Monday, July 04, 2005

Review: Scout's Honor by Bill SHanks

I rated this book 3 stars out of 5 on Amazon. My thoughts on rating books on Amazon is that I should worry about rating books too low (3 or lower) because I may experience similar problems as the "ebay negative feedback problem". Meaning that the author that I give a 3 or lower rating on can retaliate and purposely give a low rating on Weighing the Odds in Hold'em Poker. So in general, I will refrain from giving low ratings on gambling books. But for other books, I'm willing to take the chance. As an aside, I am perturbed by the last review written on Weighing the Odds in Hold'em Poker. The reviewer is clearly a shill for Barboianu's poker book. He doesn't use his real name (on Amazon, if a reviewer uses his real name, the phrase "real name" will appear under his name), and my book is the only book he has reviewed. Also, Barboianu's book has received universal poor ratings on Amazon and 2+2's book forum. So this guy figured he could write a review to put down my book in order to boost up his. I am not happy.

Here's the review on Scout's Honor:

Scout’s Honor seems like it was written as an argument against Moneyball by Michael Lewis. Moneyball focuses on the Oakland A’s and how their GM, Billy Beane, focuses on stats when evaluating players and relies little on scouts. In doing so, Beane mainly takes college players rather than high school players, because the statistics for college players do mean something due to the strong competition, and the greater sample sizes. Seemingly on the flip side, the Atlanta Braves, an organization just as successful, or even more successful than the A’s (at least in the past 15 years), use scouts extensively and focus on high school players. The A’s love college pitchers and hate high school pitchers when it comes to drafting them. The Braves love high school pitchers and avoid college pitchers (they focus their scouting in the Georgia and southeast region). It’s amazing that two different winning organizations can attack the same problem in such different ways. Moneyball was a great book on how the braintrust of the A’s think and how they go about their evaluation. Scout’s Honor is an attempt to do the same for the Braves and their scouts.

On the backcover of Scout’s Honor is written: “In this fascinating and insightful look into what criteria major and minor league baseball scouts use to determine talent, Scout’s Honor shines a bright light on the job done by ‘old-school’ scouts and their killer instincts.” That sounds like a great subject, and I really wanted to read about how scouts go about their job, how they evaluate players, especially those still in high school. I have not read any books detailing exactly what the scouts are looking for – is it something they can’t explain to the layman like me? It turns out what Atlanta scouts are looking for in a high school player is their ‘makeup’. Unfortunately, Shanks he never defines exactly what that means, nor does he explain exactly how a scout determines if someone has good or bad makeup. So the reader is still left wondering exactly how the scouts do their job.

The strength of this book is the great detail and descriptions that Shanks goes into on the Braves organization, especially the people in the player personnel department and the minor league players. Fans of the Braves will love this book since there is so much good information on their players.

It is tough to rate this book, because different people will appreciate the book differently. For Braves fans, I’d rate it a 5, and definitely recommend it. For sabremetric fans and believers of moneyball, I’d rate it a 1 and avoid it – it will only make you angry reading it. In this aspect, its much like a political book designed to show the appreciation of one party while attacking the other party. Although I think many of the moneyball ideas are valid (and I think Shanks mis-characterizes some of them in his last chapter), the fact the Braves have been so successful means they are doing something right, and this book does reflect some of those ideas. I went into reading this book with an open mind, hoping that I would learn about exactly what scouts do. But I was disappointed that Shanks doesn’t explain this in more detail. If he had, I would have rated it higher.

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