9.17.2005

Assorted Thoughts on Sabean comment, thoughts on Bonds and steroids, a technology tip, and Barry's #704

First off, the Brian Sabean show yesterday on KNBR (available online at their website), he noted that the Giants have learned a lesson about going with young players and not spend money on veterans, like they have in the past. However, we need to take that with a grain of salt: with around $80-82M already committed to next year's budget, including Hawkins and Winn, plus all the other players we have signed already and expected young players, the Giants will HAVE to use young players, they have no choice in this matter, even if they were able to jettison Alfonzo or Durham. If they somehow are able to get rid of both and still go with youngsters then I'll believe him (Maybe have a 1987 redux with Frandsen at 2B and Ishikawa at 1B?).

Bonds and Steroids: the debate never ends and neither do reporter's bias

There was a Yahoo article lambasting Giants fans for cheering on Bonds whereas "true" baseball fans in Baltimore booed and jeered Palmeiro when he came on. His personal bias shines like a neon light with this one: he obviously has a problem with Bonds, perhaps Bonds didn't invite to tea or something.

First big difference, Palmeiro pointed his finger and empathically told Congress that he didn't take steroids. Ooops, got caught in a lie. Except for illegally leaked Grand Jury testimony where Bonds admitted to using substances supplied by his trainer that the government says was other substances but no admission of guilt nor proof that he got illicit drugs, there is nothing else remotely close to a smoking gun.

Even though one would think that the MLB would be especially testing for his particular steroid in addition to all other steroids, all season long this year plus that guy in Seattle got suspended for the third time even though he claims he's been clean since and therefore the tests are catching the remnants of the drug he took long ago (assuming he's telling the truth on this one and the evidence appears to support him, even the report on his third violation said as much, only the rules are clear, if it's in his blood he gets reported), Bonds has not been suspended this season, implying that he has been clear of steroids over the past two seasons at minimum since he has been tested like everyone else.

Second big difference, almost all of Palmeiro's career is possibly tainted by steroids, a possibility raised by Canseco in his infamous book. Canseco joined Texas in mid-season 1992 and coincidentally enough, that was the last year, except for an injury plagued 1994, that Palmeiro hit under 27 homers until 2004. His stretch of good homerun power started with the year after Canseco joined the Rangers.

However, most suspicion of Bonds started in the latest part of his career, after he had already put up Hall of Fame quality numbers already. In addition, one of his colleagues, Ryne Sandberg, wrote in his Yahoo column that Bonds has "completely perfected the swing from the left side." Steroids don't help with your swing technique, it only helps with bat speed PERHAPS (no scientific proof what steroids does do to help a baseball player, only speculation). He also noted that Bonds "has the quickest bat that I've ever seen..." And this was presumably his observation from his days as a player, not a change, else he would have noted that Bonds got quicker as per the steroid rumors that it helps bat speed. Plus he said that Bonds "has more plate coverage than anyone in the history of the game." Again, that is batting technique that has nothing to do with steroids. So someone who has actually played with Bonds (at an All-Star game) and seen him on the field says that he will give him the benefit of the doubt, because of the greatness Bonds showed when Bonds was younger, and he will not believe that Bonds took steroids unless there is proof otherwise.

Now this is one point that most Bonds naysayers always forget. Bonds was no Brady Anderson, no Sammy Sosa, no Rafael Palmeiro. Bonds was already a legit homerun threat in his early years of his career, especially once he joined the Giants, though he was already plenty good with the Pirates before joining. He just brought things up a notch upon joining his boyhood team, the team of his father and godfather, plus he probably felt the need to justify the contract. But that's nothing new to us Giants fans, he has always brought things up a notch when under pressure (only not in the playoffs unfortunately, except for 2002...).

In fact, in his first year with the Giants, he hit so many early in the season that people were already tracking whether he would beat Babe Ruth or not before petering out. And the next year, when Matt Williams was on track to beat Babe Ruth before the strike ended the season, Barry Bonds was only 6 homers behind, 37 vs. 43 for Williams. And Bonds all through the 90's with the Giants, always hit more homers in the second half of the season (after ASG) than the first half, on a HR per AB basis so he could have conceivably caught up with or passed Williams.

