The Effect of Steroids on Major League Baseball Outcomes

Since the early 1990’s, the increasingly widespread use of performing-enhancing drugs has marred the Major League Baseball world. Although steroids existed in prior decades, the intentional use of such drugs for personal gain skyrocketed after the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 and the 1990 Anabolic Steroids Control Acts of 1990. During the past two decades, hundreds of Major League Baseball players have participated in the illegal abuse of anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing substances in violation of federal law and baseball policy (“Baseball”, 2002). Concerning the Congressional hearings of 2005 and 2008, The Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO), the Albany DA Pharmacy Busts, the operation of Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, The Mitchell Report, and the scandals surrounding players such as Ken Caminiti, Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Alex Rodriguez”, 129 players have been linked to steroids and human growth hormone supplements in the past decade alone. With a high rise in drug violators, the level of offensive production has increased among the Major League Baseball teams with steroid users on active rosters (“Baseball”, 2002). 

In many cases, teams with a higher concentration of players using performance-enhancing drugs have achieved greater success with respect to win-loss record during the regular season and playoffs. The claim can be supported by two baseball statistics: Wins above Replacement (WAR) and On-base Percentage (OPS). Wins above Replacement is a statistic that quantifies a player’s value relative to the rest of the league, by calculating the total number of wins that any player adds to his team over the course of a season. Furthermore, On-base Percentage measures a player’s aptitude in reaching base, which includes slugging percentage, which gauges the power of the hitter (Grossman, Kimsey, Moreen, & Owings, 2007). Applying these two statistics to a review of The Mitchell Report, a 409-page report from George Mitchell to Commissioner Bud Selig, which contains detailed analysis of the use of illegal performance-enhancing substances by players, a proportional relationship between teams with a higher concentration of steroid users and winning success of the team, based from WAR and OPS values, can be determined (Mitchell, 2007). 

In conjunction with The Mitchell Report, issued on December 13, 2007, “Baseball Between the Numbers: Why Everything You Know About the Game is Wrong” by Jonah Keri and Baseball Prospectus will be examined to confirm the association of steroid users in Major League Baseball to winning records and manipulated statistics. Furthermore, these sources will provide clarity to the timing surrounding drug-related occurrences that may have altered the outcome of meaningful games. These reviews will follow a summary of The Mitchell Report and precede numerical analysis derived from the latest Major League Baseball statistics, including WAR and OPS, found in the 2012 Baseball Almanac. By evaluating the statistics of the players accused in The Mitchell Report, in addition to dates of drug usage, the influence of performance-enhancing drugs on individual and team statistics can be estimated. The objective of probing these publications will be to substantiate the fact that performance-enhancing drug users bettered individual statistics in addition to team wins in the regular season and playoffs, thus, affecting standing ranking.

Steroid Eras

In 2005, Peter Gammons, baseball reporter for the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network (ESPN), claimed that three steroid eras have existed since 1985, with the Pre-Steroids Era running from 1985 to 1993, the Steroids Era as 1994 to 2004, and the Post-Steroids Era beginning in 2005 and running through the present. Although steroid usage had breached through “grey market” areas into the hands of Major League Baseball players in the 1980’s, it was not until the strikeout-shortened 1994 season when both steroid contention and team offensive statistics began to increase at notable rates. Part of the reason for the delay resulted from poor economic conditions and concerns about player’s privacy rights. This tandem led the Players Association to consider proposed drug testing programs to be a low priority (Mitchell, 2007). Despite the implementation of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 and the Steroid Control Act of 1990 passed by Congress, players would seize advantage of the non-existent steroid ban at the turn of the decade, ultimately igniting the widespread outbreak of performance-enhancing drugs. Although steroids appeared on the baseball’s banned substance list in 1991, testing for major league players would not take place until 2003, one year after the Commissioner of Major League Baseball mandated a random drug test policy that strictly prohibited that usage of performance-enhancing drugs (Mitchell, 2007). Such governing negligence would pave the way for baseball players to juice up and contort individual and team statistics (Mitchell, 2007). 

