CLEVELAND -- Shortly after Indians fans watch Travis Hafner's at-bats on television, Hafner watches them, too. "I always watch all of my at-bats to look for mechanical things," Hafner said, "to see if the pitches were the location that I thought they were." And Hafner, the Indians designated hitter, is able to do that watching because of Bob Chester and Frank Velotta.
Chester and Velotta spend their days in a small video room located between manager Eric Wedge's office and the Indians' aerobics room. And it doesn't matter the season. Whether the baseball season has just ended and sight of Jacobs Field inspires reflection, or it's the dead of winter and it seems as though the stadium will be forever lifeless, the two men are down in the video room compiling video. Since the 1996 season, Chester and Velotta have been working together, and the work they do is essential to the success of the team. But they don't get a lot of accolades. "A lot of people don't even know this exists," Velotta said. But the Tribe players are grateful. Most of them stop by Chester and Velotta's office before every game to watch video of themselves and opposing players. "Usually, when you first get to the park, you'll watch 10 minutes to a half hour of video," Hafner said. "Most of the time, I've seen video on all the pitchers we're facing before the game." During the games, Hafner watches the videos from a convenient location behind the Cleveland dugout, but Chester and Velotta do get some in-game company. "If a reliever or pitcher comes out of the game," Velotta said, "they'll come up here to look at stuff." Typically, when players study video, they are looking for weaknesses in their approach or exploitable trends in the opposition. Whether it's scouting the opponent or basically scouting themselves, Chester said players are looking for any way to get an edge. But not every player regards video as a valuable tool. Jason Michaels is new to the league, and he is largely unfamiliar with American League pitchers, but he's no video hound. "Video doesn't tell you the true story," Michaels said. He said if he hasn't faced a pitcher, video won't tell him much about the pitcher. But pitcher Paul Byrd might differ with Michaels on this point. Byrd said opposing hitters, thanks to video, are quicker to make adjustments these days. Unlike Michaels, Byrd watches a great deal of video, but he knows that hitters around the league are studying him as much as he's studying them.
"Hitters know everything about you," he said. "They have it down to a science where they know that 83 percent of the time you'll throw a fastball [in certain counts]."
Certainly, Chester and Velotta are major proponents of video, but Chester warns that there is such a thing as overkill.
"The most effective players are the ones who incorporate it into their routines, but don't overuse it," he said. "You can get paralysis by analysis."
Just as an amateur psychologist might begin doubting his own mental health, players who watch too much video run the risk of finding flaws that don't exist.
Players can maximize the benefits of the video room if they maintain a consistent approach to their viewing. When slumping, they shouldn't scrutinize tapes until their eyes become red, and they shouldn't stop in for a highlight reel during a hot streak.
Chester and Velotta said center fielder Grady Sizemore spends just the right amount of time analyzing video. Sizemore doesn't spend endless amounts of time watching and dissecting his approach. He spends between five and 10 minutes before every game studying his swing and the approach of opposing pitchers.
He watches enough video just to stay fundamentally sound, and the guys in the video room compare Sizemore's approach to that of a former Indians hitting machine -- Manny Ramirez.
If anyone has to overdo video, hitting coach Derek Shelton would be the person. Shelton has to do everything he can to make sure the players have sound swings. So when the Indians are on the field, he's behind the scenes, re-watching his players' at-bats from the multitude of angles the guys in the video room provide.
"He's a staple during the game," Velotta said. "He'll watch every one of his hitters' at-bats."
And when Shelton discovers something in the video, he'll often present the case to his hitter with the aid of a split screen that Chester and Velotta have prepared.
"We'll show a good outing versus a poor one," Velotta said, "and they'll break it down frame by frame, and look at exactly where the mechanics are breaking down a little bit."
A split-screen session with Shelton helped Jhonny Peralta a lot recently. The video revealed a tiny change in the way a slumping Peralta was approaching the ball, and after proper diagnosis, Shelton offered a remedy. In that night's game, Peralta had two hits.
"For us, since we can't see a game outside," Chester said, "we can get energized from that."
: : : This Edition: May 17, 2006 : : :
Joseph Gartrell is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.