Amphetamines ban leads to decreased offense? That's wrong in all kinds of ways

6 Comments

According to Bill Madden in the New York Daily News, there has been a “resurgence of pitching and decrease of offense” this year because baseball is getting tougher on amphetamines.  Which would be great if it weren’t for the fact that (a) there is no compelling evidence that offense is down; and (b) even if there were there is no reason to believe that a drug crackdown is the cause.

Madden cites the fact that there have been 3* perfect games this year to support his claim. But that’s not, in and of itself, evidence of offense being down let alone offense being down due to a decrease in amphetamines being used.  A much more compelling reason for the perfect games can be seen over at Sabernomics, where J.C. Bradbury charts both improved defensive numbers and perfect games and finds something quite satisfying. Another compelling explanation: dumb stinkin’ luck.

It’s also worth noting that the Madden column compares last year’s total offensive numbers to the first two months of the 2010 season’s numbers in a manner which should be an insult to apples and oranges the world over.  Offense always increases as the weather gets hotter, and it’s just now getting hotter. Call me in October and use apples-apples data before making any grand proclamations, please.

Not that such a request will be heeded. It seems like we read one of these “offensive numbers are down” stories every year, and never have they convinced me. If you go season by season, runs per game have held pretty steady since the early 90s. Sure, there have been blips — 1999 and 2000 were high (5.08 r/g and 5.14 r/g) — but there’s surprisingly little variation otherwise. More runs were scored per game in 2009 than 2005 and 2002. More were scored in 2007 than 1998.  Many things might explain year-to-year variations, but the advent of drug testing certainly doesn’t cover it.  If you ask me, I’d say ballpark dimensions and expansin explains a lot more of it, seeing as everything exploded around the time Camden Yards and its followers came online and the Feesh and the Rockies showed up in 1992-93. 

But let’s leave that for another day. Let’s get back to Madden’s point: that runs are down this year due to baseball getting tough on amphetamines. Which still makes no sense to me. Drug testing has been in place for six seasons with 50-game
suspensions for five of those seasons. What is this amphetamines crackdown his sources speak of? How is last year different than this year? Maybe they’ve added a few more amphetamines to the banned substances list, but there certainly hasn’t been radical change in this regard.

And even if there has been some kind of change, it’s likely been offset a great deal by the massive increase in players who have been granted therapeutic use exemptions for stimulants like Ritalin. In fact the use of such drugs is at a level in baseball right now that is something like ten times the level of the general population.  Players may not be doing straight speed anymore, but to suggest that the use of mind-focusing drugs is gone from the scene.

Madden’s whole story is based on unnamed baseball officials.  I have this feeling that they’re far more interested in pushing a talking point — baseball is way tougher on amphetamines than it used to be — than they are in explaining anything about what’s actually happening on the field. 

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Adam Glanzman/Getty Images
18 Comments

It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Getty Images
1 Comment

Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.