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Imagine Clayton Kershaw on the mound in Game 7 of the World Series, staring at his receiver for a big moment. And his receiver is blinking…no sign at all.
That day could come very soon.
Major League Baseball is stepping up its experimentation with an electronic communication channel for pitchers and catchers. After trying out the PitchCom system at Low-A West in the second half of last season, big-league clubs are tinkering with the technology in spring training.
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If the development is widely successful, the system could be used in the majors this year. But the current plan is to work him to Double-A level this summer.
“Very supportive. I think it speeds up the game,” said 77-year-old Chicago White Sox Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa. “I wonder, hoping they make it official. But our experience has been good.”
With the PitchCom system, the receiver wears a wristband with nine buttons to call out the pitch and location. There is one receiver in the pitcher’s cap and another in the receiver’s helmet. Several languages are available for the encrypted channel.
No need for traditional signs – forget about wiggling fingers.
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New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone even tried a little experimenting with the experiment. An hour before Saturday’s game against Atlanta, he told starting pitcher Luis Severino that they would try the system with receiver Kyle Higashioka.
“We threw it on Sevie at 12:15 before he came out. He was in for it, but we threw it on him, no hiccups. No problems, and it’s our first game to do that. , so it’s a good thing. Hopefully, it’s something we can improve on,” Boone said.
Severino looked good too, throwing four innings with one hit.
As for using one day in the regular season, “I want to keep doing it the best we can. But my first impression, I feel like we’re onto something. I thought it was really good,” Boone mentioned.
Baltimore Orioles pitcher Bruce Zimmermann agreed.
“It wasn’t as awkward as I thought it would be, and actually I think it’s really good because you can speed up the game however you want,” Zimmermann said.
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“I don’t think it’s going to be too steep a learning curve for a lot of guys. I was against it initially until I actually used it,” he said.
Orioles wide receiver Anthony Bemboom also offered a positive report, with some concerns.
“It’s just a little bulky on your wristband. It didn’t happen the other day, but the ball could hit the wristband on a block. It could bounce one way or the other,” a- he declared.
“There were a few times where I hit him on my shin guard waving steadily without anyone. … He said ‘knuckleball’ and he throws a fastball, but other than that it was fine.”
The PitchCom system is one of many potential changes MLB is exploring this year. There will be bigger bases, launch clocks, and limits on withdrawal attempts for each full season affiliate in the minors. Defensive changes have been banned for each Class A and Double-A tier.
College baseball already uses an electronic system to call pitches. With Game Day Signals, calls are relayed from the dugout to a receiver on the caster’s wrist.
“I think getting rid of the college game is good for everyone, especially the consumer, and especially when it’s 25 degrees on a Friday night in Nashville,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said.
MLB also wants to speed up the game. The average time for a nine-inning game during the 2021 regular season was a record 3 hours, 10 minutes, 7 seconds, compared to 3:07:46 for the shortened 2020 season. by the pandemic and 3 h 05 min 35 s in 2019.
When players are on base, especially at second, the game can bog down as pitchers and receivers switch signs in an attempt to shield their opponent’s calls. With an electronic channel, this would no longer be a problem.
“I like it. It’s good. … It doesn’t give the hitters a chance to know what’s coming,” White Sox right-hander Dylan Cease said.
The system could also completely eliminate sign theft, a major benefit for MLB after the Houston Astros’ 2017 championship was marred by a sign theft scandal.
The MLB investigation found that Houston used a video feed from a center field camera to see and decode opposing receiver signs during home games. Players banged on a trash can to signal to batters what was to come, believing it would improve the batter’s chances of getting a hit.
Cease said sign theft has been a concern for him over the past two years, especially with a second-place runner.
With PitchCom, “it’s basically that I just have to worry about what I’m doing in terms of whether I’m tipping anything, as opposed to ‘Are they breaking the coded? like it’s war,” Cease said.
Any chance of using the system in the majors this year could be jeopardized by the abbreviated spring training after the 99-day lockdown. Teams don’t have as much time to try it out as they normally would.
Chicago Cubs manager David Ross, a former major league catcher, said he wasn’t sure it would pick up the pace of the game.
“I think next spring training we had a chance to work on it a bit more and see what you do when you shake yourself up,” he said. “How often do you use it?
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“It’s important to me to make sure everyone is comfortable and on pace and feels like it’s a norm for them.”