Felix Hernandez and arbitrarily historic performances

Wednesday afternoon, as I made my way to the digital pages at ESPN.com to check some of the early box scores, my eyes were directed toward the main article on the site’s home page, notifying those who were unaware that Felix Hernandez was in the eighth inning of a “perfect game.”

I had been unaware that the Mariners’ righty was on the verge of making history. So what did I do immediately upon reading this news? I proceeded to check the box scores of the early games. Hernandez went on to complete his historical feat, and I didn’t watch a single pitch and it didn’t bother me.

As someone who delves into sabermetrics on a regular basis, it seems odd to me that we are still placing the perfect game on such a pedestal without question or further analysis. Granted, a pitcher who has thrown a perfect game has probably pitched well that night, but that doesn’t mean that he didn’t make any mistake pitches or that hitters didn’t get unlucky on balls in play.

Rewinding to Matt Cain’s perfect game earlier this season, Gregor Blanco made an outstanding catch, deep in the right-center gap, to preserve the unblemished outing. But, had Blanco been playing a step closer to the plate or a step closer to the line, or had he taken a slightly less optimal path to the ball, or had Aubrey Huff or Brandon Belt been playing right field that day, the ball would have dropped in for extra bases and Cain’s performance would have faded into history as just another forgotten one-hit, no-walk, 14-strikeout masterpiece.

Cain would have pitched the exact same game, and all of the balls in play would have been identical, but if Blanco didn’t make that catch, Cain’s performance would have been treated differently.

This, to me, is wrong. It is shallow analysis and it is emphasizing the result more heavily than the process. That isn’t how we measure two-week samples, or how we measure expected future value, so why do we measure performance in a given game this way?

The idea that the end outcome of a pitch doesn’t determine the quality of the pitch shouldn’t be an obscure idea to any analytical baseball fan. A pitch right down the middle is usually not ideal, even if the batter swings and misses or pops it up. The same can be said for a pitch down at the ankles that is put into play for a hit. Provided that that particular hitter doesn’t thrive on pitches at his ankles, then it was a good pitch, but a bad outcome.

Bill James’ game scores attempts to measure performance in a somewhat objective way, giving credit to strikeouts and innings pitched, while punishing for hits, earned runs and walks. This is a quick way to approximate the value of a start without actually watching it or looking at the advanced data, but we could probably do a lot better if we wanted to take the time or had access to the proper data.

So, if looking at process is a better way of evaluating a start than looking at results are, then what are the factors that should be considered? Well, the list could be just about as lengthy as you wanted, but we will stop short of forecasting the marginal value of what a player ate for breakfast. This is the list that I came up with:

The uncontrollable environmental factors: This encompasses weather and ballpark. Balls fly further and hitters typically hit better when the weather is warm, so a each out in 80-degree weather is probably more difficult to achieve than an out in 60-degree weather. Wind is also a major factor. If a ball is hit with precisely enough power to send it 400 feet in a context-neutral environment, but wind resistance causes it to travel 375 feet, which results in an out rather than a home run, the pitcher should not be credited for this positive outcome. The same goes for ballparks; how a ballpark affects home runs, hits and pitch movement cannot be ignored either.

Opponent: Who are you playing against? A perfect game at home against the Rockies is probably an easier achievement than a one-hitter with no walks on the road against the Yankees or in Texas. Not only must you factor in opponent, but the venue as well, as some hitters hit better at home than on the road, for whatever reason.

Additionally, handedness and platoon splits must be considered. A left-hander who saws through a lineup stocked full of lefties with a same-handed platoon split isn’t as big an accomplishment as the glowing box score might indicate.

Actual on-field performance: This is what the pitcher actually does. How hard is the pitcher throwing? How well are his pitches located? How well is he mixing his pitches? How much is each pitch moving? Is he locating pitches primarily in batters’ cold zones? Does the pitcher have a consistent release point and a consistent delivery?

This is really all a pitcher can control. Once the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand, the result is out of his control. A perfect swing is going to be able to hit the perfect pitch, because the swing is in response to the pitch. The hitter has a distinct advantage here in the ability to reduce luck or variance. A pitcher must hope his pitch is good enough that the hitter has little chance of hitting it. Pitchers can maximize their chances of a positive outcome with good velocity, movement, location, sequencing, exploitation of hitter weaknesses, and a repeated delivery, but these just reduce the chances of a negative outcome, they can never eliminate them.

Type of contact: While batters can, and often do, make good contact with good pitches, it happens a lot less against quality pitches than it does with poor pitches. Tracking the velocity, angle and direction off of the bat would be a much better quantification of a pitch result than simply applying the hit or out tag to a ball in play.

