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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Steve Austin is not a Baseball Player

We are NOT bigger, stronger and faster. 

I know that flies in the face of human progression, but many analysts forget the economies of developing countries when considering the growth of baseball.  Yes, scouts do a better job in Latin America, both the Caribbean and South America, and Latin America (which in grade school I learned was Mexico and the myriad of countries between Mexico and South America.  Of course, that was 1974, and that may be completely inappropriate these days.)

Every analyst is quick to point out that baseball is better these days because we draw from a larger talent pool, and that athletes are bigger, faster and stronger in other sports.  Both of those things are true in general, however, they have a point of conflict. 

Yes, we, in the US have benefited from a better diet and healthcare system since World War II.  For that matter, a few million extra kids were born from 1946-1964 to only enhance the baseball talent pool from the USA.  Also, once Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, teams could more freely use Latin American players, and many did, picking up players like Luis Aparicio and Roberto Clemente.  But even then these players were still like the gaijin in Japan: a few players per team.  However, the age of the 1960s changed the culture of America, and the influx of minority players increased dramatically.  That has continued to this day, as the ratio of white US players to minority player has decreased significantly.

It is easy, and sloppy, to say “athletes are bigger, stronger and faster” than they were 30 or 50 years ago.  Mark Spitz, who won seven gold medals in the 1972 Summer Olympics, had times that college women can beat today. [Ed. Note: not quite]  Javelin and discus throws are longer.  Sprinting races (100m, 200m) are done much faster than in the past.  All of these events lead people to conclude that MLB players MUST be “bigger, stronger and faster”.

If baseball, MLB, were as lily-white as it was in 1946, then I might be inclined to agree.  But it isn’t.  The percentage of minority players has grown dramatically since 1947.  As the search for more talented players has grown, and the net is cast wider, we gather in players of all sizes and skills.  And what we learn is that as the minority population of MLB grows, the *size* of MLB players *decreases*.  It’d be nice to emphasize that enough, but I do not believe I can.

As MLB uses a greater talent pool, the size of the players decreases.  Were MLB to stick with US-born players for the last 50 years (going by birth date), the average player, born after 1964, would be 73.76 inches and weigh 197 pounds.  But they do not, and I believe we are all in agreement that the talent of MLB is better off for expanding the talent pool and drawing on players from all cultures.  Just using the Latin American countries (Caribbean, South America and Mainland Latin America), we see that the average of LA players (born after 1964) is 72.54 inches and 184 pounds.  That size and weight coincides with players that *debuted* from 1950-1954 (and were born some 20 years before). 

This isn’t, or shouldn’t be, a tremendous surprise.  The socio-economic conditions of the countries often approaches the US in the 1930s.  The size of the players is reflective of that. 

Does that mean the quality of their play if equal to that of the 1950s?  Absolutely not.  They play on better fields and have better equipment, and since joining an MLB team are better fed with better healthcare.  What it absolutely does mean is that today’s players are NOT “bigger, stronger, faster”.  Yes, many of them are, but the influx of foreign players lessens that every day.  The fact of the matter is that MLB is getting *smaller*.  Players making their debut from 1990-1994 averaged 73.46 inches and 193 pounds.  Players that made their debut from 1995-1999 averaged 73.44 inches and 192 pounds.

You may shrug and say that’s nothing (and maybe it is, because the database is older now), but the only two other times the sizes dropped were during WWI and WWII.  That isn’t something we have these days, so for even the tiniest drop to occur is significant.

In a nutshell, MLB is getting smaller, not bigger.  Maybe it is getting faster and stronger (highly unlikely), but it is NOT getting bigger.  So the next time someone wants to assert that a player today is better than a player from yesteryear, do not accept that players are bigger, stronger and faster than then - because they aren’t.  You can read more about the changes in the game and players in these older articles, here and here.

 

Chris Dial Posted: July 11, 2009 at 05:14 AM | 158 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Bhaakon Posted: July 11, 2009 at 08:01 AM (#3250032)
A whole, perhaps they are not "bigger, strong, faster," but, perhaps, they are more specialized. Such that certain positions are bigger and stronger, some are smaller and faster, some may even be smaller and stronger. While the examples you give above of running, swimming, etc. are classic example of larger, stronger modern athletes, counter examples could perhaps be found in gymnastics, diving, figure skating, or other sports were raw power is not a key to success. Furthermore, though MLB draws players from areas where the nutrition and medical care we expect in western nations might not exist, the shear size of these populations and exclusivity of major league baseball means that the bar to enter MLB may be higher than ever; if the entire talent pool is larger relative to the league than is was in the past, and the selection process more thorough (whose to say on that point) then baseball could still be more talented even if the stature of the athlete is actually decreasing. After all, as we've all seen repeatedly, pure strength and athletic ability alone don't get a player very far in baseball. While you're correct to point out that MLB players may not be bigger and stronger than they were in the past, that's not the same as saying that they aren't better.
   2. Dag Nabbit is part of the zombie horde Posted: July 11, 2009 at 01:15 PM (#3250068)
Mark Spitz, who won seven gold medals in the 1972 Summer Olympics, had times that college women can beat today.

Not true. Any and all of Spitz's times in 1972 are superior to the speed of the corresponding female gold medalist performances in the 2008 summer Olympics.
   3. 1k5v3L Posted: July 11, 2009 at 01:44 PM (#3250086)
He meant East German college women.
   4. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: July 11, 2009 at 01:44 PM (#3250087)
A whole, perhaps they are not "bigger, strong, faster," but, perhaps, they are more specialized. Such that certain positions are bigger and stronger, some are smaller and faster, some may even be smaller and stronger.

It'd be interesting to see the height and weight comparisons broken down by position, especially for pitchers.
   5. Mister High Standards Posted: July 11, 2009 at 02:11 PM (#3250095)
Bill James made an interesting point recently, that expansion hasn't had the negative impact as a talent drain as one would expect, largely because more players get an opportunity now to continue develop there skills than in a smaller league. For example in a smaller league of say 20 teams a David Ortiz maybe wouldn't have had the opportunities to be a major leaguer after not getting anything done with the Twins. Or maybe Brandon Donnelly never gets the call from an Independent baseball or a Hanley Ramirez doesn't get to keep moving up after little minor league progress.

I don't find Dial's argument convincing. I don't believe weight/height statistics are even reasonably accurate in the modern sense. They may or may not be accurate historicly, I don't know. But I do know that:

Dustin Pedroia is NOT 5 9
David Ortiz is NOT 230
Arod is NOT 190
Melky Cabrera is NOT 170
CC is NOT 250

The only other player I looked up was Petite, but his weight list at 230 seemed pretty reasonable. I suspected before checking that these guys information wouldn't be accurate. The data is just garbage and is leading to inaccurate analysis.
   6. Jeff K. Posted: July 11, 2009 at 02:21 PM (#3250104)
Were MLB to stick with US-born players for the last 50 years (going by birth date), the average player, born after 1964, would be 73.76 inches and weigh 197 pounds. But they do not, and I believe we are all in agreement that the talent of MLB is better off for expanding the talent pool and drawing on players from all cultures. Just using the Latin American countries (Caribbean, South America and Mainland Latin America), we see that the average of LA players (born after 1964) is 72.54 inches and 184 pounds. That size and weight coincides with players that *debuted* from 1950-1954 (and were born some 20 years before).

Wait, if you're granting that the US players are bigger, and you're showing me that the Latin American guys are the size of the representative population from 50-54, then by necessity players *are* bigger. If the argument were more focused on why that doesn't matter, okay, but I don't get it as is.

The fact of the matter is that MLB is getting *smaller*. Players making their debut from 1990-1994 averaged 73.46 inches and 193 pounds. Players that made tehir debut from 1995-1999 averaged 73.44 inches and 192 pounds.

Come on. Really?
   7. Mister High Standards Posted: July 11, 2009 at 02:32 PM (#3250109)
Jeff, I think Dial's point is that the full populations average size is smaller because the growing global presence has a larger contribution to the populations average size than the size increase of the American born players.
   8. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: July 11, 2009 at 02:41 PM (#3250114)
This is admittedly a very small sample size, but here are a few comparisons of rosters from notable teams of the recent past and the not so recent past.

One caveat about height listings that's impossible to prove but easy to be suspicious of: Height inflation, especially for players listed at exactly 6'0". It's always seemed more than a little fishy to me to see so many players listed at exactly 6'0" and so few at 5'11". But of course that's a suspicion that has no way of being proven one way or the other.

Both of these Indians teams were historic. The 1954 team, overrated as it may be, nevertheless won 111 games, while the 1995 team went 100-44 in a strike-shortened year and won their division by a record-smashing 30 games.

