MLB: The PED Problem Expanded

When I was an MLB executive, I was involved in player relations. Of primary concern was player health and safety and the use of “recreational drugs,” alcohol, marijuana and cocaine was examined in detail. The effort became one of establishing a method for identifying and treating those with drug abuse problems. 

Where the use of illegal drugs, marijuana, and cocaine involved potential law enforcement issues, the abuse of alcohol was paramount and the most common. MLB and the MLBPA established a player support program for alcoholic players and other drug abusers.

In the 1980’s, the use of performance enhancing drugs in the steroid class became very apparent by the changing physique of certain players and dramatic improvement in performance. Homerun production increased to levels never seen before.

MLB and the union instituted a drug testing program that has resulted in significant reduction is such drug use, but positive tests show that it is still a problem. 

The problem of recreational drugs has also declined as players realize that there is no performance, hence, career-enhancing effect. The problem of alcohol continues, but the discovery of this problem is  difficult and often goes undetected.    

This article discussed these problems. They are real, threaten the long-term health of players  and must be dealt with more thoroughly. 

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PEDs Not The Only Drugs Affecting Performance

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Just how much responsibility does the league have in treating substance abuse?

Right now, the baseball world is reeling from the recent suspensions of Toronto’s Chris Colabello and Florida’s Dee Gordon. There will no doubt be plenty of buzz around the validity of the current MLB drug policy, and for good reason. However, amidst the renewed interest in PED use, it may be a good time to remember that they’re not the only type of drugs that are being abused.

Bret Boone, former MLB second baseman, recently announced the release of his new book, which comes out May 10. In the book, he details his struggles with alcoholism and how his dependency derailed his career.

From the outside, Boone’s steep drop in performance could easily be attributed to aging, and most people did exactly that. After all, it isn’t uncommon for players to begin to decline as they get older. As it was, though, Boone reveals the fall-off in his level of play was due to his dependence on alcohol, which brings to light an issue that isn’t discussed nearly as often as PED’s — substance abuse that has absolutely nothing to do with steroids or similar drugs.

Boone’s struggle is reportedly well-documented in his upcoming book, but his case isn’t the only high-profile one in recent years. Just last season, C.C. Sabathia shocked the baseball world when he checked himself into rehab before the New York Yankees’ final game of the regular season.

In terms of baseball, the decision may have been a costly one: The Yankees went on to lose the wild card game to the Astros. Of course, even if Sabathia had been on the mound that evening, a game can’t be won without scoring runs — and the Yankees didn’t, getting shut out by Dallas Keuchel.

Wild card game loss or not, it’s difficult to blame Sabathia for taking care of himself. In his essay for The Players’ Tribune, Sabathia offered up a poignant quote. “So many of the major choices in my life, going back to when I was just a kid, have been baseball decisions. But this was a life decision.”

To the credit of the entire Yankees organization, everyone, from players to coaches to management, was supportive of Sabathia’s decision. However, Sabathia’s highly visible situation raised an interesting point: Is the league doing enough to help players who are struggling from substance abuse?

The Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, agreed upon by the MLBPA and the league, will end its term in December 2016 and presumably be renegotiated or revised for the next collective bargaining agreement (CBA). This current iteration covers protocol for evaluating and treating players who have a problem with drugs of abuse in addition to PED’s. Alcohol falls under the “drugs of abuse” category, as do other recreational drugs (including but not limited to cocaine, LSD, opiates, and marijuana).

It’s difficult to gauge the effectiveness of the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program when it comes to drugs of abuse, in part because players who take part in a treatment program are entitled to confidentiality. The treatment programs vary by case and may include any combination of counseling, inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, and follow-up testing. In cases of drugs of abuse, unlike in cases of positivePED results, players’ names are not released to the public.

In addition, there is no routine testing for drugs of abuse. A player is tested for drugs of abuse only when there is reason to believe that such a test is necessary. Players are entitled to their privacy, and no doubt testing for drugs of abuse on top of PED’s would introduce a whole new set of problems (not least of which is the legality of some of drugs of abuse — alcohol is legal, and so is marijuana in certain regions).

Of course, some drugs of abuse are illegal. If a player tests positive for an illegal substance like cocaine, they may be suspended. The length of suspension depends on both the substance and whether the player has a history of drug abuse. Alcohol isn’t illegal, though, and suspensions for alcohol abuse would be based on a blatant refusal to adhere to a treatment plan.

