How to Lie (to a Grand Jury?) With Statistics
May 8, 2006 4:31 PM   Subscribe

BaseballFilter: Any statistical analyses on Barry Bonds' alleged steroid use?

I just read this review of two new books on the continuing scandal around Bonds' probable steriod use and had the following thoughts:

Hitting a baseball is really hard. That is, being as big as Bonds is only one of the things a player needs to hit homeruns. Couldn't it be that Barry has just gotten better at hitting? The answer is probably no or yes and he's juiced, but we could at least eliminate no by looking at some stats.

Has anyone do looked at stats on how many deep fly balls hit by non-juiced Bonds would become homeruns when hit by allegedly-juiced Bonds? Even if such stats aren't kept, I'd be interested to hear about other stats which might point to steroid use besides the obvious one, i.e. number of homeruns per at bat.
posted by Xalf to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (16 answers total)
 
Malcolm Gladwell talks about statistical evidence against Bonds in this blog post, but he doesn't provide it--I only skimmed it this time around; he may have a link to more concrete data.
posted by maxreax at 4:43 PM on May 8, 2006


Thanks for the link maxreax. Some interesting comments there. Gladwell is actually proposing that someone apply forensic economics to all kinds of sports records. It's unclear if anyone has.

Anyone interesting in the subject should probably read Arthur De Vany's article on the subject. He argues that the increase in home runs is totally normal. I haven't read it all yet, so I'm not sure I agree.
posted by Xalf at 5:13 PM on May 8, 2006


Proper link to De Vany article
posted by Xalf at 5:13 PM on May 8, 2006


Bonds may have used steroids. But it still takes a special combination of vision, reflexes, and mechanics to reach #3 alltime (soon to be tied with #2). The 'roids aren't the only reason he's hit so well.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:15 PM on May 8, 2006


Yeah, Bonds is one of the all-time great hitters and I always admired his refusal to suck up to sportswriters (who consequently all hate him and are eating up this steroid story), and I don't like to think that he gave in and started playing the drug game just out of jealousy towards McGwire (as has been alleged). But it certainly sounds plausible. Still, I'll cheer when he passes Ruth.
posted by languagehat at 5:23 PM on May 8, 2006


It takes a special combination of vision, reflexes, and mechanics to hit a baseball. It takes an additionally special strength to hit it out of a ballpark and not just to the warning track. And to do it over a 162-game season when you're in your late thirties when the irresistable trend is to fall apart. The key statistic, with apologies for derailing, may be the size of his head. I mean, come on. Even apart from Gladwell's statistical analysis of hitting, look at the guy.
posted by mookieproof at 5:36 PM on May 8, 2006


I don't like to think that he gave in and started playing the drug game just out of jealousy towards McGwire (as has been alleged). But it certainly sounds plausible. Still, I'll cheer when he passes Ruth.

Yeah, I doubt Bonds is jealous of anyone really. But there's also no doubt in my mind that McGwire (and Sosa, for that matter) was juiced. And frankly, I'd rather not see McGwire in the hall (no matter how much of a "nice guy" he is)--Bonds is (or was) at least a six-dimensional player, and was a lock even before the homer explosion.
posted by maxreax at 5:43 PM on May 8, 2006


This article may help as well.
posted by maxreax at 5:51 PM on May 8, 2006


This is an excellent article.

Yeah, I doubt Bonds is jealous of anyone really.posted by maxreax

The you'll have to ignore just about everything that's come out about bonds, as it points to jealousy as the reason he decided to go the steroid route.

Yeah, Bonds is one of the all-time great hitters and I always admired his refusal to suck up to sportswriters (who consequently all hate him and are eating up this steroid story)

Yes, that's where the steroid story comes from, they HATE him. Really now, bonds plays the victim card enough by himself. No help needed.
posted by justgary at 6:52 PM on May 8, 2006


Has anyone do looked at stats on how many deep fly balls hit by non-juiced Bonds would become homeruns when hit by allegedly-juiced Bonds?

Such a stat is impossible, since we don't know how much or if steroids helped Bonds, or how much or if he took steroids. All we know is:

(1) Steroids presumably help you hit more homeruns, because balls that you otherwise just miss are powered out of the park by increased strength.

(2) Bonds presumably started taking steroids in 1999, according to recent allegations.

(3) Since that year, Bonds has hit 297 of his 713 homeruns.

The best guess that you could possibly make is that if Bonds did not take steroids, he would not have increased production and would likely instead have encountered a decline typical of players his age.

Let's say we grant Bonds an extremely conservative rate of decline—perhaps one homerun a year, starting after his 1999 total—and leave his injury year (2005) intact. Then this:

Year HR
... ...
1999 34
2000 49
2001 73
2002 46
2003 45
2004 45
2005 5
---- --
Tota 713


... becomes this:

Year HR
... ...
1999 34
2000 33
2001 32
2002 31
2003 30
2004 29
2005 5
---- --
Tota 610


Scientific? No. Fun? Sure.
posted by deadfather at 8:57 PM on May 8, 2006


Yes, that's where the steroid story comes from, they HATE him. Really now, bonds plays the victim card enough by himself. No help needed.

For fuck's sake. Are you really incapable of processing anything in between 1) Bonds is a saint and all those mean sportswriters are crucifying him unjustly, and 2) Bonds is a bad, bad man and the sportswriters are just doin' their job, ma'am? Try and wrap your mind around the possibility that 1) Bonds did use steroids and deserves to get called on it, AND 2) the sportswriters have hated him for years and are thrilled to death to get this opportunity to dump on him. If you don't believe the sportswriters hate him, I don't know what to say to you. You must not follow baseball much.
posted by languagehat at 6:01 AM on May 9, 2006


I think deadfather has hit on the most important point. Bonds was a superb hitter throughout his career. Probably bound for the Hall of Fame. But then he turned into an unprecedentedly spectacular hitter—after the age of 36?

Look at statistics on how hitters, even the all-time greats, typically decline with age. Then compare this with the arc of Bonds's career. It just doesn't add up without a chemical term in the equation.
posted by staggernation at 6:53 AM on May 9, 2006


Are you really incapable of processing anything in between...

Inbetween you say? Nothing you said was inbetween. What you said:

I always admired his refusal to suck up to sportswriters (who consequently all hate him and are eating up this steroid story

I'm sure many writers love nothing better than watching bonds fall, but attrituting it all (including the new book) to their hate is foolish. Not to mention you make it sound as if bonds is fighting the 'good fight' with the media, instead of many times simply being a jerk.

Bonds the last couple of years has taken on the whole "I'm a victim and everyone hates me" persona. If you haven't noticed you must not follow bonds much. It's been the only defense of someone who obviously doesn't want to talk about the situation.

This would be a huge story regardless. The fact that its antisocial bonds just makes it bigger.

You must not follow baseball much.

I'm hoping you were being ironic.
posted by justgary at 9:18 AM on May 9, 2006


Well, let's say I was poking you with a stick, because you were being annoying. But I really don't understand why you're arguing with me. We both agree that 1) Bonds probably did steroids, 2) sportswriters don't much care for him, and therefore 3) they're enjoying this story, which of course would be a huge story anyway. What exactly makes you feel the need to not only disagree but avail yourself of heavy-handed sarcasm like "Yes, that's where the steroid story comes from, they HATE him"?
posted by languagehat at 11:41 AM on May 9, 2006


because you were being annoying.

True, I am often annoying.

What exactly makes you feel the need to not only disagree but avail yourself of heavy-handed sarcasm like "Yes, that's where the steroid story comes from, they HATE him"?

I'm pretty sick of people saying it's only a story because the media has it out for Barry (from Barry himself, and his fans). I agree the media doesn't like Bonds, but it's been a two way street his entire career.

And you're right, I read more into your comment than was there. My apology.
posted by justgary at 3:09 PM on May 9, 2006


Thanks for being reasonable. I too am often annoying, so I know where you're coming from. Now... play ball! Dammit, the Mets are already behind the Phils 3-0...
posted by languagehat at 5:07 PM on May 9, 2006


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