*Scouting and Scoring: How We Know What We Know About Baseball* (scouting bleg)

The role of reports and bureaucracy in the quantification of baseball prospects is a story that has long been obscured by a romantic notion of what scouts do and who they are.  Outside of scouting memoirs, only a handful of book-length studies of scouts exist, none of which take scouting tools and training as the central topic.  Scouts actively participate in their own mischaracterization.  Its possible to read entire memoirs of scouts without ever learning about the need to fill in a report, let alone how it is done.

That is from the forthcoming book — quite interesting — by Christopher J. Phillips. Not surprisingly, this book also discusses “scouting the scout.”

And so I ask you readers, what are the best things to read about scouts, scouting, and the scouting process?

Comments

Here's an article from 2011 on future superstar Mike Trout, and why he only went 25th in the draft even though he'd set a New Jersey high school record for home runs: nobody trusts statistics run up in New Jersey rather than, say, San Diego.

http://www.espn.com/los-angeles/mlb/news/story?id=5371199

But you never really know with players from the Northeast who put up the kind of numbers Trout did in high school.

Young prospects from places where winter is an actual season, and not just a designated period between November and March, tend to be much more raw and unpolished than their warm-weather peers.

And so the kid who has developed into one of the top prospects in all of baseball fell to the Los Angeles Angels with the 25th pick of the 2009 draft.

"Mike had all these tools, but people tend not to believe in those guys from the Northeast," said Eddie Bane, the Angels' director of scouting. "But our area scout, Greg Morhardt, had seen him a number of times and really liked him. … I think him falling to us [late in the first round] was just a case of guys not giving Northeast kids enough credit."

"Mike had all these tools, but people tend not to believe in those guys from the Northeast"

Sad to see that, in today's America, people are still judged by where they are from instead of by the content of their character.

"Young prospects from places where winter is an actual season, and not just a designated period between November and March, tend to be much more raw and unpolished than their warm-weather peers."

You would think that would be an advantage as you'd have more expected upside. With a batter, though, you don't know what kind of pitching the numbers were achieved against.

The last time I talked with an MLB player, who happened to be from the northeast, I asked him this question: "Was it hard for you coming up in college and the minors playing against guys from Georgia?" He said that once you got into college, it was mostly a benefit to be from a place where you'd put less wear and tear on your body.

I understand pitchers from the colder places have a much easier time of it, because almost everything important about them can be objectively measured. And the wear and tear matters more than it does for position players.

My cousin was a pretty dominant high school pitcher in the Chicago suburbs. He played college ball in Minnesota, then reached Double AA minors but arm troubles ended his career there. His father told me he should have sent his son to Arizona State so he didn't have to stress his arm pitching in cold weather.

I think your 3:56am message is closer to the prevailing opinion. Players from the warm states are more polished, closer to their potential at a younger age, and easier to judge because they play against better competition, but being closer to their potential cuts both ways, and they have more pitches on their arms and are more likely to experience debilitating injuries.

Whether that is analytically true or not, I can't say. Lots of people are very confident they understand what causes arm injury, and yet don't seem to be able to do anything about it in practice.

Still, playing college in the south is a good way for a northerner with potential to gain polish and credibly demonstrate their skills. Not to mention it's just more pleasant, so a lot of kids aspire to it. So your cousin's father might have been right, but for the wrong reason. Or at least a speculative reason.

"And so the kid who has developed into one of the top prospects in all of baseball fell to the Los Angeles Angels with the 25th pick of the 2009 draft."

Not to nitpick, but Trout didn't just develop into one of the best prospects in baseball, he's almost certainly going to be the best baseball player since Bonds, and there's still a shot he'll be the best since Ruth.

No one should trust stats alone when it comes to High School kids, stats are a really dumb thing to look at when evaluating a kid that young.

Say you have a kid who has set some HR record, then you go watch him play and see that the left field fence at his high school is ridiculously short.

Same situation. When you go meet the kid he's 18 years old and has a full beard and looks late 20's and has obviously developed faster than his peers and for the most part has reached his max height and frame.

There are a million other things as well. Now when you get into college and everyone is getting closer to an even playing field, then stats mean a little more.

