Monday, November 24, 2008

I'm Confused

I'm always going to be skeptical about an article in which bold new avenues of player development are explained via the example of former Padres and Tigers' trainwreck/GM Randy Smith:
For more than a century, baseball scouts have prospected for pitchers who throw high-speed strikes and athletes who could run fast and see well. Those talents are now even more valuable, contend scouts and veteran baseball men such as Giants third-base coach Tim Flannery, a former Padres infielder and coach. Flannery's reasoning, spelled out here last summer and shared by many scouts, is that footspeed and overall athleticism are gaining value as steroid use declines amid testing and increased penalties for violations.

. . . The Padres, by contrast, aren't known to emphasize those talents to the same degree. For most of this decade and even now, the San Diego farm system draws criticism, fairly or not, for an alleged dearth of power pitching and athleticism. The recent efforts of the Padres' Latin American program, however, offer encouragement to franchise veteran Randy Smith. “We are getting a bit better but still have room to improve,” he said.

The rest of the article is Smith talking about the Padres' acquisitions from Latin America. That's fine as far as it goes, but the whole intro to the story makes no sense to me. Is it really true that teams weren't scouting for speed and athleticism during the steroid days? Sure, the slow, powerful guys got a lot of press back then, but every team had way more toolsy guys in their system than patient sluggers, and I'm guessing that's always been the case.

But even if we go with the article's assumptions, wouldn't it follow that teams should increase their efforts at finding legitimate power bats rather than speedy guys? Now that steroids are allegedly gone, aren't those guys more rare and thus, by definition, more valuable?

1 comment:

rob said...

I think the logic goes that because steroids are obviously eradicated from the game, "natural" talent and athleticism is more valuable.

The thing that people often miss in the scouts vs. stats debate is that no one says talent and athleticism aren't valuable, but that you can't necessarily turn a star quarterback into an effective pitcher, or a great shooting guard into a star centerfielder. In baseball, talent and athleticism only go so far, and it is the athletes who actually perform well (i.e., have good stats) who succeed at the highest levels of the sport.

It doesn't matter if you can run 90 feet in 3 seconds if you can't put your bat on the ball.