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?

Report: Mike Trout as recognizable to Americans as NBA’s Kenneth Faried

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On Monday, the Washington Post cited Q Scores, a firm that measures consumer appeal of personalities, with regard to Angels outfielder Mike Trout. According to Q Scores, Trout is as recognized to Americans as NBA forward Kenneth Faried, who has spent seven seasons with the Denver Nuggets and is now a reserve with the Brooklyn Nets. Trout’s score was 22, which means just over one in five Americans know who he is.

We have talked here at various times about Trout’s lack of marketability. He has expressed zero interest in being marketed as the face of baseball. Additionally, based on the nature of the sport, it’s harder for baseball to aggressively market its stars since star players don’t impact teams the same way they do in other sports. LeBron James, for example, carries whatever team he’s on to the NBA Finals. James has appeared in the NBA Finals every year dating back to 2011. Trout, despite being far and away the best active player in baseball and one of the best players of all time, has only reached the postseason once, in 2014 when his Angels were swept in the ALDS by the Royals. Trout can’t carry his team to the playoffs and his team hasn’t helped him any in getting there on a regular basis.

Baseball is also more of a regional sport. Fans follow their local team, of course, and don’t really venture beyond that even though games are broadcast nationally throughout the week. The NFL schedule is much shorter and occurs once a week, so fans put aside time to watch not just their favorite team’s game, but other games of interest as well. A June game between the subpar White Sox and Tigers doesn’t have much appeal to it since it’s one of 162 games for both teams, and both teams will play again later in the season. Comparatively, a game between the Bears and Lions has more intrigue since they only play twice a year.

It’s kind of a shame for baseball that Trout isn’t bigger than he is because he is a once-in-a-generation talent, like Ken Griffey Jr. In fact, Trout is so good that he’s still underrated. He’s on pace to have one of the greatest seasons of all-time, going by Wins Above Replacement. Despite that, he’s anything but a lock to win the MVP Award at season’s end because the narratives around other players, like Mookie Betts, are more compelling.

Trout’s marketability is an issue that isn’t likely to be fixed anytime soon. Trout is who he is and forcing him to ham it up for the cameras would come off as forced and unnatural. Major League Baseball will simply have to hope its other stars, like Betts and Bryce Harper, can help broaden the appeal of the sport.