January 30, 2013
Respect the 8
Even as baseball fans and those within the industry gain a deeper understanding of statistics, one number remains largely misinterpreted and misunderstood. The elite post atop the traditional 2-8 (or 20-80) scouting scale, the 8 represents the territory so far to the right on the scouting bell curve that few scouts dare to tread there. It represents only the most elite of tools and should always be respected.
As a young scout learning the ropes in the mid-2000s, I didn’t immediately understand the significance of this extreme end of the scouting scale. But gradually, my respect for it grew as I began to understand its scarcity. In 2012, I watched countless games from high school to the pros. I spoke to scouts and industry insiders at all levels of baseball. And only very rarely did I hear mention of an elite-level tool.
Given the nature of scouting, elite grades are most often placed on fastball velocity and running speed. These are the only two traditional scouting categories that offer a standardized, empirical measurement-based scale by which grades are assigned. Pump your fastball consistently in the 97-plus-mph range, and you’re going to get an 8. Get down the line to first in less than 4.0 seconds from the right side (3.9 seconds from the left), and you’re going to get an 8.
The benefit of such a scale is that the risk of tossing around bold grades evaporates. But when grading all other tools, evaluators aren’t afforded that luxury, which makes the 8 grade far more nerve-wracking to commit to.
For the past couple of years, Billy Hamilton’s speed has fascinated us all. He’s raced to first fast enough to make stopwatches explode and routine groundballs become an adventure. Hamilton deserves something better than the top of the scale. He breaks the scale.
When I discussed players with scouts last year, two others were routinely cited as having legitimately elite speed: Toronto’s D.J. Davis and Philadelphia’s Roman Quinn. Of course, burners are relatively easy to find, and there are additional players with 8 speed in the minor leagues. But none was mentioned with the frequency reserved for Hamilton, Davis, and Quinn.