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Great Moments in Bad Ideas for PED Punishments

Aug 16, 2012, 5:45 PM EDT

Hard Labor

Remember before there was PED testing and all of the PED-crusaders talked about how nothing could be trusted and no accomplishment could be considered legitimate until there was PED testing?  How they talked about a regular, routine PED enforcement regime would be the key to ending the PED epidemic and hysteria?

Well, we’ve had that for a long time now, but it hasn’t changed anything.  Despite the fact that a positive drug test and suspension should be held up as evidence that the system is working as designed, any time a major leaguer tests positive for something and gets suspended, people come out of the woodwork to assert how our regular and routine testing regime we have is awful. That it is somehow evidence that it is itself ineffective. That we need to implement some new and ever-more-draconian punishment.

In that vein comes a suggestion from ESPN’s Michael Smith. He was on “Around the Horn” a little while ago and echoed something he tweeted this afternoon:

In other words, deduct five wins from the Giants current win total to reflect Melky’s tainted contribution to it.

Points for creativity — I haven’t heard about a team forfeiting wins outside of NCAA football — but not many points for practicality. Indeed, it is not just impractical (who gets those wins that were lost? How does it work in the standings?) it is arbitrary. That’s because it does more to punish the clean teammates of the drug user than it does to punish the actual drug user.  And that’s before you get into the fact that no one, not even its most ardent proponents, has been able to reach anything approaching a consensus on the best approach to calculating WAR, let alone its utility, especially in single-season samples.

Not that that last part matters. Indeed, I tend to believe that a seemingly-sensible but ultimately nonsensical punishment like the one Smith suggests is going to most appeal to the people who are the least likely to understand statistics like WAR in the first place.

UPDATE: Criticism aside, I may actually be coming around to this solution. Why?  Because this bit of brilliance:


If Michael Young willingly took steroids, got suspended and thus gifted the Rangers with two more wins, he’d be sure to get another couple of MVP votes this year, because that’s ultimate team-player stuff right there.

  1. dowhatifeellike - Aug 16, 2012 at 5:53 PM

    It doesn’t sound so crazy to me but the player still has to be punished.

    Those old scouts with the bad eyes and fear of technology, though, they’ll have a coronary just reading this.

    • egb234 - Aug 17, 2012 at 12:25 AM


      Hard to imagine how old scouts with “bad eyes and fear of technology” are going to find a way to read an online blog with a default 12 or 14 font print.

      Also, every living person has coronaries. Every single one.

  2. rickyspanish - Aug 16, 2012 at 5:58 PM

    Great picture.

  3. kopy - Aug 16, 2012 at 6:01 PM

    Walt White is on to something. Ladies and Gentlemen: Your 2012 AL Central Division Champion Minnesota Twins.

    • wlschneider09 - Aug 16, 2012 at 11:43 PM

      This is the first thing about the Twins that has made me laugh in such a loooooonnnng time.

  4. bigleagues - Aug 16, 2012 at 6:07 PM

    Of course, calculating a team penalty by using the suspended players WAR has all kinds of pitfalls. The Michael Young example is a perfect illustration of the absurdity of this approach. And one would have to wonder just how long it would be before a team desperate to make up ground arranges for a Swiss Bank Account payoff to the player on their roster with the worst WAR.

    On the other hand, I do like the idea of 1st offense 100 Game Suspension AND automatic termination of contract.

    • bigleagues - Aug 16, 2012 at 6:08 PM

      And I LOVE Craig’s creative WAR-PED conjunction.

    • paperlions - Aug 16, 2012 at 6:56 PM

      Yep, it would be a new strategy, every team would carry a pitcher whose job it was to give up a crapload of runs in blowouts to amass huge -WAR, and then to get caught taking greenies (all they would have to do is get caught with them on an airline inspection and that would probably trigger a penalty).

    • Maxa - Aug 16, 2012 at 7:12 PM

      >On the other hand, I do like the idea of 1st offense 100 Game Suspension AND automatic termination of contract.

      That seems like it would be vulnerable to an analogous pitfall. If a player is signed to an exceptionally team-friendly contract (Evan Longoria, say), it may actually be lucrative to have their contract terminated.

      • bigleagues - Aug 16, 2012 at 7:35 PM

        GOOD point.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Aug 16, 2012 at 7:36 PM

        Short of giving the entire MLBPA a huge dose of psychotropic drug, there’s no way they’d ever let something happen that could terminate their contracts, nor make them non-guaranteed.

