MLB’s PitchCom system gets mixed reactions

Baseball and technology have always been careful partners.

For five years in the 1930s, as radio became increasingly popular, all three New York teams—the Yankees, the Giants, and the Dodgers—banned live broadcasts of their games because they feared the new Wednesday will reduce attendance. When the Chicago Cubs added lighting at Wrigley Field in 1988, allowing them to move away from generations of games played exclusively during the day, fans were outraged. When electronic calls for balls and kicks were introduced, it was the referees’ turn to complain.

Other sports may change, but baseball has largely stayed the same.

With the installation of limited instant replay in 2008 and the expansion of replay in 2014, the game timidly entered the digital age. But the addition of cameras in every stadium and video monitors in every club has opened the door to an unintended consequence: electronic fraud.

The 2017 Houston Astros brazenly stepped through that door with an elaborate sign theft system this helped them win the World Series. Two years later, when this system was presented to the public, it led to shotspendants and, ultimately, permanent tarnishing or championship.

Nothing spurs action in baseball like a scandal—after all, the commissioner’s office was created while baseball was dealing with the 1919 Black Sox scandal. This season, Major League Baseball has taken a big step forward by distancing itself from the sign theft slick with PitchCom introductiona device controlled by the catcher that allows him to silently communicate with the pitcher about an upcoming pitch—information that is simultaneously transmitted to three other players on the field via earphones in their cap elastics.

The idea is simple enough: if baseball can do away with the old-fashioned definition of a pitch where the catcher makes signs to the pitcher with his fingers, it will be harder for other teams to steal those signs. There have been a few hiccups where devices didn’t work or pitchers couldn’t hear, but this season everyone in baseball seems to agree that PitchCom, whether you like it or not, is working.

Carlos Correa, shortstop for the Minnesota Twins, who was unofficial for a long time, and irreconcilablea spokesman for those 2017 Astros, went so far as to say that this tool would have thwarted his old team’s systematic cheating.

“I think so,” said Correa. “Because there are no signs now.”

Not all pitchers are on board yet.

Max Scherzer, the New York Mets ace and baseball’s highest-paid player this season, first tried PitchCom late last month against the Yankees and offered conflicting thoughts.

“It works,” he said. “Does it help? Yes. But I also think it should be illegal.”

Scherzer went so far as to suggest that the game would lose something by not stealing signage.

“It’s part of baseball to try to crack somebody’s signs,” Scherzer said. “Does it have the desired intention to clean up the game a bit?” he said of PitchCom. “Yes. But I also feel like it takes away from the game.”

Scherzer’s comments drew mixed reactions from his peers. Seattle forward Paul Sewald called them “a little naive” and “a little hypocritical.” Minnesota starter Sonny Gray said he agreed with Scherzer in theory, “but my rebuttal would be that when you do hand gesture sequences when the runner is at second base, you have teams that video it and break it up.” during the course of the game. Went.”

Continuing his skepticism, Sewald said of Scherzer, “I have a very good feeling that he was on one or two of the sign-stealing teams.”

True or not, Sewald’s proposal reflected what many in the game commonly believe: Several managers say there are clubs that use a dozen or more staff to study videos and read signs. Since this is done in secret, paranoia has also developed in the league, and even the innocent are now considered guilty.

“I think we all know about that,” said Colorado manager Bud Black. “We know there are front offices that have more workforce than others.”

The belief in rampant signage theft led to widespread use of PitchCom, perhaps faster than many imagined. And that’s good news for Major League Baseball’s top management.

“It’s optional, and probably the best evidence is that all 30 clubs are using it now,” said Morgan Sword, MLB’s executive vice president of baseball operations. “This fixes a major problem for the sign theft game. But, secondly, it really sped up the game a bit. Without having to run multiple sets of signs with runners on base, the pace improved.”

Thus, the question arises, what is lost to achieve these successes?

While code-breaking is as old as the sport itself, the intrusion of technology into what for over a century has been a long pastoral game has sparked an intense cultural clash. Stealing a badge has always been tolerated by those playing if it is done by someone on the field. But then problems arise—and the unwritten (and now written) rules of the game are broken—when technology is used as real-time assistance.

Drawing clear lines is important in an era when computer programs are so complex that algorithms can tell whether a pitcher is about to throw a fastball or a slider simply by the way they hold the glove.

“When you use people who don’t play the game to gain an advantage, for me, at least personally, I have a problem with that,” said San Diego manager Bob Melvin.

Most agree that there is a fine line between technology that improves the current product and ultimately changes its integrity. Another thing is to get them to agree on exactly where this line runs.

“I wish there wasn’t video technology or anything like that,” said Yankees second baseman DJ LeMahieu.

Sward says PitchCom was an example of the technology’s ability to “create a version of baseball that’s more like a couple of decades ago” because it “neutralizes a recent threat.”

“I think that’s how the world moves,” Black said. “And we are part of the world.”

And more technology is coming. On deck is a watch that is being tested in the minor leagues and, according to Sword, has proven “extremely promising” in achieving its intended goal: reducing games. It is expected to be implemented soon in major tournaments and pitchers will be required to pitch within a set time frame – in the AAA class, the pitch must be delivered within 14 seconds when no one is on base and within 19 seconds when the runner is on board.

Generally speaking, pitchers are less enthusiastic about pitch hours than they are about PitchCom.

“Ninety percent of baseball is the expectation that something really cool is about to happen, and you have flashes of really cool stuff,” said Daniel Bard, the Colorado Rockies’ watchman. “But you don’t know when they’re about to come, you don’t know what field it’s on. Especially in the ninth inning of a tense game, when everyone is sitting at their limits, do you want to hurry up? There are many good things in life that you don’t want to rush into. You are enjoying. You are enjoying. For me, it’s game over.”

The most drastic change, however, may be the Automated Strike Zone, colloquially robot judges. Commissioner Rob Manfred said earlier this summer that he hopes to have such a system in place by 2024. Automatic calls are a bane to referees, who feel it impinges on their judgment, and to catchers who specialize in framing the pitch, the art of receiving the pitch. and display it as if it is in the strike zone, even if it is not.

“I don’t think it’s supposed to happen,” said possibly Yankee catcher Jose Trevino. best pitch creator in the game. “There are a lot of guys who have been through this game and a lot of guys from the past who made a living by catching were good callers, were good defenders.”

Trevino said that with the so-called arbiter robots, the skill that many catchers worked so hard on would become useless.

“You’ll just be blocking and throwing and calling the game again,” he said, adding that this could affect the financial returns of some catchers.

But that argument is for another day. PitchCom is this year’s new toy, and beyond the obvious, it smooths things out in unexpected areas. It can be programmed in any language, so it removes the barriers between pitchers and catchers. And as the Bard said, “My eyes are not very good. I can look at the signs, but it’s easier just to put the sign right up to my ear.”

Opinions will always differ, but everyone agrees that the technological invasion will continue.

“It will continue,” Correa said. “Pretty soon we’ll have robots playing shortstop.”

James Wagner as well as Gary Phillips made a report.