Lutz Blog

Bob Lutz: Pitching with a vengeance in MLB

Los Angeles Dodgers’ right-hander Zack Greinke has the lowest ERA in Major League Baseball this season at 1.65.
Los Angeles Dodgers’ right-hander Zack Greinke has the lowest ERA in Major League Baseball this season at 1.65.

There are 19 starting pitchers in Major League Baseball with an ERA under 3.00. The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Zack Greinke is cruising along with a 1.65 ERA.

And to hear many talk, the integrity of the game is at stake. Not to mention that such good pitching zaps the excitement from the game.

Hogwash.

Great pitching is great for the game. As the St. Louis Cardinals and other teams throughout baseball have proven this season, you don’t have to have a lineup of .300 hitters and home-run threats to be good.

The Cardinals, New York Mets, Pittsburgh Pirates and a bunch of other teams throughout baseball are winning because of pitching.

There have been at least 11 pitchers with sub-3.00 ERAs in MLB the past seven seasons. In the previous 11 seasons only one – 2002 – produced double-digit pitchers with an ERA less than 3.00.

The game has cleaned up from its steroids era and the pitchers are in charge again. The way it used to be. That way it’s meant to be.

It’s just a better game when pitching shines, as long as the numbers don’t get too out of whack. That was the case in 1968, when 40 pitchers broke the 3.00-ERA barrier led by Bob Gibson’s all-time record of 1.12. Another 28 pitchers that season had an ERA between 3.00 and 3.50, making it the most pitching-dominant season in history.

The collective ERA in baseball that season was a ridiculous 2.98 and baseball knew it had to do something to help the hitters. So the mound was lowered by six inches, taking away some of the pitcher’s geometrical advantage, and in 1969 the collective ERA jumped to 3.61. That’s still significantly lower than the 3.86 collective ERA this season, but it was a step in the right direction.

When the game is at its healthiest, collective ERAs should be somewhere from 3.70 to 4.10.

But baseball went a little bonkers starting in 1992, when the collective ERA rose from 3.75 the previous season to 4.19. And it continued to rise – to 4.51 in 1994 all the way to 4.77 in 2000. Juiced-up hitters took over the game as pitchers fought for the lives and their livelihoods.

The 4.77 ERA in baseball in 2000 was the highest in 70 years; the game produced a 4.81 ERA in 1930.

There were 18 consecutive seasons of 4.00-plus ERAs from 1993 through 2010. In the previous 53 years, there had been only 10.

Baseball is in better shape now. There has been only one season of 4.00-plus ERA since 2011. Pitchers are in control – the good ones, at least.

Pitchers with sub 3.00 ERAs in 2015

Zack Greinke, Los Angeles Dodgers 12-2 1.65 ERA

Jacob deGrom, New York Mets 11-6 2.03 ERA

Sonny Gray, Oakland A’s 12-4 2.06 ERA

Scott Kazmir, Houston Astros 6-7 2.12 ERA

David Price, Toronto Blue Jays 11-4 2.35 ERA

Jake Arrieta, Chicago Cubs 13-6 2.38 ERA

Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers 10-6 2.39 ERA

Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros 13-6 2.40 ERA

Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals 11-8 2.44 ERA

Gerrit Cole, Pittsburgh Pirates 14-6 2.48 ERA

Shelby Miller, Atlanta Braves 5-9 2.48 ERA

Johnny Cueto, Kansas City Royals 8-7 2.53 ERA

Matt Harvey, New York Mets 11-7 2.61 ERA

Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays 10-8 2.62 ERA

Carlos Martinez, St. Louis Cardinals 12-4 2.62 ERA

Lance Lynn, St. Louis Cardinals 9-6 2.76 ERA

Hector Santiago, Los Angeles Angels 7-6 2.87 ERA

John Lackey, St. Louis Cardinals 9-7 2.91 ERA

Michael Wacha, St. Louis Cardinals 14-4 2.93 ERA

Number of pitchers with sub-3.00 ERAs since 1968

(qualifying innings total reached)

1968 – 40

1969 – 24

1970 – 7

1971 – 35

1972 – 45

1973 – 18

1974 – 21

1975 – 14

1976 – 20

1977 – 12

1978 – 21

1979 – 7

1980 – 11

1981 – 16

1982 – 7

1983 – 9

1984 – 14

1985 – 16

1986 – 12

1987 – 4

1988 – 20

1989 – 22

1990 – 16

1991 – 15

1992 – 21

1993 – 8

1994 – 5

1995 – 5

1996 – 6

1997 – 14

1998 – 9

1999 – 4

2000 – 3

2001 – 2

2002 – 10

2003 – 8

2004 – 7

2005 – 9

2006 – 2

2007 – 1

2008 – 8

2009 – 11

2010 – 15

2011 – 16

2012 – 10

2013 – 12

2014 – 22

2015 – 19

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