Focusing In: Adderall and Baseball

By Bryan Holcomb
Managing Editor

The Orioles made news last week, but not for the reason fans hoped. Rather than clinching the division, the O’s lost one of their power bats in Chris Davis, who was suspended 25 games after testing positive for amphetamine use. Although he was having a sub-par season overall, posting only a .196/.300/.404 line, he managed to hit 26 home runs, and that power will be missed dearly come October.

The fact that he was suspended for amphetamines stirred up plenty of debate on the internet. Many point to the fact that “greenies” were once not only legal, but commonly used among baseball’s best. That may be true, but the reality is that these substances, whatever you want to call them, are illegal now, and a failed test creates consequences.

There are many who posit that amphetamines shouldn’t be illegal. Adderall, the argument goes, has no physical effects in the game. That Davis took Adderall should not have affected his power last year, nor his power this year. This is a shaky argument at best. While it is true that Adderall does not develop strength more quickly than HGH or other steroids, it does provide a boost of energy. According to a CBS Sports report, Adderall provides a controlled energy burst, and is strong enough to warrant the DEA classifying it in the same category as cocaine. The effects of an energy burst in a game where action takes place in short stints are pretty apparent: swinging faster and running harder.

More than any other sport, though, baseball requires mental focus. It’s the norm for players to spend hours studying the scouting report of pitchers, and it’s very easy to lose focus. Adderall has also been a recent problem in the NFL, where players are also required to watch substantial amounts of film. Within the game, the need to focus is much higher than any other sport. At-bats may seem short, but the time between every pitch is spent recalling the pitcher’s scouting report, attempting to guess what the next pitch will be, and accounting for the situation (runners on base, outs, defensive alignment, etc.) Having artificial help in preparing for each at-bat dramatically facilitates this mental task — and gives an advantage over those who have not.

That being said, Adderall is not completely illegal in baseball, like other performance-enhancing drugs. All it requires is a prescription — which is surprisingly easy to get. According to CBS, about 4.4 percent of the adult population requires Adderall, yet 9.9 percent of Major Leaguers carry a prescription. Davis even had one in 2013; he just forgot to renew it this year.

Chris Davis is not the only guilty party here. He is just the most recent, and the most prominent, in a list of players receiving suspensions for Adderall, even as the list of exemptions granted continues to grow longer each year. While Adderall might not be quite as potent as HGH, the performance-enhancing effects are there — both physically and mentally, and certainly affect how the game is played.


With numbers like Ichiro and Clemente, Houston must utilize Altuve

By Mike Griffin
Staff Writer

There are few things more exciting in the sports world than watching a talented player become a star. If the player in question plays for your favorite team, it gives you a sense of satisfaction that can only be topped by a championship. Even if you dislike the team on which the star plays, there is a feeling of excitement that comes from competition and seeing the game played well. Even as a Yankee fan I remember feeling that sensation watching Dustin Pedroia become one of the best players in the game. It’s just something you have to respect.

This season, one player in particular has, after a period of moderate success, become a bona fide star. He leads the league in batting, and is having a season that is reminiscent of Ichiro’s in 2000. However, this particular player has received little attention during a season full of close divisional races and excellent pitching performances. Despite the superlative nature of his bat and glove, he is mostly unseen to casual fans of the game. His name is Jose Altuve, and he plays second base for the Houston Astros.

Altuve is in his fourth year, and after a period as a serviceable everyday infielder for the Astros, the perennial bottom-feeder with stints in both the National and American Leagues, has managed to become the centerpiece of what is shaping up to be a bright future for Houston. Hitting in front of the likes of powerful hitters such as George Springer, Jon Singleton and Chris Carter, Altuve’s lack of power is an asset, not a detriment, and his ability to reach base regularly has become invaluable. At this point, he leads the majors in batting average and hits, and the AL in steals.

There is another interesting element to Altuve’s career trajectory. In a sport obsessed with its own history, where, as I mentioned in a previous piece, a player is never the best, but rather the best since, Altuve’s career bears striking resemblance to that of another star who was under-appreciated in his time: Roberto Clemente. Altuve is physically similar to Clemente in many ways; an excellent hitter and fielder with limited power and a diminutive frame. From a statistical perspective, however, he is better. Through this point in his career, he is ahead of Roberto’s pace in hits, doubles, runs, WAR, oWAR, steals, and OBP (he is ahead of Clemente’s On Base Percentage by 30 points). He has been in two more All Star Games, and is also injury-free, unlike Clemente, whose bad back gave him constant pain and put him on the disabled list for long stretches.

