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Friday, August 04, 2006

Sabermetric Research: Birnbaum: Can we measure player improvement over the decades?

Or would Johnny Weekly just remain so?

Conventional wisdom is that baseball players are getting better and better over the decades. How can we know if that’s true? We can’t go by hitting stats, because the pitchers are improving just as much as the batters. We can’t go by pitching stats, either, because the batters are improving just as much as the pitchers. It could be that players have improved so much that if Babe Ruth came back today, he’d only hit like, say, Tino Martinez, or maybe Raul Mondesi. But can we prove that?

Repoz Posted: August 04, 2006 at 12:49 AM | 236 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: sabermetrics

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   1. Best Regards, President of Comfort, Esq. Posted: August 04, 2006 at 01:04 AM (#2126250)
Conventional sabermetric wisdom. Mainstream wisdom is split 50/50 between "they're getting better" and "they were never better than when I was a kid"
   2. scareduck Posted: August 04, 2006 at 01:12 AM (#2126278)
Getting Babe Ruth back in the league would require moving a pretty sizeable headstone.
   3. BDC Posted: August 04, 2006 at 01:46 AM (#2126397)
In his first season, Julio Franco hit .276, which included a couple of at-bats against Babe Ruth. Last year Franco hit .275. I take this to mean that the league is exactly the same as it was and ever shall be.
   4. The George Sherrill Selection Posted: August 04, 2006 at 01:51 AM (#2126410)
In my day, baseball players were for ####.
   5. sunnyday2 Posted: August 04, 2006 at 02:19 AM (#2126472)
I don't care whether you can study it or not, skills are getting better in MLB, just as they are in stuff like track and swimming, where you can measure it.

The question is, who cares? It doesn't make Babe Ruth less of a man, it doesn't change history. It doesn't really matter.
   6. Backlasher Posted: August 04, 2006 at 02:36 AM (#2126490)
I don't care whether you can study it or not, skills are getting better in MLB, just as they are in stuff like track and swimming, where you can measure it.


You could measure it in baseball, using those except same criteria. You should see increases in strength and speed.

The question is, who cares? It doesn't make Babe Ruth less of a man, it doesn't change history. It doesn't really matter.


I care, because it does matter. It matters because it can change how the game is played if certain skills increase at different rates than other skills. It changes how the game is played if marginal increases in one skill impact baseball performance in certain performances more than marginal increases in the same skills for different performances.

For instance, a uniform increase in strength would generally lead to more offense.

If your goal is just listmaking, then you could ignore it. You will have your WARP factors and whatnot that you can throw out and argue that it makes Player A number 5 on some list over Player B at number 6, even when you haven't seen them play.

If your goal is a greater understanding of the game, it would be a very nice thing to isolate.
   7. Dr. Vaux Posted: August 04, 2006 at 02:49 AM (#2126496)
And it would help us figure out why changes in the game have occured. Has offense increased because overall strength has, and that sort of strength doesn't allow pitchers to compensate by throwing harder? Or do the pitchers throw harder, and by doing so play right into the batters' hands? After all, the faster it's going when it's hit, the farther it will go afterward. (Or am I wrong about that?) Can that be a reason why DIPS seems to be beaten by the occasional soft-tosser, but sometimes consistently beats a hard-thrower (Javy Vazqez, for example)?
   8. mgl Posted: August 04, 2006 at 03:05 AM (#2126519)
Yes, of course we can assume that baseball players have gotten much better over the years, as size, conditioning, medicine, speed, nutrition, etc., has improved, not to mention the enlargement of the talent pool (blacks, hispanics, Asian, etc.).

I also agree that is only mildly interesting. The interest really lies in being able to compare the elite players of the past to the average or elite players of today.

I don't see why you could not control for age in a study like Cramer's. I thought that was where Birnbaum was going.
   9. Jeff K. Posted: August 04, 2006 at 03:18 AM (#2126541)
After all, the faster it's going when it's hit, the farther it will go afterward. (Or am I wrong about that?)

Unless my admittedly scant training in physics (one high-school class) was either incorrect or is being misremembered, you are not wrong about that.
   10. Garth found his way to daylight Posted: August 04, 2006 at 05:54 AM (#2126621)
After all, the faster it's going when it's hit, the farther it will go afterward. (Or am I wrong about that?)

Unless my admittedly scant training in physics (one high-school class) was either incorrect or is being misremembered, you are not wrong about that.
Actually, now that I think about it, I just finished two physics classes in high school, and wouldn't it make the balls stay toward the fence more? Now, this has nothing to do with the spinning of the ball (coincidentially, for those who know, does a harder throw always mean a quicker spiral?), but collisions can usually be broken down into vectors. Vector A (the ball) and Vector B (the bat) are connecting in this example. Now, because the only thing we're changing is the ball speed, and not the speed of the bat, vector B doesn't matter. But Vector A -- the bigger the vector is (the harder the throw, assuming the ball's mass doesn't change), the harder it would be to reverse, and the shorter the ball is hit.

Of course, that has nothing to do with the spinning of anything, and I'm an idiot, also.

Anyone with more physics experience can answer this far better than I can, and I'm sure already has.
   11. J. Cross Posted: August 04, 2006 at 06:33 AM (#2126628)
Garth, imagine a bunt or simply someone throwing a ball against a wall. The faster the ball is thrown, the further it bounces back. The best I can explain it is that the energy of the ball acts to compress the ball when it hits the bat (or wall) and, then as the ball decompresses the energy sends it back in the other direction. About 2/3rds of the energy that the ball has on the way towards the plate is lost on impact and the other third adds to its velocity off the bat.
   12. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: August 04, 2006 at 10:01 AM (#2126650)
While I admire what the author is trying to do, I can't even imagine how to quantify the improvement in play. Anyone of a certain age can easily see the vast improvement in overall talent which has taken place in the past 50 years, but as has been pointed out, it's not something that always shows up with any consistency on a year to year basis. And even though the CW is that football and basketball have improved much more than baseball (which also seems evident), on a year to year basis it's often tough to see any improvement in those sports either. Certainly this year's Heat would have their hands full against any of the NBA champions of the 1980's (LA, Boston or the 83 Sixers).

IMO whatever improvement there has been is due to three factors: (1) the increase in the talent pool; (2) the gradual increase in size and strength of that talent pool; and (3) competition and refinement of technique on a trial and error basis, accelerated by better coaching and training methods.

But putting a number on that improvement? Impossible. Way too many variables and unknowns.
   13. Ron Johnson Posted: August 04, 2006 at 12:12 PM (#2126678)
I agree that it ought to be possible to control for age in a study like Cramer's. But I have to say the age issue doesn't seem to me to be a big one.

James specifically mentions 25 and 26 year olds. As a group the players playing at 25 don't hit significantly better at 26. To be specific, they put up the same OBP and had one extra point of SLG. (And they're just about as likely to decline as improve)

Incidently, Cramer didn't bother controlling for age because of a study by Pete Palmer showing that short term age effects are not a big deal.

And yet James got significantly different results in his study on aging -- and spent a fair amount of time discussing it.

First of all, James included defensive value. Palmer didn't. Second, Palmer only included players who played regularly while James included everybody (and counted them as having no value if they weren't playing)

While the guys who played regularly at 25 played almost exactly as well at 26 (as a group of course -- plenty of individual variations), there were about 12% more 26 year old regulars as 25 year old regulars. (Meaning that Palmer will see 25 and 26 year olds as having essentially identical value while James will see the 26 year olds as having ~12% more value)

Neither Palmer nor James were making silly decisions about how to run their study but the choices they made shaped their conclusions.
   14. Dr. Vaux Posted: August 04, 2006 at 12:19 PM (#2126682)
Thanks for the rudimentary physics lesson, Jeff, Garth, and J. Cross.

I've been thinking for a while now that the increased strength of players is responsible for all the changes in game-play that have developed over the past fifteen years. It's obviously been aided by a few other things, too, but they just might be very ancillary to the main issue.

