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2010... Year of the Pitcher? Better Check Again

W. Ross Clites
Your City Sports-Cleveland

Saint Louis, MISSOURI--The city of Cleveland will need some time to rebuild after the onslaught of storms that recently rolled through town. These storms carried no precipitation, just more oppressive heat. When this year ends, people will surely remember the three days when Haren, Weaver, and Santana devastated every Clevelander's morale.

Even though the Indians managed an exciting victory in game one of the series, Cleveland could put up very little resistance against the massive front. The lone highlight was Jason Kipnis' first Major League hit and RBI, coming in Tuesday's walk-off win. That was one more hit than the entire Cleveland lineup could muster Wednesday against Ervin Santana. All told, Cleveland averaged 1.6 runs and 4.3 hits in the three-game series with the Angels. That will not win you very many American League games.

But let's give credit where credit is due. Why spend time beating the dead horse; the bats have been anemic for the Tribe recently and everyone in baseball knows this. They would not be pursuing a right-handed bat if they thought all systems were firing. But this story is not about Cleveland, unless we are talking about Justin Masterson and Josh Tomlin. The bigger headline is how dominant starting pitching has been league-wide in 2011... even better than last year.

Every baseball analyst on either side of the Mississippi labeled 2010 "The Year of the Pitcher." Upon further review, we all should have held out for this current campaign before handing out the crown.

Pulling up the Pitcher Rating numbers from this exact date last year was an eye-opening experience. Back then, the world was toasting the rise of a young star, Ubaldo Jimenez--with his 15-2 record and no-hitter under his belt. Fast forward to today, and Jimenez is 6-9 with a 4.35 ERA. These numbers are the tip of the iceberg on what a difference a year can make.

The side-by-side analysis was first used to find consistency among the madness. 18 pitchers can be found in the top 45 both years; mostly the usual Cy Young suspects--Sabathia, Halladay, Lee, Hernandez, et al. The names that may surprise are C.J. Wilson, Yovani Gallardo, and Jaime Garcia. They are the young aces-in-the-making that have the staying power Jimenez has yet to figure out.

Beyond the roller coaster ride of Jimenez, the overall Pitcher Rating numbers speak of a major disparity among the elite. Even with a gaudy win percentage, Jimenez could only pace the field with a 41.90 PR. This July, there are four pitchers: Jered Weaver, Justin Verlander, CC Sabathia, and Clayton Kershaw that all have numbers exceeding 42. In particular, Weaver's 48.78 is so astonishingly high that it is greater than 1996 AL Cy Young winner Pat Hentgen accumulated his entire award-winning season.

As someone wise once said, "the more things change, the more they stay the same." The irony of the 2010-2011 comparative is that the Pitcher Rating of the last ranked pitcher is exactly 19.22 in both years. For as different as the rankings are at the top, the bottoms are identical. This makes the 2011 feats of Weaver, Verlander, Sabathia, and Kershaw even more impressive; by and large the field is in the exact same place it was last year, yet the leaders are head and shoulders above 2010's best.

The numbers do not lie, but can be interpreted two different ways: baseball has either won the war on performance-enhancing drugs or the Dead Ball Era is as naturally cyclical as the tides. Regardless, starting pitching is back to dominating professional hitting. The sub-2.00 ERA is to 2011 as the 40 home run season is to 1996, where the opposite combinations of stats and years produce a calculator error. Weaver has been dominant, but mid-90s pitchers like Hentgen were equally as good; both are victims/benefactors of the times they play.

After Ervin Santana's no-no, he is now knocking on the door of the next Pitcher Rating rankings. This would make the Angels the third team (in the two years of Pitcher Rating, all occurring this year) with three ranked starting pitchers: San Francisco's Vogelsong, Lincecum, Cain and Philadelphia's Halladay, Hamels, Lee. With Weaver (1st), Haren (9th) and now Santana, the forecast in American League cities around the country will likely be calling for storms during the the next few months.

Pitcher Rating July 27 2011

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