I like patterns. Or rather, I like trying to identify a pattern or repeated trend. People do this stuff for a living- and get paid a lot to notice such trends and patterns. They use to trade in real-time. Now, they flash trade – let some computer take all the fun out of it. Baseball, has them too.
I identified this particular pattern about 7 years ago – related to HR% and 2B% for a span of time (2nd graph). But I had not really looked at it since about 2008. Too much fallout from the Steroid-Labeled Era. People were bitterly complaining about sacred records, and tainted history, and damning anyone they could (from the commissioner on down to the players) for the breach in baseball trust.
Moreover, there were only a smattering of studies (one done in 2007 – Baseball Between the Numbers) was very incomplete, though supportive of a premise I had too: Steroids were not causing much benefits (to hitters) in Power Surge II. So, the chart above.
From one graph one cannot say it definitely undermines anything. But notice a pattern: If we notice how closely the happy ball era of the 1920s coincides with historical reports of ball modifications, why do we just use steroids as the catch all for offensive explosion?
From various sources in Bringin’ Gas & Dialin’ 9:
In Montville Leigh’s Big Bam this modification is colorfully recorded as: “Another change had occurred with the baseball itself. Nobody knew the facts behind the change – that manufacturers now used a better grade of Australian wool and had developed new machines that wound the yarn tighter – but everyone knew the ball seemed to fly better. Or said they knew…Hit the new baseball, and it felt like solid against solid, bat against the kitchen table. Hit the old baseball and it felt like bat against living room sofa” (Montville 2007, 111). William McNeil and Roger Kahn in The Head Game reiterated this manufacturing change that sequenced with the material changes. By 1922, Spalding, the producer of National League baseballs, were “in its Massachusetts factory” making similar alterations to the internal particulars of the most fundamental part of the game, the ball.
Some tests on resiliency were engaged in the 1920s, with the results always reported as being within norms. (Remember: no six sigma data sets, statistics, or quick linear regression analysis of that level was years off in the future.) One can also imagine a low-level tester being ‘persuaded’ to reach conclusions, if only to bolster confidences in the internal structure and repeatability of manufacturing baseballs.
By 1930, the ball was tinkered with again, almost in lockstep with the stock market crash of October 29, 1929. The National League of 1930 was no fun for pitchers with a 5’6” CF Hack Wilson smashing 56 home runs and establishing an unreachable standard of 190 RBIs. This did not go unnoticed as Cubs SS Woody English offered: “In 1931 the owners decided the ballplayers were hitting too many home runs. We realized something was different in ’31 almost from the start of the season. You hit balls like you always hit them, and they’d plunk, sound like they didn’t have anything inside…” (Golenbock, Wrigleyville: A Magical History Tour of the Chicago Cubs 1996, 227)
So it seems lazy now – and more about demonizing – “steroid, bad” like a much mocked George W. Bush, Rangers owner, no less – than any indisputable or statistical evidence. (What percentage of improvement was there 10%? 20% 5%?) At the top of the talent heap, I concede there is plenty to be gained from that extra 2% over your opponents. As a hitter, bat speed increase, recovery from muscle strains and pains, I can concede that.
A 2nd graph above (from a forthcoming work).
But what other factors could have played a role? Ballparks cozier? Strike zone shrinking? Ball bats designed better for their mashing ilk? And the baseball…the one Colorado had a heck of time adjusting in a humidor to properly address weight and size constraints.
As stated, the last time offense peaked was 1930. Aw, the good ol’ days for the Chicago Cubs, the highest scoring offense ever in modern franchise history – Hack Wilson, 190RBIs (meaningless…) – and those Cubs didn’t go to the World Series either. But they did the year before. Still, it was good to be a Cubs patron as they pounded out 998 Runs, about 400 more than their modern incarnation will in 2014.
So, watch that baseball thingy. It might change again – 20 or 30 years hence.