It’s The Year of the Picher and I’m Loving It

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.

2 Replies to “It’s The Year of the Picher and I’m Loving It”

  1. From what I have seen this year thus far. I think the cold, wet weather is a big advantage to the pitchers. Batters do not want to get jammed on a cold night. Also, many pitchers have gone back to the split finger fastball or the forkball this year. If you eyes get adjusted to seeing a pitch in the same plane coming up to the plate and then a guy either throws a real tight breaking pitch(slider)or a drasticly slower pitch with a late break(spliter) with the break right in front of the plate, to put it in real terms, the batter is fooled, sometimes badly.

    The sinker/slider guys are adding 4-seam fastballs, split/forkballs(they ARE different pitchers) and short sliders as opposed to the fastball/curve/long slider crowd. Tim Hudson and Halladay are both throwing more splits this year than last year and Hudson is throwing a curve more than the slider and I don’t think he has done that since Oakland. A good pitcher will always try to add/subtract something off of a pitch to keep the hitters of balance.

    Kershaw has the best curve I have seen a lefty throw since Koufax. Blyleven, Nolan Ryan and Tom Gordan threw great curves for righties. My opinion is that the cutter is a good pitch but that the slider if thrown the Steve Carlton way(see his web site), is a better pitch. And many scouts get the splitter and the forkball confused. You MUST have huge hands to throw/control the forkball, Lindy McDaniel told me that hinself. Roger Craig is quoated as teaching the splitter to 11-12 yr old kids at his San Diego baseball school he ran with Bob Cluck. Many pitchers have a natural cut to the ball. The Goose thrown a “sailor” which was a cutter to lefties and a “tailor” to righties. He said that he had to learn how to run the ball in on righties since his ball already ran the other way.

    I think it stills comes down to changing speeds, locations and movement. And having umps that actually KNOW where the strike is.

  2. I have been on the Carlton web site, I like his slider approach more than what is usually taught. Watched some ball the other night on TV and Dan Haren is throwing a splitter more this year than last(according to the TV guys) and has better control of his slider. When I pitched in amatuer ball, my four seam fastball also had a natural cut to it. Actually had to teach myself how to make the two seam fastball move and learned a Randy Jones type of sinker because of it. I have also noticed that the umps are calling the high strike more, which is a real big plus to a guy throwing a curve with a big break or a forkball since you could start the ball actaully higher than the letters and break in into the strike zone. Funny Edward Moore mentioned the name Bob Cluck. I have read his books and he is sort of at odds with some of the Tom House stuff. But both of them know more than Larry Rothschild. Kind of funny the Yankees went out and hired Rothschild and their pitching has been inconsistant all year. I really didn’t like the guy when the Cubs had him, nothing personnal, I’m sure he is a sweel guy. I just didn’t believe his philosphy on pitching compared to guys like Dave Duncan or Mike Maddux. Where are Johnny Sain and Roger Craig when you need them?

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