The Great Debate
By Alan Schwarz
January 7, 2005
For the past two years, the scouting and statistics communities have feuded like members of rival families. Baseball lifers who evaluate players with their eyes are derided as over-the-hill beanbags who don’t understand the next frontier. Numbers-oriented people are cast as cold, computer-wielding propellerheads with no appreciation for scouting intangibles. Not surprisingly, the camps have grown so polarized that they have retreated to their respective bunkers rather than engage in open and intelligent debate.
Instead of continuing to report on the gulf between the two sides, Baseball America is bringing them together. For the first time since the great “Moneyball” debate began two years ago, we have gathered two longtime scouts and two statistics experts to discuss all the great issues in this arena: the risks of high school pitchers, the use of minor league statistics, plate discipline as a tool and much more.
The four participants were Gary Hughes, the Cubs’ assistant general manager and a scout for more than 30 years with many clubs; Eddie Bane, the Angels’ scouting director and a former top pitching prospect himself; Gary Huckabay, one of the lead analysts for Baseball Prospectus and a statistical consultant for the Athletics; and Voros McCracken, another top numbers man who also consults for the Red Sox. All four were eager to finally sit down with the other side, debate these issues and—most importantly—let Baseball America readers listen in afterward.
We now invite you to pull up a chair as BA’s Alan Schwarz moderates . . .
ALAN SCHWARZ: To start out, Gary Hughes, how would you characterize the relationship between the scouting community and the statistics community?
GARY HUGHES: I think the longtime scouting guys, probably the initial reaction is to get their back up and try to defend their position. They feel somewhat threatened by it because of all the publicity that’s come out. It’s probably become somewhat of an adversarial thing for maybe not a lot of well thought-out reasons.
A lot of what scouts feel they do is based on gut instinct, their history of being in the game. Their experience. They have a hard time quantifying it. And they see all these things in charts and graphs and things, and maybe when you don’t understand something, you feel a little challenged by it.
EDDIE BANE: It is adversarial right now. Our guys, the so-called old-school guys, the thought is out there that we don’t know how to handle a computer and we wouldn’t know how to use that stuff. I’m very comfortable with a computer. Our people are very comfortable with a computer. We do have to drag some of our old-time guys through it. But the main adversarial thing is that some of our old-time guys are losing jobs that we didn’t feel they should be losing. It was due to cutbacks. Maybe the cutbacks were due to money or whatever. But we correlate it to the fact that some of the computer stuff is causing that. And we resent it.
VOROS McCRACKEN: I think part of the reason for the cutbacks in scouting is the emergence of college players. I think there’s as much scouting that you need to do on the college level. Colleges are bigger, the players are older. Whereas back when almost every player that was drafted was a high school player, back before I was around, you needed a lot of scouts because you needed to cover every corner of the country to do it. With all these college players playing at a fairly high level of competition, you can, to a certain extent, evaluate many of these college players based on their stats. So I think part of the reason for the cutbacks in scouting is that they’re probably not as necessary if you’re drafting college players.
ALAN SCHWARZ: Gary (Hughes), is there less of a need for scouts today, compared to 25 years ago?
GARY HUGHES: There’s as many or more high school players playing now. If an organization decides on their own that they’re not going to draft high school guys, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t high school guys there who have to be scouted. If an individual team decides they’re not going to scout high school guys, they obviously don’t need scouts to do it. I think it’s arrogant to eliminate an entire class of players.
GARY HUCKABAY: And it costs a lot in terms of upside. You can talk about high school and college players all you want, but the reality is some of these high school kids are going to be superstars, and if a club’s not looking at them, that’s a serious opportunity cost.
VOROS McCRACKEN: The lower-revenue teams are in a bit of a bind when it comes to high school prospects because they are more of an unknown. It becomes difficult for a team that’s not bringing in that much in terms of revenue to take a big-money chance . . .
GARY HUGHES: Why are they an unknown? I don’t understand. Because of the data?
