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Better hitting through compression
2006-05-09 13:21
by Bob Timmermann

Jacob Luft of explores Andrew Zimbalist's theory that more records are being set in baseball now not because of PED's, but rather from a compression of talent in the major leagues.

Zimbalist's take is that as the number of major league jobs remains constant and the available talent pool grows, the harder it becomes for individual players to stand out above the rest. Conversely, increasing the number of major league jobs (via expansion) creates disparity in the talent pool and allows for record-breaking performance to happen again.

"Why, until 1998, were almost all of baseball's personal achievement records set between 1910 and 1930?" Zimbalist writes in May The Best Team Win: Baseball Economics and Public Policy. "Rogers Hornsby batted .424 in 1924, Hack Wilson knocked in 190 runs in 1930, Earl Webb whacked 67 doubles in 1931, Babe Ruth scored 177 runs in 1921 ... Baseball's stats are the product of competing forces and reveal little about the absolute quality of the players."

2006-05-09 13:49:10
1.   scareduck
Does the fact that they weren't facing the likes of Satchel Paige enter into his pre-segregation calculations? No... what about the decline in the number of people willing to commit themselves to playing at the highest level in baseball rather than football? The Dominican Republic players throw things into a loop, too, because some of the greatest players in recent times have hailed from there -- what does that say about talent dilution?

Things are mighty complex, and people will try hard as they can to assign causality, but most such efforts are doomed.

2006-05-09 14:24:28
2.   das411
And you can always have flukes (baseball-wise anyways, not even gonna touch this in other contexts) like 9/11 where players essentially had a week off at the end of the season in 2001 and that certainly played a part in several records. See Mister Bonds, the 116-win Mariners, etc...
2006-05-09 14:50:03
3.   Kayaker7
Zimbalist might be correct about the trend, but incorrect about individual cases. Bonds just exploded at an age when decline occurs. That is about as damning as it gets (besides the mounds of evidence, of course).

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