Archive for Steroids

Does Viagra Improve Performance?…Athletic Performance

The NY Daily News alleges more drug use by Roger Clemens. This time, the culprit is Viagra.

Roger Clemens, whose claims he never took steroids are under federal investigation, has apparently discovered the benefits of another performance-enhancing drug sweeping the sports world – Viagra.

Clemens stashed the clearly marked, diamond-shaped pills in a GNC vitamin bottle in his locker at Yankee Stadium, according to a source familiar with the clubhouse, perhaps keeping the drug undercover to avoid the inevitable wisecracks about all the girlfriends he needed to please.

According to the Daily News, Viagra (sildenafil nitrate) is widely used by athletes to improve performance.

The drug is so widely used for off-label purposes that it has drawn the attention of anti-doping officials and law-enforcement agencies in the United States and beyond.

“All my athletes took it,” BALCO founder Victor Conte, whose acolytes included Jason Giambi, Barry Bonds and Marion Jones, said of an over-the-counter supplement he claimed mimicked the effects of Viagra.

“It’s bigger than creatine. It’s the biggest product in nutritional supplements.”

Among the off-label uses for Viagra, which first went on the market in 1998, it:

* Helps build endurance, especially for athletes who compete at high altitudes
* Delivers oxygen, nutrients and performance-enhancing drugs to muscles more efficiently
* Counteracts the impotence that can be a side-effect of testosterone injections

I asked two of my exercise physiologist colleagues about the potential performance-enhancing effects of Viagra. Both felt that it is unlikely that the drug would help. The reason being that the problem isn’t getting blood flow to the muscle but the muscles using the blood flow. One was a little more believing of the theoretical improvement, but felt it would have no practical effect. The other felt there was almost no way it could work. In sum, it’s probably a placebo effect that leads athletes to use Viagra. This effect could be exacerbated by positive sexual experiences.

Boy, it’s going to be fun managing the spam in these comments.

Rep. Waxman, Please Do Something Productive

Representative Henry Waxman is upset about Bud Selig’s Congressional testimony that positive steroid tests declined from five percent in 2003 to one percent in 2004.

But the accuracy of the picture provided by Commissioner Bud Selig, his deputy Rob Manfred and the players union’s executive director, Donald Fehr, about how the testing was conducted has come into question. The committee’s chairman, Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, has said he is troubled, and the committee’s staff is planning to send letters to Selig and Fehr seeking answers to what Waxman has called “misinformation.”

At the heart of the issue is the fact that the committee was not told that the 2004 testing, with its significantly lower positive test results, had been partly shut down for much of that season, what Selig’s office later called an emergency response to an unforeseen situation. Specifically, the shutdown arose from the federal investigation of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative steroid ring.

As a result, players who apparently tested positive in 2003 were not retested in 2004 until the final weeks of the season, and might have been notified beforehand, perhaps skewing the overall test numbers for that year.

“It’s clear that some of the information Major League Baseball and the players union gave the committee in 2005 was inaccurate,” Waxman said in a written statement. “It isn’t clear whether this was intentional or just reflects confusion over the testing program for 2003 and 2004. In any case, the misinformation is unacceptable.”

First, there is nothing “inaccurate” about this claim. It could have been misleading, in that the lower positive-test rate had a cause other than decreased steroid use, but baseball appears to have presented correct numbers.

Second, is this news to Waxman? The shutting down of testing in 2004 is such common knowledge that I cannot even recall where I learned of it many months ago. I believe it was included in the Mitchell Report.

UPDATE: Here is the relevant text from the Mitchell Report (pp. 281–282).

In April 2004 federal agents executed search warrants on two private firms involved in the 2003 survey testing, Comprehensive Drug Testing, Inc. and Quest Diagnostics, Inc.; the warrants sought drug testing records and samples for ten major league players connected with the BALCO investigation. In the course of those searches, the agents seized data from which they believed they could determine the identities of the major league players who had tested positive during the anonymous survey testing.

