December 26, 2019

Before 2019, These Ten Accomplishments Had Never Happened

In more than 200,000 major league games, many things have never happened.

Andrew Simon (a research analyst for highlights 10 performances – five by pitchers, five by hitters – that had never been seen until 2019, including these two:
Sale the K machine
May 14 vs. Rockies: 7 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 17 K
It wasn't a great year for Chris Sale – certainly not by his lofty standards. And on this night, he ended up with a no-decision as Boston fell in 11 innings. But even during a disappointing day, Sale showed why he's still one of the most talented pitchers in the game, making a serious run at the hallowed 20-strikeout mark. He struck out six straight to start the game, had eight through three innings, and then picked up three K's apiece in the sixth and seventh before exiting with 108 pitches. He is the first pitcher to rack up 17 while finishing with only seven innings. ...

Devers is double trouble
August 13 at [Cleveland]: 6-for-6, R, 4 2B, 3 RBI
At only 22 years old, Rafael Devers was a breakout star for the Red Sox in 2019. Only Nicholas Castellanos smacked more doubles than Devers (54), and no MLB player racked up more hard-hit balls (252), according to Statcast. The Boston third baseman combined those strengths in a 7-6, 10-inning victory at Progressive Field, notching the 111th six-hit game in the past 112 seasons, but the first with as many as four doubles. Three of those two-baggers – and five of his six total knocks – had exit velocities of 103 mph or higher.

December 25, 2019

MLB's New Contract With Umpires Gives Possibility Of Automated Zone As Early As 2022

What a great Christmas present!

The Associated Press reports that robot umpires could be "called up to the major leagues at some point during the next five seasons".
Umpires agreed to cooperate with Major League Baseball in the development and testing of an automated ball-strike system as part of a five-year labor contract announced Saturday, two people familiar with the deal told The Associated Press. The Major League Baseball Umpires Association also agreed to cooperate and assist if commissioner Rob Manfred decides to utilize the system at the major league level. ...

The independent Atlantic League became the first American professional league to let a computer call balls and strikes at its all-star game on July 10. Plate umpire Brian deBrauwere wore an earpiece connected to an iPhone in his pocket and relayed the call upon receiving it from a TrackMan computer system that uses Doppler radar.

The Atlantic League experimented with the computer system during the second half of its season, and the Arizona Fall League of top prospects used it for a few dozen games this year at Salt River Fields.

MLB has discussed installing the system at the Class A Florida State League for 2020. If that test goes well, the computer umps could be used at Triple-A in 2021 as bugs are dealt with prior to a big league call-up. ...

December 23, 2019

Book Review: Power Ball: Anatomy Of A Modern Baseball Game, By Rob Neyer

I've enjoyed and been impressed by Rob Neyer's writing for over 20 years. I was extremely jealous of him back in 1999 when he spent the summer in Boston attending every Red Sox home game and writing Feeding The Monster. His three Big Book(s) Of Baseball (Lineups, followed by Blunders and Legends (tracers!)) are insightful and entertaining, even educational.

I recently finished reading his latest book, Power Ball: Anatomy of a Modern Baseball Game, which won SABR's 2018 CASEY Award for the Best Baseball Book of the Year.

Using the framework of a late-season game in 2017 between the Astros and the Athletics (September 8, to be precise), Neyer explores and explains how major league baseball has changed over the last few decades. Along the way, he addresses the supposed ills of the game, such as extreme shifts. Neyer notes that the leagues' batting average on balls in play has barely budged in the new age of shifting - and, in fact, the entire idea of standard player positioning is a shift.

As HarperCollins, Neyer's publisher, states:
Over the past twenty years, power and analytics have taken over the game ... Seemingly every pitcher now throws mid-90s heat ... Every batter in the lineup can crack homers and knows their launch angles. Teams are relying on unorthodox strategies, including ... purposely tanking a few seasons to get the best players in the draft. As he chronicles each inning and the unfolding drama [of the game] ... Neyer considers the players and managers, the front office machinations, the role of sabermetrics, and the current thinking about what it takes to build a great team, to answer the most pressing questions fans have about the sport today.
I assumed I'd post a traditional review of Power Ball, but I found I was putting a post-it note on every third page (on average), noting a certain passage or observation. For the record, there were post-its on 80 different pages - and realized I'd be fussing with a lengthy (and positive) review for far too long. So I'm going to post a few snippets that I hope will give you a good feel for Neyer's writing style and the tone of the book. (And I love the cover, with its great use of the now-traditional online or on-screen strike zone box. It even includes a ball that may well be a low strike.)

The Human Element
The demise of the human element in umpiring seems terrifying too. Specifically, the prospect of "robot umpires" – which is a stupid term, but what are you gonna do? – who will call the balls and strikes. To an outside observer, it might seem odd: the idea that we actually want our game officials to make the wrong call roughly 10 percent of the time, as even the best human umpires do, when calling balls and strikes. ...

But the game was not designed, any more than any other game is designed, for the human element to include errors by the officials. If the men who invented Baseball could have eliminated umpires from their new sport, they would have. If they could have eliminated umpires' errors from their sport, they would have.

Today the people who run Baseball can eliminate those errors. Of at least a huge percentage of them. If the technology isn't ready yet, it could be soon.

When the human element can be removed, it will be removed ...

Robot umpires are coming, friends. Just as sure as tomorrow's sun. For the simple reason that today's technology, available to anyone with a cell phone or wi-fi, often makes it obvious when the umpire misses one, and nobody pays good money to see umpires be wrong. ...

Once that particular human element is gone, though, we'll still be blessed with the human element of players' training habits; the human element of pitch selection; the human element of guessing pitches; the human element of managers' cognitive biases; the human element of executives' and owners' emotions; and, oh, a few million other human elements that won't just disappear because a bunch of smart kids are writing code. Promise. [pp. 105-106]
I love using the term "robots", so naturally I was amused by Rob describing the term as "stupid" on one page and then using it himself (sans quotation marks) on the next!

On Statcast Data and Broadcasters
With Lowrie's long, loud third out [which ends the fifth inning with the Astros leading 7-3], the A's "win expectancy" stands at just 7.2 percent, according to the FanGraphs website, which generates a running graph for every major-league game. Because people like numbers—people with internet connections and favorite sports teams especially like numbers—the Win Expectancy charts have become popular, at least among the cognoscenti. It's potentially a pretty good "storytelling stat," if you're desperate for something like that. In fact, top-notch analyst (and now Major League Baseball Advanced Media staffer) Tom Tango has called Win Expectancy the ultimate story statistic.*

[* Win Expectancy, along with its cousin, Win Probability Added, has probably helped kill the sacrifice bunt for non-pitchers, since the actual numbers suggest that bunting doesn't improve your chances of winning, but actually lowers them a smidgen.]

Well, except usually it's not really much fun to drop a percentage into the middle of a story. Win Expectancy works well visually, when the line on the graph reverses itself a few times, or makes a huge jump (or fall) right at the end.

But if you're not FanGraphs or FiveThirtyEight, how often do you drop a graph into the middle of a story?

What's more, Win Expectancy leaves out much. As FanGraphs' glossary notes, "WE is the long-run average, however, so you need to remember that a 40% chance of winning is based on average players. If Miguel Cabrera is at the plate against Aaron Crow, the true odds favor the Tigers more than WE graph indicates."

Aaron Crow hasn't pitched in the majors since 2014. If you don't remember him, feel free to substitute Seth Maness or Nate Jones or Al Alburquerque. You can also swap in Jose Altuve for Cabrera if you want.

In the context of this game—the Astros have the better lineup, and the better bullpen—one might reasonably knock a percentage point or two off the A's true chance of winning this game. Either way, based purely on what we know, the home team now has roughly a 1 in 20 chance of winning this game.

Is this a thing worth knowing, if you're just a fan watching the game? I think for most fans, it probably is not. You might rather not know. Especially if you're a fan of the team that's losing. We know that fans tend to change the channel or go home if their team's almost certainly going to lose. I can understand how Win Expectancy would serve as a fine story stat. But only after the fact, and only in games with a big change, or changes. It's a tremendous comeback stat. Again: after the fact.

