Is 2014 the new 1968?
1968 is known to all baseball historians as “the year of the pitcher.” When taking the time to look back at the pitchers of the decade, fans can understand why. 1968 was dominated by larger-than-life hurlers, led by Bob Gibson, Louis Tiant, Denny McClain and Tom Seaver. Hitters would dread going against the dominating pitching staffs of the Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets. Hitting stats in 1968 were down across the board, from home runs to batting average. No one thought that there could be another season like 1968, but I would argue that 2014 may be the closest thing to a reincarnation of that remarkable year.
The counting stats were better in 1968, but we can’t analyze stats in a vacuum. That being said, let’s still talk about them because the stats were quite superb across the board.
The numbers that stick out the most are runs per game and ERA. 1968 was the only year in which the average team ERA was below 3.00 in the NL (2.99), and the average runs per game was a mere 3.43. As a frame of reference, during the steroid years of the early 2000’s, the league ERA average jumped to around 4.30, and the average number of runs scored hovered near 5.0.
The AL numbers are even more eye-popping. Though the AL has always been a hitter’s league, in 1968, the ERA of its pitchers (2.98) was actually slightly lower that of the NL pitchers. The average runs per game was also lower at 3.41. In a league that thrives off of the use of a DH, having pitching numbers like those is startling.
In 2014, the numbers aren’t as drastic as they were in 1968, but times have changed. The ERA for the AL currently sits at 3.86, while the ERA for the NL sits at 3.68. The average runs per game in the AL is 4.18, and in the NL, the number stands at 4.02. Yes, these numbers aren’t as showing as those from 1968, but they have to be put into context.
Take a look at the average number of home runs per game:
Be it steroids or better conditioning, players hit the ball out of the ballpark more often now, which represents a shift in priorities. A premium is now placed on offense, more so than pitching; thus, ERAs have steadily risen since half a century ago.
Let’s compare 2014’s numbers to those of the past decade and do the same with the numbers from 1968. The 2014 AL ERA is 10 points lower than it was last year, 30 points lower than it was in 2012, and 50 points lower than it was in 2009. Clearly, an ERA of 3.86 is both uncommon and impressive, as it’s the lowest the stat has been since 1981. The 2014 NL ERA follows mimics this pattern as well, and it is the currently lowest it has been since 1992.
Even though the 1968 ERA for both the AL (2.98) and the NL (2.99) were the lowest all-time averages for either league, unless we go back to the 1910s, these ERAs were only about 20 points lower than the average ERA of the decade and 30 points lower than that of the decade prior, showing that pitching was a premium in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.
Let’s look at the ERA and WAR leaderboards from 1968 and 2014, respectively:
In 1968, there were four pitchers in the overall WAR leaderboard (left), and they had multiple pitchers in the 6.0 range (middle). In 2014, there were four pitchers in the overall WAR leaderboard but only 2 pitchers with a WAR over 6.0. This discrepancy shows us that pitchers were more dominant in 1968.
Even though the ERA numbers aren’t close, the pitchers of the modern era do have a lot less BBs/9 than their 1968 counterparts (1968 on left, 2014 on right).
To give 2014 a little more credit, let’s look at strikeout numbers and win percentage (1968 on left, 2014 on right):
Win-percentage figures and strikeout numbers are both clearly more impressive in the modern era, signifying another shift in the way pitchers play.
What have we learned from all this number crunching? Well, it’s true that the pitching numbers were, for the most part, better in 1968. That being said, we know that pitching itself has changed over time. 2014 may not be the equivalent of 1968, but it is very impressive in its own right. If fans want to consider it the modern-day “year of the pitcher,” I would have no problem with calling it that. Interestingly enough this year has a very good chance of producing two MVP winners that are also Cy Young winners, just like what had happened in 1968. Coincidence? Or correlation? Just another similarity to think about.
All stats for this article, unless otherwise noted, were taken from Baseball Reference
Edited by Nicole Yang.
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- Tom Seaver
- Bob Gibson
- Louis Tiant
- Mariano Rivera