Results tagged ‘ Perfect Games ’

The Perfect Game Swarm: The Contrarian’s View

Last night, Matt Cain threw the first major league perfect game in nearly two months!

He threw the first individual no-hit game in nearly two weeks!

He threw the first no-hitter of any kind in five days!

He did throw the only no-hit game of the night, though R.A. Dickey didn’t get one in St. Petersburg only because of a dubious scorer’s decision that might yet be reversed, and Felix Doubront carried one through two out in the sixth.

There’s something wrong with this picture.

Look, I yearn to witness a perfect game, still kick myself for skipping one one year because it was too cold (David Wells, 1998) and another the next because it was too hot (David Cone, 1999) like some baseball fan version of Goldilocks. And there is no offense meant to Matt Cain, or Phil Humber, or Roy Halladay, or Dallas Braden, or Mark Buehrle, or for the man whoshouldalso be on this list, Armando Galarraga.

But as of the morning of July 23, 2009 – less than three full years ago – there had been exactly 17 perfect games in the 139 seasons of organized big league baseball. In the 34 months since there have been five of them (really, six). In the game’s first 139 seasons we had had one year in which there were two thrown. In the last three seasons, we have had one year in which there weren’t two thrown.

Five of the last fifteen individual no-hitters have been perfect games.

There have been so many of them now that Ted Barrett has now been the home plate umpire in two of them, and his colleague Brian Runge has worked two of them this year (he was at 3B last night, and behind the plate for Humber’s, and, oh by the way, he was also behind the plate for the Mariners’ combined no-no last Friday).

Cain’s was the 22nd of all-time (the total should be 24: Galarraga should’ve gotten his, and Harvey Haddix’s flawed 13-inning gem should be counted somehow even though it isn’t). If the frequency at which they’ve occurred over the last three years had applied to all of baseball history, we wouldn’t have had 22 perfectos, we would have 91 of them.

I understand there are historical anomalies in the game. One of my favorite factoids is the mind-numbing truth that an enterprising fan in the northeast could’ve seen Lee Richmond throw the first one in big league history on Saturday June 12, 1880 for Worcester of the National League, and then could’ve turned up just five days later in Buffalo to watch Johnny Ward throw the second one for Providence of the N.L. But if our hypothetical spectator had wanted to make a hat trick out of it and see thethirdperfect game ever pitched in the National League, he’d have had to chill for 84 years because the next one wouldn’t be pitched until June 21, 1964, by Jim Bunning at Shea Stadium.

Bizarre statistical thunderstorms occur. We had two batting Triple Crowns in 1933 and five out of a potential ten in the five-year span ending in 1937. The American League had one (by Frank Robinson) in 1966 and another (by Carl Yastrzemski – with a tie in the homer category) the next year. Not only has nobody performed the trick since but the seven I’ve just mentioned account for sixteen of all of them dating back to the first by Paul Hines in 1878.

But just as ‘these things sometimes happen,’ they also sometimes indicate a severe skewing of the sport. If a lot of guys accomplishing a very rare feat is a good and totally explicable thing, then pitching reached its modern pinnacle in 1968. Seven different pitchers recorded ERAs of less than 2.00. Twelve were at 2.15 or under. Twenty came in below 2.50. And there’s something relevant to the perfect game swarm. The top eleven ERA finishers were as follows:

1.12 Bob Gibson

1.60 Luis Tiant

1.81 Sam McDowell

1.95 Dave McNally

1.96 Denny McLain

1.98 Tommy John

1.99 Bob Bolin

2.05 Stan Bahnsen

2.05 Bob Veale

2.08 Jerry Koosman

2.12 Steve Blass

See my point? I have argued here for two more of the men on this list to be in Cooperstown but in point of fact only one of them (Gibson) is. A derangement of the pitching-hitting balance will make some fair pitchers good, some good pitchers great, and some great pitchers immortal (remember, 1968 was also the only time since 1934 that anybody – in this case McLain – has won as many as 30 games in a season). And it applies to hitting, too. We like to forget the fact that an incredible percentage of fans and an almost equal number of credulous reporters saw nothing at all wrong with the idea that all six of the seasons in which somebody hit more than 61 homers occurred between 1998 and 2001. I can remember clear as a bell the late, great Leonard Koppett trying to convince me and Jim Bouton on my tv show that the discovery of androstenedione in Mark McGwire’s locker had absolutely nothing to do with anything and wouldn’t be remembered by anybody.

I’m not saying the pitchers are juiced and I’m not saying there will be a mental asterisk placed some day on Cain’s perfect game, or Humber’s, or anybody else’s. I’m not even saying that I’m fully invested in the most obvious theory of what’s going on: that the subtraction of Performance Enhancing Drugs has left a generation of hitters who have known nothing but to swing from their heels with no gas in their tank (although Cain’s victims, the Astros, have now struck out 505 times in 62 games – that’s 8.2 per game – and have averaged nearly 12 per game this month, meaning from their perspective, their 14 K’s against Cain last night was only a little worse than usual).

