2012 NL Central Division Preview: St Louis Cardinals

By: Ryan Smith

2012 is going to look very different for Cardinals fans without Pujols and LaRussa.

On the night of August 24th, 2011, the St. Louis Cardinals were barely breathing.

They had just been swept by the struggling Los Angeles Dodgers, dropping to 67-63 while the first-place Milwaukee Brewers were sitting at 78-54 after a scorching month.

Then something clicked.

Suddenly, the Cardinals became the hot team, clawing and scratching their way back into contention, eventually stealing the Wild Card from Atlanta on the final day of the regular season.

The rest, as they say, is history. The Cardinals, led by Chris Carpenter’s brilliance, ousted the heavy National League favorite Philadelphia Phillies. Then they took down the NL Central champion Brewers in six games, and finally made a miraculous comeback against the Rangers to become World Series Champions.

Believe it or not, 2012 might present even more daunting odds than the ones the Cardinals faced in late August of last year.

Milwaukee fans have all become familiar with the idea of replacing a franchise player in 2012, with Prince Fielder heading off to Detroit last month. But Prince Fielder isn’t Albert Pujols.

Somehow, the Cardinals must find a way to replace what many experts and fans consider to be the best right-handed hitter in the history of baseball.

And on top of that, they also have to replace Tony LaRussa. Like him or not (and, like most Brewer fans, I do not like him), LaRussa knew how to win games. Not many managers get to retire at the top of their game. LaRussa did, and now St. Louis must adjust to life without Pujols and LaRussa.

Now, before you write them off, you should know that the Cardinals did go out and sign Carlos Beltran, who is coming off a pretty nice 2011. They also will be getting ace Adam Wainwright back from Tommy John surgery. And Matt Holliday is still hitting in the heart of the order. So while they will most certainly look different than the St. Louis Cardinals of the last decade or so, they aren’t ready to just roll over and die. Last August should have taught us that.

Well, let’s get down to the 2012 preview for St. Louis.

(All stats courtesy of fangraphs.com)

2012 Projected Opening Day Lineup

Infield – 1B Lance Berkman, 2B Daniel Descalso, SS Rafael Furcal, 3B David Freese

Analysis – Other than maybe his mother, I don’t think anyone could have predicted the season that Berkman produced last season. Coming off of a disappointing 2010 and being asked to play full-time in the outfield, failure seemed like a safe bet for Fat Elvis. Instead, he posted a .301/.412/.547 line and a 5.0 WAR while helping St. Louis survive an early-season “slump” for Pujols. This year, Berkman returns to first base, where he is a much better fit than he was in the outfield. Still, I don’t see the 36-year-old replicating last season’s numbers, mainly because I think every hitter for the Cardinals is going to realize how much Pujols affected an opponent’s game plan every single night…Descalso probably has the lowest expectations of any player in this starting lineup. Even after playing in 148 games last year, he still remains a relative unknown when compared to the guys around him. Perhaps his biggest challenge will be adjusting to playing second base after logging most of his 2011 innings at the hot corner…Furcal came over in a mid-season trade last year, and I think most Cardinals fans would happily make that trade again. The problem with Furcal is that, when he actually can stay healthy, he just can’t play up to the expectations that the casual fan places on him. For every 2006 (.300/.369/.445) he produces, he also comes up with a 2011 (.231/.298/.348). On top of that, Furcal has only played more than 100 games in a season at the major league level twice since 2006, so he’s just not reliable enough to pencil in the lineup every night. It’s not so much “if” he gets hurts, but “when”…Freese started to gain a little notoriety during the regular season last year, producing a 2.7 WAR in just 97 games, as well as a respectable 3.9 UZR/150 while manning third base. However, any chance he had of quietly becoming a big-time player went out the window when he decided to play hero in that little thing called the World Series. And, for the record, I don’t think his postseason was a fluke; I think Freese is going to be a player who relishes the opportunity to play a bigger role on this team.

Outfield – LF Matt Holliday, CF Jon Jay, RF Carlos Beltran

If '12 Beltran is anything like '11 Beltran, St. Louis fans will be thrilled with their new outfield addition.

