• An A-Rod Theory, Newly Formed

    Posted by on February 21st, 2009 · Comments (21)

    The chart below contains some sabermetric stats for each full season that Alex Rodriguez has played in the major leagues:

    Year	R_OPS	wOBA	RCAA/PA	 OWP
    1996	1.024	.444	.108	.755
    1997	.773	.374	.027	.580
    1998	1.022	.399	.057	.660
    1999	.968	.397	.042	.614
    2000	1.135	.433	.109	.770
    2001	.927	.428	.098	.749
    2002	.927	.424	.080	.705
    2003	.961	.420	.074	.697
    2004	.921	.385	.050	.654
    2005	.951	.438	.116	.787
    2006	.860	.391	.053	.663
    2007	1.101	.449	.116	.780
    2008	.885	.413	.074	.706
    

    Thanks to FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference, and the Complete Baseball Encyclopedia for the numbers.

    And, here’s what each of these stats are:

    R_OPS: This “OPS” (On Base Average plus Slugging Percentage) in road games. (I thought it would be interesting to see the road split as a way to take home park factors out of the picture for a moment.)

    wOBA: This is Weighted On Base Average. It’s a statistic developed by Tom Tango. It uses linear weights on certain batting events to come up with a metric that is more statistically sound than OPS and is scaled onto an OBP scale. According to Tango “An average hitter is around 0.340 or so, a great hitter is 0.400 or higher, and a poor hitter would be under 0.300.” (I included this stat in the comparison because it’s among the newer toys in the sabermetric playground.)

    RCAA/PA: This is “Runs Created Above Average” per Plate Appearance. RCAA is the difference between a player’s Runs Created total and the total for an average player who used the same amount of his team’s outs. (I used RCAA since I’m a fan of this statistic – and I divided it by PA to turn it into a rate stat.)

    OWP: This is Offensive Winning Percentage. It’s a Bill James stat that projects what a team’s winning percentage would be if each offensive player was cloned to that player and the team had an average pitching staff. (Another one of my favorites – it’s a baby of Bill James and, like RCAA, it takes into account the league context.)

    Now, let’s take all these numbers and put them into a semi-pretty line-chart:

    Click on the line-chart to enlarge the image.

    The line-chart paints an interesting picture in terms of Alex Rodriguez’ production rates since he’s been a full-time big leaguer.

    In 1996, his first full major league season, A-Rod was a force with the bat. But, he had a pretty steep decline in 1997 (from the previous year). The following two seasons (1998 and 1999) were better – but not near his levels in 1996 (for the most part).

    However, in 2000, his last season in Seattle before becoming a free agent, A-Rod got his production back up to where it was in 1996 (or thereabouts). Afterwards, in 2001, 2002, and 2003, he maintained a high level of performance (for him) for three years.

    Then, in 2004, A-Rod had another dip on his trend-lines (in the chart). This was followed by a spike in 2005, and then a dip in 2006, a huge spike in 2007, and another dip in 2008.

    O.K. – these are all stats. So, they’re facts. Now, here comes some speculation with respect to the trend-lines these numbers have derived for us. And, my new theory on what Alex has been up to the last 13 seasons.

    Rodriguez exploded on to the scene in 1996 and then the league caught up to him, as is the natural course of things in baseball, the following season. In his third full season, 1998, A-Rod rebounded and started to build a nice upward trend in his relative offensive production rates – hitting the roof in 2000. It’s significant to note that, according to reports, the late 1990′s was when Alex was BFF with notorious PED user Jose Canseco.

    Rodriguez continued his very high levels of relative offensive production during the period 2001 through 2003. It’s significant to note that, according to A-Rod’s recent confession, Alex was using PEDs during this time period.

    Rodriguez’ offensive production dropped in 2004 – compared to where he had been the four years prior. It’s significant to note that 2004 was the year after Alex failed a PED test (as we have now learned). Further, in June of 2004, baseball began drug testing Major League players under the punitive phase of baseball’s Joint Drug Agreement. A-Rod’s 2004 season was probably his third worst offensive output, at that time, in his big league career.

    Coming off a very rough season, and a disaster of a LCS for his team (in 2004), Rodriguez came back in 2005 and posted very high numbers in terms of his relative offensive production.

