Technologys effect on baseball is a huge concern for MLBPA head Tony Clark – The Boston Globe

Posted: February 29, 2020 at 11:31 pm

A growing number of current and former Sox players who were with the team that season have already said they dont expect much will be found.

A larger question, one that Clark and his staff have been discussing with players as they tour spring training camps, is how much of a role technology should play in the game beyond the outsized influence it already wields.

The Astros cheating scandal that has roiled the sport is a byproduct, however unintentional, of baseballs embrace of high tech.

Under former general manager Jeff Luhnow, the Astros used data to change how they scouted, developed, and utilized players. Scouts were fired in favor of making decisions purely on the numbers. High-speed cameras and remote monitoring replaced boots on the ground.

Emotion was taken out of the equation.

That a large group of Astros players was comfortable using live video to be more efficient at stealing signs shouldnt have come as much of a surprise. They played for an organization that apparently was lacking a moral compass from the top down.

Weve seen technology boom in a way that our industry never has here in the last 10 years, Clark said. The culture that its created, and thats been allowed to be created left unchecked, is manifesting itself in ways that a number of us had concerns about, were interested in talking about, and now we found ourselves on the doorstep of what I hope are those exact conversations.

Clark and commissioner Rob Manfred are discussing how best to limit the access players have to live video during games, and those rules are expected to be in place for Opening Day.

My suggestion a few weeks ago was to ban it entirely during games. MLB may not go that far, but there certainly will be much tighter restrictions.

The changes that we anticipate making and working on with the league, we hope it lends itself to there not being a conversation about sign stealing moving forward, Clark said.

But Clarks concerns, and those of many players, go beyond sign stealing.

Baseball clearly needed a replay system to correct egregiously blown calls, but now games are delayed to determine whether a base runners leg came ever so slightly off the bag while a glove was on him.

Managers also ask for calls to be reviewed late in games for no good reason other than that they have a challenge left.

That wasnt the spirit of the rule when it was implemented.

From the unions perspective, technology also is changing how players are paid. Pitchers are prized for their spin rate and batters for exit velocity, metrics that couldnt be measured until a few years ago.

Statistical analytics were a better way to parse the results, but they never damaged the product on the field. If anything, they helped make it more interesting because we could better understand the value of players.

But the technology revolution has changed the game, creating a generation of young hitters consumed with getting the ball in the air and pitchers who value velocity far more than creativity.

A series of strikeouts interrupted by an occasional home run isnt particularly enjoyable. Strikeouts have increased by 14.4 percent in the last five years.

Managers certainly arent powerless in all of this. But their job is increasingly focused on maintaining clubhouse harmony while the analytics staff prepares game plans.

Any manager who resists the data wont be around for long.

I think our entire industry has been affected by technology and the atmosphere and considerations around efficiency, Clark said. I think it has been on and off the field affected in a way thats not necessarily beneficial to anybody.

The Red Sox, as an example, use portable devices to monitor every bullpen session and batting-practice swing. Thats smart; they should know everything they can about their players.

In theory, that information is used to improve performance. But its also used as a tool to determine a players physical ability and, in turn, his value. Should the players and the representatives have access to that information?

These issues will all be part of the discussions for the next collective bargaining agreement.

I think it spans every aspect of our industry, Clark said.

Sign stealing can be fixed by turning off some monitors. How baseball gets fixed, or at least improved, wont be as easy.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.

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Technologys effect on baseball is a huge concern for MLBPA head Tony Clark - The Boston Globe

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