Friday, February 21, 2020

On the Astros and cheating...

I've gone through a range of emotions on this scandal with the Astros and after critically thinking about the whole situation I think I am finally ready to comment about it.

First off, it sucks. The whole thing sucks. This is the first off-season in quite a long time where I was not looking forward to the next season. Astros players are going to be targets. Players will be booed. Pitchers are going to hit them. Fans will probably throw things (probably at Yankee Stadium). It's really a no win situation for all involved. First I will comment on the report itself because I think its important to sort out the facts from conspiracies and focus on what we know.

We know that the Astros had a sign stealing scheme in place for the 2017 season and part of the 2018 season. We know that it involved the center field camera which had a signal feed fed to a monitor in the dugout or the clubhouse. We also know that once the sign was decoded, a player or Astros employee would bang on a trashcan to signify to the hitter that an off-speed pitch (curve, slider, change-up) was coming. If a fastball was signaled, no noise was made. We know that on atleast 2 occasions the manager (A.J. Hinch) destroyed the monitor out of frustration. He was unhappy with the scheme but never explicitly conveyed that to the players. We know that the GM Jeff Luhnow received a memo following the suspension of the Red Sox and Yankees that involved using Apple Watches and replay cameras and the he failed to forward it to others in the organization. We know that the primary "ringleaders" of the scheme were bench coach Alex Cora and Carlos Beltran.

I think that about covers all the facts from the report. You can read the full report here

When the news first came down, I thought about abandoning the team. The team I have cheered for as a child. All those games that I have been to and for what? In particular the joy of going to the 2 playoff games during the 2017 run, I felt cheated as a fan. Yes we won but at what cost? I consider myself a moral person and I don't believe in "cheating" of any sort. Does our title mean nothing now? Do I have to go back to just cheering for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Fuck, kill me now. That team is in dire need of new leadership and a long way from even being competitive. Do I do something that I once thought was unthinkable, do I become a Texas Rangers fan? Again, fuck me.

The hardest part of the whole situation is you can't really quantify how much help the batter gets by knowing what pitch is coming. I know that these are professional athletes that have to react in a split second to a ball thrown usually 95 + mph at them, so any advantage does help. But they still have to know if its high, or low, or inside or outside. It's not a complete easy mode advantage. After reading more and reading Tony Adams's excellent work over at signstealingscandal.com, I've come to some more conclusions. (1) Not all players used the scheme and (2) The degree of effectiveness is debatable.

The biggest beneficiary of the trash can bangs seems to be Marwin Gonzalez. He had 147 bangs on 807 pitches (18.2%). He had a career year in '17. Hitting .303 with homers and 93 RBI in the regular season. However, any edge he seemed to have gained in the regular season seemed to disappear in the postseason. He hit .200/.136/.208 in the divisional, league championship, and World Series. Only had 1 home run all postseason but it was arguably the biggest hit in team history. Game 2 in the ninth with the Dodgers looking to go up 2 games to 0, his solo shot tied it and sent the game to extras where the Astros were able to win it and tie the series at 1 game apiece. Did he know what was coming? Maybe we will never know.

Jose Altuve won the 2017 MVP award edging out a rookie by the name of Aaron Judge. According to the information available, Altuve only had 24 bangs out of 886 pitches, a measley 2.7%. Let's look at his postseason numbers. .533/.320/.194 in the divisional. ALCS, and World Series. He started out red hot but tapered off in the World Series. He did have 2 home runs in the World Series but struggled overall. The Dodgers were a great team, let's not undersell them. You would expect a decline in performance when you are facing stiffer competition. Overall I would say any advantage gained by Altuve in the regular season was extremely minor. He had a terrific year. Judge can cry all he wants to about being "cheated" out of the award but I can't agree with that point of view I'm sorry. Jose Altuve is a generational talent and is an extremely great baseball player.

Lets look at 1 more player, George Springer. He had 140 bangs out of 972 pitches in the regular season for 14.4% (keep in mind these are home games, which is the only place they could use it.) He had a stellar 2017 campaign hitting .283 with 34 homeruns and 85 RBI. His postseaseon numbers were wildly streaky. He hit .412/.115/.379 in the divisional, ALCS, and World Series. That ALCS series really stands out. The Yankees seemed to have him solved and he was largely ineffective. Averaging out his numbers for that entire postseason he did well hitting .390 overall. In the World Series, he was transcendental. He won the World Series MVP that year hitting 5 home runs and 7 RBI over the 7 gamnes with a .379 average. There's no question these are great numbers. One does wonder though why he struggled so mightily in the series before. Afterall, if he was "cheating", why didn't it work in that series? Maybe he just got hot as players tend to do after being ice cold?

What I'm hoping to illustrate by these 3 examples are that any advantage gained over this method to me seems small. I can't outright claim it gave no advantage but I don't see a clear correlation to inflated numbers across the board for Astros hitters when they bat at home. With that being said, what they did was wrong and the commissioner came down with punishments. Manager A.J. Hinch and GM Jeff Luhnow were both suspended for a year with no pay and were barred from any Major League Baseball facilities. The organization lost its 2019 draft picks and was fined $5 million which is the largest allowable under the current CBA agreement. Many claim this was not enough. There had been a large outcry and big markets like NY that they should have to forfeit their title too. To me though, that just seems silly. Firstly, you can't just give it to LA. They walked off the field having just lost Game 7. Winning it now would seem weird and their players and fans wouldn't be able to adequately celebrate it. Secondly, vacating a title and just saying no winner seems even dumber. So you're telling me I didn't experience what I saw? If the year had no championship, lets just throw out everyone's stats of every team and player since it was a moot point right? You play to win the championship. With no winner, what was the point of the season? This differs from 1994 where there was no postseason due to the players going on strike to protest.

So where does this leave me? Well I'm still an Astros fan. I am saddened by decisions made by players and staff members but it wasn't me that cheated. I shouldn't have to feel remorseful for anything but yet I do because I know that it was wrong. I think over time it will be better. Right now we are the heels of MLB. I wanted to hate the Red Sox and Yankees, not become them. Ultimately it doesn't matter what I think. I'm just 1 fan. I will say that I am not quite as passionate about the team currently. Maybe that will change when the playoffs come, I don't know. I think once this core group of players grow old and move on to other teams it will be easier for me to like the team then it is at the moment. I still love Jose Altuve. If anything this just proves that good people can let you down and make mistakes. Nobody is perfect. Let's play ball.

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