There is No Juiced Ball, No Steroid Era

Unearned runs have been on the decline.

Baseball does not change.

Yes, the rules change; the bats change; the fields, the uniforms and the broadcasts change. The pitchers throw differently, and the hitters don’t swing the same. The gloves have changed shape, and the umpires call the games in a new way.

But, since 1871–since before 1871–the ancient Spirit of Pitchers has sat in the same spot, unmoving, across from the timeless Spirit of Batters, and they have played their unending game of chess in the exact same way, no change.

Consider Washington D.C.’s mild afternoon on April 10, 1928.

Bill Regan steps to the plate with two runners on base. It is Opening Day. The crowd, crowned with derbies and garnished with handlebars, rises to its feet. The 5-foot-10 second baseman is about to have his best season ever, at one point hitting two home runs in a single inning–the lone Red Sox player to perform that feet until Ellis Burks repeats it 61 years later. But today, a clear day in the nation’s capital, he won’t have any homers.

The towering 6-foot-1 Milt Gaston–pitching against his brother-in-law, Red Sox starting pitcher Danny MacFayden–delivers the pitch, and Regan slaps it into play and begins a mad dash around the diamond, clearing the bases with a roaring triple.

The first game of the 1928 season ends 7-5, Red Sox over Senators, and–more appropriately–with a tally of one triple and zero home runs. The 1928 season is the final season in baseball history in which hitters were considerably more likely to hit triples than homers. In 1931, triples would have a final gasp–1,070 triples against 1,069 homers–but from then on, the four siblings would now be ordered: singles, doubles, homers, then triples.

Singles and triples have been on steady decline as homers tick upwards.

What caused the decline in triples? Changes in the rules? Different ballpark dimensions? New approaches to hitting, a new calculus for base running?

The answer: Yes. Yes to those things, and yes to countless other factors.

In 2016, hitters had the lowest rate of triples per at-bat in major league history spanning back to 1871. In 2017, they hit the second-lowest rate of triples. Also in 2017: the lowest rate of singles in baseball history and the highest strikeout rate ever recorded.

While the rate of doubles has fluctuated over the years, homer and triples have taken steady, opposite paths.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

When the baseball world had, oh, let’s say a kind of panic attack about the spike in home run rates starting in 2016, we spent perhaps too little time talking about the massive decline in other outcomes: the placement of triples on the endangered species list and the rapid decline in singles.

The sport of baseball is at its core a 150-year-old war of batters versus pitchers. For the first few decades of the sport, that battle was not explicitly acknowledged; pitchers were supposed to throw hittable pitches and batters could request pitches high or low. But the tension of batter versus pitcher still existed, even in those earliest times. The first paid professional ball player, Jim Creighton, was notorious not just for exploding his abdomen on a gargantuan and ultimately fatal home run swing, but also for reputedly throwing his pitches using a subtle and quite illegal wrist snap in his delivery.

This tug of war between hitters and pitchers had its biggest early gains and losses in the rule book: Pitchers eventually were allowed to snap their wrists during throws (1872) and then eventually throw overhand (1883). Then batters were no longer allowed to call for high or low pitches (1887), and the bats couldn’t be flat on one side, and the pitcher’s mound was moved back 10 more feet (1893).

Most of these changes helped the pitchers and wrangled out-of-control scoring into a more manageable pace.

As the rules of the game evolved, the run-scoring rates per team went from over eight runs per game to the modern four runs per game.

The next stage of the war took place in the ballparks. In 1925, Major League Baseball league determined the minimum home run distance to be 250 feet. In 1959, the minimum dimensions become more specifically 325-400-325 in the left-center-right fields. Each of these shifts–and the ongoing tweaks to ballpark design, from foul ground size to wall height to playing surfaces–have altered the interactions between pitcher and hitter, emphasized different abilities and talents, changed the nature of the unending war.

Technology and sports medicine became another battlefield. New fitness regimes altered the way players prepared for games and seasons. Weightlifting and calisthenics went from out of fashion to recommended to mandatory. Pitch counts and bullpens began to maximize pitchers’ physical output. Specially designed pitching machines helped players identify pitches by spin. Motion tracking tech gave hitters a chance to study their swing patterns.

