The Difference Between Steroids and Scuffed Balls

Much like what two consenting adults choose to do in the privacy of their own bedroom, what one consenting adult chooses to put into his or her own body is something I generally would consider to be none of my business. When it’s a major leaguer, I’m marginally more concerned given the potential impact to records that have a special place in my heart, but still default to respecting the right to privacy.

Nor is the stance mere sympathy. In my brief and spectacularly unimpressive high school and college athletic career, I – just like the professionals – sought an edge. True, they were tame by comparison – NODOZ (didn’t work, made everyone jittery), naprosyn (allowed you to play with inflamation), and a variety of protein shakes (tasted like hammered sand) – but still, the motivation is consistent if the tools are not.

So an anti-steroid screed, you will not be reading here.

That said, there is one argument in defense of steroid use and its place in the game that I hear regularly and cannot bear: that it is entirely consistent with the history of cheating within the game. Unlike other, nobler sports, baseball is and as nearly as I can determine always has been a game with room – if not an affection – for circumvention of the rules. Stealing signs, corked bats, foreign substances, scuffed balls – all of these are entirely unremarkable against the game’s colorful backdrop.

Last weekend, Jim Kaat spoke to Buster Olney on the subject of Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs), and made precisely the argument outlined above, saying (the whole thing is excellent):

My reason for pointing out these examples of “performance enhancements” or cheating is that it has been going on as long as the game itself. Steroids that help you perform better are no different except they can affect your health.

With all due respect to Kaat, who had one hell of a career as a pitcher and is credible in the booth as well, I’m not buying it. Besides the health implications, which he mentions, I think there’s a crucial differentiator between the old school and new school cheats: the ability to detect it on the field.

If you think a pitcher is scuffing or applying substances to the ball, you can have him searched. If the suspicion is that a bat is corked, you can have it confiscated and X-rayed. And if a player is stealing signs, you can knock him down. But Barry Bonds? The most they’ve accused him of – Game of Shadows notwithstanding – is perjury. You know, because steroids are difficult to detect period, let alone within the context of the game.

Until such time as in game urine tests are approved by the network censors, however, no such recourse exists for suspected steroid abusers. And with even allegations of steroids carrying with them a heavy price, I suspect many managers find themselves in a Scrabble like situation where they think something is wrong, but don’t dare chance it.

Consider that Sammy Sosa got caught for his corked bat, but not for anything related to steroids. Albert Belle would have been caught for the same offense if not for the daring, Mission Impossible style antics of Jason Grimsley. And a host of pitchers from Brendan Donnelly to Kenny Rogers have been caught applying the omnipresent pine tar to the balls.

Again, my role is not to sit and pass some half-assed judgement down on those who may or may not be guilty of using PEDs. But let’s none of us pretend that steroids are business as usual when it comes to cheating, because they are not. They may or may not confer the advantages assumed by external parties, and they may or may not be detectable by the questionable testing process submitted to by athletes, but they are decidedly not the equivalent of a scuffed ball.

Take whatever position you will on the subject of PEDs, then, but as Judge Harm once said, don’t spit in my cupcake and tell me it’s iciing.

Why I Don't Want Johan Santana, But Would Be Fine With Him

Look, if we end up with Johan Santana – and sign him – I’m not going to complain. Pick your metric, he’s been the best pitcher in the league for several years now…by a wide margin. And of course I’m just as geeked about the possibility of slotting Beckett/Santana/whomever in a potential playoff series as the next guy. Maybe more so, given my self-admitted “problem” with baseball. But at the end of the day, I hope he ends up with the Mets. Seriously.

The problem with this position is that if or when you take it, the uninformed or superficial assume that you’ve gone koo koo for cocoa puffs, where cocoa puffs = Red Sox prospects. That you haven’t considered the matter logically, but rather have a weird and deeply confusing mancrush on Jacoby Ellsbury.