Anyhow, I definitely think that the quality of atheletes playing baseball today is greater than ever before in every imaginable way. When I've said in the past that defense is executed poorly more often than in the past, which is quite a different matter, and has to do with which players organizations select to put in their lineups--those more focused on hitting instead of those more focused on playing defense. Outfield arms are one area in which even the power-hitters of yesteryear may have had a leg up, however.
   15. AROM Posted: August 04, 2006 at 12:52 PM (#2126704)
I'm certain that MLB talent is greater now than when Ruth played, but I'm not 100% certain that the total pool of talent (including the negro leagues) has improved that much.

Despite the flashier stats, hitters have not improved even 1% since 1984.

They still can't hit Roger Clemens.
   16. Super Creepy Derek Lowe (GGC) Posted: August 04, 2006 at 01:15 PM (#2126719)
I'm surprised that Chris Dial hasn't showed up yet.
   17. Backlasher Posted: August 04, 2006 at 01:16 PM (#2126720)
Actually, now that I think about it, I just finished two physics classes in high school, and wouldn't it make the balls stay toward the fence more? Now, this has nothing to do with the spinning of the ball (coincidentially, for those who know, does a harder throw always mean a quicker spiral?), but collisions can usually be broken down into vectors. Vector A (the ball) and Vector B (the bat) are connecting in this example. Now, because the only thing we're changing is the ball speed, and not the speed of the bat, vector B doesn't matter. But Vector A -- the bigger the vector is (the harder the throw, assuming the ball's mass doesn't change), the harder it would be to reverse, and the shorter the ball is hit.

Of course, that has nothing to do with the spinning of anything, and I'm an idiot, also.


If you simplify it to a one dimensional model, remove spin, and assume that no one could throw it theoretically hard enough to make the collision inelastic, then the faster the ball is thrown the greater its exit velocity.

Exit velocity would be influenced by the mass of the ball and bat, the elasticity of the ball, the pitched ball speed and the bat swing speed. Paraphrasing Linky As you can see ball velocity is a positive contribution as long as the mass of the ball is less than the mass of the bat times the COR. Or COR needs to be about 1/6 or less for this to become a negative contribution. Baseballs have about a .44 COR at 90 MPH, but that does decrease linearly with speed.

So its theoretically possible in a 1 dimensional model to throw the ball so hard that it would not be true, but that is unlikely.

But as you mention, this is a 2 dimensional model, and with speed and spin the ability to hit the ball in the center of momentum is going to be reduced. Moreover, there is also going to be the tensile strength and vibration of the bat to consider. You could theoretically reduce the bat's effectiveness even before reaching an inelastic collision in a 1 dimensional model.

So throwing harder could theoretically, and practically at some level actually reduce the flight of the ball. However, within the bounds of current known achievement that is probably not worth considering.
   18. Backlasher Posted: August 04, 2006 at 01:21 PM (#2126728)
And just so its clear, decreasing COR also decreases the exit velocity contribution from the mass of the bat, but I just ignored that for simplicity in the earlier example.
   19. BDC Posted: August 04, 2006 at 01:32 PM (#2126744)
All seriousness aside, whether a faster pitch turns into a faster line drive or not, increased strength on both sides would help hitters more than pitchers. It is always good to hit the ball ten feet further. It is not necessarily good to throw it five MPH faster, particularly if (as today) this tends to produce a monoculture of pitching style where every guy they run out there seems to throw the same 92-MPH fastball. Watching Pedro mix 70-MPH offerings with 88-MPH stuff last night reinforced for me this unoriginal observation ...
   20. AROM Posted: August 04, 2006 at 02:47 PM (#2126828)
In the mid 80's, a pitcher throwing 90 MPH was considered a guy who threw hard.

Now you take a guy normally 88-89 but who can hit 91-93 occasionally, and he's a soft tosser. I'm not sure if there's really been a general trend of harder throwing pitchers though, as it may have something to do with the types of radar guns used.
   21. Chris Dial Posted: August 04, 2006 at 03:00 PM (#2126842)
I'm surprised that Chris Dial hasn't showed up yet.

Sometimes I work at work. I'm disappointed no one rmebers the work I've done - neither Tango nor Phil mentioned it.

But they are looking at it from a different angle - and Tango says he has the same results (I say 50 years, he says 40 years).
   22. Phil Birnbaum Posted: August 04, 2006 at 03:11 PM (#2126859)
Hi, Chris,

Er ... if this is something I knew about and forgot, then this is embarrassing. Can you point me to the work you've done?
   23. Paul Posted: August 04, 2006 at 04:27 PM (#2126950)
Players are stronger and faster today, but are they better? I think they have much more talent, but much less sports "smarts." It seems like more and more they screw up the fundamentals. It's as true in basketball as baseball. My guess is that 90 years ago, boys, regardless of color, played baseball from morning to night. I bet that even the ignorant ones knew more baseball history than most of today's players do, and far more love for the game. There were fewer distractions then. None of what I'm saying is quantifiable, but I would like to see how today's average player would have done if playing in 1922.
   24. Best Regards, President of Comfort, Esq. Posted: August 04, 2006 at 04:39 PM (#2126962)
As Ernie Harwell told Chris Berman a couple of years ago on an ESPN game, when Berman was complaining that they don't get bunts down anymore like they did in the old days, "They were complaining about that fifty years ago, too."
   25. Chris Dial Posted: August 04, 2006 at 04:47 PM (#2126972)
Phil,
it's no problem. I actually submitted for presentation at SABR36 and my work was not selected.

I did hte work two years ago, and the discussions linked in them are very interesting. Mostly the answer is "it's inconclusive, except there is no real evidence that "clearly" players are better today." That just doesn't seem to be supported by teh data.

Now, that is just since integration - the 1950s (okay, it looks like it starts in the late 30s, but WWII upsets the trend). I actually talked alot about this at SABR34 in Cincy with Ruane and Fischthal. It is the kind of thing you would like fo BTN, but I was hoping to present it at SABR - maybe next year.

Here are the articles and discussions:
Part 1

Part 2

As I said, it uses a different approach, and you may not feel it addresses your question.

There is definitely improvement from the earleist 1900s and even the 1920s, but I think Babe Ruth would have been every bit as good - that is posted the same numbers in terms of baseball (HR/OBP/SLG). It clearly can be done - Bonds did it. But his OPS+ numbers would be a little lower.

I think Hornsby would have possibly gone on to be one of the greatest - even more than now, and I think he would have claimed the greatest 2B ever by a wide margin. Before everyone goes "WTF?", I'll say, I'm working on it.
   26. Chris Dial Posted: August 04, 2006 at 04:49 PM (#2126976)
Oh, and sorry, Phil. You have no need to be embarrassed. I didn't mean for that to read in any manner but "guess I'm not so famous" - like and Tango are. That wasn't meant as a criticism of you at all. I apologize.
   27. Phil Birnbaum Posted: August 04, 2006 at 05:06 PM (#2127000)
Hey, Chris,

No criticism taken. I figured just in case I did know about it and forgot ...

About to leave for the weekend, but will take a look when I get back.

Phil
   28. Mefisto Posted: August 04, 2006 at 05:21 PM (#2127028)
Just read the discussions too, Phil. Some of us don't agree with Chris. :)
   29. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: August 04, 2006 at 06:16 PM (#2127157)
Players are stronger and faster today, but are they better? I think they have much more talent, but much less sports "smarts." It seems like more and more they screw up the fundamentals. It's as true in basketball as baseball. My guess is that 90 years ago, boys, regardless of color, played baseball from morning to night. I bet that even the ignorant ones knew more baseball history than most of today's players do, and far more love for the game. There were fewer distractions then. None of what I'm saying is quantifiable, but I would like to see how today's average player would have done if playing in 1922.

Do you mean against the entire league, or just against the players who would have agreed to play with them? Speaker and Hornsby were Klan members, and Cobb consistently refused to play against black players after about 1909.

