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SABR and High School Part 1: Scouting versus Stats

I have quietly sat back and watched the evolution of the study of baseball for a while now, and personally have embraced the sabermetric approach of how to evaluate players. I believe batting average doesn't tell you the whole story about a hitter. I believe there's more to pay attention to than a W-L record of a pitcher. I believe wasting an out on a bunt is pointless. I can go on and on about the fundamentals of new-look approach to the game, but if you're reading this you probably already have a good idea about it. What I'm writing about instead, is how my personal beliefs about how the game should be played directly conflict with my profession: high school baseball coach.

The biggest adjustment I've made as a baseball coach is learning how to look at a team objectively and from a "distant" view. It's easy to get caught up in knowing players on a personal note, seeing them practice every day, and truly understand their athletic abilities. But like the line from the theatrical version of "Moneyball" goes, "If this guy's such a good hitter, then why can't he hit?" I see players who perform athletic feats above their peers levels on a daily basis in practice therefore I feel compelled to give that player the start.

Players who hit line drives and home runs in batting practice will probably get the start for me versus the kids who struggle to hit BP doubles. Guys who can throw more strikes with consistent velocity will usually get first dibs on game action than the guys who can't break glass in the bullpen. If you're a lazy fielder during practice, then you're nuts to think you'll get a chance to burn me in a game situation.

This is my subjective view to the game. This is where my "scout's eye" is used. I am guilty of the same things MLB GMs and head coaches were guilty of decades ago. I look at frame, athletic ability, and "poise." I look at swagger, attitude, and baseball knowledge. I want players who have "it."

But haven't I learned this isn't right? Haven't I learned that game results, above all, tell you more about how good a player is than anything else? This creates quite the conflict. Do I play the guy who has a chance to hit it out of the park because he does it all the time in practice, bur rarely makes great contact in games and strikes out, or do I play the OBP guy who has zero chance of hitting an extra base hit?

The subjective side of me says you have to play the better athlete who can hit for more power because he gives you a better chance to win a game. But the objective side of me says to play the kid who is often overmatched at the plate but stands a decent chance at drawing a walk and might even sneak a single through the left side. What do you do?

The cynic says "The choice is easy: play the guy who gets on base. He gives you a baserunner that can lead to runs." But how do you justify the decision to bench the better player from the outside world's perspective for the pencil-neck who looks overmatched by 78 mph??

I'll leave you with an example of one such specific conundrum. Player A is by far the better athlete. He hits harder, throws better, fields better, etc. He is by all accounts what most people would consider the "better player" in this comparison. Player B is slower, does not have the same arm, and has significantly less bat speed and power. Both players in this comparison got roughly the same amount of PAs, and they both play the same defensive position. Before the first game of district, I sat down and looked at the numbers:

Player A: .171/.243/.208

Player B: .360/.525/.360

So who do you play? Player A and all his potential to develop? Or player B and his EXTREMELY deceiving stat line that make him seem like he isn't completely overmatched by a pitcher who can throw strikes? If you play Player B, how do you justify that to a head coach when you coach an under-squad?

In high school, stats really do not tell the whole story....

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