The Tip of the Iceberg

StarlingMarte

On Tuesday, baseball was rocked by news that Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder, Starling Marte had been suspended for performing-enhancing drugs.

Marte tested positive for the drug Nandrolone, which is an anabolic (muscle-building) steroid derived from testosterone. It is his first offense, so he will receive an 80-game ban without pay.

Under the current program, players are tested at the beginning of spring training and are then subject to testing at random points, throughout the season. A second failed test results in a full-season’s suspension and the third a lifetime ban.

Marte might not be a household name outside the 412 area code, but it is a big deal for baseball, because he is an established, major league regular with a track record of success.

Since 2006, when harsher penalties were instituted, baseball has seemingly managed to keep its nose relatively clean. While there have been notable exceptions (Ryan Braun, Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez to name a few), the general consensus seems to be that the game is clean now.

Major League Baseball would certainly like you to believe that. With the game already teetering on the edges of popularity, the last thing they need is another, full-fledged outbreak of cheating.

Like it or not, things may be trending backwards. The evidence is there, in the form of statistics. While players aren’t regularly topping 60 home runs, like the good old days, power has quietly been on the rise.

Thirty-eight players hit 30 or more home runs last year, and an additional seven were right on the doorstep with 29.

That’s a 46%-increase from 2007, when only 26 players topped that threshold. That’s a super-crude way to measure power, but when Brian Dozier is crossing the 40 home run plane, that’s when things start to look a little sketchy.

It’s unfair to single Dozier out. Many players have tapped into previously-unseen power in recent seasons. On the pitching side, there are a number of players who have experienced success after witnessing a sudden spike to their fastball-velocities.

And, it seems we are seeing an increase of soft-tissue injuries, tweaks and strains. It could be a by-product of steroid use – tendons straining to accommodate newfound muscles.

Last year, I wrote about Bryce Harper’s incredible, 2015 season. It was not accusatory in nature; I was just raising the question of whether or not the public is being duped again.

Writers have found all sorts of creative ways to explain the phenomena. With the advent of PITCHFX, they are able to cite data with names that sound more like an FAA-briefing: launch angle, exit velocity, etc.

Time will see whether they are right this time, or if baseball is almost due for another culture shock.

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