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2020 General MLB off-season

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re: the three-batter-minimum rule:

The Three Batter Minimum Barely Matters

By Ben Clemens

 

The concept of one-out pitchers suggests a kind of dystopian future for baseball. Generic Matchup Righty Number One (let’s call him Adam Cimber for the sake of this sentence) comes in to get the first out of an inning. He’s replaced by Adam Kolarek to get a lefty, then Adam Ottavino to get another righty, and then, look, I’m out of Adams, but maybe Adam Wainwright was the starter?

In any case, it’s hard to imagine a more boring inning, a more surefire way to get Johnny and Jane Millennial to change the channel to Fortnite or American Gladiators or whatever it is the kids like these days. That, more or less, is the theory behind MLB’s newest rule change, a three batter minimum for relief pitchers that will go into effect for the 2020 season. The rule requires a pitcher to face three batters, or pitch to the end of the half-inning, with some exceptions for injuries.

There’s only one problem with that narrative: that all-Adam inning doesn’t exist much in the majors, even without a three batter minimum. In fact, the one-out relief specialist just isn’t much of a role in baseball anymore. I investigated the numbers to find out which teams would be most affected. To my surprise, essentially none of them were.

First, let’s talk methodology. I looked at every relief appearance that fit a few general rules. First, the pitcher had to face two or fewer batters. Next, there had to be a plate appearance that occurred after their exit but in the same half-inning — if they were on the mound when the last out was recorded, they didn’t count. Finally, it had to be before September 1. We want to look at baseball as it’s generally played, not baseball as it was played in September — particularly given the changing rules for expanded rosters. This might miss a few situations — the new pitcher picks off a runner, for example — but it broadly covers everything. First, a leaderboard of which pitchers were short-timers most often:

 
Short-Stint Standouts
Name Appearances
Oliver Pérez 19
Andrew Chafin 15
Alex Claudio 15
Tyler Olson 13
Andrew Miller 12
Kyle Ryan 12
Adam Kolarek 11
Jace Fry 11
Ryan Buchter 10
Matt Grace 10

Alright, Oliver Pérez might need to find a new job in 2020; on the other hand, he also made 48 appearances that don’t fall into this framework, so maybe not. But for the most part, there’s no one on a roster solely to get one or two batters out. There are pitchers who do it from time to time, sure; as long as opposite-handed pitchers are at a disadvantage, managers will try to optimize their matchups.

But 21 appearances of Olly Pérez doesn’t figure meaningfully into the sum total of all the baseball played this year. There were only 489 appearances that fit these criteria last season. There were 2,190 games in my sample, which means that a now-disallowed short-stint reliever figured into about a quarter of last year’s contests. Budget two minutes for the extra pitching change, and that’s around 30 seconds saved per game. Not exactly getting that millennial audience back, now, are we?

But maybe averaging across the whole league misses the point. What if some teams are abusing the role, bogging down a few select markets? Let’s look at the leaderboard again, but this time break it down by team:
 
Short Relief Appearances
Team Appearances
Indians 42
Nationals 31
Cubs 30
Cardinals 28
Diamondbacks 27
White Sox 25
Dodgers 25
Rays 24
Reds 24
Phillies 20
Brewers 18
Athletics 18
Padres 18
Braves 17
Tigers 16
Mets 16
Blue Jays 15
Rockies 15
Royals 14
Orioles 10
Twins 10
Marlins 10
Mariners 8
Angels 6
Giants 6
Pirates 5
Rangers 4
Yankees 3
Red Sox 3
Astros 1

Okay, yeah, still nothing. If the Indians play an average opponent, the rule saves 0.42 pitching changes per game. If they play the Nationals, it’s just over half a change per game. We’re not talking about the indelible fabric of baseball; just an occasional minute in a game measured in hours.

Of course, even if the rule isn’t a big time saver, it could still make sense if it’s interesting strategically. Will getting rid of these (mostly) left-handed relievers lead to interesting strategic binds?

Yesterday, Sam Miller approximated the impact on Pérez by walking through his game log and approximating how he would fare against a changed batter mix (more righties, fewer lefties). While I wrote this article having missed Sam’s yesterday (sorry, Sam!), I kind of wish I hadn’t — his approach is more intuitive. I took a different tack; rather than break down each individual batter, I set out to create a reasonable upper bound for how much this rule change might affect a team’s win percentage.

For each relief appearance, I looked at the reliever who threw, then took the weak side of his platoon splits and compared it to the strong side to simulate not getting a handedness advantage. This probably over-penalizes teams; most of these specialist relievers are used for short bursts because they’re truly terrible against opposite-handed batting, and it’s likely that the team could find someone who is better overall if they were forced to play the weak side of the platoon.

But we’re looking for a ceiling, and I think this definition works for that. Armed with the penalty to wOBA for each pitcher, I took their average leverage index. From there, wOBA can be converted into runs, and runs into wins, so we can come up with an upper bound estimate for the change in scoring due to these new rules.

Let’s take Perez as an example. Let’s say he had a game where he pitched to a single batter with a leverage index of 2. His wOBA against righties was 94 points higher than it was against lefties last year. To work out how many runs this cost the Indians in expectation, we can simply divide the wOBA by a constant to convert it into runs. We can then multiply by leverage, because the 10 runs to a win conversion you do in your head is leverage-agnostic. It works out to a 1.6% (percentage point) decrease in win probability for the pitching team. Then we just add up every appearance in the same way.

As you might expect, the Indians stand to lose the most in this methodology. But even then, the top five teams aren’t affected that significantly:

 
The Cost of the Rule
Team Gross Wins Lost
Indians 0.46
Phillies 0.21
Rays 0.17
Mets 0.15
Cubs 0.15
Tigers 0.15
Dodgers 0.15
Cardinals 0.14
Royals 0.14
Nationals 0.12

There are lots of fuzzy parts in my math; the platoon advantages could be better regressed, or a more realistic estimate for new playing time distributions created instead of my arbitrary handedness penalty. But the point is, the numbers are tiny. In aggregate, it simply doesn’t matter much for any given team. And that’s an upper bound estimate — in all likelihood, teams will simply pivot away from players with such extreme platoon splits in the future.

In fact, that pivoting is actually the most interesting thing going on here. At the major league level, the competitive environment won’t change. Teams will either use their lefties for an extra batter or roster fewer lefties and more righties. In either case, it won’t matter much.

But while things don’t matter at the aggregate level, they absolutely do at the individual level. Perez, for example, might be out of baseball next year. Teams will have less incentive to sign and develop deception-first relievers who profile as specialists. Prospect LOOGY’s are already rare, but they will likely go extinct as a result of this rule change.

So in the end, is it worth it? Honestly, I can see arguments from both sides. It’s a tiny change that won’t affect competitive balance but will save a few minutes every couple games. You’ll definitely notice it the first time it happens, but it might fade into the background after that, because teams let pitchers face bad platoon matchups all the time; this simply tilts things a little more in the batting team’s favor.

But from a theoretical standpoint, I dislike how inelegant the rule is. For a narrow benefit (30 seconds and some tiny sliver of runs per game), the league is junking up the rulebook. And not with something like a slide rule, where you’re not allowed to headhunt, either — with an arbitrary constraint on a central rule of baseball — whoever you want to pitch can pitch as long as they haven’t already appeared in the game.

So next year, the first time you see a big spot where a specialist reliever doesn’t come in, by all means marvel at it. But by June, you will have forgotten, and baseball will roll on just like it always has, only with a new flourish in the rules where none previously existed

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I guess his takeaway is that the rule is unnecessary, but my takeaway is that bitching about the rule is unnecessary. 
 

did this guy have the same disgust for a new rule when it came to the shift debate?

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Matt Kemp gets a minors deal with Miami, wasn’t expecting to see that name in the transactions list again. 

