Major breaking news last month: It appears that the Houston Astros have been using cameras and sound cues to tip their batters off to the opposing pitcher's signs.
It all began with an Athletic article on Mike Fiers on November 12th. Fiers pitched for Houston from 2015 to 2017, including the 2017 World Championship team.
After this plan was revealed, many users took to Twitter to analyze the Astros's sign stealing system.
Even players are clearly upset:
Aaron Judge (Who tweets like 5 times a year):
Yu Darvish, who famously was "tipping pitches" in the 2017 World Series:
Noah Syndergaard had something to say:
After the initial explosion, emails were revealed showing that this scandal goes all the way to the top: THE ATHLETIC. In this article, they reveal emails obtained from the front office. One Excerpt:
"One thing in specific we are looking for is picking up signs coming out of the dugout,” the sender wrote in the 2017 email, which was provided to The Athletic. “What we are looking for is how much we can see, how we would log things, if we need cameras/binoculars, etc. So go to game, see what you can [or can’t] do and report back your findings.”
There is an ongoing investigation, so it's still too soon to say things with complete certainty. But the writing is on the wall. There is video evidence, emails, player testimony. Guilty.
I am really disappointed in the Astros. Sign stealing is a part of the game, with players on the field. With an electronic system in place, their hitters were getting a major tactical advantage. Let's look at some of the stats that might be telling as to how they gained an advantage and how they were helped.
-Astros team stats by year
2019: 60-21 at home, 47-34 away/ .878 home OPS .819 away (Top ranked OPS in MLB at .848, next closest .832, league average .758)
2018: 46-35 home, 57-24 away/ .730 OPS at home .777 away (6th ranked offense in league at .758, league average .724)
2017: 48-33 home, 53-28 away/ .812 OPS home .834 away (Top ranked offense in league at .823, next closest .788, league average .750)
-2017 Astros batting. Here is their OPS per time through the order. 1st: .804 2nd: .863, 3rd: .798.
Why the boost for the second time through and not the 3rd? Usually 3rd is the worst. Were they getting their bearings against a SP, figured out the signs, then hitting someone hard?
-Here's the Astros 2017 OPS at ballparks within the division, and league average in parenthesis:
Home: .821 (.751) + .70
OAK: .830 (.769) +.61 (OAK was 75-87 this year, Astros were 12-7 against them)
TEX: .861 ( .797) +.64 (TEX was 78-84 this year, Astros were 12-7 against them)
SEA: .771 ( .736) +.35 (SEA was 78-84 this year Astros were 14-5 against them)
LAA: .654 (.712) -58 (LAA was 80-82 this year, Astros were 12-7 against them)
Houston beat up on all their divisional opponents this year. They also put up a significantly better than league average OPS against their division rivals. Did they have their system down pat for the places there were at most frequently?
-There were 4 players new to Houston in 2017, which ESPN pulled up as possible players needing a boost. Here were their slash lines through April 2017, as well as their lines from the year before:
Carlos Beltran: .241/.283/.345 .295/.337/.513 (In his final year at age 40) Josh Reddick: .297/.333/.419 .281/.345/.405 Brian McCann: .279/.375/.426 .242/.335/.413 Nori Aoki: .300/.338/.383 .283/.349/.388
So a few stats are boosted. Nothing major, but 3/4 newcomers being better than the year before.
-If Houston was using the system to get players going, let's look at slumps for their big hitters. Here are charts for 5 of their top hitters with a rolling OPS for 15 games. Essentially, if they are slumping, you see the chart go down. If they are hot, the chart is up. The dotted line is their seasonal OPS, the final number.
Looking at these charts, the Astros did not contend with a whole lot of bad slumps for 2017. Looking at the amount of time these 5 players had an OPS around .600, you'll see Bregman 3 times, Correa twice, and Reddick twice. None of their slumps took place at the same time. They all started slow the first few weeks, but then never quite shut it off.
-In 2017, The Astros lapped baseball with a team 123 OPS+, next best was Miami at 107
The Astros had a whopping 7 players with an OPS+ of 120 or more. They also had 4 with 140 or more.
Miami had 4 players of 120 OPS+ or more. Then 3 players of 140 or more. That's insane.
The only big question remaining is how badly the Astros will be punished. Here are some historical precedents:
2017 Boston Red Sox Apple Watch. Players were caught using smart watches to steal signs. When confronted, the Red Sox front office came clean immediately and fully cooperated with the investigation. They were fined an undisclosed amount, but did not lose any wins, players or draft picks.
2013-2014 Cardinals hacking scandal: Chris Correa hacks into his former teams database to gain proprietary information on scouting. In 2017, MLB fines the Cardinals 2 million, they lose 2 picks, and Correa goes to jail.
The cheaters are exposed. I hope the Commish drops the hammer.