Since the proverbial “S” hit the fan on Wednesday regarding my Monday morning blog post on Raul Ibanez, I have been encouraged and empowered by the reaction from so many observers of this hot button story. The most common refrain I have heard is: apologize for nothing. Certainly it is not the only response I’ve gotten, with some being more colorful than others (just read the comment threads), but at least in terms of the people contacting me directly and the cross section of posts I’ve read on this subject, that has been the majority response.
And generally I agree, and I believe my public comments since Wednesday show this.
In my initial reaction to hearing Raul Ibanez’s comments, I did offer up a small but sincere apology for the simple fact that the Ibanez-steroids speculation had advanced to the degree it had. And while I believe that I was justified in what I wrote in the original post at the center of the firestorm, and that the true catalyst for this story blowing up was the mischaracterization of it by the Inquirer piece and other mainstream media observers, there are two important facts that I feel need to be understood and that have made me feel more “apologetic” — for the outcome as it relates specifically to Raul Ibanez, not the actual story, its content and speculation, or its intent — than many have advised me that I should be:
- I personally do not think Raul Ibanez is on steroids, only that such speculation is warranted for every player in Major League Baseball.
- I personally do not want to see Raul Ibanez ever test positive or be explicity implicated (which, remember, I did not do) in steroids. Under no circumstances will that make me feel one iota of vindication or satisfaction. None. The realist/pessimist in me cannot overlook that last 15 years of Major League Baseball and exonerate anyone in my own mind; however, the optimist in me sees Raul Ibanez as possessing as much potential as any current player to be a catalyst for restoring fans’ trust. And that is what I want to see happen, and that was actually at the foundation of the original hypothesis for my post, which you may recall was that Ibanez is not on steroids.
With that said, like most writers I know do with pieces they write, I look back on the original Raul Ibanez piece and see plenty of opportunities for it to be a stronger piece of writing. In the interest of full disclosure, honesty, and accountability, here they are:
1. Understanding now how many people skimmed or did not even read the article, I would more clearly and emphatically state what I said above in #1: that I personally do not think Raul Ibanez is on steroids, only that such speculation is warranted for every player in Major League Baseball.
I actually think I am pretty clear on this point, but I do somewhat believe that specifically with respect to how I constructed the article I could have been more clear about this fact for those who only read the title or gave the article a passing glance before passing judgment. This does not in any way mean, however, that I think the article in its current form is inappropriate. The truth is, I could look at any post I’ve made on Midwest Sports Fans, with or without external critiques, and find a way that I think makes it better. In that sense, the Ibanez post is like any other post you’d find scrolling through the archives.
2. In reference to the point above, I do not believe the title is 100% relfective of my own personal feelings on the Ibanez debate. It is in some ways more suggestive and speculative than the article itself when the full article is considered in totality. I could have been more respectful of the fact that titles often frame the mindset with which readers view the contents of an article. This could have helped to stem the tide of mischaracterization that I believe occurred with the article, especially for those who didn’t read it or only skimmed it. Again, I fully stand by the title as is, as I do with the article. But might I change it hindsight knowing what I know? I’d certainly consider it, but definitely wouldn’t feel obligated to do so in any way.
3. Rob Neyer, among others, pointed out one specific phrase I used in the article that I’d like to have back, mainly because it simply does not make sense within the context of the article. This point really has nothing to do with Raul Ibanez. It’s just a spot where I think I was lazy in making sure I was putting forth my best effort as a writer. In fact, every time I read it I hear nails-on-chalkboard in my head. Here is Neyer’s comment, from his Sweet Spot blog on ESPN.com, which I agree with 100%, and said so in his comment thread:
That’s not a particularly good piece of writing, because when you say you’re going to leave the speculation unstated and then spend three paragraphs essentially stating the speculation, you’ve written yourself into an uncomfortable corner. Aside from that single clause, though, has Morris — who’s 27, by the way — written anything here that’s unreasonable? Players cheated. Players have lied about cheating. The players fought for years against any efforts to limit or eliminate the cheating.
I’m sorry, players, but you just don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt.
I left that last part in there because it speaks to my higher point. The article, in some ways that I recognize and acknowledge, is not a particularly good piece of writing, and certainly not what I would consider my best work. (In fact, to be honest, strictly as a piece of writing I think it pales in comparison to the post I wrote today about Frank Thomas and the Chicago White Sox, which will unfortunately get 20,000+ less views and 300+ less comments.)
