Vanderbilt Baseball Launches Wearable ‘Pitch Signaling’ Devices to Reduce Backboard Theft and Improve Pace of Play

Major League Baseball may be on indefinite hiatus due to the owner-initiated lockdown, but baseball is played across the country. The college baseball season kicked off this weekend, and our Dayn Perry told you everything you need to know about the Division I season.

Over the weekend, Vanderbilt (and several other schools) launched a new wearable height-signalling device. Players wear the watch-like device on their glove hand to receive pitch selection information from the coaching staff. The NCAA approved these wearable devices last year. Here they are in action:

“It’s technically called an electronic scoreboard in NCAA lingo,” broadcaster Max Herz explained (via Simon Gibbs). “That was the first year it was legal for a college pitcher to wear something like this…Vanderbilt pitching coach Scott Brown punches numbers into a controller he has, and the nine Vanderbilt players in the field have one. They all see the same thing. It tells the pitcher what type of pitch to throw, and where and how to throw it.

The devices are one-way (players can only receive information, not send it) and the watch design is one of many available to teams. They can also use an earpiece. The aim is to improve the pace of play and reduce the risk of panel theft. Here is part of the original NCAA press release:

“Examples of what could be implemented next season include teams being allowed to use an electronic scoreboard from the dugout that displays a numeric code to call shots and/or defensive plays. Teams can also use a one-way in-ear communication device that would be limited for use from the dugout to the receiver.”

MLB clubs have been paranoid about sign theft for years — receivers have put up multiple signs even with empty bases for nearly a decade now — and the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal has thrown light on how far teams will go to gain an advantage. They are no longer simply looking for a “say” from the canoe. They go high tech with video equipment.

The college baseball season only has one weekend, so we don’t have enough information about these new pitch-signalling devices yet, but you can be sure MLB is paying attention. The league has limited video access for players since the Astros scandal broke and continues to look for other ways to cover up the signs.

At the MLB level, the question would be how the signs are entered. Does the receiver do it? Or do all the signs come from the canoe? It is common for coaching staffs to call pitches at the college level. This happens at the big league level in some cases, but for the most part the catcher is calling the play, and they would need a way to enter the field selection with a handheld device. The entry process is much easier for a coach in the dugout than it would be for the catcher behind home plate.

If wearables have the desired effect at the college level and don’t slow down the game, it will only be a matter of time before MLB looks to implement them. The MLBPA should agree to their use, and there might be a minor testing period, but the wheels are in motion. The NCAA is offering MLB a free trial for these devices.

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