Leafing Through Pages: Analysis of Sports and Other Topics

03/05/2010

Examination of the Steroid Era and Finding Other Causes

Many knowledgeable baseball fans know that the early 1990’s but especially the mid to late 1990’s are shrouded in allegations that vary from 30% of players to “hundreds” to everybody were on steroids during those eras. Let’s take a look at the factors that helped usher in the “steroid era” and see if anything can be partly explained.

The First Examination: The Ballpark Effect

The massive influx of ballparks mostly occurred starting in 1994. The Florida Marlins came into existence in 1993 with park factors of 101, 108, and 98 from 1993 to 1995. Joe Robbie Stadium also saw some key fence changes occur.

In 1993 the fences measured at 335 in LF, 380 in the power alleys, 410 in CF, and 345 in RF. A big change was made for the 1994 baseball season. LF saw the fence moved closer by 5 feet, the power alleys pushed back 5 feet, and CF moved in 6 feet. The net result was a closer fence in LF and CF while the power alleys remained reachable.

1993 saw a percentage of 1.6% HRs at home by the Florida Marlins. In 1994, with the fence changes, that number jumped to 2.3% and 1995 was 2.8%.

The Colorado Rockies also arrived in 1993. Mile High Stadium’s park factors were 120 and 113 in 1993 and 1994. The move to Coors Field saw that park factor hit 128 and 129 in 1995 and 1996.

Ballpark LF Fence CF Fence RF Fence
Mile High Stadium 335 423 375
Coors Field 347 415 350

Once again, the new ballpark also featured new dimensional changes. The net result was a +21 improvement in dimension. Another big change were the fence heights which went from 12 feet in LF and 30 feet in CF down to 8 feet in LF and CF at Coors Field.

The 1994 season saw a HR % of 3.0 at home by the Rockies. In 1995 that jumped up to 5.3% and 1996 saw 5.1% from the Rockies alone.

New ballparks also came from other franchises. The Baltimore Orioles moved from Memorial Stadium with dimensions of 309 down the foul lines, 378 in the power alleys, 405 in CF to Oriole Park at Camden Yards in 1992. In 1992 the dimensions were 333 in LF, 364 and 373 in the power alleys, 400 in CF, and 318 in RF. The dimensions down the line were slightly pushed back but the power alleys and CF were moved in. Another change was making the fence 7 feet everywhere but RF.

In 1991 the Orioles had a 3.0 HR% at Memorial Stadium. That number shifted to 2.8% in 1992 and up to 3.2% in 1993.

Here’s a quick table showing the dimensions and key fence heights during the early and mid 1990’s. You’ll see that many also had shorter fences. Note that LF and RF means to the foul pole.

Ballpark Year LF CF RF Fence Height Notes
Atlanta-Fulton County 1995-1996 330 400 330 10 Feet
Turner Field 1997 335 401 330 8 Feet
Tiger Stadium 1999 340 440 325 9 Feet
Comerica Park 2000 345 420 330 8 Feet except Right Center at 11
3 Rivers Stadium 2000 335 400 335 10 Feet
PNC Park 2001 325 399 320 LF is 6 Feet. Left Center and CF is 10 Feet. RF is 21 Feet.
Kingdome 1998 331 405 312 LF and CF 11.5 Feet. RF 23.25 Feet.
Safeco Field 1999 331 405 326 8 Feet
Arlington Stadium 1994 330 400 330 11 Feet
Rangers Ballpark 1995 334 400 325 LF 14 Feet. CF and RF 8 Feet.
Old Comiskey Park 1990 347 409 347 LF and RF 9.8 Feet. CF 18 Feet.
New Comiskey Park 1991 347 400 347 8 Feet

That was just a quick table but you can see the dramatic shift in fence heights and field dimensions for a handful of ballparks. Even tiny changes were occurring like RF being shifted in Candlestick Park from 335 Feet down to 330 in 1991 down to 328 in 1993. The fences there were also altered from 9 in 1984 down to 8 in 1993. Busch Stadium wasn’t immune either. CF was shifted from 414 Feet to 402 Feet in 1992. The fences were all shortened from 10.5 to 8 feet in 1992 as well.

