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Daily Box Score 7/23: Reluctantly About PEDs and the HOF

Keep posting your links in the comments, folks. We love a good discussion.

I have an admission to make. I strongly dislike bringing up the topic of PEDs. It nearly always ends the "reasonable discussion" phase of the conversation. But I guess if Bill James writes it (warning: PDF), all of us sabermatricians have to talk about it, so here we go.

The argument for discriminating against PED users rests upon the assumption of the moral superiority of non-drug users. But in a culture in which everyone routinely uses steroids, that argument cannot possibly prevail. You can like it or you can dislike it, but your grandchildren are going to be steroid users. Therefore, they are very likely to be people who do not regard the use of steroids as a moral failing. They are more likely to regard the banning of steroids as a bizarre artifice of the past. 

He has many other arguments but this is the essential one. He concludes:

It will come upon us in a flash. And, at the end of the day, Mark McGwire is going to be in the Hall of Fame, and Roger Clemens, and Sammy Sosa, and Rafael Palmeiro, and probably even Barry Bonds. I am not especially advocating this; I simply think that is the way it is. 

People who now seem surprised or betrayed by steroids in baseball always reminded me of Captain Renault. Ok, let's open the can of worms in the comments.

Whether or not the "disappearance" of steroids in baseball is the cause, it does appear that run scoring has fallen since its peak a few years ago. In lower run-scoring environments, the value of good baserunning goes up. That makes this piece in Sports Illustrated even more interesting. It looks at the baserunning prowess of Carl Crawford and includes quotes from baserunning statistical gurus James Click and Dan Fox. Here's a taste:

Every week Fox e-mails a baserunning report to Pirates third base coach Tony  Beasley. "At first I was skeptical," says Beasley. "Now I think [Fox is] a genius. The numbers reveal things you don’t really see with your eyes. You see that last year [first baseman] Adam LaRoche didn’t go from first to third a lot and didn’t take a lot of chances in general. Now he’s being more aggressive and is one of our best base runners." 

At the opposite end of the team philosophy spectrum is the "wait for the three-run home run" approach. Or better yet--a grand slam. Or better yet--a pinch-hit grand slam. Or better yet--a pinch-hit grand slam by Manny Ramirez on Manny Ramirez bobblehead night into the Mannywood section of Dodger Stadium. Those Dodger fans really seem broken up about his PED use.

Vin Scully called the reaction of tonight's pinch-hit grand slam by Manny Ramirez off the first pitch by Red reliever Nick Masset the loudest he's heard Dodger Stadium in 20 years.

Psh, if you believe Vin Scully.

Revisiting the DNA testing in the Dominican Republic, Alan Schwarz looked into the testing done on top international prospect Miguel Sano. The testing was used not only to verify Sano's age, but also his identity and whether he had ever used performance-enhancing drugs. Though Sano (as well as his sister and parents) submitted to the testing voluntarily, some experts worry it could be abused:

"Genetic testing is troubling because it kind of gives employers a chance to look into the future and to use that to discriminate against people," [Professor of Criminology William] Thompson said. "It seems to me that the specific application that M.L.B. is making of this test does not fall under the traditional category of genetic discrimination — where you’re basing a decision of what will happen in the future with medical problems. Here M.L.B. is identifying an individual as who they say they are."

Sano did not pay for the testing conducted by either the MLB or the Pittsburgh Pirates, one of the teams pursuing Sano's services.

In a related item, ESPN's international prospect expert Jorge Arangure attempts to derive some lessons (Insider sub. req.) from l'affaire Sano. Perhaps most interestingly, he suggests

3. Increase funding for the RBI program in the Dominican Republic

Rarely do any of the top players in the Dominican play for the RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) program. Simply put, the RBI program is a nonfactor in the Dominican. A player like Sano would never be attracted by such a program, because it wouldn't offer him the best opportunity to sign the best contract. By establishing an alternative to the trainer system, MLB could help eliminate a lot of the age-altering that occurs. Perhaps part of the money earned by registering trainers and agents could also be used for this purpose.

He also recommends that teams be required to provide signees with secondary education. Am I wrong in thinking the elephant in the room here is the disparity between international free agents and players subject to the rules of the MLB Rule 4 draft?

Did it seem to you like this year's College World Series was especially high-scoring? Well, you might have been on to something, says Baseball America. New composite bats, used heavily these days, exhibit an exaggerated "trampoline effect" and are also easier to tamper with. 

Indeed, as the charts to the right illustrate, batting, scoring and home runs per game have all spiked in the last two years, coinciding with the increased use of "hot" bats. Scoring and home runs in Division I baseball reached their highest levels in 2009 since bat standards were altered in 1998, the end of the "Gorilla Ball" era.

Of course, correlation does not imply causation. However, college baseball's governing body will consider a moratorium on the use of composite bats in August.

What is BABIP good for? What does it tell us? Perhaps there is room for suspicion, suggests a reader at THT:

Imagine two hitters, A and B, both of whom assemble 600 at-bats, 180 hits, and 100 strikeouts. A hits 15 home runs, however, while B musters 40. Both players hit .300, of course, but their respective BABIPs look like this:

A -- .340

B -- .304

Does BABIP unfairly punish home run hitters? Something about this comparison seems flawed, but I can't quite put my finger on it. Anybody got any ideas?

You know what baseball needs? A clock! No, no, not that sort of clock. Baseball needs a clock on televised broadcasts, to measure everything from stolen base times to outfield throws, proposes Rick Swanson. He also suggests a clock to time

3. Catcher release and throw. When Jarrod Saltalamacchia threw out Jason Bay on July 20, he took 1.98 seconds to catch and throw to second. That is one of the only parts of the game being measured by scouts and coaches in the game today.

I think there's something to be said for a pristine broadcast feed, but if the data were available online, I'm sure it could be useful in some way.

Finally, the Cubs 2009 payroll is estimated to be approximately $135 million (so far). What has it gotten them? A record of 48-45, and Jon Bois says the money could have been used more productively. Or at least more awesomely:

You could then command your armada of penny-clad aircraft carriers around the tip of South America and all the way to the coast of Spain. Every mile you travel, you throw 465 pounds’ worth of pennies into the ocean. Then you disembark and build another line of pennies to Cerro de los Ángeles, Spain. Then you build another line of pennies to the northern coast of Spain, borrow 80 more aircraft carriers, cover them in pennies, and sail to Edinburgh, Scotland. 

Or you could figure out a way to incentivize Alfonso Soriano not to do that silly hop step before catching the ball. In a related note, Tom Tango has an interesting graph on payroll vs. performance. (Care to share your data, please?)