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Entries in PEDs (2)

Tuesday
Feb122013

Jeff Passan Exclusive: 'PEDs Are Going Nowhere' 

Today's Three Up Three Down interview is with Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports. Jeff is an award-winning columnist who has covered baseball since 2004. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series." Jeff is one of baseball's most respected columnists  and we really enjoyed his candor and dynamic insight - we hope you do as well.

You can keep up with Jeff on Yahoo! Sports and of course you can follow him on Twitter (@jeffpassan).

Baseball Analytics: It seems as if the issue of PEDs won't die - what will the long term impact be on baseball and with so much money in player contracts do you think PEDs are here to stay?

Ryan Braun has acknowledged a business relationship with Anthony Bosch.Passan: PEDs are going nowhere. Elite athletes in any sport, be it baseball, football, basketball or, as we've seen, cycling, will stop at nothing to gain even the slightest advantage. And while much of it is monetarily driven, sure, I think that's too simple an explanation. These are people who at every point of their lives have been the best at something, so usage understandably runs the gamut, from those who no longer look elite compared to their peers to those who want desperately to hold on to such status. Even if a sport disincentivized PED use disproportionately -- say, a lifetime ban on the first positive -- players still would use. As long as drugs are available and work, and the testing is so infrequent, they'll go to embarrassing lengths.

Just think about how ridiculous this sounds: A former male stripper sucks the juice out of the antlers of dead deer, bottles it and encourages you to spray it under your tongue to play better. Or how about this one: A guy who parades around calling himself a doctor despite the absence of a medical degree and has access to wide arrays of completely illegal substances says he can turn you into a star -- and more than a dozen guys making anywhere from a half-million dollars to $30 million allegedly line up. If athletes are willing to do that -- to deal with the incompetent, the shady, the suspect and, in some cases, all three -- then the sports have no chance.

While this doesn't have any of the sociological implications of the War on Drugs, it's equally futile. And, similarly, the seeming solution of legalization is wrought with peril as well. Since the embarrassment of steroids hit baseball a decade ago, the sport has so demonized performance-enhancing drugs, any sort of pivot off that position would bring cries of disingenuousness. So MLB will fight, and it will fight hard. There are true believers in the league office who under the ever-graying line -- you can extract your blood, spin it, reinject it and that's OK, but a less-effective substance isn't because the government regulates it? -- but cannot muddy their moral or ethical stances for fear their well-hewn position would collapse.

Baseball Analytics: How many times a day does someone say to you, "off the record..."? How important are anonymous sources to great reporting?

Jeff Passan: Guys say off the record all the time. To which I respond: No. The vehemence of their counter-response and the vitality of the information helps me decide whether it's worth listening. And it can be. If it means the difference between knowing something and not knowing it, my job is to know, and so it can be a sacrifice worth making.

A lot of it, I think, depends on the history of your relationship with the source. Some sources are wildly paranoid and necessitate it. I walked by a great source at the Winter Meetings this year and couldn't even say hello. Later in the meetings, someone else introduced me to him, and I had to act like I didn't know him. I texted him later: "It was very nice to meet you today."

Another source understands the various forms of anonymity. Off the record means information you simply cannot use. It's sort of a for-your-knowledge thing, and I reserve it only for the best sources, because they're not going to give me frivolities off the record. The next step up is on background, which means information I can use to report but can't attribute it. The next step up is don't use my name, which I've come to find is the most dangerous, because people in baseball love nothing more than to talk shit on other people, and the inclination can be to allow them to cloak themselves in anonymity. Often, this is unfair. There are certain instances I can think of where I have allowed this -- in a Marlins column or two perhaps -- but by and large, I try to limit them. And then is the golden obelisk, on the record, which you shoot for whenever you can.

To me, what made the Red Sox-text message story so strong wasn't just the information about the near-mutiny. It was that Ben Cherington confirmed it on the record. I didn't know Ben all that well when I called him up, and I expected him to ream me up and down. On the contrary, he was eminently professional, calm and reasoned. Not that he cares about such things, but I earned an enormous amount of respect for how he dealt with what he knew was about to blow up into a mess of a situation. And it's why when you make such phone calls, you never offer off the record. Best to let the source negotiate for it and see if it's worth it.

Baseball Analytics: If you could take a pill that helped you perform your job at such a high level that your earnings would increase 5X would you take it (we promise there will be no side effects)?

Jeff Passan: All right, Morpheus ...

I can't answer without understanding the other variables. Is this pill legal? What are the moral and ethical implications of taking this pill? What will my parents think of me? My wife? My sons? I imagine the readers would like it, since my columns would improve, but at the sort of price where those who don't read me accuse me of being a phony and my work a sham? For how long will my earnings increase? And how much more work will that entail, drawing me away from the sorts of things I need to maintain a balanced life?

I do know this: A lot of athletes have said yes without considering such questions because the allure of quintupling one's salary is simply too great. And I get that. I do. The idea of taking care of generations of Passans appeals a great deal. Tempting enough to not even consider the ramifications. And yet I'd hope the magnet of my moral compass is stronger than that of a dollar sign followed by a number and a bunch of zeroes.

Thursday
Aug162012

10 Melky Cabrera Replacements in Fantasy Baseball

Melky Cabrera may have cost himself millions in free agency and the Giants the inside track to a playoff spot following his PED suspension, but Bruce Bochy isn't the only one scrambling to find a replacement for the man who ranked second in batting (.346), 13th in on-base percentage (.390) and 24th in slugging (.516) this season while also stealing double-digit bases. Fantasy baseball owners who benefitted from Melky's meteoric season must now find a fill-in. Here are ten outfielders who could offer some help, ranked by their respective ownership rates in ESPN leagues.