What I am saying is that to respond to Matt Cain’s perfect game by simply jumping up and down and buying souvenir merchandise is to miss a bigger picture, one that isn’t exactly clear yet. But when you get five (six?) perfect games in three calendar years, and you get 37-year old knuckleballer R.A. Dickey suddenly launching into territory in which he has struck out 50 and walked 5 in his last 47 innings, and he’s 10-1 and former middle reliever Lance Lynn is 10-2 and Chris Capuano – with one previous winning season since 2003 – is 8-and-2, some kind of tipping point has been reached and maybe all the pitching is just as incongruous as was all the hitting in 1998-2001.

Scorebook page from the first perfect game ever, Lee Richmond’s, June 12, 1880

 

 

Humber Humbled

The first man Philip Humber faced in the start after his Perfect Game? He walked him. The third? He surrendered a base hit to him. The fourth? He watched him smack an RBI double. In short, after retiring 27 consecutive batters against Seattle, in his next appearance against Boston, before he could get two outs in total, he had lost his shot at a Perfect Game, a no-hitter, and a shutout.

By the third inning, Humber no longer had a homer-free streak, or even a grand slam-free streak. By the fifth, he had gone no games without surrendering two homers to the same guy (Jarrod Saltalamacchia) The Coach had turned back into The Pumpkin.

The vagaries of the perfecto – the idea that a muse appears, gives a pitcher flawless results for three hours or less, then vanishes, never to return – are countless. For virtually every one of the 21 flawless games, I think there are overwhelming mitigating circumstances that made the outcome slightly more possible than usual on the day in question. This would require a lot of research on some of the early games (like the first of the three by the White Sox, by Charlie Robertson in 1922), but just anecdotally: Mike Witt’s 1984 job was on the ultimate getaway day, the season finale between two teams not in the pennant race. When the kinescope of the Don Larsen game resurfaced three winters ago we learned that the batter’s eye at Yankee Stadium had been removed to accommodate the World Series crowd (it is thus more amazing that the Yankees got any hits that day, more than that the Dodgers didn’t). Mark Buehrle’s had an obvious aberration (an epic outfield catch by Dewayne Wise) and a less obvious one (a free-swinging Tampa Bay line-up, in a really early start for a day game after a night game, on getaway day). And as if he needed the help, when Sandy Koufax mesmerized the Cubs in 1965, he was facing a line-up with three future Hall-of-Famers in Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, and Billy Williams. The other six batters were a pitcher, and five rookies – and two of them were playing in their first major league games.

What were the telling signs for Humber? He took no-hit bids into the sixth and seventh last year, had a new pitch that not everybody had seen before (six of the nine Mariner hitters were not in the line-up during his last start against Seattle, even though that was only last June), and is pitching during a time in which the hitters are deflating. Clearly PED use by hitters is down, perhaps by some extraordinary percentage, and lord knows how much that’s reduced strength of contact, let alone results, or even hand-to-eye coordination.

Perhaps the only Perfect Game that gets a note if not an asterisk might be the effort by the great Addie Joss in 1908. As his Cleveland Naps took the field against the White Sox on October 2, 1908, they were half a game behind first-place Detroit, and just a game ahead of Chicago. His future fellow Hall-of-Famer Ed Walsh (who only won 40 games that year) was the opponent. Joss, in the tightest imaginable pennant race, retired all 27 men he faced, and won 1-0, on an unearned run in the third. The degree of difficulty on that was pretty big.

But anyway. In June, 2010, at the end of the Buehrle-Braden-Halladay-Shoulda-Been-Galarraga-Too swarm, I asked here if the achievement itself might have a long-term negative impact on the pitchers involved. It’s time to update that data:

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, six of the other 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 eight 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: Winning percentages jumps 142 points

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. Five of the other six 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

Roy Halladay Before: 154-79, .661

Roy Halladay After: 36-14, .720

Roy Halladay Improvement: 59

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

There is one improvement that is really misleading. Dallas Braden hadn’t been much of a pitcher before his 2010 perfecto. Since, he’s been ok – he just hasn’t pitched much:

Dallas Braden Before: 17-23, .425

Dallas Braden After: 8-7, .533

Dallas Braden Improvement: 108

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:

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

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

Mark Buehrle Before: 132-90, .595

Mark Buehrle After: 29-32, .475

Mark Buehrle Dropoff: 125

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

If you’re wondering: Phil Humber was 11-10 before he performed his magic against the Mariners.

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. 

Statistical Possibility Does Not Really Permit This: Update

This does boggle the mind. Since Mark Buehrle’s perfect game against them last July, the Tampa Bay Rays have now been no-hit three times in a span of 140 games. 

