New electronic pitch calling system in MLB
April 21, 2022
I’ll admit I’m not a fan of most of the changes that Major League Baseball has made to the game over the years. Expanded playoffs, Inter-league games, an additional division in each league, the luxury tax, and the unbalanced schedule are just a few of the changes I could have done without. However, while watching games this week, I was surprised by a rule change that I’d not heard about.
It was approved by the players and owners two days before opening day, MLB now allows players to begin using a pitch-calling system. The change was made with the hope that it will reduce sign stealing. So far, fifteen of the thirty MLB teams are using the system.
With this system, the catcher wears a small electronic sleeve with buttons programmed with a pitch and location. The pitcher has a small receiving device inside his hat that tells him where to throw the pitch. A catcher can push a button that calls for a fastball high and inside and the pitcher will hear that in English or Spanish through his receiver. The device can also be programmed for code words instead of the literal translation. This may keep teams from hacking into the system even though the transmission is encrypted. For additional security against cheating, the receivers will only work with a particular sleeve transmitter.
The device did seem to improve the pace of play as there were no mound visits. There also appeared to be less time between pitches or at least between the agreement of what pitch was going to be thrown. In addition to the pitcher, the two infielders and the center fielder are allowed to wear a receiver for defensive positioning.
Not all the bugs have been worked out of the system yet. A couple of relief pitchers looked uncomfortable with the receiver and went back to hand signals. There was also a moment in one game when the crowd noise was too loud for the pitcher to hear through the receiver. PitchCom, the company that is providing the electronics, is also working on a version for next year that will provide a visual system on a watch for the players. The prototype looks a lot like an Apple Watch.
Overall, this change should be good for baseball. It’s just a few games into the season and it already feels normal not to see catchers putting their fingers down to give signs to the pitchers. It also does away with changing signs when the opposing team has runners on base. No one will miss pitchers looking into their hats to figure out what set of signals they are now using.