19 May 2004

the Big Perfect Unit

Who says modern baseball favors hitters too much?

Sunday, with all 30 MLB teams playing, 14 of them, nearly half, scored two runs or fewer, Including the Atlanta Braves, who struck out 18 times agains the Brewers' Ben Sheets. Sheets, however, at least had the courtesy to allow three hits and a walk, even a run to score, while beating the Braves.

Randy Johnson offered no such considerations last night. Again with all 30 teams playing, 11 of them scored two or fewer runs, including both teams that took part in Johnson's perfect game, a 2-0 win for the Arizona Diamondbacks over the Braves.

Of course, these are not your father's OldsmoBraves. They lost, as you know, Gary Sheffield, Javy Lopez and Vinny Castilla over the winter to free agency, and those three have combined for a .309/.393/.517 line with 18 homers and 74 RBI in the first month and a half of the season. D'ya think John Schuerholtz is reconsidering his decision to let all three go? I do.

Add to this (or subtract, really) the fact that both Braves starting middle infielders, rafael Furcal and Marcus Giles, the lineup's table-setters, were injured and unable to play, further diminishing the team's chances of getting a hit, much less winning. You've got a recipe for disaster, which is exactly what happened.

Johnson struck out 13 en route to his second career no-hitter, the first perfect game since David Cone's in 1999, the first by a lefty sincd David Wells' game against the Twins on May 17th, 1998, almost six years ago to the day. It was the first in the NL (not counting David Cone's Inter-league performance against the Expos in '99) since El Presidente, Dennis Martinez, clean-slated the Dodgers in 1991. (For the record, the Dodgers have had perfect games pitched against them three times, more than any other team. Tom Browning did it for the Reds in 1988, and Don Larsen pitched one against Brooklyn in the 1956 World Series.)

There are, of course, several interesting things to note about this game, most of which are covered by the mainstream media, so I won't rehash them. You come to Boy of Summer for something other than what ESPN tells you, so I'll try to make good on that promise.

Rob Neyer notes that it's not a terrible surprise that Randy Johnson was able to pitch a no-hitter, given how stingy he always is at giving up hits, and he's right. Indeed, Johnson seems almost good enough to do so every time he toes the rubber. What surprises me though is that Johnson was able to not allow any walks. His control, admittedly, is not so bad as it was in 1991, when he walked 152 in 201 innings (yikes!), or when he annually led the league in walks allowed from 1990-92. His last no-hitter included 6 walks and eight strikeouts, and since 1995 he's averaged almost three walks per nine innings (3.6 overall for his career), so the perfect game is that much more surprising.

The other interesting thing, I think, is the frequency with which perfect games occur these days. Take a look at the list of 9-inning perfect games:

Date Pitcher Team Opponent League
5/18/2004 Randy Johnson ARZ ATL NL
7/18/1999 David Cone NYY MTL AL/NL
5/17/1998 David Wells NYY MIN AL
7/28/1994 Kenny Rogers TEX CAL AL
7/28/1991 D. Martinez MTL LA NL
9/16/1988 Tom Browning CIN LA NL
9/30/1984 Mike Witt CAL TEX AL
5/15/1981 Len Barker CLE TOR AL
5/ 8/1968 Catfish Hunter OAK MIN AL
9/ 9/1965 Sandy Koufax LA CHI NL
6/21/1964 Jim Bunning PHI NYM NL
10/ 7/1956 Don Larsen NYY BRK AL
4/29/1922 C. Robertson CHI DET AL
10/ 1/1908 Addie Joss CLE CHI AL
5/ 4/1904 Cy Young BOS PHI AL
6/17/1880 Monte Ward WOR CLE NL
6/12/1880 Lee Richmond PRO BOS NL

Notice anything?

There seems to be a significant bias toward recent years. The National League was founded in 1876, and in the first 76 seasons of MLB as we know it, there were five regular season perfect games, plus one in the World Series. Then, in the 1960s, during a very pitcher-friendly era, three were tossed inside of five seasons, and then another drought, til 1981.

But from 1981 until last night, there has been a perfect game pitched about every 3-5 years! What the heck? 1981, 1984, 1988, 1991, 1994, 1998, 1999, 2004? That measley five-year span between Cone's perfecto in '99 and Johnson's last night was the biggest gap since the 14-year span between Catfish Hunter in 1968 and Len Barker (Len Barker!?) in '81.

I don't really know what it means, but it's weird, isn't it? I mean, not as weird as, say, a couple that needs to be told to try actually having sex in order to get pregnant, but weird, nonetheless.

Spanning times in which offense was generally down (the '80s), and when it was at an all-time high (the late '90s), we still get a perfecto every three years or so.

Does it mean that this pattern will continue? Who knows? Past behavior may be the best indicator of future performance, but it's still no guarantee.

Is it a conspiracy among Bud Selig and those who run MLB to make sure interest in the game stays high? Doubtful. Selig and company can't conspire to tie their own shoes without consulting the 29 ownership groups, and there are just way too many loose lips in that bunch to ever hide something like this.

Well, whatever it means, I guess I'll look forward to 2007 or so, for the next perfecto. Any guesses on who's next?

Stumble Upon Toolbar

No comments: