Understanding the 20-80 Scale

After yesterday’s post on the Top-100 Rankings of former TinCaps Max Fried, Austin Hedges, Hunter Renfroe and Matt Wisler, I received an email to the It’s All Relative inbox (Couzens@TinCaps.com) from reader Brian S., a friend of the blog, who wanted to know more about the 20-80 scale mentioned in the article. He writes:

“If I might make a suggestion, it might be worth describing the 20-80 scale a bit more for future publications.  I know Keith Law includes the following:

“I use the 20-80 grading scale in these comments to avoid saying “average” and “above average” thousands of times across the 100 player comments. On that scale, a grade of 50 equals major league average, 55 is above average, 60 is plus, 45 is fringy or below average and so on. Giancarlo Stanton has 80 raw power. David Ortiz has 20 speed. Carlos Gomez is an 80 defender. An average fastball for a right-hander is 90-92 mph, with 1-2 mph off for a lefty.”‘

Great suggestion, Brian.

Bucket hats and visors are not necessary for the job, but a radar gun and a keen eye are.

Bucket hats and visors are not necessary for the job, but a radar gun and a keen eye are.

For more information on the 20-80 scale used by baseball evaluators, I employed the help of a National League scouting executive familiar with the Midwest League. Here’s his breakdown of the system, including some evaluations of two 2013 TinCaps players, Zach Eflin and Hunter Renfroe:


The 20 – 80 scale provides a contextualized framework for comparison in scouting. For decades, it has been ingrained as a scouting industry standard for grading, much like “A – F” has been established in elementary schools. 20 – 80 grades can be digested as ordinal data; by its very nature a 70 is better than a 60, which is better than a 50, so on and so forth.

The most important feature of the scale is that it establishes a clear baseline for Major League Average – 50. As a scout, your ability to comprehend Major League Average and identify/assess what it looks like is of paramount importance. In scouting, the characteristics of an outfielder’s throw or a pitcher’s curveball are best communicated by how they compare to average.

The Major League Scouting Bureau has defined each grade as follow:

80: Excellent

70: Very Good

60: Good

50: Major League Average

40: Below Average

30: Well Below Average

20: Poor

In scouting, we do not solely make an assessment on the overall player, but rather we grade his tools in isolation. This is done to depict a more accurate representation of a player’s abilities. At a minimum, a scout will grade out each of a position players tools – hit, power, throw, field, speed. For pitchers, a scout would assess each pitch type in a repertoire as well as his command of those pitches. As the saying goes, we like to break the player down, before building him back up. There are much more advanced concepts in regards to mechanics, performance, projection, development, but to purely “fill in the boxes” – a scout must be able to assess the tools on a 20 – 80 scale.

Scouting is not the only industry in which the 20 – 80 scale has been adopted. We also see the scale used in the SAT Reasoning Test administered to High School students seeking higher education. Each interval between grades represents a gap of one standard deviation from average, assuming the population approximates a normal distribution.

A key feature of a scouting report is that the tools will be assessed with two values – a present grade, and a future grade. The present grade is traditionally interpreted as how a specific tool would play in the Major Leagues today. Younger players, whom still have development ahead of them, will typically have present tool grades below Major League Average. For example, RHP Zach Eflin’s slider would be graded out as a 40/50. Although it shows glimpses of being a quality breaking ball, present inconsistencies of shape, tilt, spin, and break would lead one to assess it as a present below average slider. With normal development, Eflin should become increasingly comfortable throwing the pitch – mastering it so to speak, and one could envision it developing into Major League Average breaking ball in the future.

The need for development and disparities between present/future grades becomes even more evident with hitters. For example, Tincaps OF Hunter Renfroe demonstrates the swing mechanics necessary to be an above average hitter at the Major League level. That being said, his success in the Major Leagues will depend greatly upon his ability to adjust to more advanced pitching as he escalates through a minor league system. If Hunter were to be promoted to the Major League team today, he may very well be overmatched by the overall quality of Major League pitching. One would be hard pressed to believe that at the current stage of his career, Hunter would be anything better than a below average hitter at the Major League level. While he accrues at bats and slowly becomes introduced to better pitching, Hunter should hone in and improve his skills such as pitch recognition and at bat management. Pair that development with his present tools, and undoubtedly Hunter should have the ingredients necessary to be an above average Major League hitter in the future.


Hopefully that helps you in your understanding of what scouts and talent evaluators mean when they grade a player. The last paragraph of this write-up is the most important one when it comes to understanding and grading the Midwest League, in my opinion. Without a future grade, every player in the Midwest League would seem to be unfit for the Major League Baseball level. When drafting and scouting, it’s finding the ones that have the tools to make it work four or five years down the road that can help a franchise.

That’s it for now. Hope you’re enjoying the weather today, wherever you may be. Here’s what’s going on at Parkview Field:

DJ TinCat, awoken from his winter hibernation, enjoys the Parkview Field snow.

DJ TinCat, awoken from his winter hibernation, enjoys the Parkview Field snow.


Gavin DeGraw…take it away!

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to get in touch, you can reach me at Couzens@TinCaps.com or on Twitter @MikeCouzens.


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