Shortly after these events, the Players Association initiated discussions with the Commissioner’s Office regarding a possible suspension of drug testing while the federal investigation proceeded. Manfred said the parties were concerned at the time that test results that they believed until then raised only employment issues had now become an issue in a pending criminal investigation. Ultimately, the Commissioner’s Office and the Players Association agreed to a moratorium on 2004 drug testing. While the exact date and length of this moratorium is uncertain, and the relevant 2004 testing records have been destroyed, Manfred stated that the moratorium commenced very early in the season, prior to the testing of any significant number of players. Manfred stated that the Players Association was not authorized to advise its members of the existence of the moratorium.

According to Manfred, the moratorium lasted for a short period. For most players, drug tests then resumed. With respect to the players who the federal agents believed had tested positive during 2003 survey testing, however, the Commissioner’s Office and the Players Association agreed that: (1) the Players Association would be permitted to advise those players of this fact, since that information was now in the hands of the government; (2) the testing moratorium would continue with respect to those players until the Players Association had an opportunity to notify them; and (3) the Players Association would not advise any of the players of the limited moratorium.

Sometime between mid-August and early September 2004, Manfred contacted Orza because the Players Association had not yet notified the players involved. The 2004 season was drawing to a close without those players having been tested because they remained under the moratorium. Manfred said that he pressed Orza to notify the players as soon as possible so that they could be tested. All of the players were notified by early September 2004.

The problem is that the owners and players agreed to suspend testing for a portion of the 2004 season after the I.R.S. seized previous test results that were supposed to be anonymous. It was the seizure by a government organization that impeded the testing, not MLB or MPBPA.

But, what really annoys me, is that if Waxman really cared about getting steroids out of baseball, he would have used his powers to suppress the seized evidence. Baseball entered into its drug testing program with good intentions, despite the fact there are incentives for individual players and owners to skirt the system. It took major concessions for both sides to begin testing, and anonymity of the early tests was important. Th raid threw all of that good will out the window, and players were once again suspicious of what would happen to the personal health information contained in the blood samples.

Instead, of blaming baseball, Rep. Waxman should have helped baseball negate these seizures, so that all the parties involved could have used their resources to protect player confidentiality while trying to rid the sport of doping. That is to goal of all of this, isn’t it?

Hitting Power in Domed Stadiums

Zubin Jelveh at Portfolio offers more evidence that weather is not responsible for the power declines in baseball. He looks at slugging percentages in domed stadiums, where temperature ought to be less of a factor.

Temperature and League HR Splits

Recently, there has been some discussion about the disparity in run-scoring between the AL and the NL. For example, here are two articles on the subject by William Burke and Joe Sheehan, and David Pinto. Because of the designated hitter, AL teams tend to score more runs and hit more home runs than NL teams. This year, this has not been the case. In my investigation of the impact of temperature on home-run hitting I looked at the differences in early-season temperatures between the leagues.

Here are April home run and temperature data from 2000-2008. The temperature data exclude indoor games.

	AL			NL	
Year	HR/G	Outdoor Temp	HR/G	Outdoor Temp
2000	2.60	62.03		2.57	63.90
2001	2.32	60.19		2.35	65.48
2002	2.12	60.31		1.74	64.64
2003	2.13	58.35		2.08	62.79
2004	2.20	60.82		2.13	66.40
2005	1.96	61.82		1.85	64.68
2006	2.42	62.21		2.21	66.13
2007	2.04	57.85		1.69	62.49
2008	1.73	61.53		1.83	65.00
00-07	2.22	60.45		2.08	64.56
08 Diff	-0.49	1.09		-0.25	0.43

The data reveal some useful information. AL teams typically play in colder whether than NL teams. But, even though April 2008 was colder in the AL than in the NL, AL baseball was over a full degree warmer than it had been in the previous eight seasons, while NL baseball was under half-a-degree warmer. Home runs in the AL were down by half-a-HR per game (22%) and NL homers were down by a quarter-a-HR per game (12%) in 2008. This is not looking good for the temperature hypothesis.

Let’s take a closer look at the league differences in home runs and temperature by year.

