December 14, 2007

So, is Greg Maddux the best pitcher of all time?

The release of former Senator George Mitchell's report on baseball players using steroids and/or human growth hormone names lots of names, most of them obscure, but some of them famous, most notably Roger Clemens, who probably has the best pitching statistics of all time. Of course, they're also kind of silly looking statistics, with three separate peaks in his career: age 23-28, when he won three Cy Young Awards as the best pitcher in the league, 34-38 when he won 3 more, and 41-42 when he won one and was even better the second year with a 1.87 ERA. He pitched for the Yankees last year age 44. You might think that a sure Hall of Famer like Clemens wouldn't keep coming back with the risk of steroid exposure over his head, but Clemens was never really into this whole growing old gracefully thing.

In contrast, unimposing-looking Greg Maddux, who is second among active pitchers with 347 wins to Clemens's 354, is not named in the report, and he has grown old gracefully. His peak was age 26-29, when he won four straight Cy Young Awards. He remains a quite productive major league starter, but in his last five seasons, from age 37 through 41, his ERA has ranged from 3.96 to 4.24, just slightly better than the league average over that time.

While Clemens puts himself through a famously rigorous weightlifting regimen during the off-season, Maddux spends six days a week on the golf course.

Of course, not all the juicers are named in this report -- it's mostly just people who got squealed on by a handful of connections, like a New York clubhouse attendant who sold drugs.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

31 comments:

bjdouble said...

When is Michael Lewis going to write on Maddux?

best picture of all time said...

"So, is Greg Maddux the best picture of all time?

I assume you meant "pitcher."

"...Roger Clemens, who probably has the best pitching statistics of all time."

Only in context, if you factor in the "live ball era, home run-steroid era" consideration, as well as the fact that SDs of performance have decreased over time, suggesting a narrowing of skill difference between the best and the mediocre, itself suggesting an *average* increase in skill.

However, in absolute terms, Walter Johnson has the best historical pitching stats, as well as the most "win shares" for a pitcher (assuming you accept Bill James' metrics).

If you want to make the argument that Clemens' stats - *in context* - are better than Johnson's, that's reasonable, with one exception.

"The Big Train" wasn't taking steroids, or growth hormone.

Anyway....wasn't it obvious from Clemens' late age peak that something was amiss, similar to Bonds?

Look, a physically fit great player could maintain a high level of performance into late age (like Maddux, or, in earlier times, Cobb, etc.).

It is even possible for a fit great player to have their single overall best season past age 30 (e.g., Honus Wagner, 1908).

But, no, it's not naturally possible for any player, in the late 30s/early 40s to string together a series of seasons better than when they were in their late 20s/early 30s.

Older players don't naturally spike their ability level to that of 1921 Babe Ruth or 1966 Sandy Koufax.

Smirker said...

I thought the Mona Lisa was the best picture of all time. Or is it Ben Hur?

Rob said...

I think you meant to ask "So, is Greg Maddux the best pitcher of all time?" Though I am sure he is very photogenic.

jody said...

watching the game decline must be terrible for all the old timers who grew up during the baseball era in america.

and now football has so totally trounced baseball that the modern game has to be barely recognizable to them anymore. americans not watching the world series, not even knowing who is playing.

i hope that doesn't happen to football when i'm 60.

jody said...

did you seriously write "picture" instead of "pitcher"?

Anonymous said...

Maddux is a pitcher, not a picture. -10 sp.

Half Sigma said...

Is it possible to be competitive at the very highest level of sports WITHOUT cheating?

Anonymous said...

Pitcher?

You can delete this when you fix it.

astorian said...

So, does Dan Duquette get an apology from all the Sox fans who vilified him for deciding (correctly) that Roger was over the hill?

Bill said...

Nolan Ryan, although not statistically that great, was my favorite when I was a kid. I remember when he threw his last no-hitter while was in his mid-forties. I just happened to be listening to the game on the radio at the time.

I doubt he used steroids, and I don't think anyone is throwing harder than he did.

Steroids don't increase pitching speed, because top velocity is dependent on tendon strength and elasticity. A pitcher's arm is kind of like a catapult, which stores energy in stretched ropes. If you add too much force, the ropes simply snap. Likewise, adding too much force to the tendons in the shoulder, elbow and wrist will not produce a faster pitch, but rather overextend or tear them.

So steroids would have limited or no utility for increasing pitchers' peak performance benchmarks, such as pitch speed and accuracy, and they could even increase the risk of injury. However, used carefully by an older, experienced player who knows his limits, they might be useful in faster recovery times, because pitching a full game does cause a lot of microscopic tears in the muscles in the arm.

