Baseball clubs value road-weary scouts more highly than Hollywood suggestsStudent Will Kuntz in am New York, September 22, 2011
As he has for 37 years, the Brooklyn-born scout recently aimed his radar gun at the Cyclones prospect, who fired a fastball toward MCU Park’s home plate in Coney Island.
“Eighty-eight,” said Billy Blitzer, recording the pitch’s rather ordinary speed in his large notebook. “He has to have some sort of secondary stuff. Command.”
Friday’s release of “Moneyball,” starring Brad Pitt as visionary A’s general manager Billy Beane, will further popularize the myth that the quantitative analysis Beane championed in Oakland has rendered Blitzer and his at-the-ballpark colleagues obsolete. But the Hollywood version contradicts both the 2003 Michael Lewis book, on which “Moneyball” is based, and the MLB reality: Analytics are crucial evaluation tools in stocking winning clubs with top talent, but so are the reports from scouts such as Blitzer.
“Scouts are the bloodline of any team,” said Mets manager Terry Collins. “They never get the credit they deserve.”
Blitzer began his career the traditional unpaid way: “bird-dogging” for a senior scout. Now he’s the legend.
At MCU Park, the 58-year-old Chicago Cubs pro scout intuited that the Staten Island Yankees’ starter would lose command of his fastball because of a flaw in his delivery. Later, a hitter pulled a pitch over third base — seconds after Blitzer said he would.
Near Blitzer sat Will Kuntz, a Yankees pro scouting assistant, whose start in the trade differed from Blitzer’s.
When Kuntz, 27, was a freshman basketball forward at Williams College — George Steinbrenner’s alma mater — the 6-foot-6 Cobble Hill native landed a Yankees baseball-operations internship. Eight years later, Kuntz maintains the team’s list of MLB-caliber prospects and attends Fordham Law at night.
“I think that there’s a young generation of quantitative-analysis people,” Kuntz said. “I think that there’s an equal number of really good young scouts out there. I think that in ‘Moneyball,’ the rift between the two can get played up.”
By the numbers
Kuntz uses some of the newer statistics. But the statistical inputs that underpin quantitative analysis, he said, “can be misleading” for the younger talents. “I don’t think even Billy Beane would make a call solely on numbers,” Kuntz said.
The Yankees don’t, either.
“The goal is just to find the best prediction of what’s going to happen,” said Michael Fishman, director of quantitative analysis for the Yankees. “There’s no divide within the Yankees. ... We always just try to find the truth.”
On the road
While baseball metrics are rapidly developing, the scouting trade hardly has changed in a century — including its nearly all-male makeup.
“They’re not highly paid, they don’t go to the Hall of Fame, they spend a lot of time on the road eating bad food,” said Steven Goldman, editor-in-chief of Baseball Prospectus. “You almost have to be a romantic to have that job.”
“Traveling definitely wears on the scouts,” said John Tumminia, 58, a Chicago White Sox scout who lives in Newburgh, N.Y. Tumminia variously compared scouts to reporters, traveling salesmen and messengers.
Blitzer, after a final two-week stint in Orlando watching the Yankees’ and Astros’ instructional leagues, will return to Seagate in Brooklyn this offseason. Next spring, baseball’s eyes and ears will open anew, striving to offer a precise and uncolored view of the personnel within their own team’s baseball system, as well as within the vast systems of their rivals.
Words to scout by
Baseball scouts have invented several expressions to throw around with each other. Here are a few of them.
• A/F/R/H/P: Shorthand for the five abilities on which all players are graded: Arm, Fielding, Running, Hitting, Power.
• Four-A player: A player who stands above the competition in Triple-A but ultimately can’t hack it in the majors.
• Five o’clock hitter: A player who looks great during batting practice but disappoints in real-game situations.
• Gun scout: A scout who is so preoccupied with clocking a pitcher’s fastball that he misses the subtleties.