Is It Just Easier to Scout Pitching?

In response to yesterday’s post about the risk-reward balance of prospect valuation, commenter “Hunter fan” made the following observation:

Another reason lists could be so pitcher heavy is that apparently pitcher, for some analysts, are easier to project. Sickles just did a few articles on this. Top pitchers, almost without exception, he rated as A or B+ prospects. The position players were all over the place, with several good position players being B- or C level prospects.

Just food for thought.

Pretty interesting food, actually. I’m not sure why I hadn’t thought of this earlier, but on the surface, this comment seems to pass the smell test. Kids in high school can throw in the mid-90s, and that’s a pretty easy thing to scout. They can throw nasty breaking balls that no one can hit. Likewise, there are always a few college arms who command their pitches so well that they’re considered to be nearly Major League ready before they ever sign a pro contract. With these types of premium pitching prospects, there’s not really a lot of projecting to be done – the forecasting involved is more along the lines of whether they’ll be able to stay healthy or not.

This isn’t really true of hitters. Very few high school kids possess the physical skills of a Major League player. A large part of hitting is how well you can drive the baseball, and game-usable power often doesn’t develop until a player is in his early-20s. Likewise, hardly any teenagers have the understanding of which pitches to swing at and which ones to lay off, as that is learned through experience and repetition – things that only come with time. Underdeveloped power and overly aggressive hitting strategies mean that very few young kids are capable of stepping right into the Major Leagues and performing well offensively. The position players who do make the big leagues before they can legally drink are usually those whose athletic abilities allow them to contribute in the field or on the bases – a disproportionate number of teenage position players in the big leagues have been shortstops and center fielders.

Amateur pitchers flash the kind of skills needed to become top-notch Major League arms, and in many cases, those skills can translate directly to the Major Leagues in a short period of time. Amateur position players can show athletic ability and good hitting mechanics, but rarely do you see a HS or even college hitter who is already displaying the kinds of skills necessary to hit well against big league pitching. Position players require a bit more projection – how will the player fill out as he gets older, can he adjust to facing good breaking balls on a regular basis, etc…

It makes sense, and would help explain why teams have been willing to invest so much money in high draft picks on pitching prospects despite knowing that their flame out rate is significantly higher. As we talked about yesterday, our confidence in our evaluations goes up as we gain information, and if scouts feel that they have more information about a pitcher’s Major League tools than they do a hitter of the same age, it’s natural that they could prefer the pitcher, even with the greater chance of injury. Of course, a lot of things make sense when you think about them, but are debunked once you actually start looking at the data. So, let’s try and look at some data.

We’ll start off by just borrowing some research from Jeff Zimmerman, who looked at the relative percentage of players from Baseball America’s All-Time Top 100 list that showed up on the 2010 leaderboards. There were 13 pitchers that posted a WAR of +5.0 or higher in 2010, and all 13 appeared on BA’s list at one point or another. There were 18 pitchers who posted a WAR of between +4.0 and +5.0, and BA had identified 72% of those. They got 70% of the 20 arms who posted a WAR between +3.0 and +4.0. This is a pretty good showing for BA, as prospect evaluation isn’t easy, and they consistently nailed a large majority of the best arms in baseball.

On the hitting side of things, they didn’t fare quite as well. Again, 13 players posted a WAR of +6.0 or higher, and BA identified 77% of those. They stayed in the mid-70% range for every tier down to +3.0 to +4.0 WAR, and as Zimmerman’s final table shows, the only real difference in the results seems to be at the very top. In most tiers, they got close to the same percentage of hitters and pitchers, but when it comes to +5 WAR or higher players, they did significantly better with pitchers.

We’re dealing with pretty tiny samples, though, and only one year of results from one source. We can’t draw any conclusions from this information. So, let’s look back at Sickels’ rankings, where the source of the original comment came from. A couple of weeks ago, John posted a review of his prospect grades for pitchers who rated in the Top 25 in baseball in WAR last year. Of the 25 guys who posted +3.9 WAR or higher, Sickels had placed a B- or better prospect grade on 23 of them – only C.J. Wilson and Doug Fister fell through the cracks, and they’ve both taken some pretty anomalous career paths to success. Twelve of the 25 pitchers received an A- grade or better. By and large, Sickels was able to identify most of the best pitchers in baseball last year while they were minor leaguers.

He then looked at the top 30 position players from a year ago, and the results were somewhat less impressive. Most of the guys on the list got B- or better grades at some point, but Sickels acknowledges that he missed on Matt Kemp and Robinson Cano, notes that Matt Holliday was a late-bloomer, and underestimated the abilities of Brett Gardner and Shane Victorino, who were pegged as fourth outfielders. We’ll give him a pass on Jose Bautista because what he’s doing is basically unprecedented and no one could have seen this coming.

He still got most of the best hitting prospects, just as Baseball America did, but the proportion of misses is higher and more severe.

