Over the Top or to the Side?

An interesting article  discussing the advantages showing baseball games from a dead center view compared to the status quo view from just to the left of the pitcher came up in Slate magazine today (Thursday, as I wanted to add more to this before posting it).  While the article acknowledges some reasons for keeping the status quo, I think it really sells those ideas short, leaning definitely to a Boston Red Sox/NESN bias — The Red Sox are one of three teams to employ the “dead center” camera angle as their primary camera during pitches.

Images from ESPNmediaZone

As pictured to the left, you can see the initial angle offered by ESPN in 2001.  While the angle does offer a better view of the corners and horizontal translation of the pitch, it also takes away the angle of the height and definitely decreases the zoom tremendously.  In the traditional dead center camera offered by ESPN, all you were changing is which angle you see clearly.  In the traditional off center look, the corners and horizontal translation aren’t totally clear.  With the dead center look, you lose the height of the pitch.  The pitch around the knees looks much lower now.  The pitch at the letters looks more like at the belt.  The Red Sox have tried to compensate for the angle by positioning their camera slightly lower (see screen grab below).  The problem here is that I can’t even see the plate.  While I gain the pitch definition, with the right overly tall pitcher (Randy Johnson at 6′ 10″ comes to mind), I’ll have no idea if it is a strike or not.  How is that helping the fan?

blocking plate

Also, looking at this same screen grab on the right, you have to wonder how much extra space is being wasted on my screen in the Red Sox game?  The traditional view shading to the left is nearly a full screen shot, showing balance in the picture.  The Red Sox game is just  a tiny sliver of the middle of the screen.  That balance is totally lost, leaving just empty green to stare at.  Without seeing a full screen shot of the NESN broadcast, I hope they are at least centered to the field unlike that ESPN shot.  Call me being picky, overly-artistic, or whatever you will, but I think the camera should at least be centered on the plate dirt.  It just brings balance, as the Slate writer says, it makes you feel closer to the game.   With the traditional view, you get the pitcher centered in the left side of the screen and the batter centered on the right.  It just fits well.

As far as the horizontal motion or whether the ball is a strike, I think the Slate writer Greg Hanlon way overemphasizes the “difficulty” in seeing a pitch location, and even motion.  The screen grab from NESN came from a video in the Slate article (I will one day move up to wordpress instead of just .com so I can embed video… oh yes, one day).  If you look at the camera angle, you can easily tell the pitch was a ball outside, even in the traditional slightly left view.  Maybe it was a bad pitch to choose for the article, but really, I feel like you still are close enough on the off center view to see the pitches clearly.

slider

A second video was also available (screen grabs above) on Slate to demonstrate the difference in the breaking pitch from a lefty.  I disagree again with the writer, who says this:

Take a look at this slider thrown by New York Mets lefthander Pedro Feliciano. In the off-center Mets broadcast (seen on the left), Feliciano’s breaking ball looks like it starts behind the batter and sweeps across several feet to reach the outside corner. Cardinals fans, who watched the pitch from the dead-center angle, saw the pitch’s real arc—Feliciano has a good slider but not an otherworldly one.

While yes, the pitch doesn’t start behind the batter, the slider is still insane.  You can see it starts inside of the plate as it comes to the dirt and the catcher gloving it just of the outside corner.  Perhaps being a long time fan of the game, I certainly don’t see the ball sweeping several feet in the left of center view.  Maybe to the lay person?

The last question I have on the effect on the game.  With the camera positioned right over the pitcher, does it affect the batter’s eye?  While I doubt there is much glare from the camera with today’s modern cameras, I would think they’d have it well covered and shaded.  I’m just not sure.  I’d be interested to know if the MLB players had an opinion on it at least.  Looking at the picture below, you can see on the left corner where the center field seats come to a point.  That’s where the old cameras were situated.  The seats in the first two sections adjacent to that set up are generally covered for a batter’s eye, and is most probably the current home to the camera angles.

Click to see it enlarged

In the end, I think his whole argument is just “the Red Sox do it so it must be best.”  At least that’s the case with this article.  The TwinsBallPark2010.com blog has a different opinion.  They actually took screen grabs from 9 different ball parks to inspect the angle of the mound to plate in respect to the camera.  They like the overhead shot, as do many of their commenters.  To each their own.  They also bring up a great point in the dead center cam increasing ad space along the backstop.  I think that reason alone makes me anti-dead center field.  It’s only a matter of time until the outfield grass starts being cut into giant Wal-Mart ads.  Mark me down as a fan of the Nationals camera angle, though.  It’s low, its balanced, its close.

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