Pre-Draft Observation: Thinking About Accuracy

Like most of you, I spent a good amount of the past two months focusing on the football draft.  As in every draft, there are quarterbacks with fantastic raw skills and measurables that have underperformed in college because of accuracy issues.  This would include the Giants’ controversial draft pick, Daniel Jones. Commentators, and even coaches, often claim that these accuracy issues can be fixed once these players have a chance to work on their craft with a team of “professional coaches” in the NFL.

Of course, it doesn’t always work out well.  In my opinion, accuracy is an underrated skill in both baseball and football.  Accuracy does not get talked about often, but it is one of the critical factors that determines success in these sports.

In football, you have to be able to consistently throw a football 15-150 feet into a moving target that is maybe a yard in diameter.  An overthrow or an underthrow can slow down the receiver or result in an incompletion. In the worst case, an inaccurate throw will result in an interception.

In baseball, the target is not moving but it is much smaller than a yard.  Pitches that are off target by mere inches can go from impossible to hit into gopher balls.  Hitting the target consistently is really hard.

The point of all of this is that developing consistent accuracy is really, really critical in both sports. I personally believe that it is an innate skill to a certain extent.  Yes, it can be improved (like speed can) but different players have different ceilings and all the coaching in the world won’t change that.

The interesting thing is that for all the things in baseball that are measured, pitcher accuracy really isn’t.  I don’t know why no one has come up with a measurement showing the distance between where a ball arrives at the plate as compared to the target (the center of the catcher’s glove).  Granted, this would not be easy to do for a number of reasons (including the fact that sometimes catchers move the target to deceive the batter, but the baseball metrics industry has tackled difficult problems before (e.g. defensive ratings) and have found success. I would love to see a stat like “Accuracy Rating” become a common tool that analysts use to help determine a pitcher’s effectiveness.

When we hear about a pitcher that can throw a ball through a wall, with a high spin rate, or with high vertical or horizontal movement, we all get very excited.  Yet for most pitchers, accuracy is where the rubber meets the road. Guys like Greg Maddux, who could paint the corners, are the ones who win consistently even with less than rocket arms.  

All of this is just context for the fans when we get excited about new prospects and dream of 100 MPH fastballs mowing through opposing lineups.  Speed can be important, but we really need to be focusing at least as much on pitcher accuracy as we look at all pitchers. This is especially true when teams are developing and looking to draft young pitchers.