By now, many fans have probably heard about what another fan did. That fan is 54-year-old Tony Adams and he is a Houston Astros fan. In an effort to get more information about the sign-stealing scandal, he went through 58 of the Astros’ 2017 home games and cataloged the sound of a trash can being hit.
Banging on a trash can was one way Houston players tipped teammates at the plate as to which pitch to expect. Someone would watch the catcher’s signs on a television monitor, and before the pitch could be thrown the batter knew what was coming. That was not how Major League Baseball intended replay technology to be used, and it was against the rules. It led to suspensions of Houston manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow, and the Astros fired them both.
Adams found evidence of banging in games early that year, but he recorded no more than six bangs in any game in the early weeks of the 2017 season. But then the banging took a big spike up on May 28 when Houston hosted ... wait for it ... the Orioles.
There were 28 instances of the banging in that Sunday afternoon finale of a three-game series.
Houston had beaten the Birds 2-0 on Friday and 5-2 on Saturday to start a weekend series. But on Sunday, the Orioles took an early 3-0 lead. Then Houston scored six runs in the last of the second off right-hander Alec Asher and was on its way to an 8-4 victory.
Asher entered that game with a 2.17 ERA and he had thrown 7 2/3 scoreless innings out of the bullpen in his previous four games as he took the mound that day. But he allowed six hits and six runs in two innings plus. Right-hander Ubaldo Jiménez followed him and allowed two runs over six frames.
After that game the trash can banging happened a lot for much of the rest of that season when the Astros were home, Adams found. In that win over the Orioles, Marwin González, Yuli Gurriel and George Springer drove in two runs each, and Springer homered.
My colleague, Roch Kubatko, covered that game at Minute Maid Park and quoted then-manager Buck Showalter on that big Houston inning.
“His command,” said Showalter. “The command that he showed us out of the bullpen just kind of left him. He had a good, clean inning, a shutdown, after we scored a couple and you could see watching how far he was missing his area he was trying to throw it to. Pretty simple. You throw a lot of balls in the center of the plate, they’re going to end up where they ended up.”
Asher said: “Just made some mistakes and they made me pay for them. Very disappointing. I feel like I let my team down. I didn’t do my job, but it’s over now. There’s nothing you can do about it. You just go back and try to get better and go from there.”
According to a Wall Street Journal story, Adams’ process worked this way:
Adams downloaded data from MLB’s Statcast, which included a time stamp for every pitch. He then downloaded videos of the Astros games he could find on YouTube and used those time stamps to create a spectrogram for each one, providing him with a visual representation of the spectrum of frequencies in the audio.
Aided by the spectrograms, he then played back the video of every pitch to determine whether he could hear any banging before the ball was thrown. He created an application that allowed him to jump directly from pitch to pitch, without having to watch whatever happened in between. In simple cases, it took about 10 to 12 seconds per pitch, but on many occasions, Adams said he had to watch multiple times to be sure.
Adams estimates he worked for around 50 hours to come up with his findings.
Per the Wall Street Journal story, Adams heard banging on 147 pitches thrown to utility man González that season, the most of anybody on the team, followed by 139 pitches to Springer, 138 to Carlos Beltrán and 133 to Alex Bregman. For second baseman José Altuve, the 2017 American League MVP, Adams heard banging just 24 times, or on 2.8 percent of the 866 pitches he tracked - so much less than most of his teammates that Adams went back and checked all of Altuve’s pitches a second time to make sure, per the Journal.
Adams was not happy with his own team - that’s clear- and he told The Athletic: “I’m definitely a fan. But the level of disappointment, it’s difficult to overcome right now. It’s like any relationship. If anybody lets you down, it’s there and you just have to get past it at some point, the fact that it tainted that great moment - I’m not sure we can ever forget that.”
The month-long project saw Adams track 8,274 pitches, and he heard banging on 1,143 of them, or 14 percent. It should be pointed out that we have to trust his work here, but it sure seems very thorough. It should also be pointed out that there certainly could have been and likely were additional ways that the Astros communicated information to batters beyond this one method.