In any case, the lack of regular testing for drugs of abuse means that players can potentially slide under the radar for as long as they can keep signs of drug or alcohol addiction to a minimum. Boone did, and everyone attributed his slide to other causes. Only now, well after the end of his career, are we hearing about his battle with alcoholism. Sabathia did, and only his own admission of his struggle alerted the public to his alcohol problem at all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Key to Winning Pennants in the Major Leagues. It’s simple!

The regular Major League Baseball season has ended. The 10 winners are in the playoffs. The non-winners move to the off-season and start planning the next season. These teams, like my own favorite, the Minnesota Twins, try to take solace in the fact that they finished only 12 games behind the division winner, Kansas City. That is 12 games over 26 weeks; only one game every 2.3 weeks. Easy right? They will say that they are only .074 points behind KC. Next year, they hope, with phenoms Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton, new pitchers, improvement from all players etc. etc, they can close the gap. The gap, however, is more formidable than first seen. All teams, by the way, do this analysis, but it is wrong.

Baseball is much more complicated than that. There is more balance in baseball than in any other team sport. All teams win 2 of 5 games and lose 2 of 5 games. It is that “Fifth Game” that determines pennants and there are only 32 of them. I call this “Fifth Game Theory,” href=”http://www.clarkgriffithblog.com/2013/06/1″>here The chart below shows the distribution of teams at the end of the season. For the most part, you can use the GB (games behind) column to see the difference in “Fifth Games” won. (The Phillies with 64 wins and Reds with 63 are rare outliers, but they were really bad.)

American League -East

      American League- East
      Team GP W L Pct GB Home Road
      Toronto Blue Jays 162 93 69 0.574 – 53-28 40-41
      New York Yankees 162 87 75 0.537 6.0 45-36 42-39
      Baltimore Orioles 162 81 81 0.500 12.0 49-32 32-49
      Tampa Bay Rays 162 80 82 0.494 13.0 41-40 39-42
      Boston Red Sox 162 78 84 0.481 15.0 43-38 35-46

American League – Central
Team GP  GB Home Road
Kansas City Royals 162  –
Minnesota Twins 162   12.0 46-35 37-44
Cleveland Indians 161  13.51 36-45
Detroit Tigers 161 74 87 0.460 20.5 38-43 36-44

American League – West
Team GP W L Pct GB Home Road
Texas Rangers 162 88 74 0.543 – 43-38 45-36
Houston Astros 162 86 76 0.531 2.0 53-28 33-48
Los Angeles Angels 162 85 77 0.525 3.0 49-32 36-45
Seattle Mariners 162 76 86 0.469 12.0 36-45 40-41
Oakland Athletics 162 68 94 0.420 20.0 34-47 34-47

National League – East
Team GP W L Pct GB Home Road
New York Mets 162 90 72 0.556 – 49-32 41-40
Washington Nationals 162 83 79 0.512 7.0 46-35 37-
Miami Marlins 162 71 91 0.438 19.0 41-40 30-51
Atlanta Braves 162 67 95 0.414 23.0 42-39 25-56
Philadelphia Phillies 162 63 99 0.389 27.0 37-44 26-55

National League – Central
Team GP W L Pct GB Home Road
St. Louis Cardinals 162 100 62 0.617 – 55-26 45-36
Pittsburgh Pirates 162 98 64 0.605 2.0 53-28 45-36
Chicago Cubs 162 97 65 0.599 3.0 49-32 48-33
Milwaukee Brewers 162 68 94 0.420 32.0 34-47 34-47
Cincinnati Reds 162 64 98 0.395 36.0 34-47 30-51

National League – West
Team GP W L Pct GB Home Road
Los Angeles Dodgers 162 92 70 0.568 – 55-26 37-44
San Francisco Giants 162 84 78 0.519 8.0 47-34 37-44
Arizona Diamondbks 162 79 83 0.488 13.0 39-42 40-41
San Diego Padres 162 74 88 0.457 18.0 39-42 35-46
Colorado Rockies 162 68 94 0.420 24.0 36-45 32-49

The argument that the Twins are within 12 games of the Royals is not the way to look at it. (You can insert your team here as well, like “Giants 8 behind Dodgers”)The proper way to look at next season, or any season, is to grant each team 65 wins and 65 loses for 2016. That means the winner will be the team that wins the most “Fifth Games;” that one game in five that is won or lost late in the game on a pitch, swing, catch or error. The Twins won 18 of these games in 2015,.562, while the Royals won 30 or .937; A huge difference. Instead of being 12 games in back of 162, they are 12 back in the 32 game “Fifth Game” schedule. In other words, the Twins have to improve dramatically in “Fifth Game” wins to get close to KC. Of course, the Royals have to win “Fifth Games” with the same efficiency​ as in 2015, but they are really good.

