October 12, 2012
Bush League: Gerrit Cole and Danny Hultzen
The advances of the 21st century are truly remarkable. We can hold 10,000 songs in the palm of our hand, we can pause live television, and with the click of a mouse, we can access every major-league game played in the past few years. We can track the events on the field pitch-by-pitch and play-by-play, and PITCHf/x technology allows us to record the velocity, location, and even the movement of every pitch thrown on a big-league diamond. Advanced systems such as HITf/x and high-speed motion capture have opened the floodgates of practical measurement, yielding new revelations about the physical intricacies of the sport.
Absolutely nothing can replicate the experience of watching a player with trained eyes from the dugout or the bullpen, a vantage point that affords the opportunity to weave context into the evaluation of a player's skill set. It is exactly this nuanced perspective that compels scouts to drive thousands of miles across the back-roads of America while searching the diamonds for talent, and what brings a flood of men with notebooks and radar guns to the Arizona Fall League this time each year. However, while we can’t capture the full spectrum of the scouting experience through the prism of an LCD screen, the latest gadgets have brought us closer to bridging that gap.
The sheer volume of players that can be evaluated through the powerful lens of MLB.tv has made sofa-scouting a valid option for those with a day job yet an unquenchable thirst to study the sport. There are also advantages to video scouting, since pausing, replaying, and sharing images of a pitcher's delivery are skills that my mind has not yet mastered. Clever use of a stopwatch allows one to measure the game from thousands of miles away, and a wealth of information can be unearthed by trained eyeballs, as anyone who has had the pleasure of watching a game with Dan Evans can surely attest.
Pitchers, who offer a full view of their baseline stuff and mechanics in almost every outing, are much easier to diagnose in single-game samples than hitters, who have only so many opportunities in a given game to show off their skills. The difficulty in evaluating young pitchers based on a snapshot is the extreme level of volatility they display from one start to the next. Players who are still growing and have yet to master their deliveries demonstrate very different skills at various points of the season. Further complicating the picture is the possibility that a pitcher is following specific instructions to focus on a particular mechanic or pitch type, a caveat that further clouds one's ability to analyze from afar.
Disclaimers aside, I will attempt to diagnose the skills of pitchers with high ceilings who are climbing the minor-league ladder, using the archives at MiLB.tv to break down a couple of games on the farm. Today's subjects are the top two picks from the historic 2011 draft, the Pirates’ Gerrit Cole and the Mariners' Danny Hultzen, a duo of pitchers I examined in a piece about the Futures Game this past July.