Friday, June 16, 2006

The Rise and Fall of Luis Gonzalez

Luis Gonzalez is a former Astro, Cub, and Tiger who made a name for himself as an Arizona Diamondback. Because of a break-out season he had in 2001, there has been much speculation about him being one of the many major leaguers who used steriods and HGH (human growth hormone). Yesterday, after rumors of his steroid use were alluded to by his own team's owner, he called a press conference to deny the rumors of his use of performance-enhancing drugs. In light of that, I decided to actually delve into his career stats and see what the numbers say.

His first full season in the big leagues was 1991 at age 24. For the eight seasons between 1991 to 1998 he switched teams 5 different times, playing for a total of 3 different teams. He batted exactly .300 one season, but never came close to .300 in any other season during those years. His career batting average through 1998 was .268. He was somewhat of a base-stealing threat, stealing 20 in 1993 and 15 in 1994, and stealing 10 or more four different times. Through 1997, the most home runs he ever hit in a season was 15, which he had done twice, and in 1998 with the Tigers he hit his then career high 23. Between 1991 and 1998, his HR per at-bat ratio was about 1 in every 36 at-bats. He never had more than 79 RBI in any one season, and averaged 68 RBI per season during those years.

So by age 31, you have an 8-year veteran journeyman with consistent but highly unremarkable numbers, and his biggest statistical achievment was batting .300 in 1993. Typically a 6 or 7 batter in the line-up, he didn't even become an every day player until his 3rd full season in the majors.

Then, in 1999, he makes his 6th team change, moving to the 4th team of his career, signing with the Diamondbacks. That year, at age 32, he hits a career high 26 home runs, knocks in a career high 111 RBI (31 more than he'd ever knocked in before, and nearly double his career RBI average), and bats a career high .336 (36 points higher than his previous career high and nearly 70 points higher than his career average). His HR per at-bat ratio moves up a staggering 13 points to 1 in every 23 at-bats.

In 2000, he bats .311, and hits 31 home runs and 114 RBI, again setting new career highs in those two categories. He only steals 2 bases, by far a career low. His HR/At-bat ratio moves up to 1 in 19.

In 2001, he bats .325, hits 57 home runs, and knocks in 142 RBI. He only steals 1 base. His HR/At-bat ratio jets up to a McGwire-esque 1 in every 10 at-bats.

By 2005, he hits only 24 HR, the fewest he'd hit in any one season since joining the Diamondbacks (with the exception of his injury-plagued year in 2004, where he missed 50 games). He knocks in 79 RBI, and bats .271. Like his home run total, both are career lows with the Diamondbacks. His numbers suddenly look remarkably similar to his pre-Diamondbacks numbers.

This season, 2006, he is on pace to hit 13 HR and knock in 70 RBI. He is batting .265.

Since joining the Diamondbacks, he has never stolen 10 or more bases in a season, despite doing it 4 different times in his pre-Diamondbacks years.*

So what you have is an average, unremarkable journeyman player with average, unremarkable stats, a consistent player to fill a line-up spot, but destined to fade into oblivion by his mid-30's. Then, at age 32, when most players have passed their prime and are moving into the last seasons of their career, Gonzalez suddenly becomes a superstar. At age 34 he has his best season ever, and his mid-30's prove to be his most productive period, despite the fact that this is the period that most players see their careers winding down.

The numbers don't lie. This sort of career progression doesn't happen in nature. A player doesn't suddenly become an all-star, a franchise player, and a major league stand-out in his mid-30's, after a 10-year career as a journeyman with average, unremarkable stats. It just doesn't happen without something unnatural involved.

The numbers tell an obvious story. In 1998, McGwire and Sosa had put home run hitting at the top of everyone's radar, and steroids and HGH were all the rage. Upon arriving at the Diamondbacks for the 1999 season, Gonzalez, who was facing the certain prospect of his unremarkable career winding down within the next couple of seasons, got introduced to performance-enhancing drugs, and began using them. His stats immediately improved. By 2001, he hit his peak. By 2004, the word was out on steroids, mandatory testing started, and Gonzales had to stop. Maybe he'd already stopped by then. Either way, his body broke down once he was off the juice, and he ended up missing a third of the 2004 season with injury.

