January 31, 2020

1869: Niagara Routs Columbia 209-10, But Still Fails To Score In Every Inning

Scoring at least one run in every inning of a nine-inning baseball game is not an easy thing to do. You can count the number of times it has happened in the 120 years of "modern" major league baseball on one hand.

Let's say you heard that a baseball team had scored 209 runs in a single game. You probably would not be surprised to learn that team had scored in every inning. The Colorado Rockies scored only 13 runs on May 5, 1999, but managed to get at least one in each of its nine innings. So scoring 196 additional runs should make that feat pretty easy. And yet ...

On June 8, 1869, in Buffalo, New York, Niagara beat Columbia 209-10 – with every player scoring at least 20 runs – but somehow managed to not score in the fourth inning!

Niagara  –  40 20  9   0 18 19  26 58 19  –  209
Columbia –   2  3  1   0  1  3   0  0  0  –   10

In the top of the eighth, Niagara batted around almost seven times, sending at least 61 batters to the plate. In the last 112 major league seasons (1908-2019), there have been only 27 games in which a team has sent at least 61 batters to the plate in an entire nine-inning game. The major league record is 66, held by the 1922 Cubs.

Here's something even crazier. Columbia used only one pitcher. Some poor sap named Mack threw – if he averaged four pitches per batter – roughly 950 pitches that afternoon (delivering the ball underhanded, but still). Mack put his team in a 40-0 hole before they even walked to the plate. Only Charlie Brown knows what that must feel like.

But then Mack allowed half as many runs in the second inning and half again in the third. Then he tossed a scoreless fourth! He must have felt like he was finally settling down – though how far out of the weeds can you really be when you're down 69-6? ... And then things really went to shit. (But, look, he retired every opposing batter at least once.)

You think any Columbia batters were trying to rally their teammates in the bottom of the ninth? Okay, we can do this, just gotta get on, choke up, stay focused, their pitcher's gotta be tired from all that baserunning, whack a little bingle, keep the line moving, it's never over till it's over ...

Columbia could have batted around 17 times and still lost by four dozen runs. ... Niagara's batters ran more than 14 miles on the bases. ... And it was all wrapped up in a tidy three hours.

The Buffalo Express, June 9, 1869:


Tracking A Claim: Did The 2019 Yankees Have "The Best Bullpen Ever"? (Spoiler: No.)


Last February, Will Leitch (MLB.com) seemed certain that the 2019 Yankees would have "the best bullpen ever".

Leitch stated the Yankees possessed seven relievers "who would instantly become the best reliever on almost any other team" (though he could name only six pitchers to fit this highly dubious claim). The 2019 Yankees would be "shortening the game to an absurd level". This disparity would be "downright unfair" to their opponents. Leitch proclaimed: "If you're behind by more than two runs in the fifth inning, you may already be toast."

Naturally, I objected to this nonsense and confidently offered my own prediction: New York's record with a lead of more than two runs in the fifth inning would "not be some shocking historical outlier when compared to the other top teams in MLB".

Based on the American League teams with the lowest bullpen ERAs in 2018, I tracked five teams - Boston, New York, Cleveland, Houston, Tampa Bay - in 2019.

First, here are the top five AL bullpen ERAs for 2019:
Rays        3.66
Cleveland   3.67
Astros      3.75
Athletics   3.89
Yankees     4.08
The Red Sox finished ninth (4.40), right at the league average (4.41).

Here are the AL's top seven teams in lowest bullpen OBP, SLG, and OPS for 2019 (ranked by OPS):
             OBP    SLG    OPS
Rays        .294   .386   .680
Astros      .283   .397   .681
Athletics   .308   .404   .712
Cleveland   .304   .419   .723
Twins       .316   .419   .736
Yankees     .314   .439   .754
Red Sox     .330   .431   .761
AL Average  .324   .441   .765
NL Average  .315   .420   .735
MLB Average .319   .431   .750
The Red Sox and Athletics led the AL with 31 blown saves, followed by the Mariners (29), Yankees (28), and Rays/Orioles (27). The Astros were 10th (20 blown saves) and Cleveland was tied for 11th (16).

Here are the five teams' records in 2019. I also included the 2018 Red Sox and the 1998 Yankees because I was curious what the numbers would look like in a season when almost everything went right.
                                Record At Start Of Fifth Inning When
             Up by 1   Up by 2   Up by 3   Up by 4   Up by 5   Up by 6+   Up by 2+    Tied   Trailing
Red Sox        15-6      11-6      11-1      8-0       4-1       8-0        42-8     13-10     14-54
Yankees        13-7      22-4      13-1      7-1       3-0      14-0        59-6     17- 8     13-39
Rays           26-8      15-5       9-0      9-0       3-0       7-1        43-6     12-11     15-41
Astros         25-9      17-2       8-0      6-0       6-0      14-0        51-2     14- 9     17-35
Cleveland      14-4      19-2       8-2      8-0       5-0       8-1        48-5     21-11     10-49
2018 Red Sox   14-3      13-1      11-3      4-0       6-0      12-0        46-4     25- 6     23-41
1998 Yankees   21-3      19-3      10-5      8-0       7-0      11-0        55-8     23-10     16-27
Record When Leading By 2+ Runs After Four Innings
Astros        51-2   .962
2018 Red Sox  46-4   .920
Yankees       59-6   .908
Cleveland     48-5   .906
Rays          43-6   .878
1998 Yankees  55-8   .873
Red Sox       42-8   .840
Record When Leading By 3+ Runs After Four Innings
Astros        34-0  1.000
Rays          28-1   .966
Yankees       37-2   .949
Red Sox       31-2   .939
2018 Red Sox  33-3   .917
Cleveland     29-3   .906
1998 Yankees  36-5   .878
Record When Trailing After Four Innings
1998 Yankees  16-27   .381
2018 Red Sox  23-41   .359
Astros        17-35   .327
Rays          15-41   .268
Yankees       13-39   .250
Red Sox       14-54   .206
Cleveland     10-49   .169
Record After X Inning (Regardless Of Score)
                After 5   After 6   After 7   After 8
Red Sox          67-9      70-9      72-9      68-4 
Yankees          83-9      87-7      90-2      90-1 
Rays             74-7      76-5      81-4      81-3 
Astros           83-6      91-6      94-3      96-2 
Cleveland        66-7      74-8      78-5      82-3 
2018 Red Sox     78-7      84-6      90-4      97-1 
1998 Yankees     85-9      91-7      93-1     102-1
Notes:

As expected, the 2019 Yankees' bullpen was nowhere near Leitch's mythical seven-headed monster. In fact, his prediction took a beating immediately after Opening Day.

In G2, the Yankees led the Orioles 1-0 in the fifth before losing 5-3. In G5, they led the Tigers 1-0 in the fifth, were tied 1-1 after eight, and lost 3-1. In G6, they were tied 1-1 with the Tigers after seven innings and lost 2-1. So this supposedly invincible bullpen blew three leads in the first week of the season. ... Shortly thereafter, they led the Astros 3-1 after seven innings in G10 and lost 4-3. In G13, they led the White Sox 4-1 after three, 5-3 after four, and lost 9-6.

In a five-game stretch in late April, the Yankees' bullpen faltered four times, but the offense bailed them out. In G21, they blew a 6-0 lead to the Royals in the eighth inning, but won 7-6 in 10 innings. In G22, they gave up a run to the Angels in the bottom of the 12th inning, but won in 14. In G23, they led the Angels 7-1 in the eighth before allowing four runs, holding on to win 7-5. In G25, they led the Angels 4-0 in the fifth and ended up being blown out 11-5.

There was another problematic five-game stretch in early July. In G83, the Yankees led the Mets 2-1 before allowing three runs in the eighth, losing 4-2. In G85, they led the Rays 3-1, gave up two runs in the bottom of the ninth, rallied for five runs in the T10 and won 8-4 (though they allowed one run in the B10 and the Rays left the bases loaded). In G86, they led the Rays 3-1 in the fifth, blew a late lead, and won in 11. In G87, they led the Rays 1-0 and 2-1, and were tied 3-3 before losing 4-3 on a ninth-inning walkoff.

Needless to say, these were not the MFY's bullpen's only embarrassments during the season (see picture above).

