That made the news this offseason of the team’s sign-stealing scandal all the more devastating.
“I guess disappointment is too light of a word,” said Adams, 54. “It’s heartbreaking."
So before Christmas, Adams, a graphic designer and web developer, downloaded from Major League Baseball a hefty spreadsheet of data from the Astros’ 2017 home games, wrote a web application to sync up the data with video footage of Houston’s plate appearances and documented every instance of trash can banging he could find. (The team signaled to batters about the nature of upcoming pitches by banging on a trash can.)
Adams charted the audio from game broadcasts on a spectrogram, creating a visual representation of the sounds of each pitch, to help find bangs his ears might not have initially detected.
In the more than 8,200 pitches Adams tracked, he found more than 1,100 trash can bangs. He spent close to 60 hours writing the code that built his application and breaking down the video.
“If you’re trying to get at the point that I have no life, it’s true,” he joked.
Adams published his own website Wednesday to display the data, signstealingscandal.com, which immediately swept the baseball world into a frenzy.
According to Adams’s data, after the Astros appeared to experiment with the banging technique early in the 2017 season, it was in full effect by late May. He detected 28 bangs in a May 28 game against Baltimore, an 8-4 Houston win.
The scheme picked up in the summer months: 36 bangs on June 12 against the Texas Rangers (Rangers 6, Astros 1); 44 bangs against the New York Yankees on June 30 (Yankees 13, Astros 4); 48 bangs against the Minnesota Twins on July 14 (Astros 10, Twins 5); 54 bangs against the Toronto Blue Jays on Aug. 4 (Astros 16, Blue Jays 7).
Adams also found the practice seemed to fall off abruptly after Sept. 21, the day Chicago White Sox reliever Danny Farquhar suspected foul play by the Astros and changed his signs midgame.
“The banging stopped,” Farquhar told the Athletic, which broke the sign-stealing story in November. “My assumption was they were picking it up from the video and relaying the signs to the dugout."
“The banging was so obvious,” Adams said in a phone interview. “Anyone who watched the video … you knew 30 seconds into it, yeah, they did it. There’s no denying it.”
Adams’s research also breaks down the information by individual player to see who had the most pitches tipped during their at-bats. According to his data, Marwin Gonzalez led the team with 147 tipped pitches, followed by George Springer (139), Carlos Beltrán (138) and Alex Bregman (133). Gonzalez batted a career-high .303 with a .907 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 2017, but he has tailed off since. José Altuve was among those with the least amount of pitches tipped by banging sounds (24). The Astros did not swing at 59 percent of pitches preceded by a bang, according to the data; the league, as a whole, didn’t swing at 53 percent of pitches in 2017.
The data also show almost two-thirds of tipped pitches were breaking balls (curveballs or sliders) and the rest change-ups and fastballs. That would be contrary to the report issued by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred on the findings of the sign-stealing investigation. In that report, Manfred wrote, “Generally, one or two bangs corresponded to certain off-speed pitches, while no bang corresponded to a fastball.” If Adams’s research is accurate, that doesn’t appear to be universally true.
But the data also show that the bangs appeared to help the Astros in specific games. Against the Washington Nationals on Aug. 23, Adams’s research highlights 16 at-bats featuring 29 tipped pitches in a 6-1 Houston win. The Astros hit two home runs in at-bats showing tipped pitches. Most of those tipped pitches (25 of 29) were curveballs and sliders, three were sinkers, and one was a change-up. The Astros swung at just six pitches that were recorded to have a bang.
Adams did not analyze the data himself to draw conclusions on the scheme’s effectiveness, he said. But he said he felt compelled to publish his findings as conspiracies have mounted about the team’s use of other means, such as electronic buzzers or stadium sound effects, to tip pitches. MLB found no evidence that the Astros did anything of the sort. Maybe posting this data, Adams said, would quiet some of the more outlandish claims while still holding Houston’s coaches and players accountable.
The trash can banging was bad enough, he said, and he wanted some objective data and evidence in the open for the world to examine.
“The Astros took it way too far,” he said. “They kept going when they were told to stop, and we have the visceral aspect of being able to watch the video and hear the bangs. When you think about it, it’s pretty stupid.”