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MLB looking into new technology to prevent theft of pitch calls

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MLB looking into new technology to prevent theft of pitch calls

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Jeremy Hellickson went out to bullpen mound No. 1 around 10 a.m. Monday as part starting pitcher, part guinea pig.

Hellickson was paired with catcher Spencer Kieboom. A meeting with a small group from Major League Baseball made the basic bullpen session unlike any other they have experienced. Both Hellickson and Kieboom strapped what looked like white Apple watches onto their left wrists. The duo was part of an experiment a sheet on the clubhouse tack board called “P/C communication devices”.

The idea is to use electronics to foil sign stealing and increase pace of game. Monday’s initial dalliance with the idea showed how far it is from being executed in the future. The “watches” are intended to allow catchers to call a pitch digitally. Another option is a larger rectangular device which emulates a quarterback’s playsheet.

Recent events, like the Red Sox-Yankees filming incident in 2017, have prompted the league to be more pro-active in considering remedies for sign stealing. Though, most expect any changes to just lead to players and teams searching for a new advantage to gain an edge.

Kieboom and Hellickson embraced trying the idea, smiling at the devices and making jokes about possible hacker interference. Kieboom shuffled to the plate and crouched. He pressed the watch-like device on his left wrist with dots aligned in a three-by-three format. A curveball away to a right-handed hitter, for instance, would cause a 2 to blink in the lower left corner of Hellickson’s device. Hellickson stood on the rubber then looked at his wrist.

“Didn’t come through,” he said.

After a bit of guidance and new attempts, it worked. Kieboom tapped. Hellickson glanced, nodded and delivered.  

In the end, both were skeptical of the device’s baseball future.

“It’s not practical at all,” Hellickson told NBC Sports Washington.

“I appreciate what people are thinking,” Kieboom told NBC Sports Washington. “I appreciate the want and need to address any kind of issues. I don’t necessarily -- these are the first times I’ve seen anything like this. Very rarely the first time you ever try anything is it gold.”

Problems with the idea ranged from who initiates the pitch call -- Hellickson could only receive the info, not send it -- to lights on the watch being a tell in the evening. In general, baseball, and its players, are resistant to change, which will always be a hurdle.

MLB stressed this process is in its earliest test-and-discuss stages.

“The meetings this spring have been exploratory in nature,” an MLB spokesperson said. “It has been helpful to show concepts to on-field personnel and to gather their feedback.  We aim to be proactive in the technology space now and frequently look at new technologies that may or may not come to fruition.”

Technology has recently mixed with old-school ways of sign and information stealing. Runners on second base still pose a threat, as always. A stadium filled with cameras and cell phones presents a new one.

Hellickson is adamant the watch experiment is not an answer to the problem. He’s also among those who hold only modest concern about on-field sign stealing.  

“I feel like it’s part of the game,” Hellickson said. “And us trying to mess with [the runners] out there. I don’t think there’s too much sign stealing going on in the game to make it this big of a deal. But if they do want to do that, the watch isn’t going to be the answer.”

Hellickson also argued attempts to steal signs can work both ways. More than once, a runner on second has incorrectly tried to tip a pitch to the hitter, leading to a bad swing and a glare from the batter’s box out to second base.

“I think that’s pretty funny,” Hellickson said.

Trying to read signs -- whether pitch calls or indicators and patterns from the dugout and third base coach -- is a legacy element of the game. Technology has added wrinkles. Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle is 61 years old. He entered the major leagues as an outfielder in 1977.

“There’s much more exposure to your signs than ever before,” Hurdle said. “With the technology available, it’s a whole different deal. There was a time and period back when I played it was called an art and science of sign stealing. Everyone wanted to know how to do it, learn how to do it, you gravitated to people who could do it.

“I know names of people who were kept on staffs BECAUSE they could do it. There was a time where our mindset, was, if somebody’s stealing your signs, shame on you. Change your signs. However, with the technology that’s available in today’s game, it does make it much more challenging. Different coding that’s going on. Lack of a better term: it’s a whole different ball game.”

Hurdle cited an instance when he learned an overhead camera had zoomed in on a book with scouting reports in the visitor’s dugout. That information was being sent to the opposition during the game. He moved the book.

He also uses a mantra applicable to what MLB is trying to do: “If you’re not willing to adapt, improvise and overcome, you’re going to get left in the dust.”

This initial pass has issues. Hellickson thought the watch felt odd, saw that it only occasionally worked and just doesn’t see a grand problem in the first place. Kieboom was more intrigued. He’s the rare 28-year-old who consults a watch to confirm the time in his daily life. So, it didn’t feel strange. It was just different. And not ready.