 

1/$4.5M for Sogard back to Mil. 

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 Votto/Goldschmidt/Cabrera feels more right to me. Cabrera had the best 2-3 year stretch, but he fell off the cliff the last few years.

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On 12/23/2019 at 4:05 PM, youdunnf'dup said:

Kind of expected him to get more after the season he had last year. 

Me too. His 2019 year was fantastic. But even 2018 would have been just as good if he didn't get injured. He had a 1.97 ERA and 1.008 WHIP in 82.1 innings. And it was a groin injury nothing shoulder or elbow related...

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Posted (edited)


The nats were like “yeah...that was actually a really good cutter that you threw to Kendrick. We’ll take you”

Edited by youdunnf'dup

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ESPN needs to cut with the we're scared of getting sued crap and just say German is suspended for hitting a woman instead of allegedly doing that. He is not suspended for heresay. People saw it who were in a position to levy the suspension. I thought he should get at least a full 162 in addition to the 18 games served last year with how serious MLB is supposed to be taking this stuff now.

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And the other one... 

Quote

Free-agent second baseman Starlin Castro has reached a two-year, $12 million deal with the Washington Nationals, a source familiar with the deal confirmed to ESPN's Jeff Passan on Friday.

The deal is pending a physical, the source said. The Athletic was the first to report the agreement.

Castro had a .270 batting average with 22 home runs and 86 RBIs last season for the Miami Marlins, who declined his $16 million option and instead paid a $1 million buyout on Nov. 1.

The 10-year veteran spent the first six seasons of his career with the Chicago Cubs before playing two seasons each with the New York Yankees and the Marlins. Castro has a .280 career average with 133 home runs and 636 RBIs.

 

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MLB's Sign Stealing Controversy Broadens: Sources Say the Red Sox Used Video Replay Room Illegally in 2018

When Major League Baseball punished the Red Sox and Yankees in September 2017 for conduct related to electronic sign stealing, the league touched on the epicenter of a problem that had been growing for years: The video replay room.

These rooms, intended to help managers decide whether to challenge umpires’ calls, were established after baseball introduced replay review in 2014. But some teams quickly realized the rooms also were easy places to learn a key piece of information: The sign sequence used by opposing pitchers and catchers.

Before the 2018 season, after years of barely enforcing its broad rules regarding replay rooms, the league made it crystal clear: Replay rooms cannot be used to help steal signs. The newly clarified rules, in combination with the fines the league levied on the Red Sox and Yankees and warnings it issued in ’17, were intended to end the replay-room chicanery. 

For the Red Sox, and possibly other clubs, it did not.

Three people who were with the Red Sox during their 108-win 2018 season told The Athletic that during that regular season, at least some players visited the video replay room during games to learn the sign sequence opponents were using. The replay room is just steps from the home dugout at Fenway Park, through the same doors that lead to the batting cage. Every team’s replay staff travels to road games, making the system viable in other parks as well.

Red Sox sources said this system did not appear to be effective or even viable during the 2018 postseason, when the Red Sox went on to win the World Series. Opponents were leery enough of sign stealing — and knowledgeable enough about it — to constantly change their sign sequences. And, for the first time in the sport’s history, MLB instituted in-person monitors in the replay rooms, starting in the playoffs. For the entire regular season, those rooms had been left unguarded.

Other clubs might have committed violations similar to Boston’s under the new rules, but The Athletic could not confirm such conduct at this time.

“It’s cheating,” one person who was with the 2018 Red Sox said. “Because if you’re using a camera to zoom in on the crotch of the catcher, to break down the sign system, and then take that information and give it out to the runner, then he doesn’t have to steal it.”

The Red Sox declined to comment at the time of publication.

Major League Baseball said in a statement, “The Commissioner made clear in a September 15, 2017 memorandum to clubs how seriously he would take any future violation of the regulations regarding use of electronic equipment or the inappropriate use of the video replay room. Given these allegations, MLB will commence an investigation into this matter.”

Replay room to dugout to baserunner to hitter is less direct — and less egregious — than banging on a garbage can, the method the Astros used at home in 2017 to alert hitters to what was coming on a pitch-to-pitch basis. The Astros’ system was triggered by a center-field camera and a video screen positioned near the dugout; no one on the playing field was involved in stealing the sign.

The Red Sox’s system was possible only when a runner was on second base, or sometimes even on first base. Nonetheless, a team that is able to discern that information live, during a game, and relay it to base runners has a distinct advantage. A runner at second base can stare in at a flurry of catcher’s signs and know which one matters, then inform the hitter accordingly.

It’s impossible to say for certain how much this system helped the Red Sox offense. But their lineup dominated in 2018, when they led the league in runs scored.

In his statement announcing the 2017 penalties, Commissioner Rob Manfred said he received “absolute assurances” from the Red Sox that they would not again engage in illegal sign-stealing activity, adding that he had notified all 30 clubs that any future violations would be subject to more serious sanctions.

MLB then reinforced Manfred’s comments shortly before the start of the 2018 season, explicitly stating in a three-page memo to all club presidents, general managers and assistant general managers that “Electronic equipment, including game feeds in the Club replay room and/or video room, may never be used during a game for the purpose of stealing the opposing team’s signs.”

The accounts about the Red Sox’s activity were given to The Athletic on the condition of anonymity. The sources said they are bothered by a subculture of in-game electronic sign stealing that they believe grew in recent years among contending teams, if not more widely across the sport, and who say they want MLB to act in a broad way.

Like the Astros, the Red Sox operated with a deep suspicion that they were not alone. In some cases, players and coaches arrived in Boston with firsthand experience of sign stealing elsewhere. In recent postseasons, the paranoia was particularly acute.

“You got a bunch of people who are really good at cheating and everybody knows that each other’s doing it,” said one person with the 2018 Red Sox. “It’s really hard for anybody to get away with it at that point. … If you get a lion and a deer, then the lion can really take advantage of the deer. So there’s a lot of deers out there that weren’t paying attention throughout the season. In the playoffs, now you’re going against a lion.”

The Red Sox in 2018 were under a new manager, Alex Cora, whom The Athletic previously reported played a key role in devising the sign-stealing system the Astros used in 2017, when he was the team’s bench coach.

The issue, however, extends beyond individual teams, encompassing the league’s enforcement and upkeep of its own rules.

Many inside the sport believe there is cheating and then there is cheating-cheating. In this view, the Astros undertook the latter, while more indirect video-room efforts — at least before late 2017 — counted as the former.

“It was like having an open-book test and the open book is right there next to you and the teacher says, ‘Don’t look at the book,’” said one former player. “Whatever is available to teams, they’re going to take advantage of it. Major League Baseball knows that. If you have this technology that’s available where you have 20 cameras on the field, cameras that can look at signs, I mean, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see: Oh, if I’m in the video room and I see the guy’s signs, you’re basically playing the same game now that was played when I first came into the league and there was a guy on second base. You’re trying to break the code.”

The Red Sox’s 2018 system 

By 2018, the Red Sox and other teams knew the rules governing sign stealing were tightening — or at least, they should have known. MLB made it much more difficult to use dugout phones for impermissible communications, and instituted other new rules intended to curb illegal sign stealing.

On March 27, 2018, MLB chief baseball officer Joe Torre sent a three-page memo to all club presidents, GMs and assistant GMs explicitly stating, in bold text, that “To be clear, the use of any equipment in the clubhouse or in a Club’s replay or video rooms to decode an opposing Club’s signs during the game violates this Regulation.”

However, the league did not begin monitoring replay rooms with on-site personnel until the 2018 postseason, essentially relying on an honor system before that. Even today, with in-person monitors in place, some in the game question whether that enforcement is effective.

The system the Red Sox employed was not unlike one they had used in previous seasons under a different manager, John Farrell. It was also similar to one the Yankees and other teams had employed before MLB started its crackdown. (Hitters can legally visit the replay room during games to study some video.)