Clemente’s career was defined by his striving to overcome the circumstances of his life in Pittsburgh: a press that dogged him (they called him Bobby, despite his insistence on Roberto), a team that underachieved, and the failure of the American public to recognize his many accomplishments. He made it to the World Series only twice during his 17-year career (winning both), posted a .362 batting average and took home an MVP award. For most of his career, he was an outstanding member of a mediocre team, and in this way Clemente and Altuve are very much alike.

There is one notable exception. Free agency did not exist during Clemente’s career. He stayed in Pittsburgh because he had no other option. In modern baseball the allure of stardom, money and a more impressive legacy causes team loyalty to play second fiddle. Despite my steadfast belief in the sanctity of the game, and the preservation of its best elements, I have no problem with free agency. There is nothing wrong with players taking their talents to the places where they will be financially appreciated the most. While I respect the class of Derek Jeter, and love him dearly, I understand that it is not good for the game to have the best players play their entire career in obscurity and frustration like Clemente did.

But as okay as I am with free agency, and as good as it is for the game, the process spells doom for the Houston Astros. As a ball club in the middle of the payroll pack, they have Altuve under contract for four more years. After that, his bat will draw the attention of teams with deeper pockets and better playoff chances. His skill set, which ages well, gives him the potential to become a regular All-Star and one of the best players of his generation. But if Houston does not improve in the short term, he may dedicate his best years for a team that can succeed around him.

Houston’s offense has developed exponentially over the course of this season. After a 2013 season in which they were near the bottom of every major offensive metric, they have improved to a young, offensively average ball club, one that has gone .500 since the All-Star Break. They have young power (They are fourth in the Major Leagues in home runs) and terrific potential, especially when you consider the fact that they start only one player older than 27. When you combine the offense with a starting rotation that has been more than acceptable this year, despite having only one starter with an ERA under 3.50 from 2011 to 2013, you can see that this a team with the potential to become a contender.

But the big question is how soon will the potential become a reality? The Astros have already missed out on Masahiro Tanaka and Jose Abreu, two players who could have transformed the franchise and didn’t enter the bidding wars for Yasiel Puig or Yoenis Cespedes, the latter of which was signed by an Athletics team that had less money to spend than the Astros do. Unless they start to realize just how close they are to being a contender, and become comfortable with spending money like a playoff squad, then Jose Altuve’s future in Houston, and the future of the Astros as an organization, will not be totally optimistic.

MLB’s hand is forced to take a unique approach to its biggest problem

By Ben Fidelman

There is one major negative stigma attached to each of the four major American sports. Football faces the issue of long-term health effects of its constantly violent game. Fighting and excessive hitting are topics that plague hockey, and basketball deals towards more off-the-court issues such as conduct, drugs, and alcohol. Baseball has steroids.

If you were a commissioner of a professional sport, which of those issues would you rather have to deal with?

Quite simply, baseball is the only one whose major issue hasn’t been something that’s ingrained deeply into the fundamental structure of the game. Who would watch football if hits were capped at a certain intensity? How many viewers would stop watching hockey if there were no fights or open-ice checks? What would basketball do if the NBA heavily censored the colorful characters that take the court every night?

Baseball would survive perfectly today without steroids, and is working actively to get to that state. The others, would not. It’s why baseball villainizes these performance enhancing drugs — taking it so far as to wage war against some of the game’s biggest stars — while other sports are largely still wrestling with what direction they want to go with their issue.

Another difference between baseball and the other sports is that steroid use isn’t a tangible in-game act that can be punished. You can give a football or hockey player 15-yards or five minute major for a high hit, but baseball doesn’t have that option. In the Biogenesis suspensions there weren’t even positive tests — all were from non-analytical grounds. It’s a very public, and long, suspension process for steroid use, and Major League Baseball is okay with that.

That the MLBPA and management have gotten out ahead of this issue is commendable. The sport has gone longer without a work stoppage than any other professional sport, while continuing to make aggressive strides to rid the game of PEDs. With the current collective bargaining agreement coming to an end in 2016 it will be interesting to see if baseball can keep ahead of this problem, and police the sport better than any other league in the world.

Cy Young Profile: Felix Hernandez

Over the course of the next few weeks we will be doing profiles of some of baseball’s best pitchers, and candidates for both the AL and NL CY Young Awards. This spotlight is on The King, Felix Hernandez.

By the Numbers

Felix Hernandez has unarguably been one of the most dominant pitchers in the game this season. His 1.99 ERA leads the American League and his 197 strikeouts tie for second in the AL with Cy Young rival Corey Kluber. His 6.2 WAR already marks an MVP-type season even with well over a month remaining.

