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It's the great front-office debate of our time: who's right, the grizzled old scout or the brash young sabrmetrician? In many respects, it's the battle raging throughout the Blue Jays organization, as JP Ricciardi, Keith Law and other new-breed types clash with the scouting-friendly culture that, from all accounts, held sway over the club's decision-making process throughout the Gord Ash regime.

Ricciardi is dismantling that culture, slashing the scouting roster and implementing a new organizational philosophy, and I can only imagine there's been some blood on the floor at Skydome the last several months as a result. It's a difficult process, but a necessary one, and it neatly symbolizes the trend occuring throughout the game.

In a terrific article, Ken Rosenthal of The Sporting News explores and analyzes this battle between old and new, traditional and innovative, without taking sides. There's some quotes from Ricciardi and a rather bitter volley from Buck Martinez, and overall I think the sabrmetric side comes out looking a little better. That opinion may also reflect my own bias, of course, since I tend to favour hard evidence over more subjective judgments.

Still, there is validity in the traditional approaches to player evaluation. Kent can make the argument better than I can, but it comes down to acknowledging that players win and lose as a team, that the things you can't measure very well (infield defence, clubhouse behaviour, a pitcher's confidence in his catcher, the coaching staff's effectiveness) still play an important role in success or the lack thereof.

Like Theo Epstein, I think the ideal approach would encompass elements of both camps --- but the culture clash inherent in attempting that integration could tear an organization apart. No matter how much open communication you may have between the two sides, at some point a decision has to be made, and either scouts or sabrmetricians will get the final say. I daresay JP is aiming for an integrated approach with a sabrmetric slant, but it's going to take tremendous leadership skills to keep that train on the track.

This is a fascinating debate, and one that will have a direct impact on the fortunes of the Toronto Blue Jays for the next decade. I'd be quite interested in readers' take on the battle.
Scouts vs. Sabrmetricians | 7 comments | Create New Account
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_Jurgen Maas - Wednesday, December 18 2002 @ 11:35 PM EST (#100847) #
I was also impressed by Rosenthal's article. Just when I think of giving up on him (saying something to the effect that Foulke had a bad season when even the more conventional statistics suggests otherwise despite the lack of saves), he writes something like this. (His article immediately after the World Series about MLB's poor job of promoting itself and its current stars in favour of nostalgia is another excellent one.)

As a side note, while I am overall happy with the direction of the J.P. regime, the cutting of the scouts does concern me. The Jays seem to have done a good job over the years of bringing up good offensive talent--Delgado, Stewart, Green, Olerud, Kent, not to mention the current crop of good young hitters. I think the post-Gillick years are better defined by poor personnel moves (Green for Mondesi, Clemens for Wells) rather than poor scouting. Alex Gonzalez, say, is a good defensive shortstop and a decent hitter. The problem wasn't drafting and developing him, but deciding to pay him $5 million a year for 4 years when their were other comporable and less expensive options. (Woodward, for instance.)
_Matthew Elmslie - Thursday, December 19 2002 @ 10:18 AM EST (#100848) #
Well, if you look at Ricciardi's background... he's been a player, a coach, a scout, a cross-checker, an instructor and a scouting supervisor. I think it's fair to say that he knows the value of scouting. When I see the Jays making cuts to their scouting department, my take on it is that they're streamlining it, not de-emphasizing it.

I'd be very surprised if Ricciardi was a big stats guy himself. I think a better interpretation is that he's aware of the statistical side of things and how valuable the information can be, and brought Law in to be the guy who actually has expertise in this area. I don't anticipate trouble between the two 'camps' as long as a) ownership continues to support Ricciardi and b) Ricciardi continues to value both schools of thought.
_Kent - Thursday, December 19 2002 @ 11:01 AM EST (#100849) #
Rescind the broadcasting credits from Buck Martinez and remove him from my on-deck wing of the Oval of Accomplishment for that cheap shot. (First scout: "If baseball's a science, how come Einstein never hit .400?" Second scout: "Yeah, well if it's an art, why didn't Picasso win a Cy Young?" Buck: "Good points.")

I'm a traditionalist; I hate the DH and loathed interleague play until it brought Bonds to town. My purely subjective player evaluations are based on biology: if the hair on my arms stands up the first time I see a guy, he's good. Would this "system" work in a big-league organization? Well, it couldn't hurt the Orioles.

I've been a passionate fan for over 40 years. I'm in awe of pure talent, but my favourites are guys who are more than the sum of their parts; six-toolers. So I loved Mays, not Mantle. Mattingly, not Garvey. As a "convert" to sabrmetrics (because what Bill James was saying echoed what I had seen, most of the time) I consider it a tool to confirm my opinions, but if I was running a team, I'd operate precisely the other way -- "hmm, nice numbers -- let's check him out."

