January 17, 2020

On Thursday, Baseball Lost Its Mind. One GM: "This Is the Greatest Thing I've Ever Seen."

Some people have complained that the punishments leveled by MLB on the Houston Astros for cheating in 2017 were not tough enough. But if the Astros hire Buck Showalter to replace AJ Hinch as manager, those people will likely change their minds. They may even feel the Astros have been punished too severely.

One day after "baseball lost its mind", former pitcher Jack McDowell (1993 AL Cy Young winner) alleged during a radio interview on Friday that Tony LaRussa created an illegal sign-stealing operation at Comiskey Park in the late 1980s. LaRussa managed the White Sox from 1979 to 1986.

McDowell said LaRussa (who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014) had a camera installed that could zoom in on opposing catchers' signs. A light in an outfield Gatorade sign, controlled from the manager's office, let batters know what pitches were coming.
I'm going to whistle-blow this thing now, because I'm getting tired of this crap. ... He was also the head of the first team ... with people doing steroids. Yet he's still in the game making half a million. No one's gonna go after that. ... This stuff's getting old, where they target certain guys and let other people off the hook. ... Everybody who's been around the game knows all this stuff.
McDowell said everyone in the game has collectively decided to ignore the issue of illegal sign-stealing, just as they buried their heads in the sand regarding steroids. But they may not be able to cover up the issue any longer.

In a now-deleted Instagram post, veteran first baseman Logan Morrison described the Commissioner's report as "FAKE news" and said the Astros were cheating in 2014:
Hello fans. Just wanted to take some time to educate everyone on this sign stealing 'scandal' we have going on. This is all something I have witnessed or heard. So many teams are doing this. Exactly how many… I'm not sure.

The Manfred report that came out is straight FAKE news. This started in Houston well before [Alex] Cora got there. I was playing in Seattle in 2014 and every time we went into Houston you would hear this banging. No one put two and two together. Seattle fans may remember we came with in a game of going to the playoffs. Felix should have won a CY young that year. But couldn't get pasted [sic] the 5th in Houston.

I know from first hand accounts that the Yankees, Dodgers, Astros and Red Sox have used film to pick signs. Just want you guys to know the truth. I personally think it's a tool in a tool belt to pick signs, but if we are going to be punishing people for it. Don't half ass it.
Fun Sidebar Tidbit: During the 2017 season, Morrison (with 24 home runs) did not receive an invitation to the Home Run Derby, but MFY Gary Sanchez (who had only 13) did. Morrison: "I remember when I had 14 home runs. That was a month and a half ago." In 2018, Morrison insulted Yankees fans who were upset with his comments. "You can't fix stupid, you know?"

Also on Friday, Ken Rosenthal commented on his postgame interview with Jose Altuve after Altuve's home run sent the Astros to the 2019 World Series:
All those asking if I "knew something" when I asked Altuve about refusing to allow teammates to rip off his jersey . . . hardly. In my rush to get onto the field, I did not even see Altuve cross home plate. Producer suggested question in my ear as I conducted the interview.
Unfortunately, amid the noise and nuttiness of the moment, Rosenthal failed to follow-up after Altuve gave the extremely strange answer that his wife would be angry if his teammates ripped his jersey.

Rosenthal's latest article on this issue includes this knee-slapper:
Not one Astros player told MLB investigators he understood he was committing a violation, a source said.
Rosenthal writes that MLB's decision to not punish any Astros players "frustrated some executives and baffled many fans". And he had some questions:
•  If players who use performance-enhancing drugs are disciplined for cheating, why not players who participated in the Astros' scheme?

•  After MLB offered players immunity for honest testimony, what will compel players to tell investigators anything more than, "I have no recollection," if they only get punished for lying?

•  What kind of message does it send that players can get away with what the Astros did while getting their manager and GM fired and costing their team $5 million and four high draft picks?

•  And finally, why shouldn't players cheat if they are impervious to punishment?

The Astros' hitters not only escaped penalty, but also presumably benefited from their wrongdoing as well, producing better numbers, landing bigger contracts.

Yet MLB has answers — valid answers — to each question. ...

As Manfred wrote in his decision, "assessing discipline for this type of conduct is both difficult and impractical."

Difficult because while virtually every player had some involvement or knowledge of the scheme, Manfred could not determine with certainty which players did what. Impractical because of the large number of players involved, and because 12 of the position players are now with other clubs while four no longer are active.
Claiming that disciplining obvious cheaters would be "impractical" because "because of the large number of players involved" is nonsense. Is Rosenthal suggesting that there is a tipping-point of cheating, after which MLB would throw up its hands and let everyone do whatever they want?

It sounds as though if a team wants to cheat, it's best to have the entire roster involved. That way, if they are caught, there will be no punishment (whereas it would be easy to suspend two or three guys). Regardless, there are plenty of players in the minors to fill any team's suddenly-vacant roster spots.

Jeff Passan, ESPN:
Baseball lost its mind Thursday. Every sport endures this: part-cleansing, part-reckoning, part-recalibration — a day to release everything, good, bad and otherwise, a full-throated scream into the void. It was inevitable, building up over the previous three days, each unforgettable in its own right. History will treat Thursday as a footnote, even if it said as much about the sport's current state as Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday combined.

It started with a discussion about whether the player who helped expose the game's biggest cheating scandal in a century was a whistleblower or a narc, moved on to the firing of a manager who hadn't even managed a game, degenerated into anonymous Twitter accounts lobbing entirely uncorroborated accusations of even worse cheating, giddily grew into a miasma of conspiratorial, frame-by-frame breakdowns of jerseys and lip-reading and confetti. It was a beautiful, ugly, transfixing, maddening, godforsaken mess, simultaneously addictive and repulsive. For one day, baseball felt like a real modern sport, full of verve, and not one stuck in the morass of its past.

"This is the greatest thing I've ever seen," one general manager said midafternoon, when — and this is a real thing — he called to ask whether the fired New York Mets manager actually had a niece who was tweeting about the 2019 Houston Astros wearing buzzers under their uniforms that let them know which pitch was coming. "I want to take this day and freeze it in time so I can keep living it."

By the end of Thursday, Major League Baseball and a target of the accusations both had chimed in, players across the sport had offered their feelings on the matter — a matter that still, it is important to note, has zero factual backing — and the 12-hour fire hose of raw, uncut content had satiated the masses with plenty of leftovers for the next day. ...

What unfolded Jan. 16, 2020, then, wasn't some anomalous event, a string of accidents and coincidences and happenstance. It was an evolutionary byproduct of a baseball world gone bonkers, one in which the ridiculous — hammering a trash can with a bat — is true. Just because you're paranoid, Joseph Heller might have said, doesn't mean they aren't wearing buzzing Band-Aids. ...

MLB had addressed 2019 in its report: "The investigation revealed no violations of the policy by the Astros in the 2019 season or 2019 Postseason." Suddenly, this was up for debate ... The crowd grew louder and ... wondered whether there was a there there.

They want to believe there is — that the Astros didn't just stop after winning the World Series or losing to the Red Sox in 2018, because that's illogical. Who finds grand success with something and ... stops? The Astros cheating in 2019 makes more sense than it doesn't. The Astros advancing beyond the trash can to something more technologically advanced does, too. And in this moment, where baseball is vulnerable, where the bounds of believability have been stretched, the plausible feels probable ...

Technology is baseball's lodestar; its limitlessness is something to be exploited by those who found no moral or ethical issues with the trash can. The buzzer will not go away because reason dictates it oughtn't. ...

When asked a week after the initial Astros story broke about the possibility of a wide-ranging, independent investigation to ensure a full accounting of baseball's cheating, Manfred said he did not believe one was necessary.

That approach, sources said, has not changed -- not even with Crane saying after firing Luhnow and Hinch: "The commissioner assured me that every team and every allegation will be checked out, and he'll conduct the same investigation he conducted on us." ...