Since then, he has been the same old unremarkable player he was from 1991 to 1998.

I always liked Luis Gonzalez. As a Cubs and Astros fan in the 1990's, I was very familiar with him as a player. Despite being the 6 or 7 hitter and standing well in the shadow of his more talented teammates, he was always a fan favorite because he was a nice guy and very friendly, always smiling. He brought a lot to the team and certainly filled an important role. I remember being sad to see him leave the Astros for the last time in 1998 and join the Tigers. But I think his career is marred now. I would much rather have seen him retire in his mid-30's, and remember him as a local fan favorite who was an integral part of a lot of good Astros teams in the 1990's. Instead, now he's just another statistic in the very long Book of Baseball Cheaters.

*P.S....the stolen base stats are important because as Gonzalez began taking steroids and bulking up, he subsequently lost speed, which is evidenced by his decreasing ability to steal bases after he joined the Diamondbacks. Barry Bonds experienced a similar loss of speed on the base paths after he began bulking up in the late 1990's. People who take steroids inevitibly get stronger, but slower.

38 comments:

Exist~Dissolve said...

I reject the easy causality by which you attempt to link Gonzalez' explosion of batting ability with steroid use.

Let me offer an alterative and, consequently, more probable answer:

One day, while driving throughout the countryside, Gonzalez encountered a section of subspace full of quantumly undefined electrons locked in a stasis of superposition. As his path intersected that of the electrons, the wave probability collapsed, and Gonzalez was pulled into a quasi-demensional realm in which several alternate universes collided with one another. During this interpositioning of reality, a Gonzalez from another universe replaced the Gonzalez of our world. Interestingly, this "new" Gonzalez was a much better batter than the other and went on to wow the fans with his hitting abilities. However, as always happens, after a few years, the decay rate of the subspace field eventually reached critical mass, creating a rupture in space/time. As they have a tendency of doing, our universe sought to correct this "leak" by returning the "new" Gonzalez (as did the alternate universe in which our Gonzalez was positioned--they weren't sad to see him go...). Thus, the regular, unimpressive Gonzalez returned and had to call a press conference to clear his name.

Scott said...

Hmmm. Well. I guess I was wrong after all. Sorry Luis.

Slim said...

Writing about baseball in the middle of the World Cup - amazing

Scott said...

Oh Slim. Silly Slim. Cor blimey, what's a bloke to do with you? Go read your Bertrand Russell and have a spot of Earl Grey, there's a good chap.

Exist~Dissolve said...

Ah! Bertrand Russell! Now THAT sounds like a good time!

PhD said...

Actually, reading Bertrand Russell is an excellent "good time", as is reading quantum mechanics! But the summation over all space-time of the individual quantum states of every Gonzalez electron is a bit of a stretch of the space-time continuum, don't ya think?

Matt said...

You make probably the best case in favor of Gonzalez using steroids that I have ever seen. While you definitely decrease my degree of certainty, I still believe Gonzalez did not use steroids. Gonzalez never bulked up quite like a player say Bonds did. He was still a very thin player and the fact that it occurred with the Diamondbacks could mean that he played better under a new organization and batted better with a new hitting coach. I also believe the physical peek for a man is around age 33 depending on the person. As a result, at that age it makes sense that he could produce some good power numbers. While nobody but Gonzo will ever know the truth, Luis Gonzalez plain and simply does not strike me as a player who would ever cheat the game of baseball (particularly under Jerry Colangelo).

Scott said...

Thanks for your comments, Matt. As I implied in the post, I certainly always liked Gonzo, and didn't like imagining that he had cheated. But as a writer who attempts to follow the historical method of collecting evidence and drawing logical conclusions based on that evidence, I have to stick with my conclusion that he most probably took steroids for at least a few years.

Obviously, the numbers don't lie. They are objective pieces of evidence that points to something occurring in his early- to mid-30's that caused him to become dramatically more productive at the plate.