Analysis –
With Pujols wearing an Angels uniform for the next decade, it’s up to Holliday to lead the St. Louis offense. Last season, Holliday had yet another impressive season at the plate, accounting for a 5.0 WAR with a line of .296/.388/.525. While there may be some people who would suggest that Holliday will miss the protection that Pujols provided in the lineup, I don’t think that’ll be an issue. A good baseball player is a good baseball player, no matter who hits before or after him. Holliday hasn’t produced a SLG% below .500 since 2004. Frankly, the guy just knows how to produce at the plate, and that’s not going to change in ’12…In his first full season in the majors, Jay proved to be a pretty decent option for the Cardinals in the outfield (so much so that they traded away top prospect Colby Rasmus last summer). His 3.2 UZR/150 and 2.8 WAR from last season should make St. Louis fans feel comfortable with him in center, though he could find himself splitting time with Beltran when Allen Craig gets back into the lineup…Beltran was the big free agent acquisition that St. Louis made this offseason, and he’s coming off of a very successful 2011 in which he put up a .300/.385/.525 line. Normally, adding a player of Beltran’s caliber would make fans ecstatic, but I feel this signing went under the radar within the division because all of the attention has been focused on the departures of Pujols and Fielder and the arrival of Theo Epstein in Chicago. Still, a lineup with Beltran and Holliday in the middle will certainly give St. Louis an offense that makes the opposing pitcher work to get through six innings.

Rotation – RHP Chris Carpenter, RHP Adam Wainwright, LHP Jaime Garcia, RHP Kyle Lohse, RHP Jake Westbrook

Everyone's wondering how long it's going to take Adam Wainwright to find his pre-2011 form.

Analysis –
If there were any questions about Carpenter’s ability on the mound after his 11-9 regular season last year, his dominating postseason performance answered them. Carpenter produced a 3.31 xFIP and a 5.0 WAR while logging 237.1 innings pitched. He was really a victim of bad luck when you look at his win-loss record. When you look closer, you see that he produced one of his best seasons in recent memory, striking out more batters per nine innings (7.24) while walking fewer batters (2.09) and giving up fewer long balls (0.61) than he did the previous season…Wainwright is the wild card this season. And frankly, he’s also the reason that I’m skeptical on how well the Cardinals will perform in 2012. Before 2011, Wainwright had established himself as the true ace in St. Louis. But the season after Tommy John surgery? Now, I think Wainwright could be very dangerous in 2013, and he’ll certainly have his moments in 2012. But he’ll also have times where he struggles with his control and command. I also think the Cardinals will closely monitor his innings, so I just can’t get behind the idea that the Cardinals basically signed a Cy Young-caliber pitcher by getting a healthy Wainwright back. He’s going to have to work to get back to his former self…When I look at Jaime Garcia’s numbers from last year, the one that worries me the most as a Brewers fan is his BB/9 of 2.31, which was way down from the 3.53 he posted in 2010. Ever since he broke on to the scene two seasons ago, Garcia has shown signs that he could be a very dangerous starter every fifth game. If he continues to show the control he displayed in 2011, NL Central foes could have their hands full. And if he takes yet another step forward in ’12, Wainwright won’t need to regain his 2010 form right away…Sorry, Cardinals fans, but I don’t feel like talking about Jake Westbrook and Kyle Lohse all that much. To me, they are basically guys that you plug in the last two spots of this rotation because you don’t have anything better. Not until you sign Roy Oswalt’s corpse in July, that is.

Catchers – Yadier Molina

Analysis – Let me just get this off my chest: I strongly dislike Yadier Molina. Technically, I strongly dislike all St. Louis players, except for Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook, because they suck. All of that being said, Molina is a pretty good catcher. He swings a good bat (.305/.349/.465) and is also a pretty good defensive catcher, though he threw out a career-low 29% of the steal attempts against him. The Cardinals know that he’s one of the best in the game at his position too, considering they just signed him to a 5-year, $75 million contract in February. Do I think he’s worth $15 million per year? No. Do I blame them for overpaying for Molina? No. He’s damn good, quite popular in St. Louis, and he’s only 28. I just hope T-Plush gets under his skin this year. I hear he has some anger issues.

RHP Shelby Miller could prove to be a valuable mid-season addition to the St. Louis rotation.

Bench/Bullpen Analysis – Jason Motte will start the season as the closer in St. Louis, and while I predict that he’ll have a rough patch or two, I don’t see the Cardinals having to deal with the closer issues they faced in recent years…Lance Lynn, Mark Rzepczynski, and Kyle McClellan all provide solid options out of the St. Louis bullpen, and McClellan proved last year that he can also provide spot starts if needed…I already mentioned Allen Craig as someone who will see some regular time once he’s healthy…Skip Schumaker and Tyler Greene will both get plenty of time in the lineup if Descalso struggles and Furcal makes his annual trip to the DL.

