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Yeah, Yeah, Now Check the Method
2008-01-09 05:29
by Alex Belth
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

"You have to understand, back in 1972 you didn't want to be part of the bullpen...It was looked upon as a junk pile of starters who could no longer start. But I feel fortunate to have been part of the entire evolution and the pioneering of relief pitching. Going to the bullpen was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. I can't even fathom having a career as a starter as I did as a reliever. For one thing, I didn't like the four days off (between starts) and I loved the opportunity to come to the ballpark to pitch every night."

---Goose Gossage
(Bill Madden, N.Y. Daily News)

I was talking about the relationship between art and science in sports the other day with a friend of mine, a dynamic, or tension, that I find fascinating. For instance, I understand why the role of the closer is over-stated. On the other hand, I firmly believe that some pitchers have the emotional and psychological temperament to close games while others don't. Or, that some pitchers are better suited as starters.

The debate between traditional scouting methods and a more emperical approach was sparked by Michael Lewis' book, Moneyball a few years ago. While the distance between the two is said to be exaggerated, the pull between the old and new has existed for a long time in the game.

Jim McLaughlin, the first scouting director for the Baltimore Orioles (he later ran the scouting operations for the Cincinnati Reds), believed in a scientific approach to scouting way back in the '50s. McLaughlin devised a chart called "The Whole Ball Player." The chart consisted of a cirlce that was split in two. The top half of the chart reads:

Can Be Seen with Eye

Pitcher: arm strength, fast ball, curve ball, slider, other pitch, control

Infieder-Outfielder: arm strength, use of arm, speed, hands, fielding, range, hitting, power

Catcher: arm strength, use of arm, hands, receiving, hitting, power, speed

General for all Players: stamina, durability, anticipation, hustle, reflexes, size, coordination, agility, poise, instinct base running, eyesight

The bottom of the chart reads:

Can Not Be Seen with Eye

Attitude: desire, drive, willingness, hunger ambition, aggressiveness

Mental: intelligence, baseball sense, teachability, knowledge of game

Personality: improvement, consistency, maturity, adjustment, stability, temperament, disposition

Winner: stomach, heart, competitiveness, pride, confidence

Background: family, habit.

McLaughlin is featured in Kevin Kerrane's wonderful book about scouting, Dollar Sign on the Muscle:

"When Fred Hoffman scouted Brooks Robinson, he saw the whole ballplayer. Brooks was just an average runner, he didn't have a great arm, his frame was still kind of frail, his hitting was still a question mark, and he was playing second base. But Fred visualized him as a third baseman. He said, 'This boy's quick even though he's not fast, and he's gonna be just like a vacuum cleaner in the infield.' Fred saw the soft hands, the live body, the great reflexes that allow you to project hitters. He was able to break the player down into individual tools, and he was also able to see the masterpiece in its entirety. Not just the total coordination in that body, but the total coordination in that person—beyond what could be seen with the eye.

"...I think I went a lot further than other people in taking the scientific viewpoint on acquiring talent. And that's another reason I wasn't a real baseball man. Baseball men are like a tribe. And if you don't think they way the tribe thinks, if you think on your own and ignore the conventional wisdom, then you spend half your time bucking complaints from scouts who say, 'That's not the way I learned it,' or 'You never played a day of pro baseball in your life.'

"I used to hear scouts talk about 'the good face'—as if they could tell about a kids' makeup just by looking at him, instead of taking the trouble to get to know him, or studying the results of a psychological test. I used to hear those 'good face' stories and they'd drive me up the wall. Scouts can be so damn unscientific! At one time it was the conventional wisdom that a black kid couldn't become a successful big-league pitcher, because he wouldn't have any guts when he walked out to the mound, because he'd be only sixty feet, six inches from home plate. There was no basis for that. It was just prejudice—or fantasy, or myth, or whatever you want to call it. I was the scouting director and I had to listen to this bullshit. I said, 'I don't' have the time to reeducate you guys diplomatically.' I was dictatorial. I was opinionated. I said, 'This is the way it's gonna be.' I wanted to inculcate basic principles, like with that chart. I wanted rationality. I wanted science.

