The Ringer ran part one of a series this morning on the Cincinnati Reds scouting department. The article doesn’t focus on today. Or even a decade ago. Someone leaked over 70,000 scouting reports from the Reds from 1991-2003. Ben Lindbergh and Rob Arthur dove headfirst into them, breaking down a lot of awesome information.

There’s a lot of interesting things in there. One scout saw Derek Jeter and didn’t rate him as having one above-average tool. That wasn’t what other Reds scouts saw. But it does give some insight into scouting – not everyone sees the same thing. And it also depends on when you see a guy, too.

I contend that scouting amateur, and even minor league baseball players is the toughest gig in sports. Maybe I’m wrong, but I believe that the track record speaks for itself as to how difficult of a job it actually is to project guys to the Major Leagues with some certainty as to how good they will be. I don’t want to give away a lot of the article – it’s long, but outstanding, and there’s two more parts coming – but one thing that really jumped out was just how bad one Cincinnati Reds scout was at scouting pitching.

As many Reds fans know – the organization has been terrible at developing starting pitching. Going back to the early 1990’s, the list of homegrown starting pitchers that had even a small amount of Major League success can be counted on one hand. You’ve got Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, Mike Leake, and Brett Tomko? It’s been a very tough go of things when it comes to drafting or signing an amateur pitcher and then getting them to Cincinnati and that player being a successful starting pitcher.

All of that shouldn’t be just thrown at the feet of the scouting department. Developing players is a big part of things, too. Bad luck also comes into play. While some guys can be pointed to as “this guy is an arm injury waiting to happen”, most of the time that’s not actually the case. But guys do get hurt. And in 1991-2003, Tommy John surgery wasn’t exactly like it is today. The recovery rate wasn’t nearly as high.

With all of that said, here’s what was gleaned about one Cincinnati Reds scout with regards to his ability to scout pitchers:

One scout was so bad at grading pitchers that his evaluations were actually significantly negatively correlated with pitcher WARP—the worse he thought they would be, the better they actually were.

Following that paragraph is a chart that shows the correlation between scouts OFP (overall future performance) grades and their actual future performance. This scout is so far away from everyone else on pitchers that it’s laughable. And frankly, embarrassing. I would love to know who the scout was that is also significantly ahead of the group on the chart, too.

So many things have changed both in baseball, and in scouting since the time that these scouting reports were filed. Even the “new” ones are nearly two decades old at this point. Even in a world where we didn’t have trackman/rapsado/pitchfx, or have all of the statistical evaluation that’s night-and-day different than it was in 2003, the sheer amount of information available now compared to then is incredible.

There’s so much more video available. Particularly with high school kids, the amount of showcases give teams so many more chances to see them. And it gives them chances to see them against other top-tier prospects. That’s valuable. It’s far more valuable than seeing them against your neighbors son who throws 79 with the worst breaking ball in the league.

Having better scouts than other teams is huge. If you can get better talent in your organization you are going to obviously have an advantage. Hiring the best scouts, though, isn’t easy. The biggest reason is that it’s incredibly difficult to actually put an actual grade on how good a scout is. Players take a long time to develop, usually. Players from high school often spend 5-6 years in the minors before they ever debut, much less make an impact. By the time you know if your scout had it right or wrong he may no longer even be in your organization with how the turnover in the industry works. It’s just a very tough thing to peg.

It’s a good read. I can’t wait for parts 2 and 3 to hit the internet. For now, go read part 1. There’s a lot of good information in there. And some stuff that makes you cringe.

14 Responses

  1. Oldtimer

    Reds (way back when) were better at developing SP. Jim O’Toole. Jim Maloney. Gary Nolan. Don Gullett. Ross Grimsley. Pat Zachry. To name a few from 1960s and 70s. Add in Mario Soto and Tom Browning in 1980s.

    I think Marge Schott did many things well as Reds owner from mid 1980s through 1990s but she gutted the Reds scouting system. It has take awhile to recover.

    • Muddycleats

      Agree! wouldn’t include Rijo or Leake; both came 2 Reds ML ready w/ very little time n minors. Jack Armstrong would b 1 to include, but success was short lived.

      • MuddyCleats

        Charlie Leibrandt would b another w/ only one yr of minor league ball, but better than avg ML SP who rarely gets the credit he deserves

      • Mike in Ottawa

        Actually Rijo spent time in the A’s and Yankees systems. Plus spent years at the age 19-22 in the majors. Rijo began time in the minors at age 16 (1981). Made 9 app in Tacoma in 1987.

        All that said Rijo was NOT developed by the Reds.

      • MuddyCleats

        And that was my pt on Rijo also – he was ready when Reds traded 4 him. Great trade, but not developed by Reds

  2. Tom B.

    This is excellent, Doug, and validates what many Reds fans have believed for a long time. No doubt — scouting is a very inexact science, but some scouts are better at it than others, plain and simple. And some teams are just better at developing talent, plain and simple.

    • Muddycleats

      Had the pleasure 2 play summer ball many yrs ago w/ a guy Gene Bennett scouted regularly. Gene was a great guy & did everything right, but Brian wanted 2 go to college instead of sign w/ Reds. He was eventually drafted by Giants & pitched @ AA level before giving up the dream. Just never know w/ young kids

  3. Billy

    That one scout was so bad, don’t you have to wonder if he was doing it on purpose? Could he have been involved in some sort of corporate espionage?

    • The Duke

      My guess is those were Bowden’s personal evaluations.

    • Doug Gray

      The fact that they didn’t bring up how he evaluated hitters probably suggests he was fine with them, so probably not.

  4. doofus

    I’ve been to East Cobb and Jupiter, FL showcases a few times. Scouts rarely show up in the morning. They reveal themselves during the early afternoon games, then they are gone. The tournament sponsors ensure that the local teams are playing during those times.

    Perhaps scouts should be paid more, then perhaps they would work harder to find good players?

    • MuddyCleats

      I live n a small south central Tenn town & have umpired a lot of baseball over last 20yrs to include games w/ sonny Gray, David Price, Rex Brothers, Braun Morris, Dewayne Brazelton, Mikey Minor, the Sheffield brothers & David Hess all ML pitchers heavyly scouted by a number of teams, but NONE drafted or recruited much by Reds ?

  5. Jonathan Linn

    Just finished the article and I’m fascinated about how most scouts didnt post future grades above a 55. I wonder how much of that is related to fear of losing their job over a bad report. Perhaps paying the scout a non-incentive based salary would produce better or more accurate projections.