A few weeks ago, Scott Pianowski noted on Twitter that it appeared the era of 4.00 ERAs and 1.30 WHIPs was indeed upon us, so I began to wonder first, if that was really true (as opposed to hitting being improved) and if so, how do we compartmentalize and strategize in the future.
While cogitating this, I remembered a few years back, in my Scoresheet League, an owner tried to pry Clayton Kershaw from me, offering a small cluster of proposed treasures including Rick Porcello, whom my partner claimed was a "future Cy Young" pitcher. I remember scoffing, and turning down the deal, noting that I never thought much of Porcello and thanks but no thanks.
As it turned out, the Porcello owners were prescient, though Porcello arguably was the worst hurler to win the award at least since Bartolo Colon a decade ago. And, neither really set the world on fire with what we think of as the dominance of Chris Sale or Roy Halladay, for example.
However, I looked at the numbers over the seasons and oddly, last season was the worst pitching year since 2005, when Colon won with a 21-8, 3.48 ERA to go with 157 strikeouts as compared to Porcello's 22-4, 3.15, and 189 whiffs. Contextually, five times since 2000 has the Cy winner had an ERA over 3.00, and only three times since then has the winner had under 200 strikeouts.
But, more revealing is that save the years from 2011-15, when the MLB ERA ranged from a low of 3.74 in 2014 to a high of 4.01 in 2014, the MLB ERA has not been below 4.00 since 1992, although prior to that year the league ERA was almost always below the 4.00 barometer. Perhaps it was the 1993 expansion that affected a change in the game.
Similarly, WHIP has not really exploded either. In fact, let's look at some league average pitching data from the past decade.
Clearly, though we do indeed live in the age of strikeouts, ERA and WHIP have largely been constant over the past decade.
So, to keep it short and sweet this time, to me it doesn't look like pitching has so much gotten worse this season but has rather progressively eroded throughout most of the last decade.
The question then is, as Scott suggested, are we in the era of 4.00 ERAs and 1.30 WHIPs? The answer is yes, but in reality we have been there for awhile, so rather than adjusting how we draft, the better approach could be to lower our baseline goals for our teams. I always target around 3.80 as a reasonable ERA for my team and work for a WHIP as far under 1.30 as possible.
What I think we do need to do, though, is to certainly grab an ace of the Sale, Chris Archer, Stephen Strasburg or Madison Bumgarner ilk, and augment that starter with a couple of Zack Godley/Aaron Nola types to share the whiff burden. Ideally, ERA and WHIP will fall under those strikeouts and push towards competitive numbers for your squad.
As far as closers go these days, however, I think you might be on your own.
You can reach me @lawrmichaels.