In case you missed it last year, a story hit the interwebs about how several American League teams had observed strange activities at Rogers Centre, leading them to independently come to the same conclusion in late 2010/early 2011.
Simply put…they had determined that the Toronto Blue Jays were stealing signs:
Now in terms of baseball’s written slash unwritten rules this is a little bit of a grey area.
On the one hand, it’s your responsibility as the pitching team to protect your signs, to not carelessly let the opposing team intercept them. But on the other hand, said thievery is required to be of the natural variety & is supposed to happen solely on the field of play.
Outside influences and the use of technology is 110%, without question, punishable by one in the ribcage kind of wrong.
And this is where the issue in Toronto arose.
From ESPN‘s Oustide The Lines last year:
The enraged player and his teammates could hardly believe what they had seen in the previous inning.
As they sat on the perch above the right-field bullpen at Rogers, they caught sight of a man dressed in white about 25 yards to their right, out among the blue center-field seats. And while the players watched, the man in white seemingly signaled the pitches the visiting pitcher was throwing against the Jays, according to four sources in the bullpen that day.
The players weren’t exactly sure how the man in white knew what was coming — maybe, they thought, he was receiving messages via his Bluetooth from an ally elsewhere in the stadium who had binoculars or access to the stadium feed.
But they quickly picked up the wavelength of his transmissions: He was raising his arms over his head for curveballs, sliders and changeups. In other words, anything besides fastballs.
Now comes this little anomaly.
Jason Hammel came into his May 30th game in Toronto with a 2.78 ERA and just three homers allowed in nine starts this season, but the Orioles right-hander served up four homers to the Blue Jays.
Afterward got about as close to accusing them of stealing signs as he could possibly get without actually doing it.
Here’s what Hammel told Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun:
They’re a very potent offense and if you don’t make your pitches down they’re going to get them out. They were taking some pretty big hacks on my breaking stuff too, which leads me to believe it was something else. It is what it is. I need to keep the ball down.
When you’re locating your fastball, you’re going to give up some home runs there, but the swings they were taking on he breaking stuff, it was pretty amazing to me. I don’t think you can take swings like that not knowing they’re coming. I don’t know. That’s all I can say.
When asked if he was aware of past accusations, Hammel replied:
There’s rumors and things like that. I don’t know. I can’t speak on that, but they were taking very, very big strong hacks on breaking stuff. It was something I’ve never seen before.
Hammel has started 125 career games. Not only was that the first time he’s allowed four homers, he’d allowed three homers just twice before and gave up zero homers in 65 of those 125 starts.
Toronto has hit .262 with an .803 OPS at home this season, compared to .231 with a .660 OPS on the road. Their 2011 splits weren’t as drastic but their 2010 ones showed an even more dramatic difference.
Jose Bautista, for example, had a 1.118 OPS (on-base plus slugging) with 33 homers at home but an .879 OPS and 21 dingers on the road. First baseman Adam Lind had a .759 OPS with 15 homers in Toronto but a .660 OPS with eight bombs on the road.
Second baseman Aaron Hill? His home-road OPS split was .730-.605. Shortstop Yunel Escobar was traded from Atlanta to Toronto in July 2010, and he has an .865 OPS at Rogers as a Jay but a .683 mark on the road.
And then there’s Vernon Wells. The outfielder had a .990 OPS and 21 home runs in Toronto last season but crashed to .699 with 10 jacks away from Rogers Centre.
Now that several different teams are on record (Boston, New York, Baltimore, CWS) and several more have alleged off the record, it’s kind of hard to ignore this.
Accusations on their own might not hold much weight, but when combined with some crazy home & road slugging splits there seems to be some meat on this bone.