Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Who are the Biogenesis Thirteen?

So here's the list of players suspended on Monday by MLB for their part in the Biogenesis affair:

  • Alex Rodriguez
  • Nelson Cruz
  • Jhonny Peralta
  • Everth Cabrera
  • Antonio Bastardo
  • Jordanny Valdespin
  • Jesus Montero
  • Francisco Cervelli
  • Cesar Puello
  • Fernando Martinez
  • Sergio Escalona
  • Fautino De Los Santos
  • Jordan Norberto

If you're not a baseball fan, you've heard of one of these guys: A-Rod. If you're a casual fan, you may have heard of a couple more. Cruz was an All-Star this year, and has shown up on endless blooper reels for the way he played outfield in the World Series a couple of years ago. Peralta and Cabrera were also All-Stars, middle infielders with a bit of sock and a lot of speed, respectively. But one played in Detroit, where he was overshadowed by Miggy and Prince and Verlander, and the other played in San Diego, where no national reporter has dared set foot since Tony Gwynn retired. So, semi-famous at best.

If you're a serious baseball fan, you've heard of maybe half. Bastardo has a funny name and had a great run for the Phillies out of the pen a couple of years ago. Valdespin was internet famous this spring for taking a 98 MPH fastball off his equipment bag and living to tell the tale. Montero's a classic busted prospect, the centerpiece of a Seattle-Yankee trade a few years back, and Cervelli's the guy who had to try to replace Jorge Posada for those same Yanks. To be blunt, none of them are what you'd call "good". 

Then you go deep. F-Mart's a failed Mets prospect of a few years back. Cesar Puello is a Mets prospect, one who put it all together this year, but the road to Flushing is littered with busted prospects like him. The other three are fringe relievers, guys who've gotten a cup of coffee or two but are even money to never get another one.

And you look at that list, and you realize that all the myths about PED use are wrong. The notion that they turn every batter instantly into Babe Ruth, well, there's three sluggers on that list out of 13 names. Cabrera can still barely poke the ball out of the infield. Martinez never found his power stroke. Cervelli couldn't hit water if he fell out of a boat that had already sunk. And Montero, well, the less said about a guy who couldn't out-slug Justin Smoak, the better.

PEDs don't instantly turn every pitcher into a smoke-throwing monster, either. Bastardo throws hard, but it appears PEDs don't help much with command. De Los Santos was walking 9 guys per 9 innings in 2012. Escalona played in 2009 for the Phillies, then spent two years in the minors without sniffing the bigs before getting all of 27 innings last year. Worldbeaters, these guys ain't; not even up to the level of Mitchell Report mentions Ryan Franklin and Guillermo Mota. 

No, whatever these guys got from BioGenesis, odds are it didn't make them Hulk out. It didn't make them great, and in most cases, it didn't even make them average. But it's clear they thought it would give them something, and that, perhaps, is the one truth of PEDs.

Look. No matter what anyone tells you from "looking at a guy", we don't really know what effect PEDs - and that's on helluva broad category - have on baseball performance. We're pretty sure they don't help with pitch recognition, or with building a repeatable, sustainable pitching motion. They don't seem to help with bat speed - which is pretty much completely independent of strength. And they don't help your batting eye. HGH seems to help guys get back on the field faster after injuries, but then again, so does a cortisone shot, and nobody seems to be rushing to outlaw those.

All we do know is that people think they work. That, more than anything else, explains the names we see here. The failed prospects. The up and down guys. The fringe players looking for an extra edge to get a little more time in the Show. And until we realize that - really realize that, and take the air out of the myth that one shot of ground up bull gonads is going to take the second coming of Rabbit Maranville and turn him into Jimmie Foxx - we're not ever going to have an honest, sensible approach to what PEDs mean for the game. 

Because the guys who maybe became superstars were pretty much already stars. A-Rod was a transcendent talent long before he let Anthony Bosch stick anything into his ass. Ryan Braun wasn't Herschel the skinny yeshiva bucher before suddenly juicing his way to triceps muscles. It's at the fringes where the desperation is sharper, the need for a little edge clearer, and the difference between breaking camp with the big club and another year riding buses between Reno and Tucson can be measured in years left in your career. It's at the fringes where this stuff is really happening, and it's the fringes we should care about if we actually do give a damn about the impact PEDs might be having on the game.

Look at those names again. If you only care about the one at the top, or the two or three following, and you don't give a damn about the other guys who used, then you don't actually give a damn about PEDs in baseball. You're just following the herd, indulging in selective outrage because Colin Cowherd told you to. If you actually do care, though, look lower. Remember those names. And realize that they - and the fact that they felt they needed to look at Anthony Bosch and say "Do it" - are part of both the problem, and the solution, too.
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