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Saturday, July 01, 2006

SABR Day 3: Afternoon and Evening

One of the regrets I have about the convention is that I didn't purchase a ticket for the awards luncheon. However, the events therein were described by fellow SABR member Larry Stone in a nice article this morning in The Seattle Times. In particular Stone reported on Jim Bouton's keynote address in which he discussed the topic of steroids and performance enhancers. Among the comments Bouton made on the subject Stone notes that Bouton feels that steroids have caused:

"a crisis of confidence among fans that has put the integrity of the game at stake. This is worse than the 1919 Black Sox scandal. Far more games have been compromised by steroid use than ever by gambling."

While I think that's probably true, I also don't think most fans really understand the extent to which gambling played a role in pre-1920 baseball. This was brought to my attention last year when I read the fine biography of Black Sox participant Hal Chase titled The Black Prince of Baseball.

Bouton went on to propose forming "a SABR-led panel to determine the impact of steroids on slugging". The panel would then develop a new statistic termed the "Steroid Adjusted Number" or SAN to appear in parenthesis next to the actual number of homeruns in record books and online. Apparently, the idea is that the SAN could be removed if, in Bouton's words,

"history shows the actual homers hit were not an aberration, just as time has removed the imaginary asterisk next to Roger Maris' 61 homers in 1961. But if history shows the actual home runs were an aberration, they would end up in parentheses, and the SAN would be recognized as legitimate."

Well, obviously this sort of talk has been brought up before but the problems with it are so many and so varied it's hard to know where to begin.

I'll be the first to admit that I don't view Barry Bonds' home runs in recent seasons as legitimate, but the fundamental problem is that there are so many interconnecting effects of performance enhancers that it is effectively impossible to quantify their effects on batting and pitching lines (don't forget that pitchers use PEDs as well). Much like the notion that a butterfly's wings flapping in central park causes a rain storm in China, one hitter's PED use effects multiple pitchers and in turn other hitters which changes the interactions with other pitchers ad infinitum. And of course this doesn't just effect home runs as implied in Bouton's comments. PEDs certainly have an effect on other extra base hits which also effects singles, batting average, slugging percentage, walks (as pitchers pitch more carefully to bulked-up hitters with the ultimate example being Bonds himself), and on base percentage among others. Taken to the logical extreme what you'd end up with is an asterisk next to every number of every player for an entire era which makes the notion silly at its core.

Just as students of the game recognize the offensive environments that obtained in the deadball era, the 1930s, and the 1960s, and make adjustments (both quantitative and qualitative) accordingly, they will make the same kind of adjustments for individuals we know benefited like Bonds and for the era as a whole.

Stepping down off my soapbox the evening was concluded with a trip to SafeCo field to see the Mariners take on the Rockies. While the game wasn't historic it was a very unique game. Josh Fogg was very sharp and set down 27 batters in a row thanks to three double plays enroute to a 2-hitter completed in 1:52 minutes and 90 pitches. The Rockies scored a run in the fifth on a Jamey Carroll single and added a Brad Hawpe homer in the 7th for the 2-0 win. Many in the group lamented the shortest game in SafeCo and Rockies history since it provided less time to converse. For those of us who follow the Rockies it was just fine.

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