Archive for February, 2009

A Lesson in Bilateral Monopoly Bargaining

In the 2007 draft, the Braves selected UGA closer Josh Fields in the second round. He didn’t like the offer he got—niether did his agent, Scott Boras—so he went back to UGA for his senior year.

Negotiations between his agent, Scott Boras, and the Braves — as they are wont to do when the infamous Boras is involved — got hairy. A few weeks into the process, the Braves called Fields directly and gave him an ultimatum: sign now or talks would go dead until August. He didn’t sign. Talks went dead. And the more he hung around Athens, the more he prayed about it, the more he considered the logistics of the deal, the more staying seemed like a better option. “It just became a no-brainer,” Fields said. “It felt right to come back.”

One report indicates that the offer he rejected was likely between $400,000 and $450,000.

Fields had a good senior season, and was selected in the first round by the Seattle Mariners. Though the negotiations have been long, yesterday Fields agreed to a deal between $1.5 and $2 million.

Not every man could turn down nealy half-a-million; but Fields did, and it was the right decision. Scott Boras does know what he’s doing.

Removing the Comments Feature

Yesterday, as I was reviewing comments I began to wonder, “what do we get out of these comments?”

I rarely read the comments at the blogs that I visit; and when I do, I don’t take much away from them. I get some good comments here, but the vast majority of them do not further the discussion. And even the good comments would likely have been e-mailed to me if I didn’t have comments.

And then there are the bad comments. Oh boy! Some of the things that people write…it’s just too easy to hit that send button. I’d say that a majority of the questions or suggestions in the comments are about topics that I have already addressed. It’s quite common for people to post without even reading what has already been written.

In addition, the internet seems to have evolved into blogs and commenting sites/forums. I think commentary would be best on the latter sites.

So, I have decided to remove the comments feature. All previous comments will remain, but the option to comment further is now gone. Consider this an experiment for now. I may end up bringing them back, and there may be instances when I open up comments on individual posts. But for now, the default is comments off.

I do appreciate those of you who consistently offer good comments. I thank you for your contributions, and feel free to send me your comments via e-mail.

Addendum: In lieu of comments, I have enabled trackbacks.

Random Thoughts on Steroids

Roy Oswalt understands the the importance of relative competition for measuring the productivity of baseball players.

“The ones that have come out and admitted it, and are proven guilty, [their numbers] should not count. I’ve been cheated out of the game,” Oswalt continued.

As a Ranger, Rodriguez was 3-for-5 vs. Oswalt with two doubles, one home run, three RBIs and two walks. Last year, as a Yankee, Rodriguez was hitless in two at-bats against Oswalt.

“The few times we played them, when he got hits, it could have cost me a game,” Oswalt said. “It could have cost me money in my contract. He cheated me out of the game and I take it personally, because I’ve never done [PEDs], haven’t done it, and they’re cheating me out of the game.”

— Former MLBPA head Marvin Miller notes that ignorant coverage of performance-enhancing drugs’ benefits may actually encourage use.

“A kid who would love to be a professional athlete reads the sports pages or watches ESPN and is told over and over again, ‘These are performance-enhancing drugs. They will make you a Barry Bonds or an A-Rod or a Roger Clemens.’ The media, without evidence, keep telling young people all over the country, ‘All you have to do to be a famous athlete with lots of money is take steroids.’ The media are the greatest merchants of encouraging this that I’ve ever seen.”

Miller is a bit over the top here, because I think that anabolic steroids likely do enhance performance and players should want some testing system to prevent their use; however, when it comes to growth hormone, he’s dead on. The media has completely botched the coverage of this issue, which is one of the reasons why I think that growth hormone should be legalized.

The point is that players have a strong incentive to gain an edge on each other. This road will inevitably lead many of them to seek out illicit solutions in an area where the experts are the guys who sell the stuff. And when they investigate further, they find prominent sports reporters declaring that HGH is just as effective as steroids. Do you think players are going to search through the scientific literature on PubMed? Heck, if I didn’t share an office suite with exercise physiologists, I probably wouldn’t know any better.

At the end of the day, players are going to take a long hard look at the list of prohibited substances. The fact that these drugs are banned will be sufficient to convince most players that the performance-enhancing benefits are real.

— Here is my proposed performance-enhancing drug policy for baseball in the NY Times, with further explanation here.