In his specific situation (up by more than two runs in the fifth, or "leading by 3+ runs" above), both the Astros and Rays had a higher winning percentage than the Yankees - and the Red Sox (who finished with 19 more losses overall than New York) lost the same number of games (two).

The 2019 Red Sox actually rallied and won more games than the Yankees when trailing after four innings. The Red Sox had a better record than the Yankees when leading by one run after four innings and both teams lost the same number of games when leading after five innings. Indeed, the Yankees had the worst record among the five teams when leading by one run after four and New York was the only team to hold a four-run lead after four innings and lose.

Also: Cleveland lost its first seven games when trailing after four innings and were 1-22 in such games through June 4. But Cleveland did not lose a game it led by 2+ runs after four innings until July 12. ... The Rays' first loss after leading after four innings came in G20 (13-0). At one point, they were 29-2 in those instances. ... The Red Sox trailed after four innings in each of their first 10 games of the season. They did not have a lead after four innings until G14. They were 4-9 in the first 13 games.

January 30, 2020

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

SignStealingScandal.com

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.

January 29, 2020

A Very Brief History Of Cheating In Baseball

Bradford Doolittle of ESPN, writing about the punishment meted out to the Astros by MLB for cheating during the 2017 season, had a great idea. He would scour the internet and comb through many baseball books and "compile a list of every documented instance of a player or manager working the edges to gain a competitive on-field advantage that I could find".

He soon discovered that "the exercise was too daunting, even though I was going to summarize all performance-enhancing-drugs-related beefs with one line and assign anything related to gambling to a different category. In other words, to say that cheating has always been a part of baseball is more than a true statement. It's a massive understatement."

Thankfully, Doolittle did not simply bury his research. He posted some "representative instances" that "barely skim[] the surface" of what has taken place throughout baseball's long history:
• From the beginning of baseball to present day: Ballplayers have experimented with substances they knew, believed or hoped would enhance their performance.

• 1880s: Coaching boxes were introduced for the first time to curb the practice of coaches wandering from their position to interfere with action on the field by impeding baserunners, or even imitating a runner to draw an errant throw.

• 1890s: One of the best teams of the era flouted the rules in numerous ways, from hardening the surface in front of the plate to help its group of good bunters to skipping bases when umpires weren't looking.

• 1900: A National League team had a reserve player stationed behind a whiskey sign in the outfield with a telescope to swipe signs from the opposing catcher. The same team's third-base coach was caught with a buzzer buried beneath his feet in a wooden box that received indicators of the stolen signals, information he would convey to the hitter. His giveaway was a constantly nervous leg, caused by jolts from the electric pulses.

• 1900s: A Hall of Fame manager, who served as a player-manager for a few years, would grab opposing baserunners by the belt loops when they were trying to tag up or trip them rounding the base. He would wet the infield if it benefited his pitching staff. He went on to manage into the 1930s.

• 1900s to 1920s: The widely acknowledged best player in baseball was said to have sharpened his spikes to intimidate opponents when he'd slide into a base. ...

• 1920s: OK, this one is Babe Ruth. In an anecdote related, among other places, in the "The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract," former big leaguer Dave Henderson observed a corked Ruth bat while visiting a traveling exhibit -- 60 years after the fact. Ruth was caught using a trick bat in 1923. Ruth was also said to have injected himself with extract from sheep testicles in an effort to burnish his power. ...

• From the beginning of baseball: Groundskeepers employed by teams have plied their art to aid the home team in numerous ways. Overgrown infield grass. Wetted-down infields. Fences that slide in or out depending who the opponent was. Sloping foul territory. Frozen baseballs. You name it.

• From the beginning of baseball: Pitchers have used foreign substances -- spit, oil, tobacco juice, grease, etc. -- to gain extra movement on the ball. They've scuffed balls with sandpaper, razors, thumbtacks or belt buckles, or had their catchers use a sharpened edge of their shin guards. One famous practitioner of these practices is a Hall of Famer who earned the nickname "Black and Decker," though he always claimed he let the reputation spread just to get in hitters' heads. Another practitioner is also in the Hall of Fame, and to this day plays up the reputation for fans by wetting his fingers and holding them up in the air to rounds of laughter.

• In recent years and in a more technical sense: Pitchers have been accused of -- and caught -- using pine tar to improve their grip on the ball in an effort to gain extra spin. The effect is, to quote one expert on pitching, more profound than the use of steroids.

• 1940s to present: Infielders have attempted to distract hitters by getting into their sightlines, a practice that was banned in the 1940s. It has found a renaissance in the current era due to the proliferation of extreme shifts and the positioning of infielders straight up the middle.

• 1951: A pennant-winning team used a sign-stealing scheme that involved a player with a telescope zeroing in on the opposing catcher from a darkened window of the center-field clubhouse. He would use a buzzer to relay his findings to the bullpen, whose inhabitants then communicated them to the hitters. The scheme almost certainly contributed to the most famous pennant-winning homer in history. The wielder of the telescope went on to manage the Giants and Cubs.

• 1960s: One successful franchise with a reputation for developing historically great pitchers was said to have built up the height of its pitching mound unfairly to give its hurlers an added boost.

• 1961: A hitter had a career year with a bat he later admits was corked, though this hitter didn't break any sacred all-time records.

• 1963: A Hall of Famer from baseball's most successful franchise admitted to scuffing the ball and applying his own special blend of "gunk" to gain an advantage.

• 1960s, '70s, '80s, '90s, 2000s (at least): There have been a number of instances of All-Star-level hitters getting caught and suspended for using corked bats. In one infamous incident, a hitter was caught using a bat filled with super-balls when it broke open on the field. In one corked-bat incident, after the player in question saw his bat confiscated for later examination, a teammate crawled through the ductwork at the park into the umpires' dressing room to swap the bat. Only he swapped it with a teammate's bat instead of one from the offending hitter, making the scheme easy to suss out.

• 1980: A pitcher was caught and suspended after a ham-handed attempt to scuff balls with a thumbtack. He claimed that the only balls he scuffed turned into hits and that the only thing the scheme accomplished was a cut on his forehead from the thumbtack. The pitcher went on to become one of the most respected pitching coaches in the game.

• 1984: The manager who exposed the thumbtack pitcher managed one of the most beloved teams of the decade. He also admitted later to writer George Will that he had a couple of players on that team who would decode opposing catchers' signals from the television in the clubhouse, so that any runner to reach second base could relay them to the hitter.

• 2010: An elite NL team was accused of stealing signs by using binoculars from the bullpen.

• 2010: An elite American League team was accused of using an elaborate sign-stealing scheme that was detailed in great depth by ESPN The Magazine.

• 2015: The aforementioned hacking scandal.

• 2017: A big league general manager was found to have committed multiple violations of baseball's policies for working in the international player market. The GM was kicked out of baseball.

• 2017: An AL team was found to have stolen signals and then communicated them with wearable technology.
Doolittle's limited list omits a game-throwing scandal that happened in 1877, in the National League's second season. Four players from the Louisville Grays were banned from baseball for life: Bill Craver, Jim Devlin, George Hall, and Al Nichols. (Craver had likely also thrown games in 1876, while playing for, and managing, the New York Mutuals.)

During Louisville's "slump", the Courier-Journal ran this headline: !!!--??--!!!

More from Doolittle:
[Last week, Jack] McDowell claimed that when he joined the White Sox in 1987, there was a legacy sign-stealing system in place at the old Comiskey Park. He attributed the existence of this system to former Chicago manager Tony LaRussa, whose final season in Chicago was 1986. LaRussa later clapped back, albeit fairly meekly.

It's hard to say what LaRussa might have implemented at Comiskey, but there is no question that a sign-stealing system was in place at the park for decades, according to the guy who instigated it -- longtime executive Frank Lane, who once tried to trade Stan Musial away from the Cardinals. In a biography by Bob Vanderberg called "Frantic Frank Lane," Lane said he set up the system in the 1950s based on suggestions from Hall of Famer George Kell, for whom he had traded. Kell had observed a similar system in place at Fenway Park when he played for the Red Sox.

Lane was fed up with being victimized by sign stealers throughout the American League and sought the input of Kell and reserve infielder Bob Kennedy, later a big league manager.

