Cubs

Yu Darvish weighs in on Astros cheating allegations

Yu Darvish weighs in on Astros cheating allegations

Cubs starter Yu Darvish isn’t about to blame his struggles in the 2017 World Series on the Astros stealing his signs. That doesn’t mean he agrees with the notion he was tipping his pitches, however.

Tuesday, The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich reported the Astros stole signs electronically in 2017, the season they won the World Series. Although sign stealing in baseball is nothing new, doing so with a video camera posted up in center field, fixated on the opposing team’s catchers, crosses a line.

Former MLB infielder Trevor Ploufee also reported the Astros stole signs and described the system in a series of tweets:

Darvish – who was pitching for the Dodgers at the time – infamously struggled in the 2017 Fall Classic. He allowed nine runs in 3 1/3 innings across two starts: Game 3 in Houston and Game 7 in Los Angeles. He allowed five runs in 1 2/3 innings in the latter, a 5-1 Astros series-clinching win.

Darvish’s World Series struggles were initially attributed to him tipping his pitches. He weighed in on the topic on Thursday, posting a video to his YouTube channel where he disagrees with the notion he gave off signals to Astros hitters. He speaks in Japanese in the video, but one Reddit user translated what the right-hander said.

Some of the more interesting points:

On whether the Astros were stealing signs or not

But personally, Game 7 was played at Dodgers Stadium. Since what we currently know is limited to Minute Maid Park, I don’t think there were any signs stealings going on at that game. However, with the technology that they have, I really think it’s not impossible that they’ve done it at LA as well.

On the notion that he was tipping his pitches

After Game 7, there were news about how I was tipping my pitches. After the World Series ended, I personally asked a player from the Astros about it. He said that I was fumbling my ball before I threw my fastball. After Game 3, the Dodgers suspected that I was tipping my pitches, and I reviewed some footage with some people. I reviewed my mechanics from that footage, but we all couldn’t find any noticeable signs that I was giving something away. During Game 7, I was really aware and concerned about this, so I made extra sure on the mound that I wasn’t giving anything away.

After Game 7, I’ve been personally trying to get to the bottom of this problem. This year, from a source from the Astros that I won’t disclose, I was told that I was tipping my pitches during Game 3 and 7 by fumbling my ball before my windup. Since I saw my Game 7 footage numerous times, I was convinced that I wasn’t doing that, and there was something in the back of my mind that didn’t mesh well with what that player was saying, and what was shown on the footage.

Two things off these comments:

-Dodgers president Andrew Friedman noted Tuesday at the GM Meetings that one Los Angeles player, who was good at picking up pitch-tipping (reportedly second baseman Chase Utley), studied Darvish’s World Series starts. Utley said Darvish was not tipping his pitches:

-A’s pitcher Mike Fiers – who was with the Astros from 2015-17 – told Rosenthal and Drellich that Houston had a camera positioned in the outfield at home games. Whether they also had a system setup on the road is unknown at this time (such as Game 7), but Darvish (and the Dodgers, at the time) seem adamant that he wasn’t tipping his pitches.

But even if they did steal signs, Darvish doesn’t blame the Astros on him pitching poorly in the World Series:

Now, do I think that my failure in the 2017 World Series is because of the Astros stealing signs? I don’t think so, I think Astros have talented players. Results don’t change, and I don’t expect anyone to send me apologies for what they had said to me for the past two years. Through adversity, I’ve been able to work hard and play for a great organization, the Cubs. If I start associating my failure to the Astros scandal, I don’t think that I would be able to develop as a person. I think adversity is important in life, and I think these types of failures will be an important experience for me, as a player. I’m willing to swallow the results of 2017.

It's nice to see Darvish has moved forward; he had a stellar second half in 2019 and will open the 2020 season as the Cubs top starting pitcher. However, he had a tough time dealing with backlash from Dodgers fans, and the Astros cheating may have cost him in free agency. The Cubs signed Darvish to a lucrative six-year, $126 million deal, but he may have gotten more, if not for his poor World Series showing. Plus, he remained on the open market until February 2018.

On possibly using racist remarks to steal signs

I’ve read and heard articles and reports that players were stealing signs by saying racist remarks. During the 2017 World Series, [Yuli] Gurriel did a racial gesture after he hit a home run off of me. I don’t really care, but if he did that knowing about the signs, I think that puts that problem in an entirely different light.

Gurriel hit a home run off Darvish in Game 3, doing a racist gesture after returning to the Astros dugout. He was suspended five games to start the 2018 season as a result, avoiding a ban from the World Series. The gesture was extremely problematic in its own right. If Gurriel did it to convey stolen signs and/or to openly mock Darvish for knowing his signs? Brutal.

