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Discussion: The Value of Comparisons

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The Value of Comparisons

Conor Glassey has an interesting article in Baseball America online today, about how scouts use player comparisons when evaluating prospects. The article is behind the paywall, but if you have a BA subscription this piece is definitely worth reading and brings to mind a topic for community discussion.

The basic gist of the piece is that while scouts and organizations use comps all the time, there are some pitfalls. Glassey makes the point that most comparisons end up looking bad, and quotes Cleveland Indians scouting director Brad Grant thusly:

"The difficulty is, you're comparing a 17- or 18-year-old person to somebody who has established a major league career," Indians scouting director Brad Grant said. "It's often easy to just say, 'Well, this guy has this tool set, so he's going to be this type of player.' It's an easy thing to say, but it's a more difficult thing for that person to become. There's a balancing act to it. By using player comps, if you compare someone to an all-star, you put that person on a pedestal to become something that is very difficult to reach. You put a picture in your mind of what this player is, and that's not always a fair thing to do to an amateur player.

"You're comparing people to people. It's human beings and everyone is different. You want to be compared to somebody, but you're often very different from that comparison as well."

I often get asked to make player comps. It is a favorite question in the AQA threads and I get a lot of email asking questions like that.

Sometimes there is a very obvious comp, or one that just comes to mind easily, but more often than not I end up being stretched to find one. There is also a difference in my mind between a tools comp (Prospect A is physically similar to Player B), and a performance/production comp (Prospect X should produce numbers similar to Player Y). These seem like they should be the same thing or at least closely related, but they aren't always.

I think this is especially true for pitchers. A couple of years ago, I was talking with a front office person and he asked me to come up with a comp for one of the pitchers in his organization. I came up with what I thought was a good comp, based on the guy's style of pitching and the numbers I expected him to put up, but the front office guy thought my comp was not at all accurate.

As we talked about it, it turned out that we were talking about two different types of comparisons. The two pitchers in question were of similar size and both had hard sinkers, but he pointed out how different the two pitchers were mechanically, and that one used a slider instead of a curve, while I was thinking more of the production expected.

So, the question for discussion is this: how valuable do you, personally, find comps? Would making a distinction between a tools comp and a performance comp be a valuable thing to do, or would it just muddy the waters and make things more confusing?