Players will be reunited with a tool that many consider vital in 2021, with Major League Baseball restoring access to in-game video this season.
The video access will be on the same dugout iPads that hold video archives of players on opposing teams for scouting purposes. But whereas those iPads had to be preloaded with video before games and could not be updated with any in-game videos in the past, this season, MLB’s Central Office will cut and supply video during the game so players can review prior at-bats from that contest.
Before 2020, players would have access to in-game footage that had been curated by a team employee in a clubhouse video room — often the same one where a video replay monitor could watch a live in-game feed from several angles to make determinations about whether to challenge calls on the field. The proximity of video terminals for reviewing at-bats from a game in progress to the live replay feed came under scrutiny prior to the 2020 season, when MLB investigations found that both the Astros and Red Sox had used replay feeds to steal opponents’ sign sequences.
As part of the COVID-19 protocols for the 2020 season, the use of communal video terminals in clubhouses was banned. Without access to video on dugout iPads, players who had become reliant on in-game video — notably including Red Sox slugger J.D. Martinez — lost a tool they considered crucial.
This year, while the prohibition on clubhouse video terminals remains in place, the iPads will allow players to have access to review the contest. Meanwhile, the decision to have MLB cut the video will allow the league to prevent catcher signs from appearing.
“For COVID protocol reasons, the video rooms are not an option again,” said MLB executive VP of baseball operations Morgan Sword. “It’s good for COVID [prevention] to have people in open-air watching video and it allows it also to be totally centralized and MLB-controlled, which is a positive, too.”
Players will be able to review at-bats from multiple angles – including the front (center field) angle that, in the past, could have been used to identify catcher signals. But MLB will clip the videos to start after the sign is given so players can review, for instance, their swings or the shape of the pitch but without what finger or sequence of fingers catchers are using to call for specific pitches.
“We’re not going to blur the signals out,” Sword said. “There’s a little window of time there after the sign is given where you still get the full pitch but you don’t actually see the sign.”
There will be some small period of time between the conclusion of an at-bat and its availability on dugout iPads, but Sword said it is expected to be available to hitters “pretty close to after an at-bat ends.”
While MLB had wanted to make sure in the past that dugout iPads could not be updated in games — in part because of concerns about the potential to communicate in-game sign and sign-sequence information — the league now feels confident that such nefarious possibilities can be prevented with the league-supplied tablets.
”Our IT folks, who are much smarter than I am, have assured me that we are opening up connectivity solely for the purpose of downloading video and accessing this one program that we’re putting on there,” Sword said. “You’ll be kind of locked down.”
Even so, while texts, e-mails, and other forms of communication won’t be possible, the opportunity to review prior at-bats will return — a prospect heartening to players who have become accustomed to reviewing every at-bat almost as soon as its completion.
“I’ve said a million times, [video is] part of [a] routine, and it’s something that kind of just got taken away from me,” Martinez said last month. “I’m excited that this year we’re going to have it back in a sense, some kind of video where we can look at our swings. So I’m looking forward to getting back to somewhat normal baseball during these crazy times.”