The Houston Astros Sign-Stealing Scandal

I think this deserves its own thread, because it may be the first time in major league baseball history that there has been a team-wide cheating scandal (at least since the infamous Black Sox fixing World Series games exactly a century ago), comparable to the team-wide doping programs we know have been used in pro cycling.

The Houston Astros stand accused—and the evidence is compelling—of using cameras to steal the signs that catchers use to communicate with pitchers about what kind of pitch—fastball, curve, change-up, etc.-to throw. Batters normally don’t know what’s coming, and have to guess, based on the pitcher’s movement when he releases the ball. No one doubts that having this information before the pitch is thrown would help the hitter. No one doubts, either, that teams have long tried to steal signs. But in the past this was done without technology like cameras, and was permitted or at least tolerated. The Astros have clearly taken it to a new level.

The Astros began using this system early in the 2017 season, and already their World Series championship that year is being considered tainted. It’s noteworthy that in the deciding Game 7, the Astros hit Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish hard, basically turning the game in their favor. Even at the time, before anyone knew about the sign-stealing system, it was thought that Darvish was tipping his pitches, through some unconscious movements. In retrospect, it looks much worse than that.

The Astros will almost certainly be subject to some stiff penalties, and some heads will probably roll. An interesting question, though, is whether some of those heads will be of the players. By using this system, they were clearly cheating, maybe gaining as much or more of an advantage than through PEDS. A recent article provides some quantitative estimates of this benefit:


While I think this analysis is poor—it doesn’t discuss the values that go in the opposite direction of what would support a benefit from sign-stealing, suggesting that all the differences result from random fluctuations—more analysis like this is sure to come. MLB has probably more information available to it than any other pro sport, and if the players did benefit, it can probably be shown more convincingly.

That being the case, what happens? One of the players, Jose Altuve, won the MVP that year, with his best season ever. If it can be shown he did benefit from sign-stealing, would they strip him of the honor? What kind of statistical significance would be necessary? This would be unprecedented as far as I know. Just in this century, several players have been shown to have been doping during a season in which they won an MVP--Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriquez, and Ryan Braun, for example. None of them was stripped of the award. In 2012, Melky Cabrera was stripped of the batting title after a PED suspension, but Cabrera, to his credit, actually requested this himself.
 
Jul 5, 2018
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I think this deserves its own thread, because it may be the first time in major league baseball history that there has been a team-wide cheating scandal (at least since the infamous Black Sox fixing World Series games exactly a century ago), comparable to the team-wide doping programs we know have been used in pro cycling.

The Houston Astros stand accused—and the evidence is compelling—of using cameras to steal the signs that catchers use to communicate with pitchers about what kind of pitch—fastball, curve, change-up, etc.-to throw. Batters normally don’t know what’s coming, and have to guess, based on the pitcher’s movement when he releases the ball. No one doubts that having this information before the pitch is thrown would help the hitter. No one doubts, either, that teams have long tried to steal signs. But in the past this was done without technology like cameras, and was permitted or at least tolerated. The Astros have clearly taken it to a new level.

The Astros began using this system early in the 2017 season, and already their World Series championship that year is being considered tainted. It’s noteworthy that in the deciding Game 7, the Astros hit Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish hard, basically turning the game in their favor. Even at the time, before anyone knew about the sign-stealing system, it was thought that Darvish was tipping his pitches, through some unconscious movements. In retrospect, it looks much worse than that.

The Astros will almost certainly be subject to some stiff penalties, and some heads will probably roll. An interesting question, though, is whether some of those heads will be of the players. By using this system, they were clearly cheating, maybe gaining as much or more of an advantage than through PEDS. A recent article provides some quantitative estimates of this benefit:


While I think this analysis is poor—it doesn’t discuss the values that go in the opposite direction of what would support a benefit from sign-stealing, suggesting that all the differences result from random fluctuations—more analysis like this is sure to come. MLB has probably more information available to it than any other pro sport, and if the players did benefit, it can probably be shown more convincingly.

That being the case, what happens? One of the players, Jose Altuve, won the MVP that year, with his best season ever. If it can be shown he did benefit from sign-stealing, would they strip him of the honor? What kind of statistical significance would be necessary? This would be unprecedented as far as I know. Just in this century, several players have been shown to have been doping during a season in which they won an MVP--Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriquez, and Ryan Braun, for example. None of them was stripped of the award. In 2012, Melky Cabrera was stripped of the batting title after a PED suspension, but Cabrera, to his credit, actually requested this himself.
What happens? The league and the media move on to more glamorous topics like free agents huge $ contracts. Nothing to see here. The MLB, NFL, NBA and NCAA are all in the business of image management. Sound familiar at all?
 