Overall Analysis – Much like Cincinnati, St. Louis is a team that seems to draw a variety of predictions for the upcoming year. I’ve read previews that have them winning the division and I’ve also seen them picked to finish third. Let’s be honest – the NL Central is a three-team race this year.

When I look at those three teams at the top, I just don’t see St. Louis matching up to Milwaukee’s rotation or Cincinnati’s bats and bullpen. At least not in their current form. They could make moves during the season to shore up some areas of weakness, either by signing free agents (Oswalt) or by promoting from within (stub prospect RHP Shelby Miller). Still, they strike me as a third-place team in the NL Central for 2012.

Then again, everyone pretty much counted them out last August too. Look how that turned out.

Prediction: 85-77, 3rd Place in the NL Central

(By the way, I know it may seem weird to save my third-place prediction for the last of my non-Brewers preview columns. But when you win the ‘ship, you get the curtain call.)

Milwaukee Brewers 2012 Opening Day Lineup: Now With More Braun

Is Gamel finally ready for an everyday assignment?

by Kevin Kimmes

A few weeks back I wrote an article titled “A Look Into The Crystal Baseball: The Brewers 2012 Opening Day Lineup” in which I tried to predict what the Brewers Opening Day lineup might look like. At the time, I was convinced that Braun would be missing time due to the charges that he was facing. Let’s face it, until last week no one had ever beat the rap when accused of having violated the league’s banned substance policy, so realistically it was a safe assumption to make at the time.

Since then, Braun has been exonerated of the charges meaning that he will now be available in left field for Milwaukee on Opening Day. Case closed, right? Well, not exactly. The more that I thought about it, the more I started to wonder about what will wind up happening in the outfield now that there are way more potential starters than there are positions, and the possible implications that this may have on the vacancy left at 1st base with the departure of Prince Fielder.

Playing Right Field, It’s Easy You Know…

I’ve joked with friends over the past year that I will some day find the time to put together a YouTube clip combining Corey Hart’s fielding “lowlights” and the Peter, Paul and Mary song “Right Field“. If you don’t know the song, here’s a snippet of the lyric:

Right field, it’s easy, you know.
You can be awkward and you can be slow
That’s why I’m here in right field
Just watching the dandelions grow

Now, to be clear, I am not anti-Corey Hart, in fact, I think his bat will be crucial this year in assisting with making up the run production lost due to Fielder’s departure. However, I am a realist when it comes to Milwaukee’s current overabundance of outfield talent. For starters, all 4 of the starting outfielders from last years NL Central Championship squad are returning (Braun, Morgan, Gomez, and Hart). Add to this that Milwaukee acquired two time Japanese batting champion Norichika Aoki (a left fielder), and it quickly becomes obvious that we have more players than we have positions.

Put Me In Coach, I’m Ready to Play

Will Aoki be the x-factor that determines the opening day lineup?

Now, I am going to make an assumption that Aoki will take to the American version of the game quickly, thus leaving Brewers management with the  hard decision to make of what to do with 5 guys for 3 positions. Braun is the everyday left fielder hands down, and the platoon of Morgan (L) and Gomez (R) will own center. So now we get to right, which has been Corey Hart’s primary position since he was placed there in 2002 while with the Huntsville Stars due to problems defensively at 1st base.

Now, Ron Roenicke could choose to platoon Aoki, as he is a lefty, which would add some versatility to the lineup and allow Milwaukee to play the advantage when it comes to pitching matchups, or you could potentially have both bats in the lineup on a daily basis. How you ask?

Roenicke has made it clear that he wants to use Corey Hart in a flex role this season having him spend time at both 1st base and in right field, due to questions regarding Mat Gamel’s ability to play everyday at 1st. Gamel, while productive in the minors, has struggled to settle in when given major league assignments over the last several seasons. If this appears to again be the situation in spring training, then I feel like the best option may be to move Hart to 1st to begin the season and position Aoki in right where he can ease his way defensively into the game.

