Yesterday at Fangraphs, Travis Sawchik wrote an article about the future of technology and baseball scouting, drawing on the recent news that the Houston Astros were reducing their pro scouting department. Subsequent reports clarified that the Astros were re-aligning their department, rather than reducing it, and that the fired scouts would be replaced with new hires.
Sawchik spoke with baseball officials such as Jon Daniels of the Texas Rangers and Neil Huntington of the Pittsburgh Pirates, both of whom believe that analysis based on Statcast can certainly co-exist with more traditional scouting approaches, and indeed can make them more important.
Huntington in particular believes that the explosion of information now available actually makes the job of the advanced scout easier, in the sense that a scout can actually watch the players and the game rather than get sucked into pitch charting and data entry. This would actually put a premium on the “makeup” and psychological side of player analysis.
“They are able to just watch” the game, says Huntington.
“That might seem like a simple thing, just to watch, but for so long scouts haven’t been able to give their full attention to the game. Statcast can allow them to travel to the ballpark with a full focus on the game. It is perhaps the most powerful evidence suggesting that the technology and the scout can peacefully coexist.
Technology is perhaps not a threat to scouts, it is perhaps an advancement to set them free.”
My personal opinion is that Huntington, Daniels, and Sawchik are correct.
A few years ago a veteran scout complained to me that most scouts nowadays are stuck behind home plate, paying more attention to their laptops than the game itself. One of the good things about being an outside analyst and writer is that, when I attend a game, I am not necessarily tied to my electronics.
Unlike real scouts, I don’t have to worry about data entry or pitch charting (unless I want to). Instead I can wander the park, watch the players from different angles, and pay attention to subtle things. An old scout taught me to do that back in the early 90s when I first got started. Those methods seemed quaint and obsolete for the last decade but may now see a resurgence.
What do you guys think? Will technology liberate scouts, cost them their jobs, or something in between?