TAMPA - One of the things that parents of young baseball players have a hard time understanding is how high school stats play such a small role in the recruiting and scouting process.
It's easy to see why parents struggle to understand this. At every professional level of athletics, game stats are the primary barometer used to determine whether a player is an all-star or why he is riding the bench. The Baseball Hall of Fame can be a statistics and numbers game when determining entrance into baseball's greatest cathedral.
In basketball, players like Lebron James and Kevin Durant are marketed as superstars - often times citing statistics as the reason why. In football, players like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are considered to be the greatest ever because of record-breaking statistics that are used as support of those claims.
Every TV station uses statistics, stat lines, fancy graphics, and charts to display statistics - headlined by ESPN's never-ending stream of high-tech stats.
This mentality and culture is then carried into all levels of sports. The shock and disbelief that parents face when told that stats are essentially meaningless hits home the hardest at the high school level. It is at this level, when players get recruited by colleges and scouts. As a result, it is at this level when players and families first learn that statistics play little or no role in the scouting process.
College coaches and pro scouts have had to learn the hard way over the years: stats generated in high school don't necessarily translate to future success.
Statistics hold a greater meaning in professional sports because there is no "next level." The analysis and stats of how professional athletes perform against each other makes sense to calculate. These are all the best in the world at what they do, and they are all playing on the same field.
However, the analysis and stats of how high school players perform against each other does not make as much sense to calculate. There are players playing high school and travel baseball that will not play collegiately nor professionally. These players may be peers in regards to age, but they are not peers in terms of talent level and ability.
In high school there are players on the field that may become future Big Leaguers. But they are far out-weighed by players who will never play the game past high school.
It can be humbling to think about - but a player who bats .400 in high school or has an ERA of 1.25 accomplished those feats against a vast majority of players who are not good enough to play past high school. Those types of stats would be phenomenal in the Major Leagues, but they are fairly commonplace each year in high school baseball.
According to the NCAA, roughly 5% of high school baseball players will move on to play collegiately or professionally.
In other words, that means that the statistics that are produced by high school baseball players is being done against competition in which 95% will fail to play at just the collegiate level.
Can you imagine how drastically those statistics may change for every player if just those 5% all got on the field together at the same time and played against one another? It happens. It's called college baseball.
Or how about if the sub-1% of players that will play professionally got on the field together without the other 99%? How much would the stats differ? In this scenario, the hitters would be better. The runners would be faster. The catchers would have better arms. The pitchers would throw harder.
In high school, the average fastball is closer to 78mph. A hitter with no bat speed, or a slow bat won't have much difficulty catching up to a 78mph fastball. He may get hits, he may hit for a high average. He may finish his senior year batting .400.
But if that same hitter advances to Major League Baseball or D1 college baseball, he will face a new level of pitching each day. In Major League Baseball, the average fastball is 91mph. In Division 1 college, it is closer to 88mph. Every day when a hitter wakes up and goes out to the field, he will face a fastball 10mph greater than what he faced in high school - day in and day out in the Major Leagues or college level. A hitter with a slow bat or below average bat speed may get a few hits - after all percentages dictate to us that there is probability that the average high school player could get a few hits off that type of pitching. But can it be sustained over a 4-year college career? Can it be sustained over 4,000 at bats? The chances are much lower.
On the flip side, the player with size, strength, raw power, and bat speed who has never had the money to have a hitting coach in his life may not feel comfortable in the batter's box yet. He may struggle to understand the strike zone. He may still be undergoing body changes that could cause lack of coordination. And he may have low confidence facing 78mph pitching as they are developing. They may only hit .250 in high school.
But college coaches and pro scouts think to themselves: "If only I could get that guy into my program. We could get him the coaching he needs. We could help him. The sky is the limit for that kid once he learns from us."
They don't care that the player is hitting .250 - it's all about what he could be hitting once he learned. And that is a large part of why the Minor League system in baseball is so critical. (Rookie ball, Low A, High A, Double A, Triple A, etc). Players get thousands of at-bats to learn in the Minor League system. These players get hundreds of innings to learn what pitches they can get away with, and what they can't get away with. They learn that they can't get by like they used to - everyone in the batter's box at this level can turn around 90mph. And the cream and the talent will rise to the top over 1,000 at bats or 200 innings pitched.
Can you imagine how much better of a hitter you would become if you had 1,000+ at bats of experience to learn? You would face pitchers from all walks of life. You would see pitchers throwing 99mph, 88mph, nasty curveballs, funky windups, normal windups, slide step deliveries, pitchers from different nationalities and backgrounds, different backdrops and parks, different deception, different arm action, different batter's eyes and batters boxes, different spins and rotations, and different movement. Very little would surprise you as a hitter anymore, and very little would make you uncomfortable in the box. You would look back at 78mph in high school and chuckle to yourself.
The main thing these scouts and colleges want to see in their players is for "that lightbulb to go off." Because once that lightbulb goes off and it suddenly "clicks" for that player, it doesn't matter anymore what his hitting stats were in high school.
All that matters is what stats he can produce now.