Over the next two weeks I will be looking at the differences between the scouting side of baseball evaluation and the statistical side of baseball evaluation. There aren’t really organizations out there anymore who are only doing one or the other. While there are some teams who seem to lean more to one side of the spectrum than the other, every team is now mixing both sides in their front office.

Today we are going to take a look at the scouting side of things and where it can help a team that statistical analysis simply can’t. Obviously every team is using the scouting stuff in the draft. Using stats piled up against a large group of players from either high school or college that will never play professional baseball doesn’t do any good at all. Scouting plays a huge role here, but every team works this way.

The same thing applies in the minor leagues. Numbers can tell us some things, but scouting at the minor league level is generally more important than stats because of the age of players and the learning curve that is much greater for minor leaguers due to their young age. Being able to see that a guy is going to one day hit for power even though he’s not hitting for it right now, or seeing that the guy throwing 88-90 MPH has it in him to throw 95 MPH is something that the scouting side of things has a huge advantage on.

Projection with scouting is only one benefit that the stats can’t handle or do. Another big thing that scouting can give you that stats can’t is to help identify why a player is struggling and how to improve the weaknesses in their game. Is a pitcher tipping his pitches? Can changing the grip on his XYZ pitch make it better? Is hitter ABC not getting his foot down in time and causing his swing to be “all arms” and he’s not able to hit the ball with authority because of it? Scouting can help find these issues out and coaches can try to correct the problems and improve the players abilities on the field.

Scouting also can play a significant role in identifying players who have weaknesses they aren’t likely to overcome that may not show up in the statlines until they reach the big leagues. Perhaps a player can feast on certain kinds of pitchers in the minor leagues and “pad” their stats, but they have a real problem facing pitchers who can locate their offspeed stuff or they lack bat speed to hit 95+ without cheating on the fastball. Perhaps a pitcher has a lot of success getting minor league hitters to chase pitches out of the zone but struggles to throw pitches in the zone. That won’t work in the big leagues but it’s not going to show up in the stats at the minor league level.

One area where scouting can show up is in identifying players from other organizations to try to acquire via free agency or trade. While it doesn’t happen often, every now and again a team will see something in a player like Jumbo Diaz and take a chance and help him make the changes to go from a career minor leaguer to a quality Major Leaguer. Scouting can be vital in trades when multiple players are involved. Acquiring the right guys as “deal sweeteners” can make or break a deal and sometimes it is those throw in guys that wind up being the big part of the trade down the line.

Scouting is more about seeing what a player can do in the future or what they are truly capable of rather than what they have done. It can help identify problem areas in a players game and it can help improve those areas. Likewise it can help teams identify opponents weaknesses and help exploit them. Scouting is vital in drafting and developing young talent. Scouting can also help a team choose which players to hold onto from their farm system and which ones to try and move while they have value and haven’t been exposed. Scouting does a lot of things that studying the stats, no matter which ones they are (including the ones that the big league teams have that they don’t let the public see) simply can’t do.

Be sure to check back where we will look at how the statistical analysis can help a Major League operation in ways that traditional scouting can’t.

21 Responses

  1. Thegaffer

    Very interested to hear your analysis. However, Do you feel that scouts eyes can lie to them. Drew Stubbs is an example of a guy who looks like a ballplayer, enough to draft at 8 overall. But in college he struck out 33 percent of the time and hit for a low average with mediocre HR totals, which any stats person can see. Guess what, he has done that ever since. Doesn,t a scout have to use some stats as a basis for future performance?

    • Doug Gray

      Drew Stubbs went 8th overall in the draft in 2006. He’s been the 6th most valuable player taken in the 1st round from that year.

      Stubbs turned out exactly like they thought. Great defense, outstanding base runner, hits just enough. The Reds probably thought they could get a little more overall out of him, and for a period there, they did. He’s a scouting success story. The stats would have told you there’s no way he is going to do enough to be a big leaguer of value, but he has been.

    • RedMountain

      My memory was that Stubbs hit over 300 in college with a fair amount of HR. but he did strike out a lot. There are some dangers in paying attention to hitting stats on college players who used aluminum bats. The Reds got a much better gauge on Philip Ervin because he led the Cape Cod League in hitting. They only use wooden bats in that summer league.

  2. ohiojimw

    I think this was a very good post. It will be interesting to read part 2 where I hope you will address the convergence of scouting “data” and statistical analysis.

    Just on the scouting side, is there things at the AAA level that trends to tip a 4A guy from a guy who performs at a slightly lower statistical level in AAA but eventually makes it to at least a multi season journeyman level in the majors?

    Going back a ways, I guess I still can’t help but wonder how Brandon Larsen could have been MiLB player of the year multiple times and such a world beater but flamed out so badly in the majors.

    Or, from this year, when Neftali Soto bombs as bench player at the MLB level but goes down twice and tears it up as an every player in AAA, how do the Reds decide to give up on him versus trying to package him for some value over the winter when they could well be looking to deal and need guys with potential as possible sweeteners or finishing pieces in bigger deals.

    • Doug Gray

      No worries, I will absolutely be talking about “scouting data” from Pitch F/X, hit location data and things like that.

      Larson is a perfect example of a guy I discussed who can crush certain pitches in the minors but has very little chance to hit in the big leagues. Can hit fastball. Can’t hit ball that moves slowly and breaks. Of course, the stats told us that Larson probably wasn’t going to make it too. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was TERRIBLE for the better part of his career. He did clean it up late when he finally started hitting AAA pitching in his mid-20’s. but still.

      With Soto, I still think it’s the fact that he, much like Donald Lutz, never saw anything remotely close to real playing time. Neither guy has ever been given starts on back-to-back days. Both guys often sat for a week at a time without seeing live pitching. Unfortunately with how the Reds used him, he wouldn’t have had hardly any trade value and wouldn’t have been anything more than a toss in for someone in a trade. While that does have some value, it’s probably not much.

