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Opening Day 2018: Today’s Matchups

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As I’ve written a hundred times, that there are over 2,000 baseball games every year means that no single one is terribly important. If our coverage here at HardballTalk has been informed by anything over the past nine years, it’s been informed by that fact. We don’t freak out about single game results and we try not to let hype outpace basic reality.

But dang it, Opening Day is exciting. If I had the ability to put some jacked up graphics of robots smashing into each other and could afford to get Jason Isbell to dress up like Hank Jr. and do some parody song called “ARE YOU READY FOR SOME BASEBALL??!!!” I’d do it in a heartbeat. This is our Christmas, friends, and at 7AM, I’m already deep into the baseball eggnog.

As such, allow me to be super excited about today’s matchups and to treat these games like they matter.

The Games (all times EDT; national TV where noted):

Chicago Cubs vs. Miami Marlins, 12:30 PM, Marlins Park (ESPN)
Starters: Jon Lester vs Jose Urena
Analysis: The Marlins are currently a .500 team and, if they win this game, will have sole possession of first place in the NL East. This is likely the last time I’ll be able to say that all year.

Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Detroit Tigers, 1:10 PM, Comerica Park
UPDATE:
The game has been postponed

St. Louis Cardinals at New York Mets, 1:10 PM, Citi Field
Starters: Carlos Martinez vs Noah Syndergaard
Analysis: Wild Card preview? Eh, maybe not — someone on the Mets will come down with boneinitis or skin failure or something — but if the starting pitching is healthy, they could be fun. Syndergaard is fun as it is.

Minnesota Twins vs. Baltimore Orioles, 3:05 PM, Oriole Park at Camden Yards
Starters: Jake Odorizzi vs Dylan Bundy
Analysis: Given the names of my kids’ middle school friends, in about 10-15 years, 75% of all baseball games will be started by guys named “Jake” and “Dylan.”

Houston Astros vs. Texas Rangers, 3:30 PM, Globe Life Park (ESPN)
Starters: Justin Verlander vs Cole Hamels
Analysis: I sort of went out on a limb and picked Verlander to be my Cy Young Award winner this year. I could totally see him pitching far worse, objectively speaking, than he did after coming over in the trade last year but still winning, like, 24 games because of all of the run support he’ll get. Sort of a late career Roger Clemens special, ya know?

New York Yankees vs. Toronto Blue Jays, 3:37 PM, Rogers Centre
Starters: Luis Severino vs J.A. Happ
Analysis: If I worked for a New York paper, and if Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge did anything less than go 3-for-4 with two homers and five driven in today, tomorrow’s column would read “what’s wrong with Judge and Stanton?” I’d do it totally straight, with no hint of sarcasm.

Boston Red Sox vs. Tampa Bay Rays, 4:00 PM, Tropicana Field
Starters: Chris Sale vs Chris Archer
Analysis: Nothing like the smell of the fresh grass, the warm spring breezes and the blue, blue skies of Opening Day. Truly, it is a day of renewal.

Los Angeles Angels vs. Oakland Athletics, 4:05 PM, Oakland Coliseum
Starters: Garrett Richards vs Kendall Graveman
Analysis: In 10-15 years the other 25% of games will be started by dudes named Garrett and Kendall.

Philadelphia Phillies vs. Atlanta Braves, 4:10 PM, Sun Trust Park
Starters: Aaron Nola vs Julio Teheran
Analysis: The Phillies will likely start their rookie sensation, Scott Kingery. The Braves’ rookie sensation, Ronald Acuna, will be working out on a minor league field someplace. There are a lot of reasons for that, but it’ll be more fun to be a Phillies fan than a Braves fan this year, I suspect.

Milwaukee Brewers vs. San Diego Padres, 4:10 PM, Petco Park
Starters: Chase Anderson vs Clayton Richard
Analysis: I’ve been to a lot of games at Petco Park, some day games, some night games. The place is a totally different and far more fun for day games, both because of the atmosphere and because the ball flies way better. I know television and economics won’t allow it anymore, but if I were made Supreme Ruler of Baseball, I’d mandate that the Padres — and heck, maybe all California teams — play all of their home games during the day.

Chicago White Sox vs. Kansas City Royals, 4:15 PM, Kauffman Stadium
Starters: James Shields vs Danny Duffy
Analysis: I wish starting pitchers shook hands on the field before each game because if it happened here it’d be sorta like a time traveler, former Royals ace James Shields, coming to the present to warn current Royals ace Danny Duffy about all of the crap that’s gonna happen to him in the next five years.

San Francisco Giants vs. Los Angeles Dodgers, 7:00 PM, Dodger Stadium (ESPN)
Starters: Ty Blach vs Clayton Kershaw
Analysis: This is gonna be a bit less exciting than it might’ve been if Madison Bumgarner hadn’t broken his hand. Still, it’s hard to beat Giants-Dodgers on Opening Day.

Cleveland Indians vs. Seattle Mariners, 10:00 PM, Safeco Field (ESPN)
Starters: Corey Kluber vs Felix Hernandez
Analysis: Indians fans are the only ones in all of baseball who have to deal with a fan-unfriendly, super late Opening Day game. On a weeknight no less. Be kind to them at work tomorrow morning.

Colorado Rockies vs. Arizona Diamondbacks, 10:10 PM, Chase Field
Starters: Jon Gray vs. Patrick Corbin
Analysis: Wild Card rematch from 2017. There’s a humidor in Phoenix now. I wonder if the balls will fail to fly as far.

Astros fan logs trash can bangs from 2017

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A fascinating and no doubt time consuming research project was released this morning. An Astros fan by the name of Tony Adams went through every Astros home game in the 2017 season and logged trash can bangs. Which, as you know, was the mechanism via which Astros players in the clubhouse signaled to hitters which pitch was coming.

Adams listened to every pitch from the Astros’ 2017 home games and made a note of any banging noise he could detect. There were 20 home games for which he did not have access to video. There were three “home” games which took place at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida due to the team being displaced by hurricane Harvey and for which, obviously, the Astros’ camera setup from Minute Maid Park would not have been applicable.

Adams logged over 8,200 pitches and found banging before over 1,100 of those pitches. He graphed which players got the most bangs during their at batsMarwin Gonzalez got the most, with bangs coming before 147 of 776 pitches seen, followed by George Springer, who got bangs on 139 of 933. José Altuve had the least among regulars, with only 24 bangs in 866 pitches. One gets the sense that, perhaps, he felt that the banging would interfere with his normal pitch recognition process or something. Either way it’s worth noting that a lack of banging was also signal. Specifically, for a fastball. As such, Astros hitters were helped on a much higher percentage of pitches than what is depicted in the graphs themselves.

Adams reminds us that Commissioner Manfred’s report stated that the Astros also used hand-clapping, whistling, and yelling early in the season before settling on trash can banging. Those things were impossible to detect simply by watching video. As it is, Adams’ graphs of bangs-per-game shows that the can-banging plan dramatically ramped-up on May 28.

It’s hard to say anything definitive about the scope and effectiveness of the Astros’ sign-stealing scheme based on this study alone. Adams may or may not have been hearing everything and, as he notes, there may have been a lot more pitches relayed thought means other than trash can banging than we know. Alternatively it’s possible that Adams was marking some sounds as bangs that were not, in fact, Astros players sending signals to the batter. It’s probably an inexact science.

Still, this is an impressive undertaking that no doubt took a ton of time. And it at least begins to provide a glimpse into the Astros’ sign-stealing operation.