Ten Metrics That Are Changing Scouting

Advancements In Scouting Impact On Sports

Sometime in the 1930’s, an entertainment studio talent scout wrote of the great Fred Astaire “Can’t act; Can’t sing; Slightly bald; Can dance a little.” This assessment was pretty obviously incorrect by a lot. It does not make a difference if it is the corporate world, the entertainment world, or the sports world; scouts get things wrong. Baseball Hall of Famer and New York Mets legend Mike Piazza was overlooked by the entire baseball community before his professional playing days. He was drafted in the 62nd and final round by the Dodgers in 1988, actually done as a favor to then manager Tommy Lasorda, a friend of Piazza’s father. Scouting will never be an exact science. However, technological advancements have made it possible to reveal information that scouts were never before able to obtain with the naked eye. The use of advanced analytics to gauge a player’s potential has changed the game; actually, it has changed all the games. Here are ten ways new metrics have changed both the way sports are played and the way players are scouted.

  1. Positioning and the lack of true positions; Baseball, Basketball, Football, Hockey– The modern sports world has been progressively moving in a direction of athletes taking on more diverse roles within their teams, and much of traditional positioning in games has gone by the wayside. Baseball’s defensive shifts have lowered run production across the league in recent years. Basketball has been taken over by the three point shot, and great emphasis is being placed on players that are versatile in their skills, including the popularizing of a position known as the point forward a la Lebron James. Football, the ultimate sport of role playing and positioning, has also seen an uptick in multi-positional players in recent years, especially on the defensive side of the ball as multipurpose pass rushers. Hockey’s positional flexibility has also increased. As most fantasy team owners can tell you, swing players like Dustin Byfuglien and Brent Burns are very valuable, as are scoring defensemen like Shea Weber.
  2. Probability based play selection; Baseball, Basketball, Football, Hockey– This one is broad spectrum, we admit, but with greater technology comes a larger quantity of information. Baseball has seen a changed and more selective use of stolen bases. Basketball has seen an increased use of the three-point shot as well as pick and roll plays. Football has become increasingly pass heavy on the offensive side of the ball. Even Hockey has seen a change in the defensive style of play on special teams. The reason behind each of these changes is simply the statistical backing they have in raising the probability of a team winning.
  3. Velocity; Baseball, Hockey, Football– While basketball does not necessarily factor into this as much, velocity has become a much more closely examined aspect of sports and players. Baseball pitchers have always been judged on how hard they throw, but now hitters are being looked at in relation to their exit velocity, or the speed at which the ball leaves the bat. Hockey players slap shots have been measured as long as there has been a radar gun, but now the technology is such that scouts can examine shots taken during actual gameplay. Even football is seeing quarterbacks analyzed by actual throwing speed as opposed to scouts using the eyeball test to determine a player’s arm strength.
  4. Biomechanical analysis; Baseball, Basketball– Biomechanics is the process by which the body’s movements are analyzed in the most broken down way possible, especially while watching video. Baseball has used these breakdowns to maximize the efficiency of pitching motions and swings, while basketball has examined various aspects of shooting. In an ESPN Sport Science video, Golden State Warriors shooting guard Stephen Curry was explained as using the mechanics of his shot to maximize the probability that it will go in. Scouts are looking at factors like those also.
  5. Reaction time; Hockey– Players have been described frequently as having quick hands, or fast reactions. However, new technology has allowed scouts to examine things like reaction time in an objective way. 2015 NHL first overall draft pick Connor McDavid is said to have the fastest reaction time or response time to on-ice events since Wayne Gretzky. The ability of scouts to make this asset more measurable has been invaluable in determining player potential.
  6. Predictive ability; Hockey– Players like Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin always seem to find themselves in the right place at the right time. The Great One (Gretzky) once said that “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” Scouts are using film to break down players that have such foresight, and credit them for the skill in quantitative ways not previously available.
  7. Release point tracking; Baseball (pitching)– New York Mets ace Noah Syndergaard and reigning NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw have both been praised for how well they “extend” when delivering a baseball. This comment does not stem from simple observation, but rather from laser tracking of their respective release points. Their releases are consistently in front of their bodies, creating deception, power, and a high “spin rate,” making their pitches move more than those thrown by other pitchers.
  8. Shot probability; Basketball– Coaches and analysts are talking more about the probability that a shot will go in. The range of the shot, the type of shot, and the player taking it are all taken into account. Stephen Curry shot an exceptional comparative percentage off the dribble in 2015-2016, and therefore was encouraged to increase the amount of such shots he took.
  9. Biometrics; Football– The NFL Combine has taken to equipping players with electronic monitors that measure their heart rate and other vital signs as they go through their drills. These machines collect information on the biological makeup of the individual athlete, and teams use this information to make determinations about a player’s level of fitness, as well as the ways in which they might be naturally gifted (i.e. a faster than normal return to resting pulse immediately following exercise).
  10. Quantifying acceleration ability; Football– ESPN’s Sport Science featured Von Miller, the elite pass rush defender for the Denver Broncos. They determined that Miller can react physically to a quarterback’s decision to pass in as little as 0.27 seconds. The ability to measure previously unmeasurable skills like these has given scouts new insight into the potential and athleticism of players. 

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