A staff member in the Red Sox’s video replay room would tell a player the current sign sequence. The player would return to the dugout, delivering the message on foot, rather than through a wearable device or a phone.

“There was constant movement,” said one person who was with the 2018 Red Sox. “They were always trying to figure out the system.”

Someone in the dugout would relay the information to the baserunner, leaving the runner with two easy steps: Watch the catcher’s signs and, with body movements, tell the hitter what’s coming.

In daily hitters’ meetings, Red Sox players and personnel would review their communication methods for that day.

The runner would let the hitter know if he was aware of the sequence. “Put two feet on the bag or look out into center field, and do something that’s subtle,” as one Red Sox source described it.

The runner stepping off the bag with the right foot first could mean fastball; left foot first, a breaking ball or off-speed pitch.

Such a system was far more difficult for opponents to detect than banging on a trash can. It also had a semblance of propriety, incorporating old-school, legal practices: A runner on base still had to use his own eyes before he could put the contraband information to good use.

Like many teams, the Red Sox often knew pitchers’ sequences heading into a game through the use of video. If a pitcher does not or did not change his sign sequence from his previous outing, that is and was his own responsibility.

But if the sign sequences were altered on the fly, the Red Sox had a way to adjust almost immediately — by sending a player from the dugout to the video room a few feet away.

During the 2018 season, suspicion of wrongdoing became rampant across baseball, particularly among contending teams. Some teams took steps in self-defense.

Brandon Taubman, the assistant general manager fired by the Astros during the 2019 World Series, confronted a Yankees employee in center field at Yankee Stadium in May of 2018. The Astros at that time believed the Yankees were using a camera to zoom in on the catcher’s signs. According to a source, the Astros did not push the matter with the league at the time, but during the course of the ongoing current investigation have brought it back to MLB’s attention.

Late in the 2018 season, the A’s — whose roster included pitcher Mike Fiers, who confirmed to The Athletic that the Astros had illegally stolen signs the previous year  — complained to MLB about Houston. No punishment resulted from that complaint. However, those concerns, and others raised by teams about various opponents, contributed to the league’s increased security during the 2018 postseason.

During those playoffs, an Astros employee drew suspicion from the Indians and Red Sox when he was seen with a camera near their dugouts during a playoff series. MLB investigated and found that the employee was “monitoring the field.”

Player movement from team to team brings new information to clubs, creates suspicion, and in some ways, gives incentive for teams to create their own sign-stealing systems. With everyone on such high alert, gamesmanship comes into play as well. Some of the whistling the Yankees reported to hear from the Astros dugout during the 2019 ALCS, sources said, may not have been a form of cheating, but a form of gamesmanship, intended to make the Yankees paranoid and suspicious.

By the 2018 postseason and the general managers’ meetings that followed in November, the topic had reached a fever pitch, and the GMs were intensely concerned.

How baseball got here

In at least one respect, baseball’s efforts to eliminate electronic sign stealing are similar to its attempts to curb the use of performance-enhancing drugs: The league’s rules to prevent cheating lag behind the cheaters.

The evolution of the replay room into a hive of sign-stealing activity was years in the making.

For decades, baseball has permitted game telecasts in clubhouses and locker rooms. (As of the 2019 season, there was a mandatory eight-second delay.) Players, perhaps someone injured or not in the lineup that day, could go inside during a game, sit and watch a TV, and occasionally decode a sign sequence.

The advent of video replay rooms made it far easier for teams to gain such an edge. The rooms provided a greater array of tools and camera angles in one location, at a time when people at all levels of the sport were fanatically pursuing every advantage.

As technology around the game exploded, teams installed additional cameras around the ballpark as training and scouting tools. Starting in 2018, with paranoia among clubs peaking, MLB mandated that teams catalog and register those cameras with the league to ensure they were used legally.

As far back as 2015, the Yankees used the video replay room to learn other teams’ sign sequences, multiple sources told The Athletic. Other teams likely were doing the same. Sources said the Red Sox began doing it no later than 2016.

“Oftentimes it takes a player to show up and be like ‘You f—— morons, you’re not doing this?’” said one American League executive.

Reviewing past footage before games was legal then, and remains legal today. That includes a study of sign sequences, or pitch tipping — determining if a pitcher looks or acts differently depending on the pitch he is about to throw.

But in the middle of the decade, MLB had a broad rule forbidding the use of electronic equipment in sign stealing: “No equipment may be used for the purpose of stealing signs or conveying information designed to give a Club an advantage.”

The league today says that there was some “gray area” in that rule. Information from the replay room was not communicated directly to the hitter; teams needed a runner on second base to serve as a conduit.

“I’m just telling you from a broad perspective, living it, it didn’t feel that wrong,” said one player who used the replay-room system with the Yankees as far back as 2015. “It was there for everyone, that’s all.”

Veteran players who were skilled at picking up tendencies by watching on-field action knew what to look for on video as well.

“If I could figure out the signs from the telecast, I was not going to hold on to that information,” that former Yankee said. “I was going to share that with whomever.”

By 2017, with rules governing electronic sign stealing still lacking the specificity that would come the next season, the Red Sox, Yankees and Astros were all using their replay rooms to help decode sign sequences in some way, sources said. There are indications other teams did so as well. One National League general manager expressed a feeling that it was fair game.

Baseball has a long history of tacitly allowing some forms of cheating, as long as players do not cross certain lines. A little sticky stuff on a pitcher’s fingers is basically ignored; the substance helps with a pitcher’s grip, particularly in the cold. But globs of tar on a pitcher’s neck can lead to a fine and suspension.

Fittingly, it was a dispute between the game’s oldest rivals, the Red Sox and the Yankees, that brought the matter to light.

The Yankees had video of a Red Sox athletic trainer looking at a wearable device in the dugout and relaying what he was told to players, which MLB deemed impermissible. The Red Sox filed a counter-complaint, suggesting the Yankees were using a YES Network camera improperly. MLB did not substantiate that claim but did find that the Yankees had used their dugout phone improperly in a past season. Both teams were fined, the Red Sox a larger amount.

Notably, the punishments for both teams centered on means of communication: a phone and a wearable device. They were not based on the act of using the video replay room alone.

“The Yankees and the Red Sox at the time were saying, true or not, ‘Oh, every club has people walking from the video room to the dugout, so you’re nailing us for a more efficient means of communication,’” a person with direct knowledge of the league’s investigations said. “The answer was, ‘Yeah, the way you were transmitting it was clearly illegal, right?’ … This is September of ’17. Going before that, (MLB) identified walking from the video room as the gray area.”

By contrast, the commissioner’s office viewed the punishment for the Red Sox and the Yankees as a line in the sand.

“The clubs were on notice,” Manfred said in November 2019, “that however the commissioner’s office dealt with these issues historically, going forward, I viewed them with a particular level of seriousness.”

Yet, people with direct knowledge of the league’s enforcement efforts said that even after the 2017 season, team executives at the general managers meetings did not see a pressing problem with electronic sign stealing. Those executives might not have known the extent of the problem. At least in some franchises, the front offices may have been disconnected from these systems.

Where things stood in the 2019 season

MLB revised its rules again in 2019, with Torre’s three-page memo from the previous year expanding into a six-page memo with much tighter restrictions. Among them: the continued monitoring of replay rooms, extending the practice that began in the 2018 postseason.

The in-person monitors made cheating more difficult. But most alarming to MLB might be an assertion that at least one team, again the Red Sox, found ways to occasionally skirt the system.

“We had (the monitors) in our back pocket,” one Red Sox person said. “If we wanted to whisper something or they walked out, then we could do something if we needed to.”

Another Red Sox source confirmed this dynamic.