After throwing hard for an entire game, the pain can be pretty severe for a few days. It feels kind of like having a toothache in your shoulder and elbow.

stencil said...

and now football has so totally trounced baseball

this is a common view of young single men. truth is baseball has booming popularity [record revenues this year and record attendance]. also baseball has much greater international prospects than football. but baseball is about young boys and dads and families so a lot of men 18-30 dismiss it as irrelevant based on their own personal exposure.

there are ten mlb baseball games to be played for each nfl football game during a season. so yes baseball does not have the single day event hype and tv ratings of the nfl. but the only place football has "totally trounced baseball" is on the television hype meter and in the gambling receipts.

Anonymous said...

on a little it of a tangent, while not being a big baseball fan, it looks to me like the great majority of the players taking steroids where white.

this makes sense looking at it through the prism of "relative race strengths" -- whites are less gifted athletically than black and maybe hispanics (i know mexicans aren't considered that athletic, but what about those from the carribean?) this basically seems to imply that, for most whites to compete at the top athletic level vs. the other races, they'll need some sort of help. while there will be some white athletes at the top end of the athletic bell curve, they will not be represented in proportion to their share of the population (i.e, kind of the opposite of jews and their representation among top scientists).

Anonymous said...

Maddux was the master of "late" movement on his pitches. He could "cut" his fastballs in his prime to veer left or right like a slider, but with losing very little velocity. He could do it consistently on either side of the plate and this could induce batters to chase balls and take strikes on the very next pitch because reading spin on a ball thrown over 80 mph is hard to do.

One thing people forget about Maddux is that he actually used to throw pretty hard. Ive seen him personally hit 91 four times in the ninth inning of a game in Atlanta in 95'. Maddux has lost the velocity due to the fact he is older, doesn't pump a ton of iron, and does not have a great deal of leg drive in his windup compared with say, Nolan Ryan, whose wind-up was literally designed to throw hard. Maddux manages the count to perfection and knows when to throw a ball and how to "inside-outside" a batter with pitches in various parts of the strike zone, and how to make it difficult to hit behind the runner, alter rythym between pitches, so that the batter never gets comfortable at the plate. He is the grand chess master of pitching. I pitched baseball until I was 17, and was pretty good at it. If you can't tell, I really appreciate Greg Maddux and still think his middle nineties years were the best baseball ever saw (he routinely made GOOD hitters look stupid). He is a class act, and a joy to watch for an informed fan.

anonymoustheories@gmail.com said...

One thing I noticed when reading about the Michell report is that many of these players were white. I don't think it's a coincidence that the declining number of black players is happening at a time when steroid use is becoming more prominent. The strength of black players is their strength. Steroids basically nullifies this advantage. Therefore, I believe that increased steroid use will hurt African players, not only in baseball, but probably in basketball too!

Steve Sailer said...

I dunno. It seems like it can help everybody, pretty much in proportion to their natural endowments. Barry Bonds, clean, was the best player of the 1990-1998 era, and then he started juicing in 1999. By 2001, he'd gotten the technique of cheating all worked out and turned into the best hitter of all time from 2001-2004.

jody said...

white athletes don't need drugs to compete with non-blacks. they blow away non-blacks.

the athletic difference between whites and non-blacks is at least as big as the difference between blacks and whites.

the difference is so big that you could take all of the best non-blacks in the world at any particular sport, put them on one team, and put a random collection of world class whites on the other team, and the white team would win easily.

Bill said...

One thing I noticed when reading about the Michell report is that many of these players were white. I don't think it's a coincidence that the declining number of black players is happening at a time when steroid use is becoming more prominent.

-anon


You don't seriously believe the NFL and NBA are clean, do you?

Has anyone seen this picture of Marion Jones, BTW? Although sorely tempted, I'll withhold comment on that photo.

Chemical manipulation has been around since the beginning of modern sports. There are tons of legitimate techniques, such as soda loading (also called proton buffering -- uses sodium bicarb to counter lactic acid buildup) and caffeine loading prior to events, and many of them work quite well.

There are also lots of chemicals out there that aren't tested, a fact the Balco guy took advantage of. When you get really involved in this stuff, the line between cheating and gaining a "legitimate" advantage starts to blur, and I'd be willing to bet that people can even justify workarounds, such as giving athletes chemicals that are not technically anabolic steroids, but turn into them after a certain stage of metabolism (e.g. Mark McGuire and androstenedione), without thinking of themselves as cheaters.

