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.