Why is it that we can see a line drive that gets caught and say that the pitcher got lucky, or we can see a dribbling ground ball stop half way between home plate and third base, allowing the batter to leg out an infield single, and say that the pitcher got unlucky, and yet, at the same time, we (some of us) look at box scores and draw conclusions about the performance of a pitcher?

If all you knew was that Felix Hernandez threw a perfect game, could you make a reasonable estimation about the quality of his performance? You could conclude that he probably pitched well, but to say it was one of the top 23 performances of all time would be overestimating the accuracy of the box score line. This, however, is how history evaluates performance. Hernandez’s perfect game will go down as one of the better perfect games of all time and may be considered a top-10 pitching performance.

Balls not put in play: Does the pitcher have swing and miss stuff? Swinging strikes are a pretty good indicator of how a pitcher’s stuff is working. The more a batter swings and misses, the better the likelihood that the pitcher is throwing difficult pitches to hit. Similarly, the more called strikes a pitcher gets is usually a positive reflection on his pitch location and his pitch sequencing. A pitcher never tries to split the heart of the plate, but if he does and the hitter is frozen, then he probably did a good job of sequencing his pitches and fooling the hitter. This isn’t great execution of a pitch, but it is good execution of being unpredictable.

Strikeouts are the best outcome a pitcher can get, and, while a walk isn’t the worst outcome for a pitcher, throwing the fourth ball outside the strike zone guarantees that a batter reaches base, and that is bad. If the batter puts the ball in play, the expected value of the average outcome is not as bad as a walk, so a walk is the worst result that a pitcher has control over.

Perhaps an algorithm could be created that could encompass all of these data—and anything I am leaving out—into an expected outcome value based on what usually happens when a pitcher does certain things. But for now we are going to have to draw our own arbitrary conclusions about the data we have.

Lets put the Felix Hernandez perfect game under the microscope to the extent we can.

The game-time temperature was 79 degrees and the wind was 4 mph. The temperature certainly wasn’t optimal for pitching, but not terrible, either, and the wind was probably a non-factor. He pitched at home, in Safeco, a park that increases strikeouts and decreases all four types of hits, so this was definitely beneficial.

Taking the field in Hernandez’ opposition were the Tampa Bay Rays. Here is the batting lineup they rolled out and their wRC+ against righties and away from home in 2012.

1. Sam Fuld (93 against righties for career in 367 at bats; and 87 on the road)
2. B.J. Upton (96 and 87)
3. Matt Joyce (154 and 131)
4. Evan Longoria (105 and 94)
5. Ben Zobrist (123 and 140)
6. Carlos Pena (101 and 78)
7. Jose Lobaton (61 for career and 95)
8. Elliot Johnson (96 and 129)
9. Sean Rodriguez (55 and 58)

The starting lineup that Tampa put out there had a collective wRC+ of 98 against righties and a wRC+ of 100 on the road. There was basically no advantage gained by Felix in facing this version of the Rays.

Hernandez’ actual outing was a smooth, 113-pitch performance. He struck out 12 hitters (44.4 percent), he induced 26 swing and misses (23 percent swinging strike rate) and his fastball registered an average of 93.2 on the radar gun. Felix is striking out 24.4 percent of all batters this season, is garnering swinging strikes 10.4 percent of the time and is averaging about one mph less on his heater for the season than he did this outing. On the surface, his stuff appears to have been tremendous on Wednesday.

He mixed his pitches well, too, throwing 28 fastballs, 24 curves, 23 change-ups, 18 sliders, 13 cutters and seven sinkers. Looking at the PITCHf/x data, there may have been a couple of incorrectly classified pitches, but the general idea is the same: Hernandez made himself unpredictable by mixing in a great variety of pitches.

Here is the pitch plot of his pitches from his perfect game.


He stayed near the edges pretty well, but there were plenty of pitches in the middle and near the middle that were likely mistakes and he was probably lucky to get away with every single one of them.

Here is the pitch plot of his previous start on Aug, 10, in which he allowed five hits, four earned runs and one walk.


His location here isn’t quite as good—there are more pitches in the center area of the plate—but it doesn’t seem like too substantial a difference.

Since we don’t have access to HITf/x data and have no way of determining ball angle off of the bat and velocity off the bat with any exactitude, grading the type of contact that the Rays made on Felix’s pitches will lack precision. We can look to the batted ball classifications—if you trust them—to see that Hernandez gave up eight ground balls, five fly ball and two line drives. Again, velocity off the bat does matter, but most line drives end up as hits, so there is a good chance there was some luck involved in both line drives being caught. Still, eight ground balls and two line drives out of 15 balls in play represents relatively poor contact.