Racial integration; performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) such as cocaine, greenies (amphetamines) and steroids; the influx of international players–these are forces that impacted both sides of the battle by possibly equal measures. The so-called “Steroid Era” is notorious for home runs, high ERAs and batters dominating pitchers. The flaw in this narrative, however, is the slew of pitchers who have admitted or been strongly suspected of steroid use.

If increased strength gave hitters such a decisive advantage, then why did pitchers continue to dope? If pitchers throwing hard led to more home runs, then why in the mini-Dead Ball trough of 2010 to 2015 were home runs scarce and pitches faster than ever? And more importantly, why are there more home runs and almost just as high ERAs now, in an era ostensibly not marred by rampant PED use? Has the modern batter found his way around PED testing or some other advantage in a way that affects him more than it affects pitchers?

In the peak of the Steroid Era, the 2000 season, the major league run average (RA9) was 5.20, and in 2017 it was 4.77. This is noteworthy because that same pairing of seasons when examined in ERA (4.77 in 2000 and 4.36 in 2017) has a narrower gap. When we ignore runs scored with the assistance of sloppy defense, the Steroid Era looks much closer to our modern run environment. In fact, since the peak of the Steroid Era, the gap between ERA and RA9 has been ever-narrowing. The narrowing distance between Run (R) rates and Earned Run (ER) rates help illustrate this change. The Steroid Era could just as easily have been called the “( ಠ ʖ̯ ಠ) Defense Era.”

Apparently guys like Manny Ramirez weren’t the best fielders.

Transport a modern Yankee into 1922; let’s take Brett Gardner and stuff him in a time machine. He now faces 80-mph pitches and a defense wearing essentially oven mitts. He must trade in his 33-inch, 30.5-ounce Mizuno Pro for a 35-inch, 40-ounce bat with a thicker handle–and defend a strike zone that goes all the way to tops of his shoulders. He now calls the 279-483-253 insanity that is the Polo Grounds home field. What happens to his offensive output as he faces in-shoots, spitballs and scuffed and torn leather spheroids that resembled baseballs five innings earlier? We have asked him to play an almost entirely different sport, even though Gardner himself is considered by many to be a throwback type of player.

Bring my favorite classic player–Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown–into the modern Cubs rotation and what happens? He is no longer impressive with his upper-80s fastball; his hard-snapping curveball, suspected by some to be the first split-finger fastball, is quite possibly no longer a novelty; and what’s more: The ball isn’t made of horse hide anymore (and is much more lively), center field is 160 feet closer, and the mound is five inches lower.

The 5-foot-10 pitcher might struggle to find the smaller strike zone, and with “neighborhood plays” at second base gone in favor of the cold scrutiny of instant replay, as well as a fresh, not-scuffed baseball in hand for each pitch, his curveball certainly will induce fewer double plays – even if he brings Tinker, Evers and Chance with him.

The hitters he faces are infinitely more willing to strike out, not content with choking up two inches and weakly hitting the ball into play in a pitcher’s count. Moreover, the calisthenics routine that may well have given him a critical edge in fitness in 1908 now barely qualifies as a warmup routine. But with modern workout routines and medicine, with a bullpen allowing him to throw harder through seven innings over five days, and with modern analytics giving him data on each batter in the lineup, and fewer hitters seeing him multiple times in a single season, much of his old job might now feel easier.

All of this is to say: The inner game of baseball, the tug-of-war battle between pitchers and batters, continues to reshape the game and redefine success. With each new era, little in the true nature of the game changes. And when I step back and examine this meta tension and look at the trends of the data, I am less inclined to believe juiced-ball theories or Steroid Era narratives.

Consider the National Football League. The strategy conversation over the last decade has focused around this common notion: “It is a passing league now.”

What made this sport, which was roughly based on rugby–a sport without a forward pass at all–become a game almost entirely focused on throwing the ball to a receiver down the field? The answer is fairly straightforward in football, so it makes it an easy example for this more complicated evolution process in baseball. In the NFL, rampant injuries encouraged first the legalization of passing and then the subsequent hyper regulation of tackling passers and pass catchers. But through all of this, from World War II to today, the average score in the NFL has remained about 20 points per team per game.

In the earliest days of football, back when it was primarily a collegiate sport, frequent on-field fatalities–yes, fatalities–caused then-President Teddy Roosevelt to intervene and demand colleges legalize the forward pass or risk the fury of his bully pulpit. At first, incomplete passes resulted in turnovers, then eventually that was softened to penalties, and then finally a loss of down (as it is today).

