I’m sure David Cameron will love this since he knows how thoughtless and unreasonable I am, despite having never met me. But once again I’m forced to express an unpopular opinion, because it happens to remain my unpopular opinion.
But in an interview with JC Bradbury, Keith Law brings up an issue that gets me in trouble. Now don’t get me wrong, I like Keith. I like Keith a lot, not the least of which because he reminds me a bit of Jon Cryer and I like Jon Cryer.
My disagreement here is a disagreement on substance, certainly not anything personal. Keith has everything over me: more money, a better education, a better job and higher intelligence. But:
JC (that stands for JC Bradbury not Jon Cryer): Your opinion on Jordan Schafer seems to have changed. You once compared him to Grady Sizemore, but after seeing him in the Arizona Fall League you were a bit more pessimistic. Why did you change your mind and what do you think his development prospects are?
KL: I saw him in the Arizona Fall League and was disappointed at how short he fell of the hype. The ball comes off his bat well, but the part of his swing leading from his set point to contact isn’t consistent, and it gets long because he loads so deep.
I didn’t see the Fall League game in question, but I’ve seen Fall League games before and they’re little more than glorified batting practices. Only two groups of people are at the games: scouts (or people doing the same thing scouts are doing) and people looking for autographs for future stars they can sell at card shows.
And if it makes me seem like a jerk, or it makes me seem arrogant or makes me seem incapable of understanding things from my garage, fine. But the reality is I remain highly skeptical of the ability of anyone to be able to make long term wide sweeping conclusions about a professional baseball player from 7 or 8 at bats.
It isn’t that I’m skeptical of anything I can’t personally do. Every time I walk into a spotlessly clean apartment or house I’m reminded of things I’m incapable of doing. But I’ve never received an ounce of satisfactory evidence that the ways scouts make these decisions based on so few at bats were at all tested or verified in any way shape or form.
And if you think about it, nobody in baseball really believes it either. Virtually all teams in the organized minors are run at a fairly significant loss. If you really could evaluate players based on 8 at bats, what the hell is the point of having four levels of organized minors playing 140 games a season? Then they add a few additional leagues running half seasons, fall league ball, winter ball and spring training games and guys are racking up at bats by the grossload. Seems to me the consensus when it comes to player evaluation is to try and play as many games as humanly possible as early as possible in order to evaluate these guys correctly. Whatever Jordan Schafer’s set point might happen to be, they’ve given close to 1300 regular season PAs to him before he turns 21 and before he even reaches AA and felt the need to send him to the Fall League for more looks.
When Chip Ambres started his professional career with a .316/.424/.529 season in short season ball, he was Baseball America’s number 80 prospect in baseball. When he followed that up with a .231/.342/.366 season in A-ball the following year, off the list he went. Sure scouts look at things other than the player’s performance, but no one behaves as if they can evaluate players based on 8 at bats, so what difference does it make what they actually say? I once asked the Red Sox director of scouting why was it Cliff Floyd hit so many doubles, and he looked at me like I was speaking Swahili.
Again, this is not like a wide ranging indictment of Keith Law or some bizarre boasting about my own superior methods, but no one in this field does anyone any good pretending to believe something they don’t believe. And that’s the fact: I don’t believe it. If that makes me arrogant, fine. But I’m not backing down from my insistence on things like evidence and peer review. “You just know” doesn’t cut it with me. When someone can satisfactorily explain the step by step process of separating the difference between getting your knees buckled on a slider and “showing fear” at the plate, and then demonstrated it through evidence, I’ll be fully converted. Until then I’m going to call bullshit.
I suppose I’m a total jerk. But then I never called someone I never met a “jerk” based on a conversation I didn’t actually witness. I guess that’s what it means to be “thoughtful.”
UPDATE: added an additional link for background.
FURTHER UPDATE: Why do I care what David Cameron said about me two years ago? Because I’m insecure, that’s why. Like most everyone else in the world I want people to like me, and when a blog with a decent readership proclaims me jerk-worthy, I get upset.
FURTHER FURTHER UPDATE: Got an e-mail from Keith Law and it seems I wasn’t as clear as I should have been. Never at any time (at least that I’m aware of) has Keith ever called me “arrogant” or a “jerk,” but I’m afraid my writing skills ain’t what they oughttenn a be. I owe Keith dinner and drinks any time he happens to be in the Phoenix area. If he wants to catch more fall leagues, I’ll be happy to attend with him, as dull as I find those games to be. My sincerest apologies to Keith.