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.
Players are quick to say they do what they do for the fans (along with, in many instances, an enormous paycheck). So which teams have the best fans? Times staff writer Kevin Baxter offers his opinion about the cities with the 10 best and worst fan bases in baseball.
Team (average home attendance); comment
Boston (37,666) Red Sox Nation not only fills Fenway, where there have been 690 consecutive sellouts, but the team’s fans travel, too.
St. Louis (38,023) Downtown is a sea of Cardinals red on game days. The fans understand and respect the game, politely cheering good plays by the opposition.
New York Yankees (44,739) Old Yankee Stadium drew more than 4 million fans in each of its last four years. The crowds are large, loud and passionate.
Philadelphia (45,496) Attendance was dismal in the final years at Veterans Stadium. But a winning team and a gorgeous ballpark have rekindled a love affair in South Philly.
Chicago Cubs (37,220) No titles in more than a century, so these aren’t fair-weather fans — especially the ones who sit through near-freezing early season windchills.
Detroit (30,620) The recession hit Detroit hard, yet theTigers‘ blue-collar style so mirrors the city that crowds have averaged 30,000-plus for six seasons.
Dodgers (36,949) The fans are loyal and passionate. That they’ve stayed home this season only underscores their feelings for the franchise.
Angels (39,063) The team will outdraw the Dodgers for the first time this season, yet Anaheim crowds still get marked down for a lack of ardor. It’s a bum rap for a loyal fan base.
Milwaukee (36,330) Long-suffering fans are backing the winners they have long deserved. Or are they simply saying goodbye to Prince Fielder?
Tampa Bay (19,326) Management gave away tickets to draw respectable crowds during a pennant race last fall. The Rays are good and exciting, but few in Tampa Bay care. Pathetic.
Florida: (17,992) The state is officially a baseball wasteland. The last time the Marlins weren’t last in the NL in attendance, 2004, was the season after they won the World Series.
Cleveland (21,881) We know all about the long sellout streak at Progressive Field. But that was last century. This year, the Indians got off to a great start and the fans still stayed home.
Oakland (18,925) This one’s on management, which has put a losing team in a dreary mausoleum of a ballpark. The lack of enthusiasm and energy here is depressing.
Toronto (23,007) The Blue Jays drew more than 4 million to their stadium when they were winning in the 1990s. Now they’re competitive again — and rank 24th in attendance.
Arizona (23,868) A great ballpark with air conditioning in the middle of the desert. A first-place team. And the stadium is still half empty?
Atlanta (28,866) The Braves have failed to sell out playoff games. Maybe Bobby Cox made winning expected, but this year’s team is fighting for a playoff berth before empty seats.
Washington (23,682) Why did the Senators leave? Oh, yeah: There weren’t many baseball fans in Washington. Even a beautiful new stadium hasn’t helped attendance.
Cincinnati (27,651) We can understand fans staying home in Kansas City, Seattle and Oakland. But the Reds won a division title last year.
Seattle (23,478) A 17-game losing streak can dampen enthusiasm. But fans were staying away even when the team was in contention.
Source: Kevin Baxter @ Los Angeles Times
From the visitors bullpen at Rogers Centre in Toronto, an American League pitcher screamed at Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista as he took his position late in a game in the spring of 2010.
“It’s not too [f——] easy to hit home runs when you don’t know what’s coming!”
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.
A few of the players in the bullpen turned their backs to the field to fixate on the man in white, while others watched the stadium’s radar gun. As soon as each pitch was thrown, those watching the man would call out what they thought he was signaling, and those focused on the radar gun would confirm his signal. Sure enough, the man in white was raising his arms above his head before every off-speed pitch and doing nothing when the pitch being called was a fastball.
Some guys on that team had actually seen the same man making the same motions in 2009. But that had been in the last series of the season against Toronto, and they let it go. Now, stunned not only that the man in white was back but that he was accurately calling every pitch, a call was made to the dugout, and the coaching staff was given the following message: Start using multiple signs, even with no one on base.
When Bautista next came up to bat, he struck out. After the inning, he ran to right field, adjacent to the visitors ‘pen, and the livid player issued Bautista a warning.
“We know what you’re doing,” he said, referring to the man in white, according to the player and two witnesses. “If you do it again, I’m going to hit you in the [f——] head.”
When asked in September 2010 about the confrontation, Bautista confirmed that he and the player had exchanged words. But he denied that their argument had been about signals relayed from the stands and denied getting outside help to steal signs.
“First of all, I don’t even know how you can do that,” Bautista said. “And second of all, it’s obviously something that’s not legal in the game. We do not cheat.”
The inning after the incident, however, the relays stopped, and the man in white left his seat.
The next day, the players who had seen the man in white headed to the field early. One stood in the batter’s box while another stood on the mound. From the batter’s box, it was clear the man in white had been perfectly positioned just above the pitcher’s head so that the batter would not need to move his own head, or even alter his gaze, in order to see his signal.
