Column: Year of the pitcher II

By Chris Hopkins

As we pass the halfway point in this 2010 baseball season, the top story besides Mark Cuban possibly becoming a baseball owner is the complete and utter domination of the pitchers. This is the first time in decades in which the pitcher has dominated the league.

During the steroid era there were inflated hitters leading to inflated batting statistics, but in 2010 the pitchers have finally regained some form of power in the league. With the remarkable pitching statistics one would notice the complete pitching renaissance and in turn the Year of the Pitcher II.

The original Year of the Pitcher occurred in 1968 when a slew of legendary pitchers controlled the league. The St. Louis Cardinals hurler Bob Gibson posted a 1.12 ERA (still a record for lowest ERA in a season), Louis Tiant led the American League with a 1.60 ERA, Don Drysdale of the Los Angeles Dodgers had a streak of 58 straight scoreless innings, the soon to be World Champion Detroit Tiger’s gregarious ace Denny McClain had an unbelievable 31 wins in a season (a record) and San Francisco Giants legend Juan Marichal had 30 complete games completely unprecedented in today’s baseball with the usage of bullpens.

In 1968, the highest batting average in the American League by the end of the year was .301 by Carl Yastrzemski of the Boston Red Sox. The battle between pitcher and hitter was so uneven by the end of the year disgruntled owners demanded a change. In turn, the league lowered the mound from 15 inches to 10 inches and shrank the strike zone.

However, this year’s pitchers look like they’re returning to their roots, pitching like old school pitchers and recording old school like statistics.

The 2010 season has been so unique because of the plethora of pitchers that have been pitching well. For instance, Josh Johnson of the Florida Marlins leads the league with a 1.62 ERA and Ubaldo Jiminez controlled most of the first half of the season by winning his first 13 of 14 games for the Colorado Rockies. Both pitchers play for teams that are notorious for not giving great run support, especially Jiminez playing in Colorado where balls fly off the bat due to the high altitude, but the two pitchers have been lights out.

Over the past six years there has been a steady decline in team batting averages through July, showing a strengthening of pitching. So far this year there have been four no hitters, two of them being perfect games, and if it wasn’t for Jim Joyce (the umpire that ruined Armado Gallaraga’s perfect game) there would be a third perfect game.

Since 2004 there have only been nine no hitters with only two of them being perfect games. The thing that is so intriguing about the pitchers that threw the no hitters is the diversity of them. It’s pitchers like Dallas Braden, Edwin Jackson and should have been Armando Gallaraga – pitchers that up until this year were not heard of or seen as simply mediocre pitchers. Pitchers such as Roy Halladay, C.C. Sabathia, and Johan Santana are still having great seasons (Halladay having thrown a perfect game) but they are not the only great pitchers in the league as they have been for years.

High profile young pitchers are also beginning to come into their own, pitchers such as David Price who was the 2007 No. 1 pick for the Tampa Bay Rays and for the first time this year has been a regular in the Rays starting rotation and in doing so has 12 wins with a 2.84 ERA and started for the American League in the All-Star Game. Phil Hughes has been the New York Yankees top prospect since they drafted him in 2004 but up until this year has failed to meet the high expectations the Yankees had for him. This year however, Hughes has already pitched in more innings than any other year in his career and has 11 wins.

It will be interesting to see if this year is a start of a trend towards the resurgence of pitchers in the Major Leagues especially with guys like Stephen Strasburg, Mike Leake and Jaime Garcia who have only really been in the league for one year and have already made batters look like Pedro Cerrano trying to hit a curveball. Will batters find a way to crack these pitchers? Or will this be the Decade of the Pitcher?

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