Amphetamines ban leads to decreased offense? That's wrong in all kinds of ways

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According to Bill Madden in the New York Daily News, there has been a “resurgence of pitching and decrease of offense” this year because baseball is getting tougher on amphetamines.  Which would be great if it weren’t for the fact that (a) there is no compelling evidence that offense is down; and (b) even if there were there is no reason to believe that a drug crackdown is the cause.

Madden cites the fact that there have been 3* perfect games this year to support his claim. But that’s not, in and of itself, evidence of offense being down let alone offense being down due to a decrease in amphetamines being used.  A much more compelling reason for the perfect games can be seen over at Sabernomics, where J.C. Bradbury charts both improved defensive numbers and perfect games and finds something quite satisfying. Another compelling explanation: dumb stinkin’ luck.

It’s also worth noting that the Madden column compares last year’s total offensive numbers to the first two months of the 2010 season’s numbers in a manner which should be an insult to apples and oranges the world over.  Offense always increases as the weather gets hotter, and it’s just now getting hotter. Call me in October and use apples-apples data before making any grand proclamations, please.

Not that such a request will be heeded. It seems like we read one of these “offensive numbers are down” stories every year, and never have they convinced me. If you go season by season, runs per game have held pretty steady since the early 90s. Sure, there have been blips — 1999 and 2000 were high (5.08 r/g and 5.14 r/g) — but there’s surprisingly little variation otherwise. More runs were scored per game in 2009 than 2005 and 2002. More were scored in 2007 than 1998.  Many things might explain year-to-year variations, but the advent of drug testing certainly doesn’t cover it.  If you ask me, I’d say ballpark dimensions and expansin explains a lot more of it, seeing as everything exploded around the time Camden Yards and its followers came online and the Feesh and the Rockies showed up in 1992-93. 

But let’s leave that for another day. Let’s get back to Madden’s point: that runs are down this year due to baseball getting tough on amphetamines. Which still makes no sense to me. Drug testing has been in place for six seasons with 50-game
suspensions for five of those seasons. What is this amphetamines crackdown his sources speak of? How is last year different than this year? Maybe they’ve added a few more amphetamines to the banned substances list, but there certainly hasn’t been radical change in this regard.

And even if there has been some kind of change, it’s likely been offset a great deal by the massive increase in players who have been granted therapeutic use exemptions for stimulants like Ritalin. In fact the use of such drugs is at a level in baseball right now that is something like ten times the level of the general population.  Players may not be doing straight speed anymore, but to suggest that the use of mind-focusing drugs is gone from the scene.

Madden’s whole story is based on unnamed baseball officials.  I have this feeling that they’re far more interested in pushing a talking point — baseball is way tougher on amphetamines than it used to be — than they are in explaining anything about what’s actually happening on the field. 

Albert Pujols passes Mark McGwire with 584th career home run

CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 11: Albert Pujols #5 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim runs out a double during the ninth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on August 11, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Indians defeated the Angels 14-3. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Angels DH Albert Pujols passed Mark McGwire for sole possession of 10th place on baseball’s all-time home run leaderboard, slugging his 584th career home run in the first inning of Wednesday night’s game against the Blue Jays.

Mike Trout had already slugged a solo home run off of Jays starter Marco Estrada to bring Pujols to the dish. Pujols jumped on an 0-1 cut fastball, sending it out to left-center field, clearing the fence by a few feet.

Pujols, who finished 4-for-4 with the homer and an RBI double, is batting .257/.321/.441 with 24 home runs and 99 RBI on the year. His next target on the home run leaderboard is Frank Robinson at 586.

Zach Britton allowed an earned run for the first time since April 30

BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 22:  Zach Britton #53 of the Baltimore Orioles pitches for his 38th save in the ninth inning during a baseball game against the the Washington Nationals at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on August 22, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland.  The Oriole won 4-3.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
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Orioles closer Zach Britton had appeared in a major league record 43 consecutive games without allowing an earned run, spanning May 5 to August 22. That streak came to an end on Wednesday evening against the Nationals.

The Orioles entered the bottom of the ninth inning holding a 10-3 lead, but reliever Parker Bridwell immediately found himself in hot water. He yielded back-to-back singles to Danny Espinosa and Clint Robinson. He was able to strike out Trea Turner, but walked Jayson Werth to load the bases. Daniel Murphy then crushed his first career grand slam to make it a 10-7 game. That prompted manager Buck Showalter to bring in Britton.

Britton, too, was knocked around. He served up a single to Bryce Harper, followed by a double to Anthony Rendon that scored Harper, pushing the score to 10-8 and ending Britton’s streak. Wilson Ramos reached on a fielder’s choice back to Britton, but the lefty finally finished the game by getting Ryan Zimmerman to ground into a game-ending 4-6-3 double play.

Britton now holds a nice 0.69 ERA with 38 saves and a 61/16 K/BB ratio in 52 innings of work this season.