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Return of the Pitcher

by Jerry Keys

"I would prefer even to fail with honor than to win by cheating." - Sophocles

The older you get the more you become aware everything always comes full circle. In large part to today's social media, whoever is atop the mountain today, will be sliding down it in a short amount of time. As a baseball purist I never thought the day would come, the pitchers began reclaiming what was once theirs for decades. A wise old man said the day would come, being 29, I never could believe it. Maybe my grumblings kept me from seeing things not as they were; but what they would be.

To understand how pitchers redefined the landscape of baseball is not to only view the pitching statistics but hitting as well. The major league leaders in hitting for the AL were: Batting Average: Miguel Cabrera (.344) and thirteen batted at least .300; Home Runs: Jose Bautista (43) and twelve with thirty or more-only four with more than 32; and Runs Batted In: Curtis Granderson (119) and eleven with 100 or more. In the NL: Batting: Jose Reyes (.337) and thirteen at or over .300; Homers: Matt Kemp (39) and twelve with thirty or more; RBI: Kemp (126) and six with 100 or more.

Jerry Keys

In 2001 the AL fell as: 19 batted .300 or better, 15 hit 30 or more homers, and 20 with 100 RBI's or more. The NL: 26 batted .300 or better, 25 hit 30 or more HR's, and 25 with 100 RBI's or more. There are telling  signs in the offensive categories alone but a more noticeable trend ten years ago was the pitching. A very select few pitchers remained on top during the offensive explosion, aka Steroid Era/Performance Enhancing Drugs (PED). Roger Clemens was one of those few but is under investigation for the use of PED. Was he the only one or the only one in the select group who was caught?

The pitching statistics for 2011 in the AL were: Earned Run Average: Justin Verlander (2.40) and eight under 3.00-with at least 160 Innings Pitched; Wins: Verlander (24) and twelve with 15 or more wins; Innings Pitched: Verlander (251) and 19 with 200 or more IP; Complete Games: James Shields (11) and nine with four or more CG; and Shutouts: Shields and Derek Holland (4) seven with two or more. In the NL: ERA: Clayton Kershaw (2.28) and eight under 3.00; Wins: Kershaw and Ian Kennedy (21) and eight with 15 or more wins; IP: Chris Carpenter (237.1) and 20 with 200 or more IP; CG: Roy Halladay (8) and four with four or more; and shutouts: Cliff Lee (6) and only five with two or more.

In comparison, the AL in 2001 was: ERA: only 15 under 4.00 and the winner was Freddy Garcia (3.05); Wins: 15 with 15 or more; IP: 21 with 200 or more; CG: eight with four or more; and shutouts: nine with two or more. In the NL: ERA: only 16 under 4.00 and only Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling the only two under 3.00; Wins: 13 with 15 or more; IP: 21 with 200 or more; CG: six with four or more, and shutouts: five with two or more. Two of the three main criteria for the pitchers Triple Crown do not signify greatness, wins and innings pitched. The purest reflection of the overall pitching is ERA, as is a batting average is to a hitter.

A simple comparison to 1991 and 2011 will shed an inquisitive compare and contrast. With all the numbers being given…how will the pitchers and hitters of 1993-2002 be compared to the other years? As we have seen in recent years, the Hall of Fame voting does not give well wishes to "home run gods" of the PED era. To a degree that was expected but how will they approach the big game pitchers of that era? How well would Johnson, Schilling, Greg Maddux or Tom Glavine perform if their careers had started ten years prior? Where else in the history of baseball can you find a pitcher with a close-to-.500 winning percentage and a near 5.00 ERA?

The Hall of Fame Class of 2012 is extremely weak. No first ballot HoF'ers should come within earshot of election, therefore this is the best year for veterans Barry Larkin and Jack Morris. Lee Smith set the then all-time save record but Mariano Rivera may best the previous mark by 300 saves. It does not matter if Smith pitched two or more innings, it is all about the number of saves. That is a major reason why Rich Gossage was held from the Hall for so many years.

Hall eligible sluggers such as Larry Walker and Jeff Bagwell, who never tested positive for PED are being shunned as if they "might have." Will Johnson, Schilling and Maddu be heralded as heroes of the era? Not taking a minute thing from those players but is it Bagwell and Walker's product of birth their own faults for being great in a PED era?

"He that will cheat at play, will cheat you any way" -Author Unknown