CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
  
  
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

<< Previous Article
Premium Article Prospectus Hit and Run... (04/21)
No Previous Column
No Next Column
Next Article >>
Premium Article On the Beat: Wednesday... (04/21)

April 21, 2010

UTK Special

The Volquez Suspension

by Will Carroll

We have our "semi-big" name.

Edinson Volquez was suspended by the commissioner's office on Tuesday for 50 games after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance. That's pretty much what we know, so I'll try to fill in the gaps of knowledge as much as possible, based on the process, Volquez's less-than-illuminating post-suspension statement, and the minimal leaks surrounding the case.

Volquez, a Reds pitcher currently on the disabled list as he rehabs from Tommy John surgery, was tested on or about the first day of spring training, a normal and expected part of the testing program. Volquez, it appears, was not selected at random at either possible point. He could have been selected during the offseason or later in spring training, but was not. Baseball will test each player twice, some three times, while those in the "accelerated program" can be tested significantly more. (Josh Hamilton's near-daily testing is part of his agreement to return to baseball.)

Volquez stated that he was using a drug prescribed to him in the Dominican Republic to assist in starting a family, but that the drug was on the banned list in MLB, causing the positive. He did not name the drug, though many speculated that it was hCG, the drug that Manny Ramirez was popped for. hCG is more often used to assist with the female side of the pregnancy equation, but can be used. Much more likely is something like Clomid, an anti-estrogen drug that can help block side effects of steroids, such as gynecomastia. Clomid's performance-enhancing effects are low in sports such as baseball and show no real tendency to create muscle mass.

There's an additional clue pointing towards Clomid in that Volquez says that it was prescribed in the Dominican Republic. We don't know whether Volquez and his wife sought any sort of fertility treatment in the United States, but we do know that Clomid is not approved for use as a fertility treatment for males in the U.S. It is not approved due to the high incidence of vision problems. Those that have used Clomid in the bodybuilding world often complain of vision changes, usually "floaters" in their fields of vision.

In fact, few drugs that could be reasonably used for fertility, save one, would give much of a performance-enhancing effect. They could however mask the effects of other drugs, which is why they are rightly on the banned list. That one drug is testosterone. The defining male hormone would assist with sperm production and motility if Volquez was not already producing the normal amount of testosterone. Massive testosterone supplementation, as steroid users normally do—and remember, almost all anabolic-androgenic steroids convert to testosterone in the body during metabolization—can cause the opposite effect, including testicular shrinkage, as the body attempts to regulate the levels. If the blood has plenty of testosterone, the body shuts down the testicles. For those with reduced natural testosterone levels, supplementation up to the natural level has none of those nasty side effects, though it can still have plenty of other noticeable effects, such as skin and mood issues.

If the drug was one of these—and again, it's most likely Clomid— then there's no doubt why Volquez failed the test. The drugs are easily detected and Clomid is actually known to increase the detectable period of some steroids by as much as two weeks. Clomid itself has a drug "half-life" of five days, though it can be detected as much as two weeks after last ingestion, depending on the type of test used and the body's metabolism. Other similar drugs have similar detectable periods. If Volquez was using this drug as part of a long-term fertility treatment, the levels were likely quite low in comparison to someone using to stave off the side effects of steroid usage.

If the drugs were prescribed, there are a couple interesting areas to investigate. First, Volquez should probably get his doctor to speak and explain the usage. Clomid is used in non-FDA regulated countries for male infertility, but with access to some of the world's leading fertility specialists in Cincinnati, it takes a bit of a leap to imagine that Volquez would go back to the Dominican Republic for this. Volquez could have elected to file for a therapeutic use exemption (TUE).

Digging through the archives of the Reds beat writers—Mark Sheldon of MLB.com, John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer, and Trent Rosecrans of CNati.com—I found no mention that Volquez looked any different during the early days of spring training. There was also no mention of much of anything in regards to the rehabbing Volquez, aside from on-field references to how quickly he was progressing from his Tommy John surgery. Volquez was on track to return at the low end of the rehab period for the surgery, approaching the record. Of course, that record raises some problems of its own. Many forget that the pitcher who returned from surgery in that short amount of time was Jason Grimsley, a player deeply implicated in the BALCO case.