A video scout with another club who saw the monitors in action said that their efficacy varied widely depending on the city and the monitor on duty. Some would stay in the video replay room the entire game, while others would disappear for periods of time.

“Some acted like they were your best friend, root you on. Others would tell on you for the littlest things that weren’t even real,” the scout said. “It was very inconsistent how each person took their job and what they were actually doing. … You knew this guy was a stickler, and with this guy you could get away with some stuff.

“How does it stop cheating? The teams that were going to cheat were going to cheat, no matter what.”

A year earlier, sources with two teams had questioned the skills and training of the MLB-appointed monitors.

“So now MLB is saying, ‘Well, should we hire more of these people?’” one AL executive said in 2018. “It’s like, really, we’re going to hire more poorly trained, incompetent people, you’re going to charge clubs back for the cost of these people? And you’re not actually going to succeed in discouraging teams. You’re just going to have them find a new way to do it.”

In 2019, the assigned monitor did not always remain in the replay room for the entire game. At least in some parks, they also attempted to guard other areas — a potentially correctable situation for 2020.

“The Office of the Commissioner will assign a representative to monitor each Club’s replay/video review room(s) for the entire game, and also will monitor each Club’s clubhouse, tunnel, and auxiliary areas,” reads the notice MLB sent to its club in the spring of 2019.

MLB employs more than 100 monitors and says it will continue to improve training and performance going forward.

Even if MLB completely locked down replay rooms, what would stop a player or staffer from going into the clubhouse, checking their phone and receiving a message about the sign sequences from afar? Locking down not just video rooms, but dugouts — forcing players to stay on the field of play for the length of games, with exceptions for injuries — may be the only way to create a virtually airtight system.

The league today also faces a potential issue with wearable technology, and the possibility a hitter could go to the plate with something on his body that could be pinged from a remote location, vibrating to tell him what the next pitch will be. Barring a TSA-style security scan before every hitter goes to the plate, such a system would be almost impossible to stop, except via warnings and the threat of major punishment.

“I am concerned about the impact of technology in and around the field,” Manfred told the media at MLB’s owners meetings in November 2019. “I think it’s a challenge for our sport and all sports to regulate the use of that technology in a way that makes sure that we have the integrity.”

The league could mandate that pitchers and catchers communicate via a technological innovation such as an earpiece. At the general manager meetings in November, MLB informed GMs of some potentially available technologies. One would give the pitcher, catcher and potentially infielders a wrist device that would let them know which sign mattered on a pitch-to-pitch basis, effectively changing the sign sequence every pitch.

“This is no joke,” said one member of the 2018 Red Sox. “I think (MLB needs to say), ‘Listen, we’re going to do everything in our capability to crack down on this.’ Because it has to stop.”

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48 minutes ago, Seasick Sailor said:

MLB's Sign Stealing Controversy Broadens: Sources Say the Red Sox Used Video Replay Room Illegally in 2018

 

  Reveal hidden contents

 

When Major League Baseball punished the Red Sox and Yankees in September 2017 for conduct related to electronic sign stealing, the league touched on the epicenter of a problem that had been growing for years: The video replay room.

These rooms, intended to help managers decide whether to challenge umpires’ calls, were established after baseball introduced replay review in 2014. But some teams quickly realized the rooms also were easy places to learn a key piece of information: The sign sequence used by opposing pitchers and catchers.

Before the 2018 season, after years of barely enforcing its broad rules regarding replay rooms, the league made it crystal clear: Replay rooms cannot be used to help steal signs. The newly clarified rules, in combination with the fines the league levied on the Red Sox and Yankees and warnings it issued in ’17, were intended to end the replay-room chicanery. 

For the Red Sox, and possibly other clubs, it did not.

Three people who were with the Red Sox during their 108-win 2018 season told The Athletic that during that regular season, at least some players visited the video replay room during games to learn the sign sequence opponents were using. The replay room is just steps from the home dugout at Fenway Park, through the same doors that lead to the batting cage. Every team’s replay staff travels to road games, making the system viable in other parks as well.

Red Sox sources said this system did not appear to be effective or even viable during the 2018 postseason, when the Red Sox went on to win the World Series. Opponents were leery enough of sign stealing — and knowledgeable enough about it — to constantly change their sign sequences. And, for the first time in the sport’s history, MLB instituted in-person monitors in the replay rooms, starting in the playoffs. For the entire regular season, those rooms had been left unguarded.

Other clubs might have committed violations similar to Boston’s under the new rules, but The Athletic could not confirm such conduct at this time.

“It’s cheating,” one person who was with the 2018 Red Sox said. “Because if you’re using a camera to zoom in on the crotch of the catcher, to break down the sign system, and then take that information and give it out to the runner, then he doesn’t have to steal it.”

The Red Sox declined to comment at the time of publication.

Major League Baseball said in a statement, “The Commissioner made clear in a September 15, 2017 memorandum to clubs how seriously he would take any future violation of the regulations regarding use of electronic equipment or the inappropriate use of the video replay room. Given these allegations, MLB will commence an investigation into this matter.”

Replay room to dugout to baserunner to hitter is less direct — and less egregious — than banging on a garbage can, the method the Astros used at home in 2017 to alert hitters to what was coming on a pitch-to-pitch basis. The Astros’ system was triggered by a center-field camera and a video screen positioned near the dugout; no one on the playing field was involved in stealing the sign.

The Red Sox’s system was possible only when a runner was on second base, or sometimes even on first base. Nonetheless, a team that is able to discern that information live, during a game, and relay it to base runners has a distinct advantage. A runner at second base can stare in at a flurry of catcher’s signs and know which one matters, then inform the hitter accordingly.

It’s impossible to say for certain how much this system helped the Red Sox offense. But their lineup dominated in 2018, when they led the league in runs scored.

In his statement announcing the 2017 penalties, Commissioner Rob Manfred said he received “absolute assurances” from the Red Sox that they would not again engage in illegal sign-stealing activity, adding that he had notified all 30 clubs that any future violations would be subject to more serious sanctions.

MLB then reinforced Manfred’s comments shortly before the start of the 2018 season, explicitly stating in a three-page memo to all club presidents, general managers and assistant general managers that “Electronic equipment, including game feeds in the Club replay room and/or video room, may never be used during a game for the purpose of stealing the opposing team’s signs.”

The accounts about the Red Sox’s activity were given to The Athletic on the condition of anonymity. The sources said they are bothered by a subculture of in-game electronic sign stealing that they believe grew in recent years among contending teams, if not more widely across the sport, and who say they want MLB to act in a broad way.

Like the Astros, the Red Sox operated with a deep suspicion that they were not alone. In some cases, players and coaches arrived in Boston with firsthand experience of sign stealing elsewhere. In recent postseasons, the paranoia was particularly acute.

“You got a bunch of people who are really good at cheating and everybody knows that each other’s doing it,” said one person with the 2018 Red Sox. “It’s really hard for anybody to get away with it at that point. … If you get a lion and a deer, then the lion can really take advantage of the deer. So there’s a lot of deers out there that weren’t paying attention throughout the season. In the playoffs, now you’re going against a lion.”

The Red Sox in 2018 were under a new manager, Alex Cora, whom The Athletic previously reported played a key role in devising the sign-stealing system the Astros used in 2017, when he was the team’s bench coach.

The issue, however, extends beyond individual teams, encompassing the league’s enforcement and upkeep of its own rules.

Many inside the sport believe there is cheating and then there is cheating-cheating. In this view, the Astros undertook the latter, while more indirect video-room efforts — at least before late 2017 — counted as the former.

“It was like having an open-book test and the open book is right there next to you and the teacher says, ‘Don’t look at the book,’” said one former player. “Whatever is available to teams, they’re going to take advantage of it. Major League Baseball knows that. If you have this technology that’s available where you have 20 cameras on the field, cameras that can look at signs, I mean, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see: Oh, if I’m in the video room and I see the guy’s signs, you’re basically playing the same game now that was played when I first came into the league and there was a guy on second base. You’re trying to break the code.”

