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roids1220.jpgPlenty has been said/written about the Mitchell Report. Plenty of opinions have been shared, personally I don't find two peripheral figures and a bunch of canceled checks to be compelling evidence. This got me to thinking, short of back dated piss tests, how can we really find out who was clean and who wasn't. There is no answer. Barring confessions, there's really no definitive way to tell. We do have a body of public information we can use to infer PED usage, however.

When casinos are looking for cheats they don't always see players slipping cards into the deck, or messing around with the slot machine. Most of the time, they look at results. If someone is sitting at a black jack table and winning consistently for a long period of time, they'll take a closer look. If someone wins two jackpots in an hour at a slot machine, they'll assume cheating is going on. Most of the time, they're right. So let's look at the results in baseball.

I started by sifting through my memory for any freakishly good seasons in the past 15 years or so. I wrote the names down, then I used baseball-reference.com to see just how freakish those seasons were when compared to the players' performance the year before. I took several things into account, including a change of scenery (a player who went from Shea Stadium to Coors field in say 2000 would be expected to see a big jump in his statistics), league-wide trends (if the league ERA jumped considerably, that could account for a portion of the increased production) and age. Most players reach their prime somewhere between 27 and 30.

Before we get started, I want to state that this is nothing more than a look at the numbers and my opinion as to what they could mean. Feel free to leave your own thoughts in the comments, I think you'll be surprised by some of the stats.

Here were the seasons which immediately came to mind, in no particular order:

  • Tino Martinez, 1997
  • Sammy Sosa, 1998
  • Derek Lee, 2005
  • Brady Anderson, 1996
  • Derek Jeter, 1999
  • Greg Vaughn, 1998
  • Luis Gonzalez, 2001
  • Mark McGwire, 1998
  • Barry Bonds, 2001
  • Jeff Bagwell, 1994
  • David Ortiz, 2003
  • Jeff Kent, 2000
  • Ivan Rodriguez, 1999
  • Darren Daulton, 1992
  • Chipper Jones, 1999
After the jump we'll take a look at the stats for these "magical" seasons and discuss the likelihood that they were achieved naturally.

The stats I looked at were games played, home runs, intentional walks (because a marked increase in IBBs will influence both OBP and OPS), average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS. I think these statistics will give us a good look at the overall performance of the players. The order below is dictated by change in OPS, year-over-year.

In this post, we'll tackle the five guys at the bottom of the list. For these guys, the numbers don't seem to point directly to PED use. Later, we'll tackle the the guys who I think you can make a statistical case against.

Ivan Rodriguez, 1999

pudgerodriguez1220.jpgWhy he's on my list: Pudge made my list for a couple of reasons. Number one was the amazing body transformation he underwent after the league started testing for PEDs. Pudge doesn't live up to his nickname anymore. The second reason was his monster 1999 season, or so I thought. Here are the stats in question:

Year Team Age G HR IBB AVG OBP SLG OPS
1998 TEX 26 145 21 4 0.321 0.358 0.513 871
1999 TEX 27 144 35 2 0.332 0.356 0.558 914
Change From Previous Year: 14 -2 0.011 -0.002 0.045 43

My Take: Pudge's "sexy" numbers jumped in 1999, especially his home runs, but when you look at his numbers from a wide view, they didn't move all that much. He was coming into his prime and posted a career year, but the variance for this one season was nothing compared to the other players I looked at. The league-wide ERA also jumped from 4.65 to 4.86 from 1998 to 1999. Obviously, this doesn't clear Pudge, but statistically speaking, there's nothing super-natural about his 1999 season. He had trouble staying on the field from 2000 to 2002, since then he's been durable, but his offensive output has dropped considerably.

Tino Martinez, 1997

tinosrings1220.jpgWhy he's on my list: Tino's home run total in 1997 just jumps off the page at you, he topped his career-high to that point by 13. Obviously, I can remember this season, I watched every game. It was the first season that came to mind, because I couldn't believe he kept it up for the entire season. Here are the numbers...

