Baseball

MLB All-stars point to young arms, not drug tests, to explain scoring

National League starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez, of the Colorado Rockies, winds up during the All-Star baseball game Tuesday, July 13, 2010, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
National League starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez, of the Colorado Rockies, winds up during the All-Star baseball game Tuesday, July 13, 2010, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill) AP

ANAHEIM, Calif. — There have been no-hitters and perfect games. There have been even more near no-hitters and near perfect games. The evidence is everywhere that the baseball pendulum, which for so many years favored the offense, has begun to swing back with a vengeance.

According to Baseball-Reference.com, National League teams have scored 4.39 runs per game this season, down slightly from 4.43 in 2009, the fourth straight year that number has declined. The drop has been even more significant in the American League, from 4.82 last year to 4.54 at the break.

Maybe this is a natural result of baseball's efforts to ban the use of performance-enhancing substances.

Many it's a side effect of the new sabermetric buzz phrase "run prevention."

Maybe it's because teams seem to have focused on signing and developing pitching in recent years.

Maybe the baseballs aren't as lively.

Or maybe it's just one of those things.

About the only thing a random sampling of All-Stars agreed on Tuesday is that, for whatever reason, there seem to be a lot more good, young pitchers around today than there were a few years ago.

"So the ball's not juiced, nor are the players?" joked Reds third baseman Scott Rolen. Then, turning serious, he added: "It's certainly different. It's fair to make a statement that pitching right now is great. You just look around this (interview) room. You're not going to get anything below 95, and guys are throwing 95 with movement. Everybody's sinking the ball. Everybody is cutting the ball. I remember coming up. My years in Philly. There were just a select few guys throwing cutters. I don't remember guys throwing 93 mile-an-hour cutters like so many guys do now."

Veteran Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte also commented on the fact that not only are there so many good young arms these days but this group also seemed to mature quickly. Left-hander David Price, the American League's All-Star starter, for example, is only 24.

"Young pitchers seem to make adjustments faster. To learn how to change speeds," he said. "(Price) is throwing a two-seam fastball this year. Last year, I never saw him throw any two-seamers.

"Is this the best group of young pitchers I've ever seen? I think so. Just because it seems like the hitters were dominating the game for so long. So I would say probably over the last couple years these are the best arms that I've seen come in."

Added Angels center fielder Torii Hunter: "Oh, man. Pitching is better. Guys have more cutters and sinkers and scouting reports and everything. So the pitching's a lot better these days. You've got guys like (Nationals righthander Stephen) Strasburg. His stuff looks electrifying on TV. Ubaldo Jimenez is filthy. You've just got some really good pitchers."

Angels Manager Mike Scioscia, a coach for the AL, is still reserving judgment.

"Look at our team. We think we've been underperforming on the offensive side and we've still been in the middle of the pack," he said. "So I think that's indicative that, yeah, there is a little bit of advantage with what the pitchers are doing this season. I think sometimes this stuff is cyclical. Sometimes there are tangible reasons.

"A lot of people are going to point to the drug testing. But that affects pitchers, too. So I don't think there's one common thread of why pitching is better.

"There are a lot of real power arms coming in. We'll see how it plays out. It's a small sample size to take half the season and say, 'Runs are down; what's happening in baseball?' If it's a trend that continues for a while, I think you can analyze it better."

Phillies right-hander Roy Halladay said he enjoys watching the highlights shows at night more now, but suspects this could even out as the season goes on.

"There are definitely a lot of talented pitchers right now, but I think sometimes those things just go in cycles. I'm not really surprised seeing some of the guys who are pitching right now. The overpowering stuff is pretty impressive. At certain times, you see it and then it can go the other way," he said.

Even some hitters can admire what the pitchers are accomplishing.

"No-hitters. Two perfect games," Rays third baseman Evan Longoria said. "There's a lot of young talent. It's fun for me to go out there every day. It's definitely not monotonous. There are a lot of guys who can do some really, really special things on the mound. It's fun to watch ... when you're not hitting against them."

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