In The Cheater’s Guide to Baseball, in the steroids chapter I put some stats together to test a theory. In Game of Shadows, Bonds complained that when he was “on” (actively taking steroids) he hit better those weeks, and when he was “off” (not taking them, so the body continues to naturally produce testosterone) he felt weak and ineffective (relatively). Using game stats, I tested that hypothesis (“Bonds will hit better for three weeks and then worse for a week, continuing through a whole season”) and the result’s in the book.
A reader wrote to take issue with its completeness, arguing that the benefits of steroids would come not just from having them actively coursing through the veins, but also in the training and muscle-building that would last all season. That off week is padded, so to speak, by the extra bulk built up and maintained by all the time on.
This is entirely true: the work in the book only attempts to measure whether the complaint in Game of Shadows can be turned into a theory and tested.
What about the other question, though – what’s the overall effect? Ignore whether he went up and down in a regular pattern during a season. How far did it get him? From what we know, it was the McGwire-Sosa home run chase of 1998 that so annoyed Bonds that he decided to begin using steroids the next season.
Here’s a quick-and-dirty napkin calculation. It doesn’t take into account how he should have aged or anything else. It’s really quick, though. From 1986-1998, age 21-33, Bonds hit a home run 21% of the time he made any hit. Then for 1999-2007, it lept to 35%. His lowest HR/H rate in that period, 2006, is 26.3% (only two are higher in the prior run).
If you use the 86-98 rate, he’d have hit 202 over 99-07 so far. Use a generous 26% rate, and you get up to about 250. In real life, he hit 333. Or, -131 in the first case, -83 in the second case.
Which on the career mark would put him at 602 to 660 – a season behind or possibly just having passed Willie Mays.
Obviously, that doesn’t do the topic justice, and it makes an unfortunate assumption that every year after 1998 is included, even after the collapse of BALCO. It doesn’t look at the intentional walks, and it also assumes that Bonds from age 34-42 hit home runs as well or better than his 21-33 selves. Still, it’s interesting to make a rough calculation like that and realize how quickly these things add up, and also how great a player Bonds was before 1999.