Again, not enough information to draw any firm conclusions, so I decided to look at how very young kids perform in the big leagues. I grabbed all player seasons since 1982, and then filtered out only the ones where the player was 21 or younger and had at least 50 IP/150 PA. There were nearly identical samples of each population – 132 pitcher seasons, 123 hitter seasons. That was not planned, but it’s a pretty nice coincidence, as it gives us very similar samples to deal with.

The 132 21-or-younger pitchers were pretty pretty good (thanks to guys like Dwight Gooden, Bret Saberhagen, Fernando Valenzuela, and Madison Bumgarner), throwing just over 15,000 innings and posting an ERA- of 99, supported by an equal FIP- of 99. Overall, this combination of above-average pitching over a decent number of innings added up to +212 WAR, or an average +2.53 WAR per 180 innings pitched.

The 123 21-or-younger hitters also weren’t bad. Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, and Ken Griffey Jr were all monsters at an early age, and helped lead the group to +192 WAR in just under 49,000 plate appearances. That averages out to +2.36 WAR per 600 PA, just a bit lower than what the young pitchers put up.

Again, the gap isn’t large enough for us to draw any real conclusions. There have been some really good young pitchers, and some really good young hitters. The young pitchers have been slightly better, and may be slightly easier to identify, but the information isn’t overwhelmingly in support of the idea that premium young pitchers are just easier to identify than young hitters.

The idea still makes sense, though, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a more thorough study ended up supporting the claim. It’s officially on my to-do list for this year, and is a topic I’d love to see discussed in more depth.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


64 Responses to “Is It Just Easier to Scout Pitching?”

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  1. Sky says:

    I wonder if there’s also something to the dichotomy that pitcher’s initiate and hitters react. Physical tools for each are “easy” to judge, but the things that require strategy/repeatability are easier to judge for pitchers. You can see where they aim, how they mix pitches, etc, because it’s all their choice (albeit with some adjustments to the style/strengths of the hitter). But for hitters, all you can observe is their reaction to whatever the pitcher happens to throw. If they guess wrong, do you know it was a guess? Was it a fluke or do they guess wrong more than the usual hitter? Do they hit all sliders that well or do they read that particular pitcher well? Can you detect a hole if opposing pitchers haven’t found it yet?

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    • Vegemitch says:

      I would add that at the HS level, a pitcher can put his skills on display every time he throws a pitch, regardless of the quality of the batter, and a certain level of fielding inadequacy can be accounted for.

      A batter with tremendous skills, however, will not be challenged every time a pitch is thrown to him. How can a HS batter be judged for how they respond to good breaking stuff, for instance? He probably rarely faces a good breaking pitch. Although I don’t have experience in this area, it would also make sense to me that a coach that knows he has a talented hitter would want him to be swinging a little more often than he actually “should” given the lower level of control an average HS pitcher would display, as a hacking excellent hitter would probably be better at the plate than his average HS peers.

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    • Cidron says:

      That, and maybe the batters basically, are required to make adjustments for each pitcher they face. This pitcher may be a fastball specialist, that one curve/slider, another sinker, another side-arm, and so on. Pitchers, pitch more or less the same way each delivery. Yes, the pitch may be in a different location, and maybe even a different pitch. But, his action and the other fundamentals are pretty much the same. And so is his mentality vs a given foe.

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  2. I definitely agree that it’s a lot easier to get a feel for pitchers. This is very anecdotal, but I’ve had a much easier time evaluating pitchers that come over from Japan (I looked back on my projections here: http://www.npbtracker.com/2011/12/grains-of-salt/#content). The guy that I got it most wrong on was Nishioka. For me it’s easier with pitchers, particularly starters, because if you watch them 3-4 times you basically know what they can do. It takes a much bigger commitment to watch hitters in enough situations to really know them well.

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    • fergie348 says:

      This seems instinctively true when you’re talking about starting pitchers vs. hitters. Unless you’re watching specially edited video for the purpose of evaluating hitters you have a much broader slice of information available about a starting pitcher from watching a game he’s pitching than you ever could have about a hitter in the same circumstance (which is watching an actual baseball game). You’d have to watch the equivalent of 6 or 7 games where a position player is starting to accumulate the same amount of data points as you would get by watching a starting pitcher throw in one game.

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    • chuckb says:

      Part of that has to do with, I’d think, the fact that a starting pitcher throws around 100 pitches in a game. By seeing him 3-4 times, you’ve seen 300-400 pitches. It takes a lot of games to see a hitter face 300-400 pitches, probably 30 or so. From a time management standpoint, one is more likely to get a more thorough evaluation simply b/c people don’t have the time to watch many hitters play 30+ games.

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  3. Sky says:

    How does this question relate to the commonly accepted (?) idea that pitchers develop in step intervals (or fail to develop at all), while hitters tend to follow a smoother path, albeit at different rates?