"In '55," Lane said, "we were almost certain they were stealing our signs in Kansas City, Detroit and Cleveland. So I said to George Kell and Bob Kennedy, 'Those sons of b----es are getting our signs.' So either Kell or Kennedy, or both, said, 'Well, why don't we do it?'"

The system used the scoreboard to relay the stolen signals by toggling a one or a zero to indicate pitch type. Lane claimed the system was in place long after he left the team. Elsewhere, legendary groundskeeper George Toma claimed to have overseen a similar plot at Municipal Stadium in Kansas City. ...

The players, coaches, managers and executives who have participated in this kind of behavior were all wrong, all through history. There are reasons baseball enacts policies to encourage and ensure fair play. It's also baseball's role to make sure these policies are followed as best it can.

However, the tradition of working the edges of the rulebook, and beyond, is never going to stop. ... Some athletes -- not all -- invariably behave as humans do in competitive circumstances. They pull out every stop in an obsessive drive to succeed. It's what people do. ...

[The Astros] were merely the team to have been caught red-handed ... Many teams before the Astros have pushed the proverbial envelope, but it was Houston that finally knocked it off the edge of the table.

Report: After 2018, The Red Sox Offered Mookie 10/300. He Countered With 12/420. That Does Not Bode Well For Betts Playing His Entire Career In Boston.

In his first three major league seasons, Mookie Betts earned $254,098, $514,500, and $566,000.

After 2016: The Red Sox offered 5-year/$100 million. Betts said no, earned $950,000 in 2017.

After 2017: The Red Sox offered 8-year/$200 million. Betts said no, went to arbitration and earned $10.5 million in 2018.

After 2018: The Red Sox offered 10-year/$300 million. Betts countered with 12 years/$420 million. The Red Sox and Betts avoided arbitration, agreeing to $20 million for 2019.

After 2019: The Red Sox and Betts avoided arbitration, agreeing to $27 million for 2020.

In a nutshell:
2014 - $   254,098
2015 - $   514,500
2016 - $   566,000   Red Sox offered 5/100. Betts said no.
2017 - $   950,000   Red Sox offered 8/200. Betts said no.
2018 - $10,500,000   Red Sox offered 10/300. Betts said no, countered with 12/420. 
2019 - $20,100,000   (No talks?)
2020 - $27,000,000   (Free agency?)

Betts's counteroffer of 12/420 was reported by Lou Merloni of WEEI.
They can't get it done. They know they can't get it done. When you go to a guy for three years in a row and you're off by almost $100 million -- in one instance over $100 million -- they know they can't sign him.
That 12/420 proposal is slightly less than Mike Trout's 12/430 contract, but higher than Bryce Harper's 13/330 deal.

Why was this news leaked to Merloni, of all the people in the media? I worry that letting Red Sox fans know Betts wants 12/420 is the first shot in the public relations battle that will break out if/when Betts is traded before spring training.

I love Mookie and the Red Sox have the money*, but 12 years is a seriously long time. I honestly cannot see any positive in the team tying itself to a $35 million/year contract until 2032. Betts will turn 40 during that year's postseason (October 7).

*: Before the 2019 season, the Red Sox were valued at $3.2 billion, which represented a 742% increase over the $380 million purchase price paid by John Henry and his partners in 2002.

John Tomase, NBC Sports:
If Mookie Betts and the Red Sox are really $100 million apart, then the Red Sox should stop pretending he has a future in Boston and trade him right now. ...

Keeping him in the hope that he suddenly agrees to an extension when he has never been closer to hitting the open market feels like a denial of reality. ...

The alternative is keeping him until the trade deadline, letting this story hang over both player and organization through July, and then being unable to pull the trigger because the team clings to the periphery of the postseason race, at which point the Red Sox are left with basically nothing.

Trading Betts now doesn't even preclude the possibility of him signing long-term ... Nothing would stop them from making a massive offer next winter and trying to bring him back ...

That said, if the Red Sox trade Betts, I suspect it would be forever, and there's a case to be made for that, too. Ten- or 12-year deals are generally bad business, no matter how talented the player, because there are too many ways they can sour [Pujols, Cano, Cabrera]
Sean McAdam, Boston Sports Journal:
For much of the winter, I was convinced that Mookie Betts would be in a Red Sox uniform on Opening Day.

Now, I'm not so sure.

I believed that the Sox would hold onto Betts — at least to start the year. I thought they might make one more (public) offer on a contract extension, and then re-assess where they stood in July at the trade deadline. I found it hard to believe that, coming off a disappointing season, the team would effectively wave the white flag on the 2020 season by trading away its best player.

Now, I'm not so sure.

Spring training is just two weeks away, and yet talk of a Betts deal is heating up. Talks are ongoing with both the San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers, with the Arizona Diamondbacks perhaps on the periphery. It's probably not a coincidence that the teams are all housed in the same division. That way, the Red Sox can create some leverage.
Jon Heyman, Twitter, January 28:
Sense is that Red Sox seem more serious than ever about a Mookie Betts deal, and rivals are starting to think a trade may happen. Dodgers and Padres are teams most often publicly linked though no sense yet who may be most likely.
RedSoxStats, Twitter, January 29:
On MLB Network Rosenthal says Padres are in, Dodgers are in, Padres are pushing the hardest but the Dodgers can do it the cleanest.
"If I had to guess I believe he is going to be traded. I wouldn't have said that a week ago."
Buster Olney, Twitter, January 29:
["How likely do you think the Dodgers are to get Betts, 1 being no way-10 being it's a lock"]
8.5
SoSH is having an interesting discussion. Here are some posts that align with the various things I am thinking.
Rough Carrigan
In the span of about three years he's gone from being truly great as a defensive right fielder to one of the top 3 in the league. That's a significant decline and it's the reason why I wouldn't give him that kind of contract. He doesn't walk quite enough, hasn't been very good in the postseason and wasn't in the top 10 in OPS+ in the AL this last year. It's kind of unfair to complain about that but when you want a top of the game contract it becomes somewhat reasonable. The last four years he's been in the top 10 in the AL once, when he was second to Mike Trout in 2018. The standards for justifying a top of the game contract are tough and I guess I fall on the side of thinking that he hasn't justified it.
tims4wins
This is where I fall. I calculated his OPS+ and wOBA from 2016-2019 the other day and he ranks somewhere in the 13-15 range. That's very good especially with his defense. But it's not worth the 2nd highest contract to Trout or anywhere within 10% of it ...
wOBA, 2016-2019
Mike Trout        .434​
J.D. Martinez     .406​
Aaron Judge       .397​
Juan Soto         .393​
Christian Yelich  .392​
Freddie Freeman   .392​
Nolan Arenado     .391​
Charlie Blackmon  .391​
Joey Votto        .388​
Josh Donaldson    .387​
Kris Bryant       .386​
Mookie Betts      .385​
Nelson Cruz       .385​
wRC+ 2016-2019
Mike Trout         180​
J.D. Martinez      154​
Aaron Judge        152​
Christian Yelich   147​
Nelson Cruz        147​
Jose Altuve        147​
Alex Bregman       146​
Freddie Freeman    144​
Juan Soto          143​
Josh Donaldson     143​
Kris Bryant        140​
Cody Bellinger     140​
Joey Votto         139​
Mookie Betts       139​
Justin Turner      139​
Oil Can Dan
If the report is true, I don't blame Mookie for asking for that. Certainly within his rights, and maybe he gets it. But the Red Sox should not agree to any deal that extends to 2032. That's crazy talk and they'd be assuming way more risk than is responsible. That sort of deal for that length at that sort of financial commitment is a franchise killer.
Rough Carrigan
According to the fielding bible, Mookie's defensive decline over the last 3 years from truly great in 2016 at 32 runs saved, and 2017 31 runs saved to 2018 at 20 runs saved to 2019 15 runs saved. The first 3 of those years he ranked as first in MLB. Last year he ranked third behind Bellinger and Judge. That's a loss of half his extra defensive value. If true that's a big deal.
Smiling Joe Hesketh
Mookie's much better than all those guys and they should keep him under any circumstances. 10/300 is what Machado got; Mookie's WAR is much much higher and he doesn't have the reputation of a laggard that Machado had. SD is also exponentially poorer than Boston; offering Mookie the same deal as Machado shows that the Sox are not seriously interested in retaining his services.

