The Meaning of Ryan Braun's Big Game for Punished PED Users
Ryan Braun 2014
Big day after a slow start
Through the first six games of the season, Ryan Braun had only three hits in 20 at bats, to go along with one walk. He had driven in no runs on the season through six games as well, but all that changed in Philadelphia when he faced a familiar pitcher who he has posted good career numbers against. In Braun's first two at bats against Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick, he hit a three run homerun to left field and a solo shot to right field. Braun's big day was not over though, as he hit another three run homerun against Phillies reliever Brad Lincoln in the eighth inning. Some expected Ryan Braun to start slow because they assumed he would no longer use PEDs after his suspension. For recent players suspended for the use of performance enhancing drugs, their production typically fell off the following season. For Ryan Braun, his slow start may have had more to do with a thumb injury that was hurting his swing.
Does big day mean Braun can produce at career norms before his suspension?
Before getting suspended for 65 games last season, Ryan Braun had set the bar very high for his career norms in production. However, he could always be pitched to, as only once in full seasons played by him, did he have fewer than 100 strikeouts. His career low in homeruns for a full season is 25 homeruns that he hit in the 2010 season. Every other season in his career, he has hit 32 or more homeruns. As a 6'2" and 200 pound hitter with great hand to eye coordination, Ryan Braun may just have a skill-set that allows him to be a very good power hitter. Only twice in his career has he hit below .300, so along with being a good power hitter, he is also a pure hitter as well. The big day for Ryan Braun, gave him 10 percent of the homeruns that he would need for the season to reach his expected total, based on his career norms. It is safe to say that Ryan Braun is well on his way to producing a homerun total that matches one of his typical seasons before his suspension.
Meaning for the skill-sets of other punished PED users
In 2013, after serving a fifty game suspension to finish 2012, Melky Cabrera switched leagues and still produced a season that was similar to his career norms outside of his breakout 2012 season. Melky Cabrera has never been much of a power hitter, so his 2013 season in Toronto was not very surprising, after having to switch leagues in free agency. This season he is off to a very hot start and his skill-set does not appear to be diminished at all, as he already has hit more homeruns this season than he hit all of last season. Nelson Cruz is a significant player that was suspended along with Ryan Braun last season. He has always been a power hitter, and is off to another good start in the power department this season, with two homeruns and a slugging percentage over .500 through 8 games played. Another player suspended last year is Cardinals shortstop Jhonny Peralta, who is off to a slow start after switching leagues in free agency. He does have two homeruns already, and as a former third basemen, power has always been a part of his game. All of this evidence would suggest that having to stop the use of performance enhancing drugs, does not change a players skill-set much.
Why do players use PEDs?
Part of the reason why some players use PEDs, is that it changes the way they see themselves as a player. Performance enhancing drugs allow a player to do things in batting practice, that they have never been able to do before. Live action in Major League Baseball is not batting practice though, but the confidence a player has at the plate, can go a long way in the development of their game. Being stronger can change some deep fly balls into homeruns for PED users, and change line drive outs into doubles off walls. However, the difference for players that use performance enhancing drugs could be so minimal that it only has a small effect on their overall numbers for a whole season. Players do not think about this or the consequences before beginning use of PEDs though. Instead, the fans have seen many extremely talented players put their reputations and careers on the line by using PEDs. One logical explanation for this risk, is that players need a mental crutch when the game gets too fast for them between the lines. The evidence we have here suggests that great players who used PEDs are all very talented and should instead be relying on their natural talent, along with hard work, to have success at the plate.
Based on what is evident around baseball, players will be able to maintain their skill-set after moving on from PED use. Even when they were using PEDs, the players still had to have the skill to square up the baseball on their bats, in order to hit the ball out of the yard. In the past, players like Mark McGuire and Barry Bonds, used enough PEDs to bulk up to the size of a typical NFL linebacker. Recently in Major League Baseball, we have not seen players with that appearance, so whatever they are using, is done discretely enough to not make it obvious. Ultimately the players who have been caught using PEDs, can move forward this season and produce at solid rates. For players like Braun, who are around age 30, with years of his prime still ahead of him, a drop off in production is not to be expected.