1954 Cleveland Indians

1995 Cleveland Indians

Two Yankees World Series winners:

1956 Yankees

1996 Yankees

Two Braves World Series winners:

1957 Milwaukee Braves

1995 Atlanta Braves

Two historic Red Sox teams:

1967 Red Sox

2007 Red Sox

And finally, two Cardinals World Series winners:

1964 Cardinals

2006 Cardinals

No way I'm going to do the complete math on these teams, but one thing that seems obvious: If you combined all the players on these ten rosters and listed them according to height, the great majority of those on the tall end of the scale would be from the "modern" teams. 50 or 60 years ago pitchers who were 6'6" or more were so uncommon that we could practically name them all: Ewell Blackwell, Gene Conley, Frank Sullivan, and who else? Whereas today 6'6" or more, while still a long way from the norm (duh), is so commonplace that nobody even notices it any more until you get up into Randy Johnson territory.
   9. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: July 11, 2009 at 02:44 PM (#3250115)
Bad link in that post above. Hopefully this will work:

1956 Yankees
   10. rfloh Posted: July 11, 2009 at 03:27 PM (#3250136)
While the examples you give above of running, swimming, etc. are classic example of larger, stronger modern athletes, counter examples could perhaps be found in gymnastics, diving, figure skating, or other sports were raw power is not a key to success.


Put on a pair of skates, and try to do a triple axel. Or, try to do an Iron Cross on a pair of gymnastics rings.

Gymnastics and figure skating are actually examples of how modern athletes are stronger, more athletic, at least relative to their bodyweights.

The number of jumps, has increased quite a bit in recent years, especially in women's figure skating. The Triple Axel which has now become a standard jump for male skaters, was only first successfully landed in competition in 1978. It is only in recent years that (a few) women have started being able to land Triple Axels in competition.

In men's gymnastics, compared to the past, male gymnasts nowadays perform the Iron Cross in a single routine, one of the most difficult sporting movements in any sport, more times.
   11. The District Attorney Posted: July 11, 2009 at 03:37 PM (#3250139)
Steve Austin is not a Baseball Player
And that's the bottom line, 'cause Chris Dial said so.
   12. Raskolnikov Posted: July 11, 2009 at 03:40 PM (#3250143)
It is only in recent years that (a few) women have started being able to land Triple Axels in competition.

Women can now do triple axels? The last one I remember was Tonya Harding. Michelle Kwan wasn't able to do them, nor Sarah Hughes.
   13. GGC don't think it can get longer than a novella Posted: July 11, 2009 at 04:17 PM (#3250174)
Was this in response to the recent Lefty Grove debate? I'm heading out in a minute or two, but will try and look at this when I get a chance.
   14. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: July 11, 2009 at 04:31 PM (#3250184)
Heights and weights for top 10 slugging percentage leaders, NL and AL, 1958 and 1998

1958 NL
Banks 6-1 180
Mays 5-11 180
Aaron 6-0 180
Frank Thomas 6-3 205
Musial 6-0 175
Harry Anderson (Phillies) 6-3 210
Cepeda 6-2 210
Frank Robinson 6-1 195
Ken Boyer 6-2 200
Walt Moryn 6-2 205

1958 AL
Colavito 6-3 190
Bob Cerv 6-0 202
Mantle 5-11 198
Williams 6-3 205
Sievers 6-1 195
Jensen 5-11 190
Kaline 6-2 180
Power 5-11 195
Minoso 5-10 175
Gail Harris (Tigers) 6-0 195

2008 NL
Pujols 6-3 210
Ryan Ludwick 6-3 203
Chipper 6-3 185
Berkman 6-1 205
Braun 6-2 200
Carlos Lee 6-2 235
Howard 6-4 230
Hanley Ramirez 6-3 195
Holliday 6-4 235
Utley 6-1 170

2008 AL
A-Rod 6-3 190
Quentin 6-1 225
Youk 6-1 220
Milton Bradley 6-0 180
Huff 6-4 221
Dye 6-4 210
Mig. Cabrera 6-2 185
Longoria 6-2 210
Josh Hamilton 6-4 203
Vlad. Guerrero 6-3 235

Another imperfect sample size, but the upward trend is obvious. Nearly all the biggest players are from 2008, and nearly all the smallest ones are from 1958.

And as to the admittedly small sample size: When people say that players are getting bigger as the years go by, does anyone really doubt that they're talking about the players with the most playing time, and especially about the sluggers and the pitchers, as opposed to the middle infielders and the benchwarmers?
   15. Infinite Joost (Voxter) Posted: July 11, 2009 at 04:57 PM (#3250204)
It seems to me that there are a lot of obvious flaws with this argument, not least that comparing the early 90s to the late 90s says absolutely nothing about the 1950s (and that the statistics cited show that players were, for all intents and purposes, exactly the same size in both periods), but the most obvious one seems to be this: bigger does not necessarily mean faster, more athletic, or better suited to the specifics of the task at hand. A good example here is Ichiro, a player who would almost certainly not have been in the majors fifty years ago; for his first several years in the league, he was acknowledged to be one of the fastest players in the game, perhaps of all time -- and he weighs in at 5'9", 160 lbs. Using size as an approximation of athletic ability strikes me as only moderately useful.

The talent pool is larger now than ever before. It follows that the cream of a bigger crop will be better than it was. Has MLB expanded quickly enough to keep up with the explosion of available players, players from Latin America, players from Asia, players from the United States itself, which has grown to nearly twice the size it was in 1960? I highly doubt it. There were 16 teams in the major leagues in the 1950s, drawing talent almost exclusively from the United States and Canada, fewer than two hundred million people. Now there are thirty, drawing from a baseball-playing population of well over half a billion worldwide. The level of skill, the variety of ability, has almost certainly risen, too. This article makes no meaningful arguments against that.
   16. Danny Posted: July 11, 2009 at 05:45 PM (#3250231)
Bill James made an interesting point recently, that expansion hasn't had the negative impact as a talent drain as one would expect, largely because more players get an opportunity now to continue develop there skills than in a smaller league. For example in a smaller league of say 20 teams a David Ortiz maybe wouldn't have had the opportunities to be a major leaguer after not getting anything done with the Twins. Or maybe Brandon Donnelly never gets the call from an Independent baseball or a Hanley Ramirez doesn't get to keep moving up after little minor league progress.

This is the same Hanley Ramirez that BA rated among the top 40 prospects in all of baseball for 4 straight years?

As to the larger point, it all depends on what you mean by "as one would expect." If you mean there' a small benefit of some slowly developing players being given more time to develop, sure. If you mean this small benefit comes anywhere near outweighing the inevitable talent dilution caused by expansion, it's completely wrong. Expanding the talent pool internationally and through domestic population growth balances that out to a large degree, but not because there are a few Donnellys hanging around the independent leagues.
   17. Chris Dial Posted: July 11, 2009 at 06:52 PM (#3250288)
The data is just garbage and is leading to inaccurate analysis.
Of course it isn't. The flaws in the size reported by athletes has been pretty consistently goofy (at least over the last 40 years). You also seem to say that these players are shorter than reported, so they are even smaller. The data is going to err, most likely, in a consistent manner in the size of the sample I am looking at.
   18. Chris Dial Posted: July 11, 2009 at 06:54 PM (#3250289)
but the most obvious one seems to be this: bigger does not necessarily mean faster, more athletic, or better suited to the specifics of the task at hand.
Um, this is my exact argument. Players aren't always bigger, and even if they are, it doesn't mean they are better. How is that a flaw in the argument?
   19. Chris Dial Posted: July 11, 2009 at 06:55 PM (#3250291)
It follows that the cream of a bigger crop will be better than it was.
If "it follows" you should be able to demonstrate it. The reason given historically were that "we are bigger stronger and faster". Once that is demonstrated to be untrue, then the argument is changing to "more specialized" or "more talented".
   20. Chris Dial Posted: July 11, 2009 at 06:56 PM (#3250292)
And as to the admittedly small sample size: When people say that players are getting bigger as the years go by, does anyone really doubt that they're talking about the players with the most playing time, and especially about the sluggers and the pitchers, as opposed to the middle infielders and the benchwarmers?
Yes. There are far fewer "benchwarmers" than starters. Middle infielders of old would likely be smaller than the sluggers of old. So the average works just fine.
   21. Chris Dial Posted: July 11, 2009 at 06:57 PM (#3250294)
The level of skill, the variety of ability, has almost certainly risen, too. This article makes no meaningful arguments against that.
Read teh links at the end.

