I don’t personally know a self-identified Astros fan named Tony Adams, nor can I specifically vouch for the research he has done regarding the scandal that has rocked his favorite team.
What I do know is that he seems to have painstakingly given us the most comprehensive look at how the Astros’ sign-stealing methods played out in 2017, the year they won the World Series.
To recap the scandal: The Astros, according to MLB’s investigation, used a center field camera during home games to figure out what pitches an opposing catcher was telling an opposing pitcher to throw. A couple months into the season, per the report, the Astros figured out a rather low-tech method for relaying that information to batters: banging on a trash can. The banging (once or twice) usually meant a breaking ball or changeup, while no banging meant it was a fastball.
That sounds really bad when you hear it. It’s even worse when someone like Adams painstakingly proves it by logging every possible opposing pitch during an Astros home game from the 2017 regular season. His method, per his web site that lays out the data he collected:
I wrote an application that downloaded the pitch data from MLB’s Statcast. This data has a timestamp for every pitch. I then downloaded the videos from YouTube and, using the timestamp, created a spectrogram for every pitch. A spectrogram is a visual representation of the spectrum of frequencies in an audio file. I could then playback the video of the pitches and, helped by the visual of the spectrogram, determine if there was any banging before the pitch.
Adams notes that he thought it would be a quick assignment. Turns out, he had to log 8,274 pitches — and found a banging noise before 1,143 of them. The sample is 58 games, since he only used the ones that had video, but that’s still a very large slice. And it’s important to note that it doesn’t mean the Astros “only” cheated on those 1,143 pitches since the absence of a bang often meant a fastball was coming.
His evidence supports MLB’s conclusion that the banging started a couple months into the season. There were no more than six bangs in any home game, per Adams, until May 28 — when it jumped up to 28 of them in an 8-4 win over Baltimore.
To see how it impacted a specific game, look no further than a very real instance against the Twins.
Adams’ research finds 48 instances of banging — second most of any of the 58 logged games — during a July 14 game against the Twins, a 10-5 Houston win in which the Astros chased Jose Berrios with an eight-run second inning. (AP file photo above is of Berrios leaving that game dejectedly).
Ten of those “bangs” came in the second inning, all on breaking pitches, including:
*One bang during a Carlos Beltran at bat, where he laid off the 1-0 breaking ball and eventually walked to get the inning going.
*Bangs on successive curve balls after Yuli Gurriel fell behind 0-2. He laid off both pitches and eventually reached on an error.
*One bang on a 3-1 curve ball that George Springer fouled off before eventually singling on a no-bang fastball.
*Bangs on two different curve balls during a Carlos Correa at bat — one which he took for a ball to get ahead in the count, and a 1-2 pitch on which he hit an RBI single.
*(With Phil Hughes now pitching): Two bangs for a breaking ball that Beltran, up for a second time in the inning, took for a ball one pitch before hitting a no-bang double.
Just like that, Houston is on its way to a blowout win.
Interestingly, Adams also breaks down the information by individual player to see who had the most “bangs” during their at bats. Checking in with a team-high 147, according to Adams, is current Twin Marwin Gonzalez — who enjoyed a robust 2017 season, particularly at home and particularly in relation to the rest of his career).
The Astros didn’t use the banging on every pitch, nor did it always work. But then again, their scheme wasn’t limited to banging. As Adams notes, the banging was merely the most provable offense: “The commissioner’s statement specifically mentioned the trash can banging, and we have undeniable evidence in the videos of the games. The commissioner also stated they used clapping, whistling, and yelling early in the season before settling on the trash can banging. Due to the crowd noise and announcers on the broadcast, these signals are difficult — if not impossible — to detect consistently.”
And knowing what pitch was coming in key moments is a massive advantage in a sport that requires such quick reaction times — one reason hitters often “guess” what pitch they are going to get, in order to be best prepared to drive a ball.
But knowing and guessing are two very different things. And “they didn’t benefit (enough) from the cheating makes it not so bad” is the absolute worst defense for any of this.
I mean, they kept doing it in the postseason and won the World Series — and so far at least, for some reason, they get to keep it.