Thursday, September 30, 2010

Contador's story seems to hold up scientifically

PINTO, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 30: Alberto Contador listens to questions from the media during his press conference pleading his innocence after being tested positive for clenbuterol, a fat-burning and muscle-building drug, during this year's Tour de France, on September 30, 2010 in Pinto, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

Big news in the cycling world today is that Alberto Contador has tested positive for a banned substance known as Clenbuterol.  Now I love the Tour de France and I watch it every year and I look forward to watching.  As a cycling fan I am as pissed off as everyone that this sport is so tainted by drug use.  It is so difficult to judge whether a performance has been effected by PEDs or not and most people now assume that they are all doing.

Now I also want to get straight that I am not necessarily a Contador fan and I am not looking for a reason to find him either guilty or innocent.  I actually think he is an arrogant, smug guy and if I was to state what I think of him personally I would have to say that I would rather root for someone else (like my man Cadel Evans, go Aussie!).  There is no denying the man's achievements in big races and until he is proven otherwise as a fan you have to have faith that he is clean  So when the report came out that he had tested positive for Clenbuterol I was very disappointed.  I was so hoping that he was clean but now this is all over the news.

As a scientist I wanted to dig a little deeper into the facts about Contador's case.  In particular he made a claim that the levels of Clenbuterol found were due to a steak that he had eaten the night before.  My immediate reaction was whether this was even possible.  Well apparently it is possible and I decided to take a more scientific approach to see whether his claims could be true.

Clenbuterol is an actual drug used to treat asthma but it also has an effect of decreasing body fat.  This is the reason that athletes and particularly cyclists may want to take it as it will produce leaner muscle (also popular with bodybuilders apparently).  It is also on the UCI list of banned substances.

First to Contador's story.  He claims the levels that were detected were due to consumption of a piece of steak that he ate the night before.  Firstly levels of Clenbuterol have been detected before in humans after eating meat contaminated with Clenbuterol.  Farmers illegally feed their livestock Clebuterol to produce a leaner stock.  Some scientific stuff, the bioavailbility of Clenbuterol is around 80% therefore if it was present in the meat it could be ingested and adsorbed into the body.  Secondly studies have shown that cooking meat does not cause it to significantly decompose.  In summary Contador's story is potentially true, not so unrealistic at least.

Let's turn to the possibility that he knew (or someone knew) that this could be a cover story in case they got busted and he was actually taking it beforehand.  At the Tour de France riders are tested just before the race, the winners of every stage, the yellow jersey and 6-8 riders are tested randomly and are tested immediately after each stage.  Contador took at the yellow jersey at stage 15 on July 19.  He was tested again on July 21 and it was this test which produced the positive result.  Admittedly the levels tested were very low (50 picograms/mL) which are 400 times below the recommended detection limit.  Now I don't know if all the other samples were also tested to this low limit.  Let's say that the 50 picograms/mL came from him taking Clenbuterol after some time before the Tour De France.  Based on the known half life of Clenbuterol if he was tested on Day 1 of the race the levels in his body would have been about 800 ng/mL (assuming the natural elimination in the body).  This is way above the level of 20 nanograms/mL that they are usually testing for.  Therefore it seems very unlikely that a detection of 50 picograms/mL on July 21 is matched to a clean test at the start of the race.

There are obviously a couple of holes here like :  What about masking agents and what effect does a lower dose have?  I couldn't find any info on these topics so I can't say.  But on the surface it seems as though Contador's story hold up scientifically.

Therefore he either has some scientists helping to create his story or he is telling the truth about the contaminated meat.  Maybe we will find out.  Maybe not.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Felix Hernandez is the best starting pitcher with the worst run support in the last 18 years!

Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Felix Hernandez throws a pitch to the New York Yankees in the seventh inning of their MLB American League baseball game at Yankee Stadium in New York August 20, 2010. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

There has never been a winner of the AL Cy Young Award who was a starting pitcher that has had less than 16 wins (and only two in the NL : Tim Lincecum last year and  Fernando Valenzuela in 1981).  In fact in the last 10 years only Zach Grienke last year had less than 18.

This year Felix Hernandez is leading in a number of pitching categories including ERA, games started, innings pitched, strikeouts etc.  It has been quite well publicized that Hernandez has suffered from a pathetic Seattle team which couldn't score any runs this year.  But I was shocked at just how unlucky Hernandez has been to be on such a pathetic team.

Below I have listed all the starting pitchers in the AL who have started at least 28 games and who have had an ERA around 2.5 or below up until 1992 (Numbers listed a W-L, ERA, Run support avg).  You can see that most pitchers who have such a low ERA have had a decent number of wins with the exceptions being Pedro in 2003 and Kevin Appier in 1992.  But no pitcher has ever had more than 10 losses like Hernandez this year.  However no pitcher has had such pathetic run support as Hernandez this year, a measley 3.07 BA!!!!  No other pitcher even comes close, except Grienke in 2009 who had a 3.78 run support BA.