So? We're perfectly free to ignore Win Expectancy when it's not interesting, right? We are. I have greatly enjoyed entire seasons of baseball without seeing or hearing or reading about a single WE graph. At least until October, when curiosity does sometimes push me toward the (alas, context-free) percentages. And broadcasters, hardly interested in losing viewers and listeners, have no (good) reason to mention Win Expectancy during a game. They're far more likely to say something like, "Gee, if we can just get a few guys on base and somebody hits one out, things could get real interesting." Which of course happens less often, even in today's game, than they want us to think.

Win Expectancy, then, is the perfect Postmodern Baseball statistic: it's there when you want it—when it's interesting or useful, however rarely that might be—but the rest of the time it's not there. [JoS: In Power Ball, it's there. Each half-inning in the book ends with both the score and the Win Probability of the team leading or, if the score is tied, the team about to bat.]

I wish we could say the same about the new Statcast numbers that have so quickly weaseled their way into the broadcasts. Especially the national broadcasts; so far, only a few local broadcasts have incorporated the Statcast data (although the Astros' TV crew seems to be among the enthusiasts).

As Keith Hernandez writes, "I wonder what [Yogi Berra] and some of the other old-timers would say if they heard some of the broadcasters in the game today. Too many of them emphasize all these crazy stats, like 'exit velocity,' trajectory angles,' or, and this is my favorite, 'percentage rate of someone making a catch.' His probable rate of making that play was seventy-six percent!' Give me a break. Who cares how many miles per hour the ball traveled once it left the bat, or how high the ball traveled in degrees, or how many seconds it took to leave the ballpark?"

Hernandez does possess some self-awareness, also writing, "Am I dating myself? Am I a dinosaur? I guess to a degree I am. . . ."

He does have a point, though. What too many broadcasters don't seem to understand is that the new, user-friendly Statcast-driven numbers are interesting only at the extremes (and of course there's also the little issue of suggesting to listeners, however implicitly, that catch probability is anything close to precise).

When Altuve homered back in the first inning, Geoff Blum intoned, "Altuve pummels it, to the tune of 106 off the barrel, estimated 415 feet." When Chapman homered in the second, Blum said, "One hundred and three miles an hour off the bat," with an onscreen graphic listing that number, along with "26 DEGREE LAUNCH ANGLE."

Okay: 415 feet. We know something about 415. We know something about 415 because for as long as they've been painting numbers on outfield walls, we've had some context for outfield distances. It was obvious to me, as a kid, that 400 feet was a long ways from the plate. Because if you hit the ball 400 feet, usually it would be a home run. Hell, you could hit the ball only 330 feet and get a home run. Even fewer feet in Boston! But you kinda knew. Because the numbers were right there on the wall.

Launch angle, though? Exit velocity? We have no context, and only a Very Chosen Few of us will ever have any meaningful context. For two reasons. One theoretically solvable, one probably not.

The first reason is that the broadcasters are making absolutely no effort to provide any context, and are unlikely to. Exit velocity 103: Is that a lot? No idea! We're simply given the information, and information should not be given unless it's somehow useful and it's not useful without context and we're practically never given any context. Too much trouble, probably.

But broadcasters can learn.

The second, bigger reason is the numbers themselves. Baseball statistics work when they describe something we care about and when we can, given a reasonable chance, tell the difference between something that's impressive or interesting, and something that is not. ...

It's not Statcast's fault, or MLBAM's fault, that we're seemingly on the verge of being inundated by meaningless, context-free information. Quite frankly, it's 100 percent the broadcasters' fault. The broadcasters who still seem obsessed with small sample sizes and RBIs and fielding percentages have now skipped an entire generation of good, hard-won, contextualized knowledge, and for some reason seized upon exit velocity as a key objective in Statistics Scavenger Hunt. ...

Essentially, the new Statcast data is wildly important for the evaluators and decision-makers in the front offices, and modestly useful for that subset of journalists and essayists who rely on, and have the head for, in-depth statistical analysis. But otherwise, the data are often just more meaningless dribs of information, good for filling airtime in the absence of genuinely insightful analysis, but not much else. And in some cases the numbers are crowding out evocative, lyrical prose and verbiage. Which were already in alarmingly short supply. [pp. 144-148]
Hmmmm ... "inundated by meaningless, context-free information. Quite frankly, it's 100 percent the broadcasters' fault. The broadcasters who still seem obsessed with small sample sizes and RBIs and fielding percentages have now skipped an entire generation of good, hard-won, contextualized knowledge, and for some reason seized upon exit velocity ..."

Boy oh boy, am I ever looking at you, Dave O'Brien (who seemingly has never met a "meaningless drib of information" that he didn't rush to breathlessly communicate (free from all context) on the air, filling airtime and avoiding insightful analysis). He's not alone, not by any stretch of the imagination. Now that Vin Scully has retired, every baseball announcer is guilty of spouting noise pollution, to some degree or other. But OB is the announcer I have to put up with.

Pace of Play and Disagreeing with Bill James
Melvin orders an intentional walk . . . but unlike in every other season before 2017, Melvin's pitcher doesn't actually have to throw any pitches.

The "automatic" intentional walk was introduced just this season, as part of Baseball's ongoing, if fitful, efforts to address "pace of play" issues. There's now (apparently) serious talk about enforcing rules limiting pitchers' time between pitches; in fact, the clocks are already in place in stadiums, but to this point they've essentially been ignored, due largely to objections from the players' union.

So this season, for the first time ever, the intentional walk can easily pass without notice. Because instead of the manager giving some signal to his catcher, followed by four pitches delivered (usually) way high and outside—and so practically impossible to hit—now a manager need merely make a signal to the umpire . . . and off trots the batter to first base, having witnessed not a single pitch.

The point of course is to quicken the pace of play.

The old intentional walks took around one minute apiece. Now, one minute of dead time: that's not nothing. Except these days there just aren't many of those particular dead minutes to kill. ...

In 2016, there were only 932 intentional walks all season. In 2017, there will be only 970. (With their seventeen intentional walks apiece, the A's and Astros will tie for second fewest in the majors, with Terry Francona's first-place [Cleveland] issuing fifteen. In the National League, Bud Black's Rockies will finish last with only twenty.)

So, let's see . . . 970 minutes spread over six months is 162 minutes per month, or ____ minutes per week, or 6 minutes per day. Not for every team, or every game. For all of Major League Baseball. Which seems like . . . not a lot?

In fact, it really is not a lot. It's hardly a smidgen. ...

The most obvious way to speed up the pace would be shorter commercial breaks. They used to be shorter, and still there was enough time for the teams to switch places on the field, for the pitcher to get his warm-up tosses. Now, you could (reasonably, I think) argue that cutting thirty seconds of advertisements between each half inning would (a) bring in lower revenue in the short term, but (b) bring in more revenue in the long term, with a slightly quicker game leading to slightly higher ratings, and (thus) ad rates.

So far, it doesn't seem that anyone's much appreciated those extra six minutes. It also doesn't seem that anyone's much missed the four-pitch intentional walks. Yes, the prospect of the new rule deeply offended some sensibilities. At least one journalist blamed the rule on those damned millennials. ...

Still, such a fundamental exception to the game's fundamental rules—you know, four balls for a walk, three strikes yer out, etc.—is defensible only if it's part of something larger. And in 2017, it's really not. The commercial breaks are the same, and there's a pitch clock but . . . just in the minor leagues, with the aim of helping umpires enforce the long-standing rule, minors and majors, that a pitcher must deliver a pitch within . . . well, you're probably not going to believe this, but within twelve seconds. It's right there in the book, Rule 5.07(c): When the bases are unoccupied, the pitcher shall deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball. Each time the pitcher delays the game by violating this rule, the umpire shall call "Ball."

You wanna guess how many times a major-league umpire has enforced Rule 5.07(c) in 2017? Okay, so I don't know. But if the number isn't zero, it's very, very, very close to zero. It's difficult for umpires to hurry along the pitchers, and it's difficult for umpires to hurry along the hitters. As long-time umpire Dale Scott told me, "All we could do was write up the chronic violators, and then the league will send them a letter, and then maybe they'll fine them. But the union takes the teeth out of everything. The fines aren't large enough to deter anything, and MLB didn't want ejections." ...