VOROS McCRACKEN: Because a player who is 21 is simply closer to his peak abilities than a player who’s 18, for starters.
EDDIE BANE: My point would be that the reason to have at least as many scouts, if not more, is when you’re drafting Marquis Grissom, as Gary Hughes did with Montreal from Florida A&M, he doesn’t cost $100,000 anymore, he costs a million maybe. And his stats at Florida A&M can be thrown out the window. Because you need to see him in the two games a year that he plays against a pitcher that might have any ability whatsoever. That would be my reasoning to have more evaluators see this guy, because the bonus money is going to be astronomical on a guy like that if you have the guts to take him that high. Gary didn’t care what his stats were. A player at UConn, his stats, compared to a guy that I’m watching in the Pac-10, mean almost nothing to me. I’m in the middle of a negotiation right now (with Jered Weaver) where a guy wants to compare our first-round pick’s stats to Mark Prior’s. And to me, there’s no correlation whatsoever.
VOROS McCRACKEN: My response to that would be that those sorts of things, say the difference between playing at Cal and playing at Florida A&M or UConn, you can study those sorts of things and find out what do the stats mean at UConn, what do they mean at Florida A&M, what do they mean at Cal? It’s not as if we treat a guy like Rickie Weeks, his stats at Southern—he had ridiculous stats at Southern, in a weak conference—the same as if he was playing for USC or Arizona State. Those kinds of things are studied. You can find out information.
Obviously, I don’t think it’s useful to draft players simply based on their stats. The issue I would bring up is that for all of these issues—level of play, the type of pitchers, his raw abilities like his speed, his strength, his size—these are all things that can be, to an extent, measured. Six-foot-one is a measurement. Five-foot-seven is a measurement. Hitters who are 6-1, do they turn out better than hitters who are 5-7, with similar stats at similar schools? These are the sorts of things that people can analyze, and I think it could provide useful information.
GARY HUGHES: All your statistics are going to tell you is what a guy has done. Somebody has got to make the decision on what the guy’s going to do.
VOROS McCRACKEN: I have no idea what the guy’s going to do. But my point would be, the scouts also have only a limited idea of what the guy’s going to do. He might do this, he might do that, he might be somewhere in the middle. What you’re trying to do is you’re trying to take the guys who you think have the best chance. I fully admit that you can’t tell the future via stats. My point is that scouting has that equal amount of unpredictability. You can only know so much. You’re scouts, you’re not fortunetellers.
GARY HUCKABAY: I think it’s important to understand that a lot of people have overclaimed what you can do by statistical analysis. It’s a tool. A car is a tool as well—you can use it to drive to the store, or you can use it to drive into a tree. I think there’s more of a dichotomy between good statistical analysis and bad statistical analysis. But all the information you can get your hands on—as long as you understand what it’s good for, and what its quality is—is always a good thing. We’re all after the same thing here: We’re out to build a great baseball team. As long as you have X number of pieces of information, whether it’s performance data—a term I prefer to use rather than statistics, because these things are records of what happened on the field—and then also, if you’ve got people who have tremendous insight who are well trained, they know how to scout a guy, give me that information too. I want both of it. What I don’t want is someone going, “I want this guy because he had 120 RBIs.”
ALAN SCHWARZ: Let’s talk about the issue of high school pitchers, on which the scouting and statistics communities perhaps disagree most. In general, are high school pitchers smart risks to take in the draft?
EDDIE BANE: First of all, the Anaheim Angels are going to be involved heavily in high school pitchers—if we think he’s the best guy, we’re going to take him. We’re not going to penalize him for being three years younger. We don’t hesitate taking high school pitchers.
ALAN SCHWARZ: What makes a high school pitcher a prospect? What do you see in them that makes you say, “I want to spend my first-round pick and almost $2 million on him.”
EDDIE BANE: We’d need a guy we think would be in the front of the rotation in the big leagues.
