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I listened to Astros at-bats from the 2017 postseason through 2018 for whistles.
If you'd prefer to read this as a pdf and look at the datasets and spectrograms I made follow this link to a google drive with all that in it. The pdf has more than what I'm posting here, because I hit the character limit for a Reddit post. the pdf has been revised a bit more, an intro that sort of sets up the whole paper (but thats what I'm doing here), a methods section that explains how I did everything, an authors note telling you I'm taking a break from this topic for a bit and encouraging other people to do their own investigations and appendices. here is the link.
Background section is more for setting up why I'm doing this. As I was telling family and friends about this project I noticed that the level of knowledge about who did what when and how was lacking. Even avid baseball fans I talked to didn't know about certain aspects of the timeline. I even learned more about the cheating then I knew originally by doing research to write this section. The Preliminary Discussion is pretty much there to explain how damning this project can be. It's not a silver bullet of proof but its a first step towards questioning the 'Astros won 2017 WS with the help of cheating, then just stopped'. Then I get into the results. I go over game 5 of the 2017 WS in particular because it shows the particular whistles that I searched the rest of the 2017 postseason and 2018 season for. Then I made some figures that show what I found. Conclusions and future wraps up all I found again and put out some ideas I (or you?) might do with the datasets or other projects.
Last before I get into this, just a personal shout out to all baseball fans to treat Astros fans nicely (I know me asking probably wont stop anyone but I just want to put it out there). I spent a week or so watching/listening through 20 second clips of 2018 Astros home games. Lots of fans of all ages innocently happy for the WS win and proud of the team and their city for bouncing back after the hurricane. Kids holding up replica WS rings, Huge moustache dude hanging out by the crawford boxes, Bobby Dynamite moving the train around, drunk guys Rick Flairing for Reddick. They didn't cheat or condone the cheating. Some vocal Houston fans will defend the team no matter what but there are a lot of people who have had good memories tarnished by all this. Blame the Astros org and MLB.
BackgroundOn October 30th 2019, The Washington Nationals defeated the Houston Astros in game seven to win the World Series. Less than 2 weeks later, Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich published an article in The Athletic titled “The Astros stole signs electronically in 2017 — part of a much broader issue for Major League Baseball” In the article it is explained that the system was conceived between a player and a manager for the Astros, Carlos Beltran and Alex Cora (Later it would be revealed that these two built up the cheating system along with Cintron in the 2017 season but the groundwork was being set earlier by the front office and Bregman. During home games, the Houston Astros used a video feed installed in a stairwell leading to their dugout, trained on the opposing catcher’s hand signals. They deciphered the signs being conveyed by the catcher and relayed the type of pitch to the Astro’s batter by banging on a trashcan with a baseball bat or massage stick. The system had no trashcan bang meaning fastball, bang meaning off-speed or breaking ball. The journalists had four sources for this information, three anonymous and Mike Fiers, a pitcher who was with the Houston Astros during the 2017 season and has since played for the Detroit Tigers and Oakland A’s. Two of the sources stated that the cheating continued into the postseason, while a third source denied this and claimed that the cheating stopped before the playoffs began.
This was a culmination of prior rumblings of the team’s shady practices. An article describing the Cleveland Indians preparation for facing the Houston Astros in the 2018 ALDS included mentioning they had planned on a complex system of signs to prevent cheating . Cleveland was destroyed by the Astros in that series, being swept out of the playoffs. The day after the final game, Cleveland put a complaint in about having to remove an Astros employee from the journalist’s section twice during game three in Cleveland. This information was passed on to the Astros’ ALCS opponent, the Boston Red Sox, who had to remove the same man during game one . MLB’s investigation into the man’s actions found no wrong doing. In the 2019 postseason the New York Yankees also put in a complaint stating that the Astro’s were conveying information about pitches via whistling, again MLB investigated the accusations and again found no wrong doing. In February of 2020, it came to light that the Oakland A’s also accused the Astros of cheating in late August of 2018. In this instance, MLB acted not by reprimanding the Astros but by placing personnel at the replay stations allegedly used by the Astros to view the signs during the 2018 postseason. These three official complaints added to a narrative of the Astros organization having an operation of pushing the limits of gamesmanship in every aspect of the game. From the personal perspective of a Cleveland fan three recent examples of headlines that call into question the Astros organization’s morals were: Accusations of using illegal substances to improve their pitchers , acquiring Roberto Osuna after his alleged Domestic Violence suspension was up , and a Cleveland reporter, Andre Knott, commenting that (paraphrasing): “Minute Maid makes me feel like one other place I’ve been to as a sports writer, Gillette Stadium, like you’re being watched.”