First, I suggest a system of fines and bonus. This is a Pigouvian tax and subsidy system that taxes players in accordance with the external costs that users impose on non-users—users may feel the personal benefits of a higher salary outweigh the health risks—and then transfers the financial gains to non-users who earn relatively less due to the fact that they chose to remain clean. This has the deterrence effect similar to suspensions; however, the substantial fine revenue gives players who feel they are in a use-or-lose situation an incentive not to use and to identify new cheating methods.

Second, I propose handing over all monitoring and testing to the players. It is the players who suffer the most from steroids. They are in an arms races where steroids make no individual relatively better than any other player—hence, there is no financial gain—yet, users end up suffering health consequences. This resembles a prisoner’s dilemma game.

What Impact Did Steroids Have on Alex Rodriguez’s Home Run Performance?

Following yesterday’s post, I received an e-mail from an interested reporter asking me if it was possible to compare Alex Rodriguez‘s performance versus expected performance during his admitted steroid seasons.

Something about the wording of his e-mail stirred me to think about a better way to look at this than what I had previously done. The procedure is simple, I use Baseball-Reference’s “Neutralize Stats” tool to convert A-Rod’s home-run rate (HR/AB) performance to a consistent baseline. Then I use my estimates of aging from a study to be published in Journal of Sports Sciences (working paper version) to examine Rodriguez’s neutral career aging trajectory.

The table below lists A-Rod’s career performance neutralized for park and era effects—these are not his actual numbers, which are polluted by ballpark and era effects—as well as a correction for natural aging. The “Aging (v. Peak)” column reports the percent difference from his projected peak HR/AB. I base the aging progression towards his peak using the mean of his age 23 and 24 performances to project his peak HR/AB performance of 9.18% at age 30. It’s interesting to note that A-Rod’s peak HR/AB performance occurs at age 31 at 9.37%.

Year	Age	Neutral	Aging 	Pred.	Neutral	Pred.	Neutral HR
		HR/AB	(v.Peak)HR/AB	HR	HR	- Pred. HR
1994	18	0.00%	-67.63%	2.97%			
1995	19	3.18%	-56.73%	3.97%			
1996	20	5.63%	-46.79%	4.89%			
1997	21	3.94%	-37.80%	5.71%			
1998	22	5.98%	-29.77%	6.45%			
1999	23	7.91%	-22.70%	7.10%			
2000	24	7.41%	-16.58%	7.66%			
2001	25	8.12%	-11.43%	8.13%	51	51.07	-0.07
2002	26	8.91%	-7.23%	8.52%	55	52.56	2.44
2003	27	7.53%	-3.98%	8.82%	45	52.72	-7.72
2004	28	5.98%	-1.70%	9.03%	Gain	01-03	-5.35
2005	29	8.28%	-0.37%	9.15%	Gain	01-02	2.37
2006	30	6.00%	0.00%	9.18%			
2007	31	9.37%	-0.59%	9.13%			
2008	32	6.84%	-2.13%	8.99%			

The reporter also noted that A-Rod claims to have quit taking steroids after a 2003 spring training injury; therefore, we might not want to include 2003 as a steroid season. Thus, I include his 2001–2003 and 2001–2002 total gains in home runs. As the table indicates, 2003—the season in which we know he tested positive—he hit nearly 8 fewer home runs than expected. He hit almost exactly as many home runs as expected in 2001 and 2.44 more than expected in 2002.

So, what were A-Rod’s steroids worth? 2.37 home runs over two seasons, or a little over one home run a season. At least, that is the estimate based on the method I laid out above; however, it’s probably best to say that there was no observed effect. It is possible that the steroids did give Rodriguez a boost, and this may have helped him through an injury or some other factor that my estimate does not account for. It’s also likely that he hit more home runs than expected through random chance. Given the general swings in the play of the game, it is very difficult to separate true performance changes from random swings in performance. The deviation here isn’t large enough to say much.

The important finding is that the statistical record doesn’t reveal an obvious spike in home-run performance by Alex Rodriguez during the time when he admits to using performance-enhancing drugs.

Addendum: The reporter mentioned above is Carl Bialik, who now has a post up on the subject at The Numbers Guy.

Further Addendum:
For those who have asked why posted this brief analysis, see Thomas Boswell’s latest.

Rodriguez may have taken performance-enhancing drugs for only three years — never before, never after.

