Non-Steroid Factors for Increased Offense in Baseball
Checks and balances. Not every statistical anomaly is caused by steroid use. The following are factors of which the effects are similar to those of steroid and human growth hormone (hGH) use. Each factor contributed in part to the increase in offense since the early 1990s. While one might assert that these factors potentially exonerate players suspected of steroid use, one could just as easily argue that they disguise the use of steroids and hGH by providing a ‘valid’ explanation for inflated or anomalous statistics.
The Coors’ Effect
Denver, Colorado’s Coors’ Field stands 5200 feet above sea level. The thin air allows the ball to carry further as would an increase in bat speed from steroid use. Balls that would have hit the warning track in other parks, with less resistance, would leave Coors, just like using steroids. To the dismay of pitchers, the elevation also restricts the break on curve balls and sliders that would ordinarily have ‘thick’ air to catch the seams and cause the break to be more severe. Straighter pitches are easier to hit, and less break means it’s harder to keep hitters off-balance. Steroid and hGH users have reported improved vision and quick-muscle-twitch fiber, qualities that directly make a hitter better able to react to a pitch, especially a breaking ball. Combining steroids and hGH with that much elevation is like using steroids that are already on steroids.
The stats put up in Coors’ Field now appear to be normalized. Since 2002 the team has used a humidor to keep baseballs from drying out, and Major League Baseball intituted its drug testing program in 2003. The runs per game have steadily declined ever since. In 2006 runs per game at Coors Field are down to about 9.5 after averaging 13.9 from 1996-2001.
Maple bats were first made by Canadian carpenter Sam Holman. In the early 1990s Holman developed a method to remove enough moisture from hard maple so that maple bats would be light enough to swing. Maple bats have been used in the Major leagues since about 1995, and were officially approved for use in 1998. Steve Finley was one of the first users in 1996 when he turned into a slugger overnight using maple to hit 30 home runs. Joe Carter reportedly introduced the bats to Barry Bonds in 1998. Bonds used the bats to hit his Major League record 73 home runs in 2001. Maple bats are harder and simple physics show us that a ball will travel further when hit with a more dense object traveling at the same speed. In 2006 roughly half of Major League players were using maple bats.
Smaller Strike Zone
In 2001, Major League Baseball instructed its umpires to enforce the rulebook definition of the strike zone. Over the years the strike zone became wider, shorter, and lower. It favored the pitchers and MLB has always wanted to increase offence. They don’t discuss it publicly anymore in light of their negligent role in the steroid scandal, but MLB executives know offence is exciting and leads to more revenue. The shrinking of the strike zone was of great benefit to hitters as pitchers were less able to move the ball in and out. Most right-handed hitters, especially power hitters, like the ball up in the zone and the new rules promoted those types of pitches. To ensure the implementation of the ‘new’ strike zone, MLB was militant, measuring the accuracy of their umpires with QuesTec, a controversial computer program that determined if each pitch was truly a strike.
A very popular and legal supplement that enhances a body chemical called ATP, which provides energy bursts that allow a person to accelerate, or create torque from a stationary position. Known to be ‘perfectly suited’ for baseball, Creatine can create an extra thrust of power, critical to hitting a baseball with added power or adding a few miles per hour to your fastball or inches on the drop of your curve. Players like Steve Finley and Mark McGwire openly used creatine in the 1990s. Still legal today (even for the Olympics) creatine is quite controversial. The side-effects are widely disputed. The long-term effects are unknown. As for the short-term, some say there are none at all, while others blame muscle, tendon or ligament strains, cramping, and diarrhea on the powder. The studies, which are typically short-term, and often are funded by companies that profit from its sale, seem pretty inconclusive.
Expansion in 1993 and 1998 depleted the talent pool. Essentially, many players who would have been playing in the minor leagues were playing everyday in the majors. Talented players appear even more talented in a larger pool. For example an established hitter in 1993 would face a pitcher who would have been in the minor leagues 7.1% more than the season before. In 1998 that same player would expect to face a similar percentage (6.7%) of inexperienced pitchers from the previous year, as well the talent pool would still be diminished from the previous expansion. This increase in total players in the league would have a direct relationship with higher production. Good hitters should end up with more home runs and a higher batting average, and good pitchers should have more strikeouts and a lower ERA having faced lesser competition.
Other factors that merit consideration: Smaller Ball Parks, Weightlifting