Scouting Tutorial

We could write for pages and pages about scouting and the ways in which we could use it for this web site, but instead we’ll just cover the specific way we’ll evaluate players on this site and for further information refer you to the links in the sidebar on the main page and these more in-depth and focused scouting overviews:

1. Baseball America’s Scouting Dictionary by Alan Schwarz

2. Baseball Prospectus’ 3-part series “Taking a Step Back”: Part One Part Two Part Three by Kevin Goldstein

3. CalLeaguers.com explains their scouting reports

4. Future Redbirds’ Prospect Primer

For the purposes of this site, we will evaluate players using the standard scouting method, the 20-80 scale and the Adjusted OFP measure.

The 20-80 scale is universally used (despite murky origins) to judge baseball talent where 50 is considered major league average, and it is judged by the scout as a present and future grade for each tool for the player. Obviously, the gap between present and future gets smaller as the player gets older. The tools for a position player are hitting, hitting for power, speed, defense, and throwing arm, classically known as the 5 tools. For a pitcher, the tools are the command, movement and speed of each of their pitches. There are other things to consider such as breaking hitting and fielding down into it’s components, the player’s makeup (mental approach and character, among other things), and especially today, the financial aspects.

There is a steep bell curve in the major leagues for each tool, regressed to the average grade of 50. There are about as many 45s (below-average) as 55s (above-average) for any given tool in the big leagues. A grade of 60 is known as “plus”, a grade of 70 is known as “plus-plus”, and a perfect grade of 80 is simply known as “80″ because it’s so rare. There are only a few players in the world with any 80 tools, other than possibly running speed and fastball velocity–they are the two most common, but still not that common at all. Since so many players’ tools fall close to 50, many scouts use fringe-average and solid-average to describe things on the negative and positive side of average, respectively, that aren’t good or bad enough to be considered 45 or 55.

There are also certain profiles for each position and role on a team. For example, most first basemen are bigger guys that could only play first base, are slow and not especially good defenders or throwers, but have a very good bat and excellent power. When a player doesn’t fit a profile for any role, he is usually between the required skillset for two positions and is known as a “tweener.” These players may be very talented and of All-Star quality up until the major leagues, but once they get there do not have much value without improving.

Once a scout has broken down each tool and graded it using 5-point increments of the 20-80 scale, the future grades for pertinent tools are taken and averaged to get an unadjusted OFP number (OFP is short for overall future potential). The scout uses this number as a guide, and adjusts it up or down based on his judgement, taking every factor into account, to put his opinion of the player into one number, used for quickly ranking players and sharing a very short opinion. This number is the most important one on the scouting report, and it is called the adjusted OFP.

These adjusted OFPs help scouts put players into their potential profiles and major league teams give their scouts a detailed “grade card” as a guide. While we both have access to multiple teams’ grade cards, they all differ slightly, but have the same basic idea. There are current and future groups, along with an adjusted OFP (AOFP) for each player. Here is the system we will use on this site, and note the differences between pro and amateur grading, as we learn a lot about a player in a few professional years that changes the scale:

60-80 AOFP: Group A

Pro: Elite frontline starter, Top-5 closer, Superstar, Perennial All-Star and MVP candidate

Amateur: Top 5 to 10 picks in the draft

56-59 AOFP: Group B

Pro: Solid #3 starter, Solid closer, Sometime All-Star, Solid, Above-Average Everyday Player

Amateur: Mid-to-Late 1st and Sandwich round.

52-55 AOFP: Group C

Pro: 4th and 5th starters, good set-up men, fringe closers, top situational relievers, average everyday player

Amateur: 2nd to 4th rounds

48-51 AOFP: Group D

Pro: Average middle and long relievers, solid situational relievers, backup positional players, platoon players

Amateur: 5th to 12th rounds

45-47 AOFP: Group E

Pro: Up/down roster fillers, most LOOGYs, 25th men, versatile position players or bats with no power/defensive value

Amateur: 13th to 20th round

40-44 AOFP : Group F

Pro: Organizational Player, will not contribute materially at major league level

Amateur: 20th to 50th round

With each of these groups, there is a + and - to indicate the range in which the player falls. For instance, a young big leaguer like Ryan Zimmerman could be called a B- now and B+ future if you forecast a present OFP of 56-57 and a future AOFP of 58-59. And yes, we realize the present OFP should be called something like OPA (overall present ability), but it just isn’t, so get over it.

There is also a group G (not a prospect) and group P (current prospect). Group G will probably never be used here as we won’t waste our time going to see and write-up a player that is below a 40 OFP, or at least we hope we won’t. Group P stands for prospect and will be used frequently as the present group for prospects, as you might guess. The reason this group exists is because many prospects will have present OFPs that correlate to a group that indicates MLB readiness given their tools. This is a way to say that regardless of the tools, they cannot contribute at the MLB level, whether it be maturity, makeup, command, plate discipline, or whatever normal things that separate low minors players and raw prospects from major leaguers.

Also, while we won’t list them here because many scouts have subtle disagreements about them, each tool has a grade guide for it, such as roughly 7.00 in the 60-yard dash converting to 50 speed or 4.30 from home to first from the right-hand side being considered 50.

17 Comments

17 responses so far ↓

  • 1 erik // Mar 24, 2008 at 10:37 am

    I’m curious as to what you look for in pitcher’s and hitter’s mechanics. I’m just a laymen, so what are some of the things that I can learn and look for by just watching players up close?

