Dateline, unknown. Deep in a training facility somewhere in the vast Milwaukee Brewers organization, manager Ron Roenicke, owner Mark Attanasio, and general manager Doug Melvin sit at a table in a dimly lit room.
RR: Geez, can’t someone get better lights in here?
MA: Sorry, Ron, I’m spending our playoff revenue on a third baseman and shortstop.
DM: We’re not extending Greinke any more?
MA: Be quiet about that one. Once Frank McCourt gets a buyer, he can pay me back. Until then…
DM: What should I say?
RR: Why don’t you talk about how much you’d love to have Greinke around, but once the season starts, say talks broke off —
MA: I knew we hired you for a reason.
RR: Well, I’m glad you think so. I’m still trying to figure out what to say about losing Princey.
DM: Why don’t you tell the media that you’ll be focusing on small ball more?
MA: That’s a great idea! The steady stream of human interest stories with interviews from past small ballers will surely take pressure off of our offense….
One of my favorite things about the 2012 Brewers offense thus far is that they are currently just as productive against their league and park as the 2011 Brewers. Even better, if one looks at their basic runs created, they currently have scored more runs than one might have expected. Now, we’re only 12 games into the season, and a lot of things can change, but the Brewers have accomplished this level of production without the expected power from Aramis Ramirez and Ryan Braun. One can only dream of warm summer months with both of those sluggers on simultaneous power tears.
I gather that few people know or expect the Brewers’ offense to be one of the above average National League scoring units, given the amount of press expended on Ron Roenicke’s “small ball” plans. This has to be one of the best media ploys in baseball at the moment — the Brewers try a few sneaky bunt plays here and there, but mostly smash the cover off of the ball.
That’s right, your Milwaukee Brewers are one of the best power clubs in the National League, and that’s without early season production by Ramirez and Braun.
-The Brewers’ 16 home runs are second only to the St. Louis Cardinals.
-The Brewers’ 22 doubles trail the Colorado Rockies, Washington Nationals, and St. Louis.
-The Brewers’ 166 total bases trail St. Louis, Colorado, and the Miami Marlins. (Of course, this also means that their slugging percentage is among the best in the NL).
In case you missed it, Adam McCalvy interviewed former Brewers second baseman Jim Gantner about the small ball style. Gantner said, “We didn’t have the power in ’92, so we did a lot of first-to-thirds, squeeze [bunts]. I love that it’s back.”
To his credit, Gantner also stated that once some notable Brewers’ bats get going, they will probably need less small ball. Furthermore, Roenicke’s calls thus far have shown that he will use the bunt in specific high leverage situations, and perhaps call the bunt in risky situations.
Yet, for all the talk about bunting, the Brewers are hardly a bunt-happy team thus far. Their 8 sacrifice bunt attempts give them one more than the NL average, and their success rate puts them at one more successful attempt than the league, too. Furthermore, the club’s overall bunt ratio is no higher than the league average.
I love the decoy. The Brewers are mostly slugging their way to success, but they’re also playing situational baseball in some cases, which gives their offense multiple dimensions.
Keep talking about the bunts, keep talking about the small ball, while the bats bash homers and collect extra base hits. The diversion sure won’t fool other clubs, but it will continuously raise the threat of whether this spot is the one the Brewers choose for a little gamble in the manufacturing runs department.
All right, it’s time for another Ryan Braun rant.
If you listen to the air of Brewers fans here and there, you’re likely to hear some grumblings about Ryan Braun’s current power production. The reigning National League Most Valuable Player is currently batting .286/.347/.452, which is a fine batting line for a player warming up to a season, but apparently an awful batting line for a player coming off of the first (publicly known) successful appeal of a (supposedly) positive drug test.
I was not surprised when throngs of fans from opposing teams raised their doubts about Braun’s true innocence, and of course those fans also choose to believe that Braun actually took something. However, I am surprised at the number of Brewers fans that are simply assuming the same thing, to some degree or another — Braun sort of cheated the system, or got off on a technicality, and all we can hope for is that the first “test” for a player in this situation doesn’t result in a lower level of production. Some Brewers fans are more cautious and skeptical about their accusations, but others go right for the throat.
