm fortunate enough to have been granted the opportunity to develop some relationships with larger outlets (you should see these coming to fruition very soon).
And it just ain't very professional to keep referring to yourself as a chili pepper.
"My real name is Nate Silver and my principal occupation has been as a writer, analyst and partner at a sports media company called Baseball Prospectus.
What we do over there and what I'm doing over here are really quite similar.
Both baseball and politics are data-driven industries.
But a lot of the time, that data might be used badly.
In baseball, that may mean looking at a statistic like batting average when things like on-base percentage and slugging percentage are far more correlated with winning ballgames.
In politics, that might mean cherry-picking a certain polling result or weaving together a narrative that isn't supported by the demographic evidence."


On June 1, Silver published a two-page Op-Ed article in the New York Post outlining the rationale underlying his focus on the statistical aspects of politics.
"My fulltime occupation has been as a writer and analyst for a sports media company called Baseball Prospectus.
In baseball, statistics are meaningless without context; hitting 30 home runs in the 1930s is a lot different than hitting 30 today.
There is a whole industry in baseball dedicated to the proper understanding and interpretation of statistics.
In polling and politics, there is nearly as much data as there is for first basemen.
In this year's Democratic primaries, there were statistics for every gender, race, age, occupation and geography - reasons why Clinton won older women, or Obama took college students.
But the understanding has lagged behind.
Polls are cherry-picked based on their brand name or shock value rather than their track record of accuracy.
Demographic variables are misrepresented or misunderstood.
(Barack Obama, for instance, is reputed to have problems with white working-class voters, when in fact these issues appear to be more dictated by geography - he has major problems among these voters in Kentucky and West Virginia, but did just fine with them in Wisconsin and Oregon)."


Silver's self-unmasking brought him a lot of publicity, much of it focused on his combined skill as both baseball statistician-forecaster and political statistician-forecaster, including articles about him in the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Science News New York Magazine, and his hometown Lansing State Journal.

In early June he began to cross-post his daily "Today's Polls" updates on "The Plank" in The New Republic. Also, Rasmussen Reports began to use the FiveThirtyEight.com poll averages for its own tracking of the 2008 state-by-state races.

This added exposure provided him with opportunities to appear on CNN's American Morning and D.L. Hughley Breaks the News, MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann and Hardball with Chris Matthews, CNBCmarker's Fast Money, Comedy Central's The Colbert Report, WNYCmarker's The Brian Lehrer Show, HDNet's Dan Rather Reports, Amy Goodman's Democracy Now!, PBS's The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, The Charlie Rose Show, and The Rachel Maddow Shows on both Air America Radio and MSNBC, as well as to contribute essays and op ed columns to The New Republic, the New York Post, the Los Angeles Times, and Newsweek.

New York Magazine, on October 12, 2008, referred to Silver as "The Spreadsheet Psychic": "a number-crunching prodigy who went from correctly forecasting baseball games to correctly forecasting presidential primaries." Other commentators drew a parallel between Silver's baseball prognosticatons and his election forecasting in 2008: "The Tampa Bay Rays and Barack Obama have made 2008 the year of the surprise contender, though one man predicted both successes before nearly anyone else – and he sees a general election landslide for Obama over John McCain on Tuesday."

The celebrity that this attention brought to Silver sometimes took a curious form, including articles on Wonkette: The D.C. Gossip and a Facebook group entitled "There's a 97.3 Percent Chance that Nate Silver Is Totally My Boyfriend".

Throughout 2009, Silver appeared several more times as a political analyst on national television, most frequently on MSNBC but also on CNN in both mornings and evenings.

After the 2008 election

As a sign that Silver had not left his baseball roots, shortly after the November 4 election ESPN writer Jim Caple observed,"Forget Cole Hamels and the Phillies. No one in baseball had a more impressive fall than Nate Silver. . . . [R]ight now Silver is exhausted. He barely slept the last couple weeks of the campaign – 'By the end, it was full-time plus' – and for that matter, he says he couldn't have kept it up had the campaign lasted two days longer. Plus, he has his Baseball Prospectus duties. 'We write our [Baseball Prospectus 2009] book from now through the first of the year,' [Silver] said. 'I have a week to relax and then it gets just as busy again. In February 2009 I will just have to find an island in the Caribbean and throw my BlackBerry in the ocean'."

Later in November, Silver signed a contract with Penguin Group USA to write two books, reportedly for a $700,000 advance. In an intervew, Silver described his first book-in-progress as about "the value and limitations of predictions, looking at such diverse industries as fashion design, hurricane forecasting, and the search for extraterrestrial life".

He was invited to be a speaker at TED 2009 in February 2009, and keynote speaker at the 2009 South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive conference (March 2009).

While continuing with his FiveThirtyEight.com website, in January 2009 he began to publish a regular feature column, "The Data," in Esquire as well as contribute occasional articles in other media such as the New York Times. He also tried his luck in the 2009 World Series of Poker.