    Maybe this only applies to top prospects? Top-rated pitchers are either studs or injury concerns? Or maybe prospects closer to the MLB? What about prospects that are projection-only, with raw tools — does this still hold pitchers vs hitters?

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    • Doug Gray says:

      I think when it is said that hitters tend to develop on a smoother path, it doesn’t apply to all hitters, just the ones that are good enough to be Major Leaguers.

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  4. Ken says:

    This is obviously not meant to be followed strictly, but, if what you are saying is true:
    Draft only pitchers for the first 5 or 10 rounds of the draft, and then draft only hitters the rest of the way, figuring you will still be able to find quality bats later or at least they will be easier to fill on the free agent market.

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    • Sky says:

      This goes completely against other research (not that that makes it wrong) that says you want stud hitting prospects and hoardes of mid-level pitching prospects.

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    • DJG says:

      Not necessarily, this study looked at players who already panned out and retroactively found what percentage (of pitchers and hitters) were highly rated.

      For drafting purposes, it seems like the converse would be more helpful, i.e., what percentage of pitchers and hitters that are highly rated actually pan out.

      This isn’t necessarily the same thing, and the injury risk is always much higher with pitchers, and I don’t know if anybody can predict what specific players are likely to be injured with any accuracy.

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    • Ben Hall says:

      I think the problem with this is that we’re talking about truly elite prospects. Those kinds of pitchers go in the top half of the first round, not the first five rounds.

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  5. I think that was part of the premise of TNSTAAPP…that the guys who are considered top “pitching prospects” are actually just good pitchers, period, with the issue being their ability to stay healthy.

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  6. CircleChange11 says:

    With pitchers I think you can pretty much look at K-Rate and have a good idea of where their ceiling might be.

    Batters/Fielders have more aspects to evaluate.

    I do, however, think that if batted ball velocity were widely available it might be the single best and most popular scouting metric. Does the guy hit the crap out of the ball or not. Batted all velocity, launch angle, contact rate, and plate discipline would all be things that could tell you pretty much everything about a batter. If you know those things, maybe you don;t even need to see the guy play.

    With pitchers, if you know K/9, BB/9, and perhaps velocity you’ve got it. Less data for equal evaluation.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Not only that but you can watch a pitcher for 2-3 starts and see ~340 pitches and have a good idea of velocity, control, command, movement.

      How many times would a scout need to see a better to have the equivalent sample size? Wouldn’t 340 pitches be 100 or so plate appearances?

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    • Albert Lyu says:

      I think CC11 (former pitching instructor, right?) has got a point with the batted ball velocity. A few teams I have heard of track hard-hit balls for their minor league batters because as much as it is nice to have a full set of stats, sometimes consistently hard-hit balls that don’t necessarily fall in for hits are missed in small samples and parks that are much more varied than the 30 MLB ballparks.

      For pitchers, scouts obviously will evaluate their pitches and there’s definitely a common language amongst scouts in terms of what fastballs should look like, how to evaluate a breaking ball, how they mix their pitches, etc. With the data, K rates and BB rates tell you what the results were, but they don’t tell you if the pitcher used only two pitches to dominate low-level minor leaguers who can’t hit breaking balls or if the pitcher mixed in four pitch types in all counts against AAA veterans/prospects.

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    • Doug Gray says:

      K rate, by itself, doesn’t tell us much. Chris Manno is a reliever in the Reds system, formerly of the Nationals, with a K-rate of 14.8 in his career thus far (only two seasons worth of data). His K-rate says he is absolutely elite. But I didn’t even rank him among the Reds Top 40 prospects.

      With the batted ball velocities, in theory that would make sense, but in practice, it doesn’t. Here is why: Prospects are still learning to use their tools. Guys with elite tools may not have the skills just yet, while guys with average tools may have better skills at this point. Those better skills may allow them to square up the ball a little better at this point in time, thus resulting in a higher velocity rate. But that doesn’t make the guy a better hitter in the future or even project to be one. Sometimes guys just need to make one or two adjustments to turn into very strong hitters when they weren’t so much at previous points in their careers. That is something that can happen rather quickly with still developing players.

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    • Cidron says:

      as long as you understand where that pitcher is vs his competition.. that being the talent/level of the batters.. For example, Nolan Ryan vs Single A minor league batters might just have an insane K/9 rate. Something has to account for the opposition in the scouting. As the reverse of my example could also occur (especially in a given pitchers first voyage thru “the next level” of minor – or other league where he may be overmatched initially).

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  7. Steve the Pirate says:

    Fangraphs reaching out into the qualitative.

    I like this. A lot.

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  8. George Thomas says:

    Another reason why it is easier to project pitchers may be because consistency is a more important quality for a hitter than it is for a pitcher. For example, Royals prospect Bubba Starling may be able to hit an inside fastball, but in order for him to post a high WAR over the course of his career, he will need to do it every day for a lot of years. By contrast, Orioles prospect Dylan Bundy will have to spot his fastball in 32-35 starts over the course of a season.

