I’m decidedly old school when it comes to baseball and definitely DH free National League, the league where defense and pitching seem to be of a greater necessity than the American League.
Thus far, the 2011 major league baseball season has two no hitters, (ironically both in the American League), and almost nightly pitching duels.
From the opening night matchup between Clayton Kershaw and Tim Lincecum to the as good as advertised Philadelphia Phillies-Florida Marlins dual this past Tuesday, we’ve been seeing some terrifically pitched games.
The May 10th pitching matchup between Josh Johnson and Doc Halladay was indeed something to write home about.
The final tally combined for the two starters read three runs total allowed (Florida won 2-1) 15 innings pitched 11 hits and 16 Ks. This has been typical of many games around both leagues this season and isn’t showing any signs of letting up.
But what are the reason(s) for this pitcher dominated season and will major league baseball panic as they did after the 1968 season and make changes with the belief those fans want to see offense?
Let’s examine some possible answers for this year of the pitcher.
Pitchers are traditionally ahead of hitters in the early going of any season and the cold and wet weather in many parks thus far hasn’t helped the offenses any. But many previously robust hitters in both leagues are off to very slow starts; too many to be explained away by early season catching up and poor weather.
Many scouts seem to be of the opinion that the widespread use of the cut fastball is one of the major factors. The cut fastball looks like a regular fastball coming to the plate but unlike a slider, it won’t hang tantalizing over the plate if thrown incorrectly. It is also much easier to control than a slider or a split finger and allows a pitcher to not have to be so fine with his control. The pitch can be aimed at the middle of the plate or just off on either side or the natural movement of the pitch will result in balls hit off centre of the sweet spot.
Pitchers seem to be learning that hitters continue to be in a swing for the fence mentality and seem to be throwing more high strikes and umpires are now calling the high strike. Until last year, despite the fact that a pitch letter high was technically a strike, few umpires called it as such, forcing pitchers to throw belt high and down. While most pitching experts will tell you that pitching low in the zone is the best way to go, this has allowed batters to look in one zone only making solid contact much easier. It eliminated the climb the ladder with fastballs approach that can be very effective for a pitcher. Now batters are being forced to cover the entire strike zone and unfamiliarness with the high strike seems to be working to the pitchers’ advantage.
These things go in cycles and many starting pitchers are 25 and under but with a few years of major league experience already under their belt. Scouts seem to be going after pitchers who are hard throwers more so than those who get by with finesse and guile and this use your fastball or something as hard thrown seems to be more in favor. With starting pitchers seemingly only needing to go six innings, there is less than a need to conserve their arm.
Hitters still seem to be in the go for the fence mentality which pitchers are taking advantage of. Scoring has been decidedly down and a transition to small ball hasn’t caught on as of yet. There is a greater emphasis on team defense with offensive players with poor defensive abilities being subject to greater criticism and more scrutiny.
Baseball seems to be getting back to its original premise, run prevention. For the pure fan like me, it’s a welcome happening.