ESPN Investigates Spydome: Fair or Foul?

ESPN reporter Amy Nelson (above) might have some explaining to do.

ESPN: The Magazine looks as though they have recruited the spy kids to investigate the “suspicious” activity of a mysterious white man in the stands of the Toronto Blue Jays home stadium. At least, I’d hope the investigating was done by kids because the kind of logic portrayed in the ESPN article yesterday could only be considered sensible if it had come from the computer of an elementary school student.

ESPN reporters Amy Nelson and Peter Keating are reporting that the Toronto Blue Jays have been stealing signs from the outfield bleachers of the Rogers Centre. Apparently, a white man perched in the out there has been relaying signals using hand motions to the Toronto hitters.

Nelson and Keating have back up their claim with anecdotes from a few unnamed sources as well as carefully selected stats, mostly from the supposedly unbelievably successful 2010 season. Some guys on the unnamed (now named Chicago White Sox) team had seen a man making the motions in the stands as far back as 2009.

Wow, the evidence is overwhelming.

The argument presented in the ESPN article is flawed in a manner that would be expected out of the average person. You would think that the worldwide leader in sports would be smarter than the average person.

As the saying goes, stats are for losers.

The stats presented as clear-cut evidence in the article are hardly that. The selectively chosen stats are clearly picked out by the writers to fit the ultimate conclusion of the piece.

Luckily, due to the mass media of our modern world the excess of statistics discounted by Amy Nelson and Peter Keating are readily available for us.

Dustin Parkes over at his blog “Getting Blanked” gives a great run down of the many flaws to the ESPN allegations. A must-read for anyone remotely interested in the topic.

At his press conference, Alex Anthopoulos gives some real smart answers to the accusations. The answers make you realize why he’s such a good GM. Why didn’t ESPN go over game footage to find the man in white? Why didn’t they talk to any managers, league officials etc.? The list goes on.

What many people have also failed to bring up is the style of hitting implemented in the 2010 season by Cito Gaston and hitting coach Dwayne Murphy. The ESPN article points out the very high percentage (48.9) of pitches swung at by Toronto hitters that lead to the league leading 257 home runs hit.

However, there is no mention anywhere of the swing big or go home approach of Cito Gaston and his staff. Not many people outside of the Blue Jay loop are probably aware of that but for claims this outrageous I would have thought that the homework done by ESPN wouldn’t be so strikingly similar to a 12 year olds math homework finished 5 minutes before class started.

ESPN also attempts to use the substantial differences in the home and away OPS’ of Escobar, Bautista, Wells, Lind and Hill to prove a point. However, Nelson and Keating do not cite the far superior road average and OPS’ of John Buck and Edwin Encarnacion, who’s OPS in 2010 was more than .200 points higher on the road.

Moreover, ignoring the Justin Verlander no-hitter at the Rogers Centre is just another one of the many overlooked pieces of evidence from the crew over at ESPN.

A high school psychology student could tell you that these claims are based on the very common human error of confirmation bias – defined as a tendency for people to favour information that confirms their preconceptions or hypotheses regardless of whether the information is true.

It’s a pathetic display by ESPN to publish such a poorly constructed article for the purpose of generating buzz and page views.

Using Vernon Wells’.552 OPS with the Los Angeles Angels at home in 2011 is hardly evidence that connects the Blue Jays with sign stealing. Personally, I would connect his brutal home OPS to have something to do with that average that sits at .210. But hey, that’s just me.

Vernon Wells’ OPS at home was a whopping .276 points higher in 2006. I guess they were stealing signs back then too, eh?

The excessive quantity of circumstantial evidence in the article doesn’t include the possibility of a simple anomaly in an oddly successful power numbers season for the Blue Jays, which can be explained to certain a degree by the Cito Gaston effect as mentioned above.

On top of all this, the writers of the article don’t seem to realize that even if their claims are true, the Toronto Blue Jays organization must be really bad at cheating. Maybe they even hired the same people who helped investigate the allegations because their home record is 28-27 while their road record is 30-30.

I mean, it must have taken some kind of genius in the Blue Jay organization to come up with the idea to cheat with a team that is in no position to compete for a post-season spot.

Good thing the brains at ESPN figured out that 4th place mediocrity in the AL East and stealing signs from the outfield bleachers go hand in hand.

It’s comforting to see that Nelson and Keating finish their article with such a decisive conclusion:

“By themselves, these numbers are circumstantial evidence. Unsupported by data, the four players’ accounts might describe a scheme of uncertain impact. And without proper context, the Yankees’ decision to mask their signs could be chalked up to paranoia. But together, the numbers, the stories and the actions indicate one certainty: Every pitch to a Blue Jay in Toronto is worth watching.”

I’m hearing now that the National Enquirer is embarrassed by the lack of integrity exhibited by ESPN.

Now that’s sad.

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at Also, follow me on twitter @paintstheblack and I will happily return the favour.

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14 Responses to ESPN Investigates Spydome: Fair or Foul?

  1. I have to say as a Torontonian and a long time Jays fan this is very annoying. It’s clearly an act of an American magazine picking on the only Canadian Franchise in the league. When the Cardinals were accused, again by the White Sox, I didn’t see any article but the second an outlier like the Jays gets accused it must be true. Just like in 1992 and 1993 when the MLB wasn’t too happy that the World Series was going north the second the Jays get an ounce of competitiveness in the league we must be cheating. You can check out my other thoughts at my blog

  2. stchoo says:

    Great article summarizing why ESPN’s article is problematic. It is quite embarrassing.

