Everything mentioned is accomplished in the name of objectivity. However, baseball history tells us all we need to realize which eras favored which side. Now we can use the history to define the patterns. Based on the graph, the advantage is clearly cyclical. Baseball started out the 20th century as favorable to pitchers (not a lot of R/G). Then it went to hitters, neutral, to pitchers, to hitters, and in 2012 the pendulum is swinging back to pitchers.
Key players: Cy Young, Christy Mathewson, Honus Wagner, Rube Waddell, Sam Crawford, Ed Walsh, Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown, Frank Chance, Nap Lajoie
Trend: Pitcher-friendly; 3.61 R/G. The National League’s competition was limited since its 1876 formation. It clearly outshone the three other leagues that formed during its time (two collapsed after one year). In 1901, the American League formed and was here to stay. With the new rule of a foul ball being a strike, hitters now got into quicker 2-strike counts. Pitchers began the more prevalent use of doctored pitches. Spit, Vaseline, and belt buckles were being used to alter the ball so it moved more in its flight. Because baseballs were not replaced during games (unless lost), the constant scuffs from hard grounders hit by thick ash bats caused the ball to move even more. On top of that, the constant scuffing discolored the ball to the hue of the field. Thus, it was difficult to detect it after being pitched. When players did connect, the actual ball was denser than its modern counterpart. This quality of being “dead” leads to the name “dead-ball era.” There is also accounts of groundskeepers transforming the field favorably for the home team, like raising mound heights or watering down the areas in front of home plate.
Furthermore, the mentality of play discouraged home runs, meaning pitchers weren’t as liable to get stung for poor pitches. Hitting a home run in the vast outfields of the day was extremely difficult, especially with a discolored, dead sphere being twirled at the batter. Managers took to the “small ball” approach. Instead of swinging for the fences, a hitter should emphasize contact. Other tactics like the bunt, stolen base, and hit-and-run would inch the runners across the diamond.
Key Players: Grover Cleveland “Pete” Alexander, Ty Cobb, Joe Jackson, Tris Speaker, Walter Johnson, Eddie Collins, Frank “Home Run” Baker, Gavvy Cravath, Zack Wheat
Trend: Pitcher-friendly; 3.92 R/G. The dead-ball era continues, but pitching loses a little ground. This may be due to hitters figuring out tactics and/or the development of a newer, tighter-wound ball. The existence of an actual “dead” ball remains debated. The introduction of the modern baseball is supported by the increased R/G as well as the increase in home runs. A third baseball league, the Federal League, existed for the 1914 and 1915 season. Factoring in its numbers may also affect the R/G for the 1910s.
Key Players: George Herman “Babe” Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Charles “Dazzy” Vance, Rogers Hornsby, George Sisler, Urban “Red” Faber, Leon “Goose” Goslin, Pete Alexander
Trend: Hitter-friendly; 4.81 R/G. Ray Chapman was killed on the field in 1920 when a baseball struck his temple. Baseball believed Chapman lost track of the ball because of its discolored camouflage. As a result, baseball set into effect the requirement for a ball to be replaced if deemed too scuffed by an umpire. All doctored pitches, particularly the spitball, were henceforth banned except for a select group of pitchers who had grown to rely on it. This included future Hall of Famers Red Faber and Burleigh Grimes.
In that same tumultuous year, eight players of the Chicago White Sox were banned for life when it was revealed that they had conspired to throw the World Series of the preceding year. Fans grew disgruntled with the gambling plagues of the sport. Babe Ruth allegedly saved baseball through his charm and emphasis on the power game. Fans became infatuated with his home runs, made easier with the mentioned renovations in the ball. Other players followed suit. Pitchers, stripped of their weapons, were powerless to stop the onslaught of free-swinging sluggers. Only those who had played a majority of their careers in the 1910s still adhered to holding back, either out of disdain for the new game or the fact that they were simply not accustomed to the ways of the slugger.
Key Players: Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Bob Feller, Jimmie Foxx, Robert “Lefty” Grove, Bill Dickey, Joseph “Arky” Vaughan, Carl Hubbell, Mel Ott, Al Simmons, Hank Greenberg, Paul Waner
Trend: Hitter-friendly; 4.93 R/G. Though the Roaring Twenties had ended, hitters continued to feast of pitchers. Not only were the effects of the 1920 transformations lingering, but hitters were taking advantage of the lack of diversity. Year after year, they faced the virtually the same pitchers throwing virtually the same types of pitches at the same rates of speed. Lack of relief pitching meant starting pitchers were expected to finish games they started. By the fifth, sixth, or seventh innings, fatigued pitchers allowed even more offense. Black and Latino players had yet to offer their diversity. For now, you could expect the same pitchers for the same teams (since Free Agency was thirty years away) most likely tossing a fastball, curveball, or change of pace. The forkball and slider were in their infancy.
