They’re announcing the Hall of Fame results today, so a lot of people are talking about steroids right now. When people talk about steroids, they talk about home runs. And they talk about the integrity of the game, the disgrace of the “steroid era”, and what the muscle-bound cheaters did to the hallowed history books with their absurd power totals. 1998 is often held up as the pinnacle of the steroid era, where two PED users both broke the 61 home run barrier, and Mark McGwire was the first player to ever hit 70 home runs in a season. It was, obviously, the result of rampant steroid usage, you are going to be told.
To those who tell you that, please ask them to explain this simple fact.
|Season||PA||Home Runs||Contact Plays||HR per Contact|
Contact Plays are simply defined as a plate appearance that doesn’t end with a walk, strikeout, or hit batter. In other words, the batter hits the ball and it goes some distance.
Note: the rate of home runs per contacted ball was higher last year than it was in 1998. It was higher last year than it was during most of the years of the so-called “steroid era”.
The drastic decrease in home runs since the inception of PED testing is due mostly to the dramatic rise in strikeouts we’ve seen over the last five years. The league average strikeout rate hung at around 17% for most of the “steroid era”, but climbed to a record high 20% last year.
If you put forth the current run environment as an example of what baseball looks like without PEDs, please understand that you are arguing that PEDs caused hitters to be able to make contact more often, not hit the ball over the wall more often when they did make contact. That is what the facts demonstrate. We’re all entitled to our own opinions, but we aren’t entitled to our own facts. And the fact is, the rate of home runs on contacted balls was higher in 2012 than it was in 1998.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.