Author: Craig Calcaterra

Alex Rodriguez Reuters

Alex Rodriguez confessed everything to the DEA


It’s one thing to argue that A-Rod’s offenses against baseball and nature are not as big a deal as some people make them out to be. To say that, when someone like Bill Madden compares him to a guy convicted of 11 murders, perhaps people are losing perspective. Or, at the very least, that a 162-game suspension for what he did was too great, without legal basis and a big overreach by Major League Baseball. I’ve said that stuff a lot and I stand by it.

But you do have to be a special kind of person to think that A-Rod has been telling the truth all this time when he publicly denied being caught up in the Biogenesis stuff. That was never really plausible as a basic factual matter, even if the evidence for it may not have been strong or reliable enough to satisfy certain legal hurdles. Put differently, it’s reasonable to say that Major League Baseball and the Court of Public Opinion’s cases against Rodriguez were flawed or overblown, but it’s not been reasonable to say, as A-Rod has said in the past, that it was a “witch hunt” or that he was innocent. There were witches in these cases, and the evidence against A-Rod was not fantasy land stuff.

And, as the Miami Herald reports today, when push came to shove, A-Rod did not claim innocence:

But in a Drug Enforcement Administration conference room back in January, facing federal agents and prosecutors who granted him immunity, baseball’s highest-paid player admitted everything . . . According to a written “report of investigation,” Rodriguez admitted paying Bosch for supplies of testosterone cream, lozenges laced with testosterone (aka “gummies”) and human growth hormone injections.

“Rodriguez injected the HGH into his stomach,” the DEA report stated. “Rodriguez said Bosch told him the HGH would help with sleep, weight, hair growth, eyesight and muscle recovery.”

Rodriguez also described how Bosch gave the ballplayer “tips on how to beat MLB’s drug testing,” according to the DEA report.

It’s pretty damning. But, unless you were of the belief that A-Rod didn’t do anything wrong before (which, I think amounts to about 0.02% of us) it’s not like he can be damned any more for this. We knew he was liar about this stuff already. The key debate was whether it also made him a monster or justified an unprecedented suspension that went beyond the parameters of the Joint Drug Agreement and CBA.

But yes, this does establish just how blatantly A-Rod lied about it all. And gives you some insight into the special kind of thinking he and his advisors thought was a good idea for a good chunk of the last year and a half.

Must-Click Link: We’re probably thinking about baseball wrong

Mind Blown

I’ve known Ken Arneson, in that way you “know” certain people on the Internet, for years. He’s an incredibly smart guy who thinks about baseball in ways that form a bit of a tangent from your typical analytically-minded person. He’s certainly well-versed in sabermetrics and the like, but he’s also maintained a good bit of healthy skepticism and distance from it all.

Which allows him to drop utter bombs like his piece today, which should blow people’s minds. At least the minds of people who are familiar with advanced analysis but maybe don’t engage with it themselves in a hands-on way. I’m one of those people — a fellow traveller of the stats folks and, at times, a member of its liberal arts wing, as Jay Jaffe describes it — and because of that I am not the first person to identify flawed thinking among the folks whose work I otherwise appreciate and follow.

But Ken is a computer science guy, and today he has some amazingly smart observations about how baseball is analyzed and what, as a result of that process, is missed. Fundamental things about how the basic language we use colors our ability to see certain things. About how, because we use databases to analyze baseball, we are biased in favor of things databases can capture but unwittingly blind to those it cannot.

The central observation and biggest takeaway, I think, is that THE biggest thing in baseball is this:

But I do know that if I were to build a technology for analyzing baseball, this is where I would begin, right at the core of the game, the engine that drives the sport: what pitch the batter is expecting from the pitcher, and what happens when the pitch he gets conforms or deviates from that expectation.

Ken lays that all out in very clear and illuminating terms, and it is incredibly compelling. He allows that teams may very well be working on this game theory-ish piece of the game already — I’m assuming they are — but the public analysis of the game at places like sabermetric websites, blogs and, increasingly, mainstream baseball outlets fails to capture this because it really doesn’t have the tools to do so.

