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?

Astros vs. Dodgers is a match made in heaven

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A lot of people who work at the league office or who take paychecks from the Fox network probably wanted to see the Yankees and the Cubs in the World Series. They won’t admit it, of course, but I suspect that many did, as the ratings for a Cubs-Yankees Series might’ve broken modern records. If they are at all disappointed by the Astros and Dodgers winning the pennant, however, they should let that go because they’ve been gifted by a wonderful matchup from a purely baseball perspective. Indeed, it’s one of the best on-paper matchups we’ve had in the Fall Classic in many years.

Before the Dodgers went on their late-August, early-September swoon, this was the potential World Series pairing most folks who know a thing or two wanted to see. At least I did, and I don’t think I was alone. It was certainly the matchup which represented the teams with the two best regular season records and storylines at the time. While Cleveland ended up winning more games than Houston did, for the first time since 1970 we have a World Series pitting two 100-win teams against each other.

Like that Orioles-Reds series in 1970, which featured Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson and a host of other All-Stars, the Dodgers-Astros provide us with an embarrassment of big names and future Hall of Famers. Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw and Astros DH/OF Carlos Beltran are destined for induction already. Astros ace Justin Verlander may very well join them, especially if his late 2017 surge is evidence of a second career peak. Houston second baseman Jose Altuve‘s first seven years and Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen‘s first eight are the stuff upon which Cooperstown resumes are made as well. People will be arguing Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley‘s Hall of Fame case for years once he retires.

Youth is served as well in this matchup, with each club featuring a handful of the game’s best young players to accompany their big name veteran stars.

The Dodgers will bat their no-doubt N.L. Rookie of the Year first baseman Cody Bellinger second or third in the lineup every game. 2016 Rookie of the Year Corey Seager, who sat out the NLCS with a bad back, is expected to be activated for the Series where he’ll be the Dodgers shortstop. The Astros are actually an old team on paper — Verlander, catcher Brian McCann, starter Charlie Morton, first baseman Yuli Gurriel, outfielder Josh Reddick and DH Evan Gattis are all over 30 while Beltran is 40 — but young players are essential to their attack as well. Shortstop Carlos Correa just turned 23 and he’s one of the game’s brightest stars. Third baseman Alex Bregman, also 23, made the play that may very well have broken the Yankees’ back during Saturday night’s pennant clincher. Age aside, the Astros are the product of a major, multi-year rebuild and many of their players are making their first national splash this postseason.

Beyond just the names and resumes, though, the Dodgers and Astros represent a fantastic strategic matchup. The Dodgers attack this postseason has featured admirable plate discipline, with third baseman Justin Turner, right fielder Yasiel Puig and center fielder Chris Taylor all letting balls out of the zone pass them by while abusing pitches left out over the plate. Astros pitchers not named Justin Verlander, however, have lived by getting the opposition to chase bad balls. Game one starter Dallas Keuchel did this by relying on his very fast sinker. Lance McCullers pitched well starting Game 4 of the ALCS and pitched spectacularly closing out the final four innings of Game 7 mostly by virtue of his curveball, which Yankees pitchers could simply not lay off. Indeed, his final 24 pitches of Game 7 were all curves, many of them low and away. Who will give in first in this series?

On the side of things, Dodgers relievers have made a living by pumping in strikes. Particularly strikes high in the zone from Jansen and Brandon Morrow. There may be no better fastball hitter in all of baseball than Jose Altuve, however, and the team as a whole was one of the best in the bigs in dealing with gas in the zone. This was a big reason why the Astros struck out less than any team in baseball this year while simultaneously boasting the best offense in the game. The Dodgers throw strikes. The Astros make you pay when you throw them strikes. Again, something’s gotta give.

Maybe the suits in New York wanted the Yankees and Cubs. But everyone else is getting exactly what we want: a matchup of the two best teams in the game. A matchup of strength against strength. What is, from a purely baseball perspective, the best World Series we could’ve possibly hoped for.