Injuries to quarterbacks like Joe Namath, Joe Theismann, Michael Vick and Ben Roethlisberger have resulted in a gradual overhaul to what is considered an acceptable tackle of a quarterback, such that now pass rushers may only aim for the space between the shoulders and thighs and cannot make hard contact with the quarterback after he releases the ball. The quarterback is also given protections when he runs, unlike running backs or wide receivers. And pass targets–once the object of brutal hits from linebackers and safeties–have received protection in the form of when and how they can be hit, touched or bumped. The advent of the pass interference penalty in 1978 irrevocably bent the game in favor of passing offenses over running offenses.

Per game touchdown rates shifted radically and definitively towards passing touchdowns since the 1970s.

This evolution within football was gradual and traceable. Within baseball, it is more difficult to trace, in part because the end points have not been as distinct. Preventing a defensive back from holding a receiver’s jersey helps all receivers universally because their object is to create separation between themselves and the defenders. But changing the dimensions of the Safeco walls does not necessarily increase Ichiro Suzuki’s home run output in 2012; in fact, it may have negatively impacted his ability to hit triples. It might help a fringe power hitter like Michael Saunders eke out a few more homers, but then it hurts speedsters like Chone Figgins and Suzuki from stretching a line drive into an extra-base hit.

In football, every wide receiver’s job is to get open and catch a ball. In baseball, successful hitters can thrive on walks and singles, drag bunts and slap hits, or doubles and homers.

Likewise, the advent of PITCHf/x as a tool for critiquing umpires may have bred a new hitting approach among hitters who once played more aggressively given the uncertainty of the ball-strike call. Coinciding with the fly-ball hitters’ revolution: the rapid decline in sinker usage. It was just a few short years ago the Cardinals seemed to have found that teaching mid-level starters a sinker or two-seam grip could turn them into All-Stars. Now, the groundball revolution that helped pitchers may have turned into the flyball revolution that increased major league power again and killed the seeing-eye single.

Perhaps as a reaction to the fly ball revolution, pitchers have steered away from sinkers.

League-wide sinker usage in 2016 and 2017, as defined by the Pitch Info identification algorithms, took its first dip beneath 20 percent. The sinking fastball is rapidly becoming a less important pitch than the slider.

I believe part of what we are seeing in the recent flyball and home run uptick (and singles and triples downtick) is a function of both evolving pitcher-batter strategies and external influences, such as owners preferring hitters’ parks over pitchers’ parks. And if the change in run environment is a function of evolving strategies, that means it is likely to change in the coming years.

In world of baseball fandom and in the subculture of baseball analytics, we sometimes have a tendency to get caught up in the micro changes in the league. When managers began using the Ted Williams shift on non-Ted Williams players in the early 2010s, it appeared the offensive depression would be the new normal, the future ad infinitum. But when hitters realized that the decreased value of ground balls made fly balls more valuable, the major leagues reoriented toward higher run scoring.

In some senses, yes, this is a “there is no spoon” argument. I am not presenting an engineering argument against the juiced-ball theory. I am not really even attempting to conclusively prove anything about juiced balls. But I am rather attempting to caution us to avoid headlines like this:

Or bold claims like (now former) San Francisco Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti has figured out how to beat FIP. Because it might turn out to be a matter of changing park factors moreso than a revolution in coaching. Or maybe it was an adjustment to pitch sequencing combined with park factors?

But the truth is, through all of this, baseball abides.

References & Resources

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5 years ago

Were derbies and handlebar mustaches still in style in 1928? I thought that went out after the Victorian era ended. There would have been lots of fedoras in the crowd, though.

5 years ago

Referring to it as the “( ಠ ʖ̯ ಠ) Defense Era” rather than the “steroid era” is bad analysis. It’s not that the run environment going up was mostly driven by unearned runs going up, it’s that steroids had the effect to make both more runs go up and make the position players less adept to play the field. In turn, once steroid testing punishments were implemented in 2005 (Defensive efficiency went higher that year btw) teams realized that the sluggers were no longer as prevalent and had to acquire lighter hitters that made up for it with their gloves. This also had compounding effects like steroids did, just in the opposite direction. The Sam Fulds of the world hit less and took away hits with their better fielding.

