I contend that science, sports nutrition and statistics offer us sane MLB fans a way out [see the last paragraph] of the boring steroids monologue and phony outrage which sports commentators threaten to drown us with this coming season. The latest trigger were the recent disclosures about MLB players failed drug tests in 2003.
To recap, Alex Rodriguez is currently being vilified for admitting to taking performance enhancing drugs [PED] at a time when their use was widespread in MLB and not illegal. Further, the reason we know this is because a United States Attorneys Office subpoenad drug tests which players voluntarily submitted to under the explicit condition that the results be destroyed. J.C. Bradbury summarizes:
This is an absolute embarrassment to the US government. Here we have a private organization implementing a program to fix a problem that government officials wanted fixed. Players did not have to agree to random testing, and without the 2003 anonymous testing we might have a very different MLB drug policy today. The samples ultimately got used for something other than their intended purpose, and people wonder why players are were to reluctant to agree to testing in the first place? President Obama is right to shut down Gitmo for violating civil rights. He should shut down the BALCO case as well. The proper role of government isn’t to satisfy our curiosity about doping in sports. This has what this case is about.
Last night I was driving home from work and tuned into The Inside Pitch with Josh Friedman [O’Brien interview available], an interesting new radio show geared towards MLB fans. I heard someone, not Friedman, commenting on A-Rod and thought they made an interesting, but not well thought out point. His point was that he would support Barry Bonds for the Hall of Fame [HOF], but not A-Rod. The reason he gave was that Bonds career was HOF-worthy prior to his steroid use–he could tell when that began based on his obvious physical transformation–whereas he could not make a similar assessment of A-Rod.
The problem with that analysis is that not all PED’s result in the bulking up associated with body builders and Bonds in particular, for example Rafael Palmeiro. What I heard next was a little depressing. The guy talking was Dave O’Brien [not the Marlins former radio guy], the current president–based on a rotating system–of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America BBWAA.
I have no idea what kind of writer O’Brien is, I happily assume he is a good one. But based on his views with respect to the HOF and PED’s, he is clearly not very analytical when it comes to this issue. But PED’s are the hot issue in his profession at the moment, so the idea that he would be more analytical in other areas is unlikely. Sure enough, when you start reading about it, there is a bit of a turf war going on between newspaper writers and the web-based writers, let alone with the hard-core statistical guys. Given the revolution in the use of statistics to analyze MLB, which began with the great Bill James, it is a shame that those in the forefront of quantifying performances in a sport which lends itself more than most to quantifying performances, don’t have a more prominent role with mainstream fans.
Time to pick sides. I hope the statistical turks start their own HOF. The battle which Michael Lewis documented in the area of scouting with Moneyball, should be also come to the mainstream analysis of MLB and the HOF. From the average fans point of view, the main issue with steroids is how to properly weight the statistically inflated results associated with the era. It’s not hard to foresee various studies done which discount power numbers by 25% and improves ERA’s by 13%, etc. While they are at it, they can adjust for the size of ballparks throughout MLB’s history. Goodbye asterisks, hello promotional flash drives which contain revised leaders in various statistical categories. Pete Rose and I will bet on it.
My dream for MLB this year is that one of those brilliant people at The Hardball Times or Sabernomics come up with an analysis which shows how many home runs Babe Ruth would have hit if he was happily married, allergic to hot dogs, and spent the off-season working out with Red Grange. My own estimate is 822. Or how about estimating how many homers discrimination cost Hank Aaron’s. How about filling out Ted Williams career with full MLB seasons instead of being interrupted twice–TWICE–with stints in the armed services of his country.
There you have it, a new and improved career leaders in the MLB statistical clubhouse, end of outrage, but the beginning of incredibly fun statistical modeling. My current HR leader at 822 is not very scientific I grant you, but it is as reasoned as the criteria used by the current head of the BBWAA for determining his HOF vote in approximately 12 years.
Hannibal Lecter’s lesson
The next time you read or hear about “A-Fraud,” remember The Silence of the Lambs. FBI agent-in-training Clarice Starling is trying to profile a serial killer called Buffalo Bill with the help of famed psychologist and serial killer, Hannibal Lecter, who teaches Starling the following:
He covets. That is his nature. And how do we begin to covet, Clarice? Do we seek out things to covet? … We begin by coveting what we see every day.
So take a closer look at those by-lines or program hosts, maybe they just covet.