This line of reasoning is simply false, inexplicable, flying in the face of evidence. I don’t know why anyone would choose to believe that Braun actually took PEDs, thanks to two simple facts:
(a) Braun passed more than 25 tests in his professional career, including 3 during the 2011 season. This means that anyone accusing Braun of using PEDs has to explain how someone that effectively masked tests throughout the 2011 season (and his entire career, presumably) suddenly was unable to mask a test during the playoffs.
(b) Even if one responds with the argument, “maybe Braun was previously clean for 25 tests, but decided to take PEDs during the playoffs,” they still have to account for the ability of Braun’s party to replicate the degradation of a sample due to improper handling of a sample.
This second point really gets me; if you want to bask in the private, murky, mystical area of conspiracy theories about Braun masking PED use on 25 occasions, that’s one thing. However, there’s an actual sample in this case, the “positive test” that started the whole thing (along with the breach in confidentiality). The sample was notably mishandled, and Braun’s defense team was able to show how improper handling results in sample degradation.
Given this line of defense, the validity of the sample flies out of the window. There is no reasonable position to take regarding Braun and PEDs, unless one wants to resort to reasoning such as, “well, even if the sample was degraded, Braun could have still been using something.” If you want to use that reasoning, however, you might as well accuse every great ballplayer or every ballplayer you don’t like of using PEDs; if your willingness to believe that Braun used PEDs extends that far beyond the available evidence, there’s no reason not to simply believe that about everyone.
Any position that Braun used PEDs amounts to, “Well, at the very least, I probably don’t like the guy, and I obviously don’t trust the guy, because even though no one can prove anything about his sample, and even though he passed more than 25 tests in his professional career, including 3 tests during the 2011 season, I STILL think he used something.”
That’s flat-out faulty reasoning. You can believe that type of position if you want, but you’re wrong. There’s no basis for your belief; you might as well believe anything that flies in the face of evidence. But know this: you’re not entitled to false beliefs; there’s no validity to your position. Why would you want to spend your time following baseball constructing such elaborate pieces of false reasoning?
Of course, there’s still the issue of Braun’s slumps throughout his career. Just for good measure, here are some of Braun’s most notable dry spells:
May 31, 2011 to June 14, 2011: .259/.310/.407
May 1, 2011 to May 24, 2011: .221/.304/.384
June 23, 2010 to August 1, 2010: .201/.238/.374
May 10, 2010 to June 13, 2010: .228/.267/.374
August 17, 2008 to September 18, 2009: .276/.344/.422
May 10, 2009 to June 6, 2009: .258/.343/.398
September 3, 2008 to September 28, 2008: .181/.274/.319
June 6, 2008 to July 1, 2008: .223/.267/.404
March 31, 2008 to May 8, 2008: .257/.291/.443
August 15, 2007 to September 22, 2007: .240/.295/.481
May 25, 2007 to June 4, 2007: .268/.311/.488
Each of these dry spells are at least 15 days long, and some of them are nearly 40 days long. These dry spells should not have to prove anything beyond the fact that even the greatest hitters have 65-100+ PA rough spots throughout even their best seasons.
However, in light of the attitudes baseball fans in general have toward Braun this season, these dry spells raise another question: why would Braun’s 2012 slow start mean anything significant, when he repeatedly encountered such dry spells from 2007-2011? (In fact, some of those slumps are much worse than his current performance level, which is STILL approximately 20% better than the NL). Probably close to 1/3 of Ryan Braun’s career plate appearances have occurred during a slump; why would his current slump serve as evidence for anything regarding PEDs?
You can call me naive, if you want, or an apologist for Braun, or a homer, or whatever. But know this: steroids use and PEDs have a long history in baseball, and there have been some players that got away with using PEDs without others knowing, and there will be others that accomplish this in the future. So long as there are competitions with rules, there will be players looking to skirt those rules for whatever advantage they can gain. HOWEVER, even if it’s not shocking that any ballplayer might conceivably use PEDs to gain an advantage, that doesn’t excuse fans’ beliefs that a specific player used PEDs when there is evidence that proves the contrary.
I believe that competition brings out the best and worst qualities in human beings, and that means that wherever there is competition, there will be cheating. I also believe in evidence, skepticism, rationality, and above all, truth and character — in that regard, it is inexcusable to continually raise question marks about a player’s PED use when that player has passed countless tests and raised damning doubts about the only known “positive” test associated with his name.
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC, 2000-2012.
MLB.com. MLB Advanced Media, 2001-2012.