Therefore if there was ever a year where a pticher with 13 wins (possibly 14 he has another start) this should be the year.  He has had the worst run support for a starting pitcher with an ERA of less than 2.5 in the last 18 years!!!

2010 Felix Hernandez 13-12, 2.27, 3.07 ; Clay Buckholtz 17-7, 2.33,  4.81
2009 Zach Grienke 16-8, 2.16, 3.78 (won Cy Young); Felix Hernandez 19-5, 2.49, 4.37
2008 Cliff Lee 22-3, 2.54, 5.58 (won Cy Young)
2003 Pedro Martinez 14-4, 2.22,  5.09
2002 Pedro Martinez 20-4, 2.26,  6.09; Derek Lowe 21-8, 2.58, 6.14
2000 Pedro Martinez 18-6, 1.74, 4.51 (won Cy Young)
1999 Pedro Martinez 23-4, 2.07, 5.68 (won Cy Young)
1997 Roger Clemens 21-7, 2.05, 4.67 (won Cy Young); Randy Johnson 20-4, 2.28, 4.61
1995 Randy Johnson 18-2 2.48 5.75 (won Cy Young)
1993 Kevin Appier 18-8, 2.56, 4.52
1992 Roger Clemens 18-11, 2.41, 4.06; Kevin Appier 15-8, 2.46, 3.4; Mike Mussina 18-5 2.54 4.48

Some sports stuff I found interesting yesterday

Vick's ascension magnifies racial divide - interesting article from Les Bowen

Butting Heads on Longer season - from Boston globe

John Terry delighted with first goal of season - from Chelsea FC website after their Champions League win

Are the 3-0 Chiefs for real? - article from NY Times anlayzing teams that have started 3-0 after the bad season the year before

Roy William is ticked off by Irwin's comments about him

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Will Vick be a better QB at the Eagles?

Vick is the hottest QB in the NFL at the moment (except maybe P Manning but he has been hot for so long we don't want to talk about him).  Fresh off an amazing game accounting for all 4 of the Eagles TDs v the hopeless Jaguars.  He is quite obviously the man in Philly right now, Reid has ditched the man (Kolb) who he chose when he ditched the previous man (McNabb) if that makes any sense.  I doubt that chosing Vick was all Reid's decision but he looks good now doesn't he?  It looks like we are going to get a good look at Vick in the coming weeks and get a better sample size of what kind of QB he is now today in 2010.  A question may arise as to whether Vick will be the same player he was with Atlanta or is he a different QB now.  He obviously has the physical skills to run and move around the pocket, we have already seen that and the mere sight is Vick taking off sends shivers down my spine.  But the situation and coaching staff is different in Philly compared to the Atlanta days. He has some decent weapons in Philly, can you remember any decent receivers he had in Atlanta?  The Falcons relied heavily in Vick's runnning game.  Andy Reid is an offensive minded coack whereas Mora was a defensive minded coach.  Could we see Vick become more of a passer and in the long run a better QB?  Well we are going to get to see as it unfolds over the next few weeks as Vick gets his chance.  Starting next week against the man McNabb.

Carmelo doesn't care about Denver, sound familiar Cleveland?

Last night I was talking to my neighbor about the prospect of Carmelo Anthony leaving the Nuggets. At first I wasn't sure whether he was going to bite my head off or start crying. I guess the first inkling that Carmelo wanted to leave may have been ignited at his wedding this summer when Chris Paul made a toast and suggesting he would like to be united in New York with Amare and Melo. Well that doesn't seem like its going to happen but there are some strong rumours that he will be traded to the Nets. The Nets really? Do you think that will be a chance for Melo to win a championship in the near future? Prob not but he can get them to the finals next year prob in a weaker east conference. And he will be closer to NYC (the Nets are moving to Brooklyn in 2 years ) so his famous wife Lala Vazquez will be happy. Added to the fact that two have of his famous draft class mates Lebron James and Dwayne Wade have had a lot of attention this off season and a move to high profile NYC can help get him back to the spot light. Whichever way you look at it the move is not about winning or money, it's about attention that others are stealing from him. Denver and the the fans need him more but he needs attention even more. Sound familiar?

