Mets’ Max Scherzer says PitchCom “should be illegal” after admitting he first used it against Yankees


Mets' Max Scherzer says PitchCom "should be illegal" after admitting he first used it against Yankees

After the sign-theft scandals — not to mention a slew of minor controversies that probably shouldn’t have happened — Major League Baseball began using electronics to relay signs from catcher to pitcher and vice-versa. It’s called Pitchcom. A decent number of teams have used it this season, and it seems up to the pitcher-catcher tandem whether or not they do so.

Mets ace Max Scherzer is not a fan on principle.

“Here’s what I’m going to say on PitchCom,” he said (via Newsday). “It works. Does it help? Yes, but I also think it should be illegal. I don’t think it should be in the game. Stealing signs is part of the game. For me, I’ve always prided myself on a complex sign system and having that advantage over other pitchers.”

He continued.

“The fact that we take that out of the game and put technology in, now you can’t steal signs, the pitcher can’t have an advantage of having a complex system. It’s part of baseball, trying to crack someone’s signs.”

This will be music to the ears of many old-school baseball fans.

PitchCom uses a shell worn by the catcher to transmit the signals to the pitcher and possibly up to three fielders via an earpiece. The sleeve has buttons, not unlike a video game controller. There is obviously one button per pitch and once the catcher presses it, anyone wearing the earbud will hear either the pitch name (“slider”) or a codeword they assigned for each pitch.

As Scherzer mentioned, sign stealing has long been a staple of baseball, and that’s why pitchers and catchers learn to obfuscate signs from a young age. They’ve been around for a long time established rules rules (yes, some unwritten ones) on italso like:

  • Using technology to steal signs is illegal and completely overkill.
  • A batsman looking backwards at a catcher is bush league and will be penalized with a bean ball.
  • If a team is bad at obfuscating signs, it is acceptable and even desirable to pass it on to the batter from a second runner.

Since the 2017 Astros and 2018 Red Sox both won and later became the World Series, there has been some awareness of the issue involved in scandals related to these seasons. Others have also been charged. Of course it’s not new. The 1951 Bobby Thomson shot, heard around the world, is controversial, as is Cleveland in 1948, the 1960s White Sox, and a host of others.

On that front, I found it interesting that Scherzer brought up the point of taking pride in preventing your opponent from stealing shields. The 2019 Nationals beat the Astros in seven World Series games. MLB has since noted that the Astros didn’t use sign-stealing technology in 2019, but the Nats were preparing as if everything was on the table. About the Washington Post:

The Nats’ plan for Houston had a few layers. First, each pitcher had to have their own signs, and catchers Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki had to be familiar with each one. So the employees printed out cards with the codes and had them laminated. The catchers could have them in their armbands, a la an NFL quarterback with play calls on his forearm, and the pitchers would have them in their caps. Each pitcher had five sets of marks, and they could change them from game to game—or even from batter to batter if needed. Are you using the set labeled #2 but worried the Astros will prevail? The pitcher could signal the catcher to move to set #3.

The Nationals also decided they would use multiple marks regardless of whether or not a runner was at second base. Nobody there? runner first? Let’s make sure the catcher iterates through a series of characters anyway, just in case.

Here Scherzer’s argument probably carries the most weight. There are many trainers on staff who go through such things on the signs. Having that kind of success against a strong offense would absolutely inspire a sense of great pride, especially when you thought they were trying to steal signs and failing.

The downside to this would be the belief that if they could just use PitchCom and spend their time planning games for specific hitters and setting up a pitching plan in detail (how long the starter should go, how to set them up bullpen, etc.).

It probably boils down to whether you think preventing shield stealing should be a skill or not. Scherzer seems to think it should be.

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