Author’s Note: The following profile is about a new site The Sixth Tool. I have no idea if the site, supposedly written by a scout who has changed all of the information to protect numerous identities, is legit. Some of it seems real; some does not. I gave the author, Maxwell “Cutter” Jones, the benefit of the doubt.
My life is a freaking disaster. I wake up not knowing what city I’m in. The hotel rooms all look alike. One fast food joint after another. Crumpled up drive-thru bags litter the floor of my car. The same car that’s been without a/c since the beginning of time. My wife left me years ago. My kids won’t speak to me. And I have no relatives worth mentioning.
I get endless letters, calls, faxes and emails from parents, grandparents, wives, girlfriends, ex-girlfriends, coaches, agents, advisors, friends, acquaintances, twice removed cousins, and sometimes even the players themselves. Not to mention enough videotapes and DVDs to keep both FedEx and UPS in business for yet another year. I’ve even had to hire a recycling company to pick up the reams and reams of paper from alleged scouting agencies who’ve basically ripped off thousands of parents by promising that their special report will get little Johnny to the top of my prospect list.
Thus begins one of the more interesting and original baseball Web sites I’ve found in a very long time.
I came across the site, The Sixth Tool, nearly by accident. It showed up yesterday morning in my referrals, and the URL with its “baseball scout confessions” certainly piqued my curiosity. So I went for a look.
The site, active since the middle of October, is a fascinating glimpse into the mind of a scout going by the pen name Cutter. For obvious reasons, Cutter has changed any piece of information a baseball fan could use to identify him, his team, or the players he scouts. He says he’s a 31-year veteran who knows the southeast region of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina inside and out. His General Manager, named for the blog Logan Cooper, is of the new breed of young GMs looking to overhaul his team’s scouting department. He wants to fire many of the old scouts while incorporating statistical analysis into the team’s scouting approach.
Cutter, on the surface, isn’t too keen on this idea, and the blog, suggested ostensibly by Cutter’s team’s sports psychologist, is to serve as an emotional outlet for a frustrated and jaded professional. While Cutter is at first skeptical, he seems to have gotten into the swing of blogging. His writing is fluid, vivid and engaging. His topics and posts applea to fans and Internet baseball writers of all stripes as they provide a glimpse into the life of a baseball scout living on the road.
Baseball scouts do not live glorious lives, and Cutter’s writing lays this bare. He eats Thanksgiving at Boston Market and finds Cracker Barrel restaurants at every exit on Interstate 75. (Anyone who’s driven through the area can attest to that fact. Cracker Barrel, Waffle House, and Wal-Mart Superstores are as ubiquitous along I-75 as tobacco fields are along the side of I-95 in North Carolina.)
Cutter drives around the South, covering hundreds miles each week, to catch a fleeting glimpse of high school or college players who may or may not have the make up Cutter expects to see in a potential prospect. He’s in Georgia one week for a college exhibition and then in Florida the next for the World Wood Bat Association tournament and then back to Georgia, South Carolina, Florida.
At first, Cutter’s story focused around his efforts to sign Russell Reed, a psuedonymed early-round draft pick. When those negoations wrapped up two weeks ago, the focus shifted to Cutter’s relationship with Seth Goldbaum of Performance Scouting, Inc. It is here that the dramatic differences between statistical-based analysis and the so-called traditional scouting techniques are laid bare.
Cutter, in early November wrote:
The fundamental difference between me and “the stat boy” is what I can see this kid becoming. I could care less that the kid went 0 for 4. It’s how he went 0 for 4 that concerns me the most. Compare these two extremes. On one hand, let’s say he grounded out on the first pitch thrown to him on each of his at bats. On the other, let’s say he caused the pitchers to deliver over 35 pitches in his five plate appearances. Which 0 for 4 performance would you take?
As a scout, it’s actually valuable for me to see a talented kid go 0 for 4. How well does he handle the disappointment of going 0 for 4? He better handle it well because when he gets to the minors, I can guarantee he will have dry spells. Most kids coming out of high school aren’t used to dry spells. They are used to dominating. But if he throws his helmet, utters a buffet of four-letter words, fails to re-focus himself, and drags his teammates down with him, I’m looking elsewhere…A player’s ability to put things behind him and move on is an extremely important skill in baseball and cannot be overstated.
Cutter values what he sees with his own eyes. He’s looking for guys with the Sixth Tool, this ability to rise above the competition and rise above adversity and realize that if you go 0-for-4 one day, you may come up in the 10th inning and erase the frustration with the game-winning hit.
At first brush, then, Cutter’s site seems like another anti-stats, anti-Baseball Prospectus, anti-Billy Beane/Theo Epstein/Paul DePodesta diatribe that keeps popping up as the methods these General Managers put forward have seemingly failed in the eyes of a good number of writers and analysts.
But deeper down, Cutter seems to show a willingness to hear out the kid, Goldbaum, and something of an open mind when it comes to the statistical analysis. He can’t quite get himself to ignore the voluminous reports, and he can’t quite get something to turn a blind eye to the guys Goldbaum writers up even if he journeys to see them just to prove “the stat boy” wrong.
Cutter routinely turns, albeit obtusely, to this idea that maybe you can combine scouting and statistics in a useful way. This idea, obvious as it may sound, is often overlooked in the Internet world of baseball where performance analysts often think they can judge a player by his numbers alone. Successful player evaluation, no matter how much people on either side want to support their cause, depends upon the successful combination of statistical analysis and scout’s observation. At certain levels, scouting is more important than statistics. At other levels, statistics can open up other doors about lineup construction that scouts can’t. But scouts have their places. There’s no doubt about that.
In his most recent post, a cliffhanger of sorts to be continued late tonight, Cutter and Goldbaum are sitting down to meet and discuss the future of each other in the world of this unknown baseball team. Cutter says, “Anybody can look up someone’s stats and basically evaluate a player’s past performance. The real key to scouting is how well you can evaluate a player’s tools, his ability to improve on those tools, and whether he has that something extra special which I call the Sixth Tool.”
While Goldbaum bemoans having to convince Cutter of the utility of stats, the truth is that both men need to convince each other of their rightful places in the game. Stat boy and scout should not be fighting for the same role. Rather, they should be complementing each other.
I can’t recommend this blog highly enough. I don’t know if Cutter will ever reveal his name, his team, the players he mention, the true identity of Performance Scouting, Inc., or drop clues that would allow us to figure him out. But it’s a great read. And it’s an important piece to the puzzle of what goes on behind the scenes of baseball when the glamour of the game fades into the harsh reality of the business.