Photo by Keith Allison

Ask Rotoman: What happens to Domingo German this season?

Ask Rotoman: How will multiple game suspensions for an individual player that were supposed to start at the beginning of the season in March, be calculated when and if the season does start. Will there be a reduction of games due to the late start?

Good question. Here’s what MLB says:

All suspensions of 80-or-fewer games will be served in 2020 if games are played. Should the season be canceled, those suspensions would not carry over to 2021.

What MLB doesn’t say is whether those suspensions will be pro-rated for the games that will be (we hope) played this year. For instance, if the season is scheduled for 81 games, will German’s suspension be 80 games (the full monte) or 40 games (the prorated part).

The canceling of the suspensions if the season isn’t played at all suggests that the suspensions will be pro-rated, I think, in recognition that the punishment is meant to be proportional. This is also how service time will be treated for all players. Given players’ limited shelf life, giving them a full season penalty when a half seasons worth of games are played seems excessive.

But since this isn’t stated we can’t really know for sure until issues like the length and shape of the schedule are worked out, and both players and owners can assess how things are going to go. That won’t be until late May, at the very earliest, it looks like. We hope.

The New Home Run Reality

I’ve been operating under a few well known and mostly agreed upon facts.

  1. People love home runs.
  2. A slimmer taller strike zone, which better represents the rule book strike zone, is being called these days.
  3. Even without PEDs, athletes (and all of society) values strength more than ever.
  4. There are always PEDs, though they don’t seem to be widespread, but they’re certainly there.
  5. When home runs go up and strikeout rate goes up, too? Yes, hitters are swinging harder, making more mistakes, but also hitting more balls out of the park. There should be a Moore’s Law about this ratio. I’m going to work on it.

But the fact is, as Ben Lindbergh points out in this Ringer piece, based on research by the estimable Mitchel Lichtman, it seems the ball is juiced.

Lindbergh is extremely diplomatic about this assertion.

Maybe because Lichtman’s interesting testing (certified game-used balls bought on Ebay) is based on a small sample size, and subject to all kind of aging and sample treatment issues that are especially important in a small sample.

So, it’s fair so posit that Lichtman’s numbers aren’t perfect.

But, when you go through all that Lindbergh goes through quite methodically to present the case, it’s hard not to conclude that the ball is likely juiced. And that a small difference, seven feet in distance, could account for the insane increase in homers the last few years.

Which doesn’t mean that the MLB poohbahs decided to juice the ball, because as Lindbergh points out, if that’s what they did they did it in the most obvious way. Which, with crazy child reverse logic, means they probably didn’t do that on purpose, because they would not want their fingerprints on the manipulation. Right?

But they might have not cared, too, though they deny it, and have presented scientific evidence from their own labs that Lindbergh was given access to some months back that the balls are not juiced. We’ll let Alex Jones, the performance artist, weigh in here.

The most interesting part of the story for me was Lindbergh’s recitation of some Craig Wright-reported historical info about the transition from the dead ball to live ball in 1919 to 1921. The wool changed! The bottom line is that the game is played and has been played in continually changing historical and social conditions. To expect gross stats to adhere to any simple benchmark was a childhood fantasy for most of us, and for anyone younger? It should be a goof.

So, I’m not 100 percent down with Lichtman and Lindbergh, I mean who knows for sure (none of us), but this is good work, and the discussion should continue. That’s how science works.

PS. Plus, I realize I didn’t include the most excellent stat to help explain that the home run rate is because the balls are different. Big home run hitters aren’t benefiting much. Top home run rates aren’t increasing. What is increasing is home runs from secondary hitters, whose deep fly balls are suddenly leaving the park. Assuming that’s true, I’m taking their word, let’s blame the ball.




ASK ROTOMAN: Is Melky Back On The Juice?

Hi Rotoman:

Four homers in four games, is he back? Is he using the Juice? Or the Clear?

