Archive for Scouting Explained

The Status of the Scouts vs. Stats Debate

“Scouts vs. stats” is an expression that boils a complex, gray issue into clear black-and-white sides,in a way that’s familiar to those who follow political media. In the reality of front-office decision-making, however, this “debate” has been settled for years and the obvious answer was always “both.”

In fact, the issue has moved past simply using both. Until recently, if one suggested that a club should move further toward one side at the expense of the other, anyone could shoot back with a counter example of recent success from the other end of the spectrum. That’s a bit harder do now: two years removed from the Royals’ latest World Series appearance and three years out from the 2010-2014 Giants run, there isn’t a current standard bearer for the traditional point of view, even if that’s just cyclical and I’m using a somewhat subjective label.

The final four clubs standing in each of 2016 and 2017 — the Astros, Blue Jays, Cubs, Dodgers, Indians, and Yankees — would all rank among the top 10 of any industry poll of the league’s most progressive clubs. If you want to argue that their success is the result of variance, a blip, or mere coincidence, this development isn’t just the product of randomness. There’s an actual explanation. In these last two seasons, we’ve seen a fundamental change in the style of play (a greater emphasis on the air ball, quick hooks on starters, more aggressive bullpen usage, etc.) — particularly in the postseason. A progressive club, by definition, will adapt more quickly to such changes.

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Scouting Explained: The Mysterious Hit Tool, Pt. 6

Scouting Explained: Introduction, Hitting Pt 1 Pt 2 Pt 3 Pt 4 Pt 5 Pt 6

Over my first two months at FanGraphs, I was surprised that the thing I got the most questions about was bat speed. Part of that may be that I’ve spent a lot of words talking about how mysterious the hit tool is, while bat speed seems like an input of the hit tool that’s objective. The common question is basically that, if this one part of the mystery can be perfectly quantified, then why aren’t scouts trying to demystify the process by quantifying it?

The problem is that bat speed can’t be perfectly quantified and there are maybe a dozen inputs to the hit tool. I split power into raw (deepest shot in batting practice) and game (homers per full MLB season at maturity) because of the obvious split between tools and game performance. A player could be “measured” to have plus bat speed but have no ability to make contact with that swing, like a pitcher that can hit 95 mph but has to pitch 90-92 mph to command it enough to stay in the game.

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Scouting Explained: The Mysterious Hit Tool Mailbag

Scouting Explained: Introduction, Hitting Pt 1 Pt 2 Pt 3 Pt 4 Pt 5 Pt 6

I wrote a four-part series on the hit tool as an entirely-too-long breakdown of the things I look for when I scout a hitter, but I knew there would be things I forgot to mention.  The one thing I forgot to bring up is something I mentioned in the also-entirely-too-long draft rankings; the different process I use to grade the current hit tool for amateur players.  Quoting from those draft rankings:

The present hit grades for Rodgers and for all amateur players going forward is a peer grade…rather than just putting blanket 20s on everyone’s present hit tool. A peer grade means how the player performs currently in games relative to his peers: players the same age and general draft status or skill level. Some teams started using this system to avoid over-projecting a raw hitter; some use the rule that you can’t project over 10 points above the peer grade for the future grade.  This helps you avoid saying players that can’t really hit now will become standout big league hitters. Obviously, some will, but it’s not very common and it’s probably smart to not bet millions on the rare one that will.

I said I would explain more about this, but I think I said basically everything here.  All but maybe one or two hitters in each draft class will have present 20 hit grades, but the context and amount of evidence will vary greatly.  The peer hitting grade helps tie this all together because, for a player with a short track record, scouts will find themselves projecting only on hitting tools when there isn’t much performance to grade. Using this system, it helps remind you to consider performance, but still weighing it appropriately given the sample size, competition level, etc.  I’m sure I’ll talk more about this with more specific examples as the draft approaches and grading conundrums present themselves.

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Scouting Explained: The Mysterious Hit Tool, Pt. 4

Scouting Explained: Introduction, Hitting Pt 1 Pt 2 Pt 3 Pt 4 Pt 5 Pt 6

Here’s the scouting data (not the text report) from what I wrote on the Rangers list, their top prospect, Joey Gallo.

