Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Has MLB Pitching Gotten Better?

Everyone always talks about how expansion has watered down pitching in the major leagues. Lots of sports writers and bloggers and even the casual fan has commented that with the increased number of teams in MLB, has left us with journeymen, career minor leaguers and pros who couldn’t sniff the jocks of the great pitchers of yesteryear on team rosters. I think that this was true, but I am going to make the argument that this is changing, that the scouting has improved and that baseball has begun to catch up with its self in this area. I came to this conclusion because there were two no hitters pitched this year, including one by Justin Verlander who became a multiple no hit pitcher and remembered some others recently, so I started to look into this phenomena a bit.

In the last 5 years there have been 15 no hitters, with two by Verlander and two by Halladay, with one of those a perfect game. In the 5 years before that, there were 4 total, one a perfect game. Significant difference yes? In the last 10 years there have been 19 no hitters, 4 of which were perfect. In the ten years before that, there were 7, with two perfect.

Obviously in the last 5 years and the last 20 years, there has been statistically significant change. Could it be the drug testing with less hitters on "the juice"? Sure, but pitchers took steroids too, so why would only they become more dominant now. Plus there has been increasingly batting friendly parks that also negatively impact pitching performance. Yet with all that no hitters increased more than 300% over the previous 5 year span and more than 200% the five years before that.

What about the theory that the sport of baseball travels in cycles, that there is a glut of say good first basemen and so the scouts focus on different positions so potential players get not noticed because of their position. I think there may be some merit to this in terms of the offense but everybody, EVERYBODY, knows the game is pitching. You can have green hair, be five foot nothing but if you are left-handed or throw 95 miles an hour, you will get noticed. If you are left-handed AND throw 95 miles an hour, you have at least a one way ticket to the upper minor leagues at least with potential to get a look at the big show.

Personally I think that two things are happening. First the scope of the minor leagues has been improving over the last decade as more teams realize one way to keep costs down and deal with payroll issues is to have more and more youngsters out there with less MLB experience. This has the effect of better players, better development of young players, and more unknown players making the MLB rosters. In unknown situations, one can easily make the argument that the pitcher has some distinct advantages especially until the major league scouting reports catch up with the new product.

Secondly I think this growth of younger talent has helped to smooth out the dearth of talent that occurred with expansion and more teams being created such that there were more players at this level. After the minor leaguers, those with some talent, get moved up to the majors, the teams need to scout more, sign more talent and develop it. If you have one guy with talent, you have to figure he has a 10% change of getting to the majors but if you have ten players with talent, then there is a much greater chance that one makes it to the Big Show. It is easy to see this now a days because with all the ever expanding baseball coverage – blogs especially. Much more attention is paid to the minor league and development of players. I can remember years ago, a friend Maqz told me about a kid in the Seattle Mariners minor league system and the only way to find out more about him was to check regularly in the Sporting news, because that was just about the only place for a fan to get information about someone like Tino Martinez.

So, what do you think?

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