brain-on-drugs

Most stat geeks clueless when it comes to drugs

Let me start by saying I’m not close-minded to the importance of advanced metrics in evaluating talent. I’m neither old school or new school — I just hate math. Unfortunately, many of the number crunchers seem driven by a conviction that they are more evolved than those who have better things to do with their time.

Smugness is one thing. Hypocrisy is another. For all their obsessing over stats, most have little interest in facts. Like the indisputable fact that greenies and steroids are not interchangeable.

Fortunately, not all stat geeks are wed to this false narrative used by PED enablers eager to dismiss the cloud hanging over the heads of Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, et al. Larry Behrendt of the Yankee Analysts blog tried to keep them honest in a 2011 post that’s worth your time.

Drugs like amphetamines do not behave in ways that make for convenient arguments about who should (and should not) be Hall of Fame inductees.

For the moment, let’s toss the categories out the window, and look at the facts instead. With all of the facts in hand, it becomes impossible to compare amphetamine use to the use of anabolic steroids.  These two drugs are not remotely similar.  No good can be accomplished by blurring the important distinctions between these two drugs.

Anabolic steroids are drugs that mimic the effects of the male hormone testosterone.  They increase protein synthesis within cells, which helps build larger muscles.  It’s well accepted that use of anabolic steroids, in combination with adequate diet and high intensity exercise, can result in gains in muscle strength.  Whether this increased strength enhances performance in a sport like baseball is an open question – most people assume that it does, but we have no scientific proof. …

While anabolic steroids enhance performance by helping an athlete build muscle, amphetamines (sometimes called “greenies” in baseball circles) affect performance by stimulating the athlete’s central nervous system.  Amphetamines trigger increases in the user’s blood pressure, heart rate, cardiac output and breathing rate.  As a result, athletes that take amphetamines experience increased alertness and wakefulness, and decreased sensation of muscle fatigue.  Studies show that amphetamines can increase reaction time and cognitive function, and improve an athlete’s endurance (at least to the extent that the athlete is willing to work longer and harder without reporting exhaustion).

These are not opinions. But apparently Craig Calcaterra, who mocks the mere suggestion that Jack Morris is Cooperstown-worthy (for the record, he wouldn’t get my vote), knows something science does not. It’s “lunacy” to keep Bonds and Clemens out of the Hall, he writes.

Players who have either admitted to or have been credibly accused of taking (greenies) include Pete Rose, Mike Schmidt, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. And this leaves out all of the drug and/or alcohol users who took things which hindered their performance, which also impacted the competitive nature of the game, albeit adversely to their team’s interests.

Tortured logic aside, none of the legends mentioned by Calcaterra topped his season-best home run record by 24 after his 35th birthday, as Bonds did in 2001. Greenies never caused anyone’s head to literally swell, either.

And they never helped a 34-year-old power pitcher revive his career at age 34 a la Roger Clemens, who rebounded from two mediocre years to strike out 292, a career-best, in 264 innings.

Not that it matters to humorless prigs like Keith Law, who recently tweeted:

Worthy names like Tom Glavine, who remained effective through his 40th birthday without cheating. But to Law and his acolytes, Clemens is more deserving due to a higher strikeout rate. How he achieved it is apparently irrelevant.

Speed is to steroids as pot is to heroin

Ken Davidoff of the New York Post is an idiot, as evidenced in this exchange with John Schuerholz.

KD : I have one question, one challenging question for you. You know how much I respect you, but one thing I’ve read that irks me a little. I think you’ve had some ceremonies where the team introduces Hank Aaron as “The real home run king” or “The true home run king.” Am I right on that?

JS : Yeah.

KD : Are you OK with that? Is that your domain?

JS : Listen. If you were in Atlanta and you worked for our organization, you would feel the same way. He’s without dispute, people in baseball would look at him as the guy they say is the quote-unquote real home run champion. There’s no questions about how he hit his home runs.

KD : But he admitted to using amphetamines . He used illegal PEDs, just like Bonds did.

JS : I’m not going to make a big deal out of this. He is for us the real home run champion. It’s our view. He’s our home run king. It’s our opinion. And we honor him for that. And I’m not going to stop saying it about him.