They’ve now been victims of a perfect game in a day game after a night game (Buehrle), victims of a perfect game on an ordinary road weekend game (Dallas Braden, in Oakland, this season), and victims of a no-hitter in their own stadium, at the hands of a pitcher whom they once thought might become the ace of their own staff, Edwin Jackson, tonight.
These are not the 1998 Twins or the 1999 Expos, light-hitting, fringe-player-filled line-ups that are the kinds ordinarily slightly more susceptible to being utterly blanked. Ever looked at the line-up David Wells knocked down with only 27 tries in ’98? Lawton, Gates, Paul Molitor, Cordova, Coomer, Ochoa, Shave, Javier Valentin, Meares. Not quite murderers’ row.
The Rays, on the other hand, have sent Jason Bartlett, Evan Longoria, Carlos Pena, B.J. Upton, and Ben Zobrist to the plate in each of these games. They are a combined 0-for-42. Carl Crawford did not bat tonight due to his cranky shoulder, but he managed another 0-for-6 in the perfectos.
These are good hitters who have, in essence, been stymied three times in what amounts to 22 games less than a full season. The laws of statistical possibility are angry at some one or some thing.
UPDATE: From Marc Topkin of the St Pete Times on Twitter the Rays are indeed the first team to be no-hit three times, in full length games, in such a short span. The 1906 Brooklyn Superbas were blanked three times between May 1st and September 24th (Johnny Lush of the Phillies, Jake Weimer of the Reds, and Stoney McGlynn of the Cards), but the last two of the games were seven-inning jobs (the McGlynn game, in fact, was a tie). That was not uncommon then in the time when doubleheaders were frequent and lights were 30 years in the future – second games of DH’s often were pre-arranged to last only seven frames. In fact some were played not to an inning total but to the clock, so teams could catch trains to get from city to city.
The ’06 Brooklyns, by the way, also had a decent offense. Tim Jordan led the NL with a then-******** dozen homers, and Harry Lumley led in Slugging Percentage (.477). But they were frequent victims in that era. Nick Maddox of the Pirates would no hit them in September, 2007 (thus four no-hitters in 16 months), and Johnny Lush would come back and throw a six-inning no-hitter in August of ’08.
One other creepy thing of which an MLB.Com headline just reminded me: Edwin Jackson pitched his no-hitter a year to the day Michael Jackson died.

The Unbearable Lightness of Perfect Games

There have been 20 official Perfect Games (sorry, Harvey Haddix; sorry, Pedro Martinez) in baseball history, and thanks to Dallas Braden and now Roy Halladay, there have been two of them in just twenty days.

Of course it’s more preposterous than that. Because Mark Buehrle threw his perfecto for the White Sox just last July 23rd, there have now been three perfect games (15 percent of all of them, ever) in the last 130 days of Major League Baseball play.
Wait – it gets worse. The first perfect game, by Lee Richmond of Worcester of the National League, was thrown on June 12, 1880. The second, by Johnny Ward of Providence (also still in the NL that season), took place just five days later. So now we’re talking about a quarter of all of them, ever, being concentrated in a net span of 135 days of play.
Wait – it gets worse still. After Richmond and Ward set the standard for pitching perfection in less than a week, the next perfect game thrown in their league, was a mere 84 years and four days after Ward’s, on June 21, 1964. That was Jim Bunning’s 27-for-27 against the Mets, which, to round it out neatly, was the last such game thrown by a Philadelphia Phillies’ pitcher until Halladay did it tonight in Miami.
And yes, therein lies the last bizarre coincidence. Halladay’s victim: Florida. Braden’s, three weeks ago? Tampa Bay. Buehrle’s, last year? Tampa Bay. Those three perfect games in the 130-day span were each against the two Florida teams.
HELMETS AND GROUP HUGS:
Baseball got lucky again; David Huff of the Indians was sending out his own health updates on Twitter, and actually back in the ballpark with his teammates before they finished their rally against the Yankees. But the luck can’t last forever: at the current rate of growth of bat speed, a pitcher will be maimed or killed before the decade is out, and the sport must take any action that will even slightly reduce the chance or delay the possibility. The easiest solution has been mentioned here before: since at the end of their deliveries, pitchers are closer to batters, than batters were when the pitchers released the ball, pitchers and batters alike should be wearing helmets. Period.
As to the Kendry Morales disaster, this too has been coming for awhile (ask Jake Peavy about it, or Denny Hocking). You are not excluded from the laws of physics just because you’re happy and celebrating. Presumably this needs no new rules, just players seeing the videotape.
MAYBE IT’S THE DO:
Having just watched John Axford (right) record his second career save with a 1-2-3 inning against the Mets, I’m beginning to wonder if half of closing is style.
IMG_2387.jpg

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for gossage.jpg

                                   COURTESY WPIX-TV
Axford’s story is well-known now: Notre Dame, Tommy John surgery, transfer, independent ball, released, A-ball last season, and suddenly thrust into succeeding Trevor Hoffman in Milwaukee when his velocity jumped up to the mid-90’s this spring. Plus he donned the Rollie Fingers style handlebar. The gentleman on the left you may not recognize, and if he had his way, this photo would never have seen the light of day. It is during his time in the Puerto Rican Winter League of 1972-73, at which point his career stats were 7-1, 4.28, 2 saves. Soon would come a Fu Manchu (and a grownup haircut), 309 more saves and eventually Cooperstown. That’s Rich Gossage, aged 21, and, no, the hair wasn’t attached to the cap.
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,942 other followers