Thursday, January 06, 2005

BTF has linked to a Baseball America story where Alan Schwarz sits down in a roundtable with Voros McCracken (DIPS creator now consulting with Boston), Gary Huckabay (a Baseball Prospectus founder and analyst for the Oakland A's), Gary Hughes (assistant GM of the Cubs), and the Los Angeles Angels' own scouting director of Anaheim, Eddie Bane.

Bane has caught some flack in the more sabermetrically-leaning sectors of the Halosphere for being more of a throwback than a forward-thinker. But in this interview he comes across as fairly open-minded about things and well-read. Here's one interesting exchange:

ALAN SCHWARZ: One thing that Eddie and Gary, you might not be aware of, is that a few years ago Voros came up with something called Defense Independent Pitching Stats, which . . .

EDDIE BANE: Alan, you said, "You guys may not be aware." That's one of the things we're battling. We are aware. I read these guys' stuff all the time.
Well, take that, Alan Schwarz!

One place where the so-called "Moneyball" types differ from traditional scouts is in their view of high school pitchers. Bill James wrote about what risks high school pitchers were years ago, and this thought process has grown to totally overcome many saber-minded organizations. Bane dismisses that out of hand, but does provide criteria by which the Lads will take a high schooler into the fold:

We’d need at least a three-pitch mix already. Command already. We’d not just take an arm in the first round. We’re trying to get our scouts away from the radar gun as much as possible. So a three-pitch mix with makeup.

I think that's actually a pretty sound recipe, as of course it does seem silly to draft zero high school moundsmen. The Angels haven't developed a high school pitcher in awhile, but it will be interesting to see if the Bane era does produce any.

This was one comment by Bane that gave me pause:

Our job, when we go to a high school game, is there better be some swinging as soon as we get out of the rental car. I’ve never wanted to draft a guy where the first line in the report is, “He’s got a good eye.” We’re looking for guys who swing that bat. And if they’re swinging and missing in high school, we ain’t going to be very interested.
Um, what's so bad about having a good eye? And if a guy is swinging and missing in high school, what does that have to do with having a good eye? If you have a good eye, you're only swinging at pitches you can hit, right?

Here's one of those exchanges that almost invites parody:

ALAN SCHWARZ: But what would you have to see to be encouraged [when scouting a AA hitter in a hypothetical]?

GARY HUGHES: The swing, the approach at the plate, the show of fear.

EDDIE BANE: If you show fear, you're gone.

VOROS McCRACKEN: How would someone show fear?

GARY HUGHES: There would be a little give at the plate.

EDDIE BANE: You give on a pitcher with a decent slider . . .

VOROS McCRACKEN: That happens to everyone--everyone gets their knees buckled every once in a while. So if you rule a guy out that gets his knees buckled, that seems extreme. You'd need to see him show fear a bit more consistently. I'm not sure . . .

EDDIE BANE: I am sure. Because if I see fear in a hitter, I'm not ever coming back. I don't see fear in good big league hitters. I know that they get fooled and they'll bail on balls. But for me, that's a different term than fear.

GARY HUGHES: The best player who ever lived bailed--Willie Mays.
The show of fear, huh? It does seem mighty subjective ... but I actually do know what they mean, and I can't say with certainty that they're wrong.

There is also a passage, which I won't quote here, where Bane pretty much dismisses Steve Andrade after Voros brings him up. So that will be interesting to see play out.

I do, however, think this is healthy:

"I will have read this (statistics) stuff before I go into the ballpark. But I'm going to evaluate him myself as a scout--just as a scout--and I'm going to call Pat Gillick, if he had him in Toronto or Seattle in the past, and go, "Tell me about him." I'm going to get information from the press box. I'm going to work other scouts over. I'm going to know everything I can about this guy. "Yeah, I heard his elbow was hurting him." "No, it wasn't his elbow, he pulled a hamstring." "He had a drinking problem in the past." I'm going to have the DIPS information already. I mean, this stuff if fabulous. But I've got to have the other stuff too--the intangibles.
One thing that many statheads tend to overlook, I believe, is that a player's make-up is a big part of his developments. His work habits, his dedication, etc. Talented players fritz out all the time. If you have two guys with the same performance at the same age at the same level, what can separate them? You can't measure someone's work ethic from the stat line, and we can't overlook that fact. The need for human intelligence to back up performance records is just that: a need. All information need to be taken into account.

Given some of the Angel moves this winter, it doesn't really seem like they're taking a lot into account besides reputation, otherwise there's no way you pay Orlando Cabrera $5M per year than you would have David Eckstein.

Look, amateur scouting is the lifeblood of any major league organization, and minor league scouting ain't far behind. Bane dismisses the possibility that college or minor league stats can be predictive, which I think is dangerous. We know minor league stats are very predictive, and work is beginning to be performed on college (though we're not close yet). An organization has to be open to this information. I mean, Bill James started his work on minor league numbers two decades ago. This isn't exactly new. But these parting comments from Bane give rise to hope:

The future of scouting, and I hope the Angels are ahead of the curve, is we're going to have to understand what Gary Huckabay is writing about. And what Voros McCracken is writing about. We do. And we're going to get it. But the day of not needing a scout to see Mark Rogers and Brendan Donnelly, it's not going to come. I think people were trying to eliminate advance scouting by using Inside Edge or something. That's not working. ...

As far as "Moneyball" goes, I didn't like it. But the respect I have for these two guys today, just hearing them talk, I'm going to get their phone numbers and find out what Boston and Oakland's paying them. I can't tamper, but maybe get permission. This is good stuff. We use it. Maybe we don't acknowledge it enough.

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