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The “not that great meaning” is a phrase used to describe something that is not as good as it could be.
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- Since 2007, I’ve worked as an investigative reporter for ESPN’s Enterprise and Investigative Unit.
- “League of Denial” and “Game of Shadows,” both New York Times best-sellers, are co-authored by her.
- 2004 co-winner George Polk Memorial Award
- T.J. Quinn joined ESPN in November 2007 as an investigative reporter for the Enterprise Unit, which is responsible for creating long-form investigative reports that may be distributed across numerous platforms.
THIS IS IT for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, the last chapter in the steroid-fueled dispute over their Hall of Fame eligibility. Alternatively, unworthiness.
It’s the last year of their ten-year eligibility with the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, and votes are due by the end of the month. If Bonds and Clemens do not get at least 75% of the vote this time, they will require special permission from a select committee to join luminaries such as Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, and Cy Young, leave alone their contemporaries, superstars like as Ken Griffey Jr. and Randy Johnson.
Both would have been first-ballot Hall of Famers based on the numbers: Bonds for being one of baseball’s best players, and Clemens for a 24-year career that included 354 wins and seven Cy Young Awards. However, enough voters have agreed that the athletes’ use of performance-enhancing substances disqualifies them.
So we pondered how much their alleged drug usage had an impact on their career stats.
In 2001, how many home runs would Bonds have hit? That was the first year he utilized a drug cocktail purchased via the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO), and it was also the year he set the single-season home run record with 73. What about Clemens’ incredible 2004 campaign? Clemens was 18-4 in his 42nd season, striking out 218 hitters and posting a 2.98 ERA on route to his sixth Cy Young Award.
Dan Szymborski, the originator of the ZiPS projection method, is a baseball metrics expert. In its most basic version, the approach (which is approved by MLB.com and discussed here) predicts a player’s future performance based on previous performance and patterns in how performance declines with age. ESPN asked him to forecast Bonds’ and Clemens’ career numbers from the season each is thought to have begun taking performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) — 1999 for Bonds and 1998 for Clemens.
When seen in this light, the Bonds/Clemens instances seem strikingly different:
Home run totals for Barry Bonds
Bonds blasted 73 home runs in 2001, but according to the ZiPS prediction, he only hit 23 that year, plus or minus a handful. And, despite hitting 209 home runs over the four seasons he utilized the BALCO cocktail (2001-2004), he was expected to hit just 66 during those four years.
Where should Bonds rank on the all-time home run list, according to ZiPS? Rather than becoming the king, the prediction puts him at No. 15, behind Manny Ramirez (but that’s another story) and ahead of Mike Schmidt, with 551 career homers. It’s also worth mentioning that according to the forecast, Bonds would have played one season less than he did.
WAR numbers for Bonds
While the home run screams “Barry Bonds” more than any other statistic, WAR does it in a much more forceful manner. WAR’s purpose is to provide the most full picture of a player’s worth to his club, and it’s possibly the finest metric for comparing one player’s excellence to that of another. It calculates how many wins a player is worth to his team when compared to an average replacement player.
Bonds finished with a career WAR of 164.4 (using FanGraphs statistics), only below Babe Ruth and much ahead of his godfather, Willie Mays, who was boosted by an incredible run during his steroid-fueled years. Bonds’ greatest WAR for a single season prior to 1999, the year he began taking PEDs, was 10.5, in 1993, and it was his last double-digit season. From 1999 through 2004, he had four seasons in double digits, including two over 12 and 11.9 in 2004, his 40th year.
The ZiPS system, on the other hand, depicts a quite different arc. Instead of 11.9 in 2004, ZiPS expects a WAR of 1.7 for Bonds. He would have been anticipated to total 14.2 throughout the four-year BALCO timeframe, rather than 47.3. Bonds’ career WAR total is projected to be 128.7, moving him from No. 2 all-time to No. 9, just ahead of Stan Musial.
Bonds’ OPS+ figures
Bonds was indisputably one of the game’s top performers during the first half of his career, when he posted seven straight seasons of 170 or higher, according to OPS+, which evaluates a player’s ability to get on base and hit for power while normalizing for the influence of different parks.
But after he began using PEDs, he became otherworldly, especially when he met BALCO. His OPS+ was 259, 264, 231 and 263 in those four seasons, giving him three of the top five seasons in baseball history, second only to Negro League icon Josh Gibson. Bonds has a career OPS+ of 182, which ranks him fourth all-time.
According to ZiPS, those ludicrous four seasons would have been substituted with 156, 144, 115, and 95, and his career OPS+ would have been 153, tied for 30th place.
Win totals for Clemens
If you project beyond 1998, when Clemens is thought to have begun taking PEDs, ZiPS has a similar lowering impact on his results. The first thing to note is that according to ZiPS, Clemens would have played three less seasons and would have retired after 2004. That was the year he turned 42, and he finished 18-4 with a 2.98 ERA, 218 strikeouts, and 21413 innings thrown. Instead, ZiPS predicts a lot more boring final season: 8-5, 3.35 ERA, 113 innings thrown, and 105 strikeouts.
