Sunday, May 18, 2008

When Bad Is Good

When you look at the number of people slumping in April, it's got to make you feel good about the game of baseball. And why is that?

Because that means it's the end of steroids.

OK, maybe I'm overstating, it but really...take a look at Gary Sheffield. Going into 2007, Ole Gary had only once batted below .276, and had been the model of consistency for years. However, starting in 2007, when the Bonds steroid scandal truly broke big, suddenly, Gary's average and power had dropped dramatically. Actually, it fell off a cliff. As of today, his BA. is .190, or a little more than 100 points under his lifetime average. He has two HRs and 8 RBIs.

David Ortiz, who hasn't finished lower than 5th in MVP voting since 2003, was of this writing, batting .239. His slugging percentage is at .436, or roughly 200 points below his average for the past two years.

Jason Giambi, despite a gold thong-inspired jump in average and power this week, is, despite his surge, still batting .193. His bat speed is slower than my Mom's. He has batted over .300 just once since 2002, after having batted over .300 for 4 seasons straight.

Of course, this could all be coincidence. But the way I like to see it is...well....that this is all a good thing. Because people are watching, noticing. Paying attention. And not just fans, but other baseball players.

I'm talking about Barry Zito, Andrew Jones and Dontrelle Willis. Guys who haven't taken the illegal Kool-Aid (that we know of), who are having completely crap years. In my mind, it's the best thing that these guys are having crap years. I'll explain.

Major League players have seen Roger Clemens get dressed down by Congressional members and get their lives autopsied by the media. They've seen Barry Bonds on the unemployment line despite last year's .565 slugging percentage and 132 BBs and in general. The players have seen Mark McGuire get passed over for the Hall of Fame in an overwhelming display of condemnation by the media who once worshipped him. And they've seen the players who once ruled the game, have their bodies break down and these players become shells of themselves.

So, maybe, just maybe, Barry Zito, or Dontrelle Willis, or Andrew Jones, either dropped their steroid habit, thus explaining their precipitous drop in stats, and their having terrible years is all just a correction, which is true and proper for baseball—or they are avoiding steroids, even though they in the past, they might have been tempted.

A few years back, if Barry Zito had had a problem with flagging arm speed, he might have just turned to Jason Giambi or Barry Bonds and gotten some help. And then there would have been "dramatic and miraculous" career recovery, a la Roger Clemens. And the same thing might have happened with Andrew Jones or Travis Hafner—a sustained slump followed by a remarkable and truly unbelievable turnaround with off-the-chart power or newfound bat speed.

However that doesn't seem to be the case. It seems like slumps are lasting and are sustained. Hafner hasn't been the 2004-2006 Hafner. Carlos Delgado isn't having an extraordinary end-of-career surge. And Ben Sheets is still having problems with injuries; not suddenly coming back quick and injury-free.

And all that bad play is good. Ballplayers have slumps. It happens. But maybe, now, with all the infamy and shame from Bonds and Giambi and Clemens, these new guys will try to deal with their problems themselves. They will take their slumps and will ride their bad play out. And all this bad play, is good for baseball.

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