Dave T
5 years ago

“In the peak of the Steroid Era, the 2000 season, the major league run average (RA9) was 5.20, and in 2017 it was 4.77. This is noteworthy because that same pairing of seasons when examined in ERA (4.77 in 2000 and 4.36 in 2017) has a narrower gap. When we ignore runs scored with the assistance of sloppy defense, the Steroid Era looks much closer to our modern run environment.”

The last conclusion is not at all backed up by the statistics that the author cites. The drop in RA9 between 2010 and 2017 was 0.43. The drop in ERA was 0.41. So the drop in ERA accounts for fully 95% of the decline in RA9, with the decline in unearned runs accounting for only 5% of the change.

Even that calculation probably overstates the change, however. We would also expect, other things being equal, that there would be more total unearned runs in an era with more total overall runs scored. In 2000, unearned runs accounted for 8.3% of total runs scored (0.43 divided by 5.20). In 2017, unearned runs accounted for 8.6% of total runs scored (0.41 divided by 4.77).

These statistics hardly make the Steroid Era look “much closer to our modern run environment” when “we ignore runs scored with the assistance of sloppy defense”. In fact, either of these statistics says that “sloppy defense” accounts for basically none of the difference in run scoring between 2000 and 2017.

Maybe the author would modify his argument to say that we see the impact of better defense (including more advanced defensive positioning, such as shifts) in a defensive measure other than the subjective metric of officially scored errors. A huge problem with such an argument, however, is that total league BABIP in 2017 (.300) was exactly the same as it was in 2000. (,ss&rost=0&age=0&filter=&players=0&sort=1,d ).

If we limit the analysis just to non-pitchers, there has been only a negligible change to BABIP, which was .301 for non-pitchers in 2017 and .302 for non-pitchers in 2000 (,ss&rost=0&age=0&filter=&players=0&sort=1,d ).

5 years ago

Brad, yes, pitchers juiced, too, and at least some of them, like Clemens, benefited. But we don’t know that, on average, the benefits of juicing for pitchers were equal to those for hitters. Juicing for pitchers allows them to throw the ball faster/harder (same for NFL QBs, by the way). I don’t think there is a PED that increases spin or movement, though, or increases the gap between speeds of different pitches, or which allows a pitcher more effectively to mask which pitch he’s throwing. So while increased velocity, other things being equal, is a plus, PEDs don’t obviously improve the entire repertoire of a pitcher.

In contrast, we know that PEDs don’t just increase power for hitters. They increase frequency and quality of contact in general. Players have reported this, and it makes sense, because PEDs allow one to get the bat around faster, which means one can hit previously unhittable pitches, or improve contact on pitches one previously hit weakly. While PEDs don’t improve the sensory side of reaction time–the time from seeing the ball to making the decision to swing or not swing–they can improve the motor side, the execution of the decision to swing.

So while we have no way of knowing, it’s plausible that batting has been enhanced more by anabolic agents than pitching. As I noted in another post, there’s bound to be large variability, because players may have different doping programs, and because different players may respond differently even to the same program. But overall, we can at least conceive of an era in which both batters and pitchers have been doping, yet the batters had the upper hand.

Dave T
5 years ago

You’re quoting doubles rates based on PA’s, correct? Do your conclusions about these rates hold if you calculate them based only on balls in play?

Rates of strikeouts, walks, and home runs obviously also fluctuate over time, and we should focus only on balls in play for any analysis that’s trying to describe changes in defense.

Dave T
5 years ago
Reply to  Dave T

I’ll answer my own question since I realized that it’s easy to do with league stats from Fangraphs leaderboards. (,ss&rost=0&age=0&filter=&players=0 )

The doubles rate on balls in play* in 2000 was 6.83%. The doubles rate on balls in play in 2017 was 7.04%. The doubles rate actually went up when we use the correct denominator! So this supposed sign of better defense isn’t in fact there at all once we look only at balls in play.

The triples rate on balls in play did drop between 2000 and 2017, from 0.73% to 0.67%. The combined rate of doubles and triples, however, still increased from 7.57% to 7.70% because the rate of doubles increased by more than the decline in the rate of triples.

Plate appearances is a flawed measure for the denominator because the percent of PA’s ending with a ball in play (excluding sacrifices and sacrifice flies) declined from 68.5% in 2000 to 64.4% in 2017.

* For each year I calculated balls in play as simply AB’s minus strikeouts minus home runs.

5 years ago

This is a straw man argument- I’ve literally never seen anyone attempt to say that steroids or HGH don’t help pitchers.

