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.
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.