Thoughts on the Day Pitchers and Catchers Officially Report

Via Bryan Hoch

Today, folks, is the day. Pitchers and catchers are reporting to camp. Baseball season is officially back and I am excited as hell. I know Spring Training is always a bit of a letdown — nothing really happens until the games start — but this is so much better than nothing. Besides, I’m more excited for the 2020 season than I have been since…2019. (Before that, it was 2018! Go figure.) In any case, I’m excited and I bet you are too. Here’s what’s on my mind today.

1. Astros Sign-Stealing Scandal Grows: Two major stories broke yesterday on the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal. Today might be the first day of the 2020 season, but this story isn’t going anywhere just yet. Both stories are pretty big deals, in my opinion, so let’s go through them.

The first, in The Athletic (subs req’d) details clubhouse dynamics during the 2017 season. It highlights Carlos Beltrán’s role in particular and paints him as a conniving, nefarious ringleader:

During the season, small groups of Astros discussed their misgivings. McCann at one point approached Beltrán and asked him to stop, two members of the 2017 team said.

‘He disregarded it steamrolled everybody,’ one of the team members said. ‘Where do you go if you’re a young, impressionable player with the Astros and this guy says ‘we’re doing this?’ What do you do?’

The article even alleges that manager A.J. Hinch didn’t want to cross Beltrán. To all of this, I give a hearty “yeah, good, okay.” It is ridiculously convenient to blame all of this on the guy who is already publicly implicated and out of the game. It’s an excuse for current players — they’re also blaming Alex Cora, who is also out of the game — and we should not fall for it. They are all implicated and none of them should get a free pass. Absolutely none of them.

I’m not doubting that Beltrán had a big role to play — he obviously did — but c’mon. Are we supposed to believe that he bullied everyone else into participating against their will? That is laughable to me. There is definitely some truth to it for young players without much clout, but give me a break with the others. I don’t want to hear it.

(For what it’s worth, even though I wrote this before a new Wall Street Journal story [subs req’d] broke this morning that called Beltrán the “godfather” of the program, I stand by this.)

The second major story comes via The Washington Post (subs req’d) and, well, it’s not a great look for Rob Manfred. Here is the key quote from that story:

“‘The whole industry knows they’ve been cheating their asses off for three or four years,’ said an executive from a team that faced the Astros in the playoffs during that span. ‘Everybody knew it.’

Like most of the people interviewed for this story, the executive spoke on condition of anonymity to defy an MLB request that personnel from other teams refrain from speaking freely about the Astros. He estimated “10 to 12” teams had complained to MLB about the Astros over the years. An executive from another team agreed with that number.”

I mean, Manfred’s conclusions look absurd now. Literally every new report contradicts them. We’ve seen concrete proof that the front-office was driving it, not the players; and now, we’ve seen concrete proof that it lasted well outside the window they claimed. It’s all absurd and it’s obvious that this is not going away any time soon.

2. Sign-Stealing and the Yankees: One more quick thought on this. The report also mentioned the Yankees. I’d be remiss not to discuss it, specifically the parts regarding Beltrán and Brian McCann. The first key quote:

“Both McCann and Beltrán played for the Yankees during the 2014, ’15 and ’16 seasons before joining the Astros in ’17. But it was Beltrán who, according to multiple sources, told the Astros that their sign-stealing methods were ‘behind the times.'”

Remember, earlier reporting (subs req’d) found that the Yankees used video rooms to “decode” signs in 2015 — a practice that probably continued through 2017 — when Beltrán was there. However, SNY’s Andy Martino reported that the league was not investigating the Yankees:

That’s important! (Although, in the interest of fairness, the league hasn’t handled this well.) This all came up last when that video of Cora making comments about Beltrán and the Yankees after the London Series resurfaced. We got a nugget about that, too:

 “One player recalled clubhouse chatter in London about Beltrán’s relationship with Cora, and — in another example of the widespread paranoia throughout the industry — questions about whether Beltrán could be trusted with the Yankees’ secrets.”

Fascinating. Still, I’m still not worried about the Yankees. There’s been a deluge of new information about all of this sign-stealing stuff in the last few months. At most, the Yankees have been on the periphery. To me, it feels like there would be more concrete evidence and speculation out there if there was anything happening here. But, much like above, this only scratches the surface. We’ll be hearing about all of this for a long time yet. (I’m also curious to hear Gerrit Cole speak on this, presumably sometime today. That’s a different story altogether.)

3. Matt Blake and Tanner Swanson, You’re Up: Anyway, enough sign-stealing. I’m already getting sick of it. There’s real baseball to discuss! Now that pitchers and catchers are all in camp, it’s time for two of the Yankees’ biggest offseason acquisitions to shine. Of course, I mean new pitching coach Matt Blake and new catching coordinator Tanner Swanson.

Both hirings came amid broader institutional changes across the organization. I’m excited to see what they will do and I’m hoping we get some stories about it soon. (Looking at you, Lindsey Adler.) I am especially curious to hear about Swanson’s catching regime. There is something of a competition for the backup catcher role, even if I expect it to be Higashioka’s to lose. And Swanson’s work will also impact starter Gary Sánchez. His defense took a weird turn last year, with passed balls improving but framing declining, and I expect Swanson to focus especially on the latter. It should be interesting.

As for Blake, I think we’re all interested to see what he will do. It’s been a long time since the Yankees had a new man at the helm of the MLB pitching tree. I’ll be on the lookout for any news or insights that we get into how Blake and Swanson are shaking things up.

4. The Key to the 2020 Success: So, we’ll obviously have many more thoughts about this in the weeks to come, but here’s something I’ve been thinking about: can we please get a full season where both Gary and Aaron Judge stay healthy? Is that too much to ask for?