    A player’s ability to play consistently over the course of a 162-game season is one of the biggest drivers of his career WAR. My intuition (without looking at any data in any disciplined way), is that ability is easier to project for a pitcher making 32-35 starts in a season than it is for a batter making 650 PA.

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    • TheUncool says:

      I don’t think so in terms of consistency in that respect.

      The quality position player (in top 1/2 of the batting order?) only gets say roughly 4.5 PAs per game and maybe plays roughly 156 games per year, if he stays healthy, etc. That comes out to roughly 702 PAs per year.

      The quality SP will have to face perhaps roughly 4.3 batters per inning for maybe 6-1/2 innings per start in roughly 33.5 starts per year, if he stays healthy. That comes out to roughly 936 PAs per year.

      Even if you knock the numbers down a bit for that quality SP, eg. 1/2 inning less per start, maybe just 32 starts per year, he’d still have to handle roughly 826 PAs per year. He’d have to be just a 5-inning SP (while facing maybe a modestly higher 4.5 batters per inning) to come close to the same figure as the quality position player’s PA count. But then, I gotta ask whether he should still be considered a quality SP though if he can only average 5 innings per start.

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      • TheUncool says:

        One thing in looking at it this way though.

        You’d be neglecting the value of the position player’s defense while crediting the pitcher w/ pretty much his full value.

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  9. TheUncool says:

    I’m wondering.

    How do the stud (generally SP) pitching prospects who turn into excellent RPs do vs the stud position prospects who turn into role/bench players?

    What about the flame-outs and career MiLB guys?

    Seems like you’re only looking at successes, not failures (and/or semi-failures), in prospecting.

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  10. Greg says:

    There are two major variables in play for both pitchers and hitters. The pitcher’s qualities/stuff and the hitter’s qualities. I don’t think it’s fair to say pitchers have only one variable to worry about (their stuff) because they clearly need to make adjustments to different hitters in the lineup and adjustments to the overall talent level as they progress through the minors. But there’s a built in advantage for pitchers, so I guess I look at it like pitchers are exposed to 1.5 variables. Hitters are completely exposed to both variables though. They can have the quickest hands and prettiest swing out there but if they can’t adjust to a pitcher’s stuff then it doesn’t matter. My point is, the more variables a player is exposed to, the more likely you are to be wrong about that player.

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    • Albert Lyu says:

      I really hope we have some amateur scouts roaming around in here who can add their thoughts and clarify some of the issues they see in terms of evaluating hitting vs. evaluating pitching, because scouts see things that us stat guys never think of, and I definitely learned that in hearing scouts talk over the summer.

      So correct me if I’m wrong, but one of the biggest differences I’m told between evaluating hitters and pitchers is the mechanics of each. For hitters, most of us know a pretty swing when we see one, but pretty swings don’t always hit. Some players with complicated and ugly swings like Zimmerman and Pence can hit. Players can stand up straight (Griffey) or cast their bat back and forth (Sheffield) and can still hit with power as long as their stance helps them get their timing just right. There is an ideal swing which focuses on the hands and wrists moreso than the arms, but the ‘look’ of an ideal swing doesn’t necessarily need to be there in order to translate into hitting success (power or contact).

      We’ve seen mechanical changes over the years (Bautista and Granderson come to mind) that dramatically changed how much power they could drill into the ball, despite other areas of hitting like plate discipline, etc. remaining the same.

      So ideal swing doesn’t necessarily mean better hitting, and an ugly-looking swing doesn’t necessarily mean bad hitting.

      I think for pitchers, there is more of a formula that through scouting experience, you can catch on over time. You can’t have one or two pitches to succeed in the Majors as a starter with average command / control. There are ideal arm actions and delivery types, and depending on the difference in arm slots, its effect on the way a ball rolls off the hand and generates horizontal or vertical movement is affected (over-the-top pitcher vs. submariners, in the extreme comparison). Almost every pitcher needs command of their fastball to succeed sustainably in the Majors.

      There are better and more defined scouting terms for evaluating fastballs, breaking balls, changeups, etc. as well as evaluating the mechanics of a pitcher, while for hitting, the lines are more blurred and much more subtle when looking at the swing.

      So I guess my verbal diarrhea may not necessarily add to the discussion, but I wonder what amateur scouts (especially since they evaluate young players and have seen them grow / make changes over the years) think in terms of whether it’s easier to evaluating young pitching or young hitting.

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      • JoeC says:

        What? You think scouts actually see things that us laypeople don’t when they’re evaluating players?

        I believe I’ll have to take that sabermetric membership card from you now, Al. ;)

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    • Cidron says:

      the pitchers adjustments are still within the realm of what his arm can deliver.. location and pitch. His catcher generally calls the game, and knows what the pitcher can and cant do. But its generally, three to four pitches, and a handful of locations. Not alot, compared to the batter who has to handle all the above, from the receiving end, as well as 2-4 more pitchers in a given game, and, what THEY can do, and repeating with new pitchers for each series they play in, up to appx 15 or so teams worth. He has a hitting coach to help him out. Pitchers have catchers, and pitching coaches.. Both have scouting reports..