Your assertion that "almost certainly has risen" isn't an argument. Make that one, and I'll argue against it.
   22. Chris Dial Posted: July 11, 2009 at 06:59 PM (#3250295)
Come on. Really?
Really. We're talking about lots of players and it didn't coincidentally tick downwards at any other time (because these are large samples). So, yes, really. I am aware it is small enough to mean very little, other than players aren't continually getting bigger as they had for the first 100 years.
   23. Chris Dial Posted: July 11, 2009 at 07:01 PM (#3250297)
This is admittedly a very small sample size,
I don't see any reason to use a small sample size when I can use all of MLB. There's no cherry picking there - it's the pool.
   24. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: July 11, 2009 at 07:53 PM (#3250336)
But what explains the considerable average size differences between the 50's / 60's and 90's / 00's that are evident in those five sets of rosters I listed in # 8, especially among the pitchers? And why are the leading sluggers of 2008 so consistently taller and heavier than their 1958 counterparts? Wouldn't you think that a sample size that consists of the top 20 sluggers from each era would at least not run so completely opposite of what you say the overall size averages are?

Among the top 20 1958 sluggers, there are four of them who are 6-3, and none taller.
Among the top 20 2008 sluggers, there are eleven who are either 6-3 (6) or 6-4 (5).

Among the top 20 1958 sluggers, there are nine players who are 6-0 or shorter.
Among the top 20 2008 sluggers, there is but one---Milt Bradley.

I can't believe that discrepancies that large are insignificant.

As everyone has noted, none of this has anything to do with skill sets, because as you say, Steve Austin is not a baseball player, and there's more to baseball skills than sheer size. But among the top players, at least, the size is definitely bigger than it was 40 and 50 years ago.
   25. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: July 11, 2009 at 07:59 PM (#3250344)
And since you have access to the complete rosters for all these years, and not just my small sets of a few rosters and the leading sluggers**, why not scan all of those rosters and see how many players from each era are 6-3 or taller, and how many players from each era are 6-0 or shorter?

**of course I have access to this information myself (it's all there in BB-ref and BB Almanac), but what I don't have is a program that can get me averages and splits for 50 years worth of teams without spending half a month doing it.
   26. Chris Dial Posted: July 11, 2009 at 08:06 PM (#3250354)
why not scan all of those rosters and see how many players from each era are 6-3 or taller, and how many players from each era are 6-0 or shorter
Why? If the averages are what they are, then it would mean there are more smaller ones too. It's the average.
   27. Mister High Standards Posted: July 11, 2009 at 08:07 PM (#3250355)
you mean there' a small benefit of some slowly developing players being given more time to develop, sure.


There is also twice as many players drafted. In a smaller leaguer, there is no Mike Piazza or countless others.

[quoteOf course it isn't. The flaws in the size reported by athletes has been pretty consistently goofy (at least over the last 40 years). You also seem to say that these players are shorter than reported, so they are even smaller. The data is going to err, most likely, in a consistent manner in the size of the sample I am looking at.]

One player out of 4 that I cited off the top of my team was shorter. The others are significantly larger than there reported size. You can't just poo poo the data integrity issue like your trying to do here. It is possible that it is systematically bias, but as the scientist aren't you supposed to prove that rather than assert it?
   28. Alex_Lewis Posted: July 11, 2009 at 08:14 PM (#3250361)
Does this include pitchers? I can't think of a guy like, say, Josh Johnson existing anywhere in the annals. I mean, Walter Johnson was 6'1"...
   29. AROM Posted: July 11, 2009 at 08:23 PM (#3250367)
If comparing to players before 1973, we should exclude the dh. The behemoths at this spot would otherwise be aaa sluggers, or send some 1b, likely bigger than players at other positions, to the minors.

Steve Austin did in fact play baseball, for the Mariners under the name Jay Buhner.
   30. Chris Dial Posted: July 11, 2009 at 08:32 PM (#3250373)
It is possible that it is systematically bias, but as the scientist aren't you supposed to prove that rather than assert it?
How on earth would you expect me to prove the heights of all the players in the history of baseball? It's what we have.
   31. Chris Dial Posted: July 11, 2009 at 08:34 PM (#3250375)
If comparing to players before 1973, we should exclude the dh. The behemoths at this spot would otherwise be aaa sluggers, or send some 1b, likely bigger than players at other positions, to the minors.
There are only 12-20 DHs players in a year, and only for the last 30 years, and most of them made their debut at some other position, and played elsewhere. They aren't going to move the needle on 400 players (I think that's the rough intervals).
   32. Chris Dial Posted: July 11, 2009 at 08:35 PM (#3250376)
Does this include pitchers?
I seperated pitchers before. They are taller by an inch or two as a group.
   33. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: July 11, 2009 at 09:21 PM (#3250396)
why not scan all of those rosters and see how many players from each era are 6-3 or taller, and how many players from each era are 6-0 or shorter

Why? If the averages are what they are, then it would mean there are more smaller ones too. It's the average.


So you're saying that if there are more outliers on the tall end, that will be balanced by more outliers on the short end, if "the averages are what they are."

Well, as I said, you've got the programs, and all I have is what raw info I have the time or inclination to process.

But those Baseball Almanac rosters aren't just made up of the mid-Summer players. They include everyone who made even just one plate or mound appearance during the regular season. And to go back to those five sets of rosters I listed in # 8 & # 9, here's a count of the number of sub-6'0" outliers, and the number of 6'4" or taller outliers.

1954 Indians: nine under 6 ft.; one 6'4" or taller
1995 Indians: seven under 6 ft.; seven 6'4" or taller

1956 Yankees: ten under 6 ft.; two 6'4" or taller
1996 Yankees: six under 6 ft.; ten 6'4" or taller

1957 Braves: five under 6 ft.; five 6'4" or taller
1995 Braves: eight under 6 ft.; six 6'4" or taller

1967 Red Sox: six under 6 ft.; five 6'4" or taller
2007 Red Sox: three under 6 ft.; nine 6'4" or taller

1964 Cardinals: thirteen under 6 ft.; two 6'4" or taller
2006 Cardinals: seven under 6 ft.; nine 6'4" or taller

Total number of earlier players under 6 ft.: 43
Total number of recent players under 6 ft.: 31

Total number of earlier players 6'4" or taller: 15
Total number of recent players 6'4" or taller: 41

The trends in both cases seem pretty cut and dried. And they don't jibe with your "averages."

Either those randomly picked rosters I selected are wildly unrepresentative, or I'd like to see some other sets of randomly picked rosters whose numbers point in the other direction. What's your data base? And if you can manage to come up with one big "average" from all of those rosters, why can't you simply produce a list of tall and short outliers, obviously meaning a total number and not a list of names. Until then, I'm having a tough time ascribing those above discrepancies to "small sample size."

Perhaps my bias lies in selecting outstandingly good teams, and perhaps if I'd chosen outstandingly bad teams the numbers would more reflect your findings that players are getting shorter. That would suggest a correlation between size and quality, which may or may not be correct. But I'll leave that bit of digging and / or theorizing to someone else, if anyone's interested. And I'll leave the racial or ethnic explanations to others as well.
   34. Chris Dial Posted: July 11, 2009 at 09:50 PM (#3250414)
What's your data base?
The Lahman db. Yours, free of charge.
   35. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: July 11, 2009 at 10:14 PM (#3250424)
Much appreciated, but I can't open it without Microsoft Office Access, which I don't have. So I'll have to rely on someone else to answer the questions I posed, including the numbers on outlier heights. All I know so far is that nothing I've discovered in those ten rosters I looked at leads to any conclusion that players are getting smaller. Of course it doesn't prove the opposite---it's only a relatively small bit of evidence---but so far what data I've found point pretty much in the direction that players are getting bigger.
   36. Bhaakon Posted: July 11, 2009 at 10:15 PM (#3250425)
Gymnastics and figure skating are actually examples of how modern athletes are stronger, more athletic, at least relative to their bodyweights.


I thought this was my point, that there are sports where just being bigger and stronger are not an advantage. Smaller and stronger, or smaller and same strength, or same size and stronger are the advantage, power to weight ratio if you will, instead of pure strength.
   37. Chris Dial Posted: July 11, 2009 at 10:30 PM (#3250434)
There is an excel download. I don't use Access either, I have gigantic Excel files.
   38. Mister High Standards Posted: July 11, 2009 at 10:42 PM (#3250438)

How on earth would you expect me to prove the heights of all the players in the history of baseball? It's what we have.



ANd what we have is grossly inaccurate in at least one part of the sample. Since we have no idea if the bias is systematic or not, the data is poor for this type of analysis. GIGO.
   39. Chris Dial Posted: July 11, 2009 at 10:46 PM (#3250439)
Bhaakon,
I am not disputing that at all. Here I am saying that the influx of Latin American players that are of the same size as players from three or four generations ago aren't bigger than them, and thus it cannot be argued (convincingly) that play is better solely because the average size is increased. Many of the "better players" aren't bigger - and the percentage of players that aren't bigger is increasing.

