Siberian Baseball

Monday, June 09, 2008

If they won't allow a suit, what are the chances you'll see a laptop in a dugout?

The Chicago Cubs announcers sparked my curiosity Friday night when they touched on a subject that's been troubling me for some time now - what's the big deal with a little technology in a major league dugout?

They spoke a bit that evening about the need for Lou Piniella to leave the dugout during the previous night's game to talk to the umpires and check on the status of his bullpen when the phones at Dodger Stadium went down and cut the line of communication between the dugout and the bullpen.

The announcers - Len Kasper and Bob Brenley - dipped into the rules behind the communication breakdown:

Kasper: "I guess it wouldn't ring in the pen and they were trying to find out - I think it was Marmol at the time - if he was ready.

"Now, this is an interesting point, but some may wonder, 'Why didn't somebody just get on a cell phone or text message?' You can't have any sort of communication device anywhere in that dugout, right? Other than the official phone that goes from the bullpen to the dugout?"

Brenley: "That's correct and on occasion if the phone does go down, they've allowed teams to use walkie talkies."

Awesome. If a technology from the 1870s breaks down, they let you use one from the 1930s. Who says baseball is afraid of change?

This only furthered a question I've been kicking around since the beginning of the season - with so much being done in terms of statistics and probability in baseball, why don't you ever see a laptop in a major league dugout? While I'm sure there are plenty of managers who would bristle at the mere thought of some snot-nosed stathead e-mailing him mid-game to tell him what to do with his bullpen, when he'd rather rule with his gut, there'd be at least one manager open to having that information at his fingertips, right? Doesn't this seem like something Joe Maddon would try? He's got hipster nerd glasses, after all.

After a minimal amount of digging, I had an answer in the form of a Popular Mechanics article from four years ago. Jim Kaat of all people wrote for the magazine, pointing out the new technologies in baseball for the year.

Not surprisingly, there are reams of paper in countless binders in each major league dugout to keep track of matchups on the field. In a slightly more sophisticated variation on the time-honored tales of pitchers who keep notes after every inning from college through the major leagues, the binders give managers extra information at a (few) moments notice.

All the information packed into that loose-leaf binder is gathered by a team's scouts and outside scouting services such as Inside Edge Scouting Services of Minneapolis, MN. Managers can check not only the history of a particular hitter/pitcher matchup, they can break it down to the fine details such as what kinds of pitches were thrown, which ones were hit and to where. Some of the reports available from Inside Edge include Hitter Profiles (hot zones, chase zones and power zones), Hitter By-Count (performance on each count), Hitter 1st Pitch and Pitcher Profiles (pitch selection on each count).

Know what else would do that? A laptop computer.

To no one's surprise, MLB hesitates to allow laptops in the dugout to allow faster access to the same information found in the binders - presumably printed from a computer out of sight 15 feet away.

Hey, for a league that is tearing through wooden bats like they were toothpicks at the cash register in a diner, I'm guessing they don't sweat wasting a little paper.

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