Monday, March 29, 2004
March 29, 2004
More on baseball’s historical talent levels.
My father is a biologist and a college professor. I grew up catching snakes and grading papers. Evolution occurs. Species adapt to their surroundings and the fittest survive. Man has gotten better since the day God created him (that?s a joke, kids, leave it alone).
Major league baseball players have to be getting better. They have to. Don?t they?
As we take a further look at Stephen Jay Gould?s work and the BBBA work of Ken Adams, we see that there isn?t a dramatic compression of variation. Certainly not like the dramatic changes we see in nearly every other athletic endeavor. Baseball isn?t track and field or swimming. Let?s look further at the data we?re unraveling.
One aspect of the data that I meant to include was the correlation coefficients of the mean with the standard deviations:
It is clear that as SLG and ISO go up, so does the variation.
After the last description of the change of talent in the major leagues, several people, Zak and JCB and including Mark Field prior to publication, said I should divide the standard deviations by the average to adjust for league offense. I wasn?t really getting that for the longest time, but the discussion by people smarter than I convinced me to look at it.
Here?s what we see in the trend line equations:
NL BA SD/Mean: y = 0.000003x + 0.1295
NL OBP SD/Mean: y = -0.0004x + 0.1302
NL SLG SD/Mean: y = 0.001x + 0.1795
NL ISO SD/Mean: y = 0.0006x + 0.4213
Those are some flat trend lines. Only on-base percentage trends downward and all of the trends are negligible. The batting average and on-base percentage have very little play in them either. Slugging has fluctuated, with the present era (1993-2002) exceeded by the variation during the extremely low offense era of the 1960s. Today?s isolated power, while down, isn?t at all-time lows, and closely matches the era of low offense of the immediately preceding era (1983-1992).
Adjusting our chart to reflect the change in average, by dividing the standard deviation by the mean doesn?t appear to give the expected result ? the adjustment flattens the variation even more.
Playing off that, Mark and FJM both brought up the use of a better metric ? OPS+. As I mentioned in response, that?ll take some time and data input. Since I already have the fantastic Lahman database in my broken out eras, I added a column for the park factor, which I will again take from the new, wonderful, The Baseball Encyclopedia, 2004 ed. Palmer, Gillette, et al. As I work the data, which will take some time, I am going to use 1.8 times OBP plus SLG. Then multiply by the park factor. In addition to standard deviation plots, for each era, I will report a count of players that are more than two and three standard deviations from the average. With any luck this will be next week?s report on this study.
I said something else last week:
I said, "Pedro Martinez is average size for a 1920s player."
Brian, who I am not picking on because I?m sure many people went "cough*****cough", said, "I think Pedro would’ve towered over most players back then."
Okay, I?m a troll. I threw that out as bait. Werr uses reader mail, I use old-fashioned bait; by throwing out something that looks like it can?t possibly be true, when I have the research already in hand. I apologize for the set-up ? I had to work in my player-size stuff somehow. I look at it more like a grifting bar bet.
Pedro is listed at 71 inches in height, probably wearing his spikes, if it is like every other profession where height is an issue with public perception. Athletes are listed tall nowadays. Was that always the case? I don?t know, but I?m sure they are today.
Does Pedro weigh more than his listed 170 pounds? He?s definitely added some weight in the last few years. He isn?t nearly the waif he once was. My handy-dandy Total Baseball IV (data through 1994) lists Pedro at 71 inches and a cool 150 pounds.
Since baseball integrated, players are about an inch taller and only five pounds heavier. We do know that some of the weights are, well, approximate, but it doesn?t appear that players are much bigger. At least not significantly.
The next argument, I?m sure, is that guys didn?t lift weights back then. You are right ? they worked on farms and whatnot, with "whatnot" being selling insurance. Players probably are a little stronger. Nonetheless, I?ll come back to this: is muscle building that helpful on both sides of the ball? It doesn?t appear to be the workout regimen for the best pitchers. Subjective debates of this type don?t go anywhere, so I?m not making that one.
As a side socio-political debate for the Sam Hutcheson fans: is the general population of the Dominican Republic and the general health of said population bigger physically and/or better than the United States in the early part of the 20th century? Discuss.
Pedro Martinez is roughly the size of the average major league ball player from 1915 to 1929. I?m very comfortable thinking Walter Johnson (73 inches, 200 pounds) could throw every bit as hard. I?d like to hear an argument that he couldn?t.