Explaining Analytics: The 20-80 scouting scale

Explaining Analytics: The 20-80 scouting scale

Credit: Getty Images

The scouting scale loves Jurickson Profar and so should you. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Print
Email
|

by JOSEPH URSERY

WFAA Sports

Posted on January 24, 2014 at 12:10 PM

Updated Friday, Jan 24 at 12:13 PM

I can't decide if this is the best intro or the worst intro.
 
If you're not familiar with the 20-80 scale, you should probably stop reading now. I've been entangled in 20-80 for years now, and it appears in every facet of my life. Jennifer Lawrence isn't great, she's an 80. That burger was pretty mediocre- it's a 45, and I'm feeling nice. I'm a 50  husband, but a 60 dad.
 
This is the danger of the 20-80 scale. It (almost literally!) works with everything, so there's a tendency to use it for everything. It drains you. Friends stop calling you. Family starts casually finding ways to exclude you from holidays. Your bank account is drained, and you're always a little tired and hungry.
 
Well, that's either from addiction to 20-80 or from a few years of blogging. Either way, if you're still reading, you've chosen to doom yourself to the same rating system that enthralled so many of us, so welcome. We're a fun bunch. At least a 65 personality group (ah dang it I did it again).
 
So what is the 20-80 Scale?
 
This one is pretty simple. Take a look at your average scout. He's not much for vocabulary, or fashionable headware choices. His gifts lie elsewhere. And he likely is a bit of a journeyman, working for several teams over his career (or freelancing). Does it make sense for him to learn 30 different rating systems, so he can communicate with every front office? No, it does not. What does make sense is a simple, condensed system that he can use to paint a picture of the kid  he sees now, and the player he sees that kid turning into. 
 
The beauty of 20-80 is that it's built of a simple distribution curve. The idea is in any population, you can fit 99.9 percent (ish) with plus or minus of three standard deviations of average. In this case, 80 (or 8, as 2-8 is just as widely used) is the best, a one-in-a-thousand type. 20 (or, 2) is what you and I would look like if we had to stand in against Yu Darvish right now. Appropriately, 20s and 80s are super-rare, while there's the highest population of 50's. Bell curve. Simple. Works. Favors a fedora.
 
50 is average, and each ten points represents one standard deviation above average. Sixty is pretty good, seventy is one of the best in the league, eighty is calling your buddies over because you don't believe what you're seeing. Likewise, forty is crummy, thirty is so bad you don't want it around your stadium, and twenty just so rarely happens in the majors that you give your buddies another call to come see it.
 
In some cases, you have defined parameters for a grade (for instance, 95 mph+ is 80 on fastball velocity). In others, it's just more subjective. Also, sometimes scouts can't decide on a round number. In this case, they either split the grade down the middle, calling it 50/60, or they jot the tool down as a 55 (or 5.5, if you prefer- they mean the same thing).

So how do I use the 20-80 scale?
 
Scouts use 20-80 to grade each of a player's individual tools. For most scouts, that encompasses hitting ability, power, speed, baserunning, arm strength, arm accuracy, fielding, and range for position players, and  fastball velocity, fastball movement, control, pace, poise, and individual offspeed pitches for pitchers.
 
Don't believe me? Avail yourself of the wonders of Diamond Mines, a repository of old scouting reports. Check out Bo Jackson's 1986 scouting cross-check (side note: notice the 7's on there. Remember Bo Jackson? Remember Tecmo Bowl? Shattering bats over his knee like they were Three Stooges props? That guy had 7 power. 8's are super-crazy-insane-rare. Jennifer Lawrence-rare.).
 
The odds are you're no longer reading, because the Diamond Mines site can and will consume all of your free time. I'm sorry. This whole article is kind of damaging to your person. I feel bad about it, really I do.
 
Always remember, as well, that scouts give two grades to a player: what they see today, and what they see that turning into. For example, Rougned Odor has 50 power right now, and people don't see that climbing because of his stocky build that suggests there's not much more growth to be had. Meanwhile, Jairo Beras hit 2 home runs in the Arizona Rookie League last year, but you'll see scouts mention him as a possible 80 power guy in the future, because he's tall, lanky, and wiry, with easy power already.
 
Also remember; if you think it's an 80, it's probably not. That's ok. 7's are still really ridiculously good. Sixes are really good too. And a team full of fives will win more games than they lose. 
 
Another shorthand is “plus” or plus-plus”.A sixty is a plus, a seventy is plus-plus. On the other end of the scale, we have fringe-average (40) and fringe (30).  All translates to roughly the same thing.

So what does 20-80 say about the makeup of the Rangers?
 
Jurickson Profar is one of my favorite players.  Ever. There's several reasons why, and 20-80 does a great job of explaining why. The worst grade Profar gets is for his power, and that's a 50. None of his tools jump off the page at you (although I've seen some reports that say his hit tool is a future 70, which is pretty page-jumpy), but all of them are, at very worst, average to the league. Basically, it's hard to find a weakness in Profar, unless you count 'He's not as good as Mike Trout' as a weakness.
 
Probably the best tool on the Rangers would be Adrian Beltre's glove. It's tough, even with the bit of decline we saw last year, to put a grade lower than a 70 on it (which roughly equals out to being one of the top 3 in the league). Prince Fielder's power is probably a 70. Yu Darvish's slider is most likely a 70 (and I'm sure you could find scouts and disappointed hitters who would tell you it's an 8, but it's his slow curveball that I can't think about in public).
 
The best single tool in the Rangers' minor league system (and maybe the whole franchise) is Joey Gallo's power. It's a no-doubt 75, possibly 80. He's really ridiculously good at hitting a baseball over a fence. The worst (among legitimate prospects)? Probably Luis Sardinas' power. The Frisco shortstop is probably a 30. His gifts lie elsewhere, mainly in his 6-7 glove.

So how do I use 20-80?
 
Ideally, this is a consumption-based exercise- in that, you consume the grades the scouts put out, combine it with what you see and feel and think, and use it to evaluate the player. Maybe you're not too keen on the Prince Fielder acquistion, until you see that Scout.com put an 80 on his power, and a 60 on his hit tool. Then you feel better about it, right?
 
In exercise, it just becomes a fun tool for rating things. For instance, is there anything more 50 than dinner at Chili's? Perfectly average. Meanwhile, getting served a stale egg salad sandwich by a disgruntled asylee at an airport, and paying seven dollars for the exchange- that's as 20 as it gets. Texas De Brazil, though- on a good night, that's an 80, and a lot of it.
 
This is the part where you would expect I make a self-deprecating joke about me being a 35-40 blogger. See, part of being an above-average blogger, I find, is being unpredictable. I don't have that, so, yeah, 35-40.
 

Remember how we said 80s are super duper crazy rare? Joe Ursery has an 80 daughter. Easy, no-doubt 80. He's also a plus-plus tweeter, which you could find out for yourself by following @thejoeursery. 

Print
Email
|