January 30, 2020

An Astros Fan Sorted Through 58 Games, 8,274 Pitches, And 1,143 Trash Can Bangs. Here Is What He Found.


My name is Tony Adams. I'm an Astros fan. In November 2019, when the videos of the banging during some Astros 2017 games came out, I was horrified. It was clear within a minute of watching it was true — my team had cheated. To understand the scope of the cheating and the players involved, I decided to look at each home game from that season and determine any audio indicators of the sign stealing.

I wrote an application that downloaded the pitch data from MLB's Statcast. This data has a timestamp for every pitch. I then downloaded the videos from YouTube and, using the timestamp, created a spectrogram for every pitch. A spectrogram is a visual representation of the spectrum of frequencies in an audio file. I could then playback the video of the pitches and, helped by the visual of the spectrogram, determine if there was any banging before the pitch.
I initially thought it would be quick work, and the application did make it pretty straightforward, but there are a lot of pitches in an MLB season. I ended up watching and logging over 8,200 pitches. And some more than once to be sure I was as accurate as possible.

How One Angry Astros Fan Sought His Own Answers In The Sign-Stealing Scandal
Marc Carig, The Athletic, January 29, 2020 (emphasis added)
In 2017, Tony Adams, along with his wife and his daughter, were forced from their home by the floodwaters brought by Hurricane Harvey. He left with nothing but a trash bag filled with clothes, and he would not return for another 15 months. His entire neighborhood was devastated. ... "When [the Astros] won, we needed something, I needed something, we all needed something," Adams said of the accomplishment, which he now knows has been tainted. ...

A graphic designer and web developer by trade, Adams wrote an app to pull the Statcast data that he needed. Then he cataloged every instance of trash can banging that he found during the 2017 season. The work was meticulous. It began during the holidays — even before the league had released the findings of its investigation — and culminated on Wednesday, when he publicized the site via his Twitter feed.

"To see that it happened that year, to be honest with you, it's devastating as an Astros fan," said Adams, who sorted through every Astros home game with available video from the 2017 regular season. That covers 58 games and a total of 8,274 pitches. Confirmed by the use of a spectrogram, he logged 1,143 trash can bangs. He insists on allowing readers to draw their own conclusions. But his data seems to tell a story, much of it lining up with commissioner Rob Manfred's nine-page report.

Adams found that the frequency of the banging skyrocketed in late May and seemed to fall off abruptly after Sept. 21. That's the day that Danny Farquhar stepped off the mound and suspected that something was amiss. According to the report, the incident caused a sense of "panic." Adams' data also indicates large differences in terms of trash can banging by player. ...

The revelations of cheating horrified him. Like many, he had read the story in The Athletic, and as a fan his first reaction was disbelief. Then, again like many, he stumbled across the video proof that raced across the internet just a few hours later. There could no longer be doubt. "It took 30 seconds of watching that video to know that it happened, it's real," Adams said. He's been grappling with the disappointment ever since. ...
I had hoped Adams would calculate the stats for the various Astros players in the Trash Can Games. But, as he tweeted yesterday: "I believe you would need a formula for an at-bat to determine if there were signals being given, but that's beyond the scope of what I intended to do. I provided the data so someone smarter than me can work through that."

Here is Houston's record in games with 0, 1-9, 10-29, and 30+ bangs:
    0 bangs:  3- 0
 1- 9 bangs: 13-10
10-29 bangs:  7- 4
30-54 bangs:  9-12
No video:    15- 8
Total:       47-34
In games with 30-54 bangs, the Astros started off 3-7 and 6-11. In games with 40+ bangs, Houston was 4-6.

From The Athletic's comments:
Cameron C.
Kinda makes you wonder why the hell MLB didn't put in this much legwork.

Kevin B.
Because MLB didn't want to know the truth. There were lots rumors out there for a few years, but the MLB wasn't forced to do anything about it until clear evidence was presented and a direct participant confirmed it. It's been an awful stain for the MLB, and they much preferred the blind ignorance over this black mark

Cameron C.
[T]his should be part of the investigation. Find out all the information. This is irrefutable evidence ... They don't even need to talk to players for this. They have it on video.

D P.
It is also proof that players lied in their statements. Surely that invalidates the protection they were promised in exchange for the truth.

Charles R.
MLB had an epidemic of cheating by numerous teams and didn't want the public to know about it.

Geoff W.
Not entirely surprising to see that some of the players with high percentage of pitches with bangs have outlier seasons, like Gonzalez [146 OPS+; 2nd best season: 109], Marisnick [Road: .187/.273/.374 (.647 OPS); home: .308/.373/.636 (1.008 OPS)].

Brian B.
They cheated. No doubt about it and they deserve all the crap coming their way for the rest of their careers. Having said that, the stats show they weren't very good at what they were doing. Go to Baseball Reference and look at the 2017 home/road splits. Batting average, OBP, slugging, total hits, homers, triples, doubles, RBI's etc, were all better away from MMP. They won more games on the road than at home.

Michael C.
Finally, an Astros fan not hell bent on essentially giving the middle finger to the sport and the fans the way the players are. If it were my team, I'd feel just like this guy, and I hate it for real Astros fans. That was such a fun team to watch, and I hate that that title is now legitimately tainted. It didn't have to be, and it shouldn't have been.

Barry B.
As penance they have to hire Dusty Baker for two years.
Re the comment about "an epidemic of cheating by numerous teams", Dan Clark, a writer at TBL Daily, tweeted last Friday:
Just had an interesting follow-up conversation with one of those 21 players who provided me comments on the Astros cheating saga. He told me that an NL team, which had a very successful 2010 season, had a "system in place at its home ballpark that include the use of cameras."
2010 NL teams with 87+ wins: Phillies (97, lost NLCS), Giants (92, won World Series), Reds (91, lost NLDS), Atlanta (91, Lost NLDS), Padres (90).

Who doesn't believe that MLB/Manfred will ignore this "old" information and simply hope that not too many fans hear about it? (I really wonder how much information MLB is sitting on from, say, the past ten years.)

Finally: David Spampinato, Twitter, January 29:
On August 4th, the game with the most trash can bangs, the Astros scored 16 earned runs. Mike Bolsinger, a Blue Jays reliever, allowed 4 earned runs in 0.1 IP. He never pitched in the big leagues again.


GK said...

Just a wow ! for these efforts. One could possibly find the spectral signature of the banging, and automate the process of looking at each pitch. Kudos to the person who did it manually. Perhaps it is hard to automate with "noise" in signal coming from crowd noise. If MLB did none of this, then shame on them. They are worse than incompetent.

Jim said...

Mr. Adams should enlist Dave O'Brien to hawk "Astros Bang" gear for him.