The Game After The Perfect Game

Apr 30, 2012 by

humberSince Don Larsen’s perfect game in 1956 World Series, there have only been fifteen perfect games thrown in the majors. Some of them by Hall of Fame pitchers, some by really good ones, and some by guys you could add or drop on a whim in a daily fantasy baseball league.

We know the formula for throwing a perfecto involves something like 1% skill and roughly 99% luck. That’s my hypothesis anyway. In support of how hard it is to go 27-up-27-down, just take a look at the pitching lines for each member of this exclusive club the next time they took the mound following their perfect game:

Pitcher Year Team IP ER H BB K Dec
*Jim Bunning 1964 Philadelphia Phillies 7.0 4 11 0 5 ND
Sandy Koufax 1965 LA Dodgers 6.0 1 5 1 3 L
Catfish Hunter 1968 Oakland Athletics 6.0 8 8 5 4 W
Len Barker 1981 Cleveland Indians 9.0 3 8 1 10 L
Mike Witt 1985 California Angels 7.2 4 10 3 3 L
Tom Browning 1988 Cincinnati Reds 8.0 1 5 1 4 W
Dennis Martinez 1991 Montreal Expos 7.0 4 6 2 4 ND
Kenny Rogers 1994 Texas Rangers 5.2 4 6 3 2 L
David Wells 1998 New York Yankees 7.0 3 5 1 5 W
David Cone 1999 New York Yankees 4.0 2 6 4 7 ND
Randy Johnson 2004 Arizona Diamondbacks 7.0 2 4 1 5 W
Mark Buehrle 2009 Chicago White Sox 6.1 5 5 1 3 L
Dallas Braden 2010 Oakland Athletics 8.0 4 7 1 5 L
Roy Halladay 2010 Philadelphia Phillies 7.0 2 10 1 7 W
Phillip Humber 2012 Chicago White Sox 5.0 9 8 3 5 L

 

The total: 100.2 IP, 5.12 ERA, 5-7 W-L, 1.31 WHIP and a 72/28 K/BB ratio.

Underwhelming to say the least. While dominant numbers weren’t to be expected … a composite line that’s well below the career averages of every single pitcher on that list really surprised me. But maybe it shouldn’t have.

Random variation is the norm in baseball, easier to see the smaller you slice the sample size.  And fifteen starts isn’t much at all, certainly not enough to impute any real meaning. So when you read a story describing a perfect game hangover, take it with a grain of salt.

Here’s a comparison that might be a bit of a stretch, though it does have the same sentiment:

Growing up, I’d often hear baseball analysts say something to the effect of “Greg Maddux never threw a no-hitter because he threw too many strikes.” I believed them. But then I started questioning that narrative. What about the handful of complete game 1, 2, or 3-hit shutouts he tossed over the course of his amazing career? Wasn’t he throwing too many strikes during those games too?

Maddux had the best command of any pitcher since World War II, surely. Maybe even the best command of any pitcher on Earth, ever (seriously). The reason he didn’t throw a no-hitter? Pretty simple.

Luck. The same reason why perfect games have no reason. But hey, that doesn’t make them any less cool.

Maddux

*Bunning was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1964 and to Congress in 1986, which is pretty cool. Also, his granddaugher attended Emory when I was there. Probably not cool to you but it is to me. 

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  1. Eric Neff

    Good stuff. Most of the players who were able to follow up are or will end up in the Hall of Fame. Though I guess you’re less likely to have two great games in a row than one by luck. Sorts out at least some of the noise.

    • I almost put Armando Galarraga on that list, but then I thought … if I add him because of a blown call, would I have to take out Phillip Humber? Anyway, Galaragga finished his next outing with a no-decision, going 5 innings, giving up 2 runs on 7 hits with 2 walks and 2 strikeouts. So, almost in line with the average post-perfecto.

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