Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Why pitchers aren't really perfect, by The Sambard's Wife

Today, The Sambard is taking a break from his usual daily sports fact and allowing me, his lovely wife, to interject and rant about baseball.

Before I get started, let me just say that I have always been a baseball fan. One of the first things my parents taught me to say was "Way back, way back! Touch 'em all, Kuuby Puckett!" (I wasn't the best with the "r" sound)

As I grew up, I became a Twins Sunshine Patriot. Going to games was a chance to visit with friends and spell naughty words with Cheese Whiz in the asles of the nasty Metrodome.

Then I met The Sambard. He taught me what baseball really was, and the skill behind it, and that fact that even when a game seems "boring" there is actually a lot going on. (I still don't get the Infield Fly Rule, though).

As I've been watching more and more baseball, I've started really enjoying watching the pitchers work. I try and figure out what pitch they just threw or guess in advance whether they are gonna throw another fastball, or sneak a breaking ball in there. The one feat I have truly come to respect and admire is the Perfect Game.

A game in which the pitcher displays amazing skill in not allowing a single runner to reach first base.

Or so it was.

One would think that in a perfect game there would be many strike outs, because, let's face it, a Perfect Game is credited to the pitcher, so obviously the pitcher has done something right. But lets look at the numbers for some of the most recent perfect games.

On July 23, 2009, Mark Buerhle pitched a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (I REFUSE to call them the Rays, so there). There were (obviously) 27 outs. Six, yes SIX of them were from strike outs. The other 21 were fielding outs (fly-outs, ground-outs, etc). Can someone explain to me why the pitcher got the credit for this amazing game when clearly he only struck out 6 people?

This year, 2010, there have already been TWO perfect games. The first was pitched by Dallas Braden of the A's against Tampa Bay (hmmm ... are we seeing a theme here?) on May 2nd. Again, he had only six strikeouts and the rest were fielding outs. On May 29, Roy Halladay pitched one as well. Only he struck out 11 (a very respectable number). At least one strikeout in every inning. I have no qualms with you, Mr. Halladay.

And then there was the game that will forever live in infamy. Armando Gallaraga, a young pitcher very new to the bigs, pitched for Detroit on June 2, 2010. This was one of, if not THE, first pitching appearance he had in the bigs. We all know the story of him being robbed of his perfect game in the 9th inning when the umpire missed the call at first base. But what were his numbers for the game?? He struck out three batters. Three. Oh, and just for reference, the pitcher he was going against for Cleveland, Fausto Carmona, also struck out three batters. But he didn't get a near-perfect game.

What I'm starting to see, is that Perfect Games are slowly becoming more and more about great fielding and less and less about the pitching. What about perfect games "back in the day?" What did they look like? In 1904, Cy Young struck out eight batters in his Perfect Game. In 1968, Catfish Hunter struck out 11 (against the Twins, too! The HORROR!).

What sucks even more is when you consider the Pirates vs. Nationals game last night. Steven Strasburg made his highly anticipated big league debut. In seven innings he stuck out FOURTEEN batters. Fourteen!! What an amazing number! He gave up a two-run home run, unfortunately, and after giving up something like that, you'd think most pitchers would start to get nervous. Not Strasburg. He came back and struck out 8 of the next 10 batters. This kid is amazing (and I can say kid since he's way younger than me!). And sure he'll be remembered for an amazing big league debut, but that's it (for now). No perfect game, no record setting performance, nothing.

So what's going on with Perfect Games? Why are there more and more of them? And why does it seem like it's more because of great fielding than great pitching?

True, over the years fielding in baseball has improved tremendously, which I'm sure has contributed to more Perfect Games. But isn't a Perfect Game supposed to be a pitching achievement? I don't see how it can be considered a pitching achievement when guys can strike out three batters and have a Perfect Game.

Maybe it's just a me, a silly little woman trying to understand something in a man's world. Or maybe there's something up with the amount of Perfect Games being thrown and the small amount of "great pitching" in these games. Who knows. Not me!


Seems my beautiful wife is on to something. After she posted this, I found an interview Dallas Braden did with Baseball Prospectus that seems to reinforce the idea that perfect games are more about the fielders...

Q. How many times did you get lucky in your perfect game?

Braden: Twenty-seven. Twenty-seven times I got pretty lucky. I wasn’t perfect. I didn’t throw perfect pitches and our catcher didn’t call perfect pitches. But we, all together as a team, played perfectly. We played perfect defense, and we had perfect timely hitting, and that is what resulted in the perfect game.

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