  3. Six unnamed sources spoke out yesterday about possible Payroll tampering on three of the most popular teams in baseball; The New York Yankees, The Boston Red sox and The Philadelphia Phillies. Over the past decade these teams have risen to the top of baseball with no end in sight. How is this possible?

    The six sources listed multiple cases where these teams have purchased multiple player through free agency that other team would be unable to make. Since 2000 it is believed that the Yankees have spent roughly 1.875 billion dollars since the year 2000 to bolster their lineup. The average salary over this span is 187.5 million an estimated 700% higher then the lowest team salary belonging to the Florida Marlins at 37 million per season.

    If this is true how are the New York yankees and other teams allowed to run wild with there salaries and destroy baseball’s credibility. The unamed sources mentioned a distinct possibility, that the commissioner of baseball is an asshole, but how can we prove this. Over the course of Bud Selig reign as Commissioner of baseball there has been a strike which cause the cancellation of the 1994 world series, a steroid controversy that has given a black eye for years to come and finally an all star game that ended in a tie. Now despite all these facts is it also possible that the commissioner of baseball has also turned the sport into a three pony race.

    Currently the Yankees have ten players on there roster making over 10 million dollars, this alone is more then 22 team payrolls around the league. Also since 2000 the Yankees have an average winning percentage of .596. Is it possible that the higher payed players could be out performing their lower paid counter parts?
    The three team with the supposed highest payrolls(The Yankees, The Red Sox and The Phillies) have the three highest run differentials in the game. Meaning the amount of runs scored over runs allowed. Ranging from +171 for the Yankees to +144 for the Redsox +131 for the Phillies. No other team in the league has a differential above +100. These three teams are also the only ones to have crossed the 70 win mark at this point in the season. Starting to sound a little fishy, well I would have to agree.

    Managers Terry Francona and Joe Girardi have preached the unwritten rules of baseball before but isn’t it also a unwritten rule not to make a mockery of the game. While the rivalry between the Yankees and Redsox has never been bigger teams like Pittsburgh and Kansas City have been turned into a sideshow with no Playoffs in their foreseeable future.

    Now who are the biggest casualties in this debacle? Teams are forced to play more games within there own divisions. Meaning the Yankees and Redsox play each other 18 times, but other teams in there division must play the Yankees and Redsox 36 times combined. Since the Yankees never play the Yankees and the Redsox never play the Redsox, the two highest paid teams get to play the remaing three weaker team 18 more times. Example the Toronto Bluejays must play 36 games against the best 2 teams in baseball while the Redsox and Yankess only have to face each other 18 times. This means the remaining 3 teams in the AL East have the hardest schedule in baseball until this is changed. Now in all other major sports in America a Salary cap has been established so that no one team can dominate any other with and increased cash flow, yet somehow America’s pastime continues to allow the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer. I guess that’s capitalism for you.

    See I can do it too.

    – Joel LaFlamme

  4. I don’t have an issue with the piece since it acknowledges it has no hard evidence. On the stats side of things, they went beyond “the Jays hit more homers than anyone else at the Rogers Centre.” The stats suggest they’re hitting more than they should. In any case, many players have made claims. Changing signs can sometimes happen in the middle of an at-bat so when something is fishy, teams are pretty quick to notice. I have no issue with ESPN simply exploring the allegations because of the stats they utilized. They keep it open to just plain paranoia but most of the time, when players talk, people listen. Overall, I’m unmoved by it but I liked your piece.

  5. Marc says:

    Hey Chris, this is an excellent piece. You highlight a key point about Cito Gaston and the Jays hitting strategy last season. Many reporters that I’ve heard seem to think any deviation from the average must indicate some form of cheating. However, as you point out, there are many such legitimate reasons as to why a team would hit better. I read some of your other posts too. Keep up the great writing!

  6. chappy81 says:

    Seems like a lot of smoke and mirrors in this story. Well put Chris…

  7. jasonaguiar says:

    I love how people ignore the big things when analyzing a story. Like you mentioned, Verlander’s no hitter, and the Jays are, as of 4pm today, are 29-28 at home while 30-30 on the road. Some home advantage that is I guess.

    Also, besides all the allegations, is this cheating? Sure everyone does it, but I think it’s part of the game when you are on the field giving signals, and I am able to decode the signals. It’s almost like a pitcher having a certain tell when they are preparing to throw a fastball. This is nothing like the Patriots filming other teams’ practices, because you cannot stop that. But you are able to change your signals.

  8. Completely agree man. I love the elementary school student analogy because that’s exactly how they went about on this article at ESPN. They heard a great tale, did the statistical research, which all-together ends up inconclusive — but decided this is too good to pass up, so they selected the stats to back the story.

    Any who, I’d like to buy the “mysterious guy in white” a beer for becoming the newest Toronto sports folklore legend. I loved the signs from the crowd last night honoring him

  9. i dont think this story is a big deal at all. people steal signs in baseball 40% of the time and teams just change their signs and move on. this would be a bigger deal if Toronto finished higher than third each year.

  10. ESPN is just picking on the Blue Jays. brooklynbuckeye is right, stealing signs isn’t new and it’s not against the rules.

  11. Bobby Charts says:

    wow, crazy story. nice work and thanks for saring, I didnt know about this.

  12. Wow! That’s an remarkable slant.

  13. I am developing a joomla website for a boat club and would like members to be able to upload photos of fish they caught. Additional info: I am basing the structure on the K2 component..

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