Good for JS, though I wish he had said, “Listen, moron. No one ever hit the ball further by taking greenies. Hank didn’t have the best seasons of his career after his 35th birthday, when Bonds, who hit a HR every 16.1 AB’s, began hitting them every 8.5 AB’s (from ’99-’04). Nor did he undergo an unprecedented growth spurt more than 20 years after puberty.

From “Game of Shadows”:

For his part, [equipment manager Mike] Murphy could document Bonds’ physical changes via the changes in his uniform size. Since joining the Giants, Bonds had gone from a size 42 to a size 52 jersey; from size 10 ½ to size 13 cleats; and from a size 7 1/8 to size 7 ¼ cap, even though he had taken to shaving his head. The changes in his foot and head size were of special interest: medical experts said overuse of Human Growth Hormone could cause an adult’s extremities to begin growing.

Regrettably, such false equivalences are repeated as gospel by many in the sabermetrics crowd, baseball’s version of the tea party.

Witness these insipid comments on Hardball Talk, which addressed the Davidoff Q&A:

Holy smokes, [JS} completely handwaves away the fact that Aaron did essentially what Bonds did. That’s some amazing cognitive dissonance. He’d make a great politician.

Why is Greg Maddux a first ballot hall of famer? Is he 100% clean? Really? How do you know that? If Maddux gets in, then Clemens and Bonds have to get in since they failed the same # of drug tests as Maddux…zero.

I demand scientific proof from you that steroids makes you hit a ball farther. That is my challenge to you. Do you accept? Yes or No.

It’s difficult arguing facts with people who chose to ignore them.

Now, as for the effects of speed, have you ever seen a big meth addict? Speed, or greenies, don’t build body mass. Those making the comparison frame the argument as one of morality, or legality. That’s irrelevant. I’m opposed to Bonds’ induction into the Hall because he used artificial means to create an unfair advantage, not because he broke the rules.

Conflating greenies with steroids is willful ignorance, and to what end? To ensure the enshrinement of known cheaters?

PED apologists violate their own liturgy

Familiar language from ESPN’s Christina Kahrl, who claims the HOF is already compromised by PEDs.

I mean, c’mon, no Mike Schmidt or Hank Aaron in the Hall of Fame? By their own admission they broke the same baseball rule on the books that Bonds did, and they did so for the same reason — to enhance their performance.

She’s talking about amphetamines, which were once doled out like Morrison’s peppermints in most, if not all, of baseball clubhouses. That doesn’t make it right, but they weren’t consumed in the shadows. Eddie Mathews wasn’t snorting lines with Hank in a toilet stall, for instance, a la Canseco injecting McGwire. Greenies didn’t give one player a significant advantage over another.

Besides, it’s ridiculous to compare the banned substances.  The proof is in the stats, yet the apologists ignore the evidence. Perhaps because it totally destroys their argument.

What else explains Bonds’ production in the twilight of his career? Bonds’ lowest OPS, in four seasons from ages 36-39, was 1.278. His highest OPS in the prime of his career, from ages 26-29: 1.136. He had 69 more homers from ages 36-39.

Fortunately, someone else crunched the numbers typically required by the statistically obsessed.

Below are the top 15 OWPs of all time, regardless of age. Before 2001, no player had reached .924, Bonds’ OWP for the whole period that covers ages 36-39. Notice how unusual it is for someone aged 36-39 to have such a great OWP. It appears that no one has aged as well as Bonds.

Rank

Player

YEAR

OWP

AGE

1

Barry Bonds

2002

0.942

37

2

Barry Bonds

2004

0.929

39

3

Barry Bonds

2001

0.922

36

4

Mickey Mantle

1957

0.915

25

5

Babe Ruth

1920

0.913

25

6

Fred Dunlap

1884

0.909

25

7

Ted Williams

1941

0.908

22

8

Barry Bonds

2003

0.897

38

9

Babe Ruth

1923

0.896

28

10

Babe Ruth

1921

0.891

26

11

Ted Williams

1957

0.891

38

12

Babe Ruth

1926

0.883

31

13

Ted Williams

1942

0.881

23

14

Pete Browning

1882

0.88

21

15

Babe Ruth

1924

0.879

29

Dare I mention the freakish guns and engorged head?