So what does a team have to do to improve its “Fifth Game” record. First, pitchers must avoid walking batters in late innings. That is a simple but true statement. Never walk the lead off hitter, never. Middle of the plate fast balls are better than walks. (I am amazed by how many “Fifth Games” are lost to walks to lead-off hitters in the late innings.) A team must have hitters who can adjust to situations by preparing for the moment and make a single when the game is in doubt. The old adage, “up the middle to win the game” is always true. That forces the batter to focus on the ball, hit it square in front of the plate, and go up the middle. This is the sign of a smart hitter. Then, make sure your fielders can play under pressure. It is not the extraordinary play that wins games most of the time, it is the error on a simple play that loses them. A prime example occurred in the Rangers/Royals last game the ALDS when Texas Rangers’ second basemen, Rougned Roberto Odor, missed a pop up he had called for. The Royals scored three runs after that and won. If Odor made that play, it may have been different. (Teams measure their competence by their play in the field. Errors destroy this competence/confidence and that’s not good) Players who can play “Fifth Games” are discovered by diligent scouting and it is your own team you should scout hardest.

There are players who win “Fifth Games” by making the right pitch, catching and throwing the ball accurately, and being prepared to hit the opposing pitcher. These are mental preparation matters and that’s what wins baseball games and players with these skills win pennants. This is sometimes called “Small Ball,” but it wins critical games, go with it. That’s how teams win pennants.

MLB Rule 7.13 Needs To Be Clarified

MLB Rule 7.13 is designed to reduce if not eliminate “catastrophic collisions at home plate.” The rule mandates that the catcher who has yet to catch the throw must provide the runner with a clear path to the plate. No more “blocking the plate.”  This has resulted in runs being allowed for blocking the plate and games lost because of it. In a recent game between the Reds and Marlins,  a Reds player was called out at home. Upon review, the run was allowed, the inning continued and the Marlins lost a 3-1 game. I then saw a video that showed the pitcher covering home with his entire body blocking the runner and there was no infraction found.
From what I’ve seen, the catcher is not supposed to put his leg across the foul line to allow the runner access to the plate. How long does this apply? Can the catcher catch the ball and then block the plate. Who knows? I just think this rules needs to be tweeked. A leg does not block access, the catcher must have room to move to catch the ball and then be in position to make the tag on a runner sliding to avoid that tag. 
The interpretation of the rule should be that a catcher that fully blocks the plate without the ball, and not anticipating the imminent arrival of the ball, is in violation, but a catcher should be allowed to take a position in front of the plate to make the play. Here’s what I said about the catcher/runner encounter in “Baseball’s Timeless Appeal.” (Read the entire article Here “The runner is bound to stay on the straight and narrow base path while his enemies plot his end.  He, like Odysseus, only wants to get home safely, and to do so, he must take risks, and be crafty, careful, and fleet of foot, and he usually needs a little help from his friends. Like Odysseus, the runner often finds home blocked by the catcher, armored like a Greek warrior in mask, breast plate, and greaves, who is the last barrier to success.” 
The catcher must be allowed to do his job!    

A Brief Look at the MLB Pennant Races on July 21.

On July 21, with about 65 games to go, Major League Baseball shows that competive balance. has been achieved, for now, anyway.”Competitve Balance ” is a concept that I was once asked to define. I did so by developing “Fifth Game Theory.” Read the post Here.

In essence, this points out that all teams should win two of five games and lose two of them as well. This leaves te fifth Game as the one that determines. Pennant winners and losers. There are 32.4 such game (round it up or down) so a team that wins all Fifth Games will finish 32 games ahead of a team that lose all of them. Seldom does a gap like this appear. Most of the time,  team winning percentages are in the range of. 400 up to. 600. (The example shown before shows two teams with these percentages)

