Joe Posnanski
Monday May 4th, 2009

OK, coming off the latest talk of pitch tipping and Alex Rodriguez, we're going to talk a little bit about cheating today -- but, hey, we're not talking morality. Everyone has their own level of distaste for cheating and lying. Some think it's wrong all the time. Some think it's mostly wrong except in certain sporting situations. Some believe the old line that if you're not cheating you're not trying. I don't want to get into that today, though I do find the topic to be fascinating.

No, today's discussion of cheating is why it bothers so many of us as fans. And I think the big reason is that it simply makes everything we see suspect. There has been so much discussion about Barry Bonds' 73-home run season ... how much of that was real? Some would say that none of it was real, that it was the drugs talking. Some would say that all of it was real, that drugs play a virtually insignificant role in home runs. A few who love Bonds would say he was clean. And most, I suspect, would say that it was only partly real, and that's the calamity of it all: That season is fog.

And we don't want fog in our sports ... or anyway that's how I feel. The thing that draws so many of us to sports is the clarity of it all. Spectator sports are not like Congress or pool hustling where you know, deep down, that the real action and real money is exchanging hands behind closed doors. No, it's all supposed to be out there for us, and that's why we love it.

That's why the Alex Rodriguez pitch-tipping charge is troubling. I'm not here to say it's true or isn't true ... I have absolutely no idea, and I haven't even read Selena Roberts' book yet to know what the exact charge is. But it's out there that A-Rod, in blowout games while he was a shortstop in Texas, was tipping pitches to fellow middle infielders in some sort of bizarre quid pro quo to help everyone get some late-inning batting average happiness.

True or untrue, that's precisely the sort of thing that fogs up the game. What's real? What's make believe? As soon as I heard the charges, I immediately wanted some clarity, something I could look at and understand. And for that, I went to the numbers. What follows doesn't prove anything and more to the point it is not TO prove anything ... except the main point of all this. Which is that charges like this make everything suspicious and dubious.

I began with this: A-Rod was Texas' shortstop from 2001 to 2003. And it's worth nothing that in all three of those years a middle infielder in the American League West could have or did win the MVP award.

In 2001 Ichiro won it. But Seattle second baseman Bret Boone hit .331/.372/.578 with 37 homers, 141 RBIs, 118 runs.

In 2002 Oakland shortstop Miguel Tejada hit .308/.354/.508 with 34 homers, 131 RBIs and won the MVP. That year A-Rod hit 57 homers and finished second.

In 2003 A-Rod won the MVP. He piled up 47 homers and 118 RBIs, slugged .600 and so on. Tejada and Boone both had big years, too.

I bring this up because of this: For the scheme to be true and for it to work -- and the idea was that A-Rod would use some basic signals to let the batter on the other team know what pitch was coming and roughly which way it was coming -- I figure it would mostly have to be against players in the American League West. That just seems logical to me: Those are the players the Rangers played most, the players that A-Rod figured to be most comfortable with, the players who would offer the biggest payback.

So, I focused my look at the other middle infielders in the American League West. I'm only including the ones who were regulars ... the others would not figure to be involved in a pitch-tipping situation.

These were:

Oakland A's Shortstop: Miguel Tejada Second base: Frank Menechino (2001), Mark Ellis (2003)

Anaheim Angels Shortstop: David Eckstein (some second, too) Second base: Adam Kennedy (2002 and 2003)

Seattle Mariners Shortstop: Carlos Guillen Second base: Bret Boone

Now, before showing off a few numbers, I want to reiterate that, I believe, it would be almost impossible to find the answer in numbers. For one thing, Texas' pitching sucked from 2001 to 2003. Two, the Ballpark at Arlington is a bandbox. Three, a hitter who knows what pitch is coming would not hit 1.000 or anything close to that. I have absolutely no idea how much better you can expect a hitter to be if he knows the pitch and the location ... 50 points of batting average? One hundred points of slugging? More? Less? No idea. So I would not have any idea what kind of numbers we should be looking for anyway ... especially because the charge is that A-Rod tipped pitches ONLY IN BLOWOUT SITUATIONS.

Still, I think the following number is pretty striking.

American League West middle infielders facing the Texas Rangers from 2001 to 2003: Hit .309/.375/.558. They banged 44 homers and drove in 184 runs in 281 games.

