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Gun Smoke

According to a piece at Bloomberg.com, Strikeouts Show Pitchers Outdo Hitters Like No Time Since 1968. The first line of the story, written by Mason Levinson, goes, “The end of Major League Baseball’s performance-enhancing drugs era is causing 1960s flashbacks.”  

I haven’t read too much on this subject but casually, I’ve heard this line of thinking before–the spike in pitching has something to do with the “end” of the PED era. My question is:  Weren’t pitchers taking PEDs as well?

Whadda ya think?

[Photo Credit: SI]

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1 Ken_P   ~  Jun 29, 2010 12:51 pm

If you go by that line of thinking, it seems to me it should be the other way around, at least in terms of strikeouts. If the steroid era was defined by home runs, and home run hitters tend to strikeout at much higher rates, then shouldn't the end of the steroid era mean less strikeouts as hitters return to a more contact oriented approach?

2 RIYank   ~  Jun 29, 2010 12:57 pm

[1] Yeah. That part of the article doesn't really make any sense. (Has anyone ever claimed that taking steroids helps a hitter avoid striking out?)

The ending doesn't make sense either. Quoting Tigers 3B coach Gene Lamont:

“I guess they thought pitchers were too dominating and they had to lower it,” said Lamont, 63, who was a catcher in the Tigers’ minor-league system when McLain was piling up wins in 1968. “Maybe if it keeps like this for three years, they’ll put it back up.”

Uh. If the pitchers continue ("like this") to dominate for three years, they'll raise the mound again? I don't think that's what Lamont said.

There are some really good young pitchers this year. Or, yeah, the high run production caused by steroids suddenly came to an end in 2010, that's more likely.

3 Shaun P.   ~  Jun 29, 2010 1:00 pm

"My question is: Weren’t pitchers taking PEDs as well?"

I guess not in some of the media's minds. It was only those evil home run hitters! ;)

Jay Jaffe had a piece about this over at BP last week. It was the kind of intelligent, nuanced take you'd expect. I won't spoil the conclusion - you have to read the article - but let's just say there was nothing about steroids or PEDs to be found.

4 Chyll Will   ~  Jun 29, 2010 1:01 pm

Well, that's exactly what I was thinking, but Ken_P makes a good point, too. I really think that some people are just too eager to put the PED nonsense behind them to be objective enough. Most eras don't just end like that, you have to look at it in retrospect. Even when the era is connected to a singular popular figure, you have to look at how that person inspired the world around them and how that influence wanes or transforms to something else over a given period. So no, it's not over yet.

5 a.O   ~  Jun 29, 2010 1:14 pm

Do the PEDs that were being used by MLB players increase reaction time and fine motor coordination or just strength?

If it's just strength, then from use of those PEDs you would potentially see an increase in HRs without any increase in Ks, because hitters would not be swinging and missing (or hitting) any more or less, just hitting the ball farther when they made contact. Of course, if you believed you were going to hit the ball more effectively as a result of your PED use, you might swing (and thus miss) more.

If the PEDs increase fine motor coordination, then you would see better pitching due to better location, better breaking balls, etc. That might offset any gain by hitters in their ability to make contact, especially if most of the PED users are self-styled "power hitters."

If the PEDs increase reaction time, then you would see fewer Ks along with your increased HRs.

I would be very surprised if there were any peer-reviewed studies on most of these substances (other than the ones that have legitimate theraputic applications, of course).

So really all we have to go by is the results on the diamond and the assumption that PED use has gone down substantially.

The only legitimate conclusion from a scientific perspective is that the MLB stats do not offer the opportunity for an experimental research design, and thus no cause-effect conclusions can be drawn from them.

6 OldYanksFan   ~  Jun 29, 2010 1:25 pm

[3] Please spoil it Shaun... as ya gotta pay to read the article.... and I'm guessing the majority here are not paid subscribers?

I do remember hearing an interview with a pitcher from the 80's. He not only said PEDs were around then, but that many pitchers, and especially relievers (who I guess had to really crank it up a notch during their few appearences) were users.

I hope at sometime, one of the big users... or better yet, a number of PED users, would write a book to inform the fans as to what advantage they felt they got. With all the material written 'back in the day' about PEDs, I still don't really know how much they helped. I know they helped muscle recovery, so guys could pump iron harder/longer. But what effect did they have if you didn't hit the weight room hard? Some say it increased vision. Some debunked that. Batspeed? Hand/eye?

