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Devon Travis, Sign Stealer?

Devon Travis has been a pleasant surprise for the Jays this season, as he’s hit better than anyone could have expected out of the gate.  Despite a horrible month of May when he tried to play through a shoulder injury, he’s hit to a 129 wRC+ so far with solid defense at 2nd.  Additionally, he may be helping the Jays in other ways, as it seems as though he may be involved in stealing signs.

I was watching the Jays game against Oakland July 22nd, and after Devon Travis hit a double in the top of the 9th inning off of A’s closer Tyler Clippard, I began to notice Travis making some obvious movements at 2nd base.  Sometimes, I would see him clap his hands together enthusiastically; other times, I would see him hop up and down a few times. I then paid attention to the pitches that were subsequently thrown, and noticed a pattern: Whenever Travis would clap his hands, Clippard would throw a fastball, and whenever Travis would hop, Clippard would throw an offspeed pitch.  I decided to go back to the game archive to confirm what I thought I had seen live, and here is what I found:

Batter – Jose Reyes

Travis did not make any motions during the first five pitches to Reyes (likely, he was learning the signs). On the sixth pitch, he clapped, but Clippard stepped off and they ran through the signs again.

Batter – Josh Donaldson

Like with Reyes, Travis did not make any motions right away, as he looked at four pitches to get the signs down. The fun starts with pitch five:

Travis Motion – Clap

Clippard then steps off, followed by:

Travis Motion – Clap

Pitch – Fastball (92 mph)

Pitch six:

Travis Motion – Hop

Pitch – Offspeed (83 mph)

Pitch seven:

Travis Motion – Hop

Pitch – Offspeed (76 mph)

Batter – Jose Bautista

Pitch one:

Travis Motion – Clap

Pitch – Fastball (91 mph)

Pitch two:

Travis Motion – Clap

Pitch – Fastball (90 mph)

Sadly, after the second pitch to Bautista, the catcher visited the mound, and for the remaining three pitches in the at bat (which Bautista walked, moving Travis to third base) Travis did not make any motions (again, he probably figured they changed the signs).

So what we’re left with is five pitches (three fastballs, two offspeed) where the pattern holds up, and logical times when Travis does not clap or hop (i.e. after first reaching second base and after the mound visit when the signs could change). To me, given all the evidence, I don’t think the actions by Travis are coincidental, and I’m pretty certain he was stealing signs.

I was curious if this was a one-time thing, or something that Travis has done in the past, so I had a look at some other games in July in which Travis reached second base and was there for a few batters (i.e. long enough for him to pick up the signs).  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to spot any patterns that would indicate he was stealing signs in those games that I checked.

As a Jays fan, Devon Travis is already one of my favourite players, as he’s having a fantastic rookie season at a position that has long been a black hole for the Jays.  Now, he’s given me further reason to appreciate him, and a definite incentive to watch his at-bats and times on base a little more closely from now on.