Apparently none of this is sufficient proof for the likes of Kahrl, who writes of “the purported performance-enhancing benefits of PEDs.”

This from the group that sneers at those who ignore the irrefutable evidence found in the numbers.

andres

The 20 worst A-Braves players: #1 Andres Thomas

It was difficult omitting Corky Miller, who had 5 hits as B-Mac’s back-up in 2008 and batted .138 in 87 AB’s as a Brave. But how do you exclude Andres Thomas, the 7th SS to make our register? (Go here for the complete list.)

Stat awareness works for and against Andres, a Brave from 1985-90. I was a kid when he played, back when hitters were measured solely by batting average, homers and RBI. For infielders like Andres, it was all about errors, and he made a ton. Andres led all shortstops in errors in 1988 and was the runner-up in ’89. In ’87 he was charged with 20 errors despite appearing in only 82 games. Not good, though not as bad as it appeared at the time, as Andres ranked tops in range factor among all shortstops in ’87 and in the top 5 the next two seasons.

Conversely, Andres was generally thought of as productive bat for a SS. In the days before ‘roids became so widespread a .252-13-68 line, Andres’ line in ’88, looked pretty good. There were persistent rumblings of a Thomas for Barry Bonds swap back then, though I can’t imagine Pittsburgh ever seriously pondered it.

Andres was the anti-Bonds when it came to OBP, a basic stat today but one that was largely ignored in the ’80s. Good thing for Andres, because his was disproportionately awful.

He walked 59 times in 6 years with the Braves. Freddie, Uggla and Bourn each accrued more bases on balls in 2012. Andres was consistent, at least, never walking more than 14 times in a season, which explains his career .255 OBP, lower even than fellow 20 worsters Pat Rockett and Luis Gomez. His lifetime offensive WAR was -3.9 may not mean much until you compare it to those of Jason Bay and Jeff Francoeur, who in 2012 ranked near the bottom of the league with -0.8 and -1.2, respectively.

Andres, who had become the face off the franchise’s low point in Atlanta, was released following the 1990 season. His departure and the glory days that followed were no coincidence.

 

Does anyone besides Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens want to see their HOF induction speech?

Outside of Suzyn Waldman, that is.

Otherwise, who’s going to make the trek to Cooperstown to see two unrepentant frauds take their place among baseball’s greatest players. (Yes, there are some genuine louts in the HOF, and other players who probably shouldn’t be there, but why add more?)

Can you imagine a more soulless induction ceremony? Actually, you can, granted you were among the masochists who watched Barry Bonds break baseball’s greatest record. I wasn’t watching and, if I’ve even seen a replay I’ve forgotten it — out of sight, out of mind. Without looking it up, do you even know the name of the pitcher who gave up No. 756? Or what team he pitched for/

(Mike Bacsik of the Nats, for the record.)

The Hammer was more gracious than he should have been, offering videotaped congratulations. But he didn’t watch.

A woman who answered the phone at Aaron’s home in Georgia shortly after Bonds’ homer said that Aaron was asleep.

 

Maddux slighted again, and was Smoltzie better than Glavine?

I’m thrilled that the last pitcher chosen in ESPN’s ranking of the 100 greatest players in MLB history is the perpetually underrated Knucksie, #100 overall.

Not so much with the highest-ranked pitcher: Roger Clemens.

ESPN cautions its list is a “judgment-free zone where Barry BondsRoger Clemens and even Pete Rose are welcome.” (Rose debased the game but earned every one of his 4,256 hits. He shouldn’t be lumped together with players who came upon their stats dishonestly.)

I don’t understand how you overlook the cheating, which allows ESPN to rank Barry Bonds ahead of The Hammer and Ted Williams. But those who do so will never convince me that Clemens was the best pitcher in baseball history. He wasn’t even the best of his generation.

His ranking, at #7 overall, speaks to to the most overrated stat in all of baseball: the strikeout. If Warren Spahn was pitching today the stat geeks would insist his 363 wins were attributable mostly to luck, as he averaged only 4.4 K/9 IP.

Strikeouts are about all that Clemens has over Mad Dog, who ranks at #13, third among pitchers (Walter Johnson finished 12th). I’m repeating myself but apparently some people refuse to listen.

