Were the 'fat scouts' right all along?

Over at FanGraphs, Dave Cameron relates Moneyball, scouts, and a newfound emphasis on defense. His big finish:

    The teams that use statistical analysis the most are doing what their scouts have been recommending for years. Stats geeks are validating the insights of scouts. If Lewis was following the game right now, documenting stories from inside a “smart” front office, the tone would have to be dramatically different, even if the point was still the same – good teams spend money on undervalued assets.

    Timing really is everything. That Lewis chose to write the book when on base percentage was undervalued created a division between stats and scouting that simply would not exist if the book was written today. With the new found appreciation for defense and its place in a player’s total value, stats and scouts agree more than they disagree at the moment.

    Perhaps the subtitle for the sequel to Moneyball should be “Why The Fat Scout Was Right All Along”.

Hmmmm. I admire Cameron's reverse-iconoclastic-cum-reactionary impulse here, which at the very least almost always results in an interesting take. But I think in this case it's off base.

Michael Lewis' book took two intellectual tacks: one, that winning without money means appreciating undervalued assets; and two, that objective analysis generally is more useful than subjective analysis. Billy Beane once said -- and honestly, I can't remember if he said this to Michael Lewis, or to me -- something like, "I might be a better general manager if I never watched a single game." The idea being, of course, that our eyes and our emotions can lead to poor decisions, relative to relying on the cold, hard facts. (Another thing Billy Beane has said: "In God we trust; all others must bring data.").

The teams that use statistical analysis the most are not doing what scouts have been recommending for years. For years, scouts have been saying one thing: "Trust us. Because your numbers won't tell you anything worth knowing (and particularly not your numbers about fielding)."

The grizzled, protypical scouts, anyway. And yes, that's a crass generalization. I've met many scouts who are humble and aware of their limitations, and many of today's scouts are perfectly comfortable with sabermetrics. It's not that scouts were right all along. It's that smart teams today have a better idea of when scouts are right, when they're wrong, and when they're still the best option.