December 7, 2012
Making the Grade, Part One
Grades on the 20-80 scouting scale are subjective by nature. Similarly, the scores that I dole out for the pitching mechanics report cards are based on what my eyes tell me. Each scout sees the player-evaluation world through a unique lens that has been shaped through experience, giving rise to an art of scouting that is rooted in personal observation. The greatest challenge in scouting is also the most fundamental aspect of the process: to convey with words what is seen with the eyes. The grades are only as powerful as the communicative value that the numbers carry, which should be sufficient motivation for an evaluator to be transparent with his process.
I laid the groundwork for the grades in my BP debut, outlining an emphasis on the kinetic chain of movement when pitching a baseball. The chain metaphor signifies the ripple-like influence of the pitching delivery, where a kink in the early links of the chain can lead to inefficiency further down the line. The order of operations is critical within the kinetic chain, and proper sequencing is necessary for peak efficiency, with timing as the key ingredient of the pitching motion.
While the grades are subjective, the evaluations have a quantitative basis, thanks to years spent analyzing motion-analysis data at the National Pitching Association. State-of-the-art technology allowed for the precise measurement of the physical components that make up the grades—I analyzed thousands of pitches, both numerically and visually, thanks to high-speed cameras and software that we specifically designed to evaluate pitchers. My everyday job was essentially a baseball boot camp for pitcher analysis.
A video-analysis background has come in handy in the era of MLB.tv and GIFs, and I look forward to a day when the game-tracking tools of f/x technology enable the quantification of these events on the field. In the meantime, we will have to lean on a bit of educated guesswork. Some of the following descriptions will be a review for those readers with an advanced degree in Pitchology, though I hope that some player examples representing individual grades will enlighten our sofa-scouts in training. Keep in mind that individual 20-grades are very rare among the major-league population of pitchers, as few players can survive at the highest level with such a glaring mechanical inefficiency.
With due respect to the kinetic chain, let's tackle the grades according to sequence.