Sign-stealing by MLB teams is becoming ever more sophisticated, and some clubs are responding by making their own signs from catchers to pitchers difficult to decipher. The Nationals took their countermeasures to an extreme in this year’s World Series vs. the Astros.
Per The Washington Post, Nats coaches worked out a plan before the best-of-seven Fall Classic to keep Houston from, legally or otherwise, picking up signs and then relaying them to hitters. The product was a complex set of signals that were used for every pitch, not just with runners on second base.
The main setup, as reported by the Post’s Barry Svrluga, who spoke to Nationals pitching coach Paul Menhart and reliever Sean Doolittle:
First, each pitcher had to have his own set of signs, and catchers Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki had to be familiar with each one. So the staff printed out cards with the codes and had them laminated. The catchers could have them in their wristbands, a la an NFL quarterback with play calls strapped to his forearm, and the pitchers would have them in their caps. Each pitcher had five sets of signs, and they could change them from game to game — or even batter to batter, if necessary. Using the set labeled No. 2, but worried the Astros were catching on? The pitcher could signal to the catcher to move to set No. 3.
The story also goes into detail about indicators and sequences of signs, things like “chase the two” (first sign after two fingers are shown) and “outs plus one.”
“This is the way the game’s going to go now,” Menhart told Svrluga. “You’re going to have to have this. Sign-stealing has become quite an art.”
The Post’s story was published one day after The Athletic published a story (subscription required) in which former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers claimed Houston stole signs with video and then relayed that information to hitters in 2017, the year the club won the World Series. MLB took measures in 2018 to prevent electronic thievery after allegations that the Astros, Red Sox and Yankees were stealing signs or spying on opponents.
MLB is working with the Astros to investigate Fiers’ claims. The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich reported Wednesday night (again, subscription required) that MLB will want to interview Astros manager A.J. Hinch, Red Sox manager Alex Cora and Mets manager Carlos Beltran about the alleged relay system. Cora was Hinch’s bench coach in 2017, and Beltran was on the roster as a player. Beltran has long been known as one of the game’s best “legal” sign-stealers.
Beltran denied to The Athletic (and, earlier, to Joel Sherman of the New York Post) that the team used video to steal signs. Instead, he said, they did it the old-fashioned way: by studying the catcher from second base.
“We took a lot of pride studying pitchers [on] the computer. That is the only technology that I use and understand,” Beltran said via text message, per The Athletic. “It was fun seeing guys get to the ballpark to look for little details.”