The Cardinal Nation blog

Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

A scouting market correction taking hold?

The old Moneyball arguments of scouts versus stats reached the headlines again this past week as the Cardinal Nation lamented the National League Cy Young Award results. A pair of voters used sabermetric evidence in their reasoning for leaving Chris Carpenter off their ballots.

That led to a backlash of comments from watchers all over the internet about voting for the top awards.

Sharp Twitter retorts ranged from the sarcastic to the direct.

  • Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz: “I wouldn’t know how to vote for something as intellectually challenging as MVP. I would just let FanGraphs decide.”
  • Tony La Russa: “Great for Albert. Respect Tim, but Adam & Chris earned CY. Computer data best when aid to personal observation & analysis.”

Another line of considerable media attention in recent weeks has surrounded the game plan of Alex Anthopoulos, the new general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays. The 32-year-old was hired after the dismissal of J.P. Ricciardi in October.

Scouts (Brian Walton photo)Ricciardi, hired in 2001, then part of the “new wave” of numbers-driven GMs, began firing scouts in 2002. According to the Toronto Sun, he cut the ranks from 61 in 2002 to the 27 on board when Anthopoulos took over.

“The Jays used to be the gold standard for scouting,” Anthopoulos recalled to the Toronto Star.

The former scout has a plan to zig when others are zagging in an attempt to return Toronto to its past glory. Anthopoulos will more than double the number of professional and amateur scouts to a total of 68 full- and part-timers by 2010 while increasing pay and bettering working conditions, building loyalty.

This seems a smart plan to try to find an edge, especially crucial when competing in a division that includes the deepest-pocketed clubs in MLB, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.

The Jays will be increasing the number of area scouts from 14 to 25, adding five regional cross-checkers where there were none plus three national cross-checkers. Their pro scouting department will expand from 10 to 21.

Sporting News notes, “By comparison, the Dodgers—considered a scouting powerhouse—list 16 area scouts, five cross-checkers and eight pro scouts in their media guide.”

The Cardinals show 13 area scouts, three crosscheckers and an assistant director of scouting on the amateur side along with eight local scouts, presumably part-timers. On the professional side, they list ten individuals with another dozen in the international department. The rough total appears to be about four dozen.

Of course quality is at least as important as quantity. In addition to offering more competitive wages, Anthopoulos is restructuring scouting assignments to minimize travel and increase number of games seen as well as devising new ways to provide his valuable scouts more time off.

“There’s a reason scouts have been with eight, nine, 10 teams. I don’t think there’s a lot of loyalty,” he told Sporting News. “If we can have less turnover by treating them well, paying them well and giving them better quality of life, people will be dying to come work here.”

The increase in investment doesn’t mean the Jays plan to scout differently. They want to do more of it more productively.

“We’re not going to change the way we evaluate,” Anthopoulos said. “But the way we go about covering teams and tackling the amateur market, we can make more efficient.”

The Jays clearly plan to spend more money on the men who find players, not necessarily on the players themselves.

“I don’t think it comes down to signing bonuses,” the GM told the Star. “It comes down to evaluation.”

Toronto’s decidedly old-school initiatives will certainly be worth watching to see if they bear fruit.

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