Thursday, June 30, 2011

Un-Juiced

Home runs are exciting. They can shift momentum or bring a crowd to its feet. They can set records, and they end games. Yet there has been something so dark about home runs up until recently.

The home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa of 1998 brought fans back to baseball after so many had left following the 1994 strike. But those two also contributed to another black spot in baseball history. Steroids destroyed the competitive balance and eliminated all meaning behind home run figures.

Fortunately, baseball's much belated steps to eliminate steroids have worked This has ushered in a new era of competition. Pitching is king.

Let's take a look at home run figures in recent years.

2004 - 5,451
2005 - 5,017
2006 - 5,386
2007 - 4,957
2008 - 4,878
2009 - 5,042
2010 - 4,613
2011 - 2,106 (half way mark) 4,212 estimated total.

This leads me to one conclusion. Everyone was cheating. Now, obviously there are players who have always been clean, but one look at the numbers tells me a lot of players were using steroids.

Prior to 2005, there was no punishment for steroid use. Baseball finally implemented a testing and punishment system in the beginning of 2005, then made it more harsh at the end of 2005.

As you can see, the home run totals have been on a steady decline (except for an anomaly in 2006 and 2009) since the end of the '04 season. We are on pace for 1,000 fewer home runs in 2011 than 2004. 1,000!

Pitchers have benefited from the reduction in steroid use (I won't say elimination since players like Manny Ramirez prove arrogance can still trump penalty). The 2004 season saw an average of 716 earned runs per team. In 2010 that number was down to an average of 653 earned runs per team.

Pitchers do not have an advantage now, they are simply playing on a level playing field. And yes, I am aware plenty of pitchers were busted for steroids. But there is a big difference between a little extra juice behind a fast ball and a little extra juice off a batted ball.

We have entered into a golden era of baseball. The pitcher's era. Maybe I'm crazy, but I'll take six no-hitters in one year over a 70 home run season.

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