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.

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.