4. The last area that I would love to have a mulligan on is that I wish I had given myself longer than my usual window of 7:00 am – 9:00 am to research, develop, and write the post. Once 9:00 hits I typically move on to my non-sports blogging work out of necessity, but I do enjoy the daily morning challenge of finding a topic to write about so the content stays fresh on MSF. In this case, had I expected the article to be viewed by more people than the buddy in my fantasy league I referenced and 300-400 other people, I would have gone into far more depth researching it. That I can very honestly say.
So those of you who have criticized the article for not going as far as it could have gone in examining statistical reasons to explain Raul Ibanez’s start to this season, I acknowledge your critique. However, I will say in my own defense that many, many other articles have been written that speculated about individual steroid use without the following attributes that my article contained:
- An initial hypothesis of disproving steroid speculation about an individual.
- Objective statistical analysis of more than just topline numbers. I didn’t just cite Ibanez’s HR rate and SLG% and conclude that it was reasonable to suspect PEDs could possibly be an influence because Ibanez is an MLB player and all MLB players, regardless of if their numbers are up or down, are up for speculation. I tried to give specific analysis of the park factor idea that many have alluded to but that not many have specifically outlined with numbers. The truth is, I think the majority of the people who read through the entire article noticed this and have recognized this.
All that said, in the time since I wrote the article I have found a plethora of sources who have taken what I started (and some who had done it before I wrote my piece) and looked deeper into the possible statistical explanations for Ibanez’s numbers. In the interest of complete fairness to Ibanez, here are some of the most illustrative and objective analyses I’ve found, a few of which I mentioned in a previous post:
This first post, from We’re The Team to Beat, was written before my post was even a consideration in my own mind. Notice in the excerpt how the author acknowledges an ongoing debate regarding Ibanez and steroids (as does this post from the blog It’s All About the Money, Stupid, which was also published before I’d even considered tackling the topic for those of you who think I started this debate):
In one of the topics Iâ€™d be chatting in, people discussed Raul Ibanez so I mentioned the piece I wrote yesterday about steroids and good guys like Raul. Of course there are few who believe that Raul honestly did steroids so they kicked around a few other ideas. The most intriguing one I saw mentioned is the split in Raulâ€™s stats between hitting with runners on and no one on base (credit to joboggi).
The author goes on to cite some very compelling numbers showing that Ibanez is historically a much better hitter with men on base, a situation he finds himself in more often with Philly’s potent lineup surrounding him. Thus, an increase in his overall numbers, specifically his AVG/OBP/SLG line and RBI toal, should have been expected this season.
For more proof of just how much better a lineup Ibanez now hits in, consider today’s post from Tom Verducci entitled “Mariners’ offense historically bad…“. Here is the most telling excerpt:
Indeed, the Mariners are a fascinatingly bad offensive team, especially for a team that is playing .500 ball. It’s hard to construct a team in this era, in a league with the DH, that has this much trouble scoring runs. They are last in the majors in runs; yes, worse than the Giants and Padres.
Surely, with a player of Ibanez’s caliber still in the lineup, the Mariners would be better. But these two analyses are very telling of just how impressive Ibanez’s 3-year averages in Seattle were, and how much more protection and run-producing opportunities he has now that he is in Philly.
Update: I forgot about something while initially writing this post. Raul Ibanez has gone from the AL to the NL and that alone provides valid reason to expect his numbers to jump. A commenter on the original post pointed out what should have been obvious to me but wasn’t. I was able to find some numbers to back it up, including the ones below (from this NBCSports.com article) that show the disparity in stats between the leagues during Interleague Play:
Statistic AL NL BA .275 .251 Runs 1,249 1,014 ERA 3.69 4.55
As a White Sox fan and a guy who always roots for the AL in the All-Star Game, these stats are both expected and exciting. The AL rules.
Another point I’ve cited before, though not in the original article, was made by Dan Levy on his On The DL Podcast. Levy mentions that many players have been implicated or suspected of steroid use because of huge statistical jumps during contract years. Ibanez signed a 3-year, $30 million contract with Philadelphia before this season started, so one line of thinking suggests that he should be less motivated to use PEDs.
