September 10, 2008

Ask SpoFi: Pitcher-Catcher Signal Systems in Baseball: Had a few questions that my Google search didn't quite satisfy, and then realized I was asking in the wrong place....the collected baseball wits of SpoFi would know!

Do all pitchers and catchers (speaking pro ball here) on a team use the same set of signs? Would each team have its own system of signals (like a private code), that it then teaches at all levels of the farm system? Or does each team across the entire league generally use the same set of signs, and thus the goal becomes simply to hide the message being transmitted?

Can anyone suggest good resources on the history and evolution of signals in baseball? Any other notes that might be of interest to this topic?

Thanks for any help you can offer!

posted by smithers to navel gazing at 04:06 PM - 6 comments

I am not, nor have I ever been, a candidate to play professional baseball, so what I say may be completely wrong (you're welcome):

I think the general set of signs with the bases empty are pretty consistent across all levels of baseball, 1 for fastball, 2 for breaking, 3 or 4 fingers for the change. Obviously those signs need to be modified for different pitchers: on the Red Sox, Papelbon throws 3 pitches (and mostly just 2) whereas Matsuzaka may throw 6 or 7.

If there's a player on second, the signs typically change to prevent the runner from sending info to the batter: the catcher may hit various parts of his gear or numbers of times or just show x # of signals where the second signal is the actual pitch (or there's some indicator in the earlier antics that gives you which sign matters).

As a complete guess, I'd say it's unlikely the signs are consistent through an organization given how much player movement there is, especially below the major league level. Instead I think pitchers & catchers develop a feel for the general framework of tools they can use and then just agree on one before the season or game or whatever causes them to want to change. There's too much sign stealing in baseball's history for teams to be comfy with one set of signals.

posted by yerfatma at 04:53 PM on September 10, 2008

Paging erkno11...paging erkno11...

posted by NoMich at 07:01 PM on September 10, 2008

I pitched up through college ball and still play in summer amateur leagues. The only time we ever really worried about it was in college. Usually the catcher and I would decide on the first, second, or third sign before the game or whenever a runner got to second. If we thought the other team was on to us we'd switch it up inning to inning. One season we used the first sign after a fastball sign(2-1-3=change, 1-1-3=fastball) and another season we would flash signs that meant nothing and the catcher would adjust gear to determine the pitch(mask was fastball, chest protector slider, etc.).

I don't know how different it is in the pro ball though. Now I'm watching the sox/rays game trying to figure out what the guy is going to throw.

posted by tron7 at 11:17 PM on September 10, 2008

Ha, I did notice in extra innings last night some pitcher missed the sign from Tek and all he did to re-send it was hit the right side of his gear in 3 or 4 places. No fingers at all.

posted by yerfatma at 05:00 PM on September 11, 2008

Yadier Molina uses his equipment a lot, but it seems that it can indicate location as well as pitch. It's also interesting to watch veteran catcher/pitcher communication, just a look from the pitcher or a certain motion by the catcher and they both know what's coming next. No sign necessary.

You can probably chalk up some mound visits to either clearing up signs or changing signs based on who's up or on deck.

posted by BoKnows at 12:13 AM on September 12, 2008

For those interested, I have since found a book called The Hidden Language Of Baseball by Paul Dickson. I'm very curious to learn more. Thanks for your feedback, gang.

posted by smithers at 10:13 AM on September 12, 2008

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