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

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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. 

Jose Canseco to join NBC Sports California as an A’s analyst

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Hey, I have a new coworker: Jose Canseco has been hired by NBC Sports California as an Athletics pregame analyst.

OK, maybe he’s not technically a coworker, as the folks at NBC Sports California — formerly CSN Bay Area — and I do not hang out at the water cooler, have potlucks in the conference room or exchange secret Santa gifts at Christmas time, but dang it, I’m gonna TELL people I work with Jose Canseco. The only downside will be people assuming that, because he and I are on the same team, my performance is something less than authentic. Or, perhaps, Canseco may write another book and tell all of my secrets.

Anyway, Canseco will be part of NBC Sports California’s A’s Pregame Live and A’s Postgame Live shows. Live TV can be hard. I’ve done a bit of it, and there is certainly more to that gig than meets the eye. You can’t always prepare for what happens on the fly. I’m sure Canseco will do well, however, as he’s great with coming up with the best stuff off the top of his head.

2017 Preview: Cleveland Indians

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Cleveland Indians.

The Cleveland Indians almost won the World Series without their best hitter for the whole season and two of their starting pitchers for the playoffs. This year that hitter — Michael Brantley — is back and the starters — Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar — are healthy. Oh, and they added arguably the best free agent bat available in Edwin Encarnacion.

Baseball teams love to downplay their expectations, but given where the Indians are at the moment, anything less than another American League Pennant will have to feel like a disappointment, right? Fortunately for the Indians, they stand as the favorites to do just that.

They didn’t lose much in the offseason. Yes, World Series hero Rajai Davis is gone, but the Indians outfield will be fine if Brantley remains healthy. Mike Napoli‘s loss will be felt but it will be made up for with Encarnacion’s bat and probably then some. Coco Crisp left too, but he was not a key part of the equation.

The biggest losses are guys from last year who will start the year on the disabled list, most notably Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall. Kipnis is just starting to work out following time off to rest his sore shoulder. Chisenhall ran into a wall the other day and is being evaluated. There is no sense that either will miss extended time, however.

Otherwise, the lineup should score a lot of runs, with on-base machines Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor setting the table for Encarnacion, Brantley and Carlos Santana, who is entering his walk year. The Indians trailed only the Red Sox in runs scored in the American League last year and they should score a lot of runs this year as well.

The strength of the club, however, remains its pitching. Corey Kluber looked like his old Cy Young self last year, particularly in the playoffs. Danny Salazar built on his excellent 2015 season in the first half before falling prey to injury. Carlos Carrasco posted an ERA+ of 141 before breaking his hand and Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer both stood out for fourth and fifth starters.

The bullpen is excellent too, as relief ace Andrew Miller is joined by Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw and newcomer Boone Logan make up one of the relief corps in baseball.

Pitcher health is probably the biggest uncertainty for any contender, but the Indians have the best pitching in the AL if everyone stays healthy. And maybe even if one or two guys don’t.

It’s hard to find much fault with the 2017 Cleveland Indians. They are the class of their division and, while the slog of the regular season turns a lot of surefire contenders into hash before it’s all said and done, there is no reason to look at the Indians right now and think of them as anything other than the best team in the American League.

Prediction: First place, American League Central.