Reclaiming control after a calamitous day like Thursday could take time. ...

This sign-stealing scandal poses by far the greatest threat of Manfred's commissionership ... Thursday synopsized what Manfred faces: a scandal that no matter how tidily he tries to bow-wrap it remains, at least for now, maybe forever, amorphous, full of surprises, ever ready to grow another tentacle. ... It's there, coiled and poised, all possibility, every day ready to lose its mind like Jan. 16, 2020.
Passan also reports that two players told him during the Astros/Red Sox 2018 ALCS that "Astros players had been hitting a garbage can to share stolen signs. Major League Baseball said it was investigating. Nothing came of it."

Last November 18, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported rumours of buzzers:
In recent days I have had scouts and executives talk to me about a variety of methods they think have been or could be employed, such as a realistic-looking electronic bandage placed on a player's body that buzzes in real time to signal what is coming — one buzz for a fastball, for example — if the surveillance determines what type of pitching is coming. One person I spoke to has ties to the Astros and said he already had spoken to MLB's investigators.
Now that we have heard banging during Astros home games on numerous videos, we know there was something going on. But MLB was content to bury whatever information its investigation(s?) — garbage cans and bandage buzzers — found. Indeed, MLB buried even the existence of the investigations.

Joon Lee, ESPN:
When allegations that the Houston Astros had stolen signs electronically during their 2017 World Series championship season surfaced in November, Jimmy O'Brien was sitting in his new apartment in Harlem, waiting for some Verizon workers to finish setting up his cable internet. ...

When O'Brien read in The Athletic's report that a banging sound could be heard from the Astros' dugout whenever a changeup signal was given by an opposing team's catcher, he quickly began scouring the MLB.TV archives, using his cellphone as a hot spot. He was far from the only one to track down Chicago White Sox reliever Danny Farquhar's now-infamous 2017 appearance in Houston, but within two hours, O'Brien had pulled the video demonstrating the banging, added his voice-over commentary, and tweeted it out.

With his phone buzzing from an influx of Twitter notifications, O'Brien called his girlfriend.

"I think I opened a can of worms," he said. ...

[And so began] MLB's first uniquely 21st century scandal. ...
Eric Stephen (SB Nation) is correct when he writes: "We are at this chaotic moment in baseball history because of MLB’s sloth-like pace in cleaning up the electronic sign stealing in the first place."

Finally, I was looking at some stats last night. There are likely many explanations for the increase or decrease in these numbers, many of which may not be related to cheating, but I still thought it was interesting.

The Astros had the most batter strikeouts in the American League for three consecutive seasons (2013-2015). They had the second-most in 2016, missing the top spot by only 30 whiffs. Then, in the magical year of 2017, they had the fewest of any AL team and that has continued in the last two years:
Astros - Most Batter Strikeouts - AL Rank Among 15 Teams
2013 - # 1 in AL - 1535 K
2014 - # 1 in AL - 1442 K
2015 - # 1 in AL - 1392 K
2016 - # 2 in AL - 1452 K (30 fewer K than Rays)
2017 - #15 in AL - 1087 K
2018 - #14 in AL - 1197 K
2019 - #15 in AL - 1166 K (110 fewer than #14 team)
In 2017, the Astros cut their strikeouts at the plate by 365! Only six of the AL's 15 teams had fewer strikeouts in 2017 (as compared to 2016). (The average team had 47 more strikeouts.) The next best performances by an AL team were Cleveland, who had 93 fewer strikeouts (1,246 to 1,153), and the Twins, who had 84 fewer strikeouts (1,426 to 1,342).

There was also a significant jump in the 2017 Astros' offensive stats, as they gained 35 points in batting average, 27 points in on-base, and 61 points in slugging. The team OPS increased by 88 points while the league average increased by only 9 points.
       AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS
2016  .247  .319  .417  .735   (AL Avg: .257 / .321 / .423 / .744)
2017  .282  .346  .478  .823   (AL Avg: .256 / .324 / .429 / .753)
2018  .255  .329  .425  .754   (AL Avg: .249 / .318 / .415 / .734)
2019  .274  .352  .495  .848   (AL Avg: .253 / .323 / .439 / .762)

January 16, 2020

Someone (Possibly A Player) Claiming To Be Carlos Beltrán's Niece Tweets That Jose Altuve And Alex Bregman Wore Buzzers At The Plate; Altuve's Behaviour After Hitting Pennant-Winning Home Run Last October Is Certainly Suspicious

Wil Leitner of Fox Sports Radio calls the latest twist in the Astros' sign-stealing scandal "one of the most bizarre developing stories in baseball history".

His claim may seem a tad overheated - but this scandal is picking up speed. There is no way that Thursday's story is the end of the accusations.
[A] Twitter account alleging to be the niece of Carlos Beltrán is beginning to drop some of the most profound bombshells the MLB has ever seen.

A day after saying her uncle was stepping down as Mets manager a full 24 hours before the news of Beltrán's actual resignation officially broke, the mysterious account is now allegeding that Houston Astros superstars Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman wore 'devices that buzzed' on their shoulders, that were controlled by a hallway video guy who was already deciphering the signs of Houston opponents in real time.

The identity of the account has suddenly come into question, with ESPN's Marly Rivera now saying that that the person who claims to be 'Beltrán's niece' is not related to the Beltráns, with Beltrán's family even telling Rivera that the account @S0_Blessed1 is 'not related to the family in anyway.'

The original headline on Leitner's story - "Carlos Beltrán's Niece Says Jose Altuve & Alex Bregman Wore Buzzers At Bat" - has been changed (though the url still has the original headline in it): "Videos and Images Surface of Astros Possibly Wearing Buzzers in 2019 ALCS".

That Twitter account (now deleted or taken offline) used the initials QT. As far as the accuracy of QT's reporting, it should be noted that QT stated - more than 24 hours before the story broke - that Beltrán was going to resign as manager of the Mets (and supposedly had the news of his hiring several days before it was announced). The account had the name "Gabby" at that time.

In addition to Rivera's report, Gary Sheffield Jr. tweeted that QT is a player: "Carlos Beltrán's niece ain't his niece you hooligans. That's a player."

Jimmy O'Brien (@Jomboy_), who posted numerous videos last November in which banging noises could be heard as the Astros batted at home and matched up the bangs with what type of pitch was thrown, tweeted:
5 different people within baseball, not connected to each other at all, have told me 'the buzzers are very real' with the same details and shit.
Former Cleveland (and current Reds) pitcher Trevor Bauer tweeted that he has "heard this from multiple players too, for what it's worth".

Just after Beltrán resigned, QT tweeted: "I have pictures from locker [sic] I will keep for rainy day. Altuve didn't want shirt torn off if I remember [sic] maybe I misspoke but Chapman gave up HR in game."

Altuve's home run clinched the 2019 American League pennant for Houston. Aroldis Chapman of the Yankees gave up the dong and he looked bemused before walking off the mound. His reaction may be suddenly starting to make more sense.

As Altuve rounded third and jogged toward the plate, he grabbed the top of his jersey and signaled to his teammates, waiting to mob him at the plate, not rip off his jersey. Then, as his teammates celebrate on the field, Altuve heads straight into the Astros' dugout and disappears down the tunnel. Back on the field, he puts on an official "AL Champs" t-shirt over his jersey before being interviewed.

Altuve's explanation to Ken Rosenthal (of Fox and The Athletic) was strange: "I don't know. I'm too shy. Last time they did that, I got in trouble with my wife."

Why in the world would his wife care if his uniform shirt (of which he must have several) was damaged? What if his jersey got champagne on it during the pennant-winning celebration? Would she yell at Jose for that too? Does this woman do the Astros' laundry?

Rosenthal says at one point: "You just told me you were ready for that 2-1 pitch."