After the 'The Athletic' article was released, MLB announced it would be investigating the allegations (actually an expansion of an ongoing investigation into an Astros executive’s treatment of female reporters ). In the interim, baseball fans took matters into their own hands when it became clear that the trashcan bangs were readily audible during broadcasts. For example, YouTuber and Yankees fan, Jomboy, discussed a game between the White Sox and Astros that had been cited as an example of the system. Fans also dug deeper, some searched into the possibility of the Astro’s using buzzers while others looked into whistling accusations.
The commissioner’s investigation concluded and the results were published in a nine page report on January 14th 2020. The Astros were confirmed to have cheated in the 2017 regular season and Rob Manfred said signs pointed to the cheating continuing into the playoffs. However, Astros player Carlos Correa disputed this, saying that their home park was too noisy during the playoffs to hear the trashcan bangs and the teams were constantly changing signs.
Two weeks later on January 29th, 2020, Tony Adams, an Astro’s fan needing to know to what extent they were cheating, pulled every home game that was available to search for trashcan bangs and cataloged them. The cheating was extensive but Tony did observe that the banging ended abruptly in the beginning of September. The Astros clinched the division on September 17th, and then played the White Sox from September 19-21. Bangs registered in the dozens throughout this series but then stop during the following final two home series against the Angels and Red Sox. The last game where dozens of bangs are registered is the same game in which the White Sox pitcher Dan Farquhar noticed they were cheating, September 21, the same game that was named as an example of their cheating in reports and that Jomboy reported on. It has been reported that Farquhar’s recognition caused ‘panic’ in the Astros dugout and the trashcan banging stopped. The question was, did another system replace the banging.
Rafael Garcia, a software engineer and youtuber by the name of B27, posted a video linking whistles to pitches in the 2017 World Series, most notably during game five. The video was about five minutes, presenting trimmed clips of certain pitches. He argued that a ‘charge’ whistle was coming out before off-speed pitches, and a note that quickly rises, called here a ‘pwip’ whistle, was heard before fastballs. Rafael Garcia promised a 5-part series of videos on the topic but stopped after releasing two. The game Rafael pulled the whistles from is available on YouTube in its entirety , no doctoring or editing occurred and the whistles he presented were confirmed to be there.
The trashcan bangs were not heard in the 2018 season, the MLB stated that the Astros stopped cheating in 2018, and the two leaders of the 2017 system, Carlos Beltran and Alex Cora, left the organization after 2017. However, Kurt Suzuki was quoted as saying that you could ‘hear the whistling coming from the dugout’ during the 2019 World Series. And as mentioned previously, the Yankees also accused the Astro’s of using whistling in the 2019 ALDS to convey signs. In the same way that Tony Adam’s cataloged trashcan bangs for 2017, could whistles be identified and cataloged for the 2017, 2018 and 2019 seasons?
Preliminary DiscussionSome discussion needs to be had on how damning any correlation between whistles and pitches would be.
First, with the trashcan bangs, multiple 1st hand sources from within the organization admitted to journalists that the Astros cheated and described how. Then, after that information was released, fans investigated and found the proof. Here, the evidence is searched for without any 1st hand sources admitting to a system nor describing how the system works. Thus, this work is unable to prove wrongdoing but rather provide evidence for the plausibility of a system without trashcan bangs, and to attempt to build a case against the claim made by MLB and the Astros that the behavior stopped.