Bill James thinks all these measures, or half measures, even if implemented, would make little difference. "The essence of the problem," Bill will write in a few weeks, "is that there are many, many, many things which can be done inside of a baseball game to waste time, and it is always in someone's interest to do these things. Pitchers can stand on the mound without pitching. Catchers can visit the mound. Pitchers can throw to first.
Managers can change pitchers. If you limit pitching changes they will start changing outfielders in the middle of the game, or holding up the inning to move the outfielders around. Batters can ask for time and step out between pitches. Base runners can ask for a sliding glove. Batters can change bats. Networks can sell more commercials between innings."

More Bill: "Baseball is trying to address a general problem with remedies targeting one issue or another. This is never going to work, because there will always be something else that can pop up that will waste even more time than whatever you were trying to stamp out before. I'm glad they are trying to fix the problem, but it is never going to work. It's like swatting mosquitoes. There will always be more mosquitoes." ...

I think Bill is wrong. Or wrong enough. Most especially, Bill is largely wrong when he says Baseball is trying to address a general problem with remedies targeting one issue or another. Baseball hasn't actually made any real commitment to such remedies. Go back and look at that list of ways to waste time. None of them have actually been addressed in meaningful ways. And you can't even include intentional walks, because the point of them was never to waste time; it just worked out that way. ...

Ultimately, it all comes back to the pitcher. He's the one with the ball in his hand. Unless he's got a really good excuse, he simply must deliver the next pitch within a reasonable number of seconds. If he doesn't do that, it's a ball. If he does but the batter's not ready, tough shit for the batter. Essentially, it comes down to reasonably clear rules and the umpires' willingness to enforce them.

Because when it comes to the pitch clock in the minor leagues, nearly everyone who's been quoted on the subject says essentially the same thing: Before you know it, you've forgotten it's even there. This was just one of the changes in Double- and Triple-A a few years ago, designed to speed things up, but it's the clock that seems to have made the biggest difference. In 2015, the first year of the clocks, Triple-A game times dropped by twelve minutes.

That said, it's far from clear if just a pitch clock would have the same impact in the majors. Because it turns out most of the dead time between pitches comes with runners on base, when the pitch clock's turned off, because of the time required to mind those runners. Considering that research shows most pitchers, in the absence of baserunners, already deliver the next pitch within twenty seconds, the time saved might be negligible, or less than we'd expect.

Or maybe it's not really so much about the time at all. Automatic intentional walks, as we've seen, make little difference in anything. Except maybe perception. With every supposed remedy, at least Baseball can say, "Hey, get off our back! Can't You see that we're doing something?"

There is literally not a human being on earth who could discern the few minutes per week "saved" by junking those four-pitch intentional walks, just as there's not a human who could notice, with their eyes, the difference between a .250 hitter and a .300 hitter. But tell someone a guy's a .300 hitter, and they'll figure they saw it all along.*

[* Over the course of a whole season, as Crash Davis relates so vividly in Bull Durham, the difference between .250 and .300 is roughly one hit per week.]

Same thing with pace of play. It's not all just psychology and persuasion. Some, though. If Baseball keeps saying they're concerned about it, and actually does throw in a few time-saving wrinkles, most fans might well believe the pace has picked up. More than it actually has. And so everyone wins, a little.

This is just the fifteenth time all season that Melvin's called for an intentional walk, a tactic that's become wildly unpopular since Bill James pointed out, way back in the 1980s, that teams typically give up more runs with the intentional walk than without. Which is a pretty strong argument against doing it. [pp. 191-197]
The Public Hates Slow, Dragging Games
Games taking too long? Too-long games were considered a scourge a century ago. Not to mention nearly every year since then. In 1915, when the average game didn't last even two hours, Federal League president James Gilmore complained, "Something must be done to speed up play, as the public does not like to see unnecessary wrangling on the field and a slow, dragging game." [p. 220]

December 17, 2019

Posnanski: The Baseball 100

Joe Posnanski is doing "an absurd thing" at The Athletic. It starts tomorrow and will conclude on Opening Day of the 2020 season.
Over the next 100 days, I will be counting down the 100 greatest baseball players in history, each with an essay. In all, this project will contain roughly as many words as "Moby Dick." ...

You will probably get mad when you see which players I have left out, which players I have ranked way too low or way too high. You might want me to know just how dumb I am, just how little I know about baseball, just how insulting the ranking was. I totally get it. ...

But the point of this for me is not the ranking but the stories. Every one of these players has a fascinating story — about persistence, about confidence, about pure talent, about amazing moments ... The stories are what inspired me to do this bonkers thing. ...

I will not go into great detail about my ranking. Some of it is science, but admittedly some of it also art. I will give you a handful of guiding principles:

1. I think today's players tend to be underrated compared to those who came before them.

2. I lean toward players who were great at their peak, even if that peak only lasted a short time, and lean away from those who were consistently but not toweringly good for a long time.

3. I lean toward players who did multiple things well over specialists (no matter how great) who basically did just one thing well.

4. I take a lot of care to make educated guesses about players whose careers were shortened by things beyond their control — World War II, for example, or baseball's tragic and infuriating color line. I don't make the same adjustment for injuries. ...

5. I have done a lot of research about the Negro Leagues to estimate the greatness of the players there. I try to be as unsentimental about this as I possibly can. ...

This list is a moving target. ... This is because there’s no significant difference between a player ranked 72 and 48 and 31. I could swap them, for the most part, without it changing much of anything. ...

The toughest part of doing this list was cutting it off at 100. There are 25 or so players who I think are just as deserving to be on this list as anyone in the bottom 50. It was brutal narrowing things down, but that's how such lists go. ...

And away we go.

December 16, 2019

Red Sox Could Save $100 Million Over Three Years By Getting Payroll Under 2020's Luxury Tax Threshold

Alex Speier, The Globe, December 10, 2019:
For the Red Sox, the luxury tax looms as a giant iceberg in the movement toward building a 2020 roster. The team has made no secret of its desire to dip its payroll beneath the $208 million threshold that would trigger penalties for 2020.

The Red Sox are willing to pay the luxury tax, something they've done in 10 of 17 seasons since something like the current form of the tax was introduced in 2003 ...

If the Sox scale back their payroll to $205 million next season before returning to their 2019 level of $243.5 million in 2021 and 2022, they could save a total of roughly $90 million to $100 million over the next three years.

How? For that, it's worth looking at the current collective bargaining agreement between Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association, and the changes it introduced to the luxury tax threshold and the penalties for exceeding it that teams have cited as a reason for changes to their spending behavior.
Speier then goes into more depth than you'll find anywhere else. Management's desire to get under the threshold is well-known, but the magnitude of the savings certainly was not common knowledge. Speier presents two tables:
Consider two scenarios: In one, the Red Sox maintain a $243.5 million payroll in 2020, 2021, and 2022. In the other, the team spends $205 million in 2020 then returns to $243.5 million in 2021 and 2022. ...

If the Red Sox don't reset:
Year    Payroll  Luxury Tax   Revenue Sharing    Total
                              Rebate Penalty*
(All figures in millions)
2018    239.5      12              0             251.5
2019    243.5      12              2.25          257.75
2020    243.5      19.61           6             269.11
2021    243.5      18.61           9             271.11
2022**  243.5      17.61          12             273.11
Total  1213.5      79.83          29.25         1322.58
If the Red Sox do reset
Year    Payroll  Luxury Tax   Revenue Sharing    Total
                              Rebate Penalty*
2018    239.5      12              0             251.5
2019    243.5      12              2.25          257.75
2020    205         0              0             205
2021    243.5       8.32           0             251.82
2022**  243.5      10.83           3             257.33
Total  1175        43.15           5.25         1223.4
* - estimated reduction of revenue sharing rebate for market disqualified teams.
** - new CBA year (assumes $212 million luxury tax threshold in 2022)
Using these numbers, the Red Sox would save $99,180,000 by the end of the 2022 season.

Martin Perez Joins The Rotation

The Red Sox signed lefty Martin Perez last week to a $6 million deal for 2020 and a team option for 2021. It's been a slow winter and it's hard to muster much, if any, excitement over this news.

