Caught Red-Handed; Cardinals Hack Into Astros Systems

GETTY_N_121311_HackedCodeYesterday afternoon, it was revealed that the St. Louis Cardinals are under investigation by the F.B.I. for having hacked into the Houston Astros‘ network.

Last June, the Astros admitted that somebody had hacked into their internal systems, compromising their scouting database which went under the nickname “Ground Control”.

At the time, it was not revealed who had broken into their systems; only that somebody had done it and it was under investigation.

Yesterday, the criminals were identified as members of the Cardinals.

The story goes that employees of the Cardinals were able to access the Astros’ systems by using old passwords that belonged to then-Cardinals scout and now-Astros GM Jeff Luhnow. Luhnow left his role in the St. Louis scouting department after the 2011 season, taking over as Houston GM that December.

Since then, the Houston Astros have taken off as a team whose scouting department is considered top notch, right up there with the likes of the Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates and Minnesota Twins. True, Houston’s farm system currently ranks “only” 14th by Baseball America. Also true – they had three years in a row where they had the #1 pick overall in the draft, though 2014 top pick Brady Aiken didn’t end up signing with them.

But the fact remains that the Houston franchise is considered by many to be a paradigm for how to put an organization together. Last season, Sports Illustrated did a feature story on the ‘stros system, calling this out.

I offer those facts up as rebuttal to trolls who say “big deal, it’s just the Astros”. Well, not only does Houston’s major league team have the best record in the American League right now (38-28, .576), but the information from their scouting department is the kind of thing must teams would absolutely love to have access to.

Really, the larger point here is that this is corporate espionage and breaks laws set forth in the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Whether or not the information they received is useful or helped the Cardinals win games (either directly or indirectly), it’s still against the law to go into a rival’s computer system and nose around. Any argument that this was no big deal is a bad argument. It’s illegal. Plain and simple.

A lot of people reduced the seminal book “Moneyball” to being a game-changer for how it elevated On Base Percentage as an important statistic.

Moneyball = OBP.

For me, that’s really simplifying things. What I think you were meant to take away from that book was something else.

It was about how teams (like the Oakland Athletics) who don’t have deep pockets need to find some other way to get a step ahead on their opponent. Yes, in the case of that book, it was how they believed the other 29 franchises were overlooking OBP as an important yardstick to measure a player’s worth. They jumped on that and rode it to success for a few years there.

But in the post-Moneyball years, we’ve gotten more and more into advanced statistics and analytics, still coupling all of that with scouting.

What I’m really driving at here is that the team with the best data wins.

It’s not necessarily who has all the money. (Where are all those New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers World Series rings from the past decade?) It’s who has the best data.

And that’s why this story is important.

This is theoretical, yes, but it explains why this is important.

Let’s say the Cardinals had been scouting a player as a potential trade target, and their scouting department’s feelings on the guy were that he would be a great asset to the team.

Now let’s say the Cardinals look into the Astros’ scouting department and find that they have spoken to somebody who knows that same player and identified that he has some sort of nagging injury that is getting progressively worse.

All of a sudden that trade target looks a whole lot less desirable.

More data = better informed decisions.

Conversely, let’s say the Cardinals were scouting a pitcher for the draft and ended up feeling just “meh” about him. He moves down on their list.

They then see the Astros’ internal system and find that they actually think that pitcher has plus stuff, great make-up, etc.

Well, geez. Maybe the Cardinals’ scouts caught him on a few bad days. Maybe something was just going on with him when they scouted him and he’s worth another look. After all, this other team’s opinion of him is totally different from theirs. They’d better get to the bottom of this.

Again, more data leads to better decision-making.

Exactly what information was gotten, who got it, what they did with it, and who knew about it… all of that is still up in the air at this point.

What punishments will be handed down – loss of draft picks, firings, financial penalties meted out by Major League Baseball… all of that is also still up in the air until the investigation concludes.

