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.