MLB to test the electronic device for the receivers to give signals to the launchers

MLB to test the electronic device for the receivers to give signals to the launchers

The practice of receivers using their fingers to flash a combination of signals for pitchers to decipher, a strategy almost as old as the sport itself, may be on the verge of becoming obsolete.

Major League Baseball will begin testing new technology that allows receivers to electronically communicate signals to pitchers in one of the lower tiers of the minor league within the next two weeks, a system designed to both speed up the pace of play and suppress methods. illegal signs theft.

A memo introducing the new system, a copy of which was obtained from ESPN, was sent out on Friday to officials of the eight teams that make up Low-A West. In it, MLB announced plans to begin testing a launcher communications device developed by a company called PitchCom on August 3.

The system, which passed safety tests conducted at the UMass Lowell Baseball Research Center, consists of a transmitter worn on a receiver’s wristband and two receivers that fit into a pitcher’s cap sweatband and padding. helmet of a receiver. The transmitter includes nine buttons to signal the desired field and position and comes pre-programmed with audio tracks in English and Spanish, although teams can also record their own. The information is transmitted from the transmitter to both receivers using an encrypted communication channel and reproduced with bone conduction technology, the statement said.

The Low-A West, formerly called the California League, is made up of affiliates for Colorado Rockies (Fresno Grizzlies), San Francisco Giants (San Jose Giants), Seattle Mariners (Modesto Nuts), Oakland Athletics (Stockton Ports), Los Angeles Dodgers ( Rancho Cucamonga Quakes), Los Angeles Angels (Inland Empire 66ers), San Diego Padres (Lake Elsinore Storm) and Arizona Diamondbacks (Visalia Rawhide). Use of the device, which will arrive to teams starting Monday, is optional but strongly encouraged, according to the note.

“We believe these systems have significant long-term potential and look forward to seeing how they perform in gaming conditions over a long period,” the statement said.

The system is just the latest in a long list of experiments conducted in all of the minor leagues this season, all aimed at increasing the action and ultimately reducing playtime. At various minor league levels, the MLB has experienced increasing base size, banning defensive rounds, limiting a pitcher’s ability to get off the rubber, implementing an automated ball shooting system, and installing a 15-second launch clock. The pitch clock is used in Low-A West, further incentivising the MLB to find a more efficient way to transmit signals.

The MLB’s inability to control the ability of police teams to use game feeds to decipher a receiver’s signals in real time was unearthed in the fall of 2019, when The Athletic first shed light. on the trash cans slamming scheme used by the Houston Astros during their championship season. The revelations led to a series of free-kicks, animosity among players, distrust from fans, public criticism of the league, and whispers about other teams engaging in similar, albeit less egregious, practices.

Avoiding a similar scandal is key to the league, but so is shortening playing time – 190 minutes on average this season, at the pace of breaking the record set in 2019 – and eliminating as much downtime as possible.

Hoping to combat both problems, MLB has spent the past few years exploring different ways to communicate signals from receivers to launchers without the elaborate combinations that often lead to mound visits and other delays in action. One method that has been extensively explored, according to sources, was a four-button pushbutton panel in front of the receiver that would provide signals to the mound with a combination of lights only visible to the launcher. Prototypes have been built. But the system required internal wiring which was ultimately found to be impractical.

PitchCom’s system was introduced to MLB officials in October and was introduced to a handful of Cactus League teams in subsequent spring training. It was tested in bullpen sessions and the league’s inside note stated that the feedback was “extremely positive”. Hacking the system, the company claims, is virtually impossible. PitchCom uses an industry-grade encryption algorithm and digitally transmits minimal data, making it mathematically impossible for someone to decrypt intercepted transmissions, according to the company.

Some of the rules governing in-game use: players found wearing a receiver while batting will be sent off; only the active receiver, and no other player or coach, can use the transmitter; a spare transmitter is provided, but must remain in the case during games; and if players and coaches need to confer due to a problem with the device, they can alert the referees without paying a visit to the mound.

August 3 will mark the first time the system will be used in any professional gaming environment. How quickly that system, or something similar, is introduced into the major leagues will largely depend on how the next eight weeks go.

“We are thrilled to see our PitchCom technology tested in playing conditions,” wrote company co-owners Craig Filicetti and John Hankins as part of a statement to ESPN. “As avid baseball fans, we have seen a clear opportunity to use technology to help solve the challenges of pace of play and score theft and improve the game we love.”


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