Chris Pittaro on tools, body types & “Moneyball”
Chris Pittaro knows baseball.
More importantly for the Oakland Athletics, the former All-State infielder at Steinert High and big leaguer for the Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins from 1985-87 has an eye for talent.
Pittaro, 49, has been a fixture at Waterfront Park and hundreds of other stadiums across the country for many years and is in his third season as the Athletics’ director of professional scouting.
Pittaro recently sat down with BareBones to provide some insight on what he looks for when scouting both amateurs and minor leaguers for Oakland and general manager Billy Beane.
BB: Is there a specific skill set you are looking for when scouting players at the Double-A level?
CP: “The higher a player moves up level-wise the more we focus on performance. You can have the skills and tools in the world, but if you can’t play the game those tools eventually become useless. At the lower levels we are looking at tools and scouting those guys as if they are amateurs. Up here (at Double-A) it tends to be more performance-driven.’’
BB: Are there some things you are willing to ignore, or at least put on the back-burner, when evaluating young players?
CP: “You have to remember most of the lower level guys are 18, 19-years-old and it’s their first time away from home. As a scout you have to be very forgiving. Basically, you project on body types, arm action and their swing. But those things become less and less important as they move up the ladder.’’
BB: What are some of the key criteria for performance?
CP: For pitchers, are they able to command their breaking ball and throw it for strikes? If they can’t do that in the higher levels, they are going to get crushed in the big leagues. Command becomes a big thing. Obviously, velocity is important. But it’s what they can do with the other stuff that helps separate them. Having a third pitch and a change up becomes very important.
“For hitters, the ability to know the strike zone is big. Guys that continually swing at pitches outside the zone are going to have a tough time succeeding at the higher levels. Swing paths and body types at this level and above become less important.’’
BB: Do you submit reports on every player?
CP: “We do. Given the time constraints we are under, we should sit with a team for five days in order to see all of their starters as well as the bullpen.’’
BB: What if a player was hot for two weeks and then is slumping by the time you guys arrive to evaluate him?
CP: “That’s the rub. History is very, very important in the minor leagues and you have to have a pretty good history on a guy in order to write an accurate report about him. A successful past history allows you to be a little more forgiving. Say a guy like (Thunder second baseman) David Adams starts hot and we happen to catch him in the midst of a slump. Well, because we’ve seen him do it before we have a better idea of the big picture with him. You have to be able to figure out whether a guy that is supposed to be a prospect is having a slump, or it is something mechanical, or does he just not have it? You have to take everything into consideration. It’s tough.’’
BB: “Moneyball’’ – the best selling book by Michael Lewis (published in 2003) – made public the Oakland Athletics’ unique philosophy on scouting, the amateur draft and the premium the organization places on so-called “Sabremetric’’ statistics such as on-base and slugging percentage. Has the A’s philosophy changed?
CP: “For as much of a bad rap that we got over the whole stats things with “Moneyball,’’ every team now uses it in some way. But it is not about just looking at stats. It’s really more about finding a niche that is undervalued. At that particular time, it was on-base percentage. It’s sort of come full circle. Now, it’s defense and speed. We can’t afford to go out and get an Alex Rodriguez, but we can get guys that fill needs with power, defense, speed and average. Sometimes you can get them all at once. I think we’ve taken the “Moneyball’’ experience and learned from it. At least I hope we have.’’
BB: The first-year player draft is June 7. One of the themes in “Moneyball’’ was your organization’s preference for college players over high school kids. Can you tell us about that?
CP: “A lot of teams are now leaning heavily toward the college end of it, especially in the first round. But we’ve been more open to taking high school guys the last couple of years and many of those guys have succeeded.’’
BB: Are college players historically less of a risk?
CP: “You can skew the information from all the studies any way you want. A lot of it right now says that a college position player is a safer bet. But it really depends on what you want. If you want to shoot the moon you can, and just let all that information tell you whatever you want. The problem with shooting the moon is the cost of being wrong, for some clubs, is very prohibitive. A team like the Nationals being wrong on a high school kid at $5 million, as opposed to taking a Stephen Strasburg (No. 1 overall in 2009) at $15 million, is significant. You want to be right on all your guys, but that’s not going to happen. You can dream all you want all year long, but when you get in that draft room at the end of the day it’s all about how well you have scouted and how well you have done your homework.’’
BB: Is your work here in Trenton geared toward preparing for the July 31 trade deadline?
CP: “Yes. The deadline and the Rule 5 Draft (in December).
We use the whole minor league thing to secure acquisitions. Billy (Beane) has found it easier to trade in early to mid-July rather than wait until the end near the deadline. We just think you get more in return that way. When you do a trade closer to July 31 teams know you are desperate, so they hold you over a barrel. But if someone comes to us and says they want, say, Ben Sheets, on July 31 we have to be prepared for that.’’
BB: How does a trade at the deadline usually go down?
CP: “Depending on who approaches whom, they will give you names of players they are interested in, or we will give them names of players we are interested in. Then it becomes a mix and match type of thing and sometimes it will end up involving guys that were not even on the original lists. It becomes a chess game to see who blinks first. Usually, though, the team that benefits will be whoever scouts better and who can swing the best deal.’’