James Zeht tweet:
On top of the adrenaline pumping and telling ur teammates not to rip your jersey off, your the first one to go into the clubhouse while everyone else celebrates on the field and puts the shirt on over the jersey?
Starting 9 tweet:
The rest of the organization is celebrating on the field, should I join them? ...No I need to go put a different top on. Immediately.
Yankees announcer Michael Kay claims Altuve had wires under his jersey when he screamed at teammates not to rip his jersey off after hitting the walk-off dong.
"Why was [Jose Altuve] screaming, 'Don't rip off my jersey!'" after the 2019 ALCS, @RealMichaelKay wonders.
Sheffield Jr. replied to Kay: "you’re spot on ... This is something that's been going on for over 2 years now."

Joel Sherman of the New York Post posted a series of tweets this afternoon (and wrote an article):
from MLB with so much coming out publicly about Altuve HR to end ALCS and other incidents: "MLB explored wearable devices during the investigation but found no evidence to substantiate it." That investigation, MLB said, includes 2019.

Reach out to Scott Boras about his client Jose Altuve: "When this came up today, Jose Altuve immediately contacted me and this is his statement: 'I have never worn an electronic device in my performance as a major league player.'" #Astros

I asked Boras about Altuve not wanting to have his shirt ripped off as he came to home plate to end the ALCS and Boras said, "that is the shyness of Jose Altuve." Said his client didn't want the shirt ripped off.

Boras did not want to get into 2017 and the #Astros, but said of Altuve, "He has been transparent and truthful with MLB and their investrigation."

More Boras: "(Altuve) has never been involved in any information with the use of an electornic device that is triggered during the course of the game."

Last from Boras: "Fans need to keep in mind that there are a lot of players who are in the spider web, but they are not the black widow just because they are a member of the team or the league." #Astros #Altuve
Sherman also tweeted a line from MLB's Report on the 2017 Astros: "MLB explored wearable devices during the investigation but found no evidence to substantiate it." MLB said that investigation included 2019.

Presented without comment:

Finally, another QT tweet implied the Yankees are cheating in a similar way: "Just make sure they check Gleyber next year left leg ... Yankees use two video guys hide one in Bullpen with live feed".

The Athletic reported:
As far back as 2015, the Yankees used the video replay room to learn other teams' sign sequences, [according to] multiple sources ...
It was noted that the Astros' sign-stealing idea was brought in by a player from his previous team.

Beltrán played for the Yankees during 2014-16. Was he part of the alleged cheating going on in New York? And was he the new player in Houston (in 2017) who had a plan to cheat in his back pocket?

Brian McCann's years with the Yankees (2014-16) and Astros (2017-18) are almost identical to Beltrán's. (McCann was a self-anointed Judge Of Playing The Game The Right Way (i.e., an asshole), often barking at opposing players after they did things he personally disapproved of, so if he's identified, that will be fun.)

Finally finally, this August 2018 tweet from the Astros' account is a little too much on the nose.

January 15, 2020

Cora Admitted To Red Sox Brass That He Played A Central Role In Astros' Cheating Operation

In a press conference held on Wednesday afternoon, Red Sox chairman Tom Werner said former manager Alex Cora admitted he "played a central role in what happened in Houston".

I assume Cora's possible involvement in illegal hijinks regarding the 2018 Red Sox was also a topic of conversation at that meeting, but nothing was said about that.

Kennedy did tell everyone that the jettisoning of Cora was "exclusively" related to the results of the Astros investigation and unrelated to the ongoing investigation of the Red Sox. (Which is probably not true, but MLB is still investigating the Red Sox, so that's what he has to say.)

We all agreed that it was wrong, and we had a responsibility ... to have a standard here where that sort of behavior is not acceptable. ... [E]veryone went into that meeting trying to answer the question, "What was in the best interest of the Boston Red Sox?" Alex was professional, understanding that he had made a mistake ... He admitted that what he did was wrong ... [I]t's disappointing, but ... we've turned the page, and after this press conference, we're gonna address the 2020 season.
Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom:
It's really disappointing. ... I had really high regard for his talents as a manager and I still do. Unfortunately because of what came out in that report, it just wasn't possible ... [T]here's nothing but sadness that this is where we are.
Bloom stated that he'd like to hire a manager (possibly an interim manager for 2020) "as soon as possible". He added that this is a "unique situation" and he did not rule out the possibility that the Red Sox could enter spring training without a manager.
There's no question it's an unusual time to be doing a managerial search ... being this close to spring training. ... We would want to make sure that whoever is in that chair next has the ability to handle it.

On June 30, 2019, at London Stadium, Ken Davidoff of the Post asked Red Sox manager Alex Cora to talk about how "your pitchers took a beating these last couple of days".

Cora trotted out the usual cliches — the Yankees can score runs, the Red Sox have to play better, etc. — and then he mentioned Carlos Beltran, at that time an adviser for the Yankees. Cora winked when he said Beltran's name and he talked about Beltran's ability to steal signs and how much respect he had for Beltran's skills. (In 2017, Beltran was with the Astros playing the final season of his career and Cora was the bench coach.)

None of this really had anything to do with Boston's pitchers taking a pounding that weekend. Cora said he wasn't accusing Beltran of doing anything illegal — "I'm not saying devices, all that stuff". Afterwards, Cora found Davidoff and repeated that he wasn't implying Beltran was doing anything wrong.

MLB Offers "A Carefully Orchestrated, Meticulously Calibrated, Thorough And Impressive Whitewashing"; Grievances Against Astros For Sign-Stealing Were Buried By MLB, Which Acted Only After The Information Was Made Public

"A thorough and impressive whitewashing.
Tidy, clean, carefully orchestrated, meticulously calibrated.

Those are the words of ESPN's Jeff Passan, describing Commissioner Rob Manfred's investigation and disciplinary decisions regarding the illegal sign-stealing committed by the 2017 Houston Astros. Passan also reports on growing anger around the game concerning the relatively soft punishments for the Astros.

Astros GM Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch were suspended (and then fired) despite MLB's statement that the sign-stealing operation was "player-driven". The lost draft picks were (in Passan's words) "painful but not crippling" and the $5 million fine is "couch-cushion change for every owner in baseball" (though, interestingly, it is the highest amount Manfred could levy under the MLB constitution).

MLB played the part of "the big, bad monolith in delivering the ruinous news from on high", but that's not the impression received by many others in the game.

One team owner: "Crane won. The entire [investigation] was programmed to protect the future of the franchise. He got his championship. He keeps his team. His fine is nothing. The sport lost, but Crane won."

Passan notes (my emphasis):
[I]t was easy to miss how MLB soft-pedaled Crane's punishment. In the first paragraph of Manfred's nine-page statement outlining the league's investigation, he addressed the original report by The Athletic that spurred the controversy. How there was "significant concern" that what the Astros were alleged to have done violated "the principles of sportsmanship and fair competition" and how he treats such threats to the game with "the utmost seriousness." He continued: "I believe in transparency." And then, after that on-point thesis, came two completely out-of-place sentences.

"At the outset," Manfred wrote, "I also can say our investigation revealed absolutely no evidence that Jim Crane, the owner of the Astros, was aware of any of the conduct described in this report. Crane is extraordinarily troubled and upset by the conduct of members of his organization, fully supported my investigation, and provided unfettered access to any and all information requested."

The absolution of Crane so early in the document came as no surprise. Crane said he saw details of the league's punishment over the weekend. It allowed him to introduce himself as a do-something organizational shepherd. He announced the firings of Luhnow and Hinch on live TV, generating maximum effect. ...

Initially, Manfred planned on limiting the investigation to the Astros. ... Sports Illustrated reported that the Astros named eight other teams they believe cheated in 2017 and 2018 -- and Crane said "the commissioner assured me that every team and every allegation will be checked out."

That sounds far-fetched, like the sort of politicking a commissioner does to placate one of his bosses. ...

