WASHINGTON — Consider Andrew Knizner a PitchCom convert.
The St. Louis Cardinals catcher 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 the anti-sign-stealing technology that allows the catcher to communicate with the pitcher and three other fielders by pressing a button.
“Before we used it, it was like, ‘Oh, can never use that, call a game normal,’ ” Knizner told USA TODAY Sports. “Now I’ll never go back. It’s so much easier.
“It’s pretty much second-nature.”
Most major leaguers have embraced PitchCom in its inaugural season. This season has introduced baseball fans to the images of a pitcher covering his ear with his glove to hear the command and other device-related mishaps. Overall, PitchCom has received positive reviews, even from a skeptic like Max Scherzer, who thinks it should be “illegal.”
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Perhaps 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 that had a little something to do with it,” Knizner said. “Even me, I was kind of like, ‘Ah, that’s bogus I’m not really about it.’ But now with so much of the sign-stealing scandal and drama, everybody’s trying to get an advantage – which they always have – it kind of takes that out of play. It allows our pitcher to relax and (receive) the pitch off the mound.”
Molina’s longtime battery-mate, Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright, praised PitchCom. It makes a ton of sense, he said, but it’s unfortunate something like it has to be used at all.
“I heard a couple guys say the other day that stealing signs is part of the game,” Wainwright said in reference to Scherzer’s comments. “I couldn’t disagree more.”
Scherzer prides himself on using a complex set of signs with runners on second base – the original situation for which PitchCom was created – and considered it an advantage. But Wainwright thinks PitchCom actually preserves the spirit of competition.
“(Stealing signs) might 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 from the best part of the game, in my opinion,” Wainwright said. “The best part of the game is the batter versus the pitcher in a one-on-one.”
Wainwright’s one concern is that, come playoff time, pitchers won’t be able to hear the command from the transmitter that pitchers often place in the lining of their cap – although some have devised their own methods.
“It’s going to be interesting to see in loud atmospheres how it goes because it’s hard to hear when it’s really loud,” Wainwright said.
The co-founder of PitchCom, Craig Filicetti, said volume improvements have been made throughout the season by improving the software within the devices and how they engineer the audio in order to cut through crowd noise better. There is still “more headroom to go,” Filicetti said.
“We think we’re going to be ready for it,” he told USA TODAY Sports.
Filicetti and partner John Hankins have designed and built every single unit. They are only two individuals who work with MLB teams and provide system support regarding PitchCom. The hours are long.
The duo typically has calls with two or three teams per day, ranging from five minutes to an hour, to help clubs construct “tracks” – the sequence of options PitchCom will display – to their desires. Filicetti and Hankins also meet with league officials about twice per week.
As the season’s progressed, Filicetti said there was a decrease in user error. Early on, delays were usually attributed not to PitchCom itself, but players may have forgotten to turn the receiver on, the device wasn’t charged 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 downfall of this thing is you get some technical malfunctions now and again,” said Knizner, who often won’t have to adjust his catching stance to call signs, a welcome relief on his lower body. “But that’s minimal.”
Knizner likes how specific he can be with the location; PitchCom has nine boxes in the strike zone for pitch location in addition to the pitch type command.
“It’s efficient, it’s quick and more specific which I look too,” Knizner said.
Location was initially a concern for some big league catchers when it came to PitchCom. But Hankins said players have had the ability to designate location – it’s just another example of players becoming more comfortable with the technology.
Putting 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 his positioning and improved defense on PitchCom.
“It’s all about the PitchCom, man,” Senzel said in April.
Cleveland Guardians catcher Austin Hedges programmed the device to offer positive, yet explicit, affirmations back to the pitcher.
The flexibility of the system, and watching teams employ PitchCom in their own creative ways, have been the more rewarding parts of PitchCom’s campaign for its founders.
“We love the way that teams are taking this and making it their own,” said Hankins, who said softball prototypes are being developed. Other systems with less-enhanced software are available for travel baseball and are cheaper, Filicetti said.
Silencing PitchCom skeptics, from Scherzer to the Cardinals, into believers is another reason to celebrate.
“I never have to worry about white-out on my nails again,” Knizner said, “so that’s a plus.”
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.