Ryan Braun Got Off Easy

Yesterday, MLB suspended Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun for the remainder of the 2013 season for violating MLB’s drug policy. He’s not contesting the penalty so it’ll go into effect immediately. The suspension stems from a list provided by Anthony Bosch, the founder of Biogenesis Lab, that had the names of MLB players who the company sold performance enhancing drugs to. The list also included Alex Rodriguez, Melky Cabrera, Nelson Cruz and other big leaguers. For months now, MLB has been investigating the connection between the players and the lab and rumors have heated up in recent weeks that the players on the list would be facing lengthy suspensions. Braun, like most other players on the list, was not cooperative with the league and refused to comment on the investigation.

This all comes just a couple years after Braun tested positive for a banned substance, but had his suspension overturned thanks to a mistake in the chain of custody in processing his urine sample. He got off on a technicality.

Braun is very lucky.

Braun is very lucky.

Now, Braun is finally suspended, but the punishment is much more lenient than fits the crime. Of the 65 games he’s suspended for, 50 are for him purchasing PEDs from the Biogenesis Lab and the other 15 are for his actions during the appeal process of his previous failed test.

Braun has lied repeatedly about using PEDs. He tested positive for steroids and then stood in front of the cameras and declared that he never ingested a banned substance. After he got off, he released a statement saying, “I am very pleased and relieved by today’s decision. It is the first step in restoring my good name and reputation. We were able to get through this because I am innocent and the truth is on our side.” What a bunch of BS.

So after all of this, what’s his punishment? A lousy 65 games, the $3.25 million in salary that goes with it and nothing else. He’ll be back for spring training and Opening Day next year, ready to go on as if none of this every happened. Of course, his legacy and career will always be significantly tainted. Buster Olney called him the Lance Armstrong of baseball, a fitting title. But the actual punishment is weak.

The Brewers are terrible this year – so Braun won’t miss out on a pennant race or the playoffs. He’s just taking a long offseason. And the punishment only goes down as his first violation – if it had been his second, it would’ve come with a 100-game ban and a third failed test is a lifetime ban. His decision not to appeal the ban also means that MLB Players Association won’t get involved, which could’ve been really ugly for Braun as the MLBPA was considering not supporting him in his case.

In addition, both MLB and the Players Association released statements commending Braun for taking responsibility for his actions. Taking responsibility?! He cheated, lied and is escaping with missing less than half a season! And his statement on the suspension? He spends more time looking for sympathy than apologizing.

I know MLB wants to get these suspensions over with and move past Biogenesis. It wants to put stories about performance enhancing drugs behind it and focus on the game. I bet A-Rod will work out a deal with the league in the next few days as well. But this isn’t enough. The punishment against Braun is weak.

And it’s not just fans who want a clean league, the players are sick of it as well. They wanted Braun to go down hard, but will surely be disappointed by this outcome. This wasn’t a tough punishment. It was a weak deal to put this episode in the past. And once again, Ryan Braun got off easy.

Yasiel Puig vs. Jose Iglesias

A quick break from the political and policy world to focus on baseball. In particular, I want to look at the season that Yasiel Puig has had so far. The Los Angeles Dodgers rookie outfielder has taken the league by storm, earning both NL Rookie and Player of the Month awards in June. Sports Illustrated featured him in their latest magazine and he also finished 2nd in the All Star final vote. Overall, not a bad start to a player’s career.

But, as a biased Red Sox fan, I want to push back on all this publicity. First of all, Puig hasn’t even played in 40 games. Under just about no circumstances should a player who’s appeared in a quarter of the season make the All Star game. Puig is off to an incredible start, but his stats aren’t good enough to justify inclusion over other NL snubs such as Ian Desmond or Jay Bruce. Freddie Freeman is more deserving as well I’m glad the fans chose him over Puig in the Final Vote.

Now to my Red Sox bias. Over in Beantown, the Sox have their own rookie who’s off to just about as good a start as Puig, but isn’t getting anywhere close to the attention. That would be shortstop Jose Iglesias. Let’s take a look at Puig and Iglesias’s stats side-by-side.





































Without a doubt, Puig’s batting stats are better than Iglesias’s, but not by that much. The Dodgers rookie has hit for a lot more power in fewer games, but Iggy has more walks, fewer strikeouts and that’s given him a higher OBP, even though his batting average is lower. The ultimate comparison between the two hitting-wise is a park-adjusted runs above average stat. Puig checks in at 17.6 while Iglesias is at 11.7.

