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Wednesday, April 22, 2020

MLB Pins Red Sox Violations on Staffer (sub. required)

Major League Baseball’s ruling on the Boston Red Sox’s illegal sign stealing in 2018 determined the primary culprit was not the front office, manager Alex Cora or the players, but the team’s video replay system operator.
The league, in findings that will be released Wednesday afternoon, suspended the operator, J.T. Watkins, and docked the Red Sox a second-round pick in the 2020 draft. It also suspended Cora through the conclusion of the 2020 postseason, but only for his conduct as Astros bench coach in 2017, not as Red Sox manager in ’18, when the team won 108 games and the World Series.
Following a January report from The Athletic on the Red Sox’s conduct, Commissioner Rob Manfred found that Watkins, on at least some occasions during the 2018 regular season, illegally utilized game feeds in the replay room to help players during games — an undertaking less egregious than the Astros’ famed 2017 sign-stealing scheme.
The league did not find that Boston’s impermissible conduct continued during the 2018 postseason or 2019 regular season.

Jose Needs an Absurd Ukulele Concert Posted: April 22, 2020 at 03:05 PM | 29 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: not dirty rotten cheaters, red sox, replay, sign stealing

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   1. winnipegwhip Posted: April 22, 2020 at 03:58 PM (#5943154)
It took that long to figure that out?
   2. Jose Needs an Absurd Ukulele Concert Posted: April 22, 2020 at 04:07 PM (#5943157)
My guess is that after all the shitstorm in the wake of the Astro announcement they didn’t want to come out and effectively say “nothing happened” without being 200% certain.
   3. The Duke Posted: April 22, 2020 at 04:14 PM (#5943161)
Now we wait for the real facts to emerge so we can find out what really happened
   4. villageidiom Posted: April 22, 2020 at 04:18 PM (#5943164)
Story from MLB.com (no subscription required)

Also, from the report itself, linked in the above MLB.com article:
At the outset, it is important to put into proper context the nature of the Red Sox’ wrongdoing. MLB rules in 2018 did not—and still do not—prohibit all methods used by Clubs to decode signs. It always has been permissible for baserunners—particularly runners on second base—to attempt to decode an opposing team’s signs. It also always has been permissible for Clubs to utilize video before a game or after a game is completed to attempt to decode an opponent’s sign sequences in order to provide the Club with an advantage in future games with that team. While MLB rules between 2014 and 2017 stated that “no equipment may be used for the purpose of stealing signs or conveying information designed to give a Club an advantage,” many Clubs and their players did not view that prohibition as restricting staff and players in the replay room from attempting to decode signs during a game for use when a runner was on second base. In September 2017, the Red Sox were fined for using a smartwatch to receive sign information in the dugout from the replay room, but the focus of that decision was on the use of electronics to improperly communicate signs to the dugout rather than on the use of video to decode signs. In March 2018, however, my office clarified in a memorandum sent to all Clubs by then-Chief Baseball Officer Joe Torre that “electronic equipment, including game feeds in the Club replay room and/or video room, may never be used during a game for the purpose of stealing the opposing team’s signs.” Red Sox staff members who were interviewed by our investigators consistently stated that they were aware of the prohibition against using video in the replay room to decode signs in 2018, and that the Club’s front office took proactive measures to ensure that the rules were followed.

J.T. Watkins, a member of the Red Sox’ advance scouting staff, was responsible for attempting to decode an opposing team’s sign sequences prior to and after the completion of the game, which was (and is) permissible under the rules. Watkins conveyed the sign sequence information he learned from his pregame work to players in a meeting prior to the game, or sometimes during the game. The issue in this case stems from the fact that Watkins—the employee responsible for decoding an opponent’s signs prior to and following the game—also was the person stationed in the replay room during the game to advise the Manager on whether to challenge a play on the field. (It was not uncommon for those two roles to be combined in this manner by Clubs in 2018). Therefore, Watkins, who was an expert at decoding sign sequences from video, had access to a live feed during the game that he could have—if he so chose—used to supplement or update the work he had performed prior to the game to decode an opponent’s signs.

Watkins vehemently denies utilizing the replay system during the game to decode signs. Of the 44 players who provided information, more than 30 stated that they had no knowledge regarding whether Watkins used in-game video feeds to revise his advance sign decoding work. However, a smaller number of players said that on at least some occasions, they suspected or had indications that Watkins may have revised the sign sequence information that he had provided to players prior to the game through his review of the game feed in the replay room. They largely based their belief on the fact that Watkins on occasion provided different sign sequence information during the game than he had offered prior to the game, and, based on the circumstances of the communication, they assumed that the revised information came from his review of in game video. One player described that he observed Watkins write down sign sequence information during the game while he appeared to be watching the game feed in the replay room, circling the correct sign in the sequence after the pitch was thrown.

