Nightengale: MLB doping question is back

Harry Hooper

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Bob Nightengale has a column at USA Today about PEDs in MLB:

MLB is on pace for 6,657, nearly 1,100 more than a year ago, and 600 more than the record of 6,105 in 2017. Teams are averaging a 2.74 homers a game, with 16 teams on pace to break franchise records. The Minnesota Twins hit more home runs in the first half than any team in history, eclipsing their total from all of last season. They’re on pace to hit 307 homers – 82 more than their franchise record.

Everybody in MLB has accepted that the baseball is juiced, or as Commissioner Rob Manfred has said, there is less drag on the ball causing it to go farther.

This is the narrative everyone wants to believe.

But what if there is more to it? What if it's as though we've gone back to the 1990s, and we’re being naive?

What if doping is back in a big way?
 

jon abbey

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He's an idiot, it's not just the freaking ball (although that's a lot of it). It's the launch angle revolution, it's that there's not much stigma attached to striking out anymore (it's no less productive on average than any other out, no DPs for one), plenty of other factors. I recommend reading the recently released book 'The MVP Machine', Bob, although you will still be a clueless doofus when you're done.


(To be clear, he was an idiot way before he wrote this column, he is an old school guy who is basically always wrong and should have retired/been fired long ago)
 

RedOctober3829

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Narrative or not, a lot of the increased home run totals is due to the baseball. MLB was a part buyer in Rawlings and they changed the ball. It is measurably more spherical and the laces are different. Players have said the balls are producing more backspin which makes the ball go further. I listened to MLB Radio on my 5 hour drive home yesterday and they were interviewing the minor league players in the Futures Game. They said the major league ball is noticeably different than the minor league one. The hitters noticed they were hitting balls in BP further than they do in the minor leagues.
 

Harry Hooper

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Vazquez hit a routine popup to RF yesterday that carried over the fence for a homer. This was in Detroit and not in the Bronx. The ball just wouldn't come down in play (as it would in decades past).
 

jon abbey

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Yep, they started using MLB balls in AAA this year and HR totals are way up there too, but maybe those guys all magically started doping just as they reached AAA also.
 

fiskful of dollars

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Vazquez hit a routine popup to RF yesterday that carried over the fence for a homer. This was in Detroit and not in the Bronx. The ball just wouldn't come down in play (as it would in decades past).
I thought the same thing yesterday when I saw that ball carry. Eck kept on and on about it and I wondered if he was insinuating something re PED's. When I saw Vazquez's HR I thought about it too.
 

NDame616

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Good questions, Bob.

Who are you asking? Us? You're the guy with the sources.

Are we supposed to believe the players have an untraceable new drug?
Or that MLB isn't really testing anymore?
I think it's generally thought that the scientists making the drugs are years ahead of the scientists trying to trace the drugs
 

drbretto

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You can't help but wonder if Bob Nightengale has a tiny penis and is cheating on his wife. I have no evidence of this, but you know, writing articles like this really makes you wonder.
 

shaggydog2000

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True, but all players?
I'm sure some players are still taking PEDs, the risk reward ratio is just too high, especially if you're on the fringes of a major league roster. But the one cause for a dramatic league wide increase in home runs that has repeatedly been traced back to a change in baseball lots? I doubt it.
 

soxin6

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The ball is the biggest factor, but no one should believe that the MLB testing program has eliminated the use of PEDs. We know that ARod cheated, but he never failed a test that MLB gave him. There is a huge incentive for these guys to take PEDs to try for the big payday and the drug makers will always be ahead of the testers because of it. There is no evidence that it is a wide spread as it was before, so claiming that it is all PEDs is just click bait.
 

Danny_Darwin

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It's interesting how people are once again discussing this as though it's only hitters. Sure seems like a lot more pitchers sit in the high-90s these days.
 

drbretto

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The issue I have isn't about whether or not it's plausible that there's doping going on (of course there is doping going on). The issue is that you can't just point to higher home run totals and draw nefarious conclusions all willy nilly and still call yourself a journalist. It's completely irresponsible. And in this case it's an especially stupid conclusion to draw.

The game has never, ever been clean and it never will be. The steroid era is only different in that no one bothered trying to keep it a secret anymore, so it was rampant and basically out in the open. There were no consequences and staff either was in on it or willfully looked away. This is what causes enough rampant usage to suddenly skew all the historical numbers out there. It wasn't because there was some special super steroid that caught on. There was just every reason to use them and no reason not to.

So, let's say there's this new designer drug out there that everyone can afford and it's totally undetectable. Not just the super rich, but something anyone can get easily. But it would also have to somehow fly under everyone's radar. Now that there are consequences, what front office doesn't have a pretty harsh policy against it, right? What testing company doesn't know how to detect such a simple and prevalent substance? There will absolutely be people buying the best, most undetectable drugs, that game will continue forever, but they're doing it because they're getting something not everyone CAN get, and they're doing it to boost their paychecks, not risk losing them.

And what especially pisses me off about it is that he offers the actual, logical solution and just dismisses it in favor of some sensationalist bullshit. Sure, it *could* be the balls and the launch angle revolution, you know the things that make sense. Orrrr, it could be a vast conspiracy perpetrated by the league in order to let everyone juice without consequence, with absolutely nothing to gain and everything to lose! And people right now are probably eating this shit up and running with it.
 

