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SnakePit Round Table: Astrogate

The Astros’ sign-stealing scandal is the main topic, but we also discuss the MLB awards, and the D-backs mentioned in them.

MLB: AUG 04 Blue Jays at Astros Photo by Juan DeLeon/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Has Astrogate changed your view of Houston?

Jack: Not Houston specifically. I’d already soured on the organization in general. However I have defended AJ Hinch through the Taubman scandal/firing. But in this case, I can’t defend him at all. He was dismissive in a condescending way when this possibility was first raised, and now he has egg on his face. Of course he knew, certainly allowed it, and probably had some involvement in coordinating it. The fact that other teams are probably cheating does not mitigate the offense here. Bad form AJ.

Makakilo: Yes. Recently, their culture was revealed in an unfavorable light. Astrogate added another dimension to that unfavorable light. They are the only team that could make me cheer for the Dodgers, albeit with a couple beers and Lindt chocolates in hand.

Steven: Yep. From the front office misogyny to the cheating, it’s taken the attention away from the players and thrown it onto everything but them. Stop ruining players all for an advantage, they’re good enough as is.

Jim: I think this particular incident perhaps less so than others. It does seem rather odd to me that the issue isn’t the stealing of the signs, but that Houston is using (gasp!) 20th-century technology like cameras to do so. I also suspect that they are far from the only ones who have been pushing the envelope there, not least because detection and proof in this area is rather harder than, say, with PEDs. We’ll probably find they are just the first team to get caught, not the only ones doing it.

Turambar: I’d have to say it has, though my opinion of their organization had already begun to shift toward Dodger and Yankee territory before this came to light. Yes EVERYONE is likely stealing signs either the ole fashioned way or this newfangled method, but the old Stros image of a team climbing out of the pit of Last up to the pinnacle of Mount Series is gone. In its stead is a garish painting of a squad of shifty “me first” bro’s, seeking any and all means to win.

Do you think MLB will take action against them? Should they? If so, what?

Jack: Yes, they should and they will. The question is how severe. I’ve read the opinion that the penalty can’t be too severe because that may result in anyone connected with Houston that has knowledge of other teams methods of cheating blowing the whistle on those other team, and having the entire thing get blown up much larger. It all boils down to how much does MLB want to actually clean this up.

Makakilo: MLB will take strong action, as they should.

Preventive Actions: At the beginning of the 2019 season, MLB initiated actions that made it far more difficult to steal signs electronically (banned in-house outfield cameras, only the team’s replay official sees live broadcasts while he is watched, and other TV monitors are on eight-second delay). Further preventive actions would not be enough.

Punitive Actions: To protect the integrity of baseball, MLB needs to take highly visible action. I am confident the Astros will lose at least one draft pick, based on the following statement made by the commissioner of baseball.

”Taking all of these factors as well as past precedent into account, I have decided to fine the Red Sox an undisclosed amount …. Moreover, all 30 Clubs have been notified that future violations of this type will be subject to more serious sanctions, including the possible loss of draft picks.” -- Robert D. Manfred, Jr., September 15, 2017.

Steven: I’m expecting harsh penalties, complete with suspensions, loss of draft picks, and even payroll limitations with international signings being limited harshly. And even then, it will still feel light.

Jim: Very hard to say, because this is largely unprecedented territory: apparent organizational malfeasance. Maybe the closest was the Cardinals’ hacking of (ironically) the Astros. That got St. Louis a fine of $2 million and the loss of two draft picks. Though there, MLB concluded the analyst responsible had acted alone. It probably depends how far up this goes. Or, at least, how far up MLB can prove it goes, which may not be the same thing at all.

Turambar: The punishment hammer has started its downward descent, that it’ll hit is no question at all, but how hard it’ll come down is. I suspect, just as my fellow writers do, that MLB will ensure a draft pick or two is taken away, but unless they can prove this was perpetrated throughout the entire organization I doubt it’ll go much more than what Jim pointed out happened to the Cards.