For one thing, his statistics, as we’ll show, indicate that he may be coming clean. He averaged 33 percent more homers in his dirty Texas years — from 2001 to 2003 — than in the other 10 full seasons of his career. That’s a huge leap, similar to the numbers that first incriminated Barry Bonds in many baseball minds….

In his three years in Texas, from 2001 to 2003, he averaged 52 homers vs. 39.2 everywhere else. The jump was even bigger when compared to his previous five superstar years in Seattle, when he averaged 36.8 homers.

After hitting 42, 42 and 41 homers in his last three years in Seattle, he hit 52, then 57 in his first two years in Texas. Granted, the Ballpark is a launching pad. Rodriguez slugged .666 there in three years vs. .576 on the road. But that’s still worth only a few extra homers a year, not 12 or 15.

File Under Why I’m a Libertarian

We now know why the MLBPA didn’t destroy the 2003 drug tests.

MPBPA statement:

“In mid-November 2003, the 2003 survey test results were tabulated and finalized. The MLBPA first received results on Tuesday, November 11. Those results were finalized on Thursday, November 13, and the players were advised by a memo dated Friday, November 14. Promptly thereafter, the first steps were taken to begin the process of destruction of the testing materials and records, as contemplated by the Basic Agreement. On November 19, however, we learned that the government had issued a subpoena. Upon learning this, we concluded, of course, that it would be improper to proceed with the destruction of the materials. The fact that such a subpoena issued in November 2003 has been part of the public record for more than two years. See, U.S. v. CDT, 473 F3d at 920 (2006), and 513 F3d at 1090 (2008) (both opinions have now been vacated). Other subpoenas followed, including one for all test results.

“Over the next several months we attempted to negotiate a resolution of the matter with the United States Attorneys Office for the Northern District of California. During that time we pledged to the government attorneys that the materials would not be destroyed. When the government attorneys refused to withdraw its subpoena for all 2003 test results, we decided to ask a judge to determine to what the government was entitled. See, 473 F3d at 944, and 513 F3d at 1118. On the same day we were filing our papers with the court, the government attorneys obtained a search warrant and they began seizing materials the following day. Pursuant to that search warrant which named only 10 individuals, the government seized records for every baseball player tested under our program, in addition to many records related to testing in other sports,and even records for other (non-sport) business entities.

Also note the jab to the media: “The fact that such a subpoena issued in November 2003 has been part of the public record for more than two years.” And the Gene Orza “tipping” allegation appears to be the previously-documented 2004 meetings with players to address the seizures. Again, this was covered over a year ago.

Aside: The MLBPA’s director of communications is named Greg Bouris. How many guys with a similar last name are involved in this thing? Jeff Borris (Barry Bonds’s agent), Scott Boras (Alex Rodriguez’s agent), and now Greg.

A-Rod’s HR Rates

I don’t have time for much commentary, but in case you are wondering…

A-Rod HR Rate

2001–2003 are his admitted steroid years. They are also the years in which he played in homer-friendly Rangers ballpark.

If you look hard enough, you’ll probably think you see something, but there doesn’t appear to be much here. Yes, his homers went up when the AL’s HR rate went down, but then take a look at 2007 and 2008. Also, he was also still experiencing aging improvements in a helpful environment.

UPDATE: More here.

Thoughts on A-Rod

In case you missed, Sports Illustrated broke the story this weekend that Alex Rodriguez’s 2003 “anonymous” drug test revealed use of an anabolic steroid. Here are some of my thoughts on the issue.

— 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.

— Why didn’t the union destroy the tests? My guess is that the assumed the government would not be able to get their hands on the list—why would they think that the government might want this?—and the union wanted to have the information for its own purposes. I have argued that it’s in the player’s interest to test each other, owners shouldn’t care. I suspect that union leaders could find a lot of uses for these tests. For example, if a player fails a test now and claims it must be a false positive, the union could benefit from knowing if the player had used before when it plans its defense

— It’s way to early to think about Hall of Fame implications. We have no idea about how we’re going to think about steroid use in the future.

— Releasing the remainder of the 104 names isn’t fair. If one name leaked off a list of homosexual players who wished to remain in the closet, would it be fair to out the remaining names? What happened to A-Rod was unfair, but that doesn’t mean that releasing the names of other players is now morally acceptable. If players don’t want their names trickling out, then individual players on the list can reveal this on their own.

