(Sports Network) - The late '80s group Soul to Soul had a joint where lead
singer Caron Wheeler's powerful first line was: "Back to life. Back to
reality." Well that's the tune baseball is pumping through its speakers as it
transitions from the offensive mutation called "The Steroid Era" into a new
The 2012 MLB Playoffs ushered in this new pitching-dominant era with
authority. The World Series was a battle between the pitch potent, light-
lumbered, San Francisco Giants and the golden arms of the Detroit Tigers. On
this World Series stage, stud pitchers will dictate the flow of the show.
The heightened pressure of every playoff pitch and the increased importance of
each run make the World Series a must-see for sports fans. Nail-biting
pitchers' duels highlight the value, intrigue and excitement of low-scoring
games. Taking the juice out of baseball has put the authentic spark back.
In the past half decade, MLB hurlers have regained their mojo, throwing us
back to the pitching-rich seasons of "Bullet" Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax. The
elimination of rampant steroid use is the biggest reason. Harsher penalties
and public humiliation have been a major deterrent to PED use in baseball. In
2006, suspensions for a positive drug test, was increased from 10 to 50 games.
The Bud Selig-commissioned Mitchell Report in '07 exposed the epidemic, and
damaged the reputations of baseball's biggest stars. Some were even dragged in
front of Congress and exposed as liars.
In the early 1990s the effects of steroids and performance enhancers hit
baseball like a tsunami. Like when crack hit the streets of Oaktown in the
80s. Player usage exploded after the MLB strike of 1994. Home runs swelled to
an average of 1.77 per game by 1996. That number dwarfed the 1.26 per game
average during the last clean era of baseball -- from 1978 to about 1990, when
Hall of Famers like Dave Winfield, George Brett, Eddie Murray and Mike Schmidt
put up "official" power numbers.
The days of Klitschko brothers-looking, 60-homer-hitting droids are over. Just
peep how the numbers have flipped since 2000, when nobody threw a no-hitter.
This season pitchers were "making it rain" like Lil' Wayne, racking up seven
no-hitters and three perfect games. Cain, the starter in San Francisco's Game
7 NLCS, tossed one of those gems. Other pitching accomplishments included
knuckleballer R.A. Dickey's Mets record 44 2/3 innings without allowing an
earned run; and Tampa Rays closer Fernando Rodney setting the Major League
record for the lowest ERA with at least 50 appearances (0.60).
In Y2K there was a whopping 5,693 homers hit in MLB. This season homers
plummeted to 4,934. That's almost 800 less dingers. In 2000, Sammy Sosa led
baseball with 50 homers. At least 10 other players hit 40 that season. By
2008, MLB's top slugger Miguel Cabrera led baseball with just 37 home runs,
and in 2009, Mark Teixeira and Carlos Pena tied for the lead with 39 home
runs. These were the lowest totals for a home run king since 1989. Runs are
also down significantly from 2000 when 24,971 players crossed home plate. This
season, just 21,017 runs were scored. With the decrease in offense, naturally
pitching ERA's dropped nearly a run, from 4.77 to 4.01.
The death of steroids isn't the only factor in baseball's pitching
renaissance. More pitchers are throwing 90-plus mph darts these days, making
life much harder on hitters. FanGraphs ranked all of the pitchers who threw at
least 30 innings in a season and their average fastball velocities. The number
of pitchers with an average fastball velocity of 95-plus has steadily risen
from 11 in 2007 to 35 in just five years.
The expanded pitching repertoire is another reason. Back in the day, most
great pitchers had one or two pitches. Now, any average pitcher probably has
an array of four pitches he can dial up at any time.
Mixing pitches and speeds keeps the best hitters off balance. San Fran's Ryan
Vogelsong executed this to perfection against the Cardinals in the NLCS.
According to BrooksBaseball.net, Vogelsong, a 35-year-old finesse pitcher, had
five pitches poppin' against the Cardinals -- a four and two-seam fastball,
change up, slider and curveball.
The "Pitcher's Paradise" era is dominated by information and mathematical
formulas designed to give managers, pitchers and catchers, an edge on every
pitch. Old-school managers like Detroit's Jim Leyland tend to go with their
gut, and rely less on sabermetrics and dizzying numbers. The use of tracked
information and studying statistical trends has also played a vital role in
the rise of the pitcher. New-age managers like Joe Girardi, are constantly
scouring their notes for a strategic advantage.
The future of baseball is a bright mix of skilled hitters and pitchers playing
a high-stakes game of 60-feet, six-inch chess. When a hitter is at his best,
he'll get his base knocks, but the pitcher remains the most influential
position in a baseball game. If you love the science of pitching and softball
scores just don't sit right, flip on the TV tonight. Baseball's "Pitcher's
Paradise" era will be on full display.
The Sports Network