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Verlander: Pitcher-catcher signs slow game

'Signs have to be more advanced than they ever were before,' Tigers veteran says
MLB.com @beckjason

SEATTLE -- The Tigers know all about the debate over pace of play in baseball. With the third-highest average time of game in the Majors at 3:19 -- 15 minutes longer than last year -- they're arguably at the heart of the debate. Ask Justin Verlander why, and he'll contribute to the debate by pointing to the signs.

He's not talking about advertising or commercials. He means the signs that go from the catcher to the pitcher, specifically with runners on base. The game within the game to hide signs or steal them, Verlander said, has slowed the game.

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SEATTLE -- The Tigers know all about the debate over pace of play in baseball. With the third-highest average time of game in the Majors at 3:19 -- 15 minutes longer than last year -- they're arguably at the heart of the debate. Ask Justin Verlander why, and he'll contribute to the debate by pointing to the signs.

He's not talking about advertising or commercials. He means the signs that go from the catcher to the pitcher, specifically with runners on base. The game within the game to hide signs or steal them, Verlander said, has slowed the game.

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"It's with runners in scoring position, second base," Verlander said Monday. "It's the signs. The difference is the signs have to be more advanced than they ever were before."

Verlander has jumped into this issue before. When the Indians roughed him up in Cleveland for nine runs in four-plus innings April 15, he and catcher James McCann scoured video for indication that hitters knew the signs or Verlander was tipping pitches. He has been wary of signs being picked up in Cleveland and other places enough that he has changed up signs with his catcher with nobody on base.

The concern and the defense have reached the point, he said, that games can slow to a crawl once a runner reaches base.

"It'll be, 'Oh wait a minute, we haven't had a runner on second base in three innings. We need to be on the same page. Come out,'" Verlander said. "Then you mess something up and, 'Oh, we're not on the same page. Come back out.' Or your signs are so advanced that you can't quite get to the pitch that you want so everybody starts fiddling and then you're just like, 'All right, let's just talk about this.' That's where the game slows down."

The notion of runners on second base looking to the catcher, figuring out what pitch he wants, then relaying it to the hitter is nothing new. That dates back decades. What's new, Verlander argued, is that technology allows teams to scout signs.

"With the video, you can break it down," he said. "We don't have somebody, but I'm sure teams have like a person that can break down signals and codes and they'll have the signs before you even get out there on the mound. So you have to be aware of always changing things up and doing this and that. So it's not about gamesmanship anymore.

"Before we had HD [television], you couldn't see what specific signs the catcher was throwing down unless the camera was right on him -- not from the center-field camera. Now everything's so good, you can see exactly what a guy's putting down. So the gamesmanship is no longer there. It is, 'Oh, I'm going to break this code down before I even see this guy.' In the past, if a guy on second was able to decipher it in a few pitches and be able to do something, I guess that was kind of part of the game. But I feel like it's at a different level now. It's not good."

Asked how much his signs have changed since his early years in the league, Verlander said, "A lot. I have much more advanced signs now. I have fallback signs for my fallback signs. I mean, there's a lot of stuff happening that makes it pretty easy to get off rhythm with a catcher or maybe throw the wrong pitch or have to say, 'Hold on, let's come out here and talk about this because we're not on the same page signswise.'"

Verlander's manager, Brad Ausmus, agrees that technology has complicated their signs. In some ballparks, he said they'll change signs every inning, or within an inning.

"I think it's becoming a lot more accepted as just part of the game, and you have to prepare for it," Ausmus said.

Verlander also discussed the uptick in home runs across baseball, having read reports about the difference in the seams on baseballs. He said his experience leads him to believe it.

"There's not much of a seam on the ball anymore," Verlander said. "And that was always the case when you got to the big leagues. If you picked up a minor-league ball to a big-league ball, the seams were always wound tighter [on the big-league ball], they were always a little smaller, and it was noticeable. But now, you get a foul ball and look at the ball and kind of look at it from the side and try to see a seam sticking up off the ball, and there isn't one. There is no seam. I think it's more for aesthetics than anything at this point."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.

Detroit Tigers, Justin Verlander