Tuesday, The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich reported the Astros stole signs electronically in 2017, the season they won the World Series. Although sign stealing in baseball is nothing new, doing so with a video camera posted up in center field, fixated on the opposing team's catchers, crosses a line.
Former MLB infielder Trevor Ploufee also reported the Astros stole signs and described the system in a series of tweets:
ALLEGEDLY 👆🏽(I think im supposed to say that) I don't have the footage in front of me but apparently you can see the Astros hitters looking toward right center before the pitch is thrown (where their bullpen is).
— Trevor Plouffe (@trevorplouffe) November 14, 2019
Darvish – who was pitching for the Dodgers at the time – infamously struggled in the 2017 Fall Classic. He allowed nine runs in 3 1/3 innings across two starts: Game 3 in Houston and Game 7 in Los Angeles. He allowed five runs in 1 2/3 innings in the latter, a 5-1 Astros series-clinching win.
Darvish's World Series struggles were initially attributed to him tipping his pitches. He weighed in on the topic on Thursday, posting a video to his YouTube channel where he disagrees with the notion he gave off signals to Astros hitters. He speaks in Japanese in the video, but one Reddit user translated what the right-hander said.
Some of the more interesting points:
On whether the Astros were stealing signs or not
But personally, Game 7 was played at Dodgers Stadium. Since what we currently know is limited to Minute Maid Park, I don't think there were any signs stealings going on at that game. However, with the technology that they have, I really think it's not impossible that they've done it at LA as well.
On the notion that he was tipping his pitches
After Game 7, there were news about how I was tipping my pitches. After the World Series ended, I personally asked a player from the Astros about it. He said that I was fumbling my ball before I threw my fastball. After Game 3, the Dodgers suspected that I was tipping my pitches, and I reviewed some footage with some people. I reviewed my mechanics from that footage, but we all couldn't find any noticeable signs that I was giving something away. During Game 7, I was really aware and concerned about this, so I made extra sure on the mound that I wasn't giving anything away.
After Game 7, I've been personally trying to get to the bottom of this problem. This year, from a source from the Astros that I won't disclose, I was told that I was tipping my pitches during Game 3 and 7 by fumbling my ball before my windup. Since I saw my Game 7 footage numerous times, I was convinced that I wasn't doing that, and there was something in the back of my mind that didn't mesh well with what that player was saying, and what was shown on the footage.
Two things off these comments:
-Dodgers president Andrew Friedman noted Tuesday at the GM Meetings that one Los Angeles player, who was good at picking up pitch-tipping (reportedly second baseman Chase Utley), studied Darvish's World Series starts. Utley said Darvish was not tipping his pitches:
Andrew Friedman today, regarding allegations the Astros used a sign-stealing system in 2017.
"We had a player who was really good at picking up pitch-tipping type things and watched the (Yu) Darvish outings and said you couldn't sell out on something that Darvish was doing."
— Jeff Fletcher (@JeffFletcherOCR) November 12, 2019
Make of this what you will: Chase Utley studied Yu Darvish's starts in the World Series, and reported back to Andrew Friedman that Darvish was not giving off pitch-tipping cues. https://t.co/I2B1U6YWXj
— Andy McCullough (@ByMcCullough) November 13, 2019
-A's pitcher Mike Fiers – who was with the Astros from 2015-17 – told Rosenthal and Drellich that Houston had a camera positioned in the outfield at home games. Whether they also had a system setup on the road is unknown at this time (such as Game 7), but Darvish (and the Dodgers, at the time) seem adamant that he wasn't tipping his pitches.
But even if they did steal signs, Darvish doesn't blame the Astros on him pitching poorly in the World Series:
Now, do I think that my failure in the 2017 World Series is because of the Astros stealing signs? I don't think so, I think Astros have talented players. Results don't change, and I don't expect anyone to send me apologies for what they had said to me for the past two years. Through adversity, I've been able to work hard and play for a great organization, the Cubs. If I start associating my failure to the Astros scandal, I don't think that I would be able to develop as a person. I think adversity is important in life, and I think these types of failures will be an important experience for me, as a player. I'm willing to swallow the results of 2017.
