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Unringing the Loudest Bell
2005-11-26 15:38
by Will Carroll

I'll preface this with something I often struggle with. In my job, I sometimes have to say things that make people I like angry. Sometimes, they think I'm saying it about them rather than about the work. It's something like the rule the umps have - you can say a call is bad, but you can't say that the ump is bad. To put it another way, it's always business, never personal. A bad trade is usually made for some reason, even if the reason is faulty. A signing isn't made in a vacuum. An article isn't written without purpose.


I like Steve Lombardi of Netshrine. He was very good to me early in my career. That has nothing to do with what I'm about to say.

Steve has written one of the most outrageous, factually deprived, baseless and purposeless articles I've seen recently, even in the usually outrageous and baseless world of steroids. He backs some of his accusations with numbers so thin as to be meaningless.

Did the Marlins have a homer jump when Ivan Rodriguez was in town? Sure, they had some career years, but did he look to see if Detroit had a similar jump? (I don't know - did they?) Did he find any evidence that steroids increase power numbers, as Jay Jaffe and Nate Silver have failed to find? No, of course not. This article is character assassination, a request to prove the unproveable and then, at the end, he tries to couch it in unringing the bell.

I don't know -- and Steve doesn't know - if his accusations are true. I don't know -- and Steve doesn't know -- if Rodriguez used steroids or any other drug. I don't know -- and Steve doesn't know -- if Canseco is telling the truth, but we all certainly know that Canseco, whether right on some things or not, should certainly be challenged on each and every individual point, especially in light of his congressional 180. If getting one thing right was enough, no one would criticize my "Will's Mill" columns!

Steve's a smart guy and can do better than this. We all can.

2005-11-26 16:50:34
1.   NetShrine
Will, all I'm doing in the piece is asking the question if it's possible. I'm not claiming anything and clearly state that I have no evidence on which the question is based. As I wrote in the piece "This is an interesting question – but, that's all that it is."

IS it wrong to even wonder, albeit out loud?

2005-11-26 19:43:55
2.   Will Carroll
Yes, Steve, in the context you did it, it is wrong. Wrong, wrong, in every sense, wrong. You used a weak, circumstancial, specious case to argue for it and then threw up your hands saying "Oh, I'm just saying, not saying ..." That's crap, logically and professionally. I could put forth a case similar to this on nearly any player, in some shape. You're perpetuating a hysteria and spitting in the face of "innocent until proven guilty." I guess you'll want the 2003 positive list -- the one baseball said it didn't have until it turned it over to the IRS -- published too?

Here's the same case. "In 2003, several million people paid taxes and not all of them paid their fair share. Steve Lombardi may have filed his taxes, but based on the probabilities, it's unlikely that he paid what he was supposed to. Statistics from the non-profit Cato Institute show that after analysis of the finances from 1,000 average Americans, nearly half underpaid. That means they are in violation of the law, didn't pay their fare share of the common burden, and didn't help defend America against terrorism."

How is it the same? You now have to prove the negative. Are you going to post your returns? Did I state that the Cato Institute study also showed that half overpaid, that the complex tax system makes it nearly impossible to get any agreement from accountants on what the correct amount actually is? No, I used the stats that made my case. Still, it's an interesting question ... but that's all that it is.

2005-11-27 06:18:11
3.   NetShrine
Will - we disagree on this - but, that's OK. Everyone is entitled to an opinion.

Here's mine: There is a reason for everything. Nothing happens without a cause.

If a player has a slugging percentage for 2 full seasons in a row that's over .500 and then it drops down into the .350 range the next year, there's a reason for a drop that large. Ten or 20 points, that's normal flux. But, when it's something like 150 points, something happened.

Did the player get old? Was he hurt? Did he change ballparks? Those all could be reasons, but, when none of those apply, it has to be something else.

And, I'm sorry, but, I cannot buy the reason of "I couldn't find my swing/timing all year." When someone has 3,000+ big league PA under their belt, you do not lose your swing/timing that bad over the course of one winter. And, if you did have a timing issue, it would not take you 6 months to find it.

Now, given the situation that baseball - and I mean Bud, the players & owners, and the MLBPA - has allowed to happen with no testing for PEDs prior to 2005, when all other reasons for such a sharp drop in production have been eliminated, it's fair, IMHO, to wonder if the player was using and has now stopped.

