MLB Shutting Down Video Rooms Due to Safety Protocols

This decision comes in the wake of the Astros' sign-stealing scandal but was made because of the league's COVID-19 protocols.
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Team video rooms will be shut down during Major League Baseball games this season, depriving many players of the common habit of reviewing at-bats and pitches in the course of competition.

Major League Baseball shut the rooms over “health and safety concerns,” according to Chris Marinak, MLB Executive Vice president, Strategy, Technology and Innovation. Video rooms typically are designed for group use with multiple computer terminals and monitors in an open setting. Marinak indicated such work stations do not comply with the COVID-19 safety protocols in use this season as part of the 101-page Operations Manual drafted by MLB and the players association.

Every player and staff member will be assigned a personal tablet to use during games. In past years teams shared a few tablets. But the tablets are preloaded with information and video commonly associated with scouting reports and are “locked down” with no connectivity once the game starts. There is no capacity to review at-bats in the course of a game.

The team video room is separate from the operation of video monitors used as part of baseball’s replay review system. Replay will remain in place, though with technological enhancements that offer more angles and more super slo-motion looks immediately. In past years team broadcasters were encouraged to show the super slo-motion replays as quickly as possible. Replay support personnel no longer will need to wait for the best shot to be broadcast. Because of the improved system, the allotted time managers have to call for a replay review has been cut from 30 seconds to 20 seconds.

The in-game use of video rooms has become increasingly popular–and controversial–as technology has grown. Batters will review their at-bats during games to pick up needed mechanical adjustments. Pitchers review the location and movement of pitches. Batters and pitchers review ball/strike calls by umpires. The Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal grew out of the video room, where team data analysts, who frequented the room with players, studied catchers’ signs and developed an algorithm to decode them.

It was because of the Astros’ scandal–and before the pandemic–that MLB considered turning off technology once the game starts. As that idea was considered, J.D. Martinez of the Boston Red Sox told me such a measure would “take our game back 30 years.” Martinez for years has used the video room to study his at-bats during games.

“I think what people don’t get is there is a new generation that revolves around technology and analytics and seeing their swing,” Martinez told me in March. “You’ve seen the swing change revolution. And it’s based off of studying your swing.

“To me studying my swing and making changes, that’s what makes me who I am. I got released doing it the other way.”

Asked for an example of how in-game video helped him, Martinez said, “My whole career! There are times when I’ll go in there and say, ‘Damn, why do I feel jumpy?’ And then I go in and look at my video. ‘I’m not getting into my foot, I’m not getting into my knee, I’m not loading … All right, look at it right there.’

“I go in there and next at-bat it’s like a I’m a completely different hitter. I think taking that away … I’m sure there are some people that are anti-[in-game video]. Those are natural hitters. I’m not a natural hitter. I had to teach myself how to hit. That makes me rely on it and there are similar players out there who feel the same way. Guys that rely on breaking their swing down and seeing what they’re doing wrong. Because it’s hard enough already.”

Marinak indicated that MLB and its clubs did not have enough lead time to build individual review stations or to reconfigure software and security protocols for tablets that might allow in-game review of at-bats.