RotoWire Partners

Fantasy 101: Scouting Fantasy Players: Becoming a Scout for Your Fantasy Team

Bernie Pleskoff

Bernie Pleskoff

Bernie Pleskoff is a former professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners.

Scouting baseball players is not an exact science. In fact, it is a combination of evaluating fundamentals, physical and mental makeup and approach. Successful scouts count on good luck as well.

In the end, constructing a fantasy roster can include many of the same factors and skill evaluation techniques used by baseball scouts.

This information is designed to clarify the role of the baseball scout and its relationship to fantasy roster building.

There are several types of scouts employed by professional baseball clubs:

Amateur scouts evaluate players prior to the player signing a professional contract. They evaluate high school and college players prior to the First-Year Player Draft that occurs each June. Essentially, their focus is on players that have not yet been paid to play professional baseball.

Pro scouts evaluate players after they have been signed to a professional contract and are being paid for their services. Pro scouts visit minor league and major league ballparks to evaluate players for potential trade or free-agent signings by their respective clubs.

Advance scouts evaluate players prior to an upcoming series with an opponent. The advance scout provides detailed charts of how pitchers approach each hitter, where hitters hit the ball and any specific nuances or tendencies of the team or players that become apparent such as stealing frequency, hit-and run frequency, etc.

International scouts concentrate on players in foreign countries that are not subject to the First-Year Player draft or who are playing winter ball in their native country.

My personal experience has been as a Pro scout.

When evaluating players once they have turned professional, I always answered three questions:

Question #1 - Can he play?

That sounds like a no brainer. The player wouldn't have been offered a professional contract at some point in his life if he couldn't play the game, right? Not so. Many players are signed to a contract because of their potential rather than a proven skill set. They showed a potential ability to learn the fundamentals somewhere along the way - either in high school, college or in their professional development. They may have raw power, or a strong arm. They may have an innate talent to hit a baseball, even though their swing mechanics are incorrect. Ultimately, however, players show if they can play the game or not. They are exposed over time. A player is either mechanically capable or he isn't. If the mechanics are wrong, will the flaws cause personal injury? If the mechanics are wrong, can he still somehow find success? If the mechanics are correct, will the mechanics translate to success? Those questions must be answered by the scout evaluating a player on the chance for future fulfillment of potential.

For example, when he was in college, most teams felt Tim Lincecum would not succeed with his unorthodox pitching mechanics. Many scouts thought he would break down physically. The Giants took a chance and the rest is history.

Actually, the better question scouts should ask is can he play the game correctly?

Question #2 - Is he better than what we have?

Professional scouts look to recommend players that can improve their team. They want to find players that are equal to or better than those currently under contract with the club. Teams always look for players to add to or substitute for other players on their roster. Is this guy at least as good as what we have? Will this player add the necessary roster depth we need to succeed?

That's why scouts have a working knowledge of every player in their own organization. At some point the scout has to see his own players or watch video of his players to compare them to others.

Question #3 - Can he play for us?

Many teams have a very specific skill set they look for when evaluating players. They need to find players that fit well with their team's chemistry. A player's history with other clubs, his history as a high school or college player/teammate, etc. comes into play.

Some teams do not want a player with "baggage" or an otherwise negative history. Some teams do not want players with the potential to bring public criticism, disharmony, or negative press reaction.

OVERALL SCOUTING GRADES - POSITION PLAYERS

A scout's evaluation of a player includes a final written narrative, a check-list of attributes to be completed on a standardized computer form and an assignment of a numeric grade. The grades project the Overall Future Potential of a player (OFP):

The position player OFP is calculated by adding grades for five future projection categories (listed below) and multiplying by two.

Hitting Ability
Power
Running Speed
Arm Strength
Defense (total fielding)

Grades range from 20 (lowest) to 80 (highest)

I am going to use Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki as an example for grading:

Batting Average Projections - will the player hit:

.320- plus - grade 8
.300-.319 - grade 7
.286-.299 - grade 6
.270-.285 - grade 5
.250-.269 - grade 4
.220-.249 - grade 3
.219- less - grade 2

Example: Ichiro Suzuki 2012 projection = grade 5

Home Run Projections - will the player hit:

35-plus - grade 8
27-34 - grade 7
20-26 - grade 6
15-19 - grade 5
10-14 - grade 4
05-09 - grade 3
00-04 - grade 2

Example: Ichiro Suzuki 2012 projection = grade 3

Running Ability - The player's running speed from home to first is:

RIGHT HANDED HITTER

4.0 seconds from the batter's box to first base - grade 8
4.1 seconds from the batter's box to first base - grade 7
4.2 seconds from the batter's box to first base - grade 6
4.3 seconds from the batter's box to first base - grade 5 (average)
4.4 seconds from the batter's box to first base - grade 4
4.5 seconds from the batter's box to first base - grade 3
4.6 seconds from the batter's box to first base - grade 2

