On Friday, an interesting report came from from Robert Murray of The Athletic, who wrote that many inside the Brewers organization believe that the Dodgers had been stealing their signs during the NLCS.
“Cheating” has been a hot-button issue this postseason since the Astros were accused of cheating during the ALDS against the Indians and supposedly attempted to do so again against the Red Sox. Major League Baseball did not hand down any immediate punishment against Houston, releasing more of a blanket statement on the issue.
Most agree that gaining an advantage through sign stealing is okay. If you’re able to steal someone’s signs, that team should — you know — get better signs. But the method as to how these teams have allegedly stole signs is the bigger issue. The Dodgers allegedly filmed the Brewers’ signs, determined what pitch to which they aligned and relayed this information to the field. This would occur only when the Dodgers had a runner on second base, as the runner would be able to signal to the hitter as to what pitch was on the way.
After reading this report, I thought,’if the Dodgers are truly stealing signs, then they must be putting up better numbers with runners on second base, right?’
It’s time to delve into the research that I did to attempt to answer this question.
By no means was this the most scientific method. I did not analyze hours of video to try to find any signal that the Dodgers may have been employing any sort of recognition relay system. Rather, I considered the results, with the logic that, if the Dodgers were in fact cheating, then their numbers with runners on second base should be good.
So, I went through all the game logs from Game One through Game Five of the NLCS. (I’m not including Game 6, in the event that the Dodgers stopped this action after the report came out.) Any situation where there was a runner on second base — whether this was second only, first and second, second and third or bases loaded — I considered in my research.
After doing this, I had 45 plate appearances to work with. The Dodgers’ slash line in these events? A gross .237/.356/.237.
This isn’t great. In fact, it’s awful. But, there are a couple of numbers here that interest me.
First is the on-base percentage. A .356 on-base is pretty high, especially for a team-wide figure that includes players up and down the lineup (Walker Buehler accounts for two of the 45 plate appearances). This is especially high when considered to the Dodgers’ series-wide OBP of .304.
It’s hard to distill this disparity between the Dodgers’ on-base percentage with runners on second base, and in all situations down to sign stealing, but it’s not hard to see where knowing the next pitch would help. If I’m the hitter, knowing the next pitch would allow me to be more selective, obviously. If it’s a 1-1 count and I’m wanting a fastball, and I know a curve is coming, I’m less likely to swing in hopes that I can extend the at bat to eventually get that fastball.
Still, though, a .237 batting average is bad, although the Dodgers’ offense has been bad all series. This .237 mark is 17 points above the Dodgers’ team-wide average for the whole series. So, again, while the figure is not phenomenal, it isn’t impossible to rule out the fact that they have been stealing signs.
The fact that the Dodgers haven’t been able to get any extra-base hits with a runner on second seemed a bit odd, too. It’s been all singles, albeit productive singles. The Dodgers accumulated 11 of their 16 RBIs in these 45 plate appearances alone, though one may expect a majority of the RBIs to be obtained when runners are in scoring position.
So, I must hedge all of these inferences. The statistics don’t immediately suggest that the Dodgers absolutely are (or were) cheating, but they don’t immediately rule out that they weren’t either. I was just mainly curious as to see if the stats would show any obvious trends. If anything, the situation has become more — not less — murky from these numbers.
Anyway — who’s excited for game seven?
Devan Fink is a Featured Writer for Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.