756: Emails, Bonds and the Steroid Fallacy Part II

April 20, 2006: Email sent to Dr. Norm Fost, Professor at University of Wisconsin.

I want to thank you on your common sense approach on the issue of steroid use in the MLB.

Granted, many disagree whole-heartedly with your viewpoints on the usage, morality (or ethics) and dangers of taking them.

I am not a user, nor in anyway involved in professional sports. I am just a fan and one time player of the National Pasttime. Though I don’t have any medical background or knowledge, I am of the jaded viewpoint that steroids isn’t the primary reason the hallowed numbers of Aaron, Ruth, or name-your-slugger, have been breached (or shortly will be.)

The changes in numerical values of HRs (and Doubles) happened in 1993-94 and continue on to the present.

Offensive explosions have occurred before.

1) 1920-1921: MLB outlawed the spitball (except for 17 pitchers); changed SOP for preparation of baseball prior to games.

2) 1947-1951: HRs increased significant POST-WWII and continued onthroughout the 1950’s.

3) 1987 season: From my young memory (I was 15), I can recall announcers suggesting a change in manufacturing happened in the Rawlings factory location.

Today) 18 new ballparks by only 3 architects; baseball specs & testing possibly changed; modification in ballbats, etc.

I’ve thought of certain tests (though I have only a sparse statistical background from my undergraduate education) that could test ahypothesis I have to the reasons this happened.

1) SPC (Historical numbers that show sudden changes in frequency ofoccurences)

2) 2 or 3-way ANOVA (Team by Team, League, Park Analysis by ERA)

3) Distribution testing I have done some (rough) analysis that could support an alternative viewpoint.

My ultimate question to you is: Do you think it is possible to prove what caused the offensive explosions?

Or is it something less obvious (to me)?

I believe athletes are better today, without question, due to training and enhancements, but it seems odd that more pitchers could not equally benefit from effective usage of steroids, if that was the driving force behind better performances. (Opinion)

I thank you (in advance) for any insights you might have.

April 21, 2006: Dr. Norm Fost response to my email…

You are exactly right and I urge to continue your research on this – i.e., the multiple variables that affect the numbers of home runs. You should consider publishing it in some form in “The American Pastime” the SABR journal (the Society of American Baseball Research), and/or in a popular magazine ( Sports Illustrated; Harper’s; NY Times Magazine etc).

In addition to the factors you mention, the pitching mound is lower; the pitching talent is more diluted (though the increase in non-US players may actually have resulted in an increase in quality pitchers); the strategies are different. And there are factors that make it harder to hit home runs today, so Bonds et al should get more credit (e.g., the increased number of relief pitchers; the expansion of set-up men and hard-throwing closers; perhaps an increase in skilled pitchers due to the dramatic rise in international players).

I heard a reporter say that the number of home runs in Jacobs Field is 50% higher than Municipal Stadium (the Indians former home), but have been unable to track it down. I do not have enough expertise in statistics to answer your technical questions, but a friend here is a world class statistician and big sports fan so perhaps he would be interested in providing some guidance.

The bottom line is that home run records are not comparable for all these reasons, so selecting one of the numerous variables (steroids) as a great moral problem, requiring an asterisk, requires some justification that has never been provided.

If Bonds gets an asterisk, so should Ruth for the short right field fence the Yankees built for him. It would be fascinating just to list the total yardage from home plate to the left and right field foul polls in 2006 vs 1961 (Maris’ year), and 1927. You are the first person I have heard from with some interest and ability to look at this in a scientific way. Keep at it, and keep in touch.

All best,
Norm

June 9, 2006 :Email to various people

http://www.deadspin.com has made a unique connection between Jason Grimsley and Chris Mihlfeld (personal trainer for Albert Pujols.)

Could HGH become the next linkage in the Steroid chain???

Why isn’t anyone caring about Mr. Tony Larussa (Canseco, McGwire, Pujols(possibly)) or Dusty Baker (Sosa and Bonds)?

