November 26, 2005

Did Florida Juice Lead To Marlins 2003 Ring?
by Steve Lombardi, NetShrine.com

As a result of his recent trade from the Florida Marlins to the Boston Red Sox, I decided to look at the recent career “power numbers” of Mike Lowell.  This is what I saw:

Mike Lowell

Season

Plate Appearances

Homeruns

Slugging Percentage

2000

582

22

.474

2001

614

18

.448

2002

677

24

.471

2003

557

32

.530

2004

671

27

.505

2005

558

8

.360

There are three trends that standout here.  First, from 2000 through 2002, Lowell was in the range of about 20 homers per season with a slugging percentage in the range of .470 per year.  Then, in 2003, Lowell jumped up to a higher range in the homerun and slugging percentage departments – more to the tune of 30/.500 than 20/.470.  And, he stayed there in 2004.  Lastly, in 2005, Lowell’s “power” at the plate completely disappeared.

At first blush, one could write this off to a player’s performance simply peaking and then dropping off – it happens all the time.  But, coincidently, when looking at Lowell’s numbers, I also happened to look at the numbers for the man who played to Lowell’s direct left – the Marlins’ shortstop Alex Gonzalez.  And, this is what I saw:

Alex Gonzalez

Season

Plate Appearances

Homeruns

Slugging Percentage

1999

591

14

.430

2000

407

7

.319

2001

561

9

.377

2002

172

2

.325

2003

582

18

.443

2004

599

23

.419

2005

478

5

.368

And, here, with Gonzalez, we see a pattern somewhat like with Lowell.  From 1999 through 2002, Alex Gonzalez hit homeruns at a pace of about 10 per season (if you prorate his production to a full year across the board).  Then, all of a sudden in 2003, he jumps up into the 20 homer range.  And, Alex stays there for 2004.  However, in 2005, like Lowell, his "new" power disappears.

Seeing this, I was curious if there were any other Marlins players with this pattern.  And, I found Juan Pierre – note his stats below:

Juan Pierre

Season

Plate Appearances

Batting Average

On Base Average

Slugging Percentage

2001

683

.327

.378

.415

2002

640

.287

.332

.343

2003

746

.305

.361

.373

2004

748

.326

.374

.407

2005

718

.276

.326

.354

With Pierre, you need to adjust for the fact that he played in the extreme-hitter-friendly-confines of Colorado during 2001 and 2002 – and then moved to the pitcher-friendly park in Miami (where the Marlins play).  Perhaps a better way to look at Pierre is comparing his Runs Created Above Average (RCAA) each season – which adjusts for the different playing conditions.  Here, we see the following:

Juan Pierre

Season

RCAA

2001

-7

2002

-29

2003

7

2004

10

2005

-10

Once again, we see the pattern of “numbers jumping up in 2003, staying there in 2004, and then dropping down badly in 2005.”  It makes you wonder what was so special for these Marlins players in 2003 and 2005.

Was it something about the ballpark in Florida?  Did something there change over the years?  Well, according to the Bill James Baseball Handbooks from 2003 through 2006, the Marlins' park “power” index was about the same each year - in that it's always been a below average park for homeruns:

Florida Marlins – Dolphins Stadium HR Index

Season

HR Index

2002 80

2003

77

2004

97

2005

78

As stated before herein, the ballpark in Miami is a “pitcher’s park” – in terms of preventing long balls.  And, it’s been that way for the last four years in a row.  Lowell, Gonzalez and Pierre cannot claim it was their field in Miami that brought cause for the change in their numbers.  Every year, since 2002, it's been a below average park for homeruns.

What about the National League as a whole?  Was “power” down in general?  Is that the reason for these players to see their slugging production drop in 2005?  It (power in general in the N.L.) has not trended downward since 2003 – at least not a lot.  Below is the National League homerun percentage from 2003 through 2005 – hitters only (with pitchers excluded):

National League Homerun Percentage

Season

HR%

2003

3.21

2004

3.37

2005

3.08

One thing that did happen during 2003 in Miami was that Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez joined the Florida Marlins.  Why is this significant?  Well, it is interesting because Rodriguez was named in Jose Canseco’s book “Juiced” as being someone who was interested in, and who used, performance enhancing drugs.  And, while many like to scoff at Canseco’s book-generated finger pointing, they must also admit that Jose now seems to have been on the mark in naming people like Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Jason Giambi.  In fact, Canseco, in the book, claims that he (Jose) taught Pudge how to properly administer such drugs.

Is it possible that Ivan Rodriguez passed along some of these performance enhancing “tips” to some of his teammates in Florida when he joined the team in 2003?

This could be a clue behind the aforementioned increases in production for those in question.  But, what about their offensive decreases in 2005?

Ironically, it was the 2005 season where the use of performance enhancing substances became banned - and baseball players began to be tested to determine if they were using them.  Yes, the same season where we see the decline for Lowell, Gonzalez and Pierre.  And, it’s significant to note that Ivan Rodriguez (who moved on to the Detroit Tigers following his 2003 season in Florida) lost 20-somewhat pounds during the off-season between 2004 and 2005 – and saw his relative offensive production drop considerably in 2005 from his 2003-04 rates. 

Is this the key to seeing the drop in 2005 for Lowell, Gonzalez, and Pierre – the fact that Major League Baseball began testing for performance enhancers last season? 

And, perhaps more importantly, looking at the bigger picture here, were the 2003 World Champion Florida Marlins a team that was aided by a cadre of batters who were using performance enhancing drugs?

This is an interesting question – but, that’s all that it is.  Basically, it’s one fan having an Oliver Stone moment and connecting sundry hand-picked dots that perhaps no one was willing to connect out loud before this time.  This supposition is 100% conjecture and not based on any hard evidence.  If Roger Murtaugh were to read this, he would probably say “Pretty thin, huh?” and Martin Riggs would surely answer “Anorexic.”

Still, it is some attention-grabbing speculation to debate over the hot stove this baseball off-season.  And, if this hypothesis should ever be found to be true through some retrospective disclosure by a party privy to the situation, this “study” will stand testament to the fact that at least one baseball fan’s wild imagination is not all that fanciful.

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