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.

Odubel Herrera flips his bat on a fly ball, gets benched for lack of hustle

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Phillies outfielder Odubel Herrera has been a polarizing figure in his young career. He’s talented and at times has shined, inspiring the Phillies to give him a long term contract this past offseason. At other times, however, he’s aggravated the snot out of his manager, his teammates and his team’s fans. Last night, in the Phillies-Astros game, he did the latter and was the subject of mockery of the opposing team to boot.

In the first inning he hit a long fly ball to center. He thought it was going out but . . . it didn’t. When the ball came off of his bat, however, he flipped his bat like he went yard. You know our view about bat flips — who cares? Flip away! — but you flip at your own risk. Just because you’re allowed to flip it whenever you want doesn’t mean you’re not gonna get mocked if you flip prematurely. That’s what Herrera did, and he was mocked for the flip by the Astros from the dugout:

If that was all that happened in the game, life would go on just fine. I mean, it’s just a bat flip. But later in the game he committed a more substantive transgression: he failed to hustle in a hustle situation.

In the sixth inning Herrera struck out swinging on a 1-2 curveball. The catcher didn’t hold on to it, though, and the ball went in the dirt. Herrera didn’t bother to run to first base and Pete Mackanin pulled Herrera from the game in a double switch right after that. Asked if Herrera was benched for not running that ball out, Mackanin said “It had something to do with it . . . I’m going to talk to him tomorrow.”

If you’re a veteran and you have hamstring issues or something you can take a dropped strike three off and no one is gonna say anything. If you’re hitting like Herrera has been hitting of late (i.e. pretty well) and you otherwise have no issues with your manager along these lines, it’s doubtful anyone will hold that sort of play against you either as long as it’s an isolated incident.

Herrera is not in that position, however. He’s raised Mackanin’s ire in the past for ignoring signs and taking what Mackanin believed to be a lackadaisical approach to the game. Whether that’s a fair assessment of Herrera or not — we can’t fully know everything about their interaction from the outside — is sort of beside the point. He has to know by now that Mackanin is going to get after him for that stuff and he has to know that him not being in the game is neither good for the Phillies or for Herrera.

Are these growing pains or a signs of a growing problem? That, it would seem, is up to Odubel Herrera.

Video: Minor leaguer bounces a home run off of an outfielder’s head

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Jose Canseco hit 462 homers, was the 1986 Rookie of the Year, the 1988 MVP and played for 17 years in the big leagues, winning two World Series rings and making the playoffs five times. Yet he’s not remembered for any of that. At least not very often.

No, he’s remembered for his ignominy. For his role in participating in and, subsequently, exposing baseball’s PED-fueled world of the 1990s. For his continued insistence that he was blackballed by Major League Baseball and his continued attempts to play via the independent league route. For his crazy post-playing career antics in which he spent a few years tweeting about aliens, conspiracy theories and non-sequiturs of every stripe.

Mostly, though, people remember Canseco for one random play: the time he helped the Indians’ Carlos Martinez to a home run when a fly ball bounced off of Canseco’s head and over the wall back in 1993:

 

Well, Canseco now has a friend in infamy. That friend: Zach Borenstein of the Reno Aces, the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Triple-A affiliate. Yesterday Borenstein pulled a Canseco on what should’ve been an Alex Verdugo F-9:

Borenstein’s glove may have gotten a piece of that — the announcer seemed to think so anyway — and I have a hard time figuring that his head would give it that much bounce. I mean, look how far he was from the wall! He wasn’t even to the warning track. That’s a serious assist.

Still: gonna rule this a Canseco anyway. It’s too good not to.