I guess I’m asking if Melky is good, is Melky dirty?


Dear SuperN:

I know a few things that I think are relevant.

The majority of the players who were suspended for violations in the Biogenesis affair (let’s keep it sexy), never tested positive. They were found out because of the records the clinic kept and the information the Miami New Times dug up. Testing wasn’t working.

Our most biggest PED users, deserved Future Hall of Famers, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, never failed a test (though they were subject to other protocols which suggest they cheated.).

Ryan Spilborghs column about this made it clear that most players don’t want the drugs, but given the money involved, it is not a simple decision to reject them. Especially since some of them promote healing, which is an especially important way to beat the clock.

So let’s recap:

Players will do their best to perform their best, which sometimes includes PEDs.

Many if not most PEDs tests are beatable, or manageable.

What do we have?

Something like a management program. Football could care less about their drug users. For them it is all PR.

Baseball’s PR likes to present the league as vigilant and clean.

But there are clearly a lot of athletes out there in all leagues doing what they need to do to play at the level they’re expected to perform. If they can get an edge from drugs that are illegal but can avoid detection, the bias (a competitive one) is to go for it.

The bottom line is you can’t tell if Melky is the Melkman again because he’s found his groove or because he found a new drug regime. I’m personally not sure whether it’s worthwhile to go too far with conjecture, but I am sure that the athletes we pay millions and scores of millions to will avail themselves of every advantage they can legally find (or they think they can get away with).

Take that to the bank.

MLBPA Is Threatened By A-Rod Case

Ken Rosenthal has an excellent piece out today at Fox Sports.

He alludes to something I have long thought had gotten lost in the long history of baseball and PEDs: The union’s opposition to drug testing back in the 90s. The story is usually told that the union looked the other way, or resisted baseball’s efforts (especially in the early part of the decade) to get or stay clean. But this  simply isn’t true.

Peter Ueberroth

The union’s resistance to drug testing and other enforcement procedures was based on its obligation to protect player rights, as well as a profound lack of trust in the owners. Remember that this period coincides with the massive triple-damages award in the collusion ruling against MLB and Peter Ueberroth (based on their 1985-1987 efforts stifle the free agent market).

This was also the time of the run up to the owner’s massive (and failed) attempt to crack the union by shutting down baseball in midseason in 1994.

Oh, and this was also when George Steinbrenner accepted a “lifetime” ban from the game because he had hired a whole lot of shadiness to try to extract himself from his obligations to Dave Winfield by tarnishing Winfield’s reputation.

The union’s position that ownership could not be trusted was well earned.

In the A-Rod case, as Rosenthal points out, MLB sued Biogenesis owner Tony Bosch in order to pressure him to testify against A-Rod. Whether they could have won that case is doubtful, but there is no doubt that Bosch was in no position to pay for a defense. This is the place where the player’s union could have stepped in to protect not only A-Rod but all players’ rights, but declined. Rosenthal writes:

“Rodriguez’s legal team could have made its case without attacking Weiner, who died of brain cancer on Nov. 21. But one of the team’s central points – that the union should have acted to stop baseball from its “sham” lawsuit against Biogenesis – is a fair criticism, particularly in hindsight.”

But Rosenthal also points out the bind that the union was in. On first blush, a countersuit would certainly have looked like they were defending drug use, just as history says they were defending it back in the 90s when they were trying to protect against just such a situation with MLB running over player rights.

The silver lining for A-Rod (and could the union have had the foresight to defend him by going at it this way?) is that perhaps his only chance of winning his lawsuit against MLB is to show that his union failed to represent him competently.

Recommended: The Steroid Hunt by Bryan Curtis

Writing in Grantland, Curtis presents a long but very readable survey of the press coverage of baseball’s steroid era, starting in 1988 (with Jose Canseco, of course, defended by Tony La Russa), through accusations against Mark McGwire in 2002, defended by Tony La Russa), and up to McGwire’s confession in 2010.

