Mound Visits: The Great Debate With An Easy Solution

It’s that time of year where rules change conversations are taking place. One of the ongoing biggest concerns for MLB is pace of play. This issue will likely never go away but that won’t stop baseball from constantly looking to eliminate dead time and make our game more appealing to a younger audience.

The pitch clock has been the most talked about topic, but mound visits, especially from catcher to pitcher, are also something that need to be addressed.

Astros’ pitcher Lance McCullers, Jr. had an interesting response to MLB Network’s Chris Rose when Rose reached out to baseball fans via Twitter to gauge their opinion about proposed pace of play changes.

While McCullers is right about the advances made in cheating, both legal and illegal, I disagree that increased mound visits are the only way to prevent the other team from stealing signs. Notably, McCullers was visited by his catcher Brian McCann six times in the first inning of Game 7 of the 2017 World Series. Yes, six. Certainly those were not all about signs.

Regardless of what each of those meetings were about, let’s stay on signs, sign stealing  and the very simple fix that would help minimize mound visits.

The options for disguising signs are endless. It would be very easy for a pitcher to have two or three sets of signs that he can change throughout an inning or even in the middle of an at bat without the need for the catcher to come visit him.

Communicating with your catcher which set of signs you are using is as simple as flashing 1, 2 or 3 fingers to your catcher.

The most common set of pitcher signs is “second sign, shake first.” Very simply, the second sign flashed from the catcher is the pitch he wants you to throw. If you shake him off, then you are using the first sign.

For example: The catcher flashes 1-2-1-4. He wants “2”, a curveball for most pitchers. If the pitcher shakes and the catcher flashes 1-3-4-1 then he is calling for “1”, commonly a fastball.

Now because that system is so common and so simple, it is easy to pick up on. There are so many more intricate ways to disguise your signs. Here are examples of three sets that pitchers could use and eliminate those mound visits.

1 – “Strikes plus one, shake last”

This what I used in my career and what I loved about it was that the hot sign changed throughout the at bat. No strikes, first sign was hot. One strike, then it was the second sign. Two strikes, then it was the third sign. If I shook the catcher off then it was the last sign.

Example:

0-0 count 1-3-4-1, “1” is what the catcher is calling for.

2-1 count 1-3-4-1, “3” is the sign called for, despite the same sign sequence being flashed.

2-2 count 1-3-4-1, “4” is the sign being called for, again, despite the same sign sequence being used.

Using this set of signs with or without runners on base make it very difficult for anyone in the ballpark to steal your signs.

2 – “Outs plus one, shake first”

This is pretty straight forward. The hot sign is the number of outs plus one. No outs, first sign, one out second sign and two outs third sign. If the pitcher shakes the catcher off then it is the first sign.

3 – “Sign after 2, shake last”

The two becomes the indicator and whichever sign follows is the pitch being called for.

2-3-1-3, the catcher is calling for “3”, often a slider.

3-1-2-1, the catcher is calling for “1”, often a fastball.

The options really are endless and we haven’t even explored “touches” as signs. You have seen this before. That is when a catcher will use his bare hand to touch his shin guards, chest protector, face mask, etc. to relay signs to the pitcher.

We have also seen catchers use those wristbands that have a sleeve for notes, like a quarterback uses. So making sure he has all the information he needs for each pitcher in the game is simple.

Mound visits are an issue and need to be addressed. The excuse that they are necessary because pitchers need to change their signs often is not good enough. And since pitchers are the smartest guys on the field, that fix is easy.

 

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