The Rise Of Pitchers in The Post-Steroid Era

SeatGeekAnalyst IJune 14, 2010

PHILADELPHIA - MAY 06:  Roy Halladay #34 of the Philadelphia Phillies delivers a pitch against the St. Louis Cardinals at Citizens Bank Park on May 6, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Phillies defeated the cardinals 7-2.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

As we transition out of baseball’s “Steroid Era,” statistics are drastically changing.  During the late 90s and early 2000s, it would not be uncommon to see several hitters with at least a .340 batting average, 40 HR, and 120 RBI.  Nowadays, numbers have drastically decreased for hitters, while pitchers' numbers are getting better each year.

As a Mets fan, I was perturbed to see that none of the Mets' starters currently have batting averages above .300.  I soon realized, however, that few hitters in the National League have eclipsed .300 either.  As of June 14, only sixteen NL batters have batting averages above .300 (American League hitters are doing a little bit better with 21).

Buster Olney via Twitter noted that, “At the height of the steroid era, in 2001, a total of two pitchers posted ERAs under 3.00.  Right now, 25 starters have ERAs under 3.00.”   Are these statistical shifts due to worse hitting, better pitching, or both?

This season has become the season where great individual performances are by pitchers, not hitters.  There have already been three no-hitters in 2010, two of which were perfect games. Additionally, there was Armando Galarraga’s almost-perfect game, and even two one-hitters this week alone (Jon Niese on June 10 vs. the Padres, and Ted Lilly on June 13 vs. the White Sox ). 

Certainly, 2010 is the year of the pitcher.

At SeatGeek , we have been looking at our ticketing data to see how it reflects various events in sports.  Generally, the overall performance of the team has the greatest effect on ticket prices, as SeatGeek’s founder Jack Groetzinger has noted .  However, there are extreme circumstances where an individual can have a profound effect on the status-quo.  

During the steroid era, with all of the home-run races occurring, the likes of Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds would have increased prices when they came to town.  

However, currently it is pitchers who are shifting ticket prices.  Most recently, SeatGeek has noted sharp increases in ticket prices in the aftermath of a no-hitter, or for the debut of a highly touted pitching prospect, such as Steven Strasburg .  

Moving forward, we can anticipate that under the rare circumstances that ticket prices are affected by individual performances, it will be from star pitchers and not hitters.  Pitchers are delivering better individual performances than hitters, and fans are packing the stands to see them pitch.

As a die-hard baseball fan, I struggle between figuring out if I am more impressed by great offensive seasons or great pitching seasons. Undoubtedly, offensive records are more coveted, perhaps because some of the seemingly unbreakable records have been broken in recent years. 

Still, perfect games remain one of the most impressive and rare feats in all of baseball. 

With two already this season (three if you count Galarraga’s outing), it seems that baseball fans should grow to expect superb pitching performances in the future, versus excellent offensive games.  The statistics of players surely support this notion, as do the increased prices of tickets on the secondary market for games in which popular pitchers are starting.

Baseball definitely is changing, and this change in pitching might be the most drastic alteration of all.  With that, expect to see a pitchers duel rather than a slugfest next time you’re at the ballpark.


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