My approach as a fan has become "ambidextrous." I liked the Hinske trade on paper (mostly was elated to see Koch's north side heading south) and eagerly awaited my first look. When a TV spring training game showed him to be "better" than his minor-league numbers -- big, intense and with a great approach to each AB -- I was hooked, predicting the RoY in March, to the irritation of my ESPN colleagues in Arlington and the Bronx. The first time I saw Frankie Rodriguez pitch (3 K vs. the heart of the Oakland lineup in late September) I thought of Pedro and Mo, but had to look at the stats to "see" if that was possible. Guess what?

Jordan's right -- JP is aiming for an integrated approach with a sabrmetric slant -- and I agree with the plan. If an "exciting" player gets scout-types salivating beyond reason, but the numbers show no reason to project success, pass him on to the Cubs. Stats men calmly, rationally identify needles in haystacks, and if they check out physically, emotionally and intellectually, not only are they worth following, they are bargains, compared to the toolsy types. And if the stats scream "Jeremy Giambi," but your scouts and colleagues are concerned about the Dreaded Intangibles, turn your attention to the next OPS machine. Downsizing the scouting department is fine, if it doesn't mean a complete dependence on one method over the other.

In particular, the current Jays regime has de-emphasized scouting in Canada, which tweaks my nationalistic reflexes but makes economic sense; "everyone" will know about Jeff Francis, Adam Loewen and the next Larry Walker, should he ever emerge. Let the other clubs waste resources looking for a diamond in the rough in Flin Flon. Toronto is also going from the quantity approach in Latin America (if we sign every kid in San Pedro, we're sure to get the next great SS) to a more selective focus, and they are virtually ignoring the Far East. With few exceptions, the Jays drafted college players over high schoolers. Each of these decisions makes sense, and collectively they will reduce expenses, minimize costly mistakes and keep the system well stocked with talent.

Jurgen makes a good point about the Jays' scouting and drafting not being the problem in the Ash years. It was the decision-making in the front office; the inability to recognize a Dave Stewart "gamer" from a useful contributor, or to admit, and cut losses on, mistakes.

The reason I admire Ricciardi, and Beane, is they came from the field to the office, but kept learning and adjusting their philosophies, and they are able to integrate all their knowledge. If Keith Law discovers two "identical" bargain free agents, but there's not room for both in the organization, I trust J.P. to identify the better one based on the synthesis of his baseball instincts and his intelligence. If a scout recommends two kids equally, and only one can be the #1 draft pick, Keith's data and projections could well be, and should be, the deciding factor.

One of the Jays' significant off-season moves, still hovering below most people's radar, was adding Tony LaCava as Assistant GM. He's a professional clone of Ricciardi, and with J.P.'s other duties, including contractual matters, media relations and TV commercials, taking time away from the experience and strengths Matthew mentions, he will be trusting LaCava to be his eyes and ears. This resembles the A's, when Beane had assistants like Grady Fuson and J.P., but tilts the balance to the Jays front office as the deepest, most talented and most versatile in all of baseball.
Coach - Thursday, December 19 2002 @ 02:10 PM EST (#100850) #
Here's a lengthy, but interesting article from Josh Boyd (Baseball America) on Scout School.

There are links from that page to the author's diary of the experience. Willie Wilson is a graduate, and many students, already employed as scouts, are trying to improve their skills.

"I didn't go to scout school, but I wish I had," says Royals GM Allard Baird. KC fans everywhere agree.
_Jordan - Thursday, December 19 2002 @ 02:44 PM EST (#100851) #
On the other hand, though, I couldn't help noticing that Kenny Williams is a graduate, as is the current Royals Assistant GM. I don't know that they want to be promoting alumni like that.... It's a great article, though.
_Ryan Adams - Thursday, December 19 2002 @ 04:33 PM EST (#100852) #
One thing that makes Ricciardi stand out is that he looks for actual baseball skills, which is something that a lot of scouts surprisingly don't seem to look for. One night when Ricciardi was in the booth with Rob Faulds and Jerry Howarth (Cerutti was away that night), there was brief exchange that went like this:

Howarth: As a scout, you like good athletes, don't you?
Ricciardi: I like ballplayers.

I agree that scouting still has an important role to play in evaluation, as long as the scouts know what skills are important. That's where sabermetrics comes in. Scouts need to realize that plate discipline and power are more important in making a successful baseball player than speed and general athleticism.
Craig B - Thursday, December 19 2002 @ 10:43 PM EST (#100853) #
Howarth: As a scout, you like good athletes, don't you?
Ricciardi: I like ballplayers.

Two words : Henry Cotto.
Scouts vs. Sabrmetricians | 7 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.