Like so many other things that surround us today, professional sports deviate quite radically from nature's intent. When you understand that, it's kind of hard not to question their value. Makes me feel a bit sad for all the little boys who idolize the superstars. For years we've been listening to feminists moan about unrealistic goals for little girls, and yet here we give our boys some freakish androids to pin up on their bedroom walls.

Aldous Huxley wasn't all that far off the mark.

Bruce G Charlton said...

I follow mostly cricket, and the main use of performance-enhancing, steroid-type drugs in crickets is by bowlers recovering from injury. Some of the very best bowlers (including Shane Warne) have been caught doing this.

Bowling and pitching are not that different, and I would be surprised if steroids had a very different effect in the two sports.

My guess is that steroids would mainly be used to help a pitcher recover from injury faster; and in that way could reduce the proportion of games missed through injury, and then extend the pitchers career to an older age.

Steve Sailer said...

Pitching velocities don't seem to have changed much -- Nolan Ryan hit 100 mph in the first game ever broadcast with a radar gun tracking pitch speeds back in the 1970s. The highest speed I've heard of since is 103. So, we haven't seen mutants throwing 110 mph, like I once feared would be on the way. I'm sure some pitchers tried megadosing like the late hitter Ken Caminiti did in his MVP campaign in 1996. But their arms probably broke down very fast.

So, perhaps among pitchers, steroids are most helpful to smart veterans to extend their careers?

Steve Sailer said...

Eric Gagne would seem to be the closest thing to a steroid-created super-pitcher, but he broke down after, what, 200 innings?

Bill said...

So, perhaps among pitchers, steroids are most helpful to smart veterans to extend their careers?

-Sailer


Yeah, I'd say so. Building up some redundancy in the arm and shoulder muscles might help mitigate the stress of pitching a bit, but adding too much weight to the arm is counterproductive due to the mechanics of pitching.

Steroids and HGH would mainly be helpful in reducing the recovery time for older players, and probably giving them a bit of a boost in stamina, resulting in more effective innings per season than they could handle otherwise. Each time you pitch a game it is a bit like getting an injury, which is why you see the ice packs on pitchers' arms and shoulders during post-game interviews.

Steroids could - and probably do - ruin young arms.

Eric Gilchurch said...

Some of the very best bowlers (including Shane Warne) have been caught doing this.

Woah, hold your horses. Warne was not banned for taking steroids, but for diuretics, i.e. drugs that increase water loss. Now, the argument goes that diuretics are sometime taken as a cover for steroid use, but there's no evidence that applies in Warne's case. Warne's explanation for taking the pills, that he wanted to lose weight quickly, was a reasonable one.

Ben said...

One of the interesting aspects about Clemens use I haven't seen touched on is that his son Kody is a baseball player too (drafted by the Astros).

I believe that Clemens used PED based on his late age performance. Does he advise his son to use them knowing it maybe his only shot (most prospect have only a slim chance of making the majors) or does he not let his son know about his use and let Kody live with the psychological burden if Kody cant establish his own identity as a major league player.

Bruce G Charlton said...

Eric Gilchurch said: Warne was not banned for taking steroids, but for diuretics, i.e. drugs that increase water loss.

Warne was suspended for taking a banned substance, and the main reason the substance is banned is because it supposedly hides steroids and because it certainly is used in sequential regimes with steroids, to counteract fluid retention.

Before disregarding the finding of due process, and instead believing Shane Warne's excuses for taking diuretics (and these excuses don't even makes scientific sense) - it is worth examining Warne's general record of truthfulness and honesty - which is un-impressive.

As the Australians say - Warne is a larrikin ('Larrikinism is the name given to the Australian folk tradition of irreverence, mockery of authority and disregard for rigid norms of propriety')

BTW I am on the liberal side of the issue of drugs in sport, and also I love Warne as a cricketer/ artist/ entertainer (even when playing against England) - so this is not based on animosity.

We have to assume that Warne was taking steroids, and he was trying to recover from an injury for a major competition. The same (probably) applies more recently to Shoaib and Asif.

My point is that steroids may not be performance-enhancing but are almost certainly recovery-enhancing.

(Note I am an MD with professional expertise in drugs - so this stuff is not just off the top of my head)

Anonymous said...

How did sammy Sosa get away?? Darn that little scamp! He was thin and hardly a power hitter with the Sox in his youth,he obv bulked up on something strong! But he wasnt mentioned in the report. Which leads me to wonder if he had some special type of connection,one that Mitchell couldnt trace. After all,here are major leaguers writing CHECKS to tools like McNamee---you trust a personal trainer????ha ha ha---not too bright. I bet theres a lot going on he didnt catch. :) AS for drugs being a "white" thing--youve GOT to be kidding!!! Drugs=lots of money.The rumor,via Canseco,is that even his Lordship A-Rod dropped trou and took it in the butt.(The neeedle that is :0 ) BUT all in all Selig did a good job. He aint no Judge kenesaw Mountain Landis,worried about the GAME. HIS JOB IS TO KEEP THE MONEY COMING IN,AND HE HAS SUCCEEDED.

skt said...

