Major League Baseball is exploring various on-field technologies to help prevent sign-stealing, reports Hannah Keyser of Yahoo Sports. The league plans to get feedback from players in spring training, though there is no timetable for any new technology to be approved or implemented league-wide.
An earpiece that allows pitchers and catchers to communicate directly would seem to be the most obviously solution, though minor-league catchers who have tested the technology found it to be distracting. Here's more from Keyser:
One of the devices in development, described by league sources, is a wearable random-number generator (similar to a push password used for secure log-ins) that corresponds to which sign in a sequence is relevant. This would preserve the existing dynamic of a catcher putting down a sign for interpretation by the pitcher, but overlay it with a level of secure encryption that would be virtually impossible to decode even with a dedicated software program.
Alternatively, the finger system could be replaced by in-ground lights on the mound. Sources with knowledge of the idea said catchers would have access to a control pad that corresponds to a lighting panel visible only to the pitcher. A certain button for a certain light sequence for a certain pitch.
There are two concerns with on-field technology for communicating signs. One is pace of play.and MLB does not want to make it worse. And two, the coaching staff in the dugout needs to be tapped in. Some signs are called from the dugout and the technology must accommodate that.
Another potential concern -- to be clear, this is just my speculation -- is that the technology could be hacked. Any system that relays signs electronically, either with lights or voices or something else, will have potential vulnerabilities that could be exploited. With earpieces, for example, how long until a team tries to pick up the signal? I bet it would happen almost immediately.
"There's real testing that needs to take place with these things, first and foremost, in terms of safety and then also the integrity of the devices and then the impact that they're gonna have," a source told Keyser. "Is it going to speed the game up? Is it going to slow it down? How is it going to change the game? ... I think we will have a technological solution at some point."
It should be noted there are no rules explicitly prohibiting sign-stealing. If a runner is on second base and he picks up the catcher's signs, and relays them to the hitter, that's fair game. MLB has guidelines for the use of electronics, however, and using cameras or other devices to steal signs is against those rules. It's also considered crossing the line within the unwritten rules.
Prior to last season MLB issued a memo reminding teams what constitutes improper use of electronics and of the potential penalties., at which point commissioner Rob Manfred said clubs were told "future violations of this type will be subject to more serious sanctions, including the possible loss of draft picks."
. The club is said to have had a camera fixed on the catcher's signs, with the live feed sent to the tunnel between the dugout and clubhouse. Manfred will hand down punishment at some point, the extent of which is unknown.
Spring training camps open in roughly five weeks. Cactus League and Grapefruit League play begins at the end of February. It's unclear whether MLB will have a technology to assist with pitcher-catcher communication ready to go in time.