This year at this point, only the Rangers are under at  .398 and only the A’s and Angels are over at. .622 and. .608. 
Given that for the next 64 games, even the leaders will lose two of four, it will be wins in the Fifth Games that will determine the division winners. In the National League, each division has two teams tied for the lead. In the American League, LA is 1 1/2 games behind the A’s, NYY and Toronto are but three games behind Baltimore and Detoit is 5 1/2 games ahead of Cleveland.  This has the look of a dramatic, multi-team, pennant race. Remember as well, that there are now two wild cards in each league, so predicting the outcome is impossible, at least for me today.Pay attention to the next two months and remember as we get close to September, that “Fall Baseball is War.” Here

How Baseball Teams Became Tribes

Prior to the middle of the 1970’s there was a separation in baseball between fans and teams. In the thousands of photos that exist of crowds prior to 1975, you will not see team hats and shirts on fans. Now, such a photo shows that fans are also in uniform. This change occurred in 1975 or 1976 due to a chance encounter with an anthropology professor and the new Vice-Chairman of Major League Baseball Promotion Corporation, Now MLB Properties. (The reason the company had that long, awkward title was that the NFL had a “Properties” organization, and baseball didn’t want to appear to be copying the NFL! )

I was that Vice-Chairman and we were starting a program that registered team trademarks (they weren’t all registered at the time) to allow licensing of those trademarks to merchandise manufacturers. In those days, it was commonplace for teams to allow others to sell merchandise with, say, the Detroit classic Old English ‘D’ logo as it was seen as good advertising. No uniform parts were sold, however. Teams received no revenue from such practices. I was looking for ways to gain control over that intellectual property and increase sales and generate revenue from the licensing of team trademarked merchandise, especially uniform shirts, jackets and official hats.

A chance meeting with an anthropology professor provided the rationale. In an hour long meeting, he explained that fans were like Tribes in that they were organized around their teams, had a pantheon of gods, the venerable old stars, shared lore of games and pennants won, songs, “Skoal Vikings” and “We’re Gonna Win Twins,” and, most importantly, similar uniforms in designs and colors. The team’s hats and shirts being primary in this regard.

The. Professor went on to say that in a community, the members of tribes for various teams had allegiance only to that team. Where there was overlap, it was minor and a fan would have allegiance to one tribe only, but may have interest in another. In Minnesota, for example, a Twins fan may have interest in the Vikings, Wild and Timberwolves, or even the University’s teams, but were bound viscerally to the Twins.

I remember returning to the stadium that day wondering how to implement this information. I went to the merchandise department and checked on the Team trademarked goods being sold. there was little other than pins and badges, no real, authentic uniform articles, Wearing a T-shirt was interesting, but wearing an actual uniform shirt was critical to the link between the fan and the player. This is the essence of this change in marketing. The fan and player would now wear the same clothing. Isn’t that what members of the same tribes did, after all? Is there any wonder at why some teams are named for tribes, like “Fighting Irish” and “Quakers?” (Furthermore, baseball is unique in that it has a maximum of fan participation in the game as fans chase foul balls and there are even civilian casualties from this pursuit.)

Prior to this moment, the rule was that only uniformed personnel could wear the actual uniform. I had once given a high school baseball coach a fitted official team cap that he proudly wore everywhere. I was chastised for breaking a sacrosanct rule. I was about to break that rule again. I went to the clubhouse and asked the equipment manager for some team jackets. These had previously been worn only by players on the field, a foreign concept today. I asked what they cost, tripled the amount (the seller would receive 20% of the sale price), and took them to a merchandise kiosk, hung them up and waited. The sale price, probably $45, was very high for the day, and nothing else sold for $10, so I asked a friend of mine to buy one and wear it. (What cost $45 in 1976 would cost $192 today!)

What was dramatic was the reaction of other fans, who wanted to know where he bought that jacket. A new market had been created. This event was reported to Promo Corp Executive Director, Joe Podesta, in New York the next day and we started focusing on this concept as the core of merchandise sales. Some teams embraced it quicker.than others and I was again chastised internally for this behavior, but the industry had changed.

I was at Target field last night and it seems everyone wears some tribe/team clothing. Some celebrate the demi-gods, Killebrew, Oliva etc. Or the modern demi-gods, Mauer, others remind us of things gone wrong like Cuddyer and Morneau, players playing for other tribes now. Surrounding the stadium are statues to the famous and most important executives and players in the team’s history. Your team is your tribe, act and dress accordingly.

Who is Masahiro Tanaka?

