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Report: MLB to Test Electronic Devices for Catchers to Give Signals to Pitchers

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVJuly 23, 2021

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Major League Baseball has reportedly provided the green light for testing an electronic transmission device for sending signals between the pitcher and catcher.

ESPN's Alden Gonzalez reported Friday the device from PitchCom has buttons that allow a catcher to call for a pitch and location, which are sent to a receiver in the pitcher's cap and played in English or Spanish. The system will undergo testing in the Class A California League beginning Aug. 3.

Jeff Passan @JeffPassan

Too early to tell if the pitch-calling device, which is pictured here, will be a game-changer. It would eliminate the use of signs from catchers. The hope is it will speed up games. <br><br>Read Alden's story for the rest of the details. All quite interesting: <a href="https://t.co/8fxGU38nNL">https://t.co/8fxGU38nNL</a> <a href="https://t.co/4hUiaVaDD4">pic.twitter.com/4hUiaVaDD4</a>

MLB sent a memo to teams in the California League saying use of the system will be "optional but strongly encouraged," per Gonzalez, as it seeks feedback on its effectiveness.

"We believe these systems have significant long-term potential and are eager to see how they perform in game conditions over an extended period," the memo said.

The league said the initial response to the device was "extremely positive" when select pitchers used it during their bullpen sessions in spring training.

Only the catcher can use the transmitter, and any player found using a receiver while batting will be ejected, according to Gonzalez. Catchers can alert the umpire of any technical issues with the system and meet with the pitcher without being charged with a mound visit.

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As Gonzalez wrote, PitchCom says hacking the system is "virtually impossible" because of an "industrial grade encryption algorithm" and minimal data transmission.

"We are excited to see our PitchCom technology tested under game conditions," company co-owners Craig Filicetti and John Hankins told ESPN. "As avid baseball fans, we saw a clear opportunity to use technology to help solve pace-of-play and sign-stealing challenges and improve the game that we love."

It's the latest in a long line of ideas MLB has tested in the minor leagues in efforts to speed up the pace of play.

In 2019, the league set a record for its highest average length of game at three hours and 10 minutes. The average went down by four minutes last year (3:06) but is back up to 3:10 in 2021, per Baseball Reference.

The length of games combined with the continued trend toward the three true outcomes (home run, walk or strikeout) have led typical games to feature a lack of variety with a few bursts of excitement.

While pace of play has remained a hot-button topic, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred told Sportico (via John Healy of Audacy) in April he received some interesting advice from NBA Commissioner Adam Silver:

"The biggest issue is that sports betting is the biggest opportunity of fan engagement. I'll tell you a funny story—one night I was coming back from an event and the phone rang and it was Adam Silver. And we were talking about something and he said, 'Rob you gotta stop talking about the pace of game. Your pace of game is going to be absolutely perfect for sports betting.' And he's right."

All told, finding the right balance between a sport that's good for in-game betting and one that eliminates as much dead time as possible should be the goal, and the transmission devices could help that process.

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