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WSJ: The Origins of the Houston Astros Cheating Scheme

Discussion in 'Houston Astros' started by topfive, Feb 7, 2020.

  1. topfive

    topfive CF OG
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    ‘Dark Arts’ and ‘Codebreaker’: The Origins of the Houston Astros Cheating Scheme

    On Sept. 22, 2016, an intern in the Houston Astros organization showed general manager Jeff Luhnow a PowerPoint presentation that featured the latest creation by the team’s high-tech front office: an Excel-based application programmed with an algorithm that could decode the opposing catchers’ signs. It was called “Codebreaker.”

    Unfortunately, the article's behind a paywall. Anyone got a subscription?
     
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  2. glad_ken

    glad_ken Contributing Member

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    Intern introduced Astros to 'Codebreaker' sign-stealing program

    The Houston Astros' front office laid the groundwork for the team's electronic sign-stealing ploys via a program dubbed "Codebreaker" that was introduced by an intern in the organization in September 2016, The Wall Street Journal is reporting.

    According to the WSJ, the Excel-based application designed to decode the opposing catchers' signs was used throughout the 2017 season and for part of 2018 by Astros baseball operations employees and video room staffers both at home and on the road.

    Staffers would log the catcher's signs and subsequent pitches into a spreadsheet and "Codebreaker" would determine how the signs related to different pitches. The information would then be communicated to the hitter by a base runner via an intermediary.

    Astros players eventually evolved the system to include banging on a trash can to warn hitters of the coming pitch.

    Ex-Astros GM Jeff Luhnow told MLB investigators that he remembers the intern's PowerPoint slide about "Codebreaker," but said he thought it would be used to legally decipher signs from previous games, according to the WSJ.

    The intern, who currently works as the Astros' senior manager of team operations, told investigators that he assumed Luhnow knew it would be used in live games.

    The team's director of advance information, Tom Koch-Weser, also alleges Lunhow knew about the system. According to the WSJ, Koch-Weser told MLB that the former GM would occasionally go to the Astros' video room during road games and make comments like "You guys Codebreaking?"

    Luhnow declined the WSJ's request for comment but, according to the paper's reporting, denied Koch-Weser's accounts to MLB and investigators could find no definitive proof that Luhnow knew how "Codebreaker" was being used.

    Luhnow was fired by the Astros last month, shortly after MLB suspended him for one year.

    https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id...uced-astros-codebreaker-sign-stealing-program
     
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  3. Newlin

    Newlin Member

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    Damn. A little more advanced than I imagined.
     
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  4. J.R.

    J.R. Contributing Member

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    On Sept. 22, 2016, an intern in the Houston Astros organization showed general manager Jeff Luhnow a PowerPoint presentation that featured the latest creation by the team’s high-tech front office: an Excel-based application programmed with an algorithm that could decode the opposing catchers’ signs. It was called “Codebreaker.”

    This was the beginning of what has turned into one of the biggest scandals in Major League Baseball history. Throughout the 2017 season and for part of 2018, Astros baseball operations employees and video room staffers used Codebreaker to illegally steal signs, which were then relayed to batters in real time. Another Astros employee referred to the system as the “dark arts.”

    This previously undisclosed information about the origins and nature of the Astros’ cheating comes from both a letter MLB commissioner Rob Manfred sent to Luhnow on Jan. 2 that outlined the findings of a league investigation, as well as interviews with several people familiar with the matter.

    Eleven days after Manfred’s letter, which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, MLB announced that it had suspended Luhnow, as well as field manager A.J. Hinch, for the entire 2020 season. Hours later, the Astros fired both Luhnow and Hinch.

    The existence of Codebreaker shows that it was the Astros front office that laid the groundwork for the team’s electronic sign-stealing schemes.

    During MLB’s probe, Luhnow maintained that he had no knowledge of any of the Astros’ misconduct. However, Manfred wrote in his letter that “there is more than sufficient evidence to support a conclusion that you knew—and overwhelming evidence that you should have known—that the Astros maintained a sign-stealing program that violated MLB’s rules.”

    But while the league collected evidence that showed Luhnow was aware of Codebreaker’s existence and capabilities, it couldn’t prove that he knew how it was used. In response to Manfred’s letter, Luhnow presented investigators with a binder with more than 170 pages that cast at least some doubt on the contents of the initial letter, according to multiple people familiar with the matter.

    These people described the situation as a “he said-he said” between Luhnow and Tom Koch-Weser, the team’s director of advance information, who sent two emails to Luhnow in 2017 that referenced “the system” and “our dark arts, sign-stealing department.”

    Luhnow opened the emails, but told investigators he did not read to the bottom of them.

