Wednesday, June 3, 2009

If Rick Telander can wonder, can I?

Mid-May, the esteemed Rick Telander from the Chicago Sun-Times penned a controversial article about the small Ryan Theriot who was on a mini-home run binge (for him). Telander wondered aloud, that given the cloud of PED use enveloping MLB, could we assume that Theriot was doing this cleanly.

To wit, Theriot -- no disrespect, but if he's 5-11, I'm 6-12 -- hit two home runs Wednesday night at Wrigley Field against the Padres, giving him five times more home runs in 33 games this year than he hit all last season.

That rings the steroid/HGH/ whatever-designer-drug-is-in bell, doesn't it?
To see that from an established MSM cornerstone like Telander and the CST was, um, revealing. The jokes about David Ortiz's downfall have been mostly around him "being off the juice", though I tend to agree with Bill Simmons' take more than a lack of "juice".

The point of the run-up is that I have to wonder aloud what's going on with Raul Ibanez? He's been a quietly consistent run producer in relative anonymity for years in Seattle (and KC before that). He hit a career high 33 home runs with 123 RBI in 2006. His 162 game average is 23 home runs and 95 RBI. A solid major leaguer and from all reports, an even better person. The kind of guy who's hard to root against.

Last night, on his 37th birthday, Ibanez pounded 2 more home runs, giving him 19 on the season, 50 games into the season. We can point to a better lineup and a smaller home ballpark, but it was precisely this type of late-career spike that we ignored 10 years ago. Isn't it?

Ibanez is "on pace" (the dreaded term in stats) for 61 HR and 165 RBI. Really?

Wondering if he's a product of his small-park? Not really. He has hit 11 of his 19 HR away from home. Only 8 HR and 23 RBI (he's at 51 now) have come at home. Maybe it's due to having Howard, Utley, Victorino, et al surrounding him instead of Yunieski Betancourt, Adrian Beltre and Russell Branyan.

Playing at age 36/37, Raul Ibanez is having a career year. Know who else had a career year at the same age? That Barry dude. Yep, 2001. Remember that year? Barry turned 37 mid-season and hit 73 home runs that year (after a previous career high of 49 the year before). Phillies fans, before you sharpen your spears, please just finish reading and allow yourself to consider this. If you "wite-out" his name and merely look at the raw data, you have to wonder.

You know who else had a similar mid/late-career spike after a solid, above average MLB career: Luis Gonzalez. Previous high of 31 home runs. Hit 57 in 2001. Never hit more than 28 after that. Gonzo's 2001 season came at the age of 33. Do you think Gonzo's 2001 season was lillywhite pure?

Do I think that Ibanez is cheating in some way? No, I don't think so. But doesn't it, at least, look like the same late-career outlier that we now look back at for other players and point out "ah ha!"? We've done this for every player we thought/knew was using.

One thing we (all of us baseball fans) have the benefit of is the ability to look back and point out outliers and spikes. Players DO have career years. We're good at looking back and saying "see, this guy was a good ballplayer for years and suddenly, BOOM". But given the climate and the cloud that remains over the game, should we just ignore what we are seeing this year because of better testing? If Manny Ramirez could get caught while still trying to skirt the PED testing policies and procedures, who's to say others aren't doing the very same thing?

I'm as sick of the PED discussions as anyone else, but we're witnessing an incredible spike right now for Ibanez. We at least have to wonder if he's clean. That's a real shame. There's no way to prove innocence. We just have to hope that he's clean. But it'd be lazy to assume it.

* Please don't construe this as some "anti-Ibanez for the All Star Game" thing. It's the coincidence of hitting 2 HR on his 37th birthday, giving him 19 HR in 50 games, that's all. I continue to say that Ibanez's performance justifies a starting spot. The point of this posting is noting the curiosity of his spike and the parallel to Bonds' 2001 season at the same age.

Follow-up, related posting: Ibanez defends himself


The "WHTNEP" San Diego Sports Fan Collective said...

Ibanez has destroyed us in the last few games Pads/Phills have played....test him immediately!

tHeMARksMiTh said...

Until I see that this is something more than an odd 50 game stretch, I'm not going to say anything. If he ends up with 40-45, I'll be fairly suspicious. But this is the world in which we live, and he'll have to answer for it. It's too bad really. Guy has career year as big f-you to all the people that bashed his contract, and no one trusts that it's legit.

Jason @ IIATMS said...

I hear ya, Mark, and I debated that fact. But if Telander could open the door after Theriot's little flurry, why not?

Besides, the birthday + 2 HR and a nice round number of games (50) made it tailor made.

Alex K said...

While I don't think Ibanez has taken anything it is a question that will, and maybe should (sadly), be asked.

However, the Theriot thing is just plain dumb. The guy got hot for a week or so and hit some flukey HR's, that's all. I get the point of the article is that no one is above suspicion, but really you're gonna put Theroit's name to it after a week?

Anonymous said...

Here is my thoughts on PEDs. I watch baseball to see outstanding plays. I don't care about how someone trains, or what drugs he takes, it is the outstanding plays that make be watch. I get as much or more enjoyment out of a "How did he do that" defensive play than I do from a home run. Mr Ibanez has several tings going for him with the Phillies, and one of the things that you didn't mention is that the pitching in the NL is not quite as good as in the AL. If your looking for PED use, I'd look at the guy in San Diego hitting them out of PETCO Park.

Jason @ IIATMS said...

Anon 1:40: so you don't care about the PEDs, but you want to point at Adrian Gonzalez anyways?

maybe he's guilty, maybe not, but no matter what, he's still in the upswing of his career arc. not what should be the downswing.

Need tix said...

Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times had an interesting article on why he thinks that Ibanez is doing so well. Like this article, he notes that Citizens Bank Park is a lot more hitter friendly than Safeco Park and that another 2 of the homers were at another hitter's park- Great American. Add to that the homers Ibanez had at another launching pad- New Yankee Stadium, and quite a few of the "road homeruns" might as well be CBP homeruns. I'm hoping he's just locked in right now and that's all.

Jason @ IIATMS said...

NeedTix: We all hope that's the case.

BetsyY said...

Do you guys know that he uses one of those hyperbaric chambers (I think that's what they are called) that boosts his oxygen? He said he uses it at home whenever they have a homestand. I think a few other players have them - can't remember who - but it would be interesting to compare their production. I also know he does some kind of martial arts - maybe he just started that in the last few years? It really helps with one's focus and endurance. So I want to believe that Raul is doing what he is doing naturally.

Mike @ said...

i think the real point that Telander makes is that we're at a point in baseball where nothing is done without being suspicious nowadays.

shit if Jason clubs too many home runs in his local softball game this week, I'm calling buster olney!

Sara K said...

I have always loved me some good D, and I think the whole PED thing has made me love it a little more. Steroids can't make the pivot.