My Navajo brother aside, there are two very good reasons to be at least concerned about a potential trade for Santana. The first is that it doesn’t seem to make economic sense:

For the Red Sox, a trade is even more difficult to rationalize, driven by the lower free-agent valuation of Santana in a sold-out Fenway Park. Santana’s financial value to the Red Sox is in the range of $18 million to $20 million versus his annual value of over $30 million to the Yankees. Starter Jon Lester’s value may be lower than Hughes’ value because Lester has fewer years remaining until free agency, and outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury’s value is likely less than Hughes’ due to the premium paid to starting pitchers. However, neither of these facts changes the reality that the free-agent cost of Santana alone is likely more than his worth to the Red Sox. It may be that the only reason they are involved in trade talks is to bid up the acquisition price of Santana for the Yankees.

That whole piece is excellent, incidentally.

Just as important as the cost, is the predictability of the returns on that cost: i.e. the injury risk. Like many, I’m concerned by his late season fade (check his September splits). I seriously doubt that he forgot how to pitch, meaning that the most logical conclusion is that he wasn’t entirely right. Keith Law seems to share those concerns, saying:

“I haven’t read any of the others (I was on vacation), but I’d take A-Rod, Beckett, and Sabathia (because I’m a little concerned about how Santana finished 2007).

The good news is that I trust our front office – as I would not trust some others, say Houston’s – to have thought about all of this in far more detail than I ever would or could. As Seth put it:

I will, however, say this: I’ve always been reticent about jawing off when I have no real idea what I’m talking about…and such is the case with all of the sundry Santana trade permutations. I don’t mean the specifics of a possible trade — no one knows those except for Theo, Bill Smith, and Brian Cashman. I mean that I don’t know enough (and what’s more, haven’t done the work) to be able to make any kind of responsible or intelligent observations about whether this or that scenario makes sense. I don’t have the drilled-down numbers on Jacoby; I haven’t run the projections on Santana; I sure as hell don’t have any sense of what the pool of pitching talent is like in next few amateur drafts; I don’t know where else the Sox (or the Yankees) would spend that $130 mil or so it’ll likely take to lock up Santana…well, you get the idea. And even if I did have all of this info and even if I had done all of this work, I still would be so many light years behind where the Sox front office is in terms of brainpower, man hours spent hunched over spreadsheets, cumulative knowledge, and on and on, that it would be silly for me to start soapboxing about why this or that scenario makes sense.

It’s important to know what you don’t know, and in my case vis a vis Santana and the possible trade permutations, that’s just about everything. But neither will I concede that trading for him is an open and shut “hand over whatever the Twins ask for.” That’s just the kind of thinking that kept us out of the promised land for decades, so let’s skip it. Though some might lament the invasion of the game by the guys with “pocket protectors,” I don’t happy to be one of them. But then, I like winning World Series.

Filed Under "Things I Didn't Know"

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Game 4: Lowell scores in the 5th, originally uploaded by guano.

Item #1: Mike Lowell’s wife’s name is “Bertica.” For serious. See the quote here. Wikipedia confirms, which is important as it’s Cafardo.

Far be it from me to poke fun at either member of the happy couple: I have nothing but respect for Mr. Lowell – as a player (though I agree with ZIPS that he’s in line for a substantial downward correction) and person – and I’m quite sure the the Mrs. is no less deserving.

It’s just that I’ve never heard of anyone – real, fictional, or imagined – saddled with a name like Bertica. Honestly, if I had to pick between being a boy named Sue or a girl named Bertica, I’d pick Sue seven days a week and twice on Sunday. I might even pick Trinka – as in former Sox wife-or-girlfriend Trinka Lowe – over Bertica, though that’s a tough call.

Anyway, all due credit to her for surviving the unfortunate appellation.

P.S. Thanks to Flickr user guano (no, not joking, and yes I appreciate the irony) for the Creative Commons licensed shot.

Hughes > Buchholz?

Yankees phenom Phil Hughes had an interesting year last year, beginning the ’07 season as the near unanimous top minor league pitching prospect and finishing it with a very respectable 4.46 / .235 BAA line in 72.2 innings, during which he K’d 58 against 28 free passes. All in all, despite some injury setbacks, you’d have to call it a solid introduction to the big leagues for a young pitcher.

Still, it was nearly as unanimous that by the end of the year, he’d been surpassed by the likes of Joba Chamberlain within the organization (who frankly terrifies me), but even worse, Clay Buchholz without.

