26 November 2013

Decrease in Run Production Might Be Due to Defense

This is just a short little post today, but I think it raises a decent question in light of comments made my Mark Cuban about how there is no evidence that shows human growth hormone improves athletic performance.  In fact, evidence shows that it has no significant effect on performance and there is also some information developing that shows that therapies using this hormone are unlikely to produce tissue that is functional for an athlete.  In other words, hGH therapies are probably ideal for individuals who simply need to heal as opposed to those who need to heal for athletic competition as well as not for those who used it to reduce down time between cycling of other chemicals.  This really is not much of a surprise because gym rats and athletes have rarely been on the cutting edge for any therapeutical chemical use.  Conventional wisdom tends to think that everything that successful players do must work because the players are successful.  We should recognize this as being absurd.  However, we tend to believe, as a population, in fantastically simple explanations, such as magic pills and treatments devised by non-science majors who have no practical skills beyond taste testing performance supplements.

With this in mind, shouldn't we also consider the possibility that something that has been shown to increase muscle mass and improvement in some forms of athletic events, such as anabolic steroids, might also not have been all that impacting?  A few years back, I noted how we have all of a sudden been treated to an amazing improvement in fastball velocity since around 2007.  Additionally, there also appears to be a relationship between velocity and run environments.  I think that makes sense and should be readily acceptable.

Another consideration I wish to make is this: run environment and appreciation of defensive ability are also linked.

Consider the graph below showing numbers from the American League over the past decade and a half:

How does that relationship work with the run environment?

It actually fits pretty well, which is an impressive thing because errors are a very limited measurement of defensive ability.  In fact, errors are a pretty poor way to measure defensive ability as evidenced by our infamous Rubbermaid Trashcan notion.  That is, such a trashcan would have a 1.000 fielding percentage while also being the worst defender in baseball.

Anyway, I think that it is plausible to think that along with increased pitcher velocity that a greater appreciation (or measurement) of defense probably also contributed to the decline in the run environment.  This more and more marginalizes the conventional wisdom of drug testing impacting the game in a very significant way.  As teams began to realize the importance of preventing runs then they began to move away from the pure mashers who produced runs at a significant cost to defense.  At least, that would be the narrative explanation to carry forth this hypothesis.


h2h Corner said...

Not sure if you covered this in other posts on the topic (havent caught up yet), but is there a chance PEDs improve defense more than offense? I.e., someone like a Peralta actually gained improved range and throwing power because of taking substances? So it's not power that PEDs help, but a shortstop's range and ability to throw the ball?

Jon Shepherd said...

Daniel Ho's work on athletic performance is more track and field based, but he found no evidence of any improvement of physical ability other than hurdling. The other non-improvements have been repeated and there have been no further positive results with hurdling. It seems that result was simply a statistical anomaly. Other studies have looked at athleticism and not found anything positive as well.

With that information available, I think we would be hard pressed to assume that PEDs improve defensive performance. It seems that there is a push to find these connections, but those connections remain elusive. Having failed so often at that, researchers more and more consistently are trying not to answer those questions and go where the money is...which is simply detecting metabolites of these compounds for use by sports governing bodies.

h2h Corner said...

Thanks! It just seems so odd that PEDs could improve one thing and not another, but the science seems to be incredibly inconclusive.

Why do you think it's so hard to determine the effects of PEDs?

is it because tehre are so many different things people take? And/or there are so many different inputs into being a great athlete (concentration, hand/eye coordination, endurance, intelligence, etc.) that signalling out effects is impossible?

h2h Corner said...

"and by improve one thing and not another" i dont mean that they actually improve one thing. I moreso mean that people seem so beholden to the idea that PEDs = increased runs, while testing = decreased runs that they're ignoring the idea that if PEDs can improve offensive performance, why can't they improve pitching and defense?

Odd to me how people view this subject.

Jon Shepherd said...

I think it is hard to determine the effects of PEDs primarily because the professional leagues take draconian measures to demonize players who use these types of therapies. It creates a situation where players do not know what they are doing and the league has no idea what it means. That situation likely results in players using substances that do nothing or using substances in a way where it does not help. Additionally, many of these therapies can actually be incredibly healthy to the body.

I think the leagues should be more concerned about player health as opposed to looking good in sound bites.

Jon Shepherd said...

Why do people wish for things to improve in one way, but not others. Narratives. People like stories. Usually, they like stories more than reality.