Maddux has had as many dominant seasons as Clemens, finishing with an ERA under 3.00 nine times. Granted, Clemens did it 12 times, but in two other years Maddux finished with ERA’s of 3.00 and 3.05. And no pitcher in modern history (Pedro in ’99 was close) can match Maddux’s 1995 campaign: 19-2 with a 1.56 ERA and an 0.811 WHIP. Even though strikeouts were not his bread and butter he had more K’s that year (181) than hits and walks combined en route to his fourth consecutive Cy Young.

Maddux was more durable, totaling 200 innings or more 18 times. Add three more innings over two seasons and Maddux would have 20 seasons of 200 or more IP. Clemens topped 200 innings 15 times.

My favorite Maddux stat? From July 31, 1993, through August 4, 1995, a two-year period, Mad Dog had 56 quality starts in 57 games pitched.

And Maddux has been better in October, with a 3.27 ERA, compared to 3.75 for Clemens. His first Fall Classic appearance might have been his best; the fearsome Indians (with Manny Ramirez hitting seventh) managed to get but FOUR balls out of the infield in Game 1 of the ’95 Series. Time of game: 2:37.

Maddux had one more win and a better WHIP (1.143 to 1.158). Clemens had a better ERA (3.12 to 3.16) even though Mad Dog had ERA’s of 3.96 or higher in each of his last six seasons. Conversely, three of Clemens’ worst years came between his 30th and 34th birthdays, a period when most pitchers are at their best, or close to it. It’s reasonable, then, to conclude that had Clemens not cheated he wouldn’t have made it into the Top 100.

Oh, and Maddux was the best fielding pitcher of his era, if not ever.

If only he had juiced, or pitched for the Yankees and Red Sox. Or had a strikeout ratio like Tommy Hanson’s and John Rocker’s.

They didn’t make the list, of course, though Smoltzie and Glavine did. Some may quibble with Smoltz ranking 18 spots higher than his former teammate, but I’m good with it. Glavine had more wins and one more Cy Young Award, but Smoltzie had a better ERA and WHIP and, for three years, was as dominant a closer as the game has seen. And he had no  peer in October. Some people say that doesn’t matter, but they’re typically the same people who say cheaters deserve a pass.

20 years ago, the Bravos signed the best pitcher we’ll ever see

“This one hurts,” said Gene Michael, the general manager of the Yankees, who did manage to trade for Jim Abbott on Sunday. “He’s the best one out there. I never thought I could say this. But he’s a steal at $28 million. He’s a steal.”

Needless to say, Stick was right.

I remember where I was when Mad Dog signed: Atkins Park on Highland Ave., with CD. We were stunned, because, as you recall, JS liked to operate under the radar, and Barry Bonds was his supposed target.

Instead, the premier rotation in baseball got better, and for $6 million less than the Yankees offered. Maddux wanted to win, and in December 1992 the Braves afforded him the best opportunity.

How times have changed.

Not all cheaters the same

http://cbsnewyork.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/clemens_bonds.jpg?w=278&h=208I don’t believe Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens deserve enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. Cheaters shouldn’t prosper.

But it’s unfair to lump them together. No question Bonds makes it to Cooperstown without ‘roids. The case for Clemens is much less definitive.

In 1993, a 30-year-old Clemens posted a 4.46 ERA with a 1.263 WHIP. He was effective in the strike-shortened ’94 campaign but decidedly mediocre in his final years with the Red Sox:

(’95) 10-5, 4.18 ERA, 1.436 WHIP

(’96) 10-13, 3.63 ERA, 1.327 WHIP

Power pitchers usually don’t improve with age, but miraculously a 34-year-old Clemens had one of his best years after signing with Toronto, winning 21 games in ’97 with a 2.05 ERA and a career-best 292 strikeouts. He won 162 games after leaving Boston, and it’s fair to say those victories were tainted.

It’s believed Bonds began juicing at around the same age as Clemens. Prior to that he was still a premium player, compiling a 1.047 OPS when he was 33.

Kevin Brown is a more apt comparison to Clemens. The surly middle Georgian was a dominant pitcher over a 10-year period but will never make it into Cooperstown.

Neither should Clemens.