Second, the incriminating nature of the out of place noise of a trashcan bang should be considered. That is not a normal baseball game sound and so it is easy to recognize and catalog them. Whistles on the other hand, are a baseball game staple, and discerning the possibility of a ‘nefarious intent’ whistle as opposed to a fan who spontaneously decides to start whistling before every pitch, is subjective. The choice to filter the time window to around the pitches only and limiting the types of whistles to document was an attempt to address some of this ambiguity. Whenever possible it is verified that the pitcher has already confirmed the pitch before a whistle is documented but even then, it could be a fan. By documenting every whistle that comes out near a pitch trends can be looked for that surface from the cataloging of the entire season. Similar to the first point, because no sources have come forward, these findings have a limit. Ultimately, a member of the Astros could come forward to corroborate which whistles were used and how. Further, any member of an opposing dugout could also come forward and state which whistles they were hearing from the Astro’s dugout. The dataset presents audio timestamps for most home game pitches of the 2018 baseball season, so even if the categorization of pwip and charge whistles is wrong, any statement on what whistles were heard could be immediately be searched for in these games. To that end, YouTube comments have been made on every game that was processed with timestamps to each pitch. Each pitch also has a designation on whether a whistle was heard or not.
One game in particular will be looked at in detail, game five of the 2017 World Series. This displays the two types of whistle that were listened for throughout the 2018 season and the rest of the 2017 postseason and is probably the most extreme example of correlated whistles and pitches. Then the results of this listening is presented in its entirety. In a vacuum, most games don’t have egregious passages of whistles and no whistles, but looking at the full catalog reveals trends.
Finally, due to the 2020 MLB season starting, one final point of credibility can be addressed. The microphone that picks up the game audio is near the field of play. Umpire calls and player expletives can be heard, pitches hitting the dirt, the bat weights clacking to the ground. The whistles cataloged were attempted to be discerned from crowd whistles using this fact. A ‘nefarious intent’ whistle would be loud enough for the batter (and microphone) to hear but not much louder. Since the person whistling is assumed to be in the dugout there would not be excessive reverberation of the whistle before it was picked up on the microphone. In contrast, fans whistling in the crowd are as loud as they can be and would echo about the stadium as it reached the microphone. If whistles came out right before pitches but had these loud, echo-y characteristics they were not cataloged. This assumption was confirmed when games started being played in empty stadiums. The loud reverberating whistles were gone, but during any game for any team, whistles can be heard that are ‘calm’ and with minimal echo. These must be staff or players either trying to get players attention or to convey information to them during the game. It was these same kinds of whistles that were looked for in the games listened to from 2017-2018.
2017 PostseasonThe 2017 postseason comprised of three series, the ALDS against the Red Sox, the ALCS against the Yankees, and the World Series against the Dodgers. The first two series are more interesting for what is not there. There were no trashcan bangs found. This agrees with Correa saying they stopped in the postseason and the reporting that the Astros moved away from the trashcan after getting spooked by Farquhar noticing it during the White Sox series in September of 2017. Also missing in the first two series were charge whistles. Each game had at most two or three charge whistles.
In the World Series against the Dodgers, there are many more instances of charge whistles right before pitches during all three Astros home games. It hurts the case that charge whistles were fan noise when over the course of six sellout home games during the ALDS and ALCS their instance of directly preceding pitches was sparse. Then over the course of the three home World Series games they were much more consistently there. Interestingly, charge whistles correlated more with fastballs in games three and four, and with offspeed/breaking balls in game five. There is nothing preventing the Astros changing what pitches they choose to put charge whistles on.
The focus here will be on game five of the World Series. This game has some of the most consistent patterned whistling, with fastballs having pwips and offspeed/breaking balls having charges. Tony Adams made a video looking at the charge whistles in game five . Here, there is a difference of opinion. Adams looked at every charge whistle during the course of the game, and found them all throughout the game; during Astros at bats, Dodgers at bats, times when no one was in the batter’s box, after pitches were made, and on fastballs. The argument is that because of this the charge whistles cannot be a signal. This is an issue of signal and noise. When collecting data its often important to perform actions to clean the data, removing known sources of error. If the data is significantly noisy it may only look like random noise until you properly process it. Here in this situation, by collecting every charge whistle in the game, whistles that have no chance of being a signal to Astros batters are needlessly included. Only the whistles that come out in the vicinity of a pitch have any possibility of being a signal. The rest can only be legitimate fan whistles or possibly ‘smokescreen’ whistles to mask the pattern of charge whistles coming out before certain pitches. When only focusing on the time window around pitches to Astros batters, you remove a large source of noise and only focus on whistles that could be a signal. The test then becomes does this particular whistle come out on particular pitches, after the signs and before the pitch.