True, though most varsity high-school players will also be on select/travel teams and the true elites will participate in college showcases and other high-profile tournaments where the competition will be much more fierce.

Perfect Game measures everyone in some detail, and you don't need to be Mike Trout to get the treatment.

See, for example, https://www.perfectgame.org/Players/Playerprofile.aspx?ID=372717

Larry might mean "in-game performance" when he says "stats," and there you've either got unknown competition, or small samples sizes (if you only look at showcases). But you can be sure people recruit based on measureables: exit velocity off a tee, 60 time, throwing velocity under a couple of conditions, etc. It's certainly not the only consideration, but good numbers and the right body type will get you looked at.

Yes, when I said stats, I'm talking Batting Avg, OB %, et. al

Of course "stats" of a height, weight, velocity, 60 time, etc are weighted heavily.

Understood. Thank you. I agree.

Fangraphs.com. Great blend of analytics and traditional scouting. Lead prospect analyst Kiley McDaniel has written a bunch of primers on scouting and how scouts use the 20-80 scouting scale.

Though I'm biased, Kiley's primer series is probably the best "free" source out there on how to scout. The next best is the four chapters in Bill Geivett's book "Do You Want To Work in Baseball". He breaks down scouting to the barebones. This book doesn't get enough credit. Finally, the intro to Baseball America's annual prospect guide is also a nice starting spot on how prospects are evaluated.

Conner D further down mentioned Dollar Sign on the Muscle by Kerrane and Prophet of the Sandlots by Winegardner. They are must reads on the subject on scout's life. There are others but start with those two. After that read Roger Angell's account in Five Seasons when he travelled with a scout. Angell is probably the best baseball write ever so enjoy the other stories as well.

Prophet of the Sandlots is great. Another piece worth reading is Alexis Brudnicki on the one-week-long MLB-sponsored Scout School:

https://www.fangraphs.com/tht/for-love-of-the-game-my-time-at-mlb-scout-school/

Also note the Grantland pieces by Ben Lindbergh noted by Brudnicki; here's the last one, which contains links to the 3 earlier parts:
http://grantland.com/the-triangle/baseball-scout-school-part-4-a-little-less-white-space-on-this-previously-blank-scouting-slate/

+1 for Fangraphs. It's like an open-source front office.

Read baseball scout job offers =) https://www.indeed.com/q-Baseball-Scout-jobs.html

The job postings for scouts literally say: "You will be required to complete roughly 100 scouting reports (3 a week) over the course of the college baseball season and attend 3 games a week". Incentives is the answer to the embellishment of stories: "all positions are paid at rates tied to quantity and quality of work performed". Since there's no objective measurement of quality for a baseball scouting report, this is paradise for the greatest story-tellers.

The amateur scouting intern offer is kind of sad: do errands, pick-up players from the airport, process expense reports.

There is an scouting analyst offer which mentions SQL and Excel, but nothing about statistics.

There is an objective measurement of scouting quality: the subsequent performance of the players scouted. How correlated are a particular scout's ratings with success? And how correlated is a rating on a particular dimension (e.g. power) with outcomes in that dimension (home runs, etc.)?

The time lag probably makes it impractical for this to factor immediately into a paycheck, but I'm sure teams are measuring this, and I'm sure it is important for career advancement.

Go to something more industry-centric.

https://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/category/job-postings/

Oh, that site is really more specific. I was wrong =) Look at this posting, it's data supported scouting:

"Develop a metric which demonstrates the baseline value for a successful temporary player in the Cape Cod League. (WAR-like metric)
Develop set of metrics for future roster construction and player identification. Develop standard metrics for the CCBL to aid scouting evaluations of overall player performance."

I know that, in theory, they are to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, cheerful, brave, thrifty, clean, and reverent, but what I know about baseball makes me doubt the courteous and clean bit, at least.

Clearly, the best scouts are eagles, right?

There's a lot more than scouting reports that are obscured in baseball. Baseball prefers to draft out of high school rather than college because the prospects' potential number of productive years is greater and the prospects can be trained by the qualified coaches in the organization rather than less qualified coaches in college. What's obscured are the many draftees out of high school who never reach the majors due to injuries or neglect and the low quality of coaching that is prevalent not only in the minors but even in the majors. In other words, it isn't scouting that fails but the neglect and low-quality coaching.