For his part, the Sox’ slim righthander K’d an even more impressive 22 in 22 and two thirds innings before being shut down due to shoulder fatigue, although I hadn’t realized he’d walked 10 in the same span. Even more impressive, the average against Buchholz? A mere .184. Oh, and there was that game in which he allowed no hits; did you see the bender that closed it against Markakis? Sweet jebus, that was unholy.

Anyway, whether you’d take him over Joba is a point worthy of debate (Keith Law would take Joba), no doubt, but I agree with the general conclusion that you’re pretty happy with either.

And also with the general conclusion that – at least as of today (how quick this can change) – you’d probably prefer either to Phil Hughes. Which is more of a testament to how good those two are than any failing on Hughes’ part, but still.

All of that said, however, there is one area in which Hughes clearly surpasses both Buchholz and Chamberlain – at least to the best of my knowledge. He blogs, and they do not.

So let’s pick it up there, Clay. Rumor has it you’re a bright kid, in spite of the HS mistake, and I’d prefer that we not get outdone by the Yankees in any medium.

Why Rudy's Campaign is in Trouble

Though the writing’s been on the wall for a while now, the occasional New Yorker still seems perplexed by Rudy’s also-ran status. Well, fortunately we have an explanation for you: it’s all about the Red Sox.

Well, ok, as John Stewart covers in the tail end of the video over on the Huffington Post, it’s probably attributable to something a bit more substantial. But the Sox connections really aren’t helping.

First, there was his baffling decision to root for the Red Sox in the World Series. Because he’s quote unquote “an American League fan.” Look, I appreciate that back in the good old days, the Senior / Junior circuit divide meant something (something other than the NL getting beaten like a drum, I mean). That the All Star game meant something, unlike today’s version which – in spite of the ever credible Fox’s assurances – doesn’t mean anything. But a Yankee fan rooting for the Red Sox? It’s just not done. Maybe he hadn’t checked the road attendance figures for Red Sox games – what with running for President and all – but I could have told him: one more fan isn’t going to make much of a difference to us, dude, I promise. But while I’m not much of a political strategist, it might make a difference to your campaign. Just maybe.

More recently, the New York Post – that journalistic ivory tower – provided us with this hilarity:

Some Rudy Giuliani volunteers bused here from New York City struck out as they went door to door in advance of Tuesday’s Granite State primary while wearing caps or jackets of the hated New York Yankees.

Trivial? Possibly. But ask yourself this: do you want someone who sends people wearing Yankee garb to New England homes running this country?

Exactly. And that’s why his campaign’s in trouble. That, or, what Stewart said.

Motto of the Red Sox Front Office: Whatever Works?

Like every front office in the league, the folks who call Yawkey Way home have their pluses and minuses. I confess to never understanding, as an example, the affection they had – for some years – for Julio Lugo, who is not a bad player but to me undeserving of that level of attention. Let alone contract.

But though Theo declined to take my advice on that score – or, admittedly, any other – I remain fundamentally impressed with his willingness to rethink everything, and borrow shamelessly from approaches that have yielded results. This openness to reinvention, not of the wheel but rather antiquated, archaic practices, was to me the primary philosophical takeaway from the once lauded if now clichéd Moneyball.

As a life philosophy, it’s a bit blunt, but more front offices around the league would benefit from the simple realization that if something isn’t working: try something else.

The latest datapoint supporting the conclusion that the Red Sox front office is the baseball equivalent of the English language – which for all of its other faults, steals liberally from other languages to augment itself – comes to us courtesy of Joe McDonald from the Providence Journal.

The piece describes in some detail our offseason rookie development program, which incorporates community exposure, media training and other non-baseball educational activities with the relevant workouts. The important bit, to me, that McDonald extracted from director of player development Mike Hazen is the admission that the program itself is entirely unoriginal:

“This is something that is fairly unique within the game…There are a few other teams that do this and we’ve adapted what we do from the Indians, who have been doing it for about 10 years. We’re not ashamed to say we’re trying to model some things after their player-development system and we’re trying to grow on it. I’m sure there will be other clubs that do it in the future.”

Nor should they feel any shame, in my opinion: quite the contrary. Sifting through the techniques and practices of competitors for ideas and potential improvements should be the most logical exercise in the world, but Hazen’s comment is reflective of a culture that has permeated baseball for years. A culture afflicted with what is known within the technology industry as NIH: Not Invented Here.