  • 2 fpiliere44 // Mar 24, 2008 at 11:37 am

    Well, everyone has their own slightly (sometimes radically) different philosophies on what are “the best” mechanics. But, there are several constants in that.

    Most important, we look for free and easy…its something hard to put in your words but I was told by some older scouts before I started that “you know it when you see it”. And, I think that’s right. You don’t want to see any tighness or something that looks forced.

    Then you want to look for balance and repeatability. If the balance isn’t there then its gonna really make you wonder if the guy is gonna be able to repeat his delivery and therefore command consistently.

    And, there’s weight transfer. There are differing schools of thought on how to arrive there but the weight has to transfer via the lower half. If there isn’t some good lower half torque then you wonder about the health of his arm.

    From a pure scouting standpoint…just evaluating a guy, we don’t go crazy on mechanics in specifics. We reserve that for that advanced stuff like the Garza piece.

    Hitters though, I personally feel you have to look more specifically at their mechanics when initially evaluating. But, on rare ocassions the phrase comes into play that “sometimes guys just hit” even if they are unorthodox. See: Derek Jeter, Ichiro, etc. But, mainly we look for a short, compact stroke, quick hands, generally a short stride with a balance upon contact. Short swing path is a big one for me though. Nothing kills guys more when switching to wood bats than having a loop or length in their swing.

    Obviously there is more to it but that’s some of the main points.

  • 3 erik // Mar 24, 2008 at 12:38 pm

    cool. thanks. maybe you guys could start a reality show. “So You Think You Can Scout?”. All you need is a cranky guy with an accent to be the third judge.

  • 4 kileymcd // Mar 24, 2008 at 12:48 pm

    frankie does the solid, in-depth scout-related musings, i do funny accents. sign me up.

  • 5 Matthew Chetwynd // Mar 25, 2008 at 8:39 pm

    Mr. Piliere,

    I was also able to witness the pitching staff of the Falmouth Commodores during the 2007 CCBL season. I was the GM intern for the Commodores, and worked closely with Dan Dunn and players such as Kyle Gibson and Shooter Hunt. I went to the cape with intentions of trying to make the proper connections in the baseball world so that I could propel myself into my dream position: A professional baseball scout.

    When I arrived in Falmouth in mid-may I was amazed by both the town and the amount of pride and effort that was put into the Commodores. When the players arrived I became enamored with their abilities and put my personal goals aside so that I could thoroughly enjoy the summer and enjoy watching some of the performances that our team displayed.

    In hindsight, I regret not using my time in Falmouth to gain the knowledge and the connections to make it to the next level. My question is this: What can I do to be recognized and to obtain some kind of opportunity to achieve my goals? If I were from an area that was baseball oriented such as, well, basically anywhere in the US then I would be able to have a better shot. However, I’m from the abyss that is Nova Scotia, Canada and I have found it hard to find a good opportunity to further my career.

  • 6 andrewstebbins // Mar 25, 2008 at 9:12 pm

    In regards to the reality show, I like to think of myself as a solid Ryan Seacrest replacement. VORP = 0.

  • 7 fpiliere44 // Mar 25, 2008 at 9:23 pm

    Hey Matthew,

    Sounds like a great experience. Falmouth is one of my favorite cape towns. Besides maybe Y-D, they might have the most diehard fans. Very fun place to scout.

    I am not going to give you generic advice because I always hated it and still do, lol. Here’s what I’d say…

    - Find a way to get your baseball knowledge and scouting report abilities out there. See a player, write him up and save it.

    - Even though it sounds odd, the fact that you are up in the abyss may actually work in your favor. Teams don’t like to leave stones unturned even if there are very few prospects there.

    Most importantly, reach out to people in the scouting world and tell them of your experiences and your goals. The majority of area scouts, scouting directors, crosscheckers, etc. are available via email. Those emails are typically generic. Mostly stuff like [email protected] and [email protected].

    And you can find listings of names for each team scouting department in the team media guides which can be found at https://www.pressbox.mlb.com/pressbox/media_guides/index.jsp

    Always very helpful for me. Get a hold of as many people as possibly so they know what you are about and the first step is landing some sort of associate/birddog gig with an area scout.

    I hope I was specific and able to help you. And, hey, most importantly, reading this site is key, lol.

    If you have any questions, feel free to ask.

    FP

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  • 17 JLG // Aug 13, 2008 at 8:05 pm

    One thing that seems odd to me about scouting reports is that many reports seem to grade players too high. For example, you gave Wade Miley all grades at 50 or 55. So if all of his tools are ML average or better, then why did he spend the season in short-season single A? If his tools are about average than shouldn’t he be in the majors where his tools are just as good as everyone else’s?

    Prospect Insider gives Austin Bibens-Dirkx these grades:

    FB: 65 SL:50 CH: 45 Command:70

    Those are pretty good tools. So how come he’s only played in one game above advance-A in the last 3 years?

    A lot of scouting reports i readon minor league prospects have most players with tools at 45-55 with only one tool below avg. The only exception would be the reports given at calleaguers. I would have thought that most prospects’ tools would be in the 30s and 40s, with only one or two of their tools as avg or better.

    So if Miley is all 50s and 55s, then what do most AA prospects have? 55s and 60s?

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