McLaughlin wanted his scouts to be more than just baseball men. He ran seminars with guest speakers ranging from psychologists to F.B.I. agents to insurance salesmen. He staged mock-drafts and began employing cross-checkers in 1955, ten years before the draft.

"In one way all of that was picking up where Branch Rickey left off...even though I never liked Rickey. I thought he was an ethical fraud, the way he manipulated people and then made those pious speeches. There was no substance. I couldn't have worked for him two minutes, because of my Jesuit education. I could see through him. But when it came to producing talent, the man had real intelligence, real imagination, because he could change his thinking—like a good novelist who doesn't just keep repeating himself after the first novel. And near the end of his career, he was ready for scientific scouting.

"Up to that time, see, Rickey was a Darwinist. 'Quality out of quantity' is really a version of natural selection. The other baseball men didn't even know who the hell Darwin was, so Rickey could operate like one of these companies that gets a monopoly on the market. Then, when farm systems got too expensive, and when bonuses went sky-high, Rickey changed. He went after quality only, to the extent that he could. He was trying conscious selection—even though the tools were very precise. But if he were alive today, he'd be experimenting with new tools: tests, special equipment, computers. He wouldn't be bound by the conventional wisdom, because he was the guy who invented the conventional wisdom.

Good food for thought, right? Whatta ya think?

p.s. If you've never heard the Goose's legendary locker room rant, the one where he calls George Steinbrenner, "the fat man," well go here, and scroll down to the bottom section "Aww, Nutzo" and click on "Goose."

Comments (53)
Show/Hide Comments 1-50
2008-01-09 06:06:53
1.   RIYank
It is food for thought, indeed.
I think the 'Darwinist' trope is very appropriate. And I suspect it's going to be appropriate again over the next few years, in this way: 'real baseball men' are going to fade out in favor of more sciency guys, because the organizations that depend on the former are going to flounder, and eventually, just by random trial and error and sticking with success, teams will end up with the scouts and other talent evaluators who are more scientific.
2008-01-09 06:08:01
2.   RIYank
In other news:

The Seattle Mariners signed veteran infielder Miguel Cairo to a one-year, major league contract on Tuesday, giving starting second baseman Jose Lopez more prodding to improve.

tinyurl.com/2nocdp

Hee hee.

2008-01-09 06:17:20
3.   Knuckles
2 You know you suck when...

...you need prodding to improve enough to beat out Miguel Cairo for a spot.
2008-01-09 07:01:56
4.   JL25and3
We were bantering last night about Gossage's flailing, windmill motion. Here's a great picture of it: http://tinyurl.com/3739ev
2008-01-09 07:23:11
5.   Shaun P
2 3 I can't wait to hear what the guys at USS Mariner say about Cairo. They were tracking the number of days that had passed without the M's making a bad move. I wonder if this kills the count?

Here are some summarizations of why Bavasi said they signed Miggy Mantle, from USS Mariner:

"why Miguel?

he is a lot of protection against injury at any infield position, and important for that to be a veteran, esp. at the end of the year. still a young guy, still runs well, takes some of the weight off of Bloomie's shoulders. You saw him come off the bench and play 1st base for a stretch with the Yanks last year.

how is he 'a complement to Willie' (something Bill apparently said earlier)?

with Jones in RF, Ichiro in center, the only other outfielder who has plus plus speed is Willie, so adding Miguel takes the pressure off Mac if he needs to go to Willie earlier in the game

does that mean you expect Mac to use the bench more?

Bill wouldn't commit himself (we know why) but you just have to make sure you've got the strongest bench you can have, get him more bullets to use"

Where do we even start?

