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Saturday, February 29, 2020

The Ringer: How Teams Tried to Counter the Astros’ Sign Stealing Before MLB Did

In late August 2018, the second-place Oakland Athletics visited Houston for a potentially pivotal three-game series against the first-place Astros. The A’s entered the series boasting baseball’s best record over the previous two and a half months (45-19 since June 13), and they trailed the Astros by only 1.5 games in the AL West. The previous week, the two teams had actually spent a few days tied atop the division, although the A’s had never pulled ahead. If Oakland swept this series, the reigning world champions would be looking up at the A’s.

The A’s dropped the first game of the series 11-4, but the next two contests would each be decided by one run. Journeyman Edwin Jackson, pitching for the 13th of his record 14 franchises, took the mound for Oakland in Game 2. He also took his time. The A’s and the Astros wouldn’t face each other again during the regular season, and given their proximity in the standings and the closeness of the score, each pitch was too critical to rush. But there was one other factor extending Jackson’s pauses between pitches: The A’s were aware that the Astros might be stealing their signs. [...]

Of course, it’s possible that the Astros were still stealing signs in late 2018 via some pervasive, hitherto-undocumented method (insert buzzer-based conspiracy here). But by that time, at least some Astros opponents were paranoid enough to act under the assumption that the Astros were cheating, regardless of whether they still were. Jackson and Lucroy weren’t the only battery to slow down against the ’Stros; Angels starter Andrew Heaney, who recently said he hopes the Astros feel like ####, worked with catcher Francisco Arcia in two late-2018 starts in Houston and showed a similar spike in bases-empty time between pitches. [...]

Also of note is that no other team in 2018 had a home pace gap as large as the Astros did: Opposing pitchers slowed down more in Minute Maid than they did at any other park.

bobm Posted: February 29, 2020 at 08:22 PM | 14 comment(s)
  Beats: astros, cheating, pace of play




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