I posted this originally on This Purist Bleeds Pinstripes, but am reposting it here in hopes that it might actually spur some discussion. Hope you enjoy.
A few weeks ago, I posed a question on Twitter: Is it too early to dub 2010 the Year of the Pitcher (redux, II, the sequel, or whatever you so choose?)
The answer that I most remember was @jay_jaffe remarking that yes, it was far too early to dub the season as such given that we were still awaiting warm(er) weather and the subsequent rise in offensive production.
At the time, the answer satisfied me, but now, fast approaching the middle of June, when All Star managers have already made their coaching selections, I’m not so sure.
If this is not, in fact, the Year of the Pitcher (something to which we might blame the bullpen of Arizona, the starters of Milwaukee and Charlie Morton), then perhaps it is at least the year of the singular pitching feat.
It’s June 10th, and we’ve already seen two perfect games that should have been three, another no-hitter, a fourteen-strikeout game in a major league debut, four pitchers–including a rookie–with ERAs under two (and one under one), 24 pitchers with ERAs under three, a double-header today that saw one team retire 22 in a row in game one, and then the other team retire 21 in a row in game two.
I could go on, but I’ll spare you.
Last year, at this point in time, we were talking about the seasons that Joe Mauer and Albert Pujols were having, about how much they were destroying the lead, producing seasons for the ages.
This season, the closest we have to that is…Jose Bautista?
No, this season, no one is talking about offense. Everyone is talking about pitching.
Ubaldo, Strasburg (who’s made one start!), Halladay, Lee, Jaime Garcia, Mike Leake, Josh Johnson, Matt Cain…
…Even the guys we would expect to be talking about, Felix Hernandez, Zack Greinke, Tim Lincecum are getting the short of it not because they’ve imploded, but merely because they’ve become something more akin to human, a large part due to the fact that none of them pitches for a team that understands the concept of scoring runs.
Is it that we’ve finally moved away from the Steroid Era? Is it that the new understanding of pitchers’ health, about the Verducci effect and the idea that you can very easily blow out a pitcher’s arm if it’s not cared for to some degree?
For one thing, with the possible exceptions of Halladay and Lee, who are in their prime, all the other starters listed above are young. In the AL East alone, you’ve got Phil Hughes, Jon Lester, David Price, Ricky Romero…and that’s just to start.
So many of these pitchers are younger, ones that may have had the benefit of advances in sports science and medicine, and the advantage (debatable, of course) of pitch counts and innings limits, but we cannot discount those on the other end of the age spectrum–Livan Hernandez, Andy Pettitte, and, of course, the Ageless Wonder himself, Jaime Moyer (Moyer’s ERA may not be anything special, but his WHIP places him 13th in the league. He can has some defense?).
Of course, the YCPB take on this is that we don’t need to search for an explanation, and that it may be best to just sit back and enjoy it, but what we’re seeing this season isn’t just some good pitching, it’s something that’s trending towards the historic.
Look, when Braden and Halladay pitched their perfect games in the same season, it hadn’t happened since 1880. When Armando Galarraga, for all intents and purposes pitched his (Imperfect Game? Almost Perfect?), it would have been the third such in a season, which has never happened, as long as baseball records, as such, have been kept.
How crazy has this season been? On the day that Ubaldo Jimenez pitched his no hitter, something usually seen only once or twice all season, if that, he was upstaged by a Mets-Cardinals game that was scoreless until the 19th inning. While you can joke about the Met offense all you want, St. Louis, as the defending NL Central winner, isn’t exactly punchless at the plate.
Sure, it’s one thing to throw scoreless games in April in cold weather cities when all you want to do is go warm your hands in the dugout, but a double header on June 10th in which the losing teams combined for three hits, that’s something. Even in Citifield, even with the Padres and the Mets.
We don’t know what’s going to happen from here on out, if the pitching performances we’re seeing are sustainable, if late season injuries are going to bite or if the hitters will suddenly turn it on and unleash a fury of runs like no one’s business.
If it happens, it happens, but for the moment, I’m going to go start circling Ubaldo’s next few starts on my calendar.
(The ESPN pitcher leaderboard can be found here. It updates real time; fangraphs and B-Ref update the day after)
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