James Paxton
Getty Images

James Paxton ties Yankees strikeout record

12 Comments

Yankees hurler James Paxton is off to a red-hot start this season, one that might even be called historic. The southpaw pitched his way to a 2-2 record last week, firing eight scoreless innings of two-hit, 12-strikeout ball in an impressive 8-0 victory over the Red Sox. On Sunday, he racked up another 12 strikeouts in a dominant showing against the Royals — not only reinforcing the Yankees’ five-run lead, but matching a franchise record that has gone unchallenged since 1998.

After striking out three batters over the first two innings, Paxton hit his stride in the third. He expended 12 pitches to strike out the side, getting Martín Maldonado on a called strike and inducing swinging strikes from Billy Hamilton and Whit Merrifield to end the inning. In the fourth, he allowed a leadoff single and stolen base to Adalberto Mondesi, then proceeded to strike out the side again. By the time he handed the ball over to Tommy Kahnle in the seventh, the Royals had managed to get on base just four times and stranded both of the runners they had in scoring position.

According to MLB Stats, Paxton’s feat — 12 strikeouts in consecutive outings — had not been recorded by a Yankees pitcher since David Cone decimated the Marlins and Indians during back-to-back performances in the summer of 1998. The 30-year-old lefty is also one of just three major-league pitchers to pitch consecutive starts with 12 strikeouts, one (or fewer) walk, and zero earned runs, and the first to do so since Clayton Kershaw in 2015. And, while it certainly seems improbable, he might even be the first to complete the feat in three straight starts when he faces the Giants next weekend, too.

An Astros executive asked scouts to use cameras, binoculars to steal signs in 2017

Getty Images
13 Comments

The Athletic reports that an Astros executive asked scouts to spy on opponents’ dugouts in August of 2017, suggesting in an email that they use cameras or binoculars to do so.

The email, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports, came from Kevin Goldstein, who is currently a special assistant for player personnel but who at the time was the director of pro scouting. In it he wrote:

“One thing in specific we are looking for is picking up signs coming out of the dugout. What we are looking for is how much we can see, how we would log things, if we need cameras/binoculars, etc. So go to game, see what you can (or can’t) do and report back your findings.”

The email came during the same month that the Red Sox were found to have illegally used an Apple Watch to steal signs from the Yankees. The Red Sox were fined as a result, and it led to a clarification from Major League Baseball that sign stealing via electronic or technological means was prohibited. Early in 2019 Major League Baseball further emphasized this rule and stated that teams would receive heavy penalties, including loss of draft picks and/or bonus pool money if they were found to be in violation.

It’s an interesting question whether Goldstein’s request to scouts would fall under the same category as the Apple Watch stuff or other technology-based sign-stealing schemes. On the one hand, the email certainly asked scouts to use cameras and binoculars to get a look at opposing signs. On the other hand, it does not appear that it was part of a sign-relaying scheme or that it was to be used in real time. Rather, it seems aimed at information gathering for later use. The Athletic suggests that using eyes or binoculars would be considered acceptable in 2017 but that cameras would not be. The Athletic spoke to scouts and other front office people who all think that asking scouts to use a camera would “be over the line” or would constitute “cheating.”

Of course, given how vague, until very recently Major League Baseball’s rules have been about this — it’s long been governed by the so-called “unwritten rules” and convention, only recently becoming a matter of official sanction — it’s not at all clear how the league might consider it. It’s certainly part and parcel of an overarching sign-stealing culture in baseball which we are learning has moved far, far past players simply looking on from second base to try to steal signs, which has always been considered a simple matter of gamesmanship. Now, it appears, it is organizationally-driven, with baseball operations, scouting and audio-visual people being involved. The view on all of this has changed given how sophisticated and wide-ranging an operation modern sign-stealing appears to be. Major League Baseball was particularly concerned, at the time the Red Sox were punished for the Apple Watch stuff, that it involved management and front office personnel.

Regardless of how that all fits together, Goldstein’s email generated considerable angst among Astros scouts, many of whom, The Athletic and ESPN report, commented in real time via email and the Astros scout’s Slack channel, that they considered it to be an unreasonable request that would risk their reputations as scouts. Some voiced concern to management. Today that email has new life, emerging as it does in the wake of last week’s revelations about the Astros’ sign-stealing schemes.

This is quickly becoming the biggest story of the offseason.