Here’s Why Javy Báez Was Particularly Hampered by Lack of In-Game Video
Among all qualified hitters in 2020, only one posted a wOBA lower than Javier Baez‘s .257 and only two had wRC+ tallies lower than Javy’s 57. Gold Glove defense offset overall offensive production FanGraphs scored as the worst in MLB to buoy the shortstop’s performance to a 0.0 fWAR. The stats tell us Báez was, at best, a replacement-level player.
But stats don’t always tell the whole story, which is certainly the case here. I don’t mean that Javy’s anemic numbers were some kind of mirage and that he actually had an okay season at the plate. Heck, even his magical baserunning graded out negatively for the first time in his career. What couldn’t be seen, literally, was the impact of eliminating in-game video as part of the league’s COVID-19 protocols.
“To be honest, it sucks,” Báez said back in September, indicating other players felt the same. “I make my adjustments during the game. I watch my swing. I watch where the ball was, where the contact was. I’m really mad that we don’t have it.”
Fair warning: If you are someone who scoffs at this notion and feels tempted to offer a rebuttal that “Player X never needed video,” you may want to go ahead and stop reading now. What am I saying, you never even made it this far.
Eno Sarris has an excellent piece over at The Athletic laying out how and why the lack of video had a disproportionately negative impact on players like Javy and Christian Yelich. It’s not a singular culprit, aided and abetted as it was by more frequent pitching changes and the disrupted cadence of a normal season, but the inability to consume and digest as much information as possible was absolutely a factor in what ended up being a down year for several big names.
“I know a lot of players are struggling, too,” Báez added. “A lot of stars are struggling. I’m just one more. But the way that it is is not the way we play baseball. I need video. I need video to make adjustments during the game. It don’t matter who’s there to watch us. It don’t matter if we have all the police that MLB wants to send over here.
“We need video back. I’m one of the guys. I’m going to keep trying to bring it back because we need it and I make adjustments with it.”
Even if the folks who need to hear this actually heeded the above suggestion, I do think it’s important to address the idea that Javy or other players “need” in-game video when so many others in the past did well without it. Comparing hitters across eras can be problematic in general, but dismissing this particular facet is like saying your grandfather was a better driver because he didn’t have power steering. Do you honestly believe Ted Williams or Tony Gwynn wouldn’t have loved breaking down opposing pitchers and their own mechanics in real-time?
Sticking with power steering or any other ubiquitous technology we take for granted, think about what happens when you lose it. People flip out when the wifi isn’t working on a cross-country flight or when the Marquee Sports Network app refuses to recognize that you are an in-market subscriber. The point is that it can be difficult to adjust when something on which you depend is taken away.
Sarris points out that both Báez and Yelich “have fairly large leg kicks and intricate loads,” which means their timing is more susceptible to flaws. Even the slightest hitch or hesitation in their mechanics can throw that timing off, but those things might not be evident to the naked eye or the intuition of an elite performer. That’s where video becomes so important.
Sure, it’s also great for spotting pitchers’ tells or picking up various grips and spins, but even the most consistent mechanics fall prey to unintentional tweaks from time to time. Being able to review video can tell a player whether he’s doing something different or whether what they felt on a given swing or in an at-bat matches up with what actually happened.
This actually ties back to a recent conversation about launch angle and how the goal isn’t to aim for a particular number. Rather, it’s about crafting a swing that will yield the best results and then getting the player intimately familiar with how that swing feels. In layman’s terms, it’s establishing muscle memory. Ah, but sometimes memories can lie.
Working with my son and other youth hitters has taught me the value of using video as a tool, particularly when it comes to creating that feel. With my son in particular, it’s typically a matter of proving to him that what he perceived to be proper mechanics were actually anything but. I’ll offer a critique, he’ll argue with me that what he did felt right, I’ll counter with video evidence. Check and mate.
While there are some very obvious differences between a 12-year-old and a pair of MVP-caliber players, the fact of the matter is that none of them can perfectly assess their swings without help from video. Between the noted timing issues from above, increasing specialization of pitchers, and various other circumstances from the 2020 season, it’s easy to see why some players struggled more than others.
The flip side is that it’s easy to believe some of those same players will bounce right back in 2021 given the return of in-game video. Of course, we’re still likely to see teams using record numbers of pitchers during games played in empty stadiums, so the resumption of normalcy may not be without hiccups.