Luhnow ... said in a statement, "I am not a cheater." That doesn't exactly square with the fact that the team he ran cheated during its championship-winning season and with the information in Manfred's report that "at least two emails sent to Luhnow" informed him of replay-review room sign decoding, about which he did nothing. Luhnow continued to try to clear himself of responsibility while blaming "players" and "low-level employees working with the bench coach." ...

"[Manfred's disciplinary choices] will scare employees of MLB teams from cheating, at least for a while," one high-ranking executive said, "and the man who owns the team gets to enjoy his ring. He gets off lightly and can start with a clean slate."

This refrain was common inside the game, and it came with a question that was rhetorical-but-not-really ... How many owners in baseball would trade $5 million, four high draft picks and the firing of their GM and manager in exchange for a World Series title?

Twenty-five? Twenty-eight? All 30? ...

Whatever the answer, the remaining two mentions of Crane in Manfred's report do yeoman's work of clearing him. The first said it was "difficult to question" Crane giving Luhnow responsibility of baseball operations. The second stated, as fact, that Crane "was unaware of any of the violations of MLB rules by his club." And that was it. A thorough and impressive whitewashing. Tidy, clean, carefully orchestrated, meticulously calibrated. The Houston Astros, same as they ever were.

Alden Gonzalez and Jesse Rogers, writing for ESPN, spoke to more than 15 executives, coaches, scouts and players, who offered their comments (anonymously) about the Astros' cheating scandal and MLB's punishments.

The two writers ask: "How can a player-driven scheme not punish any players?"

That would seem to make no sense, but one player stated: "You can't punish a whole team. And some of those guys are not with the Astros anymore. It has to be the organization. Like in college football -- when there's misconduct, by the time it's found, most players and sometimes coaches are gone. The fans and the current players take the brunt of the punishment. Same here."

One club executive: "It doesn't seem like there are any consequences for players for doing this stuff, so as a result, why would they stop? I suppose if they see how much trouble they can get their manager in, then maybe that will matter."

Gonzalez and Rogers also report that as far back as 2016, it was "a pretty open secret among [opposing teams] that the Astros were stealing signs in some fashion". One pitcher stated:
I faced Carlos Beltran in 2017. I actually went back and looked at the AB. I knew it could be the last time I might pitch against him and I wanted to get him out. He was always such a hard out. I got ahead 0-2, then he laid off four straight pitches. I couldn't believe it. When I went back to watch it, I heard the banging. I just figured I was tipping or whatever. No one knew to what extent they were doing it, but we all suspected something.
One player said that grievances were filed, but MLB did not act until the issue reached the public.

I would have appreciated some additional information on this point. It would appear MLB learned exactly zero from The Steroid Era.

With Only 27 Days Before Pitchers & Catchers Report, The Red Sox Do Not Have A Manager

In what was described as a "collective decision", the Red Sox front office (owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner, and president/CEO Sam Kennedy) and Alex Cora have "mutually agreed to part ways". A press conference is scheduled for Wednesday at 1:00 pm (ET).
Today we met to discuss the Commissioner's report related to the Houston Astros investigation. Given the findings and the Commissioner's ruling, we collectively decided that it would not be possible for Alex to effectively lead the club going forward and we mutually agreed to part ways.
Cora's dismissal comes one day after MLB released its report on the Astros' 2017 sign-stealing operation, an illegal scheme Cora played an essential role in developing. Cora likely had a role in the 2018 Red Sox's sign-stealing. MLB is not announcing any punishment for Cora until that later investigation is complete. Considering Cora's involvement in two sign-stealing operations with two different teams over two consecutive seasons, a suspension of two or three seasons (or even a lifetime ban) is possible.

From Cora's portion of the statement:
We agreed today that parting ways was the best thing for the organization. I do not want to be a distraction to the Red Sox as they move forward. My two years as manager were the best years of my life. It was an honor to manage these teams and help bring a World Series Championship back to Boston. ... This is a special place. There is nothing like it in all of baseball, and I will miss it dearly.
Red Sox pitchers and catchers will report to spring training camp in less than one month (February 11) and by that time the team will have its fifth manager in the past 10 years. That manager will inherit, in the words of The Athletic's Jen McCaffrey, "a team with a boatload of roster uncertainty ... one that's now mired in scandal and facing ... potential draft pick losses, fines and suspensions".

January 14, 2020

An Addition To Red Sox's To-Do List For 2020: Find A New Manager

MLB released its findings from its investigation into Houston's sign-stealing allegations during the 2017 season. Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch were both suspended without pay for the 2020 season. A punishment at least as severe is coming for Red Sox manager Alex Cora, as well. Shortly after MLB's announcement, the Astros fired Luhnow and Hinch.

The investigation also determined that Red Sox manager Alex Cora - a bench coach with the 2017 Astros - "was involved in developing both the banging scheme and utilizing the reply review room to decode and transmit signs. Cora participated in both schemes and through his active participation, implicitly condoned the players' conduct."

Manfred said he would announce Cora's punishment after MLB completes its investigation of the Red Sox's alleged sign stealing in 2018.

From MLB's report:
Early in the [2017] season, Alex Cora, the Astros' bench coach, began to call the replay review room on the replay phone to obtain the sign information. On at least some occasions, the employees in the replay review room communicated the sign sequence information by text message, which was received on the smart watch of a staff member on the bench, or in other cases on a cell phone stored nearby. Approximately two months into the 2017 season, a group of players, including Carlos Beltrán, discussed that the team could improve on decoding opposing teams' signs and communicating the signs to the batter.

Cora arranged for a video room technician to install a monitor displaying the center field camera feed immediately outside of the Astros' dugout. (The center field camera was primarily used for player development purposes and was allowed under MLB rules at the time when used for that purpose.) Witnesses have provided largely consistent accounts of how the monitor was utilized. One or more players watched the live feed of the center field camera on the monitor, and after decoding the sign, a player would bang a nearby trash can with a bat to communicate the upcoming pitch type to the batter.
According to the report, Hinch opposed both of his team's illegal operations and on two occasions smashed the dugout monitor that was being used. However, he also admitted that he did not stop the practice or tell his players or Cora that he disapproved of it. If he received a one-year suspension, I would expect Cora - who helped develop the illegal schemes and was an active participant and undoubtedly played a key role in the Red Sox's sign-stealing operations the following season - to receive a much stronger suspension. It is likely his Red Sox career is over.

January 12, 2020

No Pitcher Has Faced 40 Batters In The Last 11 Years

Starting pitchers are rarely allowed to face a lineup for the fourth time. Last season, a starting pitcher faced 30+ batters (three times through the lineup and at least the top three batters in the order for a fourth time) 104 times. That's out of 4,858 starts, or 4.3%.

Eleven full seasons have passed since a pitcher last faced 40 batters. That was CC Sabathia of the Brewers, who faced 40 Astros on August 18, 2008, throwing 130 pitches in Milwaukee's 9-3 win. (Indeed, only 29 pitchers have thrown 130+ pitches in those 11 years, with only three having topped 134 (and two of those games were no-hitters).)

Before that, 40+ BF happened once in 2002 (Bartolo Colon), once in 2001 (Chris Carpenter), once in 2000 (Kenny Rogers), once in 1999 (Tom Glavine), and six times in 1998.

Since Sabathia, the highest number of batters faced has been 38: Gio Gonzalez of the Nationals, against the Astros on August 8, 2012, and Cliff Lee of the Phillies, against Atlanta on April 16, 2014.