Much of his success has come from keeping the ball in the park, as Hernandez has posted a miniscule 0.39 HR/9. He’s kept the ball in the zone as well, walking only 1.55 batters while striking out 9.57 per nine. He’s also been effective at keeping runners off the basepaths, as opposing hitters are batting .193 against him, and his WHIP is only 0.87, both leading the league. No other pitcher, save maybe Kershaw, has had the success that Felix has, and I would be surprised if somebody else gets the AL Cy Young come November.



Notable Games

Felix Hernandez is the favorite to take the Cy Young Award, the result of a truly remarkable run this season. Of his impressive statistics, however, there is one that stands out from the rest: 16 starts in which he pitched at least seven innings and gave up two or fewer runs. While this feat would be impressive even if he were pitching to the Padres every trip to the mound (only one start was against the Padres) nine of these starts have been against teams with a .500 record or better, including the last six in a row. Half of his opponents have been in the top ten in the league in runs scored.

Hernandez’s two losses during this stint have put his team’s sputtery offense on display. The first was against the Texas Rangers, where the mediocre pitching of Nick Tepesch (4-7, 4.29 ERA) managed to hold the Mariners scoreless for six innings before the Rangers slightly more competent bullpen held Seattle hitless for the next three.

The second was a pitchers duel between another pitcher that Felix is battling for the AL Cy Young, in Corey Kluber. Hernandez happened to be on the losing side of Kluber’s masterpiece, his best start of the year; a complete game shutout on 85 pitches. This made Hernandez’s quality outing (seven innings, two runs, five hits) pale in comparison. Something that won’t show up on the game logs is that Hernandez is the ace of the best pitching staff in baseball, a distinction that is often associated with the Cy Young Award.



Innovative marketing strategies could put baseball ahead of competitors

By Ben Fidelman

Major League Baseball is known for embracing its history, both on the field and in the record books, better than any other sport on earth. Although this is an important quality of baseball, one of the greatest issues the game is facing is how to engage younger generations in their youths and draw them in for life.

This sport isn’t one that takes change on the field easily (see instant replay and home plate collision rule backlash), so I believe the way to go will be from the marketing and fan experience side of the game.

It’s always been at the top of owners’ minds to give patrons the best fan experience possible, but what’s becoming evident that simply having a luxurious stadium won’t get the job done. Three or four years after a stadium is built, the features that made the stadium unique upon opening will be old news.

A new concept that has come to mind is something that involves an olive branch from the owners to the fans, and doesn’t involve popping out a billion-dollar stadium every 15 years. This solution will be attractive to fans because it will save them money, and to the owners because it will expand the number of people with eyes on the sport that is bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars for them every year. It’s called transparent pricing.

It’s a simple idea that will see in-park concession prices drop substantially, making it more affordable for fans and families to attend games. According to the 2014 Team Marketing Report, the average total cost of attending a MLB game for a four-person family is 213 dollars, meaning that for many families heading to the ballpark is a once-a-season affair.

Food and drink alone make up about half of that total. Major League owners taking the step to lower prices on concessions will lessen the financial burden of going to a ballgame, and renew a sense of loyalty among the child-bearing generation — definite step that’s needed to capture younger fans.

The novel part of this is where “transparent” comes in. When the team cuts down the price of concessions, it will promise to invest all of the remaining money spent on concessions directly to payroll. This gives fans incentive to eat and drink more while in the stadium (it would have a direct impact in helping raise the amount of money the team would have available to spend on players), along with creating a seemingly personable relationship between fan and team. Every fan that attends a game will know that they personally invested in the on-field product.

Executives can make more finances public, so fans can see their spending at work, as opposed to the current landscape where you have no idea where your cash goes once you buy a bratwurst.

Looking at this concept with a wide lens is important. Teams — not to mention baseball as a whole — would benefit from the more loyal fan bases, along with the fact that the trip to the park would become more affordable, giving more families the chance to come spend money on their products. Teams with more fans in the stadium tend to have the same upward growth in television markets, which is where the real money is to be made anyways. A larger television contract would generate substantially more revenue for a team than what it was losing simply on food and drink revenues.

Breaking the bonds of a tradition-bound sport isn’t something that feels natural when you first look at it. Though in baseball’s case, remember that demographic change is something that has already been conquered by many of its competitors.

Cy Young Profile: Johnny Cueto

Over the course of the next few weeks we will be doing profiles of some of baseball’s best pitchers, and candidates for both the AL and NL CY Young Awards. The next spotlight is on Cincinnati Reds right-hander Johnny Cueto.

