Houston: Do we have a problem?

Welcome to this week’s Tout Table. May as well address the elephant in the room:

How are you handling Houston Astros players and any other player/team implicated in the sign-stealing scandal?

Brian Walton (CreativeSports2, @B_Walton): I will be a few dollars cautious on Houston hitters. We don’t know yet the psychological impacts of the scrutiny and the booing that is undoubtedly ahead. Obviously, they are all talented, but what is going on between the ears can affect some people more than others. Could there be a downward spiral if a Houston hitter has an uncharacteristically bad April? We know where the blame will be placed, rightly or wrongly.

Fred Zinkie (Yahoo! Fantasy Sports, @FredZinkieMLB): I agree with Brian — it is the psychological impact that has me worried. Players don’t grow up hoping to be Major Leaguers who are hated by the fans and rejected by their peers, but that is the place the Astros will be in this season. For me it’s more of a tie breaker. To draft an Astros hitter, I will need to have him valued clearly above of the remaining options. And with so many good hitters to choose from these days, I doubt that will ever be the case.

Scott Swanay (FantasyBaseballSherpa, @fantasy_sherpa): Making no changes whatsoever to their Hitter projections, not even increasing their HBP (I imagine MLB would step in immediately w/ heavy deterrents if there’s even an inkling of premeditated payback early in the season). I would look at it as a buying opportunity if fellow bidders consciously or subconsciously lowered their bids on Astros hitters by a few dollars – Astros will almost undoubtedly still be a top 5 offense this coming season.

Doug Dennis (BaseballHQ, @dougdennis41): I can see it having some effect for some players. I have no idea how to quantify it. So I am not doing anything about it and will remind myself that plenty of others will overdo their own bias in this regard.

Phil Hertz (BaseballHQ, @prhz50): I am ever so slightly discounting my values for Astro players, but rotisserie is about having fun so in other than my expert leagues I’m avoiding Astro players, unless at a nice discount, so I don’t find myself rooting for them.

Rob Leibowitz (Rotoheaven, @rob_leibowitz): I am not going to allow it to affect my bidding or projections at all. I can compartmentalize my fandom from my fantasy team and will still purchase the best fits for my team regardless of their past transgressions. Home/road splits for 2019 shown in many cases that Astros players performed at a higher level or had a negligible impact away from home to boot.

Zach Steinhorn (CreativeSports2, @zachsteinhorn): While I won’t be completely steering clear of Astros players, if I’m deciding between an Astro and a similarly ranked player at a certain position (let’s say Bregman and Arenado), I’ll probably go with the non-Astro. Dealing with the ramifications of the scandal without letting it negatively affect on-field performance will be very challenging and as a fantasy owner, I’d rather avoid the situation if possible.

Todd Zola (Mastersball, @toddzola): I was reticent to adjust, but when you treat projections as a weighted average of plausible outcomes, everything that has happened must dampen expectations a little. If for nothing else, Astros players could get a couple extra days off. The truth is, however, I won’t know for sure what I’ll do as a drafter until under the gun and needing to make a pick in a snake or still bid in an auction. That will be the true test. These are words, I’ll know what my actions will be soon enough.

Michael Beller (Sports Illustrated, @MBeller): Giving weight to anything unquantifiable may be treated as heretical in the fantasy community at large, but I’m willing to risk apostasy on this one. Unless they come at an extreme discount, which they won’t, I won’t be within 1,000 feet of an Astro this season. The psychological toll will be real, and there’s no telling how each individual player will handle it. Additionally, you’d have to be willfully ignorant to suggest that they did not benefit from knowing what pitch type was coming. Much like andro didn’t singlehandedly turn Mark McGwire from a slap hitter into the league’s foremost slugger, trash-can shenanigans didn’t transform Jose Altuve into an MVP from a utility infielder, or Alex Bregman into an All-Star from an also-ran. Still, we know it helped, and we can’t say with any degree of certainty just how much it did so. Finally, I am in total agreement with Phil Hertz. I play fantasy baseball first and foremost because it’s fun. It won’t be any fun rooting for the Astros, who have earned every bit of their villainy. They’re all but off my draft board.

Charlie Wiegert (CDM Sports, @GFFantasySports): I’m downgrading most of the hitters approximately 10%. My biggest fear is the distraction it is going to be, and let’s face it, these guys will be effected by it. In every city they visit, the fans will be on them. And I’m not sure how much support they’ll even get at home. They know what they did was wrong, and that will always be in the back of their minds. More people will root against them than for them. While I’m not going so far as too say I won’t draft any of the, buy if a close to equal player is there, I’ll take the mom Astro first!

