Better, faster, stronger and much, much better equipped

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I’m not usually a fan of TED talks — and this one from David Epstein doesn’t mention baseball once — but I found it fascinating and quite relevant to some of the things we talk about around here from time to time.

Specifically, the arguments about eras and comparing players across them. And, by extension, a lot of the arguments which get made about performance-enhancement and the notion that one can look at the accomplishments of Player X at age Y in year Z, compare it to what Player A did at age B in year C and claim — somehow — that one of those players is unnatural or some such thing.

But the fact is that changing technology, changing gene pools and the changing mindset of athletes make what the athletes of today accomplish fundamentally different than that which the athletes of yesterday accomplished. It’s apples and oranges, dudes, and your claim that what a guy did decades ago is somehow better than what a guy has done today is up against some pretty hard evidence.

Now, of course, you can normalize, or at least attempt to, across eras. Epstein does this with track and field records and shows that Usain Bolt is, actually, much closer in skill and speed to Jesse Owens than the stopwatch alone would lead us to believe. But it’s much more difficult to do with multi-variable pursuits than it is when it’s basically man vs. clock.

Anyway, some illuminating facts here about the human body and athletic achievement. And about how much the human body and athletic achievement have been aided by what one could generically call “performance enhancement” over the years.

Former Yankees prospect Manny Banuelos signs a minor league deal with the Dodgers

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Remember Manny Banuelos? He was once a top pitching prospect for the Yankees and then, apparently disappeared from the face of the earth. Or at least it felt like it. Now he’s in the news, however, as the Dodgers have signed him to a minor league contract.

OK, Banuelos didn’t disappear. He was traded to the Braves in 2015, had a cup of coffee with them, pitching pretty ineffectively in seven big league games, was released by Atlanta in the middle of 2016 and then latched on with the Angels. This past season he posted a 4.93 ERA over 95 innings while being used mostly as a reliever at Triple-A Salt Lake.

Banuelos pitched in the Future’s Game in 2009 and was a star in the Arizona Fall League in 2010. He was a top-50 prospect heading into 2011 before falling to Tommy John surgery in 2012. With Atlanta he suffered some bone spur problems and then some elbow issues that never resulted in surgery but which never subsided enough for him to fulfill his potential either. He suffered injuries. A lot of pitchers do.

It’s unrealistic to think that Banuelos will fulfill the promise he had six years ago, but he’s worth a minor league deal to see if the 26-year-old can at least be a serviceable reliever.