Certainly have to wonder about them – managers are SUPPOSE to know their players, aren’t they? Nice to see our Virginia farm boys (FBI) are hard at it, trying to get Grimsley to wear a wire to garner information on BONDS. (No witchhunt…there.)

Funny – all of the offense changed in 1994 – the year of the strike. And HAS remained that way since. So, is it steroids or the baseball? Steroids can keep players at top form (for a longer duration), but if the bats are modified (thinner handles and high MPH at swing), balls are smoother and harder (higher coefficient of restitution and less break on pitcher), the strike zone (now monitored) has been reduced and changed, then just how much is the juice helping???

I think that warrants a study…

June 28,2006- Preliminary Analysis of Steroid Issue Email…sent to various Doctors in their respective fields…

As a follow up to my email sent to the both of you several weeks ago, I have compiled some initial findings which could be of interest to fans of baseball, amongst others.

First, I’ll explain my rudimentary process to analysis. I felt that statistical process control could identify patterns of nonrandom variation in the game of baseball, specifically, the ratio of homeruns and doubles (measures of power) to at bats, year to year. As you are aware, in 1919-20, Babe Ruth’s power outburst, Ray Chapman’s unfortunate death in an accidental hits batsmen incident, changes in baseball usage in games and possibly internal modifications to the ball, contributed (as a group) to the huge increase in offense and the end of the ‘dead ball’ era.

By utilizing the years directly prior (1910-1919), I could ‘set boundaries’ at +/-3 s.d. of the average ratio of ((HR+2B)/AB) seen during that era, that further reflects the happy hitting that took place distinctly thereafter and continued on in a way never to be reversed. Applying the offensive similarities seen in THAT era, I applied that forward to the ‘modern game.’

From 1950 to 1985, the ratio of (HRS plus Doubles per At bats) for full time players (more than 150 ABs) was fairly consistent, that is, lying within 3 standard deviations of the overall average of that time frame for both leagues.

The correlation between AL and NL ratios tracked well over 55 years (88.98%), and both league averages and standard deviations seen over 36 years in both leagues are nearly equal. With this seen, I created once again a control chart at for the time frame of 1950-2005. Internal patterns can be seen:

1) 1950-1962 – Offense above the average more consistently, shortly after the strike zone re-definition in 1950 MLB Rules resulted in power surge. The addition of more Black players in NL – and their immense talents – could also be an underlying causation in difference between the two leagues over that time.

2) 1963-1968 – The significant decrease in power production, included the worst year production wise in 1968. This is tied to the broad expansion of the strike zone in 1963.

3) 1976 – In the last year before Rawlings became the sole manufacturer of all MLB balls, offense dipped back to near 1968 levels.

4) 1987 – The best offensive year seen prior to the 1994, YET 1987 did not go above 3 s.d. from the average. (Prior to that, ZERO points fell outside +/-3 s.d.)

5) 1993-1994 – The first STATISTICALLY SIGNIFICANT alteration in the game is clearly visible. Since 1994, NO MLB season has fallen below the +3 s.d. line of the prior generations of hitters from 1950-1985. This to me points to a repeated distinct pattern: that the baseball or some other ‘game related’ modification has been at the heart of the offensive outburst, but not the usage of steroids.

Steroids have improved athletes – I will not argue against that – but it is HIGHLY IMPROBABLE in my humble opinion that all hitters (or say 50 to 60% of hitters) went to the 1993-1994 off season, a year before the cancellation of the World Series, and began a steroid regiment that increased their power statistics by that 3 standard deviations amount in just one year’s time, and has continued EVERY YEAR to the 2006 season.

(In the past, pitchers have ‘adjusted’ to good hitters, eventually.)

Also, since the Steroids are now tested for, why hasn’t offense reverted back to pre-1994 standards or dropped to 1987 levels?

The introduction of 19 new ballparks in the 1990’s-2000’s that undoubtedly utilized computer modeling of the specific weather patterns in regards to the flight of the baseball certainly could attribute to more power statistics. How much is a matter of science and player opinion. (HOK Sport has controlled much of the architecture of the new ballparks built.)

