The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Nationals trying out iPads in the dugout

Pitching coach Mike Maddux, left, bench coach Chris Speier, center, and Manager Dusty Baker watch Wednesday’s game from the dugout. (John McDonnell / The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

Just before the season, Major League Baseball announced a partnership with Apple to provide iPad Pros to all 30 teams pre-loaded with the MLB Dugout app. MLB also lifted the ban on laptops, tablets and smartphones in the dugout. The app, which is pre-loaded with proprietary data collected by each team, allows players and coaches to quickly look through data or video on opposing pitchers and hitters. According to league rules, they can’t be connected to the internet during games.

The use of the iPads is optional and the Nationals are trying them out. Manager Dusty Baker said the Nationals have the iPad sitting on a table in the dugout near the bench, where players or coaches can quickly access it. But they have still been using the traditional binders of printed scouting reports and spray charts, too.

“We’re still, and baseball is still, experimenting with it to see if it’s valuable or not,” Baker said.

Previously, if a pinch hitter entering the game wanted to see video on opposing reliever, he had to run into the clubhouse to watch videos. Clint Robinson said former Nationals backup outfield Reed Johnson kept his iPad in the tunnel leading to the clubhouse so players didn’t have to go as far. But now, they have a league-provided iPad within reach.

“It’s the same idea [as before],” second baseman Daniel Murphy said. “You just don’t have to walk down the stairs.”

“They’re right there on the bench, which helps,” Baker added. “It’s not like they’re running downstairs. There’s nothing like paying attention to the game. I don’t know who is supplying them. It wasn’t my idea. I’m just going along with it to see if it’s viable or not.”

Robinson said he hasn’t tried the new iPad but could find it useful. Sometimes, however, players prefer to rely on their experience even if video is only a few feet away.

“If it’s a guy that I know absolutely nothing about, I’ll probably watch just to see what pitches he has,” Robinson said. “But other than that, it never seems to go my way. What they do, their patterns they see in video, it seems to go the opposite way. So I pretty much just stick to the see it and hit it.”

Murphy likes to watch video of opponents but prefers the most recent footage of a pitcher, which is hard to do early in the season with only a handful of games’ worth of video available.

“Some of the video we have is good but it’s maybe from last year,” Murphy said. “As we get into the season, I’ll most certainly use it more because I have a recency bias with the pitcher I’m facing. The last couple of appearances. And I don’t personally care as much about my at-bats against them. I’m more concerned about what they’ve done recently.”

Before a game, Baker still writes out his notes about an opponent, such as their numbers against his players, on his pocket scorecard. The Nationals’ advanced scouting reports tell him everything from an opposing catcher’s speed at throwing the ball to second base, right- vs. left-handed match-ups and what relievers are good or bad with inherited runners. Baker believes he memorizes the information by writing it down pre-game, instead of simply relying on an iPad of information.

“When I played, you had to go on your memory,” he said. “If you didn’t remember, you weren’t a very good player. Because by the time you remembered, you’d be 0 for 2 already. You gotta have total recall, period. That’s one thing that we’ve got to do with a combination of the modern technology because it’s very valuable but you’ve got to have total recall on your own. And I write things down because, once I write it down, I have it in my head and my brain.”