I'm so tired of seeing this from mainstream sportswriters, so I think it's time to call one out.
What is it? The tired old trope: "Player suddenly gets better, so he must be on 'roids."
Yep. Happened again. You might have missed this one due to the holiday, so let me get to ripping Rick Telander of the Sun-Times for this piece of utter nonsense he wrote Wednesday about the Orioles' Chris Davis. Look at this, for example:
The first thing that goes through any informed fan’s mind when he or she sees a 6-3, 23O-pound muscleman come from almost nowhere and suddenly start ringing the home-run bell is steroids.
Um, no. And can I repeat that again: NO. That's not the first thing that goes through "any informed fan's mind." It might be the first thing that goes through a sportswriter's mind when he wants to write about a tired old meme, but informed fans? Nope. Not a one.
First of all, Chris Davis didn't come from "almost nowhere." He has hit from almost the moment he began his minor-league career -- .297/.347/.598 with 36 home runs and 118 RBI at age 21, split between High-A and Double-A. The next year (2008), he hit .333/.386/.643 with 23 home runs and 73 RBI, split between Double-A and Triple-A ... in 77 games. Then he hit .285/.331/.549 with 17 home runs and 55 RBI in the major leagues when called up that year, with the Rangers, in 80 games. At age 22. So that's 40 home runs and 128 RBI, combined between the minor and major leagues, in 492 at-bats.
Looks like this guy is going to be a major power bat, right? I know many here were hoping the Cubs would acquire Davis somewhere along the line, and he was available after struggling with the Rangers in 2010 and 2011. Unfortunately, the Orioles got there first. Davis hit .270/.326/.501 for Baltimore in 2012 with 33 home runs and 85 RBI in 515 at-bats, pretty much in line with the year he had for Texas in 2008. His minor-league overall numbers: .318/.375/.597 with 118 home runs in 1807 at-bats. Along with those were 492 strikeouts and 158 walks, a sign that Davis was a free swinger without much plate discipline, one of the reasons the Rangers gave up on him.
Davis' stats this year are a bit cartoonish: .327/.401/.722 (the SLG leads the major leagues) with 32 home runs and 83 RBI in 85 games. He's on pace to hit close to 60 home runs and drive in 160, which would be the best offensive season since those of the Steroid Era. But for Telander to state that these numbers are steroid-induced, with no evidence whatsoever? Nonsense. Here's more Telander:
Everybody says Davis is a humble, God-fearing sort. And he seems to be. He doesn’t like to brag. He walks away from homers the same way he does from strikeouts. But he has hit a broken-bat homer. He can hit opposite-field dingers on bad pitches. He has checked his swing and hit the wall. Five days ago, Baltimore Sun baseball writer Matt Vensel noted that Davis’ amazing stat of the week was that he had hit at least nine homers in three consecutive months, something "last done by Rafael Palmeiro in 1998." Palmeiro? Yep, a previously disgraced ’roider.
Logic thrown out the window. A guy puts up a number identical to someone who was outed as a 'roid guy, therefore he's a 'roid guy? Ridiculous. Telander points out that Davis has:
... never has failed a drug test, remember. And let’s state here all the reasons he might be as clean as spring sheets: He is 27, a great age for sluggers. He has changed up his swing to be less wild. He is left-handed, and that helps in parks with shallow corners and against right-handed pitchers. He has been in the majors six seasons and has worked very hard. Finally, he hit 33 homers last season.
Well, Rick, your column is pretty much done right there. One thing that I think is most important, and Telander states it right there, is Davis' swing. "Less wild", Telander writes. That shows in Davis' better on-base percentage; he's one walk away from tying his career high for walks, set last year -- in half a season. Sure, he's probably going to strike out 190 times, but he could draw 75-80 walks, which certainly helps his home-run percentage, as it appears clear to me that Davis is being more selective, not swinging at bad pitches, and hitting home runs off pitchers' mistakes. Think of him as Adam Dunn with a higher batting average.
Chris Davis has always hit this way, going back to his very first year in the minor leagues. As Telander points out, he is now at the age (27) when players often begin their peak years. To me, it's simply a matter of Davis at last harnessing the considerable talent he's always shown, and taking it to a higher level. No artificial substances added. As good a player as Anthony Rizzo appears to be, Chris Davis would sure look good in blue pinstripes, playing first base at Wrigley Field.
Sportswriters like Rick Telander need to shut up regarding baseless PED accusations like this. They're almost certainly false and don't do anything for the reputation of the writer. Telander owes Chris Davis an apology.