    Complicating matters further, Koch-Weser’s responsibilities were reduced following the 2019 season, but before allegations of the Astros’ cheating became public in a November story in The Athletic.

    MLB couldn’t decipher whose account was truthful. In his final findings, Manfred said that the investigation revealed that “Luhnow neither devised nor actively directed the efforts of the replay review room staff to decode signs in 2017 or 2018.”

    Luhnow declined to comment through a spokesman. In a statement released last month, Luhnow said, “As the commissioner set out in his statement, I did not personally direct, oversee or engage in any misconduct.” The Astros did not provide comment on behalf of their employees. Koch-Weser did not respond to requests for comment.
     
  5. J.R.

    J.R. Contributing Member

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    The way Codebreaker worked was simple: Somebody would watch an in-game live feed and log the catcher’s signs into the spreadsheet, as well as the type of pitch that was actually thrown. With that information, Codebreaker determined how the signs corresponded with different pitches. Once decoded, that information would be communicated through intermediaries to a baserunner, who would relay them to the hitter.

    Starting around June 2017, the system was embellished by Astros players. They started watching a live game feed on a monitor near the dugout and then would bang on a trash can to communicate the coming pitch to the batter. The “banging scheme” lasted through the 2017 World Series, which the Astros won over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Manfred said Luhnow was unaware of the banging scheme.

    But everything started with Codebreaker, and the use of it to steal signs continued into 2018—not just at home, but also on the road.

    Luhnow acknowledged to investigators that he recalled the intern’s PowerPoint slide about Codebreaker and even asked questions about how it worked. He said that he was under the impression that it would be used to legally decipher signs from previous game footage—not live in games.

    The intern, Derek Vigoa, currently the Astros’ senior manager for team operations, told investigators that he presumed Luhnow knew it would be used in games because that was “where the value would be,” according to the letter. But he said he didn’t recall whether he explicitly told Luhnow that Codebreaker would be used during games.

    Vigoa’s presentation wasn’t the only time Astros employees say Luhnow was informed about Codebreaker. Koch-Weser, the Astros’ director of advance information, said he discussed Codebreaker with Luhnow in one to three meetings after the 2016 season.

    Koch-Weser told MLB that Luhnow would “giggle” at the title and appeared “excited” about it. Koch-Weser also said that Luhnow sometimes entered the Astros’ video room during road games and made comments such as, “You guys Codebreaking?”

    Luhnow denied Koch-Weser’s accounts.

    Other Astros employees told MLB’s investigators that they believed Luhnow knew about Codebreaker, but they provided no definitive proof. Matt Hogan, now the Astros’ manager of pro scouting analysis, told investigators there was no effort to hide the use of Codebreaker in front of Luhnow when he visited the video room. In fact, he told them, “it would have been something to show we were working and get validation of our work.” Luhnow denied seeing evidence of sign-stealing during those visits.

    In October 2018, Luhnow met with Koch-Weser to discuss a potential contract extension. In preparation, Koch-Weser outlined his arguments for an extension in a Slack post that included the term “dark arts.” He wrote, in part: “Lastly, I know the secrets that made us a championship team, some of which he[’]d definitely feel a lot safer if they were kept in-house.” Koch-Weser told MLB investigators that during his meeting with Luhnow, he used either the term “dark arts” or “codebreaking” to tout his efforts. Luhnow denied that Koch-Weser referenced either of those things.

    Koch-Weser also used the term “dark arts” in the Astros’ Advanced Scouting Department’s 2019 budget Excel spreadsheet. Luhnow acknowledged that he reviewed the document but denied reading the tab “dark arts” was written in and denied that any discussion of “dark arts” took place during the budget meeting.

    In Manfred’s public report last month, he said that Luhnow received at least two emails that mentioned the Astros’ sign-stealing. His letter to Luhnow expanded upon the content of those emails.

    One was sent by Koch-Weser on May 24, 2017, and was titled “Road Notes (April-May).” The five-page email included six underlined topic headings, with the fifth one called, “The System”—a reference to what Koch-Weser described to investigators as “all kind of covert operations,” including sign-stealing. Luhnow told investigators he didn’t read the full email because of its length, and that he was unfamiliar with the term “the system.” Two people familiar with the matter said it was generally known in the Astros front office that Luhnow expected his staff to put pertinent information in the first page of any email.

    Luhnow responded to that email a day later: “These are great, thanks.” He wrote another email about three hours later. “How much of this stuff do you think [Hinch] is aware of?” Luhnow asked Koch-Weser.
     
  6. J.R.

    J.R. Contributing Member

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    On Aug. 26, 2017, in another “road notes,” Koch-Weser wrote: “The system: our dark arts, sign-stealing department has been less productive in the second half as the league has become aware of our reputation and now most clubs change their signs a dozen times per game.” He added that struggling teams like the Toronto Blue Jays and Oakland Athletics “seem not to care as much.”