Chad Jennings writes that the Red Sox liked some of the changes Perez, who will be 29 in April, made last season.
[H]e saw his fastball velocity spike from 92-93 mph to 94-96 mph. He added the cutter, and his strikeouts also went up. His hard-hit rate and average exit velocity were among the best in the game according to Statcast. ... The Red Sox also felt that Perez represented good value at the back of the rotation ...
$6 million seems like a bit much for a guy with Perez's middling (at best) track record. After a decent rookie season in 2013, he has posted ERA+s of 91, 95, 104, 100, 76, and 90.

Last year with the Twins, Perez had an ERA of 2.89 on May 18, but slumped to 6.17 over his last 22 starts. He pitched more than five innings only nine times in those 22 starts.

One commenter at The Athletic was extremely optimistic:
We could use him as an opener against teams that are lefty oriented at the top of their order. We could use him in long relief or even middle relief. He could even be a guy we throw for 3 batters if our opponent has stacked lefties against us. In other words, he's an interchangeable part in a new Red Sox pitching machine. ... It's always nice to have innings eaters at the top of the rotation like Price used to be but creating inexpensive depth is very valuable too.
Most SoSHers don't think the glass is as half-full as that, but a fair amount are willing to trust Chaim Bloom:
I assume (though obviously without any evidence) that Bloom and the people he listens to saw something (maybe even just that elite weak contact %) and think there's a way to unlock a better version of him. There are a couple of indicators that suggest he's been better than he looked. Take a look at the Astros---they have a track record of taking pitchers and tweaking them to vastly improve them (to be fair, the Astros have generally had better raw material to work with than Perez). But still, targeting underperforming pitchers with the hope of "fixing" them is how teams get bargains. While its entirely possible that Bloom and co. are wrong, I don't think that they said "yep, that 76 ERA+, that's what this teams needs for 6 mil"
Perez will fill the fifth starter spot left vacant by Rick Porcello. If the Red Sox can get some consistency out of Perez next season, that option for 2021 might end up being somewhat of a bargain. I really like and respect Bloom, so I will keep an open mind.

December 12, 2019

"I Wish To Subscribe To Your Newsletter"

Tim Marchman:
I respect the Yankees holding the line at nine years for the sweaty guy who was a league-average pitcher all of two years ago. That’s how you do business in the modern, efficient major leagues.


Rick Porcello signed a one-year contract with the Mets for $10 million.

The Red Sox signed infielder José Peraza, 25, for 2020 at roughly $3 million and claimed infielder Jonathan Arauz from the Astros in today's Rule 5 Draft.

Peraza spent the last four seasons with the Reds. He's not much of a hitter, putting up a .288/.326/.416 line in 2018, his best full season, which was a bit under league average.

Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich, The Athletic:
Major League Baseball's investigation into the Astros likely will not be completed until after the new year, sources with knowledge of the investigation told The Athletic.

The league's department of investigations has 76,000 emails to examine and has already conducted 60 interviews, commissioner Rob Manfred said Wednesday ... The league also has a store of instant messages to sift through as well, Manfred said. ...

A report shown to be incomplete after the fact would be a wart on the league's credibility ... a point that may underscore Manfred's deliberate approach.

In Wake Of Cole Signing, Red Sox Are Watching And Waiting

In the wake of the MFY's signing of Gerrit Cole to the largest contract ever given to a pitcher, Boston's chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom says the Red Sox have no imminent moves. Trusting the methodical processes he has brought to Boston, Bloom knows making a purely reactionary move would not be a smart decision for a team with a long-range view.
Look, we want to beat the Yankees as badly as anybody — trust me. I think it's just a question of us being able to step back and say, "What is the best approach for us to do that?" The more we feel like we're being reactive to other teams' moves, I think the more we're playing their game. We might be pushing ourselves further from that objective rather than helping ourselves. ...

Having had the good fortune of being in this division for a long time, I'm kind of used to seeing the Yankees, and the Red Sox for that matter, do things over the years. It didn't change things that much in terms of how I reacted to that [with the Rays]. I think it's one of the great things about the challenges of being in, what has been over the course of time probably the toughest division maybe in all of pro sports. You expect the standards to be very high and you expect your rivals to be constantly looking to improve, constantly find ways. The approach from team to team might vary, but you expect them to constantly be doing things to make themselves better. It's important to not get distracted by that. It's important to focus on your own club and how you can accomplish your goals. ...

I think it's been very consistent with the way the group thinks about things, is to really make sure you're not unprepared for any possibility. With that, I think comes at least considering to some degree a wide variety of guys who are out there. You hope that as you get more information that you obviously only have so much focus. You only have so much bandwidth to look into players to really feel like you understand them well.
The Post's Joel Sherman: "Boston probably knew it wasn't better for 2020 than the Yankees, maybe not the Rays either. Then Cole showed up in the AL East." ... His colleague Ken Davidoff takes a more measured tone: "We know how random, how cruel October can be. Cole in pinstripes guarantees nothing. Cole in pinstripes falling short, though? That guarantees more of the same first-world questions and scrutiny that have hovered over this first-world franchise for a decade."

Several teams have expressed an interest in David Price, according to several reports.'s Ian Browne writes that Boston's payroll is currently projected at about $220 million, a bit more than the Competitive Balance Tax threshold of $208 million the front office would prefer to be at going into 2020.

Browne mentions the Angels and White Sox as possible destinations for Price, who had surgery on his left wrist in September. Red Sox general manager Brian O'Halloran said Price "typically starts his throwing program in early to mid-December and that's the same this year. He's recovered well from wrist surgery and we expect he'll be ready to go like normal at the beginning of spring training".

Bloom: "I don't want to get into specifics of really any trade conversations that we're having. But I think you can see just by looking around the league that pitching has been the story of the week."

December 11, 2019

Yankees Sign Gerrit Cole To Nine-Year Deal Worth $324 Million

George A. King III, Post:
In the type of move George Steinbrenner lived for, his Yankees and son Hal Steinbrenner are back on top of the baseball universe after signing stud right-hander Gerrit Cole to a record-setting, nine-year contract worth a staggering $324 million Tuesday night.

The move sent shock waves through the lobby of the Manchester Grand Hyatt, where the winter meetings are being held, and ... immediately stamped the Yankees as the team to beat in not only the AL East but the American League and the favorites to win the World Series for the first time since 2009.

Cole joining the Yankees turns a good rotation into the best in baseball ... [Cole turned 29 last September]

[I]t took less than a dozen hours to finalize the largest contract ever given to a pitcher and the fourth-highest in baseball history to any player. There is no deferred money and Cole will make $36 million a year. He can opt out after the 2024 season.
Kristie Ackert, Daily News:
The deal obliterates the day-old record set by Stephen Strasburg, who agreed to a contract of $245 million over seven years with the Nationals on Monday afternoon. Cole's average annual value is an eye-popping $36 million.

The Yankees payroll for their 40-man roster was at $209.9 million before the deal and they are already looking for ways to shed excess costs elsewhere. ...

Cole has always been the Yankees priority for improving the front-end of their rotation. ... Having drafted him in 2008 and then having failed in an attempt to trade for him when he was with the Pirates, the right-hander has always been just out of their grasp. ...

[Cole] instantly becomes their ace and brings their rotation into the upper echelon in baseball. Last season, Cole ... led the AL in strikeouts (326) and ERA (2.50) over 212.1 innings pitched in 33 games started. He also had the best fielding-independent pitching rate in the AL with 2.64 and highest strikeout per nine innings pitched (13.8).

December 8, 2019

Marvin Miller Elected To Hall Of Fame; His Family Will Not Participate In Ceremony

"If they vote me in after I'm gone, please let everyone you know it is against my wishes and tell them if I was alive I would turn it down." — Marvin Miller (1917-2012)
Marvin Miller, the legendary executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, was elected to baseball's Hall of Fame on Sunday. Miller was chosen to lead the newly-formed players union in 1966 and he served for 16½ years.

The recognition of Miller's stature by the baseball establishment comes decades too late. This was Miller's eighth time on a Hall ballot. The fact that Miller received the bare minimum for induction (12 of 16 votes (75%)) makes it seem like the Modern Era Committee offered grudging acknowledgement: Okay, we'll finally let him squeeze in, but he's not getting even one vote more than necessary.

In 2013, Peter Miller wrote:
No one in our family will attend or speak at any HOF ceremony regardless of the outcome of the HOF vote. It's important for union members and the media to understand why, so that the story does not get misrepresented as "sour grapes," personal pique, or anything of the sort.