Just some super thought-provoking stuff that you should check out ASAP.

The Mets could consider Michael Morse

michael morse getty

Mike Puma of the New York Post reports that the Mets could consider bringing in Michael Morse. This would be a fallback, one assumes, given that one of their top targets, Michael Cuddyer, would now cost them a draft pick to sign.

But it may not really fill that corner outfield hole the way the Mets want to. Morse, especially at 32, is not a great bet to be an everyday outfielder. Or at least not a good one. He’s better served to play some first base or to platoon. Or, possibly, to DH for an AL team.

I know the outfield is ever-shrinking in Citi Field, but there is still a lot of ground to cover out there and the Mets will still be built around their young pitching. And young pitching needs guys who can pick it.

Alfonso Soriano’s retirement is a good reminder not to define players by their contracts

Alfonso Soriano Getty

The news that Alfonso Soriano is retiring is a good reminder that a lot of us — myself included — probably think about player contracts too much.

It’s understandable that we do. We all like to analyze baseball and a huge component of baseball analysis is about team building and roster construction. And if you have a guy who is overpaid or underpaid in an extreme way it definitely impacts his team’s ability to field a good team. Indeed, it’s analyst malpractice not to consider contracts when talking about a team’s chances and a particular player’s place on it.

But we often go too far with that. And again, I’m not excluding myself in this. We often, when assessing a player’s performance and, quite often, his inherent worth and sometimes even his character, pay too much attention to his salary. In doing so we think of fine players as bums if they don’t truly earn their paycheck. Or, sometimes, we think of cheap players as better than they really are, simply because they’re bargains. We assign traits like grit, moxy, laziness, complacency, loyalty, greed, virtue and all manner of other things to them based on the free agent deal they either took or forwent.

Soriano is one of the greatest examples of this in recent history. When he was with the Yankees, Rangers and Nationals he was talked about in a certain way. When the Cubs decided to give him a contract that was too long and too big, he was talked about in quite another way. He was more likely to be a punchline than anything. And even if it was never truly meant personally by anyone or if it was more of a dig at Jim Hendry and the Cubs than it was at Soriano, it certainly dominated the conversation about him for several years.

That dissipated a bit as other players became the so-called Most Overpaid Player in Baseball. But I don’t think most of us ever went back and thought about Soriano the baseball player as much as we ever thought of him as Soriano the payroll albatross.

So, on the day after we learned about his retirement, I feel like it’s worth thinking about a guy who slugged .500 for his 16-year career, not the guy who made all that money because his GM made a poor choice. A guy who made the 40/40 club once and came close a couple of other times, displaying a power-speed combo we don’t see all that often. A guy who played all over the field. A guy who, by all accounts, was super nice and a guy who worked very, very hard, was always prepared and was never accused of not being in shape and ready to play. A guy who, if it weren’t for Luis Gonzalez, Mariano Rivera and the crazy events of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, would be remembered as a postseason hero for that homer he hit in the 8th inning of that game. Off of Curt Schilling of all people.

I’m sure I’ll fall into the trap of thinking too hard about player contracts once again. It’s just something I’m hard-wired for, I suppose. But I’m going to try to keep that in the proper context and not allow it to interfere with what I think about players outside of how they fit on a team’s roster and in their payroll. Because doing that is pretty rewarding. It allows to do things like think of how fun it was to watch Alfonso Soriano play rather than always search for a punchline about how much money he makes.

Minnesota columnist: Paul Molitor will crack down on those wimpy players with piddly little concussions

Joe Mauer

source: Getty Images

One guy who is really happy to see Paul Molitor take over as Twins manager is Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan. Why? Because he’s gonna stop coddling those wimpy players who beg out of the lineup with piddling little ailments like hangnails. And brain injuries:

His first order of business should be introducing a new mentality to the clubhouse.

During their four consecutive losing seasons, the Twins tried to exercise caution with injured or bruised players. Anyone complaining of an ache was given an extra day or two off. There is logic in that approach. There is also danger. The Twins clubhouse became a place where you could collect a check without actually taking the field.

