Perfect Game, Imperfect Rest Of Career

With Mark Buehrle’s loss Monday, and Dallas Braden getting scratched from his start last night, the combined record since their achievements of the three active pitchers to have tossed Perfect Games has dropped to 8 wins and 18 losses.

Is there something about getting 27 outs in a row that psychologically alters a pitcher? The sudden realization that you can do it? The gnawing sensation that a “quality start” or even a six-hit shutout just isn’t the ceiling? Or is it possible that a Perfecto really is some sort of apogee of pitching skills, and not merely the collision of quality and fortune?
Whatever the impact of the Perfect Game on the Perfect Game Pitcher, nine of the 20 to throw them have not managed to thereafter win more games than they lost. Another was one game over .500. An eleventh was just three games over. Fully fourteen of the pitchers saw their winning percentages drop from where they had been before their slice of immortality (though obviously the figures on Braden, Buehrle, and Halladay are at this point embryonic)
Consider these numbers, ranked in order in change of performance before and after. First the good news: it is perhaps not surprising that of the six pitchers whose percentages improved afterwards, the two most substantial jumps belong to Hall of Famers.
Jim Hunter Before: 32-38, .457
Jim Hunter After: 191-128, .599
Jim Hunter Improvement: 142
Sandy Koufax Before: 133-77, .633
Sandy Koufax After: 31-10, .756
Sandy Koufax Improvement: 123

Koufax is a bit of an aberration, since that 31-10 record, gaudy as it seems, represents only one season plus about a month, before his retirement in November, 1966.

The other four improvements are a little more telling.

David Wells Before: 110-86, .561
David Wells After: 128-71, .643
David Wells Improvement: 82
Don Larsen Before: 30-40, .429
Don Larsen After: 51-51, .500
Don Larsen Improvement: 71
Mike Witt Before: 37-40, .481
Mike Witt After: 79-76, .510
Mike Witt Improvement: 29
Dennis Martinez Before: 173-140, .553
Dennis Martinez After: 71-53, .573
Dennis Martinez Improvement: 20

For everybody else, the Perfect Game has meant comparative disaster. We can again discern some unrelated factors: many pitchers threw their masterpieces late in their careers (Cone), late in life (Joss died about 30 months after he threw his), or not long before injuries (Robertson and Ward, the latter of whom would switch positions and become a Hall of Fame shortstop).

Still, the numbers don’t augur well for our trio of active guys. They are listed in here in terms of the greatest mathematical drop from career Winning Percentage before the game, to career Winning Percentage afterwards:

Dallas Braden Before: 17-23, .425
Dallas Braden After: 0-5, .000
Dallas Braden Dropoff: 425
David Cone Before: 177-97, .646
David Cone After: 16-29, .356
David Cone Dropoff: 290
Lee Richmond Before: 14-7, .667
Lee Richmond After: 61-93, .396
Lee Richmond Dropoff: 271
Roy Halladay Before: 154-79, .661
Roy Halladay After: 2-3, .400
Roy Halladay Dropoff: 261
Mark Buehrle Before: 132-90, .595
Mark Buehrle After: 6-10, .375
Mark Buehrle Dropoff: 220
Jim Bunning Before: 143-89, .616
Jim Bunning After: 80-95, .457
Jim Bunning Dropoff: 159
Len Barker Before: 33-25, .569
Len Barker After: 40-51, .440
Len Barker Dropoff: 129
Charlie Robertson Before: 1-1 .500
Charlie Robertson After: 47-79, .373
Charlie Robertson Dropoff: 127
Addie Joss Before: 140-79, .639
Addie Joss After: 19-18, .514
Addie Joss Dropoff: 125
Cy Young Before: 382-216, .639
Cy Young After: 128-116, .525
Cy Young Dropoff: 114
Randy Johnson Before: 233-118, .664
Randy Johnson After: 69-48, .590
Randy Johnson Dropoff: 74
Johnny Ward Before: 80-43, .650
Johnny Ward After: 81-60, .574
Johnny Ward Dropoff: 46
Tom Browning Before: 60-40, .600
Tom Browning After: 62-50, .554
Tom Browning Dropoff: 46
Kenny Rogers Before: 52-36, .591
Kenny Rogers After: 166-120, .580
Kenny Rogers Dropoff: 9 

Rogers’ fall off is not even what the typical decline of a pitcher would suggest, and Browning’s and Ward’s aren’t very spectacular. Then again, neither are the improvements of Witt or Martinez. 

Essentially the pitchers break down into three groups: four who improved, five who didn’t change much, and eleven who got worse and noticably so.
Maybe Armando Galarraga got a minor break after all. 



    a big factor in today’s game is that to throw a perfect game or no-hitter, you have to go well over 100 pitches, and most pitchers aren’t used to that kind of workload.

    it can throw their bodies off for the next few starts and even the rest of the season.

  2. mrlyngreen

    This is just pure speculation on my part but maybe these anomalies are as a result of psychological factors. Often big power hitters are expected by fans to hit home runs in every game. Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday have high expectations to live up to and the pressure can be intense. Perhaps this same pressure is what creates the downturn in performance of many of these pitchers. I guess what I am saying is that once a perfect game is thrown by a pitcher, psychologically he feels he must live up to expectations that are unrealistic. Therefore they try too hard to repeat that outstanding performance and come up short. The pressure thus creates a mindset by the pitcher that interferes with his ability to focus on pitching a quality game

    But what do I know? In the spirit of Dr. McCoy, ‘I’m a lawyer not a shrink”

  3. mantlewasarockstar

    I think it’d be foolish to bet against the rebounding of Mark Buehrle, let alone the good Doctor in Philadelphia.