“It’s premeditated,” said one of the AL players, “as if the guy was a sniper trying to find the best position to make a shot.”
When Yankees manager Joe Girardi suggested the Blue Jays were illicitly stealing signs in mid-July, it was not the first time ESPN had heard such an allegation. In the summer of 2010, one of our reporters interviewed several players about allegations of sign-stealing from the outfield seats at Rogers Centre.
Then in January, Colin Wyers, a contributor to ESPN Insider who writes for Baseball Prospectus, provided independent analysis that showed statistical deviations in Toronto’s hitting stats that he considered too great to be random chance. (Wyers was unaware of the ESPN reporter’s information.)
As ESPN began investigating the sign-stealing allegations, the charges also started to gain momentum in the mainstream media. Last September, Yankees broadcaster Michael Kay noted that catcher Jorge Posada was throwing down multiple signs with nobody on base against the Jays and even mentioned the possibility that someone in the outfield stands could be relaying signs.
Similarly, in a June game in Toronto, Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia started mixing up signs to pitcher Clay Buchholz even when the Blue Jays didn’t have men on base, and Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy mentioned it on the air. On July 14, Yankees catcher Russell Martin said he thought Toronto was stealing signs from second base.
The next day, when asked by reporters if the Blue Jays were getting signs from outside the field of play, Girardi went a step further, saying, “Could be. Obviously, if you feel like it’s coming from somewhere else besides a player on the field, yeah, I do have issues with that.” Girardi told the media the Yankees would use multiple signs at Rogers Centre, even with the bases empty, just as Posada had done the year before.
Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos denies that his team has relayed signs from beyond the field of play. “That never happened, will never happen, not even a possibility,” he told The Mag. “If it did happen, we’d be winning a lot more games at home … I think it’s a nonstory because no one ever has picked up the phone and called me about it. It’s never been an issue, and I would expect them to do so if it was.”
An MLB spokesman said “Major League Baseball has never received a complaint from any club about sign stealing in Toronto, and this is first [we’ve been] made aware of it.”
Stealing signs is as old as signal-calling itself.
In 1876, the very first year of the National League, opponents of the Hartford Dark Blues claimed the club was somehow using a shack hung off a telegraph pole outside its home park to relay signals. Decades after the Giants stormed back to win the memorable 1951 NL pennant race, backup catcher Sal Yvars revealed that the team had deployed a clubhouse telescope, an electrician and a buzzer to pass stolen signs to its batters.
Just last year, after the Rockies spotted a Phillies bullpen coach using binoculars, Colorado accused Philadelphia of stealing signs. Bud Selig downplayed the controversy, saying, “Stealing signs has been around for 100 years,” before letting the Phillies off with a reprimand.
Baseball’s unwritten rules have held that traditional sign-stealing, in which a runner on second base picks up signals or hitters or coaches spot tendencies by pitchers and catchers, is fine if you can get away with it but that getting help from outside the white lines is out of bounds. Typically, players are loath to discuss the subject. For one thing, nobody wants to be a rat. And some guys think, If we’ve been hurt by another team stealing signs, why speak up? Wouldn’t it be better to allow our divisional rivals to suffer the same fate?
And then there’s the argument that it’s unfair to judge a team by anything other than what happens on the field. “If we win games, I give credit to the players,” Anthopoulos said. “If we go into another city and get beat, it’s just reality. I’m going to tip my cap and realize we’re not going to go 162-0. I’m going to give credit to the other team, and I expect other teams to do the same thing with us.”
Nonetheless, four players have confirmed they witnessed Toronto hitters being relayed signs from the Rogers Centre stands.
“I wouldn’t have believed it unless I saw it myself,” said one of those witnesses. Another of the players was so bothered by what he saw last year that he sent a text message to Yankees outfielder Curtis Granderson, telling him to look out for someone at Rogers Centre relaying signs.
Granderson recently confirmed that he received that text and says he was looking from the bench during one game when he was serving as DH. “From where I was sitting in the dugout, 300, 400 feet away, I couldn’t see anything,” he said.
So what can we see from the numbers? Statistically, the Blue Jays look like a team swinging out of their cleats at Rogers, with an unusual home-field advantage in hitting home runs.
In 2010, the Jays swung at 48.9 percent of pitches, the highest rate in baseball. They hit just .269 on balls in play, the lowest in baseball by 12 points. However, they led the majors with 257 home runs, 46 more than the next-highest squad. In fact, the 2010 Jays had the highest isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average) of any team since 1954. That’s what enabled Toronto to score 755 runs (ninth best in MLB) despite an abysmal team on-base percentage of .312 (fifth worst).
A huge proportion of the Jays’ power comes from their home ballpark. In 2010, Toronto blasted a whopping 146 homers at Rogers Centre, just seven homers shy of the all-time home record set by the Rangers in 2005.