The Mitchell Report

In December 2007, Maine Senator George Mitchell released an independent investigation to Commissioner Bud Selig known as “The Mitchell Report”. Mitchell (2007) identified 89 of the 129 alleged Major League Baseball players connected to steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs. The report, composed to inspire a stronger authoritative grasp on the abolition of steroids, sought to expose players who ingested performance-enhancing drugs strategically to obtain a greater advantage over the opposition. According to George Will (2007), renowned baseball commentator, players who intentionally contested ethical boundaries set in place by federal law and baseball policy portrayed a self-centered devaluation of competition and an overvaluation of winning. As flawed mentalities, stirred by indifference, met higher achievements, drug abusers struggled to see how these achievements could be perceived as commendable, and how “the products of a lonely submission to a sustained discipline of exertion” could be perceived as beneficial when “drugs [making] the sport exotic, by radical intrusions into the body” allowed excitement to invade the sport by means of manipulated offensive statistics” (Will, 2007, p. 12).

The Mitchell Report confirmed the lack of efficient drug testing, sparing examinations on forty-man roster players until 2004. According to the report, human-growth-hormones were widely used among performance-enhancing drug abusers, since HGH eluded testing protocol. This approach became popular in 2002, after Major League Baseball adopted mandatory testing for steroid use, upon union and MLB labor negotiators signing the protocol in legality. Major League Baseball’s actions in 2002 followed seven years of lethargy concerning potential enhancements of the league’s drug program. After the strike of 1994, a work stoppage caused by disagreements between Major League Baseball owners and the Players Association, owners failed to highly prioritize a better drug program. This was due, in part, to the lacking of a collective bargain agreement. According to Mitchell (2007), as consequence, at least one player on each of the thirty Major League Baseball teams participated in performance-enhancing drugs during the Steroid Era. At the conclusion of his report, Mitchell encouraged Major League Baseball to expand examination methods beyond urine testing in order to negate the increase of performance enhancing drug users. Mitchell also believed that the entire baseball community should own responsibility for the outbreak of illegal substances (Mitchell, 2007).

According to Jonah Keri and Baseball Prospectus (2007), baseball statistics should not be perceived as equivocal to records of what players, managers, and owners achieve alone. Moreover, statistics convey how specific strategies are utilized to produce more wins. Unfortunately, not all strategies, especially during the Steroid Era, involved actions that took place on the diamond or in the dugout. After decades of employing “small-ball” tactics in the 1970’s and 1980’s, in which teams focused on in-field maneuvers to manufacture runs, attention began to shift to the outfield bleachers in the late 1980’s. By the early 1990’s, economic pressure surrounding Major League Baseball converged with an upsurge in players’ desire to obtain a competitive edge for the sake of better statistics, greater income, and increased accolades. Upon consideration of the “relatively relational calculation about the medical, moral, and financial costs and the risk of getting caught as compared to the potential upside”, several players found the gamble worthwhile (Keri, 2007, p. 333).

From a numerical perspective, Keri identified the baseball statistics that gauged performance more accurately, citing on-base and slugging percentage as superior to batting average for such analysis. In addition, he elaborated on the variance in time periods, including steroid eras, to illustrate the rise and fall of certain baseball statistics with respect to popular ideologies of managers and players. According to his study, of the 21 players who served suspensions in the year immediately following the end of the Steroid Era, a drop in statistical performance became evident for 15 of the players, with the most significant statistic, on-base percentage, suffering the greatest decline (Keri, 2007, p. 335).

Statistical Definitions

In “Steroids and Major League Baseball”, the report targeted On-Base Plus Slugging (OPS) as the primary offensive production statistic for chief analysis. Since OPS provides arguably the most versatile statistic covering several offensive parameters, including walks, sacrifice flies, singles, doubles, triples, and home-runs, a thorough connection could be made between steroid users and their corresponding OPS values in various eras. Defined, OPS is broken down as the sum of On-Base Percentage (OBP) and Slugging Percentage (SLG). OBP represents the sum of the hits, walk, and hit-by-pitches divided by at-bats, walks, sacrifice flies, and hit-by pitches, while SLG is the quotient of total bases (singles - 1, doubles - 2, triples - 3 and home-runs - 4) divided by at-bats (Grossman, Kimsey, Moreen & Owings, 2007). 