And the two real middle infield stars -- Miguel Tejada and Bret Boone? Tejada hit .347/.406/.613 in 57 games against Texas. He hit 17 home runs. Boone hit .315/.386/.570 in 58 games against Texas. He hit 14 home runs.

There are other pretty good numbers. Mark Ellis and Frank Menechino in their full seasons hit .300 with some power against the Rangers. In 2003 David Eckstein hit .249 against everyone else, but .311 against the Rangers. Carlos Guillen hit lousy against the Rangers in 2001, but in 2002 and 2003 he hit .319 and .351. But this is what I mean when I say that there is really too much statistical noise to get at much here. I would find it very hard to believe that A-Rod would have worked out a deal with David Eckstein or Frank Menechino. I can't believe there would be much percentage in that.

So, we're really just talking here. But those numbers for Boone and Tejada, just as examples, would not PRECLUDE us from believing that there was something going on. Take Tejada. He was a great player those three years ... but those numbers are off the chart. I mean, 17 homers in 57 games ... yikes. But when did those homers come? Were any in the kind of blowout games that we're talking about here?

June 26, 2003: Hit homer in 13-0 victory. Fourth inning, A's winning 6-0.

June 19, 2003: Hit homer in 9-2 victory. Homer was early when game was scoreless. Tejada went 5-for-5, but he did not come up in a situation where the score was out of hand.

April 19, 2003: Hit homer in 12-2 victory. But it was only 4-1 when he hit it.

April 9, 2003: Hit homer in 13-5 victory. Hit homer in fifth, A's up 6-1. He later singled with A's up 8-4, and he was hit by a pitch in 8th.

July 28, 2002: Hit homer in 12-2 victory. Hit homer in eighth with game close. He did double with bases loaded with game already getting out of hand in the ninth.

July 19, 2002: Hit homer in 10-0 victory. Hit homer in sixth with A's up 9-0.

Sept. 19, 2001: Hit homer in 10-4 loss. Hit homer in fourth with A's down 6-0.

June 30, 2001: Hit three homers in 15-4 victory. One of those homers came in the 9th with Rangers up 14-4.

So, that's pretty interesting. Inconclusive. But interesting.

Of course, if this was really a quid pro quo, then you would think A-Rod would be equally good or better in those three years against the American League West. The idea is that he would tip off middle infielders with the game out of reach and, in return, they would tip him off with the game out of reach.

And I don't think the numbers indicate that at all. A-Rod, after all, is good against everyone. He did hit .310/.410/.644 with 61 homers in 173 games against American League West opponents. But that's just not very different from his overall numbers of .305/.395/.615.

The thing about A-Rod is that he became known in Texas for being a master of the home run when the game was out of reach -- local reporters there talked about that all the time. I never really put any stock in that sort of talk; that's precisely the sort of silly thing reporters say when they don't like a player.*

*I heard several people say that in Kansas City about Mike Sweeney, for instance. They said: "He only hits homers when it doesn't matter." This was entirely wrong -- Sweeney had a good record for hitting with runners in scoring position and he was the same kind of hitter, more or less, in all situations. Anyway, I would simply respond: "When did it MATTER for the Royals when Mike Sweeney was playing?"

Still, the reputation for A-Rod was very much in place. Was it true?

Well, actually, no. During A-Rod's time in Texas he hit .289/.383/.496 when the margin of the game was four runs or more. That's not very good for A-Rod, and in fact he hit MUCH better in those situations in New York (.313/.410/.607) when he was a third baseman and, presumably, would not have been able to tip pitches even he wanted to do it.

More specifically, you could look at A-Rod in blowout games against those American League West teams, where you would expect his advantage to come. In blowout games against California, Oakland and Seattle -- and I call blowout games five runs or more -- A-Rod hit .330/.469/.615.

In non-blowout games he hit .291/.449/.639. So, again, that's pretty close. He actually slugged better in closer games than he did in blowouts.

The takeaway: Not much. I do believe a full-scale study of the stats could probably give you a pretty decent idea if there was any sort of trend here. I only know this: If A-Rod was really betraying his pitchers by tipping pitches then he's taken A-Fraud to another level. If he was not, then this is a smear job by some unnamed sources who are lower than low. And for the rest of us, the game just got a little foggier.

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