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.


12 thoughts on “Most stat geeks clueless when it comes to drugs

  1. I believe in my eyeballs more than math. I always will. I don’t hate sabrcats, I just think they’re way too set in their idea that number crunching should determine greatness.

    All of the names mentioned deserve Hall Consideration. Clemens and Bonds were Hall of Famer before they were suspected of PEDs. The rest of those names would get my vote because when I watched them, in person or on television, I feel like I saw greatness.

    Morris and Schilling deserve the Hall more for their postseasons than anything else.

    Good post

  2. I know we’ve disagreed on this in the past (and will likely disagree on this in the future) but I’m with Calcaterra on this one.

    1) The Hall of Fame is a museum, not a shrine. It’s kind of silly to pretend that Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, etc. didn’t happen. McGwire won Time Hero of the Year for crying out loud. Put an asterix or a scarlet letter on their plaque if you have to. But it doesn’t make sense to leave them out.

    2) Just because a guy is bulked up doesn’t mean he’s automatically awesome at baseball. Compare and contrast known juicers to less known juicers like Jason Grimsley, Juan Rincon and Matt Stairs. Sure if helped Javy Lopez, Luis Gonzalez and Eric Gagne, but it’s not like those guys were able to keep up that pace for very long. Bonds was awesome at baseball. McGwire was awesome at baseball. Clemens…. I hate that guy and don’t want to write anything nice about him… but you get the idea.

    3) Schilling before Glavine is asinine. But Klaw is a contrarian and likes the attention.

  3. The greenies comparison is meant to indicate that there was an uneven playing field in the 60’s and 70’s as well. Some players were using illegal drugs to get an advantage over their contemporaries.

    Bonds shouldn’t be in the hall because he hit better than Ruth and Aaron. Bonds should be in the hall because he hit better than McGwire, Bagwell, Griffey, Sheffield, Thomas, Chipper, etc.

  4. Uneven on a much different plane. There was no secret about the greenies — everyone took them, w/o any superficial inflation of numbers. No coincidence that the focus on PED’s has brought HR #’s back in line. It’s once again a big deal to hit 30 homers.

  5. Craig Calcaterra is a tiresome asshole. There is no PED miscreant that he will not indulgently apologize for. He crawled so far up Braun’s ass that he could shake hands with Aaron Rodgers. The fact that he self identifies as a Braves fan makes me ill.

    As for that museum/shrine rationalization, it would hold more water if the HOF actually enforced the kind of Amish style shunning that some people seem to think they do. Unfortunately for that line of thought, it’s not true. The Hall is full of exhibits and artifacts from Bonds, Clemens and the whole crew. They just haven’t been elected as members. That’s a privilege, not a right and they forfeited it.

    The correlation between sabermetrically inclined writers and indulgence on this matter can mostly be traced to their tiresome battle with the Murray Chasses of the world, Old school writers understand what PEDs did to the record books and newer writers reject everything to do with the older guys mindsets across the board, PEDs included. It’s a stupid way to look at it but it seems common.

    You mentioned Beherendt. Brian Kenney is another modernist who understands the issue better than most of his contemporaries.

  6. Among the criteria for selection to the HOF are character, sportsmanship, and having made a significant contribution to the game in some way. Therefore, I wouldn’t regard it as any great injustice if the juicers never get in.

    The qualities that made Guys like Bonds and Clemens great players — discipline, commitment, the need to be in control — made them more successful at juicing than lesser players. And sterioids didn’t merely bulk layers up. They also improved reflexes.

    I wish someone with money would open up The Bud Selig Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Then all of these guys and their enablers like LaRussa could be inducted into that one. You want to see your hero on a plaque? You can go across the street. Maybe you can get a complimentary protein shake with your admission ticket. And the movie on the wonders of sabermetrics starts at 3:00.

  7. The character clause usually gets dismissed out of hand by many of those guys and, if you’re really lucky, they’ll associate you with Judge Landis and his racism if you bring it up at all.

  8. Both the breadth of use of “greenies”, and their effects, have likely been overestimated. Most of us know what chronic amphetamine use does to a body, and I haven’t seen anyone from that era who looked worse for the wear. My understanding, and I admit I could be wrong, is that the “greenies” that were around 40 and 50 years ago were little more than diet pills. Taking those a few times a year to get through a hangover is vastly different than steroid and HGH use.

    Bonds, Clemens and their ilk mocked the game of baseball. Hall of Fame? Fuck them. They are lucky they haven’t been compelled to disgorge the monies they took.

  9. That’s my understanding as well, Jack. Long term amphetamine abuse leaves marks (and bodies.)

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