The Electric Commentary

Friday, October 14, 2005

Do steroids help you hit homeruns?

This guy says no:

As to steroids themselves, they are highly overrated. They encourage hypertrophy in bodybuilders, who use massive amounts, train long and hard, and do very high volume work. No baseball player can afford to train that long and the training would be highly counterproductive to his baseball playing. Body builder exercises produce a higher volume of slow twitch muscle fiber, the antithesis of power production. Slow twitch fibers make a player slow, even though they may promote endurance. Hitting a home run requires accelerating a bat from a stand still to over 70 to 110 feet per second in a few milliseconds. Such a feat requires rapid force generation that can only be supplied by fast twitch muscle fibers.

Muscle hypertrophy is also counterproductive to home run hitting. Bulky muscles are heavy and there is more body weight to accelerate if a bat is to be swung quickly. Hypertrophy affects hitting mechanics because it alters joint alignment and movement. Body building, and the slow twitch fiber composition that it produces, could not produce the power and speed that Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, and Sammy Sosa exhibited in their prime years. Even they are not nearly as muscular as Ted Kluszewski or Steve Bilko were in their prime. In fact, they look like slightly taller versions of Mickey Mantle, a densely muscled player of the past.

Again, The Babe has the final word on steroids. The last home run he hit, while with the Boston Braves in a season of just 72 at bats, was one of the longest of his career. Using a 36 ounce bat, he hit the first home run ever hit over the right field roof of Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. Films show that he was a shadow of his former self by this time and he likely already had the cancer that would kill him a few years later.

It's long, but if you're a baseball geek, take a look.

Hat tip, Marginal Revolution.


  • The recent book The Juice (of which I wrote a chapter) is a good resource for people interested in this issue. Nickel version: A close study of the home run trends reveals that the impact of steroids is not as clear as you might think.

    By Blogger MDS, at 3:17 PM  

  • I can't agree with this article that steroids make an athlete slower. We know as a fact from Ben Johnson that steriods make you faster.

    This is like the scientist who proved mathematically that bumblebees can't fly.


    By Anonymous Rod, at 6:49 PM  

  • I bet this guy's house is full of Barry Bond memorabilia.

    Ben Johnson also came to my mind. Note that this guy is not a biologist or chemist of any type. I apparently have more biology knowledge (Bachelor's) than this guy. Steroids do not only increase slow twitch muscle fibers. Most of them enhance any muscle development and thus enhance whatever activity you practice. Any decent MLB hitter is almost all fast twitch muscles in his arms. They can then train the fast twitch muscles.

    To be really critical of this guy's reasoning let's use the following assertion as an example: that the muscle bulk slows down the swing because muscles are heavy. This is ludicris for several reasons, but here's 2 reasons: 1 the shoulder and upper arm muscles move very little compared to the forearms & end of the bat on which they pull in a swing, 2 by this logic a V-8 engine should be less powerful than a lawnmower engine because it is heavier. Obviously he has other arguments, but the fact he uses that one shows what kind of unfounded assertions his article is based on.

    By Anonymous Scott, at 12:47 PM  

  • You should read the whole thing. This is just one little piece of the argument.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 7:43 PM  

  • I actually did follow the link before I posted that. Your lead-in does not seem addressed to the issues of overall homerun trends throughout the league, but specifically to the effect on individuals.

    His use of questionable assertions in the section from which you quoted does cause me to question whether he is really giving us the whole picture even in other sections of his paper. His statistical analysis of trends are more beleivable, but perhaps only because I don't have any knowledge basis on which to counterargue them.

    For the record, I should state that I don't know how widespread steroid use in baseball is, but I do think if everyone was juiced we would have a lot more 60HR hitters. I definitely think some individuals have improved their HR totals using steroids. McGwire for instance. Others may lack the other necessary abilities other than strength to vault into the recordbooks, but that doesn't mean some aren't using and being aided by it.

    By Anonymous Scott, at 12:51 PM  

  • I think steroid use is very widespread in baseball, but frankly, he has a point. The outliers (Bonds, Mac, Sosa) do account for a great deal of recent home run increases. But I still believe it helps you, and the best example is Ken Caminiti.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 1:19 PM  

  • Most ballplayers today are taking homeopathic hgh oral spray because it's safe, undetectable, and legal for over the counter sales. As time goes on it seems it might be considered as benign a performance enhancer as coffee, aspirin, red bull, chewing tobacco, and bubble gum.

    By Blogger Billy, at 4:05 PM  

  • the steroids can cause early heart attacks or stroke, liver tumors, kidney failure and serious psychiatric problems.

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