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Pitchers put slug on hitters

Has anyone noticed all the run totals in baseball dropping like we haven’t seen in 25 years? You can look daily and nearly always find totals in the 6, 6½ and 7 range. It’s not like it hasn’t happened before, it’s just that some of us are kind of in a culture shock after just watching an era of baseball pass us by – and make no mistake, the long-ball era is gone – and we have crossed over into a new era which is reflected in the betting lines.

Home runs, batting averages, runs and slugging percentages are all down considerably from 2009, while at the same time we have seen two perfect games, two other no hitters and several others flirt with no-hitters.

When Kenny White, CEO of Las Vegas Sports Consultants, was posed the question of when he remembers so many games having such low totals, he paused, and had to think way back.

“Off the top of my head, I would have to think it’s been since the days of Dwight Gooden’s dominance during his first few years,” he said.

Who can forget Gooden’s magical season of 1985 when his ERA of 1.53 evoked memories of Bob Gibson or Sandy Koufax from the 1960s. This season we have 21 Major League starting pitchers with ERAs under 3.00, led by Ubaldo Jimenez and Josh Johnson who both have ERAs under 1.83.

The pitchers have flourished this season while all the big boppers have been quieted. Jose Bautista hit his 20th home run last week to become the first in the majors to reach that plateau; it was also the latest in a season that the number has been reached since 1991. Could we really see our first baseball season without a 40 home run hitter, dating back to Fred McGriff who led the league in 1992 with 35?

White offers a few reasons for the demise, beginning with the first obvious explanation of players being completely free, for the first time in over two decades, of performance enhancing drugs.

“We saw where both hitters and pitchers were on steroids, but the advantage went to the hitters during that era,” said White. “The added distance hitters were able to get, even when not getting all of the ball, was huge and I think over that time span, pitchers were less confident and were throwing fewer strikes which resulted in more walks, runners on base, and hitters being more selective and picking their pitches in favorable counts.”

Even players like Albert Pujols and Ryan Howard, two that weren’t associated with PED’s during the power hitting boom, have struggled this season, which further supports White’s assertion.

“Pitchers today are confident more than ever and they’re attacking the strike zone, getting ahead in the count, which is resulting in less walks and home runs,” White said. “There definitely is a mental angle where pitchers are almost fearless, knowing that everyone is clean because of the testing program baseball has instituted.”

White also offers another factor into what has contributed to pitchers having such a decided edge.

“The weather around the country has been much cooler than in the past,” he pointed out. “Places like Atlanta haven’t had their traditionally hot days of summer yet. Last week in Seattle, a park that is very pitcher friendly, had days of 55 degrees. Pitchers will always have the advantage when the weather is cooler out.”

The numbers all speak volumes and it’s what always makes baseball stand out among other sports regardless of the era. Seeing home runs drop below two per game for the first time since 1993 is pretty telling. Everything seems to cycle around, but the rules remain the same.

The power era from 1994 to 2009 is over, in the books, and everyone knows what those numbers are attributed to – almost in the same fashion as what raising the mound in the 1960’s meant to pitchers or any other period of expansion meant to hitters. There’s no denying that it was a fun era to watch despite all the speculation and rumors that persisted, but 2010 has shown that great pitching can be just as fun to watch as the long-ball.

Long-Ball Odds

The Las Vegas Hilton Super Book has been adjusting their odds-to-win baseball’s home run crown daily and have the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera currently as the 4 to 1 favorite, followed by Mark Reynolds (5-1), Ryan Howard (6-1) and Albert Pujols (6-1). With the home run numbers being so low this year, it may not be a bad idea to take a shot with one of the longer-priced players like a Prince Fielder at 12 to 1, who could go on a small tear and compete for the crown.

World Series Futures

Whenever a team goes on a streak, like the White Sox and Rangers have recently done, the first thing a bookmaker does is lower his odds to win the pennant and World Series. The Hilton currently has the first-place Rangers at 12 to 1 to win it all and the third-place White Sox at 25 to 1.

Those pesky Padres just won’t go away and are listed at 20 to 1 to win the World Series while the third-place Dodgers are 12 to 1. The overall favorite to win again is the Yankees at 5 to 2 with the Red Sox 8 to 1 and the struggling Rays at 10 to 1.

Longoria Love

The Rays are feeling the pressure of having both the Yankees and Red Sox pass them after having such a great start to the 2010 season. All their deficiencies have all become evidenced all at once now. While a team may not be hitting, the last thing they want to have exposed for lack of is their defense and hustle.

In a Sunday game against Arizona, Rays center-fielder B.J. Upton jogged to get a ball in the gap and turned a double into a triple due to his lack of hustle. Team leader Evan Longoria let Upton know in the middle of the inning that it was unacceptable and Upton blew up in a rage. It was refreshing to see a player call a teammate out, and also very telling regarding what Upton’s career has been about.

Red Sox Slap Around Aces

No National League team can say that they have beat up on two of the league’s best in Ubaldo Jimenez and Tim Lincecum this season so it took a traveling American League team to do it. Boston went to Colorado and gave Jimenez his worst outing of the year and then knocked Lincecum out early Sunday. Boston went only 1-1 though, thanks to some old school ninth inning Mile High Magic against Jonathan Papelbon.

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