MESA, Ariz. -- Unlike many who have spoken out about baseball’s new rules, Joe Maddon isn’t as worried about a limit to mound visits making it easier to steal signs as much as he’s concerned about what it does to the Cubs’ game plan. He wants his catchers to be able to communicate a strategy to his pitchers -- but now they’ll be limited to six trips per game.
“I get upset in the dugout for two reasons: missed signs, and when the catcher doesn’t go out and talk to the pitcher. When the catcher knows what the right thing to throw was -- and the pitcher keeps shaking him off and finally the catcher cedes and the ball is [hit] off the wall,” Maddon said earlier this week. “That hasn’t been discussed enough. That’s when I want the trip.”
In an attempt to speed up games, Major League Baseball is limiting teams to six mound visits for the first nine innings of a game -- with a few exceptions. Infielders coming to the mound count as a visit, so Maddon is hoping to curb those interactions and prioritize the meetings between his pitcher and catcher.
The Cubs believe they tend to produce unique game plans for their pitchers behind the expertise of catching coach Mike Borzello. New pitchers sometimes take time to adjust and need the mound visits for help, and the Cubs are breaking in two new starters this year in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood.
“A lot of this rule change has been built around this concept that people have been cheating through technology,” Maddon said. “That’s my least concern. My concern about the trip is that we can communicate exactly what we want to do in the moment. We scout heavily and have an absolute game plan before it begins. And we’re really good at following it, [but] sometimes the guy out there [pitcher] forgets.”
While sign stealing may be last on Maddon's list of worries, it is still part of the equation and is the part that Cubs ace Jon Lester is most concerned about.
"People that aren't in the game don't understand there is so much technology now, there are so many cameras on the field, that every stadium has a camera on the catcher's crotch," Lester said. "They know the signs before you even get there. Now we have Apple Watches and people being accused of sitting in the tunnel [and spying]. There are reasons behind the mound visits.”
So between technology concerns and their unique game plans, the Cubs do have adjustments to make within the new rules. Maddon later noted that if he had to choose between taking his chances with the current pitcher -- without the benefit of a mound visit -- or changing pitchers prematurely but getting a conversation in with the new one, he wasn’t sure what he would do.
“We’ll see how it feels in April,” Maddon said. “I don’t know how this is going to play out.”
Spring games won’t help as they’re scripted ahead of time and don’t involve game plans anyway. Once the regular season begins, it’ll be up to the catcher to utilize his visits wisely, while the pitcher has to be on top of the pregame plan.
“My concern is communication,” Maddon said. “And making sure we’re on the same page. Because our prep is so good. We have to utilize our trips for those moments.”