The Houston Astros head into 2020 dealing with a major PR nightmare following the revelation of their sign-stealing scheme. Regardless of how many other teams institute such schemes, the Astros were the ones who got caught and are dealing with the fallout.
It has been primarily a PR nightmare in how they’ve handled it and the implications. MLB decided they would not strip the team of their 2017 World Series title or otherwise punish players. The team fired their manager and general manager, and departed players and coaches that were since managing elsewhere have been fired, but the players that remain have faced primarily PR-related repercussions.
There’s a good chance that will change when the team takes the field in game action. Houston makes their Spring Training debut this Saturday, February 22nd, and make their regular season debut on March 26th when they host the Los Angeles Angels.
Players have begun spring training workouts, and with that has come the first media availability of the season. Players have made it clear they are not happy with the Astros cheating or the players’ response to getting caught. Some players have discussed the notion of throwing at Astros players, while most have kept their comments vague enough to not be viewed as a specific threat to go after Astros players.
Violence is never the answer, but given the nature of baseball’s unwritten rules, we know it’s going to happen. Teams will plunk a batter for a host of reasons from showboating to having plunked their own guy previously to bunting to break up a no-hitter. It can be for an offense during the current game or an offense from earlier in the season. We’ve seen beanings happen in response to something that happened multiple years prior.
It’s not always 100 percent clear if a beaning is intentional, but given the skill involved, we can often guess when it was intentional. With Astros players in 2020, the difficulty will be determining when it was because of something other than the sign-stealing scandal. Regardless, it would not be surprising to see the Astros lead the league in batters hit by a pitch.
Major League Baseball recently sent out a memo to try and cut down on intentional HBPs. Jon Heyman reported on the memo, and claimed it was unrelated to concerns about the Astros. It’s possible that’s the case, but it depends on how much you believe in coincidences.
MLB recently sent memo to teams laying out new steps to curb intentional hit-by-pitches. Umps will now confer to determine if they deem intent. Managers will be held more accountable for these incidents, too. Rule unrelated to Astros new concern, but they should welcome change.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) February 19, 2020
HBPs benefit the team getting hit given that it puts a player on base, but it still is meant to send a message. The question is how many messages will we see in 2020. And it should surprise nobody that some sportsbooks are getting in on the action.
Oddsmaker William Hill announced earlier this week that they will take bets on total hit by pitch stats for the Astros. They set the over/under on total HBPs at 83.5. Additionally, they are offering specific props on how many times Astros batters will get hit by a pitch this season. 81-90 times opened as the favorite at +300. Last year, the New York Mets led the league with 95 HBPs, while Colorado had the fewest at 43. Houston finished last season at 66.
Meanwhile, the Westgate SuperBook is offering odds on the first Astros player to be hit by a pitch in the regular season. Alex Bregman has the shortest odds at 7/2, followed by Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve at 4/1, and then George Springer at 9/2.
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