Players and play may be better - I am not arguing it isn't. I'm saying th argument for claiming a superstar today is better than a superstar of the past needs better demonstration than "bigger faster stronger" because it isn't that simple and often not true.
   40. Chris Dial Posted: July 11, 2009 at 10:48 PM (#3250441)
ANd what we have is grossly inaccurate in at least one part of the sample. Since we have no idea if the bias is systematic or not, the data is poor for this type of analysis. GIGO.
Apply Occam's Razor. How do you think it is grossly inaccurate? Can you demonstrate that the 5 players you cite aren't the exceptions? There's nothing inherently wrong with using the data as is.
   41. OCF Posted: July 11, 2009 at 10:57 PM (#3250444)
It's always seemed more than a little fishy to me to see so many players listed at exactly 6'0" and so few at 5'11".

One of the little oddities of listings of famous players is that Lou Brock has no height at all listed in any of the references I've seen. If you asked me to guess how tall he is, I might guess 5-11.
   42. Mister High Standards Posted: July 11, 2009 at 11:32 PM (#3250497)

Can you demonstrate that the 5 players you cite aren't the exceptions?



I checked 6 players off the top of my head. 5 were clearly and obviously wrong. There is no reason why they should be exceptions. Since you have the data in a spreadsheet. Run a =rand() in each row from each player from last year. Sort it by that row. Look at the top 10, tell me how many of those 10 are reasonable. I'll do the same.
   43. Jeff K. Posted: July 11, 2009 at 11:39 PM (#3250531)
Really. We're talking about lots of players and it didn't coincidentally tick downwards at any other time (because these are large samples). So, yes, really. I am aware it is small enough to mean very little, other than players aren't continually getting bigger as they had for the first 100 years.

If you had said this right here, I'd have been fine. "Players aren't getting bigger, and they always have, that might mean something." I'm 100% okay with that. But I submit that even with the sample sizes the sizes that they are, a difference of 2/100ths of an inch and 1 pound out of 170 doesn't pass a t test for significance wrt difference between the two means. You've got the data in Excel already, can you run it?
   44. Chris Dial Posted: July 12, 2009 at 12:00 AM (#3250573)
I checked 6 players off the top of my head. 5 were clearly and obviously wrong.
What are teh correct values? Obviously people gain and lose weight throughout their lives. Your card might say 265 pounds. Your picking nits here.
   45. Jeff K. Posted: July 12, 2009 at 12:04 AM (#3250578)
What are teh correct values? Obviously people gain and lose weight throughout their lives. Your card might say 265 pounds. Your picking nits here.

Sounds like he needs to be picking Jenny Craig, am I right?

OH NO HE DI'INT

(No offense, Matt, that's for Spivey)
   46. Chris Dial Posted: July 12, 2009 at 12:06 AM (#3250585)
If you had said this right here, I'd have been fine.
My subtlety is my undoing.
   47. Jeff K. Posted: July 12, 2009 at 12:18 AM (#3250611)
It's hard to call it "subtlety", of course, when you put big asterisks around smaller. :) I think your wrongness was your undoing.

Missed this:
Jeff, I think Dial's point is that the full populations average size is smaller because the growing global presence has a larger contribution to the populations average size than the size increase of the American born players.

Matt, I don't think that's his point because that doesn't match up with what he provides. As I said, if the notion is that there's a bunch more Latins in baseball and they offset some of the growth in Amerians, okay. But saying that they are the same size as the league-norm in the 50s obviously doesn't prove that. If we take the 50s average size and we have Americans that are bigger now and Latins that are smaller than the new Americans but the same size as the 50s Americans, no amount of increase in the number of Latins can make it such that players as a whole are not bigger now than then.

This isn't the First Bank of Change.
   48. Chris Dial Posted: July 12, 2009 at 12:35 AM (#3250633)
Players as a whole have been getting bigger (except in the last node). BUT, only the US ones. And the percentage of Americans is decreasing. So players that are the size of 1950s players are taking the place of US players, who are bigger and stronger. Which says that bigger and stronger != better.
   49. Jeff K. Posted: July 12, 2009 at 12:57 AM (#3250660)
Which says that bigger and stronger != better.

By definition, or all the time? Of course not. You don't need a study to prove that, it's common sense, and well-known. There is a point at which height starts to hinder, and not just because of the strike zone impact. You hear it every time Russ Branyan comes up, or when Winfield did. That long a swing is a hard thing to master. Same thing with stronger. Hell, that's so entrenched it's basically the entire reason that nobody weightlifted until the late 70s, the notion that big muscles don't serve a baseball swing.
   50. Chris Dial Posted: July 12, 2009 at 01:36 AM (#3250694)
You don't need a study to prove that, it's common sense, and well-known.
Is it? It seems to be cited regularly that today's players are better than those in the 1950s (or 1960s) because they are BFS.
   51. Slivers of Maranville descends into chaos (SdeB) Posted: July 12, 2009 at 01:40 AM (#3250697)
But I submit that even with the sample sizes the sizes that they are, a difference of 2/100ths of an inch and 1 pound out of 170 doesn't pass a t test for significance wrt difference between the two means. You've got the data in Excel already, can you run it?


When the sample is 100% of the population, what would a t test tell us?
   52. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: July 12, 2009 at 01:45 AM (#3250705)
Again, though, the leading sluggers of today are bigger (taller and heavier) than those of 50 years ago. It's not even particularly close.

The pitchers of today are bigger than the pitchers of 50 years ago. There are more oversized pitchers and fewer undersized ones than there were back then, unless those five teams I compared are utterly unrepresentative.

And yet somehow the overall size of players is getting smaller? Then who's dragging the averages down? Are the catchers smaller? I strongly doubt that. Maybe the middle infielders, since that's where you find a lot of Latinos. But those team roster comparisons I listed included middle infielders, and the overall rosters all showed greater height and weight.

In any case, this alleged shrinkage has to be coming from somewhere. But where? (/Seinfeld straight line)
   53. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: July 12, 2009 at 01:54 AM (#3250714)
Which says that bigger and stronger != better.

By definition, or all the time? Of course not. You don't need a study to prove that, it's common sense, and well-known. There is a point at which height starts to hinder, and not just because of the strike zone impact. You hear it every time Russ Branyan comes up, or when Winfield did. That long a swing is a hard thing to master. Same thing with stronger. Hell, that's so entrenched it's basically the entire reason that nobody weightlifted until the late 70s, the notion that big muscles don't serve a baseball swing.


Is it? It seems to be cited regularly that today's players are better than those in the 1950s (or 1960s) because they are BFS.

Yet you yourself have argued the opposite on more than one occasion. You've always said that timing and bat speed were the keys. (And for the record, I've always agreed that while timing is the sine qua non of hitting, if you've got that to begin with, then up to a point you'll get more power [more bat speed] from more strength.)
   54. Jeff K. Posted: July 12, 2009 at 02:57 AM (#3250761)
When the sample is 100% of the population, what would a t test tell us?

Did I use the wrong term? I forget the differences exactly, I was a finance major, not stats. Whichever one is the one where you start with a hypothesis that the mean of population A is not different than the mean of population B and you have to disprove the null hypothesis. Isn't that a two-sample t-test?
   55. Jeff K. Posted: July 12, 2009 at 02:59 AM (#3250763)
Is it? It seems to be cited regularly that today's players are better than those in the 1950s (or 1960s) because they are BFS.

I think there's a semantic difference here. I think it is cited regularly that the level of play is higher (better might bring in some aesthetic connotations, hell I might enjoy Benny Hill and so "better" to me is 50 errors a game) because of BFS, not so much the value judgment on the players themselves. I know it's subtle, and actually so this time, but I think it's important. I might be wrong, but that's my impression of what I've read.
   56. AROM Posted: July 12, 2009 at 03:02 AM (#3250766)
As to the inaccuracies MHS pointed out, those weights seem very reasonable if you look at them as debut weights. Weight changes all the time, but the db is only giving you one number. There are probably more players today that add significant weightduring their careers than in the past.
   57. Jeff K. Posted: July 12, 2009 at 03:07 AM (#3250771)
There are probably more players today that add significant weightduring their careers than in the past.

I was going to make a Sean Kemp joke here, but then I realized it worked equally well for either his actual weight or the combined weight of his children, and would thus be confusing.

