Tuesday, May 10, 2005
may be related
to a 9 percent
decline in HRs
By Ronald Blum ~ The Associated Press
NEW YORK -- In the first year of toughened steroid testing, home runs are down in the major leagues for the first time since 2002.
Florida Marlins pitcher Todd Jones doesn't think it's a coincidence. He's convinced there's a connection.
"Unfortunately I do. I hate it, but there has been a correction made in the system, and the numbers are going to suffer for a couple of years," he said Monday. "I hate to admit it because I didn't want to. I'm as disappointed as any fan would be that it's going to end up showing to be the truth. But it's got to be good for the game to get back to an even playing field. I just didn't realize how deep it was."
An average of 1.97 home runs were hit in games through Sunday, down 8.8 percent from the 2.16 average in the first five weeks of last season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. It's the lowest level for the first five weeks since 2002's 1.93 average and below the 2.14 average of the last decade.
"I think five weeks is too short a statistical sample to draw any conclusions," said Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer. "There are a myriad of factors that could influence that, including the cold and wet spring training we had in Florida, the weather in the first few weeks of the season."
But Los Angeles Angels bench coach Joe Maddon, who has been in professional baseball since 1975, thinks testing "could be tied to it somehow."
"I don't know exactly to what extent, but you see people maybe not as big as they had been in the past or don't look as strong as maybe they had been in the past," he said. "Some balls are hit pretty well, but they're not carrying like maybe they had in the past couple of years. So, just being a thinking person, and you know what's been going on, you have to tie them together a little bit."
Runs per game are down 5 percent, from 9.72 to 9.23, and hits declined 3.1 percent, from 18.37 per game to 17.80. The major league batting average dropped from .265 to .261.
"I don't think that's necessarily the cause," Tigers closer Troy Percival said of steroids. "And I only say that because being in Detroit, I've never seen weather being this cold day in and day out all the way through the central part of the country and the East Coast."
There have been exceptions. Pitchers on the Cincinnati Reds gave up a major league-high 49 homers in their first 30 games. They are on pace to break the team record of 236 they set last year, which was three short of the NL record.
"I don't know how much steroids had to do with it," Reds reliever Kent Mercker said. "Maybe the pitching got better."
Several players and managers cited the absence of San Francisco's Barry Bonds.
"I think if Barry were playing, you'd probably have that nine percent," Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said.
"The best hitter in baseball is on the DL," added Florida Marlins third baseman Mike Lowell. "I can't say it's steroids or the pitching. It might be a combination. If it was down 30 percent, I would say, 'Whoa, we've got to look at something.' Nine percent is a minimal variation."
Minnesota outfielder Shannon Stewart was among those who cited better pitching as the cause for the drop.
"There are guys that know how to make the ball move a little bit. To me, guys don't throw straight balls anymore, so it's a little tougher to hit the baseball," he said. "All it takes is a big swing and the ball's going to be out of the yard. That's all it takes, a good swing on that ball. That has nothing to do with steroids."
Houston manager Phil Garner thinks pitching is a big part of it.
"We went through a period where we saw guys coming up to the big leagues who were throwing 87, 88, 89 mph. Now I see a bunch of guys coming up throwing 92, 94, 95," he said. "There might have been a drop in legal supplements, too. ... I'm seeing smaller players. It's unfair and wrong to assume that guy was on steroids, because supplementation can help too, and it's all legal."
Washington Nationals outfielder Jose Guillen judges by his own experience.
"At this time last year, I had fewer home runs than I have right now," said Guillen, who connected for No. 8 Sunday. "I had two or three at this time last year."