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MLB could employ new tools in war on PED use

Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Major League Baseball’s investigation into Biogenesis was a resounding success in the end, resulting in suspensions for Ryan Braun, Nelson Cruz, Alex Rodriguez and many others.

But the case also revealed a staggering vulnerability: Virtually all of these players used performance-enhancing drugs without being detected. Based on the information in Tony Bosch’s documents, Rodriguez circumvented the testing for years. He knows how to beat the system, and presumably, he is not alone. As we’ve always heard, the science of cheating will always be ahead of the testing, and the Biogenesis case was a humbling example -- just one pod of players, perhaps among many, taking regular victory laps around the system in place.

But Major League Baseball has forensic tools at its disposal right now that it should employ in working to protect itself, at a time when a lot of folks in the game believe that PED use is spiking, again, in a significant way.

Because of improved technology, the velocity of everything that happens on the field can be measured, from the speed of outfielders to throws in the infield. Every event is tracked, every bit of data stored, from the first pitch that a rookie delivers, or the first swing of the bat of a newcomer.

So MLB now has access to information which might provide telltale signs about players who are cheating. This is not evidence that can necessarily convict a player, but there are details that can be like footprints in the snow and lead investigators to places where they can look.

When evaluators and players speculate on who might be cheating, most of their suspicions are based on two things:

1. For pitchers, a dramatic increase in velocity.

2. For position players, a dramatic increase in launch speed -- the velocity at which the ball leaves the bat.

There are adjustments that can be made with pitching or hitting mechanics that can help, and workout regiments that can augment. “But when you see a [longtime] player whose bat speed in suddenly much better,” said one evaluator, “that doesn’t make any f---ing sense.”