More seriously, the Major Leaguers of 1922 would have had their hats handed to them by the players of today. This isn't to say that the superstars of that time wouldn't be stars today, but once you get below the level of Ruth there are just far more players like Al Simmons or Charlie Gehringer out there today, and far fewer players of the sort that made up the rosters of the second division teams.

Whether this is more due to a greater amount of inherent "talent" (meaning the emergence of the worldwide and multiracial talent pool) or just to greater size and refinements of nutrition or training, is a matter of debate.

But the whole idea that the Major Leagues of today aren't vastly superior to the Major Leagues of three or six generations ago because more rural white kids were playing sandlot ball in 1922 or 1952 is about as plausible as the thought that there were more good scientists in the old days because more kids were also learning how to blow up frogs with Gilbert chemistry sets.
   30. Biscuit_pants Posted: August 04, 2006 at 06:29 PM (#2127178)
One of the things that I love about baseball is that getting bigger, faster, stronger helps you less in baseball than in any other sport. Baseball is a great combination of physical and mental ability. I think that today’s average guy is probably better than yesterdays but I firmly believe that yesterdays greats would be great today.
   31. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: August 04, 2006 at 07:01 PM (#2127233)
One of the things that I love about baseball is that getting bigger, faster, stronger helps you less in baseball than in any other sport.

I read this all the time here, but is this really true?

The one important skill that doesn't directly relate to "bigger, faster, stronger" is the ability to time your swing, since that's a matter of hand-eye coordination and reflexes. Your always read on the steroid threads that "steroids can't help you time a pitch." Which is true, but it's only part of the equation.

Tell me that being stronger doesn't help you get around on that 95 MPH fastball, or make a split second adjustment to the snap of a slider.

And tell me that having relatively weak muscles doesn't hamper your ability to translate those reflexes of yours into a Major League swing, with Major League results. In the specific context of a baseball swing, your reflextes are only as good as the muscles that powers them.

Which is one good reason why the fact that players today are "bigger, faster, stronger" means that their ability to function on the Major League level has significantly improved over the "smaller, slower, weaker" players of yesteryear.
   32. Chris Dial Posted: August 04, 2006 at 07:10 PM (#2127246)
the thought that there were more good scientists in the old days because more kids were also learning how to blow up frogs with Gilbert chemistry sets.

Um, Einstein and Oppenheimer and Fermi and many of those guys kick our asses.
   33. Chris Dial Posted: August 04, 2006 at 07:11 PM (#2127249)
Just read the discussions too, Phil. Some of us don't agree with Chris.

Yes, but what have you shown, otehr than "they have to be"? <G>
   34. Chris Dial Posted: August 04, 2006 at 07:13 PM (#2127252)
Which is true, but it's only part of the equation.

It is by far the biggest part of the equation though. Like 95% of it.
   35. Biscuit_pants Posted: August 04, 2006 at 07:13 PM (#2127253)
Which is one good reason why the fact that players today are "bigger, faster, stronger" means that their ability to function on the Major League level has significantly improved over the "smaller, slower, weaker" players of yesteryear.
Not denying that, I just think that the affects would be seen less in Baseball than any other sport. I definitely think "bigger, faster, stronger" makes you better but a lot less so than in other sports. There is more of a mental aspect to baseball than any other sport as a whole. The long season, the chess match of batter vs. pitcher, the fact that even when you execute a play perfectly it may not work. In other sports the coaches have to deal with that for the most part in baseball the players have to take on a huge bulk of the responsibility.
   36. Chris Dial Posted: August 04, 2006 at 07:15 PM (#2127257)
Which is one good reason why the fact that players today are "bigger, faster, stronger" means that their ability to function on the Major League level has significantly improved over the "smaller, slower, weaker" players of yesteryear.

Look at the articles I linked to. Players today aren't "bigger faster stronger" than they were 40-50 years ago. Not significantly.
   37. J. Cross Posted: August 04, 2006 at 07:39 PM (#2127285)
Look at the articles I linked to. Players today aren't "bigger faster stronger" than they were 40-50 years ago. Not significantly.

Chris, you documented the bigger yourself in part 2.

95-99: 73.44", 192 lbs

... and 50 years prior:

45-49: 71.97", 183

Are you saying that there isn't a significant difference in an average moving from 6'0" 183 lbs and 6'1.5" 192 lbs ?

Stronger? Do you really think that with the advances in weight training (as well as the fact that baseball players now do weight train and didn't 50 years ago) that players aren't stronger? I can pop in my Mets 1986 DVD and within minutes you're struck by how much stronger today's players are.
   38. Mefisto Posted: August 04, 2006 at 07:41 PM (#2127287)
Yes, but what have you shown, otehr than "they have to be"? <G>

Well, I haven't "shown" anything; you did all the actual work (consistent with my basic approach to life). I just pointed out the flaws in your reasoning. Like a good lawyer. And I didn't even have to pound the table. Or dance.
   39. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: August 04, 2006 at 07:54 PM (#2127305)
Interesting chart, Chris, although weight alone certainly isn't the only factor in strength, and I'm not refering to steroids, either. Weight training didn't really begin in earnest until Yaz won that triple crown in 1967, and it's only really come into play on a near-universal basis in the past 20 years or so. You have to look at muscular definition rather than just weight, and weight training definitely affects that. IMO, and again not counting whatever steroid factor there may be, the increased strength is a pretty important factor in the home run totals of today, above and beyond the shrinking of many of the modern outfields. I realize that other factors may be at work, however.

One other thing that would be of interest, too, is the variance of size today. For example, the average height from 40-44 to today has only increased about one inch, and yet in the late 40's Ewell Blackwell at 6' 6" was considered almost a freak of nature. How many pitchers today are at least that tall? Seems like more than a few. I don't have the mathematical background to really deal with this, but it seems to me that either those earlier numbers are a bit suspect, or that one inch means a hell of a lot more than a layman like me would suppose.
   40. Mefisto Posted: August 04, 2006 at 08:16 PM (#2127338)
One other thing that would be of interest, too, is the variance of size today. For example, the average height from 40-44 to today has only increased about one inch, and yet in the late 40's Ewell Blackwell at 6' 6" was considered almost a freak of nature. How many pitchers today are at least that tall? Seems like more than a few. I don't have the mathematical background to really deal with this, but it seems to me that either those earlier numbers are a bit suspect, or that one inch means a hell of a lot more than a layman like me would suppose.

The variance is greater in the larger population.

It takes a substantial change to move a population average up even an inch.

Personally, I'm very skeptical of reported heights and much more so of reported weights. Also, as you suggest, it's lean muscle mass which is important, not body fat. The average weight alone won't tell you that.
   41. bebop Posted: August 04, 2006 at 09:20 PM (#2127404)
Atheletes are getting better but in the old days if you were athletic you pretty much played baseball so baseball had a bigger market share of the cream of the top.
   42. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: August 04, 2006 at 09:41 PM (#2127425)
Atheletes are getting better but in the old days if you were athletic you pretty much played baseball so baseball had a bigger market share of the cream of the top.

That presupposes that a generalized "athletic" talent translates into necessary baseball skills. Tell that to Danny Ainge or Michael Jordan.

And you also had a sizeable percentage of that baseball talent stuck in the Negro Leagues, playing in Latin America, or bound for years to minor league contracts. The Major Leagues themselves didn't absorb the available talent base nearly to the extent that they do in 2006. There aren't many superstars hiding out elsewhere these days outside of Cuba---the money sees to that.
   43. bebop Posted: August 04, 2006 at 09:58 PM (#2127443)
I buy your 2nd point totally but if all of the NBA, 3/4 of the PGA and Pro Tennis, and some of the NFL had been concentrating on baseball since grade school a lot of those guys would have become awful good.
   44. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: August 05, 2006 at 01:22 AM (#2127828)
I buy your 2nd point totally but if all of the NBA, 3/4 of the PGA and Pro Tennis, and some of the NFL had been concentrating on baseball since grade school a lot of those guys would have become awful good.