      • ohiojimw

        In line with what you said, in my mind when they gave up on Soto was when they didn’t bring him up in September and start writing his name on the lineup card at 1B everyday, especially given how he was raking at AAA right up to the end of the season there. Playing him in the MLB during September would have been a chance to develop the value at essentially no cost if he flopped.

      • lwblogger2

        I agree. I thought it was a pretty clear indication of what the organization felt about Soto. If I were him, and assuming they didn’t set him down and explain exactly what they were doing and why, I would be looking for a way out of the organization. It would be pretty clear to me as a player at that point that I wasn’t in the team’s future MLB plans. I just don’t get it. You put time and effort into a guy and he’s reaching the age where you need to see what you have, and you don’t bring him up and play him in September, out of the race, and with an expanded roster.

  3. Art Wayne Austin

    I don’t like picking on Jay Bruce but reluctantly will. He has a trademark uppercut to generate power but leaves him vulnerable to a heater up on the corners. He cut down on his uppercut and successfully went to left field against the shift in ’13 but lost his way in “14. Wouldn’t he more effective by minimizing his uppercut, hit the ball where’s it’s pitched? I also like it when he battles the pitcher by hitting pitches on the corner instead of fouling them off. He seems to give up on pitches on the outside corner, graciously walks back to dugout after striking out. I know it’s hard on the nerves to fight for the foul but everyone would cheer him on as a team player and leader.

    • Doug Gray

      The trade off in strikeouts is for the power. In every season of his career that trade off has been worth it except for in 2014 when he had a knee injury.

  4. Steve Schoenbaechler

    I didn’t read all the posts. But, yes, there is definitely a difference. What the scouting will also tell is what a player will do in given situations. Again, still based on what he actually does, just like all stats. However, once the book is out there, the teams will take advantage of it.

    For instance, no one needed any numbers to see that the Reds were going to try take an extra base whenever they could. Thus, they got thrown out a lot. The actual numbers? I wouldn’t need them. I would know just to tell my guys to be aware of that.

    Not that numbers aren’t important. They just don’t tell things like strategy, experience, team leadership, player’s favorites (a player may be statistically better in the 1 hole than the 8 hole, but he may favor the 8 hole), etc. I would definitely listen to the numbers. However, you have to combine that with some strategy, knowledge of the game, etc. After all, why was Gomes sought by the Red Sox after we let him go? The Red Sox felt they needed a good clubhouse guy. And, Gomes was that; numbers wouldn’t show that.

    • Doug Gray

      My opinion on chemistry is pretty in line with that of Jim Leyland…. it has nothing at all to do with leadership or players liking each other.

      Direct quote here:
      “Take all that clubhouse [stuff] and all that, throw it out the window.
      Every writer in the country has been writing about that [nonsense] for
      years. Chemistry don’t mean [anything]. He’s up here because he’s good.
      That don’t mean [a hill of beans]. They got good chemistry because their
      team is improved, they got a real good team, they got guys knocking in
      runs, they got a catcher hitting .336, they got a phenom pitcher they
      just brought up. That’s why they’re happy.”

      People often get far too worked up about that kind of stuff in my opinion. In baseball, 99.5% of plays are isolated between the pitcher and hitter or the hitter and the fielder. They don’t require someone to pass them the ball or block for them or set a pick. Your teammates aren’t generally relying on you for you to do your job. Sure, fielders have to throw the ball to first or second and have you catch it, but you aren’t getting on a high school team without that skill. Is a guy going to play better because he is happy? I have no clue, but I can’t figure out why being happy would make you better at differentiating pitches and swinging the bat at them or running down a batted ball and catching it.

      • Steve Schoenbaechler

        A “clubhouse guy” or “leader” doesn’t always mean a player is “happy”. It could be that. Or, it could be that it means when a player is down, that player steps up and looks to try to cheer that guy up. Or, it could mean when a player is slacking during practices, the leader could step in and push that player harder. Like when Schumacher went into the clubhouse to get on someone’s case for not taking batting practice when the team was in an offensive funk. Stuff like this can mean a lot to a team. Oh, it’s not the first thing to consider, but it can definitely be an important item to consider. And, the numbers would never show that.

      • RedMountain

        The A’s won several WS with a team that hated each other.

      • Doug Gray

        I get your point, but I guess I would ask: Isn’t that what we pay managers millions of dollars for?

      • Steve Schoenbaechler

        Yes. But, especially when you have a manager like Baker who can’t do that, it always helps to have players who can do it, also.

  5. wvredlegs

    Oh, we’ve come a long way from the Marge Schott days regarding scouting. Schott’s view on scouts, “All they do is sit around and watch ball games.”
    That set the stage for the late 90’s and early 2000’s for the Reds. And the firing of manager Davey Johnson after the 1995 season.

    • RedMountain

      I believe there was a question about Johnson’s marital status, i.e. he had a live in girlfriend who he was not married to at the time. Marge was very traditional and old fashioned.

      • pinson343

        She also thought Ray Knight would be a good manager, because he had an impressive wife.

  6. chezpayton

    Stats and scouting mean nothing. The team that wins the World Series is always the team that has a wonderful bearded backstop(Corky Miller), a goggled ex-juicer at the back end of the bullpen(Eric Gagne), a sturdy starter with a lion’s mane of golden locks(Bronson Arroyo), and last but not least a figure that spent the better part of the past 5 years in the Reds’ dugout, not dusty baker, just his toothpick.

  7. pinson343

    Excellent, excellent post. Very straightforward and yet I learned a lot of new things. Looking forward to the next in the series. I’ll real interested in what Doug has to say related to analysis-based projections vs. past and current performance.