The Top 10 Sports Stories of the Year: #7 – The Year of the Pitcher

More than any sport, baseball is defined by numbers. Everything revolves around the numbers. Sabermetrics is an idea of statistical analysis in the baseball community. It conceivably means that you would never have to see a player play on the field to get an idea of how good he is – you just have to dig deep enough into his stats. So let’s let the numbers do the talking (all stats courtesy of FanHouse):

– Including the postseason, we saw six no-hitters this year. Seven if you include the infamous blown call that cost Detroit Tigers pitcher Armondo Galarraga his perfect game.
– The 4.38 runs per game average that teams put up was the lowest since 1992.
– Teams averaged 0.95 home runs per game – the first time that’s been below one since 1993.
– The slugging percentage of .325 was the lowest since the 1993 season as well.
– Batting average (.257) and on-base percentage (.325) hit their lowest marks since 1992.
– We saw our second no-hitter in postseason history when Roy Halladay put together his gem in the NLDS.
– The major league average of 7.1 Ks/9 IP was the highest of all-time.

What’s the reasoning behind this madness? Most people will point to the years mentioned (1992 and 1993) and say that that was before the “steroid era” took over the game in the post-strike world of baseball. We’ve seen the offensive decline because we don’t have McGuire and Bonds shooting themselves up and popping 60+ home runs like it’s a Sunday stroll.

But still, even during the steroid era, pitchers were conceivably doing the same thing. And now, though batters are getting tested, pitchers are subjected to the same tests. Did hitters really gain that much of an advantage through the injection of performance-enhancers?

It’s hard to say. But maybe it’s just this whole new crew of pitchers going into their own. There’s a young generation out there of studs.

Look at this chart of the top pitching performances of this past season. Of the top 22 performance, well more than half of them came from pitchers currently 29 or younger. About a quarter of them are age 25 or younger. The defensive-independent ERA leaders read like a who’s who of “Who’s Next?” Other than Halladay and Cliff Lee, it was promising young pitchers who led the way this year. Tim Lincecum, Felix Hernandez, Josh Johnson, Frankie Liriano, Ubaldo Jimenez, Mat Latos, Clayton Kershaw… the list goes on. These guys are potentially (or already) stars and faces of the game and their teams.

It’s also not that had to argue that defense has improved. Home runs have declined, no doubt a result of less steroid usage. This has maybe led more teams to emphisize speed on the base path, and as a result, has led to faster players in the outfield. You still have your big slugs like Prince Fielder who can play first base, but take a look at Jose Bautista. He led the majors in home runs this past season, but he certainly isn’t a slouch in right field either. It’s not like he’s Torri Hunter chasing down balls and climbing up walls, but he’s a different kind of slugger than Barry Bonds (Maybe his numbers were a season-long aberration too. We’ll find out this year).

All-in-all, it certainly was the Year of the Pitcher in baseball. With Cliff Lee signing in Philadelphia, the talk of pitching will not go away. Six no-hitters seems like an unlikely number to repeat. Batters are sure to spend a lot of time studying these young pitchers’ tendencies. But we’re not going to see the numbers from the “steroid era” for a very long time. It’s time for the pitchers to shine. And I think it’s more fun that way.

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About aarongernes

Well, I like TV and movies and I love sports. So expect a lot about that.
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