Is this what baseball in the 60's was like? It seems like every other week there's a no-hitter or perfect game going.
I was getting ready to look up if I was just overly sensitive to this, or if this was a real thing. Turns out, Sports Illustrated already did the work for me. From the linked story, since the start of the 2010 season, there have been fourteen no-hitters, including four perfect games. Not including the whole Armando Galarraga/Jim Joyce debacle.
What is the reason for this uptick? The Sports Illustrated article didn't touch that one. Just went on to say that Matt Cain has always shown this sort of potential, which is true. I don't think it was necessarily a fluke. Just like it wasn't a fluke when Roy Halladay threw a perfect game early in the 2010 season, and then followed it up by no-hitting the Reds in the playoffs that year.
I won't even say a disparaging word about the "no-name" pitchers who have done it. Dallas Braden,* Phillip Humber, they're fine by me. There have always been the Bud Smiths of the world. No, it seems whatever the problem, it wouldn't be with the pitchers. Why are batters lagging behind so badly?
*I can never think of Dallas Braden without thinking of this excellent Flip Flop Flyball infographic.
I don't really have an answer for that. The story we hear most often is that pitchers are finding new ways to get a baseball to move all the time, but batters are just stuck with the same piece of lumber they've had for over a century. So, of course pitchers are outpacing hitters. That's why hitters had to turn to steriods and all that. Which, I mean, I get the logic. I'm just not sure I buy the logic. Sure, a new pitch can be devastating at first, but over the course of a 162 game season, you're going to tell me nobody can figure out how to hit it? It's not like the strike zone has expanded. A whole book (which I haven't read, but need to) as been dedicated to this topic.* However the ball gets there, it's still ending up in the same area where hitters have been raking for years. But, it sure seems like hitters are having more and more trouble at the plate.
*Okay, that's probably not quite true, either. But you can bet there is some substantial discussion about the strike zone in that book.
Maybe it's just a cyclical thing. In the 80's, you had track teams dominating the game. Astroturf was all the rage, players routinely stole a hundred bases, and slap hitters who could leg out a single (a la Wille Mays Hayes) were all the rage. Or, if they weren't all that fast, they could still find holes everywhere, like Tony Gwynn. Nobody really played a power game. In response to that, we got the 90's and 00's, when power was everything. We got all the puffed up sluggers that are presenting some challenges to the Hall of Fame, and the puffed up power pitchers that evolved to deal with them. Or, at least, Roger Clemens. When we all got bored of home runs and the steroid thing kind of blew it's top, we already had a generation of top-shelf pitchers ready to go, no doubt pushed along by coaches and mentors who knew that pitching was going to be in high demand to combat all the offense they were seeing in their youth. Now that pitching is back on top, look for the subtle ways to beat great pitching to make a comeback. That is, look for base-stealers, leg-it-out guys, and an army of Tony Gwynns* to dominate the game again when the next crop of big talent comes along.
*Incidentally, don't look for Tony Gwynn Jr. to be part of that army. I don't know that is .249 batting average or 73 stolen bases over seven years is going to cut it. But, then again, maybe that's what a Tony Gwynn-like player looks like these days with the sort of pitching talent that has developed. Everybody is a product of their era in one way or another.
It's interesting to think about. I haven't done research all the way back, but the speed game of the 70's and 80's? Coming right off the pitching-dominated heels of the 1960's. It's food for thought.
Anyway, in a little more personal news, everybody's good buddy back in Covington got some good news the other day. Taylor Dennis, whose dad I certainly know, who played for my dad, was basically one of two real pitchers the JV team had (along with my brother) in high school before my brother decided to concentrate on tennis,* was the Division II College World Series** MVP a few years ago with Southern Indiana, drafted late by the Texas Rangers after that, was promoted from the Arizona League to the Spokane Indians of the Northwest League. Here he is on the official roster and everything. That league starts tomorrow. Give 'em hell, Taylor. And if you haven't already, learn to eat without getting everything on your shirt. That could make for some awkward interviews down the road.
*Long story there. Maybe I'll tell it some time.
**The NCAA doesn't like using the name College World Series for anything other than Division I. And to that I say "Suck it, NCAA."