Carlos Ruiz and performance-enhancing drugs

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There are a lot of differing opinions out there, educated and otherwise, on just how much performance-enhancing drugs actually enhance performance. On the one side, there’s suspected users like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens pulling off incredible feats at advanced ages. On the other, there’s the long list of proven cheaters littered with names of journeymen long forgotten.

Now, though, that long list has suddenly gotten interesting at the end. The last three veteran major leaguers caught cheating were all exceeding expectations in a pretty big way:

– Melky Cabrera, the 2012 All-Star Game MVP, was leading the NL with a .346 average through 113 games when he was suspended. His OPS went from .671 in 2010 to .809 in 2011 to .906 last season.

– Bartolo Colon had a 3.43 ERA in 24 starts for Oakland prior to his suspension. Two years after his career was presumed over due to shoulder problems, he was on his way to his best season since 2005. Had he maintained the 3.43 ERA, it would have been his second-lowest mark in 15 big-league seasons.

– Carlos Ruiz established new career highs in average (.325), homers (16) and RBI (68) as a 33-year-old last season. The homer total was two more than he had the previous two seasons combined. His .540 slugging percentage was almost 150 points higher than his career mark of .393.

Of course, Ruiz, unlike the other two, wasn’t caught with testosterone. And because he was using an amphetamine, not a steroid, he’s getting just a 25-game suspension (Cabrera and Colon received 50 games apiece).

Whether the Adderall deserves any credit for Ruiz’s performance spike is a matter I’ll let others debate. But it’s more ammunition for those who believe that cheaters get an incredible advantage over those who get their results naturally.

The Mets are a mess

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The Mets lost again on Thursday afternoon, suffering a 7-5 defeat at the hands of the Braves. It’s their sixth consecutive loss and the club is now in last place in the NL East. Not exactly the start the Mets envisioned.

Matt Harvey got the start, but lasted only 4 1/3 innings. He gave up six runs on five hits and five walks with only one strikeout. After the game, Harvey said he was tight and that he threw yesterday expecting to start on Friday instead, per Matt Ehalt of The Record. Sounds like no one communicated to Harvey that he’d be starting this afternoon until it was too late for him to properly prepare.

Harvey started because Noah Syndergaard was scratched due to a “tired arm.” Syndergaard blew reporters off after the game, according to Mike Puma of the New York Post. Puma then added that Syndergaard ripped Mets P.R. guy Jay Horwitz for letting reporters approach him.

By the way, the Mets also lost outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to a hamstring injury. Not much else can go wrong in Queens.

Joey Votto isn’t on board with the latest fly ball trend among hitters

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If you haven’t heard, fly balls — not ground balls or line drives — are all the rage among hitters these days. Tigers outfielder J.D. Martinez summed it up perfectly last month when he said, “I’m not trying to hit a [freaking] line drive or a freaking ground ball.” The goal is to maximize damage. Last year, for example, fly balls became hits about 17 percent less often than ground balls (7.4% versus 24.6%), but hitters had a slugging percentage more than twice as much as on ground balls (.539 versus .267). This refocusing has helped hitters like Martinez as well as Ryan Zimmerman reinvigorate their careers.

Reds first baseman Joey Votto, who is as much a student of new age analytics as anyone in the game, doesn’t feel that this approach is necessarily a good one, as Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Votto said:

Where I get concerned is the guys that make this attempt and burn out too much of their time and don’t get a chance to be their best selves, and either don’t make it to the big leagues or don’t perform their best in the big leagues because they’re always attempting this new style of hitting. I see it with a lot of guys. Everyone tells the good stories, but there’s a lot of s—ty stories of guys who are wasting their time trying things.

Votto added that while the fly ball approach is working right now, pitchers will soon adapt and the fly ball approach won’t be so good anymore. And he’s right. Baseball has always been a game of adjustments. For example, as teams have gotten comfortable with shifting their infield, hitters like the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber have both dropped bunts down the third base line for easy hits. Knowing that hitters are aiming to hit fly balls now, pitchers may stay higher in the strike zone more often as one possible solution.

Votto is just trying to stay as well-rounded as possible. He says that he wants to become “unpitchable.” Votto wants to be like Angels outfielder Mike Trout, whom he describes as a guy “who can do absolutely anything he wants” and “at all times [has] all options.”

So far, Votto is having another productive season despite a relatively pedestrian batting average and on-base percentage. He’s hitting .238/.330/.563 with seven home runs and 16 RBI in 94 plate appearances. Coincidentally, he’s been hitting way more fly balls than usual as he’s currently carrying a 42.3 percent rate compared to his 33.1 career average, according to FanGraphs. His line drives are way down to 16.9 percent compared to his 25.4 percent career average.