It's well known that steroids can help a pitcher recover, both from fatigue and injury. It's less clear that any sort of Clomid-type drug could have similar effects. Again, these drugs can be used in combination with steroids, as it is suspected in the case of Manny Ramirez. Given the timing of the test at the start of spring training, it is well within the realm of possibility that a player could have done a cycle or two of steroids during the offseason, hoping that he would avoid the random testing, and then use Clomid or hCG to "kick start" their normal testosterone production as they came off cycle. Cutting it so close to a known testing date is dangerous and stupid (as if using the drugs weren't dangerous and stupid enough) but certainly possible. It makes it difficult to accept Volquez's excuse at face value, absent more corroborating evidence.

The timing of the announcement also raises questions. Why was there a better than two-month gap between the test and the suspension? Some of it can be explained by the standard process. After a player is tested, the samples are collected, shipped to MLB's lab in Montreal, and tested. Any positive test is then re-tested using a process known as "A/B." At collection, each urine sample is divided into two containers, an "A" sample and a "B" sample. The "A" sample is tested and if positive, the "B" sample is re-tested using more sensitive (and expensive) techniques for confirmation. If the "A" sample is negative, the "B" sample is discarded. This process can take weeks, depending on the lab's backload. In the spring when nearly all players are tested, there's a significant amount of testing to be done and many factors that go into how those tests are processed.

After a sample is tested and confirmed as a positive result, the process negotiated in the Joint Drug Testing Agreement goes into effect. On Tuesday, Volquez stated that he did not appeal the test's result, making many question the gap between testing and suspension's length. We've seen a similar gap in the past, with Rafael Palmeiro being the best remembered example, allowing him to reach the 3,000 hit-milestone during the gap. During an interview on Sirius/XM yesterday, Jim Bowden offered up the best explanation I've heard. He suggested that while Volquez may not have appealed (or even been aware of the positive), the MLBPA may have appealed on questions of its own. Gene Orza has long taken a personal interest in testing protocols, so to have the MLBPA questioning testing procedures is possible, if not probable. In fact, the baseball executive from whom I found out about the impending suspension spoke of "the woman" involved in testing, a reference to Christiane Ayotte, head of the drug testing lab used by MLB. While two months is not an ideal gap, it does show the thoroughness of the process and, as I pointed out yesterday, the fact that there were no leaks on this case speaks well to the process in place.

Yesterday's announcement brought out the worst in baseball, darkening the cloud of performance-enhancing drugs that continues to hang over the game despite the most effective testing program in sports. We saw the very basest of fact-less speculation, a gleeful near-universality of suspicion, and a general ignorance that isn't often seen without pitchforks or nooses. Players were smeared by guessing games with no recourse. It makes it difficult to raise interesting questions and nearly impossible to educate. The frenzy—which I recognize started with a cryptic Tweet of my own— will die down to nothing as Edinson Volquez goes from "semi-big name" to just another near-anonymous rehabber on the back fields of Goodyear. It's unlikely that when he returns this summer that anyone will show up to the ballpark with asterisks or syringes. Reds fans will cheer, just as Dodgers fans cheered when Manny Ramirez returned to "Mannywood" and that Phillies fans cheered for J.C. Romero.

Volquez's suspension is another opportunity for both MLB and the MLBPA to show how effective the drug testing program is. Despite an increase in suspensions in 2009, largely a function of increased testing of young Dominicans who have been pushed to use PEDs by buscones, baseball is doing what it is supposed to be doing. Many will raise the red herring of hGH, the continual cat-and-mouse games played by chemists on both sides of the battle, and the near-inevitability of advances in new chemical compounds and genetic techniques making their way into sport, but MLB is one of few winners in yesterday's announcement.

27 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Alex Schwartz

I was following you/this story on Twitter, and I can't help but feel that the way in which the information become public helped fuel the speculation game.

This has little to nothing to do with the glee that baseball followers and writers exhibited, but you'd think that if the name of the player was released along with the news that someone failed a PED test, we wouldn't have nearly as much cause to talk about the "cloud" hovering over our game.

