MLB approves PitchCom to limit sign theft

Old-fashioned finger signals and sign stealing may soon become obsolete in Major League Baseball. Teams will begin using electronic dev...


Old-fashioned finger signals and sign stealing may soon become obsolete in Major League Baseball. Teams will begin using electronic devices that transmit signals from catchers to pitchers starting this season.

The system, which was officially unveiled on Tuesday, includes a push-button transmitter, worn on the receiver’s glove-side wrist, which sends the desired type of terrain to the bone conduction headphones inside the launcher caps and three other players the team designates.

MLB says about half of the 30 teams have indicated they will open the season with the system, and the league expects more to join once they become familiar with it over the course of the season. the year.

Tested during spring training, the system is designed to eliminate the temptation for teams to employ illicit means to steal signs, as teams have done throughout baseball history. More urgency for a new system was felt after it was revealed that the 2017 Houston Astros used illicit technology to steal signs and pass them on to hitters on their way to winning a championship .

Virtually all sign stealing — including an accepted method of having base runners try to see the signs — begins by spying on the catcher’s fingers. But even honest methods could be rendered obsolete.

MLB said the communications system, known as PitchCom, was encrypted and the league had other systems in place to prevent hacking or interception of the signal.

“We did a lot of due diligence there, and we feel good about it,” MLB chief operations and strategy officer Chris Marinak said at a press conference Tuesday.

In early testing, Marinak said, MLB found the system helped quicken the pace of play. With traditional finger signals, pitchers stand on the rubber and watch the catcher as the signals are relayed.

Under the new system, pitchers can get the signs as they walk around the mound and pick themselves up, so when they step onto the rubber, they’re ready to pitch. That won’t stop pitchers from shaking up their catchers and the rare open disagreements between pitchers and catchers over pitch selection.

Most clubs indicated that they would have the pitcher, shortstop, second baseman and center fielder wear the earbuds, Marinak said, and they could hear recorded and personalized phrases such as ” fastball down and away”.

No team or pitcher is required to use PitchCom, and teams may have pitchers who use the system and others who do not.

Other technology initiatives for the upcoming season include microphones allowing referees to speak to fans in the stadium and to those watching on television. The referees, who received pre-season training, will explain the rules and detail the challenges for managers on the pitch, just like football referees do.

Teams will also have access to tablets in their dugouts that display video of recent at-bats, all vetted and delivered by MLB. The system is intended to centralize and limit the videos teams have access to during matches. Video clips of pitches will begin about half a second before the pitch is released, eliminating “99.9%” of all signs shown by receivers, Marinak said. Teams will only be able to access the videos at the end of each half-inning.

The league will also expand the use of robot umpires in the high minor leagues – but they will be limited to calling balls and strikes. The pitch clocks, which limit the time between pitches, will be used for all minor league games as a precursor to its potential use in the major leagues in years to come.

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