With that said, I now present 2 versions of the potential opening day batting order. The first assumes that Gamel struggles and Roenicke goes with Hart at 1st and Aoki in right:

1) Corey Hart – 1st Base
2) Nyjer Morgan – Center Field
3) Ryan Braun – Left Field
4) Aramis Ramirez – 3rd Base
5) Rickie Weeks – 2nd Base
6) Norichika Aoki – Right Field
7) Alex Gonzalez – Shortstop
8) Jonathan Lucroy – Catcher
9) Yovanni Gallardo – Pitcher

In this version of the lineup, Milwaukee has itself a formidable 1-6 which should give opposing pitchers fits when it comes to developing a plan of who to pitch to and who to pitch around. This is very similar to last seasons batting order, which worked well for Milwaukee, but with Ramirez in the cleanup role and Aoki and Gonzalez replacing Betancourt and McGehee at 6 and 7 respectively.

Assuming that Gamel does have a good spring, the only major changes for the second version of the lineup would be at the 6 hole where Gamel (reporting at 1st) would replace Aoki, and in the lead off spot where Hart would be listed in right field.

With the Brewers first Cactus League game coming up this Sunday (March 4th) against the San Francisco Giants, we will soon get our first glimpse of Aoki, and with any luck, begin to clarify just which opening day lineup we will be looking forward to.

Lingering Questions

It’s been days since we learned of Ryan Braun’s exoneration in perhaps the biggest controversy since MLB and MLPBA instituted the current drug-testing policy.  Yet there are still lingering problems, with both sides.  The media didn’t waste any time disclosing the names of the collector of Braun’s urine sample and his son, and word is that MLB has assigned a security detail for their protection. My hope is that with this post, we can step away from the frenzy and approach this rationally.

Why did Braun attempt to create an inference of tampering in his press conference?

We now know that Braun successfully challenged his drug test on the basis of a 44-hour delay between the time of the test and the time it was eventually shipped via FedEx to a Montreal testing facility.  During that time, the collector apparently kept Braun’s sample and those of two other players in his home, but reports vary as to where precisely the samples were held; one version has the samples on a desk, another in the fridge, another in a cooler in the basement.  During his press conference, Braun made the following statement:

Why he didn’t bring it in, I don’t know. On the day that he did finally bring it in, FedEx opened at 7:30. Why didn’t he bring it in until 1:30? I can’t answer that question. Why was there zero documentation? What could have possibly happened to it during that 44-hour period? There were a lot of things that we learned about the collector, about the collection process, about the way that the entire thing worked that made us very concerned and very suspicious about what could have actually happened.

The inference Braun would have us draw is that the collector (or, perhaps, his son) had something to do with the positive drug test.

But why would Braun suggest this?  MLB has said that, at the hearing, neither Braun nor MLBPA contended that the sample had been tampered with.  The Montreal lab did not find any evidence of tampering, and, from Tom Haudricourt’s description of the process, tampering would be extraordinarily difficult to pull off, despite Braun’s statement during his news conference that “it would be extremely easy” for a motivated person.  And if reports are true that Braun was able to describe, with repeatable results, precisely how a 44-hour delay in transporting the sample could lead to an inaccurate test, then we have a scientific explanation and there is no need to allege malfeasance on the part of the collector.  And what motive might the collector have had?

What evidence Braun has against the collector, he declined to reveal.  Braun was up front in stating he could not answer those questions, as he is contemplating all his legal options.

**UPDATE**

According to a former Anti-Doping Agency official, a 44-hour delay could not have produced the positive result found in Braun’s sample.  If true, that would explain Braun’s tampering charge, but not how he won his appeal.  If he produced no evidence of tampering, and there is no scientific explanation for the positive result, how in the world was Braun exonerated?

What does the MLB have to gain by challenging the result of the arbitration hearing?

Almost immediately after the decision was announced, the MLB was reportedly contemplating federal litigation aimed at overturning the award.  But they appear to have nothing to gain by doing so.  Courts treat arbitration awards deferentially; they may vacate an award under only four circumstances:

(1) where the award was procured by corruption, fraud, or undue means;

(2) where there was evident partiality or corruption in the arbitrators, or either of them;

(3) where the arbitrators were guilty of misconduct in refusing to postpone the hearing, upon sufficient cause shown, or in refusing to hear evidence pertinent and material to the controversy; or of any other misbehavior by which the rights of any party have been prejudiced; or

(4) where the arbitrators exceeded their powers, or so imperfectly executed them that a mutual, final, and definite award upon the subject matter submitted was not made.

