The Vindication of Ryan Braun | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

Ryan Braun spent the entire offseason reading about why he should not be considered the 2011 Most Valuable Player in the National League. He heard radio personalities and television talking heads suggest he give back the trophy. Even into the season, he has endured boos during every road game.

To many, the leaked report that he tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug (PED) tainted his 2011 performance, and perhaps to a greater extent, his reputation as a ballplayer and as a human being. He had become vilified amongst a baseball fan base that had simply pre-determined his guilt prior to the appeal and somehow possessed unwavering certainty in a test that did not follow protocol.

This article is not meant to argue Ryan Braun did or did not take performance-enhancing drugs. At this point, it has become overwhelmingly clear that no one really knows anything. People have theories. People have preferences or desires. People on both sides even have science. But no one can unequivocally state anything as fact.

Despite the uncertainty, the public court has largely pounded its collective fist and proclaimed the Brewers’ left fielder guilty of taking performance-enhancing drugs and merely skating by on a technicality.

So, assuming Braun did turn to performance-enhancing drugs to artificially give him an edge over his opponents, how do we explain his performance this season? The 28-year-old is once again posting video game numbers at the plate. He is hitting .321/.400/.627 through his first 65 games played, including a 3-for-4 performance on Wednesday afternoon against the Toronto Blue Jays that featured a double and his 20th home run of the 2012 season.

Delving into the numbers even further, we see eerie similarities between the numbers during his “artificially-enhanced” season in 2011 and this season.

Year AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ ISO BB% K%
2011 .332 .397 .597 .433 179 .265 9.2% 14.8%
2012 .321 .400 .627 .434 178 .305 9.8% 18.6%

The bat has provided more power than last year, at least to this point, and the only thing really keeping his 2012 numbers from eclipsing those from his MVP campaign in 2011 is some normal, year-to-year BABIP variation (.350 to .331).

Thus, logic seems to present us with only three legitimate arguments in terms of Braun, performance-enhancing drugs, and his statistics from the past two seasons:

(1) Ryan Braun did not take performance-enhancing drugs in 2011, and would consequently not see any unusual spike in performance.

(2) Ryan Braun did take performance-enhancing drugs in 2011; it simply did not affect his performance enough to significantly vary his numbers from subsequent years.

(3) Ryan Braun did take performance-enhancing drugs in 2011 and continues to take performance-enhancing drugs to this day.

It’s safe to say that we can unapologetically throw out Option #3. Considering the increased focus upon Braun, tighter regulations on PED testing, and the sheer number of tests a player must pass throughout spring training and the regular season, we can confidently declare Braun “clean” — well, at least as confidently as we can regarding any other professional athlete.

That leaves Option #1 and Option #2. Obviously, the former is what the vast majority of Brewers fans choose to believe and what has become legally true due to Shyam Das’ ruling. However, the latter could legitimately be factual. Ryan Braun may have taken performance-enhancing drugs and simply not gained anything significant in terms of on-the-field performance.

If one holds the opinion espoused in Option #2, however, why would it matter that he took PEDs whatsoever? If it did not ultimately help his performance — as we saw above that his 2012 numbers in some ways outweigh his 2011 numbers — why should he be vilified and his achievements during the year be called into question?

Many would answer that the unethical nature of his decision in that scenario justifies the chorus of jeers and boos that have rained down upon him throughout the year. Yet, earlier this week, right-hander Joel Peralta gets caught red-handed having an illegal, foreign substance smeared on his glove to aid his performance on the mound, and people have paid more attention to the managerial feud that has followed than the transgression itself.

No, it’s not cheating itself that offends people. It’s the uncomfortable feeling that we may have been lied to — that our heroes, whom we put on a pedestal to unabashedly glorify their achievements, may not be as great as we believe them to be.

So, if you want to whole-heartedly believe that Ryan Braun took performance-enhancing drugs during his MVP season, fine. I am unsure how anyone can believe that without a kernel of doubt in their mind, but go right ahead. Just do not pretend that it invalidates his accomplishments on the field. He is proving this season that he is every bit the MVP-caliber player he was in 2011.

For Ryan Braun, it doesn’t get much sweeter than that.

THORNBURG OPTIONED TO TRIPLE-A

As expected, the initial stay for right-hander Tyler Thornburg in Milwaukee proved to be short, as the Brewers optioned him to Triple-A Nashville on Wednesday afternoon.

