High and Tight: Our Rock & Roll Baseball Experts on the Return of the Pitcher - Rolling Stone
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High and Tight: Our Rock & Roll Baseball Experts on the Return of the Pitcher

Scott Ian, Joe Pernice, Alice Cooper and more weigh in on what’s driving pitching dominance

r.a. dickeyr.a. dickey

R.A. Dickey of the New York Mets celebrates after a complete game one hitter at Citifield in New York.

Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Of all the threads running through the 2012 season, no story has been quite as gratifying as that of Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey.

A journeyman righty of no real distinction, with plenty of minor league miles on his odometer, Dickey began to turn his career around in 2010 at the age of 35 after finally mastering the knuckleball, a pitch that’s legendarily difficult to control. Now, two years later, he’s in the midst of a shockingly great season, finishing the first half of the year with 12 victories against only one loss, while posting a 2.40 ERA and a league-leading 0.933 WHIP in 17 starts. He flirted with no-hitters on three different occasions in June alone (coming away with two straight one-hit complete games), and at one point went 44 1/3 consecutive innings without giving up an earned run.

Video: R.A. Dickey Demonstrates How to Throw the Knuckleball

The Dickey saga is a treat because, well, who doesn’t love a good comeback tale, especially one combined with the ever-fascinating, ever-mystifying knuckler? But for many baseball pundits, it’s part of a larger scenario: The return of pitching as a dominant force in the game. There have been two perfect games thrown so far this year – one by the White Sox’s Philip Humber, one by the Giants’ Matt Cain – and there have been five since 2009, which means that nearly a quarter of the 22 perfect games thrown during the entire history of major league baseball have happened over the last four seasons. Additionally, this is the first season since 1917 where there have been five no-hitters thrown before mid-June.

Throw in the fact that home runs, batting average and on-base percentage have all been declining over the last few years, and suddenly folks are muttering about how we’re well on our way to another 1968, that much-vaunted (and for some, much-reviled) season when Bob Gibson posted a 1.12 ERA, and Carl Yastrzemski was the only batter in the AL to hit over .300 for the year.

While we’re not about to jump to drastic conclusions, something’s definitely happening, and we’re not exactly sure what it is. Is this just one of those odd statistical clusters that happens from time to time in baseball? Is this a result of players eschewing the use of performance-enhancing drugs because of MLB’s testing program? Are batters being scouted more effectively? Are pitchers simply getting better at their craft? We asked our esteemed panel of rock & roll seamheads to weigh in.

Name: Tom Morello
Band: The Nightwatchman, Street Sweeper Social Club, Rage Against the Machine
Guitar, Vocals

It’s possible that this era of pitching dominance is a direct boomerang effect of the steroid era. As batters are bulking down because of greater scrutiny over steroids, pitchers – who have had to become more savvy during the hitters era – are now a more dominant force.

Name: Pete Yorn
Vocals, Guitar

I believe there are many factors contributing to these no-hitters and perfect games. Luck is a big part of it, as is better pitching and less drugs/steroids – batters seem to be affected more by the loss of drugs – and there’s better fielding. Listen, I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t see another one for a long time, either … however, I’m looking for my boy CC to toss a no-no.

Dale Earnhardt jr jr

Name: Joshua Epstein
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
Vocals, Keyboards

I’ve been seeing some pretty big strike zones from the umpires this year, which may have a bit to do with it. Ultimately, athletes are always finding new ways to gain a competitive edge, and in every sport they get better and better as time goes by. The Dickey thing is the best story because what he’s been able to do is so impressive intellectually. I watched an interview with him on Sportcenter, and the guy is like a sedated hypnotist when he speaks.

Name: Ben Gibbard
Band: Death Cab for Cutie
Vocals, Guitar

The cluster of dominant pitching performances this year is nothing more than a statistical anomaly in too small of a sample size. I firmly believe that, in order to see any patterns in the game, we need to zoom much farther out than three months of a season.

