Sunday, March 15, 2015

Thoughts on Matt Duffy, The Mental Side of the Game, Scouting and Statistics

Chris Haft wrote a great article about Matt Duffy and his remarkable emergence as a top prospect on the linked to the left.  Several of you have commented on how impressed you are with Matt Duffy's baseball IQ.  Turns out there is a reason why it is so high and it's not hereditary or accidental, although I am sure you have to have some native talent to take advantage of the knowledge. As most of you know, Matt Duffy's college career was not much to write home about, but his Cape Cod League coach game him a book entitled "The Mental Keys to Hitting."

In a nutshell, reading the book taught Duffy to concentrate on the parts of hitting he can control.  For example, he can control whether he swings at a good pitch to hit or not.  He can't control whether a line drive that he hits gets caught by a fielder.  The practical application comes when he goes to the plate as a PH in a key situation in the postseason.  Instead of thinking "I have to get a hit here" or "I have to hit a home run."  He trained himself to go up there thinking, "I have to take a good swing at a good pitch to hit."  The rest of it is out of his control.

I was interested in Duffy's comments that he keeps the book handy and makes it a point to read a chapter every day just to keep reminding himself of the principles he learned from it.  It struck me how similar that sounds to religious people who read the Bible or an inspirational text every day to re-center their lives.  I'm not saying Duffy doesn't also do that himself, but the similarity is striking, at least to me.


There is in interesting report in BA on Day 3 of the annual SABR Analytics Conference held in Arizona this week.  BTW, I know Larry Baer was one of the speakers.  I have not found a report of what he had to say, but am dying to know.  One key presentation was about something I have believed for a long time which is the more we know about electronic pitch and batted ball measurements, we find there are reasons behind the statistics we see and it is bringing us full circle back to old school scouting.  Turns out, success at the plate is highly dependent on measurables such as exit velocity off the bat, batted ball distance and hang time.  Also turns out those measures stabilize very quickly as in sample sizes of 50 or less.  Also turns out that those measures are better at predicting future performance than statistical results.  What scouts measured by the sound off the bat(like a gunshot) and descriptions like "the ball jumps off his bat" are simply eyeball measurements of things we can measure more precisely with electronics now.  I still don't think this is going to make traditional scouting obsolete.  It will just make the scouting of "tools" more precise and objective.  They will be a big part of the scouting report and the human eye will help validate the measurements and vice-versa.  What it also means is that getting an edge in scouting may mean paying more attention to what are currently thought of as intangibles such as intelligence, work ethic and emotional stability.  It seems to me the Giants already are ahead of the curve on this front, but maybe I'm just a homer.

The other hot topic these days is pitch framing.  Turns out there are at least 4 factors that probably go into borderline pitches being called strikes and as I have also been saying, the catcher is just one of them.  The others are the individual umpire, the pitcher and the batter.  Just one example:  it is much harder to "frame" a pitch from a pitcher with poor command than one with good command.  If the catcher calls for a pitch on the outside corner and the pitcher throws it on the inside corner, the catcher has to move his glove and is much less likely to get the call than if he had called for the pitch there and could keep the glove motionless.  Batter stances such as crouch vs upright intuitively make a difference.  You also do not have to watch many games with Kruk and Kuip describing the action before you see clearly the differences between how umpires call balls and strikes.

1 comment:

  1. Great writeup DrB. I was a tennis player in high school. Not much natural athleticism, but I took to the sport quickly (with no prior youth experience). My coach gave me a book to read called "Winning Ugly," which focused on the mental aspects of the game. I used many of the tactics I picked up from that book to become a successful player, and I still put a great deal of emphasis on gaining the mental advantage for my current high school players.

    Duffy will likely never be a "wow" player, but he has shown the ability to work (and apparently study the game) harder than the next guy. He understands what it means to be a valuable member of a club, and what it takes to "make it" in the big leagues. You are very correct in saying the Giants have been seeking these guys out for a while now. In fact, that emphasis on the "6th" tool (intelligence & makeup) is in my opinion directly related to the championship run they've been on. There's a reason they are impossible to beat in October... they UNDERSTAND how to win a baseball game, and they have the ultimate trust in the guy standing next to them on the field... other GM's should be taking notes!