Thornburg surrendered five runs on seven hits over 5.1 innings. The damage came via the long ball. He served up four home runs, including back-to-back-to-back shots in the sixth inning that ultimately drove him from the game.

The magnitude of the jump from Double-A to the majors is massively underestimated. Add in the fact that Thornburg had to square off against the powerful Toronto Blue Jays lineup, and it added up to a difficult situation for the 23-year-old.

His struggles can largely be attributed to his inability to throw strikes with his curveball and changeup. Only eight of his 30 offspeed pitches were thrown for strikes and not put into play. That allowed the Blue Jays to sit dead-red and attack his fastball. He escaped trouble his first two times through the order, but big league hitters will not miss a 92-94 MPH fastball when they can sit on it and have gotten to see it in two previous at-bats.

One start does not define Tyler Thornburg as a prospect. He has shown an ability to throw his changeup and curveball for strikes at the minor league level. At this point, it’s just a matter of taking his experiences with the big league club back down to Triple-A Nashville and continuing his development as a professional baseball player.

He will be back. Tuesday simply marked one short chapter in what the Brewers’ organization feels will be a long big-league career.

The organization is expected to recall a pitcher from Triple-A on Thursday to add a fresh arm to the stable of relievers who have been overworked as of late. Probable options include right-handers Mike McClendon, Vinnie Chulk, and Jim Henderson.

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Comments

Tell us what do you think.

  1. Corey says: June 21, 2012

    BRAVO!

    Great article JP! I don’t know if it was meant like this or not, but I took it as “shut up ESPN, etc, and quit trying to ruin a great player.”

  2. Mark says: June 21, 2012

    How about a fourth option? That he didn’t take any drugs during the regular season, but did during the post season. That would explain why his regular season numbers are basically the same for both years, plus the fact that the time he was caught was during the post season, when he had been clean tested throughout the regular season. He did have a pretty strong post season, so that could be the reason.

    • J.P. Breen says: June 21, 2012

      Certainly a valid option. In that case, Braun’s MVP campaign should not be questioned. It would merely be a question of postseason performance, which does not factor into MVP voting. Of course, the issue of whether or not Braun is a “clean” ballplayer then becomes much more interesting.

      Though, to be fair, it could easily be argued that Braun’s strong postseason was just an extension of a hot end to the season. Over the last four series of the regular season in 2011, he hit .372/.426/.814. I’m not presenting this argument to invalidate your point — because it very much could be true — but I am presenting it to bring up the question of whether or not his alleged PED usage during the postseason even would have helped.

      • Adam says: June 21, 2012

        Just to be Devil’s Advocate (I believe Braun is innocent), As far as I know we don’t know when Braun got tested throughout the season so he could have started taking PEDs towards the end of the season and got the jump in numbers and continued into the postseason, only then to get caught.

  3. Christopher McNeely says: June 21, 2012

    Excellent piece. I think this can be pushed further…he’s more or less put up these kinds of numbers at every level of play (college, minors, majors). So there’s no ‘outlier’ year to point to as ‘proof’ that he was using PED’s. And…he’s putting up these numbers in 2012 without the benefit of Prince Fielder (or any other scary hitter) hitting behind him in the lineup, making this year’s numbers the most impressive of his major league career.

  4. Matt says: June 21, 2012

    Has anyone else noticed that MLB is purposely shunning him from any form of advertisment, promotion or other media release? Kind of petty if you ask me. And ALWAYS keep in kind that Braun’s test results should never have been made public until after the appeal (if even then). MLB is more to blame for this embarrassment they suffered than is Ryan Braun.

    • Cecil Cooper's Love Child says: June 21, 2012

      I did notice that and you are 100% on the money.

      Someone from the MLB drug enforcement office got excited when a positive test came back, leaked it etc. High profile, inaccurate justification for your job….I love me some office politics!

  5. sam says: June 21, 2012

    This article was well spelled out, and I applaud J.P. for being one of very few writers to not point in any direction, but pull out the drawing board for people to draw their own conclusions. Finally a writer who does not push an opinion or faulty guess and try to make it the truth! Speaking from a fan standpoint……….. Thank you! We can not let any player’s reputation be demolished because of false accusations!

  6. Brandon K says: June 21, 2012

    You make a number of good points. While I don’t believe that RB took anything performance enhancing last year, I have a point that I don’t think was really touched on – what if PEDs enhanced what would have been a less-than MVP performance last year? Many have speculated that Braun may have been taking the drug to help him overcome his nagging injuries that plagued him throughout the season. Maybe the reason he was able to perform “as normal” is because of the PEDs, and if he hadn’t taken them, he would not have had the MVP season last year? Just food for thought.