With that objective evidence in mind, I look at the subjective, circumstantial evidence. He got physically larger. People (namely the owner of his team) fingered him as someone who had used steroids. During the time that his production increased dramatically, it is now a known fact that steroid use was rampant in MLB. Anyone familiar with baseball could tell you that it is highly unusual for a journeyman player with unremarkable career numbers to suddenly explode into superstardom in his 30's. That just doesn't happen.

So all this subjective, circumstantial evidence simply serves to support the objective evidence of the numbers. Taken together, I simply can't draw any conclusion other than he must have taken steroids.

Mad Puff said...

Excellent article... You often hear of the way Rafael Palmeiro's power numbers showed such a dramatic jump after a few years of mediocrity, but Luis Gonzalez's show an even greater disparity. Guy's like Brady Anderson and Brett Boone had a couple chemically induced wonder-years but then faded out. Palmeiro and Gonzo did not, but the ridiculous way their numbers changed make them just as guilty.

Scott said...

Thanks Mad Puff. Boone and Anderson are two other great examples. Brett Boone was the size of my 8-year-old daughter while he played for Cincinnati, then turned into the hulk. What a joke.

Anonymous said...

No offense, but your reasoning is not logical. I'm sure you could go through baseball history and find other statistical oddities, but that doesn't automatically make them juicers also. Just look at Roger Maris for example. By the logic you use to condemn Gonzalez, Maris should be condemned also then. I'm not saying that he didn't use steroids, I just believe that you have to come up with something more that statistical oddity.

Anonymous said...

George Foster
Juicer

Scott said...

Thanks for posting, Anonymous. When it comes to statistics, it's definitely true that it is easy to analyze them any way you want. Roger Maris, as you mention, hit 61 homers in 1961. However, he hit a lot of homers in other years too, and when you look at his stats, they are pretty much right on the graph - a slow rise, a peak, and a slow decline. This is not what you see when you graph Gonzo.

Also, and this is perhaps my best argument, Maris didn't play during the steroid era. Gonzo did.

Anonymous said...

Cecil Fielder

Juiced

Anonymous said...

Roger Maris hit 39 and 33, but that is still 20+ less than his 61.

Just because someone played in the "steroid" era shouldn't condemn someone. Come up with some actual evidence and not simply rumors.

Anonymous said...

José Bautista

juicing

Anonymous said...

Actually, Maris and Gonzalez graph are very similar.

Scott said...

Well, I'm pretty sure the post contained what I would call evidence. Perhaps we have a different definition of the word :)

Anonymous said...

Actually what you posted isn't really evidence, but rather conjectural. Just because something is unlikely, doesn't make it evidence.
I've provided of other examples of unlikely events, but it doesn't mean that those other people were also on steroids.

Just a note: I don't know whether he used steroids or not, but believe if you condemn him it should be based on actual evidence and not simply the unlikely.

Anonymous said...

Also, as Ben Johnson showed, steroids can make you faster.

Also I don't think you can use steals as an example because he was never really a base stealer.

Scott said...

What I provided wasn't conjecture so much as it was circumstantial evidence. The growth in size, the inflated numbers, etc. That's not physical evidence (physical evidence would be, for instance, a needle with his DNA on it or a document detailing his injections),but it IS circumstantial evidence.

As for Ben Johnson, that's a good counter point, but I would assume the difference is in the focus. Focus on legs, steroids make you faster. Focus on upper body, the speed declines.

Anonymous said...

Actually it is conjecture because you are using as proof of an act. Circumstantial can only be used when the act has been known to have been committed. Your basically running into circular logic.
Actually, luis didn't grow in size. But even so, this wouldn't be evidence because weight-training can make you grow in size.
I used Ben Johnson as an example as a proof that we are assuming what the affects of steroids would be on a baseball player when it has never been studied. Another assumption is that the affects HGH are the same as steroids.
I'll assume that Andrés Galarraga also used steroids based on your "evidence".

Anonymous said...

I known that you could claim that he is an extraordinary individual, but Babe Ruth hit his 60 when he was 32 in an era when people were not as healthy as they are now.

