You've heard of them before as they took the baseball internet community by storm, and I'm proud to present a Q&A with one of the SaberScouts , Kiley McDaniel.
Kiley worked in a major league front office and currently runs Saber-Scouting with his partner, Frankie Piliere.
R.J.: Can you take us through the scouting process? Does the organization give you a certain region, player, team to scout or do you have some free will over who you get to cover?
Kiley: It depends what kind of scout you are, there's a few different kinds. The normal entry-level is an area scout which traditionally gets a region (say north Florida and south Georgia) and is responsible for every amateur player (HS, JuCo, College, underclassmen for follow lists) and that's almost a year-round exercise.
Then right after the draft they cover minor league games typically in that area, sometimes other areas depending on organizational needs. Almost always, the scout is given a handful of teams to cover and then follows each team for a 5-day period and writes up the whole team.
After area scouts you have pro scouts that do minor and major league games typically in the same region all year, and there are also cross checkers who are the guys that come to see top round guys after the area scouts identify them so multiple sets of eyes (area guys, cross checkers, and sometimes scouting directors and other club officials) see tops guys getting the most money.
R.J.: I want to get back to the "write up" process, but first I have to ask: what does it mean when Baseball America lists "signing scout", isn't the agent the one helping the player sign?
Kiley: It really depends. Most guys in the BA books are high-money guys and those contracts really vary. If it's a Boras deal, the GM usually does it, sometimes it'll be a VP Player Personnel type or maybe a contract negotiator, or cross checker, area scout, or scouting director. So, it could be any of those, typically whoever is most comfortable with the agent/advisor and family, and bigger money errs to higher in the chain of command since they'll be judged on the deal
For lower-money guys, say after 5th round, slot-deal types, it's just the area scout, where the teams says you can go to a number, the area guy hammers that out with the agent and not much negotiating is done, mainly because these numbers are somewhat agreed-upon when the team agrees to draft him.
R.J.: Okay, let's get back to "writing a team up", when you're filing a scouting report, is it something you do during a game? And do you carry a template with you? Or are you just taking notes during a game and putting that info into slots later on?
Kiley: Guys really vary on this too. I know some guys will get every pertinent piece of info on a guy before the game (which is enough that single-spaced is like 3 players per page), so he has all his info at the game and can make notes around it. Other guys just have a roster/stat sheet you're given at the game and write on an empty notepad, others have a pad the team provides with a form you fill out.
For me, I have a roster and stats at most games, and if it's a pro game where you're watching everyone I have a pad that I put some categories so I know what to look for specifically (like arm action, angle, deception for pitcher, stuff like that) and write notes as I see notable things.
For amateur games where you might only be watching one or a few guys, sometimes it'll be a small pad I'll have in my back pocket and pull out when those few players do something, so I can walk around, take video, see different angles of the same thing. But when you're watching a whole minor league team you aren't really afforded that level of detail to one particular guy, but a few times over those 5 games you might take a walk.
R.J.: One of "your guys" is currently pitching in the majors, what's that feel like to see him trot out every few days?
Kiley: The first reaction for me is to be proud that I was able to help my team and that player get to where he was to contribute. But at the same time, everything for a team is just that, a team effort, so if I wasn't there, do the other guys that were involved getting the player for the club...do they get him signed without me there? That part keeps the ego in check, as does when players don't work out, but it's definitely gratifying to feel that what you're doing matters.
R.J.: What advice would you give someone looking to get into scouting? And how much more difficult is the job than just "watching baseball"?
Kiley: The first thing I'd say is that there is no easy way of going about it. Lots and lots of people want to work in the game, and many of them are more connected or more qualified than you are, no matter how much you've done. There's a lot of rejection involved, but the way to get ahead is to be proactive. It may sound like I'm discouraging people from trying to get into baseball, but all those people that are more qualified usually give up when they don't get what they want and go do something else. If you've decided you really want to be in the game, work to be more qualified and more connected and eventually you'll be noticed. Your hard work will pay off in time.
As for scouting, it's obviously more than watching baseball, but as far as improving once you've gotten some momentum, that's really all it is. I can't tell you how many times I notice another pattern or little mechanical thing about 10-15 games after I first saw it and didn't know what to make of it at first and slowly figure it out as I see other guys do it.
And on getting started, I'd say find someone that is established and has a track record as a scout or coach and just ask a lot of questions until you feel like you can go watch and game and organize those thoughts into a report. And from there, just keep going to games, talking to people in the game, reading things like Baseball America, and monitoring the guys you watched to find out things you can do better.
