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Balance of power shifting toward pitchers in MLB

May 30, 2010, 6:01 PM EDT

jimenez checking first.jpgThe baseball world has already been treated to several impressive pitching feats this season and it’s not even June.  From Ubaldo Jimenez’s no-hitter on April 17 against the Braves, to Dallas Braden’s perfect game on May 9 against the Rays, to Roy Halladay’s perfecto last night in Florida — 2010 has largely been the year of the pitcher, at least through the first two months.

A staggering total of 26 starters had an ERA under 3.00 and 27 had a WHIP under 1.15 entering Sunday’s full slate of action, and they’re not all familiar names.  Cardinals rookie left-hander Jaime Garcia has four wins and a 1.14 ERA in nine starts, the Mariners’ Doug Fister owns a 2.03 ERA and has walked only 10 batters in 62 innings, and the Mets’ Mike Pelfrey is 7-1 and has surrendered only 18 runs in 63.2 innings for a 2.54 ERA.  Heck, even Carlos Silva has enjoyed success.

In baseball, as in life, we like answers.  Why have pitchers been more dominant this year than in any other time in recent memory?  Why are home run totals down and stolen base numbers up?  Why has the tide turned, and what caused it? 

Most would point to Major League Baseball’s crackdown on performance-enhancing drugs, namely steroids, and there’s no doubting that it’s been a factor.  The battle is not over, of course, but it appears that stricter and more frequent testing has cut down on juicing in the game, and thus we are seeing far less offensive firepower across the baseball landscape.

Does that mean we can put a cap on the last 15-or-so years and mark the summer of 2010 as the end of the “steroid era?”  No.  At least not yet.  But we’re certainly starting to turn the corner.

Let’s also hand much of the credit for the shift in power to baseball’s blossoming young crop of starting pitchers.  Guys like Jimenez, Garcia, Josh Johnson, Matt Cain, David Price, Shaun Marcum, Clay Buchholz, Clayton Kershaw, Mike Leake, Mat Latos and Phil Hughes have been blowing away batters this year and professional baseball, in many ways, is better for it.  There is some seriously good pitching going on in both leagues this year and phenom Stephen Strasburg hasn’t even made his major league debut. 

It’s a great time to be a true baseball fan.  When it comes down to it, what is better than a pitchers’ duel?

  1. adam - May 30, 2010 at 7:49 PM

    what about the fact that a good chunk of the people suspended for ped use were pitchers? should we see velocity dropping off and more injuries or something for pitchers?

  2. OsandRoyals - May 30, 2010 at 8:33 PM

    There are two major reasons that were not mentioned.
    The biggest by far is that defense as improved overall over the past few years. This greater emphasis on defense has come while fewer sluggers have been placed in the corner outfields. No more declining Barry Bonds in left. Fewer Jermaine Dyes and Adam Dunns in the corners. And there are some teams like the Mariners, Padres and the As that have made a team composed of strong defenders. Dallas Braden’s perfect game was largely the result of a good defense as he struck out very few players.
    In the AL there have been fewer effective DHs with many teams not having a regular DH and some employing below-average reulgars at the position

  3. Kro - May 30, 2010 at 10:48 PM

    I thought runs scored increases during the summer months as it gets hotter and the ball travels further. It might be premature to declare runs scored as being down, but a comparison to previous years run totals through May would help your argument.

  4. kcubrats - May 30, 2010 at 11:07 PM

    Silva, I NEVER comment, but here’s twice in one day you’ve said something so stupid that I have to launch a corrective. Your kneejerk assertion that PED lack has led to rise of P dominance, it’s worse than Chass, it’s corner dive bar glossolalia… remember Ross Grimsley? there’s your poster boy for roids, absolute sub-mediocrity who made well over ten million dollars over a decade only because roids kept his arm from falling off. Pitching is damaging to arms, roids promote rapid healing (which is why, if and ONLY if you work out like a demon, they help muscle you up), chances are P roided more than batters by a vast margin TO NO VISIBLE EFFECT. If we need baseless speculation and spasmodic conventional “wisdom” blurts we can go read Old Knee and that ilk. You or rather your coevals should know better.

  5. GimmeSomeSteel - May 31, 2010 at 6:19 AM

    I think youmeant JASON Grimsley, not Ross, who pitched for the Reds and other clubs in the 1970s.