    However, the next season, 2006, was much more like his 2004 season (than his 2005 season). It’s significant to note that, prior to the 2006 season, in November 2005, Major League Baseball and the MLBPA reached agreement that significantly strengthened penalties for steroid and other illegal drug use. Penalties for steroid use would now be 50 games for a first offense, 100 games for a second and a lifetime ban for a third. The plan also includes testing and suspensions for amphetamine use. Further, prior to the 2006 sesaon, A-Rod played in the World Baseball Classic (in March of 2006) – and was required to take a blood test for PED use prior to those games.

    In 2007, Rodriguez had an incredible season with the bat. This was also the “opt-out” season in his contract which allowed him to become a free agent at the end of the year. It’s significant to note that, reportedly, A-Rod spent most of the 2007 season in the company of Angel Presinal – a known PED pusher.

    And, finally, in 2008, Rodriguez’ numbers declined – as the line-chart shows – coming closer to where they were in 2004 and 2006. It’s significant to note that 2008 was the first year of a mega-contract that A-Rod had signed with the Yankees. And, the season was preceded by a six to seven month period where major league baseball players were being found guilty of PED usage (in large numbers) – via various methods such as testing positive, pharmacy raids, etc.

    Tying this all up, based on the numbers and what off-the-field activities that we know to be true, or are strongly reported to be true, it would not shock me if the A-Rod story, in reality, broke-down as follows:

    Rodriguez started messing around with PEDs in the late 1990′s, as a member of the Seattle Mariners, while he was a friend of Jose Canseco. Then, when he moved on to the Texas Rangers, Alex used PEDs the three seasons he was there. As a result of failing a PED test in 2003, A-Rod was “clean” in 2004. However, due to a nightmare season (for him and his team) that season, Rodriguez returned to his habit (that he probably developed in Seattle and used in Texas) and used PEDs in 2005.

    As a result of the stronger PED policy in baseball, and the tests required for the World Baseball Classic, Rodriguez went clean again in 2006. However, because of the importance of putting up huge numbers in 2007 – as it was his opt-out year – with the assistance of Angel Presinal, Alex used PEDs in 2007.

    And, finally, with his new monster-contract secured, and because of all the PED-related heat on baseball players being turned up in the months before the 2008 season, A-Rod played last season without the use of PEDs.

    So, in summary, if we were to find out (someday) that Alex Rodriguez used PEDs during eight of his first thirteen full major league seasons, I would just say “That’s what I figured.” After all, that’s my A-Rod theory, newly formed.

    Comments on An A-Rod Theory, Newly Formed

    1. Jeet
      February 21st, 2009 | 1:40 am

      Interesting theory, except that in 2007 he may have been hanging around Presinal, but as he admitted in the Katie Couric interview following the 2007 season, he mentioned that he was tested a bunch of times. And if he knew in 2006 that the penalty was significantly higher, why would he have any reason to continue to risk getting caught?

    2. February 21st, 2009 | 1:43 am

      Jeet – my best guess? In 2007, because so much ($) was on the line, to have a great season, he started using some PED that baseball doesn’t test for – or one that doesn’t show on their test. For example: HGH.

    3. February 21st, 2009 | 1:55 am

      Actually I believe the exact same thing as you. Except I didn’t use any charts and I was a lot more unsure before I read what you wrote. Mine was based loosely on numbers but also the facts that he gained weight in 2005 and lost it in 2006. I wasn’t sure about 2007, but he could have been on steroids.

    4. Evan3457
      February 21st, 2009 | 5:08 am

      Or, it could just be a fairly normal career progression, boosted in 2001-3 by use of PEDs.

      His up and down spikes in 2004-8 are somewhat unusual in size, but not unusual in nature. Many players have up and down patterns. Off the top of my head, Bret Saberhagen was the archtypical player of this type.

      It’s all a very neat speculation, but except for 2001-3, it’s just that, speculation. I have to admit that the behavior described would be in character for the character A-Rod has displayed over the last decade or so.

      At this point, everyone is free to speculate that A-Rod has been using PEDs throughout his career, and no one can really say that speculation is totally unwarranted.

      BTW, hasn’t it been mentioned in several places that Presinal was working with dozens of major league players in this time, many of whom have never been connected to PEDs?

    5. February 21st, 2009 | 8:32 am

      Or, it could just be a fairly normal career progression, boosted in 2001-3 by use of PEDs.

      His up and down spikes in 2004-8 are somewhat unusual in size, but not unusual in nature. Many players have up and down patterns. Off the top of my head, Bret Saberhagen was the archtypical player of this type.
      ================

      This. Except I’m not actually convinced that PEDs boost numbers at all. But maybe they do. Who knows?

