Astros' AJ Hinch finds pitch-tipping paranoia 'funny'

NEW YORK -- Astros manager AJ Hinch has heard the chatter -- that Rays starter Tyler Glasnow was offering a sneak peek on his off-speed deliveries, that Houston had a poker-worthy tell on Yankees hard throwers James Paxton and Luis Severino.

All that pitch-tipping paranoia?

"I think it's kind of funny,'' Hinch said.

A year after suspicions about sign stealing made headlines when a man associated with the Astros was caught pointing a cellphone into opposing dugouts, Houston is giving pitchers pause again, perhaps with nothing more than the naked eye.

There's no rule against noticing a tipped pitch, and Hinch stated plainly during this American League Championship Series who is at fault if Houston knows what's coming.

"If they don't want to tip their pitches,'' Hinch said, "then they should take consideration into doing the same thing over and over again.''

Batter's box espionage can take two forms -- pitch tipping or sign stealing. The first is totally legal, just a matter of good scouting. Hitters might get an idea from the angle of the pitcher's glove or the wiggle of his wrist.

On sign stealing, legality can get blurrier. A runner on second base has a clear view of the catcher's signs, and there's no rule against taking a peek and discreetly relaying that info to the batter -- although the opposing battery might still take issue. That's a practice as old as Cracker Jack.

Smart devices and other fresh tech have opened another frontier for potential pilferers. Even before alarms were sounded in Cleveland and Boston last fall about the Astros' man with a phone, paranoia about cameras, Apple Watches and other devices had made intricate signaling a full-time practice.

Major League Baseball has instituted rules to crack down on digital spying. MLB said "a number of clubs'' called commissioner Rob Manfred to express concerns about video equipment being used to steal signs last season.

Although teams surely remain suspicious about the Astros and sign stealing, Houston's ability to recognize discrepancies in a pitcher's delivery has caused concern this month.

After getting tagged by Houston in the decisive fifth game of the AL Division Series last week, Glasnow noticed on video that he was broadcasting his breaking pitches.

"It was pretty obvious as far as the tips go,'' he said.

More suspicions were raised in Game 2 of the ALCS, when the Astros jumped on Paxton. Television cameras caught Alex Bregman saying "glove'' to Houston's dugout after drawing a walk, a moment many interpreted as Bregman sharing a tell on Paxton's delivery.

Bregman has denied using such info this postseason and expressed annoyance Tuesday at social media sleuths searching for hints of it. But Yankees fans have good reason to be suspicious. Paxton was informed by team adviser and former New York player Carlos Beltran after a start in April that Houston almost certainly knew what was coming.

Another former Yankee is sure Severino was tipping in Game 3, when he threw 36 pitches in a rocky first inning of a 4-1 defeat.

"If you look at Astros hitters' body language, this screams tipping,'' tweeted Alex Rodriguez, who is now a broadcaster with ESPN and Fox.

It may be that Houston is noticing a wayward glove waggle in the moment, but cameras can also help -- and legally, too.

The Yankees are cautious even about what TV cameras might see in the dugout -- after homering off Astros ace Justin Verlander in Game 2, Aaron Judge walked up and down the bench area whispering to teammates, using his batting helmet as a face shield. Whatever he knew, he didn't want Houston -- or the public -- finding out.

Judge's covert message didn't hinder Verlander, who pitched two-run ball for 6 2/3 innings.

Hinch wouldn't find Judge to be out of line if it did. He believes hunting for pitch tells is basic recon work in today's game. Does a guy turn his glove grabbing at a changeup? Tend to throw fastballs in 2-0 counts?

All of it, fair game.

"It shouldn't overshadow the quality of play or the players or what's going on on the field,'' Hinch said. "The paranoia is real, though. And it's real across 30 teams.''

The Associated Press contributed to this report.