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Astros continue to trip over themselves justifying Roberto Osuna acquisition


Last Monday, the Astros sent reliever Ken Giles and minor leaguers David Paulino and Hector Perez to the Blue Jays in exchange for Roberto Osuna. Osuna was in the midst of serving a 75-game suspension for a domestic violence incident in May. Osuna was arrested by Toronto police and charged with assault against his girlfriend. His next court date is scheduled in September.

The Astros’ decision to acquire Osuna was controversial for obvious reasons. GM Jeff Luhnow made things worse by releasing a statement that was facile and, frankly, insulting to those who care about the issue of domestic violence. In a statement he released, he said the Astros have a “zero tolerance policy related to abuse of any kind.” Which, if it was actually zero tolerance, would have precluded the team from acquiring Osuna in the first place. Luhnow also mentioned that Osuna “has willfully complied with all consequences related to his past behavior” but that was before his court date last week. The case is still ongoing, so to say that Osuna has “complied with all consequences” is just not true.

The Astros continued to trip over themselves justifying the Osuna acquisition as the club issued another statement. Part of it read, “Our decision to acquire Roberto was based on the entirety of information that we gathered during our extensive evaluation. That included as much information as we could gather about the specific incident and the charges that were filed but it also included as much information as we could gather about his actions before and after the incident, as well as his personal reputation among his former teammates and coaches. The information regarding this specific incident weighted heavily on our decision but when evaluating the entirety of the information, we felt that Roberto deserved a second chance.”

Why is Osuna’s “personal reputation among his former teammates and coaches” relevant? Plenty of horrible people were considered nice and honorable by their friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, etc. How many people came out after the allegations against Bill Cosby to say something like, “He was always such a nice guy. He would never do anything like that.” People act differently around different people, especially when a power imbalance is involved. How Osuna’s former teammates and coaches view him has absolutely no bearing on whether or not he’s a domestic abuser.

Secondly, the statement uses the phrase “second chance.” That phrase implies guilt, that he did something wrong to blow his first chance. Even ignoring that, though, why is Osuna — or anyone for that matter — worthy of a second chance? Osuna has maintained his innocence the whole time, so it’s not like he has admitted fault and made great strides to make things right. He has complied with MLB’s domestic violence program which was not optional and has otherwise done nothing.

Later in the statement, the Astros say, “This was an extremely difficult decision for our organization. … We are strong believers in protecting the rights of victims and remain committed to having a positive impact on our community. We will use this decision to significantly increase our support, raise awareness, and influence change regarding the issues of domestic violence and abuse of any kind. We have engaged with Houston Area Women’s Center, Texas Council on Family Violence, and National Network to End Domestic Violence and look forward to working with them.”

If the Astros were truly “strong believers in protecting the rights of victims,” they would have, at minimum, waited for Osuna’s case to resolve in the Canadian court system. To go above and beyond, they could have tried to work with the alleged victim. (Oftentimes victims don’t want to cooperate because reliving the experience can be triggering and/or they fear more retribution from their abuser.) The Astros could have reached out to the aforementioned organizations before the public backlash to determine whether or not trading for an alleged domestic abuser sends a good or a bad message to victims. This comes off as, “We want to have our cake and eat it, too. We name-checked some DV organizations so it looks like we actually care about the issue of domestic violence within baseball. Osuna throw ball hard.”

The foot-in-mouth syndrome didn’t stop there, however. Per Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle, Luhnow said, “I think the conversation is incredibly important and valuable. There are a lot of components to the conversation — and we do need to have it. It’s a sticky conversation with any sort of alleged abuse, the topic of domestic violence. There’s also some related topics of condemning someone with no information, and I see a lot of that out there. There’s not a lot of people who have a lot of real information about what happened or who the person is and yet they’re pretty quick to judge and condemn. That’s something we need to be careful of.”

This is tremendously condescending. Luhnow certainly is privy to certain information that writers and fans are not. But Luhnow doesn’t have the most crucial piece of information: a verdict. That won’t come until at least next month. Luhnow hasn’t reviewed security footage, interviewed witnesses, talked with the victim. He has talked to Osuna and Osuna’s former colleagues.