9 U.S.C. § 10(a).  It isn’t enough to show that the panel committed error, or even serious error.  And let’s be clear; the dispute here is about the interpretation of the Joint Drug Agreement.  The arbitrator appears to have simply accepted the player’s interpretation over MLB’s.   In short, the MLB isn’t likely to succeed in federal litigation if it chooses to go that route, though its ultimate decision on the matter will have to wait until the arbitration panel issues its written opinion (due 30 days from the date of the award).

Indeed, by contemplating the litigation route, MLB appears by its actions to disregard the very process it now seeks to uphold.  On the one hand, the Commissioner’s Office wants to make its drug policy look airtight and infallible.  This is the message it seeks to broadcast with press releases stating, for example, that it “vehemently disagrees” with the panel’s decision.  Yet, on the other hand, a decision to litigate means that the process does not work; that it did not produce a just result in this case.  By litigating, MLB in fact concedes the system is flawed, and undermines its work to clean baseball up.

Why do some still view Braun as guilty?

This is a much tougher question, as it goes to philosophical debates this country has been having for centuries.  As one New York Met observed following the news of Braun’s exoneration, many (most?) still regard O.J. Simpson as guilty of killing his ex-wife, even though he was found innocent in a criminal trial.  The perception of many – that Braun skated on a technicality – is not likely to go away soon.  This is because many view Braun as not having challenged the science of his test.  In other words, the perception is that Braun has failed to explain why his sample was tainted in the first place.  Bob Wolfey reports that in unscientific polls, a majority of the nation felt that Braun’s legacy is still tarnished, although most aren’t sure whether he actually used PEDs.

This perception – that Braun has failed to prove his innocence – is inaccurate.  Again, Braun was apparently able to show how a sample sitting for 44 hours could become tainted.  But more than that, the perception is wrong because chain-of-custody (which many view as the “technicality”) IS a part of the scientific process.  We need to make sure that the sample was “pure” (as in untainted by outside influences), just as it was when it left Braun’s body.  The only way to demonstrate that is by ensuring that we know, at all times, where the sample is, what condition it is in, and who had access to it.

While it is correct that Braun did not prove that he never took performance enhancers, what we do know is that the process that yielded the positive result were so flawed that the panel’s confidence in the validity of the result was undermined.  In other words, the positive result was untrustworthy.  With that in mind, Braun has no obligation to prove that he never took PEDs, a likely impossible task anyway given the difficulty of proving a negative.  What he does have is an obligation, consistent with the Joint Drug Agreement, to ensure that nothing prohibited enters his body in the future.

What can MLB do to ensure this never happens again?

MLB and the MLBPA have an obligation to annually review the program and develop recommendations for improvement.  You can bet that’ll be an interesting meeting next year.

The current JDA lacks a hard deadline for shipment, but does say that, “absent unusual circumstances, the specimens should be sent by FedEx to the Laboratory on the same day they are collected.”  The collector must take the specimens “to a FedEx Customer Service Center for shipment.  The specimens cannot be placed in a FedEx Drop Box location.”  If a collector does not immediately prepare the specimen for shipment, he or she has to “ensure that it is appropriately safeguarded during temporary storage.”  This requires that the collector “keep the chain of custody intact” and “store the samples in a cool and secure location.”

I suspect future changes will obligate the collector, before temporarily storing the samples, to verify that there are no open FedEx locations within a X-mile radius of the collection site.  In the event that a collector must store the samples because FedEx is closed, language will probably be added requiring the collector to mail the samples at beginning of the next business day.  While these changes might be tough for MLB to swallow – after all, failure to comply would mean more invalidated tests – it appears that spelling out the collector’s obligations up front is the only way to prevent future cases like Braun’s.  Presumably, the collection agency would then instruct its employees precisely what is expected of them.  Not that I expect there to be many of these cases; if you’re in the business, and you haven’t learned anything from the Braun affair, you should probably find another line of work.

What Can We Learn From The Ryan Braun Case?

By Kevin Kimmes

When the decision came down yesterday that Ryan Braun would be exonerated of the charges against him for allegedly testing positive for a banned substance, I honestly was the happiest I had been since the initial announcement regarding the test had come out in December. That elation, however soon soured as I began to see that despite being found not guilty, the fight was far from over. So, what have we learned from all of this?

