Scouting ain't easy, but it's necessary

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As
you sit back and watch the draft tonight — or, more realistically,
read about it tomorrow — you’ll no doubt look at the list of players
your team has taken and wonder “who the hell are these guys?”

And
that’s the central dynamic of the baseball draft from the average fan’s
point of view, isn’t it? Not knowing the names of the players on whose
backs the future of the franchise rides? This isn’t like football or
basketball which farms their player development and promotion business
out to the colleges (many of which are supported by your tax dollars,
by the way). For every Stephen Strasburg, there are several hundred Joe
Blows even fairly serious baseball fans have never heard of.

But
trust that someone has heard of these guys, and that someone is the
person who scouted them. You probably have an image in your mind of
your typical Major League scout, and that image probably looks something like this. And there are certainly scouts like that. Hopefully a lot of them, because I like to see guys like that at baseball games.

But
there’s way more to it than wearing sweet hats and chomping on cigars.
To find out just how much more to it, you’d do well to read the
Cincinnati Enquirer’s multi-part-feature on the life of the Major
League scout:

Chris Buckley, Reds senior director of scouting,
figures he travels between 150 and 200 days a year. Dodgers scout Marty
Lamb said he drives an estimated 40,000 miles a year to watch baseball
games. Brian Hiler, a Cincinnati-based scout for the Kansas City
Royals, said the scouting life is short on glamour and truly a labor of
love . . .

. . . Anecdotal evidence, interviews, Internet
research and other sources say scouts above the part-time rank can
start in at around $20,000 per year and that scouting directors for
most teams top $100,000 per year. Area scouts/part timers might not get
much more than gas mileage and expenses.

It’s a rough business. It takes both a subjective and an objective eye. Even if you’re good at it, you’re going to be wrong most of the time.

But, boy, I sure can think of a thousand worse jobs to have, can’t you?

No one pounds the zone anymore

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“Work fast and throw strikes” has long been the top conventional wisdom for those preaching pitching success. The “work fast” part of that has increasingly gone by the wayside, however, as pitchers take more and more time to throw pitches in an effort to max out their effort and, thus, their velocity with each pitch.

Now, as Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer reports, the “throw strikes” part of it is going out of style too:

Pitchers are throwing fewer pitches inside the strike zone than ever previously recorded . . . A decade ago, more than half of all pitches ended up in the strike zone. Today, that rate has fallen below 47 percent.

There are a couple of reasons for this. Most notable among them, Lindbergh says, being pitchers’ increasing reliance on curves, sliders and splitters as primary pitches, with said pitches not being in the zone by design. Lindbergh doesn’t mention it, but I’d guess that an increased emphasis on catchers’ framing plays a role too, with teams increasingly selecting for catchers who can turn balls that are actually out of the zone into strikes. If you have one of those beasts, why bother throwing something directly over the plate?

There is an unintended downside to all of this: a lack of action. As Lindbergh notes — and as you’ve not doubt noticed while watching games — there are more walks and strikeouts, there is more weak contact from guys chasing bad pitches and, as a result, games and at bats are going longer.

As always, such insights are interesting. As is so often the case these days, however, such insights serve as an unpleasant reminder of why the on-field product is so unsatisfying in so many ways in recent years.