Bonds prosecutors get an evidentiary win

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Yesterday I outlined some of the things I thought were on the silly side when it came to the evidentiary battles in the Barry Bonds prosecution.  There was a ruling yesterday, however, that is not at all silly. At least if you’re Barry Bonds:  the judge will allow prosecutors to play a recording to the jury in which Bonds’ trainer Greg Anderson tells former Bonds business partner Steve Hoskins that he injected Bonds with undetectable steroids.  The transcript of the recording, which was unsealed a couple of years ago, is as follows:

Anderson: [E]verything I’ve been doing at this point is undetectable.

Hoskins:Right.

Anderson: See, the stuff that I have . . . we created it. And you can’t, you can’t buy it anywhere. You can’t get it anywhere else. But, you can take it the day of and pee.

Hoskins: Uh-huh.

Anderson: And it comes up with nothing.

Hoskins: Isn’t that the same [expletive] that Marion Jones and them were using?

Anderson: Yeah same stuff, the same stuff that worked at the Olympics.

That recording was the subject of a boatload of litigation by Anderson in connection with his own conviction several years ago. He contended that it was illegally obtained by Hoskins, though ultimately the court did not agree.  Even so, the judge presiding over those proceedings called the tape “as worthless a piece of evidence as I’ve ever seen.”

Maybe that’s so in connection with Anderson’s prosecution, but it’s damaging to Bonds.  Not mortally so in that nothing on the tape speaks to Bonds’ knowledge of what he was being injected with and that’s what’s at issue here.  Indeed, Bonds has long claimed that he knew nothing about what Anderson gave him. The only person who can truly prove that Bonds is lying about that is Anderson and he’s not testifying. But in some ways a tape of Anderson talking about all of this may be more damaging than him actually being there. There’s an illicit quality to it, ya know? It’s all so CSI and juries love that.

Still, I don’t think the case is going to turn on the tape for a couple of reasons.  One reason is that, if Bonds’ lawyers are smart, they’ll paint the absent Anderson as a malevolent figure from the outset.  They can’t and won’t claim that Bonds never took steroids — even Bonds himself suggested in his grand jury testimony that, yeah, in hindsight he did take steroids — they’re claiming that he never knew.  In doing that they’re going to portray Anderson as some training Svengali to whom Bonds simply abdicated his decision making.  You or I may not believe it — I don’t* — but that’s their case. It has to be their case.

And it’s an all or nothing case.  It’s a case that will have to gain purchase in the jury’s mind early.  If it’s doubted at all from the outset — from opening arguments on — there is nothing the defense can do to rehabilitate it because they have no evidence themselves that affirmatively establishes Bonds’ ignorance.  How could they?

At the same time, if the jury believes the defense it will likewise believe it from the beginning . If the jury believes the general idea — if it buys the theme — there is nothing the prosecution can do to rehabilitate its own case because the prosecution has no evidence that affirmatively shows’ Bonds’ knowledge. Not even this tape, which doesn’t speak at all to what Barry Bonds knew.

Indeed, I think that by the time the tape is played, the jury will have made up its mind one way or another. If they’re skeptical of Bonds’ overall defense to begin with, the tape will bolster that skepticism. If they believe Bonds they will dismiss it because it doesn’t jibe with their assumptions.  I don’t see it as a game-changer.

*The fact that I say I don’t believe Bonds didn’t know what he was taking may surprise you given how pro-Bonds I’ve been though this whole prosecution.  That opens up a whole different topic.  One that’s complicated enough that I think is worth its own post.  A post that I’ll put up in a few minutes.

 

Justin Verlander changed his mechanics to prolong his career

Justin Verlander mechanics
Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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Last week, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart reported that Astros starter and reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander changed his mechanics in order to prolong his career. Specifically, Verlander lowered his release point from 7’2″ to 6’5″.

As Brooks Baseball shows, Verlander drastically altered his release point after being traded to the Astros from the Tigers on August 31, 2017. The change resulted in a huge bump in his strikeout rate. Verlander’s strikeout rate ranged between 16% and 27.4% with the Tigers, mostly settling in the 23-25% range. With The Tigers through the first five months of 2017, Verlander struck out 24.1% of batters. In the final month with the Astros, he struck out 35.8% of batters. He then maintained that rate over the entire 2018 and ’19 seasons with respective rates of 34.8% and 35.4%. Just as impressively, the release point also resulted in fewer walks. His walk rate ranged from 5.9% to 9.9% with the Tigers but was 4.4% and 5.0% the last two seasons with the Astros.

Verlander finished a runner-up in 2018 AL Cy Young Award balloting to Blake Snell before edging out teammate Gerrit Cole for the award last season. Despite the immense success, Verlander described his mechanics as unsustainable. Per The Athletic’s Jake Kaplan, Verlander said, “I changed a lot of stuff that some people would think was unnecessary. But I thought it was necessary, especially if I want to play eight, 10 more years.”

Verlander is 37 years old, so 10 more seasons would put him into Jamie Moyer territory. Moyer, who consistently ranked among baseball’s softest-tossing pitchers, pitched 25 seasons in the majors from 1986-2012.  He threw 111 2/3 innings with the Phillies in 2010 at the age of 47 and 53 2/3 innings with the Rockies in 2012 at 49. But aside from Moyer and, more recently, Bartolo Colon, it’s exceedingly rare for pitchers to extend their careers into their 40’s, let alone their mid- and late-40’s.

The Astros have Verlander under contract through 2021. The right-hander will have earned close to $300 million. He’s won a World Series, a Rookie of the Year Award, an MVP Award, two Cy Youngs, and has been an eight-time All-Star. Verlander could retire after 2021 and would almost certainly be a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2027. That he continues to tweak his mechanics in order to pitch for another decade speaks to his highly competitive nature.