There’s a Reason That Testing Results are Supposed to Remain Confidential Until a Final Outcome is Determined

In a perfect world, we would not even be addressing this issue, and Ryan Braun would have reported to camp today with the public none the wiser to what had gone on in the offseason. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

Instead, we were treated to a 2+ month long circus as everyone and their mother tried to weigh in on whether Braun was guilty or not of violating the league’s banned substance policy despite not having any of the facts regarding what had transpired. Here’s the long and the short of it, baseball in many ways is an allegory for life in America. In this case there was a labor dispute between a worker and his employer over a test result, the employee invoked his legal right to appeal the finding, he had his day in court and was exonerated of the charge due to a testing inconsistency. If this had been Joe Six-Pack who worked for XYZ Company, this wouldn’t be considered news. The HR department would have handled the proceedings, end of story. Unfortunately, there was another court at work here, The Court of Public Opinion, which brings me to my next point.

The Court of Public Opinion Hates to be Wrong

Despite, a 3 person panel ruling 2-1 in favor of overturning the initial decision (and the 50 game suspension that it carried), some people just can’t accept the outcome. Some people just want to belong to a cause, no matter how ridiculous or unfounded the cause may be. This is what happened here as a (metaphorical) pitchfork and torch wielding mob took to the internet to let everyone know that no matter what the decision was, it was wrong because…well…because that’s what they had heard from someone.

Well, who told you that?

Uhmm…you know the guy, the one with the…face…yeah, and he has that show on that one channel (or maybe it was the radio)…well, he said he was guilty, so it must be true…right?

Again, without all the details who can say if the correct decision was rendered or not, but here’s what we know:

1) Braun has insisted from the beginning that he was innocent and that he was going to leave it up to the arbitrators to determine this based on the information that he planned to present.

2) Based on said information, Braun is exonerated of the charges.

3) Life goes on no matter if you agree with the decision or not. Kicking and screaming because you didn’t get your way will not change this no matter how long or how loud you do it. It’s like the Beatles said, “Let It Be”.

People Love a Good Conspiracy Theory

It’s amazing the leaps in logic that some people are willing to make in order to justify an opinion that is not factually sound. With this said, I would like to debunk several theories that people have used to justify why Braun was the only player in MLB history to successfully appeal a positive test result. And yes, I found all of these gems in the comments section of various articles today.

***Warning*** the lack of logic that follows may cause readers to believe that we have entered the times portrayed in Mike Judge’s film Idiocracy. Consider yourself warned!

1) Braun must be related to Selig. – Nope. There is no factual evidence to back up this claim what-so-ever.

2) Braun got his appeal overturned because Selig’s daughter owns the Brewers. – While it is true that Bud Selig sold the team to his daughter, Wendy Selig-Prieb, in 1998, it is also true that she sold the team to current owner Mark Attanasio in 2004. At this time, the Selig family has no vested financial interest in the team.

3) Braun got off the hook because he’s white. – Ah, the ever present race card. Too bad the PED issue has no bias when it comes to race. See Roger Clemens and Mark McGuire if you need further proof.

When the Deck is Stacked Against You, Face Adversity Head on and Keep It Classy

The final thing we should take away from this case is that despite all of the name calling and accusations that have been strewn around since this started, Braun has been a class act the entire way through. He could have easily come off the rails and started his own counter assault against his accusers, yet he took the high road and didn’t stoop to that level, maintaining that the truth would prove what he said all along.

And that is the most important lesson that we can learn from all of this. No matter how bad things may get, no matter how dark the road ahead may look, never loose sight of who you are and what you stand for. Braun has refused to let himself be dragged down by this mess, and stuck to his convictions and morals the entire way, and guess what, in the end he prevailed. It’s a lesson that we all can learn from.

Braun Saga Not Even Close To Over

By Nathan Petrashek

Ryan Braun just completed his press conference at Maryvale, and emotionally proclaimed his innocence.  He dispensed with many of the rumors that have dogged him in the four months since news of his positive test broke, stating there is no “personal medical issue” and he has never had an STD.  He was emphatic that the system, at least in his case, was “fatally flawed.”

With the suspension issue behind him, the more interesting aspect of Braun’s case is what happens next.  Braun made clear he was contemplating litigation, presumably regarding the breach of confidentiality envisioned by the drug testing program.  The MLB, according to ESPN, is also considering litigation aimed at overturning the arbitration decision, though that would be incredibly difficult given the deference courts give to arbitration awards.

Presumably, the MLB will also conduct an investigation into the leak of the news.  Remember, if the program worked as intended, Braun would never have been lampooned in the court of public opinion.  We would never have known about the initial positive drug test.

