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ScienceBall: How Major League Baseball Took Steroids



As Bill Nye’s theme song told us: Science rules and inertia is a property of matter. So why don’t we get a little scientific?

There have been whispers of conspiracy surrounding Major League Baseball and the inordinate increase in home runs, in recent years. We all know that the MLB conducts thorough and scrupulous drug tests; PED’s are presumed to be out of the question. So what could have caused this increase in dingers?

The term “juicing the ball” has been thrown around loosely, almost in a satirical manner. This has come from the media. The MLB has made no formal, nor vociferous, statement concerning any deliberate tampering with their baseballs. But the truth is out there…

These allegations, surrounding the home run spike, come on the coattails of a numbers problem for the MLB: The TV ratings are bad. We the old-heads may still be watching, but the hip-youth are turning elsewhere for their sports entertainment. Preseason football killed Red Sox games, and it almost invariably beat local MLB broadcasts around the country. Wouldn’t it make sense for commissioner Rob Manfred and baseball brass to look for a way to stimulate TV ratings with the younger demographics? And what does everybody appreciate and find entertaining: Power.

Here’s where I have to admit that I have a tinge of a conspiracy theorist in me: I do. But, this “juiced-ball” ball phenomena is redolent of the steroid era. That’s alarming. Hitters are inexplicably hitting more home runs. Yeah, yeah I get the “whole evolution of the athlete theory”. This spike is too extreme to be attributed to improved mechanics and players being more educated. It just doesn’t make sense. Especially when juxtaposed with the not so far-gone PED age of the late 90’s and early 2000’s.


At this point in the 2017 MLB season, home runs per game (HRPG) are higher than they have been ever before. That’s right, even when Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire were swinging it, they weren’t swinging it like this. HRPG has rapidly shot up since the 2015 season. If you look at 2-year intervals, the increase that we’re appreciating, since just 2 years ago, is much greater than any difference we’ve ever seen in such a span.

Let’s go back to 1998. Steroids are just starting to circulate through clubhouses. Ah, what a time to be alive! My dad always says “go look at Barry Bonds’ rookie card, then look at him in the late 90’s.” To say the dude put on some weight would be a massive understatement. He looked like he ate himself. But by the numbers, the HRPG for the 1998 MLB season was 1.04. By the 2000 season, in 2 years, it was jacked up to 1.17. Steroids are a helluva drug. That’s a 13% increase in home runs. After public outcry and the commencement of a witch-hunt, HRPG precipitously dropped back to 1.04 by 2002. Now, stay with me here.

In the 2015 season, the average for home runs per game was a normal 1.01. Fast-forward to now, with the 2017 regular season schedule all but completed, the HRPG is at 1.27. Much like the steroid era disparity, in 2 years the average has increased by 26%. That is twice as severe of an increase than the one we saw back when the players were juicing. So, clearly, someone, or something, has to be juiced here.


I brought this topic up casually to a nerdy know-it-all friend of mine, and he made an interesting suggestion. Very placidly and definitively he said, “they’re dehydrating the baseballs”. Of course, this sounded stupid, at first. I’ve had dehydrated fruit, and it’s pretty good, but why would anyone want dehydrated baseballs? He explained that, by dehydrating the baseballs, one could manipulate what is scientifically referred to as the “coefficient of reciprocity” or COR.

In laymen’s terms: It would make the ball “bounce” more violently. Every object on Earth harbors a certain amount of moisture. A water-logged ball does not bounce as well as a dry ball. The more dehydrated a baseball becomes, the greater it will bounce. Remember Sammy Sosa’s corked bat? Little did he know that he was influencing the COR of baseballs, only with a different piece of equipment. You’ll hear announcers say when the air is dry and hot, that the ball will “fly” during the game. That’s when the ball is naturally dehydrated.

Another piece of information, that expounds on this hypothesis, is the so-called “blister epidemic” in the MLB. This year, venerated pitchers such as Jake Arrieta, Rich Hill, and many others have complained of the mysterious formation of blisters on their fingers. These guys are not rookies. They’re forming blisters, years and years into their respective careers, in ways they’ve never formed them before. Hypothetically if the ball was dehydrated, it would have a more coarse and abrasive texture. The ball would have a surface that could easily induce blistering, after re-gripping and throwing it 100+ times per game.