When a high school player is drafted, he is assigned to a minor league team that is affiliated with the MLB team that drafted him. "Affiliated" but not owned by the MLB team. The MLB team "leases" the player to the affiliate, leaving it to the affiliate to take care of him and coach him. The reality is that many if not most affiliates are shoe-string operations, and cannot afford the expense of closely monitoring the health and well-being of the player much less provide quality coaching. Moreover, most coaches in professional baseball are not quality coaches: they are the rejects who view themselves as above the young players recently drafted and often have an ax to grind. Under these circumstances, it's not surprising that most of the draftees wash out, never to be heard from again, which obscures the reality of what happens to them in the minors. So what happens if through the negligence of the minor league affiliate a player is injured or his injury is not adequately treated? The player is on his own. What about the responsibility of the major league team that drafted him? It disclaims any responsibility since the player is "leased" to the affiliate which has sole responsibility. The players are considered disposable, since for every player there are dozens of replacements. This is why MLB teams draft hundreds of players every year.

So a quality high school baseball player would do better by choosing to play in college and receive a free education while maturing as a baseball player? Not exactly. Division I college teams are allowed only 11.7 scholarships, to be distributed among a maximum of 27 players. I don't mean 11.7 scholarships each year, I mean a total of 11.7 scholarships for the entire team. Thus, very few college baseball players receive a full scholarship. Compare that to college basketball and football, where all of the tops players are on full scholarship.

So what are parents to do? Consider this: my good friend's son was drafted out of high school in the first round. He was assigned to an "affiliate". He was injured, his injury was neglected, and he almost died from an infection. He survived but can never play baseball again; indeed, the injury left him unable to perform many simple tasks. So what did the major league team that drafted him do? While he was in a coma near death, the MLB team that drafted him sent him a termination notice, and then disclaimed any responsibility for his injury since he had been "leased" to the affiliate. That's what is obscured about professional baseball, not scouting reports.

The thing I heard in recruiting is "Where do you want your son to find his wife? Stanford, or some podunk single-A town."

To your point, the new frontier in analytics might be "development." It's certainly getting a lot of attention from organizations like the Astros and the Red Sox.

By drafting an 18 year old boy, the analytics in predicting his future success are mostly worthless: how does one know if an 18 year old phenom will be a 22 year old phenom? Thus, the teams draft hundreds of players every year, hoping that the odds (not the analytics) will produce at least one good prospect. Baseball is great for that one good prospect, but not so much for the vast majority. As for why college baseball discriminates against baseball players (as opposed to basketball and football players), could there be collusion between the MLB teams and those in college baseball who make the rules? Just consider this rule: if a player chooses college rather than professional baseball out of high school, he must wait until after his junior year in college if he decides he wants to turn pro. You think that might encourage an 18 year old to choose professional baseball rather than college?

A player can still go to a 2 year school (Junior College) and be drafted after their Freshman or Sophomore season.

See: Bryce Harper

Yes, Bryce Harper. How many Bryce Harpers are there to the thousands who aren't. Sure, Bryce Harper can attend a junior college , or no college at all, and will become a major league star. I've spent too many weekends with parents of boys in travel baseball (I was one of the coaches) who believe their boys will be the next Bryce Harper. Or at least get a free ride to college. When I tell the unsuspecting parents abut the limitations on college baseball scholarships, I'm sure they believe what I am telling them is "fake news". It's sad. It's America.

Ray, my friend, calm down. You're statement of "if a player chooses college rather than professional baseball out of high school, he must wait until after his junior year in college if he decides he wants to turn pro" was false.

That is all I was pointing out. Bryce Harper in my example could be some John Doe Jr. The example wasn't the point. Your statement of fact that was absolutely false was the point.

Division I means a four year college. But that misses the point: great success in baseball is limited to the very few, the Bryce Harpers, while thousands languish in the minor leagues and are destined to a life of disappointment and low wages commensurate with their low education and skills.

