Year of the Pitcher II? Reflections on the first quarter of the 2011 season

Posted on May 25, 2011

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For the second year in a row, MLB has been dominated by pitching

Written by: Elliot Heller

It’s been quite a year.

Sam Fuld’s Superman-like catches, two no-hitters separated by just a few days, a thirty-game hitting streak, another fallen star exiting the game ungracefully, top prospects such as Eric Hosmer, Julio Teheran and Zach Britton making their big league debuts, you name it.

And it’s not just individual feats, either. The AL Central has been turned upside-down, with the surprising Indians sitting atop the division with the best record in baseball, while the defending division champion Twins dwell in the basement with more than twice as many losses than wins and a long summer ahead. The Padres are back to being the Padres, and after slow starts, the Rays and Red Sox are back in the thick of things in the AL East.

But the overarching theme of the season thus far is the same as that of 2010: pitching. The AP reports that 2011 has seen 7% fewer hits, home runs, and runs scored than 2010 as of May 11(data courtesy of STATS LLC.). There have been two one-hitters as well as several no-no’s taken into the late innings.

So what’s behind this spike in pitching dominance? The classic answer, of course, is that hitters are now seeing the results of baseball’s crackdown on PED’s. You’re simply not going to  see someone hit seventy homers in a season any time soon. But there are other explanations, too.

AP writer Ben Walker cites a rise in the cut fastball as a weapon to neutralize big hitters. Better defense (see Fuld), more advanced video scouting, and more MLB-ready prospects being taken early in the draft are also possibilities, writes Walker. Perhaps the answer is simple: there are just more and more good pitchers out there than there used to be. As of May 4, the league ERA was down to 3.89 from 4.20 last year, according to stats provided to ESPN by Elias. Pitchers are throwing harder and with more velocity. The fact remains: good pitching will always beat good hitting.

Whatever the reason, it is now clear that 2010 was not a fluke.

But who knows? With all these three-homer games, sluggers might be making a comeback. Speaking of flukes, Jose Bautista sure is proving that his 2010 was not one. His 19 long balls put him on pace for 64 in 2011. So maybe 70 isn’t completely out of the realm of possibility.

We’ll just have to wait and see. It’s a long season,and there are still many storylines that have yet to unfuld. And no, that wasn’t a typo.

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Posted in: Baseball