If we’re lucky, the Yankees will be unable to learn from what is working for their hated rivals, in spite of suggestions from its fans. As long as Cashman is in place, however, I don’t expect that to be the case, since he and Theo seem to be not just cordial but positively like minded. Which is why I count myself amongst Hank Steinbrenner’s biggest fans, because when his GM is saying things like:

“The dynamics are changing with us…When I signed up with this current three-year deal, and this is the last year of it, it was with full authority to run the entire program. George had given me that. But things have changed in this third year now with the emergence of Hal and Hank Steinbrenner, and that started this winter.”

I don’t know about you, but my first thought is: short-timer.

Which would be an excellent development, in this Sox fan’s opinion.

P.S. A belated thank you to Michael Dolan‘s Indians for their most excellent rookie program. Really came in handy last year.

Because the World Needs Another Red Sox Blog

Or perhaps it doesn’t, but frankly I’m above such concerns.

Welcome, all of you, to the inevitable end state of a life more or less derailed by baseball. Born and raised as a Red Sox fan far behind enemy lines in New Jersey, for many years I suceeded in keeping the madness within at bay. Those days are, I’m sad to say, as you’ll discover in the months ahead if you return, are gone. In all probability, forever. What remains is nothing short of pure obsession devotion to the cause that all good, free thinking people share: yours and my Boston Red Sox.

Those of you who wandered over here from my work effort can educate the new people on my unhealthy fascination with self-conducted Q&A’s, but in the meantime I’d like to get on with the task of explaining just what you might expect here.

Q: To begin, why don’t you introduce yourself to everybody?
A: Already did.

Q: So, uh, what’s with the name?
A: You try and find an open domain name these days; this was the best I could do. Also, I’m wicked clevah.

Q: Why start a blog, I thought you already had one?
A: I got kicked out of the other one by disgruntled readers. Or at least the Sox loving part of me did. And that’s a big part.

Q: So the primary topic here is the Red Sox, I somehow picked up on that. Can we expect anything else?
A: To the extent that my rather unique mental state permits it, I may occasional comment on more general baseball matters. But generally I’ll leave that to the experts.

Q: Speaking of, what are your qualifications for commentary on the subjects at hand?
A: None whatsoever, excepting the fact that I consume a remarkable quantity of literature concerning the Red Sox and related topics, using it to form my half-baked ideas and ill considered opinions.

Q: For the serious fans in the audience, where do you fall on the Murray “Stats are Evil and Scary” Chass Rob “Stats are Even Better Than Beer” Neyer spectrum?
A: First, never compare me to Murray Chass again. Second, I’m like a fringe Neyerite. Like the Red Sox front office, I look first and primarily towards the numbers but do try to take into account – if only in passing – the quote unquote intangibles that drive so many SABR folks nuts. Sue me.

Q: Will you be the only commenter in this space, or can we expect some intelligent commentary from time to time?
A: Strangely enough, there is apparently some interest in helping out around here, so stay tuned.

Q: What’s with the crappy design?
A: Well, the Tarski theme I used as a base was actually rather attractive before I was through with it. If you’ve got design skills to burn, however, knock yourself out.

Q: What’s the format likely to be? Long posts? Short posts? Frequent posts? Occasional posts? What?
A: Frequency remains to be seen, but the format is likely to consist of shorter posts interspersed with longer items when the material calls for it. Of course, that’s what I said about my work blog way back when, and you can see for yourself how that turned out. There will also be occasional posts that involve no text, but images or videos that will – if I’m lucky – speak sufficiently well for themselves. Not to mention that I will in all likelihood regularly regurgitate those little pieces of information I’ve wandered across that I didn’t know, and bet you don’t either.

If nothing else I expect the content here to bear a strong resemblence to the overly detailed emails I pepper friends with when they make the mistake of asking a simple Sox or baseball related question. Except that through the magic of blogs, you can all share the joy, or whatever it’s called.

Q: You have the usual feed available so that I never have to return to this eye sore of a design?
A: Indeed. Autodiscovery will work, but if that’s not working you can pick up the Feedburned feed right here.

Q: Anything else to add?
A: I think it’s just you and me here at this point, so we’re probably good.