Scouts vs. Sabrmetricians

Wednesday, December 18 2002 @ 10:56 AM EST

Contributed by: Jordan

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.