A Quick Thought on Chris Davis

Note: This is me bloviating on a non-Phillies topic. You may close your browser now.

Orioles first baseman Chris Davis hit his 31st home run of the year last night, putting himself in rarefied air through 83 games. The power surge has prompted many to seriously link Davis to former Oriole Brady Anderson, who after hitting between 12-21 home runs in the previous four years smacked 50 home runs in 1996. Others have been more explicit with their suspicions of Davis using performance-enhancing drugs. This happens every time a player unexpectedly puts himself on the map; Jose Bautista experienced the skepticism several years ago. Because players figuring it out simply never happens, right?

From a personal standpoint, I think those who choose to preoccupy them with baseball’s war on performance-enhancing drugs are robbing themselves of enjoyment of the great game of baseball. I can’t imagine devoting hours every day to following a sport that leaves me scowling and shaking my fist.

Objectively, default skepticism of a player’s achievements on the field diminishes the work of every single professional who dons a uniform and minimizes the difficulty of the sport. I imagine most people reading this have, at one point or another, played baseball or softball at some level. Some parts of it, like catching fly balls, are easy. Others, like squatting behind home plate for 150 pitches per game, are very difficult and taxing.

Hitting is one of those difficult tasks. Eric Longenhagen can speak to this much better than I can, but to properly hit a baseball, one must have his upper and lower body working in rhythm and almost everyone who has ever played baseball fails to do this adequately enough to keep up with the competition. I had a former Major Leaguer coach me for several years in Little League and I still couldn’t do it. Furthermore, one must possess the requisite amount of strength to apply power to the baseball. At the professional level, one must also have great knowledge of the game, and dedication to researching the opposition, to be able to predict and identify the pitch being thrown. Finally, the hitter must have the hand-eye coordination to put all of that together into a properly-executed swing. Those who do that consistently well enough to make it to the Majors are in the upper 99.9999th percentile of the human population at hitting baseballs.

Hitting is so difficult that some players have completely given up that aspect of the game in order to provide value in other ways (see: Jack Wilson). To say that the success Chris Davis has enjoyed since September last year, or Jose Bautista since September 2009, is simply due to performance-enhancing drug use is insulting to anyone who has ever attempted to play baseball. If it was just as easy as covertly using drugs, everybody would be doing it. And since Major League Baseball has stringent drug testing policies in place, Davis would have to have some very scientifically-adept friends to have passed every drug test he has taken.

Right now, you could give a real, live Major Leaguer the same chemicals that Barry Bonds ever allegedly injected into his body for performance-enhancing reasons, and they would never come close to his single-season and career home run records. They wouldn’t come close to replicating his eye at the plate, leading to so many unintentional walks and so few swings and misses. They wouldn’t hit lefties as well as righties, as Bonds did. They wouldn’t improve their walk and contact rates, as Davis did. Crediting a player’s newfound success to PED use simplifies the game of baseball so much as to call into question one’s basic understanding of it.

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23 comments

  1. Bob

    July 01, 2013 02:51 PM

    My only issue is that Bonds’ numbers would not have been the same without the ‘roids, plain and simple. He was a great player, either way, but they are undeniably tainted.

  2. Phillie697

    July 01, 2013 03:12 PM

    In an era of tainted players, Barry Bonds put up video-game stats. Tainted or not, I choose to marvel at him doing something no one else, juiced or not, was ever capable of doing. If you can’t understand that, then you probably shouldn’t watch baseball.

  3. Larry

    July 01, 2013 04:01 PM

    Howard would have had over 75 homers in 2006 if he used Roids considering he hit 58 cleanly. IMO that’s not a big stretch.

    Bonds was not a likable guy, but he had a great eye. I wonder if he used ADHT medicine for focus? Imagine using Roids and ADHT medicine combined? That would really improve a power hitter’s numbers.

  4. EricL

    July 01, 2013 04:11 PM

    A steroids jacked Howard would have hit 100 HR in a season playing in Citizens Bank Park, that joke of a ballpark!

  5. VoteForDelmon

    July 01, 2013 05:05 PM

    Delmon Young would have 120 home runs if he used Roids and played in the Baker Bowl against 1930 competition!

  6. TomG

    July 01, 2013 05:43 PM

    This is a small potatoes issue if you ask me. When, O, when is someone going to tackle the Elephant in The Room – The BIG Issue That Everyone Is Backing Away From?