    • Jeff says: June 22, 2012

      At that point, you’re hypothesizing about something that has absolutely no empirical data and you risk sliding into the Robot Body fallacy (Sealab 2021), though.

      …Nails are like CANDY to robots. And we’ll eat TIRES for licorice!

  7. RealGoHard says: June 21, 2012

    I’ve struggled with this whole situation since it came to light last winter, but the truth will probably never really be known to the public. Braun is the only one that knows. As a Brewer fan like most who read this blog, I’ve nodded my head to anything that points doubt towards his innocence, but how do you explain the test results? Extreme sabotage and malice by someone wanting to do harm to Braun? Give me a break…this is not a movie. A faulty test? Really unlikely.

    He was clean on his randoms all year, maybe he had some nagging type stuff down the stretch and wanted to be healthy for the post season. Maybe he thought he’d wouldn’t be tested in the postseason. Maybe he wasn’t tested his first run in the playoffs so he figured he’d be safe.

    It should have never been leaked and I feel bad for the guy. We’ll never know the truth for sure but I can’t help but feel he was doing something… Move on, keep putting up the #’s and this won’t define the whole career.

  8. Jeff says: June 22, 2012

    Cue the endless hypotheses from people who don’t know anything about the actual mechanics of these tests. *sigh* Every monkey and their twin uncle is suddenly an expert on spectrochromatography and statistical sampling…

    The only realistic possibility that I see that you didn’t mention is that he took PED not for the PE per se (since, as you rightly point out, it did not give him any), but rather to try and catch up from that injury in the late season, so that he’d be able to compete in the playoffs. That’s why Jerry Hairston jr. did it, as I recall – trying to rehab quickly from an injury. (Mind you, all the LAD fans didn’t boo Hairston at the plate when he was taking apart the Brewers. They have principles. Or something.)

    If that’s the case, and these drugs are primarily used for recovering quickly from injury, then they probably need to be re-evaluated wrt to stats. They’re still going to unbalance things (as compared to historical stuff), but those things are already super unbalanced. Pain killers, crazy trainers, fancy surgeries, advanced rehabbing, etc. etc. How many home runs would Hank have it if he could pop the feel-good pills like Favre? Or Walter Payton? Instead of taking 3 hours to get himself together enough to hit the ballpark late in his career. How many home runs would he have hit if he had a fancy statistical model of where every single pitcher pitches him, instead of lugging his own notebooks all over the place?

    At some point, I think we have to give up on the record obsessions and accept that these things change. Or forbid all advanced techniques in the game. Right down to Tommy John. Drawing the line at these particular drugs is kind of silly, really, and projects a fundamentally false sense of conservatism in the game.

    You could still argue for their ban based on their harm to the player, of course – and perhaps that’s a sensible reason. Things are changing that way, I think (cf. concussions), and it may get more traction if the primary concern here was for player health and not for some idol of Joe Dimaggio that George Will/Ken Burns offers sacrifices to every weekend…

  9. Kyle says: July 11, 2012

    This was the best page I’ve come accross on the issue and that includes the comments. RealGo, I understand the natural instinct to say a flawed test is unlikely,but it is not as uncommon as people have been led to believe. Unfortunately for those that are the victims of them it is nearly impossible to prove. It is actually much more likely (by the percentages I’ve seen in my company) that every player to have appealed was innocent then Braun being the only one, or obviously none of them. The scientists, sports leagues and government desperately need you to believe it is incredibly rare. In the interest of full disclosure it is not an inaccurate science (.06% false +), but it is certainly an imperfect one. However, those are not the reasons I believed Braun, nor is it because I am a fan. It’s the very unscientific credibility of character and consistency of personality and intelligence test that swayed me from the very begining. He’s smart and knows the risk/reward odds were not in his favor if he decided to use a boost arround playoff time(the only option I consider plausible). He is incrediby sensitive to his image and eventual legacy and I can’t imagine what miniscule gain he would have potentially gained would be worth the overwhelming damage getting caught would bring.

    • Kyle says: July 11, 2012

      I apologize, I am not trying to flood the board, but I omitted something and again it’s on the watching his demeanor front. The way he is acting this season strikes me as a man who knows he is proving his point and looking forward to shoving it in his critics (as well as MLB) face at the end of the season. I would bet (literally if there are any takers lol) that he will fulfill his promise of showing the public a lot more information when it will not be a distraction to his game.

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