The number of times a pitcher has faced 40+ batters over the last nine decades is a startling illustration of how the management of pitching (and pitchers) has changed in major league baseball. In the last 39 seasons, 0 pitchers have faced 50 batters. It happened six times in a two-week period in 1949 (May 17-31).
1930-1939:  2503    (High: 87 - Eddie Rommel, Athletics, July 10, 1932
                                17-29-14-9-7; 18-17 (18) win over Cleveland
1940-1949:  1967    (High: 74 - Les Mueller, Tigers, July 21, 1945
                                19.2-13-1-5-6; 1-1 (24) tie with Athletics

1950-1959:  1150    (High: 71 - Robin Roberts, Phillies, September 6, 1952 (G1)
                                17-18-6-3-5 (CG); 7-6 (17) win over Boston

1960-1969:   622    (High: 62 - Tom Cheney, Senators, September 12, 1962
                                16-10-1-4-21 (CG); 2-1 (16) win over Orioles

1970-1979:   769    (High: 58 - Nolan Ryan, Angels, June 14, 1974
                                13-8-3-10-19; 4-3 (15) win over Red Sox*

1980-1989:   282    (High: 53 - Larry Gura, Royals, May 21, 1980
                                13-12-2-2-6; 2-4 (14) loss to Athletics

1990-1999:    34    (High: 46 - Tim Wakefield, Pirates, April 27, 1993
                                10-6-2-10-1, 172; 6-2 win (11) over Atlanta

2000-2009:     4    (High: 42 - Chris Carpenter, Blue Jays, June 9, 2001
                                9-9-6-6-5, 122 (CG); 1-6 loss to Marlins

2010-2019:     0
*: Luis Tiant (14.1-11-4-4-5) pitched a complete game for Boston, facing 56 batters, one of only four pitchers in the 1970s to do so (Ryan (58), Ross Grimsley (56), Rudy May (56)).

The record for batters faced is 96, set by Brooklyn's Leon Cadore, on May 1, 1920, in a 26-inning, 1-1 tie with Boston. He went six batters into his 11th (!) time through the lineup. His opponent that day was Joe Oeschger, who is #2 all-time, with 90 batters faced. Both men pitched a complete game that afternoon.

Oeschger is also tied for #7 on the all-time list, having faced 82 batters for the Phillies on April 30, 1919, pitching 20 innings (another complete game) in a 9-9 tie against Brooklyn.

January 10, 2020

Mookie Betts Agrees to $27 Million Salary For 2020

Mookie Betts agreed to a record-setting arbitration deal on Friday, signing a contract for 2020 for $27 million.

Betts, who turned 27 last October, has said several times over the past few seasons that he will see what the free agency market can offer after the 2020 season.

In March 2019, Betts said: "I love it here. This is a great place to be, to spend your career here. That doesn't mean you sell yourself short." Last July, he said: "I love the front office, my teammates, coaches. Everybody. It's been nothing but amazing here. Just because you go to free agency doesn't mean you don't want to be somewhere. It's just a part of the business."

If the Red Sox want Mookie Betts to be wearing a Red Sox uniform in 2021 (and beyond), they will have to compete with the other 29 teams and sign him over next winter. Jen McCaffrey of The Athletic wonders about the likelihood of that scenario — with the possibility of the Red Sox reducing payroll for 2021 and beyond:
[A] free agent returning to his original team isn't all that common ...

Among the top 100 active leaders in WAR, there's just one example that comes close. Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox, who re-signed this offseason in Chicago after reaching free agency, is the only player in that group to have reached free agency for the first time and then re-sign with the team with which he spent his entire career — without previously having agreed to a contract extension with that team.

And Abreu is not even a great Betts comparison, for several reasons: His age (Abreu turns 33 at the end of the month) and the fact he began his career as an international free agent with the White Sox. As a drafted player, Betts hasn't had that kind of leverage in contract negotiations outside of a few million dollars in arbitration.

In other words, Betts entering free agency for the first time and re-signing with his original team without ever having signed an extension would be unprecedented among current players of his caliber over the last decade, when contracts ballooned into the $300 million range.

While there's no template for Betts re-signing in Boston after the 2020 season, there are still a handful of players who loosely fit that mold.

Arenado is one who signed an extension entering his final year. In fact, shortly after he set the arbitration record for highest salary to a final-year arbitration player at $26 million, he signed an eight-year, $260 million deal with the Rockies. It doesn't seem like Betts is trending in the extension direction, but he does find himself in a similar spot to Arenado at this time last year.

Stephen Strasburg is another close-but-not-quite fit. The 31-year-old signed a seven-year, $245 million deal to remain with the Nationals this past winter, the team he'd been with his entire career. Though it was technically his first time in free agency, Strasburg had already signed an extension with the Nationals in 2016 for seven years, $175 million that included an opt-out after 2019. The opt-out allowed him to remain with the Nationals but also to demand a higher price. If Betts does want to return to Boston, he'll likely force the Red Sox to outbid others on the open market.

Players like CC Sabathia and Adam Wainwright hit free agency multiple times and re-signed with their previous teams in New York and St. Louis, but those deals were signed well after their first forays into free agency when they'd already earned hundreds of millions of dollars. Similarly, Alex Gordon remained with the Royals after hitting free agency in 2018, but he had already signed two different contract extensions.
One commenter, Kevin D., questions McCaffrey's use of active WAR leaders (with hints of mansplaining), adding:
[T]he Red Sox will have a $27.7M advantage from an incremental payroll standpoint. Thus, $10M additional revenue for Boston gets Mookie to $37.7M a year. EVERY OTHER TEAM will need to add the full $37.7M. Not that many teams can afford it and the ones that can may have to pursue him in lieu of a current superstar on their team (NYY-Judge and Sanchez, LA-Bellinger, Buehler, Muncy etc.). This reduces the chances significantly that a bid will come in that far surpasses the Red Sox bid from a team that is as competitive as the Red Sox. ... If the Red Sox want him, all they need to do is make a fair market bid for him.
I get what he's saying about Boston's advantage, but every other team is already paying for a right fielder, so none of them would need to "add the full $37.7M" (or whatever Betts's AAV will be) as extra revenue.

The Red Sox have plenty of money to pay Betts a fair market salary (discussions of the team's desire to incur additional salary cap penalties are another story) and I'd like to think that if the various piles of money on the table next winter are the same, Mookie will choose the Red Sox's pile.

January 8, 2020

Dombrowski Says He "Never Had Any Knowledge" Of 2018 Red Sox Sign-Stealing; Cora, Now Implicated In Illegal Activity With Two Teams In Two Consecutive Years, Declines Comment

(New York Post website)

The Red Sox have released a statement as MLB begins investigating allegations that the team used its video replay room to illegally steal signs during the 2018 season.
We were recently made aware of allegations suggesting the inappropriate use of our video replay room. We take these allegations seriously and will fully cooperate with MLB as they investigate the matter.
Former president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski stated that he had not been contacted by MLB: "I never have had any knowledge of this." Manager Alex Cora declined to comment.

The Red Sox were fined an undisclosed amount by MLB in September 2017 for relaying sign sequences from the replay room to the dugout. At that time, MLB said it "received absolute assurances from the Red Sox that there will be no future violations of this type". The Globe's Nick Cafardo reported the Red Sox had received a "very lenient punishment ... Basically, what Manfred said in his discipline was the next team to try something like this is really going to get nailed."

Alex Speier, Boston Globe:
One member of the team confirmed to the Globe that there was constant traffic in 2018 to and from the area where the real-time feed used for determining whether to challenge on-field calls was broadcast. However, that source noted that the real-time video replay system was located next to the BATS video consoles that players use to review in-game at-bats.

According to that team member, Red Sox player traffic around those systems was constant — in no small part because players were constantly reviewing their swings and pitch selections from previous at-bats. Indeed, that same team member noted that it could have been possible for sign sequences to be stolen via the BATS system, albeit in a fashion that was slightly (at least one batter) behind real time.

