Public Service Announcement: Don't Just Scout The Stat Line!

Public Service Announcement: Don't Just Scout The Stat Line!
The addition of Addison Russell added to the Cubs' unprecedented farm system strength.

I recently read on another baseball blog that the Cubs “blew it” on their trade of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel for hotshot shortstop prospect Addison Russell (plus others). Unlike many of the baseball lovers decrying it as a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad trade, this blogger tried to use analysis. Fair enough, give me analysis over “WE ALREADY HAVE A SHORTSTOP” any day.

But shortly after I began reading, I realized something was amiss. The analysis wasn't based on a scout's take. There were no quotes from people who have seen Russell perform. There was no breakdown of a hitch in his swing, a lack of ability to take pitches, or a projection of a body type that won't build enough muscle to hit for power.

No, the analysis was that the writer wasn't high on Addison Russell as a player because he has yet to perform at an extremely high level above A+ ball. He backed up this opinion by citing his .766 OPS in 2014 (as a 20-year-old that missed two months with a hamstring injury). Never mind the cherry picking, inconsistency, and small samples that we are dealing with here. The big issue is this: scouting a stat line.

We're all guilty of doing that once in a while. Look at how we treat Kris Bryant and Javy Baez. We're on the edge of our seats with every #javybomb and #sparkle, but when someone goes 0/4 with 3 K's? Oh man. Step back from the ledge.

Here are some tweets between Sahadev Sharma (of Vine Line, ESPNChicago, BleacherNation, and 87.7 The Game) and myself from earlier in the day on this very topic, to gain more perspective.

Hope you enjoyed that part of our conversation. There are a wide range of reasons for a guy to have good stats, bad stats, or whatever you want to say. If we were to rank prospects on stats, then wouldn't Javier Baez have taken a dive early this year? Baez hit .145/.230/.255 in his first 29 games, but then has hit .300/.358/.567 in 50 games since.

While it's hard not to acknowledge that Baez has his issues at the plate, very few scouts were truly concerned with his poor start. If anyone had a drastic change in opinion based on his first month and a half of 2014, they weren't paying close enough attention before.

But how about another fun example, given to me courtesy of fellow Cubs Insider writer Gunther Dabysnky:

Albert Pujols, age 20, stats in in A ball (year 2000):
109 games, 440 PA, .324/.389/.565, 17 HR, 38 BB, 37 K

Brendan Harris, age 21, stats in A+ ball (year 2002):
110 games, 475 PA, .329/.395/.532, 13 HR, 43 BB, 57 K

Look at those numbers! Those guys are pretty comparable, right? I mean, if one guy is a Hall of Famer then the other would at least be a regular All-Star, right? Or at least be a solid, everyday regular, right? Or at least be a platoon player, right? Okay, so Albert Pujols is destined for the Hall of Fame and Brendan Harris was a mediocre utility player at his peak. He could still get it together!

Now that I've depressed you with a comparison of a former Cubs prospect with an all-time great Cardinal, I'm sure you've come around to realize my point. Don't scout the stat line. Don't do it. Stats are fun. I even admitted in my tweet that I get hung up in stats for minor leaguers too. But trust your scouts, kids.

Very early on in my short career in writing, someone gave me good advice: if you have an opinion, make sure you can properly back it up. Don't get me wrong, stats are important too. But spouting statistics on a guy I've never seen in person doesn't do anything in a conversation with a baseball scout that evaluates players for a living.

There is a delicate balance that is needed. A small sample of stats (either positive or negative) shouldn't influence your opinion when the opinions of educated baseball scouts are so easily obtained. So next time you're perusing prospect stats on baseball-reference or fangraphs and feel yourself thinking “Gee, I thought he was supposed to be good but his stats suck," just stop.

If the job could be done accurately by simply looking at slash lines, then we'd all be scouts. And maybe Addison Russell would still be with Oakland. After all, he hasn't completely dominated yet this his 80 plate appearances.


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    A very good example of this would be the stats for Albert Almora this year. It was clearly stated the the Cubs wanted him to be more selective this year at Daytona. They wanted him to be able to drive the ball more. His early line was horrible.

    But it now looks like he has adjusted to the change and over the past 2-3 weeks he has caught fire! The casual stat only analysis said he finally met his match. But I'm sure the coaches had no doubt how much this was going to make him a much better hitter when he makes the big leagues.

    There are more examples but this was the one example that came quickly to me....

  • In reply to bocabobby:

    I would agree with you but I am a scout and very was a huge fan of Almora. But I do see the tools just liked others more now and during that draft.

  • In reply to bocabobby:

    Almora is a solid example. He worked on some things early on, from what I understand. Most of the people I've read and spoken to haven't expressed a ton of concern over Almora's poor start (although I have seen some say that the low BB rate is a bit concerning long term).

    However, we do know that stats can tell a great deal, too. When a guy K's 34% of the time, we can make some conclusions about the type of hitter he may become. Lots of K's likely means low batting average. Of course, that's only if he's had a reasonable amount of plate appearances to judge on. Thanks for reading!

  • Great job Ryan.

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