Thursday, February 12, 2009

Steroid Publicity & Hall Voting 

Whatever readers and contributors to TSE think about publicity given to MLB steroid use, it continues to hammer the chances of Hall of Fame inductions for an increasing set of players. Two years back, I posted regarding Mark McGwire's chances in view of his low first year ballot relative to his peers on the all-time home run list. In his third year of eligibility, McGwire's vote dropped just a hair from 23.6 to 21.9. Such dips are not without precedent. Duke Snider's numbers were in the same range and dipped to 21% in his third year only to rise steadily until his induction in his 11th year.

Beyond McGwire, what will be the fate of others caught up in the bad press? A Cincinnati Enquirer piece by John Erardi poses this question for A-Rod along with Bonds, Sosa, McGwire, Clemens and others. In a very small sample (10) of baseball writers who have Hall of Fame votes, 7 came out against any of the players while 2 were willing to consider a partiucular guy from their city -- roughly the same percentages currently seen in McGwire votes. On the other hand, it is hard to imagine that no players or very, very few from this era will be inducted. Phil Hagan (who votes uncomitted) of the Philadelphia Inquirer makes this Joe Morgan-esque point in the article:
"In the next several years, there are going to be many players becoming eligible who are suspected of or have admitted using steroids ... Either you vote for a player or players who used performance-enhancing substances or you don't vote for anybody ... I think it's fair to assume at this point that there was, in fact, a Steroid Era and that most players - and pitchers - probably at least tried the stuff ... And, honestly, I don't know where I stand on that right now."

The trouble with that view is that players who did not use such substances stand at a disadvantage, albeit an arguable one. The Astros ace, Roy Oswalt, speaks very forcefully to the views of at least one impacted non-users on
"A-Rod's numbers shouldn't count for anything," Oswalt said in a phone interview with "I feel like he cheated me out of the game." ... "The ones that have come out and admitted it, and are proven guilty, [their numbers] should not count. I've been cheated out of the game," Oswalt continued. "This is my ninth year, and I've done nothing to enhance my performance, other than work my butt off to get guys out. These guys [who took PEDs] have all the talent in the world. All-Star talent. And they put times two on it.
Of course, like the writers, Oswalt is more gracious to a former teammate, Roger Clemens, than he is toward others.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Aggressive & Passive Responses to Doping 

A Yahoo! Sports headline and associated summary regarding the Tour on Monday headline reads, Sastre Wins Doping-Scarred Tour de France. Setting aside moral philosophy, I wonder whether the Tour's (and related governing bodies) aggressive testing and enforcement regarding banned substances, itself, diminishes fan interest. The Tour appears to be generating its own scrutiny. We didn't read about a "doping-scarred" season in MLB last year or a tainted Red Sox championship in spite of all the hullaballoo surrounding Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens personally. MLB's very passive "ignore-minimize-forgive" strategy over the last decade seems to have paid dividends versus the "zero tolerance" strategy of cycling in recent years. (Of course, I'm taking the Caminiti-Canseco figures of 50% and above use of illicit substances in MLB as my guide so that the difference between cycling and MLB (at their highest levels of use) are not the difference -- rather it has been the degree of testing and enforcement.) Even though MLB has generated some mean glares from legislators and legal and public opinion problems of specific players have come under intense scrutiny, baseball itself seems to have escaped much fan response.

On the other hand, maybe the nature of the sports (indivdiual v. team oriented) or differences in fan base (American v. European) suggests different optimal strategies.

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Monday, June 09, 2008

Keeping the ball, & the horse in play 

Henry Waxman is a master at milking sports for publicity:
“It’s clear that some of the information Major League Baseball and the players union gave the committee in 2005 was inaccurate,” Waxman said in a written statement. “It isn’t clear whether this was intentional or just reflects confusion over the testing program for 2003 and 2004. In any case, the misinformation is unacceptable.”

Manfred, speaking for the commissioner’s office, said that he and Selig had testified truthfully.

“The testimony of Major League Baseball officials was completely accurate, and we are happy to address any concerns that Congressman Waxman may have,” Manfred said.

Michael Weiner, the union’s general counsel, said in reference to Fehr: “Don’s statements at the March 2005 hearing were accurate. If Congressman Waxman has any questions, we would be happy to respond.”
Vis a vis the horse, various commentators have stated that Big Brown's loss in the Belmont might be the last time we see him on the racetrack. NY Times columnist Joe Drape uses a bit of economic logic to suggest otherwise:
Before the Preakness, Three Chimneys Farm in Midway, Ky., purchased a percentage of Big Brown’s stallion rights in a deal valued at $60 million.

If he had become the first to sweep the series since Affirmed in 1978, Big Brown would have been expected to stand for at least $200,000 a mating and, as the only living Triple Crown champion, would have been worth up to $120 million.