Good point, though. Not the least of which is that today's players aren't out working the back 40 or delivering milk in the offseason. They get more time to stay sharp, but they're not out busting their hump like Joe Schmo, either.
   58. Chris Dial Posted: July 12, 2009 at 03:40 AM (#3250784)
Yet you yourself have argued the opposite on more than one occasion.
Yes, I know. I am continuing to argue that here.
   59. Chris Dial Posted: July 12, 2009 at 03:43 AM (#3250786)
There are probably more players today that add significant weightduring their careers than in the past.
I don't know why this would be true.
   60. Mister High Standards Posted: July 12, 2009 at 03:58 AM (#3250793)
What are teh correct values?


We need season values. That way we can do what we want with it, like batting average or era.

I don't know why this would be true.


Thats because the data is bad. Though superficially, I think it makes some sense as players weight train throughout there career. At least corner player, which was frowned upon prior to Brian Downing, iirc.
   61. rfloh Posted: July 12, 2009 at 03:59 AM (#3250794)
I thought this was my point, that there are sports where just being bigger and stronger are not an advantage. Smaller and stronger, or smaller and same strength, or same size and stronger are the advantage, power to weight ratio if you will, instead of pure strength.


I'm saying that in most sports, including athletics, swimming, not just "skill" sports like figure skating or gymnastics, relative strength is key, since in many cases the resistance is the athlete's body; or there are weight class limits.
   62. rfloh Posted: July 12, 2009 at 04:05 AM (#3250797)


Women can now do triple axels? The last one I remember was Tonya Harding. Michelle Kwan wasn't able to do them, nor Sarah Hughes.


In the last few years, a couple Japanese and an American, Kimmie Meissner. Neither Kwan nor Hughes were known for their athleticism. Meissner, and Asada are.
   63. GGC don't think it can get longer than a novella Posted: July 12, 2009 at 01:32 PM (#3250951)
Bigger and stronger does not necessarily equal better because the most important athletic skill required in baseball is hand/eye coordination. This article isn't gospel, but I find it interesting nevertheless.
   64. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: July 12, 2009 at 01:55 PM (#3250960)
I doubt if anyone would seriously argue that bigger and stronger necessarily equals better. But other things being equal, it's certainly not going to hurt you.

And that article you link to is so full of holes I can't imagine that anyone would take it seriously, at least once you get below the top two choices of boxing and hockey. For one thing, there's no subcategory that takes into consideration the essential difference between sports where the defense is actively interfering with the offense, as opposed to sports where the participant is competing only against the course (golf) or himself (gymnastics).
   65. Jeff K. Posted: July 12, 2009 at 02:05 PM (#3250966)
That leads the way into another oft-had heated argument about hitting a baseball (getting a hit, or making solid contact, whatever) being the hardest thing in sports, which I believe it is. However, I don't think it argues against BFS being better, because once two guys both have the HEC sufficient to make solid contact, the one who is BFS will consistently hit the ball further. The downside to being *too* BFS is that it requires more from HEC than it provides as a benefit.

So HEC is definitely a huge part of it, but it would be no matter whether HEC was the most important determining factor in hitting success or not. Where HEC being the most important determining factor (if it indeed is) factor comes into play is elsewhere, I think.

(EDIT) This is to 63.
   66. JoeArthur Posted: July 12, 2009 at 02:34 PM (#3250979)
Hi Chris.

I wonder if your endpoints in the 1990s are biased by replacement players in 1995. The height of players who debuted that single year was 73.26. If you compare heights of players debuting in 1990-94 versus 1996-2000, the average height increases from 73.46 to 73.59 inches. For debuts from 2000 on, the average height is 73.65 inches. But I doubt that is exactly the right way to address the question. Because of increased specialization on pitching staffs, and maybe changed rules for DL'ing players, more players get to play some MLB ball, especially pitchers. I think you'd want to weight the heights by some measure of playing time, not simply average the players who appear.

Your core observation is an interesting one. Foreign born players are around an inch shorter on average. But their height has also been increasing, just like the average heights of American born players. [For players born 1945-64, I get an average height of 72.1 for players born outside the US, and 73.3 in the US. for players born after 1964, the averages are 72.8 and 73.8.] The increased presence of foreign born players is "pulling down" the average height, but it looks like this trend hasn't quite cancelled out the trend toward increased height.

I would stay away from using weight in a discussion like this, because I'd guess it is harder to have an apples to apples comparison. A player's weight changes over time, but the Lahman database only lists a single weight. For very recent players it appears to get updated and more or less represent a career ending weight. But I don't know that you can assume that about the weights listed for players from 20 or more years ago ... I see AROM already alluded to this in #56.
   67. Dr. I likes his panda steak medium rare Posted: July 12, 2009 at 03:12 PM (#3250996)
I pulled out the Lahman db, and looked at MLB players who made their first appearance between 1950 and 1955 and compared them to players who started of in MLB between 2000 and 2005. I only looked at height, and not weight, because weight is a moving target over a guy's career, whereas height ought to be pretty constant (assuming it is properly reported). I may break things out by birth country later, but for now here is everyone. I am using a frequency table, rather than just reporting averages. There is a higher percentage of tall players who entered MLB in 2000-2005.

.
             % 
of players      of players
height 
(in)  1950-1955         2000-2005
<66            0.5%               0.0%
66            0.3%               0.0%
67            0.6%               0.2%
68            1.9%               0.8%
69            3.4%               2.1%
70            7.0%               4.8%
71           14.4%               8.4%
72           23.3%              14.1%
73           17.5%              16.5%
74           13.3%              18.4%
75            9.2%              14.5%
76            5.8%               9.6%
77            1.6%               6.5%
78            0.6%               2.2%
>
78            0.3%               1.7


Note: In the 1950-1955 group, there are some players with no listed height in the database.
   68. Dr. I likes his panda steak medium rare Posted: July 12, 2009 at 03:21 PM (#3251003)
I wonder if your endpoints in the 1990s are biased by replacement players in 1995. The height of players who debuted that single year was 73.26. If you compare heights of players debuting in 1990-94 versus 1996-2000, the average height increases from 73.46 to 73.59 inches. For debuts from 2000 on, the average height is 73.65 inches. But I doubt that is exactly the right way to address the question. Because of increased specialization on pitching staffs, and maybe changed rules for DL'ing players, more players get to play some MLB ball, especially pitchers. I think you'd want to weight the heights by some measure of playing time, not simply average the players who appear.


I basically agree with these comments. Weighing by PT would be interesting, but is somewhat hard to do with the format that I have my data in. Maybe Chris has it in a better format.

I will also add that I think only looking at the average height obscures a lot of what has actually happened. Roughly 10% of MLB players who first show up in the Lahman DB between 2000 and 2005 are 6'5" or taller. For the 1950-1955 time frame, this percentage is about 2.5%.
   69. Dr. I likes his panda steak medium rare Posted: July 12, 2009 at 03:34 PM (#3251008)
Here is the breakdown between players listed as born in the US vs. not born in the US for the 2000-2005 debut group.

.


                 
US born              Non US born
height 
(in)    % of all players     of all players
65               0.0
%                     0.0%
66               0.0%                     0.0%
67               0.2%                     0.1%
68               0.6%                     0.2%
69               1.1%                     1.0%
70               2.7%                     2.1%
71               4.5%                     3.9%
72              10.4%                     3.7%
73              11.1%                     5.4%
74              13.3%                     5.1%
75              11.6%                     2.9%
76               8.1%                     1.5%
77               5.7%                     0.7%
78               2.1%                     0.2%
>
78              1.7%                     0.1%
Total %         73.1%                    26.9
   70. McCoy Posted: July 12, 2009 at 03:42 PM (#3251013)
The Lahman database for earlier years has lots of missing height and weight data so basically when looking at earlier times vs nowadays we are comparing partial and perhaps innaccurate data to complete and perhaps inaccurate data. The Baseball Oracle has a lot more height data than Lahman but they do the half inch thing which makes me wonder how they got that and also points out the fact that in the Lahman database everybody is a perfect inch in height. Nobody 6 feet and 3/4 or anything like that. So a 5 ft 11.5 inch tall guy becomes 6 feet tall (maybe, or maybe he becomes 5'11) while the 6 feet and .4 inch guy becomes 6 foot as well even though there is almost a full inch difference between the two.