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  11. Jake says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a strong correlation between this and the old addage “good pitching beats good hitting”. It seems entirely plausible to me that pitchers would be easier to project because their results are based on 1) Their own skill, and only then 2) Luck. Hitters’ results, on the other hand, are based on 1) Luck, 2) Their own skill, and then 3) More luck.

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    • Cidron says:

      of course, good pitching beats good hitting. Afterall, most everybody in the Hall of Fame failed 60-70 percent of the time at the plate.

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  12. Ron Paul says:

    Wouldn’t the grades on prospects before they were drafted make a lot of sense to analyze? A huge part of scouting is what the player is projected to do BEFORE they are drafted. Many future stars show they are a potential great player by the time they play 2-3 years in the minors.

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    • Franco says:

      Yeah, I don’t think it takes much for anyone to project a prospect who is putting up numbers along with great tools at AA or AAA… probably even A+ ball. It becomes more interesting on how successful the scouting of teenage hitters vs pitchers turn out.

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  13. Andrew says:

    To start off, I feel like a book could be written about this topic and though I’m no writer I might just tackle this task someday. Thank you Dave and Hunter fan for sparking this discussion.

    Let’s give credit to BA for having all 13 pitchers with a WAR of +5.0 or better on their top 100 lists from one point or another. Bravo BA.

    What this got me thinking about is the other pitchers on those top 100 list that didn’t have a +5 WAR. Are the other pitchers in the majors today? If so what’s their production level? If not why? And if not is the main reason because they got injured or is it because they just weren’t good despite their skills that seem so easy to project?

    Since I won’t be writing my book anytime soon maybe one fo the writers at Fangraphs could dig up some info on the pitchers BA missed on from the top 100 lists used for this article (sticking with the small sample size theme of the article). If we’re going to give BA credit and muse about how we don’t need to see pitchers to tell how good they are let’s also look at pitchers on those lists that didn’t have the right stuff.

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  14. Andrew says:

    Sorry all, I missed TheUncool’s post as I was writing mine.

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  15. Mike Green says:

    The prospect to MLB player analysis is ass-backwards. You need to look at identified B+ and higher pitching and hitting prospects and see how they developed, rather than looking at MLB players and go back. This piece of Sickels give a better idea of how the prospecting goes for A/A- prospects (http://www.minorleagueball.com/2012/2/7/2782845/the-elite-pitching-prospects-2003-through-2006). A similar piece for batters would show better outcomes.

    The reason for the disparity between the prospective and retrospective approaches is that most prospectors give a disproportionate number of high grades to pitchers. As Sickels points out, the injury drop-out rate is high for pitchers (as it would be for catchers). This is much more significant than the ability of scouts to identify talent.

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    • Grant says:

      That’s a good point. There’s a difference between “what percentage of top performers were highly touted prospects” and “what percentage of highly touted prospects turn into top performers”. Related but ultimately different questions.

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  16. Andrew says:

    Thank you Jeff.

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  17. Grant says:

    Jeff’s link has some interesting conclusions, totally the opposite of the premise of the article. Here:

    Conclusion
    I think several conclusions are warranted, at least for the period of the study (which includes a great many current major league players).

    •About 70% of Baseball America top 100 prospects fail.
    •Position player prospects succeed much more often than pitching prospects.
    •About 60% of position players ranked in Baseball America’s top 20 succeed in the majors.
    •About 40% of pitchers ranked in the top 20 succeed in the majors.
    •About 30% of position players ranked 21-100 succeed in the majors (with the success rate declining over that ranking range from about 36% to about 25%)
    •About 20% of pitchers ranked 21-100 succeed in the majors (with the success rate declining over that ranking range from about 22% to about 15%)

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    • AL Eastbound says:

      What is success? Making it to the show? Most pitching prospects are SPs and there are only a few openings on each roster depending on team each season. A team will wait forever to turn them into a reliever if they are even remotely capable of starting, by then the game might have passed them by without getting a chance.

      An infielder can move to almost any position given the strength of his bat – SS to 3b/ss, C to 1b/dh/lf, CF to any of the OF spots etc. A position player prospect can add value through just defense, speed, pinch hitting.

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    • Sean O'Neill says:

      Jeff’s link and the premise of this article aren’t necessary contradictory poinst. Pitchers may be easier to evaluate than hitters (and as I’ve argued elsewhere quite recently, they are in fact easier to evaluate because their age-related progression curves tend to flatten out at a younger age than do hitters’, so true talent is easier to ascertain) and still have a very high bust rate.