My father felt that the essence of the honor, if any, was in celebrating the MLBPA's accomplishments in changing Baseball from a management-dominated industry to one characterized by an equal labor-management relationship, a change resulting in a vastly more competitive game, fan interest, and increased wealth for all, including the owners of baseball clubs.

These changes were brought about by the concerted action of union members, the baseball players themselves. Although he enjoyed the recognition, my father did what he did not for fame and glory, but for justice and for equitable labor-management relations. To treat that as something incidental, as of lesser value than personal fame, is really to dishonor him and the players.

My father's wishes, stated in writing, and reaffirmed to me in person many times, and for the last time within weeks of his death, were that he did not want to be on the HOF ballot. In a 2008 letter to the Baseball Writers Association, he wrote:
"Paradoxically, I'm writing to thank you and your associates for your part in nominating me for Hall of Fame consideration, and, at the same time, to ask that you not do this again. The anti-union bias of the powers who control the Hall has consistently prevented recognition of the historic significance of the changes to baseball brought about by collective bargaining." ...
The May 29, 2008 Baseball Prospectus blog quoted my father on what he regarded as his family's role in carrying out his intentions:
"If considered and elected, I will not appear for the induction if I'm alive. If they proceed to try to do this posthumously, my family is prepared to deal with that."
Our course of action couldn't be clearer. I'm sure there will be those who want to "do the right thing" out of guilt, or because of some newly discovered perception of historical accuracy. But nobody needs the HOF to understand my father's place in baseball and labor history. The historical record is widely available on the Web and in the Marvin Miller archive at NYU. His portrait is at the Supreme Court in Washington DC, which is more accessible than Cooperstown.
Susan Miller said of her father's induction: "It would have been a great honor 20 years ago."

December 3, 2019

Red Sox Trade Sandy León to Cleveland

The Red Sox traded catcher Sandy León to Cleveland on Monday for minor league right-hander Adenys Bautista.

ESPN/Associated Press reported:
Bautista, 22, went 1-1 with a 7.79 ERA in 14 relief appearances for the In----ns in Arizona Rookie League in 2019.
ESPN made five errors in that short sentence:
1. Bautista was born on August 6, 1998, so he's 21. He won't turn 22 until next August.

2. Bautista made 7 relief appearances (not 14) in the Arizona Rookie League in 2019 (July 26 to August 26).

3. Bautista had a 0-0 record in the Arizona Rookie League in 2019 (not 1-1).

4. Bautista had a 10.13 ERA in the Arizona Rookie League in 2019 (not 7.79).

5. The word "the" should be inserted before "Arizona".
Bautista's 1-1 record came in the 7 games he played in the Dominican Summer League (June 5 to July 20). His stats from both leagues combined equal 14 games and a 7.79 ERA.

Ian Browne ( had no problems reporting the correct information:
The 21-year-old Bautista pitched at the Rookie level in 2019, compiling a 7.79 ERA in 14 relief appearances in the Dominican Summer League and the Arizona Rookie League.
The Red Sox also did not tender contracts for 2020 to infielder Marco Hernandez and reliever Josh Osich. Last week, pitcher Brian Johnson was placed on outright waivers; he's still with Boston, but not on the 40-man roster.

Chris Sale was given the all-clear sign to begin throwing, after seeing Dr. James Andrews last week.

December 1, 2019

The Best Players & Games Of The 2010s (And A Couple Of Best-Of Red Sox Lists)

Jayson Stark looks at the Best Of The 2010s:
The five best players of the 2010s

1. Mike Trout — You were expecting maybe Rusney Castillo? Trout just crushed this field in pretty much every category that didn't involve counting — and even a few categories that did. But the biggest headline was this: According to Baseball Reference, his 72.5 Wins Above Replacement in the '10s meant he was worth 18.3 more wins than any other position player in the sport, despite the fact he essentially gave everyone else a two-year head start! And there has never — we said never — been any player who blew out the field in WAR by that crazy a margin in any — we said any — decade. The old record was 16.3, and that was set by Honus Wagner over 100 years ago (1900-09). ...

2. Joey Votto — Only two players in the sport had a .300/.400/.500 slash line in the '10s. One was Trout. The other was Votto (.306/.428/.516). This guy has been way too underappreciated. More on him later.

3. Adrián Beltré — There were just four players who were worth at least 50 wins in the '10s, according to the Baseball Reference WAR computations. Beltré was one of them even though he didn't play a game in 2019. Did you know that only one player in baseball finished in the top 10 on the offensive and defensive WAR leaderboards for this decade? Yep, that was Adrián Beltré. ...

The five best pitchers of the 2010s

1. Clayton Kershaw — Let's debate Kershaw's October struggles some other time, OK? That's because we're talking about a man who had an ERA under 2.00 for 197 consecutive regular-season starts between 2011 and 2018. That's amazing. And we're talking about a man whose 164 ERA-plus is the greatest by any starter, in any decade, since Walter Johnson hung a 177 in the first quasi-decade (1913-19) after earned runs became an official stat in 1913. That's mind-blowing. And if we use 1,500 innings as the minimum, we're talking about a man whose ERA (2.31) was 72 points lower than the next-best pitcher of this decade. And that's unheard of. Just a reminder that Clayton Kershaw in his prime was something special.

2. Max Scherzer — Scherzer led the sport in strikeouts (2,452) and wins (161) in the '10s. And he's about to make his seventh top-five Cy Young finish in a row. The only other pitchers in history who can say that? Greg Maddux and Kershaw.

3. Justin Verlander — Verlander is going to finish with five top-two Cy Young finishes in this decade. That's dominance. And if we use WAR as a measuring stick, nobody had more 6.0-win seasons (six) or 7.0-win seasons (four) in the '10s than Justin Verlander did.

4. Chris Sale — What Votto is to that hitters' list, Sale is to this pitchers' list. A better ERA (3.03) than Verlander. A better strikeout rate (11.08 per nine innings pitched) than Scherzer. A better WHIP (1.03) than anybody except Kershaw. ...


Kershaw, 59.3
Verlander, 56.2
Scherzer, 56.1
Hamels, 46.2
Sale, 45.4
Greinke, 44.0
Price, 38.6
Kluber, 33.2
deGrom, 32.7 ...

Best postseason pitcher of the 2010s: Madison Bumgarner

Based solely on the pure raw numbers, maybe you'd give this to Stephen Strasburg, the guy with the 1.46 career postseason ERA. But just when I started mulling that thought, I looked back on MadBum's epic October of 2014, his shutouts in two wild-card games, his absurd and unprecedented 0.25 career ERA over four World Series starts. And I thought: Will we ever see anybody do that again? Did you know that in those four World Series starts, Bumgarner gave up a total of one run? Did you know that in his 16 career postseason starts, he has allowed zero runs in six of them (not even counting his five shutout innings in relief in a Game 7 you might remember)? Did you know that he and Randy Johnson are the only two left-handers since Sandy Koufax to throw multiple shutouts in the same postseason? Did you know that in the Giants' three championship runs, MadBum made at least one postseason start of at least seven innings and no runs in all three of them? Oh, and he gets like a billion extra-credit points for basically winning the 2014 World Series all by himself. (All other Giants starters in that World Series combined for a 9.37 ERA and got through only the third inning twice in five starts.) So one more time, let's ask: Will we ever see anybody do that again? ...

Best pitcher who never won a Cy Young: Chris Sale

Not only is Chris Sale by far the best pitcher who never won a Cy Young in this decade, but he's also a contender for best pitcher who never won a Cy Young, period. For instance, Sale's WHIP for the '10s was an awesome 1.03. Ready for a list of all the other pitchers in the last 100 years who had a WHIP that low in any decade (with at least 1,500 innings)?

Clayton Kershaw, 0.96 (2010s)
Sandy Koufax, 1.01 (1960s)
Juan Marichal, 1.05 (1960s)
-That's a wrap –

It was Kershaw who dominated this decade. But it was Sale who finished in the top two in ERA, strikeout rate, opponent average, opponent slugging, opponent OPS and FIP — among other stuff. He has six top-five Cy Young finishes to show for it but no trophies. Juan Marichal and Curt Schilling feel his pain. ...