Latin American players I believe are bigger now then LA players of 50 years ago. White players are bigger now then they were 50 years ago. Black players are bigger now then they were 50 years ago.
   71. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: July 12, 2009 at 03:52 PM (#3251015)
Thank you, Dr. I. What you report in #67 seems to confirm what my small sample size indicated earlier in the thread: Players are getting bigger, not smaller. 51.4% of the players who began their careers between 1950 and 1955 were 6'0" or shorter, while 69.4% of the players who debuted between 1990 and 1995 were 6'1" or taller. Not that this should surprise anyone who's been following the game for the time frame in question.
   72. McCoy Posted: July 12, 2009 at 04:07 PM (#3251026)
Here is the height (weighted by playing time) for all LA and South American countries in MLB History

yearID    Height
1871    66.0 
1872    66.0 
1873    66.0 
1911    69.6 
1912    69.9 
1913    69.6 
1914    70.2 
1915    69.6 
1916    71.0 
1917    69.8 
1918    69.4 
1919    69.5 
1920    68.7 
1921    68.4 
1922    67.2 
1923    67.0 
1924    71.5 
1925    70.9 
1926    69.2 
1927    70.4 
1928    70.6 
1929    70.9 
1930    67.0 
1931    69.6 
1932    68.9 
1933    68.4 
1934    69.3 
1935    71.1 
1936    70.8 
1937    72.0 
1938    71.8 
1939    70.6 
1940    70.1 
1941    71.4 
1942    70.2 
1943    70.3 
1944    71.4 
1945    70.5 
1946    70.6 
1947    69.3 
1948    69.1 
1949    70.8 
1950    71.1 
1951    70.3 
1952    70.0 
1953    70.6 
1954    70.6 
1955    71.7 
1956    71.0 
1957    71.1 
1958    71.0 
1959    70.9 
1960    71.4 
1961    71.2 
1962    71.3 
1963    71.0 
1964    71.2 
1965    71.0 
1966    71.2 
1967    71.2 
1968    71.1 
1969    71.2 
1970    71.4 
1971    71.1 
1972    71.3 
1973    71.5 
1974    71.5 
1975    71.6 
1976    71.9 
1977    72.0 
1978    72.0 
1979    72.1 
1980    71.8 
1981    72.1 
1982    72.2 
1983    72.2 
1984    72.3 
1985    72.2 
1986    72.3 
1987    72.1 
1988    72.2 
1989    72.2 
1990    72.2 
1991    72.1 
1992    72.1 
1993    72.5 
1994    72.3 
1995    72.3 
1996    72.3 
1997    72.4 
1998    72.5 
1999    72.5 
2000    72.4 
2001    72.5 
2002    72.4 
2003    72.4 
2004    72.5 
2005    72.4 
2006    72.5 
2007    72.5 
2008    72.5 



And by decade
Height
1870    66.0
1910    69.9
1920    69.8
1930    70.7
1940    70.6
1950    70.9
1960    71.2
1970    71.6
1980    72.2
1990    72.3
2000    72.5 
   73. McCoy Posted: July 12, 2009 at 04:15 PM (#3251032)
Here it is for US born players
yearID    Height
1871    68.6
1872    68.8
1873    68.8
1874    69.0
1875    69.1
1876    69.3
1877    69.1
1878    69.3
1879    69.0
1880    69.3
1881    69.5
1882    69.4
1883    69.4
1884    69.3
1885    69.5
1886    69.6
1887    69.6
1888    69.8
1889    69.7
1890    69.9
1891    69.9
1892    69.9
1893    70.0
1894    69.8
1895    69.8
1896    69.9
1897    70.0
1898    69.9
1899    69.9
1900    70.0
1901    69.8
1902    69.9
1903    70.0
1904    70.1
1905    70.1
1906    70.3
1907    70.3
1908    70.4
1909    70.5
1910    70.4
1911    70.5
1912    70.6
1913    70.5
1914    70.4
1915    70.6
1916    70.8
1917    70.6
1918    70.5
1919    70.6
1920    70.6
1921    70.5
1922    70.5
1923    70.5
1924    70.5
1925    70.6
1926    70.7
1927    70.9
1928    71.0
1929    71.0
1930    71.2
1931    71.2
1932    71.2
1933    71.4
1934    71.5
1935    71.5
1936    71.5
1937    71.6
1938    71.6
1939    71.7
1940    71.7
1941    71.7
1942    71.7
1943    71.7
1944    71.7
1945    71.6
1946    71.9
1947    71.8
1948    71.9
1949    71.9
1950    72.0
1951    72.0
1952    72.1
1953    72.1
1954    72.3
1955    72.3
1956    72.4
1957    72.4
1958    72.5
1959    72.4
1960    72.6
1961    72.5
1962    72.6
1963    72.6
1964    72.8
1965    72.8
1966    72.7
1967    72.7
1968    72.8
1969    72.8
1970    72.7
1971    72.7
1972    72.7
1973    72.7
1974    72.7
1975    72.8
1976    72.8
1977    72.8
1978    72.9
1979    72.9
1980    72.9
1981    72.9
1982    73.0
1983    73.0
1984    73.1
1985    73.1
1986    73.1
1987    73.1
1988    73.1
1989    73.1
1990    73.1
1991    73.1
1992    73.1
1993    73.2
1994    73.1
1995    73.1
1996    73.2
1997    73.2
1998    73.3
1999    73.3
2000    73.3
2001    73.3
2002    73.3
2003    73.3
2004    73.3
2005    73.4
2006    73.5
2007    73.6
2008    73.6 


And by decade
Dec    Height
1870    69.0
1880    69.5
1890    69.9
1900    70.1
1910    70.6
1920    70.7
1930    71.4
1940    71.8
1950    72.3
1960    72.7
1970    72.8
1980    73.0
1990    73.2
2000    73.4 
   74. McCoy Posted: July 12, 2009 at 04:19 PM (#3251034)
So LA players are somewhere around where US players were in the late 50's to mid 60's right now. While LA players in the 50's and 60's were somewhere around the USA's 20's and 30's.
   75. Dr. I likes his panda steak medium rare Posted: July 12, 2009 at 04:28 PM (#3251037)
The Lahman database for earlier years has lots of missing height and weight data so basically when looking at earlier times vs nowadays we are comparing partial and perhaps innaccurate data to complete and perhaps inaccurate data. The Baseball Oracle has a lot more height data than Lahman but they do the half inch thing which makes me wonder how they got that and also points out the fact that in the Lahman database everybody is a perfect inch in height. Nobody 6 feet and 3/4 or anything like that. So a 5 ft 11.5 inch tall guy becomes 6 feet tall (maybe, or maybe he becomes 5'11) while the 6 feet and .4 inch guy becomes 6 foot as well even though there is almost a full inch difference between the two.


Re: The incompleteness of the Lahman db

Right. My concern is that this would be biasing the results. That is why I pointed it out when I posted my table. If the Lahman database contains a biased sample, then we have some problems using it. If the sample is pretty much random, then we ought to be in better shape.

More problematic is if players heights are systematically misrepresented in the database. Perhaps very tall players 50 years ago were reporting much shorter heights, because being tall might have been considered a disadvantage.

Still, about 10% of the players in the 2000-2005 group are listing at 6'5" or taller. The results compared with the 1950-1955 group are so different, that the Lahman database would have to be very inaccurate to change our general conclusion that there a greater percentage of tall players playing today, and a lower percentage short players playing. Even if we mistrust the database somewhat, we still are going to conclude this. The database would have to be very bad for us to discard this general conclusion.

.......

Re: the rounding issue

This doesn't bother me at all. While it is possible to measure height with a great degree of precision, how often is this actually done? The difference between being 76 inches and 76.5 inches for an individual height is pretty much within the error of the measurement. Again, the differences that you can extract from the data are larger than this. In the 1950-1955 group the most common height is 72 inches, whereas in the 2000-2005 group the most common height is 74 inches. At the tall end of the distribution, the differences between the two groups are quite large.
   76. McCoy Posted: July 12, 2009 at 04:34 PM (#3251039)
Re: Rounding issue

If players of yesteryear were smaller than they are today then players of yesteryear are likely to have more 5'11.5" players than nowadays. On the flipside players of nowadays are likely to have more 6'0.4" tall players than players of yesteryear. In otherwords it is likely due to the rounding error that the height difference between players of then and now is actually greater than what is being reported. That might be true or it might all even out. We simply don't know.
   77. Dr. I likes his panda steak medium rare Posted: July 12, 2009 at 04:47 PM (#3251048)
If players of yesteryear were smaller than they are today then players of yesteryear are likely to have more 5'11.5" players than nowadays. On the flipside players of nowadays are likely to have more 6'0.4" tall players than players of yesteryear. In otherwords it is likely due to the rounding error that the height difference between players of then and now is actually greater than what is being reported. That might be true or it might all even out. We simply don't know.


Sure. This is pretty reasonable, but I would also guess that this is going to be a pretty small effect. It probably isn't enough to move the average height by much more than a small fraction of an inch. It would be a pretty straightforward (but rather tedious) exercise to estimate how big this effect might be. You would just need to assume a "true" underlying height distribution to see how much the rounding off to whole inches affects the average, and do some sort of weighted sampling of players from that distribution. (Not sure that you could do this in a purely analytical sense; a Monte Carlo approach would be easier to do.) You could play around with some different reasonable distributions. Again, I would expect this to be a second order effect that gets washed out by other things in the analysis of actual data.
   78. Dr. I likes his panda steak medium rare Posted: July 12, 2009 at 05:14 PM (#3251057)
So LA players are somewhere around where US players were in the late 50's to mid 60's right now.