LEFT HANDED HITTER

3.9 seconds from the batter's box to first base - grade 8
4.0 seconds from the batter's box to first base - grade 7
4.1 seconds from the batter's box to first base - grade 6
4.2 seconds from the batter's box to first base - grade 5 (average)
4.3 seconds from the batter's box to first base - grade 4
4.4 seconds from the batter's box to first base - grade 3
4.5 seconds from the batter's box to first base - grade 2

Example: Ichiro Suzuki 2012 projection = grade 5

Arm Strength - How well the player throws with accuracy and strength (subjective):

Excellent - 8
Very Good - 7
Good - 6
Average - 5
Below Average - 4
Marginal - 3
Very Poor - 2

Example: Ichiro Suzuki in 2012 projection = grade 6

Defense - How well the player can defend his position (subjective):

Excellent - 8
Very Good - 7
Good - 6
Average - 5
Below Average - 4
Marginal - 3
Very Poor - 2

Example: Ichiro Suzuki 2012 - grade 7

Ichiro Suzuki 2012 projection =

Batting Average - 5
Home Runs - 3
Running Ability - 5
Arm Strength - 6
Defense - 7

Total = 26

26 X 2 = 52

I project the 2012 edition of Ichiro Suzuki to be 52 - Regular Player

Overall Evaluation and Player Classification:

This overall evaluation is used by many organizations. Some teams break the final results down even further.

80-65 = Star Player
64-50 = Regular Player
49-40 = Fringe Player
<= 39 = Organizational Player

In the scenario above, based upon my personal observations of Ichiro, I project him to be an efficient REGULAR, everyday player. This projection is lower than the past because of projected reduction from the past in batting average, speed to first base, arm strength and overall defense. In the past, Ichiro graded at 65 or better and was viewed as a Star Player.

WHAT DO I LOOK FOR IN A POSITION PLAYER?

Swing Mechanics

In general, scouts arrive at the ballpark in time for batting practice. It's important to see how a player hits when it doesn't count. What is he working on that night? Players able to use the entire field like Albert Pujols will likely be rewarded with a solid batting average. They take pitches where they are thrown and do not get fooled as easily as hitters that try to pull every pitch. Power hitters still try to hit the ball out of the park in batting practice. Hitters using the entire field will show that particular ability in batting practice, as they work to drive the barrel of the bat through the ball where it is pitched.

A batting stance can control how a pitcher approaches a hitter. If a hitter is in the extreme outside of the batter's box, he may have trouble with plate coverage. Conversely, staying too close to the plate could result in a hitter being jammed, making hand movement to the ball much more difficult. Lots of movement before the swing could also slow down the bat, resulting in a lack of efficient contact. A player that drops his hands like Ike Davis right before the swing has to be very quick to compensate for the time it takes to drop his hands to reach the ball. The hand movement has to be well timed as a trigger to the swing.

It is crucial that a hitter gets the bat through the hitting zone as quickly as possible to gain the most torque. Justin Upton has tremendous bat speed. Bat speed is a critical component of success. Starting the bat quickly with a swing plane that has a chance to meet the ball is absolutely crucial. Either a totally level swing, or a swing with a slight uppercut are acceptable approaches. A slow bat results in pop-ups, swings and misses and poor overall results. Slow bats are often the downfall of aging hitters or poor hitters in general. Bat speed may be the most important factor to predict success. Hitting results come from the wrists, the hands and the forearms. The hands, the body and the shoulders all must move together in synchronization. Any one part of the body that doesn't move in unison will distort the swing. The final piece of the swing is the whip of the wrists. Henry Aaron isn't a huge man. However, his wrists were so strong and his hands were so fast, he could whip the ball off the barrel of the bat and get the proper height and torque required to clear the fences.

Among the most important aspect of hitting and the factor I look for the most is making consistent contact. While home runs are important, it is crucial that contact be made. Something good might happen if a player hits the ball such as a base hit, an error, moving a runner over, etc. If a player strikes out excessively his overall value is diminished.

A successful baseball lineup has much in common with a successful restaurant. Many successful restaurants turn their tables over and over during a meal sequence. One key to a solid offensive team is turning the lineup over and giving the best hitters more opportunities at the plate. The more frequently a player sees a pitcher, the more frequently he will be knowledgeable about the pitcher's repertoire and exhibit more comfort at the plate. Teams that can require the opposition to use their bullpen more quickly and more frequently have an excellent chance of winning the game. Putting pressure on the pitching staff is a key to a good offense or a good hitter. It can be said that the greater the number of at-bats for a fantasy player on one's roster, the greater the chance for a successful outcome.