Similar to OPS, Wins above Replacement (WAR) accounts for a player’s offensive effect on the outcome of games for his team, whether positive or negative; however, unlike OPS, WAR compares the players’ statistical talent level to the numerical league average (Wolfe, 2012). In order to calculate an offensive player’s WAR value, denoted by a “single number that presents the number of wins the player added to the team above what a replacement player would add”, a determination of the player’s Runs above Replacement (RAR) must first be realized. To calculate RAR, the sum is taken of the following statistics: “adjusted batting runs (Rbat); base running events (Rbsr); whether or not a player advanced on an error (Rroe); how many double plays the player hit into (Rdp); the value in runs of all the aspects of a player’s fielding (Rfield); the value in runs of playing that particular player’s position (Rpos); and the value of an average player over that of a replacement player given the player’s playing time (Rrep)” (Wolfe, 2012). Once a player’s RAR is established, the value is converted to its WAR counterpart, “through a ratio of “x” many runs to one win” (Wolfe, 2012).

Statistical Evidence

In the 1990’s, several notable statistical anomalies began to develop, as home runs and players’ size increased proportionally (Danaher, 2004). According to a 2002 USA Today report, during “professional baseball’s first 125 years, only two men hit 60 or more home runs in a season”, while during 1998-2001, “the mark [had] been shattered six times. And of the 238 times that players have hit at least 40 home runs in a season, 34%...occurred [during the prior] five years” (“Baseball’s Battered”, 2002). Although the trend initiated prior to the Steroid Era, “offensive levels improved sharply between 1993 and 1995”, as the outbreak of performance-enhancing drug gained momentum (Keri, 2007, p. 329). During the 1990-1993 campaigns, the average OPS stood at .714, highlighted by a rise of .036 between 1992 and 1993, the sixth highest increase from season-to-season in Major League Baseball since 1900. Between 1993, the last year of the Pre-Steroid Era, and 1994, the first year of the Steroid Era, the average National League Team OPS percentage rose from .726 to .747, while surging from .745 to .779 in the American League. By 1999, OPS values had reached .771 and .786 for the National and American Leagues respectively. In terms of hits and home runs, the amount rose from 41,088 4,030 in 1993 to 45,327 and 5,528 in 1999 (“Baseball Reference”, 2012). 

According to Grossman, Kimsey, Moreen, and Owings (2007), as baseball analysts noted suspicious trends, allegations among potential steroid users increased. By the end of the Steroid Era, a new method of determining the effects of steroids on OPS emerged, known as the “Steroid Seven” approach. The “Steroid Seven” method examined seven players who had been accused of abusing performance-enhancing drugs and compared OPS statistics between the latter years of the Steroids Era (2001-2004) and the inaugural year of the Post-Steroids Era (2005). The results revealed a decrease in the average OPS difference by .160. Such a statistical fall out came under more direct scrutiny following the 2004 season and the 2005 congressional hearings. For players who served suspensions in the Post-Steroid Era, a statistical decline in performance became evident with the “on-base percentages [suffering] more than their slugging averages, suggesting that steroids may affect a batter’s overall game” (Keri, 2007, p. 335). 

The 2000 New York Yankees

Of the 129 players linked to steroids and HGH, six of them played for the 2000 New York Yankees team, who in spite of a pedestrian 87-74 record, weak by their standards, they steamrolled through the playoffs and captured the World Series by defeating the New York Mets four games to one in a best-of-seven series. These players included: Andy Pettitte, Jose Canseco, David Justice, Roger Clemens, Glenallen Hill, Jim Leyritz, and Chuck Knoblauch ("Baseball," 2002). Despite a modest cumulative WAR of 4.5 among the batters, Justice, Hill, Leyritz, and Knoblauch, the amount still exceeded or equaled the number of games finished ahead of the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jay in the 2000 East Division standings (“Baseball Reference”, 2012). More impressively, the cumulative WAR of 7.6 between Pettitte and Clemens helped the pitching duo combine for a 32-17 record, one of the best during the 2000 Major League Baseball season. 

In the years following the World Series win, the spotlight of steroid controversy shined bright on Clemens and Pettitte. According to the Mitchell Report (2007), Clemens received Winstrol during the 1998, 2000, and 2001 baseball seasons. In those three seasons, Clemens’ average Earned-Run Average (ERA) indicated a 3.29 mark, notably less than the 4.60 ERA achieved during the 1999 season (“Baseball-Reference”, 2012). The Mitchell Report also singled out Pettitte’s name, who unlike Clemens, Pettitte admitted to using HGH in 2002 and 2004 (“Yankees’ Pettitte”, 2007).