That said, the proximity of the BATS system to the real-time feed also would have created what was characterized as an almost unavoidable temptation to crack teams' sign sequences, something that could be used to relay pitch types and/or locations via traditional means.
Last season, according to Speier, "the Red Sox were among the teams that had pitchers keep sign-sequence cheat sheets in their hats out of concern for sign-stealing". In an interview from 2019, pitcher Rick Porcello said:
Major League Baseball is limiting mound visits because there are too many mound visits because we're worried about guys stealing signs. When you start altering rules in the game because of espionage, you start realizing this is pretty real, and it's not just the AL East doing it. It's everyone. But it's part of the game now. There's so much technology, so much video, 30 different camera angles where a coach can watch a flex in the forearm. You've got first base coaches standing on the foul lines trying to stare at catchers' signs. It's real. But it's part of the game.
There is, of course, a very real difference between (a) sitting in the video room, watching and pausing video of the game in-progress to determine sign sequences and (b) a coach on the field or a player on the bench looking for tip-offs by staring at a catcher's forearm or the way a pitcher holds the ball in his glove or the way an infielder may move slightly before a pitch.

Several Boston sportswriters have a simple solution to baseball's current "spy-vs.-spy culture": Take away the video.

Peter Abraham, Boston Globe:
From first pitch to last, do not allow players, coaches, managers, or team staffers access to televisions, monitors, or any other device showing the game beyond the MLB-approved content on those tablets used in dugouts. Everything else, including video on cellphones, should be off-limits, with violators facing suspension. Video replays to correct mistakes by umpires should be handled by a fifth umpire watching from the press box level ...

According to Major League Baseball, hitters are free to use video replays during the game to study pitchers or hitters but can't use replays to steal signs. That's like saying you can use a radar detector on the highway but not to avoid speeding tickets. ... So get rid of it. The players can study all the video they want up until the game starts. Then everything shuts off.
Jason Mastrodonato, Boston Herald:
Here's one idea: get rid of the replay video rooms. We don't need them. Fans have to be exhausted of watching the manager put his hand in the air for 1 or 2 minutes after every close play as he waits for the call from the video room just to decide if he wants to challenge it or not. Then we wait another 2 or 3 minutes for the replay review.

If managers want to challenge, they can make the decision in real time based on what they see and what their players tell them. It slows the game down otherwise, and clearly teams are taking advantage of having accessible video feeds during the game.
While Cora has declined to speak about these new allegations, he will soon be talking at length to MLB's investigators.

As John Tomase of NBC Sports writes, Cora also "reportedly played a direct role in the Astros' signstealing during their 2017 title season as bench coach".

Sean McAdam, Boston Sports Journal:
Cora served as the bench coach for the Astros, and has been interviewed by MLB in conjunction with that ongoing investigation. And in 2018, of course, Cora was in his first year as Red Sox manager, directing them to a franchise-record 108 wins and a World Series victory. ...

Whereas it might have been difficult for MLB to severely discipline Cora for a past transgression that was committed with a former employer, Cora receives no such protection this time around. If an investigation by MLB — which confirmed one would be undertaken after The Athletic's report — reveals wrongdoing by the Red Sox in 2018, Cora will very much be held responsible — perhaps more than any other figure.
Hannah Keyser, Yahoo Sports:
Amid growing paranoia about sign stealing, Major League Baseball is discussing on-field technology for communicating pitch calls and plans to start soliciting feedback from players this spring training ... The commissioner’s office is in the process of developing a handful of prototype devices to encode pitcher-catcher communication, including a wearable random-number generator and lights in the mound ...

One of the devices in development, described by league sources, is a wearable random-number generator (similar to a push password used for secure log-ins) that corresponds to which sign in a sequence is relevant. This would preserve the existing dynamic of a catcher putting down a sign for interpretation by the pitcher, but overlay it with a level of secure encryption that would be virtually impossible to decode even with a dedicated software program.

Alternatively, the finger system could be replaced by in-ground lights on the mound. Sources with knowledge of the idea said catchers would have access to a control pad that corresponds to a lighting panel visible only to the pitcher. A certain button for a certain light sequence for a certain pitch.
Keyser notes that minor league pitchers wearing earpiece prototypes have found them both distracting and uncomfortable. ... I find it amazing that MLB is considering these technological innovations, while still dragging its feet when it comes to an electronic strike zone.

MLB does not want people to know this story exists. This is MLB's main webpage, today at 3:00 PM (ET):

(MLB.com website)

Tom Keegan, Boston Herald:
In 2001, the Wall Street Journal's Joshua Prager rocked the world with a report that [Bobby Thomson, who hit a National-League-pennant-winning home run in 1951, may have been aided by stealth] technology. The method of cheating, detailed in Prager's book, The Echoing Green, involved the Giants installing a powerful telescope in center field in the Polo Grounds, and pointing it at the opposing team's catcher. A buzz signal electronically was sent to the Giants' bullpen to indicate what pitch was coming. The players in the bullpen relayed body signals to the hitters, at least those who wanted to know. Did Thomson cheat on his historic homer?
It's a fascinating story, but of course the Giants were cheating, though Thomson (supposedly) was one of the hitters who did not want to know what pitches were coming. And there is a reason why the 1951 Giants' scheme was not publicly known for decades. It was blatantly against the rules.

I was reading the SoSH thread about the allegations against the Red Sox last night. Most, if not all, of the posters believed the Red Sox story was much ado about nothing, it's different from the Astros' trashcan banging, and everyone does it:
Way less egregious ... small potatoes ... far less egregious than what the Astros were doing ... a less worse form of cheating ... a close look at any professional sports team is going to unveil something sketchy going on ... Most of the league is trying to gain a competitive advantage...Who cares ...

In baseball, especially, sign stealing is as old as the game. Every team does it. Every. Single. Team. ... The etiquette seems to be that so long as you are clever and discreet about it, no one makes a stink. But if you are overtly flaunting your efforts (with the dugout banging to signal offspeed pitches, or if you show up on the mound with pine tar slathered on your neck) you're going to get called out for it. To a great extent, this entire "scandal" feels very much like baseball's involvement with PEDs. It was tolerated and even encouraged for decades until it became so glaring (in terms of the changes to players appearances and the assault on the record book) that MLB had to do something.
That second paragraph is one person's comment (as opposed to six in the first paragraph) and I probably shouldn't single it out, but I'm dismayed at its paucity of logic.

If a team is clever about cheating, it's quietly acknowledged and allowed? What constitutes "clever" cheating as opposed to "mildly intelligent" cheating? What behaviour lies just over the line into "overtly flaunting"? Would "average flaunting" of the rules make "a stink"? Is all of this written down somewhere? A pitcher can use pine tar as long as it's not slathered on his neck? That's like saying baseball has no problem with the fact that all umpires are blowing calls as long as most fans don't notice it. (Actually, that has been MLB's attitude — and it sucks.) Baseball tolerated PEDs, and for a very long time, but the assumption that the leagues would have continued turning a blind eye if fewer (or different) records were broken ...?

I think all of these posters were desperate to make a distinction because it was Boston's behaviour that had come under scrutiny. And, frankly, I expect a higher level of discourse and honesty from SoSH. If the Yankees had won the World Series two years ago and been accused of this activity during that season — for both home and road games — I have an inkling the reaction would have been somewhat different.

For me, it comes down to this: A player may not agree with some of the rules of his sport, they may make no common sense, they may even be repealed in the future, but abiding by these rules is a requirement of playing the game. He might think he should be able to take PEDs, it's his body, etc. The rule against PEDs is arbitrary, for sure; it's not a law applicable to the general public. But one of the unambiguous rules of professional baseball is taking them is not allowed. If the rule book of your sport says "X is illegal", if you do X and are caught, you should not be surprised if you are punished.