Hitters are taught to swing for the middle. To be more specific, they aim for the belly button of the pitcher. That keeps the swing more measured and level. Long swings result in missed pitches and slower bat speed. Using the barrel of the bat is the goal.

Pitchers look for holes in hitters' swings. For example, some hitters can't help swinging at high fastballs. It's almost impossible for the hands of a hitter to elevate and reach the high velocity fastball in time.

Matt LaPorta has exhibited difficulty with high velocity fastballs up in the zone. A number of younger hitters struggle with breaking balls. Reaching for pitches has often cost hitters success. Chris Young has been susceptible to the breaking slider and is constantly working to improve in that area. When pitchers feel they can get the hitter to swing at their pitch, they have the advantage. Good pitchers will continue to work the hitter with sliders down and away or breaking balls until the hitter adjusts and shows he can hit the pitch.

Hitters with effective mechanics watch the pitcher constantly. They don't take their eye off the ball - even for an instant. A good hitter has to follow the ball in the pitcher's hand from the time he winds up all the way to the plate. The longer the batter sees the pitch, the better. A selective hitter does not offer at pitches outside the strike zone. Yes, hitters like Pablo Sandoval can hit bad pitches, but it is not the norm.

4 important ingredients to look for in a hitter include:

- Strength (hands, wrists, forearms, legs)
- Lack of Fear (ability to face the pitcher and take charge of the at-bat)
- Starting the Bat Properly (using the proper trigger)
- Plane of the Swing (length, speed, direction)

Running Mechanics

Obviously, some players are valuable with a single offensive tool such as their ability to steal bases (Peter Bourjos). It may take some players time at the big league level before they realize their stolen-base potential (Michael Bourn). As a consequence, a scout has to be able to project a base stealer's ability to get on base. It's a very difficult task.

When evaluating potential base stealers several factors come to play. Of course, can the hitter get on base? Does he make enough consistent contact and does he have enough speed that could potentially result in infield as well as outfield hits? Can he bunt for a hit? Leg hits, those that are dribbled in front of the shortstop, third baseman or beyond the reach of the pitcher are important components of base-stealing hitters.

The best indication of a potential base stealer is still the speed from home to first base. The first step out of the box is the most important. Many players are fast. Few use their speed to its potential by breaking out of the batter's box or off first or second base quickly. Good base stealers know the time it takes a pitcher to throw the ball to the plate. Any time below 1.5 seconds is good. Base stealers look for a pitcher that takes above 1.5 seconds to get the pitch to the plate. A good catcher will release the ball and get it to second base on a steal attempt in less than 2.0 seconds.

Running includes going from first to third as well as stealing bases. Having good base-running instincts is of great importance to being a successful base runner. In addition, a solid base runner knows the arm strength and accuracy of each outfielder on the opposing team. Base runners that can take an extra base generally have an ability to score more runs.

OVERALL SCOUTING GRADES - PITCHERS

A scout's evaluation of pitchers incorporates 4 general categories. They include:

Fastball evaluation
Curveball evaluation
Slider evaluation
Other Pitch evaluation (change-up, split-finger fastball, knuckleball, etc.)

The OFP is calculated by adding the four numbers, adding a 0 at the end and dividing the net number by the number of categories used. Some pitchers do not throw four pitches. If the net number (projected grade) is incongruent with the overall projection of the scout, command and control are taken into account. I will illustrate that later.

Fastball Evaluation: (most consistent pitch speed, not the highest.) The phrase "the pitcher sits at..." is used to describe this speed.

96+ --- grade 8
94-95 - grade 7
92-93 - grade 6
89-91 - grade 5
87-88 - grade 4
85-86 - grade 3
83-84 - grade 2

Example: Jacob Turner 2012 = 6

Curveball (subjective):

Excellent --- grade 8
Very Good -- grade 7
Good ------ grade 6
Average ---- grade 5
Below Avg -- grade 4
Marginal --- grade 3
Poor ------ grade 2

Example: Jacob Turner 2012 = 6

Slider (subjective):

Excellent --- grade 8
Very Good -- grade 7
Good ------ grade 6
Average ---- grade 5
Below Avg -- grade 4
Marginal --- grade 3
Poor ------ grade 2
Example: Jacob Turner 2012 = (no grade-pitch was not observed)

Change-up (other pitch, also subjective):

Excellent --- grade 8
Very Good -- grade 7
Good ------ grade 6
Average ---- grade 5
Below Avg -- grade 4
Marginal --- grade 3
Poor ------ grade 2

Example: Jacob Turner 2012 = 5

Command, control, mound presence, overall mechanics

Example: Jacob Turner 2012 = 5

Jacob Turner overall evaluation 2012:

Fastball = 6
Curveball = 5
Other Pitch - Change-up = 5
Command, Control = 4
Total = 20
Add a zero = 200
Divide by 4 = GRADE 50

80-65 Star Player
64-50 Regular Player
49-40 Fringe Player
39-38 Organizational Player

By my calculations, Jacob Turner should be a starting pitcher or REGULAR for the Tigers at some point in 2012.

