Pitching's youth movement more trend than fluke

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — With four no-hitters, including two perfect games (and that’s not even counting Armando Galarraga’s perfecto robbery), this has definitely been the year of the pitcher.

Not only have we seen dominant performances on the mound, we’ve witnessed an incredible rise of talented young arms. These guys can not only bring the heat, but bring to the table a level of polish and maturity not often seen in pitchers with so little big league experience.

Case in point: the starters for Tuesday’s All-Star game. NL manager Charlie Manuel elected to go with Colorado Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez (15-1, 2.20 ERA), a 26-year-old right-hander who commands high-90s heat with unreal movement.

On the AL side, Joe Girardi went with Tampa Bay Rays left-hander David Price, who at 24 leads the American League in wins (12) and ERA (2.42), and has 100 strikeouts in 115.1 innings.

“It seems it’s the time of the pitchers now,” Girardi said, comparing the wave of young pitching to the golden era of shortstops 15 years ago. “These aren’t just guys with stuff. These are guys who know how to pitch at a young age.”

In addition to the starters, both rosters are filled with 26-and-under hurlers like Trevor Cahill, Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester, Josh Johnson, Tim Lincecum and Yovani Gallardo. But the remarkable thing about this group is not just that there are so many power arms, but that they have become polished so quickly.

“This is a good time for pitchers,” said Boston’s Lester, who is already 53-19 at age 26 and has a World Series-clinching victory on his resume from the 2007 World Series. “Development is getting better. They’re spending more time and money on those guys and giving them a chance to pitch at a younger age. Back in the day they probably wouldn’t have called all these guys up. They would have gone with a lot more veterans and kept paying those guys. And now teams are going with the younger guys with the salaries and all that. It’s just good to see the young guys come in and do well.”

Detroit Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander, who is already a three-time All-Star at age 27, believes that a trend started with his draft class in 2004, a group that also includes fellow All-Stars Jered Weaver and Phil Hughes, as well as Tampa Bay Rays mainstay Jeff Niemann.

“I was definitely at the front of the wave,” he said. “It’s like fantasy football where one guy picks a kicker and then everybody else starts picking kickers. Guys are going with young strong, talented pitching with good arms, and that’s what teams have started developing.”

Verlander said that improved coaching, from the youth level on up through college and into the minor leagues, has helped pitchers be ready for the majors more quickly.

“To be honest with you, there’s money in it,” he said. “All these youth organizations are making money by putting together some good coaches and having parents send their kids out. I think it’s a win-win.”

But is the trend toward young pitching really here to stay, or is it simply a blip on the screen, part of the cyclical nature of the game? It depends on who you ask.

“Overall I think there is maybe a trend you can look at, but it’s too early to make any assumptions,” said Angels manager Mike Scioscia. “But no doubt there are some real young power arms coming up in the American League that are prepared for a high level.”

Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, though, who has witnessed the maturation of teammate Jimenez from Class-A ball on up, thinks there is a movement afoot.

“(Coaches) know more about pitching then they did back in the day, and that’s helped these guys,” Tulowitzki said. “They can come in and handle pressure situations at the big league level and be real polished at a real young age.

“I would say we’re going to see some really special pitchers every single year coming up to the major league level and making an impact. I’ll take my chances and say it’s going to happen every year.”

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Yankees star Judge hits 61st home run, ties Maris’ AL record

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TORONTO — Aaron Judge tied Roger Maris’ American League record of 61 home runs in a season, hitting a tiebreaking, two-run drive for the New York Yankees in the seventh inning against the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday night.

The 30-year-old slugger drove a 94.5 mph belt-high sinker with a full-count from left-hander Tim Mayza over the left-field fence at Rogers Centre. The 117.4 mph drive took just 3.8 seconds to land 394 feet from the plate, and it put the Yankees ahead 5-3.

Judge watched the ball clank off the front of the stands, just below two fans who reached over a railing and tried for a catch. He pumped an arm just before reaching first and exchanged a slap with coach Travis Chapman.

The ball dropped into Toronto’s bullpen and was picked up by Blue Jays bullpen coach Matt Buschmann, who turned it over to the Yankees.

Judge’s mother and Roger Maris Jr. rose and hugged from front-row seats. He appeared to point toward them after rounding second base, then was congratulated by the entire Yankees team, who gave him hugs after he crossed the plate.

Judge moved past the 60 home runs Babe Ruth hit in 1927, which had stood as the major league mark until Maris broke it in 1961. All three stars reached those huge numbers playing for the Yankees.

Barry Bonds holds the big league record of 73 for the San Francisco Giants in 2001.

Judge had gone seven games without a home run – his longest drought this season was nine in mid-August. This was the Yankees’ 155th game of the season, leaving them seven more in the regular season.

The home run came in the fourth plate appearance of the night for Judge, ending a streak of 34 plate appearances without a home run.

Judge is hitting .313 with 130 RBIs, also the top totals in the AL. He has a chance to become the first AL Triple Crown winner since Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera in 2012.

Maris hit No. 61 for the Yankees on Oct. 1, 1961, against Boston Red Sox pitcher Tracy Stallard.

Maris’ mark has been exceeded six times, but all have been tainted by the stench of steroids. Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1998 and 65 the following year, and Bonds topped him. Sammy Sosa had 66, 65 and 63 during a four-season span starting in 1998.

McGwire admitted using banned steroids, while Bonds and Sosa denied knowingly using performing-enhancing drugs. Major League Baseball started testing with penalties for PEDs in 2004, and some fans – perhaps many – until now have considered Maris the holder of the “clean” record.

Among the tallest batters in major league history, the 6-foot-7 Judge burst on the scene on Aug. 13, 2016, homering off the railing above Yankee Stadium’s center-field sports bar and into the netting above Monument Park. He followed Tyler Austin to the plate and they become the first teammates to homer in their first major league at-bats in the same game.

Judge hit 52 homers with 114 RBIs the following year and was a unanimous winner of the AL Rookie of the Year award. Injuries limited him during the following three seasons, and he rebounded to hit 39 homers with 98 RBIs in 2021.

As he approached his last season before free agent eligibility, Judge on opening day turned down the Yankees’ offer of an eight-year contract worth from $230.5 million to $234.5 million. The proposal included an average of $30.5 million annually from 2023-29, with his salary this year to be either the $17 million offered by the team in arbitration or the $21 million requested by the player.

An agreement was reached in June on a $19 million, one-year deal, and Judge heads into this offseason likely to get a contract from the Yankees or another team for $300 million or more, perhaps topping $400 million.

Judge hit six homers in April, 12 in May and 11 in June. He earned his fourth All-Star selection and entered the break with 33 homers. He had 13 homers in July and dropped to nine in August, when injuries left him less protected in the batting order and pitchers walked him 25 times.

He became just the fifth player to hold a share of the AL season record. Nap Lajoie hit 14 in the AL’s first season as a major league in 1901, and Philadelphia Athletics teammate Socks Seabold had 16 the next year, a mark that stood until Babe Ruth hit 29 in 1919. Ruth set the record four times in all, with 54 in 1920, 59 in 1921 and 60 in 1927, a mark that stood until Maris’ 61 in 1961.

Maris was at 35 in July 1961 during the first season each team’s schedule increased from 154 games to 162, and baseball Commissioner Ford Frick ruled if anyone topped Ruth in more than 154 games “there would have to be some distinctive mark in the record books to show that Babe Ruth’s record was set under a 154-game schedule.”

That “distinctive mark” became known as an “asterisk” and it remained until Sept. 4, 1991, when a committee on statistical accuracy chaired by Commissioner Fay Vincent voted unanimously to recognize Maris as the record holder.