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Arms and the men

Posted by Charles P. Pierce  July 27, 2010 02:40 PM

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The last out was barely recorded in Matt Garza's no-hitter last night when there was a lot of noise on the radio about why it is that we've had five of the things -- six, if you count Armando Galarraga's purloined perfect game, which I do -- this season, and so many near occasions of them as well. (In the last two weeks alone, for example, both John Lackey and Jon Lester took no-hitters into the final third of the game.) The immediate speculation is that the new stringent drug-testing rules have evened things up between the batters and the pitchers.

(The most intriguing variation on this theme came from Damon Amendolara of 98.5, who argued that the young pitchers of today are better because they came up pitching against juiced-up hitters, much in the same way that swinging a weighted bat in the on-deck circle makes your actual swing at the plate quicker.)

I'm not sure I buy this entirely. First of all, it assumes that no pitchers were taking the stuff, which I'm not sure anyone believes at this point. If that'was the case, then drug-testing should be something of a wash. Secondly, it can't be the entire answer. If it were, then there still should have been more years like this in the history of baseball. There simply haven't been.

There have been nine seasons since 1884 in which there have been five or more no-hitters thrown. Nearly half of them took place before Babe Ruth changed the game forever: 1884 (a whopping eight of the suckers, including the one belonging to poor Sam Kimber of the Brooklyn Atlantics, who couldn't do any better than a 0-0 tie); 1908 (six); 1915 (six) and 1917 (six). There wasn't another one after that until 1962. There were five no-hitters in 1968, the last "Year Of The Pitcher" before this one, and six more the following season, despite the changes that baseball made in that off-season to prevent Years Of The Pitcher from happening again. The last time we had five of these in a season was in 1990. There's far more empirical historical evidence behind the theory that "Sometimes, stuff just happens" than there is behind any pharmacological one.

One intriguing common thread in this year's no-hitters is that the pitchers who have thrown them, with the exception of Roy Halladay of the Phillies, are all in their mid-20's. This leads me to believe that the spate of no-hitters -- and the larger universe of finely pitched games by young pitchers like Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester -- might have more to do with better training and more precise conditioning of the individual athletes who become pitchers than with anything else. Pitchers hit the majors better prepared, physically and mentally, than ever before and, by and large, managers take care not to burn them out, if only to preserve their trade value, if nothing else. Maybe we shouldn't be looking completely to modern chemistry for answers. Maybe we should all become kinesiologists.


UPDATE -- Thanks to the Deadspin/Gawker crew, we discover that the No Steroids argument now has garnered the support of the The Dumbest Show On Earth.

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