The impact advance scouting has had on the first three games of the American League Championship Series is hard to measure. We can make educated guesses based on what we’ve seen, but that’s all. We aren’t privy to what is happening behind the scenes.
We do know there is a lot of information being shared. The Boston Red Sox and the Detroit Tigers may not utilize advance scouting exactly the same way, but come playoff time, they leave no stone unturned. From pitch selection to defensive positioning, many decisions are influenced, if not determined, by data.
Prior to the start of the series, key personnel from both teams shared their perspectives on the process. Weighing in from the Detroit side were Dave Dombrowski, Jim Leyland, Tom Brookens, Alex Avila and Austin Jackson. Contributing from the Boston clubhouse were Ben Cherington, John Farrell, Torey Lovullo, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ryan Dempster. Dombrowski and Cherington also offered snapshot of their player development efforts and the use of analytics.
Dave Dombrowski, Tigers general manager: “Scouting is extremely important. Our staff relies upon it a great deal to get ready. Then, of course, our players use that information. During the postseason we do it a little differently. We not only have all of our statistical information and video work, we also send our scouts out on a full-time basis. During the season we don’t do that to the same extent.
“During the regular season, we don’t [have advance scouts] for every series. I think most clubs have gotten away from that. We do our advance work through video and statistical information. We videotape basically every game that’s played and break down those tapes, hitter by hitter and pitcher by pitcher. Then we supply that information to Jim [Leyland] and his staff.
“Another thing with our staff is that Jim has been in the league so long that he knows a lot of the information himself. Occasionally, if we don’t know a team real well, or if we don’t know a manager real well — their tendencies — we’ll send somebody in advance of a series.
“We started the advance process in September. Scott Reid, who is our vice president of player personnel, coordinates all of that for us. We had two guys: Jeff Wetherby, who has the Red Sox during the season, and Ray Crone, who is one of our cross-checkers and knows the Red Sox real well.
“For the analytical data, we have a gentleman in our clubhouse by the name of Jeremy Kelch. He has a couple of people who help him and are responsible for that data.
“Those people got together and had their meeting with the staff [on Friday]. That’s one of the first things they did when we got to town. Jim and his staff got together with them and reviewed all the information and addressed any questions.”
Ben Cherington, Red Sox general manager: “Out advance scouting is very important to our success. John [Farrell] and his staff have a system in place. We have an advance scout on the road throughout the year, and then there is staff in the clubhouse who work with that information. There is a system in place for each series. All we’re doing in the playoffs is adding some additional eyes to gather information that will go into the same system. We’re ramping up a little bit in terms of our coverage, but the process is the same.
“How we [break down the information] is a combination of performance analysis and subjective scouting. We process that in a way that hopefully fits our particular team at the particular point we’re playing. There is all sorts of information out there, and it wouldn’t do much good to just dump it all in front of a player and let him figure it out. You have to boil it down to its most pertinent points, to its most key points. You want to find the nuggets that are actually going to give you an edge. That’s the job our staff is doing.”
Jim Leyland, Tigers manager: “The postseason scouting is very good. I think it’s one of those situations where you have to sort out the information, what is usable and workable, and what is not. You have to be careful to dissect it and figure out what information is really prevalent and what is just cosmetic.
“Our scouts did a terrific job in Oakland, and we met with them yesterday about the Boston club. They gave us a lot of good information. Most of it we were aware of. A few little things that — little perks we got from them were good. But it still boils down to execution and playing the game.”
John Farrell, Red Sox manager: “We had people following both Detroit and Oakland for quite awhile. Steve Langone and Dave Klipstein have been out on the field ahead of us — particularly Steve Langone. He’s the guy that’s been with us from Day One of spring training and has been out ahead of us the entire season. They might be under the radar, behind the scenes, but the information they provide — the work they’ve done — has had a huge impact on how we prepare.
“The number of looks that we’ve had on individual pitchers, and the work that will be done from video… our players will get a clear picture, in addition to their own use of video. First-hand experience is something we’re going to be short on, but we can give them tendencies. We can outline what a pitcher might look to do in certain situations. The more we can research and rehash that, the better we can put our lineup in a position to succeed.”
Tom Brookens, Tigers third base coach: “The players look at more information in the postseason. I think the pitchers do more than the hitters. Hitters tend to look more at video than they do numbers. Overall, the team looks at more information than they used to because the game is trending that way. In a series like this, where we haven’t seen the team all that much, we need to make sure we cover all the bases.”
Torey Lovullo, Red Sox bench coach: “The common fan doesn’t understand how much work goes into a series, and how much pre-series information our advance scouts provide us with. Ben said it best: We take a phone book’s amount of information and pare it down to two or three pages of information we can take into the dugout.
“What we’ve done is individualized some of that information. We’ve talked to the players about what they want, about the stuff that will be important to them. We get some buzzwords, we get some really quick information the guys can use during the game. We talk to them in a controlled environment before the series starts, so they can get that information more in length. We break it up in two different ways: lengthy information we can provide at one time and quick information we can throw at them in a one-sentence format.
“We each have our own domains. As coaches, we stay within our own areas. Butter [Brian Butterfield] is always talking about the infield. Arnie [Beyeler] is always talking about the outfield. I’ll talk about the base running, as will Arnie and Butter — we’re all kind of thrown in there together. The catching stuff is usually through Dana [Levangie]. Everybody is in control of their own players in their area. We give them the information we know they’re going to utilize.
