WASHINGTON — Consider Andrew Knizner a PitchCom convert.
The St. Louis Cardinals wide receiver had heard the chatter but never laid eyes on a PitchCom device until more than a month into the 2022 MLB season. The Cardinals were the last team to implement anti-sign theft technology that allows the catcher to communicate with the pitcher and three other defensemen with the press of a button.
“Before I used it, it was like, ‘Oh, I can never use that, call it a normal game,'” Knizner told USA TODAY Sports. “Now I will never go back. It’s so much easier.
“It’s pretty much second nature.”
Most major leagues adopted PitchCom in its inaugural season. This season presented baseball fans with images of a pitcher covering his ear with his glove to hear the command and other incidents related to the device. Overall, PitchCom has received positive reviews, even from a skeptic like Max Scherzer, who thinks it should be “illegal”.
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Maybe the Cardinals were late to the party because of veteran catcher Yadier Molina, the 40-year-old future Hall of Famer who commands a pitching staff like Bobby Flay in his kitchen.
“I think maybe it has a little something to do with it,” Knizner said. “Even I was kind of like, ‘Ah, that’s wrong, I’m not really about that.’ But now with so many sign-stealing scandals and dramas, everybody’s trying to get an edge – which they always have – it kind of takes that away from the game. It allows our pitcher to relax and (receive) the throw from the mound.”
Molina’s longtime drum mate, Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright, praised PitchCom. It makes a lot of sense, he said, but it’s a shame something like that has to be used at all.
“I heard a few guys say the other day that stealing signs was part of the game,” Wainwright said in reference to Scherzer’s comments. “I couldn’t disagree more.”
Scherzer prided himself on using a complex set of panels with runners on second base – the original situation PitchCom was created for – and viewed it as an advantage. But Wainwright thinks PitchCom actually keeps the spirit of competition alive.
“(Stealing signs) could be part of the game. I wish it wasn’t part of the game. It doesn’t need to be part of the game. It takes away the best part of the game, in my opinion,” said said Wainwright. “The best part of the game is the batter against the pitcher in a one-on-one.”
Wainwright’s only concern is that come playoff time, pitchers won’t be able to hear the command from the transmitter that pitchers often place in their cap liner — though some have devised their own methods.
“It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out in loud atmospheres, because it’s hard to hear when it’s really loud,” Wainwright said.
PitchCom co-founder Craig Filicetti says volume improvements have been made throughout the season by improving the devices’ software and the way they design audio to better reduce crowd noise. . There’s still “more wiggle room,” Filicetti said.
“We think we’re going to be ready for that,” he told USA TODAY Sports.
Filicetti and partner John Hankins designed and built each unit. These are just two people who work with MLB teams and provide system support regarding PitchCom. The hours are long.
The duo typically have calls with two or three teams a day, ranging from five minutes to an hour, to help clubs build “runs” – the sequence of options that PitchCom will display – according to their desires. Filicetti and Hankins also meet with league officials about twice a week.
As the season progressed, Filicetti said there was a decrease in user errors. At first, lags weren’t usually attributed to PitchCom itself, but players may have forgotten to turn on the receiver, the device didn’t charge properly, or they simply forgot to place the receiver in their cap (or elsewhere).
It’s not foolproof, but players have discovered the benefits.
“The only downside to this thing is that you run into technical malfunctions from time to time,” said Knizner, who often won’t have to adjust his catching stance to call the signs, a welcome relief on his lower body. . “But it’s minimal.”
Knizner loves how precise he can be with location; PitchCom has nine boxes in the strike zone for pitch location in addition to the pitch type control.
“It’s efficient, it’s quick and more accurate, which is what I’m looking for too,” Knizner said.
Location was initially a concern for some big league catchers when it came to PitchCom. But Hankins said players have the ability to designate a location – just another example of players becoming more comfortable with technology.
Placing the device behind the receiver’s shin guard was an innovation made at the club level, for example. The New York Yankees used PitchCom to improve their run defense, according to The Athletic. Cincinnati Reds outfielder Nick Senzel, using one of the receivers, credited his positioning and improved defense on PitchCom.
“It’s all about the PitchCom, man,” Senzel said in April.
Cleveland Guardians wide receiver Austin Hedges programmed the device to deliver yet explicitaffirmations back to pitcher.
The flexibility of the system and the teams looking to use PitchCom creatively have been the most rewarding elements of the PitchCom campaign for its founders.
“We love how teams are taking this and making it their own,” said Hankins, who said softball prototypes are in development. Other systems with less-enhanced software are available for travel baseball and are less expensive, Filicetti said.
Silencing PitchCom doubters, from Scherzer to Cardinals, into believers is another reason to celebrate.
“I never have to worry about white haze on my nails again,” Knizner said, “so that’s a plus.”
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.