Monthly Archives: January 2013

Hit-Ball and the Best Player Present

A few months ago, a brilliant xkcd comic inspired a challenge within the science world: explain a complex scientific topic using only the 1,000 most common words in the English language. My first thought was, of course, “Why not try this with baseball?”. Using theUp-Goer Five Editor, I attempted to tell the story of last year’s AL MVP race. Here is the result (originally published on Beyond the Box Score):

Every year, people that write about hit-ball decide who they think was the best hit-ball player. Sometimes it’s easy to decide because there is one player that is better than every other player and everyone knows it. Last year was not one of those times. There was one player that was better than every other player, but many people were confused about this. Many people thought that a different player was better than every other player, even though he was not.

People thought that this player was better than every other player because he beat every other player in Three Numbers: times getting a hit for every time he had a chance to get a hit, times hitting the ball over the wall, and times getting another player to touch the last bag. For many years, these Three Numbers have been very important to people that watch hit-ball, so people really like when someone leads everyone in all three…

Read the rest on Beyond the Box Score

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Many Questions and Some Answers on PEDs and the Hall of Fame

Yesterday, I put up a poll about some thought experiments regarding performance enhancing drugs and the Hall of Fame. The poll didn’t really function as I had hoped (or have a high turnout), but the purpose was to figure out why people are really for or against voting PED users into the Hall of Fame. I’m curious about what factors and reasons are pulling the threads, and where the limits are for those factors, for both camps.

One such factor is integrity versus performance. Are PEDs bad because they give those who take them an unfair advantage? Or are they bad because it is unethical to take them, and therefore those who do take them violate the “character clause”?

If the former, that PEDs are bad because they affect performance, we must first know the extent to which they affect performance before we can decide whether to vote for a player suspected of PEDs. This is a big task, and one that can’t be accomplished right now given our current knowledge. However, it really doesn’t matter, because it seems clear that most writers (and fans) are against players that took PEDs not because of their effect on performance, but because of their effect on integrity.

Even within the integrity complaint, there are multiple reasons why one might be against voting in the PED guys. One is that PEDs are an attempt to cheat the game of baseball and get an unfair advantage over the rest of the field, which is a “crime” that is unforgivable with regards to the Hall of Fame.

The other option is that taking PEDs is cheating, which is unethical, and players who are sufficiently unethical should not be allowed in the Hall of Fame. This seems a little silly, but one of my examples from the poll might help. Say a player on the ballot, who retired many years ago, was recently convicted of first-degree murder that he committed before he retired. This murder obviously had nothing to do with baseball, but it was horrifically unethical nonetheless. Would you vote him into the Hall of Fame?

If you answer no to that question, then you are admitting that a player’s character, even outside the game of baseball, does in fact matter. Which means that the ethics of taking PEDs is a matter of degree, not kind. Of course, if you claim that taking PEDs is too unethical to be voted into the Hall of Fame, you must either say that Hall of Famers who have done more unethical things should not have been voted in in the first place, or that taking PEDs is a worse offense than any act a current Hall of Famer has committed.

Finally, we must think about certainty. Even if we take for granted that PEDs aid performance significantly and/or those that take PEDs should not be allowed in the Hall of Fame, what degree of certainty that a player in fact took PEDs must we have to make a decision? 95% certainty? 75%? 50%?

Do other factors matter in this case? What if the player is a shoe-in for Hall of Fame otherwise? Do we need to be more certain in that case? If the player is a borderline Hall of Famer, is any shadow of doubt as to his cleanliness enough to not vote for him? What about the potency of the drug? Is less certainty necessary for steroids than for HGH?

Obviously, I asked more questions than I answered today. But that’s the point. The issue of PEDs is not a simple one, not even close. Anyone on either side that tries to claim that is very mistaken. Every assumption, every reason, on one side or the other, raises a plethora of issues and questions, most if not all of which must be answered before one can attempt to justify their decision.

Share your thoughts about any or all of these issues and questions below. And please, don’t resort to hyperbole or oversimplifications, as so many do in these discussions. There are no easy answers, and if we all admit that to ourselves, we can move discussion forward rather than yell over each other’s heads.

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Some Hall of Fame Thought Experiments

Not much to say here. Simply trying to get a sense of everyone’s motivations for their beliefs regarding the Hall of Fame and performance enhancing drugs. I can think of many more interesting examples, but 10 should suffice for now. Let me know if you have any questions.

1) We know that Drug A 100% guarantees that a player will play at Hall of Fame caliber. Player A, who is a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame based on performance alone, tests positive for Drug A on a foolproof test.

2)  Player B, who is a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame based on performance alone, tests positive for Drug A on a test that is correct 95% of the time.

3) Player C, who is a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame based on performance alone, tests positive for Drug A on a test that is correct 75% of the time.

4) Player D, who is a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame based on performance alone, tests positive for Drug A on a test that is correct 50% of the time.

5) We know that Drug B is guaranteed to improve performance by 10%. Player E, who is 10% better than the Hall of Fame threshold (pretend such a thing exists), tests positive for Drug B on a foolproof test.

6) Player F, who is 50% better than the Hall of Fame threshold, tests positive for Drug B on a foolproof test.

7) Player G, who is a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame based on performance alone, was convicted – after he retired – of a series of murders he committed while he played.

8) Player H, who is just above the Hall of Fame threshold, was convicted – after he retired – of a series of murders he committed while he played.

9) Player I, who is a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame based on performance alone, received multiple DUIs while playing.

10) Player J, who is just above the Hall of Fame threshold, received multiple DUIs while playing.

Author’s note: It looks like the poll is calculating the results very strangely, in that a ballot with 4 choices selected counts as 4, not 1, vote.  So don’t mind the percentages.

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