Changes in the drug policy are perhaps the most frequently invoked, and in fact, the two-month dip we've seen in the AL would make for the most dramatic drop in the drug-testing era if it held out over the full season. But baseball's drug policy has evolved gradually without exhibiting a consistent effect on scoring. Consider:I'm looking forward to interviewing Zavagno sometime in the not-too-distant future. We'd spoken before prior to yesterday, and while I don't buy everything he says, he has produced some compelling visual evidence while raising very good points about MLB's testing of baseballs. Ours should make for a fun conversation.Year NL AL Key Policy ChangesWhere's the pattern? Regarding the current year, one can't even invoke the effects of the new policy, which basically doubled the number of in-season and off-season tests. It wasn't ratified until less than two weeks ago. Some may say that expectations of enhanced testing in the wake of the Mitchell Report are what's driving the drop, but that's pure speculation.
2000 5.00 5.30
2001 4.70 4.86
2002 4.45 4.81
2003 4.61 4.86 Survey testing
2004 4.64 5.01 Treatment for first offense
2005 4.45 4.76 10-day suspension for first offense, precursors banned
2006 4.76 4.97 50-game suspension for first offense
2007 4.71 4.90 Amphetamines banned
2008 4.60 4.41 More frequent in-season and offseason testing
Having studied the matter for the past few years, I'm not a big believer in PED-based explanations; I tend to favor the ball-doctoring theory to explain the scoring and power fluctuations throughout the entire post-1993 era. The magnetic resonance images (MRIs) from Universal Medical Systems show a synthetic rubber ring that's unaccounted for in MLB's ball specifications, not to mention other anomalies that suggest wider disparities in the balls used than MLB should be allowing. Furthermore, MLB's own studies confirm such disparities--the use of out-of-tolerance balls--as well as finding that the flight distances of balls at the extreme ends of official tolerances could differ by as much as 49 feet despite being struck under the same conditions.
While Joe Sheehan used fly ball rates to dismiss the possibility that ball changes might be factoring into what we've seen this year, the decrease in total bases per hit--what Eric Walker calls Power Factor--from recent historical levels of about 1.60 to 1.56 last year and 1.53 this year suggests this explanation may still be in play. However convenient it may be, until we have more data under our belts, not to mention new scans of 2008 balls that can be compared to last year's models, it's premature to haul the ball-doctoring explanation out to explain this year's results. (In a brief conversation with UMS president David Zavagno, I was told that such scans are forthcoming; I'm planning a lengthier discussion with him in the near future.)
...Having basically lobbed more spitballs than Gaylord Perry on Old-Timer's Day in this article, I'm not going to send you away with any firm conclusions, because I don't think there are any to be drawn. Scoring has fluctuated considerably during Bud Selig's reign, a time of nearly constant change in the game. The crush of coverage that's developed during that time via electronic media, 24-hour news cycles and the blogosphere can lead to a rush of attempts to explain the game's current trends and anomalies, often -- particularly when it comes to those high-profile talking heads -- twisted to fit a preconceived narrative rather than backed by hard data. By October, the larger sample sizes will likely steer us back to scoring levels more in line with recent history. While it may not be a catchy answer to say, "Let's see where the data is at the end of the year," before we firm up our theories about this scoring drop, it's the right one.
June 2001 July 2001 August 2001 September 2001 October 2001 November 2001 December 2001 January 2002 February 2002 March 2002 April 2002 May 2002 June 2002 July 2002 August 2002 September 2002 October 2002 November 2002 December 2002 January 2003 February 2003 March 2003 April 2003 May 2003 June 2003 July 2003 August 2003 September 2003 October 2003 November 2003 December 2003 January 2004 February 2004 March 2004 April 2004 May 2004 June 2004 July 2004 August 2004 September 2004 October 2004 November 2004 December 2004 January 2005 February 2005 March 2005 April 2005 May 2005 June 2005 July 2005 August 2005 September 2005 October 2005 November 2005 December 2005 January 2006 February 2006 March 2006 April 2006 May 2006 June 2006 July 2006 August 2006 September 2006 October 2006 November 2006 December 2006 January 2007 February 2007 March 2007 April 2007 May 2007 June 2007 July 2007 August 2007 September 2007 October 2007 November 2007 December 2007 January 2008 February 2008 March 2008 April 2008 May 2008 June 2008 July 2008 August 2008 September 2008 October 2008 November 2008 December 2008 January 2009 February 2009 March 2009 April 2009 May 2009 June 2009 July 2009 August 2009 September 2009 October 2009 November 2009 December 2009 January 2010 February 2010 March 2010 April 2010 May 2010
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