In a nice world, this might be unfair. But, in the world that baseball has allowed to be created, this is what happens.

Looking at stats and wondering what happened. That's all I did. And, it's something that people have been doing with players long before I was born. And, it will continue long after my time.

And, when looking, and wondering, all possible causes known at that time have to be considered.

Yes, it's wrong to just assume without cause - like the absence of a 150 point drop in SLG%.

But, when the production drops that far, and there is not other obvious cause, then it's OK, again, IMHO, to wonder.

Others may disagree, but, that's fine.

2005-11-27 08:58:43
4.   chris in illinois
NetShrine Guy,

I have a quiz for you in two parts:

First, I have a player who we all know and three of his seasons as follows:

Year 1: 376 AB, 5 HR, 221/320/335
Year 2: 559 AB, 43 HR, 270/370/546
Year 3: 454 AB, 18 HR, 251/358/390.

I'll also give you the following info: He did switch teams after year 1, but years 2 & 3 were for the same team, same league and same park. He was uninjured over all three seasons...these three season he was 29, 30 & 31 as well. According to your hypothosis he might have been crooked. My question is this: What could have caused this drastic jump in performance?? It can't be that it happens from time to time can it??

Part two:

I have always thought that one of the markers of a World Series team is excellent play by a number of players at the same time, it simply makes sense that some players will return to 'normal' levels and the team will falter the next season, just ask the Angels in 2003 or the Diamondbacks. On the other hand we have the case of the 1954 Giants who won the WS and promptly had seven straight mediocre seasons despite the presence of the great Willie Mays. What could have caused this decline?? I was always baffled by this until I read these sentences of yours:

"And, when looking, and wondering, all possible causes known at that time have to be considered.

Yes, it's wrong to just assume without cause - like the absence of a 150 point drop in SLG%.

But, when the production drops that far, and there is not other obvious cause, then it's OK, again, IMHO, to wonder."

I think I finally pieced together what happened to that team...the 1954 Giants won the WS as a result of a vast communist conspiracy. Think about it, lots of 'Reds' around those days...Giants suddenly from nowhere 'win' the WS and just as suddenly disappear from contention. Now that I think of it, I seem to recall Roy Cohn being a Dodger's fan...

2005-11-27 11:57:30
5.   NetShrine
chris -

the key in your example is "year 3" - what happened that year? Were PED drug testing procedures put in place prior to that year? If so, I would say that we would have to wonder about Davey Johnson (the man in your example). If not, then I would say it was a ballpark change or something like that.

See, the key in the Marlins case is that the numbers went down in the year that serious testing started. If not for that, I would say there is no basis to wonder.

2005-11-27 13:11:51
6.   chris in illinois
Kudos on Davey Johnson!!

How is it possible that he could have hit all those homers??? The park dimensions did not change from '73 to '74. Since his HR outburst is pretty much unprecedented do we have to search for external reasons for his success as well?? Was he geeked on Cheese fondue?? Super excited about his shiny new Harvest Gold appliances?? Pumped that the Godfather won the Academy Award for Best Picture?? Maybe some guys just have that one year of their lives and never really are that good again.

Just because some guys over the last 20 years abused steroids and proceeded to miss hundreds and hundreds of games (Canseco), doesn't mean that any time a player increases his performance we should look to PEDs first or at all. Baseball history is littered with examples of players who drastically improved their performance only to regress the next season (Darrin Erstad) as well as teams who seemingly collapsed after a championship.

I haven't looked, but I'd guess that many team numbers dropped from 2003 to 2004, just like several teams probably had worse offensive seasons going from 1970 to 1971 (the mighty Big Red Machine dropped from 775 runs to 586, must have been acid or something). Teams fluctuate from year to year, that's baseball.

Could the Marlins have been juiced in 2003? I suppose they could have, but there is as much evidence of that as there is evidence that they won because they sacrificed virgins in active volcanoes.

2005-11-28 07:38:08
7.   onetimer
How is it possible to detect enhanced power from steroids without knowing when a hitter began using steroids and when or if he stopped? Further, how would you have enough data from actual known positives to do a statistically meaningful study?

Most accounts have Bonds starting steroids in 2000. In fact, other than Bonds, there's not a lot openly known by the public about who, when, and for how long. Given Bonds as the best evidence, it's hard to say there's no evidence of a correlation between steroids and power numbers. Anecdotal evidence is evidence afterall, especially when that's all there is.

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