BEST ON-BASE MACHINE OF THE 2010s — Votto walked 1,046 times in this decade. Only one other player — Carlos Santana — was within 200 of him. Only four other players — Santana (944), José Bautista (812), Trout (803) and Andrew McCutchen (769) — were even within 400 of him!

BEST WORKHORSE OF THE 2010s — Verlander faced 8,635 hitters, just in the regular season, in the '10s. Only two other pitchers — Scherzer (8,300) and Lester (8,236) — were within (gulp) 500 hitters of him. We continue to show way too little appreciation for pitchers who provide that much volume, especially when it comes with Verlander-esque domination. ...

What goes up must come down — except possibly at the Trop. So lastly, here's to the men who "led" the '10s in all those departments they'd rather we never looked up!

LOWEST BATTING AVERAGE (min. 3,000 PA) — Danny Espinosa, .221

LOWEST OBP — Adeiny Hechavarría, .290

LOWEST SLUGGING PCT. — Billy Hamilton, .326 ...

MOST STRIKEOUTS — Chris Davis, 1,597 (most by any player in any decade in history)

MOST LOSSES — Rick Porcello, 109

MOST GOPHERBALLS — James Shields, 262 ...
Jen McCaffrey: The 10 Most Memorable Red Sox Games Of The 2010s

Chad Jennings: The 10 Most Significant Red Sox Decisions Of The 2010s

Tim Britton: The 20 Best MLB Games Of The 2010s

The Athletic: The Athletic's MLB All-Decade Team
Right field
Mookie Betts (19/28)

From 2010 to 2019, 1,838 position players made at least one plate appearance in the major leagues. Of those, only 742 stuck around long enough to log just short of a season's worth of plate appearances (600). Within that group, 14 position players earned the sport's greatest individual honor, the Most Valuable Player award. But none could top Betts' MVP campaign in 2018. When measured by FanGraphs' version of WAR (10.4), it ranked as the most valuable single season in the entire decade. That edged out Trout's 2013 (10.2), and Posey's 2012 (10.1). In an era in which some of the best players in the league can be classified as one-dimensional, Betts has become a star by excelling in every aspect of the game, a tribute to his athletic versatility. In high school, Betts was a standout star in basketball, baseball and bowling. He has participated in the World Series of baseball (2018) and the World Series of bowling (2015 and 2017). Among right fielders, Betts' 42.0 WAR for the decade, according to Baseball-Reference, ranks ahead of Stanton's 39.9. And Betts reached that total despite playing in 368 fewer games and swatting 169 fewer homers, a testament to his defense and baserunning.

Betts in the 2010s: 42.0 WAR, .301/.374/.519, 2018 AL MVP, four All-Star selections, four Gold Gloves, 965 hits, 229 doubles, 139 homers, 25 steals

The quote: "To come up as a second baseman and turn himself into the type of right fielder that he is just shows how athletic he is, for one, but also how dedicated he is to making himself better. Offensively, he's the MVP, but he runs the bases really, really well, he plays a Gold-Glove right field and puts up video-game-like numbers in the box. He can do it all." — Former Red Sox player Brock Holt

November 21, 2019

Schadenfreude 264 (A Continuing Series)

December 4, 2013

November 21, 2019

Jacoby Ellsbury had a decent first season in New York (2014), but that was it. His last major league game was in September 2017.

The Yankees paid him $21,142,857 in 2018 for doing nothing.

The Yankees paid him $21,142,857 in 2019 for doing nothing.

The Yankees will pay him roughly $26,000,000 in 2020 just to get rid of him.

(Sure beats workin' at the gas station . . . ding ding.)

Sorry, Sox!

I should give Bill Madden of the Daily News some credit, though, admittedly, it did not exactly require a Mensa IQ to know signing Ellsbury for $152 million would not ultimately work out in the MFY's favour.

Back in 2013, Madden wrote:
Jacoby Ellsbury's Yankees Deal Won't Look Good In A Few Seasons

How long until the Yankees are regretting giving Jacoby Ellsbury a 7-year contract? ...

[A]s history has proven, contracts of more than six years for players 30 or older have proven time and again to be disasters ...

I'm just not sure what the Yankees are trying to prove here. Now they've agreed with Ellsbury on a $21.8 million per year deal that will almost certainly be another financial disaster three or four years down the road, while giving them another "legs" player in the outfield when what they really needed there was a power bat. ...

Whatever, this reckless, show-their-financial-might signing by the Yankees makes no sense, other than being another example of the Yankees' intention of buying their way out of a situation in which their player development department has been bankrupt for years.
Ellsbury played four seasons with the MFY ... and was off for the final three years.

November 20, 2019

Manfred Wants Everyone To Believe Sign-Stealing Scandal Does Not Extend Beyond Astros

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred stated on Tuesday that he sees "no reason to believe" the sign-stealing scandal extends beyond the Houston Astros. So the other 29 teams should be as clean as a whistle. Whew. That's good news for MLB.

There may be one little problem, however. Manfred's statement is contradicted by numerous media reports, as well as common sense, the entire history of sports, and a rudimentary understanding of human beings.
Any allegations that relate to a rule violation that could affect the outcome of a game or games is the most serious matter. It relates to the integrity of the sport. In terms of where we are, we have a very active – what is going to be a really, really thorough investigation ongoing. But beyond that, I can't tell you how close we are to done. ... Right now, we are focused on the information that we have with respect to the Astros. I'm not going to speculate on whether other people are going to be involved. We'll deal with that if it happens, but I'm not going to speculate about that. I have no reason to believe it extends beyond the Astros at this point in time. ...

I'm not going to speculate on what the appropriate discipline is. That depends on how the facts are established at the end of the investigation. The general warning I issued to the clubs, I stand by. It certainly could be all of those [past disciplinary actions], but my authority under the major league constitution would be broader than those things as well. ... I certainly would hope that we would be done [with our investigation] before we start playing baseball again.
That's what Manfred said. What he meant (knowing some serious labour-related shit will be hitting the public fan when the current CBA expires after the 2021 season) was: "I have no desire to believe it extends beyond the Astros."

[I have four words for Manfred re his first sentence: Inconsistent. Incompetent. Biased. Umpires.]

The original article, written by Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich and published eight days ago at The Athletic, stated quite clearly the Astros' system was created by a player who had been stealing signs (presumably in a somewhat similar manner, not with his keen eyesight) with his previous team.
Early in the 2017 season, at least two uniformed Astros got together to start the process. One was a hitter who was struggling at the plate and had benefited from sign stealing with a previous team, according to club sources; another was a coach who wanted to help.
The article includes three mentions in the first four paragraphs (and before the word count passes 95) that "illegal sign stealing, particularly through advanced technology" is everywhere in MLB.

There is a broad story about this era of baseball that has yet to be told.

To this point, the public’s understanding of sign stealing mostly rests on anonymous second-hand conjecture and finger-pointing. But inside the game, there is a belief which is treated by players and staff as fact: That illegal sign stealing, particularly through advanced technology, is everywhere.

It’s an issue that permeates through the whole league,” one major league manager said. “The league has done a very poor job of policing or discouraging it.”

Electronic sign stealing is not a single-team issue.
MLB's investigation will be a worthless whitewash. I don't think anyone expects anything else. But, at the very least, it may distract Manfred from coming up more shitty ideas that will only alienate long-time fans and create more problems for the game.

November 18, 2019

Happy 44th Birthday, David Ortiz!

Big Papi turned 44 years young on Monday.

November 16, 2019

Babe Ruth Hit A Lot Of Home Runs, Against Everyone

Most Career Home Runs Against Original AL Teams
Athletics        Babe Ruth   108   (17 more than Ted Williams)
Browns/Orioles   Babe Ruth    96   ( 4 more than Lou Gehrig)
Cleveland        Babe Ruth    92   (13 more than Ted Williams)
Red Sox          Babe Ruth    90   (20 more than Lou Gehrig)
Senators/Twins   Babe Ruth    89   (17 more than Mickey Mantle)
Tigers           Babe Ruth   123   (30 more than Jimmie Foxx)
White Sox        Babe Ruth    98   (21 more than Lou Gehrig)

Most Career Home Runs Against Any Team
 1. Babe Ruth    123    Tigers
 2. Babe Ruth    108    Athletics
 3. Babe Ruth     98    White Sox
    Willie Mays   98    Dodgers
 5. Hank Aaron    97    Reds
 6. Babe Ruth     96    Browns
 7. Hank Aaron    95    Dodgers
 8. Jimmie Foxx   93    Tigers
 9. Babe Ruth     92    Cleveland
10. Willie Mays   92    Cubs
Ruth is also at #14 (90, Red Sox) and #15 (89, Senators), giving him 7 of history's top 15 spots.