	HR Gap	Temp Gap	
Year	HR/G	Temp	Temp Impact
2000	0.03	1.87	-0.03
2001	-0.04	5.29	-0.08
2002	0.38	4.33	-0.06
2003	0.05	4.43	-0.07
2004	0.06	5.57	-0.08
2005	0.11	2.86	-0.04
2006	0.21	3.92	-0.06
2007	0.36	4.65	-0.07
2008	-0.10	3.46	-0.05

00-07	0.14	4.11	-0.06
08 Diff	-0.24	-0.65	0.01

In Aprils from 2000–2007 AL teams averaged 0.14 more home runs per game than NL teams did, while NL games were played in parks that were 4.11 degrees warmer than AL parks. In 2008 the temperature gap between leagues actually shrank, as AL teams played in warmer conditions than NL teams relative to the past; therefore, the homer gap should have increased rather than decreased and reversed.

The final column of the table above measures the impact of the temperature gap on HR/G differences between leagues, using the 0.015 impact that each degree contribute to home runs that I discussed in my previous post. This captures the impact that temperatures have on narrowing the home-run gap between the leagues. From 2000–2007, higher temperatures in the NL have kept the homer gap 0.05 home runs per game less that it would be under the same temperature conditions. This means that if the AL and NL played in the exact same temperature environments, the homer gap would be 0.05 home runs per game higher than it has been. Based on temperature, the AL homer gap over the NL should have increased by 0.01 home runs per game in 2008. Therefore, it seems that temperature differences do not explain the change in home-run rates between leagues.

Again, I reiterate what I said about the fluctuation of home runs in my previous post. It’s very difficult to pin the decline in home runs this season on something other than random variation. As Bob Nightengale points out in the USA Today, home run rates are not all that different this season than they were a few years ago.

Temperature Does Not Explain the Decline in April Home Runs

Since my original post on the relationship between temperature and home runs I had wanted to follow up with game-specific data. This was slowed by my inability to get good 2008 data and going out of town. After banging my head against the wall trying to use Perl to parse MLB Gameday data I did what I should have done in the first place: I asked my buddy Doug Drinen for help. Though he doesn’t like intentional walks, he is a Perl grand master, and he parsed the 2008 data in a matter of minutes. I want to offer him a huge thanks for doing this.

So, I left off last time looking at average US temperatures in April and home-run rates. What I really needed was game temperatures. So, with the help of Retrosheet, Gameday, and Doug, I was able to look at home runs and temperature by game. The data below lists the mean home runs per game and temperatures in April by year. The temperature data excludes games played indoors.

Year	HR/G	Outdoor Temp
2000	2.59	63.12
2001	2.34	63.19
2002	1.92	62.73
2003	2.10	60.87
2004	2.16	63.97
2005	1.91	63.46
2006	2.30	64.45
2007	1.85	60.59
2008	1.78	62.76

While temperatures were down in 2008, they were higher than they were in 2007. 2006, which had a high home-run rate, was hotter than 2007 and 2008. Some commentators have compared this season’s decline in homers to 2006 and have concluded that the decline in steroid use is a big contributor. Here is a sample from Thomas Boswell.

This spring, for the second straight year, home run totals, like the game’s conspicuous muscles, have shrunk dramatically. Last season’s 8 percent drop in home runs was welcomed, but with caution. Would the tater barrage simply resume? But now, in the wake of the Mitchell report, home runs have fallen this spring by another 10.4 percent.

Suddenly, a sport that produced 5,386 home runs in 2006 is on pace for 4,442 this year — a 17.5 percent drop, or a loss of almost 1,000 home runs in just two seasons.

2006 is an odd year for comparison, because serious testing really began in 2005, with suspensions for one failed test. (Check out MLB’s drug policy timeline.) The lost 1,000 homers is a good headline, but the number of homers in 2006 actually hurts the case that testing has lowered steroid use because it occurs after testing began.

But even though 2006 was hot, and 2006 and 2007 were relatively cool, the change in temperature isn’t enough to explain the difference. Comparing the averages from 2000-2004 (pre-testing) to 2005-2008 (testing), the decline in temperature only explains a small portion of the change in home runs.

