Back in May 2011, the leading liberal poll analyst of this election cycle returned to his roots in an op-ed published in the New York Times. Nate Silver, who had parlayed a brilliant record as an independent numbers cruncher in the 2008 presidential election into a gig as the paper’s political blogger in the age of Obama, first made his name as a writer as a baseball guy and one of the leading exponents of new and advanced ways of looking at baseball statistics. On May 9, 2011, Silver penned a piece for the Times explaining why New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter was finished as a baseball star. Given that that the Yankees shortstop had an uncharacteristically mediocre 2010 season and was off to a slow start in 2011, it was hard to argue with Silver’s conclusion.
Except the very same day that Silver was planting Jeter’s tombstone in the Times, the future Hall-of-Famer got four hits, including two home runs in a game. I noted this embarrassing development in a blog post here titled, “The Perils of Punditry: That’s Why They Play the Games.” For my pains, I was subjected to a chorus of abuse via e-mail and Twitter from Silver’s fans, most of whom knew nothing about Sabermetrics. Indeed, another Times blogger noted my criticism (which was laced with respect for Silver’s work on both baseball and politics) and ironically noted, “the jury was out” on whether the results of “one game” could disprove the great Nate.
The jury was out in May, but within a few months, Silver’s fans would be dropping that prediction of his down the proverbial memory hole as Jeter put together a stellar second half of 2011 and followed it up with a brilliant 2012 in which he led the Major Leagues in base hits. That didn’t mean Silver didn’t know what he was talking about, but it was proof that a proper understanding of what has already happened didn’t necessarily give even the smartest of researchers the ability to predict the future. Fast forward to the last days of the 2012 presidential election campaign, and it looks like that day in May wasn’t the only time Silver’s crystal ball has clouded up.