The Game After The Perfect Game
Since 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:
|*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.
*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.