Deep Thoughts: The Blue Jays' home runs

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A friend of mine emailed me a few minutes ago and asked — all of my previous objections to PED accusations of Jose Bautista notwithstanding — whether the fact that the Blue Jays had hit so many home runs this year still didn’t raise any suspicions in my mind. Specifically, he noted — correctly — that the PED scourge of the 1980s-2000s followed a pattern in which players on one team “infected” players on another team with some of them — notably Jose Canseco — acting as Typhoid Marys or what have you, so why couldn’t this be happening on a team that, as a group, is hitting a ton more home runs.

I thought about it a bit, but I came back to the same place I’ve been all along: yes, anything is possible, but give me some evidence — any evidence — that anyone on the Blue Jays is using in 2010 and then I’ll entertain the thought.

But my friend’s question did cause me to wonder if the mere fact of the home runs themselves, absent any external evidence, can be explained by some factor other than random chance. I came up with two possibilities that, in my mind at least, are more plausible than PEDs:

1) Non-PED cheating such as hanky panky with baseballs thrown to Blue Jays hitters, some elaborate sign stealing scheme or the like.  No, we have no evidence for this either, but if we’re going to assume cheating of some kind, doesn’t this seem like a better bet than ‘roids?  With steroids a couple dozen guys would have to sneak through multiple PED tests this year.  If you pulled a 1951 Giants or had a secret humidor for balls for the opposition however, everyone could benefit and no would get caught unless there was a snitch in the group (I got my eye on you Yunel Escobar!);

2) Swinging for the fences. I’m sure someone has written about this at some point this season, but it’s worth noting that the Blue Jays’ 2010 offense is worse than the Blue Jays 2009 offense, home runs notwithstanding. Team OBP is down from 2009, as is
their run scoring. Meanwhile, their strikeouts are up substantially
(they’ll finish with 130-140 more this year than last year). 
Essentially, they’ve traded a number of singles, doubles and walks for a
greater number of home runs and strikeouts, all to the detriment of
runs.

Like I said, I’m sure someone has asked Dwayne Murphy or Bautista about it at some point this season (I put his under “Deep Thoughts” because I’m suffering from the mid-afternoon blahs right now and I don’t want to look it up), but it would not shock me at all if, as a team, everyone just decided to grip it and rip it this year. Proudly Canadian — you always school me on Jays stuff. Am I out to lunch here?

Anyway, the whole reason I even wrote all of this is not because I think either cheating or hacking is the best explanation — I still think chance played a huge role — but because, if people are going to gravitate to easy explanations like the “Bautista is a ‘roider!” thing, they may as well have another couple of easy options at their disposal as well. Especially a couple that seem slightly more plausible.

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)
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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)
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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.