“Twice in the past decade, I have really tried to find evidence that say that steroids matter in baseball. And both times I invested a lot of effort, and ended up finding no evidence that steroids mattered.” — Steven Levitt, co-author of Freakonomics
Since the publication of Freakonomics in 2005, the book has become something of a franchise for co-authors Stephen Dubner and
Arthur Steven Levitt: it led to a sequel (SuperFreakonomics), a New York Times blog, a podcast, a regular segment on NPR, and a just-released documentary film. Not bad for popular nonfiction.
On Tuesday, they trained their eyes on the so-called “Year of the Pitcher,” the 2010 season which has seen a significant decline in scoring and increase in no-hitters, and asked the question: is the steroid ban responsible? Twenty-four minutes later, and after interviewing Levitt, Mitchel Lichtman, Doug Glanville, and Padre manager Bud Black, Dubner concludes that… well, it’s hard to say, really, but maybe it has something to do with defense. That’s the same conclusion drawn on their blog by Hayes Davenport (a Comedy Central writer, on staff at Will Ferrell’s “Big Lake”). The 24-minute podcast was shrunk to a six-minute segment on NPR’s syndicated Marketplace program, alongside stories about the Nobel Prize in Economics and safety guidelines for the Boeing 787.
The research presented isn’t particularly eye-opening… but then, it’s being presented on NPR. This may have been the Year of the Pitcher, but in many ways it’s also been the year of the mainstreaming of advanced statistics. Fangraphs is on ESPN! Bill Simmons is a stat nerd! Dave Cameron is King of All Media! The kind of conversations taking place here, and at Insidethebook and Billjamesonline and Hardball Times and Baseball Prospectus and Athletics Nation and all the other pioneering stat sites, are expanding to latte-drinking radio listeners and Will Ferrell fans. Sabermetrics was a tiny subculture for so long that it can be hard to adjust to the fact that what used to be the bleeding edge is now the mainstream.
Welcome to the mainstream, fellow nerds!