Recognition and awards



  • On the day after the first McCain-Obama Presidential Debate, Time Magazine's Joe Klein observed on the magazine's "Swampland" blog: "If there's been a rookie of the year in this year's presidential campaign coverage, it's Nate Silver—a baseball stats guy who has turned his talents to politics and produced some of the most creative slicing and dicing of polling numbers at his website fivethirtyeight.com. Today's offering is typical Silver: he takes the snap polling results and weights them according to the issues the voters considered most important—and finds that Obama won, according to the cross tabs, on the more important issues, thereby accounting for his snap poll victories."




  • November 2008: Crain's Chicago Business profiled Silver as one of Chicago's "40 under 40" notable young entrepreneurs.


  • November 9, 2008: the New York Times called Silver "perhaps the most unlikely media star to emerge" out of "an election season of unlikely outcomes" and described FiveThirtyEight with its almost five million page views on Election Day as "one of the breakout online stars of the year".


  • December 2008: Newsweek.com identified Silver's November 3, 2008 article "What to Watch For – An hour-by-hour guide to election night" as the 4th most viewed story on Newsweek.com in 2008.


  • December 2008: Silver was named by Huffington Post writer Jason Linkins as the #1 of the "Ten Things that Managed to Not Suck in 2008, Media Edition." "The uncanny, poll-wrangling, stats-freaking Nate Silver took it upon himself to demonstrate that some level of governable, rational reality could be brought to bear on the confusing world of competing tracking polls, and along the way all but cemented the geek-chic trajectory of this election season."


  • December 2008: named by progressive activist, journalist, and blogger Al Giordano as "Genius of the Year."


  • December 2008: named by The Daily Beast as one of the "Breakout Stars of 2008": "Breakout Swami: NATE SILVER. In 2007, Nate Silver was mainly known as a world-class seamhead, a Baseball Prospectus geek who could do sexy things with ERAs. Then he started applying his statfreak principles to presidential politics under the pseudonym Poblano. When he finally outed himself in June 2008, it was clear that Silver and his website www.FiveThirtyEight.com had everyone’s number—his primary projections became gospel. In the end, though, Silver only correctly predicted how 49 of the 50 states would vote. Better luck in 2012".


  • February 2009: named by James Wolcott in Vanity Fair as one of the "Winners of 2008": "No shiny arrow shot swifter and loftier from obscurity to quotable authority than Nate Silver, whose FiveThirtyEight.com site became the expert sensation of the election season. . . . Not only did his disciplined models and microfine data mining command respect, his prognostications hit the Zen mark on Election Day. . . . Silver also became an instant cable-news savant, his geek-genius glasses and owlish mien worthy of a Starfleet sub-adjutant whose quadratic equations coolly foil an attack from a Romulan vessel while the senior officers are frantically poking at their touch screens."


  • January 2009: FiveThirtyEight.com was the winner of the category "Best Political Coverage" in the 2008 Weblog Awards.


  • January 2009: Silver was named by Forbes.com to its third annual "Web Celeb 25," which "track[s] the biggest and brightest stars on the Web, the people who have turned their passions into new-media empires. From stay-at-home moms to geek entrepreneurs, these are the people capturing eyes, influencing opinion and creating the new digital world."


  • February 2009: an invited speaker at TED2009, the 25th annual conference of "thinkers and doers".


  • March 15, 2009: keynote speaker at the Interactive Festival at 2009 SXSW (South by Southwest).


  • March 16, 2009: FiveThirtyEight.com was awarded a 2009 "Bloggie" as the "Best Weblog about Politics" in the 9th Annual Weblog Awards competition.


  • April 2009: Silver was named as one of the "Rolling Stone 100: Agents of Change".


  • April 27, 2009: named "Blogger of the Year" by The Week in its 6th annual Opinion Awards. The commendation stated: "Nate Silver of Fivethirtyeight.com was arguably the most important blogger of the 2008 presidential election, translating a flood of poll numbers into a narrative that was both compelling and trustworthy. By Election Night — when Fivethirtyeight.com declared the race for Obama at 8:46 p.m., an hour and 14 minutes before the mainstream media did — Silver had already established himself as the most reliable caller of the political horse race."




  • September 2009: FiveThirtyEight.com's predictive model was featured as the cover story in STATS: The Magazine for Students of Statistics.


  • November 2009: FiveThirtyEight.com was named one of "Our Favorite Blogs of 2009" ("Fifty blogs we just can't get enough of") by PC Magazine.


Other interests

Silver has long been interested in fantasy baseball, especially Scoresheet Baseball. While in college he served as an expert on Scoresheet Baseball for BaseballHQ. When he took up political writing, Silver abandoned his blog, The Burrito Bracket, in which he ran a one-and-done competition among the taquerias in his Wicker Park neighborhood in Chicago.

In his spare time, Silver uses his analytical approach at the poker table where he plays semi-professionally. He is not related to Nate Silver who played quarterback for Notre Damemarker from 1902-1905.

Notes

See also



External links




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