After Ross Newhan runs through all the pitching-friendly stats this season, he gets to the thing:
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.
A quick-and-dirty study, looking at the top 30 in innings pitched in four seasons, average ages:
Well, starting pitchers do seem to be slightly younger this season than they've been. I'm not sure if this explains all the no-hitters, though. Or all the other statistics that Newhan cites.
He seems to begin with the assumption that 1) the hitters aren't as good because they're not using the drugs anymore, and 2) the pitchers are younger and better.
But my impression is that something else is going on. I mean, maybe those things. But not just those things. All those swings and misses ... sure, some of that's probably the pitchers throwing harder. But at least when it comes to the no-hitters and the perfect games, aside from the obvious answer (fluke), I'm looking at all those strikeouts, which just keep going up even as the players' muscles go down.
I'm just spitballing here, but what would happen if hitters were getting weaker but still swinging as if every swing was a home run in the making? Wouldn't you have more strikeouts and fewer hits and more no-hitters and fewer runs scored?
What's happening this season is a puzzle. I think all the pieces are out there. I don't think anyone's come close to putting them together.
(h/t: BTF's Newsstand)