      Injuries obviously play a huge role, but I’d argue that because pitchers’ (as a population) age-related improvements tend to plateau much earlier than hitters, they are often overrated because we minimize their deficiencies thinking they’ll fix them as they get older, when that isn’t necessarily an accurate expectation. Generally, it is a more reasonable expectation that a light hitting 21 year old hitter will hit for more power as he ages than it is to expect that a wild 21 year old pitcher will gain better control, but by and large we (again, generally speaking) seem to give both those possibilities equal weight. Doing a better job of accounting for what type of age-related improvements we should realistically expect could help get better results.

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    • baty says:

      what is “succeed” supposed to mean?

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    • Cidron says:

      pitching prospects can fail partially due to a number of reasons.. among which can be
      1. catastrophic injury.
      2. lack of “alternative positions” if they cant cut it at their first one (aside from sp to rp). Whereas a batter can start at SS, then.. cant cut it, move to CF, then not cut it there either, LF/RF.. or start at 3b, move to 1b, or dh (especially, if it totally is a glove issue).

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  18. AL Eastbound says:

    Some good points. It is just easier to stick a “high prospect” label on a guy who can touch 95 with solid mechanics (no matter his level of physical maturity) than some shrimpy middle infield prospect who hasn’t even fully matured.

    Appropriately scouting hitters has got to be the toughest job. Look at the rankings for Brett Lawrie, I know he is only barely into his MLB career but it was so much easier to place/mark a guy like Shelby Miller with his stuff (and stats) than a developing bat like Lawrie.

    Just a couple rudimentary thoughts.

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  19. I believe that Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus/Texas Farm Review was asked this and said that pitchers were easier to scout. Watching a pitcher throw a BP session can tell you about his velocity and control, watching a start or two can tell you about his command. There’s more to it than that, obviously, but that’s a lot of data on whether a pitcher has the ‘stuff’ to be successful.

    With a hitter, batting practice isn’t going to tell you much about his eye for the ball or (as much) about how his approach changes based on the count. Even watching games, you don’t get as many data points as you do with a pitcher.

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  20. FairweatherFan says:

    What needs to be done is the opposite of this article: Looking at the success stories and trying to see how many of them were predicted only tells us about the players scouts missed, not the ones they picked but were wrong.

    By looking at prospect lists and determining failure rate, controlled for injury, one could deduce if scouts were more successfull in picking impact pitchers or position players.

    This has already been done, but not controlled for injury. Controlling for injury is important, because it so disproportionately impacts pitchers. If a guy doesn’t make it due to injury, that says nothing about his skillset nor scouts ability to identify his skillset.

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  21. Killua says:

    If the question is: is it easier to scout pitching or hitting? you really need to isolate the injury cases out of it. Injuries. while somewhat predictable, have nothing to do with scouting.

    From there, you can look at percentage of former top prospects (top 20, top 50, and top 100) / top performers to get a general read on how scouts are doing pitching v hitting for A prospects, A/A- prospects, and A/A-/B+ prospects. Using Sickels 03-06 data, it does seem the ratio favors pitchers over hitters.

    In the end, I think it’s easier to scout pitchers because of how polished they are at age 22 compared to hitters. Hitters have 3 basic things they can improve – patience, defense, and power. Pitchers have 1 – control. For pitchers, if you don’t have the stuff, you almost never will. All you can really improve is the control of your pitches. For hitters, if you don’t have the tools, work hard enough and you can develop the power/patience/defense needed. So for hitters, it’s more about work ethic (something scouts can’t see) vs. pitchers, where it’s more about talent (something the scouts can see). That’s why you see B-/C prospect hitting stars from time to time, despite average tools in the minors, while you almost never see B-/C pitching stars outside of the rare few who improve control as much as possible (like Fister, Lee, Halladay).

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  22. Matt says:

    I’m surprised nobody has mentioned this, but one problem with the Sickels retrospective was that he was selecting for success. He took the most successful hitters and most successful pitchers and looked back at what he rated them. This obviously leaves out the grades he gave to players that didn’t turn out to be the best of the best. It was interesting, but we probably shouldn’t draw any conclusions.

    I think you’d have to do a much more in depth analysis to figure out whether even just Sickels is more accurate with hitters or pitchers.

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  23. Brando says:

    I liked that article by Verducci I think which looks at ball rotation and stride length of pitchers to help account for a pitches sucess. It means that you can objectively tell if a pitcher is able to throw a curve with the necessary rotation needed for a curve to be a major league pitch. The article shows that there is a correlation between the rotations of a pitch and the sucess of the pitcher. Same thing for a pitchers stride length when one looks at how successful a pitcher is with his fastball. The best fastballs were thrown by those who had the shortest flight time. Spin rotation also plays a huge part as it is that which adds deception, but a shorter flight time is what he says is the cause of fastballs which ‘rise’ or have ‘hop’. Santos has the best stride length and his fastball is worth 5.5 last year. He also has a high amount of rotation on his slider which is why it breaks so late and why its so successful.