Also, there is a famous picture of Ben Johnson's run with him having enormous biceps.

Anonymous said...

Is Edgar Martinez guilty also?

Anonymous said...

Was the whole league on steroids in 1987 because that is what you seem to be suggesting?

Anonymous said...

You used the extra weight as a hindrance for speed, but why wouldn't it also be a hindrance for swinging a bat?
The best hitter of all time (Ted Williams) said it was the fluidity of a swing. (That is why the sizes of bats has gone down.) This was from a guy that was paper thin.

I think I now where you will go with this, but it is simply making assumptions.

Scott said...

Actually, I kinda think I've exhausted my arguments. I can't really add anything else that I haven't already said. You might be right...maybe Gonzo was clean. I'm still skeptical though.

Anonymous said...

of course Arnold, I mean Luis used Roids. But great article. Well said and well thought out.

Scott said...

Thanks Anonymous! Thanks for reading.

Anonymous said...

All of your suppositions would have credibility if it weren't for the fact that Gonzo looks pretty much as he did when he was playing. He wasn't bulky as you infer, he was actually pretty thin. He didn't hit long homers, he hit line drives. If you look at his career doubles numbers, they're a result of his approach to hitting. Fences in Phoenix aren't very high. You hit a liner, it has a good chance of going out. I saw plenty of those 57 and the ones I saw were usually in the 5th to 10th rows of the lower deck, not the monster shots the roid freaks hit. Don't pat yourself on the back too hard or you'll need rotator cuff surgery. Just because you list your bona fides doesn't mean they mean anything in the discussion of an athlete's performance and career.

Scott said...

My rotator cuff is fine, thank you :) Seriously, I wrote this post 7 years ago when it was actually a big topic. To debate the various merits of my argument now seems almost silly.

I definitely think he was guilty of using PED's, however.

eddie rossman said...

Anonymous does not realize that circumstantial evidence is strong evidence where there is enough of it . Like in the JFK assasination which is the most investigated crime ever, causing things to be more complicated that they really were, that Oswald was a lone gunman who wanted to feel like more than a peon, left his wedding ring and life savings for his wife in the morning , took a long box into the bldg.,etc. Luis Gonzalez very likely took PED's, but Anonymous did not personally see it so that makes it conjecture and fantasy.

Anonymous said...

I agree, Eddie. Creationists use the same "reasoning" to deny the scientific soundness of evolutionary theory, saying that one cannot show it to have occurred by running some repeatable tabletop experiment and therefore all of the evidence for it can be ignored. It's just a dodge for those who don't want to believe something that is pretty obviously true.

Scott said...

I agree guys. Gonzo is guilty. I have no doubt in my mind. Funny, also, that one of you mentioned the Kennedy assassination....I've written about the evidence there as well, and have argued for the lone gunman theory.

http://serene-musings.blogspot.com/2008/02/kennedys-assassin-lonely-gunman.html

Anonymous said...

Great article, it really adds up that he did use. The only problem is steroids would most definitely make you faster. Also, you don't always bulk up from steroids. You can easily keep a lean shredded look while using steroids. Steroids increase test levels which in return increases your metabolic rate, thus burning more fat. If you look at the famous picture of gonzo raising his arms in celebration you can see he is ripped from forearm to shoulder. His triceps and biceps are extremely vascular for not even having a "pump." In that picture you can see he is either doing a good amount of cardio to keep his body fat% low enough to look that lean, (let's pretend cardio helped strengthen him to hit more homers) or the use of steroids gave him that shredded vascular look. I know my above "evidence" is a stretch, but it really is a good point to consider.

Scott said...

Thanks for reading and leaving a comment. I agree with you.

Anonymous said...

With Bonds the size of his head removed all doubt. How does Gonzalez' head size compare pre- and post-Diamondbacks era?

For what it's worth, I'm a Diamondbacks fan in the camp that says he juiced. I don't think coaching can outrun Ma Nature.

Scott said...

I haven't ever heard the "size of the head" argument. Do heads get bigger with HGH? I suppose that might make sense...

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