It was announced yesterday that Melky Cabrera has been suspended 50 games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. He was found to have testosterone levels that indicate he was using illegal supplements to boost his performance. It’s a shame that a guy that was having such a good year, and was helping his team toward the playoffs, now will sit out the rest of the season because of a dumb mistake. The curious thing about it, to me, is that he apparently wasn’t doing anything to boost his power (just 11 home runs, and 46 extra base hits – good enough for 57th & 17th in the league). I’m guessing that this was some type of doping that allows a person to recover quicker from day to day, and allowed Cabrera to play at his highest level from one day to the next. Though, at the age of 27, it would make sense for him to be coming into his prime years, which should be better than any before. But, a positive test is a positive test.
This all got me to thinking, though, about the guys that are performing well this year. Some of them have performed well for several years, and it’s not big surprise (Hamilton, Cabrera, Granderson, Pujols, etc.). Some are coming into their prime, and are turning into players that are going to be fun to watch for the next few years (McCutcheon, Braun, Stanton, etc.). But, because of the cloud of suspicion that has risen in recent years, I have a difficult time not questioning the validity of some players’ numbers when they’ve been on a clear decline over the last few years, and suddenly are performing at a high level. Athletes don’t hit their prime years, start to decline, and then suddenly have a resurgence. It just doesn’t work that way.
That being said, I’m honestly surprised that no one has thrown any suspicion in the direction of the Chicago White Sox. Let’s start with Alex Rios. He had a terrible season last year at the age of 30 – .227/.265/.348, 13 HR, 44 RBI. Now, previous to that year, he wasn’t an awful player – just less of a player than the big contract Toronto had given him. His average year was .281/.330/.454, 17 HR, 77 RBI, in 148 games. I fully expected him to turn it around somewhat this year, but he’s done more than just get back to the player he had always been. He’s on pace to set personal high’s in home runs, RBI, batting average, slugging, and OPS. All at the age of 31! Go look at your typical baseball player’s stats. At the age of 31, they have maybe one or two seasons left, in which you might call it their “prime” years. In other words, the numbers they’ve put up since the time they were about 26 years old, are going to hold steady for another year or two, before starting to decline. The key here is that Rios isn’t performing like he did in his prime years – he’s outperforming them, at the end of his prime.
Next up – Adam Dunn. He, too, had an unusually terrible season last year – .159/.292/.277, 11 HR, 42 RBI. And, I certainly expected somewhat of a turnaround, even though he is 32 years old this season. But, while his batting average continues to be a pathetic .208, he’s on pace for 47 HR, 113 RBI, and an .827 OPS. That home run and RBI total would surpass the numbers that even he had compiled in his best slugging years in Cincinnati (a very friendly hitter’s park)! Yes, Dunn has always been a slugger – but setting personal bests at the age of 32 is a rarity, especially coming off of the year he had last year.
The final piece of the suspicious puzzle is probably the most questionable – A.J. Pierzynski. Pierzynski turned 35 last December. He’s well past his prime years, especially for a catcher, who has to endure a significantly larger amount of wear and tear than other positions. Yet at the age most catchers are beginning to contemplate retirement, Pierzynski is having the best year of his career. He has already surpassed his personal best in home runs (23 this year, when his average the previous eleven seasons was just 11). And, he’s on pace to surpass his personal best in RBI by nearly 20 (93, when his average has been 58). And, his OPS is on pace to be over 150 points higher than his career average. All this at the age of 35? Something’s amiss.
If it were just Adam Dunn, I’d say – “Okay, so last year was a fluke, and he’s back to being a slugger again.” If it was just Alex Rios, I might think, “Maybe Ventura has helped him out.” But, three guys on the same team, all at the end or past their prime, all setting personal bests in significant batting numbers? There’s no way that’s a coincidence. And, unfortunately, the steroid-era has made me very suspicious of such anomalies.