Balance of power shifting toward pitchers in MLB

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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?

Jonny Venters is still pitching

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Lefty reliever Jonny Venters was among a handful of players the Rays signed to minor league contracts, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Venters, 32, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012 and has logged just 27 2/3 innings in the minors in the meantime due to a continuous battle with his elbow. According to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Venters has undergone four — four! — Tommy John surgeries.

When he was healthy, Venters was a fearsome late-game option for the Braves. He posted a 1.95 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 83 innings in 2010, and a 1.84 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 88 innings in 2011. His first-half performance in 2011 earned him a spot on the National League All-Star roster.

Venters has spent the last two years in the Rays’ system and he’ll try to make it a third.