Tag Archives: scouting

Choice Quotes from Dollar Sign on the Muscle.

Don’t want to break any copyright laws, but there is some awesome stuff in this book.

Dollar Sign on the Muscle is a book on scouting, written in 1984. It’s very well-written, it’s got some excellent stories, and Kevin Kerrane, the author, has done an excellent job (as far as I’ve read) on telling the full story, from the gut-feeling scouts to the scientific measurements used to the inexact science

I’m reading Dollar Sign on the Muscle, written ~1981 and there’s some really, really good stuff in this book. It gushed early and was more or less a platform for scouts to tell their stories with a few interesting tidbits. Then around Ch. 3, it started getting really interesting, talking about player make-up and the necessary psychological information, which is HUGELY important, according to scouts. Makes sense.

From Lou Gorman, who worked in Kansas City’s scouting department as the director of player development.

Ewing Kauffman used to say: ‘We have to be more definitive [about scouting]. Scouting has always been just an inexact science.’ Well, it has. And it probably always will be. You can try to make it a science, but it’s really more of an art form.

He said, ‘But why can’t you scout more like football people do? They do all these workups, strength tests, and all that.’ I said, ‘Mr. Kauffman, we can use a Cybex to measure ratios of muscle strength, even get a computer to graph them, but what that spots is physical flaws not physical abilities.’ Look at Ernie Banks. Shit, he was weak. But he could hit the ball as far as anyone in the game. Good hitters depend more on bat speed than strength.

So Kauffman said, ‘You tell me bat speed’s important. All right, let’s get a goddamn machine to measure bat speed.’ I said ‘Bat speed is important, but what’s more important is when the bat speed occurs.’ He said ‘Then we can do reflex tests and eye tests.’ I said ‘Fine, Mr. Kauffman, but there’s so many skills involved here that you’ll never have the machines to isolate them all and tell you everything you need to know. Because so much of baseball is psychological, like lack of fear at the plate.

Jim McLaughlin was a scouting director in the ’60s and ’70s for the Orioles and Reds. He “mapped out the strategies of draft-era scouting” and quoted Shakespeare.

When Fred Hoffman scouted Brooks Robinson, he saw the whole ballplayer. Brooks was just an average runner, he didn’t have a great arm, his frame was still kind of frail, his hitting was still a question mark, and he was playing at second base. But Fred visualized him as a third baseman. He said, ‘This boy’s quick even though he’s not fast, and he’s gonna be just like a vacuum cleaner in the infield. Fred saw the soft hands, the live body, the great reflexes that allow you to project hitters. He was able to see the masterpiece in its entirety. Not just the total coordination in that body, but the total coordination in that person–beyond what could be seen with the eye.

The book talks about “the good face,” which is a quality some scouts use to describe a player who has the kindly, Je-ne-sais-quoi in him that just screams “he’s gonna be in the pros some day.” McLaughlin continues:

I used to hear scouts talk about ‘the good face’–as if they could tell about a kid’s makeup just by looking at him, instead of taking the trouble to get to know him, or studying the results of a psychological test. I used to hear those ‘good face’ stories and they’d drive me up the wall. Scouts can be so damn unscientific! At one time, it was the conventional wisdom that a black kid couldn’t become a successful big-league pitcher, because he wouldn’t have any guts when he walked out to the mound, because he’d be only sixty feet, six inches from home plate. There was no basis for that. It was just prejudice–or fantasy, or myth, whatever you want to call it. I was the scouting director and I had to listen to this bullshit.

More later.


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Mechanics, Wealthy 12-year-olds and Scouting Philosophy: An E-Mail Exchange with Baseball America’s Ben Badler

Ben Badler’s a really cool guy. He writes for Baseball America, primarily as the International Free Agent Scout, and on Twitter, he often responds to whatever questions fans pose to him. He took time after the international free agent signing deadline to correspond with me by e-mail. Here’s the resulting conversation.

1. So starting off, how many languages do you speak and how often do you use them? Per day? Per week?

I speak enough Spanish to be able to communicate, but the only language I speak fluently is English. For my job, the scouts I talk to are almost all bilingual, so it’s never an issue.

2. Earlier this week in an interview with BBTIA, you said bonuses have taken a huge jump for even marginal players. How is this affecting a given team’s economic plan? Think Red Sox international scouting vs. Brewers.

I think it’s forcing certain teams to be more patient regardless of whether they are big or small market clubs. If the Red Sox and Yankees wanted to drop $3 million on a player in this market, they have the money to do so, but you don’t see them doing that because a lot of the players’ asking prices aren’t congruent with how they value the players. The escalation of the market really hurts teams that have the antiquated notion that running an international program on a shoestring budget is still a viable option in today’s market.

Look, as long as players can sign when they are 16 years old, there are always going to be players who sign for $50,000 or so who will be late bloomers and turn into quality major leaguers.

But with more teams becoming competitive in Latin America and more agents with vast networks of their own getting to players when they are 15, 14, 13, even 12 years old and helping them get fair market value, I think those bargains are going to be harder to find. They will still be there, but being willing to spend $500,000 on an international free agent and finding a bargain for $50,000 aren’t mutually exclusive–you can do both. That doesn’t mean a team has to spend $2 million every year on an international prospect, but the teams that aren’t willing to spend the money to sign prospects in the low to mid six-figure range have already fallen behind and will continue to do so going forward.

3. And speaking of that, is it becoming more beneficial to be internationally born than to be American born and enter the Rule IV draft?