Luhnow continued, saying, “I understand there’s people who don’t want this, don’t support this. We’ve done everything we can to gather the information and make the best decision for the organization. We feel comfortable giving Roberto a second chance. And, long term, we’re going to have to prove whether this works or not by what happens on the field and what happens off the field.”

There’s that “second chance” again. You don’t get a “second chance” if you’re innocent, right? You’re still on your first chance. The Astros’ messaging here is a little unclear due to their use of that phrase combined with their insistence that Osuna did nothing wrong. Luhnow also says the acquisition will have been proven to work, partially, “by what happens on the field.” No. Osuna posting a low ERA and nailing down some postseason saves won’t help justify the trade. It will be justified if he is deemed innocent by a judge. That’s about it.

Manager A.J. Hinch said, via ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez, “We really don’t know what to think or what to say or what to do and how to absorb all of this, but it’s right in front of us, and we will do our best as a team and as a family and as a group to help him navigate through this; to help ourselves navigate through this.” Hinch continued, “Make no bones about it — domestic violence allegations are bad. Domestic violence is bad. All of us as humans know that and believe that. And so we have to figure out a way to separate those feelings versus the additional opportunity he is getting on our club.”

Why do we have to “separate those feelings”? Baseball is not a separate reality from real life. Baseball intersects with so many aspects of our culture, including politics and interpersonal relationships. How we treat athletes accused of doing terrible things speaks to how we view that particular issue as a society. Do we value the dignity and safety of women more than a baseball player’s ability to throw baseballs well? Based on historical precedent, the answer is no, which is why “All of us as humans know [domestic violence is bad] and believe that” is untrue. If that were the case, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.

The Astros should just drop the pretense and instead admit, “We honestly don’t care what Osuna did because he’s a good pitcher and he can help us win games.” They keep tripping over themselves trying to justify bringing Osuna into the fold. Save us all the trouble of having to respond to these disingenuous statements.

The “Clayton Kershaw can’t pitch in the postseason” narrative should be dead

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For years, a bulk of the postseason coverage surrounding Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw focused on his poor results once the regular season ended. The three-time Cy Young Award winner carried a career 5.68 postseason ERA following his NLDS Game 1 start against the Diamondbacks last year, a sample size spanning 15 starts and four relief appearances totaling 95 1/3 innings.

Kershaw had a subpar start against the Astros in Game 5 of the World Series last year and the narrative hit a fever pitch. I dug into the numbers at that point and found that a not-insignificant portion of Kershaw’s playoff ERA could be attributed to relievers coming in after him and failing to strand their inherited runners. At the time of that writing (October 30, 2017), Dodger relievers allowed 10 of 16 runners inherited from Kershaw in the playoffs to score, a strand rate of 37.5 percent. That’s roughly half of the league average (around 75 percent).

Kershaw finished out the World Series last year by pitching four scoreless innings of relief in Game 7. He returned to the postseason, starting Game 2 of the NLDS against the Braves this year and tossed eight shutout frames on just two hits with no walks. The narrative should have died there, too. It, of course did not. As the Dodgers advanced to the NLCS, Kershaw got the Game 1 nod against the Brewers and struggled. The Brewers got him for five runs (four earned) across three-plus innings. One of those runs included a home run hit by the opposing pitcher (Brandon Woodruff). Kershaw was also hurt by a passed ball and catcher’s interference on the part of Yasmani Grandal in the third inning. Not a great outing, but not as bad as the line score read, either.

In Game 5 of the NLCS on Wednesday evening, Kershaw once again redeemed himself. He limited the Brewers this time around to a lone run on three hits and two walks with nine strikeouts over seven innings of work. The only run came around in the third inning when Lorenzo Cain hit an RBI double to center field. Kershaw’s career postseason ERA is now 4.11 and it would be much lower if his bullpen had, in the past, done its job more effectively.

According to Katie Sharp of The Athletic, tonight’s postseason start was Kershaw’s eighth in which he allowed one run or fewer and three hits or fewer. No other pitcher in baseball history has made more than five such starts. That’s partially a function of opportunity, as the Dodgers have been in the postseason every year dating back to 2013 as well as in 2008 and ’09. But Kershaw still has to go out there and make the pitches, and he largely has. The “Kershaw can’t pitch in the postseason” narrative is dead. It never should have lived.