Justin Verlander No-Hitter: Is 2011 the Year of the Pitcher 2.0?
Down to his team's final out, Rajai Davis stood in against Justin Verlander. Two balls, two strikes and the crowd is at its feet. It didn't matter matter that their hometown Blue Jays were getting crushed 9-0, or that the opposing pitcher was a single strike away from a no-hitter—fans could recognize history when they saw it.
Davis swung through a breaking ball off the outside of the plate, and catcher Alex Avila raised his arms in celebration: the game was over. Verlander had cemented his place in history as one of only 28 pitchers to be un-hittable not once, but twice in his career.
Verlander was very nearly perfect—he walked only one batter, J.P. Arencibia, and that came in the eighth inning after a 12 pitch at-bat.
Even though he was pitching into the ninth inning, the Tiger's ace was no worse for the wear, his fastball touching 100 MPH in the final frame.
Justin Verlander turned in a performance to remember. The thing is, he's not the only one.
Twins pitcher Francisco Liriano turned in a surprise no-no earlier this week in Chicago.
In just over a month, baseball has already seen two no-hitters, reminding us of the 2010 season that was widely acclaimed as the "year of the pitcher" because of the utter dominance of starting pitchers.
While a perfect game by Phillies ace Roy Halladay may not have been predicted, it was hardly surprising—the guy has been one of the premier starters in the majors for the better part of a decade.
But a perfecto by the A's Dallas Braden, no-hitters by Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez and Edwin Jackson, and the nearly perfect performance of Armando Galaraga were hardly foreseen.
Neither was Ubaldo's run of nearly half a season with an ERA under 1.00. Before 2010, Jimenez had a career record of 31-28—not bad, but hardly overpowering.
Ten years ago, unremarkable hitters like Phil Nevin and Richard Hidalgo hit over 40 home runs in a season, a plateau normally reserved for superstars like Barry Bonds, Lance Berkman or Ken Griffey Jr.
Now, completely forgettable pitchers like Liriano are being mentioned in the same breath as truly elite hurlers like Justin Verlander.
This season is definitely shaping up to be year of the pitcher version 2.0.
It is a league-wide phenomenon. In the year 2000, teams were scoring upward of five runs a game (5.14) and hitting .270 on average. So far in 2011, the average has been 4.22 runs per game, a drop of nearly 20 percent, and a batting average of .249.
Those numbers are even lower than those from 2010, when teams scored an average of 4.38 runs per game and hit .257
39 pitchers have an ERA at 3.00 or under as of May 6. Yes, it's only been a month of the season. But consider that in 2001, only two pitchers, Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson, had ERAs under 3.00 for the season.
It could be that April is just a bad hitting month. We saw Albert Pujols hit under .200 for an uncharacteristically long time, and there are still plenty of hitters sitting on the interstate this late in the season.
But one thing's for sure: Verlander's no-hitter will not be the last one thrown this year. After over a decade of watching home runs smashed against them at an alarming rate, the pitchers have the upper hand, and they aren't afraid to take advantage of it.
The 2010 campaign was not a fluke; 2011 will prove that.
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