Cleveland – Shane Bieber paused for a moment in the first half of the early season against the Chicago White Sox.
He was hearing voices – a specific human voice.
Until he took the pile, Bieber didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary as he went through his warm-up routine, throwing a few tones and adjusting the volume on his PitchCom audio receiver. Major League Baseball started a stadium recall system this year to reduce signal theft. The Guardians righty have become familiar with the new technology and their proven synthetic voice since it was introduced to them during spring training in Arizona.
But when the first call came and Bieber heard the word “fastball,” the word was delivered in the voice of catcher Austin Hedges.
“I came to the dugout (after the first half) and said ‘I Dislikes That’s,” Bieber said. I was half joking. We have an interesting relationship.”
This was the staff’s first taste of the catcher’s attempt to hack PitchCom in a way that benefited the team.
Hedges always thinks of his craft. As he experimented with PitchCom this spring and learned that it could be reprogrammed, he began to wonder about potential ways to extract additional benefits from it.
“My brain is totally obsessed with the pickup situation,” Hedges said. “It’s hard to stop my brain. My brain will start spinning, and I will have all these thoughts.”
Even while watching TV or playing video games in his apartment in early April, his thoughts were wandering about hacking PitchCom. Can it be changed to increase the speed of the game? The default version required pressing two buttons: one for the type of stadium and one for the location. The process may take a few seconds to transfer the information. If the bowler was shaken several times, Hedges found that it could take 10 seconds to find the pitch they agreed on.
He also wondered if there was a way to provide psychological reinforcements to his shooters during the match. What if he could simulate visiting a small hill without using any of the five assigned?
“You’ve never been able to talk to your pitcher from behind the house board,” Hedges said. “I’m like, ‘What if we could benefit from talking to the bowler somehow without using a visit to the hill?'” Whether it’s positive reinforcement — or even negative reinforcement, if you need it. “
He started bouncing thoughts about the coaching staff and the shooters. While he liked that he no longer had to worry about runners in second robbery marks, he missed the focus he could add when he put his fingers down for an old-fashioned call. He wanted to add a human element to the new system.
On April 20, his secret project rolled off the production line.
Triston Mackenzie was the man on the hill in game two with two heads. He was aware that Hedges had somehow reprogrammed PitchCom to bring out his own voice, but he wasn’t aware of all of Hedges’ new tricks.
The Guardians took a 2-0 lead to start the fifth inning when McKenzie had trouble walking back-to-back. Then White Sox player Danny Mendyk doubled the left field line. Rhys McGuire scored and Adam Engel waved the house as Cleveland left-footed Stephen Cowan collected the ball along a wall in a foul area. Kwan threw a raid on his house. Reserve guards Brian Lavesteda caught the ball in one jump and ran to his left to mark Engel sliding out.
As he walked off the hill, Mackenzie heard Hedges’ voice through the receiver, but it wasn’t a phone call. It was an empathetic ‘yes’. two or three of them.
Mackenzie buried his face in his glove and looked like he was screaming something hard.
“I came out of the hill beaming at the play, and then (La Vastida) pressed the button, and he threw me in a loop at first. Then I said, ‘This is so sick,'” Mackenzie said.
“I came to the dugout, and I said, ‘Is that you?'” I love this shit. Mackenzie said he told Hedges. “I hugged him.”
Mackenzie gets his “yes” after well-executed pitches as a few jolts of positive reinforcement now.
Hedges said it took a few times to record his pitch calls and confirmed messages because the audio files had to be a second or less to load into the system.
“It’s just another way to connect, to take advantage of really cool technology,” Hedges said.
Fiery Watchmen closer to Emmanuel Classe gets the most “yes” messages. Hedges recorded his calls and commands in English and Spanish, switching according to the shooter’s preference.
“He specifically loves it,” Hedges said. “Anytime you can shoot it, it tends to throw more obscenities.”
Bieber said he didn’t get an “F—yes” this year.
With a balanced disposition, Bieber probably does not need such reinforcements. Hedges tries to understand the moods of his colleagues as best he can. One Sunday morning at the club, he played cards with the bowler who started the day, Cal Quantrell, bonding over a shared love of fantasy football.
With Bieber, the focus is on speed.
“We’re moving really fast,” Bieber said. “We keep it straightforward.”
Hedges’ first focus was to improve the speed of the instrument to help with rhythm. He had Cleveland’s IT staff reprogram it to have a single button to communicate with the stadium type and location instead of making two separate selections. The device has been reprogrammed four times this season as ways are constantly being sought to improve it.
in 19.9 secondsBieber is the Guardians’ fastest bowler and one of the fastest in baseball. His pace is up 23 seconds from last year.
The staff finished 19th in the standings last season, averaging 23.9 seconds between courts. This year, it ranked third with a time of 22.2 seconds. It’s the biggest drop in majors.
“Once the season started and the games really matter, I was getting a bunch of ideas on how to improve it, specifically, with the tempo elements,” Hedges said. How efficient is button clicking?
As an employee, Cleveland had 4.34 ERA employees last year, which ranked 18th in majors and 10th in the American League. This year, the club’s ERA 3.60 was ranked eighth in the majors and fifth in the AL. While it’s hard to tell what role percussion played, McKenzie said it was important to him.
“The most important thing for me when I’m promoting is the rhythm, and Beachcom helps with that,” said McKenzie.
For the league as a whole, PitchCom has helped reduce the time between courts to 23.1 this season, down 0.6 seconds from last year. Cut off time off the pitch important decisions next season when MLB Adopts the stadium clock.
Hedges hacks seem unusual. Adley Rutschman of Baltimore, who is looking for a team that is now dependent on technology and data, said the Orioles are using PitchCom’s default settings.
Seattle’s Kurt Casale told TheScore that sailors use the default voice, too. But after hearing what Hedges was going to do in Cleveland, Casale began to think about what was possible.
“I want one (an option) that says, ‘Turn off the doors,'” or something like ‘shot at the hip,’ for a seamstress in the front door, or ‘snipe,’ (for) a back-door double-seam,” Casale said.
“It’s cool. I love it. I wish I had a little something for every pitcher.”
Casale thinks it could be something sailors look to this season. Perhaps more teams will follow the example of Hedges and Guardians. There may be more communication edges that can be extracted from the new MLB technology
Travis Sauchek is TheScore’s Senior Baseball Writer.