Quite possibly, although I'm not sure how to establish that. The sporting world has always been full of "two sport" or "three sport" athletes, nearly all of whom never established any serious credentials in baseball. The ability to hit a baseball isn't comparable to any other particular athletic skill. I think you'd be much more likely to find a few pitchers whose "athletic" skills might translate into baseball than you would any significant number of hitters.

BTW about player sizes: The 1956 Dope Book lists the heights and weights of every player on the Spring rosters, and of the Yankees that year who had any significant role either that year or the year before, there were exactly three players (Eddie Robinson, Johnny Kucks and Don Larsen) who were 6' 3" or taller. Fifty years later, the 2006 Baseball Guide lists eleven such players on the Yankee roster (Shawn Chacon, Kyle Farnsworth, Randy Johnson, Mike Myers, Aaron Small, Tanyon Sturtze, Ron Villone, Chien-Ming Wang, Jason Giambi, Derek Jeter and ARod). I realize the proverbial "small sample size," but one should note that in terms of accomplishment, both the 1955 and 2005 teams finished first and lost in the postseason, and the 1956 team won the World Series, so small sample size or not, it's lot like I'm comparing a first place team to a last place team. And that's a significant jump in the number of players who are significantly "tall" by nearly any traditional standard.

I strongly suspect that if you compared the All-Star rosters for 1956 and 2006 that you'd come up with a significant jump there as well. And having seen many games in that earlier period and many more this year and last, this certainly corresponds to my visual impressions of the players. When you factor in all the advances in weight training and general conditioning, the modern crop of Major Leaguers is far "bigger and stronger" compared to those players of 50 years ago than that one inch / 9 pound average gap might suggest to the casual observer.
   45. Chris Dial Posted: August 05, 2006 at 02:37 AM (#2128124)
J. Cross,
I'll say there is no significant difference here:
55-59 72.63 187 and here 95-99: 73.44", 192 lbs

Stronger? Do you really think that with the advances in weight training (as well as the fact that baseball players now do weight train and didn't 50 years ago) that players aren't stronger?

That's not making an argument. That's saying "they *have* to be. Just look at them>"

Demonstrate something. Would extra strength show up as a higher ISO? A greater variance in ISO? Less variance in ISO (which is actually what should happen). It doesn't.

Other than "they have to be", tell me what you think would indicate greater strength in a manner that would mean anything on a baseball field.
   46. Chris Dial Posted: August 05, 2006 at 02:54 AM (#2128142)
You have to look at muscular definition rather than just weight, and weight training definitely affects that.

Why? Do you think that would even be remotely scientific? Or even doable? Weight is just a proxy there, but I don't see any alternative.

IMO, and again not counting whatever steroid factor there may be, the increased strength is a pretty important factor in the home run totals of today, above and beyond the shrinking of many of the modern outfields. I realize that other factors may be at work, however.

The other factors drowned out the "strength" aspect. Or everyone in the league got "stronger" in 1993, and again in 1994. And I mean *everyone*. The jump in offense is huge and overnight.

It is equivalent to saying a player moved to Coors (pre-2006) and suddenly got stronger because he started hitting more HRs.

BTW about player sizes

Andy, I already did all that for every player in the league for 100 years. Why would you think your two data points would carry more weight than that? We already know what the heights of the league were. I posted it.

I strongly suspect that if you compared the All-Star rosters for 1956 and 2006 that you'd come up with a significant jump there as well.

Again, WHY? I already did all the players. Why cherrypick AS teams? Why take a subset *at all*?

And having seen many games in that earlier period and many more this year and last, this certainly corresponds to my visual impressions of the players. When you factor in all the advances in weight training and general conditioning, the modern crop of Major Leaguers is far "bigger and stronger" compared to those players of 50 years ago than that one inch / 9 pound average gap might suggest to the casual observer.

So you are going with "they *have* to be". Everyone goes with that - you aren't alone.

If the players were bigger and stronger there would be evidence, *if* it mattered for baseball performance.

As Gould says, if these guys are all better, the variance would decrease. It isn't. It hasn't. Not in BA, not in ISO, not in OBP, not in SLG.

Even if these guys can lift more in the weight room, it isn't showing up on teh field. Or no one has been able to say how to look for it. They *all* just say "they have to be."

I don't buy it. I want some actual evidence before I declare that to be the case.
   47. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: August 05, 2006 at 03:41 AM (#2128172)
You have to look at muscular definition rather than just weight, and weight training definitely affects that.

Why? Do you think that would even be remotely scientific? Or even doable? Weight is just a proxy there, but I don't see any alternative.


But the fact that strength can't be "measured" retroactively doesn't mean that strength is not more important than mere weight. Strength can help you get around on a pitch faster, and make you drive a ball further, all other factors being equal. Our inability to measure this precisely for past generations of players just means that with the data we have, we can't "know" that a 200 lb. player of 1946 or 1956 had less muscle mass than a 200 lb. player of today. But given what we know about conditioning and weight training advances, it's a pretty damn good theory at the very least.

You're simply asking for the sort of "proof" or "evidence" which doesn't exist. I doubt if you'll ever find it.

But if you think that an average height difference / weight difference of about an inch / 9 pounds is insignificant, and that those roster comparisons of 6' 3" players doesn't at least make you curious, then I have to wonder myself what sort of evidence would you consider? We know this:

1. Players are bigger than they were 50 years ago---taller and heavier.
2. Weight training makes players stronger (i.e. it increases their muscle mass), so it's very likely that the weight gains since the 1940's and 50's underestimate gains in strength.
3. Strength by itself doesn't improve make a bad player good, but making a good player stronger certainly isn't going to hurt his productivity.
4. The talent pool is much larger (in 1956 you still had three all-white teams, for crissakes).
5. Training methods and nutrition knowledge have improved greatly.
6. There have been unarguable improvements in every other sport.

Against this, you keep repeating that you want evidence, as in quantitative, measurable evidence. But again, what sort of evidence do you accept, how would you even go about gathering it, and since there are many factors to consider, how could you even possibly weigh them for purposes of comparison? How much weight would you assign to size differences? (Do your historical size comparisons reflect all players on the rosters or those players who played in any significant number of games? This was the implicit point of my own roster comparisons.) To the increase in the talent pool? To improved training? To increased offensive totals? To increases or decreases in park size? To the introduction of more specialized relief pitching? And so on.

All I can say is that if you can produce a mathematical formula which can incorportate all these factors in any way which more than three people can agree on, you should not only get the Nobel Prize for Mathematics, but you should also be appointed permanent Secretary-General of the United Nations. You'd sure as hell get my vote.
   48. Chris Dial Posted: August 05, 2006 at 03:57 AM (#2128182)
Andy,
that was a nice speech. Look at #6. Those things all had manifestations (or were sports where mere size matters) on the field. Swimming times are lower. Running times are lower. Weights lifted and distances thrown are greater.

We don't have *ANY* of that. You speech is comeplete misdirection.

You make an assertion: Players are bigger stronger and faster than 50 years ago. What about 40 years ago - where the difference is 3/4 of an inch and 5 pounds?

So *you* make a claim, and your answer to me wanting evidence is "what sort of evidence would I accpet"? Well, I've never seen *ANY* manifestation on the field. None. Zero. Zilch. How am I supposed to know until I see it.

Present something *ANYTHING* other than making speeches, and doing everything you can to paint my statements as outlandish and unreasonable. Just generate *something*. I dare you. And hey, I generated a *TON* that indicates "no significant change".

Can you at least offer a rebuttal on why my data might be wrong?
   49. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: August 05, 2006 at 04:11 AM (#2128192)
Chris, I'm not saying that your statements are either outlandish or unreasonable. I'm only saying that the absence of mathematical proof isn't the equivalent of a refutation of the idea of improvement of the game on the field, when all other signs (as in the 6 areas I listed above) point in the same direction, i.e. of improvement. We can go back and forth on this forever, but there is absolutely no way you or anyone will ever convince me that Major League Baseball isn't dramatically better today than it was 50 years ago. The best teams are better and deeper, and the worst teams aren't nearly as bad as they used to be, as evidenced by their greater winning percentages. The worst teams today occasionally bottom out, but they don't remain bottomed out at the sub-.400 level for several years at a stretch the way the worst teams did back then. (Just a few years ago, in fact, there were no sub-.400 teams.)The talent is far more spread out now than it was 50 years ago, and the competition for talent makes the game far more dynamic (and likely to improve due to increased competition) than it was in an era of talent monopoly by a handful of clubs.