Most Career Home Runs For Each Month
May       Ken Griffey Jr.  134   ( 1 more than Babe Ruth)
June      Hank Aaron       150   ( 9 more than Babe Ruth)
July      Hank Aaron       152   ( 5 more than Babe Ruth)
August    Barry Bonds      148   (15 more than Alex Rodriguez; Ruth hit 124 (#6))
Sept/Oct  Barry Bonds      128   ( 7 more than Babe Ruth)
While Ruth does not hold the record for any single month, but he is #2 in 4 of the 5 full months in which games have been played.

November 15, 2019

Astros' System Of Stealing And Relaying Signs In 2017 Is Confirmed By Four People, Including Pitcher Mike Fiers; Numerous Videos Of Astros Home Games With Tell-Tale Banging Before Off-Speed Pitches Have Surfaced; Alex Cora, After Being Questioned In MLB's Investigation, Declined To Comment

NOTE: Correction/clarification added to first paragraph.

Sign-stealing via electronic (illegal*) means has suddenly dominated the hot stove season, as four people who worked for the 2017 Astros, including pitcher Mike Fiers, have confirmed the team illegally stole signs in real time during home games via a camera positioned in the outfield. The Astros won the 2017 World Series.

*: The sign-stealing the Astros are accused of doing in 2017 was not against MLB's rules at the time.

MLB had already been investigating the Astros after an assistant general manager made comments expressing support for an alleged woman-beater to three female reporters during the postseason, and MLB is now investigating the sign-stealing allegations.

The Astros stated this week that they have "begun an investigation in cooperation" with MLB. Knowing the Astros blatantly lied for days only last month about their "investigation" into the locker-room comments of Brandon Taubman means you should probably take everything that organization says with a pillar of salt.

ESPN's Buster Olney agrees, and cannot imagine any reason to ever trust either Astros owner Jim Crane or general manager/head of baseball operations Jeff Luhnow. Olney says the Astros' announcement has overshadowed other breaking news:
• Pete Rose declared that he's going to look into the question of whether he bet on baseball.

• Ryan Braun announced he's investigating why he accused a urine collector of tampering with his sample tainted with performance-enhancing drugs.

• Hunter Strickland has hired detectives to determine how it came to pass that he threw a fastball into the middle of Bryce Harper's body in 2017.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred:
We want to make sure we understand everything that went on, who was involved, how far up in the organization it went. And at that point in time, we'll make a decision as to what, if any, discipline is appropriate.
Manfred's quote was not meant to continue the comedy of the Olney snip, but it can certainly be read that way. I'm doubtful that MLB, which is about as transparent as a brick wall, will (a) conduct a wide-ranging investigation of the illegal sign-stealing activities throughout the major leagues and (b) report fully and honestly on its findings. MLB would prefer to avoid the publication of any bad news that could have a further effect on decreased attendance.

If illegal activities are widespread throughout both leagues, MLB's conduct will likely mirror its actions regarding the news of widespread steroid usage throughout both leagues (for years). Still, Jeff Passan of ESPN reports "if the league can prove wrongdoing, the severity could be unlike anything seen in the sport's recent history".

"That's not playing the game the right way," said Fiers, who pitched for Houston from 2015-17. "They were advanced and willing to go above and beyond to win."

Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich, reporting for The Athletic, state that "inside the game", everyone accepts that "illegal sign stealing, particularly through advanced technology, is everywhere." One major league manager admits: "The league has done a very poor job of policing or discouraging it."

MLB prohibits clubs from using electronic equipment to steal signs and convey information, but it has not publicly punished any team since the Red Sox were fined an undisclosed amount in 2017 after MLB determined the team had stolen signs through instant-replay monitoring and transmitted the information with Apple watches or Fitbit devices.

According to Rosenthal and Drellich, at least two Astros - a coach and a struggling hitter who had benefited from sign stealing with a previous team - hatched the plan early in the 2017 season.
A feed from a camera in center field, fixed on the opposing catcher's signs, was hooked up to a television monitor that was placed on a wall steps from the team's home dugout at Minute Maid Park, in the tunnel that runs between the dugout and the clubhouse. Team employees and players would watch the screen during the game and try to decode signs — sitting opposite the screen on massage tables in a wide hallway.

When the onlookers believed they had decoded the signs, the expected pitch would be communicated via a loud noise — specifically, banging on a trash can, which sat in the tunnel. Normally, the bangs would mean a breaking ball or off-speed pitch was coming.

Fiers, who confirmed the set-up, acknowledged he already has a strained relationship with the Astros because he relayed to his subsequent teams, the Tigers and A's, what the Astros were doing.

"I just want the game to be cleaned up a little bit because there are guys who are losing their jobs because they're going in there not knowing," Fiers said. "Young guys getting hit around in the first couple of innings starting a game, and then they get sent down. It's (B.S.) on that end. It's ruining jobs for younger guys. ... We had a lot of young guys with Detroit (in 2018) trying to make a name and establish themselves. ... I had to let my team know so that we were prepared when we went to go play them at Minute Maid."

Two sources said the Astros' use of the system extended into the 2017 playoffs. Another source adamantly denied that, saying the system ended before the postseason.
While it stretches credulity that a team cheating during the regular season would decide to stop giving itself an advantage just as the most important games of the year were beginning, it's possible there may have been a problem hearing the bangs over loud October crowds. (I'm sure someone is re-watching the games right now and will report. ... Someone did! See below.)
If the system was halted prior to the postseason, it was not stopped long before it, based upon an incident recalled by both an opposing pitcher and an Astros source.

Pitching for the White Sox in 2017, Danny Farquhar made two mid-September appearances at Minute Maid Park, just before the playoffs. One Astros source recalled that Farquhar appeared to visibly notice what the Astros were up to.

Farquhar, the source remembered, pointed to his ear on the mound.

"There was a banging from the dugout, almost like a bat hitting the bat rack every time a changeup signal got put down," said Farquhar, who is now the pitching coach with the White Sox's High-A affiliate in Winston-Salem, N.C. "After the third one, I stepped off. I was throwing some really good changeups and they were getting fouled off. After the third bang, I stepped off."

Farquhar said he and his catcher changed the signs to the more complex kind used when a runner is on second base — a situation where base runners have long been able to legally relay signs, using their own eyes.

"The banging stopped," Farquhar said. "My assumption was they were picking it up from the video and relaying the signs to the dugout. … It made me very upset. I was so angry, so mad, that the media didn't come to me after."
Here is footage from that game (and two others in the replies), with Jimmy "Jomboy" O'Brien pointing out the bangs.
Jomboy has other videos with obvious banging (here, here, here, here, here (hmm ...), here, here), but he's skeptical about the whistles (here, here). He writes: "if you search "AT HOU - 2017" on youtube and click any random game you'll find some banging on off speed pitches".

Michael Baumann of The Ringer notes the
hilarious juxtaposition [of that video clip] when held up against the rest of Houston's enterprise. The Astros have become one of the most successful teams in baseball through use of the very latest in biomechanical research, statistical modeling, and late capitalist management techniques. They believe they win because they're smarter than everyone else—and they're more than a little smug about it. But when push comes to shove, even the Astros were reduced to having a highly skilled, world-class athlete stand in a hallway, watch a TV screen, and beat the fuck out of a trash can with a baseball bat.
Max Wildstein has footage from August 1, 2017, with the Astros signals: no bangs for a fastball, one bang for a slider, and two bangs for a changeup.

There is also at least one Astros clip from 2018 with the banging sounds.

Paranoia is the default setting for most teams in general, but especially when dealing with the Astros. During the 2018 postseason, two teams (Cleveland and Boston) discovered a person connected to the Astros (Kyle McLaughlin) taking pictures near their dugouts. The Astros stated McLaughlin was only making sure the other teams were not cheating. MLB accepted that excuse (and the incident disappeared from the sports pages).

