Tuesday, July 31, 2007

It's the Context, Stupid

You don't have to like Barry Bonds, but J.C. Bradbury explains why you should base your hatred of him on something other than his home runs:

There is no doubt that some players have used steroids and increased their power because of them, but the fact that the home runs haven't gone away with testing seems to indicate that other factors are probably more responsible for the league-wide home-run surge.

What could have caused the increase in home runs? A likely culprit is expansion. Major League Baseball expanded by two teams in 1993 (Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins) and two more teams in 1998 (Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays). Expansion flooded the league with pitchers who were previously not major league quality players, thus providing more opportunities for sluggers such as Bonds to exploit weak pitching. Since the initial expansion, the league has averaged 2.12 home runs per game, compared to 1.58 home runs per game averaged over the preceding 15 years—an increase of 34 percent.

Bradbury, as others before him, also cites smaller parks and changes in equipment. In light of all of this, why steroids dominates the home run conversation while the multi-faceted change in context continues to be ignored is beyond me.


Starge said...

Because the MSM that you deride above is driving the conversation. Blogs like yours will win the day eventually. Keep it up!

Don K said...

Go back to Bill James' "Historical Abstract" and you'll see a variety of reasons for the power surge: ballparks, weight training (unrelated to steroids, which weren't even in the conversation then), ballparks, the addition of Denver, small strike zones. He dismissed expansion, noting that adding more teams brought in weak hitters as well as weak pitchers.

The biggest change from when I was growing up (60s-70s) is the ability of hitters to drive the ball for power. How many of us were told never to try to drive pitches to right - just put the bat on them. Not any more. Hitters are bigger and stronger, and they're more than willing to drive the ball the other way. Mike Piazza is the poster child for this - his power to RF and RCF was incredible.

No one has quantified whatever benefits PEDs might have. Until that happens, it's all speculation.