They have the money. They're one of the richest clubs in baseball. That they're choosing not to spend it to retain a homegrown superstar who should be the face of their organization for years to come speaks volumes about the priorities of this ownership group at the current time.

If he leaves the team will be substantially worse. They will get killed on the field and in the NESN ratings, and the owners will lose money that way. But hey those draft picks make up for all. ...

This is not letting Johnny Damon leave when they've got options ready and Damon's already past his prime; this is letting a top 5 player in the game leave at the peak of his powers.

At some point you have to decide what's more important, putting a good team on the field or acting like the Pirates. The sudden urge to get under the luxury tax just as their best player is up for a new deal stinks to high heavens. ...

Mookie is infinitely better than Machado. He's better than Harper, who got 12/330. You can't offer 10/300 and expect anything more than being laughed out of the room. ...

JWH is a billionaire and the Sox are the second or third most valuable MLB franchise. Of course they can afford to pay Mookie without any negative impact on the rest of the team. They are swimming in money. They are simply choosing not to pay him his fair value. That's their choice, but it will cost them dearly. ...

I'm saying they should offer 10/400 now. Today, right now. Call him up and make that offer. That's a fair deal, and Mookie might actually accept it. ... They'll never do it, of course. They're going to let him walk or trade him and then cry poor about it later, like they've done with so many other players. I'm resigned to this. These are the same guys who offered Lester 5/70. They've learned nothing.
Kliq
I'm all in on giving Mookie whatever the max market deal he could get is. At some point, the Red Sox are going to have to step-up to the big boy table and offer one of these massive new deals to a player, and there is unlikely to ever be a better option than a player like Mookie. Your point about acting like the Pirates is true, the Red Sox are either a rich club willing to spend money the way the Angles, Philly or the Yankees have so far, or they are not. ...

I don't have a problem at all giving Mookie a deal for 10+ years; if you want to get MVP-level production from a player in their prime, that is the cost of doing business. If Mookie is 36 years old, making $35 million and a 1.0 WAR player, I'm totally okay with that, provided that for 5-8 years before that, he was a 7-10 WAR player. I want the Red Sox to pay for one of the best players in baseball, and the reality is that if you want that, you need to pay for a little bit of insurance on the back end.

The idea that the Red Sox might trade him and then re-sign him next off-season...I mean get that weak shit out of here. That reeks of doomsday prepping for the inevitable backlash fans would give the Sox if they trade him right now. We already went down this road with Lester ...

I'm not going to say I'm going to stop rooting for the team if they trade Mookie, but if they expect me to continue to pay escalating ticket prices, $12 for a beer and $7 for a hot dog, and not be annoyed when the second I step into Fenway some teenager with a camera is trying to sell me a $25 photo of my "experience at Fenway Park", that is going to be a tough, tough sell.
brs3
I'm on team SJH. I think it comes down to whether you think Mookie is a generational franchise impact player, and I happen to think so. When you look at all the dumb overpays that the Red Sox have made in the last decade, this one doesn't smell like an overpay to me, and the stats don't suggest it would be either. It seems the Red Sox ownership swings drastically in both directions, and a year from now when Mookie is long gone, they'll swing in the other direction and overspend on talent that will not equal Mookie's numbers. Call it the 2021 mystery Mookie replacement, and in a decade we can compare the stats of future HoF Mookie vs mystery replacement.

Pay the man.
John Marzano Olympic Hero
This is the take right here and it lines up with what Bill Veeck said about teams don't go broke over paying the superstars, they go broke over paying the mediocre players. If you know that your generational superstar is coming up for a big-time contract, you don't back up the Brinks truck for Nathan Eovaldi. You don't give a bunch of cash to a person who has wilted in August and September like Chris Sale. You take that money and sock it away for Betts.

I'm pretty much sure that Betts is going to get traded and I'm coming to grips with it. What I'm not going to ever understand is how the Sox could be like a poet on pay day when it came to spending money in the spring and then turning into Mr. Burns and announcing that they're cutting back on payroll in the fall? I do get that there was a big change in the front office during those six months, but everything still runs through John Henry, no?

And the reported players in exchange for Betts aren't going to be good. They may as well go the full nine yards and just sell him to the Padres or Dodgers. GTFOH with these fifth and sixth-ranked players and Wil Myers or Joc Pederson. ...

I like watching Mookie Betts play, I don't think that there has been a better homegrown player to come through the Red Sox system since Yaz. He is one of the players that I will stop what I'm doing and watch his at bats, even when the team is 19 games behind the Yankees. If you think that it's a good idea to trade a player like that for virtually nothing, cool. I disagree. I also think that it's dumb for the Red Sox to give a ton of money to Nathan Eovaldi and Chris Sale in November and March, then cry poor six months later.

Not only that, but to portray the Boston Red Sox as needing to stick to some sort of imaginary budget a few weeks before Forbes listed the worth of MLB franchises (the Red Sox are in the top two or three) and the team announced an increase in ticket sales.

So yeah, excuse me for ... not being excited to watch Wil Myers stumble his way around right field.
RedOctober3829
I don't think you can blame the owners here, SJH. They've put their best foot forward in trying to buy out Betts' arbitration years and it seems like he is dead set on testing the open market. I don't think you want them bidding against themselves and give him $420 million when they don't really have to at this point. The FO has to make a choice: do you want to be above the tax and incur these penalties no matter what? If they do, then keep him but any contract you sign Betts to is going to have a huge tax bill attached to it. If Betts isn't signing now for any team, why not get under the tax this year with as much of a chance to re-sign him at the end of the year as if you would if he was here? Believe me, I was where you were for most of the offseason. I couldn't stomach to trade him because he's a great, great player in his prime. But, as I am reading all the facts it simply makes financial sense to trade him now, get as much as you can for him, and do what you need to do to get under the tax. If he leaves after the year, they'd get a mid-round pick for him which would be cancelled out with a mid-round pick they'd lose as an over-the-last-tax-threshold team. They lived above the tax and got a World Series for their troubles. It's time to reset and get ready for the next run. That run could still include Betts going forward whether you trade him or not. If it doesn't, the FA class after the 2021 season should be filled with a lot of franchise-type players.
John Marzano Olympic Hero
I think that in a sense you're right, Babe Ruth left the Red Sox. As did Fred Lynn, Roger Clemens, Wade Boggs, Manny, Pedro, Nomar and Mo. Ted Williams, Yaz and David Ortiz all retired. And yes, the Boston Red Sox still play baseball in Fenway Park year in and year out.

I get the bottom line. I get the luxury tax implications. I get, deep down, that it's probably the right move to send him away. But I don't have to like it. And the reason why I don't like it is because I don't think that the 2020 Boston Red Sox are a better team without Mookie Betts. The Ewing Theory doesn't exist and teams that trade a superstar for nothing special don't normally do better without that star player. Will I watch a middling Red Sox team? Of course I will. I've watched 100+ Red Sox games every year from 1986 until today. I'm not going to turn in my Red Sox hat because they got rid of Mookie Betts. But it's a much more pleasurable experience to watch a good team with good players and not a lot of financial flexibility than watching a .500 team without their best player but a lot of room to throw around money in a year.

And honestly, if they are are worried about their financial future; just blow the team up today. If you trade Mookie Betts, you don't need a $20+ million DH, get rid of JBJ, Eovaldi and Price and Sale. Just bottom out and quit dicking around with half-measures. Build around Devers, Benintendi and Bogaerts. It might take longer, but just rip the damn band-aid off.

The one thing that I would caution the Red Sox on is that right now, Boston is a football town and the Red Sox are the number two team in the region, by a lot. ... If the Red Sox ever want to be the number one team in town again, I don't think that it behooves them to trade the one player that could take Tom Brady's crown. This is not a Helen Lovejoy lament, but there are a lot of kids who are into the Red Sox because of Mookie Betts. And while you don't make moves specifically to garner future fans, a move like this could torpedo the team's status. Especially considering that baseball (and other teams sports) is losing the young fan to other things. Don't give them a reason to turn the game off, because that may not impact the bottom line today, but it will eventually.
DJnVa
I *want* to root for Mookie on the Red Sox. I will be disappointed if I cannot.
However, I am, and will always be, a Red Sox fan.

