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Q&A: Alex Eisenberg talks biomechanics, Tigers prospects

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Logo2_mediumAlex Eisenberg of Baseball-Intellect takes a multi-faceted approach when looking at prospects. Some people look for telling statistics to help predict whether a minor league prospect might break out, or whether his numbers are a facade. Others rely heavily on scouting reports, either their own or others'. Eisenberg does both of those, as well as his own video study of players' mechanics, and attempts to synthesize all the data he can find into one crisp report about a player.

Earlier this season, he wrote a bit about the Tigers.

Detroit Tigers Top-15 Prospects of 2010, No’s 1 – 5

Detroit Tigers Top-15 Prospects of 2010, No’s 6 – 15

The former HardballTimes and Baseball Daily Digest writer took a few minutes to answer some questions about how he compiles his reports, and what he thinks about both the Tigers' system in general and a few prospects in particular.

KM: Thanks for taking the time to do this. Before we get started looking at the Tigers in particular, could you tell us a bit of background about yourself and your web site, Baseball-Intellect, as far as what it brings unique to ever-growing list of sites that cover the scouting of prospects and amateurs?

AE: I graduated from James Madison University with a degree in Kinesiology and supplemented it with Biomechanical research. I noticed an inefficiency in baseball analysis on the internet about three or four years ago, when I was in college, where much of the analysis was based off numbers and I think the work I've done has helped fill that inefficiency.

Essentially, I use baseball mechanics, traditional scouting methods, and sabermetric analysis to break down both prospects and Major League players at my site.

A couple things make my site unique. The use of video is the obvious one and I'll discuss more of that below. The emphasis on a player's mechanics is also something you don't get on most sites because most people don't have the background to do that kind of analysis. I also try to be as in-depth as possible with my reports while there are a lot of sites that are more quantity over quality.



Could you talk a bit about using video analysis in creating your scouting reports?

Video makes something that looks confusing on paper easier to understand because you can visually see what the words are trying to convey. The only way you can truly get people to understand mechanical concepts or truly explain what changes a player has made to his mechanics over the years is by using video for readers to see.

I also think fans and people that play fantasy baseball crave information. But they want to make sure the information they get is right. Using video allows individuals to make their own judgment on players.


Is this something anyone could learn how to do, or is there specialized training to attain?

I think anybody can learn how to do what I do...as I said, I have a background in Kinesiology and Biomechanics, but a lot of what I learned was self taught. I learned from a variety of sources I felt were credible, I've collected thousands of clips, and I've watched a ton of video. Eventually, things sort of click and you get it.

An important part of it is being able to explain things in a way that's easy to understand -- I was a sports writer at a local newspaper for part of high school and all of college, which I'm sure helped me as a writer.

But it's also critical to keep an open mind. Try not to speak in absolutes because you never know the full story and information is always changing. This is especially true for injuries...mechanics can be a big factor into a pitcher's injuries, but do you know the pitcher's genetic code, conditioning habits, or past workload? There are other factors always at play when one goes down with an injury.
Also learn from a variety of different sources and references because there is a tremendous amount of misinformation out there.


When projecting players, do you think it's more useful to look at the tools or the numbers?

It's difficult to choose, but I'll say tools win out during the first couple years and as more and more data is accumulated and a track record starts to develop, numbers start to become more important because results have to count at some point.

When it comes "toolsy" players, many of them are high risk prospects. You want to be able to spot a guy who not only has good tools, but who also has an idea of what he's doing out there -- hitters for example, you want somebody that understands the importance of getting on base, somebody who swings at good pitches, and can recognize the spin of the ball out of a pitcher's hand. Of course, those type of players don't grow on trees.

I will also say numbers are a good of finding sleepers, spotting a prospect that may have slipped through the cracks.


Let's turn to the Tigers' system now. What's your take on it?


I like the prospects sitting at the top of the system. I'm a big fan of Turner and Crosby...I see both making big jumps next year in everybody's top-100 prospect list. I like Avila, Sizemore, and Jackson though I'm not crazy about any of them. I thought the selection of Oliver at No. 58 was an excellent value pick. I really like Fields' upside and I think Streiby is a sleeper. But I don't like the system's depth. Once you get past the first seven or so prospects, the system really thins out. You're looking at mostly part time hitters or potential power arms out of the bullpen.