Pardon my ignorance but is this "sign-stealing" against the rules in baseball?
That's the weird part. It was never considered against the rules before technology got involved. Players have long tried to do it. But the use of cameras makes it far more effective. There were some new rules put in effect in 2017, after the Red Sox were caught using electronic devices, and more specific ones this past season.

It's kind of like baseball saying, we don't care if you take greenies (amphetamines, to make players more alert), but steroids have too much of a PE effect to be allowed.
 
It's pretty hard to do without a camera. It requires someone in a place where they can see the catchers hands, work out what the signalling system is (and hope it isn't changed/they pick the right call) and then a way they can communicate it to the batter, all in time for them to set themselves and hit the pitch. I'd guess it was tolerated because it's pretty hard to get right and if you communicate the wrong pitch it's detrimental.

I don't think the analogy with amphetamines is fair. It's baseball saying, if you can work out the calls and communicate them in play without electronics then they need to do better at mixing up their calls/hiding them. Similar to teams working out the line-out calls of their opposition in rugby, picking up on play calls/audibles in American football etc. Basically it's part of the game.


Cameras clearly make a big difference here, as do the accusations that the communication with the batter was also electronic.


Looking at the analysis it does seem a bit superficial, although it seems to go inline with what you might expect, with fastball hitting least affected and breaking and off-speed (breaking pitches are off-speed pitches so I'm assuming this really means change-ups?) more affected. Knowing these pitches are coming helps massively in timing and deciding if you're going to leave it. I'd be most interested to see the specific effect on left pitches. Were batters better at leaving breaking balls outside the plate overall? This also has the effect of forcing the pitcher to throw more towards the plate, making all pitches easier to hit.

What will happen? I'd agree with @GVFTA and assume not much, maybe a slap on the wrist to put a marker down in case someone else is caught doing it.
 
I think this deserves its own thread, because it may be the first time in major league baseball history that there has been a team-wide cheating scandal (at least since the infamous Black Sox fixing World Series games exactly a century ago), comparable to the team-wide doping programs we know have been used in pro cycling.
Hmn, does the Yankee pitcher's wife-swapping in the 1970s count as a team-wide cheating scandal since they all probably knew about it before it went down. :p
 
One telling aspect here is the fact that representatives for teams playing against the Astros pretty much downplay the issue. See John Farrell, for instance. The former manager of the Red Sox -- a rival team-- refused to get all uppity about the matter. Sort of like rival cycling teams when asked to comment on an opponent's doping ban. His body language and response pretty much said that everyone does it.
A few years back the Toronto Blue Jays--the best baseball team ever--were accused of doing the same, and there was a lot of corroborating evidence to support the case, but the story went the way of the dodo

Only reason this has become an issue is that a former Astros pitcher played whistle blower. He felt bad knowing that up and coming pitchers would be sent to the minors after being lit up by the 'stros.
 
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What happens? The league and the media move on to more glamorous topics like free agents huge $ contracts. Nothing to see here. The MLB, NFL, NBA and NCAA are all in the business of image management. Sound familiar at all?
Turns out, there's a lot to see here. The GM and manager of the Astros were each suspended for a year by MLB, after which both were fired by the team's owner. Boston's manager, who was the alleged mastermind behind Houston's sign-stealing scheme, then moved on to institute a similar system for his new team, hasn't been officially sanctioned yet, but the ruling is so certain that he's also been fired. There's a good chance that none of these three men will be able to work in the game again.
 
Those three should never be allowed in the game again. The WS should be vacated for Houston. I just don't think they were punished enough. I would also like to hear from more players. More of the cheating players should be punished. Pretty obvious who they were. CC Sabathia spoke about how he feels cheated.
How About Justin Verlander? speak up boy. He was so outspoken about how he hates cheaters before. What now that his team is the cheats? I never liked him. Even when he was pitching for the Tigers.
 
I don't understand how this is cheating. If the other team is making hand signals that are plain to see and you figure out what they mean isn't that good management. If you notice that 3 fingers down means something are you supposed to pretend you don't understand when you do
 
I don't understand how this is cheating. If the other team is making hand signals that are plain to see and you figure out what they mean isn't that good management. If you notice that 3 fingers down means something are you supposed to pretend you don't understand when you do
It never was considered cheating until electronic devices were used. They make sign stealing much easier and more effective. Without cameras, e.g., signs can only be seen by opposing baserunners, and they have to see enough of them to decode what they mean, then signal that to the hitter without the other team's knowing that they're doing it. With cameras, the hitting team can see the signals constantly, and if the pitching team tries to change the signals to avoid detection, the opposing team can pick that up, too. As well as use other devices to transfer meaning of the signs to the hitter.

I agree that there is a problem with saying, in effect, it's OK to cheat if you don't do it too effectively. One could use electronic devices to allow catchers and pitchers to communicate without hand signals, and maybe eventually that will be allowed. But the spectre of players using high tech devices just to communicate routine information while on the field suggests an arms race in which technological advances will have an increasingly greater impact on the success of teams.
 
