June 12, 2009
BASEBALL: Climate of Suspicion
Jeff Pearlman on Raul Ibanez and steroid suspicion; David Pinto wrote about the same comments from a different angle, and Pinto looked here at the extraordinary season Ibanez is having.
Today's probably not the day for a Mets fan to have perspective on Ibanez...that said, Pearlman and Pinto both hit the basic point that Ibanez' complaints are really better aimed at the current climate in the game rather than the particular folks pointing fingers at him; the rumors may be unfair but we've passed the point of sanity a long time ago in this discussion. I think it's still somewhat premature to point the steroid finger at a guy for having a good year in the middle of June a little more than a third of the way through the season, but Ibanez really is at the point where he's pretty likely, at age 37, to blow away his career high in homers, and oddly he's hit 13 of the 21 away from Citizens' Bank Park, whereas last season he hit 14 of 23 at home, so the obvious explanation of a homer explosion triggered by escaping SafeCo doesn't seem to hold water.
UPDATE (from the comments): Joe Posnanski, who has followed Ibanez in KC for years, weighs in - it's worth reading the whole thing, as is always the case with Posnanski, but the core of his argument is that Ibanez has always been unusually streaky:
Look: Through 55 games, Ibanez was hitting .329/.386/.676 with 19 homers.
OK, let's start in 2002. That year, Ibanez had a 50-game streak -- June 7 to Aug. 2 -- when he hit .328/.385/.704 with 15 doubles, five triples, 15 homers. He drove in 54 runs. Few noticed because the Royals were abysmal that year, and it was in the middle of the season. But that stretch, you will note, is about as good as the stretch he's on now. In some ways, it's even better.
In 2003 he had a 55-game stretch where he hit .326/.360/.514 ... not as good, but pretty damned good.
In 2004 he hit .365 over a 54-game stretch. In 2005 he got off to a dreadful start and then hit .330/.400/.524 over his next 55 games. In 2006 he hit 18 homers and drove in 57 runs in a 52-game stretch.
Over the last 52 games of the 2007 season Ibanez hit .363/.425/.652 with 15 homers.
Last year, for 55 games, July 12 to Sept. 14, he hit .374/.435/.648 with 17 doubles, two triples, 13 homers. And that, you might remember, was in Seattle and a lousy hitters' ballpark.
This is a man who, when he gets hot, absolutely tears up pitchers. I've seen it up close. He has had a 50-to-60 game hot streak EVERY SINGLE YEAR since 2002.
Didn't realize that most were hit out of Philly. Very suprising. Safeco is one of the best pitcher parks in the majors, so your other stat quite relevant as well.
Unfortunately as an older player who got a late start on regular playing time he's going to hear it.
Joe Posnanski over at si.com defends him nicely, showing he's had streaks like this before, just never to start the season so they mostly went unnoticed given the teams he was playing on. Click on my name to read the article.
If he does wind up hitting 40+ homers at his age, I'm really not going to buy a non-PED explanation, but I' agree this could just be an early-season hot streak.
All I can say is Raul Ibanez has been my secret weapon since 2002 for winning roto leagues.
Anyone who cannot watch a baseball player have a breakout season or a peak season without assuming the player is on the juice should stop watching the game. I'm serious. Watch the X-Games or MMA or "Real World vs. Road Rules." Maybe we should investigate Bert Campaneris' 1970 season? Or Rod Carew from 1975-1977--very out of character power surge considering his typical season? Jeff Burroughs' 1977 season had to be the result of chicanery. Ibanez has been a very good player on very bad teams that happened to play in pitchers' parks. Now, he is with a good team in a hitter's park. For heaven's sake, Rick Telander was accusing Ryan Theriot of juicing last month. Get a grip!
Ibanez's early power is far less surprising than Joe Mauer's. At leas Ibanez is known for some decent 'pop' while Mauer is already about to surpass his season high during a campaign where he skipped most of spring training & didn't swing a bat until April.
I think nothing untoward is going on, but if we're going to look at numbers and raise an eyebrow.....(that and Broxton looks like a juice-era Eric Gagne).
Mauer is 26, a big guy and has hit a ton of doubles - he fits to a T the profile of a guy you'd expect to have a bust-out home run season naturally. (People have been projecting that since he slugged .570 in his first go through the league).
As a Phillies' fan, I thought the Ibanez signing, at age 37 this year, was a disatrous mistake. Three years, when no other similar OF (Dunn, Burrell, etc.) got more than two, and more $/yr. than any of them. Plus two lost picks. Plus they didn't offer arb to Pat B., so there goes another pick. They didn't draft till #75.
So, I'm still unhappy. The Phils have to win the WS to justify this signing, as they've really mortagaged the future with this move. I drives me nuts when Philly sportswriters (pretty much all of them) say, "Nobody doubts the Ibanez signing now." Oh really? How will it look two years from now?
I don't know whether Ibanez is on steroids or not, just like I don't know Mauer is. Mauer fits the profile of someone who is going on a normal career path.
However, the problem here is that we "don't know", and we can't be reasonably expected to believe 'innocent until proven guilty' anymore. Especially when most of the drugs being used today are NOT detected by the means available to MLB.
Furthermore, while people have praised Ibanez for coming out so strongly and say that's 'proof' that he's innocent, I caution them to remember Rafael Palmeiro doing the same thing in front of Congress. Ibanez knows the MLBPA is not going to let him take anything beyond the normal tests MLB uses today, so saying he'll go above and beyond is basically meaningless.
Finally, Ibanez's cries about this not being fair fall on deaf ears as, while he very well may be clean (and probably is), his silence while all the other players were doing it, and it was running rampant throughout baseball, means he's created the environment where this type of speculation is going to happen. So, sorry Raul, but I don't feel bad for you. You should have stood up and demanded testing back in the 90's.