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June 24, 2014

Baseball Therapy

Is it Really Harder to Scout in New England?

by Russell A. Carleton


The Cape Cod League is the premier summer baseball league for college players. A good summer on The Cape might just make you a million dollars at draft time. I’m told there’s also a local professional team in the New England area that has had some recent success too, so good for them. And yet, in scouting circles, New England is seen as something of a desert wasteland. The standard explanation is that sure, there are athletes good enough to play professional baseball in New England. The problem is that players in Stars Hollow, Connecticut just don’t get the reps that they do in Georgia, because there’s a lot more baseball weather (read: time that it isn’t snowing) in the South.

The geography of where baseball players come from is a fascinating topic (and makes for a great map!) Matt Swartz recently noted that counties with warmer weather (and bigger incomes) were more likely to produce major leaguers. New England actually turns out rather well on the income distribution, with Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire ranking fourth, fifth, and sixth, respectively, among the 50 states in median income, so it must be the cold and snow that’s holding the region back from producing MLB talent. Or is it?

Is it really that hard to scout in New England? A few weeks ago, I studied how well teams were doing when it came to properly evaluating prospects for the MLB draft. The answer was that teams weren’t doing as well as we might think. The links between signing bonuses and draft positions and basic outcomes like whether the draftee made it to the majors or produced five career WAR were actually only moderate. I choose to interpret that as “Prospecting is hard” rather than “Teams are doing a bad job.” But I got to wondering whether New England’s reputation is actually well-earned. Do teams have a harder time scouting cold climes than warmer ones? Is there something else at work here?

Warning! Gory Mathematical Details Ahead!
Similar to the method I used in my previous article, I used a database of signing bonuses obtained here and career WAR stats (to date) from Baseball Reference. I studied the results of the first 10 rounds of the drafts from 2003-2008. I standardized all bonuses to represent the percentage of that year’s league-wide bonus spending that the player got. If the league spent $100 million and the player got $3 million of that, his standardized bonus was three percent. I coded players for meeting a couple of thresholds: appearing in a major league game and collecting five career WAR. (I tried a few other cutoffs, and the results generally came out the same.)

I ran a couple of different analyses. In one, I ran a correlation between a player’s standardized bonus and his career WAR total (to date) among those who had made it to MLB. I also ran a logistic regression predicting whether he met the two other milestones, with signing bonus as a predictor. In my previous work, I used signing bonus as a proxy for how highly a team thought of a player. I found that the correlation was stronger for some categories (first-round picks, college players) than others (anything after the first round, high school players). In theory, a high correlation shows that teams (in general) are good at assessing players. Low correlations mean that teams are paying money and have no idea what they’re getting for it. That could work out in their favor (getting a really good player for a $10k bonus) or against them (Brien Taylor), but it’s the sign of an inefficient market.

This time, I split things up geographically and focused on where draftees were from. Whether it was from high school or college, Baseball Reference kindly provided the state in which the player’s school was located. This is convenient because teams often assign scouts to specific states or, depending on the size of the state and how baseball-rich the area is, clusters of states. If it’s true that New England is harder to scout because the weather is worse and the competition is more uneven, then we should see teams guessing more on players from New England than from other areas, like the all-baseball, all-the-time state of Florida.

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Related Content:  Draft,  Prospects,  Scouting,  New England

17 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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R.A.Wagman

I am siding with Skorupa's theory, using Tyler Beede as my New England prototype.
Also, for the sake of draft completeness, what about draftees from Canada or Puerto Rico?

Jun 24, 2014 06:14 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

I left out Alaska and Hawaii too. It was all about sample size.

Jun 24, 2014 07:08 AM
 
Bryan Cole

RIP, Rocco Baldelli.

I think college baseball might be the answer: the Midwest gets well-represented because scouts watch the Big Ten closely, but there are only two big programs in New England (UConn and BC).

I also think there's a population effect you've missed, especially since the other region that significantly underperformed (Mountain West) has a population even lower than New England's.

Jun 24, 2014 06:54 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

The statistician in me keeps looking at (n = 31) and having that same thought.

There are probably a lot of New England Ex-Patriots (*rimshot*) out there in college at NC State and Clemson. Maybe I should go back to see what happens by place of birth.

Jun 24, 2014 07:36 AM
 
Bryan Cole

Having attended a "big baseball school," I always thought college baseball recruiting was more regional. You really think there's a ton of MA/CT kids in the Carolinas?

Jun 24, 2014 12:03 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

I haven't run the numbers... it wouldn't have to be a lot. Just enough to affect an already small sample.

Jun 24, 2014 12:11 PM
 
BP staff member Nick Faleris
BP staff

Anecdotal, but Vandy is in the CWS finals right now and has four Massachusetts prep products on their roster (Beede, Wiseman, Ravenelle, and Bowden).

I agree college recruiting is largely regional, but the elite products that do come out of New England are all afforded the opportunity to play at warm weather schools. The second and third tier players that don't blossom until later on are much more likely to wind up at regional colleges.

Jun 24, 2014 12:18 PM
 
BP staff member Nick Faleris
BP staff

Note, yeah yeah Vandy isn't "warm weather"...

