Baseball’s electronic sign stealing scandal came to a head this week, with the league’s official findings leading to the firing of a general manager and three managers.
The far-reaching effects of the cheating scheme has led to questions on who else may be involved — and a level of paranoia that we haven’t seen since the years following the steroid era. The Brewers have occasionally been brought up as persons of interest this winter, whether it’s been from St. Louis beatwriters or our friends south of the state line.
This week, there was more speculation that may have flown under the radar. Wausau-area radio personality Tom King made a blog post on Wednesday about a conversation he had with former Wisconsin Woodchucks (of the collegiate summer Northwoods League) manager and current Colorado Rockies pitching coach Steve Foster, in which the implication was Foster thought the Brewers were up to something in the 2018 NLDS, which saw Milwaukee sweep the Rockies in three games.
"Foster is a former major league pitcher who is currently the pitching coach for the Colorado Rockies...Foster believes one of those teams (stealing signs electronically) is the Milwaukee Brewers."— Kyle Lesniewski (@Kyle_Lesniewski) January 15, 2020
It’s his belief that there are many teams that have done what the Astros did. As I mentioned yesterday, SI reporter Tom Verducci says at least 7 teams in the majors have been doing it and Foster believes one of those teams is the Milwaukee Brewers. Now, I have no idea if that’s true. Former Brewer Mike Fiers was the player who outed the Astros and, as far as I know, did not name other teams including his former employers in Milwaukee. Colorado met the Brewers in the 2018 postseason and it seemed, to Foster, a former major league pitcher, that Brewer hitters were not reacting, especially to sliders, the (sic) way they should if they didn’t know what was coming.
Aside from possibly coming off as sour grapes, this would also seem to be a bit of an odd accusation, since the Brewers were not exactly an offensive juggernaut at that point in the year and scored a grand total of 13 runs in the three games, 6 of which came in the finale at Coors Field.
But let’s entertain the idea for a bit. If the Brewers did know what was coming, that kind of thing might come through in the game logs and PITCH f/x data from those games, which is all still archived over at Brooks Baseball.
Here are the raw numbers from Game 1 in Milwaukee:
NLDS Game 1
The Brewers only swung at 2 of 11 sliders from starter Antonio Senzatela, but looking at pitch location, it doesn’t appear as though they’d need any help in deciding to lay off, as Senzatela’s control of the pitch was poor:
In all, the Brewers saw 29 sliders in Game 1, 16 of which were strikes. Nine of those (56%) were of the swinging variety, and that included 4 (44%) whiffs. The Brewers only put 4 sliders in play, and 3 of those were outs.
Here’s Game 2’s data:
NLDS Game 2
Since starter Tyler Anderson didn’t throw sliders, the Brewers only saw a total of 15 in the second game. Again, roughly half (7) were strikes — all swinging — and 3 swings (43%) came up empty. The Brewers only put 2 sliders in play, but both went for hits.
Through two games, if the Brewers were cheating, you would think they would have more success, especially in their home park.
How about the only road game in the series, Game 3 in Denver?
NLDS Game 3
The Rockies turned to their ace in Marquez, whose repertoire heavily featured sliders. The young righty threw the pitch 16.2% of the time that season (and actually upped it to 20.5% this past year), and threw it plenty against the Brewers in what was a must-win game.
23 of his 29 sliders were thrown for strikes, 17 of them (74%) swinging. The Brewers missed on 7 of those 17 swings (41%), which is about in line for what they averaged in the series — and higher than the 22.28% whiff percentage Marquez had on his slider during the 2018 season.
The Brewers did swing at a higher number of sliders, and 6 of the 7 sliders they put into play ended up being hits, but a look at Marquez’s strike zone plot for the game might explain why — he left many of those sliders up in the zone and over the plate. Major league hitters aren’t going to miss many of those.
Do these numbers prove the Brewers didn’t “cheat” or know when a slider was coming? No, probably not. But if they were cheating and knew when they were coming, it certainly appears they did a pretty bad job at cheating, considering the below-average offensive production they had in the series.
Data courtesy of Brooks Baseball