While Bruce Bochy’s imminent retirement and various veteran players’ expiring contracts signal the end of an era for the San Francisco Giants in an obvious sense, it appears the team is moving on from some other key pieces of its historic early 2010s run, as well.
The team let go of eight of its professional scouts, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Tuesday.
Among them was Brian Johnson, who worked for the team for a decade and was “instrumental” in scouting the Detroit Tigers ahead of San Francisco’s 2012 World Series sweep, according to the Chronicle; Johnson said in 2013 he went to 240 Tigers games in the three years prior. He also had an eight-year career in the majors as a catcher for six different teams, and hit the Giants’ famous 1997 September walk-off homer against the Dodgers.
The other scouts released are Steve Balboni, Darren Wittcke, Matt Nerland, Tim Rock, Glenn Tufts, Bob Mariano and Andy Skeels, the Chronicle reported.
Giants looking for fresh blood, or just a sign of the times?
There are a number of reasons the Giants might be clearing out their scouting staff.
At first glance, it might seem like the team is just looking for new blood after finishing under .500 for the past two years (current at .479 for 2019, third in the division), losing in the first round of the playoffs in 2016 and missing playoffs in 2015. But it’s likely far more complex, and a sign of the times in baseball at large.
Last November, the team brought in Farhan Zaidi as its new general manager. Zaidi got his start in baseball operations for the Oakland Athletics, working his way to director of baseball ops and assistant GM in 2014. The Dodgers made him their GM late that year, then in 2017 made their first World Series appearance in nearly 30 years.
Zaidi, however, is known for his analytics-based approach to to the job. Soon after his hiring, he brought in former Brewers scouting special advisor Zack Minasian to head up the Giants’ pro scouting division at only 34 years old. On the amateur side, Zaidi brought in Michael Holmes, a member of the data-forward A’s amateur scouting division since 2004, to lead the effort.
The nature of MLB scouting is changing
The very nature of an analytics-based approach to player scouting and that of doing it in-person are contradictory, to an extent. Last year, approximately 60 scouts lost their jobs, according to Baseball America.
While scouting departments have generally increased in size as of late, according to The Ringer, the makeup of those departments has changed. According to reporting by Sports Illustrated’s Stephanie Apstein, scouting meetings today are often comprised of “men in their 20s and 30s, speaking up from behind team-issued iPads or laptops, fluent in complex analytics and as quick to cite spin rate as to use the traditional 20-80 scouting scale.”
It’s unclear at this point if the Giants are looking to simply refresh their personnel, or have something more radical in the works.
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