Why the media hopes the 2012 Brewers and Ryan Bruan go away

As the Brewers spent most of the 2012 floundering as a result of atrocious relief pitching, it was easy for the mainstream sports media to ignore Ryan Braun’s performance. Quietly, Braun has been putting together another MVP candidate-caliber season.

Some will claim that Braun was a victim of the coastal bias in sports media coverage, and that with the Reds running away with the NL Central, Milwaukee’s 2012 was just not a compelling storyline. Perhaps, there’s some truth to that, but I think there’s another reason popular sports media figures have been relatively reticent to discuss Braun’s campaign. Simply put, Braun’s 2012 is incongruous with the publicly accepted narrative regarding performance enhancing drugs and Braun’s narrow offseason escape of PED penalties.

I’d assert that the following statements represent the dominant beliefs of the casual sports fan, as well as the general narrative espoused by mainstream baseball media.

  • So-called “performance-enhancing drugs” actually do enhance a player’s performance.
  • The system of testing for such drugs is generally working. (Some even claim “the steroid era” is over.)
  • Braun evaded punishment for PED use on a technicality. He was guilty but was exonerated due to a procedural fumble.

If I had been pushing these points, I’d be hesitant to talk about Braun in 2012, as well. Any way you slice his season challenges one or more of the above assertions.

Braun is the same old Braun in 2012. So, it seems one or more of the following statements should be true.

  • Braun was actually not using PEDs, and our collective self-righteous desire to tar and feather led the public and media to smear a clean player based on circumstantial evidence.
  • Braun was using PEDs last year and he must be continuing to use them this year. This use has gone undetected. The system isn’t working as well as we think it is.
  • PEDs don’t actually help players or, at the very least, their effects are individual. It’s possible to take PEDs one season and not take them the next while maintaining virtually indistinguishable levels of performance.

The Brewers have been making a late-season playoff push recently, thrusting Braun into the spotlight and MVP discussion. Somehow, I still doubt that we’ll see these questions addressed in any meaningful way.

Oh, and in an episode of more mundane egg on sports media’s collective face, Braun has already proven one of the offseason narratives regarding his expected performance wrong, as he clearly does not need Prince Fielder hitting behind him to be on the very short list of the game’s best hitters.

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Comments

  1. Jonathan Sher said...

    @David

    I think you are still waiting for the article that exonerates Braun. Derek said Braun’s performance suggests that at least one of three assumptions about Braun was proven false, not that all three were false. While it’s possible he never used PEDs, I think it’s far more likely that he stopped using them after he was caught, and in his case, stopping their use hasn’t affected his performance.

    I say that, by the way, as a big fan of Braun who happens to be in the media (covering health care and politics, not sports). I’m neither defending or criticizing the media coverage of Braun last year as I only read a small fraction of that coverage.

    @Derek
    Good analysis and I especially enjoyed your point about Fielder/protection in the order.

  2. obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

    I’ve been waiting too for more coverage on this dichotomy.  Particularly in places like THT and Fangraphs, as you are major fan outposts that is not a part of the mainstream media and major sabermetric outposts.

    I think the questions you bring up are apt and should be examined, particularly since a significant member of the sabermetric community has been reporting on his website that steriods do not appear to help athletes.

    Eric Walker of “The Sinister Firstbaseman” and the write of the A’s handbook that has guided them for around 30 years now has a website, High Boskage House, where he has a smattering of his research that he has made available for public consumption.  One of them is about steroids:  http://steroids-and-baseball.com/

    Another well-known sabermetric writer, the baseball economist JC Bradbury, has written about how HGH has no positive effects on baseball performance:  http://www.sabernomics.com/sabernomics/index.php/2007/04/i-dont-worry-about-hgh-in-baseball-and-neither-should-you/

    He has written extensive on this topic over the years:  http://www.sabernomics.com/sabernomics/index.php/category/growth-hormone-hgh/

    I believe that Walker also makes a persuasive argument that the offensive era was due to a juiced ball, not juiced humans:  http://highboskage.com/juiced-ball.shtml

    But I remain open to more and in-depth research into all these areas.  I find them interesting and appears to be valid, yet nobody has followed them up and better publicize whether or not they are correct.