The Red Sox’s 2018 system 

By 2018, the Red Sox and other teams knew the rules governing sign stealing were tightening — or at least, they should have known. MLB made it much more difficult to use dugout phones for impermissible communications, and instituted other new rules intended to curb illegal sign stealing.

On March 27, 2018, MLB chief baseball officer Joe Torre sent a three-page memo to all club presidents, GMs and assistant GMs explicitly stating, in bold text, that “To be clear, the use of any equipment in the clubhouse or in a Club’s replay or video rooms to decode an opposing Club’s signs during the game violates this Regulation.”

However, the league did not begin monitoring replay rooms with on-site personnel until the 2018 postseason, essentially relying on an honor system before that. Even today, with in-person monitors in place, some in the game question whether that enforcement is effective.

The system the Red Sox employed was not unlike one they had used in previous seasons under a different manager, John Farrell. It was also similar to one the Yankees and other teams had employed before MLB started its crackdown. (Hitters can legally visit the replay room during games to study some video.)

A staff member in the Red Sox’s video replay room would tell a player the current sign sequence. The player would return to the dugout, delivering the message on foot, rather than through a wearable device or a phone.

“There was constant movement,” said one person who was with the 2018 Red Sox. “They were always trying to figure out the system.”

Someone in the dugout would relay the information to the baserunner, leaving the runner with two easy steps: Watch the catcher’s signs and, with body movements, tell the hitter what’s coming.

In daily hitters’ meetings, Red Sox players and personnel would review their communication methods for that day.

The runner would let the hitter know if he was aware of the sequence. “Put two feet on the bag or look out into center field, and do something that’s subtle,” as one Red Sox source described it.

The runner stepping off the bag with the right foot first could mean fastball; left foot first, a breaking ball or off-speed pitch.

Such a system was far more difficult for opponents to detect than banging on a trash can. It also had a semblance of propriety, incorporating old-school, legal practices: A runner on base still had to use his own eyes before he could put the contraband information to good use.

Like many teams, the Red Sox often knew pitchers’ sequences heading into a game through the use of video. If a pitcher does not or did not change his sign sequence from his previous outing, that is and was his own responsibility.

But if the sign sequences were altered on the fly, the Red Sox had a way to adjust almost immediately — by sending a player from the dugout to the video room a few feet away.

During the 2018 season, suspicion of wrongdoing became rampant across baseball, particularly among contending teams. Some teams took steps in self-defense.

Brandon Taubman, the assistant general manager fired by the Astros during the 2019 World Series, confronted a Yankees employee in center field at Yankee Stadium in May of 2018. The Astros at that time believed the Yankees were using a camera to zoom in on the catcher’s signs. According to a source, the Astros did not push the matter with the league at the time, but during the course of the ongoing current investigation have brought it back to MLB’s attention.

Late in the 2018 season, the A’s — whose roster included pitcher Mike Fiers, who confirmed to The Athletic that the Astros had illegally stolen signs the previous year  — complained to MLB about Houston. No punishment resulted from that complaint. However, those concerns, and others raised by teams about various opponents, contributed to the league’s increased security during the 2018 postseason.

During those playoffs, an Astros employee drew suspicion from the Indians and Red Sox when he was seen with a camera near their dugouts during a playoff series. MLB investigated and found that the employee was “monitoring the field.”

Player movement from team to team brings new information to clubs, creates suspicion, and in some ways, gives incentive for teams to create their own sign-stealing systems. With everyone on such high alert, gamesmanship comes into play as well. Some of the whistling the Yankees reported to hear from the Astros dugout during the 2019 ALCS, sources said, may not have been a form of cheating, but a form of gamesmanship, intended to make the Yankees paranoid and suspicious.

By the 2018 postseason and the general managers’ meetings that followed in November, the topic had reached a fever pitch, and the GMs were intensely concerned.

How baseball got here

In at least one respect, baseball’s efforts to eliminate electronic sign stealing are similar to its attempts to curb the use of performance-enhancing drugs: The league’s rules to prevent cheating lag behind the cheaters.

The evolution of the replay room into a hive of sign-stealing activity was years in the making.

For decades, baseball has permitted game telecasts in clubhouses and locker rooms. (As of the 2019 season, there was a mandatory eight-second delay.) Players, perhaps someone injured or not in the lineup that day, could go inside during a game, sit and watch a TV, and occasionally decode a sign sequence.

The advent of video replay rooms made it far easier for teams to gain such an edge. The rooms provided a greater array of tools and camera angles in one location, at a time when people at all levels of the sport were fanatically pursuing every advantage.

As technology around the game exploded, teams installed additional cameras around the ballpark as training and scouting tools. Starting in 2018, with paranoia among clubs peaking, MLB mandated that teams catalog and register those cameras with the league to ensure they were used legally.

As far back as 2015, the Yankees used the video replay room to learn other teams’ sign sequences, multiple sources told The Athletic. Other teams likely were doing the same. Sources said the Red Sox began doing it no later than 2016.

“Oftentimes it takes a player to show up and be like ‘You f—— morons, you’re not doing this?’” said one American League executive.

Reviewing past footage before games was legal then, and remains legal today. That includes a study of sign sequences, or pitch tipping — determining if a pitcher looks or acts differently depending on the pitch he is about to throw.

But in the middle of the decade, MLB had a broad rule forbidding the use of electronic equipment in sign stealing: “No equipment may be used for the purpose of stealing signs or conveying information designed to give a Club an advantage.”

The league today says that there was some “gray area” in that rule. Information from the replay room was not communicated directly to the hitter; teams needed a runner on second base to serve as a conduit.

“I’m just telling you from a broad perspective, living it, it didn’t feel that wrong,” said one player who used the replay-room system with the Yankees as far back as 2015. “It was there for everyone, that’s all.”

Veteran players who were skilled at picking up tendencies by watching on-field action knew what to look for on video as well.

“If I could figure out the signs from the telecast, I was not going to hold on to that information,” that former Yankee said. “I was going to share that with whomever.”

By 2017, with rules governing electronic sign stealing still lacking the specificity that would come the next season, the Red Sox, Yankees and Astros were all using their replay rooms to help decode sign sequences in some way, sources said. There are indications other teams did so as well. One National League general manager expressed a feeling that it was fair game.

Baseball has a long history of tacitly allowing some forms of cheating, as long as players do not cross certain lines. A little sticky stuff on a pitcher’s fingers is basically ignored; the substance helps with a pitcher’s grip, particularly in the cold. But globs of tar on a pitcher’s neck can lead to a fine and suspension.

Fittingly, it was a dispute between the game’s oldest rivals, the Red Sox and the Yankees, that brought the matter to light.

The Yankees had video of a Red Sox athletic trainer looking at a wearable device in the dugout and relaying what he was told to players, which MLB deemed impermissible. The Red Sox filed a counter-complaint, suggesting the Yankees were using a YES Network camera improperly. MLB did not substantiate that claim but did find that the Yankees had used their dugout phone improperly in a past season. Both teams were fined, the Red Sox a larger amount.

Notably, the punishments for both teams centered on means of communication: a phone and a wearable device. They were not based on the act of using the video replay room alone.

“The Yankees and the Red Sox at the time were saying, true or not, ‘Oh, every club has people walking from the video room to the dugout, so you’re nailing us for a more efficient means of communication,’” a person with direct knowledge of the league’s investigations said. “The answer was, ‘Yeah, the way you were transmitting it was clearly illegal, right?’ … This is September of ’17. Going before that, (MLB) identified walking from the video room as the gray area.”

By contrast, the commissioner’s office viewed the punishment for the Red Sox and the Yankees as a line in the sand.