  5. kevinbnyc - Aug 16, 2012 at 6:18 PM

    Finally! A way for Michael Young to silence his critics, show some true leadership and do something that isn’t overrated. Because, let’s face it, steroids are awesome.

  6. revansrevenant - Aug 16, 2012 at 6:29 PM

    Perfect solution: If you get caught once, you’re out of the league. Forever. To make sure there are no cracks to fall through, everyone gets tested. Daily.

    Do you think anyone will be using PED’s then? I don’t.

    • hittfamily - Aug 16, 2012 at 6:38 PM

      Do your parents let you walk home from school all by yourself yet?

      • revansrevenant - Aug 16, 2012 at 6:40 PM

        You can do better than that.

    • paperlions - Aug 16, 2012 at 7:00 PM

      If you are that worried about the effect of PEDs on sports, you should probably re-order your priorities.

      No one ever suggests that if a politician is caught lying once, he can’t be a politician anymore, or if a company is caught cheating people (like every insurance company and bank out there) or not following pollution standards (like nearly every energy/chemical company), they should immediately have to cease operations….and those things would actually matter in life. Nope, let’s just give those fellas a slap on the wrist (or a pat on the back, which happens just as often)….and go after entertainers.

      • revansrevenant - Aug 16, 2012 at 7:14 PM

        I don’t care at all, to be quite honest. However, if we are actually serious about cleaning up the PED use in baseball, then the best way to go about it is to do as I suggested. That is, if we are serious. I have my doubts. Baseball is somewhere around 4th or 5th on my sports priority list, I’m just here because it’s the hockey offseason and I’m tired of reading about the CBA negotiations.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Aug 16, 2012 at 7:37 PM

        if we are actually serious about cleaning up the PED use in baseball

        What has given you any indication that anyone is serious about cleaning up PED use in any sport?

      • schlom - Aug 16, 2012 at 8:11 PM

        Baseball is just your 4th or 5th favorite sport? And you say hockey is your favorite sport? I guarantee that a higher percentage of hockey players use steroids than baseball players. I also assume you watch football – do you care that probably every single player in the NFL uses steroids?

  7. byjiminy - Aug 16, 2012 at 7:47 PM

    I know I’m preaching to the converted, but here’s one more reason it wouldn’t work to take away wins from the team corresponding to the cheater’s WAR: It would give an incentive for people to dose an opposing team’s best player.

    You’re behind the Angels by three games, with two to play in the season? No problem, you spike Pujols’s food.

    No test would ever be believable, because any star busted could claim he was set up and framed, and it would be a plausible explanation.

  8. royalsfaninfargo - Aug 16, 2012 at 7:56 PM

    I think the worst aspect of this is if he somehow wins the batting title. Getting injured with enough at-bats is one thing, the same for the Willie Mcgee situation in 1990. Getting rewarded for a suspension would look really bad for MLB.

    • stercuilus65 - Aug 17, 2012 at 2:51 AM

      Yep about as bad as giving the MVP to a PED user.

  9. test2402 - Aug 16, 2012 at 8:06 PM

    Let them shoot themselves up. It’s no worse than a vicodan prescription. Whores dig the long ball right?

  10. proudlycanadian - Aug 16, 2012 at 8:48 PM

    The best definition of the value of WAR came from Edwin Starr “War, huh, yeah, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing.”

  11. baseballfanboy - Aug 16, 2012 at 9:09 PM

    I realize that this is a really steep punishment but it’s done in the Olympic sports: out for 2 years and forfeit of all wins in the competition you competed in. This explicitly includes team events. In track, members of relay teams have repeated lost their medals because one of the teammates was caught doping.

    They also freeze all samples and test them several years later because new tests are developed in the meantime, meaning that sometimes medals get reassigned years later (see Beckie Scott who went from 3 to 2 to 1 about 2 years after the 2002 Olympics). Right now, they are testing the 2008 Olympics and there will be some new medal winners in a few months.

    I realize that in US professional sports testing years later and forfeiting wins won’t really work. We can’t redo the 2004 WS if they now found out someone on that team was juiced 😉 But you could exclude the team from the post season the season the positive test occurred and make the player pay back the full year salary.

  12. metalhead65 - Aug 16, 2012 at 9:39 PM

    it seems there needs to be more of a punishment if players keep taking them. I like the one and done idea myself. suspension for first offense lifetime ban for second. what is so terrible about that? just like the junkies like strawberry&howe never learned no matter how many times they were suspended these cheaters don’t seem to care because they know they get another chance,so stop giving them multiple chances.

