This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site you agree to our use of cookies. To find out more, see our Privacy and Cookies policy.
Skip to the content

Share this

Free weekly newswire

Sign up to receive all our latest news direct to your inbox.

Physics on film

100 Second Science Your scientific questions answered simply by specialists in less than 100 seconds.

Watch now

Bright Recruits

At all stages of your career – whether you're an undergraduate, graduate, researcher or industry professional – can help find the job for you.

Find your perfect job

Physics connect

Are you looking for a supplier? Physics Connect lists thousands of scientific companies, businesses, non-profit organizations, institutions and experts worldwide.

Start your search today


baseball and steroids


How much do drugs affect the performance of athletes and more interestingly how can we quantify such enhanced performance? That was the question that Roger Tobin, a condensed matter physicist from Tufts University, posed in his talk on ‘Sox and Drugs: Baseball, steroids and physics’. Quantifying enhancement is an interesting question, if someone takes drugs and it increases their performance to, say, score one more goal per season or hit a golf ball a few centimetres farther is it really worth it to make a fuss?

The sport in question in Tobin’s talk was of course baseball. In other sports such as weight lifting, taking steroids can have an obvious effect. But what about other sports where strength is an advantage, but cannot easily correlate with results.

He characterized two eras, namely before and after steroid use became well documented (which he put as around 1990s onwards). If one looks at the record home runs in a single season, this explodes in the late 1990s when Sosa hits 66 and Bonds hits 73 home runs in a single season. This increased effect for baseball is around 20% (from the previous efforts of Ruth). Imagine a 20% increase in the 100 m sprint, this would mean a sprinter taking around 8 seconds to run it. If steroid use is the culprit, how can steroid use affect baseball so much but not other sports?

Tobin says that the only advantage of using steroids in baseball comes in the bat speed. It’s pretty straight forward — steroids build muscles, or increase muscle cross section, which allows the player to exert more force on the ball, which then gives the ball more speed. He calculates that steroid use could increase the ball speed by about 3%. Which if one thinks about it is not a lot…

However, here comes the catch. If I took steroids (don’t worry I am not planning to do the experiment) and started playing baseball, it wouldn’t automatically mean that I am going to beat Babe Ruth’s previous home run record, but as Tobin says the player must already “be pretty special.” So what happens? Well, if you look at the hit distribution of a top player, he may hit 10% of all shots as home runs in a season, but he will hit many that are near home runs, in fact the distribution will have a peak at the place which are nearly home runs. What Tobin says is that steroid use shifts this peak so that all those previous near home runs, now become, well, home runs, so this shift alone increases a players 10% home runs to around 15% in a season — all with the help of a few more percent in ball speed…and some steroids.

Seems like condensed matter physicists are spreading their wings, he also plans to extend his work to other sports, so footballer and golfers beware…

This entry was posted in APS March Meeting 2008. Bookmark the permalink.
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile


  1. wow, you point out some interesting reports / studies in regard to actual result orientated advantage of steroids, this topic has so little documentaition, we are often left to speculate, and this topic is unfortunately sensationalized in the media.
    regards gear199.

  2. if everyone uses drugs why should something change anyways ?

  3. the drugs make a massive difference to players they just don’t want to admit it.


  • Comments should be relevant to the article and not be used to promote your own work, products or services.
  • Please keep your comments brief (we recommend a maximum of 250 words).
  • We reserve the right to remove excessively long, inappropriate or offensive entries.

Show/hide formatting guidelines

Tag Description Example Output
<a> Hyperlink <a href="">google</a> google
<abbr> Abbreviation <abbr title="World Health Organisation" >WHO</abbr> WHO
<acronym> Acronym <acronym title="as soon as possible">ASAP</acronym> ASAP
<b> Bold <b>Some text</b> Some text
<blockquote> Quoted from another source <blockquote cite="">IOP</blockquote>
<cite> Cite <cite>Diagram 1</cite> Diagram 1
<del> Deleted text From this line<del datetime="2012-12-17"> this text was deleted</del> From this line this text was deleted
<em> Emphasized text In this line<em> this text was emphasised</em> In this line this text was emphasised
<i> Italic <i>Some text</i> Some text
<q> Quotation WWF goal is to build a future <q cite="">
where people live in harmony with nature and animals</q>
WWF goal is to build a future
where people live in harmony with nature and animals
<strike> Strike text <strike>Some text</strike> Some text
<strong> Stronger emphasis of text <strong>Some text</strong> Some text