Some baseball fans are still adjusting to the new rules this season, but there’s one major change in the game that everyone has accepted...especially the players.
In case you haven’t noticed, the finger signals catchers use to call pitches—a system that went unchanged for decades—are a thing of the past. Instead, they’re using electronic devices to call for fastballs, curveballs and more, and to ask for them inside, outside, high or low, and even to say, “Way to go!” Even pitchers, some who weren’t keen on the idea to begin with, have taken control of the technology to call their own pitches.
It’s the PitchCom® communication system, around for a year now, and it’s being used in MLB games across the board. PitchCom has not only stopped sign stealing cold, but it’s also a major factor in keeping baseball games moving at a faster pace.
Fact is a lot of fans have heard about it, but they really aren’t 100% aware of exactly what is going on or how things are working now. Here’s a closer look at PitchCom, what it does and what it’s all about.
When did PitchCom come about?
After a test run in Spring Training in 2022, MLB approved the PitchCom® technology for use by all teams early in the 2022 regular season. It rolled out without a lot of fanfare...most fans didn’t know about it (and still don’t).
- The device (and the idea to use it for baseball) was developed by two men who used something similar for magicians and assistants in their shows to secretly pass along cues. They saw how it could help MLB address the topic of sign stealing by teams and presented their idea in 2020.
- PitchCom® was tested in the Minors in 2021 and at Spring Training in the Majors the next year. By the start of the 2022 regular season, PitchCom had been approved the MLB Players Association for the season.
- PitchCom® was well received during the 2022 preseason, and MLB made it available to all 30 teams. It wasn’t a rule or requirement then, and teams were allowed to evaluate it, adapt to it and adopt it into their games as they wished.
- There were a few bumps the first season, mostly caused by fan noise or stadium music making it hard for pitchers to hear the signal. But those problems have been fixed.
With PitchCom, even infielders can know what pitch is coming. Here’s why:
PitchCom on the field.
Every team is provided by MLB with the following: three PitchCom® transmitters for sending signals, and 12 receivers (earpieces). The PitchCom® devices can be worn only by defensive players on the field—no one in the dugout is allowed to call or hear pitches.
A PitchCom® transmitter (which sends out the signal) is typically worn by the catcher. Initially, catchers wore it on their wrists like a wristband. Now, many have it affixed to their shin guards, to better and more easily conceal what they’re doing as they press the buttons on PitchCom.
During a game, MLB allows two transmitters on the field at any one time, and up to five receivers.
The transmitter has nine buttons for programming/calling pitches. When a pitch is selected, it sends a prerecorded audio clip, which can be heard by the pitcher and anyone else on the defensive team wearing a receiver.
Teams have a few people on staff to program the PitchCom. The message could say “fastball, low and outside” or “changeup, inside.” Up to nine messages can be prerecorded. It can even be used to record and send other messages: “Check the runners,” “Get this guy!” or even expressions that aren’t family friendly.
When the catcher has the transmitter, the pitcher isn’t the only player who could be wearing a receiver to hear the signals. That’s because MLB allows up to five receivers on the field, so the infielders could be “wired up” as well.
Pitchers wanted to make their own calls.
Heading into the second week of the 2023 season, and after a Spring Training test, MLB announced that pitchers would be allowed to wear a transmitter if they wanted to call their own pitches. In that case, the catcher would be the one wearing a receiver, and perhaps a transmitter too. MLB allows up to two transmitters on the field at one time.
The only drawback is if somehow the batter happens to “hear” the pitch selection the pitcher has called for.
By controlling the transmitter, the pitcher can quickly call his pitch and not have to be concerned about shaking off the catcher. In some cases, pitchers are “keying in” their next pitch even before the batter is ready to hit.
Taking PitchCom to the Max.
Max Scherzer, now with the Mets, initially wasn’t a fan of PitchCom and thought it was detracting from the game. “For me,” he said, “I’ve always taken pride in having a complex system of signs and having that advantage over other pitchers. I also feel it takes away a part of the game.” But between last year and this year, he has changed his mind, primarily because once he started using it, he realized it gave him an additional advantage: He quickly realized the new technology could work in his favor and give him control of the tempo.
Max Greinke of the Kansas City Royals is another veteran who has fully adopted the PitchCom and sees its advantages beyond protecting signals. “I can work so quick if I want to and can completely change the timing,” he was quoted as saying. “I don’t even have to think, because 90% of the time I know what I’m going to throw. Now it takes the guesswork out and I can just ‘call it in’ to the catcher and we can go.”
PitchCom helped speed up the game...before the pitch clock.
Combine PitchCom with the new clock rules, and it’s a whole new ballgame, not only when it comes to protecting signals, but also for helping to speed up the game.
In 2022, when PitchCom®was in use but before the pitch clock was in effect, games were wrapping up five to 10 minutes faster than they had the previous year. It had improved speed of play by eliminating trips to the mound to go over signals and the need to change signals with runners on base.
Maybe that’s why PitchCom didn’t make a big splash when it arrived in the Majors. For something that has changed a longstanding way of how the game is played, it came in quietly and was adopted by all teams fairly quickly. And when the pitch clock and ban on the shift started this year, talk about PitchCom was overshadowed.
When something works, it works.
Royals catcher Cam Gallagher catching with the Pitchcom device, Photo from whatproswear.com
Resources: amny.com/sports/scherzer-mets-pitch-clock-com-quick; usatoday.com/max-scherzers-pitchcom; theathletic.com/pitchcom-mlb-max-scherzer-facts; mlb.com/zack-greinke-uses-pitchcom; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PitchCom; nbcsports.com/chicago/white-sox/what-pitchcom; youtube.com/pitchcom; youtube.com/mlb-tonight-discusses-pitchcom;; fansided.com/pitchcom-reshaping-mlb; thescore.com/mlb/news.hedges-pitchcom; sportingnews.com/pitchcom-shohei-ohtani