PitchCom — aimed at thwarting the MLB signal-thief — wins (mostly) the skeptics

Texas Rangers closer Joe Barlow He was skeptical about PitchCom at first.

The electronic device, which is used to transmit field signals from the catcher to the bowler in an effort to reduce signal theft, is all-new in Major League Baseball this season, and Barlow wondered what might happen. The speaker at PitchCom made his hat less comfortable. The catchers were worried that the hitters would be able to hear the signals in their helmets. There was concern among gamers about wireless connectivity issues, or what would happen when audience noise drowned out the sound. But for Barlow, the capabilities of the device soon outweighed his initial fears.

“This is bigger than I expected,” Barlow said of his first impression of the device. “But I was like, ‘Put it in my hat, I don’t care.’ In the past you get hit and ask if your things aren’t there or if you’re changing pitches or they’re stealing your signals. Now, if you get hit, you know it’s all about you. .”

For more than a century, streamers have been carried to pitchers – from Cy Young to Max Scherzer – Through a series of finger movements by the catcher. But for the 2022 season, MLB has digitized the experience by offering remote controls on their wrist and pitchers, a speaker in their hats that utters signals, a potential additional layer of protection against signal theft. Banner theft has always been part of the game’s culture, but it’s been a hot issue in recent years due to teams misusing technology to gain an unfair advantage – most notoriously, the Houston Astros and their infamous garbage scandal. .

Barlow’s transformation from PitchCom skeptic to fan reflects many teams’ experience around baseball. It is now used by every player on teams like the Rangers and New York Yankees, and they tell ESPN their reasons range from competitive advantages to faster pace of play to reduce anxiety on the hill.

“We all love it,” said the loyal Yankees. Michael King. “We actually want the catcher to give us signals faster. We think about it, like after he gives the ball back to me, I’d rather know it at the time. That gives you time to think about the pitch and throw it with conviction. I come to realize I have no doubt in my mind that The catcher is thinking of something different than me.”

This benefit extends far beyond shooters and hunters. Each team can use three additional ear pieces, which most teams distribute to a combination of the second baseman, the short baseman, the third baseman, and the central player. Rangers companion man Brad Miller He said he used to read the signs from the catcher to prepare for plays, but using PitchCom helps him anticipate where you might hit the ball quickly.

“It was like if you weren’t vigil all the time, you might miss the signs,” Miller said. “It’s easier to be in every stadium like, ‘Hey,’ Aaron Judge Right there, you know that if it’s a fast ball, it’s probably going in one direction and if it’s a curve ball, it’s going in another. It is a softer focus. We’ve made a comment among gamers and shooters as well: If you don’t use it, I don’t believe it. What are you doing?”

As excited as some teams and players have embraced the new technology, others have chosen to stick with tradition. While the rest of his fellow Chicago White Sox now use PitchCom, the Loyal Kendall Grafman still disabled.

“There may come a day when I use it,” Grafman said. “I wouldn’t rule it out.” “I still think that if you are able to change the banners and be really creative you can do it the old-fashioned way. For me, that’s what I’m trying to do. I think it’s going to evolve and it’s going to be cleaner and I think it really happened. A bit slow for me. When I step on the rubber, I want to get to what I want to get to. I don’t go back and try that where.”

Toronto Blue Jays Jar Alk Manoh He said he plans to never use PitchCom.

“Baseball is baseball, man,” Manouh said. “Some things are nice to be technological about, but I’m not here to make the game go faster. I’m here to win matches. I’m not going to sit here and get confused about PitchCom or have hitters go out of the box every two seconds because the pace is so fast.”

Opinions of Graveman and Manoah are in the minority among the players ESPN spoke to about PitchCom, but the technology has room for improvement. Blue Jays catcher Zach Collins He said the device could have some problems when switching between pitchers of different arsenals.

“There’s not a lot of kinks, but it would be nice to allocate the buttons towards the guy on the hill so we can get to work a little faster,” Collins said. “The buttons have fastball, slider, curveball, change-up, knuckleball and splitter, and most people don’t throw a knuckleball.”

And while players are largely satisfied with how PitchCom works, Miller thinks the sounds on the device could use some spice. The Rangers’ PitchCom uses the voice of a front-office member and uses the Philadelphia Phillies catcher JT RealmotoVoted, Miller suggested more variety.

“We really need some guests,” Miller said. “We just stopped by George W. Bush that day. He needs to do PitchCom sounds, like the famous GPS. Dodgers should get Denzel Washington. That’s the next step.”

ESPN’s Jesse Rogers contributed to this story