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Justin Verlander, Brad Ausmus suspect Indians of stealing signs

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Tigers starter Justin Verlander continued to struggle against the Indians on Saturday, giving up nine runs over four-plus innings in what turned out to be a 13-6 loss. Over his 13-year career, Verlander has a 4.68 ERA against the Indians, including an aggregate 5.49 ERA since the start of the 2014 season.

Verlander is quite aware of his struggles against the Tribe, as is manager Brad Ausmus. Both seem to think the Indians have been stealing the Tigers’ signs, so the club has been using safeguards. Via Chris McCosky of The Detroit News:

“We went to multiple signs (from catcher James McCann to Verlander) all the time,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “We usually do it when there’s a runner on second base. But we’ve been doing it quite a bit – and not just here but against other teams too early in the season.

“Sign stealing has become kind of a new fad in some clubhouses. They look at video. So we are in a constant state of trying to stay a step ahead of those trying to steal signs.”

McCosky also reports that Verlander and McCann studied film for an hour after Saturday’s game, trying to pinpoint exactly what edge the Indians may have picked up.

Sign-stealing isn’t forbidden in baseball’s rules, and it’s a practice that is almost as old as the game itself. The only aspect of sign-stealing that is prohibited is the use of a “mechanical device,” which was clarified nearly two decades ago by Sandy Alderson to include “electronic equipment.” So, the Indians aren’t breaking any rules and the Tigers are just going to have to do what they’ve been doing to find out exactly what edge the Indians have obtained.

Major League Baseball orders balls stored in climate controlled rooms for some reason

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Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated reports that Major League Baseball will mandate that teams store baseballs in “an air-conditioned and enclosed room[s]” this season. He adds that the league will install climate sensors in each room to measure temperature and humidity during the 2018 season, with such data being used to determine if humidors — like the ones being used in Colorado and Arizona — are necessary for 2019.

This move comes a year after Major League Baseball’s single season, league-wide home run record was shattered, with 6,105 dingers being hit. It also comes after a year in which two different studies — one by Ben Lindbergh and Mitchel Lichtman for The Ringer, and another by FiveThirtyEight’s Rob Arthur — found evidence that baseballs were altered at some point around the middle of the 2015 season which coincided with home run numbers spiking in the middle of that year, quite suddenly.

Also coming last year: multiple player complaints about the baseball seeming different, with pitchers blaming a rash of blister problems stemming from what they believed to be lower seams on the baseballs currently in use than those in use in previous years. Players likewise complained about unusually smooth and/or juiced baseballs during the World Series, which some believe led to a spike of home runs in the Fall Classic.

To date, Major League Baseball has steadfastly denied that the balls are a problem, first issuing blatantly disingenuous denials,  and later using carefully chosen words to claim nothing was amiss. Specifically, Major League Baseball claimed that the balls were within league specifications but failed to acknowledge that league specifications are wide enough to encompass baseballs which could have radically different flight characteristics while still, technically, being within spec.

Based on Verducci’s report, it seems that MLB is at least past the denial stage and is attempting to understand and address the issues about which many players have complained and which have, without question, impacted offense in the game:

Commissioner Rob Manfred said Tuesday that MLB commissioned a research project after last season to study the composition, storage and handling of the baseballs. He said that investigation is not yet completed. “I’m not at the point to jump that gun right now,” he said about the findings.

The investigation is not yet completed, but the fact that the league is now ordering changes in the manner in which balls are handled before use suggests to me that the league has learned that there is at least something amiss about the composition or manufacture of the baseballs.

Major League Baseball is a lot of things, but quick to impose costs and changes of process on its clubs like this is not one of them. There is likely a good reason for it.