    I am referring, of course, to the fact that it has been over 24 hours now and the Los Angeles Official Scorekeeper has still not corrected the error he made in the 8th inning of yesterday’s game when he ruled Yasiel Puig’s strike out a strike out instead of a hit! Clearly, it was a hit – probably a double! It was Puig, after all! QED.

    Why is no one else as outraged at this grievous injustice as I am?

  7. Bob

    July 01, 2013 10:45 PM

    The previous piece about Rollins basically says that players and fans see things differently and that fans are easily frustrated. Ok, so why not put yourself in the shoes of a player and reevaluate the steroid issue? It’s pretty unfair that other players who are taking steroids have a serious competitive advantage over all the honest guys, right? Although you use the same “fan glasses” argument for this, just the other way around?

  8. Joe

    July 02, 2013 08:30 AM

    Bonds would have had more homeruns in his career if he never had taken steroids. 1) Teams would have been willing to sign him post-2007, because he wouldn’t have the negative legal situation. 2) He would have seen more pitches (as opposed to intentional walks) if he never would have hit 73 homeruns. The guy had over 230 walks in one season alone.

  9. JM

    July 02, 2013 09:12 AM

    Let me preface this by saying I really did not like Barry Bonds, greatness that he was…Players have been experimenting with performance enhancers since Abner put on his Red Stockings. To say a players numbers were tainted because he used, at the time, a substance that was not banned is just silly. If you know the game, you know it is all about honorable cheating. From fake tags to the hidden ball trick to spit balls and corked bats. No one questions the greatness of Babe Ruth, but he tried some sort of goat syrum. Is he tainted? no, because it was not illegal. So please stop with the taint talk. The only thing taint was what was left in his jock strap….

  10. sjhaack

    July 02, 2013 09:33 AM

    The crazy thing about Brady Anderson is that his spike was a single year. He just had one of the most crazy outlier seasons you’ll ever see, and then he went back to being Brady Anderson – a guy with decent doubles power and an above average ability to get on base.

    Plenty of people acknowledge that sometimes fly balls turn into home runs, and sometimes they turn into outs. But when a larger amount turn into home runs without any explanation but randomness, they look to an answer we understand EVEN LESS THAN PURE LUCK.

    Why did Brady Anderson never hit even half as many home runs as he did that year? Why did Roger Maris only have 3 years of 30+ home runs, but one of them was 60+? Why did Luis Gonzalez never reach 30 hr after he hit 57? Barry Bonds only hit 50 or more hr one time, why was it 73?

    Because even world class players put up seasons with statistical outliers. Bonds got on base more and hit for a higher average in each of the next 3 seasons, but for some reason dingers = steroids even though his 1993 and 2000 seasons are almost identical, and the 2000 and 2002-2004 seasons are all completely in line statistically. They’re insane, but totally consistent.

  11. Jon

    July 02, 2013 10:37 AM

    I know Jack Wilson is much better at defense then offense, but what evidence is there that he has “completely given up that aspect of the game” other then poor preformance? I’m sure he’s trying his best to be a good offensive player.

  12. Jonny5

    July 02, 2013 10:50 AM

    This type of “journalism” has become increasingly worse since the advent of internet based reporting, and it’s surge in popularity. “Journalists” are more inclined to print topics which will draw ire and page clicks. A fine example is right here in front of us as multiple sources “angry” with said “journalism” supplies it’s readers with a simple link to the article. I’m sort of inclined to think that the more anger and disagreement a person can generate, the more $ it equals for them at the end of the day. I completely disagree with the assumption that Davis is juiced because of his output, just as I was with Bautista. It’s lazy journalism and should be taken with a grain of salt. Unfortunately this type of reporting will flourish like never before I fear, due to what I already stated above. I’m not saying by any means that steroids did not help Bonds at all. I believe the top 6 season long HR records are held by admitted steroid users so I’d have to be pretty hard headed to say so. Granted, a player with bad plate discipline will still have bad plate discipline with the use of steroids, but guys like Bonds/Sosa/Mcquire can flourish I think. As the record book shows.

  13. Jon Cheddar

    July 02, 2013 11:31 AM

    @SJHaack:

    Bonds started juicing after the 1998 season. You can see the effect in his hr/AB rates. The raw totals are depressed after 2001 because was pitched to once or twice per game.

