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What Can You Learn From Staring at a Baseball Player’s Butt?

One of the most memorable passages in Michael Lewis’ Moneyball comes in the chapter “How To Find a Ballplayer.” As the Oakland A’s are preparing for the draft, General Manager Billy Beane and his scouting department debate the merits of doughy college catcher Jeremy Brown. “He’s got big thighs,” one of the scouts says, “a big butt. He’s huge in the ass.” Beane, who’s obsessed with the ample slugger’s ability to take a walk, rebuffs all of these concerns with a simple maxim: “We’re not selling jeans here.”

While the talent evaluators in Moneyball saw Brown’s big booty as a negative and perhaps they were right, as Brown retired after notching a mere 10 at-bats in the big leagues a recent report in Sports Illustrated suggests that baseball scouts have a more nuanced take. In his cover story on Philadelphia Phillies ace Roy Halladay , SI ‘s Tom Verducci writes:

There is an adage among scouts that the shape of a player’s butt helps project what the prospect will become. Kids with flat butts generally don’t fill out much. Kids with a curved butt will add strength to their frame what the scouts call good weight. “Roy looked like he could easily carry another 15 to 20 pounds,” says Mike Arbuckle, who ran the draft for the Phillies then and now is a senior adviser to the general manager in Kansas City.

Is it true that you can divine a ballplayer’s future by looking at his hiney? Chris Buckley, who was a scout for the Toronto Blue Jays when the team signed Halladay out of high school, says he’s not familiar with the butt-curvature school of scouting. Buckley, now the scouting director for the Cincinnati Reds, remembers that Halladay was a tall, lean guy. When you’re scouting a high schooler in particular, Buckley says, you want to assess whether he’ll be able to add weight to his frame. To that end, though, you’re less likely to look at his butt than at the size of his parents if mom and dad are big and tall, junior will have a good chance of growing into his uniform.

Jim Callis of Baseball America, like Buckley, says he’s never encountered any butt-specific scouting. While it’s common to assess how a player carries weight, “I’ve never heard a scout say, He’s got a flat butt, we’re not going to take him ,” Callis says.

Baseball Prospectus’ prospects maven Kevin Goldstein , by contrast, says he has “seen scouting reports with the actual word rump in them.” “A lot of baseball players tend to have big asses,” Goldstein says. And while this “tends to be a pitcher thing,” the boffo backsides aren’t entirely confined to the mound. “[Albert] Pujols has a tremendous rump, and it serves him well,” he notes.

Update, 2:45pm: Another data point: At the 2010 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference , former Texas Rangers manager and current ESPN analyst Buck Showalter reportedly decreed that players with flat butts do not succeed in Major League Baseball.

Update, April 9, 4:20pm: Thanks to the blog Nerd Baseball, we have more of Buck Showalter’s wisdom vis-a-vis the butt’s importance in baseball. “You don’t see a lot of good power hitters or good pitchers that generate arm speed that don’t have a good, high butt on them,” Showalter said on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight . And who, according to Showalter, best exemplifies high-buttedness? Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee. “I don’t want to say he’s got a perfect butt, but when I look at it I say, Wow .”

What do you make of Showalter’s scouting of Lee’s rear? Judge for yourself .