I suppose that's nothing more than a speech, but so be it.

But I do like your data and I've bookmarked it, and appreciate the effort that you've obviously put into both accumulating it and trying to interpret it.

And at this point, I'm going to have to give you the last word for the night.
   50. Chris Dial Posted: August 05, 2006 at 04:23 AM (#2128206)
Andy,
I find this sentence:
but there is absolutely no way you or anyone will ever convince me that Major League Baseball isn't dramatically better today than it was 50 years ago.

surprising in light of your above question to me:
But if you think that an average height difference / weight difference of about an inch / 9 pounds is insignificant, and that those roster comparisons of 6' 3" players doesn't at least make you curious, then I have to wonder myself what sort of evidence would you consider?

I'll consider any direct evidence. I'll even look for it - just make a suggestion of where some could be found. or what it might be. Or heck, why doesn't it show up as more power?

Obviously when I began the research I did, I couldn't know how it was going to turn out. How that line got so flat is beuyyond me, and it certainly points in teh direction that despite all teh factors you list of why players should be significantly better, there is nothing that demonstrates any significant manifestation of that better training/nutrition/size.

In addition, the population of Americans in MLB is decreasing - you may note at the end of the second article I ask - what is teh Std of Living and average population size in Japan or the DR or Venezuela? Where is it on the US's timetable - 1960?
   51. J. Cross Posted: August 05, 2006 at 04:27 AM (#2128208)
Chris, you appear to be denying one of the following:

a) players weight lift more now than they did 50 years ago

or

b) weight lifting makes you stronger

either denial is patently absurd. What I suspect you'll claim is that's there no evidence that this added strength helps. That claim is still silly although someone less so but is complete beside the point of what I said. I said that it's obvious that players have gotten stronger. So, which of the two claims are you denying, a or b?

btw, the most accurate way to determine body fat percentage is not by sending electrical impulses or even by using calipers. The most accurate and reliable way is visual inspection. I know that you feel that visual inspection is somehow unscientific but visual inspection is actually a very powerful tool on such matters.
   52. Chris Dial Posted: August 05, 2006 at 04:41 AM (#2128222)
JCross,
so you are wanting to argue something that no one cares about?

The *clear* implication of "bigger faster stronger" is "better". If you aren't interested in that portion of the discussion, tehn fine. As I said above, I don't care who can lift more weight in the weight room.

Can you demonstrate some on-field manifestation? Can you suggest where else I might look?

If you are simply looking to argue that Gabe Kapler can bench press more than Vada Pinson, my answer is "I don't care". The idea is that today's players don't show any "betterness" other than (as you have clearly said again), "they have to be."

No, they don't. they *could* be. But they don't have to be. I'm open to the possibility they are. I just don't see any evidence. Do you have any to offer?
   53. Chris Dial Posted: August 05, 2006 at 04:43 AM (#2128223)
btw, the most accurate way to determine body fat percentage is not by sending electrical impulses or even by using calipers. The most accurate and reliable way is visual inspection. I know that you feel that visual inspection is somehow unscientific but visual inspection is actually a very powerful tool on such matters.

I don't believe that for one second.
   54. Mefisto Posted: August 05, 2006 at 04:51 AM (#2128230)
Chris, I wouldn't expect to see improvement in statistics. Unlike track and field, baseball matches individuals. If hitters improve due to greater strength, so do pitchers. And to follow up on the point I've raised with you before, the real key is fielding. There are simply far fewer errors today than even 50 years ago, to say nothing of one hundred. In order for things like BA or SLG to remain similar, hitters MUST be better.
   55. 6 - 4 - 3 Posted: August 05, 2006 at 05:02 AM (#2128237)
Chris, did you weight (no pun intended) the data on average weight and height by BF and PAs or is it just a composite of players who appeared in those years?
   56. Chris Dial Posted: August 05, 2006 at 05:24 AM (#2128253)
did you weight (no pun intended) the data on average weight and height by BF and PAs or is it just a composite of players who appeared in those years?

I don't recall. I had a PA cutoff so it would reflect only players getting substantial PT. I'm sure I didn't weight it for PAs - that would be a lot of work for what I would suspect is negligible gain.
   57. Chris Dial Posted: August 05, 2006 at 05:27 AM (#2128256)
I wouldn't expect to see improvement in statistics.

But below you claim you do see an improvement is statistics - fielding errors.

Unlike track and field, baseball matches individuals. If hitters improve due to greater strength, so do pitchers.

At a near perfect rate?

And to follow up on the point I've raised with you before, the real key is fielding. There are simply far fewer errors today than even 50 years ago, to say nothing of one hundred. In order for things like BA or SLG to remain similar, hitters MUST be better.

We've analyzed this before, and I don't recall exactly where or how it ended up, but my basic recollection is that *most* of the fielding improvement happened in 1982 or so - there's a marked jump, like teh 1993/94 offense change.
   58. Chris Dial Posted: August 05, 2006 at 05:29 AM (#2128259)
Oh, and "the hitters MUST be better" isn't true. The hitting backgrounds could be better. Night lights could be better. The strike zone could be smaller. Balls could have more zing.
   59. J. Cross Posted: August 05, 2006 at 05:37 AM (#2128264)
Ok, so you're admitting that they're stronger. At least that's a step one.

Now, we're left with two possibiites for you to argue:

a) getting stronger yields no significant benefit.

or

b) without the additional strength today's players would be worse than those 50 years ago.

which is it?
   60. Chris Dial Posted: August 05, 2006 at 03:01 PM (#2128383)
Ok, so you're admitting that they're stronger. At least that's a step one.

Now, we're left with two possibiites for you to argue:

a) getting stronger yields no significant benefit.

or

b) without the additional strength today's players would be worse than those 50 years ago.

which is it?


It's (a).

Now can you explain what I've asked you?
   61. J. Cross Posted: August 05, 2006 at 03:18 PM (#2128386)
Would extra strength show up as a higher ISO? A greater variance in ISO? Less variance in ISO (which is actually what should happen). It doesn't.

Okay, I don't think "betterness of hitters" would necessarily show up in any of these things. Let's concentrate on the third "less variance in ISO" for a moment. I'm not convinced that it's what should happen. If you increase the POOL of players who can make it into the majors you slide the cut-off further right on the bell curve and decrease variance (that much I get) but this isn't that exactly. Advancements in weight training (and players weight training to begin with) is equivalent to shifting the entire curve a notch to the right. This wouldn't decrease variance. In this way, improvements due to weight training are unlike improvement due to everyone coming close to some ideal technique.

Also, don't you find it implausible that players are doing all of this weight training with no significant benefit? Okay, I suppose that based on your stance you don't. I, however, do. I've also played, and weight lifted, and seen the effects as have many others here.
   62. Mefisto Posted: August 05, 2006 at 03:19 PM (#2128388)
But below you claim you do see an improvement is statistics - fielding errors.

Fair enough, I didn't make my point clear. I wouldn't expect to see improvement in hitting or pitching statistics.

At a near perfect rate?

No. I believe hitters benefit more (though pitchers benefit some). Things like league BA and SLG and ERA stay the same because fielding has improved.

We've analyzed this before, and I don't recall exactly where or how it ended up, but my basic recollection is that *most* of the fielding improvement happened in 1982 or so - there's a marked jump, like teh 1993/94 offense change.

You did most of the work so your memory is probably better. My recollection is that fielding improved steadily through the 20s and then leveled off, but has improved at a slower but measurable rate since the 50s. I could be wrong about this.
   63. Chris Dial Posted: August 05, 2006 at 03:21 PM (#2128389)
And I have never "denied" that players may be stronger. So I'm not "admitting" anything. I have researched the data. I don't feel like having a logic dance with you that in the end you will come up with "they have to be".