The first exemplary sequence was Alex Bregman’s second at bat against Clayton Kershaw in the 5th inning. Table 1 presents the 10 pitches Bregman saw that at-bat along with links to the video of each pitch and if a whistle was heard. A Charge whistle is heard three times, before each of Kershaw’s three curveballs. It would seem very unlikely that a fan chose to spontaneously make a charge whistle before only those three pitches, coincidentally all curveballs.
|Pitch with link||Whistle|
Tony Cingrani replaced Morrow in the 7th inning. Table 2 shows every pitch Cingrani threw in his appearance. Here you can see a high coincidence of pwip whistles coming out on Cingrani’s fastballs. Out of 14 fastballs thrown eight had pwips before them with one pwip coming out on a slider during Gurriel’s at-bat. It should be noted, McCann rarely had trashcan bangs come out during his at-bats in the 2017 season and it has come out since that he was opposed to his team’s actions . Given this, the fact he did not receive whistles on his at-bat versus Cingrani is not surprising. If these fastballs are excluded, then of Cingrani’s 12 fastballs, 8 had pwips and only one non-fastball had a pwip. See figure for example spectrogram.
|Pitch with link||Batter||Whistle|
|Pitch with link||Batter||Whistle|
2018 Exploratory AnalysisHere we present the season wide analysis of the 2018 season. A similar analysis of the 2017 postseason was not performed. Pwips were heard throughout the postseason but the comparatively small size of total pitches was a detriment. With that, the fact that the charge whistles only appeared in one series and which pitch they correlated with changed (fastballs in games three and four, offspeed/breaking in game 5) suggests the alleged system was very fluid at this time, so finding trends from the whole set is less likely. The 2017 postseason data is still provided for independent analysis of the nine games but are not examined here.
In 2018, 1,269 pitches were observed throughout the year to have either a pwip or charge whistle directly preceding it out of a total 9,208 pitches seen by Astros batters in the games analyzed. The number of these whistles heard fluctuates from game to game with an average of about 20 whistles per game. The percentage of pitches with whistles preceding them is plotted for each game that was analyzed and presented in figure 9. The average percentage of pitches with whistles over the 2018 season was about 14% and is indicated in figure 9 by the horizontal dashed red line. For comparison, Tony Adams looking at the 2017 season found 1,142 pitches had trashcan bangs out of a total 8,274 pitches in the games analyzed, or 13.8%.
As mentioned previously, after accusations by the Oakland A’s of cheating during a late August 2018 home game, MLB stationed personnel at the replay booths during the 2018 postseason. The whistles observed notably drop once the Astros enter the 2018 postseason. Since the personnel were stationed there, the assumption is made that this form of cheating should have stopped. The whistles that were observed during the postseason then can be used as a coarse estimate of error. On average nine pitches with whistles (or about 5%) were observed for games where there should hypothetically be zero. Then we can project that for each game as many as 5% of whistles that were observed that were not nefarious in intent were cataloged. On the contrary, the error of whistles that were there but missed depends on crowd noise and audio issues (broadcasters talking over the game). No estimate of this upper error is found so the same nine whistle/5% error is used in lieu of a more accurate error.
Some argue that (paraphrasing) ‘Astro’s fans love to whistle’ and that the charge whistles heard during the World Series game five are nothing but fans. Charge whistles are heard in 2018, but as can be seen in figure 9, rarely do they actually appear right before pitches like they did during the 2017 World Series. Only one game of the 65 games analyzed had significant amounts of charge whistles before pitches, May, 11th, 2018 versus the Rangers.