Darvish also noticed some strange tendencies from opposing hitters when he was on the mound in 2019:

Especially this year, I've noticed a lot weird things. When I’m in the set position, usually the batter looks at me. It depends on the batter, but they generally look at my elbows, my eyes, my shoulders, you know it. But several times this year, I’ve noticed that the batters don’t look at me. Even without runners on second, I see players just looking into the distance, around left center field. It’s awkward. This usually happens when we’re the visiting team. I’ve even told [Cubs catcher Victor Caratini] during mound visits that the batters eyes were not on me.

According to Cardinals beat writer Jeff Jones, the Brewers and Rangers are egregious with electronic sign stealing as well, though there’s no word if MLB is investigating them.

Brett Taylor from Bleacher Nation found a clip of a Christian Yelich at-bat vs. Darvish from 2019. The camera angle is off-centered, but it shows Yelich – who stares at Darvish for several seconds – look towards left-center field (where the Brewers bullpen is located) before looking back at Darvish.

Darvish acknowledged that he wasn't sure of Yelich's intentions, but he stepped off when Yelich's eyes moved. He added this doesn't mean Milwaukee was stealing signs, though Yelich may not have seen that tweet...

https://twitter.com/ChristianYelich/status/1195462269594812417

Darvish had one final PSA to MLB about cheating:

So, um, let’s stop sign stealing. What’s fun about swinging at something that you know that’s coming? I wonder if the batters are actually happy with that. If Houston was actually content with winning the World Series knowing that they were stealing signs electronically... I don’t know, I wouldn't be able to do that as a player if I’m in their shoes. It’s very disappointing.

Well said, Yu. What comes next is to be determined, but Cubs president Theo Epstein pointed out the magnitude of the situation at the GM Meetings.

"Certainly not something to be swept under the rug," said Epstein, who initially admitted it's best for teams not to comment while MLB is looking into the matter. "It needs to be fully investigated and bring light to it and I'm sure there will be appropriate action taken."

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Why Cubs, rest of baseball sweat as MLB battles coronavirus testing issues

Why Cubs, rest of baseball sweat as MLB battles coronavirus testing issues

It was never going to be perfect.

But Major League Baseball’s coronavirus testing system needs to be good enough.

That may not seem like an especially high bar to set.

But so far it has been a difficult one for baseball to clear.

In fact, the latest example of baseball's biggest challenge in pulling off a 60-game season played out at Wrigley Field on Monday. That's when the team that by all indications has done the best job of establishing and following safe practices had its manager and five other “Tier 1” members of the organization sit out activities “out of an abundance of caution” because their latest COVID-19 tests, from Saturday, remained “pending.”

Tier 1, by the way, comprises the 80-something members of the organization with the highest access, including players and coaches.

The results had been analyzed. But as pitching coach Tommy Hottovy explained, they appeared to be in a batch of samples that included at least one positive test, the batch involving multiple teams. So they were retested. Five of those retested samples, including manager David Ross’, were negative, the team said late Monday, with the sixth considered “compromised” and another test done.

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The sixth did not belong to a player.

Give the Cubs another gold star for getting through yet another round of tests — and yet another glitch in that process — without having a player test positive.

But give MLB another kick in the ass. The testing issues don’t seem to be as bad as they were throughout the league that first holiday weekend of processing. But it hasn’t fixed this thing yet, either.

Whether it’s a lab-capacity issue, a quality issue or a shipping issue, it’s not even close to good enough.

Not for 30 teams barely a week from leaving their individual training-site bubbles to start playing each other for two months. Not when more than one-third of those teams play in locales considered hot spots for the pandemic. Not in the world’s most infected country.

“We do feel comfortable in this bubble that we’ve kind of created here,” said Hottovy, who was hit hard by the virus for a month before camp started. “When the season starts though and we start traveling and we start putting ourselves in some different circumstances, we just don’t know what to expect with that.

“We’re still taking this day-to-day for sure.”

Players across baseball, including Cubs star Kris Bryant, said they were upset and surprised at how unprepared MLB’s testing system appeared to be when camps opened. Two weeks of testing later, and just enough issues persist to make the league’s entire 2020 undertaking look more tenuous than ever.

The season starts July 23. That’s not much time to get it “good enough” — never mind to get it right. But, again, we're not asking for perfection.

The league protocols require testing thousands of players and other team personnel every other day through the end of the season.

