If A-Rod tipped pitches, it didn’t work

A franchise at a crossroads
Game 37: Win today, win the series

One of the more serious allegations Selena Roberts raised in her book A-Rod was that the former shortstop participated in pitch-tipping schemes while in Texas. This is one I’d like to have seen her approach with more veracity or else not approach it at all. Tipping pitches, even in blowout games, is no light charge — it’s basically treasonous by baseball standards. It’s unsportsmanlike in every sense of the term. Yet Roberts thought it was okay to raise the issue with only a few anonymous speculators — and by all accounts that’s what they were, speculators. They were not, by any known account, participants in the alleged scheme.

Upon hearing the charges, most baseball players wrote them off as ridiculous. Nothing like that could have happened, said former teammates like Michael Young and Jeff Brantley. Then again, initial steroid allegations were likely met with a similar response. Baseball players have a code of silence, so it’s not likely we’d hear any of A-Rod’s teammates or competitors bring this charge without the veil of anonymity. It leaves the investigation all but impossible, meaning the MLB’s official look into the issue is simply a matter of course. So is there any way we can find out for sure whether or not A-Rod participated in pitch-tipping schemes?

The only way to evaluate the situation without direct player testimony is to look back at the box scores of qualifying games. Dan Rosencheck of the Times looks at the work of two baseball minds, Tom Tango of The Book and Sean Forman of Baseball Reference, to determine if there’s any statistical correlation between blowouts and A-Rod’s numbers. They also look to opposing middle infielders in the same situations. After analyzing situations for high, medium, and low leverage, and then looking at them in terms of difference in score, it appears that either the charges are bunk, or that the scheme was laughably ineffective.

First up is Tango and his statistic, Leverage Index. RAB readers might know this from when we post WPA charts for certain games. Simply put, Leverage Index (LI) is the measure of a situation’s importance. The first batter of the game — none on, none out in the top of the first — has a LI of 1.00. As the game unfolds, the LI fluctuates. If there’s a tie score with a runner on second in the bottom of the sixth, the LI will be well above 1.00. If the game is a blowout, the leverage will likely be far below 1.00. In looking at the pitch-tipping allegations, Rosencheck took situations where the LI was below 0.7, a reasonable threshold. In those situations, A-Rod had a .982 OPS. That seems very good, but when he has a 1.017 OPS in medium leverage situations, and a 1.076 OPS in high leverage situations (uhh, I thought he was unclutch), the allegations look a bit silly. The same trend registers for opposing middle infielders, as they have a .899 OPS in high-leverage situations, .825 in mid-leverage ones, and a .817 in relatively lax situations.

If a stat like LI isn’t your cup of tea, Forman has some data on numbers when the two teams’ scores were separated by seven or more runs. In this case, A-Rod OPS’d .851, compared to 1.021 when the difference in score was six runs or fewer. Ditto opposing middle infielders, who OPS’d .744 in seven-run blowouts, and .840 when the score was closer. It’s pretty clear that neither A-Rod nor his counterparts had any advantage when the game was a blowout.

Does this mean that A-Rod did not participate in pitch-tipping schemes? Not necessarily. We all know the correlation – causation relationship. The numbers suggest that no such scheme existed, but they cannot completely exonerate A-Rod and the other offending parties. In fact, if there was such a scheme in effect, the numbers prove how horribly inane it was. If the goal was to pad numbers in meaningless situations, A-Rod failed in the worst way. His numbers were markedly worse in blowouts when, if we’re to believe Selena Roberts, he possessed advance knowledge of pitch type and location.

This is an exercise Roberts could have easily conducted before deciding to include the pitch-tipping allegations in her book. She chose not to, of course, opting to take the accounts of a few anonymous players instead. Players who, by their own accounts, had no real proof to support their claims. It sounds like a low standard of evidence, especially for an investigative reporter. It would seem, for the time being, that we can forget about the pitch-tipping charges. Unless participating players come forward, it doesn’t seem like there’s anything to go on.

A franchise at a crossroads
Game 37: Win today, win the series
  • 27 this year

    selena got shut down!!!!!!!

    • JobaWockeeZ

      However true that may be many people will unfortunately still believe it.

      • Zack

        Because stats are misleading, but anonymous sources are rock solid

        • JobaWockeeZ

          Stats are overrated.

        • andrew

          Well, these stats are misleading. If ARod tipped pitches, it’s possible he didn’t do it with every team in the league. It’s still possible that he had a scheme going with 2 or 3 other guys, which probably wouldn’t show up in these stats because it would only make up 10% of his at bats. That being said, I’m not letting Roberts off the hook, I just think these specific stats and studies are not enough to conclude that he didn’t tip pitches.

          • Zack

            You dont have a point, but the fact that Roberts did no real follow up on these claims is the other side.
            People got this information in what 2-3 weeks, and she’s been writing a book for over a year.

          • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

            Can’t disagree with that. However, I think the stats show that we need a lot more evidence than a few anonymous, unconnected sources. If she can’t get the participants on the record, she should drop it. Bandying about allegations like this shouldn’t be a matter of speculation.

