Thursday, May 29, 2008

Scouts Are Only Human, And They Need to Be Loved

As much as I am a sabermetrician, I acknowledge that scouting is still the key (and best) way to evaluate players. Stats can help illuminate things that sometimes scouting miss but I think too many sabermetricians have the hubris to think that they know everything and everyone else is either wrong or stupid. I am not one of those sabermetrician, I've always had the broad, inclusive view of things.

Still, scouts are only human.

On the pre-game show for Wednesday's game (11-3 trashing of the D-backs!), Dave Fleming passed along a story about his meeting a scout for an east coast team with responsibility for following west coast baseball. The scout talked about how he has followed Lincecum since college and how teams saw the potential for what he is doing today but just weren't sure whether he would ever tame his wildness in order to achieve his potential, they weren't sure that he would show the determination and tenacity to learn and get better in the way that he has thus far. Still, they knew that with his stuff and speed, he had at minimum the potential to be a great closer.

How Could They Miss That?

All I can say is that I've never seen or met Lincecum and my experience has only been through broad and assiduously reading of everything Giants, but even I saw that Lincecum had this potential, which is why I was excited when some pre-draft projections had Lincecum falling to (and past) us (many had us picking Daniel Bard) and wrote about the Giants picking him if he fell to us.

How could they miss it? They should have had the same access to the internet that I had. And given his achievements, I would think that they would dig deep to turn over every stone to understand who Lincecum is as a person. Some of the stories leading up to the draft talked about how he was horribly wild early in his college career (really, his whole college career, even his breakout year) and he talked about how he worked to improve his walk rate. Still, when he got drafted in 2005, they still got on him about his walks and wouldn't pay him the $1M that he wanted, so he went back to college, learned another pitch, and had his breakout year when he won the Golden Spike and got drafted by the Giants.

So he learned all through his college years (appropriately enough, since they are halls of learning), demonstrated it by changing the way he pitched and by adding a pitch to his repertoire and that was all there on the internet to read. So why was it so fricking astonishing that he would continue to learn once he became a professional player? And how could a scout assigned to scout the west coast not have seen that? And apparently, most of baseball - or at least those 9 teams who drafted ahead of us - did not see that either, they bought into it too.

Well, that plus the fact that he is very short for a professional baseball player and therefore might not hold up to the punishing gaunlet that is the major league baseball season. Still, it would not surprise me if this scout's view represented the group-think that sometimes hold back us humans and he did use the royal "we" to refer to his scouting brethren.

Ultimately, though, I don't really care that they missed him, because I can call Tim "The Kid" Lincecum a San Francisco Giant. I am looking forward to many more years following him.



  1. Good stuff. I'm very happy the Giants got him.

    The complaint about Lincecum's size is overplayed, in my opinion. If he was a football player, I'd be concerned because his size was matching up when he physically comes in contact with another person.

    As a pitcher, his size shouldn't matter, except as a means to an ends - How does he achieve his pitches? Being under 6' tall shouldn't matter, unless he is *compensating* for it, right? It's his motion that I've heard could cause him injury over the long haul.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Mark.

    I agree that it's overplayed but not for the same reasons as you.

    This issue in the eyes of scouts and baseball men is that shorter pitchers, for whatever reason, break down easier than the taller, larger pitchers (say, just realized that pitchers have been growing much like basketball players been growing). And Lincecum is definitely smaller.

    However, to my viewpoint, if he is throwing such that his arm and body is not hurting so much that it needs icing - which is what EVERY OTHER PITCHER NEEDS - then his motion, as different as it is from other people, cannot be hurting his body much. And if it is not hurting his body much, then it should be not as prone to injury as other shorter pitchers. I'm no doctor, but that seems to be pretty elemental logic to me.

    So I don't understand all the people making a big fuss over how Lincecum is used by Bochy. Clearly Lincecum is different, his arm and body does not hurt enough to warrant icing. There is not that much pain or wear and tear involved. Sure, something to monitor, but I feel like the sky is falling every time Bochy does anything that isn't BP-PAP-correct and it's reached the point of the boy crying wolf for me.

    When BP feels like publishing a report that proves conclusively that all their theories are correct, then maybe I'll start paying attention, but this type of study is still in the Middle Ages, at best, in terms of proof of concept and the like. I like the suppositions but some people act like it is written in stone when it is really just a theory with not a lot behind it yet, at least not enough to convince Bill James, and I'll defer to him since I don't have all the time in the world to reach through all of BP's rebuttal to Bill and understand everything.