“The clubs were on notice,” Manfred said in November 2019, “that however the commissioner’s office dealt with these issues historically, going forward, I viewed them with a particular level of seriousness.”

Yet, people with direct knowledge of the league’s enforcement efforts said that even after the 2017 season, team executives at the general managers meetings did not see a pressing problem with electronic sign stealing. Those executives might not have known the extent of the problem. At least in some franchises, the front offices may have been disconnected from these systems.

Where things stood in the 2019 season

MLB revised its rules again in 2019, with Torre’s three-page memo from the previous year expanding into a six-page memo with much tighter restrictions. Among them: the continued monitoring of replay rooms, extending the practice that began in the 2018 postseason.

The in-person monitors made cheating more difficult. But most alarming to MLB might be an assertion that at least one team, again the Red Sox, found ways to occasionally skirt the system.

“We had (the monitors) in our back pocket,” one Red Sox person said. “If we wanted to whisper something or they walked out, then we could do something if we needed to.”

Another Red Sox source confirmed this dynamic.

A video scout with another club who saw the monitors in action said that their efficacy varied widely depending on the city and the monitor on duty. Some would stay in the video replay room the entire game, while others would disappear for periods of time.

“Some acted like they were your best friend, root you on. Others would tell on you for the littlest things that weren’t even real,” the scout said. “It was very inconsistent how each person took their job and what they were actually doing. … You knew this guy was a stickler, and with this guy you could get away with some stuff.

“How does it stop cheating? The teams that were going to cheat were going to cheat, no matter what.”

A year earlier, sources with two teams had questioned the skills and training of the MLB-appointed monitors.

“So now MLB is saying, ‘Well, should we hire more of these people?’” one AL executive said in 2018. “It’s like, really, we’re going to hire more poorly trained, incompetent people, you’re going to charge clubs back for the cost of these people? And you’re not actually going to succeed in discouraging teams. You’re just going to have them find a new way to do it.”

In 2019, the assigned monitor did not always remain in the replay room for the entire game. At least in some parks, they also attempted to guard other areas — a potentially correctable situation for 2020.

“The Office of the Commissioner will assign a representative to monitor each Club’s replay/video review room(s) for the entire game, and also will monitor each Club’s clubhouse, tunnel, and auxiliary areas,” reads the notice MLB sent to its club in the spring of 2019.

MLB employs more than 100 monitors and says it will continue to improve training and performance going forward.

Even if MLB completely locked down replay rooms, what would stop a player or staffer from going into the clubhouse, checking their phone and receiving a message about the sign sequences from afar? Locking down not just video rooms, but dugouts — forcing players to stay on the field of play for the length of games, with exceptions for injuries — may be the only way to create a virtually airtight system.

The league today also faces a potential issue with wearable technology, and the possibility a hitter could go to the plate with something on his body that could be pinged from a remote location, vibrating to tell him what the next pitch will be. Barring a TSA-style security scan before every hitter goes to the plate, such a system would be almost impossible to stop, except via warnings and the threat of major punishment.

“I am concerned about the impact of technology in and around the field,” Manfred told the media at MLB’s owners meetings in November 2019. “I think it’s a challenge for our sport and all sports to regulate the use of that technology in a way that makes sure that we have the integrity.”

The league could mandate that pitchers and catchers communicate via a technological innovation such as an earpiece. At the general manager meetings in November, MLB informed GMs of some potentially available technologies. One would give the pitcher, catcher and potentially infielders a wrist device that would let them know which sign mattered on a pitch-to-pitch basis, effectively changing the sign sequence every pitch.

“This is no joke,” said one member of the 2018 Red Sox. “I think (MLB needs to say), ‘Listen, we’re going to do everything in our capability to crack down on this.’ Because it has to stop.”

 

Huge Red Sox fan here.  I think the Red Sox should get the same punishment as the Astros, which should be a loss of their championship.  I don't actually think that is just fair punishment but just believe it will take something that drastic to stop all of this.

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45 minutes ago, Seasick Sailor said:

MLB's Sign Stealing Controversy Broadens: Sources Say the Red Sox Used Video Replay Room Illegally in 2018

 

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When Major League Baseball punished the Red Sox and Yankees in September 2017 for conduct related to electronic sign stealing, the league touched on the epicenter of a problem that had been growing for years: The video replay room.

These rooms, intended to help managers decide whether to challenge umpires’ calls, were established after baseball introduced replay review in 2014. But some teams quickly realized the rooms also were easy places to learn a key piece of information: The sign sequence used by opposing pitchers and catchers.

Before the 2018 season, after years of barely enforcing its broad rules regarding replay rooms, the league made it crystal clear: Replay rooms cannot be used to help steal signs. The newly clarified rules, in combination with the fines the league levied on the Red Sox and Yankees and warnings it issued in ’17, were intended to end the replay-room chicanery. 

For the Red Sox, and possibly other clubs, it did not.

Three people who were with the Red Sox during their 108-win 2018 season told The Athletic that during that regular season, at least some players visited the video replay room during games to learn the sign sequence opponents were using. The replay room is just steps from the home dugout at Fenway Park, through the same doors that lead to the batting cage. Every team’s replay staff travels to road games, making the system viable in other parks as well.

Red Sox sources said this system did not appear to be effective or even viable during the 2018 postseason, when the Red Sox went on to win the World Series. Opponents were leery enough of sign stealing — and knowledgeable enough about it — to constantly change their sign sequences. And, for the first time in the sport’s history, MLB instituted in-person monitors in the replay rooms, starting in the playoffs. For the entire regular season, those rooms had been left unguarded.

Other clubs might have committed violations similar to Boston’s under the new rules, but The Athletic could not confirm such conduct at this time.

“It’s cheating,” one person who was with the 2018 Red Sox said. “Because if you’re using a camera to zoom in on the crotch of the catcher, to break down the sign system, and then take that information and give it out to the runner, then he doesn’t have to steal it.”

The Red Sox declined to comment at the time of publication.

Major League Baseball said in a statement, “The Commissioner made clear in a September 15, 2017 memorandum to clubs how seriously he would take any future violation of the regulations regarding use of electronic equipment or the inappropriate use of the video replay room. Given these allegations, MLB will commence an investigation into this matter.”

Replay room to dugout to baserunner to hitter is less direct — and less egregious — than banging on a garbage can, the method the Astros used at home in 2017 to alert hitters to what was coming on a pitch-to-pitch basis. The Astros’ system was triggered by a center-field camera and a video screen positioned near the dugout; no one on the playing field was involved in stealing the sign.

The Red Sox’s system was possible only when a runner was on second base, or sometimes even on first base. Nonetheless, a team that is able to discern that information live, during a game, and relay it to base runners has a distinct advantage. A runner at second base can stare in at a flurry of catcher’s signs and know which one matters, then inform the hitter accordingly.

It’s impossible to say for certain how much this system helped the Red Sox offense. But their lineup dominated in 2018, when they led the league in runs scored.

In his statement announcing the 2017 penalties, Commissioner Rob Manfred said he received “absolute assurances” from the Red Sox that they would not again engage in illegal sign-stealing activity, adding that he had notified all 30 clubs that any future violations would be subject to more serious sanctions.

MLB then reinforced Manfred’s comments shortly before the start of the 2018 season, explicitly stating in a three-page memo to all club presidents, general managers and assistant general managers that “Electronic equipment, including game feeds in the Club replay room and/or video room, may never be used during a game for the purpose of stealing the opposing team’s signs.”

The accounts about the Red Sox’s activity were given to The Athletic on the condition of anonymity. The sources said they are bothered by a subculture of in-game electronic sign stealing that they believe grew in recent years among contending teams, if not more widely across the sport, and who say they want MLB to act in a broad way.

