The Phillies batters were locked in on Lance McCullers Jr. from the start of Game 3 of the World Series.
Bryce Harper launched a two-run home run off the Astros starting pitcher in the first inning to give Philadelphia a 2-0 lead. He appeared to tell Alec Bohm something before the third baseman batted in the second. Bohm proceeded to hit a solo home run on the first pitch he saw. Brandon Marsh added to that in the second. Kyle Schwarber and Rhys Hoskins hit homers in the fifth to eventually chase him from the game.
Philadelphia’s lineup is loaded with mashers. Only five teams hit more home runs in 2022 than the Phillies. And it was no surprise that mistake pitches were punished en route to the Phillies’ 7-0 win to take a 2-1 advantage in the World Series.
But viewers of the game started to wonder if there might be something more. If, perhaps, McCullers was tipping his pitches, giving away what was coming by some sort of physical sign or movement.
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Was the Astros’ Game 3 starter giving away his upcoming pitch to the Phillies? Here’s what we know.
Was Lance McCullers tipping pitches?
Skeptical baseball fans wondered if there might be something that McCullers was doing to clue batters in on what was coming next. The first observation made was his leg kick.
— Steve Johnson (@LegKickNationOG) November 2, 2022
Former MLB third baseman Will Middlebrooks and former pitcher AJ Burnett both speculated it was the glove that was being tipped off.
Not the leg. Watch the glove. Hitters eyes stay high.
— Will Middlebrooks (@middlebrooks) November 2, 2022
— AJ Burnett (@wudeydo34) November 2, 2022
Others, however, speculated that it was just knowing McCullers’ tendencies.
Rival staffer: what Harper related to Bohm, others had to have been about game-planning, not pitch-tipping. Says staffer: “He’s throwing 80% off-speed. He won’t throw his fastball.”
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) November 2, 2022
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If McCullers was tipping his pitches, no one will admit to it. Not the Astros. Not the Phillies.
After the game, Harper said he wasn’t sitting on any pitch or expecting anything in particular to be thrown to him, and instead said he just knew that McCullers throws his curveball and slider a lot.
And there’s certainly something to that. McCullers has been in at least one sense a bit predictable this postseason when he’s faced left-handed pitchers. He has largely avoided throwing fastballs to left-handed batters this postseason and during the regular season.
As @SlangsOnSports notes: McCullers has thrown 109 pitches to left-handed hitters this postseason, and just two fastballs among those.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) November 2, 2022
His regular-season tendencies weren’t much different. Here’s a look at his pitch tendencies by percentage to right-handed vs. left-handed batters, according to Baseball Savant:
Those tendencies are fairly predictable. Right-handers can almost go up to the plate guessing either sinker or slider, while left-handed batters can expect to see mostly curveballs.
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What pitches did each batter hit a home run off of? Harper (left) hit a first-pitch curveball. Bohm (right) hit a sinker. Marsh (left) hit a slider. Schwarber (left) hit a changeup. Hoskins (right) hit a slider. Bohm and Hoskins, as right-handed hitters, could head to the bat knowing there was probably about an 87.5 percent chance of getting a sinker or a slider. Harper and Schwarber, as lefties, could count on about a 72.3 percent chance of getting a curveball or changeup. Marsh’s stood out as the most unlikely in hitting it off a changeup (5.2 percent to lefties).
McCullers said after the game the Phillies’ batters just had good at-bats and credited them with being a tough team to face, but denied that he was tipping pitches.
“This has nothing to do with tipping,” McCullers said, according to MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart. “Clearly they had a good game plan against me and they executed better than I did.”
Astros manager Dusty Baker said he didn’t think opposing batters were picking up on any tips from McCullers, and that they were just hitting him tonight.
“Four out of the five homers they hit were offspeed pitches and they hit one fastball, Bohm hit a fastball. Now, that’s not anything I noticed,” Baker said. “Guys are always looking to see if they’re tipping their pitches. We didn’t see anything. I mean sometimes they just hit you. You know what I mean? And like I said, you know, who knows they might have been sitting on offspeed pitches because that’s what they hit out of the ballpark.”
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So what about that conversation between Harper and Bohm? After the game, Bohm said Harper told him “nothing.” Harper said he was just giving information to his teammate.
“Anytime you have information, you want to be able to give that to your teammates at any point,” Harper said. “Anytime I can help my teammates, you know, throughout the whole season, we’ve done that.”
Thomson said teammates have been communicating anything they’ve spotted all year to one another, trying to help teammates get an edge in upcoming at-bats.
“We’ve been doing that all year,” Thomson said. “These guys they’re always talking communicating, what they’re seeing what people with the pictures look like to them when we’re standing in the box. That’s pretty normal.”
McCullers didn’t think anything of the conversation. To him, it was just the standard conversations teammates have when trying to help each other when batting.
“I think guys have conversations all the time before at bats and before innings, things like that so I’m not gonna sit here and say anything like that,” McCullers said. “I got whooped. End of story.”