Wednesday, September 17, 2014
"Scout's Honor" by Dad
Baseball scouts have been, at least since Moneyball, a subject
of real debate within the greater baseball community. On one side,
of course, are the stat heads, the sabermetricians who put their full
faith in increasingly arcane sets of numbers. On the other side sit
the traditionalists, who believe stats are no substitute for the eyes
and experience of a veteran scout.
As a guy who’s been a baseball fan since the 60s, and a stat-
driven roto ball player since the 80s, I don’t come out on either
side. But I will say that sabermetricians will never be as truly
funny, as witty and actually, quotably wise, as scouts have been
over the long years of their long road trips.
This line of thought came to me the other day as I was reading
whatever I could find online about a pitcher named Hunter
Strickland, a low minor leaguer the Giants made a September call
up. In researching whether to make him a call up on my own roto
team, I came across this: “The guy throws 98 and would strike out
an orphan without feeling bad.”
I’m not sure whether the line was from an actual scout, or
simply from a blogger, but it struck me as a perfect example of
classic scout talk. And there are a few other examples I don’t
think I’ll forget, even if I’m hazy on some of the specifics.
Some six or eight years ago, the Nationals had a surprisingly
successful closer named Chad Cordero, the surprise being that he
did as well as he did without a great fastball or a true out pitch. He
seemed to succeed on guile and nerve. All of this was summed up
by a scout writing, “The kid’s got stones, but his stuff is short.”
That’s almost poetic in its power and brevity.
And now a scout on an outfielder whose name I can’t recall, but
whose lack of fielding prowess I’ll never forget. For the
uninitiated, an outfielder is said to run a good or bad route to catch
a fly ball based on how quickly and directly he runs to where the
ball will come down. The straighter he can run his routes, the more
balls he can reach and catch. Writing about one apparently terrible
outfielder, a scout vividly and unforgettably wrote, “He runs his
routes like a guy being chased by bees.” Bad outfield play will
never be described better.
Finally, Bill James has written about having seen a scouting
report on Phil Plantier with the puzzling letters, “TSH.” When the
scout was asked what the letters meant, he explained, “Toilet seat
hitter.” Anyone who remembers Phil Plantier will likely also
remember that he did stand at the plate as if sitting on the john.
So I guess I have to say that I’m glad there seems to still be a
place for scouts, because no numbers will ever replace their words.