MLB Sign Stealing Investigation

Punishments have been given out by Major League Baseball to the Houston Astros for their recent sign-stealing scandal that helped the team to win the World Series in 2017. The MLB’s investigation found the Astros guilty of stealing signs by using a computer system that relayed the signs from center field to the players on the bench who communicated them to the batter. This was found to be used in Astros’ home games throughout the regular season and postseason and was presented to the scene when Mike Fiers told sources that the team was using electronically stole signs from other teams using cameras in the outfield. 

The Astros had a special season in 2017 reaching the 100-win mark for just the second time in the franchise’s history. The team would later go on to win its first World Series in franchise history as well. Although the Astros would be caught for cheating in both the regular season and postseason in 2017, the regular season numbers for the Astros do not support that the team was better when it played at home. In the regular season, the Astros recorded a 48-33 record at home which is a very good record but the team was even better on the road with a 53-28 record which was tied for the best road record in the MLB. Even with just a 5-win differential in the home and away records, the Astros scored 106 more runs when playing on the road than when the team was at home. The Astros’ best win-streak that season was 11-games where aside from a 3-game sweep of the Orioles and a win against the Tigers to start the stretch, the following 7 games were won on the road at the Minnesota Twins, Texas Rangers, and Kansas City Royals.

While the regular season statistically does not support signs of cheating, the postseason certainly shows proof of it when you look at the home and away splits and not the totals. Based on the totals, the postseason for the Astros was fairly even with an 11-7 record and outscored their opponents 78-74. However, looking at the home and away differences, the Astros made its way through the postseason winning 8 of 9 home games where the team outscored its opponents 51-28 and struggled badly on the road winning just 3 of 9 away games and being outscored by its opponents 46-27. A series by series breakdown shows that the Astros dominated the Red Sox at home in the Divisional Series-winning both games by a combined score of 16-4, but when playing in Boston, won one of two games while being outscored 14-8. In the ALCS against the Yankees, the Astros won all four of its home games and outscored the Yankees 15-3 over those games while failing to win a single game on the road and was outscored 19-5. Finally, in the World Series, the Astros won two out of three home games but was actually outscored by the Dodgers 21-20 and was 2-2 in road games and outscored the Dodgers 14-13.

There was one player in particular that demonstrated the difference for the Astros when playing at home as opposed to on the road. This was the 2017 Most Valuable Player, Astros second baseman and 5-time all-star, Jose Altuve. Altuve, like the rest of his team, played even better on the road throughout the regular season but was completely opposite in the postseason. As seen in the tweet above, Altuve batted over .300 points higher when he played at home during the postseason recording 12 more hits, 5 more home runs, 10 more RBI’s, about .250 points higher on-base-percentage, and .800 points higher slugging percentage. The most interesting numbers here are his home run totals and batting averages. During the regular season, Altuve batted .381 on the road and just .311 at home but boosted his home average by almost .200 points and dropped his away average by about .250 points. Also during the regular season, Altuve hit just 9 home runs in 78 games at home meaning that he hit one home run at home per .115 games but in the postseason he hit 6 home runs in 9 home games meaning that he would hit one home run at home per 0.66 (more than every other game). The account from the tweet above also goes on to show the home and away splits for Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, Brian McCann, Yuli Gurriel, and Evan Gattis who all played significantly better at home than on the road throughout the postseason.

With the investigation has come to an end, punishments have been given out to the Astros. The league announced that they were suspending manager, A.J. Hinch, and general manager Jeff Luhnow for the 2020 season, taking away first and second-round draft picks for the next two years, and fining the team $5 million. The players in this punishment did not face any consequences for their actions. An immediate result of this scandal was the firing of Hinch and Luhnow by Astros owner Jim Crane. Many fans out there are disappointed by the punishment given out by the league saying that their title should be stripped and that the players should receive some kind of punishment for their role in this scandal. In this situation, it is easy to say that the title should be taken from them and that the players should not be rewarded for any of their achievements; however, this would be very uncharacteristic of the MLB to do given the ways they have handled previous conflicts like the steroids era. None of those players’ home run titles and statistics were taken away from them but will forever have an Asterix next to it which is the same that will happen to the Astros. It is unfair the way they won the World Series and the fact that it was a team effort as opposed to a single-player makes it harder to deal with the cheating team and its players getting off seemingly easier for what was considered a “player-driven operation.” 

This sign-stealing scandal is not just playing an effect on the Astros but is playing an effect on the entire league. Following the results of the Astros punishments, the Red Sox agreed to fire manager Alex Cora, and not long after, the Mets agreed to fire the newly-hired manager, Carlos Beltran. Cora played a much larger role in this scandal since he was the bench coach of the Astros in 2017. According to the report, “Cora was involved in developing both the banging scheme and utilizing the replay review room to decode and transmit signs.” Following the 2017 season, Cora became the Red Sox manager and went on to take the team to a World Series title in 2018 which has now opened up a new thought that the Red Sox had also cheated in order to achieve their World Series title. While Cora was only fired so far, he is expected to face a “harsh punishment” in the near future. Carlos Beltran was still just a player on the team so he will not be facing any punishment aside from the Mets deciding to fire him due to their belief that it was “the right move.” The Mets will also not face any consequences of this because Beltran had just been hired this past offseason and has yet to coach for the team yet so he has not done anything to help them unfairly win any baseball games. 

With so much circulating around the league as a result of this scandal, there could be more significant effects across the league. Nothing like this has ever happened in major league baseball and although there is a commonality between the Astros and Red Sox (Alex Cora), it may raise the question of what other teams could be cheating in some kind of similar way. This could lead to a league-wide investigation to ensure that there are not any other teams doing anything to give themselves a leg up currently or in the future by monitoring teams throughout the regular and postseasons. There have been many scandals and investigations throughout the history of the MLB and with technology growth in the game today, it will be crucial that the league ensures that the integrity of the game is safe in the future. Base-runners stealing signs when on second base and batters picking up on when pitchers are tipping pitches are parts of the game and it is up to the other teams to disguise these. However, when a team is using technological advances to figure out what pitches are about to be thrown or to give them an advantage in any kind of way is completely unethical and against the rules of baseball.

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