Texas Rangers closer Joe Barlow was skeptical about PitchCom at first.
The electronic device, used to transmit pitch signals from the catcher to the pitcher in an effort to curb sign stealing, is brand new in Major League Baseball this season, and Barlow wondered what could go wrong. The PitchCom's speaker made his hat fit less comfortably. Catchers were worried hitters might be able to overhear the signals in their helmets. There was concern among players about radio connectivity issues, or what would happen when crowd noise drowned out the audio. But for Barlow, the device's potential quickly outweighed his initial concerns.
"This is bigger than I would expect," Barlow said about his first impression of the device. "But I was like, 'Put it in my hat, I don't care.' In the past you get hit around and you're asking if your stuff is not on or if you're tipping your pitches or they're stealing your signs. Now, if you get hit around, you know it's all on you."
For more than a century, signs have been relayed to pitchers -- from Cy Young to Max Scherzer -- through a sequence of finger movements by the catcher. But for the 2022 season, MLB digitized the experience by offering backstops a remote control on their wrists and pitchers a speaker in their hats that vocalize the signals, a potential added layer of protection against sign-stealing. Stealing signs has long been a part of the game's culture, but it has been a hot-button issue in recent years due to teams misusing technology to gain an unfair advantage -- most notoriously, the Houston Astros and their infamous trash-can banging scandal.
Barlow's conversion from PitchCom skeptic to fan mirrors the experience of many teams around baseball. Every pitcher on teams like the Rangers and New York Yankees now use it, telling ESPN their reasons range from competitive advantages to a faster pace of play to reduced anxiety on the mound.
"We all love it," said Yankees reliever Michael King. "We actually want the catchers to give us signs faster. We're thinking about it, like after he throws the ball back to me, I'd rather know it right then. It gives you time to think about the pitch and throw it with conviction. I come set knowing that I have no doubt in my mind that the catcher is thinking something differently than me."