So, either present a demonstration of improvement, or suggest some validation of it.

BTW, the (a) above means the players aren't significantly stronger in a manner that would yield significant benefits.
   64. The Keith Law Blog Blah Blah (battlekow) Posted: August 05, 2006 at 03:23 PM (#2128391)
Um, Einstein and Oppenheimer and Fermi and many of those guys kick our asses.

Saying this is just as silly as saying that ballplayers were better way back when with no supporting evidence.
   65. Gaelan Posted: August 05, 2006 at 03:31 PM (#2128393)
Well fielding percentage is influenced more by the quality of equipment and the quality of the fields. So while the quality of the game, in this isolated area, is clearly "better" I don't think you can necessarily give credit to the players on that score.

Didn't Bill James once suggest that one argument in favour of an improved player population is how pitchers do as hitters. It seems to me that pitchers hit worse now and , if this is true, that this is a good indicator of a general improvement of the quality of play.
   66. Chris Dial Posted: August 05, 2006 at 03:47 PM (#2128403)
Also, don't you find it implausible that players are doing all of this weight training with no significant benefit?

Where would this show up then? And yes, even if the curve is shifted, the variance should be less, because, as the theory goes, the worst players of today are much closer to the average than the worst players of 50 years ago.
   67. Chris Dial Posted: August 05, 2006 at 03:51 PM (#2128406)
My recollection is that fielding improved steadily through the 20s and then leveled off, but has improved at a slower but measurable rate since the 50s. I could be wrong about this.

Well, I'm not talking about the 20s. I agree players are better now (and were in the 50s) than they were in the 10s and 20s and most of the 30s.

Fielding improved starting with Hank Greenberg adapting the first baseman's mitt, and on and on to the A2000. But when we looked at E/game (I think) it turned out that the very slight difference took a marked uptick in 1982 (or so) and it almost has to be with a change in "scoring" philosophy. I don't know where tha tresearch is.
   68. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: August 05, 2006 at 03:57 PM (#2128409)
Certainly one of the more obvious testimonies to the benefits of weight training could have been related to you by Carl Yastrzemski at the end of the 1967 season. He began weight training after the 1966 season and went from 16 to 44 home runs the next year, a jump he attributed directly to his increased strength.
   69. Chris Dial Posted: August 05, 2006 at 04:07 PM (#2128416)
What happened in 1968, Andy?
   70. Mefisto Posted: August 05, 2006 at 04:18 PM (#2128420)
Well fielding percentage is influenced more by the quality of equipment and the quality of the fields. So while the quality of the game, in this isolated area, is clearly "better" I don't think you can necessarily give credit to the players on that score.

I generally agree with this, as does Chris. It doesn't matter, though: if fielders are making more plays on BIP due to better gloves, then life becomes harder for hitters. They either have to hit more line drives or they have to hit more HR in order to keep league BA at the same level.

Didn't Bill James once suggest that one argument in favour of an improved player population is how pitchers do as hitters.

I think it was Bill; someone did, anyway.

I don't know where tha tresearch is.

I just checked and I don't have it. I know you did it because we talked about it.
   71. The Keith Law Blog Blah Blah (battlekow) Posted: August 05, 2006 at 04:29 PM (#2128426)
I suppose you could apply that to pitchers hitting but it's not really true since pitchers who can hit maintain an selective advantage over those who can't.

That's not necessarily true, since pitchers are not naturally selected, but rather artificially selected by GMs & scouting directors.
   72. Chris Dial Posted: August 05, 2006 at 04:44 PM (#2128437)
They either have to hit more line drives or they have to hit more HR in order to keep league BA at the same level.

Then doesn't the pitching get worse?
   73. Mefisto Posted: August 05, 2006 at 05:01 PM (#2128452)
Then doesn't the pitching get worse?

Yes, though the degree is unclear; as I said, I think extra strength DOES benefit pitchers. But the decline, whatever it is, doesn't show up in things like league ERA because we can't untangle pitching and defense very well.

Also, I don't expect this all occurs in some neat combination. There will be times when hitters fall behind and times when pitchers do. There will also be changes in external conditions -- ball, fields, etc. -- which complicate things.
   74. Chris Dial Posted: August 05, 2006 at 05:13 PM (#2128464)
He led the league in OPS+ again?

kevin,
in case it was unclear, Yaz hit 20 HRs in 65, 16 in 66, 44 in 67. Andy attributed (and says Yaz did) those HRs to Yaz' increase in strength. In 68, Yaz hit 23 HRs. So either, as Andy likes to say, his muscles "forgot to work", or those HRs weren't created as a function of his weight lifting.
   75. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: August 05, 2006 at 05:36 PM (#2128483)
kevin,
in case it was unclear, Yaz hit 20 HRs in 65, 16 in 66, 44 in 67. Andy attributed (and says Yaz did) those HRs to Yaz' increase in strength. In 68, Yaz hit 23 HRs. So either, as Andy likes to say, his muscles "forgot to work", or those HRs weren't created as a function of his weight lifting.


Except that he never hit more than 20 home runs before he started weight training, and in the first four years after he began it he averaged 37 (44-23-40-40). And Yaz did attribute his extra power to weight training---it wasn't something I invented. If you care to google "carl yastremski + weight training" it might bring you up to speed on the subject.

But of course since you don't attribute any increase in productivity to increased strength (post #60, I shouldn't be surprised at your dismissal. You obviously know more about Yaz's body than he does. And it's equally obvious that all weight training (not to mention those steroids) has gone for naught, other than perhaps to add to the player's OPS at the beach and in the bars. Ballclubs should probably just chuck their weight rooms and invest in a few forests and lakes stocked with grizzly bears and fish and let their players just stay in shape with a little huntin' 'n' fishin'.
   76. Chris Dial Posted: August 05, 2006 at 05:39 PM (#2128484)
Andy,
I'm aware. Could you explain what happened in 1968, please.

I appreciate your nonsensical hysterical speech-making in the second paragraph, but it has no resemblance to my position or claims.

And don't you think there is some anecdotal evidence that weight-training had deleterious effects?
   77. Chris Dial Posted: August 05, 2006 at 06:02 PM (#2128505)
kevin,
in 197, there were 0.74 HRs/G in the AL. (1197 total). In 1968, there were 1104 HRs, 0.67 HR/G.

That's down about 10% - a little less. Yaz dropped 48%. The league change doesn't account for Yaz' performance at all.

the NL in that same season saw the HR rate go from .68 in 67 to .55 in 68. That is a 20% drop, so i would expect Aaron to lose that much, and he lost 25%. So that's pretty close.
   78. Chris Dial Posted: August 05, 2006 at 06:30 PM (#2128523)
I know, kevin. I am saying it is overly simplistic for you, Andy and Yaz to say his jump in HRs was due to weight-lifting.
   79. Chris Dial Posted: August 05, 2006 at 06:32 PM (#2128525)
That is thre is nothing that distinguishes it from random fluctuation from, as you say: Players aren't robots. You don't wind them up and they hit 40 homers. They slump, they get and play hurt, the weather is unstable, the personal lives of players are in flux. Hitting environments change.

How about, he just had a good season, rather than thinking you can pinpoint the cause.
   80. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: August 05, 2006 at 06:34 PM (#2128526)
I appreciate your nonsensical hysterical speech-making in the second paragraph, but it has no resemblance to my position or claims.

Chris, these are your words underlined below. You tell me how I should have interpreted them:

Ok, so you're admitting that they're stronger. At least that's a step one.

Now, we're left with two possibiites for you to argue:

a) getting stronger yields no significant benefit.

or

b) without the additional strength today's players would be worse than those 50 years ago.

which is it?


<u>It's (a).</u>
[Chris Dial, post #60]

Is it to be considered "nonsensical" and "hysterical" to quote your own words back to you? Or are you now going to argue the importance of the word "significant" and tell me that I've "distorted" what you wrote?

To continue....

