The worst baseball writing of the month

Jared Wickerham

Some things cause a pain in the abdomen, and some things cause a pain in the somewhere else.

Hey sports fans, good news! We have a new candidate -- and I have to say, a truly fantastic candidate -- for our annual Worst Baseball Writing of the Year Award.

Don't get me wrong, I appreciate a good bout of constructive cage-rattling and muckraking. But Dan Shaughnessy's column this week about David Ortiz, who's been fantastic since coming off the Disabled List a few weeks ago, takes muckraking to a whole different place:

Hitting is not this easy. Athletes do not get better as they mature into their late 30s. Baseball has been peppered with performance-enhancing drugs for the last 20 years. The cheaters are always ahead of the testers. A number of players from the Dominican Republic have tested positive for steroids. Injuries to the Achilles’ tendon are consistent with steroid use. It is not natural for a guy to hit .426 out of the gate without the benefit of any spring training.

So David Ortiz knows. He knows he is a suspect. He knows there are people out there who think he’s cheating. His name appeared on a list of players who tested positive for PEDs in 2003. And what he is doing now just doesn’t look possible.

When you cheat at cards, they tell you to lose a couple of hands to make it look good. Ortiz can’t even seem to do that. He just keeps raking. Ortiz Tuesday night extended his hitting streak to 27 games, dating to last July, before he got hurt.

This is an uncomfortable topic, but it’s preferable to question a man face-to-face than to tarnish him by whisper and innuendo. I went to Ortiz Tuesday afternoon in the Sox clubhouse and put some hard questions to him. I told him he looks dirty.

And it just goes on from there. And on, and on. And on. And gets worse. My favorite part is when Shaughnessy says that it's been 40 years since he could touch the basketball rim, so it must be impossible for David Ortiz to hit like he did seven years ago unless he's cheating. Actually, Ortiz hit brilliantly last year. So ... actually, I don't know what the hell Shaughnessy's talking about, there or anywhere else in the column.

You know what's really a shame? I mean, aside from the fact that Shaughnessy gets paid a great deal of money to compose this drivel, year after year? He might have spared himself this particular embarrassment if he weren't so bloody afraid of statistics that his grandpappy didn't teach him.

Look, Ortiz is having a phenomenal season.

Just two caveats, easily noted by at least half the 17-year-old baseball fans in America:

1. We're talking about SEVENTEEN GAMES.
Really, Dan Shaughnessy? You're going to blatantly accuse a player, first to his face -- and I do give you credit for that, which took some balls -- and then in print, of using drugs, based on what's happened in seventeen games?

Oh, but it's worse than that. When Shaughessy wrote about Ortiz, it was just 14 games ... 14 games in which Ortiz batted .426. Yes, .426 is an awful lot. But do you know how little a batting average means in 14 games? In the three games since, Ortiz has gone 1 for 14 and his batting average has plummeted to just .353. Overall, he's now hitting .353/.384/.662. Still fantastic numbers, obviously. But not meaningfully different from what he hit in 90 games last season, or in 149 games in 2007. Which brings me to my second caveat ...

2. David Ortiz has not become a fundamentally different hitter.
Before his Thursday 0 for 5, Ortiz's line-drive percentage this season was 20.4 percent. Right in line with his career mark (20.1 percent). His home runs per fly ball were exactly in line with his career mark. There were two big differences this season: Ortíz hadn't hit an infield pop-up yet, and his batting average on balls in play was a cool .400, nearly a hundred points higher than his career mark.

Yes, that's right: That batting average that got Shaughnessy so worked up was partly because Ortiz, when healthy, remains an outstanding hitter, and partly because he was lucky.

This is actually pretty easy stuff for someone who's spent ... oh, I don't know, maybe three minutes familiarizing himself with Ortiz's page over at FanGraphs? Or Baseball-Reference.com?

It's time for me to get out of here. But I just gotta share this gem of a paragraph:

But you fit all the models. You are from the Dominican Republic. You are an older player. Older players don’t get better. You’ve had injuries consistent with steroid use. You showed up on the list from 2003. You fit all the formulas.

Older players do sometimes get better. Older players often have a couple of tremendous weeks.

Okay, one more and then I really gotta get outta here ...

"I don’t like to be talking about this steroid thing because people get the wrong idea.’’

But how can your bat speed be better now than it was when you were 34? How do you do that?

"It ain’t better," he said. "My bat speed has been the same since the first day I got here.

Nowhere in the column does Shaughnessy offer even the tiniest shred of evidence, not one, that Ortiz's bat speed is higher now than when he was 34. Nothing from an Internet database, no quote from some grizzled (and anonymous) scout. Just the argument that Ortiz's bat speed must be higher because hey look! .426!

For years and years, baseball writers looked the other way while half the players in the majors were using drugs. And now, with Baseball's testing regime the toughest in major pro sports, apparently it's open season on any slugger past the age of 35 who has a couple of good weeks and was born in a different country and probably failed a drug test 10 years ago.

But how can you write this stuff when so many intelligent people are telling you to stop? How do you do that?

For more about Dan Shaughnessy and other semi-grown men, please visit SB Nation's Over the Monster.

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