Therefore, the narrow issue before me is whether Watkins on at least some occasions during the 2018 season utilized the game feed from the replay room to supplement or revise the sign sequence information that he had provided to players prior to the game. After carefully considering all of the evidence, which is summarized below, I find that Watkins, on at least some occasions, utilized the game feeds in the replay room to supplement and revise sign sequence information that he had provided to players prior to the game. Accordingly, I hereby suspend Watkins without pay for the 2020 season and 2020 Postseason and prohibit him from serving as the replay room operator for the 2021 season and the 2021 Postseason. Although no other Red Sox personnel will be disciplined, the Club must be held accountable, particularly since it potentially 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.

...

Third, I find that Watkins used in-game video to decode signs during the 2018 regular season only. The evidence uncovered during the investigation is insufficient to conclude that the conduct continued in the 2018 Postseason or 2019 regular season. In this regard, it is important to note that, starting with the 2018 Postseason, the Commissioner’s Office placed full-time in-person monitors in replay rooms (“Video Room Monitors”) to prevent the improper use of video equipment. Prior to the Postseason, replay room monitoring by the Commissioner’s Office had taken place only during certain portions of the game because the Video Room Monitor was responsible for both the home and visitors replay rooms and also had other duties.
   5. The Yankee Clapper Posted: April 22, 2020 at 04:30 PM (#5943167)
Other reports indicate that Watkins was also heavily involved in the Red Sox “Apple Watch” violation, and that he vehemently denied using the video feed to provide in-game updates of opposing teams’ sign sequences, which MLB found he did do. So, multiple violations and lying to investigators only gets a 1-year suspension? Hmmm.
   6. Rough Carrigan Posted: April 22, 2020 at 04:31 PM (#5943170)
Cris Carter was right.
   7. pikepredator Posted: April 22, 2020 at 04:34 PM (#5943174)
I could see myself doing that if I was in his position . . . trying to give my team an extra edge, knowing I was crossing a line but so tempted to do it by the available info right in front of me.

Not saying it was right - it isn't - but that logically this story "makes sense". I wouldn't be shocked if there was more to the story, but I wouldn't be shocked if there wasn't, either.
   8. Nasty Nate Posted: April 22, 2020 at 04:45 PM (#5943184)
Other reports indicate that Watkins was also heavily involved in the Red Sox “Apple Watch” violation
Manfred's report itself makes that assertion.
   9. villageidiom Posted: April 22, 2020 at 04:48 PM (#5943188)
Also from the commissioner's report:

While most witnesses stated that they had no reason to believe that Watkins obtained sign sequence information from in-game feeds, 11 witnesses identified features of Watkins’s in-game communications that indicated to them that Watkins had at times acquired the sign sequence information from the replay room during the game. Specifically: (i) six witnesses observed Watkins write out signs during the game, which they surmised was obtained from his reviewing the game feed in the replay room; (ii) 11 witnesses said that Watkins communicated the sign information in a manner that indicated that he had obtained it in game, for example by providing them with different sign sequence information during the game than he provided to them before the game, or by using language that led them to believe that he obtained the information from watching a game feed (e.g., describing what sequence the catcher was using “this inning”); and (iii) four witnesses said that Watkins used gestures or notes to communicate to them sign sequence information when a Video Room Monitor was present in the replay room, which led them to believe that he was engaged in prohibited conduct because he was attempting to conceal his communications.

Some of the witnesses who provided the incriminating information were in the group of witnesses that interacted most with Watkins on these issues. One player, who was interviewed twice, said that he had no doubt that Watkins utilized the replay room to decode signs on occasion, and said that he watched Watkins attempt to decode the sign sequence by writing sign information on computer paper while he watched the replay station in the replay room and then circling the correct sign in the sequence after the pitch was thrown. Another player said that he believed that 90% of Watkins’s sign sequence information was obtained from his advance work, but that 10% of the time Watkins “obviously” updated that information from in-game video feeds.


The commissioner also noted that (a) he did not seek discipline for the players in return for their candid testimony but (b) due to limited involvement of, and benefit to, the players he would not have assessed discipline to any of the players in this case had he not already agreed not to seek discipline. I assume a lot of people will cite (a) but conveniently ignore (b) as they discuss the players on this.

