We’re back for the The House That Steroids Built miniseries this week, after a long layoff during the MLB lockout. Opening Day is today, and what better time to celebrate … honest baseball … by identifying dishonest baseball. And in reading research for this upcoming season, we saw this: “… we should remember that projections are just projections, and our methods are not necessarily the Giants’ methods.”
Hmmm, that sounds an awful lot like ESPN’s statistical experts pondering just what the San Francisco Giants are doing that defy the math. Well, loyal readers and sharp observers with objectivity know exactly what the Giants are doing that defy statistical analysis. And that’s why we’re taking on the 2004 season: the last one in which Barry Bonds played a “full” season under obvious PED influences.
This was also the last competitive season the S.F. organization would have for 5 years, when it rebooted itself into the financial juggernaut we saw ramp up in 2009. The 2004 Giants won 91 games and just missed out on the NL postseason. But it wasn’t for a lack of “trying” … as the below demonstrate.
Exhibit A: J.T. Snow
At age 36, first baseman Snow posted the highest OPS mark of his career (.956). His prior high (.898) came in his age-29 season, also with the Giants, but that fits into a normal player’s prime-seasons expectancy. This was a total anomaly, after Snow posted a .704 OPS two years’ prior at age 34. How does one boost his OPS by 36 percent over the course of two years in the mid-30s? Uh huh.
Coincidentally, we’ve discussed Snow’s overrated defense elsewhere, and that has nothing to do with this analysis. But for a guy who never hit over .300 in any single MLB season prior, it’s weird to see an age-36 guy suddenly hit .327 and cut his strikeouts almost in half. One of the side effects of HGH intake is improved vision, so that’s an obvious thought here.
The odd thing is that in 2005, Snow immediately went back to his 2002 level of production, and he was out of the majors for good soon thereafter. But this one-shot glory effort? Helped him score a $2M contract from the Boston Red Sox for the 2006 season, which he never would have gotten without this anomalous season at age 36. But hey, when you’re playing right next to Barroid, it’s gotta wear off.
Exhibit B: Deivi Cruz
Who remembers this guy? Exactly no one. He played one full season in San Francisco at age 31 and basically had the second-best season of his career at the plate (.292 BA, .752 OPS)—in a pitcher’s ballpark. His best season came at age 27 in Detroit: a .302 BA and a .767 OPS. So after steady decline which saw him play one year in San Diego (.660 OPS) and one in Baltimore (.647), he found the Giants.
Interestingly enough, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays signed him after Baltimore declined to do so, and then Tampa Bay released him right before Opening Day 2004. But somehow, the Giants turned other teams’ trash into a serviceable player for a year—before, in turn, dumping him off to the Washington Nationals during the 2005 season when his performance dropped off in the City by the Bay.
Cruz was out of the majors by the start of the 2006 season, so he was a mediocre player who had one good season in San Francisco while playing in the clubhouse with the “loose” culture. It’s funny just how many players during this era had similar experiences with the Giants. Players knew the right place(s) to go if they wanted some more shelf life, that’s for sure.
Exhibit C: Barry Bonds
At age 39, Barroid hit .362 and stole a then career-low 6 bases, which shows you he was not legging out a lot of infield hits to boost that batting average. He walked an incredible 232 times, which shows you that even with juiced-up teammates in the lineup around him, opposing teams knew how to get those pretenders out. In fact, with 120 IBBs, it was obvious that no other true threat existed in this lineup.
Bonds also struck out a then career-low 41 times. For a guy who whiffed 92 times in his last “pure” season (1998), he certainly had a lot of improved eyesight as he got older. The career-best marks in OBP (.609) and OPS (1.422) were certainly pumped up by the walks, but not even Ted Williams could hit .362 at age 39. While Williams did hit .388 at age 38, it’s because he was a lifetime .344 hitter.
This guy? Lifetime .298 hitter, and that gap between his pre-BALCO years (.290) and his post-BALCO (.319) seasons is pretty large. Baseball players just don’t suddenly get better in their mid-30s like that. No athletes do, period—without entire chemical recomposition of their bodies.
Exhibit D: Marquis Grissom
A two-time All-Star player in his prime, Grissom posted a combined .645 OPS in 2000 and 2001 for the Milwaukee Brewers and the Los Angeles Dodgers, respectively, at ages 33 and 34. The Brewers didn’t want to pay his $5M salary, and you can bet L.A. wasn’t pleased after taking him in a trade and paying that much for so little.
The Dodgers and the Giants play each other a lot every season, so Grissom could see what going on up north quite closely. In 2002, at age 35, he recovered enough in L.A. to post an .831 OPS—and score a near-$6M contract from the Giants, covering 2003-2005 seasons. In his first season with the S.F. organization, Grissom hit .300 at age 36—not probable at all, but then “Giants methods” … ahem.
The only other time in his career that he hit .300-plus was in 1996 at age 29 in Atlanta. By this 2004 season, Grissom was declining a bit more, hitting just .279 with a .773 OPS. He dropped off a cliff in 2005 as it was the last season of his career, but he got the one last contract from the Giants by embracing their methods while with the Dodgers and then signing with the S.F. organization. Magic!
Conclusion: A lot of things being passed around the Giants clubhouse
These aging players producing career-best stats just reiterate the point: The San Francisco organization turned a blind eye to honesty and integrity, because doing so was making it money and bringing hitherto, never-seen-before success on the field. Remember, from 1958 to 1998, the Giants made the postseason only 5 times in 41 seasons playing it square.
Bonds began his association with BALCO after the 1998 season, and suddenly, S.F. made the playoffs 3 times in 4 years (2000-2003). This was the tail end of that first phase of experimenting with the PED culture, and since the fans ate up the steroid splash hits, the Giants organization milked it for all they could—and have continued to do so ever since.
And MLB has done nothing to stop it. Sound familiar?