July 8, 2013

Moneyball A's celebrate 28th year as PED pioneers

Everybody knows that the Oakland A's baseball team are plucky underdogs who use advanced statistics to outsmart the big budget teams, as Brad Pitt showed when playing Oakland general manager Billy Beane in 2011's hit movie Moneyball

Of course, when statistical analysis isn't enough (and when is it?), the A's just cheat, like they've been doing since Jose Canseco came up in 1986. Tyler Kepner writes in the NYT:
He might be baseball’s most confounding player, at once a marvel and a miscreant. Bartolo Colon flunked a drug test last summer and served a 50-game suspension. Now he says he is pitching better than he ever has.

Colon is the 40-year-old ace of the Oakland Athletics, the only All-Star on the team leading the American League West. Few players are older or seemingly in worse shape than Colon, who is 5 feet 11 inches and every bit of his listed weight of 267 pounds. 
And yet, after a 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on Monday, Colon was 12-3 with a 2.69 earned run average, pitching with enough confidence and precision to be the league leader in fewest walks per nine innings. 
... Who knew what to make of Colon last August, when he was suspended after testing positive for testosterone? He was 10-9 with a 3.43 E.R.A. when he was caught, after already pushing the system’s boundaries with the Yankees in 2011. 
Colon, whose career was sputtering because of injuries, had never told the Yankees that he was treated by a doctor who used Colon’s fat and bone marrow stem cells and injected them back into his elbow and shoulder. The doctor had used human growth hormone in similar procedures, but said he did not do so with Colon. 
It sounded shady enough, and the positive test, plus Colon’s subsequent link to the Biogenesis investigation, seemed to confirm that his renaissance was a mirage, too good to be true. Surely his cheating explained his success, and Colon, without the drugs, would decline. 

How do we know he's without drugs?
The A’s thought otherwise, as they often do, and brought him back for one year and $3 million, more than he had made in 2012.

Of course the A's signed Colon. The A's have had two general managers since 1983, Sandy Alderson and his protege Billy Beane, and the ballplayers they've employed have included notorious juicers practically the whole time. It's fun to make up bestselling airport books about how they win because their executives play the percentages, but let's not overlook names like Canseco, McGwire, Giambi, the other Giambi, Tejada, and Colon.

You'll notice that players now, finally, get penalized. But teams don't. And executives sure don't. If Billy Beane signs Colon and he gets away with cheating, the A's prosper. If Colon gets caught again and suspended for 100 games, the A's don't have to pay him for 100/162nd of a season. It's win-win.

38 comments:

Anonymous said...

Right, but if everyone in the Majors is juicing, don't Beane and Moneyball get some credit?

Anonymous said...

You sure are good at noticing.

Whiskey said...

The Angels and Dodgers pitchers out on rehab are getting platelet rich injections in their elbows and shoulders. Is that juicing? Not? Legal? I don't know.

Medical science can help people rehab or avoid injury in stuff like pitching, far beyond the game's rules. What about say, modifying a player's DNA, to produce greater healing powers?

Anonymous said...

Come on, Steve. guys on the other teams were doing the same thing. THe A's played and are playing the same game as their opponents..and with young players are about 15 games over .500 and in or tied for first place.

Anonymous said...

Colon stinks.

Anonymous said...

Mr Sailer:

Wasn't Giambi brought back recently AND Manny Ramirez as well?

By the way, how many world series have the A's won since 89? How many Pennants since 1990?

Very tactful of Moneyball book and film to omit that part of the story.

Anonymous said...

Very tactful of Moneyball book and film to omit that part of the story.

That's why there didn't seem to be much drama or meat to the movie. It'd be one thing if they won the pennant or World Series or something and they could show the playoff drama in the film. But Beane just implements the system, they start having some success, and then they lose in the 1st round and that's basically it. They have the lame sub-plot with his daughter as filler.

Anonymous said...

Off topic: this is fun...a jewish jersey shore?
http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/3482822

Anonymous said...

More O/T

A British jewish Jersey Shore?

The Only Way Is Essex

I suspect several 'cast' members of this reality show belong to a certain tribe. Perhaps other British readers can throw some light on this?

Auntie Analogue said...


Of course the players - but not the management or owners - get penalized.

In the Navy we had this acronym: SRDH.

It stands for Shit Rolls Down Hill.

When you're on the bottom of the pyramid hill, you catch all of the shit that the people up higher on the hill get to slop down the hill onto you. Only the powerful at the apex get to let all the shit in the world slop down on everyone beneath them. Which is why the Big Bailout took care of the uninvestigated, unprosecuted super-rich global finance titans, and dumped the debt for this extortion on us citizens. Which is why those same titans have been lavishing obscene sums on their blitz to get the immigration "reform" Shamnesty they want.

So what else is new in the world?

Anonymous said...

Steve,
I have to disagree with you partway on this one. While PED's sure do help recovery from injury faster and make packing on muscle easier, there is no harder thing in professional sports than hitting a baseball thrown at 90+ miles an hour from about 60 feet away from the pitcher's release point. They may be juiced, but unless the juice affects hand eye coordination, you still have to make contact and very few people have that skill.

