Jeff Bagwell, aging curves, and 'innocent until proven guilty'

Evidence beyond reasonable doubt is needed to convict in a court of law. In the court of Hall of Fame voting, apparently suspicion is all that's necessary. Photo: Flickr/M Glasgow

WASHINGTON D.C., December 31 -– As the balloting to decide the 2011 Hall of Fame class comes to an end, two debates continue to rage. The first, Bert Blyleven vs. Jack Morris, should come to an end in five days, when Blyleven is projected to be officially elected. But if past history is any indication, the second, concerning Jeff Bagwell and steroid use, will continue for at least another year.

Mark McGwire admitted that he was a steroid user. Rafael Palmeiro tested positive for steroids. Jeff Bagwell committed neither action. Yet, multiple Hall voters, most notably Dan Graziano and Terence Moore of AOLFanhouse, have decreed him “guilty by association.” Simply being in shape and playing in the Steroid Era have apparently become enough evidence to convict a player of PED use.  And if you want to continue to try to follow the twisted logic, here it is: since Bagwell flat-out denied steroid use, this obviously means he did use steroids. Why? It’s obvious isn’t it? Only a steroid user would attempt to clear his name and reputation. Unless you over-indulged in champagne this evening, the arguments of Graziano and Moore clearly reek of the cheap shots and inconsistent standards that they are.

Graph showing aging curves of Bagwell, McGwire, and Palmeiro compared to a baseline.

Moving out of the realm of “guilty until proven innocent” and into the domain of statistics, there is no evidence that points toward Bagwell taking steroids. The greatest effect of steroids is not necessarily increased performance, but instead longevity. A normal aging curve shows a player’s peak at 26, a steady decline to 31 or 32, then a steep pattern of decline. Comparatively, a steroid user’s aging curve would likely show a slow or nonexistent decline.

As the graph shows, Bagwell has an almost perfect aging curve. It sits just below the baseline because Bagwell’s peak year was an absurdly good 1994 season where he was on-pace to hit 50 homers without the strike. Otherwise, it’s completely without suspicion. McGwire is a strange case, because his supposed peak was cast into the depths of oblivion when he burst back onto the scene in the mid ‘90s after a slew of back injuries.  Still, he shows no perceptible decline until his horrific final year. Palmeiro’s curve is the prototypical ‘roid curve. A steady early peak, the beginning of a decline, then a second peak that lasts until the end of his career. All of that combines to say “highly questionable.”

The fact of the matter is, until evidence is brought forward that Bagwell used steroids, there is no statistical or personal evidence that he even looked at a syringe during his career. Innocent until proven guilty remains the law of the land; not guilt by association.  There are players who played clean. Just because Ken Caminiti, Roger Clemens, and Andy Pettite—all teammates of Bagwell—used PED’s should not be a reason to vote against him.

Go ahead and keep Bagwell out of the Hall because you believe he didn’t play long enough. Go ahead and keep him out because he won only one MVP award. Go ahead and say that he “wasn’t a team player”, or some other sort of c**p like that.  But don’t tell me that he’s guilty by time period.

Aging curves based off of study by Tom Tango.

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Arjuna Subramanian

Arjuna Subramanian is an aspiring baseball writer living in the Washington D.C. area.  He started his writing  with his blog Painting The Black on MLBlogs in May of 2009.  He fell in love with the sabermetric movement during the 2008-2009 offseason, and strives to provide balanced articles from both sides of the statistics/scouting divide.  

When not writing, watching/listening to baseball, over-analyzing his Chicago Cubs, staring in disbelief at the writing of Thomas Boswell, or keeping tabs on the latest Milton Bradley blowup, he can usually be found at the DC Fencers Club, where he is a competitive epee fencer.

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