It didn’t take long for Kurt Suzuki to get on board with PitchCom, the new system that allows pitchers and catchers to communicate electronically instead of with finger signals.
It also didn’t take long for Max Stassi to realize he’s not ready to use it.
The Angels’ two catchers have differing opinions on the new system, which is why the team still isn’t regularly using the technology. The pitchers and infielders, who are also supposed to be in the loop on the pitch selection so they can prepare for where the ball may be hit, also have mixed opinions.
Stassi used it briefly in a Freeway Series game with right-hander Michael Lorenzen, and he quickly ditched it.
“For me, it just took away from the flow,” Stassi said. “Let’s say a guy hits a single, it’s late in the game. I’m thinking about the guy coming up, who’s in the hole, and I’m thinking about certain buttons to push. Over time I think I’ll adapt, but obviously it’s very different.”
The system was created to speed up the game and prevent sign stealing, which has been more prevalent in recent years, most notably with the 2017 Houston Astros scandal.
To fight back from sign stealing, teams started using more complicated sign systems, requiring pitchers to keep crib sheets in their pockets or caps. The Angels have a separate set of signs for each pitcher, which requires the catcher to have the signs on a wrist band matched to each pitcher.
All of that slowed the pace of games.
With PitchCom, the catcher wears a keypad on his arm. He punches two buttons, to give the pitch and location. The pitcher wears a device in his cap that translates the the number into an audible message. Up to three other players – typically the middle infielders and center fielder – could also have the devices in their caps.
Suzuki and the pitchers who have used it with him seem to like it, but there are still issues that have prevented its full adoption by the rest of the team.
“It’s pretty simple once you kind of get the hang of it,” Suzuki said. “It’s an easier way to communicate, instead of putting fingers down.”
Left-hander Reid Detmers said it eliminates one of the issues that could creep into a pitcher’s head while he’s on the mound, especially with a runner at second able to see the catcher’s signs.
“Knowing the history of how baseball works, everybody is trying to get an advantage and just kind of eliminating that makes it easier,” Detmers said. “If you’re coming set and then thinking, ‘Can they see the sign?,’ it takes that out. All you have to worry about is not tipping pitches. I like it a lot.”
Left-hander Patrick Sandoval used it for the first time Tuesday in Houston, and he said it worked seamlessly. Sandoval said he and Suzuki used it only when a runner was on second. Otherwise, they just flashed normal finger signals.
If a team suspected its signs were being stolen even without a runner at second – as the Astros did in 2017, using video – they could simply use PitchCom for all pitches.
The first problem with the system, though, is if the catcher simply isn’t comfortable punching buttons instead of flashing fingers. Stassi said he’s still not ready to deal with that in the heat of the moment.
Stassi also quickly realized that he needed the audio feedback to know that he pushed the right buttons. At first, he did it with the hat insert, and he and Lorenzen were concerned the hitter could hear the signals.
Catchers, however, can also use an earpiece, which prevents the hitter from hearing. The earpiece allows Suzuki to hear the signal he gave. He said he’s hit the wrong buttons only once, and he simply called time and started over.
The middle infielders and center fielder are also supposed to be able to hear the signs, but Tyler Wade said that’s worked only about 60% to 75% of the time. At one point early this season, the Angels had an issue when the batteries died on one of the middle infielders’ units.
Wade also said the receiver isn’t that comfortable. It’s about four inches long and about the thickness of a belt. It fits in the lining of the cap, just above the ear.
“When it works, it works great, but I just feel like it could be a little bit smaller, so it’s not squeezing your head,” Wade said. “They’ve just got to fix the bugs, so it works.”
Angels (LHP Reid Detmers, 0-0, 8.59) vs. Orioles (TBD), 6:38 p.m. Friday, Bally Sports West, 830 AM