The MLB will reportedly allow teams to use electronic field signaling devices this season in their ongoing effort to discourage signage theft and prevent another trash scheme like the one developed by the Houston Astros in 2017.
According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, players will soon be able to use PitchCom, an electronic wrist device described as a “button pad” for receivers paired with a listening device for pitchers. The receiver will use the wrist pad to signal the type and position of the pitch, which the pitcher will hear through the listening device.
Five players per team will reportedly be able to use PitchCom during a match, two of which are the pitcher and catcher and the other three are the defenders. Since the type and position of the court can affect how the ball will be hit and where it may land, defenders can adjust their positioning according to the court called by the receiver.
Olney said teams will not be forced to use PitchCom and will still have the ability to physically flash the receiver signals from home plate.
The first reviews have arrived
This technology has already been tested by at least one MLB team during spring training. The New York Yankees used PitchCom in a game last weekend, with catcher Kyle Higashioka and pitcher Luis Severino serving as guinea pigs. Severino had nothing but good things to say about the experience.
“I think it was great,” Severino told reporters via ESPN. “I was a bit dubious at first, but when we started using it, it was really good, even with a man in second place. I would definitely like to use it on my first start. [of the regular season]. … You know what step you intend to throw right away. “
According to Olney, other PitchCom reviews have been just as “glowing”, with the pitchers “raving” about how it helps the flow of the game.
Electronic reporting makes the theft of signage much more difficult
Ever since pitchers pitched and batters batted, stealing scores has been a part of baseball. A coach or lad on second base can take a decent look at the signals that the catcher is flashing between his legs and can communicate this to his teammates. It has been happening in the game for at least a century.
Teams have always been concerned about that type of signage theft (presumably even doing it on their own), but the use of PitchCom has been spurred by a much larger and more elaborate sign theft scheme. The 2017 Astros have won 101 regular season games and the World Series, all using a system to steal signals from a live video feed and communicate information to hitters using audio cues such as slamming on the lid of a garbage can.
Physical court signaling played a big part in that pattern because it’s what clubhouse players used to let hitters know which court was coming. With PitchCom, there would be no physical signs for anyone to steal. Of course, there are electronic signals, which could be hacked while playing. No details are yet available as to whether this is possible and what MLB will do to prevent it.