You can read it here.

There is something of a who knew and when did they know it aspect to this whole thing. After writing about Murray Chass the other day I spent some time looking into when Chass started writing about steroids in the Times. On March 31, 2002 Chass wrote:

“Finally, some people in baseball suggest an unspoken factor has fueled the home run generation — the use of steroids and other supplements, such as the androstenedione that McGwire used during his record-setting year. No one has accused any particular player, and one person who felt certain of the contribution of steroids acknowledged that he had no proof.

But this person said, ”You don’t get bigger overnight pumping iron.”

But Chass also wrote quite a bit about androstenedione, which McGwire was taking during his record-setting home run battle with Sammy Sosa in 1998. After that revelation by a reporter who saw the legal supplement (that was already banned then by the NFL and the Olympics) in McGwire’s locker, baseball launched an investigation into the steroids precursor.

Ripping Murray Chass a New One! And He Rips One Right Back!

Screen Shot 2014-01-02 at 3.23.54 PM
Last week venerable former NY Times baseball columnist Murray Chass revealed his Hall of Fame ballot, or at least most of it. The names he named are all worthy: Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Jack Morris and maybe Frank Thomas. That’s it.

Chass goes on to explain that he will not vote for any player about whom there is the slightest whiff of the taint of performance enhancing drugs. He does not, he says, want to reward any player and then later find out that player had cheated. So, naturally, no vote for Bonds or Clemens, Palmeiro, McGwire and Sosa, but also no vote for Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza and Craig Biggio, too, about whom the only steroids talk has been the wispiest hearsay. Naturally enough, the world of baseball bloggers went crazy on Chass, as they do almost any time he says anything having to do with blogging or sabremetrics or breathing. Chass, by virtue of his long association with the Times and his opinions about so many baseball issues, is one of the old school’s most effective trolls.

Chass goes to great lengths in a subsequent column to explain why his Piazza bacne conjecture, and his Biggio finger pointing, add up to grounds not to vote for them and it all comes down to this: It’s up to Chass and this is the way he feels.

So be it. That’s all that needs to be said. But after having so much vitriol heaped upon him, Chass gets in the final kick to the gut. After having said that this was probably his last HoF vote, but now having considered the crap he has been subjected to, Chass says he’s going to keep on voting, just to rub salt in the wounds. “How could I relinquish my vote when I know how much it annoys you,” he says.

My personal opinion is that the Hall of Fame represents the wishes of those voting, then later modified by whatever claptrap veterans committee is cobbled together to correct/distort the original will of the writers. Obviously Chass and his cohort can do whatever they want, the ballots are their ballots for now, but I have little interest in a Hall that excludes Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, both of whom had complete Hall-worthy careers before there was any PEDs taint associated with them.

Enough said.

Rob Neyer on McGwire

Here’s Rob’s piece.

My opinion about PEDs has changed over the last five years or so. Some of that has been because I learned more about the PEDs, and in large part it is because I saw the way the athletes accused and convicted of PEDs use reacted. Badly, of course. The trials and investigations and testimony all helped show that the players knew where the guilt was, even when naifs like me were defending them.

So, we had our villain. Finally.

Of course, when I put it that way I start to get all wishy washy again. This really isn’t a story of villains and, presumably, heroes, but rather a story of lots of similar but not identical people undergoing pressures that are similar but not identical. Talk about the despicable union protecting the drug takers ignores the many actions over the years by the owners to control the players and limit their compensation. In this context the slow to emerge drug rules reflect ownership’s desire to get an upper hand on the players, and the players (union) protecting their privacy and civil rights.

In any case, I don’t think McGwire is the hard Hall of Fame case. Even with his spectacular power accomplishments, he’s not a clear cut Hall of Famer. Discount him for PED usage and it’s easy to keep him off any HOF list. Bonds and Clemens are the real deal, on the other hand, Hall of Famers before they took the drugs. The big question is whether their induction will open the door to the boderline cases like McGwire.