And don't you think there is some anecdotal evidence that weight-training had deleterious effects?

Of course there is. But do you seriously want to argue that it outweighs its benefits for the more than a small minority of players?

The league ERA was 3.41.
Actually it was 2.98, Kevin. The first figure included unearned runs.

And Yaz did indeed lead the league that year (1968) with a 171 OPS+.
   81. Chris Dial Posted: August 05, 2006 at 06:48 PM (#2128534)
Is it to be considered "nonsensical" and "hysterical" to quote your own words back to you? Or are you now going to argue the importance of the word "significant" and tell me that I've "distorted" what you wrote?


You don't have to interpret them, Andy. Or did post 63 not show up on your computer?
   82. Mefisto Posted: August 05, 2006 at 06:52 PM (#2128537)
I just want to note that I've accepted, to some extent, Chris's argument that there are limits beyond which extra strength will not help a player. I don't think Yaz is such a case, nor do I think that, in general, the strength obtained by weight lifting (or just being larger and naturally stronger) is generally true (it could be true in some few cases, e.g., Ozzie Smith).
   83. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: August 05, 2006 at 07:54 PM (#2128589)
Chris,

I saw #60 and jumped over #63. My bad and no excuses.

But to what extent does #63 really modify #60? What's the substantive difference between "getting stronger yields no significant benefit" (#60) and "players aren't significantly stronger in a manner that would yield significant benefits"(#63)? In both cases you're denying the benefits of added strength to ballplayers, so by quoting your first post instead of the second I've hardly distorted your position.

I just want to note that I've accepted, to some extent, Chris's argument that there are limits beyond which extra strength will not help a player.

But (again I jump in) Chris seems to say that there are no "significant benefits" to added strength, not that it will take a player so far but not beyond that---a position I think we'd all agree with. The only question is really where that point lies for each player. Chris is the only one here who seems to deny "any significant benefit" to added strength---a position which seems pretty crucial if you want to hold that there has been little improvement in play over the past 50 years.

I don't think Yaz is such a case, nor do I think that, in general, the strength obtained by weight lifting (or just being larger and naturally stronger) is generally true (it could be true in some few cases, e.g., Ozzie Smith).

I should be the last one to complain about ambiguity, but I honestly can't figure out after reading the first part of this sentence whether you think Yaz did or didn't benefit from weights, and the last part just leaves me scratching my head. Could you clarify what your position is? Are you saying that only a few Ozzie Smiths would benefit from weight training, but that most players wouldn't, and Yaz didn't? I apologize for my denseness.
   84. Mefisto Posted: August 05, 2006 at 08:15 PM (#2128604)
Andy, I'm agreeing with you.
   85. Chris Dial Posted: August 07, 2006 at 12:18 AM (#2129485)
Andy,
this:
You obviously know more about Yaz's body than he does. And it's equally obvious that all weight training (not to mention those steroids) has gone for naught, other than perhaps to add to the player's OPS at the beach and in the bars. Ballclubs should probably just chuck their weight rooms and invest in a few forests and lakes stocked with grizzly bears and fish and let their players just stay in shape with a little huntin' 'n' fishin'.

is horsehshit over-the-top distorting my position.
   86. Chris Dial Posted: August 07, 2006 at 12:22 AM (#2129497)
Chris seems to say that there are no "significant benefits" to added strength, not that it will take a player so far but not beyond that

What I'm saying is that players in the past were pretty fit. Really fit. Watch teh 1971 ASG. Look at Willie Mays. You think he's going to get better with weight training? Ever seen old photos of him? Hank Aaron? These guys were really really strong. Mickey Mantle?????? You think weight training was going to benefit him?

I'll maintain that no, it wouldn't. Sure, like Mefisto said, *some* players might, but it's not some carte blanche, matter-of-fact position you think you are wielding.
   87. Harold can be a fun sponge Posted: August 07, 2006 at 12:56 AM (#2129582)
What I'm saying is that players in the past were pretty fit. Really fit. Watch teh 1971 ASG. Look at Willie Mays. You think he's going to get better with weight training? Ever seen old photos of him? Hank Aaron? These guys were really really strong. Mickey Mantle?????? You think weight training was going to benefit him?

You really want to base this argument on the inner-circle HOFers? You really believe the rank-and-file guys from that era wouldn't have seen improvement from weight training?
   88. Chris Dial Posted: August 07, 2006 at 01:33 AM (#2129681)
You really believe the rank-and-file guys from that era wouldn't have seen improvement from weight training?

No, I don't know about that. I DO KNOW that you cannot demonstrate they would have through any performance improvement compared to their peers. Or all of you are sitting on something I don't know about.

You, Harold, simply regurgitated "they *have* to be better".

Sell me something I can sink my teeth into.
   89. Chris Dial Posted: August 07, 2006 at 02:39 AM (#2129797)
It certainly might have helped his knees.

Interesting take.

I guess if everyone lifted weights, no one would get cancer.

</Andy>
   90. Chris Dial Posted: August 07, 2006 at 02:41 AM (#2129802)
Most likely, yes.

I'll await your data.
   91. Dan Szymborski Posted: August 07, 2006 at 02:59 AM (#2129837)
Didn't Bill James once suggest that one argument in favour of an improved player population is how pitchers do as hitters. It seems to me that pitchers hit worse now and , if this is true, that this is a good indicator of a general improvement of the quality of play.

I think that this was David Pinto's idea in one of those Diamond Chronicle books that STATS put out a while ago.
   92. Chris Dial Posted: August 07, 2006 at 03:05 AM (#2129849)
It's up to you to show that virtually every athlete in the world of any significnace is not helped by the resistance training program they are on.

Read the articles I linked above. It does a pretty good job that what you and Gould claim about the reduction of the skill range hasn't happened since 1950. If you don't like those, please offer substantial critique or proffer some other avenue of research rather than doing a *brilliant* job of parroting "they *have* to be."

Thanks.
   93. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: August 07, 2006 at 03:50 AM (#2129875)
Andy,
this:
You obviously know more about Yaz's body than he does. And it's equally obvious that all weight training (not to mention those steroids) has gone for naught, other than perhaps to add to the player's OPS at the beach and in the bars. Ballclubs should probably just chuck their weight rooms and invest in a few forests and lakes stocked with grizzly bears and fish and let their players just stay in shape with a little huntin' 'n' fishin'.

is horsehshit over-the-top distorting my position.


I'd say it was more of a lampooning of it than a distortion, if you can ever learn to figure out the distinction. Especially considering the following quote from post #82:

I am saying it is overly simplistic for you, Andy and Yaz to say his jump in HRs was due to weight-lifting.

Gee, who could have written that? Why, it was Chris Dial, telling Yaz to wise up! Did I "distort" that?

Chris seems to say that there are no "significant benefits" to added strength, not that it will take a player so far but not beyond that

What I'm saying is that players in the past were pretty fit. Really fit. Watch teh 1971 ASG. Look at Willie Mays. You think he's going to get better with weight training? Ever seen old photos of him? Hank Aaron? These guys were really really strong. Mickey Mantle?????? You think weight training was going to benefit him?

I'll maintain that no, it wouldn't. Sure, like Mefisto said, *some* players might, but it's not some carte blanche, matter-of-fact position you think you are wielding.


Hmmm, since we're mentioning inner circle Hall of Meriters, what about Barry Bonds circa 1992? He was pretty buff then himself. Do you think that weight training might have helped him down the road a bit, with or without the steroids? I mean, something must have produced all that extra power? Perhaps water from a virgin spring?

(And no, Chris, I am not claiming that you said that Bonds got his home runs from a virgin spring, just in case you try to claim that as yet another "distortion" of your position.)

I'll rest my case for the night with that. That goddam Godfather lasts almost as long as some of those World Series games.
   94. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: August 07, 2006 at 03:58 AM (#2129879)
You know, just because Ted Williams didn't lift weights doesn't mean he didn't resistance train. He was constantly doing push-ups and squeezing a hard rubber ball to enhance his upper body strength.