ALAN SCHWARZ: But what would your eyes see that would make you project that?
EDDIE BANE: 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. When we get back to the stats, I would not think that anyone would want to know the stats on Mark Rogers versus Phil Hughes last year in the draft. I watched Mark Rogers strike out 21 guys last year and afterward the other team asked him for his autograph. I need to see Mark Rogers and evaluate him, and forget who he’s facing.
ALAN SCHWARZ: Gary Hughes, was Robbie Beckett—a fireballing high school pitcher from the early ’90s with no control—a prospect? Was Roger Salkeld—a more refined guy whose arm blew up—a prospect? Both were high school pitchers who never made it and have become somewhat poster boys for people who stay away from them.
GARY HUGHES: Robbie Beckett wasn’t for me. I saw him throw a no-hitter and strike out 15 guys, walk 16 guys, and lose. I just thought there was too much that could go wrong.
EDDIE BANE: Roger Salkeld (the Mariners’ No. 3 overall pick in 1989) was as good a high school pitcher as I saw in southern California the year before he came out. He was outstanding. Kurt Miller in Bakersfield was outstanding. There’s a lengthy list of guys that did not make it. But also, when you look at the Florida Marlins’ rotation the year they won the World Series, every one was signed as a high school pitcher.
ALAN SCHWARZ: Gary Huckabay, I believe you coined the phrase, “There’s no such thing as a pitching prospect.”
GARY HUCKABAY: Yeah, but that was an overstatement designed to sell books. When I say there’s no such thing as a pitching prospect, it’s because it’s really, really hard, for even the very best scouts, to identify a guy that’s a) going to go through the minor leagues and survive potential injuries that high school pitchers often run into; and b) when I was 18 years old, I spent most of my time imbibing ethanol and chasing women, and I don’t think I was an atypical 18-year-old. Also, sometimes guys fill out differently—some guys at 18 are already as physically mature as they’re going to get. Sometimes they get five or six years of bulk on them and have a considerably better body for the game. Personally, I think that when you count in the cost of signing the high school pitchers, when you consider the systemic and nonsystemic risks that you face in terms of developing that pitcher, I would tend to veer away in general from high school pitchers. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t going to be the occasional kid that you go, “It’s going to cost us this much money, he’s probably going to turn out like this, I won’t be able to live with myself if I don’t take this guy.” That could happen.
VOROS McCRACKEN: Things happen with pitchers—“something” tends to happen a lot with high school pitchers.
EDDIE BANE: The best pitcher I ever saw as an amateur was Kiki Jones (No. 15 overall, 1989), and Kiki didn’t make it. We do not expect every guy we take to be a star. But if you give me both Becketts, Robbie and Josh, I want ’em.
GARY HUGHES: We keep mentioning the high school pitcher and the injury factor there. But it’s pitchers in general. Don’t all of a sudden think just because a pitcher goes to college he’s not ever going to get hurt.
VOROS McCRACKEN: But the college pitcher is usually closer to the major leagues, so there’s less time for him to get injured.
ALAN SCHWARZ: Let’s segue into one of the things that started a lot of this controversy across the industry—”Moneyball,” Michael Lewis’s profile of the A’s and how Billy Beane runs his club. What effect did “Moneyball” have on baseball? Was it positive, in that it brought some of this analysis more to the mainstream, or negative, for how its unflattering depiction of most scouts polarized the two sides of the issue?
VOROS McCRACKEN: I’ll go first because I was actually in the book. A lot of “Moneyball” is a certain amount of exaggeration because Michael Lewis is telling a story. There are plenty of facts involved in all of these stories in “Moneyball” that did not make the book because they didn’t quite fit the story as well as the facts that were included. So a lot of it was exaggeration designed to sell books. And on that score, “Moneyball” was a success, because Michael Lewis sold lots and lots and lots of books.
ALAN SCHWARZ: But what effect did it have on baseball?