Apr 21, 2010 08:28 AM
rating: 4
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

I don't think you can fault baseball for this. There was little inkling even in the reds clubhouse that this was about to go down. Did it leak a bit early? Yes. Im mnot sure how that could be better managed. I'm also not sure if you're suggesting that the process should be changed and if so how.

Apr 21, 2010 08:42 AM
 
Alex Schwartz

Not blaming baseball. I just think the speculation game occurred because we saw the whole "semi-big" name in the national league.

As you've noted, I think the frenzy was in the not knowing and the interesting concept of each individual's perspective of "semi-big" names in Major League Baseball.

Definitely not blaming you for the cryptic tweet - you dispense whatever information you have available better than just about everyone else in the field.


Apr 21, 2010 08:58 AM
rating: 0
 
ostrowj1

How does this suspension work with Volquez on the 60 day DL? Can the Reds take him off the DL 50 games earlier than they were planning to (obviously predicting such a thing is hard, but still...) so there is no net change in his playing time? How would this affect rehab starts?

Apr 21, 2010 09:22 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

He will serve the suspension immediately, while on the DL. He can do everything normally (rehab, etc) except play games, which he can't do until Game 40 or 45 (I forget which and don't have the JDA handy).

Apr 21, 2010 10:52 AM
 
ostrowj1

Wow... that hardly seems like a punishment.

Apr 21, 2010 11:21 AM
rating: 0
 
CRP13

It's a cash punishment. He won't get paid during the suspension. 50-games off is a punishment for the fans, but for the players the real sting is the money, not sitting on the bench - no matter what they would have you believe.

Apr 21, 2010 11:32 AM
rating: 0
 
thecoolerking
(845)

I'm sorry, but your mea culpa on the tweet is rather weak. You treat the story like a celebrity gossip blind item, then you're surprised that a witch hunt starts?

"I can't believe there was a stampede after I yelled 'fire' in a crowded theater!??!"

Apr 21, 2010 09:35 AM
rating: 4
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

That's no mea culpa, buddy. I have no problem at all putting out what I put out. Where I'd have been wrong is in saying "PED suspension incoming. Wonder who it is. My guess? Joe Blow." There's a BIG BIG difference between putting out solid information like what I did or what Craig Calcaterra did, and what WFAN allowed to happen on their airwaves.

Apr 21, 2010 10:55 AM
 
lonechicken

I was wondering the same thing as ostrowj1. What's to stop any team, like the Reds, from "cheating the system" and activate Volquez now to start the suspension clock?

Apr 21, 2010 10:17 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

No need to activate him. The suspension clock is ticking now.

Apr 21, 2010 10:53 AM
 
rmorgan93

MLB needs to do a much better job if integrating its Latin American players into the league, particularly regarding drug policy. I'm sure Will has the numbers, but well over half of the players who test positive at any level are Latin (most of them Dominican) and this just can't be a coincidence. Whether it's a language barrier or cultural differences or the rampant availability of PEDs in Latin America (I'll tell you from experience that they sell andro in Mexico City subway stations) or whatever combination of causes, MLB's got to do a better job of preventing Latin players from using. MLB-approved doctors in the Dominican would be a good start, if that doesn't exist already.

On the larger point, things like this and Manny Ramirez's suspension highlight to me just how ridiculous baseball's drug-testing policy is. It was meant to satisfy our desire for justice against Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire but all it's really done is punish guys like Edinson Volquez who is either a) telling the truth and struggling with infertility or b) lying and trying to recover from surgery. Are situations like his, or Paul Byrd's or Rick Ankiel's, really that bad? Are they really destroying the fabric of the game or whatever that complaint is? I don't know how we can blame people for pursuing whatever treatment they can, considering the injuries are to the body that's making them millionaires. Particularly the Latin players, who have done nothing education-wise apart from learning how to play baseball and aren't likely to have a decent alternative way to make a living.

I realize these aren't new points but for some reason, the Volquez case has really got me feeling strongly about this.

Apr 21, 2010 10:29 AM
rating: 8
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

I'll disagree with your point on infertility being an excuse. If it was valid, he could have gotten a TUE. He didn't make even the slightest effort with that.