2008-01-09 09:38:01
6.   bp1
4 Wonderful picture. Thanks for finding that. Man oh man - how did he do that? I came close to breaking many a window trying that out, before I figured I better stop before I hurt something - me or the house. I figured if I wanted to throw a strike, I better channel my inner Tommy John. Sure was fun to try some Goose tosses, though. The guy was one of a kind.
2008-01-09 09:41:46
7.   bp1
5 Very few stack up well compared to Miggy in the Belly Full of Guts department. I'm sure Torre sent a glowing reference.

He seemed like a good guy. Glad he found a job somewhere. He hustled, stayed quiet, played hard. He just didn't have as much talent as other guys. Good for him. Maybe they'll have a spot for Andy Phillips as well.

2008-01-09 09:48:01
8.   Peter
7 Andy Phillips signed with the Reds.
2008-01-09 10:06:30
9.   Bob Timmermann
If this method of scouting was so scientific why wasn't "cannot" spelled correctly?
2008-01-09 10:06:55
10.   Yankee Fan In Boston
8 andy phillips is the new hal morris.
2008-01-09 10:28:21
11.   Mattpat11
Andy Phillips is the new Bubba Crosby.
2008-01-09 10:42:34
12.   Yankee Fan In Boston
11 bubba crosby was once the new roberto kelly.
2008-01-09 10:57:30
13.   YankeeInMichigan
If we are collecting a list of Yankee prospects who went to Cincinatti to die, don't forget Brandon Claussen.
2008-01-09 11:00:40
14.   Yankee Fan In Boston
13 i had forgotten all about brandon claussen. was he ever on the same roster as brandon arroyo?
2008-01-09 11:02:40
15.   YankeeInMichigan
14 Certainly. Claussen had 14 starts with the '06 Reds.
2008-01-09 11:02:52
16.   Yankee Fan In Boston
14 wow. to me it seemed that claussen was forever ago. i guess not.
2008-01-09 11:11:06
17.   standuptriple
I was really hoping BFOG+ Miguel was going to be reunited w/Poppa Joe in LA. Actually, I already made plans to rail my Dodger friend about that. I guess Proctor will have to pull double duty now.
2008-01-09 11:14:44
18.   williamnyy23
Also, Drew Henson went to Cincinnati, before being resummoned. I guess you could also count Wily Mo as a former Yankee super prospect turned Red who exactly hasn't panned out.
2008-01-09 11:15:27
19.   williamnyy23
14 Arod, is that you?
2008-01-09 11:24:13
20.   Yankee Fan In Boston
19 sorry. i can't respond to your question. i'm busy getting a lapdance from a bodybuilding floozie.

(i kid.)

2008-01-09 11:44:16
21.   Shaun P
17 No, there is another.

The Dodgers have signed Tanyon Sturtze to a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training. There is no way he doesn't pitch for them sometime this year.

2008-01-09 11:50:32
22.   Yankee Fan In Boston
21 that is amazing.

cashman has to get on the phone and offer farnsworth for loney right this second.

2008-01-09 12:02:49
23.   OldYanksFan
21 "The Torre Zone" (cue creepy music)
2008-01-09 12:07:21
24.   standuptriple
21 Like Sturtze will keep Joe satisfied. We all know he's a die hard Proctor-man.
2008-01-09 12:15:23
25.   Bama Yankee
Dodger fans need to get used to the following daily refrain:
"Sturtze, Proctor and then pray for a doctor"
;-)
2008-01-09 12:25:32
26.   Chyll Will
23 ,24 ,25 It's like Joe has an arms race all of his own... "Which arm will go flying off to the backstop first?"
2008-01-09 12:28:18
27.   OldYanksFan
But will Quantrill REALLY come out of retirement?
2008-01-09 12:34:56
28.   Chyll Will
27 Maybe, but Joe would have to convince Jeff Nelson to unretire so he could try to replace him...
2008-01-09 12:38:15
29.   Yankee Fan In Boston
21 - 28 all of this is covered in chapter 8 of this new book:

http://tinyurl.com/2yvkol

repent, people.

