For the Blue Jays, now is the time to clean up pitch & location tipping, not October
By Charles Kime
After Aaron Judge pummeled two Blue Jays sliders a combined total of 910 feet to straightaway center field above the Rogers Centre batter’s eye, Jays fans could ask why relievers Jay Jackson and Erik Swanson threw belt-high, hanging sliders to the American League home run record holder?
Swanson gets paid for his swing-and-miss splitter, and only throws the slider 21% of the time this season according to Statcast; it’s his third best pitch. The veteran Jackson relies heavily on his slider, throwing it 57% of the time. But he threw three straight sliders to Judge on Monday night before a 4th slider at 84 mph was clobbered 462 feet into the night.
But fans could also ask if perhaps the Blue Jays pitchers and catchers were somehow tipping pitches or location ahead of the Judge home runs? Certainly manager John Schneider alluded to that ahead of Tuesday’s game in saying, “It’s our job to make sure we’re playing clean.”
Was there some sort of tell or hints by Jackson or catcher Alejandro Kirk that led Judge and Jake Bauers to glance towards their coaches before the pitch? That’s gamesmanship and part of the game, given signs and the way the pitcher and catcher sets up are freely given information in an at bat. So long as the Yankees weren’t gathering that information electronically, it’s not cheating to try and steal pitch signs or location.
If that was the case, and they were tipping pitches or location, then it is imperative for the Blue Jays coaches and players to clean that up, and make sure they’re not giving away hints to opposing teams and hitters. And certainly it’s better to learn that tough lesson in May than in the last two weeks of September, when the Blue Jays play 15 straight games against AL East division rivals to close out the season; or in a postseason series in October.
We can be sure that if Gerrit Cole was tipping his pitches, or if Yankees catcher Kyle Higashioka was giving an indication of pitch location with his set up, Blue Jays coaches would try to take advantage of that information and help their hitters gain an advantage. That’s just the way the game is played, and surely there are Blue Jays staffers who watch video and search for those possible hints or tells, just like every other MLB team.
It’s perhaps a blessing in disguise that the Yankees took advantage of this in May and not September or October. The Blue Jays now have time to figure this out, much like former Jays swing man Ross Stripling changed his glove placement in May 2021 to prevent tipping his pitches, before going on to some outstanding success in the team's starting rotation.
Given division rivals play two less series against each other in 2023 compared to 2022, the Blue Jays only have 13 games against their AL East peers, which makes it harder to gain ground in head-to-head games. After this series, they won’t face the Yankees again until late September. So it’s time to sort this out and not give things up. As John Schneider said, “What’s fair is fair. If our guys are giving stuff up, we have to be better at that.”