Pitchers and catchers will have the option of shaking off the traditional means of communicating between pitches during the upcoming Major League season.
MLB informed clubs in a memo today that it is moving forward with regular-season use of PitchCom — a wearable device that transmits signals from catcher to pitcher — in 2022. The technology, which will be optional, was approved by the MLB Players Association after receiving generally positive feedback in experimental usage at the Single-A level last year and in big league camps during Spring Training this year.
Aimed at both improving pace of play and preventing opponent sign-stealing, PitchCom eliminates the need for a catcher’s traditional finger signals. Rather, the catcher wears a forearm sleeve — resembling a remote control — with nine buttons for calling the pitch and location. The pitcher has a receiver in his cap, the catcher has one in his helmet and receivers can also be worn by up to three other fielders (typically, the two middle infielders and the center fielder) to adjust fielder positioning.
An encrypted channel can be used in multiple languages, and teams can also program in code words to replace pitch names such as “fastball” or “curveball.”
Last year’s average nine-inning game was a new record high at three hours, 10 minutes, 7 seconds. The game is often slowed when teams have a runner or runners aboard, particularly at second base, where the runner can attempt to decode a catcher’s signals. Pitchers and catchers will typically switch up their signs in those situations to try to shield their calls.
With PitchCom, the communication between catcher is more seamless and straightforward. The technology can also conceivably reduce the number of mound visits in which pitchers and catchers go over signs.
This concept has been around for a couple of years, and the PitchCom product has been tested successfully in the minors and in spring training, as noted in the story. Teams will not be required to use it – for sure, there will be some traditionalist holdouts – but the reviews have been positive and the benefits are obvious.
Here’s a brief description of how it works.
Catchers can put a PitchCom transmitter on their forearm, which makes it look just like a wristband. The black transmitter has nine buttons on it that catchers press to let the pitcher know the pitch he’s calling and the location. On the mound, pitchers have a six-inch rubber receiver inside their hats that communicate the pitch call with a computerized voice – either in Spanish or English – that will tell the pitcher, for instance, “fastball up” or “curveball, down and in.” The catchers also will have the audio device in their helmets, so they can be sure they’ve sent the right signal to their teammate.
Three other players besides the pitcher and catcher also can wear the device inside their hats, so they’ll know the pitch and can adjust their positioning accordingly. Most often, those players would be the second baseman, shortstop and center fielder.
The PitchCom website has some more details. It notes that this can also be used by coaches to communicate with players on the field, so don’t be surprised if the definition of a “mound visit” gets an update soon, too. I can’t wait to see this in action. ESPN has more.