Hunsdon said...

Cue AWCA in a few minutes with his "And I'm the only American who seems to notice these things" shtick.

Anonymous said...

I remember reading wherever La Russa goes there are steroids.

George Doehner said...

Anyone who has played baseball knows pitchers get very little from being bigger and stronger. The minors are full of guys who can hit the mid-90's. The reason they will never see the show is they lack command and control. To make it in the majors you have to be able to locate your best pitch with 90% accuracy.

The benefit to pitchers would be rest and recovery. Certain drugs are known to accelerate the healing process. Between starts, a pitcher has four days typically. Two are rest days. Old guys usually need more recovery time so they will miss starts or break down.

The careful application of specific drugs will allow the player to do his full post start workouts and be ready to go after his two rest days. When injuries occur, recovery is aided and the off time is minimized.

None of it matters if you cannot consistently locate your fastball.

JHB said...

"Come on, Steve. guys on the other teams were doing the same thing."

I strongly disagree. I think that players on some teams had access to better stuff than others. Teams in major markets--New York, LA, the Bay Area--had access to good PEDs. Occasionally a lesser team would reap benefits, such as Cleveland in the late 90's or the Rangers and Astros off and on over a longer period.

But the A's have simply been leaders in PED use. Every team has its comparative advantage through team strategy, coaching, and scouting: Boston builds hitters with high OBP, Tampa Bay develops starting pitchers, and the Yankees turn high revenues into free agent talent. The A's are leaders in cheating on PEDs. It's a skill set. Beane knows the game.

As an aside, Billy Beane played with Kirby Puckett in Minnesota. Bill James was treated badly in the community for calling out the late Puckett for PED abuse, but the circumstantial case is overwhelming. One has to wonder if those Minnesota connections helped Beane in his later career.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure that a player's salary is foregone if they're suspended. Unlike football, baseball has guaranteed contracts - albeit sometime with performance bonuses. If a player gets injured, he still gets his full base pay; only the bonus money is at risk. Perhaps the newest standard contract makes an exemption for drug suspensions, but suspensions for fighting don't impact a player's pay.

Jon Davies said...

The problem with drug taking will not be seriously tackled until the teams themselves start to get hammered for fielding doped baseball players.

It's pro cycling all over again.

Anonymous said...

Steve, Are you casting the net wide enough? Wasn't Tony LaRussa part of the original A's juicer club?

Unrelated: what's up with Albert Pujols?

RonMexico said...

Anon at 11:01 has it right. The post '92 A's have won 2 less WS titles than the Marlins. Let that sink in for awhile. The 88-92 A's were ahead of the league in the PED category. Once the rest of the league caught up.... The A's of the 2000s have benefited from the spending of the Yanks, Bosox, Phillies, etc. If they make the playoffs this season, it will be a repeat of last year.

Otis McWrong said...

"Moneyball" was like lots of Michael Lewis writing: interesting and yet entirely missing the point. Before he disgraced himself with his hagiography of Obama, Lewis wrote "The Big Short" and managed to somehow completely overlook the role of government. There was no Fannie, no Freddie, no CRA, no Federal Reserve with an open spigot…

"Moneyball" focuses on the A's winning in the late 90's and early 2000's with a low payroll and essentially claimed they did so by focusing on stats like on-base percentage and its attendant - the ability to draw walks. They shunned base-stealing and thus didn’t have to pay for foot speed, etc. Lewis ignored (or more likely didn't know) that many teams throughout baseball history have done much the same thing (notably the powerhouse Baltimore Orioles teams of the 60's and 70's). Orioles skipper Earl Weaver’s philosophy of “pitching, defense, and the 3-run homer” and all that.

Lewis focused on the A’s offensive players, yet the A's in the years covered by Moneyball were usually in the bottom half of the American League in scoring. They won because they had 3 outstanding pitchers (Barry Zito, Mark Mulder, and Tim Hudson) that they didn't have to pay market wages, reason being they were still under their first contracts and thus subject to the collective bargaining agreement. There are two ways you can pay players less than they’re worth: uncover some hidden gem nobody else wants, or simply have the players’ compensation be constrained by a contract. The A’s won because of the latter, yet Lewis focuses on the former. It also helps they played in what was at that time an awful division.

Forbes said...

Weren't McGuire's supplements allowed/legal when he took them? That they were later banned doesn't make him a cheater.

pie traynor said...

Steve, have you ever watched Colon pitch? He really knows what he's doing - wonderful changeup. I'm unhappy he beat the Pirates though, I want this to be their year.

Anonymous said...

"It's fun to make up bestselling airport books."

Oh, Steve, please. Your churlishness about "Moneyball" should be beneath you. Advanced statistics that help guide decision-making are not "made up."

Anonymous said...

Advanced statistics that help guide decision-making are not "made up.

