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A few weeks ago, I was chatting with a scout about movies, which always ends up in an argument as our tastes are quite different—he likes goofball comedies, I’m more of the elitist snob that people don’t actually like going to see movies with. The conversation somehow turned toward Sin City, a film that he claimed was one of the 10 best films of the 21st century. For whatever reason, this upset me, as I found Sin City to be drivel. We argued for a while, and then the scout said something surprising.

“I have no idea how you couldn’t like that movie. It’s an objectively great movie.”

And guess what? This got me to thinking: Just how much of scouting could be qualified by those two terms?

Speed, for example, is largely objective—it can't be entirely measured by a stopwatch, but it mostly can. Hit tool, by contract, is largely subjective—each scout's eye will bring his own ideas about what to look for in a swing, approach, results, and so on. I thought of five different terms that people commonly use when talking about pitching, and then polled 12 different scouts, talent evaluators and front-office members on various levels of subject and objectivity; giving them the option of choosing whether a tool or measuring stick was subjective, objective, or has elements of both.

Velocity: Six agreed that velocity was objective, two said it was subjective, and four said that they wouldn’t choose one to the exclusion of the other.

Former NL East scout: “What is on the radar gun is there, so I guess in that way it’s not subjective at all, but at the same time there are factors that go into it. Is it a cold day? Is the pitcher working on short or long rest? Is he coming off an injury? The actual result is plain as day but the actual process of gauging that velocity I think is very much subjective."

Velocity projection – or projection period: Not one scout said that velocity projection was objective, six said it was subjective, and six said that it had elements of both.

NL West scout: "Obviously there are things we look at like the pitchers size, the arm-strength, how quick he is through the zone, that stuff, but just because a pitcher is 6-foot-7, 150 pounds soaking wet doesn’t mean that he’s going to add big velocity, nor is it a guarantee that the 5-foot-11, 230 pounder won’t. It may be more likely that the former adds some ticks to his fastball, but it’s not a lock."

Command: This was the most surprising result of the poll. Five felt that command was objective, four thought it was subjective, and six said thought elements of both were present.

AL Central scout: :Here’s why I say this is objective, and maybe I’ll be alone on this: What we’re looking for is guys who either hit their target with their offerings at all levels of the plate or come close to doing it. I don’t have a particular set number of how many pitches they have to do that with, or how many strikes, but I think the good scouts; the ones who have been doing this for a long time, can give you that number pretty easy, and it’s generally close. Also if they’re able to repeat their delivery that makes it easy to give a command grade too, though repeating your delivery is probably one of the most subjective things possible in pitching."

Mechanics: Since he brought it up, I might as well ask, right?

All 12 scouts agreed that mechanics had subjective and objective components. One scout in particular, however, was much closer to calling this objective.

NL West scout: “There are certain things that we obviously look for just like with the velocity projection; is the arm-path smooth, does he repeat his arm slot, does he take a similar stride, is there anything herky-jerky about the delivery, that’s all pretty clear, and I think you could argue that bad mechanics are objective.

But the problem I have, is that people are always trying to create an end-all solution for these things, kind of like they do with pitch counts, and it drives me crazy. You look at a guy like [Chicago White Sox first-round pick Carson] Fulmer, and yeah, those probably aren’t the prettiest mechanics you’ll see. But you know what? It works for him, and he repeats it, and he’s almost always on balance, so why the [heck] would you want to change that? That’s [really] nuts, but I read all the time about how people don’t like the delivery.*”

*He reads that from me. I don’t like the delivery.

“Top of the rotation” stuff: All 12 scouts said that "top of the rotation" stuff is subjective, and that even the standards of that designation drew disagreement.

As you can see from the answers above, the majority of scouting when it comes to pitching—at least in the topics discussed—is a melding of the subjective and the objective, and this is no real surprise. What surprised me was the amount that scouts were willing to admit was wholly one or the other, rather than live in the gray area in between. Ultimately, it is a blend of subjective opinion and objective fact, and figuring out what parts belong in what category is the next frontier. Until that happens though, scouting will remain an inexact science.

Thank you for reading

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tylersnotes
9/11
if a scout is starting from the point of view that sin city is objectively good, maybe another question should be for them to define "subjective" and "objective"
Theman3983
9/11
Probably, but when one hears someone call Sin City one of the best films of the century, logic sort of flies out the window.
jnossal
9/11
This article would have gone a lot better if your scouts actually knew the definitions of subjective and objective. I got as far as the guy who qualified velocity as subjective.

If he had mentioned a deceptive motion or depth of release, he still would have been wrong, but at least it would be a point of reasonable discussion. But to qualify it the way he did, that's just a waste of time.

I think the writer asked a good question, unfortunately he's in the position of trying to teach his dog to speak Latin.
chapmantime
9/13
If you read the reply, he clearly understands the difference (“What is on the radar gun is there, so I guess in that way it’s not subjective at all..."), and is shading things by stating that he's less interested in the objective gun reading than the subjective task of evaluating the conditions that produced it.
jnossal
9/17
Great, but that wasn't the question. I noted that there are other factors, but velocity is not subjective, period, and for 6 out of 10 scouts to claim otherwise makes their opinion on the subject invalid.

Note the factors he quotes aren't subjective either. Temperature is clearly an objective data point, so is lack of rest and injury. Do those factors affect all pitchers equally? I'd guess not, but it doesn't make them subjective unless the scouts have some basis for approximating how cold weather affects one guy over another.

Look at the other questions. How do half of the responders call velocity projection objective? Do they have some magic algorithm for doing so? Or, as is more likely, are they making a guess based on observation and experience?



Do the scouts have a quantifiable measure of that difference between pitchers? No, they don't. But even if they are only guessing at how those factors affect velocity, that is not a subjective observation, only an approximation of an objective one.
LucasDad
9/11
As far as mechanics and throwing certain pitches more or less frequently, I tend to agree with sticking with what is working, as long as there has been sustained and successful consistency with the pitcher (or hitters stance/swing.)

On pitchers, I would rather have a funky delivery SP with a fairly consistent 3.50 ERA stat line over time and good K%, than try and fix his mechanics in order to sustain his career. Changing the mechanics is probably just as likely to mess with the pitchers mind and success, than it is to keep him consistent and healthy. I would take a funky and injury-risk successful pitcher and leave hime alone, over fixing said pitcher only to have a less effective/filthy pitcher who is healthy and consistent.

Same goes for messing with a pitchers pitch-types and frequency, if they are successful. I would still let a guy coming off TJ surgery, with a nasty slider, throw that nasty slider post surgery as much as he needs to be successful. Twins pissed me off when the messed up Liriano after he came back by not letting him do this.
chapmantime
9/13
Agreed. Far too many pundits are comfortable trying to predict which pitcher deliveries will lead to relief roles or injury. If they could do that with any legitimacy, they'd be performing analysis for a club instead of writing mock drafts. One of the most interesting things at BPro is that the author who is most qualified to make such pronouncements (Doug Thorburn), almost never does. Wise man...
bloodface
9/12
Sin City is meh.