Same again for pitchers this baseball season?

2010 saw two perfect games and four no-hitters. A look at whether the trend will continue this year.

Roy Halladay is congratulated by his Philadelphia teammates after pitching a perfect game against Florida in May last year. Robert Vigon / Getty Images
Powered by automated translation

A pair of perfect games only 20 days apart. Four other no-hitters, and another game that should have been.

Such spectacular performances made the 2010 baseball season The Year of the Pitcher, and as the teams prepare for the 2011 season, here are many people who think the trend will continue.

Can baseball fans possibly expect another season of extraordinary performances? Oh yes, say many players and managers.

"I think it's the era of the pitcher," said Dallas Braden, the Oakland A's pitcher who threw one of the two perfect games last season, a masterpiece against the Tampa Bay Rays on May 9 last year.

"Now, the playing field is equal on both sides [pitchers and hitters]. It's a lot more about talent than it is about raw tools anymore."

With steroids and performance-enhancing drugs no longer in the forefront of the sport, Braden said pitchers can take the mound without the worry of juiced-up sluggers stepping into the batter's box when the new season begins in four weeks.

Dusty Baker, the Cincinnati Reds manager, also notices a difference.

"There was a while during expansion when they were saying it [pitching] was diluted, and then - I don't know if there was a conscientious effort by parents or whatever it was - it seemed like everybody started pitching," Baker said. "And now there's good pitching in quite a few places. Plus, in the post-steroid era here, it's gone back to pitching and speed and defence and fundamental play."

Roy Halladay, the Philadelphia Phillies ace, pitched a perfect game at Florida only 20 days after Braden's feat, then threw another no-hitter against the Reds in the first round of the play-offs.

And Armando Galarraga, now with the Arizona Diamondbacks, would have had a perfect game for the Detroit Tigers against the Cleveland Indians last June had umpire Jim Joyce not admittedly missed a call at first base.

Braden's perfect game was the first for his franchise since Catfish Hunter, the Hall of Famer, threw one for the Athletics in 1968, the last time a season was known as the Year of the Pitcher.

There were five no-hitters that season, when the St Louis Cardinals' Bob Gibson led the majors with a 1.12 ERA, Detroit's Denny McLain became a 31-game winner, and Don Drysdale threw six shutouts in a row for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

These days, many relievers throw heat.

"I remember saying throughout the season, 'Where is the guy who throws 87 [mph] with a sinker who used to come out of the pen?' Even long guys are throwing 97," Todd Helton, the Colorado Rockies hitter, said.

After that spectacular 1968 season by pitchers, Major League Baseball's Rules Committee lowered the mound from 15 inches to 10 inches and shrunk the strike zone to its pre-1963 level - from the batter's armpits to the top of his knees. And pitchers followed that up with a strong showing in the expansion season of 1969 as well. There were six more no-hitters that year.

Could that be a telling sign? Do the pitchers have a true advantage again in the days minus the monster power hitters such as home run king Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, all of whom cleared the fences at a remarkable rate?

"The Year of the Pitcher will continue," said the A's manager Bob Geren, whose talented young staff led the AL in ERA last season at 3.56 and in shutouts with 17 while holding opponents to a .245 batting average.

"The pitching seems to keep getting better, not worse. Some of the veteran guys, Roy Halladay and guys like that, they haven't shown any signs of letting up. And the younger guys like ours are going to keep getting better."

* Associated Press