  4. jeterandiborn62674

    Fascinating stuff, Keith. Going pitcher by pitcher– Jim Bunning might have been used so heavily by Gene Mauch in September of 1964 that that ruined his arm (his lack of brain and heart may have come later on). David Cone, who also threw a perfect game at Conedlestick Park when was a kid, was really on the tail-end of his gutsy career and that was truly just a magical day at Yankee Stadium. 1998 as a whole was an anomaly for David Wells who never dominated quite like that again. Kenny Rogers had a loser mentality, like when he walked in the game-winning/series-winning run in the playoffs (the ultimate sin), so I think the smudge of his inner-loserism (Freudian term) caught up with him. Randy Johnson was pitching for big money in 2004 and it had finally all come together– control, velocity, nastiness– but by 2005 he was an old man, with a big contract. I’m assuming this fella Cy Young never actually existed because his numbers are more suspect than Barry Bonds’s– maybe after the perfect game he switched from throwing a softer sponge to throwing a firmer sponge, either way I don’t care about Cy Young. Let’s see how Dallas Braden does against the Yankees next week– maybe A-Rod needs walk on *his* mound to get him fired up again. And, finally, Roy Halladay– too early to tell, but as for that award named after the fictional Cy Young that Roy was given before the 2010 season started, I still say Doc will be hurt and will be needing to see a doc and the Cy Young will go to, not Ubaldo Jimenez, but Adam Wainwright (pitching for a big contract).


    This could really be expanded into a pitcher’s performance after a no hitter (but not a perfect game). Take Ted Lilly for example. Against the Sox two weeks ago, he went 8 no-hit innings. His next start? He was chased from the game after 4. This backs the psychology of the pitcher. They know they can and want to match that previous performance, but cannot, because as Bob Brenly said in that second Lilly outing: “They think too hard to get back in that zone, and sometimes, that’s just not possible.”

    And I know this is your sports blog, but what was the High Court thinking? Didn’t they see that 2 weekends ago, 50 people were shot in a 48 hour period in Chicago?

  6. njbaseball

    Interesting data. Found it very interesting how close Hunter’s and Braden’s pre-perfecto records were — not that I expect a repeat of Hunter’s career from Braden.

    I can see the psychological aspect of it, but part of me has a hard time believing that veterans like Buehrle and Halladay would let that affect them. Maybe Buehrle is like Cone and on the downside.

  7. mrlyngreen

    “Jim Bunning Dropoff” is just begging for a snarky comment. I will refrain however because it would be censored.


    Timing has much to do with a perfect game. Time of day, time when you play the opponent, time in the schedule and certainly the point in time of the pitcher’s career. The lack of acknowledgment of luck in no hitters and perfect games is always glossed over. All the pitchers above had some talent; list the number of pitchers on that list that did not appear on an All Star team or in the post season. It’s a short list.

    Though interesting, there doesn’t seem to be any measure in the shown data that offers a conclusion about anything.

    Nolan Ryan, oft noted as “unlucky” while defending his won-loss record thus had seven lucky starts and 770 or so unlucky ones?

  9. historymike

    Don’t forget that Don Larsen had that abysmal 3-21 season for the Baltimore Orioles team that lost 100 games in 1954 after moving from St. Louis. That throws his stats a bit out of whack.

    I also found it fascinating that some scout was quoted in Jane Leavy’s wonderful biography of Sandy Koufax as saying that his dropoff from 1965 to 1966 was significant and he wouldn’t have been that good afterward. Uh, 27-9 in 1966, with an ERA of 1.73. Quite a dropoff from 1965.

    We also could note that in 1972, Milt Pappas missed a perfect game on a 3-2 pitch that he has blamed Bruce Froemming for ever since. Whether or not Pappas was worse as a pitcher, the pitch has gotten closer to the plate with each passing year.


    Keith! Don’t forget to remind us when Ken Burns’ ?The Tenth Inning? will be airing. Having recently sat through the entire 18-1/2 hours of Burns’ ?Baseball? (missed big parts of it the first time around), I’m really looking forward to the coming follow-up. I’m not an avid baseball fan like the rest of you guys, but I’m giving it the ol’ college try. Mostly, I’m a fan of your writing, Keith, and enjoy your blog for that reason.
    I was very skeptical going in that ?Baseball? would hold my interest. Very skeptical.But I’m such a big fan of Ken Burns’ work, that if he was to do an 18-1/2 hour documentary on the life cycle of moths, I would gladly watch it. Happily, I enjoyed every minute of ?Baseball.? The history was fascinating, and as an unapologetic clothes horse, I even enjoyed the evolution of the baseball uniforms. I was kinda sad when it ended and glad I had watched it by myself, so that no one could see me get misty-eyed.
    So, I’m really looking forward to ?The Tenth Inning.? And, no, I’m not being facetious or sarcastic or tongue-in-cheek. Serious as a heart attack.
    Style note: How come you never wear a pink or yellow tie? Those colors would look so good on you, Keith, and a nice addition to the snazzy lavenders and purples! 🙂


    There might be something psychological about this — of all the guys who threw perfect games, only Cy Young and Addie Joss threw another no-hitter afterwards. Bunning, Koufax and Randy Johnson each capped off their multiple no-hit careers with a perfect game, which does have the feel of an exclamation point. I wonder how many of the players with four-homer games ever eventually followed up with a three-homer game…

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