Several Jays had extreme splits in 2010. 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 basemanAdam 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. This past winter he was traded to the Angels and has a .552 OPS in Halos home games.
Tuning out the noise
Now, by themselves, the above splits aren’t conclusive, so to measure the effect of Rogers Centre more precisely, The Mag consulted with Wyers. He has developed a method that generates park factors by comparing a player’s performance in any given park with his performance in all other parks, not just in road games for that player.
This reduces statistical noise and offers a better estimate of how a park actually plays in a given season. Wyers found that for every ball that batters made contact with in 2010, Rogers added .011 home runs, up from a rate of just .002 from 2005 to 2009. That puts Rogers Centre in 2010 among the top 3 percent of home run ballparks since 1950.
But only the Blue Jays, and not their opponents, got a home run boost in Toronto. When the Jays were on the road in 2010, they hit home runs in 4 percent of plate appearances in which they made contact, compared with an AL average of 3.6 percent. At Rogers, their home run on contact rate soared to 5.4 percent, which is a home-field advantage seven times the magnitude teams typically enjoy.
Opposing batters, however, actually homered on contact at a below-average rate in Toronto. As a result, the power differential between home and visiting hitters at Rogers in 2010 was the third largest of any park in any season over the past 60 years (see chart).
By themselves, these numbers are circumstantial evidence. Unsupported by data, the four players’ accounts might describe a scheme of uncertain impact. And without proper context, the Yankees‘ decision to mask their signs could be chalked up to paranoia. But together, the numbers, the stories and the actions indicate one certainty: Every pitch to a Blue Jay in Toronto is worth watching.
Source: ESPN via Outside The Lines.
From Cinncinnati.com’s “Reds’ Blog” comes this bit of shocking news.
We almost saw a deadline deal that would have shipped the Cinncinnati Reds All-World 1B Joey Votto to the Toronto Blue Jays for their slugging outfielder “Joey Bats”.
Here are the details:
We know that the Reds swung and missed on the trade front on Hunter Pence, Michael Bourn and Ubaldo Jimenez. But is there a chance they were working on something much bigger?
A reader tipped me a while back that he has a friend in baseball who told him the Reds were talking to the Blue Jays about a trade Jose Bautista-for-Joey Votto trade. The Reds would have had to kick in a prospect as well.
I get tips like that from time to time. I usually dismiss them. But the fact that the Blue Jays sent a scout to Dayton to specifically watch Daniel Corcino, probably the Reds best pitching prospect, tells me they were talking trade with the Reds.
Votto-for-Bautista makes sense on several levels for the Reds:
–It opens a spot for Yonder Alonso.
–It fills left field with about as good bat as you could possibly hope for. Bautista is hitting .324 with 31 home runs and 71 RBI.
–Bautista is signed through 2015 at $14 million per year. He has an option for 2016 at the same number. Votto is cheaper next year at $9.5 million, but he makes $17 million in 2013 after which he’s a free agent. And he made clear when he signed his current contract that he was only interested in a three-year deal.
The Blue Jays, of course, would get their hometown hero — a player who could sell tickets.
The Reds would never confirm that they were talking about a trade like that. And there may be nothing to it. But it’s certainly interesting to consider.
As good as Votto is, in addition to being both younger and a good defensive player, this trade would have made a ton of sense for both teams.
I am not a big fan of making changes solely for the “sake of change”. It happens a little too often in the sports world.
This deal, however, I could have gotten behind.
ESPN’s Buster Olney talks waivers in his latest blog post, and I can’t help but join in.
- The Twins are currently seven games out in the AL Central. If they slip further from contention, Olney wonders what will happen if they place outfielder/designated hitter Jason Kubel on waivers later this month. He projects currently as a Type B free agent. I wonder if the draft pick alone would compel a non-contending AL team to make a claim, with less than a million bucks remaining on his contract after August.
- Olney sees such a scenario as possible for Rays reliever Kyle Farnsworth, who profiles as a Type A. He could see the Blue Jays jumping in for the draft picks, though I imagine the Rays would keep him for the same reason.
- Would Reds catcher Ramon Hernandez or Padres closer Heath Bell make it to an NL contender? Or would Type A status again factor in? Olney sees the A’s pulling back Josh Willingham rather than dumping his contract, probably because he’s a Type A currently. I wonder if Willingham would accept an arbitration offer though.
- Cubs first baseman Carlos Pena is a good candidate to be moved as a salary dump, with half of his $10MM due in January.
- Astros lefty Wandy Rodriguez is expected to clear waivers, with over $38MM left on his deal through 2014. Just to play devil’s advocate: Wandy is a bargain this year with just $2.27MM remaining, so it’s possible one contender could decide they can stomach three years and $36MM from 2012-14, and make a claim.
- Guys like Carlos Quentin and Jeremy Guthrie would be claimed, but dealing them in the offseason probably makes more sense.