“We have an incredible trust in our advance scouts, because they’ve done a great job. Some of the tendencies and habits they’re showing us, we watch unfold. They tell us what’s happening, and they give us a snapshot of what they project will happen because of how this team has been functioning of late. Then we get some of the projections and thoughts from other areas, such as what we’ve talked about with [director of baseball information] Tom [Tippett]. Tom does a lot of stuff behind the scenes that’s very valuable. There are also statistics [advance video coordinator] Billy Broadbent provides us with. We draw our own conclusions from there.”
Alex Avila, Tigers catcher: “You want to make sure you have the information — all the information — necessary to make the best decisions. From there you try to execute. At the same time, a lot of times, in the middle of a game, you just have to go with your gut.
“The amount of information they want varies for each guy. Each guy prepares completely differently. They all have their own way of gathering information, retaining it, and using it to their advantage.
“Max [Scherzer] looks at the numbers, but I’m sure he’d be the first one to tell you there are times you need to throw them out the window. Max and Justin [Verlander] are similar in that they’ll look at that information, and if there’s something they can use, they’ll use it. They’ll look at scouting reports, they’ll look at video, they’ll use all that information to make the best decisions for their game plans. You don’t want to be one-minded and close yourself off to other information.
“My role isn’t to get that information. That’s why we have scouts; they get that information. We put together a game plan according to the pitcher’s strengths. From there we try to attack hitters’ weaknesses without going away from the pitcher’s strengths. We try to match up that way. Then, obviously, there are so many situations that present themselves throughout the game that sometimes you have to make adjustments. You have to be able to make those adjustments quickly.”
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Red Sox catcher: “We’re basically in the meetings the coaches are in, all year long. We break down what they do well and what they don’t do well. It’s nothing different from any other scouting report, but you’ve got the main scouts in there who have been watching them the past two or three weeks.
“We give our opinion. Rossy [David Ross] and I both have opinions on what we’ve done in the past, and if it still works. But they’ve got the advantage of seeing these guys this past few weeks, while we haven’t seen them. Some hitters get hot, and others get cold, so we’re trying to see what they’re doing right now that’s effective and not effective. We go from there.
“You have to trust your scouts. They’ve been around a long time and have been watching the past few weeks, so you trust them. At the same time, when it becomes game time, you have to go with your gut instinct and what that pitcher can do that day.”
Austin Jackson, Tigers outfielder: “I think you look at [scouting information] to a certain extent, but at the same time, pitchers have a plan for you. They might not necessarily follow what the report says. They have a game plan for each hitter, so you can’t always rely on it.
“You’re aware of [tendencies], but you can’t read into the too much. As a hitter, you have your own game plan and you try to stick with it.”
Ryan Dempster, Red Sox pitcher: “Over the past few years, it’s just becoming greater and greater — the numbers. These different programs are out there for calculating data, and over here, it’s nothing like I’ve ever seen before. The scouting reports we have are readily available information if we want it. Some guys aren’t big scouting report guys; they just go after what they go after. I’m a guy who likes to see numbers and percentages, and they’re definitely available when I want them.”
PLAYER DEVELOPMENT AND ANALYTICS
Dave Dombrowski: “Our player development and scouting people — including our Latin American operations — are all extremely important. They’re the backbone of your organization. Without good scouting and player-development people, your chances of success aren’t very good. Sometimes it’s the players they develop for you, and sometimes it’s the players they develop that are traded. You need a good pipeline of talent coming in. The people who do that are vital to your organization.
“When you’re hiring a staff, you’re trying to get the best people you possibly can. You’re also looking for them to be on the same philosophical page as you are, because if they’re not, that’s not going to do any good. You’re looking for a combination of those two things.
“I’m not sure just what the public perception is, but we use whatever information we possibly can. When we make deals, we use our scouts’ recommendations a great deal, but we also use statistical information to back that up. I think you’re foolish, in any walk of life, if you don’t use all the information you possibly can.
“We look at all the information we can, but we also rely — maybe more so than some organizations that may be more strictly statistically oriented — on scouting. We use [analytics] as a tool, but we use our scouts’ opinions first and foremost.”
Ben Cherington: “We want to have people that are at the top of their field, doing analysis on potential player acquisition, so we can determine a player’s value as accurately as we can. When I say analysis, that might come from scouting analysis — more traditional scouting where you’re evaluating a player on the field — or it might come in the form of analytics. Our job is to process that information. We put it together to paint a picture of what a player’s value is, both now and in years to come.
“Different areas of the operation are involved. We have amateur scouting, professional scouting, international scouting, analytics — we have an in-house analytics team that does a lot of work on performance analysis. All of those groups are providing information that is then aggregated to try to determine what the value is.
“Just as important for the organization is another group. You need people to nurture them, to help them develop as players, to help them stay healthy and get stronger. The player development staff and medical team are the people you’re entrusting to take care of your assets. You’ve invested a lot of money and time to identify and acquire them, and it wouldn’t make any sense to do that unless you were willing to back it up and help them once they’re here. It has to be a team effort, amongst all those groups — scouting, player development, coaching, medical and performance analysis.”
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