A reader thinks Alex Avila is tipping the Tigers’ pitches

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Things are pretty bleak for the Tigers these days. They’ve lost first place and their Cy Young pitchers just got rocked in back-to-back games. It’s enough to push some Tigers fans over the edge.

Or, maybe it’s enough to make some Tigers fans try to figure out what’s going on themselves. Take HBT reader Bill, who wrote me a few minutes ago with a possible explanation that, while he admits is thin, perhaps imaginary and undoubtedly imbued with some element of trying to cope with tragedy, is at least interesting:

Just something I noticed and started tracking yesterday…

The Tigers recent pitching woes really make me believe that there must be some way they were tipping their pitches. As I watched yesterday’s game against the Royals, I noticed Avila doing something that may or may not be a tell.

He gives the infield position signs, sends the signs to the pitcher and then does one of the following:

  • Smacks his glove once, fiddles/tightens it and it’s usually a fastball.
  • Smacks his glove twice, fiddles/tightens it and it’s usually a an off-speed pitch.

I started tracking around the second inning and got a 85% success rate at guessing the pitches. It’s probably nothing (and i’m reaching for an explanation for our recent performance) but I have to believe the staff or the catcher is tipping their hand somehow. Avila really was obvious when Phil Coke was in there. He stopped after that inning (for the most part). Compared to Salvador Perez, who never alters his routine, it stuck out some.

He notes that Tigers backup catcher Bryan Holaday has a lower catchers’ ERA when he catches, and that Avila’s has gone way up. He admits that the differences aren’t wildly divergent, however, and I imagine we’d all agree that trying to read something into catchers ERA is fraught with difficulty and may be folly.

Still, fun to think about. And something to watch for. Unless you’re a Tigers fan, of course.

Don’t let Rob Manfred pass the buck

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Yesterday morning, in Ken Rosenthal’s article, Rob Manfred made it pretty clear what his aim is at the moment: throw blame on the union for the sign stealing scandal getting to the place it is. It was clear in both his words and Rosenthal’s words, actually:

In fairness, Manfred was not alone in failing to see the future clearly. As far back as 2015, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) expressed concerns to MLB about the rise of technology in the sport. The union, however, did not directly focus on the threat to the game’s integrity.

Then, in his press conference yesterday, he went farther, saying that the union refused to allow a situation in which punishment might happen, going so far as to claim that the union refused to make Astros players available for interviews without blanket immunity.

The union, both in its official statement last night and in Tony Clark’s words to Yahoo’s Hannah Keyser earlier this afternoon, is basically saying Manfred is full of it:

“We were approached with respect to their intentions to not discipline players. Our legal role and responsibility is inherent in accepting that consideration, which is what we did.”

Which is to say, it was Rob Manfred, and not the union, which started from the presumption that there was immunity for Astros players. Manfred is the one who settled on that at the outset, and he’s now trying to make it look like the union was the side that insisted on it so that people who are mad will get mad at Tony Clark for defending the indefensible as opposed to getting mad at him for creating a situation in which there was no legal way to punish Astros players.

And, as we have noted many times already, he did create that situation.

It’s undisputed that Manfred never attempted to make rules or set forth discipline for players stealing signs. Indeed, he did the opposite of that, saying over two years ago that GMs and managers, not players, would be held responsible. If he wanted to discipline players now, he’d have a big problem because he specifically excluded them from discipline then. I’d argue it was a mistake for him to do that — he should’ve said, three years ago, that everyone’s butt would be on the line if the cheating continued — but he didn’t.

Some people I’ve spoken to are taking the position that the union is still to blame here. I’m sort of at a loss as to how that could be.

It is the union’s job to protect its members from arbitrary punishment by management. It is not the union’s job to say “hey, I know our workers were off the hook here based on the specific thing you said, but maybe we should give them some retroactive punishment anyway?” If someone in charge of a union proposed that, they’d be in dereliction of their duties and could be fired and/or sued. Probably should be, actually. A lot of people might be mad about that, and I know fully well that unions aren’t popular. But then again, neither are criminal defense attorneys, and they don’t go up to prosecutors and say “well, there isn’t a law against what my client did — in fact, the governor issued an order a couple of years ago saying that what he did wasn’t prohibited — but we’re all kind of mad about it, so why don’t we work together to find a way to put him in jail, eh?” It’d be insane.

That doesn’t make anyone feel better now. The players are certainly mad, with new ones every day finding a camera to yell at over all of this. I get it. What has happened is upsetting. It’s a situation in which some members of the union are at odds with other members. It’s not an easy situation to navigate.

They should take that anger, however, and channel it into telling their leader, Tony Clark, that they don’t want this to happen again. That, to the extent Rob Manfred now, belatedly, proposes new rules and new punishments for sign-stealing or other things, he should get on board with that. They should also — after the yelling dies down — maybe think a little bit about how, if the facts were slightly different here, they would never argue that Rob Manfred should have the power to impose retroactive or other non-previously-negotiated punishment on players.

Either way, neither they nor any of the rest of us should take Manfred’s bait and try to claim that what’s happening now is the union’s fault. If, for no other reason, than because he doesn’t have much credibility when it comes to this whole scandal. Remember, he’s the guy who issued a report saying that, except for Alex Cora, it was only players involved despite knowing at the time he said it that the front office had hatched the scheme in the first place. Which, by the way, similarly sought to make the players out to be the only ones to blame while protecting people on management’s side. He’s not someone who can be trusted in any of this, frankly.

At the end of the day, this was a scheme perpetrated by both front office and uniformed personnel of the Houston Astros. To the extent nothing more can be done about that than already has been done, blame it on Rob Manfred’s failure of leadership. Not on the MLB Players Association.