SAN DIEGO -- It's almost Pavlovian at this point. A player gets really good and we hear STEROIDS! Home runs are up. STEROIDS! Strikeouts are up. STEROIDS! It's just so mindless, but that's the bed that has been made for this generation of Major League Baseball players by previous generations. Thank Jose Canseco.
Where am I going with this? Well, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred had his annual Q&A with the Baseball Writers Association of America and was asked about the rise of home runs (it's at the highest league-wide rate since 2000) and if there was a correlation with performance-enhancing drugs. His answer?
"The increase in the number of home runs takes place against a different backdrop. Major League Baseball does 22,000 drug tests a year. The World Anti-Doping Agency says we have one of the best testing programs in the world, let alone in professional sports. Our investigative capacity in the area of performance-enhancing drugs is probably the best in the world.
"We think it has to do with the way pitchers pitch and the way hitters are being taught to play the game. You've seen some unusual developments in terms of home run hitters being up in the lineup to get them more at-bats. So we think it has more to do with the game this time around, because we're comfortable we're doing everything we can on the performance-enhancing drugs front.''
Wait, you mean teams putting more of an emphasis on power pitching (check velocity and strikeouts, by the way) and power hitting -- and it trickling down to all lower levels -- has led to more home runs? The hell you say!
Look, there are always going to be players using. That's a reality. Some players get caught and some don't. I think we can all be smart enough to look at some of the players being caught in the present or who have used in the past to realize that it's a vast sampling of talent levels. For every Mark McGwire, there's a Bobby Estalella. For every Ryan Braun, there's a Jenrry Mejia. You'll even see non-power hitters like Dee Gordon busted, while I'm fairly certain Giancarlo Stanton is clean (he's always been that strong).
It's not a matter of just looking at home runs and claiming all the top home run hitters use PEDs. That's just plain ignorance.
I hate to sound preachy, but we've got to start being a lot more astute here. Players can improve through hard work and adjustments just as they could be cheating the game. The younger generation of hitters is stronger than ever and has emphasized power more than ever. You can't say someone is naive to believe that some players are clean and in the same breath ignore the reality that sometimes things are simply face value.
Maybe the proper reaction to home runs being up is just "cool, I like seeing home runs because I love baseball."
Nah, that would be too easy.