Thursday, May 29, 2008

Steroids Game Theory

An economist/blogger looks at the incentives at play in the banning of steroids. I disagree with him when he says that low scoring games are boring, but he's probably right about the owners and the players coming to the steroids crackdown reluctantly. And, as Pete Toms noted when he shot me the link, the notion the the NFL has "banned" steroids in anything other than a nominal way is pretty laughable.

(thanks to Pete Toms for the link)


Pete Toms said...

I like lower scoring as well and I suspect most readers of this site do also. Having said that, many have made the case these past few years linking increased attendance with increased HR / run scoring. The Big Mac / Sammy show getting a lot of credit for helping fans overlook labor troubles....I don't think it's that straightforward, I think the HOK / retro stadiums were the single biggest factor in record attendance. A commentor on the piece you linked makes the point that the Yankees renaissance during the 90's also helped ( no doubt ).

Anyway, some interesting questions. HR are down, is it because there is less juice in the game? As this economist argues, if increased HR are responsible for record attendance will attendance decrease along with HR?

Does anybody know if HR are down in the minors? Many ( don't know the stats and yes there are more of them in the aggregate ) more minor leaguers have been punished for PED use than major leaguers so it stands to reason that if juice = HR there should be a decline in those leagues as well.

Goin golfin.

Mark Runsvold said...

The MLB home run rate jumped up .6% from '92 to '93 and again from '93 to '94. From then through the 2000 season, the rate increased gradually before starting to slide as it continues to do. It's not like a bunch of players started juicing out of nowhere in each of those two off-seasons. A better explanation is that expansion (and then another expansion in 1998) combined with some sort of change in the ball conspired to make home runs easier to hit almost overnight. You think there were really 100 more Major League-quality players available in '98 then there were in '92? Not likely. Hitters were teeing off on inferior competition and it was fun while it lasted.

Steroids have almost certainly been around baseball to some extent since the 70s. So conflating steroid use with the increase in home runs is tempting, but just doesn't wash.

Also, the drop in home runs this year isn't much of a drop when you consider the effects of early-season cold weather.

Justin Zeth said...

I don't mind higher scoring; in fact, I think a 7-5 game is more interesting than a 2-1 game, in a vacuum. The boredom problem with baseball is that the games take too long to play and involve too much standing around. The game needs more running, less standing, which means more balls in play and fewer walks, strikeouts and home runs.

What most people don't seem to understand is that it would be relatively easy to decrease home runs a bit while not decreasing scoring.

Mark Runsvold said...

I'm of the opinion that a person who doesn't like the standing around in baseball doesn't really like the game. Maybe that's not fair, but trying to have the ball in play constantly just doesn't jibe with my idea of what makes the game great.

Justin Zeth said...

And I'm of the opinion--and I'm saying this as a lifelong baseball fanatic, not some "baseball is BO-ring, the NFL is soooo much cooler" twit--that if you like watching guys stand around, pull off the highway and watch a construction crew. Baseball players are athletes, and we're here to watch them use their brains and do athletic things.

Mark Runsvold said...

I guess what I'd like to know is: where specifically do you think baseball should eliminate standing around? If, as I gathered from your first comment, you think there should be more stealing, more swinging at the first pitch, more hit-and-runs, etc, then I just disagree. More walks, longer at-bats, home runs and that sort of thing are vastly superior at achieving the goal of outscoring your opponent. It doesn't excite me to see a lineup full of Juan Pierres that slap everything into the dirt and try to beat out infield singles. It's just stupid baseball, which is precisely why those strategies are increasingly disused.

If superior strategy results in more standing around, so be it. The Mariners put the ball in play early in every a.b., and I don't see anyone flocking to see them lose 100 games this year.

Justin Zeth said...

I'm not really talking about strategy, Mark, but rather the conditions of the game.

Two separate categories here. The first and vastly more important category includes the following rule changes I would like to see, which deal with players and managers stopping play for strategic reasons that conflict with the excitement value of the game itself:

1. Once the batter has stepped into the box, he his not permitted to leave it until the at-bat has concluded except in unusual cases (broken bat, injury, etc.) Or more simply, he can leave the box if he feels like, but the pitcher doesn't have to wait for him to return to it to pitch. Time will not be called for him at his whim.

2. A pitcher can throw to a base without actually picking off the runner two times per inning. Each unsuccessful pickoff attempt after that is counted as a ball.

3. A pitching coach is allowed to visit the mound once per game, period, or really, just say each team is allowed one timeout per game. No more of this constant give-the-reliever-time-to-warm-up stuff.

4. A pitcher that starts an inning, or comes in during an inning, may not be removed from the game until he has given up at least one run, chargeable to him, in the inning.

That's the first kind of stuff, which really is obvious stuff to me. I don't think many baseball fans go to the park to sit through eight pitching changes in the last two innings.


And the second, more radical category, has to do with changing the way the game is played, somewhat. This is mostly me agreeing with what Bill James advocated in the NHBA.

1. Make the bat handles thicker. Effect: Less bat speed, leading to fewer home runs and fewer strikeouts.

2. Stop ejecting pitchers for hitting batters except for in extreme circumstances, and absolutely forbid the use of body armor (shin/foot guards are still OK, but nothing on the upper body). Effect: Hitters can't crowd the plate with impunity. Effect: Decreases home runs, because hitters can't stand on the plate and drive the outside pitch.

Really, just those two things would get the job done. Changing the bats would, by itself, make baseball a more exciting game (more balls in play. Most exciting baseball plays happen when the ball is in play.)