Archive for April, 2007

TV and Radio Appearances, Thursday

I’ll be on television and radio on Thursday.

At 2:45pm (Eastern), I’ll be on CNBC’s Street Signs to discuss the economic impact of the Olympics.

UPDATE: I just watched the segment, and I think I accidentally said “there is no doubt that the Olympics make money.” Oops! I meant to say “there is no doubt the Olympics lose money.” The commentary that followed was consistent with the latter statement.

At 6:30pm (Eastern), I’ll be talking with Bloomberg News Radio to discuss the Red Sox/Yankees series.

Houston Radio Today

I will be on 790-AM The Sports Animal today in Houston. The interview will be taped, so I don’t know when it will air.

UPDATE: Interview cancelled due to technical problems.

Best Seller List and More

The latest edition of ESPN The Magazine lists The Baseball Economist as the tenth best selling sports book. Thanks to all of you who purchased the book.

I returned from a delightful trip to Wake Forest University where give a talk on the book. The students and faculty were gracious hosts, and I very much enjoyed my visit. They even took me to see the Myrtle Beach Pelicans play the Winston-Salem Warthogs. Thanks to my hosts for making it such a pleasant trip.

Russell Adams writes a nice article in The Wall Street Journal over the weekend (free if you have Congo NetPass) on how major league teams estimate player values. The system that I develop in The Baseball Economist is mentioned briefly, but the article focuses on Vince Gennaro and his new book Diamond Dollars. I am still waiting for my copy to arrive, but I suspect it’s good. I’m a fan of Vince’s work.

Lecture at Wake Forest

Tomorrow I’ll be giving at talk at Wake Forest University on economics in baseball. I always enjoy returning to my home state, and I look forward to meeting those in attendance.

HGH Questions

My post on the lack of evidence regarding HGH’s performance-enhancing qualities yielded a huge response from readers. I couldn’t be happier about this, and I hope that people in the media will begin to take notice.

So, if you have questions regarding the topic, I’d be happy to pass them along to my more-knowledgeable exercise physiologist colleague and report back to you. Please leave your questions in the comments. Don’t e-mail me because I am receiving so much e-mail right now I will not be able to respond, and this prevents having to answer the same question multiple times.

It Doesn’t Matter Who Hits Behind Ryan Howard

There has been a lot of discussion this year in Philadelphia about where Ryan Howard ought to hit in the batting order. Last season, the NL MVP batted fourth behind Chase Utley and in front of Pat Burrell. Many fans, sports writers, and even manager Charlie Manuel (whom I remember fondly leading the Triple-A Charlotte Knights) have pondered changing the line-up in order to produce more offense. The most popular idea was to flip-flop Utley and Howard in the order—having Howard bat third and Utley fourth—to allow Utley to “protect” Howard. I also wonder why Philly fans hate Pat Burrell so much. The Braves would be happy to take him off of your hands.

The popular concept of protection is that a good on-deck hitter affects the way the pitcher throws to the batter. The traditional argument says that pitchers cannot “pitch around” batters, because if he walks the batter he’ll have to face a good batter with a man on. But, the argument isn’t done yet. This allows a protected batter to see better pitches to hit—the pitcher can’t nibble around the edge of the strike zone for fear of inducing a walk—and thus increase his ability to hit for power.

However, I believe one crucial element has been left out of the analysis. Pitchers can alter more than just pitching inside and outside of the zone. Pitchers also regulate their effort from one batter to the next, conserving energy to put on a fastball or hiding a wicked out-pitch for just the right occasion. In a situation where a good on-deck hitter follows the batter, the pitcher has likely saved up his best just for this moment. Even if the pitcher is less likely to walk the batter, the batter isn’t necessarily going to be more productive at the plate.