Imagine sitting a manager and three or four players from a single team on a game day because of “pending” or “compromised” test results. Imagine that happening two or three times a week to various teams. Or worse — imagine a given team doesn’t exercise “an abundance of caution” and puts the players or staff in question on the field or in the dugout and clubhouse anyway.

“The only concern that I have right now is how long the test will take to get the results back,” Cubs catcher Willson Contreras said on Thursday. “Other than that, I don’t think I am at risk inside of the ballpark because the Cubs have been doing the best they can to keep us safe in here."

“I don’t have any concerns about my teammates, because I trust them. I know we all are doing our best to keep [each other] safe, and that way we can have a season this year.”

Contreras expressed tolerance with the system so far and was reluctant to point a finger at MLB or anyone else.

“But how can that get better?” he said. “I have no answer for that.”

It doesn’t matter whose fault it is as much as it matters that an answer is found quickly.

Players, staff and their families already have taken on the daily stress and anxiety of this health risk and the every-other-day process of holding your breath until the next result comes in.

“You get that test day coming up when you might get results, and it’s a little bit of that unknown, a little bit of anxiety of, ‘Have I done everything right?’ “ Ross said. “You start running back the day since you’ve been tested and what you’ve done, where you’ve gone, who you’ve been in contact with, just in case something bad may come back on your test. It’s real.”

Thirteen players, including Giants star Buster Posey, already have declined to play this season, all but one without a pre-existing condition that would qualify as “high risk” under the agreement between players and management.

Angels superstar Mike Trout heads a list of several more who have talked openly about opting out at some point, depending on how things look as we get closer to games.

That includes Cubs starter Yu Darvish, who said Sunday, “I still have concerns” and that he has not ruled out heading home if he doesn’t feel it’s safe anymore for him or his family to keep playing.

Maybe Trout, Darvish, Posey and the rest of those players have the right idea.

In fact, maybe we’d all be better off if baseball rededicated its testing capacity to a general public that suddenly is facing shortages again in a growing number of hot spots.

But if baseball is going to stick to its plan and try to pull off this season, then it needs to get this right. Right now.

Nobody’s expecting anything great at this point. Maybe not even especially good. But good enough? In the next week or so?

Would that be too much to ask?

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How Cubs' Jon Lester just got 126 innings closer to returning to Chicago in 2021

How Cubs' Jon Lester just got 126 innings closer to returning to Chicago in 2021

One more year of Jon Lester?

A few months ago that looked uncertain at best — figuring to come down to a $25 million decision for the Cubs to mull at the end of this season (or a $15 million decision, given the $10 million buyout on the option clause).

But the vesting part of Lester’s hefty seventh-year option on his original six-year, $155 million contract suddenly looks tantalizingly within reach for the longtime ace.

Major League Baseball and the union have finalized an agreement on multiple details for calculating contracts in 2020, including vesting contract options, according to documents obtained by NBC Sports Chicago.

Performance thresholds for vesting options will be prorated for the 60-game season and rounded up to the next out. 

So that 200-inning threshold Lester needed to reach to assure the additional $25 million year — a threshold he hasn’t reached since 2016, when he was 32?

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In a season only 37.04 percent as long as normal, that means 74 1/3 innings earn the extra year.

It’s still roughly the same average of innings for 12 projected starts (6.17) this year as it would have been for 32 (6.25) in a full season.

But that’s a lot fewer potential aches, pains and injuries to navigate for two months compared to six months — and a stretch that doesn’t include the bone-chill cold of April and weather volatility of May.

Lester, who ranks eighth on the all-time list of postseason innings pitched, said when spring training opened in February he “obviously” wanted to finish his career as a Cub.

“Hopefully, I have a good year, and it’s null and void, and we don’t have to talk about it,” Lester said then of trying to vest the option.

“I signed here hoping that the option was kind of going to take care of itself and [I’d] finish out the seventh year. After that, I can’t predict tomorrow, let alone what’s going to happen two years down the road.”

Lester pitched in his first intrasquad game of the restarted training period on Sunday and looked strong enough to get sent out to face two more batters after finishing his scheduled two innings — retiring seven of nine, with one reaching on an error and another on a 15-foot tapper in front of the plate.

“He was commanding all of his pitches,” catcher Willson Contreras said. “From what I saw, he’s looking in good shape.”

Monday's agreement between MLB and the union also included details on calculating awards bonuses, roster bonuses and contract escalators. And unlike the normal injured list, players won't lose "active time" on the roster while on the COVID-19 IL.

The Athletic was first to report Monday's agreement.

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