For about 20 years now, sabermetrics has ruled baseball intellectualism. Moneyball started a divide, at least in the mainstream, between sabermetrics and scouting that has slowly faded over time. The mainstream baseball media and fanbase often framed the narrative of sabermetrics as intellectual and elitist, and scouting as anti-intellectual and accessible. But scouting has slowly become part of the baseball nerd culture and it’s ready to take the next step in its development as an intellectual discipline.
About twenty years ago, Rob Neyer started to gain popularity. Neyer wasn’t a brilliant mathematician or statistician. He wasn’t a sabermetric founding father like his mentor, Bill James. He just wrote about baseball through a sabermetric lens for ESPNet SportsZone, like a fan writing compelling letters to a fellow baseball-loving pen pal.
Several years after Neyer gained a wide audience, in 2003, Moneyball was published. Because of the internet and writers like Neyer, then the publication of Moneyball, sabermetrics entered the mainstream baseball lexicon in full force. There were plenty of places to go for an education in sabermetrics and for interesting philosophical discussions about baseball approached via sabermetrics.
Scouts (in some ways justifiably) felt left behind by the sabermetric way of approaching the game — or at least that was the narrative. Moneyball prompted a holy war between stats and scouts. For the most part sabermetricians just wanted better baseball stats than what you found on the back of your baseball cards, and scouts just did not want their important contributions swept under the rug.
To their credit, most of the sabermetrically inclined, who had gained more and more popularity following Rob Neyer and Moneyball, made it a point to shine light on the importance of gleaning baseball information from a combination of statistics and scouting. Baseball Prospectus hired scouting types like Kevin Goldstein and Jason Parks, while Fangraphs hired Kiley McDaniel — three guys good enough that at they did to eventually earn jobs with Major League teams’ scouting departments.
The internet and Moneyball gave rise to the popularity of sabermetrics, and sabermetrics helped give rise to baseball scouting on the internet. Sure, Baseball America had been around since 1980 and, like many print publications, seamlessly made the jump to the internet. But when Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs made scouting a priority on their sites, it became fashionable for people with a scouting bent to associate with baseball nerdom previously reserved for the sabermetrically inclined.
However, the internet-baseball-scout-nerd community has lacked a voice similar to what Rob Neyer was to sabermetrics: someone who is not really a scout and doesn’t do a whole lot of scouting, but who advances scouting concepts and themes, and who approaches the game with a scouting bent. You never read an in-depth sabermetric study from Neyer but you could tell he was someone who completely bought in to sabermetrics and tried to advance sabermetric concepts in his writing.
Writing that focuses on scouting concepts (as opposed to sabermetric concepts, a la Neyer) would be more subjective. While Neyer could easily extol the virtues of judging hitters via on-base percentage and slugging percentage by presenting fairly air-tight arguments, there isn’t really similar extolling to be done with regard to the perfect swing or the perfect pitching delivery. A writer in the Rob Neyer vein but who is taking a more scouting-oriented approach would write more subjectively about his philosophies of assessing players. The writing would be more personal and opinion-based rather than argumentative and fact-based.
Since the mainstream only recently viewed scouting as an intellectual pursuit on par with sabermetrics, what scouting needs are intellectual voices who discuss overarching philosophies of scouting. Writers who take a scouting approach tend mostly to write about specific prospects. They are busy seeing and scouting players, and just don’t have time to also be baseball philosophers.
Like sabermetrics is divided into those who do sabermetrics and those who wax philosophical about sabermetrics, scouting needs those who do scouting and those who wax philosophical about scouting. Any curious fan knows why on-base percentage is better than batting average. But not enough fans have been exposed to the “hows” and “whys” of scouting.
Originally published on Shaun’s blog, Overall Future Potential.Next post: Why You Should Write for Banished to the Pen: Julien Assouline
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