The Rundown: MLB’s ‘Random’ Testing Doesn’t Feel Random, Bryant Talks Bat Flips and Home Run Derby

You knew when Eric Thames came back to the States as the hardest-hitting dude from Korea (sort of) since Dae Han, there’d be questions. Not long after John Lackey scratched his head, MLB made Thames pee in a cup. Or, you know, whatever they have guys do to collect samples. Having been on the wrong end of said results more than once, Ryan Braun no doubt had some advice for his slugging teammate.

Heck, even rival players have been encouraging the Cinderella slugger.

In the wake of fellow division rival Starling Marte being popped for following the Ivan Drago training regimen, several Cubs spoke out about the use of PEDs and the supposed randomness and efficacy of MLB’s testing program. Anthony Rizzo was among the most vocal, saying he hadn’t been tested since the one mandatory check in Spring Training. Wouldn’t you know it, he had to go wee-wee for the testers after the game later that same day.

Then you’ve got noted fitness fanatic Jake Arrieta, whose historic season put him in the crosshairs of loudmouth schlock jock Stephen A. Smith, among others. Pitching in a contract year following a season that saw a regression from the Cy Young winner, you can imagine how Arrieta might benefit from a boost in performance. MLB certainly thinks so, as the bearded pitcher has been tested twice in the last couple weeks.

As Gordon Wittenmyer reports, though, the league maintains that the selection of targets, er, subjects is totally random.

“Random testing under our program is truly random,” one MLB official said. “And every aspect of the selection, including the dates, times and players selected, is varied and randomly drawn.”

I’m envisioning this guy doing air quotes when saying “random” and then winking in place of the commas in that above clause. Although, yeah, I suppose the perception of players being targeted could come from the increased testing allowed for by provisions in the new CBA.

“As with any random testing program, particularly one that conducts almost 12,000 tests per year, perceived trends or frequencies can result over a period of time,” that same official continued. “We review all of the testing data after each season as part of our annual review process to make sure there are no additional changes that can be made to the selection and scheduling procedures to increase the unpredictability of collections and the deterrent effect of our random testing process.”

Maybe this is like one of those small sample size things in which events are viewed as significant now but will fade into the larger whole as the season goes on. Or maybe, and this is a stretch, MLB does like the NCAA tournament committee when it comes to setting up the March Madness brackets. They might say there’s no heed to matchups, but we all know the game is about ratings and exposure.

So testing those who’ve spoken out creates more publicity for the process and perhaps generates a little good press for MLB, has long been viewed as complicit in the Steroid Era. There could even be a special list of names of those who’ve popped off that is used in addition to those who’ve been popped. Like, the names are still technically chosen at random, but the list from which their chosen is anything but.

I know, it’s crazy. I’ll just take off my tinfoil hat now.

Kris Bryant doesn’t need to flip his bat

The MVP joined Bernstein and Goff Tuesday for his bi-weekly appearance, covering everything from his relatively slow start (feels good, just need to keep swinging) to his thoughts on participating in the Home Run Derby again (he won’t) and the idea of showing up the pitcher (no need). He even spoke a little about being an adviser or mentor to some of his teammates, which is sort of a new role for the young star.

“It’s all about knowing certain guys’ personalities, but yeah, some guys come up to me and I’ll go up to them and we kinda feed off each other,” Bryant said. “The other day I was talking to Albert Almora, he asked me if I had any advice for him. And I just told him to ride the waves.”

As for getting a book on opposing pitchers, that doesn’t take as long as you might think. Well, not for someone with as much talent and who’s seen as many pitches as Bryant has.

“I say a couple times through, that’s something I noticed early on,” Bryant told the hosts. “You get used to the parks and you get used to seeing the pitchers again. It’s a little different at first, but then when you see them a second or third time around it becomes a little more comfortable in the box. But there’s always guys you’re never going to feel comfortable off of. And I think that’s part of the game, you’ve just got to accept it and go out and compete.”

The conversation eventually got around to the unwritten rules of the game, which started out serious but then steered into more fun territory when Bryant was asked about whether he’d ever bat-flip a homer.

“I’ll never do it, I’ll be the same boring Kris that I’ve always been,” Bryant stated emphatically. “But if guys are going to do that, I think sometimes we’re a little too sensitive with certain things.

“I’ll never do it because I don’t want to be the guy that thinks it’s gone and it doesn’t go out. Because once you’re that guy, you’re always that guy. I feel like if it’s halfway up the video board, that’s it, that’s enough of a disgrace to the pitcher that you don’t need to add anything to it. You crushed a home run, you felt good about it, he felt bad about it, and it’s good.”

You don’t need to run your mouth when the trophies on your mantle tell everyone all they need to know about your game. When it comes to board games, however, Bryant isn’t above talking a little smack. And while he doesn’t flip bats, he did admit that a Monopoly board or two may have been overturned in a fit of youthful frustration.

One frustrating competition he’s not likely to participate in again is the Home Run Derby, particularly now that the Cubs have gone through two extended seasons and expect to do so a few more times in the future.

“I though it would be cool to do it once and have my dad pitch to me,” Bryant said. “But man, I’m slowly realizing — I’ve only been here two years — but it’s a long season and it’s important to kind of take advantage of any break you can get. The Home Run Derby now, with the format, it’s a workout. I felt like throwing up after the first one.”

Check out that link above for more from Bryant on Jason Heyward’s offseason work, head-hunting pitchers, and more.

More news and notes

  • The group fronted by Derek Jeter and Jeb Bush has “won the auction” to purchase the Marlins
    • The reported principle agreement is for $1.3 billion
  • Christian Bethancourt cleared waivers and was outrighted to AAA
    • You may recall that the Padres had planned to use him as a reliever/utility infielder
    • Started working as a pitcher this offseason, hits 94 mph
    • Allowed 9 runs (6 earned) in 3.2 innings
  • King Felix is reportedly suffering from dead arm and is being evaluated
  • MadBum won’t require surgery, but probably won’t throw off a mound for two months
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