Hernandez’ outing looked perfect in the box score. His outing still looked very good under a more analytical lens. He struck out more than 40 percent of the Rays hitters he faced, he generated loads of swinging strikes, induced what appears to be weakish contact, and stayed around the strike zone all night. The venue was to his benefit, but the opposition was neutral. And the game-time conditions couldn’t have swayed very far in either direction.

If we were able to look at the HITf/x data and at each pitch’s location in relation to each hitter’s hot and cold zones, and if we were able to quantify the value of both, then we could better analyze this, or any start.

Despite the fact that Hernandez was brilliant in his dismantling of the Rays lineup, labeling his outing as perfect would be sensationalizing what was simply an excellent or exceedingly excellent outing.

Was this one of the 23 best single-game pitching performances of all time? Possibly, but we simply do not have the requisite tools to make an objective conclusion about that.

It can be exciting to watch historic performances, but the arbitrary filters for what is and isn’t considered historic are not the best measurements of true performance. They measure the result, but not the process, the pitcher who had the best outcomes, but not the pitcher who pitched the best.

Is a perfect game better than a one-hit, no walk game? Sure, usually, but is the difference between a perfect game and a one-base runner game so many magnitudes larger than the difference between a one-base runner and a two-base runner game that it requires accentuation and cajolery on such a historic level? No, it just isn’t.

Unfortunately, until we can quantify the expected value of every individual action on a baseball field, there will be no sterling measurement of single-game performances.

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  1. Anon said...

    Nice article.

    You should talk to some of the writers at Fangraphs and start developing a formula for advanced game score.

  2. Peter Jensen said...

    As a baseball analyst the data from Felix’s perfect game will be only a minute part of the totallity of data that I will use to assess his true talent and future performace.  As a baseball fan I will celebrate his perfect game BECAUSE of the amount of luck in addition to skill that a perfect game requires.  The same is true for triple plays, hitting for the cycle, and game winning grand slam home runs.  None of these events are representative of extraordinary skill by the players involved, but they all are extraordinary events in the fabric of baseball, a sport I love, and I will celebrate each and every one of them.

  3. Frank said...

    I just have one question. At this point, do you even enjoy baseball anymore? I’m talking about the actual game, not the numbers. To not even check on a perfect game in progress boggles my mind.

  4. Shane Meredith said...

    I disagree. Is a 589 ft homer accentuated more than a 328 ft homer. Is a gapper that takes an odd bounce and becomes an inside the park homerun accentuated more than the gapper that is played well and held to a single? Is a 4 homer game accentuated more than a 3 homer game with a double off the top of the wall? It’s one of the great reasons we watch baseball. That is baseball!

    Pitching is more than pitching. Pitching is pitching and defense. There will never be a perfect game with 27 strikeouts. I would love to watch a perfect game with 7 outstanding plays that save it. That performance would be many “magnitudes larger” than if just one of those plays weren’t made. Most definitely “it requires accentuation and cajolery on such a historic level”. As does a 14 K perfect game.

  5. RantsMulliniks said...

    “I proceeded to check the box scores of the early games. Hernandez went on to complete his historical feat, and I didn’t watch a single pitch and it didn’t bother me.”

    So what you’re saying is that you in fact do fit the mainstream stereotype of mother’s-basement-dwelling computer geek, to a T. You may love stats, but its obvious you don’t love baseball.

  6. Sprot said...

    This is likely the worst baseball article I’ve ever read, and I click on fangraphs once every two weeks or so, so that’s saying something. Legit sad.

  7. Moeball said...

    Not only does it take a little luck to pitch a no-no or perfect game, but sometimes the freakishness of that luck adds to the legend of the game.

    IIRC, back in May of 1953 an unknown quantity for the St. Louis Browns named “Bobo” Holloman pitched one of the most absurd no-hitters ever. By all accounts, he did not have good stuff that day and the hitters were hammering him – but his fielders behind him were performing all kinds of acrobatic catches! It was a miserable day weather-wise and supposedly the Browns’ owner (Veeck?)had offered fans in attendance some inducement to come back for another game in the future – just redeem your ticket stub from this game and get another ticket to a future game. Virtually no one took the Browns’ up on this offer, or so the story goes…Holloman was demoted to the minor leagues before the season was over, never to be heard from again…

  8. Jesse Sakstrup said...

    Thank you to all for being so constructive, analytical and fact-oriented in your criticism. Ad hominem attacks are infalible and show that you are very knowledgeable, rational and open-minded, and that you are smarter than everyone else (which is super important, especially on the Internet).