    This isn’t to say that evaluations are based on a science, its just that the things that pitchers do are more quantifiable then the things which hitters do. Like the first poster said, did he strike out because of his pitch choice/batting stance/perceived passivity/slow hands, etc.

    I think kids in high school, if they are able to master how to spin a breaking ball and the muscle memory which goes with throwing a pitch so often, then fastball command is pretty easy to gauge, and if all that works you have a pretty good prospects after looking at the obvious physical markers.

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  24. pft says:

    Hitting a 95 mph FB when you have to be on guard for a 80 mph CB or 88 mph slider is a much harder thing to do than throwing these pitches. As such, hitters tend to develop slower and peak later.

    Even in the major leagues, mediocre pitchers will succeed 65% of the time, and the best hitters will fail 60% of the time. At lower levels, pitchers can dominate even more, especially if they also have command.

    At the lower levels, most hitters have not developed HR power, and so are susceptible to the quirks of BABIP as well. Dominant pitchers tend to have higher k rates and are less susceptible to BABIP quirks, although the poor defense probably gives pitchers a bit of an advantage. Also, not only do they have less to fear from the HR ball, but younger hitters tend to chase a lot of balls outside the strike zone and lower their BB/9 rate while increasing their k/9.

    Less dominant pitchers tend to have more command issues so this offsets the hitters lack of strike zone discipline.

    Hitters tend to be at a disadvantage against pitchers they have not seen much, which is the norm at the lower levels.

    Lighting at some of the lower level parks is not quite as good as MLB parks which is another advantage for pitchers.

    The balls used in the minor leagues is also deader than MLB balls per a test report done for MLB baseball on balls. In the 400 ft test, minor league balls travel 10 ft less.

    Of course, the biggest wild card for young dominant pitchers getting to the MLB level is injury, while position players are less likely to have an injury that affects their development , except for the occasional knee injury, hand fracture, labrum injury which tends only to delay their progress for a year. A labrum injury for a pitcher can result in diminished velocity and command for years, if not forever

    So yeah, I guess it makes sense that some hitters get overlooked at the lower levels as they struggle against what seem pretty tough odds (and every day players are more susceptible to the fatigue of a minor league life).

    Of course, there are some hitter s leagues such as the PCL. I wonder if most of the overlooked hitter prospects play in the east or in pitcher leagues.

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  25. Mr Punch says:

    Age 21 is very different from 18-19. There have been very few good teenage hitters in the whole history of baseball — Cobb, Conigliaro, who else? The aluminum bat issue is a big one too.

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  26. Kevin Towers says:

    Scouting relief pitchers is the easiest thing in the entire ******* world.

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  27. Zachary says:

    Also, it’s surely tougher to determine hitting against poor pitching that it is to determing pitching against poor hitting. Stuff and command are easy to determine, whether it’s against Albert Pujols or myself. It’s really a skill independant of the hitter. Someone’s ability to square up balls depends greatly on the pitching.

    I’m sure it’s not easy to determine if a high school .400 hitter is for real or not. But any professional scout can likely tell us if high school pitcher X can locate his fastball on a consistent basis.

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  28. Antonio Bananas says:

    I agree with a lot of what’s been said. It’s the nature of the two sides.

    Pitchers you see do what they do a lot and you don’t really need to adjust it for competition (at least raw stuff). You see a guy throw 80 pitches, sit 95-100 with great command, nasty hook, beautiful change, those happen anywhere he pitches.

    A hitter you see 3-4 times, maybe he gets walked twice and jacks a 400 foot homer off some poor unathletic 17 year old who tried out for baseball because his dad made him. It’s harder to tell.

    What I think is interesting is that there was a study, and I don’t know where it is, that looked at the different baseball america rankings of prospects. Pitchers failed a lot more than hitters. I doubt it’s ALL injury but I’m sure that does have a lot to do with it. So maybe my hypothesis along with many others is incorrect.

    Maybe it’s more of an age/competition thing. Younger pitchers are easier to project, hitters in AA and up and age 21 and up are easier to project. That’s my theory anyway.

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  29. KaminaAyato says:

    I wonder if you have to look at three things concurrently:

    1) Is scouting pitchers easier than position players?
    2) Do pitching prospects face higher injury risk than position player prospects?
    3) Are more pitchers taken at the top of the draft than position players?

    Because if all 3 are true, than perhaps it’s a case of 1 + 2 = 3.

    Pitching prospects are easier to scout, and there’s a higher probability of them not panning out, then you want to get as much pitching as possible so that you survive the rates of attrition. Now, there are hitting prospects that seem to have the “can’t miss” tag on them, and they’re taken at the top of the draft. But when it comes to hitters, it starts boiling down to which teams value X player where in the draft?

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  30. baty says:

    I think it’s just think the physical tools of a hitter are far too distracting when scouting a player. The power of a 95mph fastball is very tangible at all levels, and it can get you quite far (just as a strong power breaking ball). I imagine it happens more frequently where the pitchers you scout at the lower levels are using their physical skills in more tangible ways.

