OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Baltimore manager Buck Showalter receives regular calls from veteran, out-of-work scouts looking for jobs.
Many are longtime baseball men who once hit the road to major league cities ahead of their clubs to offer detailed insight of upcoming opponents. Now, advance scouting for many teams has turned to technology: video from every angle and situation, and analytics.
”Advance scouting by humans is history,” said Bay Area-based Mets scout Shooty Babitt, who also works as an analyst on Oakland Athletics broadcasts. ”Thank goodness Im a scout who evaluates talent. Advance guys prepare strategy.”
Showalters Orioles dont have an advance scout working in the ballpark. Same goes for World Series champion Houston, Minnesota, the Angels, Oakland and others.
”Id like to know how many clubs have a human being advance anymore,” Showalter said.
With the push of a button, a hitter can watch video of every 2-2 breaking pitch Giants ace Madison Bumgarner has tossed, or flame-throwing Yankees closer Aroldis Chapmans tendencies with a man on base, or any other specific scenario that requires a closer look. Instead of hoping a scout saw that type of situation in the pitchers recent outings, there it is on a screen – sometimes even up to the minute as teams do their own version of advance scouting during a game to gauge what a hitter might see in an upcoming at-bat.
Clubs like the As stopped using an advance scout on the road years ago as technology improved and so much data became readily available. While the cost savings might not be as significant as it would seem, many teams have used that money instead to invest in infrastructure, databases and other state-of-the-art systems to evaluate talent through strategic study.
Yet even with the trend toward video analysis, it doesnt always provide a complete view of a player but rather glimpses of what he does.
”When Im looking at a pitcher, Im just looking at clips and pitches. I dont see his body language in between, I dont see if he wants to work really fast, we need to slow this guy down,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. ”Theres some little, subtle things that you may not see. … But we can get a lot done on video.”
San Diegos advance scouting department works from video, staying in-house.
”We have advance scouts, not in the traditional sense,” Padres manager Andy Green said. ”A lot (of teams) have migrated away from that traditional role. Theres so much video I can watch every single throw that every outfielder makes. Theres a camera angle on absolutely everything at this point in time. … You can see every single pitch from multiple camera angles, so you get a feel for a lot now that you didnt used to be able to get a feel for. There was a point in time where that advance scout was sitting on signs trying to decipher what the signs were for other teams. That doesnt happen as much anymore. Youre not finding them out that way.”
Still, certain organizations have stuck to traditional methods.
The Marlins use a combination, with president of baseball operations Michael Hill noting Miami has ”a live advance scout to monitor things that the analytics dont capture.”
Colorado manager Bud Black firmly believes in advance scouts and what they do to prepare a club – one working at San Franciscos AT&T Park before the Rockies recent series.
”In this ballpark, in the stadium, in a seat, and maybe walking around different viewpoints, too,” Black said. ”I love the input from advance scouts.”
Black appreciates the human element these scouts offer – ”Theres some things that the television camera doesnt pick up, right? And our guys keep an eye on that” – and recommended keeping advance scouts when he got the Colorado job before the 2017 season.
Some players sense a difference.
Giants right fielder Andrew McCutchen indicated they might feel devalued because theres less information on a player without those on-site scouts.
”Its all about what a computer can spit out and let you know. It makes the game a little more efficient and easier for people,” McCutchen said. ”But in the midst of that, guys are losing an opportunity to be able to showcase what theyre capable of doing. Its just the way its evolving in this game. Its just baseball and, honestly, life in general. Technology is just whats new, its whats going on that matters right now.”
The NBA is still heavily reliant on the advance scout who hops from city to city at a frenetic pace, and its something champion Warriors coach Steve Kerr still counts on as he and his staff must immediately get ready after a game for another opponent as soon as the very next night – or on short notice, like this year leading into the first round of the playoffs when there were several potential opponents as the regular season concluded.
Many baseball managers see both sides of the argument over having a scout in the stadium seats versus studying from afar.
”I think its how advance scouting has changed,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. ”Some are still in the stands, truly the traditional advance scouting where theyre in the stands following teams youre about to play. Some are more behind the scenes, video and analysis. Were on the latter side of that, so we dont have a body in the stadium as much as we have an advance scouting department thats evaluating our next opponent constantly.
”Theres a lot more information thats applied, probably in addition to what your eyes can see is what the information and data will tell you. Theres certainly value in all of that – what your eyes can tell you and also what the information can tell you. Oftentimes its important to match those up to see if what your eyes are seeing is actually a reality, whether that be the spin on the breaking ball or whether that be someones first step, now we have Statcast, or whether its somebodys angle in the outfield talking about their throws. We now have a way to measure all of that.”
AP Sports Writer Steven Wine in Miami contributed to this report.
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