Scouts Are Stupid

As Major League Baseball’s amateur draft approaches, it never ceases to amaze me the strength of opinions that fans are able to form about players who, for the most part, they haven’t even had the opportunity to see. Baseball isn’t like other sports where games played by undrafted athletes are readily available to anyone seeking them out. And relying on statistics with varying sample sizes against even more varying levels of competition for any accuracy is a fool’s errand.

So, we look to the opinions of experts to form our own thoughts as to who would be the best fit for our team. To a large extent, it’s like going to the doctor’s or travelling by airplane. We have absolutely no clue or no means to do it ourselves, and so we put our faith in someone with the credentials that say he does.

So, who are these guys anyway? I mean we have a certain level of trust for writers like Keith Law, Kevin Goldstein and Jim Callis because they’ve proven themselves to be reasonable evaluators of talent in the past. They have a track record for reasonable opinions.

But what about the guys making decisions for the actual clubs? Most of us baseball obsessed types will know our favourite team’s scouting director, and possibly a few of the names of the people working under him. But who is it that makes draft and trade recommendations? Who’s doing the advance scouting of a team’s opposition?

A recent article by ESPN New York’s Andrew Marchand paints a very frightening picture. Here are some selections from the piece:

At [Derek] Jeter’s diminished state, with 3,000 hits and a 37th birthday around the corner, Jeter is still as good as at least half the shortstops in baseball — and maybe more, if you listen to scouts.

“He would be in my top 10,” another AL scout said.

The second scout called the Jeter matchup with the Angels’ Erick Aybar a “toss-up,” but ultimately took Jeter.

Scouts liked Jeter over the Mets’ Jose Reyes because of Jeter’s durability. The Blue Jays’ [Yunel] Escobar wasn’t a lock over Jeter among the five scouts we spoke with.

As usual with Jeter, the scouts’ take doesn’t fully measure up with that of the sabermatricians.

The scouts continue to love — if we can make up a word — Jeter’s “Captain-ness.” They say he is about more than the numbers.

Scouts believe Jeter’s history of being a winning player who knows the right spot to be at all times still counts for something even with his skills decaying as his 37th birthday on June 26 approaches.

The Diamondbacks’ Stephen Drew has an OPS that is 140 points higher than Jeter’s, while the Escobar stands above Drew’s, hovering around .850. Still, a scout again felt Jeter was more of a winning player than either.

In these flip-a-coin 2011 matchups, Jeter not only gets the edge because of his right-place, right-time sixth sense, but his defense. Jeter may not have the range, but he takes care of all the balls in front of him. This routine skill is more important with scoring down.

“It has taken on an increased premium,” a scout said.

People who think Derek Jeter is still a very good shortstop make real baseball decisions for real baseball teams. For reals!

I know that denigrating Derek Jeter’s accomplishments has been a cause celebre between traditional baseball people and those who, like me, use advanced metrics and reason to evaluate a player’s performance, but I actually like Jeter quite a bit. He was a really good shortstop for a long time, and yeah, through no fault anyone but time’s, he’s beginning to fade. It happens. We’re all subject to growing older. But the idea that anyone, and I mean anyone in existence, let alone someone employed by a Major League Baseball team would take Derek Jeter over Jose Reyes is ridiculous.

And I say that not only as someone who trusts numbers over his own eyes, but also as someone who watches a lot of baseball. I could quote a dozen different numbers from FanGraphs that proves Reyes is the better player, but I don’t have to use statistics. I can relate at an observational level to these scouts.

Normally, I’d hate someone trying to validate their opinion by listing off how much baseball they watch, but if I’m going to relate at this level, I should probably state the facts.

During the week, if there’s an afternoon game on television, I’m writing with it on in front of me. Every evening, I go home and watch baseball (or whatever you want to call what the Blue Jays play on some nights) from 7:00 PM until I fall asleep around midnight. And on weekends I’m usually good for a couple of afternoon games and the Sunday evening game.

My preferences are for games involving American League East or National League West teams, but I’ve seen enough from every baseball team’s shortstop this year to believe, before I even look at the numbers, that Derek Jeter is not currently one of the ten best shortstops in baseball. He isn’t better than Yunel Escobar. He isn’t better than Stephen Drew. And he sure as Yankee pinstripes is not better than Jose Reyes.

The differences are glaringly obvious on both the offensive and defensive side of the game. And anyone who has drawn a different conclusion from actually watching him play should not be currently employed by a Major League Baseball team.

Comments (10)

  1. My experience in life, albeit not that long as some others.. is that most people who get into position that require decision making and lead to power are there not due to merit or skill, rather an ability to politic.
    So there you have it, individuals employed in pro sports are no different than your run of the mill managers and executives.

  2. Jeter is always “in the right place at the right time”.

    Meaning he is always “on the Yankees” at “any time”.

  3. It’s the equivalent of someone talking to stock analysts who are recommending a stock that has hit hard times over an actual good investment.

  4. Seems a lot of scouts have a man-crush on Derek Jeter. These are the types of evaluators who would think Ozzie Smith still fields better than Reyes.

  5. It is obvious by these comments that there is emotion clouding their judgement. They are in denial about a great baseball player not being great anymore. It’s as simple as that.

    Not to mention, all scouts are probably brown nosing for a job with the Yankees. That has to be a sweet gig.

  6. I am not going to argue that I think Derek Jeter is a better statistical player than Jose Reyes, the numbers just don’t work. But the thing I think most sabers forget is the value of consistency. If we went off solely numbers to evaluate talent, than we would think Nick Johnson’s career 400obp would send him straight to the hall. But there is one thing that is so easily overlooked when extrapolating data for baseball statistics. Playing time and Games Played. While a guy who plays 162 games a season isn’t automatically better than a guy who plays 80, his contribution in that season is so easily worth more that we lose that when we look at what a player may have contributed over say a 150 game season.

    Jose Reyes is a stud – but how valuable was he in 2009 when he was trying to rebuild his jello hamstring. Carlos Beltran has some of the best statistical numbers over the past decade if you were to average them out, but how valuable has he really been over the past two seasons. There really isn’t a stat that reflects how shitty your replacement was, I suppose other than adding their stats to your season when they took over for you. While an injury isn’t someones fault – durability is something that should be looked at far more in saber studies.

    Take alex cora subbing for Jose Reyes in 2009. Cora was a -0.6 war for the season once reyes went down. While Jose wasn’t a -0.6 player, his replacement was. Reyes is unquestionably valuable as a SS, but there is also a cost to being injury prone.

  7. There is no way to tell the identites of the sources or the number of scouts polled so therefore I wouldn’t take this article as the definitive view of Jeter among scouts. The scouts interviewed by Marchand are terrible so I would expect them to come from teams with terrible scouting departments. I would be very surprised if there were any scouts from an organization like the Rays polled. The use of anonymous sources makes me see the article as an author being in denial about Jeter’s eroding abilities and finding a few scouts who agreed with him but were too embarrassed allow be named, rather than a collective indictment of all scouts.

  8. This story was such a missed opportunity for a Hunter Roscoe post.

  9. @mike: Ha-ha, I thought it was a Hunter post when I saw the title. And I think Jeter’s skills are actually rotting, not deteriorating.

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