Statistical Blips and Possible Steroid Use

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Dugout Central has run a couple of very long, but quite interesting pieces the past two days entitled “Statistical Blips and Possible Steroid Use.”  Part I is here. Part II is here.  The premise, very crudely put, is that the remarkable thing about the PED-implicated players of the current era is not necessarily the raw number of home runs they hit — eras and ballparks and equipment change, after all — but the deviation from the baseline, be it their own established norms or league averages.  “Blips” is the term author Bill Wellman uses, as in “Barry Bonds averaged 41 homes a season outside of 2001, so his 73 that year was a “blip.”

What Wellman does is to look at blips throughout modern (or at least post-WWII) baseball history, not just the post-1987 (i.e. Jose Canseco) period.  Why?  One reason is to figure out how much the numbers really were inflated by steroid use in the generally accepted “steroid era.”  The short answer is that, yes, there’s a clear bump post-1987, as you might expect.

But a far more interesting reason for his research is to determine if 1987 and the emergence of Jose Canseco truly represented something new or if, alternatively, there is any evidence suggesting a gradual increase of PED use — or at least “blips” — over time.  Wellman thinks this is important — and I do too — because it seems nonsensical to simply establish a 1987 starting date for “the steroid era” based on when Jose Canseco showed up.  Steroids existed before Canseco. We even know of baseball players who used them before him.  It stands to reason, therefore, that they were in the game before Canseco arrived.

In light of this, Wellman breaks down the post-war period into three separate eras — The Improbable Era (1946-90); the Anecdotal Era (1961-86); and the Steroid Era (1987-present) — and tries to figure out what effect, if any, PEDs may have had on home run totals.  he then goes on in Part II and breaks down the blips of multiple famous players, including Hank Greenberg, Carl Yastrzemski and the usual, more modern suspects, in many cases wondering whether or not PED use could have played a role in the blips.

I find the raw data interesting.  I’m less sold on some of Wellman’s speculation (though it should be noted that he’s not throwing bombs here).  Players aren’t automatons who can be expected to perform at the same level every year.  Fluke seasons happen.  As do seasons when Major League Baseball quietly experiments with things like lively baseballs, as it certainly did in the 1930s, almost certainly did in 1987 and is rumored to have done post-1993.  Weird things happen, so just because something odd occurs doesn’t mean something nefarious is going on.

But the general conversation is a worthy one.  While new names continue to emerge, for better or worse, we are still very much in an era where people cite statistical anomalies as evidence of PED use.  If we’re going to continue to do that — and if we’re going to make Hall of Fame decisions based on such anomalies — we should at least be more thorough in doing so.

Wellman tries todo that here.  His work in this regard is not perfect, but it is a start, and for that reason I recommend that anyone interested in the subject take a look.

UPDATE:  I had not seen this when it first ran three and a half years ago — I actually had a life then and wasn’t blogging about baseball yet — but apparently Baseball Prospectus’ Nate Silver did this sort of thing back in March 2006.  And, I might say, did a better job of it. 

Still, I think Wellman’s piece is worth reading, if for no other reason than it appears that people decided to ignore Silver’s findings that players back in the day were just as likely as modern players to have fluke seasons, spikes, blips, or what have you.

Wil Myers stole second, third, and home in the same inning

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Padres first baseman Wil Myers hit an RBI single off of Nick Pivetta in the bottom of the fourth inning of Wednesday afternoon’s game, giving his team a 1-0 lead. He then proceeded to steal second base, then third base, and finally home on a double-steal, scoring the Padres’ second run.

Per CSN Philly’s Marshall Harris, it’s the first time a player has stolen all three bases in the same inning since Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon in 2011. Indeed, on July 1 that year, Gordon stole all three bases against Angels pitcher Bobby Cassevah.

Myers is currently batting .238/.322/.459 with 24 home runs, 59 RBI, 61 runs scored, and 14 stolen bases in 491 plate appearances this season.

The Marlins are “willing to engage” on trade talks for Giancarlo Stanton

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Jon Morosi hears that the Marlins are “willing to engage with other teams” on a possible Giancarlo Stanton trade.

As we noted yesterday, Stanton has cleared revocable waivers, so he’s eligible to be dealt to any club. The price for Stanton is likely to be high given that he’s enjoying a career year, batting .285/.376/.646 with a league-leading 44 home runs and 94 RBI in 116 games this season. He’s also, obviously, the cornerstone of the franchise.

You also have to assume that anyone looking to acquire Stanton would want the Marlins to chip in money on his $285 million contract. If not, someone might’ve simply claimed him on waivers with the hope that the Marlins would simply let him walk, right? Which suggests that any negotiation over Stanton would be a long and difficult one. It might also involve Stanton agreeing to restructure his deal, which currently gives him an opt-out after the 2020 season. That would likely involve the MLBPA as well, which just makes it all the more complicated.

I think it’s a long shot that the Marlins would trade Stanton in-season, but it’s not hard to imagine him being traded this winter.