Instead, I.E.A.H. and Big Brown’s other co-owners are going to be hard pressed to restore the colt’s stallion market to perhaps half of that $60 million level. Big Brown does not have a particularly fashionable pedigree: his sire, Boundary, stood for $10,000 for 11 seasons before being pensioned, and he produced a modest 16 stakes winners, mostly sprinters.

Big Brown is pointed to run in the Travers at Saratoga in August, and the Breeders’ Cup Classic in October at Santa Anita, where he is likely to meet Curlin, the reigning horse of the year.

“It puts a little more pressure on us to win those races,” Iavarone said. “I know a lot of people say we haven’t beaten anyone, and we needed to take on older horses.”

So for now, Big Brown’s future is pretty straightforward.
If he can stay healthy, he will run again. As for the poor performance Saturday, it might be the case of a bunch of little things all adding up to a dull performance. The best explanation I've seen so far comes from veterinarian Sid Gustafson in his post at The Rail.

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Is Steroid Use in Baseball a Positive-Sum Game? 

I don't like pitchers' duels in baseball. I like to see high-scoring games. Low-scoring games remind me too much of all the things I didn't like about pre-2005 hockey games and the old pre-free-guard-zone curling bonspiels and still don't much like about soccer.

I realize that many sports fans will disagree with me on this, but overall I suspect that most fans and potential fans share my views that low-scoring games are pretty boring no matter how artistic or professional or whatever a well-pitched and well-defenced game might be. Curling changed its rules to generate more scoring (and more fan interest). Baseball made several moves to increase scoring after the doldrums of the 1960s. Basketball added the 3-point shot. And baseball entered its revival phase as players started hitting more home runs and as teams began to score more runs.

But the past two years have been different, as Tom Boswell pointed out in last Friday's Washington Post.
This spring, for the second straight year, home run totals... have shrunk dramatically. Last season's 8 percent drop in home runs was welcomed, but with caution. ... [H]ome runs have fallen this spring by another 10.4 percent.

Suddenly, a sport that produced 5,386 home runs in 2006 is on pace for 4,442 this year — a 17.5 percent drop, or a loss of almost 1,000 home runs in just two seasons. ...

This season, major league teams have scored 8.98 runs per game. Since 1871, there have been 1,750,230 runs in the majors, an average of 9.11 per game. Warm weather, when fly balls carry farther, might bring the game almost exactly back to its long-term scoring trend.
Every sportswriter or sportscaster I am aware of has attributed this reduction in runs scored and decline in home runs to the reduced use of steroids in professional baseball. Some, like Boswell, might argue that this is "a good thing", but I am not so sure.

Typically when sports economists talk about steroid use, they/we present it as a negative-sum game: each player is made stronger, but since all players are made stronger, the benefit to each player is near zero but those on steroids must then bear the later health costs that come from using steroids. Following this logic, many of us have been puzzled that players' associations have been so reluctant to support bans on steroid use. And while this scenario seems plausible, I'm not so convinced by it any more.

So let's make some assumptions:
  1. In general, ceteris paribus, fans prefer more home runs to fewer. Again, quoting Boswell,
    "From a personal and aesthetic point of view, I like this kind of baseball better," MacPhail said. "I like a well-played game more than a slugfest. But plenty of fans like runs." [Emphasis added]. One test of this assumption will be to see what happens overall to MLB attendance.
  2. Conditional on the first assumption, (and again, cet. par.) the marginal revenue of runs is positive, the marginal revenue of home runs is positive, and the marginal revenue product of slugging is positive; i.e. for a given winning percentage, etc., if fans expect more runs and more home runs, they'll shell out more to attend games and buy team merchandise. There is an implication in the Boswell piece that general managers on the whole are relieved to see the home run totals decline since they anticipate not having to pay so much for the big-bopper-type players.

  3. The health costs of steroid use (assuming there are any) are borne by the player-users themselves; there are no negative externalities from steroid use.
I realize this last assumption is open to question. To the extent that health insurance providers do not risk-rate their premia according to steroid use, other people in the same risk pools might be bearing some of the health costs of steroid use, if there are any (and I don't accept anecdotal, Lyle Alzedo-type evidence on this score). Also, to the extent that steroid use leads to undesirable personality changes (do we know that it doesn't also lead to some desirable personality changes in many players?), that might be a cost which is not taken into account by the player-users. But if these costs are negligible or small, and if the revenue and salary gains are large, maybe overall the expected net gains to the teams and to the players from steroid use would be positive.

And maybe, just maybe, that is why professional sports teams and players' associations did NOT rush to ban the use of steroids, especially in baseball. I am less persuaded that steroid use was a positive-sum game in the NFL, which also might help explain why it was banned so much earlier in the NFL than in MLB.

[cross-posted to EclectEcon]

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