VOROS McCRACKEN: I think part of the effect is that the five of us are sitting here right now. I don’t think that we get to this point where anyone wants to hear us sit down and discuss this without that book.
GARY HUCKABAY: Long-term, I don’t think there is an effect, to be honest. I think it’s kind of a blip in the road. I think it had the effect of hardening the position of some people on all sides—people got their righteous indignation up a little bit—but I think it was a short-term thing. I have yet to meet people in the industry who will not talk with me and be reasonable. And I try to be reasonable and respectful of them. Maybe it made that go away for a few months. But people were going to see the effects of this approach and how it can be successful, particularly a low- to mid-revenue team, whether or not Michael Lewis writes that book.
GARY HUGHES: I’d kind of go both ways. It definitely had an effect. “Moneyball” has become a catchphrase now that’s being completely misused. It’s ridiculous, calling Boston a Moneyball team, with their hundred-and-something million payroll. But to ignore the success that Billy’s had, given the parameters he’s had to deal with, would be unfair too.
VOROS McCRACKEN: Certainly, we in Boston are not antagonistic to the concepts in “Moneyball” either. Obviously they hired me as a consultant. When they promoted Theo, basically the idea was he was going to try to meld the two approaches and get them to where they were not only getting along, but are complementing one another. The stats can help the scouts zero in on the guys they should be zeroing in on. And the scouts, once the stats are sorting things through, can tell you who exactly are the best guys to go after. The success of that can obviously be overblown because a World Series championship is a big thing, big news. How much it had to do with stats, how much it had to do with improved scouting . . . I think the point is that Boston has at least tried to reconcile the two positions.
GARY HUGHES: It seems like the teams that are so-called Moneyball teams—I’m not going to get into names of individual people or teams—those teams seem to really lack communication skills within their organization. They don’t talk to each other. They talk within their little comfortable niche of people, and the rest of the organization has no idea what’s going on. That seems to be by design. And guys are leaving baseball—just walking away—rather than work with people who just aren’t going to listen to them.
EDDIE BANE: I think it’s had a very negative effect on the people that I think should be considered to be general managers in the major leagues. Gary Hughes and Scott Reid and Mike Radcliff and Ken Forsch and Gary Sutherland and Dick Tidrow, they are outstanding people. But because of the connotation that they’re not Moneyball people, we keep hearing about guys that are Ivy League graduates who are going to jump into general-manager jobs. They may be very qualified. But to think that Mike Radcliff and some of these other guys that have helped build the Minnesota Twins into what they are . . . It’s because they’re not quote-unquote Moneyball guys.
Lewis’ book directly affected human beings like John Poloni, who signed Tim Hudson. He’s the “fat scout” in the book. I resent that. I think John Poloni’s an outstanding scout. And without Tim Hudson (who was signed by Poloni), the Oakland A’s, they wouldn’t have written a book about them. I want to read a book by Pat Gillick. Or Brian Sabean. Or Terry Ryan—but we can’t get him to brag about himself. These guys won’t do it. When they write a book, I want to read it.
ALAN SCHWARZ: Let’s talk tools for a moment. Are the five tools (hitting for average and power, running, fielding, arm) as relevant today as they’ve always been? Or given what we’ve learned over the past 10 or so years, should something like plate discipline be made the sixth tool?
GARY HUGHES: I think the five tools are five physical tools. I don’t see where plate discipline becomes a tool.
VOROS McCRACKEN: I don’t know how much hitting for average is a physical tool, either. There are a lot more gifted athletes out there than Wade Boggs, who had the single ability to hit for a high average. Plate discipline is such a critical complement to the physical abilities. If you can take the physical abilities and combine them with plate discipline at a young enough age, I think you can work through whatever problems the hitter has at the plate, and he can become a good hitter. Everything that I’ve seen, from college baseball stats to minor league baseball stats, time and time again, walks and strikeout ratios, it just seems to keep coming up as very, very important.