  14. EricL

    July 02, 2013 12:01 PM

    Bonds would have had more homeruns in his career if he never had taken steroids. 1) Teams would have been willing to sign him post-2007, because he wouldn’t have the negative legal situation.

    Joe, the word you’re looking for is “blackballed.” Barry Bonds was blackballed from baseball.

    Bonds offered to play for the veteran minimum of $390,000, coming off a season in which he hit: .276/.480/.565 in 126 games, and was not offered a contract by any of the 30 Major League teams.

    Jon Cheddar, correlation != causation. Many factors can influence AB/HR rates, some individual, some structural. Simply attributing a rising of his HR/AB rate to steroids is, I think specious. By the bye, Bonds’ HR/AB in 1994 was higher than his HR/AB was in 1998 and essentially tied with his HR/AB in 1999.

  15. Lou

    July 02, 2013 12:29 PM

    “To say that the success Chris Davis has enjoyed since September last year, or Jose Bautista since September 2009, is simply due to performance-enhancing drug use is insulting to anyone who has ever attempted to play baseball”

    That may be true, but I can’t feel bad about it. Players knew it was going then, and probably know that it still goes on now. They brought the suspicion on themselves, and now can’t cry when we suspect that something may be amiss. Can’t have it both ways.

  16. EricL

    July 02, 2013 01:02 PM

    Lou, what?

    It’s Chris Davis’ fault that Jose Canseco used steroids and so you don’t feel bad smearing the accomplishments of Davis because 10 years ago people used steroids? C’mon, that’s ridiculous.

  17. sjhaack

    July 02, 2013 02:10 PM

    @JonCheddar

    You can, but it’s not a useful measurement because in 1993 he had a BB% of 18.7 and K% of 11.7 while in 2000 it was 19.3% and 12%. In other words, basically the same rates.

    You need to look at FB%, HR/FB%, HR%, etc. Sadly, Fangraphs data on batted ball percentages only goes to 2002 so you can’t compare the whole decade.

    Of course his HR/AB went up, people intentionally walked him 53 times a year from 1999 to 2004 and intentionally unintentionally walked him somewhere between 1 and X-53 times a year during the same time period. He probably should have won the MVP in 95 and 96, was a better player than McGwire and Sosa in 98, etc. He led the league in IBB in 98 even though he only hit 37 home runs.

  18. Old Enough

    July 02, 2013 02:23 PM

    Does extra lean muscle mass increase change the sport? Can similar results come from diet and training regimens? The results from ped’s seem to be more dramatic and are acquired more quickly, but the skill levels still have to be there. Has anyone analyzed, using SABRmetrics, measurable performance enhancements? Talented players increased their power stats, e.g.home runs and strikeouts. But, do borderline major league players, as AAAA, become average or better players? I am not advocating ped use, but how many home runs do they add to a talented hitters total? 20? 10?

  19. Marc Schneider

    July 02, 2013 02:57 PM

    This is one of the best comments on PEDs and baseball I have ever read and captures my feelings completely. If you really think every player that has a good year is doing steroids and it enrages you as much as it apparently enrages a lot of people, why bother watching baseball? Go do something else. I have never understood the point of following the game while suspecting every great performance to be the product of cheating. How can you enjoy that?

  20. Pete

    July 02, 2013 10:15 PM

    @EricL

    No, it’s not fair to Chris Davis, but it’s reality. He works in an industry that behaved abominably for too long, and now questions will linger for the forseeable future around performances like his.

    And although I agree with those that point out being enraged with PED suspiscion is counter-productive to your personal quality of life, it seems equally silly that so many people feel the need to stand up and defend baseball and it’s players. It’s as if the defenders are angry that those who question these power surges won’t just let us all sink back into naivety and put the blinders back on.

  21. Lou

    July 02, 2013 10:23 PM

    @EricL

    What I mean is I can’t feel bad for being a little bit suspicious. I don’t have to go back to Jose Canseco. I only need to go back to Chooch and Galvis.

  22. Alexander James

    July 03, 2013 12:29 PM

    If your first reaction to the success of Chris Davis is “he must be using performance-enhancing drugs”, you have ceased enjoying baseball.

  23. Phillie697

    July 03, 2013 10:55 PM

    My first reaction to the success of Chris Davis is, “why the f didn’t I get him for my fantasy team?”

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