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.