GARY HUGHES: You’re absolutely right. It’s very important. I just don’t think it’s a tool with a capital T. And you don’t need computers and stat guys to see it. You show up at a game and the first thing you get is a stat sheet and you look at it. This has only been for the last 30 or 35 years that I’ve been doing this. But guess what? The guy with the best strikeout-to-walk ratio is usually the best player. Wow! This didn’t just happen in the past five years.
EDDIE BANE: Every one of us knows that the bat is the most important tool in the world. We’re to the point now where we don’t add up the tool scores and divide by five. We add the bat about four times and then divide the other tools in. You have to hit as a shortstop now. You can’t get by just being a slick-glove guy. And we realize plate discipline is important. But where we would differ a little bit is, Paul Konerko had plate discipline when he was 18 years old. Magglio Ordonez was (swinging) at everything that came up there, but it developed over time. And they’re both great hitters.
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.
ALAN SCHWARZ: OK, so it's the trading deadline, and you want to evaluate another team's Double-A right-field prospect. Everyone agrees that he has considerable skills, and you're going to scout him for three games. How will you evaluate what kind of asset he might be for your big league club a few years from now?
GARY HUGHES: You'll have a history coming in, but you'll evaluate his five tools. You'll compare what you have on your own club. You'll think about what your immediate needs are and what your long-term needs are. And you'll make your decision based on your feeling.
EDDIE BANE: The first thing I do when I get to the ballpark is, I don't care about his right-field play. I don't care about his running speed. I want to see him hit. If he don't hit, I don't have to stay three days. I'm going to pick up the stat sheet--I'm going to look at the strikeouts and walks. I'm going to look at the batting average. I'm going to know all that stuff because I've been on the computer. But if I don't think this guy can hit for the Anaheim Angels, the other stuff is secondary.
ALAN SCHWARZ: But what would you have to see to be encouraged?
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.
ALAN SCHWARZ: Gary Huckabay, what would you look at if you had three days to evaluate someone?
GARY HUCKABAY: Since we're talking about a right fielder, I want to know his age. I want to see his stat lines every year through the minors. I want to know where he played, what leagues, what parks. I want to know, a lot of times, on a guy who might be set up as trade bait, are they being protected a little bit, getting the platoon advantage all the time? I want to take a look at his defensive numbers, to see what kind of balls he's getting to. If he's making a ton of errors.
I would love to see the scouting reports. I want to know his physical attributes, because if you're telling me we're going to acquire this guy as a catcher, and he's 6-foot-5, no--because there's been one catcher in major league history who was 6-foot-5, and he had a horribly short career where he was really valuable, and that was Sandy Alomar.
ALAN SCHWARZ: Voros, what would make you dismiss a player?
VOROS McCRACKEN: I never dismiss a player. There was a player, I don't remember who it was, who I thought would never hit a lick in the major leagues. And one day, he just one day up and started hitting. So I wouldn't dismiss anybody off the bat. But a 25-year-old guy in Double-A is a problem, OK? Not necessarily rule him out--a 25-year-old who hits the bejesus out of the ball in Double-A might be worth looking at as a bat off the bench. But if he's 25 and still in Double-A, what has he been doing from 20 to 24?
GARY HUGHES: But you can't have it both ways. You said you wouldn't give up on a guy.
VOROS McCRACKEN: I wouldn't. But I don't think he's much of a prospect. If you're going to hold on to prospects and invest a lot in them, they need to be someone who you expect to be playing every day or in the rotation or a top reliever.
ALAN SCHWARZ: Let's talk about a major league pitcher. We're in the offseason, and your club needs to sign a No. 2 or No. 3 type starter, a good but not great veteran guy. How will you evaluate this pitcher?
GARY HUCKABAY: The first thing I'm going to do is make a distinction between the statistics that describe what a player has already done versus those that do a better job of predicting the future. For example, ERA, year to year, is kind of iffy from time to time. What I'm going to look for instead is someone with a big strikeout rate. I'm going to like someone who doesn't give up a lot of hits. I'm going to like someone who has not been abused. I am more of a hardliner on that than just about anybody. If a guy has thrown a ton of pitches per game, I'm going to take a look and try to figure out, based on the actuarial curves and other stuff that I've done, how likely he is to get hurt.