Of course, there is a flip side to this line of thinking, and relates to Alex Rodriguez. ARod has said that part of his motivation to use steroids was to live up to the massive contract given to him by the Texas Rangers.
Thus, we have legitimate evidence on both sides of this argument, essentially making it a moot point.
But here is another analysis that is anything but moot.
Joe Posnanski, in an article that I have lauded several times since Wednesday, provides multiple examples of 50- to 55-game streches over Ibanez’s career during which Raul Ibanez has had stretches comparable to how he has started this season. The examples span Ibanez’s full career during his stops in Kansas City, Seattle, and now Philadelphia.
And as I acknowledged in my original article, such stretches are magnified when they begin a season:
Personally, I am withholding judgment until we see a full seasonsâ€™ worth of stats. Many players put together terrific runs of 150-250 ABs in the midst of otherwise normal or just slightly above average (based on their career numbers) seasons. Ibanezâ€™s terrific 219 AB run since Opening Day is just magnified right now because it came at the start of the season.
Joe P.’s article simply lends more empirical credence to the idea that Ibanez has proven to be one of those players capable of incredible runs over short sample sizes, and that this should be considered when speculating about the reasons for his hot start.
I also found yet another great statistical explanation for Raul Ibanez putting up much better numbers with the Phillies than he did with the Mariners. The analysis, by Zach Fein of FeinSports.com, includes a discussion of the park factor idea in a manner that is actually more mathematically intricate and in-depth that my own more surface-based analysis of the numbers.
Here is an excerpt of Zach’s discussion of the expected influence of Ibanez changing home parks:
If we adjust his 2006-08 stats from Seattle accordingly, his previously good batting line is now great: .308/.376/.541, with 31 home runs and 116 RBI per year.
His current OBP of .380 is in line with his adjusted OBP, but the slugging percentage is where the major differences liesâ€”an actual .671 versus the adjusted .539.
Why is the disparity so large? Ibanez has hit 20 home runs in just 80 fly balls, a HR/FB ratio of 25 percent. The league average falls around 10 or 11 percent; Ibanezâ€™s was 10.7 and 10.9 percent each of the past two years, respectively.
From 2006 to 2008, Ibanezâ€™s HR/FB percentage was 12.7 percent. Our estimate for his HR/FB percentage this year is about 14.6, which includes a 20 percent increase and a slight regression to the mean (15 percent, to be exact).
Which means that we would expect 11 or 12 home runs in 80 fly balls for Ibanez. (By the way, if we prorate 12 home runs in his 255 plate appearances to average of 681 in his last three years in Seattle, weâ€™d get an average of 32 homers per year. We previously estimated 31 home runs in Philadelphia for Ibanez.)
If we then take away eight of his 20 homersâ€”and add four doubles, assuming half of those eight are outs and half are doublesâ€”his slugging percentage falls to .566 and his OPS to .946. And if those eight non-homers turned out to be all outs, his actual performance this year would actually be worse than what his adjusted stats estimated.
(By the way, my apologies to Zach for including such a large excerpt but I do feel a sense of responsibility to fully present relevant statistical analysis that could help explain Ibanez’s start. I definitely encourage everyone to hop over to Fein Sports and read the article in its entirety…a practice that I am now much more appreciative of than before for reasons that should be obvious.)
After the excerpt above, Zach goes into a detailed explanation of how Ibanez’s current 2009 numbers could also be influenced by random fluctuation, concluding with this definitive statement:
The stats show that aside from his insanely high HR/FB rate (20 home runs in 80 fly balls), Ibanezâ€™s current stats are not too far off from his true talent level. Both his on-base percentage and home run percentage are within one fluctuation of his projection, something weâ€™d see 68 percent of the time, and his batting average is within 1.3 SDs of his projection.
I know that I have also come across other statistical analyses, but I regret that I did not save the links. Please feel free to post them in the comment section should you know of other good statistical breakdowns of Ibanez’s numbers in 2009. The ones above were the ones that struck me as the most illustrative and persuasive, which is why I have included them here.
So what does this all mean?
Well, looking at Zach Fine’s conclusion, he was able to definitively state what I had hoped to state when I initially set out to write my article: that steroids need not be speculated about as an explanation for Raul Ibanez’s fast start because there is such overwhelming evidence to the contrary. And while I have always maintained that I think Ibanez is clean, and that there are reasonable explanations for his fast start, I will happily admit that I am even more strongly in possession of this thought and belief now.