Name: Steve Earle
Vocals, Guitar

Its just the sort of statistical flare that sets stat-quoting jaws flapping and leads to unwise and unnecessary rule changes aimed at sating the less-sophisticated baseball fan’s addiction to home runs.

Name: Handsome Dick Manitoba

It’s a combination of odd statistical cluster and less juice.

Name: Scott McCaughey
The Baseball Project, the Minus 5, Young Fresh Fellows
Guitar, Vocals

Perfect games are such an odd commodity. Many have been thrown by great pitchers, but some have been thrown by journeymen – albeit journeymen with good control. No-hitters, on the other hand, can be even more impressive than perfect games, or not particularly impressive at all. I would tend to go with the “odd statistical cluster” theory, as I don’t think pitching will ever be as dominant in baseball as it was in the 1960s or early in the 20th century. And I judge this mostly by the number of pitchers constantly hitting the DL, heading for Tommy John surgery, or, particularly this year, blowing save after save after save.

Name: Ken Casey
Dropkick Murphys
Bass guitar, Vocals

It’s an ebb and flow, but knuckleballers are streaky. Dickey is 12-1 now, but remember – in 1995, Tim Wakefield was 14-1 in mid-August and finished 16-8.

Name: Steve Wynn
The Baseball Project
Vocals, Guitar

As a guy who went to all the trouble to write a song (“Harvey Haddix” by The Baseball Project) that painstakingly named all 17 pitchers who, at the time, had thrown a perfect game – only to have to amend that song on a seemingly weekly basis – I really have no idea. The cynic in me wants to say that the crackdown on steroids might be part of the reason, but I think it might be that pitchers just might be a little smarter, aided by enhanced statistical research and analysis. Or maybe it’s just dumb luck. Yeah, I’ll go with that one.

vinnie paul

Name: Vinnie Paul
Hellyeah, Pantera

Could this be the no-steroid age, and pitchers are just ahead of batters? I think so! It was just a matter of time till this was gonna happen! R.A. Dickey is insane, by the way. I played catcher, and I would love to sit back there and try and catch his knuckler!

Name: Scott Ian

In this era of starting pitchers pitching only seven innings, it’s actually very surprising that there have been so many no-hitters/perfect games. I don’t think it’s a statistical anomaly; I think over the last five years or so, teams have really been focusing on developing better pitching, and it’s starting to pay off. Low-scoring games may be considered “boring” (not by me), but pitching gets you a ring.

joe pernice

Name: Joe Pernice
Band: Pernice Brothers
Vocals, Guitar

Amazingly concealed performance-enhancing drugs? I’m only half joking. I don’t really know what’s going on besides with Dickey. A knuckleball is just plain goofy – if Dickey can keep throwing that thing, who knows how far he can go? What are pitchers doing in 2012 that they weren’t doing in 1995? Better scouting, better training and physical maintenance? Probably, but should that add up to more ridiculously good pitching performances? Who knows? The game is capricious. It’s similar to the duality of light: it is both particulate and wave-like. Try figuring out an electron’s position and the wavelength at which it travels. I dare you.

alice cooper

Name: Alice Cooper
Position: Vocals

Well, the ball hasn’t changed. I think that any major league pitcher can throw a no-hitter on the right day. But can they do it consistently? The guys throwing the no-hitters aren’t necessarily megastars. It might average out in the next two or three years where nobody has a perfect game. I’d be interested in looking at their win/loss and ERA records at the end of the year. Did they just have a few great games, or have they been consistent? In golf, it’s possible for a non-pro to make a hole in one, and it’s possible for a pro not to. It’s just a matter of averages, I think.

george thorogood

Name: George Thorogood
Band: George Thorogood and the Destroyers
Position: Vocals, Guitar

I say it’s both. There’s an emphasis on pitching dominance and it’s one of those odd things that happens in baseball that you can’t figure out … which is why baseball is the greatest game in the world.

Dan Epsteins book, Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging 70s, is now available in paperback.


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