Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Stealing Signs for Dummies



So apparently stealing signs is a big deal. Well at least it is if you aren't the Toronto Blue Jays. The Jays have often been accused as one of the worst culprits in the league when it comes to relaying pitching signals to hitters. It just so happens that this isn't a new issue, the Jays have long been known as masters of the art going back as far as the championship years of the early nineties. Today however the geniuses over at ESPN decided to publish an article with further accusations against the Jays.

If you can remember back a few short weeks to when the Yankees were in town, Jussel 'East York' Martin accused the Jays hitters of relaying signs back to the batter at the plate. The unwritten rule for those of you who aren't familiar is that if you can get away with it as a player on the field, its shame on the catcher and pitcher for not protecting their signs better - that is after all why they in fact use signs. But if you are caught using other means to relay signs - like the 1951 Giants who apparently utilized a clubhouse telescope with a Morse Code relay system - you have gone outside the fine line of legal.

When Martin made the accusations, most people scoffed at the idea that it was just a bitter catcher of a team who had been outscored 23-8 in the first two games of a series. But then Joe Girardi spoke up when addressing the media essentially accusing the Jays of possibly relaying signs in ways that didn't involve the players on the field. Naturally, Girardi made this claim with the kind of evidence that supports the kind of excellent journalistic standards of the New York Daily News.

Like I mentioned earlier, ESPN came out earlier today with a slightly more researched article that further accuses the team of relaying signs. ESPN cites four unnamed players from an unnamed American League team who claim that while they sat in the visitors bullpen at the Rogers Centre - they witnessed a man dressed in white sitting 25 yards to their right in the blue centrefield seats relaying arm signals to the batter for any offspeed pitch. The article further claims that the next day, these same pitchers took the field during batting practice and noticed that from where the fan was sitting in centrefield, it was located right above the pitcher from the hitter's point of view - thus making it unnecessary for the batter to even move his head to pick up the signal - or undetectable.

What's even more awesome - these same players evidently were all sitting in the same bullpen at the end of 2009 season where they recall seeing the exact same man wearing the same clothes relaying signs. Righttttt.... Because of course a couple bullpen pitchers can without a doubt remember one fan out of the 81 games they play in a season in which they cross path with well over 2 Million different fans on the road in the course of a season. Can I sign these guys up as my defence lawyers next time I break the law??

Wait... What? Let me get this straight. ESPN is running an article that says that four undisclosed pitchers from an undisclosed AL team noticed a guy dressed in white sitting in centrefield relaying signs to a hitter over 400 feet away. How is it even remotely possible for this guy to see the signals from there - apparently he might of been using a bluetooth device in which case he was being relayed the signs from someone else, but naturally none of this is clear. Most alarming to me, is that clearly neither Amy Nelson or Peter Keating, the two reporters for the ESPN The Magazine who published this article, have ever been to the Rogers Centre.

Because if they had, they would know that based on the accounts of this story, this unidentified male dressed in white would be sitting directly in the batters eye section of the Dome that is restricted off limits and the seats are covered with a black tarp as per MLB regulations. And even if they were in the uncovered seats to the right of the tarped off section, anyone that has ever encountered the incredibly polite and kind and nice and friendly and enthusiastic job loving creatures known as Rogers Centre Security would know that they would have quickly been ushered to a more populated section of the stadium.

But that is just the ludicrousness that begins this story. When the reporters conveniently neglect to even scratch the surface of research for a post, it should come as no surprise that the remainder of their evidence is completely irrelevant. In this case, I've read more compellingly researched stories Esquire Magazine and on TMZ. Their statistical evidence to support their case you may ask?? Well apparently the fact that in 2010 several Jays players had significant difference between their home and road splits justifies that this is very much true. The article references the splits of Jose Bautista, Adam Lind, Aaron Hill, Yunel Escobar, and Vernon Wells. Wait a minute, did they really just quote Aaron Hill's 2010 season in piece to justify how he benefited from hitting at home? Yep.

What gets me the most is that right in the article published on the ESPN The Mag website, is the chart they use on the right hand side, or can be seen below.

Based on their own research and the chart they use to prove their point, let me try and deduce a few things. People are supposed to be surprised that in a year when the Jays almost broke the all-time single season team home run record, they significantly out hit their opponents at home. Shocking. Never mind the fact that over the past 10 years according to the chart, the Jays had only had one other year where they demonstrated a significant gap in HR rate on contact compared to their opponents at the Rogers Centre. The other eight years of consistency is evidently irrelevant.

Had ESPN checked their own park factor rankings, one would hope that they would have realized that the Rogers Centre ranks fourth out of 30 stadiums in terms of runs scored. It is a hitters haven and always has been. But just to take it a step further, of the top 4 hitter friendly stadiums in the league, 3 of them (Fenway, Arlington, and Rogers Centre) are in the AL. At home this season, the Red Sox lead the AL with a .854 team OPS, the Rangers are second in the AL with a .852 team OPS, and the Jays are fourth with a .770 team OPS.

Now flip to the road stats and prepare to have your mind blown away!!!! The Red Sox offence slips to second in the AL with a .764 team OPS, the Rangers slip to seventh in the AL with a .707 team OPS, and the Jays slip to ninth in the AL with a .701 team OPS on the road. For those who can do simple subtraction - of those three teams this year with dominant offences at home, the OPS differential on the road this season is -.90 for the Red Sox, -.147 for the Rangers, and -.69 for the Jays.

So yeah... Before ESPN writes their next article about the Jays stealing signs, they may want to make sure that the drunk guy stretching his arms on top of the Green Monster, or George W. scratching his head behind home plate in Texas, isn't them actually secretly relaying signs to their home offences who post even greater home/road splits then the Jays.

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