Red Sox Magazine, Fifth Edition, 2006 | By Bill Nowlin
One of the loneliest jobs in baseball has to be that of the advance scout. Dana LeVangie and Scott Bradley are the two advance scouts for the Red Sox, with former Boston bullpen catcher LeVangie (1997-2004) getting the bulk of the work. LeVangie, a six-year minor league catcher before joining the big league club for bullpen duty, typically travels four to eight days ahead of the team, scouting a team the Sox will face in a couple of series later.
During post-game remarks on more than one occasion during the first half of the 2006 season, Curt Schilling credited the work of the advance scouts in helping formulate the game plan that enabled him to succeed. Of course, Jason Varitek has to call the game and Schilling has to execute, but the game plan is one developed through the combined efforts of a number of people and Schilling was quick with praise on the days when things went well.
Kyle Evans is in his first year as advance scouting coordinator for the Red Sox. A former pitcher with six years of experience in the Indians system behind him, Evans got as far as Double A with Cleveland, but now is a key component of the Red Sox major league effort. Evans is in constant contact with LeVangie and Bradley, but there is by no means a constrained channel of communication. “Dana spends a lot of time on the road watching games and trying to take in as much information as he possibly can, to get something of value to the coaching staff and to the players. He spends a lot of time talking to me, but he talks regularly with Jason Varitek and with [bench coach] Brad Mills, trying to relay what he’s seen. He also talks to Al Nipper quite a bit, on the pitching side.”
LeVangie will talk to quite a few people. With Varitek, though, there’s a special catcher-to-catcher connection. “We’ll talk about every hitter. We’ll go over every hitter. He’ll have his own image of how he’s going to approach them, but I’ll try to sell him on what I have seen at that point.”
Having worked together for years while LeVangie was bullpen catcher for Boston, Varitek has a strong rapport with the scout. “Having been with Dana and having developed a great deal of trust in him and his knowledge of the game…he observes the game so much there’s probably nobody in the advance scouting world that I would trust as much as him.” Varitek explains that his game preparation takes 2 -1/2 to 3 hours prior to each series, beginning with his own player-by-player outline of the upcoming opposition. “I’ll make my notes, then I’ll hear from Dana. I like to have mine done first so we have a comparison of what they’ve seen and what I think. We add in Billy [Broadbent] with the video and the pitching coach’s work and the bullpen coach’s work, and you have a big compiled pool of information.”
Then he sits down and formulates the game plan with the starting pitcher. Sometimes there isn’t a great deal of time to prepare. The Red Sox were in Atlanta for a Sunday night game on June 18, then flew home afterward with the Washington Nationals due in the next evening. “I had to do it the night before. I knew we were going to have a short day. I had to do it all on the plane.” Once a series is underway, preparation for subsequent games in the series can be a 10- or 15-minute review. Of course, game plans are one thing and execution another. The scouting might be dead on, but it all comes down to the pitchers’ strengths: “Who’s on the mound? You can’t always pitch guys certain ways if the guy on the mound doesn’t have that capability. You have to take the information and interpolate and extrapolate it, and come up with a plan.” On a given day, a pitcher might have difficulty, say, locating. “Then you have to mix and match even more, and try and think out of the box a little bit.”
One thing Varitek knows: “Everybody always puts in their work.” That said, though, “They can do their work, and it still comes down to our execution, using the information properly and making on-field and game-time adjustments.”
Says Kyle Evans, “We’re very fortunate to have a guy like Varitek, who takes so much pride in the way he calls the game and how well he knows the opposing hitters. And so we definitely make sure there’s a lot of information there in terms of having an accurate picture of the other hitters’ strengths and weaknesses”. Evans tailors the reports to each recipient, developing different information specific to, for instance, the tasks of the individual coaches. “Each of the coaches gets a scouting report in one form or another. [So do] certain players who definitely take a more active role in terms of scouting the other teams. In Varitek and Schilling, I would say we have two of the most prepared players in the major leagues.”
Evans agrees that there are players that “you wouldn’t recommend trying to go outside of their strengths. That’s one of the biggest things that you have to take into consideration, someone’s ability to execute a scouting plan. That’s why I say it’s a real pleasure to get a chance to do this for someone like Curt. But we take into account everybody we have on the staff. That’s one of the places where there’s so much value in having Tek take an interest in it, because he does have a really good rapport with the pitching staff. Those guys trust him to call a game, and I think it’s a big deal to make sure that he’s prepared in a way that he continues to earn their trust. There aren’t a ton of players running around with a ‘C’ on their jersey. He’s a special player.”
Varitek has the same feeling about proper preparation. He agrees that sometimes a good battery could probably pull it off sometimes without rigorous planning. “You probably can, but I think there’s situations where you might not have your best stuff, you might not be locating as well that day, somebody’s breaking ball isn’t working as well as it normally does…it becomes my safety net. I think it’s a big part of our continued success.”