Phillies Stealing Signs? So What?

There is mischief afoot in Colorado! The Phillies Comcast broadcast last night reported that the Phils were concerned about the Rockies stealing signs (UPDATE: This was likely just Tom McCarthy making an error in judgment). Comments today have cited the Colorado Fox Sports affiliate “catching” bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer sitting in the bullpen with a pair of binoculars and Shane Victorino in the dugout using the bullpen phone. Of course, this would not be the first time the Phils have been accused of cracking codes.

Last year, during the World Series, both the New York Yankees team and Los Angeles Dodgers third base coach Larry Bowa — a former Phillies shortstop and manager, and former Yankees third base coach — accused the Phils of stealing signs. That angered center fielder Shane Victorino, who pointed to the Phillies’ lack of success against the Yankees as evidence that they are clearly not guilty.

In 2008, the Boston Red Sox called the Phillies out for sign-stealing despite losing two of three games in the series. The New York Mets did the same in ’07 as the Phillies swept them in a crucial four-game series. The Mets had the most elaborate accusation (surprisingly). From the New York Post:

Allegedly, the camera in center field provides footage to a video room. A coach stationed in the corner of the Phillies’ dugout has a buzzer in his pocket. Based on the signal he receives from the video room, he then yells a code to the batter – such as his first name – to relay what pitch is coming. One Met said he’s heard from three different former Phillies in the past year alleging foul play at Citizens Bank Park.

The Phillies have been investigated several times but have never been found guilty. Stealing signs is only against baseball’s rules if electronic devices, such as cameras, are used. Joe Mauer, catcher for the Minnesota Twins, was famously “caught” last year in a game against Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers. Mauer relayed the location of the pitch to Jason Kubel by touching his helmet with his hand.

Preventing sign-stealing is easy, though. All it requires is for the “victims” to change their signs or to not use them at all. The Phillies went the latter route against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS last year. Per Danny Knobler:

The Phillies were so concerned about the Dodgers stealing their signs in the National League Championship Series that for one crucial at-bat, they gave no signs at all.

It was in the fifth inning of Game 5. The Phillies led 6-3, but Manny Ramirez came to the plate representing the tying run. Rafael Furcal, who the Phillies suspected of sign-stealing, was on second base.

When reliever Chad Durbin came into the game to face Ramirez, he and catcher Carlos Ruiz scripted the entire at-bat before it began. For the entire five-pitch at-bat, which ended with Ramirez bouncing back to the mound, Ruiz never gave one sign.
Stealing signs is a game of cat-and-mouse that will continue to thrive so long as non-electronic methods remain legal (and they should remain legal). Poker is a great example of how picking up little pieces of information can go a long way. Players and managers/coaches should be rewarded for alertness and punished for recklessness.

Graph of the Intermittent Time Period

Happy Halladay, everyone!

Here’s something to get you through the next few hours until Roy takes the mound in Colorado tonight.

J.C. Romero had another shaky outing last night, the second out of five appearances in which he has allowed a run. Overall, he has walked four batters in two and two-thirds innings. His fastball thus far is, on average, three MPH slower than his career average of 91.5 MPH. His slider has accounted for one out of every four pitches he has thrown in 2010 compared to about one out of every six over his career.

You may recall at the end of March, I recommended that Romero be used strictly as a LOOGY in lower-leverage innings because he is not nearly as good as his ERA has indicated in his time with the Phillies. Behold:

Romero has severely out-performed his ERA estimators in his two and a half seasons with the Phillies going into 2010. He has been extremely fortunate, stranding 86 to 90 percent of base runners with a BABIP between .236 and .239 since 2007. As great as Romero has looked, those are simply unsustainable numbers, especially when coupled with his unacceptable walk rate that has been between 5.8 and 7.0 since ’07.

Simply put, Romero is a poor man’s Oliver Perez. Would you trust Ollie in high-leverage situations? Neither would I.

On the topic of relievers, check out my explanation of the new shutdown/meltdown statistics at Baseball Daily Digest.