Is toughness a firm enough foundation on which to base a trade?
During an exhibition game against Brooklyn in the spring of 1942, then-Boston Braves manager Casey Stengel said something that seems, in retrospect, spectacularly wrong. A 20-year-old Warren Spahn started for Stengel against the Dodgers, whom the Braves believed had been stealing their signs all spring. Stengel, hoping to take the sign-stealers by surprise, switched the signs so that the old signal for a fastball would now indicate a curve. With Pee-Wee Reese up and a runner on second supposedly staring in for the sign, Stengel told Spahn to brush Reese back with his fastball when the batter would be expecting something slower.
As a 44-year-old Spahn recounted in 1965, when both he and Stengel were with the Mets in what would be their final season:
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Part two of a several-part series on the top tools in the minors.
Scouts spend countless hours watching and evaluating players, carefully considering the appropriate grade for each tool or each pitch a player offers. Throughout the course of the season and particularly throughout the course of ranking season, grades are tossed around with near reckless abandon. This player has plus power, and that player has a below-average fastball. This player offers above-average hit projection while that player buries hitters with a potential plus-plus curveball. It's easy to talk about the quality of an individual tool, but what does it all mean in the context of other players?
In the second edition of the annual Top Tools Series, the Baseball Prospectus Prospect Staff debated long and hard over how individual players’ tools stack up against those of their counterparts. Drawing upon our own eyewitness accounts and opinions from scouts across the league, the team debated and compiled the following ratings. The end result is a product that captures the oft-missing context of how individual player tools compare and who has the best of each tool in baseball.
A sneak peek at some new material from the upcoming reprint of Kevin's classic scouting book.
Baseball Prospectus is proud to be republishing an updated version of Kevin Kerrane's classic, in-depth look at the world of scouting, Dollar Sign on the Muscle, later this month. Before the reprint's release, we'll be running a few excerpts to give you a feel for the book. The passage of all-new material below explores the parallels between how baseball and football teams scout player makeup.
What teams (and other researchers) can do to find out what makes their prospects tick.
Time to put on my other hat. Let's leave the wonderful world of sabermetrics behind for a few minutes and venture into the world of psychometrics. In one of my former lives, I conducted (neuro)psychological testing, mostly on children and adolescents, as part of my graduate school requirements. I'm proud to say that I administered the Rorschach only once. Because they made me.
A fictionalized take on one scout's day of despair and grasp at redemption.
This cup of coffee was brewed in the early 1970s. It’s my third cup and I can taste the era of its inception on my tongue; it’s vocal and disillusioned, with a bitter aftertaste from the marijuana, cigarettes, and traces of powder in its finish. Since cup number two, I’ve been staring at the peeling soft peach wallpaper that casually blankets my surroundings, pondering the psychological meanings in the selection of the color. The paper itself looks like it smells, like potpourri and human age, not the calming and delicious peaches that the hue suggests. This room is trying to manipulate me. I’d lick the walls (again) to prove my point, but the rogue counter girl is already suspicious of my presence and I doubt I have a long leash at this hour. I’m somewhat over-caffeinated and teetering on a manic episode thanks to the complimentary swill available in the lobby after the standard activities of the lobby have longed ceased. I’ve been up since 8AM for the seventh day in a row. I have to finish this report. The date is June 2005, just days before the 2005 Rule Four Amateur baseball draft. I am more of a number than a name. I work in the scouting department for a major league team. I’ve been tasked with revisionist busy work. I’ve been tasked with my own evaluation, my own execution.
(Notes) Draft Recommendations from 2001-2004 by XxXxXxX
2001: Draft Notes: Crosschecked talent; highest possible tier; must haves; five players with assorted thoughts. Please let me back in.
In the final installment of the series, there's a look at rating the speed tool, a player's makeup, and the misuse of scouting jargon.
This article is a hodgepodge, a collection of sediments left at the bottom of the wine glass (or coffee cup, if you so desire). I’ll jump from the on-the-field identification and evaluation of the speed tool, discuss my definition of makeup and how it influences the developmental process, and I’ll put a bow on the baby with a brief criticism of those that misuse scouting terminology. It’s a pastiche of subordinate thoughts, but I would be remiss to let them float in the ether. Potpourri Prospectus!
The Need for Speed Speed is the preferred tool of the baseball pest: a player that uses a specific physical attribute to affect the chemistry of the on-field action. Speed can propel a player into professional baseball, and can disguise the overall effectiveness of that player while in the throes of the developmental process. Speed is not required for major-league success, but that isn’t to say speed is detrimental to a skill set; obviously, speed is a tool that is beneficial to possess. But speed is a secondary tool, a catalytic tool, and the evaluation of that tool, while tangible and painless to scout, often clouds the painting of the prospect in question. Speed is a tool with psychotropic properties.
A discussion about the art and challenge of scouting and player evaluation with long-time scout Tom Bourque.
With over 25 years in the scouting business, Tom Bourque knows how to evaluate talent on a baseball field. Currently a professional scout for the Cubs, Bourque has also worked for the Brewers, the Expos, and the Major League Scouting Bureau. Based in the Northeast, he has been in the Cubs organization since 1995. David talked to Bourque about learning to grade tools, why batting practice is important, and the value of makeup and pretty swings.
Nate Silver weighs in with an in-depth book review of Bill Shanks' "Scout's Honor" and its look at the Atlanta Braves' organizational philosophy.
I don't need to tell you what came next. Whether it was the Reverse Curse of Bart Simpson or something else, the Braves have been the most successful franchise in baseball ever since. For my money, in fact, the Braves' performance during the past 15 seasons has been the second-most remarkable sustained run of success in baseball history, behind only the two-pronged Yankee dynasty of 1920-1964. I'm a big fan of everything that the Braves have done, and of the way that they do business.