Inflated Stats in Contract Years During Baseball’s Steroid Era
Currently, players are awarded arbitration after three years and free agency after six years of major league service time. Given the six year span under one team’s control, players are likely to be reaching their potential when their first shot at free agency comes around. There is an inherent likelihood that a player will perform better with years of experience while still maturing physically. It is a recipe for salary inflation as players tend to reach free agency while hitting their physical peak. Players are then paid more for what they have done rather than what they are projected to do.
With that in mind, we’ll ignore some players whose increase in production seems in line with their age and experience levels. We’ll look at statistical spikes in the seasons just prior to signing a large contract, the season nearest to signing the contract given the most weight.
Brady Anderson 50 HR in 1996, 18 HR in 1997
Signed a 5-year $31 million contract with the Orioles after the 1997 season.
It is widely speculated that Anderson’s 1996 season was aided by steroids. The light hitting outfielder who averaged 16 home runs between 1992 and 1995 exploded in 1996 with 50. Anderson was one of the first users of maple bats and an advocate of creatine and weight lifting. Anderson never slugged over .500 before or after setting his career high with .637 in 1996.
Adrian Beltre 48 HR, 121 RBI, 200 H, .334 AVG, .629 SLG in 2004
Signed a 5-year $64 million contract with the Mariners after the 2004 season
Beltre seemed a lock for 20 home runs and 80 runs batted in, though he was still very young and touted as a future star. Beltre’s slugging percentage rose 200 points during his contract year, then dropped 200 points the following year which was the first year of steroid testing.
Barry Bonds HR & SLG record in 2001, OBP & BB record in 2002
Signed a 5-year $90 million contract with the Giants after the 2002 season
Bonds exploits during 2001 and 2002 are well documented. Bonds set records in home runs, slugging percentage, on-base percentage and walks at age 35 and 36. With arguably the greatest hitting statistics ever compiled, Bonds cashed in.
Bret Boone 37 HR 131 RBI .331 AVG in 2000
Signed a 3-year $24 million contract with the Mariners after the 2001 season.
One of the most famous juiced up walk years, the little second baseman nearly turned into the MVP. At age 32 Boone turned into a monster at the plate raising his slugging percentage by 122 points. He drove in 46 more than his previous career high. Three years later, after hitting 24 home runs as a 35 year old, Boone was released by the Mariners. During the first year public steroid testing Boone had been useless, batting .221 and slugging .350.
Kevin Brown ERA from 1996-1998 1.89, 2.69, 2.38
Signed a 7-year $105 million contract with the Dodgers after the 1998 season.
Brown had always been a good pitcher. He won 20 games as a 27 year old for the Rangers, but it wasn’t until 1996 that he became dominant. Skeptics will say his improved statistics starting in 1996 can be attributed to expansion, experience, and moving to the National League. The fact is, 1996 was the most inflated offensive season statistically in the history of the game. During that season Brown was able to lower his ERA nearly two full runs.
Darren Daulton 27 HR 109 RBI in 1992, 24 HR 105 RBI in 1993
Signed a 4-year 18 million deal with the Phillies after the 1993 season.
After some serious injuries early in his career, Daulton managed to have all-star seasons in 1992 and 1993. He went from borderline extinction to superstar in 1992 when slugged 100 points higher than his previous career high and led the league in RBI. The Phillies signed Daulton to a 4-year $18 million extension during his contract year. Daulton never played another full season, and never reached the same production levels even in a smaller sample.
Lenny Dykstra 19 HR 44 2B 143 Runs 129 walks in 1993
Signed a 4-year $24.9 million contract extension after the 1993 season.
Dykstra was outed as a steroid user by former bodybuilder Jeff Scott and business partner Lindsay Jones. Scott went so far as to say that Dykstra had increased his usage in 2003 because it was a contract year. Dykstra set career highs in home runs, runs, runs batted in, walks and doubles finishing second to Barry Bonds in the NL MVP voting. Dykstra’s contract extension made him the highest paid leadoff hitter in baseball.