Key Players: Joe DiMaggio, Bob Feller, Ted Williams, Hal Newhouser, Jackie Robinson, Stan Musial, Warren Spahn, Bob Lemon, Tommy Bridges, Harry Brecheen, Lou Boudreau
Trend: Neutral; 4.31 R/G. For the first time, neither side has a significant advantage. After Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, the skills and diversity brought with integration would gradually take place. Pitchers were beginning to tinker more and more with the forkball, the sinker, and the slider, which went on to become a huge weapon for many pitchers as baseball entered the next decade. From 1943-1945, many of baseball’s stars enlisted in WWII, meaning lesser players did not have to compete against certain stronger players. The R/G during these seasons was 4.09, whereas it was 4.40 if we exclude the war years. Pitchers have clearly regained some footing.
Key Players: Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, Robin Roberts, Warren Spahn, Edward “Whitey” Ford, Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Eddie Mathews, Hank Aaron, Lawrence “Yogi” Berra, Roy Campanella, Edwin “Duke” Snider, Ernie Banks, Hoyt Wilhelm, Nellie Fox
Trend: Neutral; 4.45 R/G. The 1950s represents the most neutral decade in history. Integration broadened the pool of talent from which managers could dive. The slider revolutionized pitching because it became another member of the traditional arsenal along with the curve and changeup. Their swift, disappearing sweep along the same plane as a fastball led to less damage when pitchers threw poor sliders. Relief pitching also entered its pioneer era. Pitchers like Jim Konstanty, Hoyt Wilhelm, Ellis Kinder, and Roy Face were given the duty of finishing games if needed. Along with integration, replacing fatigued pitchers with a fresh arm specializing in a certain pitch added a necessary variety. Hitters were now less inclined to exploit the tiring curves of an overused pitcher. Still, enough offense existed to restrict pitcher domination, though it arrived in the following decade.
Key Players: Frank Robinson, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Sandy Koufax, Luis Aparicio, Don Drysdale, Carl Yastrzemski, Roberto Clemente, Bon Gibson, Hoyt Wilhelm, Ron Santo, Joe Morgan, Vada Pinson, Juan Marichal, Harmon Killebrew, Brooks Robinson
Trend: Pitcher-friendly; 4.04 R/G. Hitting succumbs to pitching for the first time in 40 years. The increased use of integration and relief pitching is encouraged when baseball expands following the 1960 and 1961 seasons. Adding more teams, a practice that continues for the next three decades, creates a necessity for more players, such as relievers and nonwhites, and supplements pitchers with the element of unfamiliarity. Hitters are now facing more pitchers throwing more types of pitchers, abolishing the practice of exploiting the same overused pitchers year after year.
To compound matters, baseball saw the lowest years of R/G since the 1900s because of the gameplay. Not only did a higher pitching mound (15 inches compared to today’s 10) give a velocity advantage, but the strike zone called for an area starting at the top of the hitter’s shoulders and extending down to the bottom of his knees. Covering such a large area, particularly the top of the strike zone, proved very difficult for hitters. Furthermore, it was common practice for pitchers, most notably Bob Gibson and Don Drysdale, to throw at batters. Forcing hitters to dodge unexpected pitches fueled a large psychological advantage.
Pitching culminated in 1968, now known as “the year of the pitcher,” when the R/G were the lowest since 1908. That year, only one player in the entire American League managed to hit above .300. Both leagues awarded their Most Valuable Player Award to pitchers. Don Drysdale threw a record 58 consecutive scoreless innings, Denny McLain became the last pitcher to win 30 games, and Bob Gibson averaged one measly run for every nine innings he threw. Baseball battled the heightened pitching after the 1968 season by reducing the strike zone and lowering the mound.
Key Players: Jim Palmer, Gaylord Perry, Rollie Fingers, Reggie Jackson, Carl Yastrzemski, Nolan Ryan, Joe Morgan, Steve Carlton, Tom Seaver, Rod Carew, Don Sutton, George Brett, Mike Schmidt, Johnny Bench, Tom Seaver, Billy Williams, Bert Blyleven, Rich “Goose” Gossage, Pete Rose, Phil Niekro, Carlton Fisk
Trend: Pitcher-friendly; 4.16 R/G. Changing the rules did little to combat the ongoing expansion of baseball. Free Agency, in which players were no longer bound to their teams after their contracts expired, caused in influx of team-changing to further frustrate hitters. The most significant development was the 1973 adoption of the Designated Hitter. From then on, American League teams did not need to place their pitchers in the hitting lineup. Instead, a non-fielding, hitting-only player could take a slot of the lineup. Pitching suffered slightly in the American League as a result, but use of a DH was reserved for mostly for aging or benched players who filled the role simply to replace the pitcher’s bat. A specialized, slugging DH was a few decades away.
