In today's post, Jake Kuruc goes through how his experience in both collegiate and professional baseball has shaped the way he thinks about scouting reports. What are the important aspects that NEED to be included? His answers are below!
What’s going on, Simple Sabermetrics fans! I hope everyone enjoyed my first post “The Student Manager Experience + How YOU Can Get Involved” and that you've been enjoying Season 2 of the Blog so far! In today’s post, I am going to be diving into how you can build an opposing pitcher's advanced scouting report to help your team prepare for an upcoming opponent.
Preparing opposing teams scouting reports was one of the main responsibilities in my position with the Penn State Baseball program, and was probably the thing I enjoyed doing the most.
In this post you can expect to learn the most useful aspects of an elite report, and an explanation of why each aspect is so important. Let’s dive into it!
The Importance of Creating an Advanced Scouting Report
At both the professional and collegiate levels, the game of baseball has become a lot more analytical over the past few seasons. The game is full of more numbers and statistics than we have ever seen before. Having this data available to us allows teams to find new ways to use it to attempt to gain a competitive edge, such as creating advanced scouting reports!
Playing the game using data and all of the metrics to our advantage allows both coaches and players to make better informed decisions on every single pitch throughout the entire season. Having this data available to educate players is what makes creating scouting reports so useful.
The ultimate goal of scouting reports is to play the numbers to your advantage with the end goal of helping your players succeed. Having your advanced reports prepared does not automatically lead to your hitters getting a hit, and in no way does it mean they are going to automatically have great at-bats every night. Providing hitters with this data allows them to have an approach when they head up to the plate to face a specific pitcher.
Key Aspects to an Elite Report
The Key Statistics
When building an advanced scouting report, the goal of the report is to help your hitters succeed once they step in the box. By providing data throughout your report, you’re preparing the hitter with information such as what pitches they can expect to see, how the pitcher may attack them in certain counts, and where the pitcher may be trying to locate certain pitches. All of this information is going to allow the hitter to step up to the plate with more of a plan of how they can succeed.
My reason for mentioning this off the bat is that while ERA, hits, batting average against, and other common baseball stats can be beneficial to know, they really don’t bring much value to a hitter while he is in the box. While knowing that a pitcher has a 2.00 ERA means they are having a very good season, it doesn’t help prepare them for what things they are going to see from the pitcher in a given at-bat.
Statistics like these should definitely find their way onto your report, but they are not the most important, and should not take up much room.
In my opinion, the most important statistics to include are those such as innings pitched, K/9, and BB/9, which tell more of a story on how much the pitcher may be in and around the zone.
Pitch Types and Velocity Range for Each Pitch
Having every pitch in a pitcher’s arsenal listed out can sound pretty simple, but to me this is the first step to a hitters game plan when looking at an opposing pitcher. It is crucial to know what pitches you can expect to see once you step in the box, and at what velocities those pitches are going to be coming in at.
As a hitter it could be a pretty rude awakening to get up to the plate, with no clue what to expect, and then taking a great first pitch because it may have been thrown harder than expected, or they weren’t aware the pitcher even threw that pitch. If this is the hitter's first time in the box against a new pitcher, the first at bat shouldn't be spent figuring out his stuff - rather trying to punish the mistakes that had been outlined in your report.
Like I mentioned before, this can be a fairly simple portion of your report, but it is a must have, and needs to be included on every report you make for the opposing teams pitchers.
Usage Percentages for Each Pitch
On top of knowing the velocity for each pitch in a pitcher’s arsenal, it can be just as important to note their usage percentages for each pitch against both left-handed batters and right-handed batters.
Not every pitcher is going to use all of his pitches against batters on both sides of the plate, so limiting what each of your hitters should be looking for is going to be very beneficial for their success.
For example, let’s look at Max Scherzer, and his breakdown of pitch types against both RHB and LHB.
In 2021, Scherzer has thrown 967 pitches to righties, and has thrown 987 pitches to lefties. When we look at the breakdown though, Scherzer throws 38.9% sliders to RHB but only .3% sliders to LHB. To RHB, Scherzer throws changeups 9.2% of the time, but to LHB he throws changeups 19.7% of the time.