      But the point is that, while that chart is lovely and all, it doesn’t mean anything if we don’t have any other charts to compare it to. Players have up and down seasons all the time. It doesn’t mean they were using steroids when they had their good seasons any more than it means they were smoking weed when they had their not-as-good seasons.

    6. Jeet
      February 21st, 2009 | 12:20 pm

      Another thing we have to consider is public opinion. In the years 2005 and 2007, A-Rod was under fire from the fans for his lackluster performances in the palyoffs, the previous seasons. So as a way to regain fan support he could have taken PED’s. As for 2006 and 2008, he probably believed that he had the fans with him, so there was no need to take any detectable PED.

    7. lenjack
      February 21st, 2009 | 12:56 pm

      Fully agree! I thought this immediately after the PED story broke. The chemists are making designer drugs, which are undetectable when introduced. The following year, the latest tests will reveal the drug. So he comes off it, and waits till the next undetectable designer drug comes out, for the following year. I’m a Yankee fan and like A-Rod, but this is pushing my patience!

    8. thenewguy
      February 21st, 2009 | 12:57 pm

      I don’t buy it, Steve. You really need to look at numbers ‘independent of A-Rod’ to see how well he ‘should have done.’ By this I mean look at line drive rates and BABIP. Maybe his BABIP spiked either up or down in those seasons, so he really should have been doing better or worse than he was. I find it sort of hard to believe that he is an on-again off-again steroid user.

      I believe that A-Rod either is still taking them, and has been probably the entire time, or he stopped after ’03 (or ‘ 04 or ’05 or whenever.) I just don’t buy the on-again off-again usage. I think it is especially wrong to look at statistics, because SO much more than PED use goes into hitting a baseball well, it would be foolish to draw conclusions only from statistics, particularly stats that only measure how he did, instead of how he ‘should have done’ (BABIP, etc.)

    9. February 21st, 2009 | 1:55 pm

      ~~~Steve. You really need to look at numbers ‘independent of A-Rod’ to see how well he ’should have done.’ ~~~

      That’s where RCAA/PA and OWP come into play – because they take into account the league context.

      Actually, this ties into a comment left at BBTF regarding this enrty, where the reader wrote “In other words, every time he did really well, it was steroids.”

      No. Check the stats. A-Rod ALWAYS does REALLY WELL. Look at the wOBA numbers each year. He’s always, at the least, near.400 (which is great).

      It’s the seasons where he’s WAY ABOVE “really good” that have to be suspect.

      Just like the years where guys like Sosa, McGwire and Bonds are hitting near 70 HRs a season. Sure, the were probably capable, on their “own” of hitting 35-40 HR a season – which is “really good.” It’s when they started using PEDs where it went to another level, etc.

      Same thing for A-Rod.

      When his wOBA is touching .400, his OWP is in the high .600′s, and his RCAA/PA is less than .75, he’s still “really good.” But, when his wOBA is above .400, his OWP is in the high .700′s and his RCAA/PA is close to or above one, then he’s doing things beyond the normal superstar levels – and probably had help…like Sosa, McGwire, and Bonds when they were touching 70 HRs a season.

    10. yankees76
      February 21st, 2009 | 2:55 pm

      I don’t buy the “extended use” theory because he essentially had a free pass last week to come clean about his PED use, and there’s no reason to limit his apology to 2001-03 if he could have essentially suffered the same penalty in the court of public opinion by apologizing for a longer time frame of usage. He’s being too well advised by his crisis management team. If he “lied” about his PED use last week, he’s really set himself up for some serious backlash if additional facts emerge in the future. There’s very little to gain, and a lot to lose by lying further. He’s got to realize that.

      So, I would just chalk this up to wild speculation on Steve’s part that’s dangerously close to libel.

    11. February 21st, 2009 | 3:21 pm

      ~~there’s no reason to limit his apology to 2001-03 ~~

      I pretty sure, if he admitted to using anything in 2004 or beyond, since it was then against the rules of baseball, that Bud could go after him. That could be reason enough to claim that he was all prior to 2004, no?

    12. February 21st, 2009 | 3:43 pm

      I pretty sure, if he admitted to using anything in 2004 or beyond, since it was then against the rules of baseball, that Bud could go after him.
      =================

      But Bud would have to be clueless asshat to do that.

      What’s that you say?

      Oh. Well then, never mind.