I follow some cricket, and I think the recent Aussie domination is in large part due to steroids. The Aussie team is filled with hulking batters, in a sport where 5 and a half foot tall men with slight builds have traditionally dominated batting. Something is suspect.

Eric Gilchurch said...

Mr. Charlton, I don't care whether you're an MD, a Warne fan nor liberal on the use of drugs in sport; the fact of the matter is that you claimed that Warne was caught taking steriods. That's factually incorrect, not to say, potentially libellous.

As for believing Warne's excuses, I'm certainly prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. His record of infidelity and dishonesty is between him and his wife, and has never, to my knowledge, compromised his on-field behaviour. And why he would know enough about drug testing to take a masking agent, but not enough to know that the masking agent itself was prohibited, is anyone's guess.

Miller said...

I follow some cricket, and I think the recent Aussie domination is in large part due to steroids. The Aussie team is filled with hulking batters, in a sport where 5 and a half foot tall men with slight builds have traditionally dominated batting. Something is suspect.

Must be your brain. In fact, the really interesting story in cricket over the last 20 years has been the decline of the West Indies, who are a joint Caribbean islands team. When they dominated the game between 1976-1990, some thought that it was an inevitable outcome of greater black athletic prowess of blacks, and that their dominance could be perpetual. But this view seriously underestimated the skills of the game and the role of professional coaching, training and player development, in all areas of which the Caribbean islands lagged behind. Now, they barely struggle to beat Zimbabwe.

Galactic Overlord said...

I noticed what Jody said:

"[T]he difference [in athletic ability between whites and non-blacks] is so big that you could take all of the best non-blacks in the world at any particular sport, put them on one team, and put a random collection of world class whites on the other team, and the white team would win easily."

Not in rugby union, that's for sure.

In New Zealand, Maori (Polynesians who settled New Zealand before Europeans arrived) have long been disproportionately represented in the All Blacks (national team) at all positions. In fact, New Zealand operates a secondary national team, New Zealand Maori, that regularly plays touring national teams. The team currently requires that its players be at least 1/16 Maori (one great-grandparent). Just to show how competitive NZ Maori are, in 2005, they defeated the British and Irish Lions, a team formed every four years from the top players from England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.

Also, in recent decades, the All Blacks have also seen many players from other Pacific islands, either by birth or descent, become major stars. Just a few examples...

Jonah Lomu (larger-than-life wing), Tongan; Joe Rokocoko (likely to become the ABs all-time leading try scorer in the next year or so), Fijian; Jerry Collins (hard-nosed superstar flanker), Samoan; Tana Umaga (recent captain), Samoan; Michael Jones (all-time great flanker in late 80s through mid-90s), Samoan.

Non-white, non-black contributions aren't limited to New Zealand. Take, for instance, Australia.

Mark Ella, who had a brief but spectacular career in the early 80s, is an Indigenous Australian. More recently, several Pacific Islanders have made big contributions for Australia (I can think of George Smith and Lote Tuqiri off the top of my head, and I'm sure there are others).

I'm also sure that there are many Fijians, Samoans, and Tongans who "stayed home" (i.e., represented those countries instead of New Zealand or Australia) that could match up pretty well with a random team of world-class whites.

Bill said...


As for believing Warne's excuses, I'm certainly prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. His record of infidelity and dishonesty is between him and his wife, and has never, to my knowledge, compromised his on-field behaviour. And why he would know enough about drug testing to take a masking agent, but not enough to know that the masking agent itself was prohibited, is anyone's guess.

-Eric Gilchurch


Although I am not qualified to the extent Dr. Charlton is, I do have some amateur experience with pharmacology, and a borderline OCD obsession with human physiology.

If Warne's explanation really was that he was simply trying to "lose weight," then it is almost obvious on the face of it that he is making a dumb, last minute excuse.

Diuretics expel water, not fat. They mask chemical agents by diluting urine. People have been drinking tea, a mild diuretic, to fool drug tests for decades. Dr. Charlton mentioned that they are used in tandem with steroids to avoid water retention, but this is mainly for bodybuilding competitions where bloating would obscure muscle definition.

I don't have a dog in this fight, and it is hard to blame guys for taking steroids for recovery, since they are very helpful in that regard, but then where do you draw the line?