I’ve got a couple of longer entries I’m dying to write up, one on the aforementioned Steinbrenner piece, the other on Productive Outs, but double-booking myself for work is really cramping my style. Not that I mind the money, but it’s limiting me to some quick hits here and there…
The latest news on the steroid front is dismaying unless you have little need for civil liberties, but leaving that can of worms aside for the moment (let’s see, the first inflammatory email should be arriving… now), the superficial evidence that Major League Baseball’s testing policy has changed the on-field product significantly is tough to find. I offer you a couple of thumbnail comparisons for today’s Lunchtime Link. Sample-size caveats apply, of course.
ESPN.com’s Baseball page has been running a little panel (righthand side, just below the columnists) called the Juicebox which is tracking year-to-year scoring and power comparisons. As they explain, “MLB has instituted a steroid policy for the first time this season. ESPN.com looks at 2004 power numbers compared to the last two seasons.” Here are the numbers through last night:
Through May 4 2004 2003 2002
Homers Per Game 1.065 1.071 1.043
Runs per game 4.899 4.728 4.618
Doubles per game 1.901 1.816 1.793
Aggregate SLG .426 .422 .417
Scoring is up 3.6% off of last year and 6.1% over two years, doubles, and slugging percentage are slightly up, and homers, while not surpassing last year’s rate, are still up 2.1% percent over 2002. If the sudden lack of steroid-taking is having an impact — and I’m not so naive to believe that some players haven’t switched to whatever’s beyond THG in the cat-and-mouse game of detection — then it must be the pitchers who’ve been hurt more by giving up the juice. Unless it’s warmer weather, higher winds blowing out, or our old friends, random chance and small sample size, that is.
Onto Exhibit B… given the media outrage which surrounded the issue back in March, one would have expected fans to be staying away in droves as they found out their heroes were tainted by the possible use of THG and other performance-enhancing drugs. Just the opposite appears to be true. Major League Baseball announced yesterday that attendance for the season’s first four weeks had set a new record. The average attendance through May 2 was was 29,363 per game, the highest since detailed breakdowns were first recorded in 1980. That’s a 15.1% increase over last year, more than 3800 fans per game.
A few reasons for the attendance spike come to mind, of course. Home-and-home matchups for key interdivision rivalries such as the Yankees-Red Sox may have a disporportionate impact at this point. The Yanks and Sox, to continue with that example, have played 7 times in 25 games, comprising 28% of both teams’ schedules thus far; in a 162-game season, the 19 games between the two make up only 11.7% of the total slate. The two games in Japan between the Yankees and the Devil Rays both drew 55,000, essentially the same as a Yankee home game, and new ballparks in San Diego and Philadelphia are packing people in. According to Slam! Sports, the Phils are up 94% at home over last year through 11 dates, from 20,782 per game to 40,244. The Padres are up as well, but only 35% over last year, from 26,841 to 36,325. Cherrypicking a few more teams, the World Champion Florida Marlins are up 86% to 31,411, the Chicago Cubs are up 30% to 39,490, and the Detroit Tigers are up 34% to a whopping 19,035 per game.
Looking at the two teams most implicated by the BALCO revelations, the San Francisco Giants have only risen 1% to 38,573 (a lousy on-field product — “Bonds and Schmidt and the rest is shit,” said somebody the other night — may have something to do with that), but the Yanks are up 36%, from 34,196 to 46,415, and that’s without including those Tokyo games, for which they were the road team. The Devil Rays are up 63%, but if you leave out those two games, they’re only up 12%. It’s still very early yet — sound the sample-size siren one more time — so all of these extreme numbers may level off, but anybody positing a theory that the fallout from BALCO is having a negative impact on attendance is in for some rough sledding.