Moreland Returns For 2020 And A Few Drips Of Manager News

The Red Sox may be considering Mark Kotsay to fill their managerial vacancy. Kotsay played for 17 years, and was with the Red Sox in 2008 and 2009. The Red Sox have also shown interest in Hensley Meulens (Mets bench coach).

Mitch Moreland will be returning to the Red Sox for a fourth season in 2020. M. Two-Bags agreed to a 2020 contract for $2.5 million. Boston holds a team option for 2021 ($3 million or a $500,000 buyout). Moreland played in only 91 games in 2019, but he had career highs in slugging percentage (.507) and OPS (.835). However, Moreland batted only .204 against lefties last season, so Michael Chavis should also get some time at the cold corner.

The Astros have hired Dusty Baker to manage the 2020 team. I'm assuming Baker, at 70 now the oldest manager in MLB, has a cunning plan to unclog those bases.

Truck Day is next Monday (February 3).

January 28, 2020

Electronic Strike Zone Will Be Tested During Spring Training, But Will Not Actually Be Used In Games

Commissioner Rob Manfred was "completely inaccurate" when he said MLB would be using an electronic strike zone in exhibition games this spring, according to the Major League Baseball Umpires Association.

The umpires' union clarified that automated balls-and-strikes software (or an electronic strike zone) would be used behind the scenes during nine spring training games. The on-field umpires will make all rulings during the games as usual.

Manfred had announced:
We're going to be using it during spring training and in some of our minor leagues this year. The way it works is the camera calls the ball or strike [and] communicates to an earpiece that the umpire has in his ear. And from the fan's perspective, it looks exactly like it looks today. We believe, over the long haul, it's going to be more accurate. It will reduce controversy in the game and be good for the game. We think it's more accurate than a human being standing there.
The Major League Baseball Umpires Association followed that news with its own statement:
Reports that MLB will use 'robo-umps' to call balls and strikes in spring training games this year are completely inaccurate. ... Our understanding is that a camera-based tracking system will be running in the background during some spring training games for technology development and training purposes. But any game in which a Major League Baseball umpire is working will have a human calling balls and strikes. ...

[The umpires' union] has never opposed the use of technology to improve the accuracy of calls, including on balls and strikes, if it can be done while protecting the integrity of the game. We do not claim to be perfect and we work constantly to improve our performance. But no automated system will be perfect either, and we have concerns about potential fundamental changes to pitch-calling that will need to be accepted by both the players and the fans.

To achieve this new contract with the owners, however, we agreed that MLB can use [the electronic strike zone], if important conditions are met, and after a process through which umpires will have direct input into when and how the technology enters Major League games, including spring training games. We believe our involvement will be crucial to preserving fair play if the owners are determined to introduce this fundamental change. We bargained hard for these protections, and the process we negotiated has not even started. Use of ... technology in spring training games this year would be premature and would violate our new agreement. We have received absolutely no word from the Office of the Commissioner that MLB intends to do that.
MLB tested an electronic strike zone last season in the independent Atlantic League and the Arizona Fall League.

According to Jacob Bogage of The Washington Post, a source "with knowledge of the system's rollout said Manfred is eyeing activating the digital strike zone in the big leagues in as soon as three seasons".

Bogage reported that "tensions remain high" between umpires and team owners, with the umpires believing Manfred is moving too fast to introduce technology into the officiating of baseball.

MLB and the umpires' union are also discussing the possibility of having some umpires wear microphones at some point this season for announcing the verdicts on reviewed calls and/or explaining rules.

Four members of the House of Representatives (two Democrats and two Republicans) introduced a resolution last week urging MLB not to eliminate 42 minor league teams. MLB made its proposal last year to eliminate short-season leagues and reduce the number of farm teams with which each club is affiliated.

One of the teams that could get the axe is the Lowell Spinners, the Red Sox's Short-Season A-ball team in the New York-Penn League. (The (Burlington) Vermont Lake Monsters, the Athletics' affiliate in the same league, is also on the list.)

January 25, 2020

What's The World Got In Store

I began receiving The Will Leitch Weekly Newsletter about three months ago. "Volume 2, Issue 95: Shrug and Destroy" arrived this morning.

Leitch begins:
I have been in the same room as Donald Trump five times in my life. I know the dates for all five. Somehow, I think he'd like that. I can't imagine much in this world that would make Donald Trump happier than a person knowing the precise date of every time he'd been in the same room as him. I assume this is the first thought every time he sees someone: I bet this person knows exactly how many times he's been in the room with me. With enough will and brute force, you can create the reality you desire.
Leitch recounts each time, from 2012 to 2020. It's not essential reading, but it's not dull, either.

Leitch also posts a weekly "2020 Power Rankings" of Democratic presidential candidates. He hasn't written much about the campaign since I've been receiving the newsletters, but he does offer a warning that "next week’s newsletter is my official endorsement newsletter". And there's this:
I like Hillary Clinton. I voted for Hillary Clinton. Four times! (Twice for Senate in New York, once in the 2016 Democratic Primary and once in the 2016 general election.)
A little later on:
Currently Listening To
"Shouldn't Be Ashamed," Wilco.
That's an interesting (and presumably unintentional and unrelated) juxtaposition. Voting for Hillary Clinton once is something of which a reasonably well-informed, liberal person should absolutely be ashamed. And four times? Including in the 2016 primary? Unless you have remained willfully ignorant of current events for decades, I cannot fathom it. Voting for her even as the lesser (but not by all that much) of two evils strikes me as an overly repellent act. Perhaps Leitch is not liberal; maybe he's cemented himself in that mythical "center" that has been steadily and unerringly moving to the right for 40+ years.

Also, this reminds me that I promised to track various bullpen performances last season after reading an extremely silly thing Leitch wrote about the Yankees' pen. ... Is it even worth doing at this point? (Maybe it can be a spring training project.)

January 24, 2020

Reports: Red Sox Discussing Possibility Of Mookie Trade With Padres

Please let this end up as a great, big nothing. ... I still refuse to entertain the thought of Betts not wearing a Red Sox uniform in 2021.

Dennis Lin, The Athletic:
In the latest sign of their ambitions, the Padres have discussed a trade centered around Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts, sources told The Athletic. ...

Recent talks between the teams have focused on sending a significant amount of prospect talent and outfielder Wil Myers to Boston, according to sources. Multiple people familiar with the discussions characterized an agreement as unlikely, and the industry consensus is that Betts will be in a Red Sox uniform on Opening Day. Yet both sides appear to have legitimate interest.

The Padres have sought for more than a year to move the remainder of Myers' contract, which will pay the underperforming outfielder $61 million over the next three seasons. Betts, over the last three seasons, has been worth more wins above replacement than any player other than Mike Trout, and even at a salary of $27 million, the 27-year-old is rightly considered a bargain. ...

For the Red Sox, adding multiple prospects from one of the game's top farm systems would boost their own sagging talent base — a base that might be further weakened if the team, presently under investigation for its role in baseball's sign-stealing scandal, is docked draft picks, as the Houston Astros were.

Meanwhile, exchanging Betts for Myers as part of the acquisition cost would at least help the Red Sox in their quest to get under the $208 million luxury-tax threshold. The Red Sox, who have yet to cut payroll, have about $230 million committed for 2020, including Betts' one-year, $27 million deal, a record for an arbitration-eligible player. The two sides reportedly spoke earlier in the offseason about swapping the contracts of Myers and veteran starter David Price, who is owed $96 million through 2022, but the Padres seemingly have limited interest in such a scenario. ...
Alex Speier, Globe:
There's no sign that such conversations at this point represent more than an exchange of ideas. But as of Thursday night, evaluators suggested that such talks were ongoing.

Under general manager A.J. Preller, the Padres have spent years building one of the deepest farm systems in the game. But after nine straight losing seasons, San Diego sees a chance to emerge as one of the better teams in the National League. ...

