Our good friend Tim Einenkel over at Air America was nice enough to offer us this interview with Steven Goldman of Baseball Prospectus, known also to Yanks fans for his fine Pinstripe Bible and Blog columns on the YES network website.
Tim Einenkel: What are the positives and negatives regarding how the MLB and the player’s union have handled the steroid era?
Steven Goldman: The main positive, in terms of how the steroid era has been handled is that after a long period of ignoring the problem, baseball is doing what it can to get the PEDs out of the game. The problem is that they’ve handled the perception of what they’re doing poorly, in part by failing to manage the seemingly constant drip-drip of players being outed for offenses that predate the testing regime. Contrast that drumbeat, which may yet be augmented by the other players on the 2003 fail list with Alex Rodriguez, with the number of players who have failed a test in the NFL. You can’t, because the NFL doesn’t release that information.
TE: The Alex Rodriguez steroid revelations came out after the publication of the book. If you had found out before the book came out, would these discoveries have had any effect on the PECOTA (Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm, a sabermetric system for forecasting Major League Baseball player performance) projection for him this season and beyond?
SG: No. As Nate Silver, the inventor of PECOTA, discussed in our book Baseball Between the Numbers, the statistical footprint of PED usage is almost too small to detect. In addition, PECOTA is more interested in Rodriguez’s recent performances, not what he did five years ago.
TE: Unlike Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, does the Alex Rodriguez confession help his case? His legacy?
SG: No. It dents it badly. Rodriguez was always unpopular, at least in New York, for personality issues and other things only tangentially related to his playing career, or perceptions of his failings that weren’t necessarily reflected in his performances. Now those same haters have an additional reason to dislike him.
TE: What is Alex Rodriguez’ chances of getting into the Hall of Fame?
SG: It’s tough to predict a vote that might not come up for another 12 or 15 years—we could learn a lot more about the effects of PEDs in that time, or Rodriguez’s usage, or both. If the vote happened today, he probably wouldn’t get in.
TE: How many more players do you think will be outed as steroid users? Will this have a continued negative effect on MLB or has the MLB reached its low point?
SG: It depends on whether the other 103 names on the 2003 are released… Whether we’ve reached the low point or not really depends on who is outed. The public hasn’t cared much about the vast majority of players who have failed tests because they’ve been fringe players. If a Derek Jeter or Albert Pujols were accused, the damage would be extraordinary.
TE: If steroids truly give a player an advantage, why aren’t there 100 plus Alex Rodriguez’s in baseball? How does he differ from the rest?.
SG: The problem here is that “if.” They probably don’t. They’re also expensive, dangerous, have nasty side effects, and there is (now) a stigma attached to usage. Prior to the beginning of testing, they were still all of these things, but without the stigma of exposure and publicity. .
TE: Is it fair to say that each period of baseball has had some sort of X factor which has caused a performance advantage? How so?.
SG: You mean in terms of pitchers using the spitter and the emory ball? Ty Cobb and his sharpened spikes? Corked bats? Sign stealing? Weight training? Aspirin? During his 1941 hitting streak, Joe DiMaggio chain-smoked cigarettes in the dugout to calm his nerves. That was an artificial advantage. Bill Veeck used to move his stadium fences out when the Yankees came to town. That was, too. When the National League integrated more rapidly than the American League, they had a wider field of talent to choose from. Then there were amphetamines, whose usage was almost certainly more prevalent than steroids. There has never been an even playing field. Heck, genetics are the ultimate unfair advantage. Barry Bonds’ father was a great player in his own right. Few players start with that kind of advantage. Obviously, that last is taking things past the point of parody, but it gets at the chimerical nature of fair play in sport. PEDs happen to be where we draw the line right now, but it could easily be drawn any number of other places. It’s an arbitrary decision..
TE: Do you think its statistically possible to predict steroid usage?.
SG: If you actually mean “predict” as in “anticipate who will use,” then no. If you mean “detect,” the answer is also no. Again, as far as we can tell right now, PED usage doesn’t influence player performance very much. These drugs help build muscle. How that translates into changed performance is still very much an open question.