Rosenthal and Drellich:
[In the 2019 postseason,] the Nationals during the World Series employed a sophisticated set of signs against the Astros that they did not use in previous rounds of the postseason. During the American League Championship Series, the Yankees believed the Astros were whistling from the dugout to communicate pitches. ...

At least once [in 2017], some on the Astros were worried enough that they would be discovered that, in the middle of a game, someone in the dugout ordered the screen hauled out of the tunnel and hidden.
MLB's investigation has included an interview with Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who was the Astros' bench coach in 2017. Cora has declined to comment publicly. Carlos Beltran, one of Cora's closest friends and a member of the 2017 Astros, has denied any involvement. MLB has also spoken with former Astros bullpen coach Craig Bjornson, who joined the Red Sox in 2018, along with Cora.

Cora prides himself on his sign-stealing ability, recognizing tipped pitches, etc. Matt Vautour of MassLive noted that in 2018, the Boston manager discussed taking advantage of anything his team sees on the field:
"I talked about it in my first press conference with the Red Sox. We're going to win some games, and we will steal some games because the game will dictate what we do. And if we have a chance to steal a game, we'll do it. We'll do it."

He was asked what the Astros did while he was there and his memory got fuzzy fast.

"Honestly, I don't remember too much about it. One thing for sure, us, as a staff, we prepared. And I'm not talking about cameras or whatever people were thinking," he said.
Sign-stealing has been a big topic at this week's GM meetings in Arizona.

Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey: "Part of me wonders if some of the competitive advantage is in a team making you think you're doing it, and the other team is freaking out all the time about it."

Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman: "[Y]ou have to be pretty brazen to do certain things. And when you do, people are going to find out about it."

The Dodgers lost to the Astros in the 2017 World Series and Friedman said it would "sound like sour grapes" if he complained about the Astros' alleged behavior (though he had certainly heard all the rumours).

Last month, the Washington Nationals' advance scouts were extremely concerned about any possible Astros shenanigans. One Nationals official: "Everyone in the game was calling with little tidbits. We were tipped off to all of it."

The Nats operated as if there was a runner on second base at all times, often changing their signs batter-by-batter. Sean Doolittle: "This was the first series all year where we used cards, so that we had five sets of signs that we could rotate through. ... That was something we worked on during the break, after the NLCS."

Joe Posnanski (The Athletic) is unsure "which sports rules matter to the general sports fan":
The backlash to steroids in baseball has been enormous. ...

Meanwhile, I know almost no one who cares about steroids in football.

I also know almost no one who cares about amphetamines in baseball. ...

I never know what cheating is supposed to enrage us and what cheating isn't. ...

I've heard people describe it as the Astros "using technology to steal signs," but it really wasn't too technical ["if they saw a change-up or curveball or some slow pitch coming, someone would bang on a garbage can"]. ...

It's exhausting to try and figure out where gamesmanship ends and cheating starts, where "part of the game" becomes "out of bounds." There are already reports, and there undoubtedly will be more, that this kind of sign-stealing is widespread throughout baseball. And, let's face it: Of course it is. Teams cheat. People cheat. Always have. Always will. ...

This Astros cheating seems pretty blatant and aggravating.

But is it? Now we find out just how much people care.
Whether people care is also probably (sadly) dependent on which team is caught. The Astros have been in the news recently for acting like dicks, so this could have some resonance.

Trevor Plouffe, who played in the majors for nine years, tweeted yesterday:
Anybody curious to know how the Astros relayed signs in the 2017 WS when banging a trash can couldn’t be heard?? A very reliable source just let me know...

Ok I’m glad I waited because it looks like this is already out there. So not exactly breaking news, but confirmation on something already reported.

According to @Carson_Smith39 and now confirmed by my source, the Astros had someone watching a live feed and then relaying the pitch calls via ear piece to the bullpen catcher. Hands up on fence for FB and hands down for offspeed.

ALLEGEDLY (I think im supposed to say that) I don’t have the footage in front of me but apparently you can see the Astros hitters looking toward right center before the pitch is thrown (where their bullpen is).

If you’ve seen anything else that I’ve posted I’ve stated numerous times that this isn’t an isolated event and that it’s happening (in different ways) all around baseball.
Red Sox pitcher Carson Smith's current Twitter feed has nothing after November 12, so either he deleted a tweet to which Plouffe is referring or Smith told him by email or phone. Smith does mention the bullpen catcher in this tweet, but it is not as specific as Plouffe's reference ("they forgot to mention the bullpen catcher also relaying in signs for specific batters specific ways").

Rob Arthur tweeted:
The Astros' trash can banging/sign stealing system left a clear signature in the audio data, which I then used to track when/how they were doing it.
Arthur's findings are at Baseball Prospectus. His article is behind a paywall, but he posted a few tweets:
A couple of interesting things: one, they started the sign-stealing almost immediately in each game, usually by the fourth or fifth pitch or so. Also, they were very accurate, like maybe suspiciously so--they never seemed to make a mistake.

And I also heard/saw in the audio some trash can banging in multiple playoff games. But they certainly weren't using the exact same system as in the regular season, because there wasn't a one-to-one correspondence between banging and breaking balls.

In retrospect, it's kind of stunning they went with such a clear and obvious audio signal. Given how devious the overall system was and how they knew there'd be more attention on the playoffs, I'd be very surprised if they didn't switch to something more sophisticated.

the banging was SO loud it increased the average noise level significantly before each non-fastball when the Astros were batting.

If MLB really wanted to thoroughly investigate the cheating (I suspect they don't), I would suggest going to the raw audio data and coming up with a way to systematically detect trash can bangs or other suspicious noises correlated with the next pitch.
Brad Lee replied: "Using analytics to identify Astros cheating is super ironic and satisfying."

November 13, 2019

A "Stick To Sports" Mandate Is Absurd And Profoundly Dishonest

This is a scene from the "Salute to Service" military appreciation ceremony, held last Sunday before the Tennessee-Kansas City NFL game. This is the way the world works: Expressing support for such a ceremony is not political, but expressing a negative opinion is. Only the latter fan will be told: "Stick to sports!"

Barry Petchesky, former deputy editor of Deadspin, expands on the circumstances surrounding his firing, in an op-ed for The New York Times:
Two weeks ago, I was fired as acting editor in chief of Deadspin, where I'd worked since 2009. The entire staff resigned, following me out the door after we had refused a new company mandate to "stick to sports." Jim Spanfeller, installed as chief executive of G/O Media by the private equity firm that bought the company seven months ago, called me into his office, pointed to some offending stories on our home page and had me escorted from the building. ...

[M]y stance remains the same ... sports don't end when the players head back to the locker room.

We refused to "stick to sports," because we know that sports is everything, and everything is sports: It's the N.B.A. kowtowing to its Chinese business interests; it's pro sports leagues attempting to become shadow justice systems for publicity reasons; it's the opioid epidemic roiling N.F.L. locker rooms at least as hard as anywhere in Appalachia, even as the league refuses to relax its marijuana policy; it's racist fan chants chasing black players off the pitch in Italian soccer matches; it's Washington Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki wearing a "Make America Great Again" cap at the White House. ...

Reporting sports with integrity requires knowing that there's no way to wall off the games from the world outside. To anyone who knows anything about sports or cares about the world outside the arena, the notion that sports should or even can be covered merely by box scores and transaction wires is absurd. ...

It's hard to understand why Great Hill Partners demanded that we "stick to sports" — especially at a time when the site was driving the conversation in sports coverage and had the highest traffic in its history — until you realize that this was most likely their plan. It's the private equity model: Purchase an asset, strip it of everything of value, then turn around and sell the brand to someone else before they realize that what made the brand valuable in the first place has been lost and can never be recovered ...

In recent years, we've seen the deaths (and to varying degrees, the troubled rebirths) of the likes of Newsweek, The Denver Post, LA Weekly, Playboy and just last month, the granddaddy of all sports media, Sports Illustrated. ...

It's going to keep happening ... Unique voices will be muted, or drowned out altogether. ...

[Deadspin saw] its entire mission statement detonated in an instant by the whims of private equity. ...

Sticking to sports, pretending that sports can take place in a vacuum, would have been profoundly dishonest.