Buster Olney and his statistics

By | August 03, 2006

In his ESPN.com blog entry for today, Buster Olney said this in a discussion about whether he will vote for Mark McGwire in the Hall of Fame vote:

My quandary is this: How can I withhold a vote for McGwire while voting for a half-dozen to a dozen other players from the era who I absolutely believe took steroids, while not having any proof? I’ve examined the list of major awards since 1988, and think that 75 to 80 percent were won with the use of performance-enhancing drugs. The only difference between McGwire and many other stars from the generation is that McGwire hit more homers, and got the congressional subpoena. (emphasis added)

This is not the first time Olney has thrown this stastic out there, and it’s not the first time I have wondered about that number. But this time, I actually looked into it. Here is what I found:

I assume that Buster chose 1988 because it is the year that Jose Canseco won his only MVP Award, and it is the year that steroid rumors first began floating around baseball. I also have to make some assumptions about what Buster means by “major awards,” because in all the times he has mentioned this suspicion of his, he has never elaborated. A cynic might say that he is being deliberately vague so that no one can pin down what he actually believes, and I would have a hard time arguing with that cynic. Whether this is how Olney meant it or not, I limited my research to the Cy Young and MVP awards. Could we have included Rookie of the Year? Sure, but I find it unlikely that a large percentage of ROY winners came into the league juicing up, so I doubt that Buster included that award. Then there are things like the Silver Slugger and the Hank Aaron and the Gold Glove and stuff. I don’t know where Buster draws the line at major awards, so I drew it at Cy Young and MVP.

Since 1988, there have been 72 of these awards handed out (two of each for 18 years). Of those 72 awards, I see thirteen that were won by players who we either KNOW or STRONGLY SUSPECT were on steroids:

Jose Canseco
Barry Bonds (7)
Juan Gonzalez (2)
Ken Caminiti
Sammy Sosa
Jason Giambi

That is 13 out of 72, or 18%. We have a long way to go.

I see another ten awards won by guys who, if I learned they had been on steroids, I wouldn’t be completely surprised. (I don’t think that most of these guys used steroids, and I think the likelihood is higher for some than for others, but it wouldn’t blow me away if I found out I was wrong about any or all of them.) They are:

Kevin Mitchell
Rickey Henderson
Jeff Bagwell
Mo Vaughn
Ivan Rodriguez
Miguel Tejada
Eric Gagne
Vladimir Guerrero
Alex Rodriguez (2)

So IF all ten of those awards were won by juicers, that brings our total to 23, which is 32%. Still not there.

Does Olney, like a lot of people, believe that Roger Clemens has used steroids? Okay, let’s throw him in there with his five Cy Young awards since 1988. That give us 28, which is 39%.

So after getting the for sures, the maybes, and the Clemens, we are still 26-30 away from “75 to 80 percent.” Can we get those 26 or 30 guys from the following list?

Frank Viola
Orel Hershiser
Kirk Gibson
Bret Saberhagen
Mark Davis
Robin Yount
Bob Welch
Doug Drabek
Tom Glavine (2)
Cal Ripken
Terry Pendleton
Dennis Eckersley (2)
Greg Maddux (4)
Jack McDowell
Frank Thomas
David Cone
Randy Johnson (4)
Barry Larkin
Pat Hentgen
John Smoltz
Pedro Martinez (3)
Ken Griffey Jr.
Larry Walker
Chipper Jones
Jeff Kent
Ichiro Suzuki
Barry Zito
Roy Halladay
Johan Santana
Bartolo Colon
Chris Carpenter
Albert Pujols

Buster Olney’s numbers indicate that 60 to 68 percent of these guys used steroids. But I think there are a lot of guys on this list we can rule out pretty easily, like Viola, Hershiser, Gibson, Saberhagen, Davis, Yount, Welch, Drabek, Glavine, Ripken, Pendleton, Eckersley, Maddux, McDowell, Cone, Johnson, Larkin, Hentgen, Griffey, Walker, Jones, Ichiro, Zito, Halladay, Santana, Colon, and Carpenter. That leaves us only eight awards that could have been won by juicers: Thomas (2), Smoltz, Pedro (3), Kent, and Pujols.

So our grand total of “major awards” since 1988 that could have maybe possibly been won by guys on steroids is 36, which is exactly half the total, which is far far FAR short of Buster Olney’s number of “75 to 80 percent.”

I will be sending this link to Buster Olney, and I hope he will take a second to respond, either here in the comments on my site, or in his own blog, or in an email to me. We shall see.

2 thoughts on “Buster Olney and his statistics

  1. Richie

    Maybe he considers the end-of-year statistical leaders in RBIs, Home Runs, and Avg to be “awards.” Without looking, I would reckon that RBI and HR leaders each year were among the suspicious.

    But you make a good point. Has he run the numbers? It’s easy to make vague blanket statements, until you start looking at the facts.

  2. Jeff J. Snider Post author

    RBI and HR maybe, but there’s no way batting average would fit his percentage. But regardless, I can’t believe even for a second that he would consider “National League HR leader” a “major award.” Those are statistics, not awards.

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