Pitching is the new hitting.
The season-ending statistical leaders demonstrate the degree to which the game of baseball has shifted in just a few seasons. A drug-policy that metes out 25-game suspensions on first-time offenders will have that effect on a sport.
Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw became the first pitcher to lead the major leagues in earned-run average for four consecutive seasons. Fellow Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax owns the National League record for consecutive ERA-leading seasons at five, which Kershaw hopes to match next year. Kershaw’s anemic 1.77 earned-runs allowed per nine innings stands as the best in the majors since Pedro Martinez boasted a 1.74 ERA in 2000.
Seattle Mariners righty Felix Hernandez, helped by a strong weekend outing and a scoring change that forgave four earned runs from his record, bested all other pitchers in the American League with a 2.14 ERA.
Jose Altuve, like Hernandez, helped himself this weekend. Astros manager Tom Lawless initially kept Jose Altuve out of Sunday’s lineup to preserve his batting-title lead. The second baseman argued his way into the batter’s box. His 2-for-4 day, coupled with Victor Martinez’s 0-for-3 regular-season coda, expanded the Astro’s lead. Altuve, who had already joined Craig Biggio as Houston’s only members of the 200-hit club, became the 53-season-old franchise’s first player to win a batting title.
The Colorado Rockies have suffered through no such slumps. Justin Morneau topped all National League hitters with a .319 average. Morneau’s stands as the ninth batting title claimed by Rockies players enjoying high altitudes.
Angels outfielder Mike Trout (111) and Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez (116) led their respective leagues in RBI. Mariners closer Fernando Rodney (48) and Braves fireman Craig Kimbrel (47) led the American and National Leagues in saves. Cleveland’s Corey Kluber and Detroit’s Max Scherzer shared the AL wins crown. Kershaw, en route to a certain Cy Young Award, bested the competition in the older league with 21 wins.
Baltimore Oriole Nelson Cruz led the majors with 40 home runs, the lowest leagues-leading mark since Jesse Barfield topped MLB with 40 in 1986. Florida’s Giancarlo Stanton, who looked good for possibly eclipsing forty, saw his season end when he saw a ball coming at his face earlier this month against the Brewers. The slugger led the National League with 37 dingers.
To put into perspective the rise of pitching and the decline of hitting, runs per game declined from a steroid-era peak of 5.14 per team in 2000 to 4.07 this season. Several offense-heavy periods, such as the Babe Ruth-era, witnessed higher run production than even the seemingly gone age of juiced-up hitters. Batting averages have similarly declined from .271 in 1999 to .251 in 2014. This season’s MLB-leading 40 home runs wouldn’t have been enough to place Nelson Cruz in the top ten in 1998, 1999, 2000, or 2001.
This isn’t Mark McGwire’s or Barry Bonds’s baseball. But it’s not quite Bob Gibson’s or Sandy Koufax’s, either.