No, this isn’t life and death. It’s stealing secrets from other teams. Not well-protected secrets, mind you, particularly if Luhnow is using the same password as he used to. The Cardinals’ franchise has certainly committed other, larger sins in the recent past. They seem to have an alcohol-related incident every few years, with players endangering (and occasionally ending) the lives of others with blood alcohol content levels ranging from twice the legal limit (see Josh Hancock, Tony LaRussa) to FIVE times the legal limit (see Oscar Tavares and the spouse that he murdered as a result of bad decision-making).

Those things somehow keep getting swept away and people say “I can’t believe the Cardinals would do something like this! There’s such a wholesome franchise! They do things the right way – ‘The Cardinal Way'”.

Sorry to burst your bubble. That self-righteous thing plays well in the press if you’re a Cardinals’ fan. But the rest of the sporting world shouldn’t be fooled. Not anymore.

Sadly, much like the drunk-driving deaths that resulted in practical parades at Busch Stadium celebrating players who jeopardized the lives of other road travelers, Cardinals Nation will likely flip the script on this as well, and say things like “every team does this”, “the Cardinals are only being investigated because other teams are jealous of their success”, yada yada yada.

Jeff Gordon, at the Post-Dispatch, writes:

Industrial espionage would be conduct unbecoming America’s Model Baseball Franchise. If the FBI finds merit in these allegations, the Cardinals’ previously pristine image would be soiled.

Again, I ask, what “pristine image” are we talking about here? Sharing porn on your Twitter feed (see Carlos Martinez). Drunk driving. Murder. Those aren’t exactly “pristine”, are they?

Don’t buy and of that mid-American wholesomeness for a second.

More from Gordon:

There was nothing to gain by hacking the Astros… Any idiot can order wholesale tanking and conduct a perpetual fire sale. The much greater challenge is contending season after season after season — as the Cardinals have done…

Again, Gordon is missing a pretty large point here. The Cardinals have been riding a decade-plus stretch of success based largely on scouting that was done while Luhnow was with them as their scouting director. Of course they’d still love to see what he thinks of players!

From a separate Gordon article:

People are tired of the Cardinals winning all the time because people don’t enjoy seeing the same people succeed over and over again. Maybe it reminds them too much of their high school days when they never sat at the popular table.

See, this is what I knew would come out of the Post-Dispatch. No, it’s not that other teams are jealous and want to see you fail. It’s your franchise’s fake “aw shucks”, mock humility and self-righteousness that gets under people’s skin. Don’t deflect it as “y’all are just jealous of us”.

People from your organization have done bad things.  In some cases, really bad things.

In another bit of delusional sports-writing, the usually steady Tim Brown from Yahoo! Sports:

Before Tuesday morning, about the worst one might have said about the Cardinals was they had figured out Clayton Kershaw – Were they filching signs? Had they picked up tendencies? Was he tipping pitches in a way only they could see? – and they were mostly lauded for it. That’s not cheating. That’s the game.

That was the worst?  Really?

Again: A pattern of drunk driving in the organization, capped off with last year’s off-season murder of an innocent young woman.

Don’t be stupid. Or, at the very least, don’t be lazy. There are plenty of bad things you could have said about the Cardinals before this hacking story broke.

Rant aside, as a fan of baseball history, I find this all extremely interesting. It’s completely unprecedented, though not entirely surprising that it happened. My gut feeling is that this has happened before but the Astros were the first team to actually realize who they were being hacked by. Even if hadn’t happened before, it was bound to happen at some point.

What MLB does about it is what I’m most interested in.

* * *

The Pittsburgh Pirates won their sixth straight as they continue to play amazing baseball.

And they did it the way they’ve been doing it throughout this streak, behind amazing starting pitching.

This time it was Charlie Morton, who improved to 5-0 with a 1.62 ERA after firing 7 shutout innings in a 3-0 win for the Bucs. Since returning from a season-opening stint on the DL, Morton has 5 starts, all of them for wins.

In the last 6 games, the Pirates have fired 5 shutouts! In that stretch, here are the starting pitcher lines:

June 10th – Morton: 7.1 IP, 0 ER
June 12th – Jeff Locke: 6 IP, 0 ER
June 13th – Gerrit Cole: 6 IP, 1 ER
June 14th – A.J. Burnett: 9 IP, 0 ER
June 15th – Francisco Liriano: 8 IP, 0 ER
June 16th – Morton: 7 IP, 0 ER

That’s a total of 6 GS, 43.1 IP, 1 ER for a 0.21 ERA.

