How Giants Pitchers Can Name Their Own Games This Season originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Giants pitcher Alex Cobb stubbed his toes on the rubber and then reached down to his belt at camp at Scottsdale Stadium a day early. Before the next throw had even returned to him from his catcher, Cobb reached down to his belt again.
In 2022, that sequence might have caused an umpire to pay a little more attention to Cobb’s fingers at the end of the inning. In 2023 it will be another new part of the game and another step forward for a sport trying to take advantage of technological advances and accelerate the pace of play.
A year after PitchCom launched for catchers, pitchers have the option to wear their own tackle and call their own plays. Cobb was the starter most excited about this and he seemed to make it look easy during this live BP session. But he felt that was not the case.
“It’s an adjustment, a big adjustment,” he said afterwards, smiling. “But everyone has said it’s an adjustment and that it’s quick and takes some getting used to. They were right about it being fast and hopefully they are right about getting used to it. But it was quick.”
Cobb was reminded of how fast everything can go when he made his spring debut on Tuesday. He gave up four runs in his first inning in 2023 and afterwards told reporters that it didn’t feel like there was going to be that much going on. In addition to trying out PitchCom, Cobb was also working with a pitch clock for the first time.
The outing was a reminder of how much new is to come this year, and the Giants are still undecided on how much of it they will embrace. You don’t have a choice with the pitch clock, but early results on PitchCom were mixed.
After first using it at camp, Cobb compared it to learning to text message years ago. It took me a while to get a feel for anything new, but eventually texting became second nature to almost all of society. If Cobb and other Giants can get used to naming their own pitches and doing so in a lot less time than in the past, they believe there will be some tangible benefits.
“With some of the younger[catchers]I think it helps take their mind off pitch calling and they can really focus on some other important things: pitch framing, the ongoing game is going to be hectic this year, let’s assume out of. They can kind of shift their focus to that,” Cobb said on Thursday’s Giants Talk podcast. “I always tell them if they’re adamant on a pitch, shrug me off and they still have the ability to call pitches. Shake me off and go to a pitch and I’ll listen and we’ll go down that road. But for the most part we’re just trying to get myself into a flow and get the pace going.
What the Giants could ultimately settle into is a hybrid system. Pitchers can use PitchCom when they’re in a good rhythm, or rely on their catcher if they want to. Most Giants pitchers assume they’ll mostly stick with the catcher hitting the calls — something that was first done last year — but that could change over time. Alex Wood said he’ll give it a try this spring and see how it goes, but he likes the traditional method of thinking along with a catcher and sometimes following his partner’s lead.
“I usually know what I want to throw every time, but 15 or 20 percent of the time I’m in between or don’t know what I want to throw,” he said. “I’m the one pushing the button now. The 20 percent of the time I’m maybe between pitches, I’m waiting to see what the catcher puts down.”
There are of course ways to circumvent this. A catcher can shake and wait for the pitcher to key in another option, but with just 15 seconds on the clock with no runners, it can be difficult to pull through. Cobb said the clock will ultimately dictate a lot of what he does with PitchCom.
Logan Webb plans to try the system, but doesn’t expect to use it much. He doesn’t shake his catcher very often anyway, but there can be a few times in a game where he’s really confident and wants to make his own decision. The rest of the time, Webb could only get in trouble with pitching coach Andrew Bailey.
“I’d just call a bunch of four sailors,” said the man with one of the best sinkers in the game, and laughed. “I like throwing them, but I probably shouldn’t throw them.”
The biggest adjustment might be for catchers who spend hours a day going through game plans and formulating sequences in their heads. Buster Posey would often stare at a hitter and seemingly think along with him before laying down marks. Joey Bart used PitchCom last year but said he’s willing to give up some of that responsibility if that’s what his pitchers want. Bart feels that when a pitcher wants to name his own pitch, it teaches him something.
“I love that. It just tells me they believe in what they’re doing,” he said. “If it helps you overcome the stress and anxiety of the clock, let’s do it.” I still have my information and schedule on my site. But at the end of the day, if they want to do that, I totally support them.”
When asked if he would turn the tables and shake his pitcher, Bart smiled and shook his head.
“The pitcher always wins,” he said.
While Cobb was disappointed with his initial review of the device, those around the game expect it to become the norm over the years. Last year there were occasional problems with PitchCom – especially when the device malfunctioned and had to be swapped out during games – but pitchers and catchers adjusted and eventually it just became another part of the game. It was barely noticeable after initial surprise from catchers wearing a device.
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It’s a game that’s rapidly changing and trying to keep up with the times, and this year’s evolution won’t be the end. Giants coaches are already talking about where all of this could lead one day. Will the game soon mimic soccer, with PitchCom devices and headsets in the dugout and calls from Gabe Kapler or Bailey? It is possible.
Cobb is 35 and entering his 12th season in the majors. He’s seen a lot of changes in that time, but he’s learned to embrace them.
“I played ’11 and ’12 before Instant Replay and had to get used to all sorts of changes,” he said. “As a competitor, you can either mope and get upset and complain about it, or try to find ways to use it to your advantage. The rules are going to be what they are going to be, we aren’t. When I heard that was going to be the case and the pitch clock and the ability to call our pitches I embraced it and tried to figure out a way how I can benefit from it and the team can benefit from it.”
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