Kevin Elster 24 HR 99 RBI .462 SLG in 1996
Signed a 1-year $1.5 million contract with the Pirates after the 1996 season.
Signed a 1-year $1 million contract with the Rangers after the 1997 season.
Elster couldn’t hit himself out of a paper bag until 1996. Not only had he been a free agent seven times during his career, he had been released 5 times and played mostly in the minors over the three years prior to 1996. At 31 Elster pulled it all together, hitting 24 home runs, slugging 100 points above his career high. In the two seasons after 1996 Elster earned nearly half of his entire career salary with virtually no production.
Andres Galarraga .370 BA in 1992, 47 HR 150 RBI in 1996, 41 HR 140 RBI in 1997
Signed a 4-year $17 million deal with the Rockies after the 1993 season.
Signed a 3-year $25 million deal with the Braves after the 1997 season.
After a breakout year in 1989 at age 27, Galarraga’s production had declined so much that he was forced to sign a one-year deal with Colorado at one third of his salary from the year before. After having his pay significantly reduced during his first eligibility for free agency, Galarraga was playing on a one-year contract for $850 000 with Colorado. Galarraga hit .370 and slugged .602 before signing a 4-year $17 million contract. In the last two years of that deal Galarraga turned into a bona fide slugger hitting 40 home runs for the first time at age 35. After two of the greatest seasons ever by a 35 and 36 year old, he signed a 3-year $25 million deal with Atlanta.
Charles Johnson 31 HR 91 RBI .306 AVG in 2000
Signed a 5-year $35 million contract with the Marlins in after the 2000 season.
Johnson hit .250 with 19 HR and 60 RBI or four straight years before 2000. Johnson was a good hitting catcher before he had his breakout year in 2000. He slugged 128 points above his career high. Johnson has one of the strangest batting average lines ever from 1995 to 2002. Starting with 1995 he hit .251, .218, .250, .218, .251, .306, .259, .217. showing remarkable consistency and inconsistency. Johnson made $35 million from solid defense and one anomalous season.
Mark McGwire 52 HR .730 SLG in 1996, 58 HR .649 SLG in 1997
3-year $28 million extension with Cardinals at the end of the 1997 season.
McGwire had always been injury prone, missing most of 1993 and 1994 and half of 1995 to injury. When he finally got healthy again in 1996 he became a monster. McGwire hit 52 and 58 home runs in 1996 and 1997 respectively. He had changed from a .580 slugging superstar to a .730 slugging legend. The .730 mark in 1996 was the 13th highest SLG ever behind only Babe Ruth, Lou Gherig, Rogers Hornsby, Jimmie Foxx and Ted Williams. McGwire was now a legend. McGwire signed for below market value at $9.33 million per year.
Rafael Palmeiro 37 HR 105 RBI in 1992, 43 HR 121 RBI in 1997
Signed a 5-year $45 million deal with the Rangers after the 1998 season.
Signed a 5-year $28 million deal with the Orioles after the 1993 season.
Palmeiro was a good hitter when Jose Canseco was traded to the Rangers in 1992 where he claims to have educated Palmeiro along with teammates Ivan Rodriguez and Juan Gonzalez about steroids. Palmeiro had at least 30 HR and 100 RBI every year of that deal except the strike shortened 1994. his slugging percentage dropped for three consecutive years. Had it dropped again in 1997 Palmeiro would have become a free agent after four consecutive declining seasons at 33 years old. Instead he hit 40 HR for the first time, cementing his status as an offensive force.
Carl Pavano 18-8 3.00 ERA 222.3 IP in 31 starts in 2004
Signed a 4-year $40 million contract with the Yankees after the 2004 season.
At age 28 it wasn’t that unrealistic for Pavano to have a break out year. But 2004 was the last season of somewhat anonymous testing, and Pavano has barely played since due to a myriad of injuries.