20-80 Scale: What Is It And Why Do Scouts Use It?

The 20-80 scale was developed by Branch Rickey and is used as an evaluation system in professional baseball. Scouts grade players using this scale to have a standardized approach to their assessment, making it easier to compare players to one another, and compare prospects to current MLB players.

Professional baseball scouts use the 20-80 scale in a way that mirrors scientific scales. For the 20-80 scale, the median of 50 represents the average MLB player’s abilities in the given category. Every 10 points higher or lower than the average represents one standard deviation away from the average with 80 as the high score and 20 as the lowest.

While there is a scientific component to this evaluation method, there is also a judgemental factor. Scouts use numerical measurements as the base of their scoring, such as throwing velocity, running speed, and bat speed, but also evaluate more arbitrary skills such as a player’s instincts and mechanics.

What Does Each Rating Mean?

The meaning of each number on the scale is summarized in the chart before. 50 is equivalent to the average MLB player’s ability and skill being evaluated. Only a select few players will fall into the top or bottom of the scale. For example, for a player to be considered an 80 Power, it would be expected they are consistently leading the MLB in home runs, and have beyond-elite abilities. There may be only one or two players currently in the MLB that are considered to have 80 Power.

80Best in the MLB, Top of the scale
70Elite, “Plus plus”
60Above average, “Plus”
50MLB average
40Below average
20Worst in the MLB, Bottom of the scale

Scouting reports will commonly have two ratings for every category. A “present” category and a “future category”. The purpose of this is so scouts can evaluate a player at their current or present ability and also evaluate them separately based on how they think their tools will project in the future. Many scouts are evaluating high school and college players that are years away from the MLB. Younger players will mature physically and mentally, and scouts take this into consideration with their ‘future” grades.

For position players, hitting ability and power are two likely categories for younger players to have a wide spread between their “present” and “future” grades. A high school player who has a great swing but is underdeveloped physically may not currently have a lot of power by MLB standards, but a scout can tell that as a player gains strength and overall physical maturity, it is likely their power has the potential to be serviceable in the MLB.

Which Skills Are Rated?

The first determining factor of how prospects are rated is if they are a position player or a pitcher. Position players will be rated on the 5 tools; hitting, power, running, fielding, and throwing. Pitchers will be evaluated based on their specific pitches such as their fastball, curveball, and changeup, while also being evaluated on their overall athleticism, instincts, and presence.

From there, it can vary between scouts and organizations on what exactly is evaluated. Some scouts may only evaluate the 5 tools on a more general and high-level basis, while others may evaluate many subcategories within each of the 5 tools. For example, instead of evaluating a player’s running ability as an all-encompassing measurement, they might have sub-categories such as first step, lateral quickness, and baserunning instincts, evaluating each separately using the 20-80 scale.

Example Scouting Report

The image below is a scouting report of Hall of Famer, Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees. The scouting report was done while Jeter was in high school. Note both the categories that were evaluated as well as the “present” and “future” columns for ratings. For hitting ability, Jeter was rated a “present” 30 grade, and a “future” 50 grade. This means that the scout believed Jeter’s current hitting abilities were well below average compared to the MLB average but projected that Jeter would end up as an average MLB hitter as he would continue to grow and develop his abilities.

It is worth pointing out that the 20-80 scale is only a portion of the overall scouting report and is meant to serve as an initial framework. There is a lot of other information and evaluation that is less absolute and up to the scout’s interpretation. This is important as there is no perfect formula for a player or mix of abilities that are guaranteed to translate to becoming an MLB-caliber player.

Is the 20-80 Scale Still Used?

The 20-80 scale is still the standard scale and is commonly used by MLB scouts. However, scouting has changed with the advancement of technology surrounding in-game performances of players such as exit velocity, spin rate, W.A.R., and many other advanced statistics. Scouting reports are more in-depth now and the traditional 20-80 scale has been expanded on and is used only as a piece of a player’s scouting report. Baseball is one of the hardest sports to scout and as the sport advances, so will the scouting techniques.

College scouts will sometimes use the 20-80 scale as a starting point, but it is not as applicable to their scouting needs. It is more common for college scouts to have their own variation of the 20-80 scale that is tailored toward college baseball and more specifically their level of competition. They will likely be evaluating the same skills and characteristics of a player, just based on a different standard.

Scouting is also a very subjective process, which is a big reason why baseball is such a difficult sport to scout. A player that runs a fast 60-yard dash may not be a good base stealer or might get bad jumps on flyballs. The point is, that there is much more that goes into scouting than just raw ability, and it’s a scout’s job to take in as much information as possible, both quantitative and qualitative, to evaluate a player properly.