As for your first point, I agree. I'm told that's one of the things Sandy Alderson is charged with in the Dominican, but that's going to be one of many issues that's going to be difficult, if not impossible to deal with.

Apr 21, 2010 10:57 AM
 
rmorgan93

Well, did he know he could get a TUE? This is what I mean about Latin players not being properly educated about rules, etc. David Ortiz said as much both before and after he was outed.

Apr 21, 2010 11:05 AM
rating: 0
 
CRP13

Do they have agents? It's their responsibility and their agent's responsibility to be aware of all of the rules. I know my company's drug policy, it's not terribly hard to find. And MLB's is much, much more highly publicized. I don't buy that being from a third-world country excuses them from common sense.

Apr 21, 2010 11:36 AM
rating: 0
 
rmorgan93

I think you're underrating just what a cultural construct "common sense" is. I'd argue that if you have major arm surgery and there's drugs you can take to help you recover faster, it's common sense to take those drugs. The Dominican Republic, like a lot of Latin American countries, is a much less formal and rigid place than the United States. It's not uncommon for trainers or coaches who've worked with the players since they were little kids to give them supplements that are perfectly normal in the Dominican but illegal in MLB. The players are also playing for higher stakes than their American counterparts. If an American player doesn't make the majors, they lose millions of dollars but what's the worst that will happen? They'll still be richer than 99% of Dominicans. All these factors make drug use more appealing to Latin players than American ones, common sense or no.

I think MLB should, at minimum, require Latin minor leaguers to undergo 'orientation' programs that are made specifically for them, taught in Spanish, and include severe warnings about the types of supplements that are so common back home. Beyond that, having MLB-certified doctors in Latin countries (and requiring players to only get prescriptions from them when they're at home) makes a lot of sense to me.

Again, the majority of players who test positive for PEDs are Latin American (which is especially concerning when you consider that this is entirely disproportionate to the rate of Latin players in organized baseball as a whole) and this is not just because they've all got bad agents or lack common sense.

Apr 21, 2010 12:04 PM
rating: 1
 
CRP13

I'm sorry, I can't get past your first couple sentences. Volquez has been employed in the US of A since 2002, and during that stretch he has seen, played with, or heard about dozens of players caught and/or suspended for PED's. He was a player during the biggest PED crackdown in the history of professional sports, in which players had their legacies and careers ruined by getting caught using substances that they claimed they didn't know were against the rules.

It doesn't matter where he's born. He's been employed by American professional baseball for almost a decade, and there is no excuse for not checking whether or not a substance you put in your body is not on the banned list.

Apr 21, 2010 12:33 PM
rating: 1
 
rmorgan93

I don't want to keep going in circles on it, so I'll just say that it does matter very much where he's born and the numbers back that up.

Apr 21, 2010 12:35 PM
rating: 0
 
CRP13

I have no problem with an orientation for minor leaguers, so that part of your point is valid. But it completely does not apply to Volquez or Ortiz, who were both in the majors for almost/over a decade before they got caught using PED's. What numbers back up your claim? Plenty of non-latin minor leaguers get suspended for PED's.

Apr 21, 2010 12:37 PM
rating: -1
 
rmorgan93

Well, I took the list of minor/major league drug suspensions from biz of baseball and looked up the nationalities of all the players. Eliminating ones I couldn't find the nationalities of and repeat offenders, I've got 326 different players suspended since 2005. Americans make up 38% of the suspensions, compared to 55% of minor league players. Dominicans make up 39% of suspensions, compared to 21% of total minor leaguers. Compare the Dominican rate to their island brethren in Puerto Rico, who are a little less than 2% of both.

Apr 21, 2010 14:42 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

A significant portion (especially in last two years) of suspensions were in the DSL. Those are young kids, very subject to a buscone forcing them to take their "vitamins" and testing positive. Most were popping on their first post-signing test. That's a structural issue, one that's in Alderson's new portfolio. If you take out those DSL suspensions, I think you get a much clearer vision of the state of drugs in baseball.

Apr 21, 2010 15:07 PM
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

This is really a question for the MLBPA. Since they have people like Stan Javier on staff and since Ortiz called them on the carpet a bit last season, I'm guessing the communication in Spanish is at the very least adequate.