It is widely proven that steroids and HGH help increase velocity, and HGH in particular increases healing and durability. These PEDs are known to help pitchers throw harder, to throw breaking balls with less lasting damage to arms, and to maintain velocity later in their careers. Since the rampant use of professional-grade PED treatments began in the mid-to-late 80s, large increases in all these factors have been very notable. It is now common for pitchers to touch 100, and strikeout numbers are up just as much as velocity numbers.

Pitchers use PEDs to make millions and for the glory and fame, whereas otherwise their lesser performances could see them fail professionally. This is true regardless of whether the MLB wants to increase runs scored and HRs a bit. MLB prefers, for marketing and revenue purposes, more HRs and a healthy number of runs scored- PEDs are part of an environment that helps accomplish these goals.

This does not in any way make pitcher PED use difficult to figure out, or irrational. It may be the case that PED use slightly favors hitters more than pitchers, or they may similarly benefit- but surely no one who follows baseball can be unaware that (1) MLB went through a period of revenue resurgence, generally credited with saving the game, during the HR boom of the 90s; and (2) steroids and HGH played a huge role in the HR boom of the 90s. Therefore saying that ‘there is no steroid era’ is disingenuous, counterfactual, ‘nothing to see here’ nonsense.

Dave T
5 years ago

“But through all of this, from World War II to today, the average score in the NFL has remained about 20 points per team per game.”

This statement covers up some sizable variations in average scoring in the NFL over this period.*

It is true that average NFL scoring from 1946 to 2016 has averaged 21.0 points per game per team. Here is how that breaks down by decade, including partial decades in the 2010’s and 1940’s:

2011-16 22.8
2001-10 21.3
1991-2000 20.2
1981-90 20.9
1971-80 19.3
1961-70 21.5
1951-60 21.4
1946-50 22.2

Scoring since 2011 is fully 9.0% above the post-WW II average as various rule changes and emphasis (stricter roughing the passer rules, stricter rules regarding various types of punishing hits by defenders) have continued to favor the offense. Scoring since 2011 is 18.1% above the average for the 1970’s, which was a low-scoring decade leading to rule changes in 1978 that were intended to open up the passing game (defender contact with receivers was limited to within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage, and rules for pass-blocking were relaxed to make it easier for offensive lineman)

* All of the data in my comment are from Pro Football Reference,

Dave T
5 years ago

I don’t agree that your point about non-linear scoring is relevant. In fact, to be blunt, I find it to be an illogical canard. An 18% difference is an 18% difference. It would still be essentially the same difference if we changed football scoring to say, for example, that a field goal is 1 point (or 1 “run”) and a touchdown is 2 points (or 2 “runs”).

I agree with you that it can be subjective whether or not we find an 18% difference to be “big”. That difference is, however, bigger than the difference between baseball scoring in 2017 and 2000, which is about a 9% difference.

Roger McDowell Hot Foot
5 years ago

This is profoundly dumb. You realize, indeed you concede repeatedly, that the way the game is played has changed and is changing — but you insist, indeed you foot-stompingly assert repeatedly, that “baseball abides.” Does this assertion even have semantic content at all?

Suppose you’re talking to a fan who enjoys, say, the scrappy running game necessitated by a lot of ground balls and sloppy defense; are you really going to tell that fan they’re not allowed to think the current era will provide them with less entertainment? They’re supposed to just say “baseball abides” and be okay with the change? Shocker: people have opinions about the desirability of given, past and ongoing, changes to the game. And they’re allowed to!

Roger McDowell Hot Foot
5 years ago

“encourage a more macro perspective on the year-to-year changes”

“There is No Juiced Ball, No Steroid Era
by Bradley Woodrum
November 28, 2017

Baseball does not change.”

5 years ago

I strongly agree with this. If anything, the author quite convincingly demonstrates that there have been major changes, and that these tend to correspond with different eras.

My favorite one is the steroid era (which not coincidentally, is where I think most sabermetricians have severe ideological blinders). The evidence that there is no steroid era is that both pitchers and hitters took steroids. So somehow, because more players took steroids, this was less of a steroid era? Wouldn’t that make it *more* of a steroid era?

The author seems to relish arguing that because there is so much change, there must not be any change at all. This is obviously not on the scale of “Slavery is Freedom” but the author is essentially proposing doublethink.