While the Padres discussed the possibility of acquiring a starting pitcher from the Red Sox earlier this offseason, the need to include Myers in a deal underscores that San Diego lacks the payroll space to consider an acquisition of both Betts and one of the Red Sox starters such as David Price and Nate Eovaldi. In all likelihood, if the Sox and Padres were to consummate a deal, it would see only Betts going to San Diego – meaning that the Sox would still have to make one or more additional moves in order to get below the luxury tax threshold.

Partly for that reason, some members of the industry expressed skepticism that the Padres and Red Sox will line up a deal. The Dodgers, by contrast, continue to look like a superior match in a potential Betts trade given both their superior financial resources (they have the financial bandwidth to trade for Betts and much of a Sox starter's contract, as well as a need for rotation reinforcements) and an excellent farm system. There is a broader question of the Red Sox' willingness to deal Betts prior to a 2020 season in which they intend to contend. Dealing Betts in the wake of last week's departure of Alex Cora could prove particularly ugly from a public relations standpoint. ...

So what might that mean in the case of a Padres trade for Betts? A look at the Padres' 40-man roster offers some possibilities. ...

January 22, 2020

After ESPN's Jessica Mendoza Embarrasses Herself, Pedro Martinez Says The Same Thing, Trying (And Failing) To Have It Both Ways Regarding Players Who Expose Cheaters

Jessica Mendoza is guilty of a huge conflict of interest, as she is an announcer on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball while also working as a special adviser for the Mets. Mendoza also embarrassed herself last week by criticizing former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers for telling The Athletic about the Astros' illegal sign-stealing schemes. Mendoza said Fiers was wrong "to go public with it" and "start all of this".
To go public, yeah, that didn't sit well with me. Honestly, it made me sad for the sport, that that's how this all got found out. This wasn't something that MLB naturally investigated, or that even other teams complained about ... but that it came from within. It was a player that was a part of it, that benefited from it during the regular season when he was a part of the team. ... I totally get telling your future teammates, helping them win, letting people know. But to go public with it and call them out and start all of this? It's tough to swallow.
Mendoza also revealed her deep ignorance about the sign-stealing scandal. Two days before her comments, Alden Gonzalez and Jesse Rogers (two ESPN writers, colleagues of Mendoza) reported that the Commissioner's office had received several complaints about possible cheating. It appears that MLB did not "naturally investigate" those complaints until some allegations were made public.

Is Mendoza also angry at Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich for reporting on these allegations instead of quietly slipping a note to Rob Manfred? If Fiers had not gone to the media with what he knew, MLB would have (knowing everything we do about MLB) continued to sit on and ignore those complaints. Mendoza is free to disagree about that assertions, but to say those complaints did not exist is wrong.

After she came under fire online, Mendoza went to Twitter and flip-flopped, praising what she previously said had not sat well with her. (She also defended her employment conflict of interest.)
Thought it was important to clarify my earlier remarks about the sign stealing situation in MLB. Most importantly, I feel strongly that the game of baseball will benefit greatly because that sign stealing matter was uncovered. Cheating the game is something that needs to be addressed and I'm happy to see the league is taking appropriate action. The point I should have been much more clear on was this: I believe it's very critical that this news was made public; I simply disagree with the manner in which that was done. I credit Mike Fiers for stepping forward, yet I feel that going directly through your team and/or MLB first could have been a better way to surface the information. Reasonable minds can disagree. Ultimately what matters most is that his observations were made public and the game will be better for it.
It saddens me to read Pedro Martinez's comments, made last weekend, which are identical to Mendoza's initial complaints.
If he was to do it when he was playing for the Houston Astros I would say Mike Fiers has guts. But to go and do it after you leave the Houston Astros because they don't have you anymore, that doesn't show me anything. You're just a bad teammate. ... If you tell me that Mike Fiers is coming to my team and you already threw your team under the bus, the team that you used to play for … Now everybody knows you are going to have a whistle-blower in any other situation too. Whatever happens in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse and Fiers broke the rules. I agree with cleaning up the game. I agree that the fact that the Commissioner is taking a hard hand on this, but at the same time players should not be the one dropping the whistle-blower.

If you have integrity you find ways to tell everybody in the clubhouse, "Hey, we might get in trouble for this. I don't want to be part of this." You call your GM. You tell him. Or you call anybody you can or MLB or someone and say, "I don't want to be part of this." Or you tell the team, "Get me out of here, I don't want to be part of this." Then you show me something. But if you leave Houston and most likely you didn't agree with Houston when you left and then you go and drop the entire team under the bus I don't trust you.
Pedro is not making sense. He is trying (and clearly failing) to have it both ways. He says "whatever happens in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse" and Fiers broke that important rule by telling others what went on there.

But Pedro has to make a stand against cheating and tell us he believes in "cleaning up the game", so he says Fiers should have called his GM or MLB's offices. He also says Fiers could have called "anybody" or "someone" and told them what was going on in the clubhouse. Which is exactly what Fiers did.

January 21, 2020

Schadenfreude 265: Captain Intangibles Non-Unanimous Edition (A Continuing Series)


Someone is totally not getting a gift basket.

Post Staff:
Derek Jeter fell one vote shy of becoming an unanimous Hall of Famer on Tuesday night, drawing outrage from many on social media. ...

Jeter officially received 99.7 percent of the vote [396 of 397 votes].


Ken Davidoff, Post:
Well, how about that? For once in his charmed baseball life, things didn't go absolutely perfectly for Derek Jeter. [JoS: Things did not go so great for him in 2004, to mention one example that springs to mind. He was also booed at Yankee Stadium during an 0-for-32 skid. And he was known as Mr. 27 for a while around these parts because, for a few weeks, he made the game's final out (instead of driving in the game-tying or winning run(s)) numerous times.]

Although, if any true justice existed in this universe ... Jeter would be a unanimous Baseball Hall of Famer right now. ...

Three hundred ninety-seven BBWAA members voted on this year's class. Three-hundred ninety-six, including all 13 voters from The Post, checked Jeter's name. ...

So who is Voter 397? For now, he or she remains private, under no obligation to disclose. The Hall wants the writers to make their choices without fear of public scrutiny and some members take that road. And look, should this person declare, there will be some uncivil discourse, and that won't be right. The low stakes don't merit such fury. ...

Consider that an astonishing 23 voters out of 432 turned down Willie Mays in 1979, his first year of eligibility. Then nine (out of 415) didn't support Hank Aaron in 1982. Fast-forward to 2016, when Ken Griffey Jr. established a new benchmark by tallying 437 out of 440. ...

It's not that Jeter deserved the unanimous support because of what he meant to the game or any such syrupy pablum; his life will go on just fine. It's that logic deserved a unanimous Jeter vote.

Mark Hale, Post:
In the sports version of "who's the identity of this mystery person," you can call Derek Jeter's Hall of Fame dissenter. . . Deep Vote.

But unlike the eventual emergence of the famed Watergate mystery figure, the fascinating question of "who didn't vote for Derek Jeter for the Hall of Fame" might be one for which we never learn the answer.

Voters for the Baseball Writers' Association of America are not required to publicly reveal their ballots for the Hall of Fame. ...

Jeter's dissenter remains unknown and will only be revealed if the voter himself/herself confesses — or is outed by someone who knows the truth.
Sarah Valenzuela, Daily News:
After it was announced the legendary Yankee captain received 396 of 397 votes, every Yankee fan in the universe screamed in ... fury.


Bill Madden, Daily News:
Where have you gone, Derek Jeter? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

Originally, it was Joe DiMaggio for whom Paul Simon wrote those lyrics ...
Oh, was it really Paul Simon, Bill? And DiMaggio? Huh. I didn't know that.

What a disappointing way to begin a column for which you had years to prepare, with the most hackneyed, yawn-inducing, cliche. Jesus, even Jeter didn't suck that bad leading off.

Madden then regurgitates all the bullshit (or "the syrupy pablum" mentioned above by Davidoff) to which we were subject throughout (and too long after) Capt. Intangibles's career (we know the truth). Likewise, DiMaggio was a moody, greedy, selfish, cheap, controlling, friend of the Mafia, as detailed in Richard Ben Cramer's Joe DiMaggio, The Hero's Life.

Fun Fact: Mike Trout has already collected more WAR in 9 seasons than Derek Jeter did in 20 seasons!