            • andrew

              Yup, I definitely agree with both you and Zack. These allegations have not been proved as Selena Roberts would like us to believe, but these stats also don’t disprove it. Oh well, I’m kinda hoping this blows over, I just don’t care that much… just… want… to watch… Yankees… without…. controversy!!

  • Zack

    “This is an exercise Roberts could have easily conducted before deciding to include the pitch-tipping allegations in her book.”

    Exactly, she made the book exactly how she wanted it. I’m sure she had ‘sources’ that said ARod never tipped pitches, just left them out of her book. Funny she didnt talk to Doug Mientkiewicz either as a ‘source from high school.’

  • jsbrendog

    to me this only further cements selena roberts as a journalistic hack in my opinion

  • GG

    I hope Roberts career takes a plunge b/c of this book. If it does not, you all can expect a book from me in the coming years about Roberts, and yes, there will be loads of an anonymous sources.

  • Yankeegirl49

    What I haven’t seen mentioned in any story about this (and maybe it was but I missed it) is how contradictory this seems to be. We have been led to believe that Arod is disliked by teammates, opposing players and just in general. Yet, if we are to believe what Roberts and her “sources” say, Arod managed to find a bunch of players ( I am assuming if he had done this it was more than one time), who were willing to risk their reputations to help him pad his own stats. Now, I don’t know about anyone else, but I certainly would not go out of my way to take a risk to help someone I didn’t like.

  • Mike Pop

    All for the cash man.

    • Yankeegirl49

      Well, I also havent seen it mentioned that he paid anyone off.

  • Tony

    Wow… this proved absolutely nothing. However, the ARod apologists can have fun with it.

    Meanwhile, I’ll just accept that he’s a douchebag and move on with it. Not sure why others can’t do it as well.

    • steve (different one)

      i CAN accept that he is a douchebag while simultaneously being appalled by someone throwing around harmful accusations with zero evidence.

      but, hey, you’re post “proved” so much too. A-Rod is a douchebag, therefore he tipped pitches. that’s basically your argument, right?

      you keep knocking ’em out of the park.

      • steve (different one)

        “your post”

    • http://mantisfists.files.wordpress.com/2008/10/julius-carry-aka-shonuff.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

      You completely missed the point. The point isn’t that A-Rod is wonderful and definitely never engaged in some sort of pitch-tipping scheme, the point is that (1) Roberts made a VERY serious charge with VERY flimsy reason/evidence, (2) that a look at some statistics/ evidence that might shed some light on the issue, (3) that this look at statistical evidence does NOT support her assertions, and (4) that the fact that she neglected to even address this issue by looking at the statistics/evidence (or by including interviews with sources, who would likely have agreed to go on the record, who would have denied these allegations) can be read as an indictment of her objectivity and impugns the veracity of her claims.

    • Tony

      No, the point is that nothing is proved in this piece. If he’s tipping pitches to one or two people, it’s not necessarily (probably not) going to show up in this kind of data set. It’s also not like the pitchers stopped trying to get the guy out, even if the pitch had indeed been tipped. There are about 12,000 variables involved with this situation, and few of them were addressed by the article. In summation: waste of time for all except those that were already falling over themselves to beatify ARod to begin with.

      • Steve S

        But the actual allegations that were supported by absolutely no data were worth our time? So we have to believe it to be gospel since you pick up the NY post and listen to talk radio and make some kind of conclusion about Arod? But when someone presents facts and figures, they should be ignored because of variables. And the same can be said for the arbitrary morons who believed the allegations of pitch tipping basically because they like to make character assertions against a baseball player that they dont even know. I love the fact that we watch these play a sport and somehow we can make determinations about their characters. Makes a lot of sense.

  • http://theenlighteneddespot.com NC Saint

    Tipping pitches, even in blowout games, is no light charge — it’s basically treasonous by baseball standards. It’s unsportsmanlike in every sense of the term.

    I’m not sure I agree with this. Yeah, it’s against the rules, and players aren’t eager to admit to it, but I don’t get the sense that anyone gets too worked up about it. The entire system of signs, and making them more complicated when there’s a runner on second, is based on the assumption that the other team is going to do its best to figure out what’s coming. Former players are sometimes pretty frank about this in the booth.

    It rubs one a little bit the wrong way when it’s more institutional or technologically advanced, but it’s very likely that the Shot Heard Round the World was hit off a tipped-pitch as part of a pretty elaborate scheme, and no one really gives a shit. Nor do I see any reason they should.

    • Tony

      You realize that this is about ARod supposedly tipping opponents off to his teammates’ pitches, right?

      • http://theenlighteneddespot.com NC Saint

        Wow, nope, I didn’t. I take it all back. I never follow links to SI or tabloids, and these guys never explained the full deal here. My bad.

        That would be much worse, obviously, though it seems way less plausible. Thanks for clearing that up.

  • nilnil

    Why dia A-Rod know the comming pitch to tip in blowout games? In those games, the pitchers just throw random pitchs.

  • KW