Monday, June 28, 2010

Just Another No-Hitter


      By Ross Newhan

      It was almost as if Edwin Jackson's Friday night no hitter--one of the wildest ever (eight walks and 149 pitches)--was lost amid the brief wave of World Cup patriotism and the usual crush of weekend results.


      Get real!

      Four no-hitters before the All-Star break, two of them perfect games and what would have been a third perfect game in the span of a month lost on an admittedly incorrect umpire's call?

      I have blogged (in this strange new journalistic era is that really a verb?) already this season about how a crush of outstanding young pitchers and baseball's willingness to move them from college or high school to the majors without a lot of post-graduate work in the minors was lighting up speed guns, blowing away hitters and allowing the industry to continue to escape the dark era of steroid abuse, although that comes with some caveats.

       Starting with the four no-hitters, two perfect games, a Monday total of 22 pitchers with an earned-run average under 3.00 and the fact that 12 other pitchers have taken a no-hitter into the seventh inning before losing it this season and the overall numbers have become pretty amazing, supporting at least a conservative conclusion that in the wake of the bloated Bondsian era, the game has evened out quite a bit, becoming, if anything, more Strasburgian.

        With the help of STATS LLC, MLB and a couple other statistical sources, consider some of the numbers through Sunday.

         --The strikeout rate of 7.02 by the pitchers is the highest since the lowering of the mound in 1969, and that total of 22 pitchers with an ERA under 3.00, should it hold through the end of the season, would be the most since 1991.

         --Teams are combing for an average of 8.92 runs a game and 1.84 homers a game, the lowest totals since 1991 and 1993 respectively, and an eye opening drop from the 10.2 and 2.24 pharmacological highs of a six year span beginning in the Home Run Derby year of 1998.

       --The pitchers' overall ERA of 4.17 is the lowest since 1992, and the hitters' slugging percentage of .406 marks the first time it has been less than .415 since 1993.

       What is happening?

       The knee jerk inclination is to credit baseball's crackdown on steroids and amphetamines, and while that is certainly a contributing factor, don't forget that pitchers were also amping and muscling up during the heart of that era, and, in addition, baseball still doesn't test for human growth hormone. As Manny Ramirez proved last year, it would be naive to think that the industry is totally free of performance enhancing drug use.

      Nevertheless, the overall testing program has helped, at least, to even the field, and so has MLB's Big Brother and computerized attention in rating how umpires call the rulebook strike zone, as well as how some of the new parks--particularly the Twins', Mets' and Tigers'--were constructed with a degree of attention to the previously beleagured pitchers.

      As hitters swing and miss at the highest rate since STATS began charting in 1988, my own feeling, going back to what I have written before in regard to this sudden pitching dominance, is that the majority of teams, having always emphasized the development of pitching, are now less nervous about using the best of their young guns after only a year or two (and in some cases less than that) in the minors, particularly with pitchers  pouring out of college ready for quick advancement, the 21 year old Stephen Strasburg being the latest, brightest and most impressive example.

     Check Monday's ERA leaders.

     In the National League, 10 of the top 15 ERA leaders among starters were 26 or younger, while eight of the top 15 in the American League were 26 or younger.

    Jered Weaver of the Angels, the major league leader in strike outs, is 27.

     Edwin Jackson, baseball's latest no-hit pitcher , is 26 and was once thought to be a potential ace in the Dodgers rotation. He made his debut with Los Angeles in 2003, but has since been traded to Tampa Bay, to Detroit, and is now with Arizona. The major league record for no hitters in a season is seven, set in 1990. Jackson threw his against one of his former teams, the Rays, who got a staggering 149 pitches on which to try and stop it but failed. The Rays are a championship caliber team with a solid hitting lineup but have been the inexplicable victim of a no-hitter three times in the last two years.

    Don't ask them about this new pitching dominance. They are somewhat sensitive.                                 

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