Is scouting now subordinate to analytics for Diamondbacks?

PHOENIX — In the top of the second inning during last Friday night’s game between the New York Mets and the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Mets’ Michael Conforto led off with a walk. Wilson Ramos, the next hitter, hit a solid grounder close to the bag at third.

Third baseman Eduardo Escobar was playing off the line and cheating toward the hole. The ball, which was considered a routine grounder at best, skipped down the line, into left field and created a first-and-second situation. In the inning, the Mets proceeded to score three runs against starter Jon Duplantier and eventually gained a 5-4 victory.

Analytics moved Escobar closer to the hole and not in a position to turn Ramos’ bounder into a double play. Had Escobar played his regular position and closer to the line, the Diamondbacks could have turned two and possibly escaped the inning.

Welcome to the world of analytics.

In an era of numbers, trends, developments, scenarios, change and inclinations, the Diamondbacks do not stand alone in their collective emphasis on what a computer might determine. Since the publication of Moneyball by Michael Lewis in 2003, the method and methodology of scouting and game preparation has been dramatically altered. Regardless of what a scout witnessed or wrote, there was more, always, more information about a certain player. New categories were introduced, and a player’s conversation now includes “slugging percentage,” OPS and on-base percentage.

“The game now is so much different than when I started out almost 30 years ago,” Deric Ladnier told Fancred. “Now, it’s like going back to school. Today, we’re likely to make a decision we would have not made 20 years ago.”

Ladner is the Diamondbacks’ director of scouting and believes the use of numbers and dynamics are essential to the game of today. No longer do organizations rely on the naked eye as a definitive verdict. Rather, numbers are crunched constantly to determine the proper value of a player and how to prepare to face a certain opponent.

“No longer do we evaluate a pitcher, for example, merely by the velocity of his fastball,” Ladnier added. “Now, we take into account swings-and-misses, the spin rate of his pitch and other factors. Then, we make our decision.”

In the world of scouting and structuring a game plan against a certain hitter or pitcher, the approach is the same, and reflects the organization’s commitment to gathering as much information as possible.

From a player’s vantage, the wisdom of a professional scout and a plethora of information holds equal importance.

“It’s important to have both perspectives,” catcher and 10-year veteran Alex Avila told Fancred. “If you don’t, then you’re doing your team and your organization a disservice. Good teams have both perspectives and have all the information to make the best decision. It would be foolish to just to look at numbers and not trust what you see. That’s still very much part of the game.”

Despite an apprehension to look into a scouts’ notebook, the trend and tendency in the game has slid toward numbers. A quick look at the Diamondbacks corporate structure indicate personnel assumes titles of Chief Information Officer, Senior Director of Business Systems and Applications, Director of IT and Infrastructure, Director of Networking and Telcom, Manager of information security, senior IT Systems Administrator, and Application Developers.

All of which is designed to give the Diamondbacks an ultimate advantage.

“Overall, analytics has taken a spot in this game,” Arizona manager Torey Lovullo told Fancred. “If it creates an advantage in any way, I’m all for it. As far as scouting and development, it plays out. It plays out in a certain way that will help us make decisions. Scouting and numbers go hand in hand. If you’re not looking at that data and information in front of you, I think you’re foolish. You try and get as much information as you can in every direction to help you make the best decision moving forward.”

On the diamond …

In his defense, Arizona starter rookie Taylor Clarke on Tuesday night was not as competitive as Lovullo would have liked but valiantly kept his team in the game. Despite three of the first four hitters reaching base and two scoring, Clarke managed to last a respectable five innings  and left trailing only by three. Then, the T. J. McFarland and Archie Bradley each allowed three runs and the end result was an embarrassing 9-0 defeat to the Los Angeles Dodgers  before 29,784 in Chase Field Tuesday night.

In the opening frame alone, Clarke surrendered a two-run triple against the centerfield fence off the bat of Phoenix native Cody Bellinger and suffered through a 30-pitch inning. Later, Clarke settled a grove and by the time he exited, the native of Charleston, S. C allowed five hits, three runs, two earned and lowered his ERA to 4.33. Clarke started the game with a 4.67 ERA.

In the trainer’s room ...

Right fielder Adam Jones left Tuesday night’s game in the fourth inning with right hamstring tightness. He is listed as day-to-day. Coming into play Tuesday, Jones was hitting .279 with 12 homers and 37 RBIs. Tim Lacastro replaced Jones in right.

Next …

The current homestand concludes with a Wednesday matinee against the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Look for righty Jon Duplantier (1-0, 3.18) to take on righty Kenta Maeda (7-2, 3.61).

Then, it’s off on a 10-game road trip with stops in Toronto, Philadelphia and Washington. The Diamondbacks return to Chase Field June 18 to face the Colorado Rockies.

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