Friday, May 07, 2004

Baseball Article: Scouting Primer for Pitchers

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to catch yesterday’s 2-1 loss to the Mariners on the radio. From what I could discern from MLB Gameday and the box score it sounds like it was a pretty decent game- Radke pitched well but so did Freddy Garcia (to the tune of one run and eight Ks in seven innings). The fact that I’m unable to watch the games on TV robs me of one of my favorite aspects of the game of baseball: player analysis. I love watching players and analyzing their various strengths and weakness, no matter what the level of play.

This is the reason that I find scouting methods to be so fascinating. Now I know the number of baseball “statheads” is growing all the time- I too read “Moneyball” and found it extremely interesting. But to focus only on the statistical aspects of baseball is to ignore what makes the game so great in the first place- the players. I’ll never forget what I heard at a Q and A session with Terry Ryan this past winter. Someone asked if the Twins had anyone on payroll whose job included evaluating players using in-depth statistical analysis (i.e. a sabrmetrician). TR’s response was classic: “Yes we do- they’re called scouts.” We hear all the time that “scouts really like this guy” or “our scouts think he has great potential.” But what do scouts actually look for in a player?

A couple weeks ago, my dad (who is a long-time high school baseball coach and veritable baseball guru) came across a couple of articles about the basics of scouting. He thinks he got them from Baseball Primer, but I have been unable to find the URLs. Below, I’ve reproduced some of the key points of the article on pitching. Even though we can’t watch the Twins, that doesn’t mean there aren’t tons of other baseball games being played every day right in your town! You could take in a Little League game, high school, college, semi-pro, or minor league game- spring is the perfect time to relax outside and catch a ballgame. Maybe some of the below points (from the article by Deric McKamey) will give you something to look for next time you’re out at the ballpark. Try to see the game from a scout’s point of view- but take it easy on the Little Leaguers :).

-Pitchers are graded on a 20-to-80 (or 2-8) scale, with 80 representing the highest achievable grade.

Grade (Player Caliber)
*65-80 (Major League Star)
*50-64 (Major League Regular)
*50 (Major League Average)
*40-49 (Major League Fringe)
*38-39 (Organizational Player)

-Pitchers are graded for fastball velocity, fastball movement, control, curveball, slider, change of pace, "other" pitch, mechanics, poise, baseball instinct, and aggressiveness.
-Fastball and breaking ball are considered to be the main “tools” per se. The rest are considered player development issues.

-Scout will usually want to target athletes (note: “Moneyball” attempted to debunk this, but it holds true for the most part)
-“Being athletic in and of itself does not make one a better ballplayer, but it gives a player a better chance to succeed.”
-Body projection- potential for added velocity in amateurs
-“Height- taller pitchers tend to generate more body leverage and exhibit a more vertical, downward plane to their pitches, which makes them more difficult to hit. Most short pitchers have to expend a little more effort to their deliveries in order to throw the ball harder” (see Santana, Johan).

- Fluid throwing mechanics are key- arm gets to “L” shape parallel with shoulder, thumb down with good wrist action
- “A player will possess one of seven arm angles (extreme overhand, overhand, high-3/4, 3/4, low-3/4, sidearm, and submarine). Adjustments can be made to a player’s arm angle, which can alter both velocity and movement. As a rule of thumb, the lower the arm angle, the more movement a pitcher will get, but at the expense of velocity.”
- Long arms with fluid movements may be able to improve their arm strength, whereas muscular, short-armed athletes tend not to improve- another reason why taller pitchers are often seen as more intriguing prospects.

PITCHING (very different from throwing)
-Arm action (the ability of the ball to “jump” out of the pitcher’s hand) is extremely important. Good examples are Roy Oswalt and Mark Prior- fluid arm motions with great velocity.
-"Pitchers that show effort to their deliveries can become problematic. While these pitchers can still throw hard, it is difficult for them to maintain their velocity at higher pitch counts and also leaves them more susceptible to injury.”
-“In breaking down a pitcher’s delivery, a scout will note the type of windup (full, semi, or none), arm angle, balance, hand separation (between belly and chest bone), stride foot (straight-down with some knee flexion), and arm extension. A pitcher’s delivery must work together in perfect synchronization, showing good extension in front and back, along with balance, rhythm, and leg involvement.”
-Deception is a nice bonus- guys like Dontrelle Willis and Hideo Nomo create deception by hiding the baseball well during their deliveries.
-Repeating arm action, windup, and arm slot is essential.
-“Velocity is related to the pitcher’s arm strength, ability to generate leverage through proper mechanics, and hand speed. The ability of a pitcher to hold velocity throughout the game is important for starting pitchers.”

Grade (MPH)
*80 (96+)
*70 (94-95)
*60 (92-93)
*50 (89-91)
*40 (87-88)
*30 (85-86)
*20 (84-)

-Different types of pitches: fastball- 4-seam, 2-seam, or cut-fastball, curveball (tight rotation wanted), slider (sharp horizontal movement), slurve, change-up- circle, straight, palmball (good ones will be at least 8-10 mph slower than fastball).
- Pitchers need to be reasonably quick to home plate in order to keep the running game in check. The Major League average is 1.3 seconds.

I realize this was a little long, but I hope you took the time to read some of this information as it is very interesting. If you want a full copy of the article just pop me an e-mail at Hopefully we’ll have our first guest columnist posting tomorrow. If not, I’ll do the same type of thing with the scouting article about position players, which is equally fascinating but a tad more complicated. Plus, those of us around the Twin Cities will actually get to watch tomorrow’s game on Channel 45! Oh happy day!

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