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And now Cora, the manager of the Red Sox has been canned for similar reasons. Kind of explains why John Farrel gave a shrug to the Astros situation.
No doubt many teams are using technology to steal signs. Otherwise they wouldn't be doing their job, which is to win baseball games.
Too bad the managers have become the scapegoats, while the players get off without so much as a slap on the wrist. Then again, it would be hard to identify the player(s) smashing a bat against a garbage bin.
 
Red Sox investigation is ongoing but it's not looking great. I'm slightly torn over the sackings, it feels a bit like sacking the guys who get caught for doing something lots of people are likely doing. I see LACC are going to vote on asking for the 2017 and 2018 WS's to be retroactively awarded to the Dodgers. I hope they know the Dodgers weren't also doing this...
 
It never was considered cheating until electronic devices were used. They make sign stealing much easier and more effective. Without cameras, e.g., signs can only be seen by opposing baserunners, and they have to see enough of them to decode what they mean, then signal that to the hitter without the other team's knowing that they're doing it. With cameras, the hitting team can see the signals constantly, and if the pitching team tries to change the signals to avoid detection, the opposing team can pick that up, too. As well as use other devices to transfer meaning of the signs to the hitter.

I agree that there is a problem with saying, in effect, it's OK to cheat if you don't do it too effectively. One could use electronic devices to allow catchers and pitchers to communicate without hand signals, and maybe eventually that will be allowed. But the spectre of players using high tech devices just to communicate routine information while on the field suggests an arms race in which technological advances will have an increasingly greater impact on the success of teams.
Thanks.
I do understand why using watches and smartphones over stepped the line but I wrongly thought it was cheating to look in general.

Would it not be possible to switch to calls like in rugby lineouts rather than handsignals even though it would take away an aesthetic aspect of the game
 
Red Sox investigation is ongoing but it's not looking great. I'm slightly torn over the sackings, it feels a bit like sacking the guys who get caught for doing something lots of people are likely doing. I see LACC are going to vote on asking for the 2017 and 2018 WS's to be retroactively awarded to the Dodgers. I hope they know the Dodgers weren't also doing this...
Also did the guys who sacked him know he was doing it at the time?
 
Also did the guys who sacked him know he was doing it at the time?
Everyone who has been sacked so far is because of their involvement with the Astros cheating. The investigation into the Red Sox when Cora was the manager hasn't finished.

Thanks.
I do understand why using watches and smartphones over stepped the line but I wrongly thought it was cheating to look in general.

Would it not be possible to switch to calls like in rugby lineouts rather than handsignals even though it would take away an aesthetic aspect of the game
Pitchers throw thousands of pitches a year and the distribution of pitch types is a normal distribution with an apex at 4-5. If they verbally called it then it'd get figured out very quickly.
 
Everyone who has been sacked so far is because of their involvement with the Astros cheating. The investigation into the Red Sox when Cora was the manager hasn't finished.



Pitchers throw thousands of pitches a year and the distribution of pitch types is a normal distribution with an apex at 4-5. If they verbally called it then it'd get figured out very quickly.
Not if you change the call word every game tactics and calls change game by game in other sports. Surely it's possible or am I missing something
 
Each team current throws an average of 146 pitches per game and plays on average 6 games a week (actually a little over). They also play a series of games against the same opposition, e.g. the Red Sox will open next season with a 4 game series against the Blue Jays, with no day gaps between games.

In the 2015 6 Nations average lineouts per game was 24 (I didn't want to divide that as I'm not sure it's always even) and that was fairly static, 27 in '14, 25 in 13 and 23 in '12. They also played an average of less than 1 game per week and played each team once. Even in Premiership rugby the difference in games played and lineouts taken compared to pitching per game is enormous.


When I played Union, a long time ago, for a fairly reasonable youth team we had 4 different line-out calls with 3 variations per call. We could effectively call a different play each time we had a lineout. We also only played each team twice a year. Add on to this that we could talk to each other before every lineout so we didn't even need to have a call that was relevant a lot of the time, it was just to get the timing right on a play we already knew was happening.

The amount of data available on pitching in one baseball game pretty much constituents a whole season of lineouts.

Then add in the logistics problems. The pitcher is about 19-20m from the catcher. The catcher would have to shout at the top of their voice for hours on end and would probably have to repeat themselves several times. In rugby the whole lineout is usually within 20m of the Hooker. It's also not necessarily just the pitcher and catcher communicating, so you would have people shouting from the dugout too.



Honestly, if it worked I think they would do it. audible calls are used in other sports so it's not like it's unknown to American sports, I just don't think it would ever work in baseball.
 

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