My guess for fear of screwing up their legacy, guys might not ever do this. Maybe Giambi... as I see him as a straight shooter, and he ain't going to the HOF. His legacy is pretty much formed, and a tell all book might only garner him more respect.

7 Chyll Will   ~  Jun 29, 2010 1:40 pm

I'm not too sure that a guy might not come clean; someone like Jason Grimsley; a peripheral major league reliever who was tagged as a big distributor and now has little left to lose may actually benefit by going into depth about it's uses and expectations, plus he doesn't have to overcome credibility issues like Jose Canseco if he does. It's like superhackers who get caught and end up working with the authorities to understand and sniff out other hackers (some of those guys actually get caught just so they can have a lifetime consultant jobs)... I'm quite certain out of that lest of 400+ ballplayers who tested positive, more than a handful would be willing to trade in their ruined reputation for a shot at restoring their credibility and major consultancy in another field.

8 williamnyy23   ~  Jun 29, 2010 1:57 pm

[6] [7] What would be gained from a tell-all book? The only definitive answers will come from scientific testing, and for obvious reasons, such studies are likely to never be done.

9 Chyll Will   ~  Jun 29, 2010 2:10 pm

[8] Science doesn't define motivation in this situation, only the process and results. The book would be for those who want to know why they did it in the first place; what did they think they would gain directly. That in turn may aid in prevention.

10 williamnyy23   ~  Jun 29, 2010 2:17 pm

[9] I thought the question was to what degree did steroids really help. Speaking for myself, I think the motivation is rather evident. The players wanted to improve their performance.

Performance enhancement has been an age old human ambition, so I can't see a bio dissuading future use. The only two things that I think would aid prevention would be studies that either conclusively show adverse health effects or a lack of benefit. Ironically, if sports would promote studies that show HGH does not enhance muscle building instead of wasting time on blood tests, its use might be curtailed (which would be a health benefit, but not really a fairness issue, assuming of course that HGH doesn’t enhance performance).

11 Diane Firstman   ~  Jun 29, 2010 2:33 pm

Bad, but not unexpected news on Zumaya:

Zumaya has a non-displaced fracture of olecranon (tip of elbow) and he will be sidelined for the remainder of the season. #mlb

12 OsRavan   ~  Jun 29, 2010 2:46 pm

If you agree that PED's were responsible for the huge power numbers we saw going up, than yes there probably is a correlation. I'm sure they helped pitchers as well, but at least a surface glance would make me think that they helped the batters far more. After all, we saw a surge in power numbers but not a similar surge in.. say... velocity. Or even really K's. I'm not an expert but my sense has always been that for pitchers PED's helped them mostly by keeping them healthy and prolonging their peak. Whereas batters often also got a power boost due to the increased muscle mass or what have you helping them more.

However, I also think to an extent there is a supply and demand thing at play here. I wasnt alive in the 60's or 70s. But as someone who watched baseball from the mid 90s on, my sense has been we have recently seen the most "valued" commodity go from the big slugger to the ace SP. In other words, the most valued thing in the game these days isnt the big bat but the big arm. The economics reflect that. The biggest FA bidding and trade demands are SP related these days. the biggest commodity is the SP who can have a good ERA, get the K's and wins etc.

Just look at how the bottom of the market has dropped out for medium powered OF bats heh. Obviously the elite will always make money no matter where they play. But my sense (not backed with hard numbers) is that these days you are more likely to make money as a good SP than a good Bat. And thus the talent follows the money.

13 tcumbie   ~  Jun 29, 2010 3:40 pm

Pitching is more about intelligence (fooling the hitter with pitch selection), or ball movement (which I rather doubt PEDs enhance) while hitting is reflexes and strength (which I think they do). So I think the theory has some credibility, but I suspect more will be revealed.

14 Raf   ~  Jun 29, 2010 4:58 pm

[6] Tom House has mentioned that PED use has been around since the 60's and 70's. I remember the use being mentioned in Bouton's "Ball Four" as well as Bill Lee's book "The Wrong Stuff."

[9][10] I don't think we'll ever see the end of drug use. Everyone knows what these drugs can do, yet people do them anyway, adverse affects and all.

15 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  Jun 29, 2010 5:34 pm

[13] I don't know, I think hitting is just as much about intelligence, no? Not being fooled translates to good balance which translates to hitting the ball hard. Of course, as has been pointed out, the PED make the ball go farther once hit, all else being equal.

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