In an attempt to attribute the whistles to innocent crowd noise, correlations in the fluctuations of whistles with benign explanations were searched for. First, do weekend games have more whistles than weekday games. Weekend games are marked in red text along the x-axis in figure 9 and on average nine more whistles were observed on weekend games than weekday games. This suggests that a ‘rowdier’ weekend crowd was producing more whistles in general and were coincidentally produced before pitches and cataloged. This gives another source of lower bound error that actually agrees with the previous discussion of the postseason whistles. In both cases we have reasons to believe up to 5% of whistles a game that were cataloged were innocent in origin. Less likely an explanation for the increase in weekend whistling but worth putting forth would be that the rowdy weekend crowds are louder and force the Astros to whistle louder, thus allowing them to be picked up by the microphone more readily.
Another search for an innocent explanation for the whistles was to look at the Minute Maid Park attendance for each game. If whistles were coming from fans, then more fans should mean more whistles. Crowd size as a percent of total Minute Maid Park capacity are displayed as black dots in figure 9. A Pearson product between the capacity and percent whistles with pitches can be performed to find how correlated the two variables are. For perfectly correlated variables (as crowd goes up whistles go up) you would get a value of 1, for inversely correlated variables (as crowd goes up whistles go down) a value of -1 would be found. A value close to 0 means the two variables are not correlated. Here the correlation between crowd and pitches with whistles was 0.001 meaning that crowd size had no impact on whistle count.
Next, we look at what type of whistle (pwip or charge) preceded each pitch, the results of which are plotted in figure 10. Only 78 charge whistles were heard before pitches while 1,190 pwips were heard. 68% of pitches with pwips were fastballs (two-seam, four-seam, cutter, sinker) whereas 21% of the time the pwips came out on breaking balls (slider, curveball, Knuckle curve) and 11% on offspeed (changeups and splitters).
The whistle occurrences are also broken down by each player who took at-bats for the Astros in 2018 in figure 11. The whistle occurrences were not evenly distributed, meaning it was more likely for whistles to come out before pitches for certain Astros. Marwin Gonzalez saw the highest amount of pitches with pwips at 16.16% followed by Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman. On the low end, Brian McCann and Max Stassi had the lowest amount of whistles for players who saw over 200 pitches. This breakdown can be compared to the same breakdown done by Tony Adams with trashcan bangs which is presented in figure 12. Josh Reddick and Jose Altuve saw large increases from trashcan bangs to pitches with whistles while Marisnick saw a decrease. Outside of these changes Gonzalez, Bregman and Correa maintained similar high percentages and McCann retained his low percentage.
Lastly, whistles are broken down by base occupancy in figure 13. Whistles were heard most often when bases were empty, but the situation of having bases empty is much more frequent. If you look at the percent of pitches that had whistles for each base occupancy the whistles came out least often with bases empty, at about 11%. Whistles as a percent became more frequent when runners were in scoring position (second and/or third).
Conclusions and FutureIn 2017, The Houston Astros cheated by using a camera system to decipher pitch signals between the opposing team’s battery. Sources from within the Astros organization admitted it, baseball fans found evidence of it in publicly available video, and the MLB investigation confirmed it. MLB also stated that evidence of cheating stopped during the 2018 season. The recent track record of MLB acting on accusations of cheating were not reassuring. Cleveland threw an Astros employee out of the journalist’s section during the 2018 playoffs and the Red Sox had to remove the same person during the next series. The Oakland A’s accused the Astros of patterned clapping on certain pitches during a game in the 2018 regular season. The Yankees accused the Astros of whistling during certain pitches during the 2019 playoffs. MLB found no wrong doing and the only actions taken that are known at this time was installing personnel that watched the review stations during the 2018 postseason. In articles discussing the 2017 system it is stated that the Astros tried clapping and whistling to convey signs before settling on using a trashcan bang. MLB puts forth the narrative; nothing to see here. An alternative line of reasoning would be this; the Astros continued cheating after 2017 but reverted to more subtle ways to convey information. A system they fell back on when trashcan bangs were being noticed by the White Sox and when the 2017 postseason became too loud to hear trashcan bangs. MLB’s investigators of the 2018 and 2019 season either were truly unable to find any evidence of wrongdoing despite multiple teams telling them what they were hearing, the team admitting they used those same systems previously, and guaranteeing immunity to the players of any repercussions, or MLB didn’t want to admit finding anything and assumed the 2018-2019 system was too subtle to be noticed.