January 7, 2020

MLB Will Open An Investigation Into Allegations Red Sox Illegally Used Video Room To Steal Opponents' Signs In 2018 (In Home And Road Games)

Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of The Athletic report that MLB's investigation into sign-stealing by the Houston Astros in 2017 has now widened to include the Boston Red Sox's activity in 2018:
Three people who were with the Red Sox during their 108-win 2018 season told The Athletic that during that regular season, at least some players visited the video replay room during games to learn the sign sequence opponents were using. The replay room is just steps from the home dugout at Fenway Park, through the same doors that lead to the batting cage. Every team's replay staff travels to road games, making the system viable in other parks as well.

Red Sox sources said this system did not appear to be effective or even viable during the 2018 postseason, when the Red Sox went on to win the World Series. Opponents were leery enough of sign stealing — and knowledgeable enough about it — to constantly change their sign sequences. And, for the first time in the sport's history, MLB instituted in-person monitors in the replay rooms, starting in the playoffs. For the entire regular season, those rooms had been left unguarded. ...

"It's cheating," one person who was with the 2018 Red Sox said. "Because if you're using a camera to zoom in on the crotch of the catcher, to break down the sign system, and then take that information and give it out to the runner, then he doesn't have to steal it."

The Red Sox declined to comment at the time of publication.

Major League Baseball said in a statement, "The Commissioner made clear in a September 15, 2017 memorandum to clubs how seriously he would take any future violation of the regulations regarding use of electronic equipment or the inappropriate use of the video replay room. Given these allegations, MLB will commence an investigation into this matter." ...

The Red Sox's system was possible only when a runner was on second base, or sometimes even on first base. Nonetheless, a team that is able to discern that information live, during a game, and relay it to base runners has a distinct advantage. A runner at second base can stare in at a flurry of catcher's signs and know which one matters, then inform the hitter accordingly.

It's impossible to say for certain how much this system helped the Red Sox offense. But their lineup dominated in 2018, when they led the league in runs scored. ...

The accounts about the Red Sox's activity were given to The Athletic on the condition of anonymity. ...

Like the Astros, the Red Sox operated with a deep suspicion that they were not alone. In some cases, players and coaches arrived in Boston with firsthand experience of sign stealing elsewhere. In recent postseasons, the paranoia was particularly acute.

"You got a bunch of people who are really good at cheating and everybody knows that each other's doing it," said one person with the 2018 Red Sox. "It's really hard for anybody to get away with it at that point. … If you get a lion and a deer, then the lion can really take advantage of the deer. So there's a lot of deers out there that weren't paying attention throughout the season. In the playoffs, now you're going against a lion."

The Red Sox in 2018 were under a new manager, Alex Cora, whom The Athletic previously reported played a key role in devising the sign-stealing system the Astros used in 2017, when he was the team's bench coach. ...

The system the Red Sox employed was not unlike one they had used in previous seasons under a different manager, John Farrell. It was also similar to one the Yankees and other teams had employed before MLB started its crackdown. (Hitters can legally visit the replay room during games to study some video.)

A staff member in the Red Sox's video replay room would tell a player the current sign sequence. The player would return to the dugout, delivering the message on foot, rather than through a wearable device or a phone.

"There was constant movement," said one person who was with the 2018 Red Sox. "They were always trying to figure out the system."

Someone in the dugout would relay the information to the baserunner, leaving the runner with two easy steps: Watch the catcher's signs and, with body movements, tell the hitter what's coming.

In daily hitters' meetings, Red Sox players and personnel would review their communication methods for that day.

The runner would let the hitter know if he was aware of the sequence. "Put two feet on the bag or look out into center field, and do something that's subtle," as one Red Sox source described it.

The runner stepping off the bag with the right foot first could mean fastball; left foot first, a breaking ball or off-speed pitch.

Such a system was far more difficult for opponents to detect than banging on a trash can. It also had a semblance of propriety, incorporating old-school, legal practices: A runner on base still had to use his own eyes before he could put the contraband information to good use.

Like many teams, the Red Sox often knew pitchers' sequences heading into a game through the use of video. If a pitcher does not or did not change his sign sequence from his previous outing, that is and was his own responsibility.

But if the sign sequences were altered on the fly, the Red Sox had a way to adjust almost immediately — by sending a player from the dugout to the video room a few feet away. ...

In at least one respect, baseball's efforts to eliminate electronic sign stealing are similar to its attempts to curb the use of performance-enhancing drugs: The league's rules to prevent cheating lag behind the cheaters.

The evolution of the replay room into a hive of sign-stealing activity was years in the making. ...

As far back as 2015, the Yankees used the video replay room to learn other teams' sign sequences, multiple sources told The Athletic. Other teams likely were doing the same. Sources said the Red Sox began doing it no later than 2016.

"Oftentimes it takes a player to show up and be like 'You f—— morons, you're not doing this?'" said one American League executive.

January 6, 2020

CBS Sports Claims Two Houston Players "Open Up" About Sign-Stealing Scandal ... They Don't.

The headline on a current CBS Sports story claims that Carlos Correa and Joe Musgrove, members of Houston's 2017 World Series-winning team, "open up about [the sign-stealing] allegations".

Don't bother clicking the link. Correa and Musgrove do not "open up" (or even "answer a direct question"). They both avoid or flat-out refuse to offer any meaningful statements.

At an autograph show last weekend, Correa told The Houston Chronicle he has cooperated with MLB's investigation "like we've all been doing so we can put an end to all of this and all this talk and move forward." When asked if the allegations were true, Correa said: "That's something we can't discuss anymore once we talk to MLB. That's the end of it."

Correa admitted he was surprised to read former teammate Mike Fiers's comments in The Athletic last November. Fiers explained in detail how the Astros stole signs and relayed information to batters during games. Correa added: "He's a grown man, and he can do whatever he wants to do."

In the two months since those comments were published, no member of the Astros organization has denied Fiers's allegations. GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch did not answer numerous questions at December's winter meetings, but Hinch assured reporters "there will be a day when I get to address it". At the autograph show, Alex Bregman refused to answer questions and George Springer declined an interview request through a team representative.

Musgrove said some things about "everyone" and "no one":
I wasn't even in the dugout for any of that stuff. Everyone is going to have thoughts on stuff regardless. Everyone always accuses people of something. That stuff goes around the league all the time. ... I don’t think that taints [anything]. ... I watched how hard we worked every day. I watched the preparation we put in to study hitters ... and whatnot. That's all the stuff no one accounts for. Everyone hears that we cheated, and they hear that there was the whole trash can deal going on, but no one sees the work that we were putting in every day to prepare ourselves and give ourselves an advantage.
The never-ending issue of performance-enhancing drugs shows that well-prepared baseball players can and do also cheat to give themselves an even larger advantage.

Musgrove said he has not been interviewed by MLB. (So would he be able to answer the question Correa avoided because he had been interviewed?)

Commissioner Rob Manfred has indicated he would like the investigation completed prior to spring training.

January 3, 2020

Vox Media (Owner Of SB Nation) Fires 200 Writers Rather Than Pay Them Fairly

Daniel R. Epstein wrote an informative article for Beyond The Box Score last month, headlined "Don't Let MLB Insult You".

MLB's revenues were almost $11 billion in 2019, yet its teams (and/or its stadiums) are subsidized to varying degrees by taxpayer dollars. "You probably receive no direct benefit from this tax giveaway," Epstein points out. "All it buys you is the opportunity to go spend even more money on baseball close to home."
The Cubs are owned by the Ricketts — America's 66th wealthiest family with a 2015 net worth of $4.5 billion ... [and] they want you to believe they can't afford [Eric] Sogard [who signed a 2020 contract with another team for $4.5 million]. ... Fenway Sports Group is the third largest sports conglomerate in the world, whose initial investment of $700 million has increased in value by 843 percent, yet Mookie Betts might get dealt away this winter! ...

MLB insults us everywhere we look. Their desire to cut 42 minor league teams — and then threaten to walk away from MiLB altogether — is insulting. ... Every taxpayer-funded stadium deal is insulting. ...