    13. February 21st, 2009 | 3:46 pm

      So, I would just chalk this up to wild speculation on Steve’s part that’s dangerously close to libel.
      ================

      I don’t think you’re wrong about it being wild speculation. But have you been reading the papers lately? If you have, then you should know that this post is nothing compared to the crap they’ve been printing.

    14. February 21st, 2009 | 6:37 pm

      [...] out Steve’s “A-Rod Theory” over at WasWatching. It’s a pretty nifty theory regarding A-Rod’s PED use, and one that [...]

    15. David
      February 21st, 2009 | 8:41 pm

      Steve’s theory is based, in part, on the year-to-year variation in ARod’s hitting. But, did his results vary more than the average player’s? It would be interesting to do that calculation.

    16. February 21st, 2009 | 8:58 pm

      ~~Steve’s theory is based, in part, on the year-to-year variation in ARod’s hitting. But, did his results vary more than the average player’s?~~

      FWIW, I would imagine, on the whole, that the average, experienced, full-time batter (who is not extremely old, even though he is experienced) does not have a huge variance from season to season.

      That’s why projection systems like Marcel and those in the Bill James Baseball Handbook have some decent success, I suspect…

    17. thenewguy
      February 21st, 2009 | 10:26 pm

      Steve, correct me if I’m wrong on this one. But in response to what you said in response to me, the stats you used are league and fielding independent (or some of them are), right?

      What I was looking for was “luck independant” stats. Because perhaps A-Rod had a particularly high BABIP in his “peak” seasons. This could certainly explain a large part of the spike, if it were the case. Or perhaps he had particularly low BABIP?

      Or his LD/FB ratio wasn’t as good in his spike years and was particularly good in his spike years.

      I was looking for “luck” independant stats, so that we can be sure it was A-Rod’s talent (or steroids) that got him those good numbers, not being particularly lucky with balls in play.

    18. Evan3457
      February 21st, 2009 | 11:49 pm

      The “luck” stats don’t really correlate with his performance spikes:

      2004-5-6-7-8:

      BABIP: .313-.349-.329-.315-.332

      Line drive %: 15.5-15.6-18.1-16.9-18.1

      Fly ball %: 39.3-39.7-39.6-41.9-39.9

      Ground ball %: 45.2-44.8-42.3-41.1-42.0

      Not big differences. The highes BABIP did result in his his BAVG, but the 2nd highest was last year, when he was down, and the 2nd lowest was 2007, the best year of the five. The two best line drive % numbers are in two down years, 2006 and 2008.

      Ahhhh…but here we have a very interesting set of numbers, the HR/FB percentages, which is the percentage of fly balls hit that resulted in HR:

      In 2002 and 2003 (Arlington + “Bolie”), they were 26.4% and 25.1%

      2004: 19.3%
      2005: 25.8%
      2006: 20.2%
      2007: 27.3%
      2008: 22.0%

      Now it could be just random statistical variation, or it could be an incriminating “fingerprint” along Steve’s line of thinking…

      As Henry Silva might have put it in “Amazon Women on the Moon”…A-Rod juicing in 2005 and 2007:

      Bullspit (sic) or Not?

    19. Evan3457
      February 22nd, 2009 | 12:17 am

      For comparison, some other big-time sluggers’ HR/FB percentages over the last 5 years:

      Manny: 22.3, 26.6, 23.5, 12.3, and 22.2

      Papi: 19.5, 21.1, 26.1, 17.2, 14.8

      Adam Dunn: 25.7, 22.5, 22.2, 23.8, 24.2

      Thome: 25.5, 14.0, 27.8, 29.7, 22.7

      Miguel Cabrera: 20.1, 17.9, 15.6, 18.5, 18.9

      Albert Pujols: 20.3, 20.3, 22.5, 15.8, 22.7

      Ryan Howard’s data is relevant for the last 4 years: 34.9, 39.5, 31.5, 31.8

      Lance Berkman: 17.2, 19.0, 24.6, 20.5, 16.6

      Looking at the data for all these sluggers, it doesn’t seem to me that A-Rod’s HR/FB numbers are more suspicious. More likely, it’s just another example of apophenia, said the sesquipedalian.

    20. February 22nd, 2009 | 9:11 am

      Evan3457 – thanks for the additional research!

      *Sorta* ties into something that I did recently.

      http://waswatching.com/2009/02/08/stats-on-a-rod-tell-when-he-started-getting-a-boost/

    21. Raf
      February 22nd, 2009 | 10:16 am

      Good work, guys!

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