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.”
“It’s something that’s really going to get the game moving, I think,” Rays veteran catcher Mike Zunino said earlier this spring.
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.
“It has great possibilities,” Rockies director of pitching operations Steve Foster said. “Anything that can help the pitcher get the sign without anyone knowing what the sign is, we’re moving in the right direction.”
Royals veteran Zack Greinke was one of many proponents of the technology.
“The feeling in the hat is a piece of cake,” Greinke said. “Hearing is kind of easy, too. Just figuring it out, I mean, I’ve been looking down for signs my whole life, so you just have to get used to the difference of that.”
As if to illustrate how easily pitchers can adapt to PitchCom, Yankees manager Aaron Boone sprung it on Luis Severino about an hour before Saturday’s start against the Braves. Severino agreed and, after throwing four innings of one-hit ball, told reporters that the system worked “great.”
“I feel like we’re on to something,” Boone said.
Not every pitcher and catcher will embrace the new technology, and they will not be required to use PitchCom. As Royals manager Mike Matheny pointed out, some catchers take great pride in their ability to hold different sign sets for different pitchers.
“I hate technology taking away something that someone has worked really hard for,” Matheny said. “But the way the game’s going, and where we are right now, this makes sense to me.”
PitchCom is the creation of ProMystic, a modular technology company that typically caters to mentalists and magicians. ProMystic approached MLB with its idea for a pitch signal communication device in 2020.
“They had watched from afar the issues baseball was grappling with and pitched us on applying their technology for our sport,” said Morgan Sword, MLB’s executive vice president of baseball operations. “They showed us a prototype that they developed, and we have worked with them over the last 12 months to refine that prototype and make it fit the needs of our pitchers and catchers.”
PitchCom is seen as a potential solution to the paranoia that swept the game as technology improved the means by which teams decode each other’s signs. And Zunino thinks it could benefit pitchers in other ways.
“If [pitchers] have that extra time, maybe instead of having to look in, it gives you two to three extra seconds for recovery,” Zunino said. “There's a lot of different [benefits], but ultimately, the times we've used it, it's really sped up the game.”