This is something that Doug Drinen and I addressed in a study on protection (here is an old post on the subject), and I use this study to examine the issue in Chapter 2 of The Baseball Economist (“The Legendary Power of the On-Deck Hitter”). Using play-by-play data and a host of empirical techniques to control for many factors we found that a better on-deck does lower probability that the batter walks, which is the first step in demonstrating protection. However, this does not translate into more productive at-bats. As the on-deck batter improves, the probability that the batter gets hit, extra-base, and hits a home run declines—the exact opposite of the protection hypothesis. But, the magnitude of the effect is so small that it’s best to say that there is no such thing as protection.

Now, when Doug and I wrote this study, we were very proud of the granulated data we used. After all, how can you get more specific than play-by-play? Well, how about pitch-by-pitch data? Steven Levitt at Freakonomics points to a new study by Ken Kovash that breaks the game down even more than we did. He finds that good on-deck hitters induce pitchers to throw more strikes and more fastballs—fastballs are easier to throw for strikes than breaking balls and change-ups. This fits with our finding that the quality if the on-deck hitter impacts walks. However, I’m curious as to how this effect translates into overall success of the batter. One thing that Ken does not report—I’m hoping that he will report it when his schedule clears up—is how the on-deck batter affects the speed of the pitch. Doug and I could only hypothesize as to why the on-deck hitter does not lower the output of the current batter. If the answer is more pitcher effort, we ought to see pitchers putting a little more mustard on their pitches with a good batter on deck.

The moral of the story is this: a good on-deck hitter lowers the likelihood of a batter walking, but it does not translate into more offensive production.

Cool Happenings

– Congrats to Sean Forman, creator of Baseball-Reference. For his work on the greatest baseball site on the web, Sean was named one the top 65 most influential people in baseball by USA Today. To be more exact, he was listed as one of 15 others who didn’t make the top 50, so I guess that puts him in the top 65.

On a related note, B-R.com is now updating current season stats daily.

Alan Schwarz has a new book out, Once Upon a Game: Baseball’s Greatest Memories. It’s described as “a delightful collection of personal memories about baseball from some of the game’s all-time legends and its most famous fans.” Alan is a fantastic writer who has both a strong love and understanding of the game. Purchase it with The Baseball Economist to get a break on shipping. :-)

Addendum: Congratulations to Alan on his move to The New York Times to be a sports feature writer.

– Dave Studeman points me to a new website, Ballhype.

Ballhype tracks more than 1,600 sports blogs, analyzes each post for relevance and influence (it’s from the creators of lowpost.net, striketwo.net, and faircatch.net). Users can then hype up stories and videos pulled in by Ballhype or submit their own, find fans with similar interests, create or join groups, and make game picks. Bloggers, especially newer ones, have a chance to get their stories in front of new readers, and can also interact with users to build up their fan base.

April 4

In the Atlanta Journal – Constitution’sGimme 5: The Truth about Major League Baseball” JC dispels five myths about the national pastime.

April 3

Read a Q&A with JC and a book excerpt in April’s Borders Monthly newsletter.

I Don’t Worry about HGH in Baseball, and Neither Should You

Last week, I happened across an article by Daniel Engber entitled “The Growth Hormone Myth,” and I was a bit shocked by its contents. According to Engber, Human Growth Hormone (HGH or GH) has little to no performance enhancing-benefits.

What’s the difference between steroids and HGH? For starters, we know that a baseball player can beef up on steroids and improve his athletic performance. But most clinical studies suggest that HGH won’t help an athlete at all….So far, no one has been able to connect the increase in lean body tissue caused by HGH with enhancement of athletic performance. Unlike steroids, growth hormone hasn’t been shown to increase weight-lifting ability; in the lab, it has a greater effect on muscle definition than muscle strength. And it doesn’t seem to help much with cardiovascular fitness, either.

I was intrigued. Engber is a credible source, and his documentation solid; however, I remained skeptical. I closely follow media coverage of performance-enhancing drugs yet I was not aware of the dubious benefits. Did I miss something? Then I realized that I didn’t have to take Engber’s word for it or go do a lit review in research out of my field. I have the benefit of working down the hall from several exercise physiologists.

