MLB And MLBPA Release 2013 Report On PED Testing

Yesterday, MLB and the MLB Player's Association released the 2013 public report on the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program (commonly referred to as the JDA). The report was compiled by Dr. Jeffrey M. Anderson, the Independent Program Administrator.

The report addresses drug testing over the period between the start of the 2012-13 off-season and the end of the 2013 post-season. A total of 5,391 drug tests were conducted, 4,022 of which were urine samples analyzed for PEDs and/or stimulants. The remaining 1,369 instances were blood samples tested for human growth hormone (hGH).

Of the samples analyzed, eight resulted in "an adverse analytical finding that resulted in discipline," all of which were for the stimulants Adderall or Methylhexaneamine. The report also notes thirteen "non-analytical positives" that resulted in discipline. In addition, the league granted 122 therapeutic use exemptions, the vast majority of which were for Attention Deficit Disorder.

Comparison to last year's report shows marginal increases in overall testing numbers. In 2012, there were 5,136 samples taken, 3,955 of which were urine tests and 1,181 of which were for blood. That means that, along with 67 more of the former, there were an additional 188 instances of blood testing this time around. Therapeutic use exemptions remained relatively constant. The most interesting fact, perhaps, is that no positive PED tests were identified, down from seven last year. Instead, this time around, we saw the thirteen suspensions based upon Biogenesis-related investigation rather than testing. 

Of course, the JDA provides careful parameters for testing. Every player is subject to a urine test upon reporting to Spring Training and is subject to an additional random urine test at some point between the commencement of Spring Training and the end of the championship season (i.e., the conclusion of the regular season). The JDA allows 1,400 additional random tests, 200 of which were allowed to be performed during the off-season in the 2012-13 testing period. As for blood testing for hGH, every player must provide a sample at an unannounced point during Spring Training and a sample can also be taken in conjunction with an off-season urine test. The JDA also provides for further testing based upon reasonable cause as well as follow-up testing for disciplined players.

In large part, of course, the figures released yesterday confirm that the testing program took the form that the JDA contemplated. Last year, about 4.5 tests were performed for each of MLB's 1,200 available roster spots. (Of course, roster spots aren't always all full, and a good number of players cycle through them in a given season.)

But a good portion of the testing is not truly unpredictable, as it takes place at the start of or during the six-week Spring Training period. Assuming that the MLB testing figures reflect a relatively low number of reasonable cause and follow-up tests, something in the vicinity of 3,000 tests were essentially random. With about 320 non-Spring Training days on which those tests could theoretically have fallen, and 1,200 MLB roster spots available on a given day, the percentage of "player-days" that see some kind of surprise PED test is a comfortable bit less than 1%. 

Depending upon how baseball plans to implement and report its in-season hGH testing program, those testing rates stand to remain essentially constant through the life of the current JDA, which expires on December 1, 2016. So, is that sufficient, at least for the time being? 

As MLB COO Rob Manfred has explained, the frequency and randomness of testing is critical. Discussing minor league testing back in 2010, he said: 

"We not only incrased the number of tests conducted this year in the [Dominican Republic], but significantly altered the pattern of testing. And, whenever we do that, we get a spike. Major League, Minor League, in the DR, whenever we change the pattern so that it's not predictable, we get a spike."  

These old-but-illuminating comments are especially interesting in light of the fact that the testing system registered no PED hits this season after logging seven in 2012. It would seem naive to assume that the shift reflects a sudden and drastic reduction in PED use. But if it instead constitutes a step back for testing efficacy, what is the solution? Unless a numerical increase in tests can be negotiated, Manfred's past statement indicates that the league may need to get creative with its process to ensure that baseball's PED testing protocol adequately supports its disincentive system.

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