With a pitcher like Scherzer, as a left-handed batter going up to face him, you can pretty much eliminate the chance that you are going to see a slider, and play the percentages of other pitches which have a much better chance of being thrown. Turning Max Scherzer into a four pitch guy is going to be a little bit easier than trying to face Max Scherzer with five pitches.
Knowing these numbers, and which pitches you should be prioritizing at the plate is going to be very difficult if you don't make sure to include this information in your reports.
Pitch Location Charts
Creating a plan as a hitter requires knowing where the pitcher is going to try to locate each of his pitches. Knowing whether you should be looking on the inner half, the outer half, or whether you should be looking up in the zone or down in the zone is going to give you a huge advantage and allow you to plan where you are going to be looking for pitches during your at-bat.
Pitch location charts can also be very telling when it comes to a pitcher’s arsenal and some of his pitches movement profiles. Typically, pitchers with a higher spin rate on their fastball, and more vertical movement are going to pitch in the upper half of the zone. Pitchers with lower spin rates, or less “ride” on their fastballs are typically going to avoid the upper half of the zone and stick to pitching in the bottom half. By looking at these charts and seeing where the pitcher throws a majority of his fastballs, you may be able to get an idea of the type of movement profile the pitcher has, and grasp an idea of how the pitch may look as it comes towards the plate.
Once again, just like with the other components of your report, you’re going to want to have your pitch location charts broken down by left-handed batters and right-handed batters. Also, each pitch that the pitcher throws should have its own image, and should be labeled properly. This way we can see where the pitcher tries to land each one of his pitches against batters on both sides of the plate.
Let’s take a look at the pitch location breakdown for one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball right now, Zack Wheeler.
The images above are heat maps taken from Baseball Savant that show where Zack Wheeler most commonly throws each of his pitches to both left-handed batters and right-handed batters. When we compare the two images, we can see that most of Zack’s pitches are in the same general area no matter which side of the plate the hitter is on. When you look at Zack’s four-seam fastball though, to righties Zack lives on the outer half as compared to lefties where he lives more in the middle of the plate.
We can also see that with his slider, when facing a righty, Zack loves to bury that pitch down and away from the hitter but against lefty he leaves it up the zone a little bit more rather than trying to throw it at the hitter's back foot.
Having these charts is going to allow your hitters to get an idea of where they can expect to be pitched, and what their plan should be on trying to hit certain pitches to certain parts of the field.
Breaking down how the opposing pitcher is going to try and work your hitters in certain counts is another aspect of the report that is a must.
Just like the other components of your report, it is important to make sure that you have this broken down against both right-handed batters and left-handed batters as pitchers will often have completely different plans against hitters on different sides of the plate.
In this section of your report, this is where you are going to want to include percentages that breakdown which pitch the pitcher throws most often in 0-0 counts, behind in counts, ahead in counts, in even counts, and his most common two strike pitch.
Let’s take a look at an example of a tendency chart that we created last season at Penn State to plan against an opposing pitcher for one of our games.
As you can see, while this data sample is very small, I really like this example because of the high fastball usage from this specific pitcher. There are a few key takeaways for me when looking at these percentages including the usage percent in 0-0 counts and also when the pitcher falls behind in counts.
Obviously, this pitcher relies heavily on his fastball, and it seems he doesn’t have much confidence in his off-speed pitches. This is an example of a pitcher where if you take a huge hack at an 0-0 pitch thinking it’s a fastball and he fools you with a curveball causing you to swing over it, it was a great plan and an acceptable time to swing and miss at a first pitch curveball. The data backed your decision, and he fooled you, which is totally acceptable.
Having all of this information broken down gives the hitter an opportunity to create plans in certain counts and almost predict which pitches they are most likely going to see.
I hope all of this information can provide you some inspiration when it comes time to create your own opposing pitcher advanced scouting report. What is important to remember about your reports is that they are never going to be right 100% of the time. With that being said, if we can make the information correct 51% of the time, it is always going to be worth taking the time to create the advanced reports and giving our hitters a head start at the plate. You never know what single pitch could change the outcome of a game - or even your season thanks to your reports.