R.J.: Is there really a stats v. scouts war in baseball?
Kiley: I would say it exists in that there are people on either extreme that tend to disagree with each other in the game, or in any given front office. But I've seen stats guys and scouting types advocate for every type of player under the sun, and I think that's indicative of what you see in the internet baseball community, the two camps coming together more every day. People would be surprised how many people with teams are actively trying to be more well-rounded.
I know a few stat-based guys that go to every game they can to learn the other side of the game, and many on-field types that have become very proficient in the statistical end of things. I think the gap was somewhat of an issue back when the book came out and the gap has closed every day since then to a negligible, necessary gap at this point.
The attitude the statistical community tends to take on when giving conclusions (myself included). I've found that when I walk into a room with what I think is a scientifically provable, conclusive result from something I've done, it may fly in the face of the more qualitative answers the higher-ups had. So, if I walk in the room thinking I've got the answer they're looking for, I can have the cure for cancer and it won't go well. And that isn't an indictment on them, it's on me. If there isn't a subtle feeling of owning the absolute truth (that goes for either side), the exchange goes much easier.
R.J.: So essentially there's a league of hybrid "saber scouts" running around?
Kiley: Oh boy, now you're making it sound like I paid you to say that.
R.J.: Disclaimer: he didn't pay me. Instead he gave me free tickets.
Kiley: I don't think that's far from the truth. I've sat at a game and myself, coming straight from the office after finishing a stat project, just written down what I've seen scouting-wise, and had grandfather-age scouts behind me asking each other what the hitters' slugging and on-base percentages are.
Now, there probably aren't many scouts quoting BABIP, DIPS, and IsoP in the stands, but I think many of the scouts are familiar with them. At some point they're paid less to know what a guy's DIPS ERA is and more to see things you can only see in person, like reasons they observe that explain why the pitcher's DIPS ERA is so high compared to his conventional ERA.
R.J.: Would you agree that there are more good statistics analysts than good scouts?
Kiley: I think that's something we'll just never know. Some of it is a function of there not being a good way to evaluate scouts, so I'm not sure we know what percentage of the scouts working for big league clubs are "good", which ones are the good ones, or even what "good" really is. And that's not from lack of thought on the topic from the front office types that would like an objective measure of scout performance.
It seems like that question is more of a philosophical one and being a guy that tries to have his feet in both buckets, I see pros and cons from each side, but overall they're both necessary for the efficiency of the game. By sheer numbers, each of the 30 teams has 40-50 scouts, so I'd bet there's more good scouts, but I don't think that really answers your question.
R.J.: Time for some quick liners on prospects
R.J.: Jeremy Hellickson and his 19.33 K:BB Ratio, I know you just saw him live; impressions?
Kiley: I'm actually about to see him again [tonight] and will be posting video and a scouting report soon, all in a big breakout year for him, so he's a good guy to cover. Very impressive command, approach, and composure, all those little things the scouts love that tend to project favorably. The stuff was also impressive on one look despite a smallish frame, with a 91-93 mph fastball, flashing an above-average to plus breaking ball and good feel for a change that flashed above-average. He's the real deal and I'm glad I'm seeing him now since he shouldn't be in the FSL very long.
R.J.: Colby Rasmus?
Kiley: This will be more of a one-liner since I haven't seen him in person, but everyone I've talked to about him really like the bat, that it could play as a starter on the corners, and he's got the savvy to maximize his tools and the speed to stick in center and be a standout guy. Wouldn't worry about his slow start (.182/.270/.309 in 165 AB at AAA) at all long-term, just a blip.
R.J.: Last question: your most overrated/underrated prospects?
Kiley: I'm a huge Jarrod Parker believer and have always liked Dexter Fowler, but they're both already on the radar so to speak. More under the radar I'll toss out two FSL favorites of mine that project as high-leverage relievers, Tigers righty Luis Marte and Marlins righty Jay Buente, and one draft eligible guy in Tampa-area HS bat Jamie Mallard.
As for overrated, I really don't like doing this, so I'll change the question a bit: guys who haven't lived up to prior performances yet this season, based on what I've seen and heard from scouting types: Twins LHP Tyler Robertson and RHP Deolis Guerra, along with Nats LHP Ross Detwiler and 1B Chris Marrero. There, limited it to two organizations so I get less hate mail. And I'll emphasize the "yet" in the prior sentence, could just be a slow start for these guys and nothing else, so don't freak out, people.
Thanks to Kiley, and make sure to go check out his work over at SaberScouting .