A friend's brother played college baseball at Stanford. The minors were a real drag compared to Stanford. Long bus rides, poor coaching, and poor medical care. He got hurt and his minor league manager kept ordering him to do exercises that were aggravating his injury. He finally walked off the minor league team, came home, and had Sandy Koufax's old surgeon, Dr. Kerlan, operate on him. The major league front office was mad, but then they thought about it and decided to let their Stanford prodigy have his way. He eventually made it back to the major and won a Cy Young award for them.

It's not all bad news. Consider: how do schools like Vanderbilt and UVA win the college baseball world series? Think about it.

Rice U. won a college world series too.

Baseball is pretty reasonable sport for a higher end college to invest in. Ballplayers tend not to be real bookish -- if they'd been inside reading all summer, they probably wouldn't have the 20-15 eyesight helpful in hitting big league pitching. But they tend to get arrested less than football and basketball players.

Meh. Baseball is up there with hockey as a nerdy white guy sport. It's no surprise it became the most mathish.

Slightly off topic, but Bill James wrote a book in the 1990s called Baseball Managers. He explores the qualities that make a manager great. It's one of my favorite James books, but is generally underrated by the public.

Not American sports scouting, but Mike Calvin's The Nowhere Men is an excellent book on scouting in English football https://www.amazon.co.uk/Nowhere-Men-Michael-Calvin/dp/0099580268

Just read The Arm:
https://www.amazon.com/Arm-Billion-Dollar-Mystery-Valuable-Commodity/dp/0062400371/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1545236214&sr=8-1&keywords=the+arm
Pitchers and Tommy John surgery but also lots about scouting. Quite good.

My younger brother was drafted this year in the 2018 draft by the Chicago Cubs. He came out of high school, so I was fortunate enough to be able to view the entire process from a unique perspective. So far, the best resource I've found that mirrors what he went through is this: https://bleacherreport.com/articles/1655613-the-evolution-of-the-scouting-

I don't know where you might read up on this, but one key is that much baseball scouting now takes place in the Third-World mire of the Caribbean and Central America, adding another element to baseball's fog of war.

When the Pittsburgh Pirates were so strong some 50 years ago they were given credit for being pioneers in this area.

Dollar Sign on the Muscle by Kerrane and Prophet of the Sandlots by Winegardner are the first two that come to mind for me.

Here's the "scout" search page on "Cleaning the Glass," an excellent basketball blog.

(Note: There is a paywall)

https://cleaningtheglass.com/?s=scout

It's American Football and he's an amateur - but Matt Waldman (https://mattwaldmanrsp.com/) writes extensively about his process, including what he sees as an outsider.

You've got to start with "Moneyball," don't you?

For a more well-rounded overview of blending scouting/analytics and how front office evaluate talent, I'd think Moneyball, Extra 2%, Only Rule is It Has To Work, Astroball are all excellent, but only have a bit on the art of scouting itself.

You might try this four part series by Ben Lindbergh on his experience attending Scout School:

http://grantland.com/the-triangle/welcome-to-baseball-scout-school/

Seconded. Lindbergh is a truly excellent third-wave sabermetrics writer. Unrelatedly, sabermetrics strongholds like Fangraphs are great examples of the slightly amended O'Sullivans law -- places that are not explicitly and declaredly right wing (or simply begin as politically neutral) will eventually become left wing.

Fangraphs has been left wing since I've been aware of it. Was there a before time?

Dollar Sign on the Muscle. Recently re-released.

Forget the real stuff. Watch "Trouble with the Curve" with Clint Eastwood and Amy Adams. And just ignore the fact that Amy Adams would not easily handle pitches thrown at full speed by a true major league prospect. Periodically it is good to throw off analysis.

I'll also recommend Dollar Sign on the Muscle as the "correct" answer, but I found it to be incredibly insufferable when I read it.

The way I learned how to think like a scout was listening to the long-ended Up and In Baseball Prospectus podcast, which is far more engaging than a 7 year old podcast has any right to be. Both of the hosts now work for major league teams (Kevin Goldstein is now the director of pro scouting for the Astros). https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/up-and-in-the-baseball-prospectus-podcast

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