    Are their stances crackpot, or on the mark?  I’ve seen no one able and willing to address these issues, which I find incongruous given all the consternation in the MLB fanbase regarding these.  I find it troubling that the media, who blew it in not pursuing the steroid trail in the 90’s, are just as intransigent today in not pursuing this alternative line of inquiry that PED usage might not have affected play as much as thought or feared.  Fears that the media first ignored and now fan.  Perhaps it is self-serving, as many in the media has made a lot of money writing about big bad steroids, so nobody wants to stop the gravy train.

    I hope someone here will take it upon themselves to follow up on these links that I provided, I would love to see another viewpoint into their assertions and whether they are missing something or on the mark.

  3. David said...

    As a Brewers fan, I’ve literally been waiting ALL SEASON for this exact article.  It’s about time somebody SOMEWHERE finally said it.  Thanks, Derek.  We know the protection thing is a myth, and have known that for a long time.  But remember all the media members that wanted to crucify Braun?  I’d love to hear one – JUST ONE – apology.  But we’re not going to hear that.

    The fans are brutal, too.  Over on Fangraphs, there was a discussion of Braun that was basically littered with comments about how he’s still on PEDs, how he “got away with it.”  For most people, the conclusion has been drawn (from incomplete evidence, I might add), and everything has been decided.  They’re happy to write off Braun forever.  Well, if the Brewers get into the playoffs and Braun wins two legs of the Triple Crown, plus leads in WAR (he’s leading at FG, closely trailing at B-R), I just don’t see how anyone else COULD win the NL MVP (especially if yesterday’s performance by McCutchen was a blip and not a sign that things are turning around).  Frankly, I think he should be the MVP regardless of team performance, but if the team completes this miraculous comeback, I don’t know how the media’s going to handle that.

  4. hopbitters said...

    @David : If the media had any integrity, they wouldn’t have vilified him in the first place over rumor and innuendo. Which is to say, don’t hold your breath. I expect that from them though. The part that I find most disturbing is the leak itself.

    Based on my readings (as an idiot and a non-lawyer, mind you), the leak was either a violation of HIPPA regulations or the MLB Joint Agreement, depending on where in the process the leak was. Now, MLB violating their own agreement is about as shocking as the sun rising in the morning, but I would have thought that somebody would be a little interested in the possibility of a HIPPA violation. Apparently not.

    @ogc : I’m by no means an expert on this stuff, but the assertions seem pretty reasonable ostensibly, at least. And anecdotally speaking, they match up with what I’ve heard from a few trainers with experience in that area.

  5. Derek Ambrosino said...

    I’m not an expert on PEDs either, but the more I read about them and the more time that passes – and the more we see Moore’s Law in action, the more I’m compelled to think that PEDs are a)just one of many technological advancements that may have benefited athletes while being inherently (not policy-wise, I’ll get to that) morally indistinguishable from accepted technological aids (various surgerys, for example), and 2) of highly variable and largely unknowable effect on the individuals who take them.

    As long as they are against the rules, using them is cheating and I’m for punishing their use. …If people aren’t supposed to use them and you use them you are cheating, even if you didn’t work. …Attempted robbery is a crime too.

    But, I find it harder and harder each day to understand why they are illegal in the first place.

    I mean, geez, what happens when all the players wear Google Glasses. How far are we from athletes literally becoming low level cyborgs – surgical procedures with “intelligent” or bionic muscle technology? Aren’t we going to look like a bunch of Luddites pretty damn soon anyway?

    All that being said, we should also judge Braun under the rules and moraes of his time. But, even the hardest line anti-PED fan has to acknowledge that we need to actually test these hypotheses.

    Fun Fact – My wife just came back from watching the Mets in Milwaukee for the weekend. She got a shirt that says “Ryan Wasn’t Lyin’” on it. I looked at her and said, well, I am getting fat, but, “PEDs don’t actually help players or, at the very least, their effects are individual. It’s possible to take PEDs one season and not take them the next while maintaining virtually indistinguishable levels of performance.” is probably too much to fit on a t-shirt!

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