The 1990’s Texas Rangers

In the mid to late 1990’s, the Texas Rangers grew into one of the most prolific offensive teams in the American League. In 1999, the trio of Juan Gonzalez, Rafael Palmeiro, and Ivan Rodriguez carried the Rangers to a 95-67 record, winning the American League West Division with the league’s highest OPS, hits, and Runs Batted In (RBI) value. The offensive contributions by these three players alone vaulted them into the 1999 MLB Playoffs; however, as would later be revealed by Jose Canseco (2005) in his autobiography, “Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big”, he admitted “to have educated and personally injected many players including Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Juan Gonzalez, Ivan Rodriguez, and Jason Giambi”. In addition, he confessed to providing detailed information to Magglio Ordonez and Alex Rodriguez about performance-enhancing drug (PED) suppliers (Canseco, 2005). 

The application of steroids, led by Jose Canseco, would start penetrating the Texas Ranger clubhouse as early as 1993. After the 1993 season concluded, the Rangers ranked first in home runs with 181, fourth in OPS at .760, and sixth in hits with 1,472. The following season, the Rangers would rank fourth in hits with 1,114 and fifth in OPS at .790, finishing first in the American League West Division; if not for the strike of 1994, the Rangers would have qualified for the MLB Playoffs and been a dark horse candidate to win the World Series. By 1996, the Texas Rangers’ home-run output had increased to 221 and 890. In 1999, those statistics rose slightly to 230 and 897 ("Baseball reference," 2012). 

Among Gonzalez, Palmeiro, and Ivan Rodriguez during these three seasons, cumulative WAR values chimed in at a collective 43, implying the three players combined to produce 43 extra wins or 4.8 wins single-handedly each season. Before 1993, the average WAR value among each player ranked notably less, with 1.3 for Gonzalez, 2.6 for Palmeiro, and 1.4 for Rodriguez. Applying the WAR difference to the 1996 American League standings, without the steroid-induced offensive of the Rangers, the Seattle Mariners could have won the American League West Division, since the WAR value among Gonzalez, Palmeiro, and Rodriguez alone was greater than the win-loss distance of 4.5 games separating the two teams. Such a spike in WAR came in part to a proportional gain in OPS values as well. Among the three seasons, Gonzalez averaged a .997 OPS, .093 above his career average; Palmeiro averaged a .968 OPS, .083 above his career average; Rodriguez averaged .818, 0.20 above his career average ("Baseball reference," 2012).

Comparatively, the Toronto Blue Jays, a team without any alleged steroid users on roster during the 1990’s, displayed a more consistent statistical line, with a 162 home run rate, 1,499 hit rate, and .760 OPS in 1994. By 1996, the team clubbed 177 home runs, with 1,451 hits, and a .752 OPS. In 1998, the Blue Jays would increase their home-run output with 221, but only collected 1,482 hits, alongside a .878 OPS. The key statistic, however, is that no offensive player allegedly used or admitted to steroids. During these three seasons, the Blue Jays compiled a 217-222 win-loss record and missed the playoffs each year during the Steroid Era ("Baseball reference," 2012).

The study sampled elite performance-enhancing drug users in Major League Baseball and concluded that steroids did have a direct effect on the outcome of games and standings. The players involved in the study were strategically selected from the Mitchell Report, as performers who had admitted to or been suspended by MLB as a result of being linked to performance-enhancing drugs. In support of the Mitchell Report, secondary sources were reviewed to confirm the identity and influence of select steroid users. To quantitatively accomplish the purpose of the study, statistical analysis of Wins above Replacement and On-Base Percentage, numerical criteria connected to individual and team win-loss success, was achieved to demonstrate the manipulation of offense performance and how the difference affected the overall team baseball standings. By examining the 2000 New York Yankees and the Texas Rangers (1993-1999), two teams with a higher than normal concentration of performance-enhancing drug users during the Steroid Era, correlations between statistical leaps and time of usage were identified. Additional commentary concerning the consequence of WAR and OPS on standing outcomes was also included. The results revealed that higher OPS values boosted WAR values, thus, creating a notable discrepancy between actual games won versus the amount of games won if cheating had not taken place.


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