The particular decisions Bean used were largely smoke and mirror. They've been used since days of Connie Mack! Some of those strategies he employed as far back as the 1910s. AND....he won Pennants.

Again, as GM...how many championships has Billy Beane won? Answer: zip So in his case, its tons of BS.

But those particular stats ARE made up. AGAIN, how did the A's do World Series wise and Pennant Wise since 1990? Answer: they didnt get it done.

"Americans Love a Winner" G. Patton

Meanwhile, the US Women's Soccer Team, winning wise is more successful. Go USA!

Anonymous said...

"...there is no harder thing in professional sports than hitting a baseball thrown at 90+ miles an hour from about 60 feet away from the pitcher's release point. They may be juiced, but unless the juice affects hand eye coordination, you still have to make contact and very few people have that skill."

True, and yet it seems that PEDs added about 50 points to Melky Cabrera's batting average:

2009: 0.274
2010: 0.255
2011: 0.305
2012: 0.346 <-- busted for PEDs
2013: 0.278

-Mark Roulo

gorgeous george said...

Are you casting the net wide enough

And they traded Canseco for Ruben Sierra, another juicer. He built a creek to run through his living room in Fremont.

Anonymous said...

"I'm not sure that a player's salary is foregone if they're suspended."

The salary is foregone.

It is also forgone if the player is suspended for fighting. Or if a pitcher is suspended for throwing at a batter.

Salary is not foregone because of injury.

Anonymous said...

You're right, Otis. The only bone thrown to the crowd about Hudson, Mulder and Zito was when Pitt/Beane was shown in the movie walking through the clubhouse and told everyone to leave "Huddie" alone. But they were the only reason that team finished anywhere but 5th.

The Tampa Bay Rays have adopted the same sort of formula: draft and nurture advanced young arms. The Rays have been a bit more successful than the A's due to more skill with the selection of everyday players, like Longoria and Zobrist.

pat said...

Oakland is indeed the Performance Enhancing Drug capitol of the US. Downtown has almost no commercial stores except for Marijuana dispensaries and licensing facilities. We have a cannabis University.

How could anyone not expect all that to influence the baseball team? It's our culture.

Speaking of which I hear that the judge has allowed the fact that Trayvon Martin had THC in his body to be allowed into evidence. I keep hearing from media pundits that marijuana makes you mellow. I wonder if the defense will then introduce the Old Man of the Mountain, Hulugu, and the Cult of the Assassins?

Albertosaurus

Anonymous said...

"Weren't McGuire's supplements allowed/legal when he took them? That they were later banned doesn't make him a cheater."

The Androstenedione he took was both legal at the time and not against baseball rules.

The oral and injectible steroids he took (and admitted to taking in 2010) were illegal at the time (because of not having a prescription from a doctor).

-Mark Roulo

Gilbert Ratchet said...

Wouldn't every man test positive for testosterone?

Anonymous said...

Oakland is indeed the Performance Enhancing Drug capitol of the US. Downtown has almost no commercial stores except for Marijuana dispensaries and licensing facilities. We have a cannabis University.

How could anyone not expect all that to influence the baseball team? It's our culture.


1. I doubt A's ballplayers are getting their juice from downtown Oakland. They probably rarely venture downtown.

2. Isn't Oakland ghetto? I would've thought you'd have retired to somewhere more relaxing and comfortable.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the Rays, they are also helped massively by the most owner friendly contract in all of baseball: Longoria's.

Every GM and Owner would love to have lock up their young players to deals like what Longoria signed with the Rays.

Nevertheless, Friedman and the rest of the Rays FO are cream of the crop. I find them much more impressive than Beane and Zaidi out in Oakland.

It'll be interesting to see how much they get back for David Price this winter and if they can pull of another Shields-Myers trade.

Regarding Pujols:

He has a bum foot and knee and there have always been rumours that he's older than what he claims to be.

It's my personal opinion that Pujols never 'juiced' as blatantly as Alex, Braun, Melky, etc.

gubbler of the church of reformed chechenism said...

"Wouldn't every man test positive for testosterone?"

With Ken Burns, I don't know. He makes my skin crawl.

Colitis Paul said...

"In Hawaii, the Yankees started off doing good and wound up doing well, while in China they got kicked out, one and all."

Except apparently, for Bruce Lee's dad.

Skeptic said...

Steve seems intent on casting shame on drug use as cheating. That makes sense as far as the athletics, but it is going to be harder to make that case as when they are used to help an older guy heal faster. I mean, most people would be against gaining an unfair advantage, but who is against something that helps a guy heal faster? Who loves and watches sports most but older guys who used to be athletes? The morals of this are going to start getting messy.

Anonymous said...

713Regarding PEDs
people who know something about these things are expecting a BIG story concerning UK cycling sooner rather than later

Could be extra embarrassing as several of the protagonists have knighthoods

Anonymous said...

That makes sense as far as the athletics, but it is going to be harder to make that case as when they are used to help an older guy heal faster.

Exactly. Pettite and Clemens were using HGH two years before their injuries occured as a preventative measure.
Bonds was cheating.