Sabernomics in The Baltimore Sun

In today’s Baltimore Sun, Rick Maese includes my input while discussing why steroids may not be the reason for post-1990 offensive boom.

“These jumps in home runs are not as odd as we think they are,” says J.C. Bradbury, an economics professor and author of the blog sabernomics.com. “People think steroids is the only possible way of explaining it. That’s just not the case. There’s something else going on during this same period that we need to remember: The expanding leagues have diluted the talent.”

Bradbury has a book due out next year that will take a Freakonomics approach to understanding baseball. He has studied numbers and charts and says that baseball has been affected more profoundly by expansion than steroids.

I elaborate on this theory here. But Rick presses a little further.

The counterargument suggests that the dilution of talent should have affected hitters as much as pitchers. It actually has, which is why pitchers are posting more strikeouts than ever before. What expansion did was invite lesser-quality players into the game – but the very best players are still around.

“We’re seeing some more extreme performances on both sides,” Bradbury says. “We’re seeing strikeouts go up as well as home runs going up. The thing is, most of us are only paying attention to home runs. The very best pitchers and the very best hitters are taking advantage of much worse competition on the other side of the plate.”

For further discussion, see here.

Additionally, Rick talks with Art De Vany about his interesting work on the non-normal distribution of home runs.

“The distribution of home runs is one of these very exotic distributions,” he says. “People need to quit thinking in terms of a normal distribution. That’s just wrong. Think of it like the distribution of geniuses. Mozart didn’t write one great concert every year of his life. He had some years when he wrote several and others when he wrote nothing. There are clusters.”

“In baseball, we just happen to have a handful of geniuses around right now, and they’re all swinging for the fences.”

I think Rick sums up the steroids-skeptic argument nicely.

And it’s time to widen our lens a bit and stop pretending that steroids are the sole explanation. There have surely been juiced-up numbers by juiced-up players, but if you want a statistic that tells the story of the past decade, then look at a major league roster and count how many pitchers would be minor leaguers had baseball decided against expansion.

Thanks to Rick for including me in the article. I enjoyed talking with him. And yes, we did talk some about Leo Mazzone. :-)

One Response “Sabernomics in The Baltimore Sun”

  1. bowie says:

    I’m not buying it. 4 teams were added since 1993. Assume 12 pitchers per team staff. That’s 48 ‘extra’ pitchers in the league at any given time as a result of expansion. 48 pitcher spots divided among 30 teams is 1.6/team.
    So, that means each team has an average of 1 or 2 pitchers resulting from expansion. One has to assume these 1 or 2 pitchers are the worst on the team, so they would tend not to pitch very many innings — say 80 IP per team maximum.
    80 IP is about 5-6% of a team’s total innings in one season.
    Are you saying that these extra pitchers who only cover 5-6% of any team’s IP are significantly responsible for the increase in offense or home runs?
    I find that hard to believe.