It is widely accepted that 1968 was the year of the pitcher. Bob Gibson had a 1.12 ERA and 13 shutouts; Denny McLain won 31 games; and run scoring reached such depths that the height of the pitcher's mound was lowered to 10 inches from 15 inches for the 1969 season.
However, 2010 is starting to shape as another banner season for pitchers, at least in the National League.
At Baseball Prospectus, we use a metric called SNLVAR (support-neutral league value above replacement) to gauge how many more wins a starting pitcher provides throughout the course of the season than would a replacement-level player, someone who could be claimed off waivers or purchased from a Triple-A roster. A pitcher with an SNLVAR of 7.0 would be seven wins better than a replacement-level player, and that is considered the benchmark of an outstanding season.
Before Wednesday's action, 11 NL pitchers were on pace to finish the season with at least a 7.0 SNLVAR:
SNLVAR of 7.0 or better, 2010
If this pace keeps up, 2010 will be the year of the pitcher.
Since 1954, the earliest season from which play-by-play data are available to compute SNLVAR, no more than seven National League pitchers have had a mark of 7.0 or better in one season. In 1968, just three pitchers reached that level: Gibson, Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman. (Remember, SNLVAR is neutralized relative to the run-scoring context. So, for example, Tim Lincecum's 2.48 ERA last year was roughly equivalent to about a 1.65 ERA in 1968.) Instead, 1997 was really the year of the pitcher. Here is a look at the seven pitchers who reached the magic 7.0 level in the NL that season:
SNLVAR of 7.0 or better, 1997
Or maybe 1997 was the year of the pitcher.
Now that's a pretty strong group of pitchers. Maddux and Glavine are locks to make it into the Hall of Fame as 300-game winners, Martinez and Smoltz also are likely to be elected and few would be surprised if Schilling is immortalized in Cooperstown. Meanwhile, Brown had 211 career victories, and Kile's career was cut short when he died at age 33 in 2002.
Can the 2010 group of NL starters top that? The 11 pitchers on pace for a 7.0 SNLVAR are an accomplished group, including Cy Young Award winners (Halladay, Lincecum, Zito), 20-game winners (Hudson, Oswalt), a 19-game winner (Wainwright), a guy who threw a no-hitter (Jimenez), All-Stars (Hernandez, Penny) and two of the top young starters in the game (Garcia, Hanson). However, the peripheral stats for Hernandez, Hudson, Zito and Penny make it seem unlikely that those four can maintain their current performance. But even if those four miss out on our magic number, we'd still have seven pitchers with an SNLVAR of at least 7.0.
Thus, it could be a fun season -- if you're not a National League hitter.
John Perrotto is editor-in-chief of BaseballProspectus.com.