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.