Think about it: You would see no superficial change in the baseball’s appearance if it was dehydrated. MLB “ball-handlers” (for lack of a better term) would simply toss the baseballs into a baseball oven, before each game. Sadly there’s really no way to corroborate this theory unless you’re employed by the MLB and you can testify to doing this. If so please speak up. That would be cool.

In Reality

Again, this is all unconfirmed and is an unresearched conspiracy theory. The unfortunate thing about “eras” is that fans (and sometimes even players) don’t know when they are in one. We watch for the love of the game, and sometimes it’s best not to know how the sausage is made.

For now, we can say that it has been an exciting and action-packed season. Giancarlo Stanton is on track to be the first player to hit 60 home runs, since 2001. And it’s been fun to watch him as he attempts to accomplish this feat. But we can’t ignore suspicions. The spike in home runs, that we are appreciating this year, is not unprecedented. It is just much greater than its predecessor.

Columnist operating out of Manchester, NH. Retired pitcher (unprofessional not amateur). Voracious consumer of all things Celtics and Red Sox. Sometimes I produce content as well.

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Boston Red Sox

Battle of the Eras: Chris Sale V. Pedro Martinez



Boston Red Sox

This season, MLB batters have hit more home runs than they have hit in any other season. Ever. Yes, that’s including the steroid-era.

On Wednesday night, Red Sox ace, Chris Sale became the first AL pitcher to record 300 K’s in a season, since Pedro Martinez in 1999 (the climax of juicing in the MLB). To call what Sale has done in 2017 “impressive” would be an egregious understatement. It’s downright spectacular.

Both of these hall of fame caliber arms dominated their respective “eras”. But who had the rougher go of it? And can we definitively say that one pitcher is better than the other?

Before we continue, I have to admit that Pedro Martinez is 100% my favorite pitcher of all time. Without a doubt. When I was 8 years old, my favorite shirt to wear was a men’s XL “t-shirt jersey” of his. I was a big-boned kid. Anyways…

For Pedro, it was the varicose-veined behemoths like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa, that he had to overpower. Where Chris Sale is now facing the equivocal adversity of the “juiced-ball era”: Power-hitting is ubiquitous; exit velocity is invariably up. And I’m sorry, but until the MLB comes out and coherently denounces this slang-like colloquialism, that’s what we’re rolling with: The baseball is juiced. Chris Sale has pitched and is currently pitching, in an “era” that favors hitters. One that is not at all dissimilar to the steroid-era that Pedro triumphed in, over a decade ago.

Tearing the Cover Off of the Ball

So let’s chronologically define these eras in question, to make comparisons fair, even though we’re dealing with the incomparable.

Concerning Pedro Martinez’s performance, we’ll say that the 1999 and 2000 seasons combined were the pinnacles of his era. And for Chris Sale, we’ll look at 2016 through 2017, as the superlative years so far, of the juiced-ball era.

From 1999-2000, the average for home runs hit per game (HRPG) was 1.16. This was when batters were going through anabolic steroids and HGH faster than they were going through Gatorade. From 2016-2017 thus far, the HRPG is currently at 1.21. This disparity is a symptom of the juiced-ball era. Or maybe all of the hitters in the MLB were invited to a symposium, where they were taught how to hit more homers… Probably not.

So how do these two greats of the game compare?

Bringing It

Let’s start with the elder of the two: Pedro Martinez. From 1999-2000, he was an indomitable force on the mound. For starters, he went 41-10 in the win-loss column. If that’s not godly enough for you, he had a professionally manicured ERA of 1.90. How Pedro, how? In 430.1 innings pitched, he racked up 597 K’s with a clean WHIP of .830. Yeah, I’d say that’s pretty solid.

But bear in mind, the steroid-era HRPG hardly compares to the unparalleled HRPG of Chris Sale’s contemporary juiced-ball era. Sale is pitching against the objectively more difficult phenomena, of the two.

