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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

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