Scouts zeroing in on Phillies
Webster, Rizzi tasked with giving Dodgers inside information
PHILADELPHIA -- A crippled Kirk Gibson didn't credit his immortal World Series home run 20 years ago to the kind of bat he swung or shoes he wore.
He credited Dodgers advance scout Mel Didier, who told him in a pre-series scouting meeting that if A's closer Dennis Eckersley had a 3-2 count, he'd throw a back-door slider "as sure as I'm standing here breathing."
Advance scouting might be too much inside baseball for some, like the late Cincinnati Reds owner, Marge Schott, who couldn't understand why her club had so many scouts on payroll.
"All they ever do," said Schott, "is watch baseball games."
Mitch Webster and Ron Rizzi are the Dodgers scouts who have watched the last 16 games of the Philadelphia Phillies. They prepared the scouting report that manager Joe Torre and staff studied on the flight from Los Angeles on Tuesday, and they briefed the players Wednesday.
If this series goes as well for the Dodgers as the National League Division Series did, Webster and Rizzi will certainly be included in general manager Ned Colletti's thank-you list, the way he mentioned Vance Lovelace and Tony Howell for their debriefings on the Cubs.
"We know the Cubs are fastball hitters, but the reports said to give them heaters in fastball counts anyway, and it worked," said catcher Russell Martin. "I'm big on the scouting reports."
Not all players are.
"My scouting report," said Derek Lowe, "is to throw sinkers and hope they hit it at somebody."
Webster and Rizzi went a little more in-depth for those who were interested. Everybody knows about Philadelphia's run producers, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. The Dodgers were told the key to the Phillies' offense are the top two hitters, Jimmy Rollins and former Dodgers farmhand Shane Victorino.
"It's good to get a different perspective and couple that with what you know yourself," Torre said. "To me, especially the recent games, it's important to have their opinions. They've seen the team play in playoff, pressure situations. Maybe a reliever late in the game seems to be a different pitcher than the last time we saw him. I pay a lot more attention to scouting reports in the postseason."
Torre said he digests the entire report, then whittles it down for presentation to the team.
"I want to decide how much the player gets," he said. "I don't want them so caught up in what the other team does."
Advance scouts steal signs, sometimes troll for information from local media, look for any edge. Which baserunners will steal third base? Do they give away intentions by leaning? Does the catcher smother balls in the dirt or are they likely to bounce away and allow a runner a heads-up advance?
Young players tend to pay particular attention to their input, while veterans know the opposition from first-hand observation and often only want vital facts; like when a pitcher is in a crucial count, what pitch does he tend to throw? Like a back-door slider?
While Rizzi is a veteran professional scout, Webster presented for the first time Wednesday, but he was on the receiving end in 1989 with the Chicago Cubs, when they played the Giants, and again in 1995 for the Dodgers, when they played the Reds.
An outfielder, Webster had a 13-year Major League career, coached in the Dodgers Minor League system, then went into scouting amateur players eligible for the Draft in the Midwest. In 2004, he pulled off a remarkable parlay, scouting and signing a pair of first-round picks out of Missouri: infielder Blake DeWitt and pitcher Scott Elbert. This year, both reached the Major Leagues.
After eight years of amateur scouting had "worn me down," Webster moved to the professional side of scouting after this year's First-Year Player Draft. He and Rizzi haven't missed a pitch of a Phillies game the last three weeks.
"We tell them who's hot and who's not," said Webster. "We point out situational tendencies, what a manager or player does in certain counts or game situations. Can I tell them how to pitch? No. They're here. They know what's going on. We're there to help give them an edge."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.