Cubs breaking it all down on video

Cubs breaking it all down on video
April 3, 2012, 4:20 am
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MESA, Ariz. The Cubs have installed cameras in their minor-league stadiums. Theres the angle from center field, but you can still pan and zoom in and watch it from anywhere on your laptop.

One team official called it Spycam, and laughed when it was suggested that it sounded like Big Brother. This will be real-time video on the Web, and prospects should know that the Cubs will be watching during early work.

Long before luring Theo Epstein out of Boston, Cubs executives had been obsessed with the Red Sox model. But, on some level, its almost like theyre getting the New England Patriots.

The video doesnt lie, utility man Jeff Baker said. Its like football. If youre doing something wrong, its going to show up on the tape on Monday when you look at (Sundays game).

Epstein has quoted one-liners from NFL wiseguy Bill Parcells, and sounds Bill Belichick secretive when he says he cant talk about proprietary information. The Cubs president of baseball operations wants to give his coaches and players every possible tool to find an edge.

Its important to establish a culture of preparation, Epstein said. There are a lot of wins out there available through advance scouting and preparation. Youd be foolish not to go after them as hard as you can.

The Cubs hired two advance scouts in Adam Melhuse and Kyle Phillips, who both played catcher in the big leagues. They added Kyle Evans, a former Red Sox professional scout, as the assistant director of video and advanced scouting. Evans is training another young scouting assistant, Bobby Basham, to round out the department.

We adopted the same two-man rotating advance team that we had in Boston, Epstein said. Most teams have either no advance scouts on the road or one. But when you have one advance scout on the road, theres a risk of becoming kind of isolated and that advance scout never gets any face time with the manager or coaching staff or players. Hes simply an e-mailed report in and its really easy for that information to get ignored.

But if you have two, then they can rotate, bring the information with them, connect in person and in the clubhouse (and) make adjustments (and) be more accountable. Its a luxury.

To be clear, almost every team in baseball uses some version of the B.A.T.S. video system. The Cubs implemented a video system almost 10 years, a source said, and began taking it on road trips in 2008.

But there will be upgrades, like the additional work stations in the Wrigley Field clubhouse. Where last year the Cubs processed video of all National League games, this season they will feed in every game in the majors.

The bill for the actual Opening Day roster should come in under 90 million (though the actual major-league payroll figures to be over 110 million, in part because of the money owed to Carlos Zambrano, Carlos Pena and Carlos Silva).

The fans waiting for a big splash last winter didnt get one. But there are many ways to divide an overall budget for baseball operations, including manpower and technology.

Were in the process of revamping what we do video-wise, general manager Jed Hoyer said, and making sure we get a lot more major-league (and) minor-league video. Now we have a staff that can sort of handle that and process it.

(If) we start talking about payrollthis probably was the smallest front office in baseball and weve really done a lot to try to increase staffing. Some of thats initial investment and over time that will go away. But we did feel like things like game preparation was something we had to spend the money to really get up to speed.

The Cubs have distributed video cameras to their amateur and international scouts to use each time they go to a game. So they will now be juggling a radar gun, a scouting report and a video camera, all of which can be rolled into the new Bloomberg computer system.

We have this progression of film, said Jason McLeod, the senior vice president of scouting and player development. We can see if anythings changed. We just keep adding onto it. Its all part of like the history of the player.

We can see if youre struggling: Well, look, now hes holding his hand down here and hes striding open. He wasnt doing that earlier in the year, because we have that footage (when) he was up here and he was closed off.

We can see everything. Its just another tool to get added information.

Dale Sveum does not look like a computer geek. He rides motorcycles and has tattoos on his arms and stubble across his face.

But Cubs executives identified Sveum as a top managerial candidate, in part, because he could break down video and had shown fluency in statistical analysis years ago as a Red Sox third-base coach, focusing on spray charts and defensive positioning.

Its almost like cheating the way they have it down to be able to advance the other team, Sveum said. You can see black and white where guys weaknesses (and) strengths are. You can put data to video instead of just watching (it). Its cheating that the Cubs havent had before (and) a lot of other teams have had.

Its very important for players to be able to witness it by seeing it on video as opposed to a coach saying, OK, hey, go play over here.

Sveums face may be plastered across billboards, but he doesnt plan to let the jobs external demands get in the way of teaching. He still plans to sit next to his players in the video room, as if he was still the Milwaukee Brewers hitting coach.

I got all the time in the world, Sveum said. The games three hours and I meet with (the media) for 10, 15 minutes a day and the rest of my job is when I see things or teaching factors of the game. Thats just the way I am. Im more hands-on, whether its hitting fungoes or throwing batting practice. Its just something I do and have always done.

Sometimes when you can see it instead of hear it it helps a lot, like: Wow, I had no idea it was that blatant of a stat. Or when you can look at a grid like: Joe Blow, man, wow, 90 percent of every ball he throws is away. So you put that into play in your head when you walk up to the box: OK, I just saw this, I dont have to worry about anything inside.

This doesnt make the Cubs the smartest guys in the room. But it was an area targeted from the start of the Epstein administration. Spring training ends Tuesday, so its time to press play.

Its great to read scouting reports, (but) the best tool we have is our eyes, pitcher Ryan Dempster said. Videos always been a big part for me. I believe strongly in it. Its nice to see that were taking the next level with it, and, hopefully, the results will come.