11/16/09 2:00 AM EST
How video is changing baseball
Growing electronic resources are becoming vital to game
By Joe Frisaro / MLB.com
Like so many MLB players, Lee takes advantage of the expanding electronic library that has become such a vital part of the sport.
"You check out the starting pitcher for that day," said Lee, the Cubs power-hitting first baseman. "You can check out your at-bats from the night before to see what you can correct. Sometimes you catch stuff. But most of the time, you are seeing how they're pitching you. When you're not going good, sometimes you will see if your hands are too low or too high, just different things."
The result is immediate feedback.
Video technology has taken off at the big league level over the last five or six years. During the playoffs, TBS analyst, Buck Martinez, made several references to how players use video for scouting purposes as well as observing their techniques.
To keep up with the changing times, the role of team video coordinators also has grown. Improvements in the digital age are making their jobs easier.
In recent years, video progressed from VHS tapes to DVD, and now everything is stored on a computer hard drive.
Over the course of a game, it is common for players to hustle in and out of the video room in the clubhouse to review what just took place on the field.
In the age of the VHS and DVDs, it took more time because the video coordinator had to install each player's tape or disk every time he came to bat. The process included starting and stopping the record button, and the ability to review wasn't as fast. With everything now filed on a hard drive, managing the action has been greatly simplified.
When the season ended, many players took home with them a portable hard drive that was the size of a calculator. On it, was ever play in which they were involved.
As technology improves during the high-definition age, so do the resources for those directly involved in the game.
"When I came up, there was none of this," said Atlanta's Chipper Jones, 37, who made his MLB debut in 1993. "You basically relied on word of mouth from your teammates to get the pitcher's repertoire and what their tendencies might be."
Video technology has been a fixture in every Major League clubhouse for well over a decade, but never like today. Players, coaches and managers rely heavily on video for a wide variety of reasons, ranging from correcting a swing or throwing motion to scouting the opposition.
At a players disposal now is virtually every conceivable piece of action that took place during a game.
More than 20 MLB teams are using the Sydex Sports B.A.T.S. video system, which provides pitch-by-pitch data to each video clip.
"We can basically do now in 15 minutes what it took three days to do," said Marlins video coordinator Cullen McRae, the son of former big league player, manager and coach Hal McRae.
At home or on the road, teams have a video room, which rarely stays empty from the time players arrive until they leave the ballpark.
The Marlins, for instance, have four laptops available for the players and coaching staff. Additionally, the room has a regular TV monitor, plugged into a computer, to offer a larger picture.
During a game, McRae charts everything he sees: hits, outs, pitches thrown, balls blocked in the dirt, pickoff and steal attempts. Name it, it is charted. The plays are logged quickly, with the specifics on what took place. So if Hanley Ramirez collects a single to center field off Joe Blanton in the fifth inning, it is appropriately labeled.
Whereas before, players would view their at-bats on their own customized DVD, now it is on a hard drive.
"When I came up, nobody had video," said Ken Griffey Jr., who broke into the big leagues in 1989. "I'll check it out now and then when I am not swinging the way I want, but I am more of a feel guy.
"I'll also watch it to see what a certain pitcher has, things like that. The game has changed a lot over the years, and that's one of the changes."
Another enhancement is the video comes in a variety of camera angles.
Each batter on the Marlins can see his swing from a side view, as well as the standard angle -- from behind the pitcher -- that is provided during every telecast.
The Marlins converted to the B.A.T.S. system for the first time in 2009, and the program has data on every player dating back to 2006.
"The benefit of this system is everything is at your fingertips," McRae said. "Any possible scenario, whether it's for scouting or watching yourself, any combination. You can get as technical or not as you want."
Within a few clicks of a mouse, players can view every hit allowed this season by a particular pitcher. They can break it down to all his hits surrendered to left-handed batters or right-handed.
McRae adds an "H" to highlight plays. So if outfielder Cody Ross wants to see all of his highlight catches, they are easily registered. Emilio Bonifacio will watch pickoff moves on the opposing pitcher.
Minnesota All-Star catcher Joe Mauer, the American League batting champion, makes it a daily habit to watch video.
"Every day, but not for that long," Mauer said. "Usually I'll look at it to see the next pitcher -- what his release point is or what I've done on a pitcher before, to see if we have any history."
The Brewers also use the B.A.T.S. system. The team has four full-time interns, all with playing experience at some level, who watch and chart every pitch of every Major League game. They are rigorously tested before being hired.
Milwaukee coaching assistant and video coordinator Joe Crawford is in his sixth season with the club. A former left-handed pitcher, he spent 11 seasons in professional ball.
"It's incredible. I can break it down to on the road, against left-handed pitchers, late innings, bases loaded, two-strike counts," Crawford said. "I can filter it down minutely. All of that information has already been inputted, so you can spit it out any way you want."
Players and coaches can watch video pretty much whenever or wherever they want. They view it on airplanes or at home. Many like to leave the game at the park, but in the offseason, players will have all their games logged.
"Yeah, I watch it, but I'm more of a 'dig me' guy," said Brewers slugger Prince Fielder, who travels with DVDs of all his hits. "I don't sit there and look and analyze the pitches. I just like to watch the hits, not the outs. Not the bad stuff. I don't need to see the outs again.
"Whenever I feel I need it, I turn it on and watch a few hundred hits. That always makes me feel good."
Reliever Kevin Gregg, who filed for free agency after a season with the Cubs, is a believer in watching video to see the good and the bad.
"I've done it from Day 1," Gregg said. "There is always something you can learn from the good and bad, because you've got to learn from both.
"The video helps us in multiple facets. It helps us to make sure we're maintaining our mechanics, to repeat them for the entire season. We also use it to watch hitters and do a little scouting of our own. You can see how you pitched guys in the past. This is where I've had success, and this is where I haven't had success. It's made the game a lot smaller. It's made it a little bit easier."
The resources available today are unfathomable to players from past generations. Hall of Famer Tony Perez, a slugger on the Big Red Machine, broke in with Cincinnati in 1964. He didn't even have a hitting coach until Ted Kluszewski -- famous for his raw power and sleeveless shirts -- was hired in the early 1970s.
"I remember in the 1970s, they taped the games, and they gave it to the hitting coach," Perez said. "The hitting coach would show it to you. There was nothing like this."
The common way for hitters in that era to scout players was from talking to their peers.
"When I first came up, I talked with Frank Robinson and some of the older guys who were like me, power hitters. I'd watch them," Perez said. "I did a lot of watching. I watched Willie Mays. You had to be your own man. You didn't have anybody help you through the Minor Leagues. Just the guy who threw BP to you."
The road ahead promises even more enhancements and options.
"The next wave is high-definition to improve the video quality," McRae said. "It will be like watching high definition at home. Everything will be real crisp."
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. MLB.com reporters Adam McCalvy, Jim Street and Kelly Thesier contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.