October 13, 2021

Are the Houston Astros Cheating Again?

What's that, you say? The Houston Astros are possibly cheating again? Well, according to Chicago White Sox's relief pitcher Ryan Tepera, the Astros might be stealing signs again, which would be First-Team All-Hilarious if true.

The Astros just eliminated the White Sox in the ALDS and will face the Boston Red Sox for the American League Pennant. The Astros lost to the Red Sox in the 2018 ALCS, which was before the news broke of the Astros cheating scandal but was during their era of stealing signs.

These allegations from Tepera are just that: allegations. There is no proof of this happening again, so it would be irresponsible to report it as cheating. However, with how poorly the Astros handled their last scandal, it would honestly not be surprising if they decided to give it another try. 

Let's dig into the evidence. 

Sign Stealing, the Sequel

The Astros were "disciplined" by MLB when it was discovered that they used cameras and other electronics to steal signs during their 2017 World Series-winning year, as well as in 2018. A camera in center field relayed signals given by the catcher and the Astros would use multiple forms of communication between the dugout and the batter to let them know what pitch was coming. Most notably, a trash can was banged loudly if an off-speed pitch was coming.

Astros manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow were fired and given one-year suspensions while the team forfeited their first- and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021. The players, who were totally remorseful and not at all being jackasses about it, were given immunity for their cooperation.

But that's all in the past, right? 

Ever since the Astros came on to the scene in 2015, they have constantly been one of the better hitting teams in baseball. Their contact rate in 2017 shows how egregious the cheating actually was and it is starting to look fishy again in 2021.

Similar Evidence

The Astros finished 2021 with an 80.6 contact percentage which is still pretty fantastic. The Toronto Blue Jays finished second with a 77.8 contract percentage, which doesn't seem like a massive gap, but the 26th-ranked Mets at 75.1% are closer to the Blue Jays than the Blue Jays are to the Astros.

Tepera's claim is slightly backed up from the Astros swing-and-miss stats in this year's ALDS, although it is a small sample size. In the first two games of the series, which were played in Houston, the Astros swung and missed at 32 total pitches. In Games 3 and 4 in Chicago, the Astros whiffed 22 and 18 times, respectively, for a total of 40.

For the entirety of this season, The Astros had the best offensive whiff percentage in all of baseball with 21%. In second place, the San Diego Padres sit at 24%, and once again the difference between the Padres and the Astros is comically large. The 15th-ranked Texas Rangers (25.9%) are closer to the Padres than the Padres are to the Astros.

For reference, in the infamous 2017 season, the Astros had a league-high whiff percentage of 20.4% with the second-place Cleveland Indians at 21.3%. This time you only have to go down to the 10th-ranked mariners (22.9%) to find the difference.

The league-average whiff percentage in 2017 was 24.2% and in 2021 the league average was 25.9%. In both years, the Astros absolutely smashed that number.

This is not proof, but it is very interesting. While the Astros are widely known as one of the most disciplined teams in baseball, the stats are outrageous and if Houston was not caught cheating, we would be talking about one of the best lineups of all time. 

So, Are The Astros Actually Cheating?

Honestly, in my own personal opinion, they probably are in some fashion. However, so are the other 29 teams, and the same can be said about the 2017 season. Cheating is not uncommon in baseball, the Astros are just the ones who got caught.

I believe that my favorite team, the Indians, started cheating in a similar fashion around that time and there is a strong suspicion that teams such as the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers did the same.

The Astros are no choir boys, but they are hardly the only team to break the rules.

The numbers are suspicious, however, the Astros are also one of the better teams when hitting on the road. Pound for pound, the Astros just hit the baseball extremely well.

Are the Astros doing the same type of cheating that they did in 2017? Probably not, but I do actually believe that every team is or has cheated at some point this season. 

As NASCAR legend Richard Petty once proclaimed, if you ain't cheating then you ain't trying. 

Photo: Getty Images