Masahiro Tanaka is a 6’2,” 205 pound right hand pitcher who won 24 and lost none for the Rakuten Golden Eagles of the Japanese NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball, the MLB equivalent in Japan) league in 2013. His team has now posted his contract as available to the highest bidding Major League team. This new posting sysem allows the Japanese team to notify its Commissioner that it will “post” the contract of a player and set a price that is not more than $20,000,000. The Japanese Commissioner then notifies the MLB Commissioner who notifies his teams that anyone willing to pay the posting fee may negotiate with the player, without limit on the compensation paid. If a team is successful in signing the player, it is then obligated to pay, on an installment plan, the set posting fee. In the Tanaka case, that is the maximum of $20,000,000. So now the fun begins. All Major League teams can bid on this pitcher, who, at age 25, is probably going to improve with time. If you haven’t heard of Masahiro Tanaka until now, you will hear a lot more about him in the future.

There have now several very successful Japanese pitchers in the Major Leagues. Most recently, we watched Koji Uehara finish the World Series for the Red Sox. For the Yankees, Hiroki Kuroda (11-13, 3.31ERA, 201IP, 1.162WHIP) was their best pitcher. Seattle’s Hisashi Iwakuma (14-6, 2.66ERA 219.2,IP 1.01WHIP) was an All-Star and third in Cy Young balloting. The one Japanese pitcher that I love seeing is Yu Darvish of the Texas Rangers 13-9, 2.83ERA, 209.2, 1.07WHIP). From what I have read, I think Tanaka is most like Darvish. That is he throws hard. One commentator talked about a splitter and another the fastball. This fellow, therefore, has two dominant pitches. He can also be expected to pitch 200 innings or more. A major league team needs to pitch 1450 ininngs a season and this will be done by about twenty pitchers, so one pitcher who pitches 14% of these and does so with a high probablity of winning the game is extremely vauable. How valuable is Tanaka and to whom is he most valuable-that is the question?

Clearly, there will be a bidding war for this fellow and I am guessing the usual prospects will be active. These are the Yankees, Red Sox, Mariners, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Cubs, and Rangers. (The Angels are out of this for reasons I will discuss later.) The Yankees want to out bid the Red Sox for everything, so if the Red Sox bid, look for the Yankees to try to out do them. Then the Dodgers may just want this player very badly and bid accordingly. The Diamond Backs may play at the game, but they’re not nuts, so probably will not mortgage the future for one pitcher. The Mariners just want to get better and have strong Japanese connections, but they have limits, market limits. That leaves the Cubs and Rangers.

I think either of these teams can make a deal that is around the Zack Greinke, six year $147M figure, my instinct, based merely on a hunch, is that the Cubs maybe the team to beat here. After making moves that promised but didn’t deliver results, this may be the chance to do something.
positive.

Now to why the Angels are out of it. This team signed Albert Pujols to a long term, $240M contract, that soaks up lots of salary space. More importantly, the Angels are facing the major challenge facing teams, the super star heading for free agency. In this case, that is Mike Trout. He is the best player (along with Miguel Cabrera) and must be signed soon. The Pujols contract sets the market for Trout in LA. Layering a Tanaka contract just under that would be very risky for the Angels. It is risky because Pujols may be finished, and Tanaka is a bright prospect, but not without risk as not every Japanese player has starred in the Majors, as shown by Kei Igawa, Hideki Irabu and the Twins collosal fail in Tsuyoshi Nishioka. Having half of the salary obligation in a few players is a disaster and a team needs 25 skilled players to win pennants.

We will know the outcome in a month, and Masahiro Tanaka will be very well known.

NY Times on Attention Deficit Disorder diagnosis; “A National Disaster”

This mornings NY Times carries an article entitled “The Selling of Attention Deficit Disorder” can be read here. The essence here is that although 5% of children may have the syndrome called Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD, as many as 15% are give stimulants upon a diagnosis " of scant symptoms." Dr. Keith Conners says that the rise in diagnosis from 600,000 in 1990 to 3.5 million in 2013 is a "national disaster of dangerous proportion."  

It seems that in a case of actual ADHD, the administration of Adderall or Concerta actually has a calming effect. However,when those same drugs are administered to someone who doesn’t have ADHD, the drugs act as the stimulants they are. This is why professional athletes  are seeking therapeutic use exemptions that allow such use. As shown here; MLB has granted such exemptions to, curiously, 15% of its players. As has been written here as well, the drive to excel and use drugs to do so is prevalent in sports and the use of the therapeutic use exemption is simply one more method by which players mask their use of drugs, this time hiding in the open.