Early Drafters: Handling the Latest PED Drama

The names just keep coming. Yesterday, the name of yet another Major League player was reported to be found in the records of Tony Bosch, the director of the Biogenesis wellness clinic in Florida. This time, Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta finds himself in the middle. So far, we have learned that a number of players relevant to fantasy owners have been linked to this clinic. They include Nelson Cruz, Gio Gonzalez, Melky Cabrera, Jesus Montero, Ryan Braun, Francisco Cervelli, the aforementioned Peralta, and of course, Alex Rodriguez. Some of the names were tied directly to performance-enhancing drugs in the records, while the connection isn’t as clear for the others. With a full investigation sure to follow and the very real possibility of multiple suspensions handed down, what’s an early drafter to do?

Unfortunately, I am in that very predicament. In the earliest draft for a league to be played out that I have ever participated in, the mixed LABR will be drafting next Tuesday. For those who have no idea what LABR is, it stands for League of Alternative Baseball Reality, and along with Tout Wars, is one of the two most recognized “expert” leagues. To make matters more interesting, the draft order for this 15 team league has been decided, and I randomly drew the fourth overall pick. What this means is that there is a very real possibility the latest PED drama spooks the owners in slots one to three and they all pass on Braun. Then, I have a decision to make.

While I am still finishing up all my player projections, and as a result, have yet to run my dollar values, I would be surprised if Braun did not appear at the top of my list. Of course, his case is a bit different than the others and our own Wendy Thurm did a fantastic job clarifying the situation yesterday. Given Wendy’s analysis of Braun’s explanation, it would seem that he would be less at risk for suspension, which would make it more difficult to pass on with a top three pick.

But what about Cruz, Gonzalez and Cabrera? The notes connected them to specific drugs, which may very well lead to suspensions. Cruz is coming off a disappointing season and his stock was already down, while most owners had already been shying away from Cabrera for obvious reasons. Gonzalez, on the other hand, is coming off a huge season and is currently being selected as the 13th starting pitcher off the board on Mock Draft Central. Do you completely ignore the trio, no matter the cost? Of course not. The best approach would be to use probability analysis to derive a value.

This method would work fine if we could figure out what the chances are of the three receiving suspensions. Unfortunately, I don’t think anyone really knows. But, let’s assume a full season of play for the three and in a standard 12-team mixed league, you value Gonzalez at $20 and both Cruz and Cabrera at $10. We’ll say there is a 25% chance of a 50-game suspension, which means the expected number of games missed would be 12.5. That’s just about two weeks worth of games, or around 50 at-bats and 3 starts/19 innings pitched.

Take whatever at-bats and innings you had been projecting, and revalue those players based on what the probability analysis yields. You also shouldn’t forget that you would be slotting a replacement level player in to fill the suspended player’s spot. With only one ratio category, the replacement hitter would certainly provide positive value and narrow the gap between the suspended player’s value and his original value pre-suspension. A replacement level pitcher, on the other hand, won’t be as kind. With two ratio categories to work with, the boost to your wins and strikeout totals will likely be offset by a damaging ERA and WHIP. However, given how much easier it is to find breakout pitchers on free agency, it’s really not such a bad situation.

Finally, you have the rest of the players not directly linked to any PEDs in the records. These players seemingly have a much lower chance of being suspended, so it would probably be most prudent to ignore the drama.

The bottom line is that all the players that have been mentioned so far should be docked in value to account for the possibility of a suspension. That said, it should only be a nominal reduction in value for the the trio directly linked to specific PEDs, while the remaining players should see even less of a reduction in value.

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Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. He also sells beautiful photos through his online gallery, Pod's Pics. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

13 Responses to “Early Drafters: Handling the Latest PED Drama”

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  1. John says:

    Would a Melky suspension possibly be for 100 games as a “second” offense, or is it any less likely that he gets suspended at all if these drugs are the same ones he has already been suspended for?

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    • philosofool says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      If there were evidence that he’d visited the clinic during or since the suspension, he would probably get one hundred games. You never know how stupid someone can be, but I would think he would seek another source, since his last one failed to get him through the screening, or just stop using for at least one season and hope he can land a good contract next year.

      I would expect that his illusion of being able to beat the system is probably gone and that he will probably be clean next year, which means that I would set his suspension chance pretty low.

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  2. TheOneWhoKnocks says:

    Well for melky a suspension would be his second, so he’d miss what 100 games?

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  3. Jameson says:

    Jhonny Peralta needs Jenny Craig not steroids.

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  4. TK says:

    I assume you’re saying that they would be suspended under the policy against possessing steroids since there isn’t an actual positive test? It might be interesting to hear from a lawyer about whether possession can be proved by clinic records alone.

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  5. Jay29 says:

    I like the analysis, but I had this conversation last year with RotoChamp about Braun’s then-likely suspension: can you really add the value of the replacement player to a suspended player?

    Assuming your league doesn’t have a DL-like slot for suspended players, it means you have to carry the suspended player on your bench — which means you may not be able to pick up a replacement player at all. Even assuming the replacement comes from your bench, isn’t there a non-negligible cost to this loss in flexibility? It means you might miss out on this April’s version of RA Dickey or Mike Trout or John Q. Closer, being less eager to make speculative FA adds.

    With a DL slot, you absolutely gain back the replacement player’s value. But I think holding guys for 50-game suspensions can be damaging (moreso for shallow benches, obviously) to the point where they might ultimately be worth less than their truncated projection indicates.

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    • FanGraphs Supporting Member

      Technically, if you were to add the value of a replacement player to a suspended player, you would also have to add this value to every hitter projected for less than a full-season worth of at-bats. But ignoring that issue, the replacement player I was assuming would be from your bench. For later drafters, you’ll know by then if any players are suspended and will draft a replacement in the reserve round. For me, I’d have to get lucky I have a replacement on reserve in my LABR draft.

      I don’t really understand the value loss from a loss of flexibility. Unless your league has 1 bench spot (for the suspended player), then you have several players you can drop if you want to gamble on the next RA Dickey. Sure, it sucks to fill one bench spot for 50 games for a suspended player, but that in itself shouldn’t reduce the player’s value any further.

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  6. Aaron says:

    I just don’t understand why so many people think that suspensions are coming from this investigation. I see it as EXTREMELY unlikely and I will take advantage of drafting every single one of these players if they fall due to this issue.

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    • TK says:

      This is kind of what I was trying to say, or ask. Unless a player fails a test, I feel like the bar is pretty high for a suspension. How do you prove possession? Honest question.

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      • FanGraphs Supporting Member

        I’m nowhere close to an expert on the whole PED stuff, but I’m just basing it on what the articles have been saying – that the investigations could lead to suspensions.

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    • MLB Rainmaker says:

      Generally speaking, the text of the legal document around the joint drug prevention program includes positive test, proof of use, and documented possession or distribution. The entire document is designed around testing, what happens in the event of a positive test, testing times, etc, but technically it appears like the Commissioner has the authority to invoke the policy for a suspension other than by positive test.

      I’d guess that would be pretty ballsy from a legal perspective, as there’d certainly be some lawyers involved, but it can be done. If I were buddy-boy, I’d want a rock solid case before pulling the trigger.

      In any case, all these player will get tested at the start of spring training, they will qualify for the new exemption for “probable cause” meaning their samples will go through a more stringent test. If they were using, they’ll probably get caught.

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  7. Mike says:

    I’d be ecstatic to get Braun 4th. They’d have to have a ton more information than some names scribbled in a notebook to hand out any suspensions.

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