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The Astros, JdJO, and Drugs

Jose de Jesus Ortiz had quite a lot to say in his blog entitled Sad Sad News for Cruz.  A lot of his piece had little to do with Cheo, but one bit in particular caught my eye.  

How can you continue to have one of the worst farm systems in all of baseball with more drug suspensions than winning teams in the minors this season and still keep the same folks employed?

Even setting aside the fact that the ratio of organizational winning seasons to drug suspensions is not exactly a "traditional" metric for measuring anyone's job performance, this rhetorical flourish seems inane.  The people in charge have taken steps to fix the farm.  We fired the guy who did the most damage to the system (Purpura, remember).  Ed Wade and Bobby Heck got hired back in late 2007, and they've been working on building things back up ever since.  It's going to take a while to get that fixed, and until a reasonable amount of time has gone by, we shouldn't be beating the drums for people to lose their jobs on account of the farm still sucking.

More ludicrous to me is the suggestion that this year's drug suspensions in the minor leagues is adequate ground for someone in the Astros front office getting fired.  JdJO has made frequent suggestions lately that guys like Ed Wade and Tal Smith need to be run out of town. This time was the last straw for me, so I thought we should take an objective look at the Astros organization and its relationship with drugs.

Since they began drug-testing in 2005, MLB has handed down 314 drug-related suspensions.  Of that 314, only 7 have been in the Astros organization.  Those 7 were: 

  • Felix Ramirez ('09, Boldenone, Dominican Summer League)
  • Mitch Einertson ('09, AA Corpus Christi - second positive test for a non-PED "drug of abuse")
  • Gabe Garcia ('09, Nandrolone, Rookie League Greenville)
  • Runelvys Hernandez ('08, Amphetimines, majors/AAA Round Rock, contract not picked up the following season) - his suspension was later withdrawn by MLB because it "did not constitute a violation". 
  • Lou Santangelo ('07, AA Corpus Christi, PEDs)
  • Carlos Lazu ('07, Rookie League Greenville, PEDs) and
  • Adam Seuss ('05, High-A Salem, PEDs). 

If we assumed that the 314 suspensions were evenly distributed amongst the 30 baseball teams, we would expect that each team would have 10 or 11 suspensions apiece.  Even if you count Hernandez's suspension, the Astros still come in significantly under this expected number.

The Astros, since they began drug-testing, have had fewer drug-related suspensions than the Mets had in 2009 alone (they had 8 this year).

Nine teams had more drug suspensions in 2009 than the Astros three suspensions:  The Mets, Royals, Phillies, Yankees, Cards, Rays, Tigers, Cubs, and Nationals.  The A's, the Rockies, and the Twins each had 3 suspensions this year, just like the Astros.  (credit to OregonStrosFan over at spikesnstars for totaling those up).  So it doesn't look like the Astros have had a disproportionate number of drug issues relative to other farm systems

On an absolute scale, 7 suspensions in 5 years of testing is not very many.  At last count, for the year 2009, the Astros had 287 players in their entire organization, from the Dominican Summer Leagues all the way up to the majors.  The 3 suspensions in 2009 represent about 1% of the entire organization.  I don't know the figures off the top of my head, but I'd be willing to bet that the rate of drug use in the general population is significantly higher than 1%. 

You can read these numbers any number of ways, but it seems like a stretch to reach the conclusion that the Astros, as an organization, have such significant drug-related issues that anyone (particularly Tal Smith, one of the major targets of the JdJO piece) needs to be fired for them.  The players themselves who've received suspensions certainly have drug-related issues, and hopefully their suspensions were effective at straightening them out.

And from what I can tell, it doesn't look like the Astros have created a culture of "look the other way".  It seems like they're actively trying to discourage not just purposeful drug use, but also preaching caution about supplements and anything else they might think about putting into their bodies.  Ed Wade:

"I'm always concerned about it,...[w]e try to educate the players the best we can on avoiding putting themselves in those positions...what we as an industry have to get to the point of zero players testing positive of any type of substances. And basically having zero tolerance for it. That's what the drug program has accomplished. If you see enough of your teammates missing 50 games, I think the message — unless you're a little dense — the message should be getting through."

...

That's a shame that no matter what the circumstances are it's a shame that something like that would occur. That's why we have to continue to educate the kids and make sure that they know that they can't walk to the corner store or go into some health food outfit and think that they're getting something that isn't going to get them in trouble.

Furthermore, the zero tolerance policy appears to be pretty strict.  Runelvys Hernandez's agent put out a press release describing the actions of the Astros organization when he was wrongfully suspended:

"However, we're not happy with the way in which the Astros handled the matter." Hernandez was informed about
the suspension when his agents saw the press release on the team's website. "To date, they haven't called the player to hear his side of the story, yet, they've issued several responses condemning him in the media...maybe that's just how they run that organization, but we expected more, and Runelvys deserved better."

Does that sound like the actions of an organization that is soft on enforcing their drug policy?  That they pass along the suspension and don't care to hear what the player has to say on the matter?  Sounds like zero tolerance to me.

You could point to the guys mentioned in the Mitchell Report:  Tejada, Pudge, Clemens.  You could point to Andy Pettitte, who admitted to using HGH.  You could, sadly, point to Ken Caminiti.  But even if everything alleged about these guys is true, there is no evidence that the Astros organization did anything to encourage drug use.

I wish I could say that I wouldn't read any of JdJO's columns anymore, but frankly, I'm too much of an Astros addict to quit.  I get my fix any way I can.

And I still don't know what the heck any of this has to do with Jose Cruz.

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