If good pitching isn’t your brand of baseball, then these times aren’t for you, and there’s more bad news; it’s only getting worse.
Friday night’s trio of pitching gems by Kyle Kendrick, Anibal Sanchez and Jordan Zimmerman is just another example of how pitching has taken center stage in the past decade. It’s increasingly common for pitchers to flirt with no-hitters, tally huge K totals, or complete a game. Double-digit strikeout counts are becoming as commonplace as bad foul calls in the NBA.
Sanchez broke a Tigers franchise record for strikeouts by a pitcher in a nine inning game after fanning 17 Braves. Sanchez, on any other team, might garner a bit more attention. Instead, he sits quietly in the shadows of Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer. That could change quickly.
Zimmerman pitched the first shutout of his career against the Reds. The only hit he gave up was a single to Xavier Paul in the top of the third. Zimmerman, like Anibal Sanchez, also basks in the shadows of bigger names like Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez.
Kyle Kendrick did the deed for the Phillies in a three hit shutout against the Mets on Friday night.
Nights like this, packed with superior pitching performances, have become the norm in Major League Baseball. When will it end? Not anytime soon, likely, as the numbers show.
Since the 2006 MLB season, batting averages have gone down by 20 points, with a steady drop each season. Total strikeouts per team have continued to rise as well. While these trends clearly tell us something about a resurgence in dominating pitching, what they don’t tell us is why.
One could run the gamut of speculation: longer incubation periods for top pitching prospects, better development of mechanics in college and farm systems, evolving managerial strategy, bad hitting. The truth is, nobody knows. There is only the reality that pitchers are getting harder to hit.
Last year, teams struck out an average of 7.50 times per game (not combined), highest in MLB history. This year, that average is set to go up again. After approximately 20 games, the current strikeouts per game in 2013 is 7.64. To put this into perspective, strikeouts per game in 1990 was 5.67, and 4.80 in 1980. The upswing in strikeouts over the past thirty years is one of baseball’s more remarkable trends. Things are only getting worse for hitters.
If the trend continues, it will only be 4-6 years before a return to the dead ball era, or a beefed-up version of it. The climax of this period was in 1908 when batters in both leagues averaged .239 at the plate. The dead-ball era was of course marred by a lack of home runs and runs in general, so, if batting average were to fall this low in modern times, there would not be the lack of scoring and home runs. We have the corked ball to thank for that.
If we liken baseball to Twitter, #pitching is trending.
If you’re of fan of Tolkien, you’ll remember the phrase from The Lord of the Rings:
The age of man is over. The time of the orc has come.
Replace ‘man’ with batter, and ‘orc’ with pitcher.