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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) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: astros, cheating, pace of play

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   1. Jose Canusee Posted: March 02, 2020 at 09:49 PM (#5927677)
There are so many articles about this stuff that I may have missed it, but if the sign stealing was based on relaying decoded visual information to the batter, I as a catcher would work out verbal cues with my pitchers and yell stuff like "Omaha!" that my facemask would conceal from the spies that might mean nothing or a sign shift and at least play with the mind of the batter that the info his team is passing might have just been audibled off.
   2. spanx for the memories Posted: March 03, 2020 at 11:39 AM (#5927751)
I remember this game specifically because it was pretty obvious that there was a concern about the Astos stealing signs as even Ray Fosse was hinting during the broadcast of the reasons why Jackson and Lucroy kept cycling through signs.
   3. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: March 03, 2020 at 11:55 AM (#5927755)
This article does a good job of highlighting the aesthetic disaster that will result if teams and players aren't confident that sign stealing has been eliminated. Catcher cycling through a 10-second set of signs, followed by the batter stepping out (possibly to give his team more time to decipher the signs), and then we do it all again. Every pitch. Oh yeah, and that's with the bases empty.
   4. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: March 03, 2020 at 12:00 PM (#5927759)
Opposing teams should simply have banged on their own trash cans at completely random intervals to confuse the Astros hitters. You don't even need actual trash cans - just record the sound and pump it in over the loudspeakers.
   5. pikepredator Posted: March 03, 2020 at 01:18 PM (#5927787)
Opposing teams should simply have banged on their own trash cans at completely random intervals

I like this idea. They also could have tased them to replicate the buzzers!
   6. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: March 03, 2020 at 03:46 PM (#5927823)
Anthony Rizzo was live mic'd in yesterday's spring training game:

Rizzo: "I'm doing some math in my head about where he is going to throw. I have no idea. I wish I knew. Someone bang for me."
   7. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: March 03, 2020 at 04:02 PM (#5927824)
Further Astros mockery from the world of Twitter:
Callie: the booing has to stop. just let them play baseball [[:unamused face:]]

Matt: the cool thing about this is the booing actually doesn’t have to stop.
   8. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: March 03, 2020 at 04:32 PM (#5927829)
just record the sound and pump it in over the loudspeakers.

How do opposing teams access the loudspeakers in Houston?
   9. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: March 03, 2020 at 04:34 PM (#5927831)

How do opposing teams access the loudspeakers in Houston?

Fair point. Bring your own speakers, then :)
   10. vortex of dissipation Posted: March 03, 2020 at 05:02 PM (#5927838)
How do opposing teams access the loudspeakers in Houston?

Hacking. Hijack the sound system and play Regal Lily songs. That'll confuse them.
   11. nick swisher hygiene Posted: March 03, 2020 at 06:46 PM (#5927846)
How about, for a season, we make it so that other teams facing the Astros just....don’t need signs?

Eg, no Houston batter shall advance on a wild pitch or passed ball. What else would be needed?
   12. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: March 03, 2020 at 07:01 PM (#5927849)
Speaking of pace of play and the Astros, I just turned on the Cards-Astros game and now I know where Cardsfanboy gets his thing about the 3-batter minimum being bad because "what if you can tell after one pitch that a pitcher doesn't have anything??" - the Cards broadcasters were saying the same thing. It's like LaRussa left something in the water.
   13. Sunday silence: Play Guess How long season lasts Posted: March 03, 2020 at 08:50 PM (#5927861)
Is it possible that the reason why MLB has seemed so very reluctant to enforce the already on the books rules about the pitch clock is that this issue was already an issue. Not sure exactly but it was a few years ago they decided to speed it up some but was that at the same time the Astros issue was coming to the forefront. I have no idea but it may something worth asking.
   14. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: March 03, 2020 at 08:57 PM (#5927866)
Not sure exactly but it was a few years ago they decided to speed it up some
IIRC that was all about requiring the batters to stay in the box, nothing to do with the pitchers. And the enforcement lasted about as long as an Ortiz between-pitch stroll.

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