The Chicago White Sox beat the Houston Astros by a 12-6 final (box score) on Sunday night in ALDS Game 3, ensuring their first playoff run since 2008 will continue for at least another day. After the game, White Sox reliever Ryan Tepera added some sizzle to Monday’s Game 4 (scheduled for 3:37 p.m. ET) by referencing the Astros’ sign-stealing past. Tepera implied that Houston might be up to no good again.
“They’ve had a reputation of doing some sketchy stuff over there. We can say it’s a little bit of a difference,” Tepera said, according to Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle. “I think you saw the swings and misses tonight compared to the first two games at Minute Maid.”
For those with short memories: The Astros were punished by Major League Baseball in early 2020 after an investigation found they had stolen signs during games in 2017 through improper use of video. Then-general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch were each suspended for a season (and also dismissed entirely by the Astros), and the organization was docked four draft picks and fined the maximum amount ($5 million).
While stealing signs the standard way — having a runner on second break the code on his own — is an accepted part of baseball, the Astros violated that understanding by using a live stream of the game. Once they had the signs, they would bang on a trash can as a means of letting their hitters know what pitch was coming. All of this was first described by ex-Astros pitcher Mike Fiers, who blew the whistle in late 2019.
Tepera, for his part, is correct to point out that the Astros swung and missed more on Sunday night than they had in the first two games of the series. Houston whiffed on 22 swings (or 33 percent) as compared to 32 combined (24 percent) in Games 1 and 2. The Astros also hit a lesser percentage of their batted balls 95 mph or harder, and had a worse launch angle than they did in either Game 1 or 2. None of that necessarily means anything, however, because of the sample size of — literally — one game.
What about during the regular season, you might ask? The Astros hit better at home, albeit slightly: .267/.342/.445 versus .268/.336/.444. They did whiff and chase less frequently at home, although again the differences are marginal — 20.9 percent whiff at home as opposed to 21.3 percent on the road; 24.9 percent chase at home against 26.2 percent chase on the road — and they actually hit the ball harder, on average and frequency, when they were playing away from Minute Maid Park.
If the Astros are doing some “sketchy stuff” during home games, as Tepera implies, it doesn’t seem to be helping them a heck of a whole lot.
That doesn’t mean Tepera’s paranoia is without merit. Even before the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal was revealed publicly, teams had suspicions about them doing something improper. The Washington Nationals famously altered their signs against the Astros in the 2019 World Series on advice from the Los Angeles Dodgers. It’s possible that players have picked up on something unusual; it’s also possible — more so, based on the above data — that it’s just suspicion driven by past acts. Once a cheater, always a cheater, so the saying goes.
Of course, there is a catch with that thinking if you’re the White Sox: manager Tony La Russa has been accused of running his own elaborate sign-stealing system in the 1980’s by former Cy Young winner Jack McDowell. Back in January 2020, McDowell alleged the following during a radio appearance: “Gatorade sign out in right-center had a light, there was a toggle switch in the manager’s office and a camera zoomed in on the catcher.”
It should be noted that McDowell, who debuted in 1987, never played in the majors under La Russa, who was dismissed in 1986.
La Russa didn’t seem interested in supporting Tepera’s comments beyond acknowledging his right to make them. “I don’t get into that stuff,” he said, according to Brian McTaggart of MLB.com. “This is America and players are allowed to say what they want to… I think they’re a very good team and tough to beat. That’s what I think.”
Astros manager Dusty Baker meanwhile, said the following per Rome: “He can say what he wants to say. I had never even heard his name before we played the White Sox. I’m not bothered by it. Most of my life, they’ve been talking stuff on me anyway. Let them talk.”
As for Astros catcher Martín Maldonado, he shared a more indirect message regarding the situation on Twitter, writing “Always good to get a extra motivation.” Maldonado has been with Houston since he was traded there at the 2019 trade deadline.
Whether either team is doing anything improper or not, the Astros still lead the best-of-five series by a 2-1 margin. Left-hander Carlos Rodón, who struggled with velocity and fatigue late in the year, will get the nod for the White Sox. The Astros will counter with right-hander José Urquidy.