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A Very Clever Mailbag: Using 20 Year Old AI To Answer Your Pirates Questions

Back in April, TPOP’s Tiger Rowan wrote a post called “Luck Be a Draft Pick Tonight.” In it, he “predicted” the Steelers’ draft using luck based events, like flipping a coin, consulting a Magic 8 ball, etc.. It’s a cute idea, and he accurately predicted that James Conner would be a Steeler. He did better than Mel Kiper Jr. did for his Steelers mock draft. Let’s all take a moment to chuckle to ourselves about that.

Hehehe.

I love the post. More importantly, I hate that I didn’t come up with it first. So like any good writer, I thought night and day of a way to rip it off, and that’s how I found an old friend: Cleverbot.

Cleverbot is a fairly outdated AI algorithm that can have text conversations with humans. If you ever watched the movie “Her,” Cleverbot was the inspiration for director/writer Spike Jonze. It came out in 1997, so it’s pretty dumbed down compared to the AI of today. If Siri and an Apple II had a baby, and that baby drank absinthe, it would be about as smart as Cleverbot. Here’s a quick conversation I had with it earlier.

So close.

A couple friends and I in high school used to pick on the poor program, but every once in awhile we’d see if we could actually have a conversation with it. They rarely got too far, but once in a blue moon it clicks and you can rattle off six or seven phrases together.

So I decided to push my luck and see if I could have conversations with the free, decades old app about the Pirates. We had a couple people send in requests for topics for a mailbag, so I will give a quick answer, and then I’ll ask Cleverbot a couple times to see what it thinks. As soon as I get a straight answer from it, I stop the questioning.

So let’s see what happens.

I’m cheating a little for this one since this was a request before the mailbag was announced, but hey, I’m the man of the people.

As a whole, the Pirates’ rotation is right down the middle in terms of ERA (4.45, 14th in baseball) and fWAR (3.7, 15th in baseball). It’s hard to compare every four or five starter to one another because there is so much fluctuation between injuries, suspensions and players being promoted or demoted. Plus the order of starters is up for debate. Once Jameson Taillon returns, I think the rotation would go 1. Nova 2. Taillon 3. Cole 4. Glasnow 5. Kuhl. I’m sure plenty disagree.

Assuming Nova is the “ace,” compared to other team’s individual stat leaders, he is 7th in fWAR (1.8), 13th in ERA (2.92) and 2nd in IP (77). So I would say Nova is among the top 10 best “aces” in baseball. Perhaps pushing the top five. That doesn’t mean he’s a top 10 starter overall, just that he’s having a top 10 year.

But what does Cleverbot think?

It took only three attempts to get a halfway backwards answer! So in answer to your question, @Offseasonblist, the Pirates rotation as a whole is holding up adequately to the rest of the league and I think Nova is having a great year. Cleverbot used to think  Nova was an ace too, but not anymore. The reason for the decline appears to be because it thought I was a fun girl who didn’t know what Whale Wars is. That’s baseball for ya.

If you asked me this in the middle of May, I would have said Gregory Polanco, but he has caught fire lately despite a pair of injuries. That’s why I think you have to approach this question with caution. McCutchen looked bad all year and that’s why he was dropped. Is it because of the drop in the order or was he just due? He said he liked getting a chance to get acclimated to game speed instead of always batting in the first after his walk-off homer Monday, but you have to wonder if that’s what he really feels or if he is just trying to say the right thing.

I think the obvious answer right now would be Adam Frazier. Frazier is always going to rely on the the BABIP gods, but it seems like he has not strung together a lot of quality at-bats in the last week or so. I would flip-flop him and Jordy Mercer for a couple games since Mercer is the hottest hitter on the team.

And if I could answer the same question for pitchers, I think Daniel Hudson should continue to find a groove in low leverage situations for the time being.

And the cute little idea I had takes a very dark turn at the suggestion of cutting off toes. After 45 minutes of me fighting with Cleverbot, we finally came to the agreement that Frazier should bat lower in the lineup for now and Hudson is not currently a closer option. On a somewhat related note, I’m getting mixed signals on whether or not Cleverbot is flirting with me.

I think the Marte in center experiment is over. Andrew McCutchen has not played particularly well up the middle (he had -9 DRS in his first 317 innings, which is a far worse pace than even 2016), but I think he is going to play there until he is dealt at the deadline. At that point it would be Austin Meadows’ job. Marte didn’t show anything to prove he was capable of playing center every day, so I think the Pirates would be better off giving the job to the guy with the younger legs.

It took me 45 minutes to get a straight answer for the lineup, but Cleverbot knows who/what should play center field. Apparently it used to play, except it didn’t. Dealing with the pressure of 88,124 people talking is probably nothing compared to 30,000 screaming fans, so I think it’s mentally prepared. Let’s call Huntington up and make a deal. I have a good feeling about this.

So what did we learn from this exercise? Baseball wise, practically nothing. I guess the big takeaway is that AI does NOT age well. What a shock. And if a computer program is flirting with you, just hope it has Scarlet Johansson’s voice and not Cleverbot’s bloodlust.

Thanks for the questions! See you next time Tiger has a great idea I want to steal!

About Alex Stumpf (47 Articles)
Alex is a Pirates and Duquesne basketball contributor to The Point of Pittsburgh. He graduated from Point Park University with a degree in Journalism and Mass Comm. and a minor in English in 2014. Everything can be explained with numbers. If you want to keep up to date on both teams or have a story idea, you can follow or reach him @AlexJStumpf.
Contact: Twitter

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