— What’s A-Rod’s strategy going to be? Many have suggested that he “come clean” and apologize like Andy Pettitte did. The Pettitte woe-is-me act won’t work for A-Rod. We didn’t forgive Pettitte because we thought he was sorry. He wasn’t sorry, because he changed his story of “used once” to “used twice” when new details came up. Pettitte got a pass because he’s liked, not for being honest. I think the strategy is going to be sue everybody. Whoever leaked this information did so illegally, and the only way to find out who did it is to take the whole thing down. Maybe he’ll cop to some use, I don’t know; but, I think this is going to get very ugly.

Addendum: King Kaufman demonstrates why the Andy Pettitte defense won’t work for A-Rod.

…Alex Rodriguez is Alex Rodriguez. He can’t scratch his ear without somebody declaring that he symbolizes all that’s wrong, evil and distorted with baseball, sports, America, humanity and the universe. I mean, did you see him scratch his ear?

Update: And now we can test if the Pettitte strategy works for A-Rod.

“When I arrived in Texas in 2001, I felt an enormous amount of pressure. I needed to perform, and perform at a high level every day,” Rodriguez told ESPN’s Peter Gammons in an interview in Miami Beach, Fla. “Back then, [baseball] was a different culture. It was very loose. I was young, I was stupid, I was naïve. I wanted to prove to everyone I was worth being one of the greatest players of all time.

“I did take a banned substance. For that, I’m very sorry and deeply regretful.”

Summing Up the Gwinnett Stadium Mess

Warlick Cartoon

Comments Policy

Every few months I find it is good to repost my comments policy. A permanent link to the policy is available on the left sidebar.

— — —

There is no need to be insulting or rude if you do not like what someone else says. This is not a chat room or a message board where posters engage in insult wars. I don’t mind criticism or disagreement, but I ask that you be polite. Before you post something, ask yourself if any statements that you make are irrelevant to the discussion. Could what you are posting be perceived as mean-spirited, snarky, or patronizing? Phrases like, “I normally like what you have to say, but X is ridiculous”, “you are wrong”, or “you’re an idiot” add nothing to the discussion except to insult me or other commenters. They should be excluded. I could respond, but I don’t really care to get involved in discussions with such people. I just remove such comments in order to keep things civil. If you don’t like this, feel free to start your own blog and rant about me all day long. I don’t care.

Comments are allowed to encourage productive and polite discussion. Comments deemed to be inappropriate will be removed. If you follow these guidelines, you should be fine.

— Be polite. Would you say what you wrote if you were sitting in a room with the person you are writing to? If not, don’t write it.

— Read what others have written carefully before posting critiques. Many bad comments are driven by individuals not becoming familiar with what has already been written on the topic. In the worst cases, the post on which the comment is made has not been read.

— Anonymous posting is allowed, but each person is allowed only one persona. Using an alias to bolster your own point is inappropriate. If you want others to take you seriously, then you should use your real name, not a pseudonym. If you are serious about what you have to say, then you should not be afraid to put your reputation on the line.

— Limit critiques to the work of the site’s author. If you have a criticism of a study by an outside author, please direct your critique directly to the author via e-mail.

— When debate is not productive, cease participation.

— Do not to expect to make up for a lack of familiarity with a topic in an afternoon by reading a few blog posts or papers. In some cases, years of reading are required to get up to speed on a topic. I do not explain concepts taught in introductory economics, statistics, logic, or econometrics courses.

— Do not lecture.

Defending Roger Clemens

Today, Allen Barra quotes me extensively in a NY Observer article defending Roger Clemens.

“The best evidence for a power pitchers’ potency is strikeouts. Clemens’s strikeout rate relative to the league declined as he aged. If he was getting some artificial help, wouldn’t we have expected him to have improved in this area? The one thing that jumps out at you when you look at the numbers for Clemens’ last several seasons is not striking out batters but preventing walks. That’s the part of his game least likely to have been affected by PEDs. I think this lends support to the idea that Clemens was able to maintain effectiveness as he got older because he simply got smarter and tougher.”

If you would like to see my analysis of Roger Clemens’s career, you can read my initial post on the subject here. And, this post contains links to several statistical analyses of Clemens’s career. In summary, my view is this: if Clemens used performance-enhancing drugs, they didn’t work. Contrary to popular opinion, the statistical record does not support Brian McNamee’s allegations.