Check out the September 1, 1941 issue of LIFE sometime, which features a photo essay of Williams in training. He was an absolute fanatic for conditioning.

Merely swinging a bat is a form of resistance training.

Absolutely. He did practice swings everywhere he went, often waking up in the middle of the night to perform in front of a hotel mirror. I used to do this myself several hundred times a day in high school, and then later with the Elston Howard bat donut, and believe me, it helped a lot.
   95. Chris Dial Posted: August 07, 2006 at 04:10 AM (#2129883)
that have been peer-reviewed? And that the conclusions reached by those peer-reviewed studies have been proven on the field of play?

Could you link to the ones citing baseball players from teh 50s and today?

You know, just because Ted Williams didn't lift weights doesn't mean he didn't resistance train. He was constantly doing push-ups and squeezing a hard rubber ball to enhance his upper body strength.
Merely swinging a bat is a form of resistance training.


I know kevin, that's what I've been saying. Players already were in great shape and did things to stay in shape that weren't defined as "weight training". Have you ever read Tom Seaver's "the Art of pitching"? He had assorted exercises to strngethen his shoulders. He was taught those.
   96. Chris Dial Posted: August 07, 2006 at 04:11 AM (#2129884)
Why should I believe a non peer-reviewed article claiming that resistance training doesn't help with athletic performance

The article doesn't claim that, and there is tons of peer review posted after teh article.
   97. Chris Dial Posted: August 07, 2006 at 04:16 AM (#2129886)
I'd say it was more of a lampooning of it than a distortion, if you can ever learn to figure out the distinction.

It's a distinction without a difference coming from you.

Gee, who could have written that? Why, it was Chris Dial, telling Yaz to wise up! Did I "distort" that?

Yes, you did and are.

I said "that's over-simplification". Don't you think it is? If you do not, please stop ignoring my request for you to explain where all of Yaz' muscles were in 1968.
   98. J. Cross Posted: August 07, 2006 at 05:24 AM (#2129908)
What I'm saying is that players in the past were pretty fit. Really fit. Watch teh 1971 ASG. Look at Willie Mays. You think he's going to get better with weight training? Ever seen old photos of him? Hank Aaron? These guys were really really strong. Mickey Mantle?????? You think weight training was going to benefit him?

I see Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez, they were very good players, and think it would have been a benefit to them.

He had assorted exercises to strngethen his shoulders. He was taught those.

IIRC, all of Seaver's exercises were low weight/high rep stuff and he used ankle weights and running to strengthen his running. I also think that Seaver and Ryan were had unusually strong lower bodies for pitchers of their era (I believe Seaver made reference to Ryan's rare natural strength in his legs).

Chris, I've read Gould's Full House and I remember his arguments about "the wall of human limitation" and that when the cutoff for making it into the majors gets closer to that wall, the variance within the league must decrease. I remember that part of the reason I was so impressed with Bonds (pre-Balco news) is that it seemed clear to me that he'd somehow leaped over that wall of what we'd imagined to be possible. Leaving aside for the moment how he did that, I think that by weight lifting players essentially nudged that wall further along. Since the upper wall moved in addition to the lower wall we don't see a decrease in variance due to weight lifting. When the curve shifts to the right the shape of the tail we're observing (and thus the variance) doesn't change.

As per your question or where it shows up in the statistics? I don't know. It might not. I suspect that there's a clever way to detect this improvement that we simply haven't found yet. That's no reason to claim that it doesn't exist when logic makes a convincing case that it does. I don't know why you believe that statistical evidence is the only legitimate from of evidence.
   99. J. Cross Posted: August 07, 2006 at 05:26 AM (#2129909)
he used ankle weights and running to strengthen his running.

That should say "ankle weights and running to strengthn his legs."
   100. Backlasher Posted: August 07, 2006 at 05:41 AM (#2129916)
Interesting development in this thread. I guess it turned into someone's personal mission.

Let's take a look at a couple of things.

(1) Data

I have no idea the source on the data that has been bandied about on height and weight. But:

(a) I don't trust listings regardless of who has recorded them unless the person took the measurements themselves.
(b) I decided to rerun this experiment with data that I did have. I used the Lahman database for heights and weights, and I didn't worry about decades. If we are measuring years, let's measure years. I also run it with no thresholdes, with 500 AB threshold, 1000 AB threashold and 5000 AB threshhold. Here is what I found.

(i) A heavily oscilllitating function that is generally linearly increasing when interpolated. (IOW, players are getting taller and heavier).
(ii) The slope of the line is increasing at about the same rate. (IOW, no matter what criteria you use to segregate players the average size is increasing at about the same rate in every population.)
(iii) Although not always true, the curves with linear threshholds are generally larger in size magnitude as one increases the threshhold (IOW, there may be some correlation in size and career length or opportunities in MLB. I didn't bother to test this because it doesn't matter too much).

So I'm not sure where the hullaballoo is coming from that players aren't getting bigger. As has been pointed out, even using Dial's data that point is seen.

(2) Strength

I can't tell what the argument is here. One minute Dial is saying players aren't stronger, the next minute he's admitting he didn't say that players weren't stronger. Then he starts talking about great players being strong. Somehow, I guess he believes that adds up to something.

At the end of the day, players are either stronger as a class or they are not stronger as a class. All this beating around the bush about Mantle isn't going to help. I aver that most any piece of evidence available will show that players as a class are more likely than not stronger. I wish we could get that out of the way and find out if it is a point of contention.

(3) Strength to baseball ability

I think this is getting pretty silly. If you hold all things equal and increase a player's strength, he will be able to generate more bat speed. In another model you can keep the bat speed constant and strength would allow you to start the bat later and generate the same bat speed.

Now, this is true for strenght in general. You could subdivide strength type. But is anyone arguing that there is an increase in strength but only for endurance and not anerobic properties?
Moreover, I have seen the old saw, "but you don't hold everything equal" bantered about in similar contexts. If that is the case, which skill is it that is being argued that has atrophied?

(4) Defense

Field actually makes a good argument. If defense has increased then for levels to remain constant then some other factor would be changed. Which factor is being argued to have changed?

(5) "It has to be"

I hate to break this to you, especially since you invoked logic chains, but "it has to be" is generally how any proof works. You reach a point where both sides equal a law or something that has been proven. What most people are doing is using evidence AND DATA and making inductive arguments. That induction is reaching general points that are usually part of general consensus. It may get confusing, because people really don't know what is in contention. At times it looks like such general knowledge criteria as defensive improvements and strength being an attribute of baseball performance or being argued against. And its difficult to tell when that is serious and when its for rhetorical effect.

Ending every post with the "it must be so" line is not going to strengthen the argument.

(6) Data and Evidence

This has been broached before, WHAT IS IT THAT YOU WANT TO SEE. I've been part of one subpart of these conversations. You have been shown that players are bigger; you have been shown that the human achievement curve on strength and speed is increasing. People are showing you a lot more than that.

If you want to argue that Isolate Power or Slugging or VORP or something hasn't changed in so many years, I would not disagree or probably care that much anyway. If you want to argue that Micky Mantle was stronger than Rafeal Belliard, you are probably correct. I sure as hell hope so. If you want to argue that Mick was stronger than David Morse even after Morse took steroids, I don't know if its true or not, but I don't see much use. If you want to argue that Mickey Mantle is stronger than Barry Bonds post BALCO, then I doubt that is true, but it might still be possible.

I'm not interested in comparing one freak of nature in a generation to individuals in another population. I am interested in how changes in human achievement impact the game.

On that front it looks like it has changed the game in the type of player that is sourced; the general usage and deployment of pitching; and probably exacerbated the use of PEDs much the same way as the NFL has exacerbated obesity.

I seriously doubt that Babe Ruth could get that tree trunk of a bat around on many modern pitchers. He might have, but I didn't really see him swing all that much, and he's not just a "stat line" He's a human with discernable characteristics that matter, particularly if the thought experiment is what would he do today.

The game changes in part because of technology, in part because of learned strategy, and in part because human achievement.
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