DETROIT -- The Tigers continue to build up their analytics department to try to catch up with other clubs, but that doesn't mean they're pulling away from traditional scouts. They're actually doing the opposite, building up both ends of their player evaluation system.It was no coincidence that the Tigers announced
DETROIT -- The Tigers continue to build up their analytics department to try to catch up with other clubs, but that doesn't mean they're pulling away from traditional scouts. They're actually doing the opposite, building up both ends of their player evaluation system.
It was no coincidence that the Tigers announced the hiring of three analysts at the same time they announced the promotion of Don Kelly to Major League scout and the hiring of longtime scout and Toledo area native Jim Elliott from the Padres. At a time when organizations tend to be labeled as either analytical or traditional, the Tigers are trying to do both as they try to change the way they operate.
"I think we place a value in all forms of information," Tigers vice president of player personnel Scott Bream said.
The expansion of both departments is part of an overdue investment in baseball operations. While player payroll is subject to Major League Baseball's luxury tax system, and amateur signings subject to spending caps, infrastructure spending on baseball operations and player development is not. There's no penalty for hiring scouts, analysts, special assistants or instructors, or building out a computer system, like there is for a big-money free-agent signing or an international phenom.
By expanding both analytics and scouting simultaneously, the Tigers are trying to set themselves up to make better decisions, or at least more informed ones. By promoting Sam Menzin to director of pro scouting in addition to his previous role as director of baseball operations, the Tigers have a point man to try to create synergy between the two ends as they build out their computer system, known as Caesar, to serve as a database for both.
Between Major League Baseball's Statcast™ system and the Tigers' own measurements, there's a wealth of information they can use to evaluate players without leaving the office. But as Bream explained, that doesn't reduce their use for scouts to find and track players.
"There's a lot of information out there now, but still we want our scouts out there looking," Bream said. "Their job, our job as scouts, is to go try to find players to help the Detroit Tigers organization. And that's what we want them to focus on.
"The last thing that we would want our scouts doing is basing their reports on what they're getting off of Fangraphs. We've got people, and we're expanding the analytics department. We want scouts using their baseball experience, going out and seeing players, using their judgment and evaluating and recommending players based on their years of experience."
While the analytics department has blossomed from a one-man show a few years ago to seven analysts now, the Tigers' Major League scouting department will be at least slightly bigger than last year. Longtime Major League scout Jeff Wetherby moved into the international scouting department, creating one opening. Kelly, the former Tigers super-utility player who spent this year in a combination scouting and instructional role, fills such an opening, but Elliott -- who worked with Bream in the Padres' pro scouting department a few years ago -- adds a person.
With more scouts, the Tigers can assign fewer teams to each scout, allowing them more time to look further into a team's system. It's that "deep scouting" that Detroit needs as they continue their rebuild, looking for potentially undervalued prospects. The late-season surge of shortstop Isaac Paredes at Class A West Michigan following the 18-year-old's trade from the Cubs in the Alex Avila/Justin Wilson trade was one such example.
"They will have fewer assigned teams, more thorough looks, deeper into systems," Bream said. "And one of the big things we're trying to do, and we thought we did a good job this year, is get multiple looks at players. So you get three, four, five different scouts seeing players, rather than just one guy, one report, and [maybe] he saw him early in the season. The more you see players, and the more guys that you get to see players, especially if you get experienced guys, it just helps with the decision-making process. …
"The more you see players, the more conviction, the better feel you have for those players. And you increase your chances of finding out some makeup information on the players, any injury history, anything that goes on."
Some of that information will complement what the Tigers can find in analytics. Other information, especially with makeup, is difficult to find or measure with a metric. But on both ends, information is the commodity the Tigers are trying to build up.
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.