Reactive Reactions: Spy Dome

Hopefully, by now, you’ve had a chance to read The Article Which Shall Not Be Linked, and formed your own opinion on what the ESPN piece is alleging. No matter what you think about the suggestion that the Toronto Blue Jays have been using a mysterious man in white situated in right center field at Rogers Centre to relay to batters what type of pitch the opposition is sending his way, you’re probably not alone.

In Toronto, most local writers, including this one, dismissed the accusation by taking on the numbers presented in the article or by calling plainly on reason and logic.

The Toronto Star’s Cathal Kelly believes that the allegations presented in the article have given baseball fans in Toronto something to rally around.

Let us instead thank Toronto’s accusers, as well as the outlet for their animus, ESPN: The Magazine. Thank you. Sincerely. You have done baseball in Toronto an incalculable service. The greatest enemy the game faces in this town is apathy. A home run king wasn’t enough to undo that. A burgeoning genius in the GM’s office hasn’t been able to lure the fans back in big numbers. We’ve all thought for some time that nothing short of winning could lure fans back to baseball. We could’ve told that you anger binds people together much tighter than love. We couldn’t have imagined that an outsider could light that fire. ESPN just did.

The National Post’s Bruce Arthur questions the logic being used by ESPN:

As for what we can reasonably surmise, we can say the story has certain holes in logic. The math appears flimsy and cherry-picked; beyond that, the story begins with a White Sox player screaming at Mr. Bautista, who . . . hit .213 in April of 2010 with four home runs, one of which was launched before the White Sox came to town. He went 3-for-12 in the four games against Chicago, all singles. He was, at that point of his career, a nobody. It’s perhaps worth noting here that the White Sox are 3-15 in their last 18 visits to Toronto.

The Globe and Mail’s Jeff Blair believes that Alex Anthopoulos was more upset with New York Yankees’ manager Joe Girardi’s complaints than the possibly questionable journalism exhibited in the article:

Criticisms of the journalistic mechanics of the story or debates about whether it’s fair are irrelevant. It isn’t the first bit of conjecture and rumour given legs by mathematics, nor will it be the last. The guess here is Anthopoulos has never seemed as vexed as he was Wednesday because of Girardi’s role: accidental or not, identified uniformed personnel tend to give a story credibility.

As much as the article was laughed off and discredited in Toronto, it wasn’t as prominently dismissed elsewhere.

Matthew Pouliot of HardBall Talk takes the story on face value, calling on Major League Baseball to get involved:

This story isn’t going away, so it’d be nice if MLB decided to take an interest at some point.  Contacted for ESPN’s story, a spokesman responded: “Major League Baseball has never received a complaint from any club about sign stealing in Toronto, and this is first [we've been] made aware of it.”

Big League Stew’s Ian Casselberry remains neutral in his observations, asking:

Is the truth still out there? If so, watching Blue Jays games on TV may have become much more interesting. That is, if visiting team telecasts begin training their cameras on center field, looking for any man wearing white.

Mike Silva of New York Baseball Digest rolls his eyes at the accusations and wonders if the man in white wouldn’t be more of a distraction than anything else:

This seems to make great media copy, but the history of baseball indicates it’s nothing new. It also is something that probably won’t go away. Personally, I would find it distracting to see a guy with a white shirt waving at me right in the batters eye. Couldn’t you see such tactics having a negative effect on the players?

Jason Turbow of The Baseball Codes also accepts the numbers presented in the article, but focuses more on what this could mean to future games at Rogers Centre:

So even though the league office has yet to field a complaint about the Blue Jays, expect extra vigilance from visitors to the Rogers Centre and an almost certain disappearance of the man in the white shirt. Should anybody see something suspicious, things have now reached the point at which hitting somebody “in the [Getting Blanked]ing head” (or, more appropriately, in the [Getting Blanked]ing hip), is a real possibility.

Jim Margulus of the South Side Sox also looks ahead, but instead of the Rogers Centre, his destination is U.S. Cellular Field, where the Blue Jays and White Sox are set to finish their respective seasons:

But it’s worth expounding on this now, because it will come in handy in late September, when the White Sox and Blue Jays meet at U.S. Cellular Field for the last series of the season. The two teams already shared a chippy moment when they met in Toronto back in May, so maybe they can build on this. Sure, it wouldn’t be wise for the Sox to act on anything if the games have postseason implications, but if both teams are playing out the string, some meaningless games might get a little more interesting.

Larry Granillo over at Baseball Prospectus sums up everything quite nicely in his piece which compares the controversy with a similarly silly story from Milwaukee quite a number of years ago:

As you might imagine, the debate over this news has raged throughout the baseball world since the allegations broke, arguing everything from the validity of the reports, both anecdotal and statistical, to the morality of the alleged offenses. Surprisingly, there is not much of a consensus on any of these points.

My favourite take though, comes from nom de plume Tom Tango, who points out that the Blue Jays were actually more successful at home from 2005-2008 than 2009-2011, when the ESPN article claims that sign stealing was happening:

So, 2005-2008 is where Rogers was the huge advnantage for the hitters, averaging 96 points of OPS advantage (compared to presumably a 30-40 league average, though at this point, I’m too lazy to look that up).  Anyway, that’s about a 25 wOBA difference on 12,000 PA.  With one SD being 4.7 wOBA points, that’s 5 SD from the mean.  That’s about as big an outlier as you’ll ever find. If you want to investigate, go back to 2005-2008, and find out what happened at Rogers.  2009-2011?  Nothing in comparison.