Wait, Maybe Steroids Didn’t Help A-Rod


It’s always fun when an athelete goes down and everyone gets to kick, but before we consign A-Rod to asterixville forever, let’s consider the possibility that his performance-enhancing drugs didn’t accomplish anything. While everyone is pointing out that during the years A-Rod was getting juice were strong home run years for him, WSJ’s Numbers Guy says there might be a totally benign explanation. And as you know, we’ll go with the numbers before with go with a bunch of howling self-important sports reporters:

During those seasons, he played every game — perhaps another benefit of the drugs he took — and set career highs in at bats. And he took those at bats in Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas, which in 2001 was essentially homer-neutral but the following year lived up to its long-term trend as a homer-friendly park. (It has never been harder than average to hit home runs in the Rangers’ stadium in any season since then.)

Also, in those seasons home runs throughout the majors were more plentiful than earlier and later in A-Rod’s career. That may reflect a peak in steroids use, but it could also reflect a lower quality of pitching, the characteristics of the balls used and the stadiums.

Baseball Reference has a handy tool to control for these variables. Click on “neutralize stats” for A-Rod’s career and his home-run totals in those seasons decline slightly, to 51 and 55, respectively. Per at bat, his power output in those seasons looks even less impressive, relative to the rest of his career.

Elsewhere at the Journal, a suggestion that Placebos might’ve worked just as well:

Though both steroids are popular among athletes, it isn’t certain what effect, if any, they have on performance in baseball. “It’s almost impossible to say,” says Will Carroll, author of “The Juice: The Real Story of Baseball’s Drug Problems.” “The main reason for baseball players to take PEDs is to increase power, but hitting a baseball has so much to do with hand-eye coordination, and there’s no clear indication that testosterone and Primobolan help you hit a baseball better.”

Mr. Rodriguez’s entry in the record books tends to support this. From 1998 to 2000, while playing for the Seattle Mariners, he hit just 51 home runs in his two home ball parks (the Mariners moved in July 1999) and 74 home runs on the road. As ESPN.com’s Rob Neyer notes, statistics generated on the road are “usually considered a more genuine measure of a hitter’s power, as a single ball park might inflate or deflate home run totals.” From 2001 to 2003, after being traded to the Texas Rangers and playing his home games at The Ballpark at Arlington, Texas — regarded as a hitter’s park — he hit 86 home runs at home and 70 on the road.

If the PEDs A-Rod took increased his power in his home park, one wonders why they did nothing to improve his power in other American League stadiums.