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On GMJ, steroids, and the breakout season

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Buster Olney writes at length today about GMJ getting sucked into the steroids controversy, and how this impacts on the sport as a whole. He quotes a couple of baseball folks as saying that, while players got smaller right after testing started, they are getting bigger again. Olney suggests that HGH has simply replaced the more primitive form of steroids as the PED of choice.

So now there are suggestions that GMJ's breakout 2006 season was the result of PED use. I don't have an opinion one way or the other on what GMJ has or hasn't done, but it seems that if you are going to attribute the breakout 2006 season to PEDs, you are implying that he did them last year, but not before 2006.

So let's compare GMJ's last 5 major league seasons:

Year BA OBP Slugging BA - OBP ISO
2006 .313 .371 .495 .058 .182
2005 .255 .320 .436 .065 .181
2004 .275 .350 .461 .075 .186
2003 .248 .314 .361 .066 .113
2002 .275 .354 .426 .079 .151

What's interesting about this is that, broken out this way, 2006 doesn't look so out of the ordinary. GMJ's isolated power (ISO) dropped dramatically in 2003, but otherwise, is fairly consistent, particularly from 2004-06. His walk rate in 2006 is actually a little lower than it has been historically. The two outliers in this chart are GMJ's 2003 isolated power and GMJ's 2006 batting average...the "breakout" season GMJ had in 2006 (as I've noted before) was almost entirely driven by an increase in batting average. As you can see from the chart, GMJ has otherwise been relatively consistent from year to year.

To further illustrate, let's look at extra base hits:

Year PA XBH XBH/PA D + T (D + T)/PA HR HR/PA
2006 620 70 .113 51 .082 19 .031
2005 478 47 .098 30 .063 17 .036
2004 280 29 .104 18 .064 11 .039
2003 468 39 .083 33 .071 6 .013
2002 345 35 .101 28 .081 7 .020

While there was a slight increase in extra base hit rates for GMJ in 2006, it wasn't anything dramatic. And most of the increase in extra base hits came from doubles and triples...GMJ's home run rate was actually down from each of his previous two seasons with the Rangers, and is closer to his home run rate in 2002, while his double/triple rate is almost identical to his 2002 rate.

Historically, folks have argued that the evidence of PED use comes from increased power numbers. Using that basis, however, it is hard to see how one can reasonably attribute GMJ's breakout 2006 campaign to PEDs -- GMJ's power numbers were no better last year than they have been in previous seasons.