Alex Rodriguez and the invisible depths of steroid abuse.

By William Saletan – Slate Magazine

I’m a regular reader of Slate, which features smart often contrarian writing about politics, culture and lifestyle. One regular column is called Human Nature, by William Saletan, a writer who specializes in parsing semantics and finding new or clearer meaning. Human Nature is about science, which allows him range broadly over a variety of topics.

I used to be a fan of his, but I stopped reading him after he wrote an explosive series about race and intelligence, quoting eugenics theorists who say there is racial difference without revealing that they often had ties to racialist groups. Saletan was trying to get at the truth about evolution, race, intelligence, and discuss how we should deal with legal, social and moral issues that come with knowing that there are racial differences in intelligence. That’s perhaps a brave and worthy topic, if you’re being speculative, but Saletan wrote it up as if the issue had been settled scientifically. It certainly has not been, and to assert that it is was a horrible blunder that destroyed the trust I had him as a writer.

Today he writes a piece, a horribly naive series of questions about ARod and baseball’s steroids testing, that purportedly points out that PED use is inevitably broader than the number of people caught (doh!), but also uses a broad brush to make all sorts of implications that just a little work would have taught him were false. 

The 2003 secret tests weren’t secret. They were part of a deal between MLB and the union. Everyone knew about them, and I’m pretty sure we can say there were no other agreed upon testing programs before 2003. To suggest that there were is just dumb.

If there were no other tests then the government didn’t seize any other results and the Union didn’t suppress them. If those things didn’t happen, and again, there is a nearly zero chance they did, to assert that they might have is just bogus and exploitative.

Saletan does talk about the allegations that Gene Orza, of the player’s union, warned A-Rod and others of the impending 2004 tests, as the basis for the union perhaps warning other players about other tests. Could have happened, I’ll give him that one. 

But a time line in the NY Times today shows that the 2004 testing didn’t begin until July of 2004, and the 104 players who tested positive in 2003 weren’t tested until they had been informed they’d tested positive–in September! With just a few weeks of testing to go between being told of their 2003 positive tests and the end of the season, those players were in effect told when the tests would happen, without actually being told. It becomes unclear how explosive the charge against Orza could be in this instance, but we’ll have to see what develops.

The reason the 2004 testing started late was because the union and the owners disagreed about technical issues involving the tests and the definition of a positive test, according to the Times. No one knows why it took the union months to inform the players who tested positive in 2003 about that after federal investigators seized the urine samples in April 2004. And no one knows why the union didn’t destroy the samples, as it was legally allowed to do, once the results had been certified in November 2003, which would have ensured the player’s anonymity, which had been a crucial component of the 2003 testing.

(I have a question. I assume that no one knew which players tested positive until the federal investigators seized the samples, at which point it became necessary to find out who they were in order to inform them that the government had their names and their positive tests. But I don’t know that. I’ve never seen the point addressed directly. Or maybe I should go back and reread the Mitchell report. But unless that was the case then the results weren’t really anonymous anyway.)

But I’m getting off track here. The point is that Saletan ignores the facts and just makes stuff up, and while that doesn’t invalidate his overall point (that more players used than tested positive in 2003) and while he points out that what he’s suggesting isn’t necessarily true, it is really bad form that most of his questions almost certainly aren’t true. That’s just shoddy.

Hamilton, wife to hold Q&A session

The Official Site of The Texas Rangers

After Sunday’s game Josh Hamilton and his wife will be doing a Q+A with Rangers fans about their past problems. The story of the former first draft pick who seemed totally lost, but is now found, is a good one. And while my radar shouts PR move here, his quote about what his wife has gone through and what other wives have gone through, and how their stories should be heard, strikes me as powerfully honest. If I happened to be in Arlington tomorrow I’d stick around for the chat, and not just because he’s on my AL-only team.