Roy Halladay's No Hitter and the Year of the Pitcher: What It Means for Baseball
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So much for first postseason jitters.
Halladay's performance was only the second no-hitter in postseason history, (Don Larsen's perfect game in 1956 world series the only other), and simultaneously marked the first time since 1973 (Nolan Ryan) that a pitcher completed two no-hitters in one season.
Halladay had previously thrown a perfect game on May 29th against the Florida Marlins, and was just one fifth inning walk away from completing the unprecedented task twice.
In a nutshell, the performance was tantalizing, dominating, and incredible.
But was it unexpected?
In 2010, strong pitching was the common trend of the season.
Amazing performances seemed to come from everywhere; grizzled vets, established phenoms, rookies, and everyone in between seemed to be getting a piece of the action. Five (but really six) no-hitters were thrown, two (but really three) of which were perfect games.
Career years from the likes of R.A. Dickey, Colby Lewis, and Vicente Padilla ran the gamut to seasons like those of resurgent aces Tim Hudson and Francisco Liriano, and established pitchers like Roy Halladay, Felix Hernandez, and Adam Wainwright.
2010 quickly became known as "the year of the pitcher," and for good reason:
Every team had their own surprise pitcher(s), and the stats reflect that.
The 2010 league averages of a 4.08 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP are each the lowest totals in each category since 1992 (3.75 ERA, 1.33 WHIP).
A total of 57 pitchers finished the '10 campaign with a sub-4.00 ERA. This also marks the highest total since 1992 (65).
You might wonder what the cause of the best pitching season in nearly 20 years is, but the explanation is fairly simple.
I'm not the first to suggest this, and I certainly won't be the last, but 2010 could likely be the year baseball historians point to as the end of the steroid era. Baseball has finally cleaned up its act, with mandatory testing in place at all levels of the game.
Yet if steroid usage is indeed on the steep decline, what does this mean for the game of baseball?
While the importance of power hitting and run producing is still as important as its ever been, MLB games are no longer the glorified home run derbies they were in the late 1990's-early 2000's.
Yet, are we headed back to the glasses wearing, toothpick lookalike, small ball player of the 1980's? No.
Baseball is headed in an entirely new direction.
If anything, the decline of steroids has greatened the gap between the rich and the poor. No longer is a 40 HR man a dime a dozen novelty act. Players like Adam Dunn are now being labeled as some of the best hitters in the game. Often overlooked during the heyday of the steroid era, Dunn's career consistency is now applauded by fans and analysts.
The best offensive players are posting just as remarkable lines as we've ever seen. Pitchers are throwing harder than they have in decades. Just 20 years ago, a pitcher who threw 93-95 was considered one of the hardest throwers in the game. Now, that same velocity is looked upon as just above the average.
But to claim that baseball is just as focused on offensive and pitching might as it was even five years ago is not entirely correct either.
The slowly developing trend seems to be one of well balanced players and teams dominating the game.
Players like Albert Pujols, Carlos Gonzalez, Robinson Cano, and Adrian Gonzalez, among others, have been praised for their ability to "do it all."
Even on the minor league level, top prospects like Domonic Brown of the Phillies and Desmond Jennings of the Tampa Bay Rays, just on the cusp of success, have been praised as legitimate five-tool players.
And there's a reason Bryce Harper was on the cover of every major sporting magazine before he was 18, and received such a large contract before playing even one game in the minors.
Whether or not his talent is real is irrelevant. Rather, Harper represents the type of player who is fast becoming the most coveted commodity in baseball. Every big league team would love the player who is a star before he's 25, one who can help the ballclub win in numerous ways.
This reality, whether you realize it or not, has already manifested itself in the game. Players like Stephen Strasburg, Aroldis Chapman, Jason Heyward, and Austin Jackson are just the tip of the iceburg.
And if one were to examine the makeup of all the 2010 playoff teams, they would find this concept already at work. Teams like the Cincinnati Reds, Minnesota Twins, and San Francisco Giants are the most evident examples of teams who performed well in all facets of the games, not just standing out in one instance of the game.
Essentially, fundamentally sound players and well structured teams are fast becoming the way to win today. No longer is relying on the offensive prowess of just one or two players enough.
Roy Halladay's no-hitter was one of the greatest moments in the history of baseball. It's also a microcosm of what the 2010 season was like, and where it is headed.
I for one am excited. You should be too.
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