Saturday, February 8, 2020

Saturday Morning Dark Arts Links

What a day.

*A.J. Hinch sat down with Tom Verducci in this MLB Network interview and answered some questions. I'm not going to transcribe the thing because (1) it's 18 minutes long and (2) you're perfectly capable of watching it yourself. But still, in the interest of Why Did A.J. Hinch Sit Down with Tom Verducci, let's get this opening salvo on record:

One, I still feel responsible and I'll always feel responsible because I was the man out front. I was the manager, the leader, I was the one in charge of the team. I put out a statement that day - it was a very emotional day for me and my family - to apologize. But there's something different about doing it on camera, and putting a face to an apology, and saying 'I'm sorry' to the League, to Baseball, to the fans, to the players, to the coaches. I was the man out front. And I felt like it's my responsibility to put my voice out there and tell a little bit of the story to hopefully start the next step, which is getting past this and getting into the best part of baseball, which is the players and the game. 

Some takeaways:

1. Jim Crane met with Hinch in person and fired him. At least it wasn't via text or email, and at least TMZ didn't break it before Hinch knew.
2. Hinch confirmed he did break the monitors twice with a bat to signal his displeasure with the scandal. He wished he would have had a meeting. Hinch's line: "I tolerated too much."
3. Hinch heard the trash can banging.
4. Hinch never talked with Luhnow about, or saw, the memo that Manfred sent to all the GMs on September 15, 2017 saying not to misuse technology in stealing signs. "It doesn't mean that it was right to do what we did." The underlying argument here is that Luhnow got the memo, didn't take it downstairs to Hinch, and Hinch didn't know the memo got circulated to the GMs. Aha! But MLB did release the memo, so that's not quite true.
5. Hinch wished Fiers had come to him "in real time" to discuss his opposition to the trash-can banging, and wishes he "had a better environment" for Fiers to discuss his issues.
6. We need to be clear about how A.J. Hinch handled [waves hands] all this in real time. When he said that allegations - from Game 1 - regarding whistling were "a joke," and "laughable," Hinch explained that he was talking about 2019...not 2017.
7. Verducci asked Hinch about the Astros wearing buzzers to signal the pitch, specifically asking Hinch to assure viewers that it wasn't the case. Hinch very well could have come out and said, "No, they weren't wearing buzzers." Instead, he deferred to the thoroughness of the MLB investigation and that they didn't come up with anything. It's hardly a "No." But anyone watching this - Astros Fan or Astros Enemy - is going to read into that what they will. Really wish Verducci had pushed a little harder here. It's hard to imagine that Hinch wouldn't have known if they were, in fact, wearing buzzers.
8. Hinch's overall demeanor indicated, to me (a not-psychologist), regret. Regret that it happened and not so much that he got caught. He could have stopped it and he didn't - at least as forcefully as he now knows he should have, and he knows all of this. Today we also learned that A.J. Hinch took the fall for the organization. Luhnow caught the same punishment, and we'll get to that in a minute, but Hinch didn't throw anyone under the bus. He took the punishment because (and this is understandable) he was the manager. That's pretty much it. I love A.J. Hinch. I'll miss him. But he messed up.
9. Hinch was a Player's Manager, he's still the Astros Fan's Manager.

*Then Jared Diamond comes in with an article - about 45 minutes before Hinch's interview dropped - in the Wall Street Journal saying that Luhnow had complete and utter knowledge of what was happening in the front office, and so did some members of the front office. It's insane. If you don't have a subscription (I don't), it's worth signing up for a trial or paying for a month (I did, it's $1 for four weeks). Diamond's article includes "previously undisclosed information about the origins and nature of the Astros' cheating" from a letter Manfred sent to Luhnow on January 2, "as well as interviews with several people familiar with the matter." Good sleuthing, Robbie. There are a lot of people to blame. Let's look at each one, and determine how complicit they are:

Derek Vigoa, Former Intern and Now Senior Director of Team Operations: "On Sept 22, 2016, an intern in the Houston Astros organization showed general manager Jeff Luhnow a PowerPoint presentation that featured the latest creation by the team's high-tech front office: an Excel-based application programmed with an algorithm that could decode the opposing catcher's signs. It was called 'Codebreaker.'"

Pretty classic to start with a Rogue Intern, but whatever. Ivy League Bros are pretty much all the same. Eager to break some conventional norms in order to impress the uber Ivy League Bro. No one has a Favorite Company, so this is all new to us, but the hierarchy is universal.