Like the Astros, the Red Sox operated with a deep suspicion that they were not alone. In some cases, players and coaches arrived in Boston with firsthand experience of sign stealing elsewhere. In recent postseasons, the paranoia was particularly acute.

“You got a bunch of people who are really good at cheating and everybody knows that each other’s doing it,” said one person with the 2018 Red Sox. “It’s really hard for anybody to get away with it at that point. … If you get a lion and a deer, then the lion can really take advantage of the deer. So there’s a lot of deers out there that weren’t paying attention throughout the season. In the playoffs, now you’re going against a lion.”

The Red Sox in 2018 were under a new manager, Alex Cora, whom The Athletic previously reported played a key role in devising the sign-stealing system the Astros used in 2017, when he was the team’s bench coach.

The issue, however, extends beyond individual teams, encompassing the league’s enforcement and upkeep of its own rules.

Many inside the sport believe there is cheating and then there is cheating-cheating. In this view, the Astros undertook the latter, while more indirect video-room efforts — at least before late 2017 — counted as the former.

“It was like having an open-book test and the open book is right there next to you and the teacher says, ‘Don’t look at the book,’” said one former player. “Whatever is available to teams, they’re going to take advantage of it. Major League Baseball knows that. If you have this technology that’s available where you have 20 cameras on the field, cameras that can look at signs, I mean, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see: Oh, if I’m in the video room and I see the guy’s signs, you’re basically playing the same game now that was played when I first came into the league and there was a guy on second base. You’re trying to break the code.”

The Red Sox’s 2018 system 

By 2018, the Red Sox and other teams knew the rules governing sign stealing were tightening — or at least, they should have known. MLB made it much more difficult to use dugout phones for impermissible communications, and instituted other new rules intended to curb illegal sign stealing.

On March 27, 2018, MLB chief baseball officer Joe Torre sent a three-page memo to all club presidents, GMs and assistant GMs explicitly stating, in bold text, that “To be clear, the use of any equipment in the clubhouse or in a Club’s replay or video rooms to decode an opposing Club’s signs during the game violates this Regulation.”

However, the league did not begin monitoring replay rooms with on-site personnel until the 2018 postseason, essentially relying on an honor system before that. Even today, with in-person monitors in place, some in the game question whether that enforcement is effective.

The system the Red Sox employed was not unlike one they had used in previous seasons under a different manager, John Farrell. It was also similar to one the Yankees and other teams had employed before MLB started its crackdown. (Hitters can legally visit the replay room during games to study some video.)

A staff member in the Red Sox’s video replay room would tell a player the current sign sequence. The player would return to the dugout, delivering the message on foot, rather than through a wearable device or a phone.

“There was constant movement,” said one person who was with the 2018 Red Sox. “They were always trying to figure out the system.”

Someone in the dugout would relay the information to the baserunner, leaving the runner with two easy steps: Watch the catcher’s signs and, with body movements, tell the hitter what’s coming.

In daily hitters’ meetings, Red Sox players and personnel would review their communication methods for that day.

The runner would let the hitter know if he was aware of the sequence. “Put two feet on the bag or look out into center field, and do something that’s subtle,” as one Red Sox source described it.

The runner stepping off the bag with the right foot first could mean fastball; left foot first, a breaking ball or off-speed pitch.

Such a system was far more difficult for opponents to detect than banging on a trash can. It also had a semblance of propriety, incorporating old-school, legal practices: A runner on base still had to use his own eyes before he could put the contraband information to good use.

Like many teams, the Red Sox often knew pitchers’ sequences heading into a game through the use of video. If a pitcher does not or did not change his sign sequence from his previous outing, that is and was his own responsibility.

But if the sign sequences were altered on the fly, the Red Sox had a way to adjust almost immediately — by sending a player from the dugout to the video room a few feet away.

During the 2018 season, suspicion of wrongdoing became rampant across baseball, particularly among contending teams. Some teams took steps in self-defense.

Brandon Taubman, the assistant general manager fired by the Astros during the 2019 World Series, confronted a Yankees employee in center field at Yankee Stadium in May of 2018. The Astros at that time believed the Yankees were using a camera to zoom in on the catcher’s signs. According to a source, the Astros did not push the matter with the league at the time, but during the course of the ongoing current investigation have brought it back to MLB’s attention.

Late in the 2018 season, the A’s — whose roster included pitcher Mike Fiers, who confirmed to The Athletic that the Astros had illegally stolen signs the previous year  — complained to MLB about Houston. No punishment resulted from that complaint. However, those concerns, and others raised by teams about various opponents, contributed to the league’s increased security during the 2018 postseason.

During those playoffs, an Astros employee drew suspicion from the Indians and Red Sox when he was seen with a camera near their dugouts during a playoff series. MLB investigated and found that the employee was “monitoring the field.”

Player movement from team to team brings new information to clubs, creates suspicion, and in some ways, gives incentive for teams to create their own sign-stealing systems. With everyone on such high alert, gamesmanship comes into play as well. Some of the whistling the Yankees reported to hear from the Astros dugout during the 2019 ALCS, sources said, may not have been a form of cheating, but a form of gamesmanship, intended to make the Yankees paranoid and suspicious.

By the 2018 postseason and the general managers’ meetings that followed in November, the topic had reached a fever pitch, and the GMs were intensely concerned.

How baseball got here

In at least one respect, baseball’s efforts to eliminate electronic sign stealing are similar to its attempts to curb the use of performance-enhancing drugs: The league’s rules to prevent cheating lag behind the cheaters.

The evolution of the replay room into a hive of sign-stealing activity was years in the making.

For decades, baseball has permitted game telecasts in clubhouses and locker rooms. (As of the 2019 season, there was a mandatory eight-second delay.) Players, perhaps someone injured or not in the lineup that day, could go inside during a game, sit and watch a TV, and occasionally decode a sign sequence.

The advent of video replay rooms made it far easier for teams to gain such an edge. The rooms provided a greater array of tools and camera angles in one location, at a time when people at all levels of the sport were fanatically pursuing every advantage.

As technology around the game exploded, teams installed additional cameras around the ballpark as training and scouting tools. Starting in 2018, with paranoia among clubs peaking, MLB mandated that teams catalog and register those cameras with the league to ensure they were used legally.

As far back as 2015, the Yankees used the video replay room to learn other teams’ sign sequences, multiple sources told The Athletic. Other teams likely were doing the same. Sources said the Red Sox began doing it no later than 2016.

“Oftentimes it takes a player to show up and be like ‘You f—— morons, you’re not doing this?’” said one American League executive.

Reviewing past footage before games was legal then, and remains legal today. That includes a study of sign sequences, or pitch tipping — determining if a pitcher looks or acts differently depending on the pitch he is about to throw.

But in the middle of the decade, MLB had a broad rule forbidding the use of electronic equipment in sign stealing: “No equipment may be used for the purpose of stealing signs or conveying information designed to give a Club an advantage.”

The league today says that there was some “gray area” in that rule. Information from the replay room was not communicated directly to the hitter; teams needed a runner on second base to serve as a conduit.

“I’m just telling you from a broad perspective, living it, it didn’t feel that wrong,” said one player who used the replay-room system with the Yankees as far back as 2015. “It was there for everyone, that’s all.”

Veteran players who were skilled at picking up tendencies by watching on-field action knew what to look for on video as well.

“If I could figure out the signs from the telecast, I was not going to hold on to that information,” that former Yankee said. “I was going to share that with whomever.”

By 2017, with rules governing electronic sign stealing still lacking the specificity that would come the next season, the Red Sox, Yankees and Astros were all using their replay rooms to help decode sign sequences in some way, sources said. There are indications other teams did so as well. One National League general manager expressed a feeling that it was fair game.

Baseball has a long history of tacitly allowing some forms of cheating, as long as players do not cross certain lines. A little sticky stuff on a pitcher’s fingers is basically ignored; the substance helps with a pitcher’s grip, particularly in the cold. But globs of tar on a pitcher’s neck can lead to a fine and suspension.