Mike Podhorzer (Fangraphs, @MikePodhorzer): I’m doing nothing. I haven’t made any changes to any player projections and don’t intend to do so. You could argue that players deserve a downgrade for a myriad of reasons and potential factors that might affect their play. But I don’t change my projections on speculation as you have no idea how any particular player is going to react to a certain set of circumstances. Some might rise above it and prove the cheating didn’t help them, while others might wilt as they can’t deal with all the drama. Trying to guess who will experience what is a fool’s errand.

Frank Stampfl (Fantasy Pros, @Roto_Frank): While we can’t quantify the mental toll that all of this will take on the Houston Astros, it is undeniably something they will have to deal with. For the most part, I haven’t downgraded their players much but Rob Silver recently brought up a great point on Twitter regarding an increased injury risk due to hit by pitches. And then of course, Carlos Correa already was an injury risk. I think there were enough reasons to already be skeptical of many of their hitters (Altuve’s random power surge with the juiced ball, Gurriel’s launch angle, Tucker’s playing time) outside of Alex Bregman and Michael Brantley who remain steady as they come.

Patrick Davitt (BaseballHQ, @patrickdavitt): I’m putting “Astro risk” into the category of a negative tiebreaker when deciding between similar players. The post-shenanigans fallout creates a package of modest risk, for reasons outlined above. I ‘m interested in the “I don’t want to have to root for a player I don’t like,” and that’s sure a part of the equation as well. But if Altuve or Bregman falls to Round 7, I’ll be tempted.

Ron Shandler (RonShandler.com, @RonShandler): For every player, the Broad Assessment Balance Sheet (BABS) system separates skill from risk. On the assets side, I am making no adjustments because presumably these players haven’t lost any skill, and the cheating advantages are neither quantifiable nor proven to be significant enough to even matter. On the liabilities side of the ledger, I’m adding a risk element that will count against my risk budget. So, if my budget allows for, let’s say, five players with major risk factors, then rostering an Alex Bregman will get me one step closer to that limit. In the end, I think it’s more of a roster construction issue than a valuation issue.

Todd Zola (Mastersball, @toddzola): FWIW, I think Ron’s last point hits the nail on the head.

Glenn Colton (Fantasy Alarm, @GlennColton1): Ok, I admit it – as a Yankee fan, it is hard for me to be objective about the Astros cheating. That said, I fall back on the Rules of Engagement Rick Wolf and I use to try and avoid unnecessary risk. Players are human and I think the Astros will struggle with having to answer questions every day all year, may be a little more uncomfortable in the box knowing they will get plunked more often, etc. Will Bregman and crew be valuable, sure but the risk of paying 30 and getting 22-25 is too great for me. Plus, fantasy baseball is supposed to be fun and there is just no way I can root for Jose Altuve and his supposed bad tattoo. Bottom line — I am bargain hunting only on the Houston Asterisks.

Tim McCullough (Baseball Prospectus, @TimsTenz): The short answer is – I’m not – as in, I’m not changing my rankings/projections for anyone connected to the scandal. Despite some (dubious) research that links some of the players to modest gains at the plate during the “Trash can era” there is just as much evidence IMO that there were little or no gains in production. As Ron said above, their skills didn’t change, so there’s no reason to adjust the numbers. However, I also agree with several of the Touts that there is almost certainly some blowback coming psychologically since they’ve drawn the scorn of their peers, the fans and whatever nut jobs that are sending death threats. I’m taking Astros hitters that fall too far to resist or come cheaply at the draft table.

Mike Gianella (Baseball Prospectus, @MikeGianella): I’m not making any statistical adjustment. It’s difficult to measure what the impact of the cheating was and while I could see Astros hitters losing a little, it seems like more of a marginal adjustment. If I’m drafting and two players are close or tied in my ranking I might to with the non-Astro. But I suspect I’m going to have plenty of Astros in drafts if others are pushing them down 10-15 picks.

Jeff Zimmerman (Fangraphs, The Process, @jeffwzimmerman): I’m just using it as a tie breaker in a draft. Do we dock the Reds for putting up with Trevor Bauer? I find there are more important factors to consider with everyone rested and trying to implement changes.

Larry Schechter (Winning Fantasy Baseball, @LarrySchechter): I haven’t changed any values, but as several others have said, I would avoid Astros if it’s a close call. If I end up with Astros on my teams, I will–as Rob Leibowitz put it very well–compartmentalize reality vs fantasy. For the sake of my fantasy teams, I’ll forget that I’d like all Astros players to suck this year and root for my guys.