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Steroids: The Aftermath

As I look at the statistics in MLB this year and compare them to certain stats over the past couple seasons, the effect of steroids (or lack of steroids) is clearly visible. In 2005, the average number of home runs per American League team was 182 while this year the average number of home runs per team is 149 (adjusted for 162 games). That is a drop of 33 home runs per team, nearly a 500 home run drop in the entire league.

Whenever I have a simple chat with someone about the effect of steroids in baseball, the same point is made consistently: Steroids were more prevalent amongst pitchers than batters. Well that may be true, but the stats clearly don’t support that supposition. Over the past couple seasons, pitching has dramatically increased while hitting is in decline. For instance, the average team ERA in 2006 was 4.56 in the AL, while in 2008, the average team ERA is down to 4.16. Each team is giving up nearly 1/2 a run less per game, a total of 64.2 less runs per team for the entire season. If there were more pitchers using steroids than hitters, wouldn’t batting increase as players stopped using steroids? The fact that the opposite has happened, that pitching has increased, indicates that more batters used steroids than pitchers. Having said that, it could also indicate that steroids help batters more than pitchers and not that more batters used steroids more than pitchers.

Year

Players Above .300

Players Above .270

American League Average

American League ERA

Average Home Runs per Team

2008

15

37

.262

4.16

149

2007

20

59

.270

4.51

161

2006

20

60

.275

4.56

182

2005

16

51

.268

4.36

174

2004

17

57

.270

4.63

186

2003

18

50

.267

4.53

179

There are clear patterns in the stats above, such as the decrease in home runs per team. The 149 home runs per team (projected for the rest of the year) will be the lowest since before 2003. However, the fact that there are only 37 players in the American League with batting averages above .270 is dramatically lower than any other year. The other statistics show a gradual decrease in hitting and increase in pitching as each year goes by. However, up until 2008, batting average had stayed consistent. The 37 players with averages above .270 are significantly lower then any other seasons. All of the talk about steroids has focused on home runs, but how much does it effect batting average and individual at bats?

If the answer is that steroids don’t effect batting average, then what is causing the decrease in hitting this year? The best answer I can find lies within ESPN Analyst Jayson Starks’ article on Home Team Success this Year. His first theory is the one that I think is most plausible: Greenies.  Greenies allow players to recover quickly from minor injuries and to keep alert even under stressful conditions. As Stark mentions in the article, greenies have been in the game for 50 years and unlike steroids, which gave its’ users an unfair advantage, greenies were used by nearly ever player so everyone was on an even playing field. Yet, MLB cracked down on its drug policy this year, scaring players from touching even the most common drugs. In no way, am I complaining about that. MLB’s drug testing policy has clearly cleaned up the sport and has allowed me to trust that my favorite players aren’t juicing. However, the testing for greenies may be the reason that batting averages are down this year.

As teams travel across the country multiple times per year and have to play day games after night games more than once a week, players get worn down. Without greenies to re-energize them, players, specifically hitters, aren’t as alert in their at bat which is causing batting averages across the league to decrease. Of course, this theory could be completely wrong or the decrease in average could be a fluke that will adjust itself in the second half of the season, but I think it is something more. I think that MLB is seeing the effect of not just the lack of steroids, but also the lack of amphetamines and I expect the lower batting averages to continue.

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Categories: MLB
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