In Year of the Pitcher, home runs and offense plummet while strikeouts rise to record level

By Ronald Blum, AP
Sunday, October 3, 2010

In Year of the Pitcher, home runs plummet

NEW YORK — The decade-plus torrent of home runs slowed this year as major league pitchers enjoyed their most dominant season since before the Steroids Era.

An average of 1.90 home runs per game were hit, according to STATS LLC, the lowest average since 1.78 in 1993.

“There are a lot of power arms that we’ve seen, not just in our league, but in our division. The performance-enhancing drug testing has leveled the playing field a little bit,” Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “I think a lot of teams are making defense a priority. We’re seeing not only they’re taking hits away, but sometimes the defensive player isn’t the offensive player that some other guys are. There’s probably a lot of little things that are adding up.”

Home runs peaked at 2.34 per game in 2000. They fell 8 percent from last year’s average of 2.07 and dropped below two per game for the first time in 17 years.

“Definitely pitching has been very good this year,” San Diego Padres second baseman David Eckstein said. “Hopefully, it’s a sign that we’ll clean this game up.”

Long balls weren’t the only offensive measure to tumble sharply this year.

—Runs per game fell to 8.77, the lowest since 8.23 in 1992.

—Hits per game dropped to 17.51, the fewest since 17.35 in 1992.

—The major league batting average of .257 was the lowest since a .256 average in 1992.

—The major league ERA dipped to 4.07, the lowest since 3.74 in 1992.

“I think the strike zone is a little lower,” Angels outfielder Torii Hunter said. “Over 12 years, I’ve never seen that low pitch get called. This year, I’ve seen so many low pitches called. Once they call it, you know you’ve got to swing. The next pitch that’s there, you’re going to get the ground ball or the strikeout. Home runs are down. It’s hard to drive a ball that low. Only a handful of guys can really hit that low pitch and really drive it.”

With the drop in offense has come a rise in strikeouts. The whiffs-per-game average of 14.12 was the highest it has been since major league baseball began, beating the previous high of 13.82 set last year.

“I don’t see why pitching can’t be dominant,” Padres setup man Mike Adams said. “In the early part of the 1900s I think pitching was very dominant, and then you had the whole Steroid Era, and that’s when hitting became dominant. Is it coincidental that the whole Steroid Era has come and passed and now the pitching era takes over? Who knows?”

In 2009, there were no 20-game winners for only the second time since 1900 in a non-shortened season, joining 2006. This year, the Yankees’ CC Sabathia (21-7), Philadelphia’s Roy Halladay (21-10) and St. Louis’ Adam Wainwright (20-11) all reached the mark.

“It’s the Year of the Pitcher,” San Francisco reliever Jeremy Affeldt said. “You’re starting to see guys come up, newer, younger kids, and they’ve got good stuff and they pound the zone with it. I think good pitching has always beat good hitting.”

Seattle’s Felix Hernandez (2.27) led the major leagues in ERA for the first time, and Florida’s Josh Johnson (2.30) won his first NL title. The Giants’ Tim Lincecum (231) won his third straight NL strikeout title, and the Angels’ Jered Weaver (233) led the AL for the first time.

There were a pair of first-time batting champions. Texas’ Josh Hamilton led the major leagues with a .359 average, and Colorado’s Carlos Gonzalez topped the NL at .336.

Toronto’s Jose Bautista led the majors with 54 homers, the most since the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez three years ago, and the Cardinals’ Albert Pujols hit 42 to lead the NL for the second straight season. Pujols also led the NL in RBIs for the first time with 118, and Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera (126) led the AL.

Cincinnati’s Joey Votto (.600) overtook Pujols on the final day to deny Pujols his third straight NL slugging percentage title, and Hamilton (.633) led the AL for the first time.

With 214 hits, Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki led the AL for the fifth straight time and seventh overall, extending his major league record with his 10th consecutive 200-hit season. Gonzalez (197) led the NL, matching the lowest total for that league’s leader since Dante Bichette and Tony Gwynn shared the title in the shortened 1995 season.

Arizona’s Mark Reynolds (211) led the majors in strikeouts for the third straight year, but dropped from 223 last season.

Juan Pierre of the Chicago White Sox was first with 68 stolen bases, and Houston’s Michael Bourn (52) led the NL for the second straight season.

Pittsburgh (57-105) finished with a losing record for a major league-record 18th straight season, extending its own record. They were 17-64 on the road, matching the 1963 New York Mets for the worst record away from home in a 162-game season.

AP Sports Writers Janie McCauley and Bernie Wilson, and AP freelance writers Charles Durrenberger and Ken Sins contributed to this report.

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