    When it comes to hitters, I think defense is the most tangible aspect of scouting… Something you can probably get right in the earlier stages and see translate well more consistently throughout higher levels. Defense doesn’t change all too much… At least as much as hitting does.

    For a hitter physical tools are all too intangible, at least until you see the guy facing reliable competition on a regular basis… probably beginning in AA. You can speculate as to how these physical tools might translate, but until then they are still only projectable. When it comes to hitters, the emphasis is place on ATHLETICISM far too greatly. It’s like many hitters during their early stages are rated by their football and basketball-like athleticism instead of their hitting skill set… mostly beacause it’s their most obvious physical form of being projectable. It’s too hard to project how well a hitter will eventually handle true MLB pitching because he experiences it maybe only hand-fulls of times before reaching the age of 21.

    A pitcher is working from his tangible physical skills constantly, even if it’s only against weak competition, as early as highschool. Hitters only get an opportunity to use their “MLB quality physicality” in an HONEST manner once in a blue moon throughout that time frame.

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  31. baty says:

    I think of it this way… How many people in the world can consistently throw around the plate with an 89+ MPH fastball. That’s your base. You can almost eliminate any other prospect pitcher (at least the ones with a relatively mature frame) out of your MLB projectables. That narrows your field easily and immensely. Outside of that, you’ll get some pitchers that develop additional power as become they more mature.. Or you’ll have guys that have some very promising off speed projection. Guys you can keep your eye on as well, but for the most part it’s relatively easy to BEGIN your scouting with pitchers even if you don’t know much about baseball.

    In contrast, where can you start if you want to weed out a number of hitters as significant as the pitching sample I just described? You’re already digging much deeper into lots of numbers, strength measurements, speed projection and discipline intangibles by the time you can narrow the field that much…

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  32. When you look at K/9 numbers you also take into account (1) age of player, (2) level, (3) league.

    But in general K/9 tells us if a pitcher is difficult tocontact or not. They’re non-BIP outs.

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    • Cidron says:

      Jamie Moyer and Tim Wakefield are glad that k/9 wasnt used back in the day… they both seemed to be .. pretty good (good enough to be servicable for quite a long time each).

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  33. Jamie Moyer threw in the 90s when he was drafted and a youngster. Like Tanana he became a changeup artist after injury.

    Wakefield was a minor league outfielder who discovered the knuckleballer while playing catch.

    The point is …
    (1) High K/9 guys are harder to hit.
    (2) Fewer BIP = fewer hits allowed.

    I don’t care if u K guys with heat, location, movement, and/or change in speed, K/9 is a good large scale filter.

    I would say OBP and even better wOBA would be large scale filters for batters. Fielding is a seperate issue.

    If you’re not going to have good K/9 rates as a pitcher, then you better have a minuscule Bb/9 rate because that’s the only way to make up the diff in runners allowed, and that’s the key.

    K/9 is probably one of the metrics that transfers levels as well. There likely are not many pitchers that K’d a bunch of guys in the minors, but not the majors.
    Guys like John Tudor simply wouldn’t be drafted today, maybe not even major D-1.

    Strikeouts may be boring and faciat, but they record out without BIP and that’s huge. The only way a high K guys fails is if he’s also a high BB guy. High K guys get drafted because you can teach and improve control but you can’t teach the “Holy **** did you see that” stuff.

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  34. As for batters and batted ball velocity. IMO, they’re drafted because they’ve shown the ability to crush the ball, they may, in the i minors, learn how to do it more consistently.

    Defensive specialists aside, we’re no longer in the AstroTurf era where slap hitting Canberra effective in general. You have to be able to drive the ball, and that’s why rotational mechanics have replaced linear mechanics.

    Batted ball velocity + launch angle (swing path) is where scouting should be, along with plate discipline and contact rates.

    We always hear “the ball jumps off his bat” and “it sounds different”. That batted ball velocity as a function of bat speed and barrel striking.

    At the MLB level, pitch recognition is very important, but in terms of scouting hitting the ball hard is harder to learn.

    The harder you hit the ball the harder it is to field, whether it’s GB, LD, or FB. Launch able determines how far it goes. Newton, geometry and all that. It’s just like arm speed and resulting velocity.

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  35. I think you hit the nail on the head with this one, and there is already theory out there supporting it: TINSTAAPP. Either a player is a prospect or he is a pitcher, but there is no in-between. Suggests at some level that scouts can tell this.

    There is nothing equivalent for hitters. Plenty of prospects who walk a lot and don’t strikeout and yet don’t make it in the majors. Same with the power homerun hitters too.

    I would note on your study that you should leave out players like Pujols who was drafted much later, to your point, hitters are harder to scout and he was a late draft pick, not a top of the draft like Griffey and A-Rod. Might be skewing your results then.

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