Brady Anderson, steroids, small sample sizes, and the American Way

That title’s a mouthful, huh?  But since tonight’s the All-Star game…

Anyways, Brady Anderson was a baseball player from 1988-2004, mostly for the Baltimore Orioles, though he played 41 games with the BoSox to start his career and 34 at the end with the California Angels.  Anderson was a good player.  I always thought of him as a good defensive player (though apparently advanced metrics now argue otherwise…) with reasonable offensive skills; he could get on base and he had speed.

Now, here’s the catch.  The peak seasons for baseball players take place 99.9% of the time between the ages of 26-29.  There are exceptions, but they are rare–except during the “Steroid Era” that Anderson played in.  A lot of players got caught with them and there were a lot more hinted at.  Anderson wound up getting ‘hinted at’.  Here’s why:

  • Per-Season Average with Baltimore:  257-15-53, 22sb
  • Age 31 stats:  262-16-64, 26sb  (perfectly in line with his career)
  • Age 33 stats:  288-18-73, 18sb (again, not too far from his career numbers with Baltimore)

But wait, I missed something there.  No one goes from Age 31 to Age 33.  I missed Anderson’s Age-32 season.  Here we go:  297-50-110, 21sb.  That’s 20% higher on batting average, more than triple his career dinger average, and double his average for RBI.  It’s an outrageous stat line.  If you look at things like OPS+ , it is a performance far beyond anything he did before or after.

The thing is–during that season and after, Anderson’s name has been associated with the use of steroids and HGH.  Obviously, he MUST have been using them in order to hit 50 home runs, right?  Since 1996, he’s word the scarlet letter of steroids even though he never tested positive or had been mentioned previously.  Just as important, look at the stat above with Age-33.  He didn’t maintain the power–it went right back to average.  If he was a user, he certainly didn’t get his money’s worth.  After all, if that was what it was and it worked–why stop?

Actually, I think there’s a simpler answer.  I’m a big fan of Occam’s Razor–look for the simplest, least convoluted solution.  The year he hit the 50 taters, Anderson adjusted his batting and stood a full foot closer to the plate.  Not only did he go from 16 to 50 home runs, but he also went from getting hit 10 times by pitches to 22.  Essentially, Anderson turned more of the plate into his sweet-spot and it worked for a year before pitchers adjusted.

So–what’s the American way got to do with this?  

  1. Once we find that someone has taken a shortcut to success (Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens), we presume everyone else has.  We jump to conclusions and ignore rational data–like the fact Anderson had success as a power hitter for just a single season.
  2. For baseball fans, Anderson remains ‘convicted’ of being a steroid user.  His fluke season is chalked up to drugs rather than an adjustment or being a fluke (and the list of guys with flukish seasons is a long one with a million explanations for them…I mean, go check out Wade Boggs’ 1987 hitting).  He only had one other season after that with 20+ homers–coincidentally, he set a personal record for HBP that year.
  3. Americans prefer a good conspiracy to reality.  JFK couldn’t have been shot by a single person and Brady Anderson couldn’t hit 50 homers without help (by the way, Anderson was 6’1, 200, so it isn’t like he was a midget).

We forget something important.  Though it is meant to apply only to criminal trials, we shouldn’t damn someone without real evidence.  There’s no evidence to condemn Anderson and at least the same amount of circumstantial proof to the contrary, including:

  1. Across the league, the home run rate climbed 35%.  There have been multiple instances in baseball history (1987, 2017) of balls being manufactured differently and that having a huge effect on that season’s offense.
  2. Opponents had to pitch to Anderson.  The 1996 Orioles were really good.  Their lineup included three HOFers (Eddie Murray at age 40…, Roberto Alomar, and Cal) and a couple all-stars (Surhoff and a guy who actually DID use PEDs: Rafael Palmeiro) in addition to Bobby Bonilla and Chris Hoiles who had OPS of 850+.  You have to pitch to somebody and those other guys had too long of track-records…Anderson didn’t.
  3. Anderson gained weight from 190lbs to 200…but that had happened a year earlier–and he hit 16 home runs.  If the weight gain was steroids, why the 12-16 month delay in gaining strength?

Innocence before guilt.  It’s a principle we should remember in sports–because sports mirrors real life and in real life, it is a principle we should keep firmly in mind now more than ever, given how fast social media permits us to reach conclusions based on information spoon-fed to us by biased sources.

 

I’m on every-other-week writing at the moment…welcome to Volleyball Silly Season with camps.  Next week will be a VB one, then hopefully back to a weekly schedule, though it may be alternating weeks up through November…guess we’ll see!

 

 

 

 

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