The research of physicist Dr. Adair, who works for MLB as a consultant, is included in the Adobe file. At least some of that research as it pertains to the theory and offense. My statistical analysis is included (in part) but is incomplete. A larger picture I am trying to draw on from numerous baseball sources and individual anecdotes is taking some side avenues that I did not include. But (some) of that is included for entertainment or the connection to the larger work up; most of the PDF file is excerpt of a much larger project.

So, the writing is slightly choppy without the envisioned connectors between relevant ideas.

I thank you for any thoughts you may have.

October 4, 2006 – Email to various doctors

Dear Doctors,

I want to thank you in advance for receiving my emails and hopefully being patient with my writing about a subject with limited ability.

In researching the effects of steroids on baseball performance, I have come to the conclusion that it is a subject that requires expertise in numerous fields to properly address the situation completely.

As I became more entrenched in the obtainment of data from various fields, physics, medical information, mass communications and statistical analysis, I became more of the opinion that the best way to attack the problem of addressing the steroid situation is to combine those particular knowledge bases to show the angles of the multi-faceted scenario.Things I believe greatly assist in this approach:

1. Physicist Dr. Adair and researchers Chambers, Page and Zaidins (2003) separate explanation of the Baseball Physics (2002) and Statistical Changes seen in ballparks such as Colorado’s Coors Field,‘Home of the Humidor’, shows that testing of modifications to the baseball in one particular environment, and could reflect altering theball as far back as 1993-94. As noted, the offense in Colorado returned to more “normal levels” in 2006, after over a decade of unusually high statistics when a humidor adjusted the ball weights and temperaturebefore play.

2. Economist Dr. R.C. Fair recent research on Age Effects (2005) on player performance and the identification of outliers which possiblyare steroid-linked. Incorporating by accident this approach, I discovered that the 1918-24 and the 1990-96 Era of baseball share very similar increases in performances both as a subset of players, and as an entire league. This can be further seen in the graphical similarity of the analysis made and could further reflect the changes made to thebaseball in possibly both eras.

3. Medical Doctor William N. Taylor book, Macho Medicine (1991),includes an interesting study of the unique differences between weight-trained athletes and non-weight trained athletes with regard totheir improvements after steroid usage. On page 30-33 of his book he lays out a premise that reflects to some degree the misinformation that existed about steroids and their benefits in twenty plus studies of the subject then. And why the steroid subject was possibly approached inadequately by prior research when they did not take into account the usage of prior weight trainingby subjects.

(How this applies is that many, many pitchers never lift weights during a season and typically do very little weight training inupper body areas, thus the usage of steroids would not have the desired effect. Whereas, position players usage of regimented weight lifting programs, even mildly so during a season, would garner the desired enhancement effects. And pitchers have been caught more often than other players…but haven’t been performing any better.)

This is also seen in various reports discovered going back to the early 1990’s, when many baseball facilities began supporting and building huge gyms forplayer usage at the ballpark.

4. Utilizing a crude measure of Statistical Process Tracking that reflects the change in Power Ratio (Home Runs and Doubles to At-bats) over a course of time. This methodology I feel pinpoints the time of changes to the game and shows the mirror image to the first ‘PowerExplosion’ back in the Babe Ruth Era of baseball.

5. The Agenda Building as reflected by Dr. Bryan Denham’s research. As it points to the media and political arena where policies were made, and sometimes, in the case of MLB, not made in a timely manner. For reasons driven more by greed and less by any concern for the athletes.

With that said, my ability to synthesize the appropriate facts to draw together these separate fields is somewhat limited. I am not a doctor or baseball professional; and surely not an expert in any of these fields. And my picking out these factors may be lucky and irrelevant to the case. I would like to believe it is not that.

So, if any critique can be offered in this overview and the combination of these distinctly separate ideas into a ‘Coherent Convergence of a Steroid Theory/Fallacy’ as it applies to the sport of baseball, I would truly appreciate any insights this information.

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