The report is pretty interesting. A lot of this is (EDIT) legal, or really close to legal. Obviously they're getting penalized for the part that wasn't.
   10. winnipegwhip Posted: April 22, 2020 at 05:30 PM (#5943224)
If this was Reservoir Dogs, Manfred would say we talked to Mr.Pink and Mr. Blonde and if it wasn't for their cooperation we wouldn't have got Joe. Therefore we absolve Mr. Pink and Mr. Blonde.
   11. winnipegwhip Posted: April 22, 2020 at 06:33 PM (#5943246)
Steve Pearce you can retire or be suspended.
   12. The Duke Posted: April 22, 2020 at 08:04 PM (#5943282)
I think the one year suspension is MLB code for, no one better hire this guy again.
   13. Walt Davis Posted: April 23, 2020 at 02:11 AM (#5943321)
I'm too lazy and not outraged enough to check the story but ... I'm a bit confused what exactly went on here. Fine, you can use old video to decode signs then pass that info onto players who can only take advantage of it when they are a runner on 2nd. So what exactly was he updating? He looked at in-game video, cracked the new code in real time, relayed that to a few players in the hopes that, before the game was over, they'd reach 2nd base?

by any chance, were Red Sox players interviewed after they saw all the crap the Astros went through given them motive and opportunity to get their stories straight? I grant you "second sign, not third sign, is real" (or second sign minus 1 if third sign is higher or repeats or whatever) is not difficult info to relay in-game but that teeny advantage doesn't seem worth the risk of breaking the rule.

And how often would teams change these signs since the last time the Red Sox saw them? If they were doing it that often, they must have strongly suspected the Red Sox were stealing signs and not because they occasionally got a good swing with a runner on second. If they rarely did change their signs, then how rarely did the guy need to give in-game updates ... and again why risk it?

Either more went on here than the Sox/MLB are telling or this guy was a wee bit over-enthusiastic or this is as close to a nothing burger as cheating can get.
   14. MuttsIdolCochrane Posted: April 23, 2020 at 05:05 AM (#5943329)
Their postseason runners in scoring position stats virtually prove the incidents weren't "isolated" to the regular season. Also, isolated itself could mean thousands of separate incidents. The players were involved, they won while and because they cheated, and they are all so happy they could find and rat out their Lee Harvey Watkins.
   15. jmurph Posted: April 23, 2020 at 09:45 AM (#5943364)
I remain extremely confused why any of this is against the rules.
   16. villageidiom Posted: April 23, 2020 at 11:31 AM (#5943413)
So what exactly was he updating? He looked at in-game video, cracked the new code in real time, relayed that to a few players in the hopes that, before the game was over, they'd reach 2nd base?
Yes. Exactly this. And they deserved punishment for it. Part of the commissioner's message in the report was that this advantage is of limited utility, but that they are being punished because they broke the rules.

I think one could argue it had more than limited utility. Like, yeah, the circumstances when it could help would be very limited. But the amount of help it could provide could be huge, because by definition it would be with a runner in scoring position.

From BB-Ref, Boston's tOPS+ with RISP (basically, their OPS+ with RISP relative to their average OPS+) was 121. You know what other teams had a 121 tOPS+ with RISP? The 2017 Orioles (75-87, 100 OPS+). The 2007 Rangers (75-87, 97 OPS+). The 2002 Rockies (73-89, 88 OPS+). The 1995 Brewers (65-79, 89 OPS+). The 1991 Royals (82-80, 100 OPS+). The 1981 Braves (50-56, 84 OPS+). The 1964 Mets (53-109, 84 OPS+). And a few good teams, too, and more mediocre and bad teams. Performing that much better with RISP is something that happens all the time. RISP stats, as we know, don't really tell us about ability or chicanery because there's so much noise to them. So it's hard to assess the utility they could have gained from all this, other than through the circumstances the investigation uncovered.

Their postseason runners in scoring position stats virtually prove the incidents weren't "isolated" to the regular season.
Come on. Postseason RISP stats don't even prove hitting ability. How would they prove an unfair advantage in hitting ability?

I remain extremely confused why any of this is against the rules.
It's been in the rules forever, largely because the home team would have an unfair advantage over the visiting team, back when observing/relaying signs electronically would have required less-mobile equipment than we have today. But even though both teams have access to some measure of live video and in-game replays today, and all kinds of wearable devices to relay info, the home team has a decided advantage in what kind of additional equipment they could use. They could rig up their own camera systems, get more/better angles, station someone in the stadium to gather and relay the info from all of that. Rather than fine-tune the rule for the evolution in technology they've simply stuck with the blanket prohibition they've had for decades.
   17. TJ Posted: April 23, 2020 at 12:23 PM (#5943442)
I guess my beef with the difference between what the punishment the Astros got and what the Red Sox received is that they both committed the same offense by using tech to steal signs. It sounds like both originally did so to use the info when the had a runner on second. The Astros then found another way to use the signs they were stealing electronically. So the punishment is based on what you do with the info you have electronically stolen and not that you stole it to begin with?
   18. jmurph Posted: April 23, 2020 at 12:26 PM (#5943446)
I guess my beef with the difference between what the punishment the Astros got and what the Red Sox received is that they both committed the same offense by using tech to steal signs. It sounds like both originally did so to use the info when the had a runner on second. The Astros then found another way to use the signs they were stealing electronically. So the punishment is based on what you do with the info you have electronically stolen and not that you stole it to begin with?