January 20, 2020

Giants Hire Alyssa Nakken As Assistant Coach (First Woman On An MLB Coaching Staff)

Alyssa Nakken will be an assistant coach for the San Francisco Giants in 2020, as part of manager Gabe Kapler's staff. She will be the first woman on a major league baseball coaching staff.

Nakken, 29, first worked for the Giants as an intern in 2014, editing and logging the amateur video that scouts would load into the system and inputting scouting reports into the database.

Andrew Baggarly, The Athletic:
[Nakken] will travel full-time and be in uniform for batting practice, but will not be among the seven uniformed coaches allowed to be in the dugout during games.

But Nakken will suit up and throw batting practice. She will hit fungoes. She'll be in every pregame meeting. She will assist in baserunning and outfield defense. ...

Her background stood out to Kapler, who had interviewed newly hired Yankees minor-league coach Rachel Balkovec for a role on his major-league staff and was seeking to put together a staff that embraced diversity in every aspect.
Kapler:
Diverse in thought, in background, in ethnicity, in socioeconomic experience. We just wanted to create as diverse a staff to the degree we were able so that we can be a reflection of the players in our clubhouse and also in our community. ...
The really important message is that experience comes in all shapes and sizes. You look at our coaching staff and the immediate reaction is that it's young and somewhat inexperienced, and traditionally, that's true. But experience is also having a perspective that is wide ranging and diverse, and that includes having taught people at many different levels and ages and many different backgrounds. A lot of our coaches have a long history of consistent and diligent coaching. ...

She's an elite athlete and can translate those skills to help our players get better. She's resourceful, a good communicator, organized and clear in her thoughts and delivery. Before this job is anything, it's teaching. She brings a well-rounded skill set that is unusual to find in a coach. And she's extremely equipped to execute initiatives. Part of coaching is managing very large projects, which she's done in the past. All of those things are important when you're developing players and developing a culture. ...

I think she's going to be a great coach. Merit and the ability to be a great coach trumps all. And I think that players are very receptive to anything and to anyone who can help them get better.

At Least 12 Teams Have Been Accused (By Players Or Anonymous Leaks) Of Cheating; MLB Really Does Not Want To Investigate All Of Them And Hopes You Forget All About It

With a new week starting today, I figured I might as well dump a bunch of stuff related to the sign-stealing scandal since I had no time to craft it into anything coherent.

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 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. ... [La Russa] 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.
La Russa was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014.

McDowell said illegal sign-stealing has been going on for decades, but everyone in the game has collectively decided to ignore the issue, just as they did regarding steroids.

Logan Morrison agrees. In a now-deleted Instagram post, the veteran first baseman 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.
Bonus LoMo: In 2017, Morrison (with 24 home runs) did not receive an invitation to the Home run derby, but Gary Sanchez (who had 13) did. "I remember when I had 14 home runs. That was a month and a half ago." In 2018, Morrison called Yankees fans "stupid" for being upset with his comments. You can't fix stupid, you know?"

Ken Rosenthal comments re his interview with Altuve after Altuve hit the home run that won the pennant for Houston:
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.
In the noise and nuttiness of the moment, Rosenthal did not follow-up after Altuve gave the extremely strange answer that his wife would be mad 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."

More Rosenthal:
•  If players who use performance-enhancing drugs are disciplined for cheating, why not players who participated in the Astros' scheme? ...

•  [W]hy 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" if there are a lot of offenders is nonsense. Can Rosenthal really be suggesting (or agreeing with the statement) that there exists a tipping-point of cheating, after which MLB can only throw up its hands and let everyone do whatever they want? Is that truly a "valid" response? If teams have a lot of vacant roster spots, there are plenty of players in the minors to fill them.

Rumors about the Astros had proliferated since 2017. Yahoo Sports wrote a column about the trash can in 2018. The Yankees raised complaints in 2019, after they had hired Beltrán as an advisor. Alex Bregman told The Athletic in October that from the front office Beltrán "helped out the Yankees this year a lot. Like a lot a lot."

JJ Cooper, Executive Editor, Baseball America, Twitter (@jjcoop36), January 16, 2020:
The wearables rumors have been floating around for months. It is not clear how much MLB investigated them.
On Sunday (yesterday), Jose Altuve called reports that was wearing a buzzer during games "ridiculous. MLB did their investigation and they didn't find anything."
Believe me, at the end of the year everything will be fine. We are going to be in the World Series again, people don't believe it. We will. We made it last year. We were one game away [from] winning it all. ... You don't want anybody to call you [a cheater] like that. But like I said I have two options, one just cry and one go out there and play the game, and help my team. You know which one I'm going to do.
Alex Bregman was asked if Houston's players wore buzzers. He said "No." and called the claims "stupid".
The commissioner and league came out with the report and the Astros did what they did. ... I have no thoughts on it.
Orioles pitcher Josh Rogers saw Bregman's comment and tweeted: "Just plead the 5th bud. Cause your guilty."

Zach Kram, The Ringer, January 13, 2020:
Nine Key Takeaways From MLB's Houston Astros Sign-Stealing Punishment

1. The "Banging Scheme," as Manfred's report terms it, evolved over time

2. That scheme extended through the postseason

3. Manfred had effectively given the Astros a chance to avoid detection and punishment, and they didn't take it

4. Take note: Banging is preferable to other forms of communication

5. It’s unclear whether the scheme actually worked

6. Astros players were at least somewhat concerned about getting caught … so they grew more secretive instead of stopping

7. Hinch attacked a TV, twice

8. The same qualities that helped propel the Astros to victory were the basis for their undoing

9. This saga isn't over—Alex Cora's punishment is coming, and it will be severe
Some amusing snips from Kram:
"[T]hey eventually determined that banging a trash can was the preferred method of communication."

"Here's a wacky parenthetical from the report: 'Witnesses explained that they initially experimented with communicating sign information by clapping, whistling, or yelling, but that they eventually determined that banging a trash can was the preferred method of communication.' Someone needs to uncover everything about the meeting in which this determination took place. Did the Astros run scientific tests? Did they control for confounding variables? The people demand answers."

From MLB's Report: Hinch "believed that the conduct was both wrong and distracting. Hinch attempted to signal his disapproval of the scheme by physically damaging the monitor on two occasions, necessitating its replacement." Kram: "Could he have used his words to tell his players to stop? Maybe! ... Instead, he chose to take his frustration out on the monitors themselves. This is why clear and healthy communication is important."
Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer, January 13, 2020:
All signs suggest that MLB would have been happy not to stir up this sign-stealing story. MLB knew that the Red Sox used technology to steal signs in 2017, and Jeff Passan reported in 2018, per anonymous MLB players, that the Astros had passed signs via trash can. MLB subsequently upped its preventative measures in response to sign-stealing rumors swirling around the sport.

Yet not until Fiers went on record in The Athletic's initial report did MLB grudgingly launch an investigation. Even then, Manfred stated, "I have no reason to believe it extends beyond the Astros at this point in time," which was far-fetched at the time, considering that The Athletic's report cited a source who described the practice as "pervasive."

And not until The Athletic linked the 2018 Red Sox to sign stealing did MLB acknowledge that publicly. Tom Verducci reported that when Manfred called Red Sox owner John Henry to inform him of the investigation, Manfred said, "I've got no choice here," which doesn't make it sound as if Manfred was eager to follow the sign-stealing trail.

For consistency's sake, though, MLB will have to follow that trail if it leads anywhere else. It's quite likely that the Astros and Red Sox weren't the only two teams engaging in at least low-level forms of illegal sign stealing; every team has a video room and must have been tempted to use it improperly. On Monday, MLB player Logan Morrison suggested that the Dodgers and Yankees have also "used film to pick signs." In 2018, members of the Brewers suggested that the Dodgers were stealing signs. In November, BBWAA member Jeff Jones reported that multiple players had told him that the Brewers and Rangers have stolen signs electronically, and Yu Darvish fueled further speculation about the Brewers.

None of that smoke has turned into fire, but it's probably risky for any MLB fan base to proclaim its team pure or complain too loudly about losing to known sign stealers. That said, Manfred will have to be poked pretty hard for the league to acknowledge that the scandal extends beyond Boston and Houston.
Scott Miller, Bleacher Report, October 2, 2019:
Sign stealing and sign relaying always has been a part of the game, but digital theft gained entry as an unintended consequence of instant replay expansion in 2014, several MLB sources agree, and has spread as rapidly as a computer virus ever since. ...

