Major League Baseball received its latest black eye when San Francisco Giants' All-Star Melky Cabrera was suspended last week for ingesting testosterone. This story has a chance to get quite a bit uglier, and it is only one of baseball's best stories, Andrew McCutchen, who can truly prevent that.
The Cabrera story is already a very bad one for baseball. Not only was a player having a career year suspended for PED usage, but Cabrera has since been implicated in an attempt to fabricate an explanation for his usage through a fake website.
Yet the story has the potential to linger in the public eye, as Cabrera is a legitimate contender for the National League batting title. League rules indicate that he will qualify for the title (following a very slight reduction to his existing batting average as he has one less plate appearance than the league minimum), and his .346 average may make him the favorite to win the award.
Cabrera's suspension actually benefits him in the batting race, as he was playing over his head and now will avoid what was a likely regression. Yet the sport's brightest young star has the chance to extinguish its blemish. There are very few baseball fans who do not want Andrew McCutchen to win the batting title.
A Squeaky-Clean Reputation
There are very few baseball players who are less suspected of juicing than Andrew McCutchen. McCutchen is is the prototypical example of a player who wouldn't benefit from steroids, as so much of his game is dependent on speed.
Bulking up could inhibit McCutchen's bat speed, once of his primary strengths at the plate. Additionally, McCutchen relies so much upon speed both running the bases and in the outfield to round out his game. If the Pittsburgh center fielder were to use steroids, his batting average might actually decline due to the number of infield hits he currently legs out.
Whereas Melky Cabrera had significant monetary incentives to juice in a contract year, McCutchen's offseason extension with the Pirates leaves him with minimal financial motivation to take steroids, even if he believes they offer him a competitive advantage.
Many current baseball players have been suspected of using steroids at one time or another. The Pirates' rail-thin center fielder is unlikely to join them anytime soon.
A Season That is No Fluke
Part of the reason that Cabrera's steroid suspension is so unfortunate is that it provides an easy explanation for the career year he was having, as prior to 2011 he never recorded a batting average higher than .280 over the course of a full season.
It is not likely that Cabrera's 2012 success is attributable to extra testosterone, however. He has not shown significant power increases this season, instead benefiting from an extremely high BABIP. Cabrera's high batting average is probably more a result of luck than of cheating.
Yet perception is everything, and McCutchen's MVP-caliber season as viewed as nothing more than the fulfillment of his superstar potential. McCutchen's batting average may actually be luckier than Cabrera's (his BABIP is 23 points higher, but he is also much faster), but his overall performance is not.
McCutchen was not expected to be this good, this fast. But he was expected to be very good, and baseball fans are not surprised to see him among the league leaders in every category, batting average included.
A Star in Focus
McCutchen has quickly evolved into one of the brightest stars in the game due to his play, the emergence of the Pirates as a contender, and McCutchen's vibrant personality.
If the Bucs can remain in contention during their remaining 40 games, it is likely that they will become the story in Major League Baseball, and as their leader McCutchen will remain in the center of the public eye.
Fans will like what they see. McCutchen is by all accounts an easy-going, gracious individual, and he appears to love baseball as much as fans want and expect their idols to. He is the face of a young, exciting team that most of America will be cheering for in September.
As Andrew McCutchen attempts to lead the Pirates to the playoffs, baseball fans will have plenty of reasons to root for him. Holding off Melky Cabrera and keeping the National League batting title in safe hands is just another one.