Any time you can negotiate with 30 teams rather than one, yes, you’re going to be better off. However, I don’t think it’s a universal truth that all players would be better off as free agent at 16 than going through the draft. How much would a kid like Stephen Strasburg or Tim Lincecum have signed for at age 16, even assuming they were 16 in today’s market? Not much, maybe low six-figure money at best and probably less than that. They matured later on in their lives and ended up signing for millions, even with the restriction of being able to negotiate a contract with only one organization.

4. The Dodgers have had some success on the international scouting level, mostly in pitching and particularly in relief pitching. Logan White’s talked a lot about spending wisely and frugally on the international market, for someone who’s not so familiar with the process of international scouting, what does he mean by that and has he stuck to it?

I think every team wants to spend wisely in the international market, or any market for that matter. Signing a player for a huge bonus in Latin America to make a “statement” is just foolish, and most of the “statement signings” (Esmailyn Gonzalez, etc.) have blown up in teams’ faces. The only statement it makes is that you’re willing to throw away money. The Dodgers aren’t going to do that, which is smart. At the same time, it does take more financial resources than it did in the past to compete in Latin America for talent, and the lack of Latin American prospects in their farm system reflects the fact that they aren’t investing as much money internationally as many other other teams.

6. Moving on to scouting, what’s the first thing you look for in a hitter? Power swing through the hips? Swing fluidity? What about a pitcher’s mechanics? Hyperabduction? Repetition of motion?

The first thing I do is ask the scouts what they see, preferably as many scouts as possible. Even if I see a player, usually I only get a handful of looks at him. A pro scout will usually be in charge of covering a few different organizations, which means he’s going to see a player several times over the course of a season. So talking to a handful of scouts is always going to paint a better picture of the player’s present and projected future talent levels than going off of what I or any other one person sees.

I wouldn’t say there’s one thing I look for first in a hitter. Hitters can be successful doing things in different ways, and the things you look for in an 18-year-old high school hitter aren’t necessarily the same things you expect to see out of a 23-year-old in Triple-A.

That said, you want to ideally see a player with a short, compact swing, good bat speed, a clean trigger, good extension, the ability to recognize balls and strikes and to hit the break ball, and good hand-eye coordination. Hitters can do some unorthodox things if they have outstanding hand-eye coordination and can put the barrel to the baseball, although the further they are from the big leagues, the more of a challenge it is to project whether that skill will carry over at the major league level.

7. Scouting is, I’m guessing, a fluid enterprise where players desired can change–I’m thinking specifically of moving from average to OBP and high-K rates to high GB-rates–would you say this is accurate? What about scouting has changed in the last 15 years? What will be the future of scouting?

The best practices in any industry are always evolving. I think it’s fair to say that there is more emphasis today on OBP and plate discipline than there was 15 years ago, but that means finding players who will get on base at a high clip at the major league level, not just picking the high-OBP college player whose skill set won’t translate well as he moves up the ladder.

One thing that has changed is that teams have expanded their scouting staffs, a trend I expect to continue both domestically and internationally. Today, most teams have an area scout who is in charge of a multiple states or one big state, with a regional crosschecker supervising an even larger area.

I don’t know when, but I think at some point in the future we’re going to look back and wonder why teams operated this way. I think we’re going to see multiple full-time area scouts with coverage in the same state, which reduces travel for scouts, increases the number of players a team can see and increased the eyeballs and insight you can get on a player. The more good scouts you have getting more looks at amateur players, the better your evaluations are going to be.

8. About pitching and hitting mechanics, there’ve been a few sites popping up over the years that seem to be teaching uninformed fans about mechanics, both swing and pitching (Chris O’Leary and Drive Line are two that come to mind). Are there any analysts who you would say understand scouting? Ones that you’d say don’t?

Not talking about anyone in particular, but the one thing I see that I think is misguided is when people make sweeping generalizations based off what they see from a video clip online. Those videos can give you an idea of what a player looks like and usually a few basic things about a player’s stance, swing, arm action, etc., but that’s all it is–a brief look at a player on one date, and usually that date isn’t included in the video clip.

Even a great hitter’s swing at times will get long or he’ll swing through a good fastball, or a great pitcher will throw a soft breaking ball or fly open with his delivery. The same way a scout wouldn’t make a judgment on a hitter based on one game or a pitcher based on a couple of innings, there’s just no way you can state anything about a player based on video without placing an enormous error bar around any of your judgments.

9. Finally, now that we’re in a world where PitchFX is readily available, have you found your analysis of a pitcher’s pitches, whether they be plus or average or plus-plus, matches what PitchFX reports?

The raw Pitch f/x data won’t tell you whether a pitcher throws a 60 curveball or a 70 changeup; it’s up to the analysts to break down the raw data and turn it into information. From that information, I think Pitch f/x has agreed with what scouts are saying in most cases.

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Piliere posts his mid-season top 25

Frankie Piliere has posted his top 25 prospects at the mid-season point and I gotta say, quite a jump for a few players.

Mike Trout has jumped from a mid-top 100 player to the top.

In the comments section, Piliere defends some of his picks. Some of the readers have a few problems, and it’s an interesting read.

I’ve been openly critical on here several times of the Reds’ move to sign Aroldis Chapman–it still seems like he’s set up for failure–but Piliere states pretty clearly that the stuff is there, it’s just up for Chapman to make it happen.

The list is after the jump.

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