"The paranoia is off the charts," Astros ace Justin Verlander says. "You saw that last year with us. People thought we were doing something. We were trying to make sure the Indians weren't doing anything. That was just us being paranoid."

Predictably, nobody in the game is willing to publicly finger those who were cheating or those whom they believe might be cheating. But given assurances of anonymity, several league sources indicate the Astros, Dodgers, Red Sox, New York Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks have been especially adept with technological surveillance. One source mentions the Cubs and Washington Nationals dabble a bit "but not as much as others." Another source says the Indians, while still another notes the Toronto Blue Jays and Texas Rangers once were suspected as well. ...

"I think it's unfair to say we've been the face of any of this, the Astros," Houston manager AJ Hinch says. "It was very public for us. We admitted our mistakes of trying to make sure that other teams were not breaking the rules, and in turn we were the ones that had the unfortunate incident in Cleveland and then in Boston. ... I think it's unfair to think that we are the only team that has been curious about everybody else's actions. ... I think it's been largely cleaned up over the year." ...

[For the 2019 season,] the league enacted a series of rules ...

"It's been a great thing," Colorado Rockies manager Bud Black says. "[Digital thievery] was prevalent, and now it's not." ...

Asked whether he saw things during the '17 World Series that made him suspicious, Dodgers manager Roberts pauses for several seconds before finally allowing, "I think the Astros did everything they possibly could to give themselves the best chance for success." ...

Though the Rockies' season is finished, they were a playoff team in 2017 and 2018 and quickly realized—or, at least, suspected—how many clubs were stealing signs.

"The preparation for us was learning how to switch the signs in the middle of an at-bat, the middle of an inning and doing it a lot," Wolters says. "I would say, like this year, we've had at least 10 or 15 different sign sets each inning. Then we would switch our cards each inning. You go through a whole game, you go through 50 or 60 different sign sets."

That math adds up to more than 100 different signs in a given game. And, Wolters says, the Rockies are constantly throwing them away and making new ones. ...

Players and managers alike give MLB high marks for the steps taken this year to combat digital thievery, with most saying they think it is receding following its 2017 peak. ...

"Look at the talent in this clubhouse, and you tell me," Correa says in defending the Astros. "We're great hitters all the way around. We work hard every day, and the fact that people try to take that credit away from us is disrespect to our abilities. This year is 2019, and you've got five, six guys with a .900 OPS on the team. We've got MLB officials in the video room and everywhere, and we have the best numbers of our career as a team. So what are you going to say?"
Michael Baumann, The Ringer, January 14, 2020:
Electronic sign stealing is the cause célèbre of the day, but it's penny-ante shit compared to other behaviors that stem from the same societal disease that views rules, norms, and human beings as obstacles to be navigated around or run over on the way to the goal.

It is from this toxic stem that electronic sign stealing sprouted, as well as other even more insidious fruits: suspicious leaguewide spending freezes, service-time manipulation, improprieties surrounding the recruitment of amateur free agents, PEDs, starvation wages for minor leaguers, and a litany of other sins that are far more odious to fans and deleterious to the soul than sniffing out an upcoming breaking ball.

This is the disease, and MLB is treating one symptom. There's no profit in finding a cure.
Michael Baumann, The Ringer, November 13, 2019:
Astros owner Jim Crane made his billions running a logistics company that's settled discrimination lawsuits and war profiteering charges. And for as much of a beating as Luhnow's current employer is taking in the press, at least the Astros haven't inspired a New York Times headline that said they "Helped Raise the Stature of Authoritarian Governments," like Luhnow's former employer did.

That history forms a base layer that invites observers to make connections among sign stealing, Taubman, the club's mass layoffs in its scouting department, a string of ham-fisted and hostile PR actions against reporters, and the shenanigans the club played with 2014 no. 1 pick Brady Aiken, among a litany of other offenses ranging from the penny-ante to the truly stomach-turning.

In a vacuum, this sign-stealing scandal is bad. The Astros might have influenced a championship by breaking the rules and ought to suffer the prescribed punishment for doing so. (Even if their execution was more folly than a mustache-twirling, real-world evil plot.) But in context, it's the latest car in a freight train of misbehavior.
Craig Calcaterra, NBC Sports:
[W]here does baseball go from here with all of this?

Before we answer that, we have to answer a threshold question: is baseball more interested in stopping future illegal sign-stealing or is it more concerned with simply putting out P.R. fires like the Astros and Red Sox stories have become?

That's not a rhetorical question born of cynicism. As you'll recall, when the Houston allegations first hit, MLB — after an initial, apparently mistaken bit of honesty in which it said it did not plan to limit its investigation to the Astros — said that it would only be investigating Houston and had no reason to look beyond them. They're not idiots. They know it was bigger than Houston. They just wanted to contain the fire that was currently burning. Once the allegations regarding the Red Sox came out, however, that position became untenable for Major League Baseball and they went wider. But only to Boston, it seems. They don't seem to be following up on those seven or eight teams Verducci mentions. I am pretty confident that they're going to blast Alex Cora with 100,000 megatons of Manfredian Justice and then declare the matter closed. At least until the next time.

If we've learned anything in the Rob Manfred Era we've learned that when there is a relatively simple and straightforward solution, baseball will take a more complicated one.
Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated had a long interview with Rob Manfred "on the occasion of the upcoming fifth-year anniversary of his commissionership":
Paranoia about sign-stealing and the misuse of technology has grown so wild that some news reports suggested the Astros may have relayed signs with the use of a buzzer embedded in bandages on the skin. ...

"I will tell you this: we found no Band-Aid buzzer issues," Manfred told SI. "There's a lot of paranoia out there." ...

This is the story of how the temptation of technology ensnared baseball ...

On January 16, 2014, MLB announced the approval of an expanded, challenge-based replay system. ...

The unintended consequence of getting calls right on the field gave players easy access to real-time video. Many replay monitors, on the premise of expediency, soon moved from the clubhouse to positions closer to the dugout, as the Astros did at Minute Maid Park.

By 2017, teams had figured out that access to live video provided a competitive advantage. ...

Now that Manfred has swung his hammer, he has to decide on how to assure a corrupt-free game in a high-tech world. The answer is either more technology or less technology, and he's not sure which path is correct. ...

"Longer term, for example, the idea of having a technology solution that eliminates some guy putting fingers above his cup might be a better answer." ...

On the other hand, why not eliminate as much technology as possible? If cameras and monitors are causing such subterfuge, why not turn them off as soon as the first pitch is thrown? Video rooms are locked. The only monitor available to a team is the replay one with the MLB security official standing next to it.

"That's the first path," Manfred said. ...

Asked if more protocols will be in place for Opening Day, he replied, "Absolutely."

Two of baseball's past three World Series champions created advantages with the misuse of technology. One investigation concluded Monday and another is underway. ...

"Whenever you have an allegation that the outcome of a game was altered by a rules violation," Manfred said, "that falls into the category where fans believe the competition has been affected, and it's an integrity issue. The integrity of the competition."
Whenever you have an allegation that the outcome of a game was altered by a rules violation ... it's an integrity issue.

And yet Manfred does not believe that statement is true when it comes to umpires violating the rules by altering the strike zone, whether through an inability to track pitches, a desire to have the game end sooner, deference to a veteran at the plate or on the mound, a bias against a certain player, perhaps a rookie or someone who has argued with the umpire in the past, or good old incompetence. Those violations, which change the outcome of games every single day, are okay with the Commissioner.

A song parody, sung to the tune of an odious piece of garbage:
Brand Name (SoSH):

A.J. Hinch, crossed the line, Luhnow gone, heavy fine
Draft picks lost, rings are not, owner sad for getting caught
Crane denied part in team's making up the clanging scheme
Taubman censured in the text, Cora, Beltran might be next
We didn't blame Mike Fiers
Can was always banging, since the curveball's hanging
We didn't blame Mike Fiers
No, we didn't hush it, but our barrels crushed it!
We didn't blame Mike Fiers...