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.
ALAN SCHWARZ: I said, "May not be aware." Gary, have you ever heard of DIPS?
GARY HUGHES: No.
ALAN SCHWARZ: OK then! (Laughter)
EDDIE BANE: But I'm going to read everything I can, and on top of that have Gary Hughes in the ballpark to see what the guy does. We're trying to dispel these things. It's not like when we're drafting we spit tobacco at the board, and whatever name we hit is the guy we take. I've read this stuff.
GARY HUGHES: Is that what DIPS is? Tobacco? (Laughter)
EDDIE BANE: But someone who works with Gary has read this stuff.
ALAN SCHWARZ: OK, but Gary hasn't, so just explain to it quickly for him and the people who will be reading this later, it's a method where, essentially, looking mainly at a pitcher's strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed per inning does a better job of predicting ERA than even ERA does. It's very counterintuitive to see that singles and doubles allowed don't matter a whole lot moving forward. This shook up the statistics community and has become pretty widespread among stat-minded major league executives as they evaluate talent markets. I'm curious, Gary (Hughes), how do you form opinions on which major league pitchers you might want to pursue and which ones you won't?
GARY HUGHES: History--you've got a long, long list of times to evaluate this guy. The numbers are somewhat important. I think the longer history you have with seeing a guy, you solidify the feeling you have. The first time I see him I have a feeling, five years from now I'm going to have a different feeling. There are so many darned factors that go into it.
EDDIE BANE: 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.
ALAN SCHWARZ: It seems to me that the scouts and stat people often butt heads over which players to sign for the bench--how to look at quadruple-A minor league veterans versus established but fading major leaguers, situations like that. Your Roberto Petagines, your Mark Leonards. Those types of guys where the stat people say, "Look, the guy had a .380 OBP in Rochester. He won't hurt you and will cost only $400,000." And the scouts will say he can't run and he has no arm. I'm exaggerating here but it does sound a little familiar. Do you think, Gary (Hughes), there will be any shift in evaluating these types of players, where scouting will . . .
VOROS McCRACKEN: Give more credit . . .
ALAN SCHWARZ: . . . see the predictabilities of some of these statistics. So even if his tools don't knock you out, he still has value?
GARY HUGHES: But you still in heart think he's not going to hit big league pitching. You say he had a .380 on-base percentage. The key word there is "had." If you could tell me he's going to have the .380 next year, that'd be great!
VOROS McCRACKEN: But obviously there's a relationship between the two. Guys who have higher on-base percentages in Triple-A tend to have higher on-base percentages in the major leagues. This is a point where I don't have a lot of wiggle room.
ALAN SCHWARZ: That gets us to this question--do you guys think Triple-A stats can predict player performance in the majors?
GARY HUGHES: I don't know. I can't answer that. That's not my thing.
VOROS McCRACKEN: I think to the extent that that's your answer, that you don't really know . . .
GARY HUGHES: I don't think you know.
VOROS McCRACKEN: I don't know. But I do have an idea. I have looked at stats for tons of Triple-A players, and what they've done in the major leagues, and I think with this sort of information, I don't think that "I don't know" should be the final answer. I think, "I don't know, and I would like to find out" would be the better approach. I'm not sure that's always been the approach. I would say that you know almost as much about what a guy's going to do in the big leagues from his Triple-A stats as you do from his major league stats.
GARY HUCKABAY: I'll go further and say exactly as much.