There are other problems that MLB will have to investigate though, pressing ones that call into question the trustworthiness of the drug testing program itself.  We’ll have to wait until the arbitration panel’s written opinion is released, but Braun basically confirmed reports that there was a 44-hour window after his test was collected before it was given to FedEx.  The MLB, who has said it “vehemently disagrees” with the decision, apparently views the delay as within the scope of the testing program, but there is no doubt that this case raises questions about the validity of the collection procedures. Chris Narveson, the team’s player representative, said that there have been problems with collection before in Milwaukee, though he noted that he did not think there was flaws in the system.

Ultimately, Braun’s public image has been tarnished, and the damage may never be fully mitigated.  The fight on that front will take years, possibly longer than the litigation that both parties are apparently contemplating.  But Braun does have one advantage in that battle:  he is a human, a man capable of getting in front of a microphone and making an emotional, passionate statement like he did today.  That is a powerful tool against the amorphous corporate entity known as the MLB.

**UPDATE**

Both the Player’s Association and MLB have issued statements following Braun’s afternoon press conference.  Both are interesting and worth reading, but the takeaway here is that they apparently perceived Braun to be broadly attacking the drug testing program itself.  Braun was quite careful to say the system went awry in his particular case.  The other interesting tidbit here is that the MLB’s investigation of the leak is apparently complete, and it has concluded that neither the MLB nor the MLBPA was responsible.

RB8 Has Been Unleashed

We don’t normally do breaking news on here, but this one’s worth a post:  Ryan Braun has won his appeal and will not be suspended 50 games for violating the MLB’s drug policy.

Word is that he was let off on a “technicality” (whatever that is; the process is in place for a reason), and the MLB has released a statement that it vehemently disagrees with the decision.  Still, Braun heads to camp tomorrow free and clear.

This is certain not to be the end of the Braun saga.  Assuming Braun himself was not the source of the leak, we can expect an MLB investigation regarding the breach of the drug program’s confidentiality provision.  We can probably expect some sort of investigation and legal action from Braun along the same lines.

Pocket Aces, But Gallardo Is the Spade

by Nathan Petrashek

I decided Yovani Gallardo was our ace last year before Zack Greinke had thrown even one pitch for the Brewers.  The day was April 5, 2011, just five days after the start of the season.  The Brewers were already sliding, having lost every single one of their first four games.  But there was hope.  Gallardo, having been forced to watch his bullpen blow a three-run lead on opening day, would once again toe the rubber.  What he gave us was a two-hit complete game shutout, and the first Brewers victory of the 2011 season.

Take your pick of what was most impressive that night.  Gallardo walked two batters and allowed only two hits.  Two of those four base runners were eliminated by double plays, while a third was caught stealing.  In all, Gallardo induced 16 ground balls, one off his season-high of 17, which came in a 1-run, 7-inning lockdown performance on June 25.

Perhaps my declaration was incredibly foolish.  It was quite possible that Zack Greinke would return to his dominant 2009 form.  Fellow writer Ryan Smith makes the case that Zack Greinke’s peripherals indicate Greinke was every bit as good as he was during his 2009 Cy Young campaign.  In general, that’s a true statement, and Greinke deserves much more credit than he gets from many Brewers fans, as I laid out here and here and here.  But if you’re forcing me to make a completely subjective choice about which is the “ace” of the staff, my vote goes without hesitation to Gallardo.

Gallardo was the best we’ve yet seen last year.  He reduced his K/9 for the third consecutive season (from 9.89 in 2009 to 8.99 in 2011), which allowed him to pitch deeper into games (career-high 207 IP in 2011).  He induced more weak contact and ground balls than he has at virtually any other time in his career.  And his durability can’t be questioned; 2011 marked his third consecutive season starting 30 or more games. Gallardo shows up when it counts, too; he’s 2-1 with a 2.08 ERA in 4 postseason starts.  While Ryan believes 2012 represents, at least in some aspects, Gallardo’s ceiling, I see it as a baseline for his continuing growth.

Ultimately, Ryan is right about this:  it doesn’t really matter who you consider the ace. This whole exercise is really a luxury, having two guys you can go either way on.  I fully expect that in 2012 Greinke’s traditional stats will reflect his excellent peripherals, but I also expect Gallardo will easily log another 200 IP/200 K season.  I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to watching this friendly competition play out, because the real winners are the Brewers and their fans.

Oh, but before I go, did I mention that Gallardo had a career-low 2.56 BB/9 last year?