When the Cincinnati Reds announced that they’d hired former reliever Caleb Cotham to be their assistant pitching coach earlier this winter, it was most certainly not to stand on the back of mounds and be a rah-rah guy. Cotham was brought on to provide something that the newfangled coaching staff held in very high regard, and it certainly wasn’t his 7.15 career ERA and -0.8 career bWAR in 34 big league innings.
Cotham was brought on primarily to break down pitching data and analytics, as MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon relayed, based on his extensive experience having worked with Driveline. This particular quote about his experience there helps emphasize exactly how the modern era of breaking down every last piece of input has become almost robotic in its calculations.
“It really opened my eyes about player development, in terms of what pitching could be and the types of tools that are out there,” Cotham said. “Everybody is talking about the same things, but what really spoke to me is that this was a bit more objective. It was a bit more factual. It was, ‘Here’s what’s going on. Here’s what you’re good at, and here’s what you stink at.’ I liked that.”
Player development, hand in hand with progress in advance scouting, has revolutionized the way baseball teams evaluate and sign players. Modern technology - including the ability to use precision video to analyze every last movement in both pitching delivery and hitters’ swings - now allows teams to identify with increasing accuracy which traits translate to actual production at the big league level more than ever, as well as helps players themselves try to tailor their physical performance to help match them.
Of course, that’s a far, far cry from how things worked just a few decades ago, and thanks to a yet-unnamed former member of the Cincinnati Reds front office, The Ringer is giving us the goods on how teams used to scout players and prospects. Ben Lindbergh and Rob Arthur released the first of a three-part look at scouting data from 1991-2003 that the Reds used to evaluate both their own and opposing players, and it’s a fascinating look back at the inner-workings of the club during that era, including evaluations of a young Joey Votto, Mariano Rivera, Mike Piazza, and many others.
It’s a lengthy read, albeit one that fans of any team should pore through with eyes wide open, since it’s incredible in hindsight exactly how subjective so much of the vital information really was. Certainly, the Reds must have had their own proprietary differences from the other MLB franchises at that time, but it’s inevitable that there were still significant similarities between how they operated their scouting system and how the rest of the industry went about their business, and it’s wild to see just how different those processes are now just a generation later.
Lindbergh and Arthur even did their work on breaking down the performance of those reports, combing over it and identifying which characteristics actually had any correlation to big league success. In that process, they even identified a number of trends in how Reds scouts at that time went about their work, some of which are rather alarming.
Parts two and three are set to be released later this week, so stay tuned.