Around the Diamonds

2016 postseason a conspiracy-theorist’s delight

OCT 15, 2016: Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista (19) looks on during Game 2 of the American League Championship Series against the Toronto Blue Jays and the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field in Cleveland, OH. Cleveland defeated Toronto 2-1. (Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire).
(Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire).

It’s been a weird postseason. From the top team in the American League (regular-season edition) getting swept out in the first round to the demise of Even Year Magic, 2016 hasn’t lacked for unique storylines. From the return of old conspiracy theories to the birthing of new ones, we’ve really had a taste of everything over the last month or so.

Brought back due to popular demand (and Trevor Bauer’s drone incident) was the debate over whether Curt Schilling’s sock really was bloody in 2004, or whether it was a pre-game hot dog dinner mishap played off as heroics, as commented on by Phil Hughes.

No one’s denying, though, that Bauer’s hand was really dripping blood, and the rules of pitching being what they are, he was neither allowed to continue flinging 90 MPH bloodballs at the Toronto Blue Jays, nor allowed to stick a band-aid on it through the rest of his start. Cleveland ended up with a bullpen game, which, Cleveland’s bullpen being what it is, wasn’t actually that bad a thing.

Speaking of those Toronto Blue Jays, though, some of them seem to be engaging in some conspiracy theorizing of their own. Specifically, a few days ago, after the Jays lost the first two games of the ALCS in Cleveland, Jose Bautista said that “circumstances” were the reason he hadn’t been hitting well, implying that the umpires were giving Cleveland calls that they didn’t deserve. The Blue Jays have struck out swinging 25 times so far this series, compared to nine “caught lookings,” while Cleveland has only struck out 16 and five times, respectively.

Of course, if one looks at the regular season stats, this falls in line with some general ideas provided by raw team number comparisons. Cleveland pitchers struck out the fourth-most batters in all of Major League Baseball this season, while Toronto hovered around the middle at 13th. Toronto’s batters struck out the eighth-most times in baseball, while Cleveland seems much more patient, all the way down in 21st-place. Over a short sample, we can’t expect an exact adherence to what came before, but Toronto being swing-happy, and Cleveland being willing to take advantage of that, is a little more likely than the umpires decreeing an American-based victor.

Over in the National League, the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers have some conspiracy-flinging of their own, with LA catcher Yasmani Grandal accusing Cubs second baseman Ben Zobrist of stealing signs in Game 1.

Zobrist laughed it off, telling ESPN:

I think it’s hilarious. No, I was not stealing signs. But I appreciate him thinking my baseball IQ is that high. … I don’t know what he was looking at or what he thought he saw.

While the threat of stealing signs is something that’s been around since one minute after signs were developed, and according to this RJ Anderson piece from last year, it’s a reality used by many in baseball, sign-stealing is almost impossible to carry off on some real game-changing level; batters still have to hit whatever pitch, and usually, what happens is what Grandal said happened. He and the pitcher changed up the signs. Of course, in Game 2, even if Clayton Kershaw had told every hitter what he was planning on throwing prior to throwing it, it’s unlikely that the outcome of the game would have changed.

If we really wanted to get funky, though, say that there was some kind of MLB-level conspiracy, with the winner of the World Series decreed in a shady back room in New York, like NBC’s Men in Blazers are fond of speculating happens with the English Premier League. How difficult would that be?

Baseball’s a game of millimeters, and while millimeters can be fudged, the only real “conspiracy” that holds water would be the postponement of the second game of the NLDS between the Dodgers and the Washington Nationals. Sure, there was “weather” in the area, and we all know how weather is so predictable and how there’s no chance that a storm that looks like it’s going to come through during the game and cause havoc instead hits early and things are fine by when the game starts.

No matter what flavor of conspiracy you embrace this postseason, make sure to not let it make you lose sight of the great baseball that’s going on (whether or not you believe in the results.)

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