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Stats vs. Scouts

So I've been thinking about this post for about a year now, but I've never got around to writing it properly. Well, I have 45 minutes to kill, so it's as good a time as any. I realise that I'm probably preaching to the choir here but whatever.

"Stats vs. scouts" is one of the central arguments in baseball circles, leading to mildly horrifying levels of vitriol leveled at members of either side. It's one of Moneyball's lasting legacies, as anything that portrays the old guard as curmudgeonly incompetents doomed to fall under the armies of cleverness is going to provoke a reaction from said curmudgeonly incompetents (NB: I am not calling the old guard curmudgeonly incompetents), and rightly so.

The problem is of course that statistical analysis and scouting are by no means natural enemies - in fact, they're closely allied. Advanced statistics are proxies for good scouting. Sometimes they pick up things that scouts miss, and sometimes scouting will tell you things that stats will not, but they are complementary. A team's front office doesn't have to be one or the other - the point is that both methods are tools to evaluate players.

Interestingly, the argument doesn't even seem to be about player evaluation, and the dogmatic camps generally make absolutely no sense at all. Those in the "scouts" camp spout off about RBI and batting average (which are statistics last time I looked), and people trying to be "statsy" will misuse numbers they don't understand to come to stupid conclusions. Does anyone* seriously think that 'gritty' would be the main point in a real scouting report? Or that analysts throw random numbers at the wall until the come up with their stats?

No, this isn't about statistics against scouting. Not at all. It's about people believing that they're already experts on baseball player evaluation. Imagine if people took the same attitude towards, say, engineering as they did baseball. You'd see people looking at construction sites with total disdain:

"I've walked through a lot of buildings and I can say for sure that using an eccentric braced frame for the lateral force resisting system is completely stupid. SCBFs are much better in the clutch."

Watching a lot of baseball doesn't mean you know anything. Playing a lot of baseball doesn't mean you know anything. Watching a lot of baseball while listening to the opinions of people who've played a lot of baseball doesn't mean you know anything. But it's amazing how many people seem to think it does.

It's not stats against scouts, and it never has been. It's acknowledging one's own ignorance against the belief that one already knows everything.

Because if you already know everything, why would you ever need to think about it?

*Well, yes I'm sure someone does, but if that person is you and you feel inclined to comment on it you're going to end up banned so don't.