Last year, players were not permitted to watch in-game video of their at-bats.
Part of that was a reaction to the Astros sign-stealing scandal and part of it was the pandemic, where Major League Baseball didn’t want groups of players gathering in the video room to watch video during games.
Some players, particularly Cubs shortstop Javier Baez and first baseman Anthony Rizzo, felt not being able to make adjustments using in-game video hurt their performance.
They let MLB know, per ESPN’s Jesse Rogers:
“We did hear from some people multiple times,” MLB executive vice president Morgan Sword said last week. “We understood the frustration. It was one of many disruptions to normal [baseball] life last year.”
“It’s a fine line,” said Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who hit .222 last year. “You didn’t want to make excuses, and there are no excuses, but for 10 years in the big leagues I’ve had access to video. I’m a huge in-game adjuster. Pitch to pitch, at-bat to at-bat.”
While players still won’t be able to gather in ballpark video rooms to watch in-game video, Rogers writes that MLB has come up with a system that will allow players to make those adjustments by watching video on dugout iPads:
Beginning on Opening Day, a player’s at-bat will be uploaded to the iPads in the dugout soon after his plate appearance. To prevent sign stealing, the video will be edited to begin as the pitcher is about to throw the ball.
“The clips don’t start until after the catcher has given the signs,” Sword said.
Each clip will contain a combination of broadcast and MLB-owned cameras that upload the play to the new software program. It is cut at the point after signs are exchanged between catcher and pitcher and sent to the iPad on a half-inning delay. There were discussions about blurring the signs, but this system eliminates them from the equation.
That seems like a good compromise, allowing the player to see the at-bat while eliminating any possibility of sign-stealing.
For Rizzo, that could be a game-changer in 2021:
“That’s great,” Rizzo said when informed of the new technology. “The biggest thing with video for me, I need to see it to make sure I was right [seeing the strike zone], but if I’m wrong, I can make the adjustment right away.”
As for Baez, he felt he was really hurt by not being able to see his at-bats during the game:
By September, J.D. Martinez and Javier Baez were among the star players to go public with their frustrations.
“To be honest, it sucked,” Baez said at the time. “I make my adjustments during the game. I’m really mad that we don’t have it. To be honest, we [the Cubs] didn’t cheat, and we have to pay for all this?”
And now, they won’t. In 2020, Baez had his worst performance since his rookie year in 2014, hitting just .203/.238/.360 (45-for-222) with 75 strikeouts. Similarly, Rizzo’s numbers took a hit in the pandemic-abbreviated season: .222/.342/.414 (45-for-203), though he did hit 11 home runs, which would project to 30 in a full season, about Rizzo’s norm.
If in-game video will help these two Cubs players (and perhaps others on the team) back to their normal level of performance, the 2021 Cubs could have a surprisingly good offense.