Los Angeles Dodgers starter Zack Greinke was done pitching Sunday. His scoreless-inning streak now stood at 43 2/3 innings.
According to The Elias Sports Bureau, the only pitchers who had thrown more consecutive scoreless innings than Greinke since 1961 are Orel Hershiser, who reached 59 in 1988, as well as Don Drysdale and Bob Gibson, who held opponents without a run for 58 and 47 innings, respectively, in 1968.
1968 was known as “The Year of the Pitcher,” the only one when starters won the MVP award in both leagues, and it should produce wonder of what is happening now. More than any other doting numbers associated with Greinke’s wondrous streak, that he is accomplishing things also done in 1968 indicates the iron-fist rule of pitching in today’s game.
Following Gibson’s 1.12 ERA in 1968, the mound was lowered five inches and the height of the strike zone was reduced.
A similar dominance is occurring in 2015, and besides Greinke, other starts are producing other-worldly numbers. The Washington Nationals, along with Greinke’s Dodgers, are in the middle of this historic display.
During their three-game weekend series against the each other, three pitchers who had thrown no-hitters, Jordan Zimmermann, Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw, started.
Add in Greinke, who leads the majors with a 1.30 ERA because of his scoreless streak, and a series filled with stunning starting pitching emerged.
What follows on the Nationals’ schedule is similarly daunting and telling. Two of the game’s dominant young arms, Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom, are in town with the New York Mets. Francisco Liriano, who has also thrown a no-hitter, and A.J. Burnett, whose 2.11 ERA ranks third in MLB behind Greinke and Scherzer’s 2.09, are on the horizon this weekend in Pittsburgh.
The Miami Marlins’ Jose Fernandez, an all-star his first season when he was 20 years old, looms next week. Then, there’s another series with the Mets.
There is no simple explanation for why just 10 National League batters were hitting .300 or better at the all-star break. Only four of those players had hit more than 10 home runs. In 2010, well past the Steroid Era, 20 National League hitters were at .300 or better by the break. Back when the game was tainted, in 2000, 27 hitters finished with a .300 average or better in the National League.
So, what is happening you may ask? Well, there is no uniform answer for the stranglehold pitching has on the game. Bullpens that can matchup batter by batter are an influence. Defensive shifts hold responsibility. Pitchers have more information than ever, but so do hitters. Baseline elements, like strike one, remain crucial as they always have.
It could be the suppression of hitting — beyond a crackdown on enhancements, including “greenies,” which would help everyday players keep up energy through the season.
It could be the power of bullpens, not just from a velocity standpoint but from an ability to match a specific hitter with the ideal counter arm and defensive structure. The Kansas City Royals rode a forceful bullpen to a World Series appearance last season. The six-inning start has become a palatable thing because of the ferocity of bullpens.
It could be due to the increase in pitchers’ arsenals as a reason. The expansion in the variety of breaking pitches thrown by starters, and real command of those pitches, has helped immensely over the last few years.
Not everyone is ready to give the pitchers full credit. As the stars of baseball become younger — this year’s All-Star Game had the most players younger than 25 in the game’s history — refinement at the plate can be lost.
Only one team, the Kansas City Royals, struck out less than 1,000 times last season. In 2010, four teams struck out less than 1,000 times. In 2005, 13 teams did it.
Contact has evaporated. Power and average have gone with it. Pitchers again rule major league baseball, and I for one, am all for it