Hank Scorpio

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It's interesting how people are once again discussing this as though it's only hitters. Sure seems like a lot more pitchers sit in the high-90s these days.
Not dismissing this, but I wonder how the risk/reward balance of using PEDs shifts for pitchers trying to throw harder, versus hitters trying to hit harder.

Hitters might tweak something on a swing and miss a few days. Pitchers might blow out their shoulder or elbow, and miss weeks, months, or the rest of their career.

Even turning the height of the PED Era, I think pitchers were using more towards "muscle recovery" between outings, and trying to comeback from injuries. Not so much trying to throw 100 MPH.
 

shaggydog2000

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Not dismissing this, but I wonder how the risk/reward balance of using PEDs shifts for pitchers trying to throw harder, versus hitters trying to hit harder.

Hitters might tweak something on a swing and miss a few days. Pitchers might blow out their shoulder or elbow, and miss weeks, months, or the rest of their career.

Even turning the height of the PED Era, I think pitchers were using more towards "muscle recovery" between outings, and trying to comeback from injuries. Not so much trying to throw 100 MPH.
Extra testosterone (from any anabolic steroid) and growth hormone are used solely for recovery. It means you can work out harder more often and build more muscle. Or you can throw 100 mph 10-15 times and still be able to recover and do it again 2 days later. Other performance enhancing drugs, like amphetamines, can improve concentration and help you focus on throwing a strike or hitting a 100 mph fastball. And some, like Erythropoietin, can improve endurance by increasing red blood cell production, and I don't think baseball players would care at all about them considering the game is more of a sequentially explosive event than an endurance one.

So if you're saying pitchers would only use anabolic steroids and growth hormone to recover and not to throw harder, I don't think they are different uses. You can throw harder more often and still recover when you're taking steroids. And I doubt if they take it during a season for recovery that they wouldn't be taking it in the offseason too in order to put on muscle to throw even harder.
 

jon abbey

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Just one data point, but Justus Sheffield is one of the top pitching prospects in MLB, traded from NY to SEA for Paxton this past winter.

2018: AAA, 2.56 ERA in 88 innings, 3 HRs allowed (minor league ball)
2019: AAA, 6.87 ERA in 55 innings, 12 HRs allowed (major league ball)

He did go from the IL to the PCL, a tougher league to pitch in, but that is a huge difference. Then SEA took the unusual step of sending him back down to AA, where he has gone back to being dominant through 4 starts.

2019: AA, 1.00 ERA in 27 innings, 0 HRs allowed (minor league ball)
 

YTF

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It's interesting how people are once again discussing this as though it's only hitters. Sure seems like a lot more pitchers sit in the high-90s these days.
Curious if you mean this from a PED standpoint or from a juiced ball standpoint. The reason I ask is because I wonder if there might also be some sort of advantage to the pitcher from the change in the balls.
 

jon abbey

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just in case there is any doubt that the HR increase is almost totally about the actual ball, the two AAA leagues (using MLB balls) have each seen an increase of over 50% so far in HRs. JJ Cooper of BA says "AA/HiA/LoA with traditional MiLB ball have seen no increase in HRs." That is from a tweet, but he has a subscriber-only story up on the site also going more into depth.
 

Van Everyman

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Just one data point, but Justus Sheffield is one of the top pitching prospects in MLB, traded from NY to SEA for Paxton this past winter.

2018: AAA, 2.56 ERA in 88 innings, 3 HRs allowed (minor league ball)
2019: AAA, 6.87 ERA in 55 innings, 12 HRs allowed (major league ball)

He did go from the IL to the PCL, a tougher league to pitch in, but that is a huge difference. Then SEA took the unusual step of sending him back down to AA, where he has gone back to being dominant through 4 starts.

2019: AA, 1.00 ERA in 27 innings, 0 HRs allowed (minor league ball)
So...he’s quit the same PED program Montero was on before he was shipped off?

(Kidding ... kind of)

It does some to be idle speculation. My biggest problem with how the steroid era was portrayed in the media was that it was for muscle building only when there is at least as much evidence that guys used it to stay off the disabled list. It’s easier to hit lots of home runs or rack up a bunch of saves when you can play every day.
 

jon abbey

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The real problem here to me is that teams must be having a ton of trouble evaluating their pitchers in AAA with the new ball. Here is another data point I just saw:

"After going 7-3 with a 1.49 ERA in 12 starts at Double-A, Anthony Kay is 0-3 with a 9.64 ERA in four starts at Triple-A."
 

Boggs26

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just in case there is any doubt that the HR increase is almost totally about the actual ball, the two AAA leagues (using MLB balls) have each seen an increase of over 50% so far in HRs. JJ Cooper of BA says "AA/HiA/LoA with traditional MiLB ball have seen no increase in HRs." That is from a tweet, but he has a subscriber-only story up on the site also going more into depth.
I mean that's about as clear as could be that it's the ball and not PEDs. The better question at this point is whether it was intentional or an unintended manufacturing change.