Will the rules be changed, and if so, how?

Jack: There will need to be very stiff and severe penalties specified for future offenses, something that will actually be a deterrent.

Makakilo: Sometimes, actions speak louder than rules. Like now!

Steven: I don’t think so. Like Jack said, stiff and severe penalties will give any team pause in the future.

Jim: MLB could make the whole issue go away in future, by embracing technology, rather than forbidding it. Give the pitcher a little wristband buzzer on his non-throwing hand. Give the catcher the trigger. Send the signs that way. Though you’d probably need to encrypt the data, stop the Astros from eavesdropping. :) But that’s nothing which can’t be overcome. Can’t steal signs you can’t see!

Turambar: They’ll implement some rules, especially regarding camera use by teams and other tech in the clubhouse during games. More importantly though they’ll likely outline very severe punishments going forward: loss of multiple draft picks over a multi year period or something just as dire. That’ll likely be more important than any rule. Gotta ensure that breaking the rule breaks the team.

Ketel Marte was fourth in MVP voting and Torey Lovullo was sixth in Manager of the Year. Too high, too low or correct, and why?

Jack: Although I advocated for Ketel to at least grab the 3rd spot, in fact the missed time at the end and the fact that Washington made the playoffs are enough of a tie breaker between him and Rendon, who were basically equally valuable. 6th in MOY for Torey ? Meh, don’t really have the brain cells today to figure out if that should have been 4th or 8th. Overall I think Torey is a good manager and handles his players well.

Makakilo: Torey Lovullo should have been in the top three. His intangibles were very strong. He was authentic, fearless, and inspired the players to excellence even after the team was eliminated from the playoffs.

Let’s look at the teams whose managers received the top six vote tallies in the NL. Three facts tell me that Torey Lovullo was solidly in the top three.

  • In head-to-head games, the Diamondbacks bested the Nationals (4-3), Braves (4-3), and equalled the Cardinals (3-3); that is strong evidence that Torey Lovullo was the better manager. Only the Dodgers and the Brewers bested the Diamondbacks in head-to-head games, and that could be largely due to payroll.
  • Torey Lovullo overcame a payroll disadvantage. The Diamondbacks had the lowest payroll. And further lowering that payroll was the Diamondbacks had 15% buried payroll (the highest by far).
  • Torey Lovullo overcame the loss of great players, due to injury or trade.

Steven: They feel about right to me. Marte was magical, including down the stretch, but I think missing the last week+ of games gave Rendon the edge, even if playoffs shouldn’t be a factor (but they are). I don’t think anyone cares for Manager of the Year haha. Those guys have the hardest jobs in sports, a couple losing seasons and you’re out of a job.

Jim: It would have been nice to see Marte ahead of Rendon, because he clearly had a better season. But voters love them some playoff teams [except when it might help the D-backs, as in the 2017 MVP voting… Yeah, I’m still bitter]. Probably works out cheaper this way. Not sure what the escalatons are in the Marte contract for MVP places, whether it’s just top 5, or if finishing higher costs Arizona more.

The same goes for Manager of the Year: it should probably be renamed the “Team which exceeded expectations by the most this season” award. Though they’d probably have to make it wider, too. It was nice to see Lovullo get mentioned, and that it was the local journos who voted for him, in this case, is more a positive thing, since they see him every day.

Turambar: I’m fine with where both Marte and Torey ended up, and I’m pretty sure neither could have gotten much higher. Marte was godsend this season and even if we did somehow make the playoffs he’s not beating Bellinger to the prize. Ultimately missing the playoffs meant neither Torey or Marte where gonna make top of their class, and I’m ok with that for this season.

Did the voters get it right with the winners?

Jack: I think Boone should have won the AL MOY. The Yankees had so far and away more injuries than any other team. Of course their GM deserves credit for putting good depth in place, and they have all that payroll to be able to withstand injuries that would have devastated a smaller market team perhaps. But so many players cycled in and out of their roster and lineup, and Boone did a fantastic job of putting them in the right situations to succeed.

