There are scouts at every game and they’re easy to spot; they generally sit behind home plate, hold radar guns and wear championship rings the size of a goiter that should have been removed six months ago. (Wearing the rings isn’t all ego; if your organization has won a World Series it’s good marketing for a scout to wear the ring — it impresses amateur ballplayers and professional sports bloggers.)
But let’s get back on track and examine how smart teams and players can use the other team’s scouts against them.
Everybody has to cover their rear end
Let’s say you’ve got a trick play up your sleeve; some kind of double steal or pickoff. If it’s a play you don’t use much, the odds of it being executed successfully go down, so show it to the scouts in a spring-training game. It doesn’t matter if it works, the scouts will cover their rear ends and report it.
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And now that the opposing coaching staff has been warned about the trick play, they have to cover their rear ends and adjust. So without ever running the play in a game that matters, you might shorten an opposing base runner’s lead or force an opposing middle infielder to play closer to the bag.
An infield coach from another team once told me that if a Royals player tried to bunt for a hit a couple times it would go in the scouting report and he’d have to cover his rear end.
If he played the third baseman back and the Royals player bunted for a hit, the infield coach would hear about it: we warned you that guy would bunt. But if the coach played the third baseman in and the Royals player shot a double down the line, the coach could cover his rear end by pointing at the scouting report.
The difference between divisional and non-divisional opponents
On March 20, the Royals will play the Cincinnati Reds in a spring-training game; eight days later the Royals will play the Chicago White Sox. Unless I missed it, the Royals don’t play the Reds at all during the regular season, but they’ll play the White Sox 742 times. (I think the actual number is 19, but it will seem like 742 times.)
Against the Reds, the Royals might play their normal game; against the White Sox, the Royals might send a message.
Let’s say the Royals want the Sox to be hyper-aware of the stolen-base threat during the regular season; run like crazy against them in spring training. It doesn’t make any difference if your runners get thrown out; make the Sox think about slide steps, pickoffs and pitchouts. Then during the regular season you’ll get the advantages a running team enjoys without ever taking the risk of running.
Or, maybe do the opposite; if you plan on running during the regular season, be very conservative when you see them in spring training.
It only has to work once
If you’re reading this thinking the other team will eventually catch on to what you really plan on doing, you’re right; but what if you steal a base and win a game and then make the playoffs by that margin because of something you did in a spring-training game that didn’t matter?
It doesn’t cost you anything to plant the seed and it might pay off down the road; it’s why smart teams do it.
Baseball has a bureaucracy and smart teams take advantage of that
The first time I had a player explain why he might get in trouble if he didn’t follow the scouting report, I said: “So you guys have a bureaucracy, too.”
So if the Royals play a spring-training game and do something goofy or out of character, it might be because they screwed up — or it might be because they’re using the other team’s scouts against them.