Details on MLB’s Drug-Testing Program

I read a great post on mlbtraderumors.com today about MLB’s 2013 report on the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program (the “JDA”).  The take-away is that MLB is conducting a substantial number of urine and blood tests (more than 4,000 of the former and more than 1,000 of the latter) each season but that the tests need to be more randomized in terms of when they are administered in order to maximize catching those using PEDs and other banned substances.

While mlbtraderumors’ post is not entirely clear on this issue, it sounds like approximately 40% of all tests are taken during the six-week period of Spring Training.  Further, only 200 tests are taken during the off-season, which means that, given 1,200 major league roster spots and many, many players cycling through those roster spots each season, a very small percentage of players are tested during the off-season.

Clearly, the present testing regime means that very few players are likely using PEDs during or immediately prior to Spring Training, since this period bears far and away the greatest likelihood of getting caught.  In fact, no major league players tested positive for steroids or HGH in 2013, with the only suspensions to major leaguers for PED use arising out of the non-analytic Biogenesis America documentation.

I would expect that absent a testing regime, during and immediately prior to Spring Training would be a prime time to use PEDs, given that players want to be strong and get off to a good start at the beginning of a new season, particularly those players trying to earn a major league roster spot in Spring Training.

The other time I would expect players to believe they’d get the biggest boost from PEDs would be during the second half of the season, the so-called dog days of summer when players are worn down by the grind of the six-games-a-week baseball schedule.  One of the principle benefits of steroids is that they enable athletes to work out harder and recover more quickly, which would have relatively more benefit in the second half of the season than in the first half when bodies are generally fresher.  It’s worth noting here that the positive drug test Ryan Braun beat in arbitration was taken late in the 2011 season.

Back in 2010 MLB’s No. 2 Rob Manfred was quoted as saying that whenever MLB has increased the number of tests administered and significantly altered the pattern of testing (i.e., conducted the tests at different, more random times during the season), there has been a spike in positive tests regardless of whether it was major leaguers or minor leaguers being tested.  This is hardly surprising in that the players willing to cheat will try to take advantage of whatever opportunities to avoid detection the testing program allows for.

Whether the players’ union will agree to significantly more annual tests than the 5,000+ now being administered when the current JDA expires in December 2016 remains to be seen.  It seems likely to me that the union would be much more amenable to greater randomizing of the tests given than dramatically increasing the number of tests major league players as a group are forced to undergo.  Clearly, in additional to greater penalties for first- and second-time positive tests, greater randomization of testing is necessary to reduce PED use in baseball.

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