While the use of wins and losses in the age of empirical analysis is questionable, Szymborski feels it is valuable in examining Clemens’ data. Clemens won 354 games, 141 of which came after Brian McNamee, Clemens’ former personal trainer, testified that he first injected the pitcher with PEDs. According to ZiPS, Clemens won just 85 games over that span, leaving him with a career total of 298, well shy of the 300-game mark that has long been considered a lock for Cooperstown. That performance would drop him from ninth to 24th on the all-time list, barely ahead of Tommy John (288).
Total innings thrown by Clemens
Clemens’ most remarkable statistic is his innings pitched. The figures show what a tenacious force he was well into his late 30s and early 40s. He threw 264 innings when he was 35 years old in 1997, and he had six more seasons with 200 or more innings thrown after that, including 2005, when he hurled 21113 innings, had a 1.87 ERA, and struck out 185 batters at the age of 43.
According to ZiPS, he would have only achieved 200 innings once more in his career and would have thrown 689 less innings overall, dropping him from 15th to 33rd on the all-time list, barely ahead of Frank Tanana.
WAR totals for Clemens
Although Clemens’ real-life WAR figures were not as impressive as Bonds’, he compiled enough impressive numbers during the final ten years of his career to surpass Cy Young as the all-time leader among pitchers with 133.7. He accumulated 46 of those points throughout that span, including roughly 11 during the three seasons ZiPS estimates he would have never played.
He would have had a 4.9 instead of an 8.2 in 1998, according to ZiPS, and then maintained a steady decrease from there. In the end, ZiPS estimates that his WAR would have been 111.3, dropping him from first to fourth all-time, slightly behind Greg Maddux and ahead of Randy Johnson.
What exactly does all of this imply?
The thing about Bonds and Clemens is that, unlike so many other players, they appeared to improve as they grew older, at least for a few years, resisting the gradual, steady decline that usually precedes retirement. As a result, their career statistics ballooned: Bonds’ 762 home runs, 2,558 walks (688 intentional) and.607 slugging percentage; Clemens’ over 5,000 innings thrown, 4,672 strikeouts, and over 700 games started.
The numbers are a result of the performance-enhancing pharmaceuticals they utilized in the second half of their careers, at least in part, and maybe in substantial proportion. Bonds started taking PEDs before the 1999 season, according to reports and court filings. Before the 1998 season, McNamee started injecting Clemens, according to his testimony.
Bonds has said that he had no idea the chemicals he was using were steroids or other PEDs. In 2008, Clemens flatly denied ever using such medicines in front of Congress. Both men were charged with perjury in federal court; Bonds was convicted on one count of obstruction of justice, but the conviction was subsequently overturned, while Clemens was found not guilty.
Szymborski is the first to confess that his projection technique isn’t a precise science — maybe more comparable to weather forecasting — and that the pharmaceuticals can’t fully explain for the big disparities between the forecasts and the players’ actual, larger-than-life statistics. Yes, today’s players are in significantly better form than their forefathers, having worked out more often and intensively (though PEDs actually are part of that equation in some cases). Players’ careers are lasting longer due to improved injury recovery and a more scientific approach to the game. Bonds and Clemens, of course, had to contend with a slew of PED-abusing opponents.
However, even with those restrictions, the ZiPS approach has shown to be astonishingly accurate. Szymborski demonstrated this by taking 139 players who had at least 502 plate appearances in 2015 and comparing their true performance in five categories over the following six seasons to what the projection model predicted. Even Szymborski was amazed at the precision of the findings. When comparing their actual home run totals to anticipated home runs (he adjusted by using actual plate appearances to account for injuries, abnormalities, and other factors), the “average” miss each season was roughly two. On batting average, the average miss was 13 points, and on OPS, it was 36 points.
All of this information might theoretically be fed into the mental algorithms that Hall of Fame voters have devised to determine the destinies of Bonds and Clemens. Perhaps they’d look at the ZiPS estimates and come up with fresh reasons to accept or reject the two guys. In reality, it seems that those who have denied Bonds and Clemens admittance have not been motivated by statistics. It’s all about the alleged infidelity. That’s why we thought this experiment had a lot more promise for revealing what their careers and legacies might have been like if they had taken a more expected route. No, it’s not an exact science, but the weather is something that can be predicted rather accurately. As a result, ZiPS implies that, although Bonds and Clemens were both outstanding, their spots in baseball’s record book would be substantially different.
John Mastroberardino, an ESPN researcher, contributed to this article.
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The “another word for not good quality” is a term that has been used to describe something as being of low quality. The term was originally used to describe how the wine tasted, but it can also be used to describe anything else.
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