Let’s face it: talking about “The Year of the Pitcher” seems increasingly understated. We are clearly living in an “Era of the Pitcher”, which was underscored when Matt Cain of the San Francisco Giants tossed an absolutely brilliant, fourteen-strikeout gem against the Houston Astros last Wednesday June 13. Cain’s dominant effort rated a 101 on Bill James’ gradient which measures strikeouts, walks, groundouts, flyouts and hits. Cain tied Sandy Koufax’ 1965 perfecto with a score of 101 (interestingly the top score using James’ methodology belongs to Kerry Wood of the Chicago Cubs with 110: Woods pitched a one-hitter and allowed a walk, but struck out 20. That’s truly dominant, but perfection is perfection).
That illustrates one of the differences between baseball and, say, bowling: all 300 games by keglers are perfect and they are all the same; we cannot differentiate between them. Baseball, however, allows for infinite parsing and use of evaluative criteria. Some fans will rate Don Larsen’s 1956 perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers as the most dominant performance ever simply because it occurred in the World Series. That’s a debatable point, but the point is that it IS debatable.
So 2012 joins 2010 as seasons in which two perfect games one in each league, occur. There are still only 22 going back to 1880 (I’m not sure about those games since the rules were different then but baseball loves things going back to 1880 and why not). It’s the fifth no-hitter of 2012 and we aren’t even at the halfway point in the season; it seems like we have a trend at work and it’s more than just the removal of performance-enhancing drugs from the scene.
A friend on a chat board I frequent asked “What’s behind the pitching ascendancy?” and I thought about it and I decided I agree with Sports Illustrated’s Albert Chen who declared in an article last year that the cut fastball, also known as the “two-seamer” was the pitch that was baffling hitters and providing such success for moundsmen. Chen noted now the development of the slider in the late 1950’s led to the last great pitcher’s era of the 1960’s, which in turn drove Major League Baseball to lower the pitcher’s mound from 15 inches to 10.5 inches in 1969 (the last notable change in the geometry of the game) to try to restore some balance between offense and defense. It’s worth noting that before the latest height became official some teams, notably the Los Angeles Dodgers were reported to have mounds as high as twenty inches.
Congratulations to Matt Cain, and the San Francisco Giants, who signed the burly right-hander to an eight year deal worth almost $140 million. Looking like a smart signing!