It's nice to see Darvish has moved forward; he had a stellar second half in 2019 and will open the 2020 season as the Cubs top starting pitcher. However, he had a tough time dealing with backlash from Dodgers fans, and the Astros cheating may have cost him in free agency. The Cubs signed Darvish to a lucrative six-year, $126 million deal, but he may have gotten more, if not for his poor World Series showing. Plus, he remained on the open market until February 2018.
On possibly using racist remarks to steal signs
I've read and heard articles and reports that players were stealing signs by saying racist remarks. During the 2017 World Series, [Yuli] Gurriel did a racial gesture after he hit a home run off of me. I don't really care, but if he did that knowing about the signs, I think that puts that problem in an entirely different light.
Gurriel hit a home run off Darvish in Game 3, doing a racist gesture after returning to the Astros dugout. He was suspended five games to start the 2018 season as a result, avoiding a ban from the World Series. The gesture was extremely problematic in its own right. If Gurriel did it to convey stolen signs and/or to openly mock Darvish for knowing his signs? Brutal.
Darvish also noticed some strange tendencies from opposing hitters when he was on the mound in 2019:
Especially this year, I've noticed a lot weird things. When I'm in the set position, usually the batter looks at me. It depends on the batter, but they generally look at my elbows, my eyes, my shoulders, you know it. But several times this year, I've noticed that the batters don't look at me. Even without runners on second, I see players just looking into the distance, around left center field. It's awkward. This usually happens when we're the visiting team. I've even told [Cubs catcher Victor Caratini] during mound visits that the batters eyes were not on me.
According to Cardinals beat writer Jeff Jones, the Brewers and Rangers are egregious with electronic sign stealing as well, though there's no word if MLB is investigating them.
Houston is one of three teams I've had multiple players identify to me as the most egregious with electronic sign stealing. The others: Milwaukee and Texas. https://t.co/sb4764mFDB
— Jeff Jones (@jmjones) November 12, 2019
Brett Taylor from Bleacher Nation found a clip of a Christian Yelich at-bat vs. Darvish from 2019. The camera angle is off-centered, but it shows Yelich – who stares at Darvish for several seconds – look towards left-center field (where the Brewers bullpen is located) before looking back at Darvish.
Given the rumors about Brewers, I took a look at Yu's start in Milwaukee this year, where Brewers bullpen is - you guessed it - in left center. I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin': in 1st AB, Yelich's eyes dart to his left as the sign goes down, & Darvish immediately steps off. 🤔 pic.twitter.com/62NHvXRpV5
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) November 15, 2019
Here's the video - it happens very quickly, and just before Yu steps off. Yelich is locked on Darvish, eyes flick toward left center, then back to Darvish. Yu steps off. pic.twitter.com/hqOSvGMGEh
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) November 15, 2019
Darvish acknowledged that he wasn't sure of Yelich's intentions, but he stepped off when Yelich's eyes moved. He added this doesn't mean Milwaukee was stealing signs, though Yelich may not have seen that tweet...
I'm not sure what is he trying to do.
But to be clear his eyes move first.
That's why I step off.
But that's not mean Brewers stealing signs.
— ダルビッシュ有(Yu Darvish) (@faridyu) November 15, 2019
Be better than this. Nobody needs help facing you https://t.co/DlUDwjJn4X
— Christian Yelich (@ChristianYelich) November 15, 2019
Darvish had one final PSA to MLB about cheating:
So, um, let's stop sign stealing. What's fun about swinging at something that you know that's coming? I wonder if the batters are actually happy with that. If Houston was actually content with winning the World Series knowing that they were stealing signs electronically... I don't know, I wouldn't be able to do that as a player if I'm in their shoes. It's very disappointing.
Well said, Yu. What comes next is to be determined, but Cubs president Theo Epstein pointed out the magnitude of the situation at the GM Meetings.
"Certainly not something to be swept under the rug," said Epstein, who initially admitted it's best for teams not to comment while MLB is looking into the matter. "It needs to be fully investigated and bring light to it and I'm sure there will be appropriate action taken."
Yu Darvish weighs in on Astros cheating allegations originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago