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sign stealing

MLB investigating more than 2017 for Astros’ alleged sign stealing

This sounds ominous.

Major League Baseball’s investigation into the Astros’ alleged sign-stealing will include the 2018 and 2019 seasons, commissioner Rob Manfred revealed Thursday, adding two more years to an inquiry already involving Houston’s World Series-winning 2017 team.

“We are talking to people all over the industry, former employees, competitors, whatever,” Manfred said at the conclusion of the owners meetings on Thursday. “To the extent that we find other leads, we are going to follow these leads. We will get to the bottom of what we have out there in terms of what went on to the extent that it’s humanly possible.”

[…]

“Every time we’ve gotten a lead, we chased that lead down to the extent we felt was investigatively possible,” Manfred said. “Obviously, an individual breaking what is a pretty firm commitment to silence about what goes on in dugouts and clubhouses is a big break in an investigation and an opportunity to push forward that we hadn’t had previously.”

The expanded investigation into sign-stealing is being combined with MLB’s other probe into the Astros for comments made by former assistant general manager Brandon Taubman and the team’s response.

[…]

Manfred clarified Thursday that the league’s investigation into Taubman and sign-stealing started independently of one another and “ended up as one big thing.”

“It’s hard to separate them out,” Manfred said. “I hope at the end of this undertaking, I’ll put both of these issues to bed at one time.”

See here and here for the background on the sign-stealing, and here for some background on the Taubman investigation. It makes sense to combine the two – if nothing else, I presume MLB has only so many investigators available at any one time – though what effect that may have on its direction or timeline is unknown. Of greater interest is what kind of penalties the Astros may face. Craig Edwards from Fangraphs takes a look. There’s too much to easily summarize (go click over, the first paragraph has links to more reporting on the sign stealing allegations), but the bottom line is that it doesn’t look great for the Astros. If Rob Manfred comes down on them, it’s going to leave a mark. Be prepared. ESPN has more.

MLB has had its eye on the Astros

The story develops.

Early in the 2019 season, Major League Baseball instructed video monitors working in Minute Maid Park to listen for banging sounds emanating from the Astros’ dugout, a person with knowledge of the directive said Monday.

The Astros are alleged to have stolen signs during their World Series-winning season of 2017 using a system that included players banging on trash cans to signal certain pitches. That MLB directed those working at Minute Maid Park to listen for such sounds is an indication the league already had an eye on Houston.

Conversely, a video monitor who worked in another American League ballpark told the Chronicle they were not “implicitly told” to listen for any sounds from either dugout.

MLB began investigating the Astros last week after former Houston pitcher Mike Fiers outlined how the team stole signs in 2017, using a camera in center field and a video screen in the tunnel next to the dugout, then banging on trash cans.

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The Athletic’s report detailed alleged wrongdoing in 2017 only. Whether the Astros continued their practices into 2018 or 2019 remains unconfirmed. Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said he was “confident that in general, we did things right and we try and follow the rules.”

The team has said it is cooperating with MLB’s investigation.

“Beginning in the 2017 season, numerous clubs expressed general concerns that other clubs were stealing their signs,” MLB said last week. “As a result of those concerns, and after receiving extensive input from the general managers, we issued a revised policy on sign stealing prior to the 2019 season. We also put in place detailed protocols and procedures to provide comfort to clubs that other clubs were not using video during the game to decode and steal signs.”

Part of that revised policy included a group of video monitors at each ballpark responsible for ensuring clubs adhered to the new regulations. Each game last regular season had at least one person around both the home and visiting dugouts monitoring the replay room, clubhouse, tunnel and any other area.

“What they told us was we were essentially looking for people who were using technology to steal signs,” said one video monitor.

One person familiar with the Astros’ video monitoring said those who worked at Minute Maid Park were instructed “early on” to “make sure there was no one in the dugout banging.”

See here for the background. We don’t know the extent of what may or may not have happened yet, and MLB hasn’t said when their investigation will end. What we do know is that if MLB does conclude the Astros were breaking the rules, the penalties could be harsh.

Commissioner Rob Manfred has “no reason to believe” Major League Baseball’s ongoing investigation into electronic sign-stealing will involve any club aside from the Astros — a franchise that could feel the full authority of Manfred’s power under the major league constitution.