    • kinggw - Aug 23, 2012 at 12:45 AM

      There’s a huge difference between PED’s and recreational drugs. Both Howe and Strawberry had serious problems with recreational drugs. Im sorry using Cocaine didnt make either one of those guys cheaters. Im not really sure that using synthetic testosterone makes you a cheater either. I understand that against the rules, but its debatable about how much it helps your game.

      Jeremy Giambi was a juicer how did that work for him? Furthermore, why are todays major leaguers cheaters for using HGH and testosterone, but the players in the 70s and 80s who used amphetamines weren’t? That’s a nasty double standard that nobody talks about.

  13. brewcrewfan54 - Aug 16, 2012 at 9:47 PM

    Just let them juice. If these guys want to put their bodies in jeopardy to make money go ahead. I’d love to see a 800ft homerun. We all act outraged about PED’s and I’m sure most of us would prefer to think our sports are clean but they aren’t and they never will be. Let guys serve the punishments in their CBA and lets not get ridiculous about it anymore because it isn’t worth it.

  14. dremmel69 - Aug 16, 2012 at 10:05 PM

    First reason why taking wins away from a team for player PED violations is a bad idea:
    – Increases the team’s incentive to assist a player in covering up/denying the violation. It totally works AGAINST league efforts to enforce PED punishments.

    Second reason:
    – Having players like Cabrerra (or Ryan Braun) suspended is already a team punishment, isn’t it?

    Third reason:
    – Why ratchet up punishment after a player voluntary owns up to his misdeeds and accepts the punishment? That literally tells players to avoid owning up to it when caught.


  15. rjostewart - Aug 16, 2012 at 10:38 PM

    MIchael Young should probably stay away from any “PEDs” this Walt White is offering. Especially the blue ones.

  16. Walk - Aug 17, 2012 at 3:52 AM

    People make mistakes. I like the way punishment is set up now but it could be tweaked. For instance something along lines of makea first offense a year long but cut it back to the 50 games if the player stays clean durning first months and is tested when the league sees fit during year, so increased testing and add a counseling period for that year as well something along the lines of educating a player to the risks he has taken. Anyway the current system allows a player to make a mistake or two and not totally ruin their livelihood, what they are doing is wrong but i think it is important to educate them and allow them a chance to redeem themselves without automatically shutting them down for a whole year or longer.

  17. hsven1887 - Aug 17, 2012 at 4:47 AM

    Points deductions are normal in other sports, for various offenses, so why not in baseball?

    It would give the teams more incentive to ensure their players don’t dope.

    Taking WAR as a determinator for the number of points would be silly, though – it should be a fixed number.

  18. temporarilyexiled - Aug 17, 2012 at 8:22 AM

    Craig, brilliant idea. Let’s somehow combine the argument for adding sabermetrics to old-school knowledge with penalizing teams for what their players do. Yeah, this is me being sarcastic.

    I’ll be the first to acknowledge that the Giants have some ‘splanin’ to do regarding Bonds, Guillen, Mota, Cabrera. It’s too much of a coincidence.

    But you can’t against rushing players to PED judgement before there’s any proof, and then somehow be for penalizing the team, when it’s awfully hard to prove that they signed him knowing he was using PEDs.

    I give you that I’m not buying Brian Sabean’s latest soundbite about how shocked he is. I’m sure they’ve known something was up since the rumor started up last month.

    I just can’t get behind penalizing the team for this. That said, the Giants are already screwed. Melky was having a monster season, and there’s no replacement to be had.

    And, I might add, he just cost himself tens of millions of dollars.

    Two last points.

    One, yes, this proves the system is catching people. But to assume that it’s catching enough people is naive. It’s always an arms race, and it’s been already stated by someone who wrote the book that Melky got caught because he was stupid; that he should’ve easily beaten the system.

    Two, obviously, 50 games hurts, but maybe not enough. I do think the penalties should be stiffened. At some point, even the most brazen will decide the ROI/risk equation has changed.

    • temporarilyexiled - Aug 17, 2012 at 8:25 AM

      “…you can’t *be* against…”

  19. pw38 - Aug 17, 2012 at 11:51 AM

    I personally think it should warrant a year ban at the minimum for first time offenders. What happens to the unpaid salary for a suspension like Melky’s? If not already, for a suspension the team should be fined the amount in salary that the player is losing. It seems like something serious needs to be done about this. 50 games just doesn’t seem like enough.

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