  6. Howie B. - May 31, 2010 at 6:44 AM

    Well as always, its never clear cut. There are arguments on both sides. I’ll see your Grimsley and call with my other favorite PED poster child – David Segui (admitted steroid and HGH user starting when he was with the Mets:
    1990-1994 (age 27 season, and his 1st season with the Mets): .257/.324/.367, averaging 9 HR and 54 RBI per 162. 1995-2004: .304/.372/.470, averaging 19 HR and 88 RBI per 162 games. Oh, and he earned $41.8 million over his career, and has an MLB pension and benefits for life, too.

  7. kcubrats - May 31, 2010 at 7:14 AM

    oops, it’s Jason not Ross, of course that Silva needs to stop forgetting about; and nice that you disinterred Segui, who’s never remembered in these fake “debates” (jihads, really) about PEDs because he never looked like a pro wrestler or Rambo IV… my point about Silva’s piece is that it’s lazy non-thinking speculation based on absolutely no evidence whatsoever, just a reflexive attitude/ideology that seeks to preserve a sportswriters’ pantheon of PED villains, and that if we wanted that, we could just go over to ESPN or Yahoo; so many other factors went into the “steroid era” offensive explosion that never get considered, many of them engineered by the Selig racketeers: the juiced ball (that extra band of rubber!) introduced after the failed lockout killed fan interest (Brady Anderson, 50 HR; LuGo 57 HR; etc.), the tiny bandbox parks, the shrunken strike zone… could easily speculate about those factors, too, and what’s changed since then and how the league has adapted… CitiField! humidor! whatever… and Silva would still be 5th barstool on the right.

  8. kcubrats is foaming at the mouth - May 31, 2010 at 7:21 AM

    Calm down, dude.

  9. aweb - May 31, 2010 at 7:37 AM

    I think that with offensive philosophy having changed so much in the past two decades towards working the count and drawing walks, that pitching development has adjusted back the other way a little bit. Overall walk rates are pretty consistent over the decades, which is remarkable given that so many more batters are encouraged to try and walk these days. The pitchers have just gotten better, apparently. And the defense as well has a non-trivial role to play, as mentioned above. It’s the biggest weakness in UZR that it measures against league averages – if the whole league gets better at defense, UZR will not be able to spot this when comparing eras (or so it seems to me, perhaps it has been adjusted for such things).
    This is seen in other sports as well – offense goes up, teams need to figure out how to play defense, defense improves. Top picks, and more importantly coaching, get focused on run prevention a bit more often, and voila, scores go down a bit. Happens in football, hockey, basketball, and baseball too.
    The Blue Jays might be ahead of the curve this year, with pitchers used to facing deeper counts and more batters looking to walk – just swing as hard as you can at the first good one, hope it’s a HR. Can’t last forever, but possibly not just two fluky months.

  10. jonds - May 31, 2010 at 12:01 PM

    Maybe we can lower the mound again and possibly add another DH to increase the offense. Everything will be okay.

  11. Aro - May 31, 2010 at 2:25 PM

    If you did a few hours of research on PED use among major league baseball players you might come to some different conclusions. You would be able to see the cause and effect and would have a better idea of how some players had significant performance increases during the PED era and some did not. Most serious PED users had body mass increases and muscle development that was off the chart. This performance enhancement benefited home run hitters far more than any other type of baseball player. Not only does the use of PEDs help with the recovery from injuries, it is tailor made for those wishing to hit more homeruns. If after getting the facts you come to a different conclusion, that’s fine. The measurable decrease in performance in known steroid users and the dropoff in the number of homeruns hit should be considered in this discussion.

  12. kcubrats - May 31, 2010 at 3:55 PM

    Uh, dude? you have absolutely no facts to back that up. None. Since we do not know who was using and who wasn’t, and we’d need to know about everybody to prove anything. We have some scapegoat/villains who are “proven” roiders in the court of public opinion, and a wee handful of admitters. But we have no idea what the actual effects of roid use on the league and on individual performance was. We have no idea how many P used them to keep from getting injuries, etc.; “tailor made” indeed. Kind of hard to do the research you recommend (and seem to be claiming to have done) in the absence of facts. You obviously have made a bunch up to suit your prejudices.

  13. Deborah - May 31, 2010 at 4:46 PM

    What’s better than a pitcher’s duel??? A slugfest!!! I love both, but a slugfest is more exciting for me.

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