In the past season and a half the MLB has seen eight no
hitters, three perfect games, and just two players hitting more than 40 home
runs in a time dubbed “the year of the pitcher”. With this year of the pitcher came a lower
league batting average of .257, a big step down from the league average of .262
from the year before, and a number that has been falling lower and lower since
2006. That’s also 13 points lower than
an average of .270 in 2000. All of this
coming in a time commonly referred to as the steroid era, an era with plentiful
power hitters, dominant offenses, and high scoring games. However, this trend of great pitching doesn’t
seem to be fading, begging the question is the steroid era over?
The steroid era, which effectively started in 1991 with
the ban of performance enhancing drugs, has cast a shadow over the integrity of
the game including some of the game’s most important records. Most notably, the steroid era produced new home
run kings, including Barry Bonds setting a new mark for single season and
career homers. Along with players like
Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Rafael Palmeiro, Bonds smashed home runs with
surprising ease, unlike any other season of his, brining with these huge
seasons accusations of steroid use. Some
like McGwire and Palmeiro admitted use, and more and more players began using
steroids, creating a boom in power numbers, and batting averages.
Home run hitting went up from 3,317 homers in 1990, to
5,693 in 2000, then remained in the mid 5000’s until 2007 when there were only
4,957, dipping under 5,000 for the first
time since 1997. Last year in “the year
of the pitcher” only 4,620 home runs were hit, the lowest amount since 1995. Right now, MLB players are on pace for less
than 4,300 homers, and the league batting average is just .252, another large
step down from last year.
However, the most telling stat about the end of this
era can’t be found on the field, but off the field. Since 2005, steroid related suspensions have
fallen from 12 major leaguers to just two suspensions last year and only Manny
Ramirez has been suspended this year.
This lack of steroids has probably been playing a large role in the
lower home run numbers, and maybe a small role in lowered batting average, but
steroids increase muscle mass, not the ability to hit the ball. Lack of steroid usage can’t account for a 22
point drop in a league batting average, and with players like Albert Pujols,
Ryan Howard, and now Jose Bautista there certainly isn’t a lack of talent.
So what could be causing this sudden lack of
hitting? What if maybe, just maybe this
year of the pitcher, isn’t just a year, but the start of a new era. As mentioned earlier, the MLB saw six
no-hitters last year, three of which were perfect games. That’s a huge step up from the average of
just more than two no-hitters per year from 1991-2009. With pitchers like Roy Halladay, Tim
Lincecum, and Justin Verlander just to name a few, hitters are being fooled,
and K/BB and K/9 have both gone up greatly since 2000. In just this decade, K/9 has gone from 6.45
in 2000 to 7.06 in 2010, and K/BB has gone from 1.72 in 2000 to 2.19 this year.
This trend doesn’t look to be ending soon, especially
with new ballparks being built in favor of pitchers like Citi Field and Target
Field. Barring any sudden changes to the
game, or a sudden power surge throughout the MLB, get ready for more
no-hitters, more perfect games, and less home runs. Welcome to the age of the pitcher.
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