That said, there is a lot of young talent on the Major League roster and it's not like the team has had top prospects flame out -- they've used them to acquire other assets like Miguel Cabrera.



It bothers some fans the Tigers have focused so much attention on pitchers at the expense of position players. Do you think the Tigers' draft philosophy of taking high-ceiling pitchers in the first round appears to be paying dividends or is it too early to know?

Absolutely it's paying dividends. The theory is that you want to use your first round pick on a bat, and then stockpile the pitching, but I think it depends on the kind of pitchers you're acquiring and where in the draft you're picking them.

Rick Porcello was the best prep pitcher in the 2007 draft and the Tigers got him with the 27th pick -- that's tremendous value. Turner was a top-5 talent in my mind and they got him with the 9th overall pick. Andrew Miller helped acquire Cabrera, and while I wasn't that big on the drafting of Ryan Perry, a reliever, with their first round pick, he's still on the Major League roster and should be a nice member of the bullpen.

You throw in Justin Verlander and I don't see how you can say the strategy hasn't paid dividends.

But I'll tell you where I disagree with what the Tigers are doing. Once that first round passes, they stop taking risks...they seem to opt for a lot of limited upside talent. Crosby was an exception to the rule, as was Fields. But for the most part, the team drafted a very high number of college-age players and while you sometimes get guys like Sizemore and Avila through the system -- guys that look like they'll be solid regulars, you don't get a lot of the upside.

The Tigers have drafted a decent number of position players over the years, but most of them have been college players with limited upsides. There are plenty of high upside, first round type talents that drop in the draft that the Tigers could have invested in, but chose not to.

The Red Sox and Rays are two teams that have done a tremendous job of maximizing their draft choices later in the draft by scooping up talent that dropped for whatever reason.


We see more position players bubbling up this season than in recent years, do you think they've turned a corner there, or are we kind of grasping for straws looking for positives there?

It's a little of both. You have some of the college hitters making their way up...a couple solid regulars and a bunch of mostly part-time players. But I see very little depth below Double-A. You have Gustavo Nunez and Fields...that's about it.

I'm a bit curious about some guys who are new to the Tigers' system, such as center fielder Austin Jackson. There's a lot of debate whether he projects to be a good major league player and his statistics in the minors are a bit mixed, as well as a bit luck driven. What's your take, and is he ready to start the season in the MLB this year?

Jackson is a difficult guy to evaluate...I know you read my scouting report on him, which documented his many swings over the years. His most recent swing had him getting rid of his big leg kick...I hypothesized that the change was made because without the leg kick, he would have an easier time adjusting to off-speed pitches, which would help reduce his strikeouts. Of course, his most productive period occurred when he was using that big leg kick.

I then saw an MLB.com video of Jim Duquette discussing Jackson and he basically confirmed that the Yankees did indeed work with Jackson on a new swing to help him minimize strikeouts and that the Tigers have brought back that leg kick he used when he was most successful.

Now, I haven't seen Jackson on an extended basis this Spring, so I haven't compared his swing now to what it was back then and I can't say for sure he is ready. I saw him a bunch last year and he really had problems picking up on good breaking balls. His spring stats look real good, though in 2008 they looked real good, too. His K:BB ratio this spring, however, is much better than it was in 2008 (9:8 compared to 2:12).

I will say that I don't agree with leading him off because he's not really a big OBP kind of player.



You didn't rank lefty reliever Daniel Schlereth this offseason, but how do you view his future possibilities?

Correct, based on the criteria I laid out for what qualified for a prospect, he was not included. Overall, he's got a tremendous arm and two really good pitches. He doesn't have to have pin point control because his stuff will make up for mistakes in location, but he obviously has command problems he needs to address. I'm not sure what's been up with him this spring though I wouldn't be too concerned...as long as he hasn't experienced some sort of drop in velocity.

Thanks again, Alex, for taking the time to answer some questions for us!