Manfred has levied only one public punishment for electronic sign-stealing — an undisclosed fine to the Boston Red Sox during the 2017 season. That same year, the Astros are alleged to have electronically stolen signs with a center-field camera at Minute Maid Park, actions that are now the center of MLB’s investigation.

“Any allegation that relates to a rule violation that could affect the outcome of a game or games is the most serious matter,” Manfred said Tuesday. “It relates to the integrity of the sport. In terms of where we are, we have a very active, what is going to be a really, really thorough investigation ongoing. Beyond that, I can’t tell you how close we are to done.”

When he issued the fine to the Red Sox in 2017, Manfred warned any future violations were subject to “more serious sanctions, including the possible loss of draft picks.”

MLB’s most recent revised policy on sign-stealing promised “progressive discipline” for rule-breakers, “including fines, suspensions, and penalties or loss of benefits.” The benefits, according to the policy, included draft picks and international signing penalties.

“I’m not going to speculate on what the appropriate discipline is,” Manfred said. “That depends on how the facts are established at the end of the investigation. The general warning that I issued to the clubs I stand by. It certainly could be all those things, but my authority under the major league constitution could be broader than those things as well.”

Nothing to do but wait and see. Who says the offseason is dull?

Astros accused of stealing signs

The post-season is off to a roaring start.

Former Houston pitcher Mike Fiers told The Athletic that the Astros stole signs electronically at Minute Maid Park during their World Series-winning 2017 season, adding another inglorious instance to the franchise’s recent run of cheating accusations.

The Astros have begun an investigation in cooperation with Major League Baseball, the club said in a statement on Tuesday. It’s unclear if this investigation is independent of the ongoing one involving the firing of former assistant general manager Brandon Taubman.

Citing three anonymous sources along with an on-record interview and confirmation from Fiers, The Athletic reported the Astros had a camera in center field at Minute Maid Park fixated on the opposing catcher. A television located below the dugout showed the feed. Players watched the catcher and soon were able to detect what was coming, sometimes banging trash cans to alert hitters.

“That’s not playing the game the right way,” Fiers told The Athletic. “They were advanced and willing to go above and beyond to win.”

[…]

Using technology to steal signs is against major league rules. The Red Sox were fined in 2017 after the Yankees filed a complaint against them. Major League Baseball discovered they were “sending electronic communications from their video replay room to an athletic trainer in the dugout.”

In his ruling that year, commissioner Rob Manfred said “all 30 clubs have been notified that future violations of this type will be subject to more serious sanctions, including the possible loss of draft picks.”

Whether the Astros will be punished remains to be seen. Major League Baseball still has an open investigation against the franchise as a result of Taubman’s tirade against female reporters following the American League Championship Series.

Here’s the Athletic story. It’s a pay site, but you can sign up for a free seven-day trial if you want to read the whole thing. This NJ.com story has a couple of excerpts, including this one that explains how the scheme allegedly worked:

The Astros’ set-up in 2017 was not overly complicated. A feed from a camera in center field, fixed on the opposing catcher’s signs, was hooked up to a television monitor that was placed on a wall steps from the team’s home dugout at Minute Maid Park, in the tunnel that runs between the dugout and the clubhouse. Team employees and players would watch the screen during the game and try to decode signs — sitting opposite the screen on massage tables in a wide hallway. When the onlookers believed they had decoded the signs, the expected pitch would be communicated via a loud noise — specifically, banging on a trash can, which sat in the tunnel. Normally, the bangs would mean a breaking ball or off-speed pitch was coming. Fiers, who confirmed the set-up, acknowledged he already has a strained relationship with the Astros because he relayed to his subsequent teams, the Tigers and A’s, what the Astros were doing.

Twitter user and video genius Jomboy illustrated this with a live example. The pitcher in that clip, Danny Farquhar, noticed the banging noises and is quoted about it in the Athletic story. Jomboy has subsequent examples here, here, and here.

The key to all this is the allegation that cameras were used, as it is the use of technology to steal signs that is illegal. If the MLB investigation bears that out, expect the Astros to suffer stronger punishment than what was meted out to the Red Sox in 2017, since Commissioner Rob Manfred has emphasized that this is illegal. As the Athletic story notes, while the Astros are under investigation, using tech to steal signs is a league-wide problem, with other teams also under suspicion. Expect to hear a lot more about this over the next few weeks. Jerome Solomon, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and the Press have more.