Scouting Explained: The Mysterious Hit Tool, Pt. 4

Scouting Explained: Introduction, Hitting Pt 1 Pt 2 Pt 3 Pt 4 Pt 5 Pt 6

Here’s the scouting data (not the text report) from what I wrote on the Rangers list, their top prospect, Joey Gallo.

Hit: 30/45, Game Power: 60/70, Raw Power: 80/80, Speed: 40/40, Field: 45/50, Throw: 70/70
Upside: .260/.350/.500 (30-35 HR), fringy 3B or solid RF
FV/Risk: 60, High (4 on a 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2014: AA, 2015: AAA/MLB, 2016: MLB

For this, we’ll focus on the hit grade and upside and risk sections. I’ve re-posted a table from the introduction to this series, showing the scale most clubs use to project the hit tool.

Tool Is Called Fastball Velo Batting Avg Homers RHH to 1B LHH to 1B 60 Yd Run
80 80 97 .320 40+ 4.00 3.90 6.3
75 96 .310 35-40 4.05 3.95 6.4
70 Plus Plus 95 .300 30-35 4.10 4.00 6.5
65 94 .290 27-30 4.15 4.05 6.6
60 Plus 93 .280 23-27 4.20 4.10 6.7
55 Above Avg 92 .270 19-22 4.25 4.15 6.8
50 Avg 90-91 .260 15-18 4.30 4.20 6.9-7.0
45 Below Avg 89 .250 12-15 4.35 4.25 7.1
40 88 .240 8-12 4.40 4.30 7.2
35 87 .230 5-8 4.45 4.35 7.3
30 86 .220 3-5 4.50 4.40 7.4

The main concerns from readers were 1) that it seems arbitrary to say someone is a .260 hitter but NOT a .250 hitter when that’s often a BABIP-fueled luck thing anyway and 2) since we’re trying to project OBP within the hit tool, so why isn’t that part of the scale?

I think the earlier explanations shed some light on this. To grade simple the batting average ability of a player is a pretty involved process. Even with my more simple three factors approach, you can’t even just take the average of the three grades from each category, as it’s still a subjective process. It’s difficult enough for the brain to appropriately weigh all the information to get one hit grade and there isn’t a rubric for grading plate discipline as widely accepted as the hit tool, though some teams do have scouts grade plate discipline separately on the 20-80 scale.

At it’s simplest, the hit tool grade is basically taking all the components I’ve talked about, combining them into one number to encompass the pure hitting ability, then allowing a third party (the front office) to use those for more robust projection purposes. I don’t know of any scouts that project triple slash lines in their scouting reports, but all of them will note outstanding plate discipline because that impacts the batting average projection.

When a club is looking at acquiring a player, having been in a front office, I can tell you that the analysts take these reports, note the tools and comments in the report, and then use them to create a projection that suits their needs, like what I did with the Gallo report. The reasons this is necessary:

1) Some scouts will round a hit tool grade up to account for speed, but some will not since that would undermine all the thought that goes into the hit grade to round up 10 points if the guy is a plus-plus runner. They’re grading hitting ability; projected batting average is just an easy way to explain it. For example, a bunch of average hit tool components equals .260 and now it’s easier to watch a big league game, notice the .260 hitter and calibrate your grading scale. Billy Hamilton is an outlier that makes that process more difficult.

2) Most scouts will round up for very good plate discipline, but never enough to account for a jump in expected OBP. The assumption is a 50 hit grade means .320s OBP and the scout notes if he thinks it is non-average plate discipline. Really good plate discipline means you round up a grade, but almost never two grades (for reasons noted in item #1). For that reason, the hit tool grading system fails the .260 hitter with a .350 on-base percentage.

3) Scouts don’t include numeric risk grades, they simply project what they think will happen via future 20-80 grades. In situations of uncertainty, scouts are encouraged universally by their bosses to “write what you think he’ll be” without any mechanism to account for a range of possibilities or uncertainty. The only place these type of thoughts can go is the comment box next to the grade, which is usually read by office people, but can’t be quantified. Often, with multiple reports on the same player, executives will skip to the grades and skim the comments, so the scout has to make this note front and center in the summary, which is much more widely read.