5 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I think you are mischaracterizing the steroid era arguments, and especially neglecting the point I made to you yesterday, which is that there were 2 other trends that substantially favored run scoring in baseball between 1992 and 2005:

4 expansion teams, injecting 50-60 otherwise-not-MLB-caliber pitchers into MLB across all 30 teams (every expansion era has been linked to a rise in offense, and these two were located so close together that the rise from the Rockies/Marlins expansion had not yet declined when the Dbacks/Rays expansion was added to the mix)

The closing of a number of multipurpose stadiums, several of whom shared floorplans, and all of whom were substantially pitcher-leaning, mostly due to gigantic swaths of foul territory leading to additional outs. (Look at, and remember that Busch II, Three Rivers, Philly Veterans Stadium, the Astrodome, just to name a few, all shared similar properties). The replacement parks were all more offensively favorable than the parks they replaced. Further, some parks from this time have since been altered to play more neutrally as the idea of park factors didn’t exist at the time in any numerical fashion. Lastly, this period includes actual Mile High Stadium (a shitshow) and pre-humidor Coors (a lesser shitshow).

The ‘core argument’ isn’t “Pitchers also used steroids”, though it’s certainly true and certainly a factor.

The core argument is that over 50% of the increase in run-scoring during the period identified as the “PED” era is easily attributable to other factors. There is also widespread discussion, though unfortunately no ability to do any good empirical testing at this point, that there may have been changes to the ball. Early in the period in question the manufacture of the ball was changed in a way far more significant than what is alleged to have occurred recently: the balls went from the wool twine being hand-wound around the ball to being machine wound. MLB at the time made the same comments they currently do about being ‘within specifications’, but as we know those specifications are incredibly wide and ball travel distance can vary by as much as 40-50 feet between two balls that are both ‘within’ those specifications.

Its also important to remember that the early PED era overlapped perfectly with the beginning of modern strength training in baseball. Prior to Canseco and McGwire, it was widely felt in baseball circles that one could be ‘too muscular’ and that it would make a player less flexible and effective, and that ‘bodybuilders’ had no place in MLB.

Canseco and McGwire proved otherwise in the late 1980s, and while we know they were both doing things that are now illegal (though many of the things that, at least, McGwire was doing where not YET illegal: see andro), they broke the barrier of modern weight and strength training in baseball. There were certainly people who, like them, added a drug regimen of either then-illegal or then-legal-but-now-illegal substances. There were also people who simply adopted modern athletics training. Baseball was going to get much larger and stronger at that point even if no PEDs were used whatsoever, because it was well demonstrated that there were substantial benefits to players and teams for getting bigger and stronger.

Most teams did not HAVE a strength coach in the 1980s and encouraged their players NOT to use weight rooms. Think about that in the context of modern baseball.

Roger McDowell Hot Foot
5 years ago
Reply to  mikejunt

All of this seems totally reasonable to me. But this is an argument that that era shouldn’t be called “the steroid era” as if that’s meant to monocausally attribute all of its features to The Cream and The Clear (an argument with which, I should say, I entirely agree; let’s just call it the Dinger Era, instead) — and it’s not at all (as the author of this piece would apparently, in his fuzzy-headed way, have it) an argument that there WAS no specific era then, when all those guys hit all those dingers, that had any distinguishing features, because “baseball does not change.”

After all, those guys DID hit all those dingers, specifially, then.

5 years ago
Reply to  mikejunt

I don’t think that’s relevant to what he’s arguing. What he’s arguing is that things don’t change because more things change. This is fundamentally an incorrect way of viewing the world and I cannot believe that myself and RMHF are the only ones calling him out on it. You might as well say that because the earth is revolving around the sun, the sun really revolves around the earth. Because people die, humans are truly immortal. Because my friend is sober, he really does drugs. I’m so alive, I’m really dead. This can go on forever.

On the points you are making…I don’t really know why that matters. What’s the point? If 50% of the “steroid era” was due to things other than steroids, that’s still a lot of steroids mattering. If the point is to try and say that no one got an unfair advantage because of steroids, that is factually incorrect. If you’re trying to say that we can’t pass judgment on the people who took steroids, I would say that’s not an argument you can resolve empirically.

There’s also the question of whether that “over 50%” change is accurate…seriously, regression analysis is lucky to get an R-squared above .3. Anytime you claim to have explained over 50% of the variance just from part of your model is implausible and makes me question what method is being used. But we don’t even have to go there. Even if that number is taken at face value, it doesn’t really matter that much for whatever is important.

