Sabermetrics vs. scouting. Advanced statistics vs. player development. DRA vs. plus-plus fastball. The geeks vs. the dumb jocks.
These are the perceived battles of the sabermetric and scouting communities. You’ve likely seen “statistic-friendly” versions of games on television, ones that show Statcast and various metrics that teams have been employing for quite some time. These of course lead to the various Twitter fights about whether or not they’re necessary, and generally leads to me logging off social media for an hour or eight.
Of course—and you should be picking up a pattern by now—this got me to thinking. Is there a great rift between the sabermetric and scouting communities? To help answer that, I asked three long-time scouts who have been with organizations long before the advanced-stat uprising how—if at all—it has changed the way they scout games, whether or not they believe there’s a battle between the two lines of thinking, and what stats they like to “use” when scouting. Their answers may surprise you.
AL Central Scout
How it’s changed: “It would be foolish to say that it hasn’t changed anything, but the actual changes of how we go about scouting has probably been overstated in my experience, anyway. We’re still filing the same reports that are giving the 20-80 grades and offering the same thoughts on projection and body type, so in that way things haven’t changed at all."
“What has changed though is the way those profiles are processed, and really that’s above my pay grade, but it’s not like when I first started where if you saw a guy who had a plus-hit and plus-power tool, he was basically a guarantee to get a high mark in the organization or would become a first-round pick. It’s sort of frustrating because as a scout you have to have a lot of confidence in your eye, and basically the advanced sabermetric stuff is saying that your eye isn’t enough anymore. I guess that was always true, but it’s a lot more on display now."
Is there a battle? “Not to me, there isn’t. We do very different things, but we’re all working towards the same goal. Those who can’t be open-minded get shown the door, that’s what I’ve found, anyway.”
Your favorite advanced statistic: “I have no idea how to calculate it, but WAR is pretty neat. Even if the statistic is flawed, the fact that you can get a number like that to prove how valuable player is over Joe Somebody is pretty amazing.”
AL West Scout
How it’s changed: “It hasn’t played even a little bit of an effect on what I do, and there’s no reason why it should. My job is to find and evaluate players for [the team I scout for]. It’s the front office’s job to figure out what of these players fit in the organization. In my years of doing this, I’ve found that if they can play, they can play; if they can’t, they can’t. All those advanced statistics are doing is painting a broad picture of the good or bad players, but they’re not things that get by scouts. We make mistakes here and there, but it’s not because of WAR or wOBA or any of that stuff, it’s because baseball is hard sport to evaluate. I’m still not sure if these new stats make it any easier, some of them seem awfully convoluted.”
Is there a battle? “I wouldn’t call it a battle, but sometimes I think those two sides butt heads. They’re all on the same team but depending on the GM, one side is going to be heard more often than not. When it’s not your side, that’s not a lot of fun.”
Your favorite advanced statistic: “I don’t have one, and I don’t mean to sound like an out of touch guy because I do respect the work these guys do, and I hate when I hear people call them nerds or geeks. If you want to call me old school though, you can. I believe good baseball teams win games with good baseball players. Maybe that’s oversimplifying those things, but I’m comfortable with how I feel.
NL Central Scout
How it’s changed: “It’s sort of hard to explain, but really what has changed is maybe how we process information. For instance, when I watch a young man now and I see him watch a pitch all the way into the zone, or I see him lay off pitches that are off the plate I used to think how it bodes well for his tool, now I think about how it can help his on-base percentage. Whenever they are available I’ll look at things like BABIP, or the K/9 before the game, and I have that information in the back of my head while I’m filing my report or evaluating.”
“The big difference for me now is that I’m much more aware of this information than I was before websites like Baseball Prospectus and the others came along and promoted them so much more, even including the Bill James stuff it just wasn’t talked about as much. But my job is not to come up with these stats or figure out how they work, my job is to be as educated as possible as to what they say, and give my boss a report on why these stats do or do not stay in line with what they say.”
Is there a battle? “Very, very rarely. There have been times where some of the research folks pound the drum for a guy that we don’t think can play, and there are times where we have to ask them to ignore the stats, if we believe in the swing or the command. Generally though, these things line up more often than not.”
Your favorite advanced statistic: “WAR is pretty cool, and just because I have no idea how to calculate it doesn’t mean it’s not a cool stat. I also think FIP is pretty cool and helpful because it’s literally what we’re scouting; how good is this guy going to be without the help of the defense or how much better he’ll be with a quality defense behind him. That’s pretty neat, I think.”
In my relatively short time of talking to scouts and front office members—about the implications of sabermetrics—or whatever it is you want to call it—ifor scouting, most have been pretty affable about its inclusion, and understand that it isn’t going away anytime soon, if ever. I think those quotes illustrate that fact pretty well, and even the second scout who wouldn’t name a favorite advanced stat understood their significance. There are of course exceptions to this, and many that I’ve spoken with make the AL West scout seem like a regular stat-head comparatively. Those are few and far between, but this game will always have the purists who don’t want any part of the sabermetric movement—right or wrong.
Personally, it’s the message of the last scout that struck a chord with me. It’s not about understanding how the math works, it’s about having a basic fundamental understanding of what those stats mean, and then figuring out whether these stats line up with what they see. Are there going to be contradictions between the two worlds? Of course, but ultimately there has to be a symbiotic relationship between the two schools of thought—and in fact, the schools of thought may not be as different as some may believe.
Thank you for reading
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