One of the early tests of Molitor’s tenure will be his handling of his best player, Joe Mauer.

Both grew up in St. Paul. Both played baseball at Cretin High. Both had the early years of their careers defined by constant injuries. The difference between them is important. Molitor’s desire to play was obvious. Mauer’s is not.

When the guy making $23 million a year begs out of the lineup because of a bruise, it’s difficult for the manager to push others to play through pain.

Joe Mauer has been on the disabled list for the following ailments (courtesy of Twins Daily): A torn meniscus (2004); thigh strain (2007); lower back sprain (2009); bilateral leg weakness (2011); pneumonia (2011); concussion (2013); and an oblique strain (2014).

Maybe he should have rubbed dirt on his lungs to fight through the pneumonia. Maybe he should’ve just strapped it on and played through that concussion. Oh, wait, he tried that and Justin Morneau tried that before him. People like Souhan mock the bilateral leg weakness thing but it was ultimately traced back to a rare viral infection and, clearly, affected Mauer’s ability to play. Legs are pretty damn important to a hitter and a catcher, I’m told.

The fact is that the Twins, if anything, have typically encouraged or allowed far too many players to play through pain or injuries, and it hasn’t helped them a bit. Mauer’s doing so has likely hindered his performance in the short term while doing nothing to get him back to playing shape more quickly.

But despite all of that — and one bit that is often left out of these little bash pieces — is that Mauer has been one of the best players in baseball over the course of his career. He had a bad 2014 to be sure, but he spent a solid decade as the game’s best catcher, and when you’re a top hitting and defending catcher — who has averaged a bit over 500 plate appearances a year despite those injuries — no one can question your contributions and no one can question your toughness.

Yet questioning those things about Mauer is practically the Minnesota state pastime. The list of media idiots and ill-informed fans who have decided that all that ails the Twins is their best player and that, dammit, he needs to grow a pair and play more is as long as the Mississippi. It’s gone from comical to annoying to practically sick. Souhan is among the sickest. Really, I think he has some sort of pathological problem with all of this. He is, after all, a guy who argued that the University of Minnesota football coach should be fired because he has epilepsy. His newspaper issued a public apology for that. The motivating force there is the same as here, however: “your injuries and illnesses are getting in the way of my sports, dammit, and you are less of a person and competitor because of them.” Souhan questions Mauer’s desire? I question Souhan’s basic human decency and mental health.

But maybe this all ends soon. No, not because the Star-Tribune reassigns Souhan to the obituary page where he can mock the dead for being soft (that would make too much sense), but because Paul Molitor is now on the case, and he’s the LAST DAMN GUY who is going to put up with wimpy injured players. Indeed, he’s gonna outlaw the friggin’ disabled list altogether! He’ll lead by example!

Molitor struggled with injuries for much of his early career, being placed on the disabled list six times between 1980 and 1986. In 1984, Molitor struggled with elbow problems, played in only 13 games and ultimately underwent surgery in an attempt to salvage his career. He played in 140 games in 1985, hitting .297 with 10 home runs and 48 RBI. He followed that with a .281 average, 9 home runs and 55 RBI in 1986. That year he suffered a hamstring injury, returned for a few days, then reinjured it. He played in 105 games that season.

Um, wait. Well, um. OK, sure, he was injured a ton, but “HIS DESIRE TO PLAY WAS OBVIOUS!” I mean, once he was moved to DH anyway. Where he played 1168 of his nearly 2683 major league games.

I’m sure some of you will dismiss this as Souhan being Souhan. Of him just doing his schtick. Of being edgy because being edgy like this is what causes ESPN to back up the money truck for sports writers who want to go on those dumb shout fests they air in the afternoon. And maybe that is what Souhan is doing.

But one of my personal beliefs, learned by way of life experience, Vonnegut books and Batman — is that we are what we pretend to be, not what we claim we really are. And whether Souhan really is a dense, empathy-free person who chooses to eschew human decency in order to elevate sportsball over a person’s health and well being or if that’s just an act he puts on, that is, essentially, what he is.