No safety in numbers: Stats ripe for conspiracy theories

April 05, 2006|By PETER SCHMUCK

Conspiracy Guy is already in midseason form.

The ball started jumping out of Camden Yards - and a lot of other major league parks - on Monday, and my paranoid alter ego began conjuring up all kinds of suspicious scenarios that might be getting ready to play out during a new baseball season that will run concurrently with George Mitchell's steroid investigation.

They've juiced the ball again. That much was obvious after there were 34 home runs hit in 13 season openers played on Monday. That's an average of 2.62 a game, which is an increase of about 27 percent over last year's season average of 2.06.

Insignificant statistical aberration? That's what Bud Selig would like to believe, but he's depending on you to have a reasonable grasp of statistical theory and to realize that no legitimate conclusions can be drawn from such a small sample.

What fun is that? We're more interested in what possible motive Major League Baseball could have for ordering the manufacturer of this year's baseballs to wind them a little tighter. Maybe because a big home run year during the new era of tough steroid penalties would cast doubt on whether steroids were entirely responsible for a dramatic increase in home runs over the past decade?

Here's another interesting Opening Day statistic. There were 142 runs scored in Monday's games, which works out to an average of 11 a game and represents an almost 20 percent increase over the average for all of last season (9.18).

Were there days last season when the total runs far exceeded the major league average? Sure there were, but anyone who would point out that inconvenient fact has to be hiding something.

Remember, this is the time of year when the pitching is supposed to be ahead of the hitting, but even Jim Thome has homered in each of his first two games. Explain that.

The Orioles, who were not even expected to show up for Opening Day, hit four home runs and rolled up 14 hits. The Cubs scored 16 runs on 18 hits, or about the equivalent of their entire offensive output for September last year.

Laugh all you want. Conspiracy Guy is going to get to the bottom of this.

I want to personally congratulate Sun national baseball writer Dan Connolly for his dogged determination to get the rest of the story on Opening Day.

Dan went to new Orioles coach Leo Mazzone before Monday's game and pressed him on a question that could have sweeping implications for the Orioles pitching staff.

When Mazzone refused to divulge what he had for breakfast, a lot of lesser reporters would have given up and written some meaningless drivel about Kris Benson's improved repertoire or Chris Ray's mind-set entering his first season as a major league closer, but Dan sought out Mazzone's fiancee and determined that she had made pancakes - though not particularly good ones.

This is the kind of sports journalism you can't get anywhere else.

New Tampa Bay Devil Rays manager Joe Maddon looks so distinctive in his signature half-glasses that the St. Petersburg Times turned them into a running gag in its baseball preview section.

The theme was Maddon's "new vision" for the team and just about everyone associated with the rebuilding Rays - players, executives, even new owner Stuart Sternberg - was pictured in the section wearing the same specs.

Even the Times writers and columnists were featured with the glasses above their predictions for the coming year.

Roger Clemens remains coy about his decision whether to embark on a 23rd major league season, but the fact that he attended the Texas Rangers opener as a guest of owner Tom Hicks and said he may also visit Fenway Park after getting an overture from Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein should tell you something about his intentions.

I'm still betting that he ends up rejoining the Astros next month. Under the terms of baseball's labor agreement, he must wait until May 1 to re-sign with them because they did not offer him arbitration in December. He could choose to sign with another team at any time, though he continues to say he's leaning toward retirement.

Whatever he decides to do, I think I speak for all baseball fans when I say, GET ON WITH IT!

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