MLB, MLBPA Reportedly Discussing New Rules to Prevent Electronic Sign-Stealing

Blake SchusterContributor IIIFebruary 15, 2020

Houston Astros' Alex Bregman, right, delivers a statement as Astros owner Jim Crane listens during a news conference before the start of the first official spring training baseball practice for the team Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020, in West Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

Cheating by the Houston Astros has prompted new discussions between Major League Baseball and the player's union to develop new rules to prevent electronic sign-stealing. 

According to The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal, the two sides are not far apart on a deal, but a timeline to pass new regulations has not been established. 

"Really trying to get in talks with players across the league to try to come up with as fair a system as possible," Washington Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer told Rosenthal Friday night on MLB Network. "Replay has been in the game and enhances the game, but we've seen the unintended consequences of this.

"We need to come up with rules now that limit how many cameras we can have on the field, how much replay we can actually have," Scherzer said. "We're trying to decide how much access players should have to that during the game."

Rosenthal noted player access to in-game video is likely to be reduced, though by how much also remains unclear. 

One of the more notable pieces of information in Rosenthal's interview is that Scherzer is hoping the league will do more to curb the use of algorithms and the like to decode signs. The Astros reportedly created a system called "Codebreaker" using a spreadsheet tool that would decode signs in real-time. 

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“The other wrinkle in this equation is (what) you’re hearing about all the algorithms in the game,” Scherzer said. “We understood that was in the game. And we kind of want to get that out of the game. We’re trying to come up with ways — (whether) punishments need to be in place for that or whatnot, what kind of rules need to be in place to get the algorithms out of the game as well, and try to just get it back to baseball.”

That may be a tight line to try walking in an MLB where player data and advanced analytics have becoming cornerstone tools for every franchise. Rosenthal noted another issue as well:

Eliminating the use of algorithms entirely would be difficult, a source said. Anyone with the right skill set — a team employee or otherwise — can watch a game, review the video and potentially write code to help review that video. MLB cannot effectively police the use of video in this manner. Teams are already prohibited from using electronics during games to steal signs.

Scherzer, a player representative on MLBPA's executive subcommittee, isn't trying to completely eliminate technology in baseball so much as increase the accountability that's lacked from the development of new tools.

The pitcher knows reviewing footage between innings is equally valuable to hurlers and hitters alike, but it seems he believes the line has been crossed too many times to let the status quo stay in place.

Just how much it needs to change, however, remains unknown as the start of the new season draws near.  

“It’s tough to know exactly where this is going to end up, exactly where the rules need to be, how much can we have and not have,” Scherzer said. “It’s been to the benefit of players as a whole and to the game as a whole for players to be able to watch their ABs and watch themselves pitch during the game, be able to go in between innings and check out what just happened, maybe check out a pitch location, just for your mind of knowing what just happened, to be able to see that. That’s a positive. That’s good for the game. I don’t want to necessarily take that out of the game."