“I don’t see anything changing like that in the near future,” Kieboom said.

That would be fine with Hellickson.

“Honestly, I hope I’m out of the game when they bring that in,” Hellickson said. “It’s too much.”


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    2019 MLB Power Rankings: Week 5 update

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    2019 MLB Power Rankings: Week 5 update

    With the Capitals postseason run coming to a far-too-early end, D.C. area hockey fans may need a refresher on what’s going on in Major League Baseball. The focus is now shifting to America’s pastime, and the timing couldn’t be better.

    Now that we’re coming up on a month into the 2019 MLB season, the standings are starting to paint a clearer picture. 

    Sure, there are exceptions all over. No one expects the Red Sox to finish in fourth place in the AL East, and the Tigers are still playing way over their heads.

    But for the most part, we’ve seen enough games played to at least start to consider believing in many of the trends we’ve seen to start the season.


    The Rays have earned their place in the circle of trust, as they still sport the game’s best record and run differential. The new-look Cardinals and Phillies lineups have come together well, and the exciting Padres look like they’re here to stay.

    On the other end of the spectrum, the Marlins, Royals and Orioles entered the year as the projected three worst teams in baseball. Through 25 games, they have three of the four worst records in the league (only the snakebitten Angels are worse than the Orioles).

    It’s still too early to make sweeping judgments. There’s a reason the old adage points to Memorial Day as the first chance to truly evaluate most teams. But patterns have begun to emerge, and we can no longer look blindly past the struggles in Boston or the power in Seattle as purely flukes.

    Outlier teams always regress back to the mean, but the idea of signature significance lends credence to teams on the extreme belonging there too.

    With those caveats given, let’s wrap up the preamble and get to this week’s update on the 2019 MLB Power Rankings.



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    Nationals Roundup: Manny Machado's Padres come to town for 3-game weekend set


    Nationals Roundup: Manny Machado's Padres come to town for 3-game weekend set

    The Nationals (11-12) welcome Manny Machado and the NL East's San Diego Padres (14-11) to town for a 3-game set beginning Friday with a 7:05 p.m. ET first pitch from Nationals Park. 

    Washington enters the weekend having lost two consecutive series on the road against Miami and Colorado, yet still sits just 1.5 games out of the first-place Mets and Phillies

    Player Notes: 


    Starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez (0-3) allowed six runs on nine hits over five innings Wednesday as the Nats fell to the Rockies in their rubber match, 9-5. He'll get another chance to get his first win of 2019 next Monday against the Cardinals. 

    Anthony Rendon has been sidelined since Saturday when he was hit in the left elbow by a Jose Urena fastball. The early exit snapped his league-high 17-game hitting streak. Martinez said Rendon was available to pinch-hit Wednesday, which he did not. There does, however, seem to be optimism regarding Rendon's playing status for Friday. 

    Victor Robles is putting consistent pressure on Davey Martinez to keep him at the top of his lineup. The 20-year-old has 11 extra-base hits in 85 plate apperances, and is batting .286. 

    Trevor Rosenthal continues to struggle when called upon in the bullpen. In seven appearances this year, the 29-year-old has an ERA of 36.00. It certainly begs the question: how long can the Nationals afford to keep him on their roster? 


    Starting pitcher Chris Paddack led San Diego to a 1-0 win over the Mariners Wednesday while tossing seven innings, striking out nine, and retiring the last 19 batters he faced. This marked the 23-year-old's first win in the big leagues. 

    Veteran and first-year Padre Ian Kinsler crushed his 250th career home run for the game's lone run Wednesday. 

    Through 23 games, Manny Machado is batting .241 with 9 RBI and 4 HRs. Check out this ridiculous defensive play at third from earlier this month. The 26-year-old signed his 10-year, $300 million contract with the team in March. 


    3B Anthony Rendon: Elbow hit by pitch, day-to-day

    RP Austen Williams: Shoulder, 10-day IL

    RP Justin Miller: Back, 10-day IL

    SS Trea Turner: Finger, 10-day IL

    RP Koda Glover: Elbow, 10-day IL

    Coming Up:

    Saturday, 4/27: Padres @ Nationals, 4:05 p.m. ET, Nationals Park 

    Sunday, 4/28: Padres @ Nationals, 1:35 p.m. ET, Nationals Park 

    Monday, 4/29: Cardinals @ Nationals, 7:05 p.m. ET, Nationals Park 

    Source: Rotoworld