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February 24, 2012

The BP First Take

Friday, February 24

by Daniel Rathman

Ken Rosenthal called the reversal of Ryan Braun’s performance-enhancing drug suspension on Thursday “a triumph of due process.” Jeff Passan called it a “blow to Selig’s testing program.” It could be both, but what happened on December 12 made those two interpretations mutually exclusive.

Whether Braun was exonerated only because of an error by the test collector, or his lawyers simply found the technicality an easier case to argue, is irrelevant.  Whether Major League Baseball agrees or—as its response by executive vice president for labor relations Rob Manfred stated—“vehemently disagrees” with the arbitrator’s decision does not matter, either.

Braun, by the letter of the law, is innocent. And yet many fans, colleagues, executives, and media members doubtless went to bed Thursday night feeling otherwise. That is the dichotomy Rosenthal and Passan described, and it is one we all will need to live with.

We need to live with it because two sources anonymously and prematurely leaked word of Braun’s positive test to ESPN’s T.J. Quinn and Mark Fainaru-Wada. By doing so, the sources shocked the baseball world, cast doubt on Braun’s current and future legacy, and forced opinions to be rendered before all the facts were out.  Quinn and Fainaru-Wada did nothing wrong—they were doing their jobs as investigative reporters, and doing them well. The sources were overzealous, and they likely underestimated the impact that releasing this confidential information could have.

Now that the dust has settled, it may be instructive to play a little game of devil’s advocate.

Suppose that Braun remains an elite player for many more years, and retires with sufficient credentials for a spot in the Hall of Fame. Suppose, also, that no further evidence of Braun using performance-enhancing drugs is released. Finally, suppose that “cleanliness” remains a prerequisite for induction into Cooperstown. Without qualifying or conditioning your answer in any way, would you vote to put Braun in the Hall of Fame?

If your answer is “no,” then as Passan suggested, all is effectively lost. If your answer is “yes,” then as Rosenthal suggested, baseball should be proud that due process was allowed to run its course. And if the sweeping nature of the question seems excessive, it is—because ESPN’s sources opened it to the court of public opinion before all of the evidence was presented.

This Week in Sabermetrics 101
The class took a break last night from its crash course in available statistics, and welcomed a special guest—Blue Jays professional scout Kimball Crossley—who spoke of the importance of finding a balance between what the numbers show and what your eyes see. Crossley described the unique path he took to his current job, starting as a baseball writer for an afternoon paper, and taking advantage of his daily contact with players, scouts, and coaches to learn what he needed to see to understand the game and identify the players who could cut it at the highest level.

The remaining 90 minutes of class were a question-and-answer session, during which Crossley fielded questions on topics such as Jose Bautista’s power surge, Brett Lawrie’s makeup, and Sergio Santos’ return to Toronto as a reliever.

Guest speakers who can see and explain the game from different perspectives have always been a hallmark of the class, and Crossley’s insights were extremely valuable. They may prove particularly useful next week, when students will be asked to defend their choices of the best defensive players in the league.

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

Related Content:  Milwaukee Brewers,  Ryan Braun

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