The Second Examination: The Expansion Teams

In 1993 the Colorado Rockies allowed 181 total home runs along with a .294 Batting Average. The 1993 Florida Marlins allowed 135 total home runs along with a .261 Batting Average. In 1993 the National League averaged 1 HR every 40 At Bats. The year before, the National League averaged 1 HR every 52 At Bats. That’s an increase of 12 At Bats for every HR hit.

The Rockies allowed 1 HR every 31 AB and the Marlins allowed 1 HR every 41 AB. While the Marlins were helpful to opponents, the Colorado Rockies were a big benefactor in pushing the HR totals up. Also largely in part due to the additions of Mile High Stadium and Coors Field.

In 1998 came two more franchises in the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Arizona allowed 1 HR every 29 At Bats and Tampa Bay allowed 1 HR every 32 At Bats.

Major League wide, the 1997 season saw 1 HR every 33 At Bats and the 1998 season saw 1 HR every 33 At Bats as well. Once again, one team was “league average” whereas the other team was quite a bit higher and thus helped push the Home Run totals up.

The Third Examination: Players Are Trying to Hit for Power

The fact is that players in the mid 1990’s and even to the present are trying to hit more home runs and are less willing to just hit for contact. As a result, this drives up the batting average due to more extra base hits and also drives up the slugging percentage.

1991: 1 HR per 42 AB and a .256 BA vs. .385 SLG
1992: 1 HR per 47 AB and a .256 BA vs. .377 SLG
1993: 1 HR per 38 AB and a .265 BA vs. .403 SLG
1994: 1 HR per 33 AB and a .270 BA vs. .424 SLG
1995: 1 HR per 34 AB and a .267 BA vs. .417 SLG
1996: 1 HR per 32 AB and a .270 BA vs. .427 SLG
1997: 1 HR per 33 AB and a .267 BA vs. .419 SLG
1998: 1 HR per 37 AB and a .266 BA vs. .420 SLG
1999: 1 HR per 30 AB and a .271 BA vs. .434 SLG

Even in the 2009 Season MLB saw a .262 BA and .418 SLG. Teams also hit 1 HR every 33 AB. Players at positions that used to be considered strong glove and weak bat such as Second Base or Short Stop saw a revolution in the mid to late 1990’s. A large part of this was the talent emerging…

In 1993 you had Mike Piazza emerge at Catcher with 35 Home Runs. Todd Hundley would suddenly come out of nowhere with 41 and 30 home runs in 1996 and 1997, seasons that saw Piazza also hit 36 and 40 home runs himself. Even less talented catchers like Charles Johnson were hitting 19 in 1997 and 1998. In 2000, Johnson hit 31 and that has carried over to modern day catchers such as Brian McCann.

At 2B you also saw the emergence of Jeff Kent who went from 21 in 1993 to 29 and 31 in 1997 and 1998. Craig Biggio started hitting 20-22 home runs from 1993 to 1998. Once again, this has also carried over to current players such as Chase Utley and Dustin Pedroia who hit 17 in 2008.

The biggest change, however, was at the Short Stop position. While Cal Ripken Jr was a revolution, the generation in the mid 1990’s took power to another level. Derek Jeter hit 19 and 24 home runs in 1998 and 1999. Nomar Garciaparra was hitting 30 and 35 in 1997 and 1998. Alex Rodriguez was hitting 36 in 1996 and following that up with 42, 42, and 41 from 1998 through 2000. Even guys like Barry Larkin were getting into the act as he hit 33 in 1996 and 17 in 1998. A career high and third best total.

Combined with the closer park dimensions and shorter fences, players were going for the power numbers that not only helped them win games but also got more money in free agency. Barry Larkin was making almost $6 Million in the mid 1990’s. Alex Rodriguez parlayed his power into a career where he has made at least $22 Million a year since 2001.

Power was no longer just for guys who were playing at first base or playing in the outfield. Now power was coming from every single position on the baseball diamond and from every single player in the lineup. Tony Gwynn, largely known as a singles hitter, suddenly was hitting 17 and 16 home runs in 1997 and 1998.

The Conclusion

Yeah, steroids and human growth hormone were fairly prevalent during the 1990’s and that fact can’t be denied. But to place all of the blame on steroids or other performance enhancing drugs for the explosion of home runs is narrowing the scope too much. The increase in ballparks favorable to hitters, coupled with expansion teams that spread out the talent, and the general belief that shifting to hitting for power would earn more money all helped result in the modern day “era” where power largely reigns supreme.

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