By the Numbers

Cueto has certainly been impressive statistically. His 15 wins lead the NL, and his elite 2.06 ERA and 0.91 WHIP each sit at second in the league, trailing only Kershaw in both categories. What’s more impressive, however, is that he has had such success while throwing over 50 more innings than Kershaw, who missed portions of the season to injuries. Upon further examination, however, Cueto appears to be heavily aided by good fortune this season, and will almost certainly face some regression as this 2014 campaign continues. Although his ERA is low, Cueto’s FIP is 3.19. This marks the second-luckiest difference in the NL, behind only teammate Alfredo Simon. His BABIP of .225 is well below his career mark of .275 as well as the league average of .294. No matter the methods, however, the results have been good, and when searching for the most effective pitcher in each league, results are the bottom line.


Notable Games

If there was one word to describe Johnny Cueto’s season, it would be consistency. In twenty-six starts this year, which is tied for the major league lead, he has been knocked out before the sixth innings only once, in a game against the Phillies where he also surrendered four runs. Those four runs were the most he’s given up in any one start this year. Other than that anomaly, he is established as an intimidating presence on the mound. Cueto has thrown four complete games, tied for the second most in baseball, of which two were shutouts, also tied for second most.

His already exceptional season has been punctuated by a particular dominance of the Pirates. While Cueto has been fantastic against the NL Central in general (5-1, 1.92 ERA in seven starts), three of those wins came against Pittsburgh, as well as two of his complete games, one of which was a shutout. During that shutout, he struck out a career high twelve, of which eight were caught looking. As Thom Brennaman, the Reds’ TV announcer said, it was the result of a cut fastball that is all but unhittable when it is working. Those two starts also came back-to-back, which accounted for much of the hype that surrounded him in the early season.

Overall, Cueto has been a lethal strike thrower for a team that is often not entirely behind him offensively. As was mentioned before, he has given up more than three runs only once, but his record does not reflect that. At 15-6, he leads the majors in wins but is tenth in winning percentage, which is definitely connected to his team’s lack of production at the plate. Nonetheless, this year he has emerged as the bona fide ace of the Cincinnati staff, and a viable Cy Young candidate for the first time in his career.


Cy Young profile: Chris Sale

Over the course of the next few weeks we will be doing profiles of some of baseball’s best pitchers, and candidates for both the AL and NL CY Young Awards. The first spotlight is on Chicago White Sox left-hander Chris Sale.

By the numbers

Statistically, Sale has been one of the most dominant pitchers this season. His ten wins are impressive, but don’t put him ahead of other contenders in the AL Cy Young race. He gains that advantage in his rate stats, headlined by an outstanding 2.14 ERA, which is second only to Felix Hernandez. His ERA isn’t due to a lot of good luck either, as his FIP sits at 2.35, also second best. Much of this success is due to outstanding command, striking out 10.18 while only watching 1.62 batters per nine innings. He leads the American League in K%-BB%. He doesn’t allow many baserunners either, with a WHIP of only 0.89, and when he does allow contact, the ball tends to stay in the park, with his 0.52 HR/9 rate. Whether you look at traditional or more advanced stats, Sale is among the best in the league, and at only 25 years old, he has a lot of room until he reaches his ceiling.


Notable games

Sale has been unbelievably effective this season. He has allowed more than three earned runs only twice through 18 starts in this 2014 campaign. But this generally excellent season has been punctuated by four absolutely dominant outings; two complete games and two eight innings shutouts.

The first complete game came against the San Diego Padres. Sale struck out nine, only allowed two hits and one run, retiring the final 14 batters he faced. He did all of this on only 100 pitches. The outing capped a streak of 25 innings, over four starts, in which he had allowed only two earned-runs. His second complete game came against the Mariners, who started six left-handed hitters. He struck out twelve, including the Mariners’ first three batters six times over twelve plate appearances. He only allowed one run, and allowed no walks in either of his complete games.

He also threw two eight-inning shutouts, which might be more impressive. During those two starts, against the Twins and Royals, he struck out a total of 18, including twelve against Kansas City. However, these outings do no illustrate how impressive Sale has been on a consistent basis for the White Sox. He has thrown fewer than six innings only twice, and in one of those he retired the first nine batters he faced, striking out four, but was pulled because of a rain delay. Chris Sale is putting together a career year, and making a strong case for the Cy Young in the process.


Wrapping up

Sale plays in one of the least offensively threatening divisions in baseball, with only one elite lineup in Detroit. That will be taken into consideration when comparing against arms in the other AL divisions, where pitchers face a much higher quality opponent on a daily basis.

When it’s all said and done, Sale has been a premier power arm since entering the league in 2010, and is probably under-appreciated with his team not being considered a contender since he has been on the roster. As is the case in college football with the Heisman Trophy, it will be unlikely to see Sale win the Cy Young without more backing from his squad. Can you imagine his confidence and drive (not to mention statistical improvements with a better defense) if he had playoff-caliber talent backing him every day?