    Luhnow responded two weeks later.

    “Tom, this type of write up is very helpful,” he wrote. “Seems like our baserunning is still pathetic. What the hell happened to our pitching this series? I mean that was historically bad…”

    Nonetheless, Luhnow told investigators that he did not read the full email because of its length and that if he had, he would have followed up because the reference to “dark arts” sounded “nefarious” and “sinister.”

    The evidence led Manfred to believe that Luhnow knew about that element of the Astros’ sign-stealing. In the last paragraph of Manfred’s letter, he wrote: “I intend to hold you accountable for the egregious rules violations that took place under your supervision…”

    Luhnow was suspended by MLB for a year on Jan. 13. He was fired by the Astros hours later.
     
  7. conquistador#11

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    not spoilered:
    [​IMG]
     
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  8. Major

    Major Member

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    It's hard to accurately interpret without context, but those email snippets and the # of people that say Luhnow knew is pretty damning. I kind of wondered why we hadn't heard anything from him (unlike Hinch), but now I can see why he might want to stay quiet and just disappear for a while. It seems likely that just outright lied to MLB investigators as well, which might explain Crane's decision to clean house.
     
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  9. The Real Shady

    The Real Shady Contributing Member

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    I love how advanced this team was at everything and how Luhnow pushed his employees to find an edge in any way possible. They were the best at analytics and the best at cheating. Other teams were using Apple watches, and the Astros had a secret sign stealing and code breaking program going on. Way more advanced than the other teams and the Astros will never have that Patriots edge again. It was some good years. The only mistake was not being more secretive about it.
     
  10. Buck Turgidson

    Buck Turgidson Mineshaft Enthusiast

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    Of course Luhnow knew. On what ****ing planet could he plead ignorance?
     
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  11. awc713

    awc713 Member
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    This article is the most mind-blowing one yet. I was a Luhnow supporter for a long time. Hard to be so now. I buy that some of what Koch-Weser is saying he told Luhnow is a bit overdone, but it still happened under his watch. He created a culture where it could thrive. For shame. Turning a blind eye is no better than not doing it. Luhnow is guilty of blissful ignorance at best. Hinch had powerful words today. He’s a leader. That interview was telling. Luhnow is a genius, but not a leader. I would love to hire Hinch back, but the media and fans would lose their mind.

    Whether the sign stealing made a difference will never be known. Luhnow put together one hell of a team. One of the most talented rosters of all time. Luhnow would be wise to take a page out of Hinch’s approach, but that’s always been his achillies heel. Kind of a Greek tragedy in hindsight.
     
  12. astrosrule

    astrosrule Member

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    Dude is the unquestionable GOAT and we were lucky to have him, i'd hire him back in a heart beat anytime, anywhere. (Speaking about Luhnow, obviously)
     
  13. REEKO_HTOWN

    REEKO_HTOWN I'm Rich Biiiiaaatch!

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    So Luhnow was a POS? I’m shocked...not he’s McKinsey
     
  14. Buck Turgidson

    Buck Turgidson Mineshaft Enthusiast

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    Welcome to the world of McKinsey.
     
  15. texans1095

    texans1095 Member

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    So we can all agree that Luhnow is a grade A slime ball? The fact that he’s still denying any knowledge of this is absolutely ridiculous.

    I’ll always love what he did to acquire talent, but I’ll never feel the same way about him I used to.

    Hinch on the other hand could be hired by us tomorrow and I’d have no problem with it.
     
  16. conquistador#11

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    What I find to be the most amazing thing about this.. .that it wasn't Ken Giles who 'spilled the beans'.
    Fiers must have really wanted a start during that playoff run. I bet Fiers was just as angry with the A's manager for giving the wild card start to Manaea but channeled his anger at the Stros.

    The punishment was well deserved. I love how the Yankees fans think they hired Beltran and none of that was going in their club house.
    I just want the season to start already.

    Lesson for all, people with their own name inked on their body are bad hambres.
     
  17. Buck Turgidson

    Buck Turgidson Mineshaft Enthusiast

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    Fiers has told this story before, it just caught on with certain journalists this year.
     
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  18. Handles

    Handles Member

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    Meh. This is like when it's been 5 degrees outside and the following day it's -10 degrees. I was already freezing my balls off... is there really any difference?
     
    #18 Handles, Feb 7, 2020
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2020
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  19. Jeremy Williams

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    He was a post-modern genius. Nobody loves a post-modern genius when you are on the losing end.
     
  20. Buck Turgidson

    Buck Turgidson Mineshaft Enthusiast

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    [​IMG]
     
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