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?

Kendrys Morales pitched a scoreless inning Sunday

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Nothing went right for the Blue Jays this weekend. The club was swept in a four-game series against the Athletics, including a 9-2 loss on Sunday. Not wanting to burn out his bullpen in a lopsided game — and perhaps thinking about the general entertainment value involved — Blue Jays manager John Gibbons decided to send designated hitter Kendrys Morales out to pitch the ninth inning. And in typical baseball fashion, he saw better results than some of the dudes who do this all the time.

Morales, who actually pitched in Cuba nearly 20 years ago, worked around a walk for a scoreless inning. He induced three fly outs and topped out at 87.4 mph on his fastball, per Brooks Baseball. He received a standing ovation on the way back to the dugout. Morales hasn’t been hearing that sort of thing for his contributions with the bat recently.

Morales, 34, is batting just .163/.248/.279 with three home runs through 32 games this season. There’s been some understandable clamoring for top prospect Vladmir Guerrero, Jr. to cut into his at-bats. For his part, Morales has been doing everything he can to break out of his slumber at the plate, including ditching the glasses he started wearing during spring training. Hey, whatever works. Morales also had two of Toronto’s four hits on Sunday.

On the heels of Morales’ first MLB appearance on the mound, it feels rather appropriate that the Blue Jays will get their first look at Angels sensation Shohei Ohtani — at least as a hitter — beginning on Tuesday.