Baseball analysis site FanGraphs introduced its newest writer on Monday (Feb. 1), an analyst previously known for insightful coverage on scouting and minor league prospects. But the circumstances of the writer’s return to baseball media might carry some controversy for some fans and observers.
Kevin Goldstein published his first baseball article in eight years this week, returning to an industry in which he built a reputation as one of the most insightful and candid analysts on baseball prospects and player development. Goldstein was one of Baseball Prospectus‘ most acclaimed writers, recognized for his insight and a popular podcast with Jason Parks, Up and In. Additionally, he contributed commentary for ESPN, Baseball America, and MLB Network Radio.
Goldstein’s work was so highly regarded that he eventually left Baseball Prospectus to work for the Houston Astros as the team’s pro scouting coordinator. His role in the organization grew as he was promoted to director of pro scouting, and eventually became a special assistant to the general manager, focusing on player personnel with an emphasis on using data and video to evaluate talent. He had a voice in decisions on drafting and trades, even participating in negotiations.
But Goldstein’s tenure with the Astros also coincided with one of the worst scandals in baseball history. Houston was discovered to have created an elaborate sign-stealing scheme with video feeds and signals that tipped off hitters on what pitch an opponent was throwing. That unfair advantage fueled the Astros’ run to the 2017 World Series championship.
During the investigation into the Astros’ scheme by media and MLB, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich received an email written by a Houston executive that encourage scouts to use binoculars and cameras to get signs from the opposing dugout. Using cameras could be viewed as violating MLB rules that prohibited utilizing outside technology to steal signs. The email in question was eventually reported to be written by Goldstein.
In his debut piece for FanGraphs, Goldstein addressed working for the Astros while the sign-stealing occurred, said he knew nothing about the scheme, and acknowledged that he did indeed write the email to the team’s scouts.
“It was sent as part of a plan to do advance scouting, a plan that never came to fruition, as the organization decided to all but eliminate in-person pro scouting shortly thereafter. The plan proposed was one of using cameras to be able to better see signals coming from coaches on the bases and in the dugout. Theoretically, this was to be done by scouts in the stands at non-Astros games. Once those signals were later decoded (unlikely, but if they were), that information was to be passed on to A.J. Hinch and his staff, who would presumably use their naked eyes to pick up said signals during games. There was nothing concerning catcher signals (which scouts couldn’t see anyway), live relays or anything like that.”
Goldstein went on to explain that he wasn’t among those penalized by MLB for the sign-stealing scheme — such as general manager Jeff Luhnow and field manager A.J. Hinch, who were each suspended for one year — and was never mentioned in the investigation report.
Allen Rowin and Kevin Goldstein of Astros make final prep for Rule 5 Draft. pic.twitter.com/r7tCNOonox
— Brian McTaggart (@brianmctaggart) December 12, 2013
But he still suffered by association. Goldstein was eventually fired when James Click became the Astros’ new general manager and couldn’t find work elsewhere in the industry due to what he termed “Astros stink.” Media outlets also began to inquire if he had any interest in returning to writing, and the idea of sharing what he learned about the inner workings of baseball eventually became appealing.
Goldstein’s return to baseball media might be uncomfortable for some. It raises the question of whether or not someone who was cast out of baseball should get an opportunity to essentially redeem himself and his reputation by supplying expert commentary. Yet as Goldstein pointed out, he wasn’t punished by MLB. He should still be able to make a living in his chosen field. After all, Hinch has a new managerial job with the Detroit Tigers.
FanGraphs now has a writer who has actually worked in a team’s front office, established how a club evaluated and developed talent, and participated in general manager meetings and trade negotiations. How many outlets can say they provide that kind of perspective for their readership?