Wednesday, October 17, 2018

UPDATED: Are the Astros stealing signs?

Sometime yesterday someone who calls himself "Danny Picard" published an article on something called "Metro US" that alleged the Astros were trying to cheat, and have been for quite some time. Picard:
In the third inning of the first game of the [ALCS], security removed a man claiming to be an Astros employee from the media-credentialed area next to the Boston Red Sox dugout, according to multiple security sources who were on the scene at the time of the incident. The man had a small camera and was texting frequently, but did not have a media credential.

After the man was removed another Astros staffer intervened - according to sources who were on the scene - and tried to convince security that he was authorized to be in the area next to the dugout. The man was not allowed back into the credentialed area, but was allowed to remain in the ballpark. 

Picard noted that MLB acknowledged this event happened, in an email on Tuesday. Picard also noted that, while no one would comment, no one - the Astros included - would also deny anything.

We can go back a couple of years for this. It started a while ago:

*April 19, 2016: Even though the Rangers beat Houston 7-5, Derek Holland (who had allowed three straight doubles to open the 2nd inning, scoring two runs) thought the Astros were up to something. Holland:
Yeah, they knew what was coming....It looked like they were telling each other what was coming; that's what it felt like. I could be wrong, but we were hearing some things...for them to be jumping on fastballs inside and curveballs, it's like they knew something was coming...They would whistle every time we went inside. It was just weird. We could hear it, big time, and it was only when I went inside. Now, that could be - it sounded like it was coming from their dugout, but...we could be totally wrong. 

*After a 7-1 loss on June 2, 2017 to the Astros, Rangers catcher Robinson Chirinos had the following to say:
Knowing when we played with Carlos Beltran here last year, the guys (on the Astros) steal signs like crazy on second base. That's why I was going to the mound every pitch, switching signs, making sure those guys wouldn't relay signs to the hitter. I think when we struck out Correa, we switched the signs just before we went to hit; if you see his swing, he was late because they thought we were trying the's because they were relaying the wrong signs from second base. We knew that when we went to play in Houston, that's just something we have to do...because we know those guys are relaying signs when they have a guy on second base. 

All seven of the Astros runs were scored with a runner on second base.

*September 2017: A Boston Red Sox trainer was found to be using an Apple Watch to steal signs, according to an MLB investigation, and commissioner Rob Manfred issued a warning to all 30 teams.

*In January 2018 Ken Rosenthal published a piece in the The Athletic saying that teams trying to switch signals and patterns in order to prevent their signs from being stolen was a major factor in MLB's efforts to address pace of play issues. Rosenthal notes that the 2016 Yankees liked getting signs but the 2017 Yankees didn't, because the signs were "a distraction." One of the pace of play initiatives was limiting mound visits, a decision with which Lance McCullers was none too pleased:

*August 25, 2018: The Astros beat Anaheim 8-3. Opposing pitcher Jaime Barria allowed 5H/4ER, 1K:2BB. Of Barria's 26 starts in 2018, this was tied for his 2nd-shortest outing of the season. Jaime Barria thought the Astros were stealing signs in the 1st Inning, in which he threw 36 pitches and allowed four hits and three earned runs. He said he recovered and changed the signs afterwards (line after the 1st: 2IP, 1H/1ER, 0K:2BB) but his outing drained him. The Astros won 8-3

*August 27, 2018: Oakland's Brett Anderson faced the Astros. In his second start of the season - which happened to come at home against Houston on May 7, Anderson allowed 10H/9R (7ER) 0K:3BB. The next time he faced them, on August 27, he allowed 7H/5ER, 1K:0BB in 2.2IP. In his previous four starts combined Anderson allowed 12H/2ER, 14K:2BB, in 26.2IP.

In 17 starts in 2018, Anderson allowed a 4.48 ERA / 1.28 WHIP. Against the Astros? 5IP, 17H/12ER, 1K:3BB, a 21.60 ERA / 4.00 WHIP. After that August 27 start, Anderson said:
I don't know if I was tipping pitches with guys at second or something but they seemed to be laying off good pitches and on certain pitches. So I've got to look at video, re-evaluate that. 

Anderson admitted in that article that he didn't have a good feel for his slider. Anderson would make four starts in September after getting a couple of weeks off following the 5ER in 2.2IP outing, he would throw 15.1IP, 21H/11ER, 13K:1BB, a 6.46 ERA and an .813 OPS-against.

August 31, 2018: Barria starts against Houston again, and the Angels won 3-0. Barria threw 6IP, 3H/0ER, 4K:1BB.

What was the difference?

October 16: 9:18pm. Cleveland beat writer Paul Hoynes says that Cleveland has filed a complaint with MLB over an Astros employee "holding a cellphone camera" being removed not once but twice, from the photographer's pit trying to film inside Cleveland's dugout during Game 3.  The next day (October 9) "Boston officials called the Indians to find out what happened." Bob Nightengale, I guess, confirmed this via an AP report.

This is a weird point because if Boston knows that someone was kicked out of Cleveland's media pit while the Astros' employee was trying to record on the Indians' dugout area, and not the other way around, then Boston was also keeping AN AWFULLY CLOSE EYE on Cleveland's dugout area.

For almost two weeks before the ALDS, the Indians worked hard to protect their signs because of Houston's reputation for stealing signs. The Astros reportedly try to train cameras on the opposing catcher, manager and bench coach in an effort to steal signs and pick up tendencies. 

*Jeff Passan, who is ALL IN on this, reported that the "someone" is Kyle McLaughlin, who was removed from both Progressive Field and Fenway Park. Passan, who went fishing on Instagram, noted that McLaughlin has pictures with Jim Crane AND Crane's private plane, and had removed "Astros" from his Instagram bio. Among the other things Passan alleges, according to sources:

-The Astros will sometimes clap from the dugout to signal pitches.
-The Astros will sometimes hit a trash can to signal pitches.
-The Dodgers thought the Astros were stealing signs in the World Series.
-MLB tried, and failed, to corroborate those allegations (something that seems like it should be mentioned earlier in the piece).
-The Astros have not been punished by MLB.
-Other teams do the same thing.

*Boston's Dave Dombrowski confirmed that the Red Sox were aware of the possibility that the Astros were trying to gain an "unfair advantage." Alex Cora:
I'm always concerned about that throughout the season. So I mean we do a good job changing sequences and paying attention to details. And we don't get caught up on the whole paranoia thing of the signs. We try to slow it down. If we feel there's something going on we switch the signs. 

Forbes reporter Maury Brown has a source who says the Astros' connection was trying to see if the Red Sox were doing it again, a plot twist of a reason for Chris Correa's current imprisonment (I'm doing this questionable thing to see if someone else is doing this questionable thing).

It's a mess. It's a bad look for sure. If you already didn't like the Astros then it's fuel for your hatred and a reason to dismiss the organization as a fraud. It's an unwelcome distraction from the very pressing matter at hand: the Astros need to win three games out of four against a team that won two games out of three all season long.

Either more will come out and clear it up - in the Astros' favor or otherwise - or nothing more will come up, and the Astros will have to deal with the whispers for...the remainder of their existence. For now, it's yet another black eye for the organization.


2:50pm: MLB released a statement regarding the entire situation:

*So I guess the situation is resolved. Maury Brown's source was correct. Jeff Passan was ultimately correct that other teams are doing it, too. And no one's opinion about the Astros will change.