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Friday, March 25, 2005

Off the (Baseball) Stupidity Scale

A lot of stupid assertions have been made over the years by baseball writers and commentators. Until today, I thought that Joe Morgan's continued insistence a couple of years ago that Billy Beane wrote Moneyball was about the height of stupidity. I'd rate that episode as about a 20 on a stupidity scale of 1 -10. I guess Morgan's is still the worst, but this assertion by L.A. Times writer Bill Plaschke in response to an AP survey of 155 Hall of Fame voters has got to have the needle quivering at 19:
``I will not vote for Mark McGwire,'' Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times said. ``It's obvious from his own statements he used some form of performance-enhancing drugs and it's obvious from his statistics he did not become a Hall of Fame-type player until he did so.''
All I can say on McGwire's statements about steroids, etc., is that he seems to be following the advice of his lawyers. That's probably a smart thing to do when confronted by witch hunters.

However, Plaschke's assertion that it's obvious from McGwire's statistics that he did not become a Hall of Fame-type player until he [allegedly] began using steroids is absolutely ridiculous and immediately refutable by a quick look at the facts. The facts in this case are McGwire's career statistics, including his minor league stats.

There is no way to prove from those statistics that at a certain point in his career McGwire began using steroids, because even as a minor leaguer his two key abilities, patience and power, were present in spades. Is Plaschke looking at stats I can't see? Because all I can see from the stats I've seen is that if McGwire used steroids it began before his minor league days.

McGwire hit 49 home runs in his rookie year at the age of 23.

Think about that: 23 years old, 49 home runs off major league pitching.

Yeah, that happens every day. It don't take a special player, a Hall of Fame-type player, to do that. No sir. Nope.

Looking at McGwire's career in the context of the offensive environments in which he played (which can be found by scrolling down his Baseball-Reference page to the Special Batting section), all we can say is that through his career his offensive stats kept pace with the inflating offensive stats of major league baseball. So what looks like a power spike in McGwire's career in his early to mid-30's is balanced by a coinciding power spike in overall MLB offense in the mid-90's to early 2000's.

Complicating any effort to separate out a performance-enhancing substance-driven late career surge for McGwire is another fact: baseball players, as a group, tend to increase both power and patience at the plate in their '30's. Yes, power and patience, McGwire's two outstanding abilities throughout his career, tend to increase with age.

I'm not saying that McGwire never used any substance that is alleged to enhance performance. I'm saying that Bill Plaschke is a complete and utter idiot for asserting that McGwire's statistics prove he used something, anything, to enhance his hitting.


6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well said John. As you know I'm not a big McGwire fan but the recent talk of him not being a HoF'er are ridiculous. As you pointed out when you look at the facts you can't help but give him credit for being one of the best hitters of his era.

What I've been wondering is whether or not there was any evidence or talk of why the entire league had a huge power surge.

dylan miller

MackJohnny said...

I don't think there's any one answer to the overall offensive inflation. But the following factors have probably all had some effect:

Expansion happened a couple of times in the 90's. There may have been some dilution of overall pitching talent, at least briefly.

Colorado: both Mile High Stadium and Coors Field qualify as really extreme hitters parks, so there's been inflation happening since the Rockies were formed in 1993.

The BallPark at Arlington opened in 1994. Since then, it's played as neutral park 3 times, a pitcher's park once, and every other year it's been a hitter's park tending toward extreme.

In the mid-to-late '90's Jacobs Field had a 6 year run as a hitter's park. That doesn't really tell as much, though, as the Cleveland team of those years was stocked with power bats.

With the exception of 1996, when for some reason it was a pitcher's park, Kaufman Stadium played as hitter's park tending toward extreme from 1992 to 2003.

Bank One Ballpark in Arizona played as a pitcher's park in 1999. Every other year since it opened in 1998, it's been a hitter's park tending toward extreme.

In the wake of the player's strike in 1994, MLB actively encouraged offense ("Chicks dig the long ball." Remember that slogan?) to try and get fans out to the parks. I haven't sat down to compile the overall strikeout numbers, but I suspect that we'd see a rise in them as a result of more players swinging for the fences more often.

There's a possibility that MLB ordered that the interiors of baseballs be wound tighter, resulting in balls coming off bats faster and travelling further. I think juicing the baseball is a much more effective and certain way to increase offense than juicing a player.

Anonymous said...

"There's a possibility that MLB ordered that the interiors of baseballs be wound tighter, resulting in balls coming off bats faster and travelling further. I think juicing the baseball is a much more effective and certain way to increase offense than juicing a player."

I guess that is what I was getting at. I seem to recall hearing something about "juiced" baseballs at the time and wondered if there was any evidence of that having happened. Because you'd think that in light of the current steroid talks that if MLB was using a "juiced" ball they might want to reveal that. Then again I always thought that steroids were probably better for pitcher's than any other player. We keep hearing how they are used for recovery and to repair muscles and that seems to be far better for pitchers than anyone else.

dylan miller

Gazetteer said...

Oakland Alameda County Coliseum, hometeam BP, circa 1992.....

...don't think I've ever been as awed by the power of the slugger then when sitting out in the left field bleachers watching McGwire and Canseco taking turns in the cage to bash the crap out of balls that consistently went flying over my head on their way to the concourse 15 rows up.

It was way better than most of the games (although there were some great ones that summer).

MackJohnny said...

Goosebumps. You gave me goosebumps, Ross.

Gazetteer said...

Me, I've still got goosebumps on goosebumps.....