Pete Gaglio captures every pitch and at-bat during the Mud Hens’ games on video. Players can review the video during games. THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH
Pete Gaglio has worked with the Mud Hens for three seasons, and he has yet to watch a single home game in person.
Gaglio has not watched a game except on television, seated in the video room of the Toledo clubhouse.
“This cave [in the Mud Hens clubhouse] is the only place where I’ve ever seen a game,” Gaglio said with a smile. “I make my way out of here for some sun during batting practice, but that’s about it.”
That does makes sense, though, since he is the team’s video coordinator, a relatively new position in baseball. Especially in the minor leagues.
During games, Gaglio watches the contest as carefully as manager Larry Parrish. He charts every pitch, noting what type of pitch was thrown and whether it was inside or outside, low or high.
He also has to chart the result of each pitch: whether or not the ball was hit, where it lands on the playing field, how the defense reacted, and whether the batter was out or safe.
Gaglio even marks throws to the bases by both pitchers and catchers.
Why? His work over the past three seasons has created an archive of game footage and a database of information that the Mud Hens and Tigers can use to analyze players.
That’s a long-term use.
During a game, a pitcher can come to the clubhouse between innings and watch his pitching form or judge if his pitches are balls or strikes — or even see if the umpire is correctly calling balls and strikes.
Batters may wander in and out of Gaglio’s room while others are at the plate to watch specific at-bats. They can watch the opposing pitcher’s pitches, see where a catcher sets his target, or analyze their own swings.
“This is one of the few places in the minor leagues where players can come in right after an at-bat and look at the video of their swings,” Gaglio said.
When Gaglio started in 2012, roughly half the teams in the International League had someone filling a similar role. Few teams are creating a video database as thorough as the Tigers and Mud Hens do.
“I am in the minority in that I travel and do road games,” Gaglio said. “For a lot of major-league teams, the people who do this job are doing an internship, and I am a full-time Tigers employee.
“What is extremely unique is that there is a video room [in the clubhouse] of this ballpark. And thanks to BCSN and the video feed they have here, this is as close to a major-league setup as you will find in minor-league baseball.
“Most places have to use hand-held cameras, and they don’t have it available until the next day.”
After the game, Gaglio downloads each contest — the video, as well as his charts on each pitch and play — to a server, and that work can be accessed by the Tigers’ front office.
Detroit’s braintrust then can use it to evaluate Mud Hens players, which could prove helpful in determining big-league promotions, as well as a scouting archive of potential Tigers opponents.
In short, Big Brother is watching. And both players and coaches love it.
Derek Hankins was off to a shaky start against Louisville on July 19.
The Toledo starter had allowed only one run in the first three innings, but the Bats had traffic all over the bases thanks to two hits and three walks.
After the third inning, Hankins and pitching coach Al Nipper talked about an adjustment.
“I watched the video, and I talked to ‘Nip,’ and we agreed that I was drifting out of my wind-up,” Hankins said. “My hand was lagging behind, and I was throwing pitches palm-first.
“I made the adjustment, got more hip tilt, and threw more downhill, and the results were there.”
Starting in the fourth inning, Hankins retired 10 straight Louisville batters on the way to seven strong innings of work.
“If you can go into the [video room] and see it, that’s the first step toward feeling [an adjustment],” Hankins said. “ ‘Nip’ is a good set of eyes who has been around the game forever, so I trust him.
“Now it’s a situation where he says it, you can see it, then make the adjustment and go.”
While the veteran right-hander cautions against over-reliance on video, he certainly sees the benefits.
“This is the only place where I’ve had video [available] in-game,” Hankins said. “You can come in and watch every pitch, every at-bat, every inning.
“You have to be careful, though, and not try to dissect too much. Sometimes it has to be ‘see-ball, hit-ball.’ But it’s also nice to be able to make the adjustment after watching the video.”
A tool for coaches
Kyle Lobstein struggled in his first five starts for the Mud Hens this season, allowing 32 hits in just 20 2/3 innings to suffer three losses with a bloated 7.84 ERA.
It was a far cry from his 6-3 record and 3.48 ERA in 13 starts for Toledo last season. Thanks to Gaglio’s work, the young lefty and the Hens coaching staff was able to spot a difference between the two seasons.
“We compared last year’s video to this year’s, and you could see he wasn’t getting his shoulders tilted the same way,” Parrish said.
“So we could show him, fix it in a couple of bullpen sessions, and he has pitched a lot better since.”
The adjustment proved immediately successful, as Lobstein didn’t allow a run in his next two starts, and he has posted a 7-7 record and 3.35 ERA since.
Parrish said there are times using video is a better aid for coaches than it is for players.
“It’s helpful, but only if you know what you’re looking for,” he said.
“You have to know what you’re looking for and how to find it, so you can see the things you are looking for.”
One way the Mud Hens have started using the video is to better position its defense against opposing hitters.
“[The video] helps you keep a spray chart, to mark where a hitter hits the ball,” Parrish said. “Now you can go right on the computer and print where a guy hits the ball on the ground and in the air.
“And it’s like reading a weather chart: If the area is green, the batter hits it there sometimes, but if it’s red, the batter hits it there a lot.”
Parrish said the increased use of video has spurred a new development: Teams, especially at the major-league level, use those spray charts to position the defense in unusual ways, such as posting three players on one side of the infield when facing notorious pull hitters such as Boston’s David Ortiz.
“All they are doing is taking that information that is out there — and there is more here than there is in Triple-A — and using it to position the defense,” Parrish said.
Gaglio became a video coordinator by accident — in short, he was in the right place at the right time.
“I worked in the Tigers clubhouse in the spring of 2011, and I returned to Detroit in April,” said Gaglio, who began his career in sports by working in the equipment room at Michigan State. “Shortly after the season started, the video coordinator for Toronto’s Lo-A team in Lansing was fired.
“They were looking for someone to take over, and I lived in Lansing at the time. After a crash course in training — someone worked with me for five days — I took over the job.”
The next season the native of Port Huron, Mich., started working with the Mud Hens. In now his third season with the team, he has seen his workload expand to road games, which can be a hit-or-miss proposition.
“You’re at the mercy of the video you get — and some places have no TV feed,” Gaglio said.
“In Syracuse, for example, I set up my own camera behind home plate.”
Gaglio’s responsibilities also include taping pregame workouts such as bullpen sessions by pitchers as well as swings by hitters during batting practice.
Gaglio said it is not hard to see the use of video in baseball expanding to improve scouting at all levels.
“I think instant replay is making video a bigger thing, and with the development of ‘sabermetrics’ the two are becoming intertwined,” Gaglio said. “In the big leagues, the video coordinators also do a lot of advanced scouting to combine the scouting reports with video.
“You could also expand the use of video in scouting in the Dominican Republic or Venezuela, and you could use it with Winter League games — a lot of those games are on TV.”
Gaglio said he enjoys his role in using video to help the organization he grew up rooting for.
“I enjoy getting to know guys and being a part of the team,” he said. “When I work with video, I know I’m doing something to help players improve.
“It’s very gratifying that the work I’m doing has a value to the organization.”