    I wish they knew how to make things simpler to understand, I always thought it was rocket science and thus didn't think much of my lack of understanding, but Ron Shandler made all that understandable to me so I think it's them and not me.

  3. I think you're right about "group think." Baseball is very conservative, and detached analysis is treated suspiciously.

    Lincecum may indeed be a "freak" in the sense that his performance defies his body type. And that his motion is unique and requires less post-game "care" than other guys. But I'll admit to being a "cry wolf" guy. Pitching is hard on the arm, it is not a natural thing. Even a guy like Tim with his great mechanics can still get hurt. I hate banking on the idea that he is "different" and thus we can use him in ways we wouldn't with other pitchers. I think it is too early to tell, and would rather err on the side of caution. We call him "The Franchise" fer chrissakes! But I appreciate your contrarian take, actually, hearing my own opinion echoed by BP and etc. isn't always interesting. It would be pretty cool if our guy was indeed The Special One.

    All the more reason to SIGN HIM TO A LONG TERM DEAL.

  4. MC, I am not sure I've made my position clear enough, so just to be clear, my point is not that he's a robot, damn any restrictions or cautions, but rather, not think the sky is falling every time he "breaks" one of the PAP's Ten Commandments.

    So, first, don't focus so much on PAP. That is still a work in progress anyway with some facts behind it, but clearly not enough to convince all industry experts to back it.

    I mention Bill James before, but Ron Shandler has his own set of "rule of thumbs", his book's recommendations (by Craig Wright) include:

    Teenagers: no 200 IP seasons, no BF/G over 28.5 in any 150 IP span, no starts on three days rest.

    Ages 20-22: average no more than 105 pitches per start with single game ceiling of 130 pitches.

    Ages 23-24: average no more than 110 pitches per start with a single game ceiling of 140 pitches.

    When possible, a young rookie starter should be introduced to the major leagues in a long relief role before he goes into the rotation (My note: Earl Weaver recommended this in his book because 1) allows pitcher to acclimate to major league life without additional stress, 2) manager can pick and chose situations he can see prospect pitch in, putting him in situations where he can succeed).

    With regards to these recommendations, the Giants have been treating both Lincecum and Cain well.

    Lincecum is averaging 106.2 pitches per start (not including "relief") with a high of 122; he is 24. Last year when he was 23, averaged 99.4 pitches with high of 115.

    Cain is averaging 101.9 pitches per start with a high of 115; he is 23. Last year when he was 22, averaged 104.5 pitches with high of 123 pitches.

    So I guess it depends on which expert you want to follow. Frankly, this is the first I read Shandler's take. I have an open mind regarding this issue. I know throwing is an unnatural act for the body. But it seems to me that if his unnatural act isn't causing physical pain - see, every other pitcher does feel physical pain and thus ice their arms, and so then I would agree with you that caution would probably be advisable, particularly if he had arm problems previously in his past - then if goes over 120 pitches once in a while, it's really not a big deal. If he did it, say, 3 times in a row, then I'll Paul Revere but once is nothing to make a big stink about it.

    I do not believe, clearly, that BP is the be-all and end-all on this topic, as many seem to believe. I think there's an art to this, and while I am OK with roughly hewing to general rules of thumb as BP has espoused, it bothers me greatly when people beat the war drums and proclaim that the Giants are idiots because they aren't following BP's preliminary guesses at what is right and wrong with handling starting pitchers. They haven't proven anything yet. When they have, I'll pay attention.

    So I think people should take a chill pill, the only really accepted No-No's is making your pitcher throw over 120 pitches regularly. Everything else is a theory devised by one person or another based on empirical evidence, there is no stats analysis behind any of the theories yet that is conclusive. Which I kind of find funny because the whole point of sabermetrics is that you analyze the statistics to draw your conclusions, not just rely on empirical observances.

    And as I wrote before, I'm much more concerned over Cain doing stuff like this than Lincecum, because they shut him down early in his pro career for arm problems. So I like the fact that his numbers this season is lower than last season with regards to pitches.

    It is all a matter of degree, if I think the Giants are abusing Lincecum - and right now I think multiple 120+ pitch games would be one reason - then I would speak up. But it happens once and all these people are complaining over it like it is a fact. No, it's not a fact, it's an opinion.



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