Major League Baseball may be on indefinite hiatus due to the owner-initiated lockout, but there is baseball being played across the country. The college baseball season began this weekend and our Dayn Perry told you everything you need to know about the Division I season.
Over the weekend Vanderbilt (and several other schools) debuted a new wearable pitch-signaling device. Players wear the watch-like device on their glove hand to receive pitch selection information from the coaching staff. The NCAA approved these wearable devices last year. Here they are in action:
“It is technically called an electronic display board in the NCAA’s lingo,” broadcaster Max Herz explained (via Simon Gibbs). “This was the first year it’s been legal for a college pitcher to wear something like that … Scott Brown, the Vanderbilt pitching coach, is punching numbers into a controller he has, and all nine Vanderbilt players on the field have one. They all see the same thing. That tells the pitcher what type of pitch to throw, and where or how to throw it.”
The devices are one-way (the players can only receive information, not send it) and the watch design is one of several available to teams. They can also use a earpiece. The goal is to improve pace of play, and also cut down on possible sign-stealing. Here’s part of the NCAA’s initial press release:
“Examples of what could be implemented next season include teams being allowed to use an electronic display board from the dugout that shows a numerical code to call pitches and/or defensive plays. Teams also can use a one-way in-ear communication device that would be limited for use from the dugout to the catcher.”
MLB clubs have been paranoid about sign-stealing for years — catchers have put down multiple signs even with the bases empty for close to a decade now — and the Houston Astros‘ sign-stealing scandal brought to light just how far teams will go to gain an advantage. No longer do they simply look for a “tell” from the dugout. They go high-tech with video equipment.
The college baseball season is only one weekend old, so we don’t have nearly enough information about these new pitch-signaling devices yet, but you can be sure MLB is paying attention. The league has limited video access for players since the Astros scandal broke and continues to look into other ways to conceal signs.
At the MLB level, the question would be how the signs are input. Does the catcher do it? Or do all the signs come from the dugout? It’s common for the coaching staff to call pitches at the college level. It happens at the big-league level in some cases, but for the most part the catcher calls the game, and he’d need a way to input the pitch selection with a wearable device. The input process is much easier for a coach in the dugout than it would be for the catcher behind the plate.
If the wearable devices have the desired effect at the college level and don’t slow the game down, it will be only a matter of time until MLB looks to implement them. The MLBPA would have to agree to their use, plus there might be a test period in the minors, but the wheels are in motion. The NCAA is giving MLB a free trial run for these devices.