Chris Paul saying all the right things

After a summer of discontent for Chris Paul and rumours of him getting traded he is saying all the right things now that he is still with the Hornets and training camp is about to begin. He seems a long way from July when he made a wedding toast about the possibility of him joining Amare Stoudemire and possibly Carmelo at the NY Knicks. Will he really be happy in New Orelans? If the Hornets start to lose will he change his tune? Here are some quotes from an article on

"I'm happy, and I'm ready to play, '' said Paul, who has two years remaining on his contract before he can opt out and become a free agent. "Trevor is a great addition, and we are definitely more athletic with the guys coming in. Trevor is a great addition. He plays with the same passion and energy that I do. He just wants to win.'' (Hornets brought in Trevor Ariza this off season)

"Of course, we want to play fast, but we have to see if that's possible, '' Paul said. "I know coach says he wants to play fast. I want to play fast, but at the same time, you can't play fast and have a team that plays slow.''

"I think this summer I got an opportunity to see a lot of people's true colors, '' Paul said. "You see everything said and written about you, but my biggest thing is that I haven't changed. I'm the same person."

Click here for the whole story

Get ready Boston for the Shaquille O'Neal Show

This morning as I was driving to work I heard Dennis and Callahan talking to Shaq on WEEI. It's amazing how little you really know about pro sports guys until you they actually play for a team in your town and then they come under the microscope of the local papers and the local radio stations. I always that of Shaq as a pretty selfish guy on the way out, getting slow. Some of those points may be true but one thing is for certain its going to be entertaining this year with Shaq on the Celtics. In his interview this morning he was witty, pretty funny, very frank and even sounds honest. I would love to hear from Lakers or Heat fans about him. He said he never drinks because he is the son of a drill sergeant, he wants to finish his doctorate, he still wants to be a sheriff and he wants to do whatever it takes to help the Celtics to win.

Quite a variety of topics!

George Blanda, Brett Favre kindred spirits, playing football in their 40s

George Blanda, Brett Favre kindred spirits, playing football in their 40s

Norv Turner tells Crayton to shut his mouth

In the off season the Cowboys were loaded with wide receivers (including drafting Dez Bryant) so they shipped Patrick Crayton to San Diego for a 7th round pick in 2011 (pretty embarassing huh?)

On his way out he made this comment (from The Dallas Morning News):
"Content? no. I don't know anyone that's content, going into their seventh year, with being a No. 4 guy after you've been a starter in this league. That doesn't sit well with any vet or true competitor."

Now he took it upon himself to call out the Chargers' special teams by saying that the speical teams coach has a right to be unhappy.

I love the comment from Norv Turner about Crayton:
"Patrick is new to our organization," Turner said on Monday. "And I don't think you'll hear any other comments about it from Patrick. He knows now that the way we handle things is in-house."

Whole story here

Are the Chiefs for real?

Came across a very interesting article by Chase Stuart of the Ny Times (see link at end for whole article). A brief summary of the article is as follows.

A total of 108 teams, including three this year, have started 3-0 since 1990. But the Chiefs are just the sixth team to do so after winning no more than four games the season before (last year the Chiefs were 4-12).

In Stuart's article he points out the fates of the other 5 teams:

2006 Saints - after going 3-13 in 2005 the next year they went 10-6, got to the NFC championship game and then three years later went to the Super Bowl

2002 Panthers - Carolina was dismal in 2001 when they went 1-15 but in 2002 they improved to 7-9 and then in 2003 they went to the NFC Championship game

2001 Chargers - Chargers are one exception they went 1-15 in 2000 (with Ryan Leaf) then started 3-0 the next year but ended up 5-11 but they got LT in the draft

1999 Rams - After a 4-12 season in 1998 the Rams assembled the Greatest Show in Turf and in 1999 won the Super Bowl

1995 Rams - 4-12 in 1994 ended up 7-9 in 1995

Check out the whole article (highly recommended here)

After 3 games three NFL teams are starting from scratch

The stats are quite striking - if you start 0-3 there is very little chance you make the playoffs (not sure what the stat is exactly but I know 0-2 it is 13%). Three teams have already made drastic changes to their teams in an attempt to salvage something from this season.

San Francisco : fires OC Jimmy Raye a day after he got a vote of confidence from Coach Mike Singletary
Buffalo : releases 3rd year QB Trent Edwards
Carolina : starts rookie QB Jimmy Clausen

Here's a quote from Carolina coach John Fox "We are what we are, and that's what I'm trying to change so we're not that." (LA Times)

Check out the article in the LA Times here

Roy Williams claims Michael Irvin's comments took him to another level

So a couple of weeks ago Michael Irvin made a commen that having Roy Williams on the Dallas offense was like playing with 10 v 11. Last weekend he scored 2 touchdowns and the Cowboys won. In a recent interview Williams claimed that Irwin's comments fired him up and "If anything, Michael Irvin picked me up a little bit with the 10-on-11 comment. That really ticked me off and that’s taken me to another level. My thing is just be consistent, don’t worry about what everybody else says and just do my job.”

My question is why does it take some stupid comment by Irvin to fire up Roy Williams. You would think the mere fact they drafted Dez Bryant and he is getting some serious action would be enought to fire him up right?

Here is the whole interview click here