Karpin’s Korner: Astro-Noise, For Lugo, Pen Is Not Mightier

It’s been a rough go for the Houston Astros recently, but no one is feeling sorry for baseball’s latest villains because, if the accusations are true, they have no one to blame but themselves.

First, it was the embarrassing and hurtful comments that were directed towards a group of female reporters by former Assistant GM Brandon Taubman following Houston’s series clinching win in the ALCS. That was followed by the team’s disgraceful attempt to cover it up by claiming the story was fabricated by one of those reporters. Now, the Astros are being accused of using technology to gain an unfair advantage over their opponents, with the 2017 ALCS being cited as one of the instances where that occurred.

According to the story written by Ken Rosenthal in the Athletic, the Astros reportedly used a center field camera to read the catcher’s signs and relay them to the hitter by banging on a trash can in the dugout.

Former White Sox pitcher Danny Farquhar cited an incident from 2017. Farquhar said, “There was a banging from the dugout, almost like a bat hitting the rack every time a change up signal got put down,” Farquhar said. After the third one, I stepped off. I was throwing some really good change-ups and they were getting fouled off.” According to a video that was released by @Jomboy on twitter, the banging noise came after the change up sign was put down.

If the noise was too loud, there was a method where signs would be relayed to the bullpen catcher so he could pass them on to the hitter. According to former Major Leaguer Trevor Plouffe and sources cited by the Athletic, the bullpen catcher wore an ear piece and got the information from someone who was watching a live feed of the game. The bullpen catcher would put his hands up on the outfield fence if the pitch was a fastball. He would keep his hands down if a off speed pitch was coming.

During this year’s ALCS, the Yankees complained about a suspicious whistling sound that was coming from the dugout. Now with this latest news about the Astros illegally stealing signs, the Yankees’ claim may have a lot more merit.

It also reminded me of a story that Mickey Mantle once told. During a radio interview, Mantle relayed a story of how his teammate Bob Turley could call pitches from the dugout. Turley’s relay system went like this. The batter would go to the plate looking for a fastball and if Turley determined it was going to be a curveball, he would whistle. If the next pitch was a fastball, Turley would whistle because it was different from the previous pitch. If there was silence, it meant the same pitch would be thrown.

Thanks to his teammate, Mantle once got knocked down in a game in Detroit.

Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Bunning was on the mound for the Tigers and he heard the whistling and figured out why it was coming from the dugout. Someone was tipping off the hitter. According to Mantle, Bunning called catcher Bill Freehan out to the mound and loudly said, so Mantle could hear him, “If I hear a whistle from the dugout, I’m going knock his ass down,” Bunning said. The whistle came right before the next pitch and so did a fastball that put Mantle on his rear.

New Mets Mgr. Carlos Beltran (along with Red Sox Manager Alex Cora) has been named in Rosenthal’s report as “playing a key role” in this system that was allegedly employed by the Astros.

What if the former Astros’ player was involved?

The Mets say this is not their affair, but unfortunately, it’s going to be. As others have already noted, the Mets may need to hire an experienced baseball man to be the bench coach because that person may have to run the team if Beltran is levied any discipline by Major League Baseball.

The Beltran controversy aside, GM Brodie Van Wagenen already has a lot on his plate with getting the Mets ready to contend in 2020.

The Mets have the NL Cy Young Award and the NL Rookie of the Year Award winners on their roster,. Add Jeff McNeil, Michael Conforto and Amed Rosario to that mix and the Mets have themselves a pretty good “core” of players. BVW needs to enhance that “core” and will have to be creative to do so.

Bullpen, improving the defense up the middle centerfield, catcher (Austin Romine? see below) and the bench are just some areas that need to be addressed. According to Joel Sherman of the NY Post, the Mets are not interested in Japanese free agent centerfielder Shogo Akiyama, who is considered an above average defender. Does BVW use one of the Mets top prospects (shortstop Andres Giminez) to haul in someone like Starling Marte, who is under control for two more seasons. The Pirates just named Ben Cherington as their new GM and he’ll want to make some changes to the roster.

Do the Mets offer Wilson Ramos around and go hard after the defensively superior Yasmani Grandal, as they did last off season. I can see Ramos having some value for an American League team that could use him as a DH.

The status of Seth Lugo for next season remains a fascinating discussion.

Some feel Lugo is best suited as a starter and others cite his success in the bullpen. I’m among the former who think Lugo should be in the starting rotation. Taking Lugo out of the pen already weakens what was a weakness last season, but his inability to pitch out of the pen on back-to-back days really limits his value in that role. Lugo has the kind of stuff to get through a lineup multiple times.

Even if Lugo stays in the pen, the Mets are going to have to add an arm or two. A bounce back season from Edwin Diaz would go a long ways towards solving the problem, but the Mets should approach it as if Lugo will be one of their starting five next season.

Are Yanks putting too much stock in Gary Sanchez as a full time catcher?

In a column this week by NY Post Baseball Columnist Ken Davidoff, Yankees GM Brian Cashman indicated that a number of teams came to him about a potential trade for Sanchez, after his disappointing and injury plagued 2018 season, but he refused to consider any deals involving his catcher.

“Playoff clubs, clubs that you guys would write highly about as really tremendous organizations, would be knocking on our door for Gary Sanchez,” Cashman said. “The answer was no, and I thought this season (2019) basically played out as an exclamation point of, we were right on that one. There’s no difference there. Same answer today as last year, other than the numbers support it even more.”

I get the feeling that most of those teams that were asking for Sanchez were in the American League and had openings at the DH spot. I say that because the feeling around baseball, as far as rating Sanchez’ defensively, is not the same as how the Yankees view it.

The Yanks may lose their safety blanket in Romine, who is a free agent and may draw some interest from the Mets, but they feel Kyle Higashioka is ready to assume the back up job. I have not been impressed with Higashioka’s defense, which is supposed to be his strong suit but I find to be average, and his bat is nothing to write home about.

I’m with Chris Russo when it comes to baseball’s awards. On his “High Heat” show, Russo took the voters to task, especially the voting for AL MVP. How is D.J. LeMahieu not, at the very least, a top three finisher in the voting? Russo feels LeMahieu should’ve won it and he certainly has a case. I don’t feel LeMahieu was deserving of winning the Award but there is an argument that he should be in the top three.

I disagreed with Mike Trout being named the AL MVP this season but that certainly doesn’t take away from his greatness. “Most Valuable” is a subjective term, of course.

I was quite surprised that Nationals third-baseman Anthony Rendon got exactly one first place vote for NL MVP. Hall of Fame writer Tracy Ringolsby was the only one who gave Rendon a first place vote.

Christian Yelich had a great season (.329/.429/.671 44 HRS, 97 RBI 1.100 OPS) but despite missing the last 18 games, Brewers still made playoffs.

The NL winner, Cody Bellinger, really dropped off in the second half (.263/.371/.546 .917 OPS) as opposed to his first half numbers, (.336/.432/.692 1.124 OPS) and the Dodgers cruised to the NL West title.

Rendon’s slash line was .319/.412/.598 with a 1.010 OPS. He led the Major Leagues with 126 RBI’s, scored 117 runs, and had a great month of August (.394/.450/.712 slash line, 8 HRS, 29 RBI’s) when Nationals solidified their hold on the top WC spot as they went 19-7.

One first place vote out of 30 seems a little unjust in this case.

Karpin’s Korner appears every Friday on nysportsday.com

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