Fittingly, it was a dispute between the game’s oldest rivals, the Red Sox and the Yankees, that brought the matter to light.

The Yankees had video of a Red Sox athletic trainer looking at a wearable device in the dugout and relaying what he was told to players, which MLB deemed impermissible. The Red Sox filed a counter-complaint, suggesting the Yankees were using a YES Network camera improperly. MLB did not substantiate that claim but did find that the Yankees had used their dugout phone improperly in a past season. Both teams were fined, the Red Sox a larger amount.

Notably, the punishments for both teams centered on means of communication: a phone and a wearable device. They were not based on the act of using the video replay room alone.

“The Yankees and the Red Sox at the time were saying, true or not, ‘Oh, every club has people walking from the video room to the dugout, so you’re nailing us for a more efficient means of communication,’” a person with direct knowledge of the league’s investigations said. “The answer was, ‘Yeah, the way you were transmitting it was clearly illegal, right?’ … This is September of ’17. Going before that, (MLB) identified walking from the video room as the gray area.”

By contrast, the commissioner’s office viewed the punishment for the Red Sox and the Yankees as a line in the sand.

“The clubs were on notice,” Manfred said in November 2019, “that however the commissioner’s office dealt with these issues historically, going forward, I viewed them with a particular level of seriousness.”

Yet, people with direct knowledge of the league’s enforcement efforts said that even after the 2017 season, team executives at the general managers meetings did not see a pressing problem with electronic sign stealing. Those executives might not have known the extent of the problem. At least in some franchises, the front offices may have been disconnected from these systems.

Where things stood in the 2019 season

MLB revised its rules again in 2019, with Torre’s three-page memo from the previous year expanding into a six-page memo with much tighter restrictions. Among them: the continued monitoring of replay rooms, extending the practice that began in the 2018 postseason.

The in-person monitors made cheating more difficult. But most alarming to MLB might be an assertion that at least one team, again the Red Sox, found ways to occasionally skirt the system.

“We had (the monitors) in our back pocket,” one Red Sox person said. “If we wanted to whisper something or they walked out, then we could do something if we needed to.”

Another Red Sox source confirmed this dynamic.

A video scout with another club who saw the monitors in action said that their efficacy varied widely depending on the city and the monitor on duty. Some would stay in the video replay room the entire game, while others would disappear for periods of time.

“Some acted like they were your best friend, root you on. Others would tell on you for the littlest things that weren’t even real,” the scout said. “It was very inconsistent how each person took their job and what they were actually doing. … You knew this guy was a stickler, and with this guy you could get away with some stuff.

“How does it stop cheating? The teams that were going to cheat were going to cheat, no matter what.”

A year earlier, sources with two teams had questioned the skills and training of the MLB-appointed monitors.

“So now MLB is saying, ‘Well, should we hire more of these people?’” one AL executive said in 2018. “It’s like, really, we’re going to hire more poorly trained, incompetent people, you’re going to charge clubs back for the cost of these people? And you’re not actually going to succeed in discouraging teams. You’re just going to have them find a new way to do it.”

In 2019, the assigned monitor did not always remain in the replay room for the entire game. At least in some parks, they also attempted to guard other areas — a potentially correctable situation for 2020.

“The Office of the Commissioner will assign a representative to monitor each Club’s replay/video review room(s) for the entire game, and also will monitor each Club’s clubhouse, tunnel, and auxiliary areas,” reads the notice MLB sent to its club in the spring of 2019.

MLB employs more than 100 monitors and says it will continue to improve training and performance going forward.

Even if MLB completely locked down replay rooms, what would stop a player or staffer from going into the clubhouse, checking their phone and receiving a message about the sign sequences from afar? Locking down not just video rooms, but dugouts — forcing players to stay on the field of play for the length of games, with exceptions for injuries — may be the only way to create a virtually airtight system.

The league today also faces a potential issue with wearable technology, and the possibility a hitter could go to the plate with something on his body that could be pinged from a remote location, vibrating to tell him what the next pitch will be. Barring a TSA-style security scan before every hitter goes to the plate, such a system would be almost impossible to stop, except via warnings and the threat of major punishment.

“I am concerned about the impact of technology in and around the field,” Manfred told the media at MLB’s owners meetings in November 2019. “I think it’s a challenge for our sport and all sports to regulate the use of that technology in a way that makes sure that we have the integrity.”

The league could mandate that pitchers and catchers communicate via a technological innovation such as an earpiece. At the general manager meetings in November, MLB informed GMs of some potentially available technologies. One would give the pitcher, catcher and potentially infielders a wrist device that would let them know which sign mattered on a pitch-to-pitch basis, effectively changing the sign sequence every pitch.

“This is no joke,” said one member of the 2018 Red Sox. “I think (MLB needs to say), ‘Listen, we’re going to do everything in our capability to crack down on this.’ Because it has to stop.”

 

While that's not as bad as what the Astros did, the Red Sox should get popped harder because of their recidivism (RE-PEAT OH-FENDER!!!) status.

They also just need to get rid of the video rooms -- that would fix the replay appeal bullshit too.  Without a video room, only the most egregious, obvious missed calls would be appealed, and we'd rid the game of the appeals that the guy stealing second bounced off the base by 1/8" for a nanosecond.  

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2 hours ago, txhorns said:

Huge Red Sox fan here.  I think the Red Sox should get the same punishment as the Astros, which should be a loss of their championship.  I don't actually think that is just fair punishment but just believe it will take something that drastic to stop all of this.

That would be hilarious if the MLB vacates 2 straight championships. 

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8 minutes ago, David Dennison said:

MLB will never vacate any championship.

Oh I know they won't. They aren't the NCAA. Still would be funny. How many pro titles have been vacated after the facr? All I can think of is the Black Sox scandal.

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Posted (edited)
4 minutes ago, Vic Mackey said:

Oh I know they won't. They aren't the NCAA. Still would be funny. How many pro titles have been vacated after the facr? All I can think of is the Black Sox scandal.

The White Sox threw the series, so there wasn't a title to vacate. They still hold the 1919 AL pennant.

Edited by David Dennison

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Oh I don't think the MLB would vacate any championship nor do I think that would be fair punishment.  I just don't think there is any other punishment that would deter a team or players from doing this other than vacating a championship.  Unless you want to ban dozens of players and coaches from the game.  The players don't give a shit about the loss of draft picks or team fines.

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On 1/7/2020 at 10:36 AM, dbecks said:

Fingers crossed that the Yankees get implicated in this shit, too.

Ha. The Yankees operate with these things called class and decorum. A Boston sports fan like you wouldn’t know anything about that though. They wouldn’t be involved in a cheating scandal. 

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First sentence of article tells you Yankees were fined for sign stealing in 2017. this isn't a isolated case of 1 or 2 teams. f7e4a20fd9ae25cf1e0f9fa64b6c9f8f.jpg

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5 hours ago, Jshep34 said:

First sentence of article tells you Yankees were fined for sign stealing in 2017. this isn't a isolated case of 1 or 2 teams. -

The Yankees stole signs with class and decorum, numbnuts.

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On 1/7/2020 at 9:00 PM, MC Fresh Breath said:

Keith Law leaves ESPN after 13 years to go to the Athletic.

 

Is anyone left at ESPN+?

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Posted (edited)

Schoenfield, Passan, Szymborski, Olney 

Edited by ss13

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Wasn’t your boy Arozarena the one that posted the locker room clip? 

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On 1/7/2020 at 9:00 PM, MC Fresh Breath said:

Keith Law leaves ESPN after 13 years to go to the Athletic.

 

That Jonah Keri money had to go somewhere I guess

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Badass video. 

Rizzo is fun to watch too. 

 

Edited by ss13

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