With presumably 1 start left in the 2017 season, Chris Sale, through 2016-2017, has a record of 34-17 (.667 W-L%). That’s a helluva winning-percentage, considering that he pitched for the terrible Chicago White Sox for the majority of that span. Over the past 2 years in question, his ERA is presently at 3.06 and his WHIP is at 1.001. Sale has 533 K’s in that stretch, which is comprised of 436 total innings pitched.

Again, like Pedro, these numbers illustrate a transcendent talent.

The Eye Test

When it comes to Red Sox baseball, it’s almost sacrilegious to compare any pitcher to Pedro Martinez. He is kind of like our Paul Pierce: He gave us a piggyback-ride during the worst of times. But as the media and the statisticians have so tenaciously pointed out, Chris Sale is having a Pedro-like season for the Sox. So who’s better?

The fact of the matter is, one could make a reasonable argument for both sides.

Pedro Martinez faced chemically amplified power-hitters, in the steroid-era. Chris Sale is throwing a baseball that is ambiguously “loaded” in the favor of any hitter, during the juiced-ball era. One’s a lefty; one’s a righty. Yeah, yeah the list goes on.

Memory is the ultimate discerner. Sale has impressed us, but his impression will be crystallized by his performance in the playoffs. Also note that this iteration of the Boston Red Sox, that he is pitching for in 2017, is relatively more formidable than the one that Pedro pitched for.

Yet again, stats are stats; achievements are achievements. Both of these pitchers have achieved greatness, despite facing historically challenging odds. When it comes to concrete veneration: Writers and Cooperstown brass will be the ultimate deciders.

For now, Boston should relish the performance of their current, and for the foreseeable future, ace Chris Sale. He’s had himself a year. But as all greats will tell you, the “next” victory is always their favorite victory. We should all rest easy, knowing that Chris Sale will be toeing the rubber in game 1 of the 2017 postseason for the Sox. As his numbers show, this guy has what it takes to win. 

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Boston Red Sox

Red Sox Batting or Pitching More Concerning?



Red Sox

Red Sox Batting or Pitching More Concerning?

Tonight NESN will be broadcasting the game in virtual reality (for those who care). Wow, how futuristic! But before we let NESN get all virtual reality on us, let’s take a more realistic look at this exasperating Red Sox team. Most recently, they’ve been questionable on both sides of the baseball. But which element will ultimately be more detrimental to our hunt for postseason glory: The arms or the bats?

We are now in the month of September. Playoff baseball lies near on the horizon. There are only 24 games left on the schedule, and we are up by a tenuous 2.5 games on the Yankees. The heartbreak of losing that series, this past weekend in the Bronx, still lingers in the minds of fans.

It is undeniable that the Red Sox have faltered as of late. They are a measly 7-8 in their last 15 games. Our guys have been underperforming. And this is certainly not the time to ease off the gas-pedal. Despite the lead in the division, we have not secured a playoff birth just yet.

Both our pitching and our hitting has waxed and waned, like a candle in the wind. There appears to be an emotional dichotomy in this clubhouse. Some games, this Sox team takes the field clamoring to hear the words “play ball”. But almost just as often, we see a bunch of players who appear to be disinterested and defeated out of the gate. It makes you wonder if they have what it takes to be successful on the biggest stage.

Don’t get it twisted: Dave Dombrowski wants to win immediately. He’s not here for an unglamorous “rebuild”. Over the past 2 years, Dombrowski has assembled a competitive postseason team. He’s done this through aggressive trading, with a tenacious business approach. He’s surrounded our homegrown talent with bonafide star-power. On paper, we have one of the most formidable teams in the MLB.

We’ve all performed the eye-test. The Red Sox making a playoff run in 2017 should be safely presumed, right? Sure. But just how far should we expect them to go in October?

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Boston Red Sox

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly



Red Sox

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

It certainly has been a scintillating week in Boston sports. We saw the completion of the biggest Celtics trade since the Big 3. The Sox went on a tear, then proceeded to get torn asunder in the Bronx. Our, Super Bowl winning and perfection projected Patriots are preparing to play their season opener next Thursday. How are we gonna tackle all of this news?

Don’t fret: It’s Friday. That means it’s time for “the Good, the Bad and the Ugly”.

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