Most fans of baseball are offense-minded, and they come to the ballpark to witness baseballs flying into the night. But the backbone of MLB is, and always has been, pitching. This season, we see some of the best pitching MLB has ever offered. In fact, the drama could reach historical proportions before season’s end.
It’s always been an enigma surrounding Major League Baseball (MLB) that an 8-5 slugfest between teams is exciting, while a 2-1 head to head contest between two pitchers is boring. And it’s no secret that the lure of that “clunk” when a bat meets the ball, a sound not definable in any other sport, causing fans to instinctively rise to their feet in recognition of a feat they have only dreamed of accomplishing.
We’re not here to argue the plusses and minuses (the three strikeouts that came before that home run) of the power phenomenon that has taken hold of baseball over the last decade. Power, by the way, that is occurring without the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
At the same time, though, fans of MLB are remiss if they do acknowledge 2018 as a season in which some rather spectacular, and perhaps even historical, pitching performances are emerging. Here’s a glimpse into what I’m talking about.
The chart on the left is the Top Ten MLB ERA Leaders for 2017. These, of course, are final season stats. On the right, are the current ERA leaders in baseball.
MLB ERA , Leaders 2017 Source: Baseball Reference
Marvel at the numbers these guys are putting up this year. And barring injuries, there is no reason to believe any of them will suffer a relapse, for the simple reason they have learned how to pitch in the big leagues.
All of these pitchers throw strikes, and they don’t necessarily feature 100 mph fastballs. Instead, they pound the strike zone using the command of the fastball to set a hitter up for the nasty slider or changeup all hitters know is coming.
All of which sets up an interesting scenario in the competition for the Cy Young Award in both the American and National Leagues. Just to pull one name off this year’s list, Corey Kluber has registered thirteen consecutive quality starts this season, meaning he has allowed three or fewer runs over a minimum of six innings in each of those starts.
Kluber’s 9-2 record could easily be 13-0 if not for the Cleveland Indians belated, but finally coming on offense. Toss in Luis Severino of the New York Yankees, who sports a 9-1 record and 115 strikeouts and only 21 walks in 86 innings, and you have to wonder what’s going on here? Justin Verlander looks like a machine out there for the Houston Astros, and his 7-2 record blinds us of the fact his current WHIP is a mark of an unheard of 0.721.
On the National League side, Max Scherzer is pitching in a world of his own. At 10-1, he’s already registered 133 strikeouts despite pitching only 89 innings. And where would Jacob deGrom be if he was pitching for a team other than the hapless New York Mets? Twelve starts and only four decisions, and all of those were wins? Pile up the what-ifs for deGrom with a real MLB team and what would that look like?
No matter who you pick, you can’t go wrong when it comes it comes to the Cy Young Award in 2018. But, keep in mind, there are several pitchers currently residing in the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown who never once won the award. Nolan Ryan, Juan Marichal, Jack Morris, Phil Niekro, and Jim Bunning all fall into that category.
And perhaps, that is why we need to just take a moment to admire what these pitchers are doing in MLB today, a league that is stacked with human specimens with unprecedented athletic and power skills, the likes of which baseball has never seen.
There is a defense against the power onslaught we see in MLB today. And as it’s always been, good pitching will beat good hitting any day and every day. The elite pitchers in baseball are proving it with masterful performances every time they go out there.