MLB year in review
Baseball’s history is divided into many clear-cut and linear eras such as the Dead Ball era, the modern era and the steroid era. Many years from now, 2010 will be placed firmly in the post-steroid era. It is a period characterized by an increased devotion to old-school values coupled with advancement in education about and quantification of those values. Here’s what we learned about baseball during 2010.
Emphasis on Pitching and Defense: The San Francisco Giants, eventual winners of the World Series, were propelled by one of the most remarkable hot streaks of starting pitching in baseball history. Giants starters combined for a 1.78 earned run averageâ€ˆ(ERA) in September, the lowest in any month of any team since 1969. The Giants’ rotation, led by Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, maintained their excellence throughout the playoffs with a 2.23 ERA. Fielding Independent Pitching, a metric summarizing the results of events over which a pitcher has direct control, called the Giants the third-best pitching team in baseball all year.
The Giants’ World Series opponents, the Texas Rangers, also rode strong pitching to their first postseason series wins in franchise history. For the last several years, the Rangers possessed a slew of excellent hitters who brought them into the middle of the pack. 2010, however, was only the third year in the last 20 that their team ERA has been better than the league average. Their offense, led by MVP candidate Josh Hamilton, remained elite. Hired gun Cliff Lee helped give Texas the pitching it needed to finally compete for a title.
It wasn’t only pitching that helped these teams compete. Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), a statistic that determines the number of runs saved by a defense, showed that the Giants played the best defense in baseball. Furthermore, according to UZR, every playoff team except the Atlanta Braves had a defense ranking in the top half of Major League Baseball. The age-old adage that “pitching and defense win championships” was proven true in 2010, with the help of new technology that tries to remove human error from player evaluations.
Rookie Superstars: Even the most casual baseball fan couldn’t help but hear about Stephen Strasburg in 2010. The Washington Nationals’ young starting pitcher is almost unanimously considered the best pitching prospect in decades; possibly the best ever. The 22-year-old Strasburg debuted in the MLB June 8, striking out 14 Pittsburgh Pirates in a start that did nothing to temper the sky-high expectations. The next two months were a thrill ride of dominance from Strasburg before an elbow injury sidelined him for the season.
Jason Heyward, a 20-year-old outfielder for the Atlanta Braves, also had a stellar year that would have garnered MVP attention if not for a poor June that detracted from his overall numbers.
Buster Posey, the Giants’ rookie catcher, played exceptionally well in the playoffs, adding to a year in which he dominated the National League with 18 home runs and a .305 batting average.
In addition to these three, 2010’s rookie class consisted of Mike Stanton, Carlos Santana, Brian Matusz, Logan Morrison, Jaime Garcia, Madison Bumgarner and Neftali Feliz. All of these players would be considered for Rookie of the Year honors in almost any other year.
The excellence displayed by young players in 2010 was largely a result of increased value placed on drafting and developing young talent. Small-market teams like Tampa Bay, Cincinnati and San Francisco do not have the money to compete for high-priced free agents in the offseason, so they must effectively develop young, inexpensive talent in order to compete.
2010 was a microcosm of the shifts that are taking place in baseball. The game is moving away from the home run-fueled bidding wars and slugfests of the 1990s towards a renewed emphasis on player development, pitching and fielding that hasn’t been this evident since the 1950s and 60s.