This basically agrees with my height distribution table. Below I compare the US born players with debuts between 1950-1955 with non-US born players with 2000-2005 debuts. I am listing this based on % of the total number of players in each group (US born with 50-55 debut and non US born with 00-05 debut).

.


          
1950-1955       2000-2005
height    
of US born    of ROW born
<66        0.4%             0.0%
66         0.2%             0.0%
67         0.5%             0.3%
68         1.4%             0.9%
69         3.3%             3.7%
70         7.0%             7.7%
71        13.5%            14.5%
72        23.0%            13.9%
73        18.2%            20.1%
74        13.9%            18.8%
75         9.6%            10.8%
76         6.3%             5.6%
77         1.6%             2.8%
78         0.7%             0.6%
>
78        0.4%             0.3%
Total    100.00%          100.00


The non-US born group has a funny shaped distribution. Not sure if this is just a sample size effect. In general these two groups look to be pretty similar in height distribution. Both groups lack a large percentage of very tall outliers.
   79. Dr. I likes his panda steak medium rare Posted: July 12, 2009 at 05:42 PM (#3251100)
More on the incompleteness of the Lahman database:

For my 1950-55 sample, there are a total of 687 players. 617 have listed heights, so we are missing results on 10.2% of the players. There are 632 US born players in the group, and heights are missing on 9.8% of them. There are 55 players in the non-US born group, with heights missing on 14.5% of them. So here we have a small source of bias in the old data. We would expect that the average heights derived from the Lahman database for this 1950-55 group is slightly greater than what the actual heights would have been, given that we are slightly underreporting non-US born players, who tend to be shorter.

That said, I don't think this is a big deal, because if non-US born players were reported as the same rate as the US born ones, it would only add about 3 extra guys to the dataset used to produce the distribution tables.
   80. Chris Dial Posted: July 12, 2009 at 06:16 PM (#3251167)
Re: replacement players: Did any of them actually make a "debut"? About 5 of them? It seems to me that the number that made their actual debuts (I think it requires playing a game) should be very small relative the total number set.
   81. Chris Dial Posted: July 12, 2009 at 06:17 PM (#3251170)
I think you'd want to weight the heights by some measure of playing time, not simply average the players who appear.
In my cited original work, I believe I had a PA cutoff of about 100 PAs, so the players were getting playing time, not one PA or any such nonsense.
   82. Chris Dial Posted: July 12, 2009 at 06:19 PM (#3251172)
Also, I think heights are generally listed as a "ROUNDUP" function for athletes. A player that is over six feet (distinguishably so) will get listed as 6'1". And thus I think your bias would favor the more recent players.
   83. Chris Dial Posted: July 12, 2009 at 06:22 PM (#3251177)
McCoy, can you quickly show Playing Time distribution for US/non-US players?

The key here is that LA players are taking playing time from their significantly larger US counterparts. That, to me, definitely says BFS isn't the answer. Baseball is a skills game.

Are the 1970s US-born players better than the 2000s non-US born players? Why or why not?
   84. McCoy Posted: July 12, 2009 at 06:24 PM (#3251186)
Are the 1970s US-born players better than the 2000s non-US born players? Why or why not?

Yes, the US born players are in their prime while the non-US born players haven't even hit puberty yet.
   85. Chris Dial Posted: July 12, 2009 at 06:38 PM (#3251224)
har har har
   86. Jeff K. Posted: July 12, 2009 at 06:39 PM (#3251226)
The key here is that LA players are taking playing time from their significantly larger US counterparts. That, to me, definitely says BFS isn't the answer. Baseball is a skills game.

See Chris, you have a point, but you keep overstating it and forcing me to disagree with you. LA players getting playing time, which means (kind of) taking it away from US players who are on the average bigger, doesn't show that "BFS isn't the answer."

1) You don't need it to show that "BFS isn't the answer", as I pointed out earlier in #49.
2) BFS is the answer, for the majority of cases. There are outliers like I mentioned that easily prove the negation of "always better to be bigger and stronger", but on the whole it is a good thing.
3) Unless by "the answer" you mean the end-all be-all. No, it isn't that. Neither is anything else. That's not shocking.
4) The caveat to #2 is "all other things equal", which you're ignoring completely.

BFS is a good thing. It is not the only good thing about a player. As such, other factors can outweigh it. The fact that LA players get playing time doesn't disprove anything, all that it proves is that situation-specific details such as actual baseball talent, intelligence, character, and whatever are weighed more heavily than generic height/weight data splits by country of birth when teams evaluate players. That better not be news to anyone.

Baseball is more of a skills game than most other major sports, but your absolute is just as wrong as the one you're not attacking, but should be. Unless you want to lump the manifestation of skills affected by height and strength in to this category, and if you want to do that I have no idea what we're even talking about anymore. Certainly you'd agree on the whole that it's better to be tall in basketball. You might even agree that basketball is not "a skills game". I have the impression that the average Euro recruited into the league in the last 10-12 years, with a few exceptions, is smaller than the US NBA population. Does that prove basketball is a skills game, and that BFS isn't "the answer" in the NBA? If you answer yes to that, what's the point of this? "Sport skill/heigh and weight table do not have correlation of 1" can't be what you're going for.
   87. Chris Dial Posted: July 12, 2009 at 07:02 PM (#3251252)
Jeff,
I don't know all of basketball history, but I recall hearing once that the 1980s were the tallest era.
   88. Chris Dial Posted: July 12, 2009 at 07:11 PM (#3251263)
Jeff,
It is a good thing. What it cannot be is that: today's players are better because they are BFS. You have said this a few times" Unless by "the answer" you mean the end-all be-all. No, it isn't that. Neither is anything else. That's not shocking." My issue is it is argued that way.

There is no "all other things equal". When one thing changes, other things change. When you see an argument about why today's players are better than the 1970s players the answer is "because of BFS". *THAT* is the given reason, and not anything further (AFAICR). So, while you say it isn't shocking, it's a standard argument. Look at steroid arguments: player gets more muscle - poof, he's a better player. It simply isn't that simple.
   89. Dr. I likes his panda steak medium rare Posted: July 12, 2009 at 07:43 PM (#3251284)
Chris,

I have lost track of what your position is. Which of these describe what you are arguing? (More than one answer might fit.)

1. Today's players are not "BFS" than the players of (a) 20 years ago, (b) 30 years ago, (c) 40 years ago.
2. "BFS" does not necessarily improve the level of play in baseball. (I am pretty sure that you are arguing this.)

I haven't looked at the numbers for heights in the 80's. Maybe I can do this when I get back from the store. But in the numbers that I posted above, it is pretty clear that players debuting from 1950-55 were much shorter than the ones from 2000-2005. I haven't attempted to weight by playing time, of course. I can mess around with this later.
   90. BDC Posted: July 12, 2009 at 08:37 PM (#3251319)
Dr. I. McCoy, Chris, et al., I'd like to reiterate a point Andy made early on here about pitchers. My hypothesis would be that most of the increase in player height is du to an increase in pitchers' heights. That is in the area of a complete WAG at the moment, but it fits both an eyeball estimate of how big those guys are and the intrinsic features of the game itself (big pitchers throw harder and are desirable, big hitters have larger strike zones and are not necessarily desirable).
   91. Dr. I likes his panda steak medium rare Posted: July 12, 2009 at 10:41 PM (#3251365)
Position players by debut year (minimum of 100 career AB)

.

height (in)    1950s   1960s   1970s   1980s   1990s   2000-2005
<66            0.5%    0.2%    0.2%    0.0%    0.0%    0.0%
66             0.0%    0.2%    0.0%    0.3%    0.3%    0.0%
67             0.0%    1.0%    0.4%    0.2%    0.8%    0.3%
68             1.9%    2.2%    1.8%    1.9%    1.2%    1.6%
69             5.9%    3.6%    5.3%    5.2%    4.1%    4.8%
70             9.4%   11.3%   10.7%    7.2%    9.8%    8.8%
71            16.4%   13.9%   16.3%   16.2%   13.1%   12.8%
72            25.1%   22.6%   23.5%   19.2%   19.8%   18.4%
73            17.3%   17.8%   14.4%   17.3%   16.6%   16.3%
74            11.3%   16.6%   14.2%   15.7%   15.4%   17.6%
75             7.0%    6.5%    9.7%   10.1%    9.5%   10.7%
76             3.8%    3.2%    2.5%    4.2%    6.2%    5.1%
77             0.5%    0.4%    0.6%    2.3%    2.4%    2.9%
78             0.3%    0.0%    0.4%    0.2%    0.0%    0.5%
>
78            0.5%    0.4%    0.0%    0.0%    0.8%    0.3%
---------------------------------------------------------------
Total          371    495      514      573    662     375
%>74 in       12.1%   10.5%   13.2%   16.8%   18.9%   19.5%
% >
75 in       5.1%    4.0%    3.5%    6.6%    9.4%    8.8%
% >
76 in       1.3%    0.8%    1.0%    2.4%    3.2%    3.7
   92. Dr. I likes his panda steak medium rare Posted: July 12, 2009 at 10:44 PM (#3251369)
Pitchers by debut year (minimum of 40 career IP)

