MLB to test electronic device that allows receivers to signal pitchers

The practice of receivers using their fingers to flash a combination of signs for pitchers to decipher, a strategy almost as old as the sport itself, could 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 any of the lower tier of minor leagues over the next two weeks, a system designed both to speed up the pace of the game. and remove illegal sign theft methods.

A note presenting the new system, a copy of which was obtained by ESPN, was sent on Friday to the managers of the eight teams that make up the Class A California League. In it, MLB announced plans to begin testing on August 3 a launcher-catcher communication device developed by a company called PitchCom.

The system, which has passed safety tests conducted at the UMass Lowell Baseball Research Center, consists of a transmitter that is worn on a receiver’s wristband and two receivers that fit into the sweatband of a receiver. a pitcher’s cap and the padding of a catcher’s helmet. The transmitter includes nine buttons for signaling desired pitch and location and is pre-programmed with audio tracks in English and Spanish, although teams can record theirs as well. The information is transmitted from the transmitter to the two receivers using an encrypted communication channel and read with bone conduction technology, the memo said.

The Cal League, or Low-A West, is made up of affiliates for the Colorado Rockies (Fresno Grizzlies), San Francisco Giants (San Jose Giants), Seattle Mariners (Modesto Nuts), Athletics Oakland (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 from 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 under gaming conditions over an extended period of time,” the memo reads.

The system is just the latest in a long list of experiments carried out in the minor leagues this season, all in an attempt to increase the action and ultimately shorten the playing time. At various levels of the minor leagues, the MLB has experimented with increasing the size of bases, prohibiting defensive changes, restricting a pitcher’s ability to come out of rubber, implementing an automated ball hitting system, and installing a 15 second launch clock. The pitch clock is being used in the Cal League, further pushing MLB to find a more efficient way to relay signs.

MLB’s failure to control teams’ ability to use game streams to decipher signs of a receiver in real time was brought to light in the fall of 2019, when The Athletic shed light for the first time on the trash can diagram used by the Houston Astros. during their championship season. The revelations have led to a spate of sanctions, player animosity, fan mistrust, public criticism of the league and murmurs of other teams engaging in similar, though less egregious, practices. .

Avoiding a similar scandal is essential for the league, but so too is shortening playing time – 190 minutes on average this season, in the right direction to equal the record set in 2019 – and eliminate as much time-out as possible. .

Hoping to tackle both of these issues, MLB has spent the last few years exploring different ways of communicating signals from receivers to pitchers without the elaborate combinations that often lead to mound visits and other delays in the pitch. ‘action. One method that was heavily explored, according to sources, was a four-button pad in front of the catcher that would send signs to the mound with a combination of lights that were only visible to the pitcher. Prototypes were built. But the system required internal wiring which was ultimately deemed impractical.

PitchCom’s system was introduced to MLB officials in October and was introduced to a handful of Cactus League teams in the spring practice that followed. He was tested in bullpen sessions, and the league’s internal memo said the comments were “overwhelmingly positive.” Hacking the system, the company says, is virtually impossible. PitchCom uses an industrial-grade encryption algorithm and transmits minimal data digitally, making it mathematically impossible for someone to decrypt intercepted transmissions, according to the company.

Some of the rules governing use in the game:

Players who wear a receiver while hitting will be ejected. Only the active receiver, and no other player or coach, is authorized to use the transmitter. A backup transmitter is provided, but it must remain in the carrying case during games. If players and coaches need to consult due to a problem with the device, they can notify the referees and not be charged for a mound visit. August 3 will mark the first use of the system in a professional gaming environment. How quickly this system, or something similar, is introduced to the major leagues will largely depend on how the next eight weeks unfold.

“We are delighted to see our PitchCom technology tested under gaming conditions,” wrote company co-owners Craig Filicetti and John Hankins in a statement to ESPN. “As avid baseball fans, we saw a clear opportunity to use technology to help solve pacing and board theft issues and improve the game we love.”

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