"Stealing the signs electronically" is not against the rules. So yeah that's a pretty meaningfully big difference.
   19. jmurph Posted: April 23, 2020 at 12:33 PM (#5943450)
Honestly, I'm on the side of thinking the response to the Astros stuff has been out of proportion to the actual offense, but 17 is a hilarious description of what they were caught doing.
   20. Darren Posted: April 23, 2020 at 03:30 PM (#5943565)
I remain extremely confused why any of this is against the rules.


VI touches on some of the reasoning above. But I think it's also a case of the league realizing that stealing signs is part of the game but as technology advances, setting a limit on how you can steal signs makes a certain amount of sense. Teams can all either invest more and more time in inventing unbreakable ways to transmit signs, or they can draw a line somewhere and spend their time on more important things.


I also found VI's explanation of how hard it is to know how much advantage is gained insightful.

   21. The Yankee Clapper Posted: April 23, 2020 at 03:57 PM (#5943586)
I remain extremely confused why any of this is against the rules.
Players & coaches aren’t the ones observing or decoding the signs - the video coordinator is using technology to intervene in the battle between batter & pitcher. That’s a fair and pretty obvious place to draw the line.
   22. It's regretful that PASTE was able to get out Posted: April 23, 2020 at 04:09 PM (#5943592)
I imagine that if technology had totally free rein, there would no longer be signs--just some kind of silent electronic buzzer-like system for the catcher (or manager) to use to signal the next pitch. Likewise coaches and batters.

I'm a little surprised that hasn't already happened, since the NFL has for years been allowing coach-to-player radio contact to call plays, and we know how much MLB loves to copy the NFL.
   23. jmurph Posted: April 23, 2020 at 04:23 PM (#5943609)
But I think it's also a case of the league realizing that stealing signs is part of the game but as technology advances, setting a limit on how you can steal signs makes a certain amount of sense.

Not to nitpick but I think this is more than a nitpick, but using technology to steal signs remains legal.

Players & coaches aren’t the ones observing or decoding the signs - the video coordinator is using technology to intervene in the battle between batter & pitcher. That’s a fair and pretty obvious place to draw the line.

The line is, in fact, not drawn there; the commissioner makes clear himself in the memo that the video coordinator is allowed to use technology to steal signs.

   24. The Yankee Clapper Posted: April 23, 2020 at 04:28 PM (#5943616)
The line is, in fact, not drawn there; the commissioner makes clear himself in the memo that the video coordinator is allowed to use technology to steal signs.
The video coordinator can only do it legally AFTER THE GAME, when it’s more like scut work, considered unworthy of players & coaches. Suggesting there’s no difference between in-game and post-game use of video really misses the point.
   25. jmurph Posted: April 23, 2020 at 04:31 PM (#5943619)
I didn't miss any point, I was correcting your post, which was wrong.
   26. villageidiom Posted: April 23, 2020 at 09:05 PM (#5943724)
I guess my beef with the difference between what the punishment the Astros got and what the Red Sox received is that they both committed the same offense by using tech to steal signs. It sounds like both originally did so to use the info when the had a runner on second. The Astros then found another way to use the signs they were stealing electronically. So the punishment is based on what you do with the info you have electronically stolen and not that you stole it to begin with?
I don't see why George Brett didn't get suspended for having pine tar too high up on his bat handle, but Graig Nettles got suspended 10 games for using a bat stuffed with superballs. They both used illegal bats.
   27. jacksone (AKA It's OK...) Posted: April 24, 2020 at 11:45 AM (#5943897)
The video coordinator can only do it legally AFTER THE GAME, when it’s more like scut work, considered unworthy of players & coaches.


You don't think players and coaches watch video of opposing players?
   28. jmurph Posted: April 24, 2020 at 12:25 PM (#5943918)
UNWORTHY
   29. The Yankee Clapper Posted: April 24, 2020 at 03:12 PM (#5943988)
You don't think players and coaches watch video of opposing players?
Sure they do, looking for pitch tipping and tendencies, but it makes sense to delegate the post-game sign sequence compilation to the video coordinator. What’s the point of having a former scout in the position if not for such tasks?

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