Craig Gentry, Rangers (0.4% ownership in ESPN leagues)

Gentry doesn't have a set spot in Texas' lineup, but he gets a fair amount of plate appearances with one of either Josh Hamilton  Nelson Cruz usually aching and David Murphy not performing well against lefthanded pitching (.263/.309/.357 career line). And while Gentry probably won't continue get his on balls in play nearly 38% of the time, he's ultra-quick (30-for-35 career in swiping bases) and he's put that speed to use by putting more balls in play. Gentry has cut his miss rate from 18.4% to 16.8% (20.7% MLB average), and his K rate has declined from 17.6% to 13.3% (19.6% average).

Jonny Gomes, Athletics (0.9%)

Gomes continues to scuffle against right-handers (.213/.343/.382 this season, .223/.308/.425 career), but he's murderizing left-handers like usual, both high and low in the zone:

Gomes' slugging percentage by pitch location vs. lefties, 2012

Jonny is slugging .556 versus left-handers, sandwiched between Mark Teixeira and the now-DL'd Will Middlebrooks. If you have the luxury of platooning, Gomes could team with a righty killer lower on this list to give you All-Star production at a small cost.

Domonic Brown, Phillies (0.9%)

Brown is getting regular ABs for the Phillies following the Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence trades, though he admittedly hasn't done much with them to this point (a 79 OPS+ and zero homers in 58 PAs) and last really raked in Triple-A back in 2010. But maybe the 6-foot-5, 200 pound former top-five prospect can re-discover his power stroke in his second extended trial in the majors. So far, he's been a little too Juan Pierre-esque out there: Brown has made a lot of contact (12.9% miss rate in 2012), but he's pulling the ball just 23% of the time. Pierre pulls 28% of the time. Don't be like Juan, Dom.

Justin Maxwell, Astros (3%)

The 28-year-old's contact and injury woes led him to drift from Washington to the Bronx to Houston, but the man who could be mistaken for Giancarlo Stanton's stunt double has opportunity -- and a short left field porch -- with the Astros. He's slugging .469 with 12 HR in a little under 250 PAs. Contact remains his biggest nemesis, as Maxwell has punched out about 33% of the time. He's basically the anti-Pedro Cerrano, driving breaking and off-speed pitches (.543 slugging percentage against "soft stuff", compared to the .367 average) but struggling versus the heat (.373 slugging, .454 average).  The Astros, farther away from the pennant race than the Curiosity rover is from Earth, have the luxury of letting Maxwell figure it out.

Nori Aoki, Brewers (10%)

While Aoki doesn't drive the ball much, he'll add some steals (16 in 21 attempts so far) and he controls the zone well. Aoki has chased just 23% of pitches off the plate (28% average) and has swung and missed 14.2% of the time. A league-average hitter (103 OPS+) with good wheels beats settling for someone like Delmon Young and hoping against hope he discovers that strike zone is slightly smaller than the Great Lakes.

David Murphy, Rangers (12.2%)

Murphy is slugging a career-best .470 this season, thanks mostly to his taking a more "grip it and rip it" approach against breaking and off-speed pitches. Murphy missed  soft stuff only 15% of the time in 2011 (29.2% average), but he also slugged just .337 against curves, sliders and changeups. This year, he's missing 26.5% of the time he swings but is slugging .542 versus soft stuff. It's a good trade-off.

Starling Marte, Pirates (37.1%)

The Pirates' top position prospect has already displayed his power-speed combo since a late-July call-up (four HR, four SB and two triples). He certainly has more upside than the Aokis and Murphys of the world. But his plate discipline remains a big concern. Check out Marte' swing rate by pitch location, and then the league average:

Marte

 

League Avg.

 

Marte's jumpiness (35% chase rate) has led to a 3/23 BB/K ratio in 89 PAs so far. But if you can put up with some ugly swings, the payoff could be big.

Jon Jay, Cardinals (43.4%)

Jay, like Aoki, rarely whiffs (11.8% miss rate) and has a dash of speed (12 SB). He has also been more selective this season, particularly on stuff thrown low or on the outside corner:

Jay's swing rate, 2011

 

Jay's swing rate, 2012

 

Jay's chase rate is 26.1% in 2012, compared to 31.2% last year. That has allowed him to boost his walk rate (from 5.6% to 8.8%) and get on base at a career-best .390 clip.

Garrett Jones, Pirates (53.1%)

Jones doesn't walk much and he's positively platoon-worthy (.199/.234/.363 career vs. lefties). But if you use him as a righty-masher like the Pirates do, he has some value:

Jones' slugging percentage by pitch location vs. right-handers, 2012

 

Jones ranks between Prince Fielder and David Wright in slugging against righties (.547), and he has taken them deep 15 times this season. If you've got enough roster spots to mix and match, Jones is a good outfield option. Maybe you can pair him with Gomes. A Jones/Gomes platoon might not be sexy, but it would be plenty powerful.

Carlos Gomez, Brewers (64.8%)

Standing 6-4, 215 pounds, Gomez never fit the fleet-footed center fielder archetype but nonetheless played the little man's game at the plate early in his MLB career. But he has gradually decreased his ground ball rate in recent years (52.7% in 2010, 46.9% in 2011, 39.8% in 2012) and has increased his power output (he slugged .357 in '10, .403 in '11 and .466 this season). Gomez has hit 11 HR so far this year, and his 407 foot average distance on those shots is the same as teammate Aramis Ramirez. Dude has power. That power surge, in addition to his still-excellent speed (21-for-26 in SB), is why Gomez's ownership rate is spiking.