2008-01-09 12:48:21
30.   vockins
Is that a joke? I cannot believe that.
2008-01-09 12:48:53
31.   vockins
21 Is that a joke?
2008-01-09 12:49:32
32.   vockins
Not as much of a joke as my ISP, apparently.
2008-01-09 12:49:38
33.   Chyll Will
29 But Roger and Brian haven't even finished suing each other yet... ?
2008-01-09 12:53:10
34.   Yankee Fan In Boston
30 31 i thought so, too. but this says otherwise:

http://tinyurl.com/2xvzwg

2008-01-09 12:53:44
35.   Yankee Fan In Boston
33 spoiler alert!

(chapter 10!!!11!1!)

2008-01-09 13:02:35
36.   Chyll Will
35 Do any of the chapters refer to 134 ?
2008-01-09 13:05:48
37.   Yankee Fan In Boston
36 don't give away the ending, chyll. all i'll say is that bronxer's identity will be revealed.

unfortunately, the world will end before anyone ever unravels the mystery that is karim garcia.

2008-01-09 13:09:14
38.   Raf
37 Who?
2008-01-09 13:13:02
39.   Chyll Will
37 Gotcha, mum's the word. Back to Piers Anthony...
2008-01-09 13:13:03
40.   Yankee Fan In Boston
38 i wish i could tell you... i wish i could tell you.
2008-01-09 13:18:54
41.   OldYanksFan
38 On First
2008-01-09 13:37:43
42.   JL25and3
As these events unfold, the world will increasingly become aware of the authenticity of the words in this book and realize that Ronald Weinland has been sent by God as His end-time prophet.

After 2000 years, God comes up with somebody named Ronald Weinland? NFW.

2008-01-09 13:42:37
43.   Raf
40 Neva hoid of 'im...
2008-01-09 13:50:39
44.   Bronxer
36 Don't joke about 134 ...

37 I'm still around ...

2008-01-09 14:32:02
45.   Raf
42 Well, considering Deep Thought took 7 1/2 million years to come up with "42," Ronald Weinland may not be all that bad.

44 You're Karim Garcia??!! gasp!

2008-01-09 15:35:45
46.   wsporter
42 Yeah, I always expected it would either be a guy named Tim or a woman named Gilda. I thought for a while it would be a water spaniel named Jake but realized quite suddenly one morning that I was way wrong about that. This Ronald Weinland thing has me completely nonplussed.
2008-01-09 16:03:17
47.   Chyll Will
46 I know, I always thought it might be Reader 11722, but then I thought Google Books would probably cave to pressure and drop the title before we know the truth...
2008-01-09 16:51:14
48.   Schteeve
All that stuff in the "Can't Be Seen With the Eye" box is like, so old school crazy that I don't even know where to start.

Intelligence?

Well you could give the dude an IQ test, and then he'd get a score on it, and have someone write it down for you, and you could see that with your eye, right?

Family?
You can't see a dude's family with your eye?

Wow, funniest thing I read all day. And I read this this morning, and waited to write this comment all day, to see if I'd read anything funnier all day! But nope! Not one thing funnier all day.

2008-01-09 16:54:36
49.   Chyll Will
48 You can't tell by looking if they're related to Karim Garcia or 134 >;)
2008-01-09 17:39:00
50.   underdog
25 Seriously you guys, the Dodgers already have a solid bullpen, with more good pitchers on the way in Meloan, McDonald and company, so I don't think anyone in their right mind sees Sturtze as anything other than spring training filler/fodder, Torre or no. They'd have to be pretty devastated by injuries to get to that point, god forbid.
Show/Hide Comments 51-100
2008-01-09 17:57:00
51.   RIYank
50 Underdog, meet Joe Torre. Joe, Underdog.
2008-01-09 17:57:38
52.   RIYank
Whoa.
Comment 42 is a joke about... and then Raf 45 points out that Deep Thought...
Coincidence? I think not.
(And with that, he disappeared.)
2008-01-09 18:45:05
53.   JL25and3
52 I know that joke, too. It's one of my favorites.

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