Game 5 of the World Series was suspicious and was described in detail. The same whistles heard in that game were looked for in the rest of the 2017-18 games. A similar percent of pitches had trashcan bangs in 2017 that had whistles in 2018, 13.8% compared to 14%. A noticeable decrease in whistles per game occurred in the 2018 postseason when MLB personnel were installed to monitor the replay stations used to cheat. Individual players share of pitches with whistles largely reflected the same share of pitches the players had with trashcan bangs the year previous. This would appear to be evidence of wrongdoing continuing.
This project is not proof that the Astros cheated in 2018 by whistling but it does build on that theory, providing a set of data and performing exploratory analysis on said data. The analysis performed here only begins what could be done with it. Other possibilities are looking into swing rates and contact on pitches with whistles versus those without. Further, while pwips came out a majority of the time on fastballs, the system is more complex than that. Certain pitchers faced had pwips consistently on pitches other than fastballs suggesting that the system was adjusted for particular pitchers. Other times it was not a single pwip but two or three in quick succession, possibly conveying different information than a single pwip or possibly just making sure the pwip was heard. Altuve in particular tended to have bursts of four or five pwips in a row spectrogram during at bats but these details were not pursued.
Beyond the current form of the datasets there are other ideas worth investigating. Pwips and charges were not the only whistles observed but to limit the scope of the project, were the only ones cataloged. Notes were made of other common whistles found like the wiggler , the downturn and the weird . Beyond that as the A’s suspected and the Astros have admitted doing in the past, claps were not cataloged or focused on. But, in a few instances it was impossible to ignore a quiet game moment where only one person in the stadium seemed to be clapping, coincidentally right after the signs were put down . The dataset provides a YouTube timestamp for every pitch observed. A YouTube comment has been posted on every video analyzed providing time links to each pitch. Any individual could use the datasets and timestamps to search for other whistles, claps, or even whether certain players were changing in or out of undershirts during games.
If manual listening appears daunting the hope is that the collection of pitch spectrograms may benefit individuals interested in machine learning. The Fourier transform settings used to create the spectrogram come from a paper showing the use of a Convolutional Neural Network (CNN) to identify birdsong via spectrograms . The idea is that the 10,000 pitch spectrograms created will be enough to train a CNN to accurately identify pwips and charges. This CNN could then be used on the remaining 13 home games. Further, the CNN could be used on all the Astro’s away games of 2018 or the entire Astro’s 2019 season (if they were made available) to automate the search for these whistles. It could even be used on other teams games if there’s evidence of the same whistles being used. If particular claps or whistles are cataloged the CNN could even be updated to search for those as well.
OOTP Dynasty Building, Part 1: Rookies Edition
Hey guys! A couple months ago, I wrote a guide on all the tips and tricks I’ve used to build an insanely efficient dynasty in OOTP 20 franchise mode. It was extremely popular, so I updated it to 21 a month later. After releasing a slightly revised third version a while back, I’m now totally revamping the guide again with this fourth variation.submitted by sgtmushroom39 to OOTP
In this guide, I can guarantee that you will build a very good OOTP team. You don’t have to follow all of this, and you’re of course welcome to revise stuff to fit your team as you want to build it. There are more than enough tips here to make your team dominant, and a good portion of these are small optimizing tricks that you can throw in anywhere to get a little more out of trades, signings, or more.
For this version of the guide, you’ll notice it split up into 3 versions. The first is for very new players just learning the game. The second is for people who have learned the game, but want to take their game to the next level. The third is for people who are already elite at the game and want to top off their skills. Note that people learn different parts of the game at different speeds, so some things that may seem easy to you are difficult to others, and vise versa. In other words, read stuff in each version based on where you are with that specific skill. Additionally, if you’re just looking for a foothold and want to learn the game yourself, I recommend you just read the first guide.
One quick note. If you have any questions after reading this guide or just want to talk about the game, DM me on discord at Sgt. Mushroom#0454. Hope you enjoy this guide!