Since the start of the 2017 season, when they were both full-time regulars for the first time, there have been 972 possible games played from the two homegrown stars. They’ve played in 686 of them, or just over 70%. The 2017 season inflates Judge’s, too. He played in 155 games but was hurt for the entire second half. Gary, of course, has been a walking injury for three years. It sucks! I do not like it!

So I’m going to amend my above comment: I also want to see what Eric Cressey will do. Last year was a walking injury campaign from basically day one. It was an utter disaster from a health standpoint. (Obviously, I want Stanton and co. to be healthy as well.) But for Gary and Judge, this has been a recurring issue. They’re two of my favorite players and they are both so valuable to the Yankees. I’d really like to see them both stay healthy for the whole year, or at least most of it. That sure would be nice.

5. Deivi Garcia’s Height: Finally, I wanted to follow up on a note I wrote about Deivi Garcia in a post on Monday. A Play Index review of players listed — listed being the key word — at 5’9 or shorter was not exactly promising. As I said in the post, this doesn’t mean anything to me. The stuff is the stuff and the results are the results. Deivi’s got both. I’m going to need to see that he can’t start before writing him off.

Commenter MikeD helpfully pointed out a Driveline study on height that was worth sharing. You can see it here, but here are the key takeaways (all direct quotes):

  • …the data indicate that height is essentially irrelevant when a pitcher is good enough to become an established major-league pitcher.
  • While drafted shorter players are just as likely to become established major-league relief pitchers and established major-league pitchers in general, taller pitchers are more likely to become established major-league starting pitchers.
  • …the conclusion that makes the most sense is that the reason for the statistically significant correlation between height and becoming an established major-league starting pitcher is opportunity rather than any difference due to genetics.
  • These data demonstrate that there is no statistical evidence that shorter pitchers are more or less durable than taller pitchers.

They conclude that “shorter pitchers are as good as taller pitchers, but they are afforded fewer opportunities to become major league starting pitchers simply due to bias by coaches and front office members.” Very interesting! The Yankees probably don’t have that bias. Remember, Matt Blake and Sam Briend both come via Driveline. In other words, Deivi the starter lives! Just as we all expected.

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4 Comments

  1. MikeD

    One additional point related to the Driveline study related to pitcher height. I saw something today on Fangraphs talking about Garcia. Since it’s free for all to read, I’ll paste it here:

    “But one could argue there’s a selection bias for height in the pitching population, perhaps one that’ll melt away as we keep learning about approach angle, and, because part of the formula for torque (which could theoretically be used as a measure of stress on the elbow) is the distance from the fulcrum, that longer-armed, usually taller pitchers might actually be more of an injury risk than a little guy like Deivi.”

  2. RetroRob

    Echoing what CountryClub said. I know that all teams are trying to push the edge, and that at times involve things that go over the edge. The introduction of video opened up new avenues for that to happen. That said, it’s quite clear that the universal negative reaction to the Astros confirms they went way beyond anything acceptable and way beyond anything that was being done elsewhere. This isn’t just about Manfred laying down the law in 2017. It goes beyond that. That’s why the Yankee players have been so vocal, as have the Dodgers. That’s why Boone is dealing with how he should view people like Beltran and Cora, who he viewed as friends. It’s evidence that the Astros took it to the extreme, a level no other team approached. The Yankees know they’re innocent of this, which is why they’re vocal.

  3. DJ Lemeddardhieu

    1. Yeah, I think Manfred needs to resign immediately and every player/coach involved in this scandal should be banned from baseball for life like Pete Rose. In many ways it’s worse than what Rose did because it dramatically affected the result on the field. I also don’t buy that Carlos was this unstoppable monster that not even Hinch could handle. They coulda benched him, suspended him, cut him if he didn’t listen to the manager. This seems like Hinch throwing him under the bus. He may have been the mastermind but the others could have stopped it. They went along with it because they were winning.

    2. Not one Yankee has been suspended or is even under suspicion. This was all Red Sox and Astros. Carlos and McCann didn’t cheat while on the Yankees because Girardi wouldn’t have allowed it in his clubhouse. Once they got to Houston they were given free reign to cheat the game.

    3. Blake better be good. Larry was one of the best and made a lot of guys better during his tenure. And now we’re left with this untested kid. And many thought that Coney should have gotten the job and he should have. If some of these pitchers struggle out of the gate I’d have a quick hook with Blake because he’s in over his head. Tanner should be good. All he has to do is get Gary in shape and teach him how to block balls at the plate. If he can’t do that then he won’t last long here. And Higgy will be backup C and needs no work defensively. He needs to work with Jorgie on his hitting this Spring Training.

    4. That won’t happen. They’re both injury prone. They need to tell Gary not to hustle down the line and Stanton and Voit and Judge and all of these big guys. Every time Gary hustles he hurts himself. Stanton got hurt trying to steal 3rd base. It’s dumb. They’re not getting paid to run the bases. I do think we’re due for a relatively healthy year after last year but these two will get hurt at some point.

    5. He can always stand on a box on the mound if he has to. Deivi has all the talent in the world and I don’t think the lack of height will hurt him. He’ll be the Doug Flutie of MLB. It reminds me of when Keith Law said that Sevy couldn’t be a starter then Sevy went and had a Cy Young year and Law had to leave ESPN and go to the Athletic. We need to see what this kid can do at the MLB level before we banish him to Munchkinland.

  4. CountryClub

    I have no doubt most teams, including NYY, were doing shady things prior to the 17 memo. But, the way Judge, CC and others have reacted, I do believe the Yanks cut it out after the memo. Like you, I’ve had my fill of this controversy. Hopefully, the Sox penalties come out this week and we can get to baseball next week.

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