The XFL is back this weekend after 20 years, and I am as skeptical now of its ability to succeed as I was back then. I get the thinking – people love football, there’s no football on the calendar, let’s fill that gap – but it just never works. First of all, the gap (missing the game, returning to the game, cycle on) is part of the reason for the huge interest. Second of all, marginal fans – the ones you need in order to make it a real success – don’t want to watch an inferior game, if that’s what you wind up with. They’ll check it out for a week or two, and then they’ll be done. We’ve seen it so many times before. Sure, I’ll check it out, but I suspect I’m gonna be one of those people who checks right back out after a week or two.
- Having more fully digested the scope of what last night’s WSJ report indicated about the Astros’ sign-stealing cheating – how it came from a front office program designed to steal and relay signs at home and on the road – I was already starting to feel like you cannot possibly give them the benefit of the doubt when it comes to ANY conspiracy theory at this point. Then, fired manager A.J. Hinch gave an interview to Tom Verducci where he said this:
A.J. Hinch also danced around the buzzer theories of 2019. He didn't say no: pic.twitter.com/T6c0hQJvB7
— Brendan Kuty (@BrendanKutyNJ) February 7, 2020
- So, yeah, I’ll take that as “some players were definitely using buzzers.” I mean, let’s imagine Hinch really doesn’t think his players used buzzers, but he’s not certain and so he doesn’t want to be too forceful with a “no, didn’t happen.” He still could have easily said something like, “I was not aware of it if they were, but I have no reason to believe they were.” But he instead chose to say, “They investigated and didn’t find anything, so I believe that.” To me, that sounds like a manager not wanting to throw his players under the bus after an investigation cleared this allegation.
- … and investigation, mind you, that omitted SIGNIFICANT AND DAMNING details from the final report.
- Take all this stuff together, and I’m sorry, but I just now think you’re crazy if you presume ANY of the conspiracy theories – sign-stealing schemes, buzzers, illegal grip enhancements, others that I don’t want to type so I don’t get in trouble (but they’re out there) – about the Astros organization over the past five years are fake. Your default now should be that it’s all true unless there’s proof that it’s not. Also, remember the Cardinals hacking scandal – which was awful, mind you – and how their primary defense was that they were initially hacking only to make sure the Astros weren’t stealing from them? Yeah. How’s that looking now?
- I didn’t used to be here, but I am now: the Houston Astros should be stripped of their World Series title, and the 2017 World Series should simply be vacated. You can’t hand the title to the Dodgers (and Yu Darvish … ) because you can’t know what else would have happened if the Astros hadn’t been cheating (in so many ways for probably so many years), but you can know that their victory is hopelessly tainted. They are not legitimate champions. That’s a fact.
- More from the Hinch interview, where I do think he *mostly* acquits himself well (no pun intended):
In an exclusive interview, Tom Verducci sits with former Astros manager AJ Hinch to discuss the sign-stealing scandal
“It happened on my watch. I’m not proud of that. I’ll never be proud of it.” https://t.co/SNldlWO6fC
— SI MLB (@si_mlb) February 7, 2020
A.J. Hinch weighs in on Mike Fiers’ decision to come forward, the Astros’ 2017 World Series title and more.
— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) February 7, 2020
- I think it’s pretty clear that Hinch did not want non-players stealing signs via video – he twice took a bat to the video monitors to express his displeasure – but he also didn’t want to tell his players to stop. I’m sure there are clubhouse culture things that contribute to disconnect, but as Hinch admits: he knew it was happening and it happened on his watch. He chose not to stop it, instead only taking passive-aggressive swings at the operation (pun intended that time). I have mixed feelings on whether Hinch, specifically, should be able to get a job in baseball again after his year-long suspension is up. There’s a chance that he really did oppose the cheating all along, and just didn’t yet have enough strength to stop it. Maybe there’s a coaching role down the road for a guy who has gone through this experience. (The same COULD be true for Alex Cora, pending the Red Sox investigation, but the problem for him is that he actually led much of the sign-stealing program, rather than just passively allowed it to happen. Ditto Carlos Beltran on all that.)
- Also, good on WSJ and SI for getting these additional bits of the story, because if we were left to go by only the MLB report, there’s so much we wouldn’t know. And players are now going to be even more pissed:
This is really frustrating. A month after MLB’s report and all we have now is more evidence and more questions. So it wasn’t entirely player-driven? This came from up top? The integrity of the game is at stake and players and fans deserve some answers. https://t.co/qa55hxLHp5
— Obi-Sean Kenobi Doolittle (@whatwouldDOOdo) February 8, 2020
It feels like there’s still no closure and everything has been thrown into question – past outcomes are being second guessed and even future games will be cast in doubt. There can be no redemption arc after an institutionalized scandal like this until there’s some accountability.
— Obi-Sean Kenobi Doolittle (@whatwouldDOOdo) February 8, 2020
- Anyway. Off the Astros stuff. Here’s something fun – it’s what PECOTA projects for these Cubs players if they hit their 99th percentile outcome in 2020 (i.e., the super extreme outlier at the front of the bell curve):
Some fun 99th percentile Cubs PECOTA projections
Darvish: 1.98 ERA
Kimbrel: 1.33 ERA, 15.3 K/9
— FullCountTommy (@FullCountTommy) February 7, 2020
- Of all of those, I guess you’d have to say Kimbrel’s is the most conceivable, since he’s already kinda had a season like that in his career. Given his style, I could actually see the Baez one being plausible, too (by which I mean, you can imagine the type of season where he actually puts up an insane line like that because he’s just being super aggressive and lining the ball all over the place). None of those outcomes is actually going to happen, of course.
- Jess Mendoza is now out of the Mets organization in addition to being off the Sunday Night Baseball beat:
Jessica Mendoza has resigned as a Met advisor and will no longer be on Sunday Night Baseball. She will remain on ESPN, doing weekday games, among other things.
— Andrew Marchand (@AndrewMarchand) February 7, 2020
- Speaking of the Mets, more on how the sale to Steve Cohen fell apart, and it seems like everyone involved might be “the bad guy”:
— Thornton McEnery (@ThorntonMcEnery) February 7, 2020
- Not too hard to see why Bryan selected Brennen Davis as the Cubs’ top prospect:
There were 1809 player seasons in 2010s with a hitter getting 200 Midwest League PAs.
Only 36 players had wRC+ above 160.
Just 7 times was that player a teenager.
Bo Bichette, Oscar Taveras, Byron Buxton, Mike Trout, Javy Baez, Eloy Jimenez and …
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) February 8, 2020
- This swing … is perfect:
Are you kidding me with this swing?!? pic.twitter.com/azcCDNrAX2
— Baseball is Fun (@flippingbats) February 8, 2020