Hit: 30/45, Game Power: 60/70, Raw Power: 80/80, Speed: 40/40, Field: 45/50, Throw: 70/70
Upside: .260/.350/.500 (30-35 HR), fringy 3B or solid RF
FV/Risk: 60, High (4 on a 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2014: AA, 2015: AAA/MLB, 2016: MLB

For this, we’ll focus on the hit grade and upside and risk sections. I’ve re-posted a table from the introduction to this series, showing the scale most clubs use to project the hit tool.
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Scouting Explained: The Mysterious Hit Tool, Pt. 3

Scouting Explained: Introduction, Hitting Pt 1 Pt 2 Pt 3 Pt 4 Pt 5 Pt 6

In high school, stats mean nothing. In college, we can look at general indicators, and when taken in context (i.e. he’s the only good hitter on his team and he gets pitched around a lot, he told our scout this frustrates him, etc.) can have some predictive value. For high school showcases with wood bats against good pitching, we can take some away and from the couple good college summer leagues we can take the most (in the amateur context). But, in general, amateur hitting stats mean nothing unless you have some scouting context and hopefully two of 1) strong competition 2) a big sample and 3) a wood bat.

At the professional level, stats are much more insightful. I wouldn’t take much from short-season leagues (which are basically the same level of competition as the best amateur leagues, like the SEC or the Cape Cod League) but in full-season ball we can start to notice things.

I scouted a player a few years ago for a club and though he would be a 45 bat from BP and my recollections from the games, then noticed when I went over my game notes that I wrote a lot of positive comments, thinking I might go as high as a 55. Then I checked his stats: he went 12-for-15 in the games I saw, but hit.250 that season with poor peripherals (I saw him at the end of the season).

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Scouting Explained: The Mysterious Hit Tool, Pt. 2

Scouting Explained: Introduction, Hitting Pt 1 Pt 2 Pt 3 Pt 4 Pt 5 Pt 6

As I was learning to evaluate, I was overwhelmed by this challenge of grading the hit tool. I wasn’t advanced enough to notice when hitters seemed uncomfortable as fast as I wanted to notice it and I hadn’t been on the beat long enough to have multiple years of history with players to know how to put what I was seeing in context of their whole careers. The easier part, however, was noticing the raw hitting tools. By the time an evaluator gets good at noticing and grading these, the other stuff tends to follow.

I break hitting into three components, but you could easily break it down further into many more. I saw three basic groupings and put every observation into one, then graded each group on the 20-80 scale, then use those to get to a hit tool grade in a more objective way. Scouts all have different ways that they do it and I’ve tinkered with different methods, but this one works for me and also gives me a guide for what to ask scouts about with hitters I haven’t seen recently.

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Scouting Explained: The Mysterious Hit Tool, Pt. 1

Scouting Explained: Introduction, Hitting Pt 1 Pt 2 Pt 3 Pt 4 Pt 5 Pt 6

It’s the mysterious hit tool because everyone seems to agree it’s the most important tool in an evaluation, for a hitter or a position player, and it’s also the hardest to project, with the most components of any other tool.

If a scout could project pitcher health and the hit tool perfectly, he would be shockingly close to perfect in his evaluations. Since no one is solving pitcher health any time soon, I’m going to focus on the hit tool: we actually have all the information we need in most cases, it’s just hard to weight the factors correctly. Click here for the introduction to this series explaining how to scout.

Collecting The Information

When scouting major and minor league players, scouts normally are assigned a team and given 5 or 6 games to watch every player on that team. It works out that you should see all the pitchers in this span but also, once you scout a hitter for 4 or 5 games (with an off-day mixed in) you get the amount of information you need.

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Scouting Explained: The 20-80 Scouting Scale

Scouting Explained: Introduction, Hitting Pt 1 Pt 2 Pt 3 Pt 4 Pt 5 Pt 6

When I started here just last month, I promised I would write a comprehensive series of articles explaining every part of the 20-80 scouting scale. This is the beginning of that series.

Background

The invention of the scale is credited to Branch Rickey and whether he intended it or not, it mirrors various scientific scales. 50 is major league average, then each 10 point increment represents a standard deviation better or worse than average. In a normal distribution, three standard deviations in either direction should include 99.7% of your sample, so that’s why the scale is 20 to 80 rather than 0 and 100. That said, the distribution of tools isn’t a normal curve for every tool, but is somewhere close to that for most.

The Basics

You’ve probably heard people call athletic hitters a “five-tool prospect.” While that is an overused and misunderstood term, they are referring to the 20-80 scouting scale. The five tools for position players are 1) Hitting 2) Power 3) Running 4) Fielding and 5) Throwing. The general use of the “five-tool” term is when all five are at least average (which is more rare than you’d think) and I generally only use it when all five are above average. It’s a shockingly small list of players over the history of baseball that have five plus tools, but if you ask around, scouts will tell you Bo Knows.

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