EDDIE BANE: That doesn't surprise me, but I don't believe it. I won 15 games in Triple-A two years in a row. I won seven games total in the major leagues. The level of play is completely different. We weren't into DIPS in '73 but I led the league in ERA both years. I wasn't good enough to pitch in the major leagues. You get up there and you lose the confidence level. David Newhan bounced around, he finally got an opportunity to play, he's all right. But where was he going to play for the Anaheim Angels other than on the bench? When it comes to the stats, I want to know who he's playing against, where he's playing at and who's he's hitting these balls against. I want Moose Stubing to find Brendan Donnelly (in the minors) because of how he saw Brendan Donnelly throw, not because of the statistical edge he might have had.
VOROS McCRACKEN: His statistics were excellent.
GARY HUCKABAY: Donnelly and Newhan were people we were screaming about for years.
EDDIE BANE: But the thing I'd like to hear--I know you guys work for two clubs--but it's easy to bring up Newhan and Donnelly. Scream about someone who's going to do it next year, or that we should be on. Right now. Because I'd like to know. Write it down and give it to Alan, and we'll look at it a year from now.
VOROS McCRACKEN: It's funny, I can't say the guy's name, but someone was just claimed from your organization that I was very interested in.
EDDIE BANE: Steven Andrade by the (Blue Jays) organization--we'll see how that works.
VOROS McCRACKEN: His stats are great stats. They're flat-out great stats. I've never even seen him pitch. And even if I had, I'm not a scout. I wouldn't know what to look for. All I know is he's got great stats that very few other relief pitchers in the minor leaguers have.
ALAN SCHWARZ: It feels to me, and I wasn't necessarily expecting to reach this point, as if maybe a GM in an organization, yes, has to be fully versed in both sides of performance evaluation--the subjective and the objective. But does each assistant GM need to be? Or should each club have an assistant GM like Gary Hughes, whose expertise is by-the-eyes scouting, and an assistant GM who's primarily a statistics analyst? Kind of a double-platoon front office instead of a single-platoon one.
GARY HUGHES: My whole thing is probably more humanistic than some of this stuff. It comes down to respect. You're nuts if you don't pay attention to what anyone brings to the table as far as evaluation. And somebody's got to make the final decision. If there's respect, if there's the ability to sit down in a room and talk and get everybody's opinion, then someone has to stand up and make the decision, and we go forward as an organization. You can't have the DIPS guys against the guys chewing dip.
EDDIE BANE: Personally, I think we are going that way. We are smart enough to know that the stuff that Gary Huckabay writes, we have to know that. We're doing it. But the reason we got our hackles up, as Gary (Hughes) said, is we were under the impression that, like the line in "Moneyball," we should do the amateur draft off of computers. I don't think anybody actually believes that. We believe there's room for statistical analysis. But we also certainly believe that there's plenty of room for scouting. When Paul Weaver's been with the Astros for 25 years, and he loses his job, and he's an outstanding scout . . . that's when we get concerned. If there's $50,000 in the budget, and you're going to hire a scout or a stat guy, one guy's going to be out in the street. And the guy who was out in the street was Paul Weaver.
GARY HUCKABAY: I think you're dead-on. I think the problem there is the determination is that there's only $50,000 for this. Let's look at the budget as a whole. Because you can't show me a major league baseball club that doesn't have a couple of very seriously bad contracts on it. I would much rather have both guys, the scout and the stat guy, and knock off a hundred grand from my offer to a mediocre free-agent pitcher.
EDDIE BANE: I agree with that.
GARY HUCKABAY: Teams that are smart, not smart, winning, non-winning, rich and poor--every single one of them, it seems every year, in August they absolutely, positively, flush half a million dollars down the toilet on a player at the trade deadline. A player that's not going to help them very much, if at all.
EDDIE BANE: We all know that. The scout and stat guy can tell you that.
ALAN SCHWARZ: But then why does it happen?
GARY HUGHES: (Smiling) Because you've got this one chance to get that ring. How many chances do you get? It's been 1908 for us.
ALAN SCHWARZ: We're getting to the end here. What do the next 10 years hold for traditional, subjective, watch-with-your-eyes scouting? What refinements might there be, because you want to get better at what you do, right?
