After a leak of the results of MLB’s 2003 anonymous survey testing for performance enhancing drugs, Alex Rodriguez admitted in an interview with ESPN’s Peter Gammons using them from 2001 to 2003, the three years he played for Texas.
“When I arrived in Texas in 2001, I felt an enormous amount of pressure, felt all the weight of the world on top of me to perform and perform at a high level every day.”…When asked if his usage took place from 2001-2003, Rodriguez said, “That’s pretty accurate.”
Rangers owner Tom Hicks, who took over the team in 1998, was shocked by Rodriguez’s admission.
“I certainly don’t believe that if he’s now admitting that he started using when he came to the Texas Rangers, why should I believe that it didn’t start before he came to the Texas Rangers
If ARod started using PEDs in 2001, then they had no effect, as his three years in Texas are statistically indistinguishable from his previous two years in Seattle. His jump in performance was between the 1998 and 1999 seasons.
Listed below is how Oliver sees Rodriguez, park adjusted, year by year. His career breaks down into three five year periods.
In four of his first five years, from 1994 to 1998, A-Rod’s percent of homeruns by batted balls was between .066 and .070, with 1997 at .044. This is a range occupied by the career rates of Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron, Alfonso Soriano, Vlad Guerrero, Jesse Barfield, Kevin Mitchell, Larry Walker and Matt Williams. Very good, but not quite the top, usually good for 35-40 homers a year. During these five years, A-Rod’s isolated power (slugging minus batting averages) never exceeded .265.
In the five years from 1999 to 2003, A-Rod’s HR% ranged between .092 and .110, roughly a 40% increase, ranking him with the top six of all time, Sammy Sosa, Babe Ruth, Jim Thome, and Adam Dunn, and only exceeded on a career basis by Mark McGwire’s .125. His isolated power ranged from .287 to .312. His walk and strikeout rates also took a jump in 1999, going from below average walk and strikeouts to above average on walks and average on strikeouts. Three of these five years also saw his lowest batting average on balls in play (SDT%).
The last five years, 2004 to 2008, have all been with the Yankees. In two of those seasons, 2005 and 2007, Rodriguez’s HR% was in the same range as the previous five years. In the other three, his HR% has been near but still above his rates from his first five years, with his isolated power showing the same pattern. His walk and strikeout have continued to rise, and his SDT% returned to previous levels, which have combined to have his overall productivity, measured with wOBA, remain high despite the fall off in homeruns.
One other note which shows that hitting homeruns is more than just hitting the ball hard. Greg Rybarczyk’s Hit Tracker has calculated normalized distances and speed off the bat for most all homeruns hit beginning in 2006. A-Rod hit 35 HR’s in 2006, with a mean SOB of 113.1 mph, followed by 54 in 2007, averaging 110.0 mph, and then 35 again in 2008, averaging 108.0 mph. His 113.1 SOB in 2006 is the highest single season mark of the least three years. The scatter plots of HR locations shows that in 2006 A-Rod hit 25 of his 35 HRs more than 400 feet, and many were hit to CF. His number of HR’s in 2007 jumped to 54 despite a lower average speed, as 21 were hit under 400 feet but pulled to LF where the fences are generally shorter. In 2008 Rodriguez only pulled 4 under 400 foot homers to LF. Correlating the speed off the bat with the HR/Fly for all batters with 10 or more homers total from 2006 to 2008 results in a factor r of .37, meaning that 35-40% of the probability of a flyball going for a homerun is determined by how hard (and thus how far) the ball is hit. The rest would be where the ball was hit (which direction and how far was the fence.)
Alex Rodriguez has now admitted to taking PEDs, but if we believe that they actually do enhance performance, the statistics show he likely started earlier than he has said. At age 32 he is still one of the top five batters in the majors, but his stats also show normal signs of aging, a so far gradual decline in power.
Brian got his start in amateur baseball, as the statistician for his local college summer league in Johnstown, Pa, which also hosts the annual All-American Amateur Baseball Association. A longtime APBA and Strat-o-Matic player, he still tends to look at everything as a simulation. He has also written for StatSpeak and SeamHeads You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org