.

height (in)    1950s    1960s    1970s    1980s    1990s    2000-2005
<66            0.0%     0.0%     0.0%     0.0%     0.0%     0.0%
66             0.0%     0.0%     0.0%     0.0%     0.0%     0.0%
67             0.6%     0.0%     0.2%     0.0%     0.1%     0.0%
68             1.3%     0.5%     0.2%     0.2%     0.0%     0.2%
69             1.0%     1.0%     1.1%     1.1%     1.0%     0.0%
70             5.7%     3.2%     2.6%     2.3%     1.3%     0.9%
71            12.4%     8.3%     5.2%     3.3%     4.5%     4.8%
72            19.4%    19.3%    11.9%    12.0%    12.3%    11.5%
73            17.2%    15.9%    15.4%    16.8%    15.0%    15.7%
74            17.5%    20.5%    18.4%    18.5%    22.7%    19.2%
75            11.5%    14.6%    21.4%    18.7%    17.7%    18.9%
76            10.2%     9.0%    11.5%    15.1%    11.5%    13.4%
77             1.3%     5.4%     8.2%     6.3%     7.9%     8.3%
78             1.3%     2.0%     2.4%     3.3%     3.2%     3.7%
>
78            0.6%     0.5%     1.5%     2.3%     2.8%     3.2%
-------------------------------------------------------------------
Total          314      410      462      523      713      433
%>74 in       24.8%    31.5%    45.0%    45.7%    43.1%    47.6%
% >
75 in      13.4%    16.8%    23.6%    27.0%    25.4%    28.6%
% >
76 in       3.2%     7.8%    12.1%    11.9%    13.9%    15.2
   93. Dr. I likes his panda steak medium rare Posted: July 12, 2009 at 11:24 PM (#3251384)
Now here are my main observations:

1. If you are less than 5'8", your MLB career prospects are not good. MLB players as a whole are actually pretty tall. Taller than I thought they would be, at least.

2. Roughly 45% of the pitchers debuting after 1970 meeting the minimum IP requirement are 6'3" or taller. This number, while fluctuating some, has remained roughly constant since the 1970's.

3. The percentage of position players that are 6'3" or taller meeting the minimum AB requirement appears to have been growing steadily since the 1980's. (Maybe it is currently at a plateau. Too soon to tell.)

So we are seeing an increase in the % of very tall position players since the 1970's, but the fraction of very tall pitchers has hardly changed over the last 30 or so years. Pretty weird.
   94. Jeff K. Posted: July 13, 2009 at 02:08 AM (#3251461)
There is no "all other things equal". When one thing changes, other things change. When you see an argument about why today's players are better than the 1970s players the answer is "because of BFS". *THAT* is the given reason, and not anything further (AFAICR).

Well, the "all other things equal" bit was bringing it out to the level of thought experiment without bogging down with actual players and whatever might come of that. I'll grant you the point that you usually see BFS as a reason named, the first reason, and if there's only one, it'll usually be it. I think that's the result of it really being a main reason. I think people, maybe not the average Joe but the guy doing analysis, often stop with that when they realize there's more to it. I don't know, perhaps you're right.

Dr. I, I think we're having three discussions here:

1) Are players bigger now than they were? This is undoubtedly yes. This has carried through from my #6 all the way to now, but there's not much actual dispute here, other than Dial standing by his comparison of late 90s vs. early 90s, and that was a long time ago.

2) Does BFS mean more skilled players? Does it mean a better game? These are two different arguments, but they're linked. I think it means more skilled/higher level, but better is aesthetic. I'm big on seeing the highest skill level out there for some sports, not for others. I don't like college hockey, I prefer the NHL. I have a huge preference for NCAA BB over the NBA, a slight but noted preference for FB over the NFL. College baseball is an abomination to me, damn near.

3) If BFS does mean more skilled players overall, how do you account for the increase in LA players that are smaller on average? I think this is a simple answer, as I posted above. This one seems to be also in play for argument.
   95. Dr. I likes his panda steak medium rare Posted: July 13, 2009 at 02:42 AM (#3251472)
2) Does BFS mean more skilled players? Does it mean a better game?


As the hitters get bigger (and they have at least gotten taller over the last 20-30 years), it has an effect on the way the game is played. It is pretty reasonable to expect that bigger hitters = more homeruns (and more runs generally). This means more pitches, more pitching changes, longer games, and 12-13 man pitching staffs. The game is a lot different to watch than the game was when I was first getting into baseball. It becomes a matter of personal preference to decide what you like better.

I find it interesting that the percentage of very tall pitchers remains relatively fixed over the last 30 years, but the % of tall hitters has grown. During this time, we have seen the balance between offense and defense swing more in favor of the offense than it was 30 years ago. This might just be a coincidence. But it probably isn't.

Of the current top 10 in OPS for MLB, here is the list of guys who are listed as shorter than 6'3":

Prince Fielder (6'0")
Raul Ibanez (6'2")
Chase Utley (6'1"; the only one of these 4 listed at less than 200 lbs)
Luke Scott (6'0")

So the 10 best hitters in MLB are mostly pretty big dudes.
   96. Dr. I likes his panda steak medium rare Posted: July 13, 2009 at 02:47 AM (#3251475)
3) If BFS does mean more skilled players overall, how do you account for the increase in LA players that are smaller on average? I think this is a simple answer


Yea, I think that the answer is also pretty simple. I basically agree with your statement:

BFS is a good thing. It is not the only good thing about a player. As such, other factors can outweigh it.


Baseball has room for a certain number of position players who are shorter than 6' tall, particularly if they can have highly developed skills. Yet, about 3/4 of the non-US players who debuted between 2000-2005 were 6' or taller. So these guys are shorter on average than the average MLB player, but they are not exactly short.
   97. Iwakuma Chameleon (jonathan) Posted: July 13, 2009 at 04:01 AM (#3251523)
Jeff,
It is a good thing. What it cannot be is that: today's players are better because they are BFS.



Why, I must ask, can they not be faster and stronger? Why are you equating size with strength and speed?
   98. Chris Dial Posted: July 13, 2009 at 04:38 AM (#3251536)
They can be. What isn't acceptable to me is that you cannot simply assert they are on the basis that they "have to be".
   99. McCoy Posted: July 13, 2009 at 05:09 AM (#3251545)
I think being BFS helps but like everything at some point you start experiencing diminishing returns. I have a link to an old article from 1911 or so that looked at 200 odd major leaguers and listed their height and weight. What it showed was that major league pitchers at the time towered over a huge chunk position players. When you see that the era they played in makes a lot of sense. Pitchers in that era were for the most part the biggest and best athletes and they dominated the position players. The position players that did well were the big boys. Ty Cobb was a big man in his era and so was a big chunk of dominant hitters from that era.



As far as not getting bigger that is absolutely false. It is true that a huge segment of the baseball pool is only as big as players were back in the 1950's and 60's but what is also true is that the majority of baseball players are bigger than the 1950's and 60's era players. So basically what the LA and Asian players have done is simply slow the height growth. They have not reversed it. It means that as LA and Asian players continue to get BFS then so to will MLB players.
   100. Iwakuma Chameleon (jonathan) Posted: July 13, 2009 at 05:21 AM (#3251559)
They can be. What isn't acceptable to me is that you cannot simply assert they are on the basis that they "have to be".


Ok, but aren't most elite athletes in track and field and weightlifting and swimming and such, in fact, demonstrably faster and stronger than the athletes from past eras? Why wouldn't baseball players, and football players, hockey players, basketball players, be any different?

I'm actually kind of confused as to what sheer size has to do with anything. You've demonstrated that they aren't any larger, ok, and that one cannot assert today's players must be faster and stronger than players from bygone eras due to size, but, and I'm in any sort of position to demonstrate this, so I'll accept I could be wrong, but aren't there plenty of ways to demonstrate today's athlete is faster and stronger without bringing size into the equation at all? I guess what I'm saying is why would sheer size correlate with speed and strength at all to begin with?
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