On Jim Thome and steroids

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Thanks largely to the work of Sam Miller, the Orange County Register has one of the best baseball blogs of any newspaper in the country.  The other bloggers, though, don’t always measure up, and Jeff Miller decided to take on Jim Thome’s 600th homer today, claiming that it’s just fine for us to assume he did steroids.

His big point to back it up?

“From 2001-03, Thome averaged 49 homers a year. He never hit more than 42 in any other season. A single statistic, a ton of suspicion.”

It’s a ton of something, alright.

I have no idea whether Jim Thome used steroids, but I strongly dislike it when amateurs go to the numbers to try to figure out when a guy was cheating.  It’s a ridiculous exercise, particularly since there’s just no reason to think that taking an average player and juicing him up is going to add 10 or 20 homers to his year’s total.  There’s simply no evidence that suggests that’s the case.

Anyway, Thome did peak in 2001-02.  But to say Miller’s three-year span stands out from the rest of his career is nonsense.  Let’s look at Thome’s at-bats per home run per year, ranked from top to bottom and only counting the seasons in which he had 300 plate appearances.

2002: 9.2
2001: 10.7
2010: 11.0
2006: 11.7
2004: 12.1
2003: 12.3
2007: 12.3
1997: 12.4
1996: 13.3
1998: 14.7
2008: 14.8
1999: 15.0
2000: 15.1
2009: 15.7
1994: 16.1
1995: 18.1

If Thome had exactly 500 at-bats at those rates in all of those seasons, he would have peaked at 54 homers in 2002.  However, his next seven best seasons all would have come in between 40 and 47 homers and those seasons were spread out from 1997 to 2010.

So, go ahead, find the steroids seasons in there.

Pitch clock cut minor league games by 25 minutes to 2:38

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NEW YORK — Use of pitch clocks cut the average time of minor league games by 25 minutes this year, a reduction Major League Baseball hopes is replicated when the devices are installed in the big leagues next season.

The average time of minor league games dropped to 2 hours, 38 minutes in the season that ended Wednesday, according to the commissioner’s office. That was down from 3:03 during the 2021 season.

Clocks at Triple-A were set at 14 seconds with no runners on base and 19 with runners. At lower levels, the clocks were at 18 seconds with runners.

Big league nine-inning games are averaging 3:04 this season.

MLB announced on Sept. 9 that clocks will be introduced in the major leagues next year at 15 seconds with no runners and 20 seconds with runners, a decision opposed by the players’ association.

Pitchers are penalized a ball for violating the clock. In the minors, violations decreased from an average of 1.73 per game in the second week to 0.41 in week 24.

There will be a limit of two pickoff attempts or stepoffs per plate appearance, a rule that also was part of the minor league experiment this season. A third pickoff throw that is not successful would result in a balk.

Stolen bases increased to an average of 2.81 per game from 2.23 in the minors this year and the success rate rose to 78% from 68%.

Many offensive measurements were relatively stable: runs per team per game increased to 5.13 from 5.11 and batting average to .249 from .247.

Plate appearances resulting in home runs dropped to 2.7% from 2.8%, strikeouts declined to 24.4% from 25.4% and walks rose to 10.5% from 10.2%. Hit batters remained at 1.6%.