Fair or Foul: Scouting or Statistics?
The “old-school vs. new-school” stereotype is not as prevalent as it seems to fans. In most cases, teams and departments implement both. However, there are still some wars about WAR (and other sabermetrics).
Interestingly enough, from my experience, it seems this rift between analytics and scouting is most prevalent in baseball. Baseball is the one sport with the most data available. Baseball is famous for box scores and records and the number of times Miguel Cabrera has homered on the third pitch off a 6’2’’ lefty in day games. However, when sabermetricians try to use these numbers to help a team win, some scouts fail to recognize any value.
Jason Foster, a Braves fan and journalist, best describes this cultural paradigm when, in his tweet, he says:
Re: advanced stats: Why are many old-school baseball types so stubborn? And why are so many saber guys so arrogant? Both hurt the debate.
While each scout has various reasons for their “anti-analytics” stance, I believe the overarching theme is simply a case of resistance and “stubbornness”, as Jason mentions above.
Analytics have been used in businesses for decades. Linear regressions, statistical analysis, and other strategies are all instrumental in business decisions. If you took an older business executive and placed him in a baseball front office, he would be much more open to analytics than the similar-aged scout who happens to be an ex-player and a scout the past 30 years. There was no presence of analytics when he played or started scouting. It’s an uncomfortable and unfamiliar strategy that some scouts are simply too stubborn to consider the value of. In this case, scouts are wrong.
However, this does not mean sabermetricians are right. They’re also wrong. I can vividly recall several experiences where sabermetricians and analytical people have been arrogant and condescending. While they focus on the “science” of analytics, they do not credit the “art” of scouting.
These “arrogant” sabermetricians cannot understand how scouts do not see value in analytics. As a result, they become hostile towards a close-minded group. Yet, they become so close-minded themselves that they fail to see any value in scouting. Ironic, isn’t it? Two close-minded groups hostile towards the other because the other is close-minded?
Analytics can tell you, with great depth, if a player is struggling. However, can they tell you why? In some cases, yes. In some instances, analytics will explain how the struggling is simply a matter of bad luck. However, what if it’s simply a mechanical flaw in a pitcher’s delivery? Whether sabermetricians want to believe it or not, scouting provides valuable information that simply cannot be replaced by analytics.
So who’s right? The scouts or the stat-heads?
The simple answer is it’s a complex paradigm with no exact answer. (Oh the irony.)
It’s not a matter of black or white, fair or foul. The true value lies in the middle ground, with advantages from both schools of thoughts. Maury Brown, a well-respected sports business columnist and President of the Business of Sports Network, agrees:
Scouting and analytics are here to stay. Both have critical places. Never discount the value of each.
Comment with your thoughts. Let’s have a friendly war about WAR.