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MLB Needs To Implement Stiffer Performance-Enhancing Drug Penalties

May 16, 2016
At last count, eight players have been suspended this year following positive tests under Major League Baseball's rigid drug program.

This leads to two conclusions, the first of which may sound somewhat contradictory. The strictly enforced system IS working. The second is easier to explain -- the players are as stupid as the owners when it comes to dealing with the subject.

In this day and age of "I don't know how (fill in the blank) got in my system, but I made a mistake and accept full responsibility," it boggles the mind trying to understand why a player would jeopardize the kind of contracts that are being rewarded. Until, of course, you come to the realization that those contracts aren't being jeopardized to the degree they should be.

And until they are, baseball is going to pay a steep price. The owners as well as the players, and let's not forget the agents who negotiate those multimillion dollar contracts, need to share the responsibility. They can talk about education regarding drugs, but it can be tough to educate stupidity.

The eight players suspended this year, some marginal and some significant, will lose 80 days of salary -- in 2016. Any remaining years on the multiyear, guaranteed contracts, remain in force because the collective bargaining agreement doesn't allow them to be negated. You might remember it was the CBA that prevented any and all drug testing programs until the federal government threatened to step in.

It's time for the owners to step in on their own. They can start by refusing to reward offenders (see Melky Cabrera and Jhonny Peralta for openers) lucrative long-term, and guaranteed, contracts. Beyond that, given that they can't seem to help themselves (or trust other owners) in such cases, they need to insist on contract language that might save them from themselves. We are already hearing about issues that will be covered when the current CBA expires Dec. 1 -- this should be No. 1 on the owners' agenda -- if a player violates the drug program, his contract is nonexistent, history, worthless, null and void.

Period. End of sentence. End of paragraph. End of discussion. No more excuses about miracle medicines to cure a common cold -- that just also happen to contain a banned substance. Somebody needs to tell the players, either the owners or their agents, to go to their trainer before they go to their doctor -- or chemist.

The NFL deals with this issue seemingly every week and somehow is able to survive the scrutiny, but baseball is an everyday sport that stretches six months and can't afford daily dosages of reported drug abuse. Both sides need to get a grip on the situation, and it's not like they don't know where to start.

It's spelled $$$.

***

In today's analytic era, we are being taught that statistics don't mean anything, unless it has something to do with the percentage of times a pitcher throws a certain pitch, a batting average on balls in play, or perhaps something like defensive range factor, which is almost impossible to describe, but whether anybody wants to admit it or not, does actually depend on statistics -- particularly ones that say how often a batter hits a ball in a certain direction.

Well, here's an example of how things can get more than slightly skewed: Ryan Flaherty was listed as the Orioles' third baseman during the 7-0 loss to the New York Yankees May 4. He had a total of seven chances, including being the middle man on two double plays -- all of which were made from the right side of second base, all of which would have been fairly routine plays for a second baseman playing in a normal position.

With only one right-handed hitter in the lineup for the Yankees, Flaherty had no chances from the area normally guarded by a third baseman. In the meantime, second baseman Jonathan Schoop (who, by some strange calculations, is determined to be below average defensively at his position) spent a good part of night in short right field, where his range undoubtedly is limited.

Everyone knows that fielding percentage is not necessarily the best barometer for defensive measurements, but number of chances has always been a factor, as it should, but there's no question "The Shift" is greatly affecting how players are rated. Bobby Grich had three straight years handling more than 900 chances at second base for the Orioles from 1973-75, something never done before or since. He wouldn't come close to those numbers today.

It will be interesting to see what the numbers show for third basemen at the end of the year -- and how they reflect on other middle infielders.

***

Thanks to ardent reader Joey (Brackets) Clifford for pointing out that the Yankees had scored four or more runs seven times in their first 26 games, but that didn't even turn out to be the bad news. At least the Yankees were 6-1 in those games, three of which came in the first five of the season.

The real bad news is the 1-0 loss to the Orioles in the 26th game, May 5, was already the third shutout suffered by the Bronx Bombers -- who also had lost four times while scoring only one run. Ouch.

No wonder manager Joe Girardi wants to outlaw "The Shift."

***

The weather obviously was horrible during the Orioles' first two home stands of the year, and midweek games in the first six weeks are always a drag, but when the Yankees draw less than 60,000 for a three-game series, it should raise a red flag. The promotions are heavily geared to weekend games, and Saturday nights have always been the top-drawing games, but there has to be some other contributing factors.

One thought is that the Orioles' multi-tiered ticket plan (no doubt aimed at the scalpers) may have actually outpriced the Yankees' fans. The Orioles introduced a scaled ticket plan this year that includes five different categories -- from low to high, Value, Classic, Select, Prime and Elite. It's kind of like the price of steamed crabs -- which used to be small, medium and large, but now are gauged as large, extra large, jumbo and colossal.

The Orioles' three-game series against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim July 8-10 is particularly curious -- each game has a different price range.

***

How many games were the Phillies supposed to lose? Team president Andy MacPhail seems to be a little ahead of the timetable he had with the Orioles.

***

This is Girardi's ninth year as Yankees' manager, and he's only changed his number once. What would George say? (I think it would be "we're too old -- get younger.")

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The Boston Red Sox are wasting a lot money on third baseman Pablo Sandoval this year (and maybe for the next three), but here's one way to look at it: he's saving the current team a roster spot.

***

Here's a scary part of the Cubs' 21-6 start through the team's first 27 games -- only 11 of those games were at Wrigley Field.

***

In the midst of their heaviest stretch of games at OPACY, the Orioles were the first team in the major leagues to record 11 home wins.

Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com

Issue 221: May 2016