Years	HR/G	Outdoor Temp
00-04	2.22	62.77
05-08	1.81	61.67
Diff.	0.41	1.10

Impact of temp on ΔHR/G: 	-0.0165
%Δ expl by temp:		4.06%	

I used a negative binomial regression to estimate the number of home runs in a game as a function of temperature, league, and park (using park dummies) from 2000–2007 for outdoor games. (The first person to say “why don’t you control for X, Y, or Z” gets a maple bat shoved up his/her rear end. It’s a simple model, but it gets the job done. If you don’t like it, estimate your own damn regression.) The model estimates that each one-degree change in temperature adds approximately 0.015 home runs per game. The magnitude of the effect is meaningful: the difference between average April and July temperatures adds about one home run per four games played. However, in explaining a shift in temperature from the pre-testing and testing eras (0.41 HR/G), it only explains four percent of the decline in homers. Even looking at the extreme April temperature difference between 2006 and 2007, the temperature change only explains about 6% of the decline.

Does this mean that steroid testing is the cause of the fall in home runs? No. These numbers bounce around quite a bit, and it’s just too soon to say whether or not we are seeing a real change or whether this is just a product of random fluctuation or other factors. Just look at 2002 and 2006. What we can say is that while low temperatures are contributing to the drop in homers, they don’t explain much of the change.

I’ve got more coming on this, but I’m short on time. I may not get to it until next week, but I have also looked into the impact of temperature on the difference in home runs between leagues.

Schafer Snagged By MLB’s New Anti-Steroid Weapon

According to the NY Daily News, Jordan Schafer is the first victim of MLB’s new whistle-blower hotline.

“This is not something that came from a government investigation,” said an MLB source who requested anonymity, speaking about the Schafer case. “It came from a team of investigators following what Mitchell recommended.”

The source would not confirm if the Schafer investigation was an offshoot of the hotline, but the source did say the line was available to anybody in baseball with access to its private code, including players, managers and front-office personnel. Tipsters can also report rules violations through a secure Web site.

The hotline goes directly to the Department of Investigations, said the source.

“You can leave a message or speak to someone live if that is your choice,” the source added.

The Department of Investigations signals a radical departure in how Major League Baseball pursues leads about performance-enhancing drug use – in the past, allegations fell on deaf ears.

If the goal of performance-enhancement is to make a player relatively better than his peers, then those peers are going to be a valuable resource to the Department of Investigations.

Connection to Schafer?


A federal indictment unsealed Wednesday charged that unidentified agents for baseball players steered clients to a California physician linked in media reports to supplying Troy Glaus and Scott Schoeneweis with illegal performance-enhancing drugs.

No players or agents were mentioned by name in the 11-count indictment returned by a grand jury against Dr. Ramon Scruggs and two of his alleged associates at the New Hope Health Center in Costa Mesa, Calif….

The indictment, dated March 5, was unsealed in U.S. District Court in San Jose, Calif. It contains counts involving distribution of steroids, conspiracy, misbranding drugs, money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering. The indictment covers activity from September 2000 to May 2003, and charges the defendants with illegally distributing drugs to baseball players, law-enforcement officers and others.

“It was a further part of the conspiracy that, on occasion, sports representation agents for professional baseball players referred their client-players to defendants Scruggs, Danto and MacPherson for the purpose of obtaining anabolic steroids and other drugs which those individuals knew to be banned by Major League Baseball and therefore unavailable to the players through lawful medical channels absent the illegal prescriptions provided by Scruggs,” the indictment said.

Jordan Schafer and Growth Hormone

I’m heading out the door to catch a plane to Memphis, so I don’t have much time. But, I want to briefly comment on the 50-game suspension of Braves prospect Jordan Schafer for violating MLB’s drug policy in regard to human growth hormone. I’ll offer a few thoughts.

— What the hell is this kid doing? Growth hormone doesn’t improve athletic performance, and it is very bad for you. It’s funny that I have yet to see any mainstream media bring this up, even though this fact was discussed in a widely-covered Congressional hearing two months ago. Maybe Jordan should be reading Sabernomics more and driving his Hummer less.

— When it comes to Schafer the baseball player, I’ve never seen what all the fuss is about. He could be good or drift off into nothing. His numbers aren’t that eye-popping and he is young. He is not good enough to garner the media attention he has been getting.

