— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Tuesday, July 22, 2003
A Scouting Primer: Hitters
Deric explains the ins and outs of the art of scouting players. Part 1 of 2.
The science of scouting has gradually found its way into the mainstream. Pitchers velocities are routinely being shown at the ballpark and on television, and almost all pre-game analysis will offer scouting reports on the starting pitchers. Hitting mechanics are constantly being broken-down in slow motion. National publications and media outlets are hiring scouts to offer fans a different perspective of the game. Much of the jargon and technical aspects of scouting can overwhelm the casual fan, so we will attempt to breakdown scouting into its individual parts. Here is what scouts look for in evaluating position players.
Scouts grade players based on a 20-to-80 (or 2-8) scale, with 80 representing the highest achievable grade. The grade of 50 is considered Major League average. Position players are graded in five categories (hitting, power, speed, throwing, and fielding) which are typically referred to as the "five tools." Players will also receive grades for base running, arm accuracy, baseball instinct, and aggressiveness, though they do not account as much for the final grade. An amateur player or minor league player will receive two grades for each tool; a present grade and a future grade, based on how they are expected to perform in the Majors. Future grades are added and then divided by the number of grades, to determine their Overall Future Potential (OFP). A scout can then adjust a players OFP by 10 points, based on the lesser categories and their gut instinct.
The following example is taken from a scouting report on Nick Swisher (OF, OAK).
The OFP is the number used to determine what type of player the scout believes the individual will become.
In the Swisher example, his unadjusted OFP of 46 would slot him as a Major League reserve. Hitting is the primary part of his game, and based on those two scores (hitting and power), he projects as a Major League regular. Speed really isnt part of his game, though it remains an important tool, but means that he wont be able to handle centerfield on a regular basis. Moving him to a corner outfield spot or even first base reduces the importance of speed and his arm strength. Taking those factors into consideration, along with Swishers aggressiveness and baseball instincts, his OFP could easily be adjusted upwards, perhaps as much as eight points, giving him a score in the low 50s and projecting him to a Major League regular.
Before grading a players tools, their body type, or physical description is noted. A scout will want to target athletes for those are the players that possess the abilities of strength, speed, and agility. Athletes and players who demonstrate good mechanics usually turn out to be better players and have a better chance to improve. Body projection, especially at the amateur level is weighed heavily when evaluating players.
Scouts identify the tools and player developments role is to turn those tools into baseball ability. As a rule of thumb, mechanics below the waist are easier to correct than mechanics above the waist. Being athletic in and of itself does not make one a better ballplayer, but it gives a player a better chance to succeed.
Hitting is one of the more difficult tools to evaluate. Strength is the most important ingredient to hitting, especially in todays game, and allows the hitter to generate bat speed and drive the baseball. Most good hitters will demonstrate balance (feet width of shoulders), a quick and timely trigger, knee flexion, hands going back before going forward, a short stride, arms in an "L-shape" with proper extension as they make contact, and proper weight transfer.
Two other factors are common to good hitters. The plane of the bat through the strike zone determines the trajectory of the baseball. Most hitters possess a slight uppercut, but watch for those who have extreme uppercuts or chop at the baseball. Confidence plays a bigger role than most would think. Good hitters want to be at the plate and attack the baseball with controlled aggression. Watch for hitters who show fear by stepping out and those who may possess mechanical flaws (wrapping bat, hand hitch, head pulling, and a long stride).
Some players will lack some of the above hitting skills, but can hit the baseball anyway. Tony Batista (3B, BAL) with his extreme open stance and the wide-based/step-back/severe uppercut of Jeff Bagwell (1B, HOU) are examples. These players should not be tinkered with, but left alone to hit. If you can hit, they will find a place for you.
Hitting grades and their translation:
To measure speed, players are timed via stopwatch from the time the baseball makes contact with the bat, to the time they reach first base. Left-handed batters will have a 0.1 second advantage on times to first base. It is important to note that players do not run hard all the time. Infield grounders, especially ones that have double-play potential, will usually get the best results. A scout should also note the running mechanics and instincts. Some players, like Larry Walker (OF, COL) and Darin Erstad (OF, ANA), are not particularly fast, but have superior instincts and are better runners under-way. A players speed grade can be altered up and down depending on these factors. Speed cannot be improved upon to a significant degree.
A player, whether position player or pitcher, should demonstrate proper throwing mechanics. The throwing motion should be uninterrupted with proper extension in back, followed by a fluid move forward in which the arm is in an "L-shape" with the elbow parallel to the shoulder. The transmission of energy follows through the hand and arm, with full extension out front. The action of the wrist is very important, as it helps propel the baseball and creates velocity.
A scout will note the on-line carry of the throw and the movement of the ball during the last eight to ten inches. An outfielder with an above average arm will have his throw skip on the first bounce. A centerfielder who cannot carry the pitchers mound from medium outfield depth should not be given a grade above average.
Arm strength can improve with physical maturation, proper positioning, and through mechanical adjustments. Long arms with fluid movement may be able to improve their arm strength, whereas muscular, short-armed athletes tend not to improve. When evaluating the throwing arm, a scout will determine if a mechanical adjustment can be made and to what degree the player will improve.
Fielding can sometimes carry a player to the Major Leagues. For middle infielders, a scout looks for agility, quickness, arm strength, soft/quick hands, and instincts. Fielders with soft hands usually give the impression that the baseball disappears into the glove. Possessing hard hands, which can entail jabbing and/or rigid elbows, may be a detriment, but is a correctable flaw. Positioning and turning the double play are traits that usually come with experience. Corner infielders should exhibit arm strength, soft hands, and first-step quickness.
Outfielders need to show agility, quickness, speed, and arm strength. Having quickness and speed alone do not give the outfielder range, as they must also take the proper angles and routes. Demonstrating good arm strength is a plus, but accuracy and throwing to the proper base/cut-off man is important as well. Scouts do not always get a chance to look at a fielder during game conditions, so paying close attention to pre-game infield/outfield practice is imperative.
The catching position is the most difficult position to play and may be the most important. A good catcher should possess arm strength, agility, receiving skills, and durability. Good arm strength is beneficial in halting the running game, but equally important is the glove-to-hand transfer and proper footwork. A good catcher will have his feet turned out with the weight distributed towards the inside and heel.
The quality of the arm can be visualized as you would any other arm, but scouts will also rely on catcher release times (catchers mitt to middle infielders mitt), which incorporates arm strength, transfer, and footwork. The average release time for a Major League catcher is 1.95 seconds, with 2.05 seconds being the high-end of acceptability. Bottom line, however, is can the catcher throw out the good runner?
Agility and receiving skills are also important. You want a catcher who moves well behind the plate, can get out and field the bunt, and block the plate. Being a good receiver entails having soft hands with a knack for framing pitches. Game calling and leadership skills come with experience and are usually measured at the upper levels of the minors.
A catcher, like Mike Piazza (NYM) possesses above average arm strength, but his footwork and release are slow, preventing him from throwing out most runners. Jason Larue (CIN) is a catcher that isnt blessed with great arm strength, but is so quick in his release that he can prevent the stolen base. When you combine arm strength, receiving ability, and proper footwork like Ivan Rodriguez (FLA), a catcher can change the course of a game.
A good scout will never observe a baseball game from one place. Certain views of the game offer distinct advantages. The view directly behind home plate allows you to see the entire field and is where most scouts will view the game. Positioning yourself on the opposite side of the hitter lets you see the hitters swing mechanics and bat plane. Infield/outfield practice is best viewed from the first base side, allowing you to see the trajectory and velocity on infield throws to first base.
Next week: Scouting the pitcher