As we all know, everyone's up in arms about a ridiculous article intimating that Jose Bautista's performance this year is the result of the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Those of us coming to Bautista's defence, remember, we don't need to give alternate reasons why Bautista has gotten better. If we are going to give alternate reasons, though, it's important to make sure that they cannot then be linked back to steroids.
One of the reasons some folks have brought up is the change in Bautista's batted-ball profile between 2009 (16.7% LD, 41.3% GB, 42.1% FB) and this season (14.3% LD, 32.0% GB, 53.7% FB). To be sure, this is certainly a solid proximate cause for Bautista's dramatic increase in homerun power this season. However, if you're going to bring up his batted ball profile, it's important to note that in addition to an higher flyball-rate, a larger percentage of those flys are also leaving the park (12.3% in '09, 21.3% in '10), which is another proximate cause.
But could steroids be the ultimate causes behind those proximate causes? I think most of us would be willing to accept that a steroids-using player would become stronger. A stronger player can hit the ball farther and it makes sense that an increase in HR/flyball-rate could be seen. Furthermore, how do we know that steroids won't help you hit more flyballs? Ultimately, the idea behind position players using steroids to enhance performance (as opposed to stave off or recover from injury) is not simply to become stronger, but more importantly to help with batspeed . . . quicker bat, better wood on the ball (for flyball hitters, more flys, fewer grounders). There could be a psychological basis as well, if more flyballs are leaving the park, perhaps Bautista would change his approach to hit more of them (remember, placebo effect can be pretty powerful). To be honest, we know very little about how much and how exactly steroids help performance in baseball, so to say that they do or don't do any particular thing is kind of jumping the gun.
As long as my suspicions regarding Bautista are concerned, I don't think he's on steroids, I don't think we have to ask (MLB is doing that for us) and I think anyone who says we have to ask needs to give us a compelling reason. As has been said before, we haven't seen the change in his body that was obvious with guys like McGwire, Giambi, Bonds, etc. and we haven't seen Jose carrying around a bunch of syringes or hanging out at dirty gyms.
The bottom line is that MLB hasn't found him failing a drug test and the original story was baseless crap. Guys do have career years where things fall into place for them . . . these things happen.
However, If Cox had some other reason besides the fact that Bautista's hitting well and the Jays have some bizarre steroids "culture" in the clubhouse, there'd be no reason why a career year could not also be aided by use of PEDs. I think part of Bautista's success this year could be ascribed to hard work, luck, new approach, whatever and a second (likely smaller) part could be ascribed to the use of banned substances. That said, no one's given a reason aside from the fact that he's hit a lot of homeruns, which really is not a reason. Not only is it almost impossible to prove someone's not on steroids, but there's no reason that we should have to. If we are looking for alternate causes behind his success, his batted ball profile is hardly watertight, though.