There's no such thing as an "MLB certified doctor" and you cannot require a player on his own time and dime to do anything, let alone consult from a list of approved doctors.

I'm also buying the argument that Volquez has been in the US for a long time without an issue. His English isn't bad.

Apr 21, 2010 13:36 PM
 
asstarr1

Since MLB and its team owners aren't above shady dealing, think collusion, does this situation open a door to teams putting players on PED's to speed up recovery from major surgery, knowing that they won't miss any game time?

Apr 21, 2010 11:52 AM
rating: 0
 
sensij


You think the player would be OK with giving up their paycheck for 50 games, as well as risk harsher penalties in the future and the less tangible hit to the reputation? I don't.

Apr 21, 2010 12:29 PM
rating: 2
 
STLbuckeye13

I don't think teams would do that, but I could absolutely see a player doing this. He would obviously take a hit on the bank account, but since MLB doesn't disclose the drugs, they can just deny. Sort of like, "I was taking fertility drugs." Just an example.

Apr 22, 2010 11:34 AM
rating: 0
 
Andrew Wick Klein

Thanks for a good informative article, Will.

Apr 22, 2010 13:17 PM
rating: 0
 
Cheapshot

Is Clomid a PED, I wouldn't consider it one, it doesn't really stimulate your own Tetosterone production as it blocks estrogen. The lack of estrogen then allows for the natural tetosterone to have a greater effect. HCG however is derived from pregnant women's urine which is very high in estrogen, why would this be a PED, well the estrogen is so high that a male body has to respond to counteract the large increase in estrogen. The body has to increase its tetosterone prodcution.

back when ben johnson got nailed for his test in the olympics thier were some atheletes that go off the "sauce" 3 to 6 weeks prior, thenuse HCG 2 to 3 weeks prior to competition boosting thier own prodcution. HCG wasn't tested for back them.

I don't beleive any doctor would ever prescribe HCG to a man for fertility, Clomid yes, but Clomid is also prescribed to women for the same thing.

Should he be suspended, if he has a doctor who prescribed it for that exact purpose he should appeal, normally both of these drugs are used for when you come off a "cycle".

Apr 23, 2010 07:42 AM
rating: 1
 
You must be a Premium subscriber to post a comment.
Not a subscriber? Sign up today!
<< Previous Article
Premium Article Prospectus Hit and Run... (04/21)
No Previous Column
No Next Column
Next Article >>
Premium Article On the Beat: Wednesday... (04/21)

RECENTLY AT BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
Fantasy Rounders: Go Big or Go Home
Premium Article The Prospectus Hit List: Friday, April 24
Premium Article Daisy Cutter: Carlos Rodon and the White Sox...
Eyewitness Accounts: April 24, 2015
Premium Article Rubbing Mud: Of Signals and Sausages
Raising Aces: Debut Ante: Raisel Iglesias
Painting the Black: No D In Desmond?

MORE FROM APRIL 21, 2010
Premium Article On the Beat: Wednesday Update
Premium Article Prospectus Hit and Run: Down But Hardly Out
Fixing Problems
Premium Article Checking the Numbers: Churn and Burn
Game Story: Brewers at Pirates

MORE BY WILL CARROLL
2010-04-28 - Premium Article Under The Knife: Mid-Week Aches and Pains
2010-04-26 - Premium Article Under The Knife: Another Call for Pitcher Pr...
2010-04-23 - Premium Article Under The Knife: Checking Out Aroldis Chapma...
2010-04-21 - UTK Special: The Volquez Suspension
2010-04-20 - Premium Article Under The Knife: Woe Are The O's
2010-04-19 - Premium Article Under The Knife: Abusing The Closer
2010-04-16 - Premium Article Under The Knife: Stacking On The Sox
More...

MORE UTK SPECIAL
2010-04-21 - UTK Special: The Volquez Suspension
More...

INCOMING ARTICLE LINKS
2010-07-22 - Premium Article Prospectus Hit List: Returns and Departures
2010-06-02 - Premium Article Prospectus Hit and Run: Seeing Red
2010-04-22 - Premium Article Prospectus Hit List: Epic Flights and Epic F...