In today's post I will be diving into the fundamental pieces of what makes up a quality opponent scouting report. From the process I've been through to best organize the reports, to the exact pieces of information I look for on each report - this post has it all!
As we are getting closer and closer to the opening day of the Big Ten season, much of my focus is shifted from analyzing our player’s development patterns to ways we can begin to break down our opponents strengths and weaknesses. As a staff we dive deep into each individual player on the opposing team’s roster analyzing everything from swing tendencies and pitch usage to common or advanced statistics. Specifically in today’s post, I’m going to be diving into what makes an effective opposing scouting report and the process I have used throughout my career to create them.
In my time at Iowa, I spent a ton of time helping develop, fill out, and revise the way we did our scouting reports. It is a tedious job, and you do not often get to celebrate the fruits of your labor for the work you put in. But there is no doubt in my mind we were one of the most prepared teams due to the thoroughness of our reports. Each game we went in with an idea of what each player had done in their collegiate career. Key statistics such as On-Base Percentage and Batting Average Splits could be found on these sheets. But more importantly by using an application called Synergy we were able to dive deep into each player’s individual tendencies in any situation possible.
Synergy is a subscription service offered to collegiate teams with an immense video database of any other teams that invest in the software as well. As more and more teams buy into this technology, the more information we have on our opponents. Not only can we watch nearly every pitch thrown by teams we play each weekend, but we can filter that information based on anything we can imagine.
If we wanted to know how one individual player hit fastballs with runners on first and third in the 9th inning with a left handed pitcher on the mound – that information was available. And having the flexibility to identify what moments a hitter or pitcher may be vulnerable to have their weaknesses exposed allows our team to have a leg up on the competition.
The same is being done for all levels of professional baseball through internal databases and external databases like TruMedia. Identifying an opposing player’s strengths and weaknesses is incredibly important as you begin matching up your lineup, or figuring out ways to best structure your plan of attack against that team's hitters. I learned a lot about opponent scouting in my time with Iowa and my brief stint with the Orioles, and that leads us to where we are today.
At Penn State, we have quite a large team of student managers who assist us in making some of the most in-depth opponent scouting reports in the country. This team of managers spends hours compiling data from the web, Trackman data sharing portals, and of course, Synergy. Without this team, we wouldn’t be able to collect as much information as we do – the work they do in the office has an immense impact on the field.
Now, I know we aren’t the only school that does this (since I came from a school that I know is still doing this), but the fact of the matter is this - the more information you can gather about your opponent before you ever face each other on the diamond the better.
From a coach’s perspective we are able to game plan the best ways to attack different hitters. As well as which of our hitters will fare best against the pitchers we expect to see that day. From the player’s perspective, they can go into a game with confidence knowing that this hitter has certain tendencies that they can play into or what to expect from an opposing pitcher in certain situations. It’s a win-win. So to take this a step further, let’s talk about some of the important aspects of our opponent scouting reports.
To begin with, we have two different formats for these reports for both hitter’s and pitcher’s – a one page document with a recap of the entire team and then a more in-depth report where each page is dedicated to each individual player. The team report allows us to remember some of the key aspects of each player at a glance while also allowing us to dive deeper into a player’s tendencies on the individual sheets. So, what aspects are important as you begin to organize your reports?
On our team page we have a breakdown of every hitter and pitcher. That includes notes that we’ve taken diving into the video and data, and several important statistics we can reference when looking at the team as a whole. What you’d like to include here depends on what factors you deem important when creating your plan of attack.
For example, if you’re a staff that values getting ahead in the count early you may want to include each player’s swing rate in an 0-0 count here. That way you know who likes to swing early, and you can look to throw them an offspeed or potentially try and get them chasing at a pitch out of the zone. Of course, you may have a more in-depth breakdown on that player’s team sheet with information on what pitches they swing at 0-0 or to what location. But having that number easily acceptable on the team sheet allows the coaches, or even the players, to get a good idea of each player’s makeup in a pinch - because believe it or not this game moves quickly when you’re in the dugout.
As I’ve stated above, the team sheet is mostly used as a summary of each of the individuals on the opposing team. Some of the items I find valuable on this sheet includes…
Current Season Statistics (such as PA, K%, BB%, OPS, etc.)
Past Season Statistics
General Notes Section (identifying strengths and weaknesses)
Shift information (we will get into this in a second)
Swing Tendencies (0-0, S&M%, Chase%)
Current and Past Season Statistics
General Notes Section (Does this player tip their pitches, what are their times to the plate, etc.)
Arsenal Statistics (What Pitches do they throw, how often, and at what velocity?)
Splits Breakdowns (How does that change by count, or vs. LHB or RHB)
Hopefully that gives you an idea of how you can best set up your one page team summary. Now, let’s dive into the way I’ve broken down individual reports.
The individual pages go much deeper into each athlete’s tendencies. While the main page has a recap of the important statistics, here we can take it a step further by looking into things like pitch usage in every count, how a hitter’s approach changes with runners in scoring position, and much more.
For this section, I think it’s more beneficial to break down our reports by taking a look at the hitters and pitchers separately - so let’s do that!
The opposing hitters report is one of the report’s that I find myself looking at constantly throughout the entire game. We have a ton of information on there that helps us with things like defensive shifts, ways to attack certain hitters, and how those hitters can run if they get on the base-paths. Also on that page we have a spot to keep track of how we have been pitching to that hitter throughout the game, as well as how he’s responded at the plate. If he’s swung through every first pitch off-speed that series, you can imagine that is something we will be coming back to in his next at bat.
Some important things I like to see on an opposing hitter’s report includes:
Season statistics (past, present, and conference)
Average Time from Home to 1st
Swing tendencies per situation (first pitch, ahead, behind, even, RISP)
Swing heat-maps per situation (S&M, BIP, Hard Hit)
Ball in play spray chart vs. lefties and righties
In each of these reports there are always going to be things that you don’t need to look at in game. But being able to dive into this stuff in-depth before that first pitch is thrown allows you to determine what aspects are most important to remember. We spend the days leading up to our series highlighting pertinent information and sharing it with the rest of the staff and players. Now, let’s take a look at the opposing pitcher report.
The pitchers report is just a little bit different than the individual hitters reports. Here we have a lot more pitch profile information inputted. We can dive into each of these player’s velocities, spin rate and zone location information on these reports to see where each pitcher performs the best as well as where and when they throw their best pitches.
This is best applied by taking a look at our lineup and determining who will fare the best against this pitcher. If the starting pitcher throws a high percentage of breaking balls, and we have a hitter who chases similar pitches out of the zone frequently - we know that this may not be this kids day at the dish. Information like this allows us to set up our team for success by making educated decisions based on the numbers.
Some things I’ve emphasized on our pitching reports in the past include:
Season Statistics (IP, OPS, K%, BB%)
Pitch metrics (Velocity, Spin rate, usage)
Pitch Usage (Splits vs. LHB & RHB, Ahead, Behind, Even, Put Away, First Pitch)
Heat-maps of where each pitch is thrown
The use of scouting reports for any level of play isn’t anything new in this sport. My goal for this post was to share some of the processes I’ve implemented successfully throughout my career across collegiate and professional baseball. Many teams in today’s game have the resources to do this properly, but not every team takes advantage of it. Just because you invest in the technology up front does not guarantee a successful scouting department. It takes some trial and error when figuring out what pieces of information are important, the process to collect that information, as well as a way to effectively implement the information come game day.
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