Steven: Yep, although I think Bregman had a shot at the AL MVP, and the votes showed that. Everything else looks fine to me.

Makakilo: In the AL, voters got it right with Trout. Sometimes a player must deserve an award on several occasions before they receive it. For eight consecutive seasons, Trout was in the top 4 for NL MVP. He won for the third time. In second place was Alex Bregman, who was in the top 5 for NL MVP for (only) two consecutive seasons.

In the NL, by a very small margin, Christian Yelich would have been the better choice than Cody Bellinger. My considerations follow:

  • Yelich was the better baserunner; He was better in extra bases taken on singles (57% vs 51%), and scores after on-base (36% vs 31%). Although his stolen base percentage (85% vs 93%) was worse.
  • Yelich was the better hitter overall; He had an OPS+ of 179 vs 169, a higher batting average (.329 to .305), a higher on-base percentage (.429 to .406), and a higher slugging percentage (.671 to .629).
  • Nevertheless, Bellinger had better line drive percent (26.2% vs 20.9%), and contact percent (78.1% vs 73.3%) (Source: FanGraphs). And yet, because Bellinger pulls 70% of ground balls, and 60% of line drives, his results can be negatively impacted when the opposing team shifts its’ defenders. (Source: Craig Edwards article, FanGraphs)
  • Albeit that Bellinger was the better defender with positive 1.9 defensive WARb compared to negative 0.7 defensive WARb.
  • Christian Yelich, 27 years old, paid his dues; he was in the top 4 for NL MVP for 2 consecutive years (and he won last year). Bellinger, 24 years old, hasn’t paid his dues by being deserving of MVP more than one season.

Jim: I’d have given the MVP to Yelich over Bellinger, the latter being more consistent over the course of the season. To me, that’s a hallmark of an MVP: they perform day in and day out. Bellinger hit .262 after the end of May; his second-half OPS of .913 wasn’t even in the top twenty for NL hitters. And #1 on that list? Ketel Marte.

Turambar: I’ll be honest here. I love the Dbacks first, only and always. Because of that simple fact I don’t follow other players enough to really answer this question honestly, though by all accounts Trout should never not get the MVP and would qualify for the CY if he would be allowed to pitch.

What do you think would be humanity’s reaction to the discovery of extraterrestrial life?

Jack: It depends if we discover it/them or they/it discover us. If we find micro organisms of some sort on an asteroid it will be one thing. Cool. Confirmation of what should be obvious. If we are visited by Aliens that have figured out time travel or wormholes, (The only way for them to come to Earth) then we could be in trouble.

Makakilo: Each year, about 2000 new species are discovered in the oceans. “Hidden beneath the waves, there are creatures beyond our imagination.” -- Sir David Attenborough in BBC documentary. Nevertheless, I doubt these discoveries will evoke any significant reaction from humanity.

Evoking a reaction would require discovering extraterrestrial life that could change humanity. Change could emerge from differences: in technology, in knowledge of the universe, in each civilization’s goals, in ideas, and in who-knows-what. Even unintelligent extraterrestrial life could evoke reactions if it could create limitless food or energy, or if it could create drugs that cure cancer or extend life.

Steven: Panic, with a mad rush to develop weaponry because if an extraterrestrial actually visited us so nonchalantly we’d be helpless to them. Here’s hoping they’re nice!

Jim: Jack makes a good point. Microbes on Europa? Cool. “Klaatu barada nikto”? Yeah, that’s probably not going to end well. At least based on what happens on Earth, when a vastly-superior technological civilization meets its inferior. Hopefully, at the very least, we won’t taste good!

Turambar: Well, as a follower of Warhammer 40k fiction, my hope would be discovery of extraterrestrial life would spark a great and unified crusade to conquer the stars. For the first time in the history of the species we would be a united force, no longer hindered by our petty arguments and insignificant strife, and instead driven by the need to discover and explore…...along with being lead by Emperor Goldschmidt of course.