Friday, April 24, 2020

Random Thoughts On The Red Sox Cheating Report

That was anti-climatic, wasn't it? All that waiting, all that twisting in the wind - I was expecting something big.

Anyway, the report is out, and the Red Sox got a meager slap on the wrist. Just as I did before with the Astros, here are my quick thoughts on the report:
I find that J.T. Watkins, the Red Sox video replay system operator, on at least some occasions during the 2018 regular season, utilized the game feeds in the replay room, in violation of MLB regulations, to revise sign sequence information that he had permissibly provided to players prior to the game.
Ultimately, this is the underlying issue that MLB needs to address. Sign stealing during a game is permitted. Using video to steal signs is allowed before and after a game, just not during. Furthermore, video is allowed to be used in-game for other aspects, like examining a batter's swing during an at-bat. Throw in instant replay and you have a lot of gray area as to what is and isn't allowed by technology. MLB needs to take a deep look at the role technology is going to play in the game and how to effectively control how it is used. I can't help but think that the introduction of replay challenges was the Pandora's box that makes it easier for teams to use and abuse the technology present.
I find that unlike the Houston Astros’ 2017 conduct...Watkins’s conduct, by its very nature, was far more limited in scope and impact. The information was only relevant when the Red Sox had a runner on second base (which was 19.7% of plate appearances league-wide in 2018), and Watkins communicated sign sequences in a manner that indicated that he had decoded them from the in-game feed in only a small percentage of those occurrences.
We knew beforehand that the accusations the Red Sox were facing were no where near the level that we saw with Huston. The violation here is a mild step over what a player can legally do to decode what the pitcher is throwing. By mild, I mean that once the team knows what is coming, they still have to rely on a base runner at second to relay the information to the batter. Pitchers routinely change up their signs when they suspect the opposition knows something, regardless of how the info was obtained. This strategy makes me feel that the end benefit wasn't as pronounced as I was originally led to believe.
I do not find that then-Manager Alex Cora, the Red Sox coaching staff, the Red Sox front office, or most of the players on the 2018 Red Sox knew or should have known that Watkins was utilizing in-game video to update the information that he had learned from his pregame analysis. Communication of these violations was episodic and isolated to Watkins and a limited number of Red Sox players only.
First off, I'm surprised Cora wasn't involved in some way. His year long suspension was due to his Astros ties. At first I thought a double-whammy would have been a career ending result, but now I'm not so sure. He'll get another chance to manage again, but it may be awhile.
I find that the Red Sox front office consistently communicated MLB’s sign-stealing rules to non-player staff and made commendable efforts toward instilling a culture of compliance in their organization.
See? The Red Sox learned from that Apple Watch incident! Everyone assumed the Red Sox were going to get hit hard because they've already been punished recently. I always had my doubts about this, because it automatically assumed that the Red Sox organization from the top down had no regard for the rules and any future repercussions. This is obviously not the case.
Watkins is suspended without pay for the 2020 season and 2020 Postseason and prohibited from serving as a replay room operator for the 2021 season and 2021 Postseason. 
It'll be interesting to see if Red Sox ownership eventually follows the Astros lead and flat out fires him. It's revealed further on in the report that Watkins was also the one responsible for sending the information during the Apple Watch violation. He obviously is someone who isn't afraid to test the boundaries of MLB's rules, and twice now he has been caught. 
Although the Commissioner’s Office agreed not to discipline players who were truthful in their interviews, based on the findings of the investigation, this is not a case in which I would have otherwise considered imposing discipline on players.
One of the biggest issues I had with the Astros report is how the players got off scott-free despite being the main instigators and proponents of the trash can relay system. Manfred makes it clear that the Red Sox violation was not created by the players and staff, and that they would not have been punished even if immunity were off the table. Although I am relieved to hear this, I cannot in good conscious believe the team was completely innocent. The report suggests that many players suspected that Watkins was doing something, but had no concrete evidence. What the report doesn't tell us is what these players did with their suspicions. Did they tell anyone? Did they stop using the information they were given? How much plausible deniability is really plausible?
The Club must be held accountable, particularly since the Club may have benefited from Watkins’s conduct. As a result, I have determined that the Red Sox shall forfeit their second round selection in the 2020 First-Year Player Draft.
Losing the draft pick will suck, considering the current state of their farm system, but it's acceptable. Still, this just reads to me as if Manfred had to do something, and this was all he could come up with. I'm surprised that paltry fine Houston got wasn't replicated here.

So that's it. This will no doubt piss a lot of fans off (especially most Yankee fans) for being too light, but given the lack of evidence or a Mike Fliers type of player stepping forward, there really wasn't much that could be done. You have to go by the facts, and the facts show the Red Sox infraction was minor at best. I have a hard time believing other playoff caliber teams wouldn't have revealed similar findings if MLB had investigated them as well.

Now we can put this behind us, move forward, and hope baseball can be played again soon.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for putting all the info in one place, I haven't been able to read the report in-depth and most of what I saw focused on the punishment compared to the Astros. Everyone has their biases (we're Red Sox fans so we're no different) but the commissioner took quite a long time with this investigation and found that it didn't rise to the level of what the Astros did. Even ex-Red Sox like Pearce and Kelly though the whole thing was overblown. A 2nd-round pick is a tough penalty, and everyone seems to forget that Boston lost a heck of a manager in Cora, so it's not like the Sox didn't lose anything here. I'm glad it's over and the focus can go back to baseball.. eventually.