Also, when more things are changing that is not evidence that things are not changing. I can’t emphasize that enough.

5 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I wasn’t necessarily commenting on the article’s argument, just on your mischaracterization of my argument in the form of ‘well pitchers used too’ 😛

5 years ago
Reply to  mikejunt

You are simply making up the ‘over 50% of the increased scoring can be attributed to other factors’ line.

Additionally, expansion added lower quality batters to the league just as much as lower quality pitchers. Further, pitcher friendly fields and design changes have also been added in recent decades, although I agree that the trend has been towards offense friendly parks and that this did impact scoring and HR rates- but the ‘over 50%’ number is simply made up.

Again, it is also not true that most teams did not have strength coaches in the 80s, nor did most teams discourage weight training- just made up apologetic nonsense. Modern weight training was nearly universal in MLB since the 1970s, and by 1976 nearly every team had a strength coach.

Your false timeline for modern strength training – and specifically using Canseco and McGuire as the proof of the impact of modern strength training- demonstrates how labored the effort is for the ‘nothing to see on steroids and HGH’ crowd.

Paul G.member
5 years ago

About the PEDs, pitchers were using them because they thought that they received some benefit from them. It does not follow the benefit to the pitchers was equivalent to the benefit to the hitters. If, to throw out numbers that are completely made up, PEDs made pitchers 5% more effective and batters 20% more effective, then PEDs were boosting the offense. I suppose it could be 10%/10% or 15%/5% or some other ratio, but assuming it is a negligible factor without further evidence is not recommended.

Paul G.member
5 years ago

Also, I will say that your larger point that the sport is a game of adjustments is obviously true. If teams are going to make it difficult to hit ground balls for productive results, you will see less ground balls, which is exactly what we are seeing now. People act upon incentives and those that refuse or cannot do so will suffer or will be replaced.

Las Vegas Wildcards
5 years ago

We also have to factor in travel, and playing doubleheaders, when comparing 1922 with today. Modern players are accustomed to traveling in luxury across the country with the best accommodations. Asking them to use trains, and not having elite hotels would be a big deal. And today’s players have complained about having one doubleheader in an indoor stadium. The uproar would be huge over playing multiple doubleheaders in wool uniforms.

Marc Schneider
5 years ago

Back in the day of trains, there was much less travel involved. There were no teams on the West Coast or the south; in fact, the farthest west/south MLB city was St. Louis. So the players didn’t travel as much. And I don’t think train travel in those days was so bad; in a lot of ways, traveling on a train was probably more pleasant and restful that flying cross-country in bad weather, even if flying in essentially first class.

5 years ago

“If increased strength gave hitters such a decisive advantage, then why did pitchers continue to dope? If pitchers throwing hard led to more home runs, then why in the mini-Dead Ball trough of 2010 to 2015 were home runs scarce and pitches faster than ever? And more importantly, why are there more home runs and almost just as high ERAs now, in an era ostensibly not marred by rampant PED use?”

Ha ha ha – author very confused..keep trying! Thanks so much your baseball fanaticism and thanks also for using the word ostensibly for cover!

Is there really any question why Clemens doped? Look at the back of the baseball card – his career over time.

ps. Nice graphs and gratuitous Michael Vick mention.


Good to see some off-season random testing being reported. Understand now 8000 tests under the new agreement, vs 4000 before. Not sure how they count, blood test might be one test and pee test another…good but still easy to game testing if determined (or living outside USA?).

5 years ago

If you had written an article entitled ‘PEDs, steroids and HGH still shown to affect baseball,’ and provided regression analysis related to proven PED use and increase in velocity and HR rates, analyzing known users like Bonds, Clemens, Braun, Gordon, Cabrera, etc., you would likely get a word from your editor.

It simply has always been part of sports journalism to look the other way on these matters.

5 years ago

Nice one brief explanation about juiced ball conspiracies and things.

5 years ago

Managers did not “[begin] to use the Ted Williams shift on non-Ted Williams players in the early 2010s.” I recently watched Game 7 of the 1971 World Series on YouTube, in which the Pirates used an infield shift on all of Boog Powell’s and Ellie Hendricks’s ABs. Their only resemblance to Ted Williams is that they were dead pull hitters.