Arthur: The banging scheme hurt the Astros as much as it helped them

From SABR member Rob Arthur at Baseball Prospectus on January 30, 2020:

Some of the biggest lingering questions in the Astros sign-stealing controversy have circled around its efficacy. The excellent reporting by Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich, as well as MLB’s investigation, established beyond any reasonable doubt that Houston cheated, but we were left in the dark about whether that cheating helped. To date, every attempt to study the Astros’ banging scheme has been beset by doubts about when and where they were employing the system, which makes comparing splits a futile exercise.

New data gathered by Tony Adams shows that the Astros scheme was a fantastic aid to their hitters when it was accurate, but a powerful stumbling block when it was wrong, as it frequently was. Overall, the net impact of the cheating seems to have been almost nothing: The downside perfectly counterbalanced the upside and the Astros ended up being about as good as they were from the start.

Back in November when news first broke about the Astros’ banging scheme, many people (including me) cued up various old Houston games stored on YouTube and dove in, trying to isolate exactly when the Astros had been using it. I noted that you could use a spectrogram—essentially a digital fingerprint of what sound frequencies were active—to isolate the peculiar twin peaks that the Astros usually employed to signal a non-fastball on its way. After surveying about a dozen games’ worth of audio using the spectrograms, I noted that Houston used the scheme often and accurately.

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Originally published: January 30, 2020. Last Updated: January 30, 2020.