WASHINGTON — Consider Andrew Knijner a Pitchcom convert.
The St. Louis Cardinals catcher heard the screams, but never paid attention PitchCom device More than a month into the 2022 MLB season. The Cardinals were the last team to implement anti-sign-stealing technology that allows a catcher to communicate with the pitcher and three other fielders with the push of a button.
“Before we used it, we were like, ‘Oh, never use it, call the game normal,'” Knijner told USA TODAY Sports. “Now I’ll never go back. It is very simple.
“It’s pretty much second nature.”
Most major leagues adopted PitchCom in its inaugural season. This season introduced baseball fans to images of the pitcher covering his ear with his glove to hear command and other equipment-related hazards. Overall, PitchCom received positive reviews, even from skeptics like Max Scherzer, who thought it was “illegal”.
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The Cardinals may be late to the party thanks to veteran catcher Yadier Molina, a 40-year-old future Hall of Famer who commands a pitching staff like Bobby Flay in his kitchen.
“I think that probably has a little bit to do with it,” Nijner said. “I was like, ‘Ah, that’s bogus, I’m not really about that.’ But now with so much of the sign-stealing scandal and the drama, everybody’s trying to get an advantage — they always have — it takes some of the game away. It allows our pitcher to relax and (receive) the pitch from the mound. . . .
Molina’s longtime battery mate, Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright, praised Pitchcom. That makes a ton of sense, he said, but it’s unfortunate to have to use it.
“I heard a couple of guys say the other day that stealing signs is part of the game,” Wainwright said, referring to Scherzer’s comments. “I couldn’t disagree more.”
Scherzer prides himself on using complex signals with runners at second base — the original situation in which the pitchcom was created — and sees it as an advantage. But Wainwright thinks Pitchcom actually preserves the spirit of competition.
“(Stealing symbols) could be part of the game. I wish it wasn’t part of the game. It doesn’t have to be part of the game. It takes away from the best part of the game, in my opinion,” Wainwright said. “The best part of the game is hitting against each other’s pitcher.”
One of Wainwright’s concerns is that, come playoff time, pitchers often won’t hear the command coming from a transmitter tucked into the lining of their cap — though some have devised their own methods.
“It’s hard to hear when it’s really loud so it will be interesting to see how this happens in a loud environment,” Wainwright said.
Pitchcom co-founder, Craig Filicetti, said volume improvements were made throughout the season by improving the software in the devices and how they engineered the audio to better dampen crowd noise. And yet “there’s more headroom to go,” Filicetti said.
“We think we’re ready for it,” he told USA TODAY Sports.
Filicetti and partner John Hankins designed and built every single unit. They are the only two people who work with MLB teams and provide system support regarding PitchCom. Hours are long.
The duo typically have calls with two or three teams a day, to help clubs build “tracks” – where PitchCom can present a sequence of options – tailored to their needs. Filicetti and Hankins also meet with league officials twice a week.
As the season progressed, Filicetti said, there was a decrease in user error. Initially, delays are usually not Pitchcom related, but players may have forgotten to turn on the receiver, the device may not be charging properly, or the receiver may have been placed in their cap (or elsewhere).
It’s not foolproof, but players have found benefits.
“The only downfall of this thing is you get some technical errors now and again,” said Nijner, who often doesn’t have to adjust his catching stance to call signals, which is a welcome relief on his lower body. “But it’s less.”
Nijner likes to be specific with the location; Pitchcom has nine boxes in the strike zone for pitch location along with pitch type command.
“It’s efficient, it’s quicker and more specific, I also look,” says Nijner.
Location was initially a concern for some big league catchers when it came to the pitchcom. But Hankins says players have the ability to indicate location — another example of players becoming more comfortable with the technology.
Placing the device behind the catcher’s shin guard was an innovation made at the club level, for example. The New York Yankees used Pitchcom to improve their running defense. According to the Athletic. Cincinnati Reds outfielder Nick Senzel, using one of the receivers, credited Pitchcom with his positioning and improved defense.
“It’s all about Pitchcom, man,” Senzel said in April.
Cleveland Guardians catcher Austin Hedges programmed the device to deliver a positive, More clearlyAcknowledgments back to the pitcher.
The flexibility of the system and watching teams use Pitchcom in their own creative ways are the most rewarding parts of a Pitchcom campaign for its founders.
“We like the way teams can take this and make it their own,” Hankins said of softball prototypes being developed. “Other systems with less-improved software are available for travel baseball and are cheaper,” Filicetti said.
Pitchcom silencing the skeptics, believers from Scherzer to the Cardinals, is another reason to celebrate.
“I don’t have to worry about getting white on my nails again,” says Nijner, “so that’s a plus.”
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.