Did PED users cost Frank Thomas four MVP awards?

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Frank Thomas is one of the best hitters of my lifetime and that guy should be in the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, no question. He’s also a Hall-of-Fame-level call-out-his-contemporaries-on-their-PED-use-guy. Inner circle. He was at it again the other night at a speaking engagement:

“I was the one player who was hurt the most,” said Thomas, who won back-to-back American League MVP awards in 1993 and ’94. “All those years I finished second, third, fourth behind those guys, I probably could have won four more MVPs.”

Fact check time:

  • Thomas finished third in 1991 behind Cal Ripken and Cecil Fielder;
  • Thomas finished third in 1997 behind Ken Griffey and Tino Martinez;
  • Thomas finished second in 2000 behind Jason Giambi; and
  • Thomas finished fourth in 2006 behind Justin Morneau, Derek Jeter and David Ortiz

I’ll give him 2000 and Jason Giambi, but for Thomas’ claim of four more MVPs to be true, Cal Ripken, Cecil Fieder, Ken Griffey, Tino Martinez, Justin Morneau and Derek Jeter would have to be juicers. Anyone wanting to take up those arguments, be my guest.

Of course, Thomas’ numbers are so ridiculously good that he need not talk about what could’ve been as far as MVP voting goes. Indeed, if one’s only reason for voting Thomas into the Hall of Fame is that he’s some sort of PED casualty, well, you’re simply not understanding baseball very well. The guy was an absolute monster.

I think there’s a better, more logical story about Frank Thomas and PEDs. It goes like this: If we accept — as I do — Frank Thomas’ claim that he never did PEDs, why do we look at all amazing 1990s hitting stats as some phony PED-creation? One clean guy put up those kinds of insane numbers. Ergo, others could have too. And likely did.  The stats aren’t, by necessity, PED-created as many argue.

Could it possibly mean — as I and many others have argued — that the crazy offense of that era had a lot to do with other factors like double expansion, smaller, hitter-friendly ballparks, shrinking strike zones, armor-clad hitters crowding plates with impunity and, possibly, a baseball designed to fly farther? People tend to ignore those things — and ignore guys like Frank Thomas — and blithely chalk up every big number from the 1990s and early 2000s to steroid use, thereby dismissing the accomplishments of those hitters and dismissing the era as a whole.

Frank Thomas did things like hit .353/.487/.729  in a season. And, if we take his word for it, he did it clean. As such, even if Frank Thomas was better than just about everyone else on the planet at what he did, it suggests that others who posted crazy numbers in the 1990s could have done it clean too.  Or that, even if they didn’t, their numbers weren’t necessarily leaps and bounds better than they could have achieved without PEDs. It was in the realm of the possible.

Yet no one ever seems to account for that. Funny.

The big flaw in modern ballparks

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Travis Sawchik writes about the post-Camden Yards generation of ballparks over at FanGraphs. The ones everyone loves because they’re nice and clean and friendly and are full of amenities. And that’s true! They are nice! But they all have a huge flaw: unless you’re in expensive seats, you’re too far away from the action.

Sawchik uses cross sections of ballparks — available at Andrew Clem’s website — to show that fans sitting in the upper decks of ballparks are way higher and way farther back than they used to be at many old ballparks such as Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium, Old Comiskey, Tiger Stadium and Ebbets Field.

A lot of this has to do with an admirable impulse: to eliminate the beams which obstructed the view of many seats in those old parks. If you want to move that upper deck closer to the field, you have to have the beams because one can only achieve so much via cantilever effect. But that’s not the only impulse and probably not the primary one. More expansive lower bowls — which feature more expensive tickets — push the upper deck back and up. As do the luxury suites and club level amenities in between the lower and upper decks. Exacerbating this is the fact that most newer parks are built on vast tracts of land with few architectural constraints. If you can sprawl, you will, which leaves the most affordable seats in the land of binoculars.

I don’t agree with everything Sawchik writes here. He spends a lot of time talking about how much better neighborhood parks like Wrigley Field are and how it’d be better if newer parks were built in neighborhoods. I agree, neighborhood parks are ideal, but the fact is, most places don’t have mass transit like Chicago does. In most cities you have to have a place for 40,000 people to park.

That’s a quibble, though. Mostly, it’s a good look at an important thing most folks overlook when they praise the new parks. Important because, if you don’t have an enjoyable experience at the ballpark, you’re not likely to come back. And if you’re not fortunate enough to be able to buy expensive tickets, you may not have a great experience at the ballpark.

Yoenis Cespedes should be ready for Tuesday’s game

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The Mets are off today, and that day off may be just enough to get outfielder Yoenis Cespedes ready to start their next game, on Tuesday, against the Braves. At least that’s what he’s telling Mets manager Terry Collins.

Cespedes did not play in the weekend series against the Nationals, but was available as a pinch hitter yesterday. He was even on the on-deck circle at the end of last night’s game.

Cespedes, who tweaked his hammy running to second base on Thursday, is hitting .255/.364/.636 with six homers and 10 RBI in 15 games on the young season.