Year Team Age G HR IBB AVG OBP SLG OPS
1996 NYY 28 155 25 4 0.292 0.364 0.466 830
1997 NYY 29 158 44 14 0.296 0.371 0.577 948
Change From Previous Year: 19 10 0.004 0.007 0.111 118

My take: Constantino was a Yankee through and through, and a big part of the 4 championships they won in the late 90's and 2000. It pained me to include him in this list, but it had to be done. This season was a statistical outlier, he never topped 40 home runs again, his slugging percentage only topped .500 two more times in his career. He's low on this list because his average and OBP stayed consistent year-over-year. More damning evidence: the American League-wide ERA actually dropped from 5.00 in 1996 to 4.57 in 1997. A 0.111 jump in slugging percentage may seem like a huge increase, but wait until we get to the bottom of this list.

David Ortiz, 2003

ortiz1220.jpg
Why he's on my list: Whenever someone goes from being a slap hitter, cut by the Minnesota Twins, to one of the most-feared power hitters in the league, you have to take notice. His body has changed drastically, although it doesn't look like there's much lean muscle involved. I chose his first year in Boston, because the transformation seemed to happen overnight, as soon as he arrived in Beantown. Here are the stats...

Year Team Age G HR IBB AVG OBP SLG OPS
2002 MIN 26 125 20 0 0.272 0.339 0.500 839
2003 BOS 27 128 31 8 0.288 0.369 0.592 961
Change From Previous Year: 11 8 0.016 0.03 0.092 122


My take: The main conclusion you should draw from Ortiz's numbers is that Minnesota shouldn't have cut him. Yes, he made great stride right when he got to Boston, but the potential was there in his last season in Minnesota. Ortiz's gains in 2003 were big, but he was trending upwards before he got there. Add in the Fenway effect as well as regular playing time and his 2003 doesn't look so crazy.

Chipper Jones, 1999

chipper1220.jpg
Why he's on my list: In 1999 Chipper became one of the most-feared power hitters in the game. How did he turn that corner? Here are the stats...

Year Team Age G HR IBB AVG OBP SLG OPS
1998 ATL 26 160 34 1 0.313 0.404 0.547 951
1999 ATL 27 157 45 18 0.319 0.441 0.633 1074
Change From Previous Year: 11 17 0.006 0.037 0.086 123


My take: Chipper's 1999 was an amazing statistical season. He set career highs in most of the big statistical categories. It was also a turning point for his career, he continued to put up big numbers, and still does actually. I think this season was just a hitter coming into his own. The league ERA also jumped from 4.24 in 1998 to 4.56 in 1999.

Derek Jeter, 1999

djeter1220.jpg
Why he's on my list: At the time, I thought Jeter's 1999 season was the beginning of a transformation from a #2 hitter into a #3 hitter. I thought his up-tick in HRs was a sign that he was filling out and driving the ball. I was expecting him to hit between 25-30 per year, for the rest of his career. It didn't happen, and that's fine. He's remained the best #2 hitter in the game, and he produces runs at a great clip, but what happened in 1999? Here are the stats...

Year Team Age G HR IBB AVG OBP SLG OPS
1998 NYY 24 149 19 1 0.324 0.384 0.481 865
1999 NYY 25 158 24 5 0.349 0.438 0.552 990
Change From Previous Year: 5 4 0.025 0.054 0.071 125

My take: Jeter's numbers across the board were better. He set career highs in home runs, triples and walks in 1999, and he hasn't broken .500 in slugging percentage before or since. His increases fall low on the scale of seasons I've chosen. If he'd had such a marked improvement at thirty-five years old, rather than twenty-five there'd be greater cause for alarm. The league-wide ERA jumped from 4.65 to 4.86.

Click here to read part 2 of the post, with players #6-#10 on my list.
by Brian on Dec 20 2007
Tags: Mitchell Report | Steroids |