But the comparison doesn’t end there. We have to take into account fielding where Iglesias is as good as it gets. Anyone who has seen the Sox’s 22-year-old rookie play the field knows what a privilege it is to watch such mastery. He was touted in the Sox farm system as a player who couldn’t hit, but boy could he field. While his hitting has been a shock to everyone in the Sox organization, his fielding has been as advertised. That’s not to take anything away from Puig as well. He’s played some excellent defense across the outfield and has a great arm. But it’s about Iggy is up there with the best of them in the field. Unfortunately, the stats are tough to evaluate, because Iglesias has played more than half of the year at third base, a position he’s never played before.

Jose Iglesias is a wizard at SS.

Jose Iglesias is a wizard at SS.

The best fielding statistic we have right now is Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR)/150, which measures how many runs above average a player is for an entire season (measure as 150 games). At shortstop, Iglesias has a UZR/150 of 15.5, third in baseball for those who have played 150+ innings at the position*. At 3B, the numbers are really ugly. Iglesias’s UZR/150 there is -31.3, entirely because of his limited range at the position. Out of baseball third basemen, only Kevin Youkilis and Mark Reynolds have worse UZR/150. But is it really fair to judge a rookie at a position he’s never played before? Iglesias is a wizard at shortstop and would undoubtedly become a great defensive third basemen if he stayed at the position (which he won’t because of how good he is at SS). This skews Iggy’s defensive stats entirely so that his fielding value is -2.7. That’s massively unfair to one of the league’s best defensive players.

Puig has played almost entirely RF (290 out of 390 innings) and posted a UZR/150 of 3.4, slightly above-average. When his fielding value is calculated, it checks in at 0.3. Is Puig a better defensive player than Iglesias is (at their respective positions)? Certainly not. Any scout or baseball analyst will tell you that. With Iggy at a new position though, the statistics favor Puig.

Finally, we must factor in base running into the comparison, where neither is particularly good. Puig has stolen five bases and been caught three times while Iglesias has stolen two bases and been caught once. Statistically, both are below average on the base paths: Puig checking in at -1.2 and Iglesias at -1.7. Those numbers should improve as they both mature and spend more time in the league.

Having gone through offense, defense and base running, it’s time to add it all up with every baseball analyst’s favorite stat: Wins Above Replacement (WAR). WAR measures how many wins a player earns his team above a basic replacement level player. It’s a cumulative stat so Iggy has the advantage of having played more games. Nevertheless, Puig leads the Sox rookie 2.1 to 1.6 in this all-telling number. Of course, Iglesias’s defense, a major assets of is, has actually hurt him statistically this year because he’s playing a new position. If Iglesias had been at short all year, the gap would be much smaller or could even disappear.

Either way, neither is worthy of playing the All Star Game in New York. You have to play more than a quarter of the year to be deserving of that. But the next time you hear ESPN tout Puig as this wunderkind who’s saved the Dodgers season, take a look at Iglesias instead and see how he stacks up. The answer might surprise you.

(All stats from FanGraphs.com)

*BTW, in almost 200 innings last year, Iggy’s UZR/150 at SS was an astronomical 46.5. That’s how good he is.

Punching (and Padding) Doors

Ryan Sweeney broke his pinky finger

Update: Here’s Sweeney talking about the injury before today’s Sox game: “I’ve talked to a lot of guys. Everybody’s thrown their helmet or thrown their bat or hit something.” As I said, players hit things out of frustration. It’s a human reaction. Let’s protect them.

As Sox fans now by now, Red Sox backup outfielder Ryan Sweeney is likely out for the year after fracturing a knuckle in his pinky finger. Sweeney was frustrated after going 0 for four Monday night and took out his rage against a door. The door won.

Now without a doubt, it was a dumb move by Sweeney. But it was also unlucky. Players punch things all the time. That door has punched many times this year. Just look at what Valentine said after the game:

“The door he had actually hit was dented, so it wasn’t the first time. He must have went at it in the wrong direction, because there’s been multiple whacks at it.”

First off, if players are punching the door enough to dent it, it’s time to pad the thing already. Baseball can be extremely frustrating and players need a place to take their frustration out. Anybody who has played the sport can attest to that. There are plenty of times when you come back to the dugout and just want to punch something. In a little league season with a game every few days, that frustration dissipates in between games. In a 162 game season where that frustration has the chance to build game after game, often it can explode.

So here’s an idea: knowing this, why not protect players? We can call them dumb all we want, but frustration boiling over is a human trait and we see it happen all the time. Think how many times you see SportsCenter show players throwing a water cooler or smashing a bat or something like that. I’m sure it happens frequently down the tunnel and in the locker room too, as Valentine indicated by saying the door has been punched before. How about we pad these things then? Or even better, put a punching bag there, put a punching bag in the dugout. Give the players something to take their frustration out, not something int he weight room, but something immediately as they come off the field. It’s not going to stop all the dumb injuries, but it can certainly help. (Image Via)