GARY HUGHES: What's come out of this discussion, hopefully, is that there's more than one way. And yet, we've got teams that refuse to draft a high school player. That's ridiculous! It's ridiculous.
EDDIE BANE: Ah, let it go.
GARY HUGHES: It makes no sense whatsoever. Oakland, all this stuff, and the two best players they had were the Latin shortstop and the high school third baseman. To eliminate that . . . it's arrogant. It's foolish.
EDDIE BANE: 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.
GARY HUGHES: Do you have to see a player to scout him?
GARY HUCKABAY: I would think so.
GARY HUGHES: Can you make a decision without ever seeing a player?
GARY HUCKABAY: Look, any decision, you're going to have a certain level of confidence in. And the more information you have is going to let you be more confident about that decision. I always have thought there's a false dichotomy here. There's this tendency to dismiss what a lot of the quantitative guys do as just working with the numbers. Well, you know what? Those numbers are scouting. Somebody saw that guy get a double. Somebody watched a pitcher get that strikeout. They just have a very specific method of how they write this down and then put it all together. This is real baseball performance. It's not just numbers out of thin air.
VOROS McCRACKEN: If I had a list of Rule 5 players, Rule 5 candidates only, and I see a pitcher with absolutely dynamite minor league stats, I don't need to see a scouting report to know that the scouts don't like this pitcher. If the scouts liked this pitcher, he would not be on this list in front of me, OK? And so for that, the Rule 5 draft, I would be comfortable in drafting him, bringing him to spring training, and having a look-see. It's a riskless proposition. It's fifty grand.
GARY HUGHES: That's another stat guy you could've hired! (Laughing.)
ALAN SCHWARZ: All right, so what is next for statistical analysis? How are you guys going to get better, make yourselves more useful?
VOROS McCRACKEN: More information helps. If we had more information with regard to fielding--fielding is the great frontier of statistical analysis--we could do lots and lots of things. I know Eddie, you say you're trying to move away from the radar gun, but I personally would like to have radar-gun readings in with the stats. So we can look at whether there are differences between the futures of pitchers basically with the same statistics, but one guy throws 10 miles an hour faster. For a stat person, what they want generally is more information. And more people to listen to them.
GARY HUCKABAY: Fielding's nice. And at Baseball Prospectus, we've been building something over the last three years something we call the Databeast. It's going to include information on, basically, coaching effectiveness. How much is Leo Mazzone really worth? And the answer is, a hell of a lot. If you've got a guy who's teaching your hitters, and suddenly they spike, you want to know about that. We want to know more about health of the players, how they respond--we want to have a database that says, This guy had Tommy John surgery performed by Dr. Lewis Yocum on this date, and this is what his numbers are, so we can know going forward what we can reasonably expect in terms of recovery from injuries. We want to be able to quantify that.
ALAN SCHWARZ: Last thing--what would each of you, as representatives of your two sides, like to see from the other side, moving forward?
VOROS McCRACKEN: The only thing that I would say is, at times, the reaction to us is dismissive. Obviously you guys don't like some of the things that came out in "Moneyball." But from our side, we don't like the fact that what we say is not only not agreed with but not worth discussing. And that's something I'd like improved.
EDDIE BANE: I want them to realize that we're not spitting tobacco on the draft board to make our picks. 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.
GARY HUGHES: The word is "respect." There's no reason there can't be coexistence. I have to apologize--you read "Moneyball," and the first thing you do is you don't want any of those kids who they drafted to do well. (Laughter) But it's not their fault. I'm betting that the kids from the Moneyball draft are going to be statistically the same as anybody else's draft, just for different reasons.
GARY HUCKABAY: There's a book there, I bet.
Alan Schwarz is the Senior Writer of Baseball America and the author of the 2004 bestseller, "The Numbers Game: Baseball's Lifelong Fascination with Statistics." You can visit Alan's website at www.alanschwarz.com.