And with that I think I've found further evidence of his innocence. In my prior article on sfdugout.com comparing his HR hitting rate with other great late 30's sluggers, I found that the jump was not that greatly different from others but still was a big jump so some might still see that as suspect. Using Yahoo's career splits data (TIP: for years not linked directly, go into the URL and substitute the year that you want), I looked at Bonds' pre-ASG and post-ASG stats and found the following HR/AB ratios:

Pre Post
1993 12.46 10.91
1994 12.74 7.00 (strike-shortened)
1995 15.50 15.18 (strike-shortened)
1996 13.87 10.42
1997 14.35 12.25
1998 16.67 13.26
1999 12.78 9.60
2000 8.79 11.14
2001 6.64 6.38
2002 8.59 9.00
2003 8.53 8.93
2004 8.22 8.36

Thus, except for his strike shortened seasons, he was pretty consistent on a per half basis, only he was always much better in the second half. Even in the year that he supposedly started taking steroids, in 2000, when he had the big jump to 49 homers, he did not really have that different a year than any before except that he finally figured out how to start hitting homers earlier in the season. Looking at his HR rates on essentially a half season basis (pre and post ASG), he was pretty consistently around 9-11 AB per HR in the second half until his breakout year in 2001 when he broke McGwire's record.

And the only difference for him in 2000 is that he apparently finally figured out how to get himself into shape from the start of the season instead of working into shape during the first half of the season. And the second half of 2000 was comfortably in the range of his younger days, there was not vast improvement all year round, which would be the thing one would assume if he had really took steroids that year.

And if one says, "AHA, but he started taking them in 1999, look at that 9.60 rate in the second half," they need to look at 1996 as that rate is not much different than his second half of 1996. At those rates over 500 AB, he would have hit 48 homers at the 1996 rate, 52 at the 1999 rate, which to me is close enough to be considered the same, the result of a lucky year. And 1993 was not much different at 46 homers.

That is consistent with his story that after his injury in early 1999, he started thinking about his legacy and how he could raise himself up a notch because he was getting old and he couldn't do things he could do when he was younger. And the pattern of his career is clear. It is known that he has been a workout freak from his early days. And yet it is clear from his career on a half-season basis, this advantage only really started accruing in the second half of the year, when he was stronger relative to the pitchers than he was earlier in the year when both were still fresh from the off-season. And clearly, he was slowing down as he was progressively getting worse in the first half and second half as he entered his 30's.

So after his injury early in the 1999 season, he realized that he wasn't getting any younger and so he realized that he couldn't just do what he did before. So he really started dedicating himself to working out, even more than before. I would guess that perhaps he started doing what Jerry Rice did, which is work out all year round and keep himself in playing shape year round so that he could start off the season having the same advantage he had later in the season over the pitchers, being in better shape than they were. This allowed him to hit well from the start of the season, instead of waiting for the ASG for his better fitness to start benefiting him over the pitchers.

And his HR rate was pretty consistent from 2002 to 2004, around 8.50-9.00, which worked out to a 56-58 HR rate in 500 AB, again, not much different from his prior experience in 1999, which was at 52 HR or even his first half of 2000, because steroids couldn't have advantaged him then if it didn't advantage him in the second half of 2000. This fits in with him getting himself in better shape since his injury and keeping his body in the same shape year round.

I will still admit that overall, things don't look good for him, but thus far it is all circumstantial, there is no proof that he ever took any steroids, even this season when presumably they would be testing him especially for the Balco steroids, which would presumably linger in his blood system like the steroid in that other guy's blood.

Technology Tip: RSS

Lastly, a technology tip I would like to pass on. I recently started using RSS technology via My Yahoo and it is great. I did not always have time to visit other Giants blogs but now with RSS, I can view their titles in my My Yahoo window and see if there is any interesting title that I would like to read, at least for the ones that has RSS technology set up on their site.

Thus, since I don't publish on a daily basis, you could use the RSS tag for my site (via Blogger's Atom technology) and set up your RSS reader to view my titles and easily see whether I had anything new to say without having to come directly to my site and see if anything is new. This would save you a little time and a little aggravation from coming to my site and seeing that I had nothing new to say. If anyone wants the steps to set up My Yahoo, let me know in the comments and I'll post it, it's pretty easy to do from My Yahoo (not familiar with other RSS readers).

Bonds First Homer: #704

And I would be remiss if I did not note Barry's first homer since coming back, #704, a nice blast to push the lead to 2-0 in the first inning of the Giants eventual 5-4 victory, though not without drama as they lost a 4-2 lead late in the game (Hawkins!) but then won in their last at-bats after Benitez closed out the 9th, a move most managers don't make with their closer when the game is tied. But then Felipe is not most managers, is he...

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