Key Players: Dennis Eckersley, Cal Ripken, Roger Clemens, Eddie Murray, Dwight Evans, Wade Boggs, Gary Carter, Nolan Ryan, George Brett, Tony Gwynn, Robin Yount, Goose Gossage, Alan Trammell, Rickey Henderson, Ryne Sandberg, Ozzie Smith
Trend: Neutral; 4.30 R/G. Amidst more expansion and relief, hitting picks up as a result of modernization of the sport. Nutrition, training, and equipment enters a sophistication never before seen, much to hitters’ advantage. As part of the modernization in sports sciences, certain forces introduced performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs).
Key Players: Greg Maddux, Cal Ripken, Chipper Jones, Tom Glavine, Ken Griffey, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Gary Sheffield, John Smoltz, Mike Piazza, Randy Johnson, Ryne Sandberg, Frank Thomas, Jim Thome, Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, Rickey Henderson, Roger Clemens, Mariano Rivera, Craig Biggio, Barry Larkin, John Franco, Pedro Martinez, Ivan Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Trevor Hoffman, Mike Mussina, Larry Walker, Tony Gwynn
Trend: Hitter-friendly; 4.68 R/G. PEDs surged in the late 1990s, so much that the home run increase returned fans, dissapointed with baseball’s season-ending 1994 strike, to the stands. Pitchers also used, but increased velocity did not counter the faster, stronger guys at the plate. Fly balls became charged moonshots, leaving pitchers helpless. There is also the argument that baseball’s expansion (30 teams by 1998) created very watered-down competition amongst pitching staffs. The only thing keeping this decade’s R/G lower than the 2000s is the short-lived pitching revival prior to the 1994 strike, mostly due to a resurgence in the changeup pitch and transition to a one-inning closer.
Key Players: Curt Schilling, Barry Bonds, Mariano Rivera, Alex Rodriguez, Mike Piazza, Pedro Martinez, Albert Pujols, Trevor Hoffman, Miguel Cabrera, Vladimir Guerrero, Ichiro Suzuki, Randy Johnson, Joe Mauer, Manny Ramirez, Billy Wagner, Gary Sheffield, Derek Jeter, Roy Halladay, Ivan Rodriguez, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Chipper Jones, David Ortiz, Chase Utley, David Wright, C.C. Sabathia, Mike Mussina, Francisco Rodriguez, Johan Santana
Trend: Hitter-friendly; 4.76 R/G. A second decade favoring the pitcher, PED use sharply declines around the mid-2000s. Batters pound pitchers as if the effects of PEDs remain permanent despite the lessening of their use. Many players from Latin America continue to join the ranks along with Japanese players. Umpires notoriously favor batters in their determination of the strike zone, prompting pitchers to pitch to more hittable locations.
Key Players: Clayton Kershaw, Dustin Pedroia, Josh Hamilton, Brian Wilson, Albert Pujols, Adrian Beltre, Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto, Tim Lincecum, Robinson Cano, Adrian Gonzalez, Justin Verlander, Prince Fielder, Joe Mauer, Craig Kimbrel, Evan Longoria, David Wright, Matt Cain, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun, David Price
Trend: Netural; 4.33 R/G. At the close of the 2012 season, the new current decade is continuing to see many new bright stars. With this comes another neutral year. Any lingering effects of PEDs have mostly died out, and the new ballparks being built are featuring slightly larger dimensions. Straight fastballs are losing ground as the primary pitch. Many pitchers boast fastballs that move (cutters, two-seamers, running fastballs) in place of straight heat. Those who do rely on straight fastballs procure vast velocities. More and more relievers are entering games and throwing speeds of 98+ MPH. Hitters are finding it difficult to face one reliever one inning and a new one in the next, both of whom reach the upper 90s. The decade is still young. New stars will be expected as we go forth. Unforeseen developments may surprise us, but if history is precedent, this decade will most likely remain neutral, paving the way for a pitcher-friendly 2020s.
The reader probably expects a closing paragraph of endearing thoughts, to which the author is obliged to fulfill to his fullest extent. Perhaps that is for another day. Reading this primer, equivalent to a lengthy magazine article, takes a lot out of any reader. Other than the 2020s prediction, which we model using data and historical trend, the only thing left to say is to comment on how baseball’s lush history has made all of this possible. Of each decade’s average runs scored per game, the decimals tell a thousand stories. If reading a primer is a mental strain, then mining the entire depths of every character of every decade is a task that speaks for itself.
"Allen Sutton Sothoron pitched his initials off today."--1920s article