[MLB's] sandbox is the size of a beach, yet they tell you they're running out of sand.
Epstein closes with this:
This will be my last article for Beyond the Box Score. This site is a subsidiary of SB Nation, owned by Vox Media, which was valued at $1 billion in 2015. Vox recently made the decision to fire several underpaid writers en masse. This is in response to a well-intended, poorly-written California law limiting contractors to 35 articles per year before they must be hired as staff. Rather than comply with the law by paying hard-working writers decently, they decided to annihilate dozens of jobs.

I am not directly impacted by this decision. I don't live in California or write for a California-based site, but I can no longer produce content for Vox's benefit in good conscience. Writing twice per week and contributing some editorial work, I make $105 per month. That's a rate of about $4/hour. I love writing analytically about baseball, and as this isn't my main career or source of income, I don't do it for the money. However, I can no longer reconcile writing for a billion dollar corporation who would rather eliminate valuable contributors than pay them fairly. ...

I'm not sure exactly what's next for me, but I'll be able to look my children in the eye knowing that I'm doing what I believe is right.
On December 16, 2019, The New York Times reported that Vox Media would be firing 200 freelance SB Nation writers.

John Ness, executive director at SB Nation, says the law, which went into effect on January 1, "makes it impossible for us to continue with our current California team site structure because it restricts contractors from producing more than 35 written content 'submissions' per year." (Vox is taking advantage of legislation meant to improve working conditions at companies that rely on contractors rather than employees.)

Ness is not being honest, and he knows it. No one is restricted from producing more than 35 submissions per year. But, according to the new law, if they do, they have to be made an employee. So what Ness is really saying is: "The new law doesn't allow us to continue exploiting our writers as much as we would like, so we will simply get rid of them, save money, and have a shittier product." (This decision comes on the heels of G/O Media's destruction of Deadspin in late October.)

If those 200 writers became "employees", Vox would then be required to pay them more fairly, provide benefits, etc. ... But how can a media conglomerate worth more than one billion dollars survive if it is forced to pay people more than $4.00 per hour?

One of the comments under Epstein's article says:
Safeway did that in Chicago to the Dominick's Grocery chain...
rather than negotiate in good faith with the union. They just pulled out of the Chicago market. That is why we must reverse deregulation. Industries only police themselves for their own ends. Good Luck, Mr. Epstein. What a sad time we live in.

January 2, 2020

Manfred Ruins Baseball, Part 48: Nike Swoosh On Front Of Uniforms, 'Ad Patches' Coming

The 2020 season marks the first on-field example of Nike's partnership with Major League Baseball (MLB) as its official uniform provider. The partnership ... marks a new chapter for Nike's innovative legacy in uniform design, long built on upholding critical nuances across sport steeped in tradition and fervent allegiances.

"We're excited to kick off our partnership with Major League Baseball with the unveil of next season's uniforms," says Hal Melhart, Sr. Product Line Manager for Nike Diamond. "Each franchise has a deeply personal history, with a visual identity that continues in this update. In the future, we look forward to preserving this integrity while still bringing more of Nike's creativity to uniform designs, as we build energy around the game for its players and its fans."
What a steaming load of shite.

Nike sees a sport "steeped in tradition", teams with a "deeply personal history", and decides the best way to "preserv[e] this integrity" is by plastering its dumb fucking logo positioning its "creative visual energy" on every player's uniform. This exciting "unveil" comes at a price, of course.

MLB will pay Nike the grand sum of One Billion Dollars for the privilege of desecrating its uniforms with the "swoosh" for the next ten years. Each team will pocket about $3 million per season (and thus be able to afford an additional pitcher for mop-up duty in blowouts).

Rob Manfred respects Nike's "reputation as a leader in driving innovation". The swoosh is, of course, only the next step down a slope to which Manfred is applying a thick coating of grease. MLB uniforms have had a small Majestic logo on the sleeve since 2005 and the side of every cap has featured a New Era logo since the 2016 postseason.

Looking ahead, MLB is highly interested in selling "ad patches" on uniforms beginning in 2022. Noah Garden, MLB executive vice president of business and sales, says that glorious innovation is "inevitable".

My sources tell me Manfred initially wanted to go with this design, but decided to bide his time:

No Evidence Exists Showing "Three-Batter Minimum" Rule Will Lead To Quicker Games

Beginning with the 2020 season, Rule 5.10(g) will state that both starting and relief pitchers are required to pitch to either a minimum of three batters or to the end of a half-inning, with exceptions only for injury or illness. Commissioner Rob Manfred claims that this change will decrease the average time per game.

Opinions on this new rule run the gamut, from "no big deal" (Anthony Castrovince, mlb.com) to "a huge mistake" (Tom Verducci, Sports Illustrated) to "it will barely matter" (Ben Clemens, FanGraphs) to "it will have a significant effect" (Matt Provenzano, Beyond The Box Score).

I am completely against this rule. Even the fact that it was proposed in the first place is troubling. Also of concern is that Manfred sees no downside to altering 150 years of professional baseball by denying teams the right to change pitchers when they feel it is appropriate. ... I cannot wait until a team loses the World Series because they were forced to keep an ineffective pitcher in the game. (Actually, "I cannot wait" only if that team is the Yankees. (Which would undoubtedly lead to the abolition of the rule.))

The very thing Manfred wants to eliminate - relievers facing only one or two batters - has actually been decreasing in recent seasons. Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated reported that pitchers in 2018 faced one or two batters mid-inning only 0.58 times per game: "For the sake of taking away one pitching change every other game, MLB [has] messed with the integrity of the game by penalizing strategy and innovation."

Thanks to Baseball Reference's Play Index, I was able to see how many relief appearances lasted one or two batters. (I did not determine how many of these appearances ended an inning, however.) I also looked at the average time of game (overall and for nine-inning contests only).
Year     One BF    Two BF    Avg. Time of Game    Avg. Time of 9-Inning Game
2019      1100      1054           3:10                      3:05
2018      1145      1143           3:04                      3:00
2017      1119      1091           3:08                      3:05
2016      1182      1075           3:04                      3:00
2009      1118      1066           2:55                      2:51
1999       980       904           2:57                      2:53
1979       439       411           2:35                      2:31
1959       161       211           2:34                      2:31
I see no correlation between more one- and two-batter relief appearances and longer games.

The average time of game increased by two minutes in both of these comparisons:
(A) 2019 to 2017 (56 fewer one- and two-batter appearances)

(B) 2009 to 1999 (300 more one- and two-batter appearances)
There were 105 fewer one- and two-batter appearances in 2018, as compared to 2016, but the average time of game remained the same.

From 1959 to 1979, the number of short relief appearances more than doubled (372 to 850), but the average time of a nine-inning game remained exactly the same.

Comparing 2019 to 2009, there were 30 fewer one- and two-batter appearances (which is statistically insignificant: an average of one such outing per 80 games), but the average time of game increased by 15 minutes.

If the average length of games in seasons ten years apart increased by 15 minutes, but the number of one- and two-batter relief appearances was almost unchanged, then there obviously is another reason for that dramatic time difference.

Someone should tell Commissioner Manfred.

January 1, 2020

Red Sox Reportedly Not Shopping Betts This Winter

Rob Bradford reports that ("according to major league sources") the Red Sox are not actively shopping Mookie Betts. Chaim Bloom et al. are likely still listening to potential offers, of course.

Bradford estimates that Betts will earn between $27-30 million in arbitration for 2020.

Anthony Castrovince offers 20 "bold predictions" for the coming season, including:
3. The Red Sox won't trade Mookie Betts. They'll extend (or re-sign) him by year's end.

New chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom will get the club under the Competitive Balance Tax threshold and "reset" their tax burden, perhaps by moving a good chunk of the money owed to David Price or Nathan Eovaldi. But if one of baseball's most successful and relevant franchises in one of its biggest markets can't retain a homegrown superstar, something's amiss.