— The fact that no one will say how he was busted makes me think that he has been ratted out by a dealer. Maybe it’s someone we have already heard of, or it could be that this is just the first of several names to come.

UPDATE: Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus write the following.

Stories are beginning to come out of an investigation of Schafer and other Braves teammates that led to a confession from Schafer, but it sounds like this could get ugly, if these early stories are true.

Possibly, but keep in mind that early news reports are often tainted by incorrect rumors.

— What does the future hold for Schafer? This is going to be tough to shake, because the first time he doesn’t perform up to his hype—something that is likely to happen anyway—people are going to say, “see, he’s off the drugs.” He might even believe it. Damn placebos!

— Should Schafer be punished for using growth hormone, even though it lacks performance-enhancing benefits? Absolutely. The rules state you can’t do it. Corking a bat doesn’t increase the distance that you can hit a ball, but it is against the rules to do so. The rules must be enforced.


— Are you having trouble following your favorite Braves blogs from day to day? Check out The Tomahawk. It contains snippets and links to blog posts and Braves news.

— If you are looking for an easy way to link to all of my commentary on the lacking effectiveness of human growth hormone, I have now created a separate category for these posts.

— Charles at Cosellout uses the Sports Illustrated archives to track the magazine’s coverage of performance-enhancing drugs going back to 1969.

In the months to come we will be cataloguing their articles according to special categories as part of an SI Vault Series. Given the current climate on the subject, performance enhancing drugs (PEDS) seemed like a wonderful place to start. As accountability is being requested from players to managers to owners, there is one contingent that has answered to no one: The MEDIA. It is important for the public to know the same question asked of everyone else: “what did they know”? Given SI’s historical reputation America’s #1 magazine, it goes without saying that if Sports Illustrated printed it, then the rest of the sports media knew about it.

Michael Shermer has an article in Scientific American that discusses the prisoner’s dilemma game that motivates steroid use in all sports (thanks to Freakonomics and The Sports Economist). Readers of The Baseball Economist (or bargain hardback) will recall the direct application of this game to baseball in Chapter 9 (The Steroids Game). To end doping in sports Shermer states that any solution must correct the incentives that lead players to use.

To end doping in sports, the doping game must be restructured so that competing clean is in a Nash equilibrium. That is, the governing bodies of each sport must change the payoff values of the expected outcomes identified in the game matrix. First, when other players are playing by the rules, the payoff for doing likewise must be greater than the payoff for cheating. Second, and perhaps more important, even when other players are cheating, the payoff for playing fair must be greater than the payoff for cheating. Players must not feel like suckers for following the rules.

I agree; and here is my solution for changing the payoffs in the New York Times.

In an effort to clean up the game, it is tempting to suggest the standard solutions that strengthen old rules and increase monitoring and punishments. The problem is that the scofflaws are always one step ahead of the police. We need a deterrence system that uses incentives to limit drug use.

Baseball should stop punishing steroid users with suspensions and small fines. Instead, the sport needs a system of significant fines and bonuses. The revenues generated by cheaters under the new fine-and-bonus system would be distributed to the players who passed their tests. In addition to punishing players who cheat, this system would have the advantages of rewarding players who stayed clean and of encouraging players to police each other. Players would continue to play while being punished, so that fans did not suffer for player sins.

More here. Steven Levitt favors a proposal that stores blood samples over a long period of time. I don’t think it is possible in baseball given the fear of tampering and alternate uses. The players will never allow this, and I don’t blame them for their opposition. In a world where I don’t blindly trust my mechanic, why would I trust a lab holding a blood sample that could ruin my livelihood?

Who is Canseco’s Friend Max?

From Vindicated, via Deadspin:

Right around this time, I ran into trainer that I knew from Canada, from my old days with the Toronto Blue Jays. I’ll call him Max, because I’m going to leave it to him if he wants to go public….The trainer was a fan of steroids, and he had connections with local steroids suppliers—we often traded information on where we got our stuff—and he knew almost as much about the subject as I did.

Blue Jays, trainer, steroids, and Max…. Could “Max” be “Mac”, as in former Blue Jays trainer Brian McNamee? I think it that is what Canseco wants us to think, even if it isn’t the case.