What I’m saying is this: the process for scouting and what scouts are asked to do is complicated enough to include five projected tools, lots of comments and an overall Future Value grade with a summary. Some adjustments and granular details of what this skill set is worth in the open market, which is a much more important question today than back when this scouting process was devised, has been outsourced to people that are specialists in this area: the office analyst.

In my situations working for clubs, I was one of a couple guys in those offices that had a lot of comfort in this area of dealing with scouting report details, statistical projections and player valuation. Understandably, many senior decision makers came up in a time before this was prevalent and aren’t as comfortable in the analysis role, but obviously understand what support people in my role would relay to them.

I’ve had multiple conversations with different executives about how the industry asks scouts to grade tools and then also value that player in the larger market of players via the FV or OFP, which is two completely different skills.  Very few scouts are elite at both of these and it’s unreasonable to ask them to do so.

Some scouts are very good at grading the tools and struggle with the overall grade while others have such an extensive library and such good recall that they can peg a player with the right FV, but may be inconsistent with tool grades.  Execs can quickly pick up on tendencies of certain scouts to over/under grade certain tools or types of players and always call the scout in acquisition situations to find out what information didn’t get in the report.

With my org rankings series, I try to give you all the info a scout would give you and, since that leaves many of you rightfully wanting more, I also fill that analysis role of helping put that worth in context. I know you’d like to have a 20-80 score for plate discipline and projected Z-Contact rates, but those two things are a little awkward and unnecessary, respectively.

Using The 20-80 Scale

On the last podcast, Carson asked me what the future tool grades converted into stats using the table from the last article should be called. I stumbled around, saying it’s the most likely outcome, but then paused because I realized not making the big leagues is the most likely outcome for most prospects in the low minors. He stepped in and suggested it’s a 50-percentile projection and that is a better way to phrase it. In the spectrum of what could happen, I’m telling you what’s in the middle of the curve.

The upside line is, roughly speaking, a 75% projection: It could still reasonably happen and is basically the 50% projection rounded up a tick or two. For players a long ways from contributing it’ll be a couple ticks up and for ready-made players in AAA it will usually be half a tick up.

I explained on the podcast that the present 50 hit grade for Jorge Soler is really a hedge, saying that 50 means I think he’ll be somewhere from a 40 to 60 hit tool when he gets called up and we can’t know much else. Soler looks more like a 60 right now, which is also his future grade, while a similarly-rated prospect, Oscar Taveras, would have had a very similar grade were he called up when I worked at FanGraphs; Taveras looks more like a 40 right now. Remember all the way back when I told you the hit tool was mysterious and the hardest tool to project?

So, I’ve gone on for thousands of words about the hit tool and while I explained things in more depth than I have before to help the scouting beginner follow along, I feel like I’ve still only scratched the surface. The bottom line is that the hit tool is simply a rubric that scouts use to grade hitting ability and all the dozens of components of that ability on a sliding scale. It’s all about long track records, sample sizes, raw tools and proving via performance against good pitching how much you’re getting out of your raw tools.

A 55 hitter rakes all year and it turns into a 60 at the end of the year. Did he necessarily get better from the first week of the season to the last, or is the undeniable weight of a big sample size forcing a scout to admit his 75-percentile projection should now be his 50-percentile projection? You people keep asking good questions and I’ll keep being forced to write sentences like that.

Kiley McDaniel has worked as an executive and scout, most recently for the Atlanta Braves, also for the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates. He's written for ESPN, Fox Sports and Baseball Prospectus. Follow him on twitter.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
9 years ago

Makes you wonder how many 30 batting, 70 power guys never make it to the majors when we have a bunch playing MLB right now? I was also wondering about the character/motivation score? A player may have fantastic athletic skills but really come off lazy and unmotivated. How would that reflect?