I forwarded the article to my colleague, John McLester, with whom I have had numerous steroid discussions. He showed up at my office door a few minutes later, and our conversation went something like this.

Me: What do you think of this argument?
John: Oh yeah, I agree with him. This isn’t even controversial in exercise physiology.
Me: Why haven’t I heard about this in the media?
John: I guess no one has asked anyone in the profession to comment. People think andro works, and that is laughable.
Me: How does HGH work?
John: Unlike anabolic steroids, growth hormone doesn’t target muscle, everything grows. You will get bigger muscles, but you’ll also do things like enlarge your organs. In an adult who has finished growing, it’s going to result in acromegaly. Remember Andre the Giant’s gut? That wasn’t fat. That’s where his organs had to go because there wasn’t room in his chest cavity.
Me: But, doesn’t the subject benefit from bigger muscles.
John: There is no evidence of this. It seems that the muscle that is developed is abnormal and not mature. I’ll point you to some studies (see below).
Me: Wow. So you think there are no performance-enhancing benefits to using HGH?
John: Little to none, especially in baseball. An offensive lineman in football might benefit just from gaining mass, but there are probably easier and cheaper ways to gain mass—HGH is very expensive. If I were to use PEDs, I’d take steroids and there is no way I’d even touch HGH. If benefits to taking HGH exist they are tiny, and the health consequences are not pretty.

After several more conversations with John and following up on his leads I believe that there are no performance-enhancing benefits from using HGH in baseball. There is no documented evidence that HGH improves performance. While studies are sparse due to ethical limits, what studies have been done show that while growth hormone may promote muscle growth that it does not increase strength. This is quite different from anabolic steroids for which there exists evidence of improved strength. Of course, future research may change this, but right now I see little reason to contradict what is out there.

Here is some documentation.

Mary Lee Vance, New England Journal of Medicine, 2/27/2003.

A recent double-blind, placebo-controlled study involving 27 women and 34 men, 68 to 88 years of age, who were given growth hormone or placebo for 6.5 months confirmed the effects of growth hormone on body composition; there was no change in muscle strength or maximal oxygen uptake during exercise in either group. This study corroborated the findings of a study by Papadakis et al. involving 52 healthy men, 70 to 85 years of age, who were given placebo or growth hormone for six months. Not mentioned on the “antiaging” Web sites is a study of 18 healthy men, 65 to 82 years of age, who underwent progressive strength training for 14 weeks, followed by an additional 10 weeks of strength training plus either growth hormone or placebo. In that study, resistance exercise training increased muscle strength significantly; the addition of growth hormone did not result in any further improvement.

Karl E. Friedl, “Performance-Enhancing Substances,” in Baechle and Earle (eds.) Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, 2e, p. 219, . (Textbook)

There is no evidence that supplemental growth hormone produces effects of the same magnitude [as growth hormone deficiency] (it may not even produce normal muscle) or enhance athletic performance in a normal man or woman….Apparently, few athletes are actually using this hormone, which suggests that they may well be aware that the substance probably does little to enhance performance, carries risks, and is very expensive.

With MLB’s adoption of mandatory testing for steroids, many thought that home run rates would drop dramatically. They didn’t, and many felt that the lack of a test for HGH could be part of the explanation. Well, it’s time for the scientists working on such a test to start something else more important. Even if players are taking HGH, the drug no more effective than ionized bracelets, magnets in your shoes, or jumping over the foul lines. The impact of HGH on home runs in today’s game is zero. If a player is dumb enough to take this stuff, let him go right ahead.

UPDATE: Links to other posts on HGH.
Rumors, Experts, and Human Growth Hormone
More Reasons Not to Worry about HGH in Baseball
My Solution to Rid MLB of HGH: Legalize It
Missing the Boat on HGH, Again