Thursday, August 16, 2012

On Perfect Games...

Yes, I am alive, and yes, I am aware that I haven't blogged in over two months.  No worries, there are a few reasons why I haven't, and I'm sure many of you know the biggest reason of all - the new addition to my family!  More explanation will be forthcoming in the coming days and weeks. -- J.L.

Felix Hernandez threw a perfect game today, a 1-0 gem in which he struck out twelve Tampa Bay hitters (Poor Tampa - they've been the victims of so many no-hitters and perfect games lately).  It was also the third perfect game thrown this season (Phillip Humber and Matt Cain were the others), which is the first time ever that three had occurred in the same season. There have been only twenty-three perfectos in Major League history.  

Think about that - only twenty-three times in 143 years has there been an occasion of twenty-seven men coming to the plate and being set down in order.  Such a occurrence (and lack thereof) automatically renders such an occasion to be a statistical anomaly - three times in a season of 2,430 games is 0.123% of all games.  Just imagine how many more zeroes there would be when you draw twenty-three into 143 years' worth of games, with every season since 1901 having at least 154 games per team.

And yet, there are some bozos out there on Al Gore's incredible, amazing internet that seem to think that because we have seen more perfect games lately, the occasion has been cheapened. That's the wrong way to think, and this is why...

Perfect games are the largest conglomerations of luck known in baseball.

Think about what has to happen in order for a perfect game to occur...

1) Pitcher needs pinpoint control
2) No fielder can drop a ball or throw one away
3) The catcher needs to catch nearly every pitch - at least when there are two strikes, anyway
4) No popup can just fall into no-man's land
5) No little dribbler can die in the infield grass or find a hole
6) No player can lose a ball in the sun/lights
7) The umpire needs to be friendly in his calls
8) Hitters need to chase pitches if #1 is not fulfilled.
9) Good bounces 
10) Good jumps by fielders.

There are other things too - but ALL TEN of these things must be fulfilled in order to have a perfect game.  If even one fails, then you might have a no-hitter at best.  

So if a perfect game is so based on luck, why do we celebrate them?  Mostly because of their rarity, because extraordinary pitching skill isn't a necessary prerequisite for throwing one. Look at this list...

Don Larsen (81-91, 3.78)
Tom Browning (123-90, 3.94)
Mike Witt (117-116, 3.83)
Dallas Braden (26-36, 4.16)
Phillip Humber (16-15, 4.64)
Len Barker (74-76, 4.34)

Those are absolute mediocrities - and Larsen threw the most famous perfecto of all time - in the 1956 World Series.  Yes, there are some good pitchers who threw perfect games - Kenny Rogers, David Wells, David Cone, Dennis Martinez; even some Hall of Famers - Sandy Koufax, Catfish Hunter, and Cy Young.  However, what stands out to me most frequently is how many of the greats never threw a perfect game, or even a no-hitter.  

Just consider this era - Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Mike Mussina are some of the names who never threw them.  Throwing a perfect game is like constructing a house of cards.  Everything must go right, and hopefully there's not a corrupted card that is either shorter or slightly bent, and God help you if there is even a slight breeze.  Any of those things can bring the whole house down, just like any of those ten conditions going unfulfilled will prevent a perfect game from happening - which is why they are so exciting to see.

Even if fifteen more occur this season, the odds of them happening still barely move - they are that rare, indeed.  Just keep the big picture in mind - twenty-times in around 200,000 games played in 143 years.

Statistical anomaly.