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Introducing the Oliverator version 1.0

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Or, a treatise on arguing about baseball (and other stuff) on the internet

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While they were thus praying to the great Trout, Hector went to the fair clubhouse of Gonzalus, which was built for him by the foremost builders in the land for the Olympic Games. They had built him his house, clubhouse, and giant cow statue. Here Hector entered, with a bat 2.3 cubits long in his hand; the finished ash gleamed in front of him, and was gripped by his hand over a ring of gold. He found Gonzalus within the house, busied about a honey-baked ham, his hats-to-be-tipped, and handling his lineup card; there, too, sat the Mac Dowell with his pitchers, setting them their several tasks; and as Hector saw him he rebuked him with words of scorn. "Skip," said he, "you do ill to nurse this rancour; the hitters perish batting round this our stadium; you would yourself chide one whom you saw shirking his part in the lineup. Up then, or ere long the stands will be bereft of viewers."

The Grilliad, Book VI

Hello, friends. Today I'm going to present something that, to my knowledge, has never been done on Talking Chop. But before I do that, I want to take a few paragraphs to talk about why I put together what I did, and how we should aspire to argue on the internet.

I think, in some ways, the problem stems from a need for brevity that is inherent in the form: the succinct argument and the quippy statement can reign supreme. But I think that we can all find better, more common ground, and have more productive discussions if we aim for something different. But wait, let me take a step back.

We all know what facts are. They're available on a multitude of sites, and they mostly describe what already happened. Everything else, including what is likely to happen, what you think may happen, and what you would like to happen are something else. A substantial chunk (for me, anyway) of the beauty of baseball is the interaction between those four things: it's like a giant bubbling natural experiment with tons of naturally-tracked data, all occurring again and again, day after day and season after season.

One of the issues this poses for the glorious activity of "talking about baseball on the internet" is that the desire for brevity can sometimes override the need to be clear about where we're coming from and what we're saying. This was, of course, called into the limelight with the reactions to the Olivera trade. To put it simply, the trade can be viewed as an acquisition of a good hitter while trading away a risky pitcher and a prospect whose skills will not effectively translate to the major league level, or an overpay for an already-aging unknown for a quality hurler and a top prospect. And those are just semi-extremes, there's a whole bunch of room in the middle of those viewpoints as well. The problem, I think, is not that opinions differ: life, and talking about baseball on the internet, would be boring if everyone agreed. The problem is more that we don't effectively communicate why we think things (or this trade in particular) are good or bad, because we don't frontload our assumptions or a priori beliefs (aka, our "priors") into the statements we make.

Now, I'm under no impression that I'm going to change all that in one post, or pretty much ever. But I think I can do something to help. So to that end, I present...

The Oliverator (version 1.0, for now)

The Oliverator is a simple spreadsheet tool that attempts to capture the surplus value generated by the moving pieces in the Alex Wood-Jose Peraza-bullpen pieces-Hector Olivera-other stuff trade. It builds on a bunch of work done both on TC and elsewhere for player and contract valuation, to which I owe special thanks to Xiansheng's series of fanposts on the offseason moves as well as BravesRays' foray into similar territory. While their work is likely analytically superior in the assumptions it makes, I want to take a different tack. Rather, I want the Oliverator to enable anyone to express their feelings about the Olivera trade by putting their priors on paper, by which I mean, into a spreadsheet.

To that end, here's what you can do:

  • Edit the green cells on the first ("Summary") sheet to put in your assumptions or feelings about player performance for the moving pieces going forward. In some cases, this is simple a production level (WAR terms) going forward; in other cases, I've thrown in a few abstract concepts, like whether Jose Peraza experiences (production-related) growing pains before hitting his productive peak.
  • Go into the second sheet and straight-out alter the year-by-year production levels for each player. This isn't necessary but you may feel you want the extra control. It's not worth it to edit the stuff that isn't in green; the contract stuff is largely immutable, as are the team control schedules.
  • The Summary sheet provides a tabular output relating to the trade's overall valuation. It also includes a very basic line chart that shows where the break-even level of the trade is (i.e., where it is a fair trade in surplus value terms for both teams) based on an assumed level of Olivera's annual production going forward. This chart uses the remaining inputs you select, but it ignores any Olivera-specific inputs or changes because the point is to plot Olivera's performance relative to break-even-ness directly.
  • The big ol' Reset button allows you to mess with everything, including irreparably damaging formulas on the second sheet, and get back a clean version of the file without closing and re-opening it. For convenience. (Note that the reset button is not available in the embedded version because of the security settings. Le sigh. You'll have to download it.)
You can likely use the embedded version, but let me know if it's not working. Again, it doesn't have the reset capability, but I guess you can reload the page. You can also just download or open a full-screen version from the embedded version (bottom right-hand corner). Additionally, you can download a version here, though you'll need to open it yourself on your own computer to edit it (to avoid people constantly changing the parameters on the live version). Alternately, I can figure out some other way to get it to you if you want to mess with it, though hopefully these all should work.

It's my hope that using this, we can discuss the Olivera trade with our priors hanging out. Think it was a good trade? Explain why by posting screenshots of your relevant inputs and outputs. Think it was the worst trade ever? You have the power to change the parameters you want to argue your case. By being transparent about what we're assuming when we make judgments on the quality of a given move, we can move the conversation towards, "This is bad and if you like it you should feel bad," to "I think this is bad because I assume the set of [x/y/z] will be true going forward." That way, criticisms can shift from attacks of wholesale opinions to questioning of assumptions, which might help folks either move towards consensus or crystallize exactly why their opinions differ from those of others.

With that said, I do want to say that the wrong way to use this would be to start with a predetermined notion ("this trade sucks") and juke the numbers to make the outputs reflect that. Sure, you certainly could do that. But I hope you don't, and you first enter what you believe will happen with each component piece, and only then look at the overall impact on the Braves' side of the ledger. (Or the Dodgers' side, I guess, if you're coming here from True Blue LA or something.) Again, you can change most things, including the discount rate to be used, and I encourage you to do so. Just don't do something like assume Peraza will be an 8 WAR player going forward.

There's a bunch of errata about the Oliverator that I'm happy to respond to in the comments that you'll probably notice. As a conservatism, I'm assuming that Bird and the #35 pick accrue value immediately-ish (as in, their careers start at the big league level). This helps the Braves' side of the ledger on purpose, as I imagine most people will want to see what Olivera will have to put up to justify his value in this trade; doing so allows for the Olivera figure to be a true "at least" figure - a lower bound of sorts. If you have questions, just ask. But most importantly, post your results and your assumptions - you can take screenshots, describe them, whatever. We can crowdsource an opinion in terms of net wins. I'm curious to see where you all end up. (For the record, the default numbers are somewhere close to my default assumptions. I'm not fully decided on a few things, but I don't think it strongly misrepresents my case to say that I see this as around a punt of around three surplus value wins for the Braves, with Wood out-valuing Olivera over his team control years. I'd gladly take my priors being wrong, though.)