The great posts referenced above are in many ways more detailed and expository than even my own original post, and I’ve always been open-minded to any analysis or argument that perfectly natural factors are influencing Raul Ibanez’s start.
Still, I guess you could say that I just don’t have the same overall level of trust in Major League Baseball that Zach Fine appears to have. Perhaps his trust extends only to Raul Ibanez and only because he examined it in such a methodical way. Either way, I envy Zach because he accomplished what I wanted to accomplish but ended up failing to do: find enough objective statistics and explanations to overcome my pervasive distrust of Major League Baseball and all of its players, who — in my own mind, and in the mind of others — have been colored with varying shades of reasonable suspicion and speculation.
What I came to realize while writing my original article about Raul Ibanez, and in studying the statistical analyses I’ve found since, is that there is no level of objective analysis that will lead me to completely trust a Major League Baseball player save for a line of urine cups sealed and certified with dates and some synonym for the word “clean” on them. It has nothing to do with Raul Ibanez specifically, and in fact he is one of the guys I believe in the most, even moreso thanks to intelligent analyses that Zach Fine’s.
I continue to withold judgment one way or the other on all players, including Ibanez, until definitive proof is presented of steroid use. Honestly, I hope that by adding the statistical evidence above to what I already presented Monday that many other baseball fans can be persuaded to believe in Raul Ibanez specifically.
I will always be honest and provide my opinion on the topics I cover here at Midwest Sports Fans, because that’s what I believe the duty of a blogger is, but just because I’m skeptical doesn’t mean that I want others to share my skepticism.
Because the skepticism sucks, to be honest with you.
The summer of Big Mac and Sammy was awesome when it happened because we all believed that what we were seeing was legitimate. Only in hindsight do we now look back on it with shameful eyes (even though, remember, that Sammy Sosa has never been explicitly linked to steroids…except by Rick Reilly, of course), and I’d give anything as a baseball fan to return to the innoncence I had then. Contrast your visceral feelings during that summer with your feelings when Barry Bonds hit 73 or when Bonds was chasing Hank. We all know how much of a difference there was with that experience, and in many ways it ruined it for so many of us who live and breathe baseball during the summer.
And, by the way, for those of you who think I am opportunistically jumping on this steroids issue now and making a big deal about it because of the exposure I’ve recently received from the Ibanez story, watch the video below. I wrote the lyrics to this song while hungover one day when I was visiting KVB in Miami. KVB, for the record, is the one who who gets all the credit for masterfully finding the pictures and editing them together. This was somewhere in the neighborhood of 3-4 years ago during January…though I can’t remember the exact date.
What I am trying to show is that steroids in baseball (and football too) had already eroded my trust by that point and pissed me off to the point that it was the first subject I wanted to tackle when we created Flash Sports Tonight. This is a subject about which I am passionate and that I take very seriously, so you’ll have to forgive me if I get a bit defensive when people attack my motives as being anything less than genuine.
Anyway, here is the video, which still sums up by anger and disillusionsment with Major League Baseball.
(And for the record, because we have had a problem this week with people making snap judgments without reading or listening to what is actually said, the video is NOT purporting that Derek Jeter was a steroid user. Listen to the lyrics: “…but not Yankees #2…”. And Kenny Rogers’ appearance has nothing to do with steroids, but rather with how the pine tar incident from the World Series was yet another example of a player cheating his peers to get ahead. I hope think that should be all the clarifications that are necessary.)
So, sadly, thanks to the many cheating liars who have shamed the game of baseball, I continue to fight the whispers of doubt in my own head that persist even for the guys I believe in the most, like Raul Ibanez and Derek Jeter — both of whom would be among the players whose implication in any type of PED use would shock me the most.
To conclude this post, I will excerpt from my own post from last night (in which I discussed how much I want to regain trust in Major League Baseball again), because it sums up my prevailing thoughts on what I hope to see happen moving forward:
…And though that evil little whisper of skepticism mercilessly refuses to purge itself from my ear, Iâ€™m still going to fight to be optimistic. And Iâ€™m still going to root for Raul Ibanez, as I have been all along, to someday prove to be one of the explicit justifications for that optimism and a foundational test case upon which that optimism can endure.
And to those of you who made it all the way here to the end, you have my utmost and most sincere appreciation.
Have a great weekend everybody.