Let’s pump the brakes on the “PED use got Jhonny Peralta his big deal” talk

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With a respectful nod to Ken Rosenthal, our own Bill Baer and the players who have taken to Twitter in the past couple of days to talk about Jhonny Peralta, may I ask why everyone seems to think that Peralta’s new contract represents some sort of problem with the drug penalty system in baseball and the incentives that flow therefrom? Because from where I’m sitting, it’s way more complicated than that.

I get the superficial appeal of the argument that goes “Peralta got busted for PEDs and then he gets a four-year, $52 million deal. What’s up with that?!” But that argument totally ignores the nature of the current free agent market to begin with.

Here’s a shocking idea: Jhonny Peralta got a big crazy free agent contract, not because he used PEDs, thereby messing up the incentive system, but because everyone in free agency is getting a big crazy free agent contract these days.

Those shaking their heads at Peralta say things like “clearly the current drug penalties are not hurting players’ market value.” But if you swap in phrases like “being hurt,” “being average” or “severely underperforming expectations” for “the current drug penalties” it explains current reality too. Dan Haren is coming off two injury-plagued and often ineffective years and he got $10 million. Jason Vargas got four-years, $32 million as a back-of-the-rotation starter. Tim Hudson has been pretty bad and got two-years, $23 million. Carlos Ruiz got three-years, $26 million. Why isn’t anyone talking about how their deals are confounding the incentive system that’s supposed to be in place?

Probably because they’re not. They’re getting what the market — currently flush with billions of dollars in new broadcast dollars and vanishingly small ways for teams to spend money on amateur and international signings — allows. Look around at the crop of shortstop talent in Major League Baseball at the moment and tell me that talent isn’t hard to come by. Then tell me that Peralta’s deal has more to do with him being a PED user than him simply being a good shortstop in a weak shortstop market who happened to hit free agency at the right time.

The fact that a team — a smart team, by the way — is spending serious money on Jhonny Peralta right now is because he’s in the market. Increase the ban to 100 games? Sure, maybe that would work for a guy whose ban coincided with his free agency, but it doesn’t always, or even often, work that way. Say a guy gets a ban in the second year of his three year deal, comes back in year three and plays well prior to becoming a free agent. Say a player tests positive in the spring of his walk year, serves his 100 games and then comes back in late July and lights it up just before free agency. You think those guys are not going to get paid the following offseason? Of course they are. Because they’ll be active players with marketable skills and teams like to give those guys lots of money.

The only way totally eliminate the idea of guys who take PEDs from later getting paid is to give permanent bans for first offenses. But of course that’s crazy. It’d be an ultra-extreme response to a problem that no one has demonstrated calls for such a solution and which would likely end the careers of some players based on false positives or inadvertent ingestion of PEDs. And no one who grouses about Jhonny Peralta allegedly screwing with the incentive system would ever seriously make that argument, would they? I seriously doubt it.

Peralta got paid because he’s a good player at a position with scant available talent in a market that is paying through the nose for even ordinary talent. If that’s troublesome to you, you have a lot of things to worry about besides whether 50-game suspensions are sufficient to deter PED use.

Justin Turner is a postseason monster

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A not-insignificant amount of the Dodgers’ success in recent years has to do with the emergence of Justin Turner. In his first five seasons with the Orioles and Mets, he was a forgettable infielder who had versatility, but no power. The Mets non-tendered him after the 2013 season, a move they now really regret.

In four regular seasons since, as a Dodger, Turner has hit an aggregate .303/.378/.502. His 162-game averages over those four seasons: 23 home runs, 36 doubles, 83 RBI, 80 runs scored. And he’s also a pretty good third baseman, it turns out. The Dodgers have averaged 95 wins per season over the past four years.

Turner, 32, has gotten better and better with each passing year. This year, he drew more walks (59) than strikeouts (56), a club only five other players (min. 300 PA) belonged to, and he trailed only Joey Votto (1.61) in BB/K ratio (1.05). He zoomed past his previous career-high in OPS, finishing at .945. His .415 on-base percentage was fourth-best in baseball. His batting average was fifth-best and only nine points behind NL batting champion Charlie Blackmon.

It doesn’t seem possible, but Turner has been even better in the postseason. He exemplified that with his walk-off home run to win Game 2 of the NLCS against the Cubs. Overall, entering Wednesday night’s action, he was batting .363/.474/.613 in 97 postseason plate appearances. In Game 4, he went 2-for-2 with two walks, a single, and a solo home run. That increases his postseason slash line to .378/.495/.659, now across 101 plate appearances. That’s a 1.154 OPS. The career-high regular season OPS for future first-ballot Hall of Famer Albert Pujols was 1.114 in 2008, when he won his third career MVP Award. Statistically, in the postseason, Turner hits slightly better than Pujols did in the prime of his career. Of course, we should adjust for leagues and parks and all that, but to even be in that neighborhood is incredible.

In the age of stats, the concept of “clutch” has rightfully eroded. We don’t really allow players to ascend to godlike levels anymore like the way we did Derek Jeter, for instance. (Jeter’s career OPS in the playoffs, by the way, was a comparatively pitiful .838.) Turner isn’t clutch; he’s just a damn good hitter whose careful approach at the plate has allowed him to shine in the postseason and the Dodgers can’t imagine life without him.