Jun 24, 2014 12:19 PM
 
jfranco77

Well I thought this would help but it really doesn't.

http://www.higheredinfo.org/dbrowser/?year=2004&level=nation&mode=data&state=0&submeasure=63

College-Going Rates of High School Graduates - Directly from High School

Highest states: NY (ok, makes sense), SD (what?), SC, ND (what?), MN.

CT and MA are pretty high but VT and NH really aren't.

Jun 24, 2014 08:08 AM
rating: 1
 
Shawnykid23

Made me wonder if arm injuries are less prevalent in pitchers from the Northeast due to less baseball weather and presumably less throwing at a young age?

Jun 24, 2014 08:08 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Nick Faleris
BP staff

I think you are seeing a combination of factors (generally speaking):

1. Players that are good college prospects but have not developed enough for the pro game due to lack of reps, so:

A. They go to a quality college program (south/west) and are drafted there two to four years later, or

B. They require an above-slot (or more than their profile would require based on risk/upside) in order to get them to sign, skewing the valuation of the player than the scouting would otherwise indicate

This effect is further skewed during the years in which the data was compiled, as teams were then able to spend without limit, so you were more likely to see a team roll the dice and give $700K to a projectable New England high schooler that was a comparative long shot when lined up with a $700K second rounder from Southern California. It will be interesting to see what the numbers look like in several years now that teams are forced to make more difficult decisions when it comes to handing out signing bonuses.

A smaller point -- I think the "value" you are seeing in areas like Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Boston, etc. is probably in part skewed by the fact that, as a general matter, inner-city kids as a grouping tend to be more willing to sign for slot or below and get started with their pro careers, as compared to smaller private school kids in New England (for the various reasons noted in the article). That's of course a generalization, but I do believe it has an effect on the numbers when we are talking about the money doled out to these kids once drafted.

Jun 24, 2014 08:54 AM
 
steve.k

Who from Stars Hollow will produce a ballplayer??? Taylor? Kirk?? Maybe Luke. Regardless, you still have Mo Vaughan and Carlton Fisk as genuine New Englander stars.

Jun 24, 2014 09:54 AM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Russell A. Carleton
BP staff

Scott Patterson was a real-life AAA pitcher in the Braves and Yankees system before taking up acting. Thankfully someone got the Gilmore Girls reference!

Jun 24, 2014 10:24 AM
 
nyyfaninlaaland

Dovetailing off Nick's comments is the impact of draft slotting (both the current formal and prior "recommended")on the round / bonus positioning and bonus requirements of prospects with higher leverage ("I can just ... go to college", or less often "...come back for my Junior year in college") which overall has and will continue to skew bonus $'s towards HS players.

You mentioned your prior article found less efficiency with HS players which may well be an artifact of this structural impact (though you may have tried to correct for such in the prior article - I forget).

This does suggest that where drafted college players played in HS has the potential to smooth out some of the variances - also mentioned by both you and Nick.

Jun 24, 2014 10:18 AM
rating: 0
 
yankeesuck

Want to jump in here from a local New England perspective. To clarify I grew up playing baseball in Western Mass, and played against people who ended up being drafted. First, growing up as a kid in Mass, you are constantly told that MLB ball players do not come from Mass, due to them not getting as many reps as kids down south. The most telling stat was that New England was the only area with no one drafted from 2003-2008 who put up more than five WAR. That has been a trend that is very well understood in the area. It has been a long time since a great baseball player has come from Mass, and it doesn't take much for the whole state to notice. (heck Lou Merloni made a career in Boston by being the local kid who made it). That alone makes me believe that most New England players just aren't at the same skill set as those from outside areas.

I don't think most of the elite high school talent is being swallowed up by outside colleges. From my experience in Western Mass, most of the elite high school talent went on to college programs in New England, followed by Tr-State.

After growing up in that baseball world, and watching my peers move on, I have come to believe that players from New England are flat just not as good as other areas. I think this is due to a lack of reps, and proper training in the area. While this is speculative, one thing you may want to research would be the quality of coaches for high school and prep leagues, as that could be another variable to consider.

Jun 24, 2014 10:41 AM
rating: 0
 
Stuart Wallace

Can we name this the Jason Bere Syndrome? Perhaps the Mike Bordick Conundrum?

I would be interested to see if adding the choice of school adds any additional perspective beyond conference. I know many of the NE schools will spend the first month of their season traveling the South in preparation for their conference season and to thaw out -- I wonder if those players end up benefiting not only from the stereotypically better competition seen in warmer climes, but also from the extra scouting eyes laid upon them in the process.

As a guy who spent some of his teenage years in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan -- hooray for northern arms!

Jun 24, 2014 15:41 PM
rating: 0
 
jssharo

Other factors to consider:

- Maybe youth baseball in New England is not as well developed as elsewhere?
- New England is among the most suburbanized regions in the country. Anecdotally it seems a disproportionate number of ballplayers come from small towns.
- Might there be an ethnic component? Aren't as many Blacks or Hispanics proportionately up there as in other parts of the country.

One could also speculate that growing up a Red Sox fan (as most of these kids do) messes up your mind (I'm saying that as a Bosox fan since 1968...)

Jun 24, 2014 16:44 PM
rating: 2
 
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