Braun, with Brains

As regards the Ryan Braun hoopla, a thought or three:

1) There remains a presumption of innocence in law, in regulation, and in plain fact, if not necessarily in the proverbial court of public opinion. And public opinion’s consistency is, and has usually been, only slightly more reliable than the consistency of the average public office holder.

2) Michael Weiner, the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players’ Association, stresses that baseball’s stringent enough drug testing policies were designed in part to prevent a rush to judgment. Never mind that it will do nothing of the sort in actual fact, considering that rushing to judgment is precisely what enough professional baseball analysts and elements of public opinion are doing.

3) Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), who resists few opportunities for even an abbreviated grandstand, thought he was being funny when he called for a do-over of the National League Division Series in which the Milwaukee Brewers out-lasted the Arizona Diamondbacks. It would appear the thing McCain can resist even less than a chance for a grandstand is the chance to point the way to wisdom by taking positions exactly opposed to it.

4) Braun is taking risk enough in taking the offencive since his positive drug test was made news by T.J. Quinn and Mark Fainaru-Wada of ESPN. If his appeal is denied, if he cannot convince arbitrator Shyam Dyas that the test was indeed erroneous, he’s going to look foolish at best.

Does he fit the (actual or alleged) profile?

5) Those who observe that Braun doesn’t fit the stereotype, actual or alleged, of those who have been known to use performance-enhancing substances, actual or alleged, have a pretty point. Aside from his physical appearance, Braun in 2011 actually experience nothing of the kind of statistical spike from his career averages that one might think somewhat typical of the PED (actual or alleged) user. Since the positive test occurred during the postseason, there is, as Jayson Stark reminds us, no evidence–none–that Braun was doing something untoward during the regular season, which is what the Most Valuable Player award addresses. Consider:

a) He hit 33 home runs on the regular season, which happens to be one home run higher than his career seasonal average to date.

b) He had 77 total extra base hits, which happens to be two higher than his to-date career seasonal average.

c) He hit one more double (38) than his career seasonal average.

d) He scored eight more runs and drove in five more than his career seasonal averages.

e) His 2011 on-base and slugging percentages were higher than his 2010 figures, but neither of the 2011 percentages was his career peak.

f) ESPN’s Home Run Tracker determined that Braun’s average home run distance in fact shrank during 2011–to 407.3, from 408.2.

6) It is not unreasonable to conclude that Braun won his Most Valuable Player award on the square, or at least on grounds nothing much different than his career thus far.

7) It was further reasonable, even before the October test result became known, to question Braun’s MVP on the grounds that a player who was worth 7.7 wins above a replacement-level player should not have been considered the most valuable player above another player, Matt Kemp of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who was worth 10.0 wins above a replacement-level player. Had the Dodgers not been a turmoil-wracked team, the turmoil not exactly residing in their clubhouse, destined for a near no-show in the National League West otherwise, Kemp and not Braun would have been the National League’s most obvious MVP.

8) Those who clamour for the revocation of Braun’s MVP may be clamouring for not just a slippery slope but a snapped elevator cable. If you want to revoke Braun’s MVP before there is final and incontrovertible proof that he cheated, that he derived an unreasonable performance advantage, never mind that you’d be arguing he “cheated” his way to practically his career averages, are you prepared to revoke previous hardware awarded previous performers caught or confessing to have used actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances during the period the hardware recognised?

9) You’d be very hard pressed to argue that Braun enjoyed any kind of competitive advantage untied to his core ability, considering the Brewers required a complete five-game set to push the Diamondbacks to one side—with only Game Five being a close-game win—and move on to lose the pennant in a six-game set to the Cardinals. Both Brewer wins in the set were reasonably close; the Cardinals won one close game (Game Three) and ran away with two games (Game Two and Six) that looked close only for brief interludes (they led 5-2 after four in Game Two; they had a 5-4 lead after two in Game Six, before a four-run outburst in the top of the third to which the Brewers had few if any answers the rest of the game).

10) Braun could very well enjoy a sad last laugh, and it would do nothing toward dissipating the syndrome of denying the facts their precedence over a juicy story.

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