The existence of Codebreaker shows that it was the Astros front office that laid the groundwork for the team's electronic sign-stealing schemes.

Jeff Luhnow, General Manager: Manfred wrote to Luhnow on Jan 2, "There is more than sufficient evidence to support a conclusion that you knew - and overwhelming evidence that you should have known - that the Astros maintained a sign-stealing program that violated MLB's rules."

Luhnow, according to Diamond, responded with a 170-page binder that was enough of a muckin-up-the-works to "cast at least some doubt" on Manfred's letter. Those familiar said it turned into a he-said-he-said between Luhnow and...

Tom Koch-Weser, Director of Advance Information: Sent two emails to Luhnow referencing "the system" and "our dark arts, sign-stealing department." Weser was essentially demoted after the 2019 season, but before The Athletic published the Fiers story. MLB couldn't figure out who was telling the truth: Luhnow, or Koch-Weser. Neither responded for comment.

The 2017 Astros: Diamond says the trash-can scheme lasted through the 2017 World Series and expanded to 2018 both at Minute Maid Park, and on the Road. This is Different Information.

Luhnow remembered the PowerPoint, according to investigators, and asked questions, but told said investigators that he assumed it would be used legally, using previously-gained knowledge and not in-game sign-stealing. Vioga assumed Luhnow knew it would be used in-game because that's "where the value would be."

Koch-Weser said he discussed Codebreaker with Luhnow on 1-3 occasions, noting that Luhnow would "giggle" and "was excited," referring to Codebreaker by name. It's not a good look. Luhnow denied all of this.

Matt Hogan, Manager of Pro Scouting Analysis: Told investigators there was no effort to hide Codebreaker when Luhnow visited the video room. Luhnow denied this.

Koch-Weser felt his oats so much that he used the term "dark arts" in negotiations around a contract extension. Diamond, quoting a Slack post: "I know the secrets that made us a championship team, some of which [he'd] definitely feel a lot safer if they were kept in house." Luhnow denied this. In Koch-Weser's budget spreadsheet, there was a tab called "Dark Arts." Luhnow said he saw the spreadsheet but no discussion of the "Dark Arts" took place. Regardless, it's pretty clear that Koch-Weser was trying to use his work to justify his extension. There were emails between Luhnow and Koch-Weser which Luhnow said he didn't read because they were (a) long, and (b) he didn't know what "the system" meant. Luhnow responded with a question asking how much Hinch knew.

Koch-Weser uses the phrase "Dark Arts" too much. Way too much. I didn't read the first Harry Potter book until I was in my mid-20s and, yes, they were fun to read, but I didn't identify as Hufflepuff or whatever because I was an Adult, instead. It's weird. This section is not designed to cast doubt or skepticism on Koch-Weser's part but, come on read some Kerouac or Steinbeck or something.

By August 2017, Koch-Weser notes that the offense has been less effective as "the league has become aware of our reputation and now most clubs change their signs a dozen times per game." Emails went back-and-forth with Luhnow praising Koch-Weser's reports but also Luhnow told investigators that the email was too long so he didn't read the whole thing, and any mention of "Dark Arts" seemed "nefarious."

MLB didn't believe Luhnow. That's that. Everyone else is to blame. Deny everything and stay afloat. That seems to be the standard. But this seemingly indicates that it perhaps wasn't solely "player-driven?"

Maybe the Hinch and Luhnow stories are related, maybe they're not. But A.J. Hinch sat down with Tom Verducci and gave - not an explanation, but a rationale for bad judgment. Luhnow...hasn't said a word. No one has. They've circled the wagons, and that's just how it is.

All in all, this is good reporting by Jared Diamond. No one looks good here. It's going to solidify the opinion of the Astros, whatever that may be.

*Hardball Talk's Nick Stellini:
Baseball deliberately shielded everyone in the Astros' front office besides Jeff Luhnow. Rob Manfred needs to tell us why.

*Dodgers Fan and Writer Howard Cole says Hinch performed "badly." Cole:
For weeks, current and former Astros sign stealing participants have walked right up to the line of an apology, but not actually apologize. Not really. Not to my satisfaction.

Well guess what? There will never be an act of contrition that is good enough for anybody.

*Daily Fantasy players are suing MLB over the sign-stealing.

*Tim Brown said Hinch's apology is a start. And speaking of Tim Brown, his "think-piece" regarding James Click is one of the worst columns I've ever read.

*Ten Reasons Why This Was The Wildest Off-Season in MLB History.

*Meet the woman who made Netflix get rid of its most annoying feature.

*A Musial Selection: