Carleton: How to work with scouting data

From Russell Carleton at Baseball Prospectus on September 10, 2013:

There never was a stats vs. scouts war. If there was, it was silly. A good researcher knows that you never throw away perfectly good data.

Yes. Data.

It seems that because of that scene in Moneyball, people believe that there is still some sort of war against scouts going on. As someone who prefers to promote peace, love, and understanding (what’s so funny about that?), perhaps what’s needed is a better understanding of how we might be misunderstanding scouting reports. They are data, just in a different form than those of us who usually work the numbers are used to. May I present a short five-step plan to understanding how scouting data can (and perhaps, should) be used to further our understanding of baseball in a perfectly scientific manner.

Step 1: Recognize a data collector when you see one.
Retrosheet data files are wonderful. PITCHf/x is beautiful. If FIELDf/x or HITf/x make it out into the wild, that will be some kind of awesome. Heck, I get excited looking at a good box score. Just because a data stream does not come pre-packaged as a spreadsheet does not make it useless.

Consider the scout, particularly the one who draws the 16-year-old amateur beat. He has spent a good chunk of his adult life watching really bad baseball, all in the hopes of finding one or two kids who are slightly less bad than the others, and projecting out the fact that in 10 years (!), this special kid will turn into one of the five best baseball players on the planet. He spends a lot of time thinking about how to accomplish this goal, because it’s his job. One of the things that happens when you spend a lot of time either thinking about or doing something is that you begin to, sometimes without even knowing it, pick up on subtle differences that no one else even knows to look for. The little tilt in the left elbow that distinguishes a guy who might develop some power rather than the guy who will not develop any further.

Let’s give scouts credit for the skills that they have developed.

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Originally published: September 12, 2013. Last Updated: September 12, 2013.