NOTE: This Turner projection is for 2012 only. There is upside in Turner's command and control. He should eventually be a clear 55 as opposed to being on the cusp of the rotation as his current 50 evaluation dictates.

WHAT DO I LOOK FOR EVALUATING PITCHERS?

Pitching Mechanics

A pitcher's success is based almost entirely on his ability to command pitches and throw strikes. A pitcher's mechanics dictate the flight of the ball. If a pitcher "finishes his pitches" and does not stray from the most direct path of the ball from the mound to home plate, his chance for successful command and control is increased. Once the pitcher deviates from efficient mechanics by drifting to either the third-base or first-base side when pitching, the ball will drift out of the strike zone. Some pitchers are known to practice "shaking hands with the catcher," or in the case of Tim Lincecum, "reaching out a picking up a dollar off the mound" to keep their delivery clean. A pitcher's arm action, or the mechanical manner in which he releases the ball dictates its direction, his ultimate effectiveness in repeating his motion/delivery from pitch to pitch, and ultimately perhaps his continued shoulder, forearm, elbow and hand health.

The most common pitch in baseball is the fastball. Virtually every pitcher throws a fastball. For most it is the primary pitch. Everything else works off establishing the fastball. Movement on the fastball is probably the most important factor in evaluating the pitch. Straight 95 MPH fastballs find their way over the fence much more quickly than sinking, moving 90 MPH fastballs. High velocity pitchers (Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw) have tremendous movement on their fastballs, making their secondary (breaking) pitches that much more effective. Inducing hitters to swing and miss or having enough "sink" on the ball to get players to pound pitches on the ground because of pitch location is the ultimate objective. Some pitchers like Brian Matusz are known to work pitches in sequences that begin with the off-speed or breaking balls. This form of "working backwards" helps keep hitters off balance by throwing the unexpected pitch or pitching "out of sequence."

Changing the eye levels and altering the balance of hitters are two of the most important factors in forcing hitters to hit the pitcher's pitch. Keeping hitters off balance and moving pitches around in and out of the strike zone causes hitters to lunge at pitches, swing too early, extend their own swing plane, etc. Again, movement on the ball regardless of the velocity causes deception. Roy Halladay has an arsenal that includes a wide variety of breaking balls to mix among his fastball, causing deception, change of eye level and change of balance.

Having a complete arsenal of pitches is a factor that can dictate a pitcher's role. For example, a pitcher like Neftali Feliz has established an effective fastball, but what other pitches complement that pitch? Unless he can throw breaking balls consistently in the strike zone, hitters will sit on the fastball and limit his effectiveness.

Being able to take the game to the middle innings and beyond is an important factor in evaluating starting pitchers. Having the arm strength and command/control to endure the rigors of throwing multiple pitches per inning effectively separates good pitchers from "back of the rotation" starters. Relief pitchers usually have more limited pitch repertoires with at least one outstanding pitch and/or tire more easily. They have proven to be most effective in a limited, focused and very specific role.

In short, the objective of pitching is to get hitters out. The objective is not to throw the ball faster and/or harder than anyone else. The most effective pitchers have the ability to repeat their delivery pitch after pitch, throw strikes and use effective enough mechanics to induce players to swing and miss or hit the ball on the ground by getting movement on the ball.

SUMMARY

Scouts look for athletes capable of repeating their skills against increasingly more effective competition. Players ultimately sort themselves out among the competition. The most effective players are ones that can sustain their skills over time. They use the same quality mechanics day in and day out, pitching, hitting or playing defense.

The most effective and efficient candidates for fantasy rosters include those consistent players. Consistent, quality at- -bats and/or successful stolen-base attempts are required for offensive fantasy success. Consistent, quality innings on the mound are required for pitching fantasy success. That is true of both starting pitchers and relievers.

Finally, a scout will evaluate a player's potential for success in a particular venue. If the scout's team is playing in a non-conducive offensive home environment (think Petco Park in San Diego or Safeco Field in Seattle), the park factors into the equation for potential success. Can the player hit the gaps? Will the player be frustrated if home runs don't come as easily in a pitcher's park? Does the pitcher have a tendency to yield too many flyballs in a hitters' park (Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati or Chase Field in Arizona)?

Fantasy players can easily transpose and extrapolate the qualities of scouting to their own fantasy teams. Remembering the key skill factors used in evaluating players is helpful in creating fantasy rosters. In the end, much of the evaluation is subjective and dependent upon the priorities established by the scout or fantasy team owner.