Mark Melancon picked up his 21st save with a perfect 9th inning.

Game Highlights from MLB.com

* * *

The Cardinals shook off all the talk about this data hacking scandal with a 3-2 win over the Minnesota Twins.

Michael Wacha was the winner again, improving to 9-2 with a 2.48 ERA.

Wacha went 6.1 innings, allowing 2 runs on 3 hits and a walk while striking out 5. He was pulled after 86 pitches after a second rain delay kicked in. That works well anyhow as the Cardinals would prefer to balance using a guy who is pretty much pitching lights out right while avoiding overusing a young kid and running him into the ground before the post-season.

Kevin Siegrist stepped in once again to notch the save while usual closer Trevor Rosenthal sits out with some arm stiffness.

That’s five straight wins for the Cards.

Game Highlights from MLB.com

Wondering what Adam Wainwright has been up to while he sits out the remainder of the season with that Achilles injury?

I’m gardening my face off. I’ve got cucumbers, zucchinis, pumpkins, five different kinds of tomatoes, all the herbs. I’ve got blueberries, apples, grapes. Once I can start moving around, I can start weeding stuff.

* * *

The battle between Sports Illustrated’s pick for the World Series and the Sporting News’ pick turned into a dud, as the Cleveland Indians (SI) pounded the Chicago Cubs (SN) 6-0.

By the way, I’m not sure either publication picked well there. Nor am I thinking that either magazine made those picks for any reason other than trying to appeal to championship-starved markets from the Midwest who will buy those magazines just because of those predictions.

Kyle Schwarber made his pro debut for the Cubs striking out looking on three pitches. Schwarber, rated the #19 prospect in baseball by Baseball America, was supposed to have the night off but got plugged in at catcher when Miguel Montero was ejected for arguing balls and strikes in the bottom of the 8th inning.

Game Highlights from MLB.com

Owen Watson at Fangraphs.com took a look at Anthony Rizzo’s improved plate discipline thus far through the 2015 campaign. Check it out over there.

* * *

The Cincinnati Reds were 5-2 winners against the Detroit Tigers.

Todd Frazier hit a pair of homers, upping his season total to 20, good for 3rd best in the National League. And tops in the division – check out the Leaders below.

Game Highlights from MLB.com

* * *

The Milwaukee Brewers fell 20 games back in the division on the night of June 16th, losing 7-2 to the Kansas City Royals.

They allowed 7 straight runs before putting a few runs on the board in garbage time.

Game Highlights from MLB.com

* * *

NL Central Leaders

Home Runs
Todd Frazier (CIN) 20
Joey Votto (CIN) 14
Ryan Braun (MIL) 13
Starling Marte (PIT) 12
Anthony Rizzo (CHC) 11
Strikeouts
Francisco Liriano (PIT) 99
Gerrit Cole (PIT) 93
Jake Arrieta (CHC) 89
Johnny Cueto (CIN) 82
2-way tie 80

* * *

Standings

W L GB Strk
St. Louis Cardinals 43 21 W5
Pittsburgh Pirates 37 27 6.0 W6
Chicago Cubs 34 28 8.0 L1
Cincinnati Reds 29 35 14.0 W1
Milwaukee Brewers 24 42 20.0 L4

* * *

Schedule

34-28 CUBS Wada (0-1, 4.84)
30-33 Indians Marcum (3-1, 4.09)
6:10 PM CT
34-31 Tigers Price (6-2, 2.44)
29-35 REDS Cueto (4-4, 2.85)
6:10 PM CT
24-42 BREWERS Fiers (3-6, 4.04)
36-25 Royals Blanton (0-0, 1.80)
7:10 PM CT
37-27 PIRATES Locke (3-3, 4.90)
28-35 White Sox Danks (3-6, 5.29)
7:10 PM CT
43-21 CARDINALS Martinez (7-2, 2.93)
34-30 Twins Milone (2-1, 4.15)
7:10 PM CT
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