Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Does 2010 Start a New Dead-Ball Era in Baseball?

Does 2010 Start a New Dead-Ball Era in Baseball?
Alex Rendon
June 02, 2010

The rookie pitcher (Stephen Strasburg), the perfect pitchers (Roy Halladay and Dallas Braden), the breakout pitcher (Ubaldo Jiménez), and most recently, the robbed pitcher (Armando Galarraga).

Pick any of these fine talents, and you'll quickly find them dominating the headlines of the first quarter of the Major League season.

Strasburg is quite possibly the most hyped rookie in the history of baseball. Anyone who's seen him pitch will tell you he's worthy of the praise.

Braden and Halladay each threw a perfect game in the same month—the 19th and 20th of all time.

Jiménez is primed to have one of the greatest pitching seasons in the last 20 years. The lanky Rockies pitcher has boasted a sub-1.00 ERA for the better part of the season so far.

Galarraga will unquestionably go down as the victim of one of the most unjust calls in baseball history.

We've witnessed a common denominator in these sizable headlines that have permeated the baseball world: They're all pitching-oriented.

The steroid era, as far as we can tell, is coming to a close. Power numbers are dipping, no previously anonymous player is on pace for 50 home runs, and even big names like Albert Pujols and Mark Teixeira are seeing significant downturns in their production.

This is a testament to a new style of game introduced by the sabermetric movement or more popularly referred to as the "Moneyball" movement. Teams are now looking to get faster, smarter, and more efficient instead of relying solely on sheer power or RBI potential. Players are now largely scrutinized for their ability to get on base and score runs instead of their ability to produce them.

That's one of the reasons for the emergence of Joe Mauer, Robinson Cano and Austin Jackson—superstars who rely more on generating contact than generating round-trippers. These guys really give pitchers fits because they're always on base.

The problem is fewer and fewer guys have been driving them in on a consistent basis.

It seems that the stronger pitching this year is stifling power hitters because they're still looking swing from the heels and watch the ball fly over the fence. The prevalence of eye-popping home run totals is shrinking due to the inability of hitters to hit home runs off significantly better pitchers.

There’s even more bad news on the way with Stephen Strasburg and Cuban flamethrower Aroldis Chapman rapidly making their ways onto the big-league stage. It’s no secret that pitchers are getting smarter, better and more equipped to deal with the stronger hitters of the last two decades.

That isn't necessarily a bad thing for die-hard baseball fans. For them, baseball is a game of patience and calculation—much different from basketball and football, sports that feature power and show-stopping plays.

The steroid era took a significant toll on its pitchers. The game had taken a noticeable turn in favor of the hitters and it seemed like it would stay that way when up-and-comers Prince Fielder and Ryan Howard started smashing 40-50 home runs a season.

As of the 2010 season, however, it's all changed. Fielder and Howard, as well as other power hitters throughout the league, are going through slumps. Pitchers are moving back to the top of the sport as evidenced by the aforementioned pitchers—some of them well known, a few of them obscure, who have had a historic moment in the sun.

Thanks in part to them, baseball is seeing a changing of the guard—such is the fickle nature of America’s pastime.

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