FREE hit counter and Internet traffic statistics from

Monday, November 13, 2006

Scouting with SABR

Last Saturday night was the annual banquet of the Rocky Mountain SABR chapter and my wife and I were in attendance with approximately 75 other baseball fans. Last year was the first I had attended and like last year the event was a great deal of fun and the speakers entertaining.

Like last year the dinner was held at the Denver Athletic Club in downtown Denver and right down the hall from a large crowd at the Denver Sailing Association.

The evening got underway as Paul Parker, treasurer and Rockies club historian and manager of the "community fields" program, introduced Keith Bleyer who served as the MC for the evening. Keith servers as the roving reporter on Fox Sports Rocky Mountain telecasts of Rockies games. After reports from Parker and Neal Williams the chapter president while we enjoyed our dinners, Bleyer introduced the first speaker, Matt Vinnola, who manages the professional scouting organization for the Rockies.

Matt spoke for about 20 minutes and in that time took the crowd through a typical season in the professional scouting department starting with the end of the season and running through the crescendo of his work - the July 31st trading deadline of the next season. Matt manages 10 people including several former managers such as Marcel Lachemann and other scouts whose job it is both to scout all of the other team's existing players as well as the Rockies organization. Although he lost some of the crowd in his explanatin of article 19 versus article 20 free agents and other rules of availability, he provided a great deal of information in a short period of time. Essentially Matt's job is to consolidate information from his scouts as well as supplementing that data with the MLB's scouting bureau in order to do things like maintain the 40-man roster boards on all 30 teams, create a top 20 prospects report on all the teams, and provide input on which teams are likely to re-sign players and go after particular free agents. All of this information is then fed to the decision makers in GM Dan O'Dowd and Assistant GM Bill Geivett.

Over the course of last season Matt estimated he read upwards of 9,000 reports on various players and while he admits he's not a scout, he's conversant enough in the language and has read enough reports to be able to pour through them and filter the necessary information. Actually, he said if he were a scout he'd be a "3-5-7" scout meaning that on the 8-point scouting scale he can look at a player and see if he's not very good, a decent player, or really good. The subtleties of arm angles and motion repeatability are more difficult and feed into the finer distinctions drawn by professional scouts. He also noted that's not a stranger to doing a bit of statistical analysis himself and shared an interesting factoid - the Rockies in 2006 were second in all of baseball behind only the Yankees in run scoring in innings 1 through 6 but dead last from the 7th inning on. He didn't speculate as to why this might be the case however. And he also mentioned that while of course the information from his scouts is treasured, he also scours the internet looking at STATS and other sites to provide as complete a picture as possible.

At the end of his talk he fielded a few questions and when asked about performance enhancing drugs, he was quick to point out that while he thinks evaluating players (pitchers too) with potential PED issues is among the biggest challenges, the data he's looked at hasn't shown the drastic decline that he would have expected. He answered several other questions including one the likelihood of scouts in the hall of fame (he's all for it not surprisingly) and in all his talk was enthusiastically given and very well received.

After Bleyer entertainingly played auctioneer in the auctioning off of an autographed Rockies bat ($180) and "A League of Their Own" movie poster ($425) autographed by Tom Hanks and Madonna among others Thomas Harding of and the "feeling good feeling clean" report on MLB radio gave the keynote address. Harding talked about his career from his humble beginnings in Bluefield West Virginia to his days in Memphis and finally his opening with the Colorado Springs Gazette that has since led him to Denver. He told several interesting anecdotes but probably the most entertaining was his first experience in covering a major league game in Atlanta in 1983 while still a college student. Failing to ask manager Joe Torre his question at the right time, he hung around afterwards and summoned the courage. Torre immediately asked him when he graduated and proceeded to allow the young reporter to ask his questions while he shaved. From there Harding was hooked.

The evening ended with the closing of bids on various items including baseball books and cards. Yours truly snagged a copy of Saving the Pitcher by Will Carroll and I'll admit to having outbid the keynote speaker. President Williams also awarded SABR memberships to Bleyer and the two speakers. Once again a very entertaining evening in the fellowship of other baseball fans (sponsored I might add by the Rockies organization). What's not to like?

No comments: