Friday, December 14, 2007

Steroids, Baseball and Roger Clemens

Did Red Sox and Yankee pitching great Roger Clemens use steroids?

Obviously, I don't know for sure, but let's take a look at his career stats on Baseball Reference:

From age 30 to 33, Clemens' record is 40-39 with ERA's around 4 and the highest Whip's of his career.. Then all of a sudden he "recovers" and actually gets, if not better at age 34, at least as good as he had been ten years earlier, continuing on par with his best seasons up to age 42, and has continued on at an excellent perfomance level, although down somewhat, the last two seasons up to the age of 44. For example, in 2004 with Houston, at age 41, with an E.R.A. under 3 and a Whip of 1.157, roughly equivalent to his Cy Young Award winning season of 1987 with the Red Sox, when he was 24.

What other power pitchers in history have done that?

Not Bob Feller or Sandy Koufax. They both retired in their early 30's. Steve Carlton's last really good season came at age 37. Bob Gibson and Tom Seaver continued at a high rate until age 36.

Certainly not Walter Johnson, the pitcher without equal to whom Clemens is often compared. Although Johnson had some success after 35, much of this was attributable to his finally playing on an American League champion team in 1924 and 1925, after years of Senatorial futility.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/c/clemero02.shtml

Throughout baseball history we have always seen the same relative curve of productivity, in which a player's statistics rise during the twenties, level off around age thirty and then decline either rapidly or gradually between thirty and forty. Indeed, many who are labelled all time greats are considered so because their stats tapered off much less after age thirty than other good or excellent players.

Ted Williams is a good example of this. Also, Hank Aaron certainly comes to mind here, playing at a high level until age 40, while another all time great, Willie Mays declined a bit more after his 35th birthday, allowing Aaron to pass him in the race for the all time lead in home runs.

Pete Rose, the all time hit leader was still able to punch out 172 hits at age 41, while Robin Yount, who at one time seemed a threat to Pete Rose's base hit record, declined preciptiously in his mid-30's and retired at 37, far short of Rose's record.

On the other hand, there is nothing that categorically eliminates the possibility of improving after age 30. There are rare human specimens among us. George Foreman won the heavyweight title in his mid-40's after all.

In the realm of baseball, Warren Spahn of the Boston and Milwaukee Braves, went 23-7 with an E.R.A. of 2.60 at age 42, although he never really suffered a mid-career decline in the way that Clemens did. Nolan Ryan continued at a high level until age 44, although much of his late success seems attributable to his finally gaining some mastery over his career-damaging wildness.

Among Clemens' contemporaries, Randy Johnson seems to have pitched into his 40's without much decline in performance.

Some might argue that pitchers' pitch counts are closely monitored these days and that less arm stress could allow pitchers to continue at a high level into their forties.

Nevertheless, such counter-examples such as Spann and Ryan are rare and less likely to be legitimate during an era when the acknowledged usage of performancing-enhancing substances was rampant.

Certainly, it is unprecedented to see an explosion in statistics like that of Barry Bonds, who at age 36 started racking up on-base percentages over a hundred points higher than any he had ever achieved, including his three MVP seasons, which was three years past the point where his talented father, Bobby Bonds, played his last full season.

For Clemens, the rumbers are not so stark a difference, but he still had three or four of what are arguably his best seasons, after the age of 34, beginning in 1997, after four mediocre seasons, at an age when most power pitchers' best years are behind them, and his former team the Red Sox let him go.

It might just be a coincidence.

1 comment:

Billy said...

Most ballplayers today are taking homeopathic human growth hormone oral spray because it's safe, undetectable, and legal for over the counter sales. As time goes on it seems it might be considered as benign a performance enhancer as coffee, aspirin, red bull, chewing tobacco, and bubble gum.