    You all have an opportunity to present why I am wrong in a rational manner. I would like to hear the other side of the argument; I will certainly be open-minded, receptive and civil in response to all respectful arguments and viewpoints, even if i don’t agree with them.

  9. Jesse Sakstrup said...

    Thanks, Moeball, for adding to the discussion. That is certainly interesting, and something I didn’t know before.

  10. Dongcopter Pilot said...

    I think it depends on your perspective…if you are following baseball so as to aggregate data from which to engage in quantitative analysis about players and their play, and you want to use that data to draw or produce conclusions regarding the relative value of players and their play, then yes, the perfect game is a misleading and over-lauded statistic. I’d argue that baseball isn’t just about value analysis…sometimes it’s just about watching and enjoying. A starting pitcher who goes 9 full innings and gets 27 straight outs without walking anyone has absolutely done something special. The fact that he might have had a lot of luck along the way doesn’t make it less special, to my mind. You just shouldn’t use the fact that he earned the distinction of throwing a PG as an absolute indicator of value or quality. It’s still an indicator, just a very imperfect one that no longer really even has a place in the serious world of qualitative and quantitative analysis of baseball player performance. That said, it’s not gonna go away, either, and frankly I wouldn’t want it to.

  11. SonOfDaveRoberts said...

    Here is a constructive argument for caring about the Perfecto: lucky or not, holding the opposing team to zero baserunners is the highest achievement possible for a defense/pitcher in a baseball game.  If the absolute best team performance you can hope to see in a single game is not interesting enough to watch, then what else could have possibly motivated you to turn on a game?

    If there is nothing that can happen on the field that is interesting enough to watch, and yet one can produce a lengthy article about a game one admits to not caring about, it follows that the sample of numbers generated by baseball is more important than the game itself, which turns the point of sports analysis (analysis serves to improve sports) on its head (sports serve to generate analysis).

  12. Shane Tourtellotte said...

    I am not shocked by the tenor of some responses, though maybe a touch dismayed.  I was a little put off myself by the early paragraphs.  Your analysis is sound and worthwhile, but it comes with some attitude:  the attitude that perfect games aren’t anything special. (And not because we’re seeing so many of them.  Feeling glutted, people would understand.)  I got a very similar response when I delivered a discordant note in THT Live about Johan Santana’s no-hitter, so I could have predicted this.  And maybe I could have shown off my burn scars and warned you to take a softer approach.

    Favoring process over outcome has a highly useful place, especially when coaching the players who have to create that process.  But fans in the millions watch these games for the outcomes.  Organized baseball exists to create those outcomes, those narratives, that people pay to see. (This is my fiction-writing background creeping in, bringing in high-toned terms like “narrative,” but it fits.)  To dismiss them is to miss the forest for the trees.

    We had a similar debate in baseball circles a decade ago:  sabermetrics or scouting?  The smart answer then was “Both.”  The smart answer now, to whether we should care about process or outcome, is again “Both.”  They matter for different reasons, but they both matter.  As put off as you (or I) would be by someone who said “Who cares if he doesn’t take walks?” there are others equally hurt to hear someone say the equivalent of “Who cares if he’s pitching a perfect game?”  And I am one of them.

    You don’t have to throw out the analysis:  you shouldn’t throw it out.  But you could be more receptive to the outcome side of the game.  Baseball doesn’t lose anything from it:  it is enriched and deepened by it.

    And that’s my attempt to wax lyrical about baseball for today.

  13. Toonces said...

    So that’s how many words it takes to explain a concept most people already vaguely get; take all the fun out of everything.

    People revere perfect games, no-hitters, and the like because of their rarity. Only 23 times in history has a fan been able to get a ticket punched to see two guys play catch for 27 batters. Only 23 times in history could you have tuned into TV or radio and enjoyed it as it happened. And I suppose you yawn now simply because of the ease with which you can enjoy Felix Hernandez’s “exceedingly excellent” game at your leisure.

    It’s a merit badge, just like the World Series trophy for franchises. Does the franchise that performs the objective best get the trophy at the end of every season? Of course not, and most fans understand this. But without these benchmarks and narratives there would be little reason for people to show up in the first place as nobody would give the first shirt how elusively you could project a spheroid from A to B.

  14. mando3b said...

    To follow up on Shane Tourtellote’s comment: It always amazes me when someone gets in other people’s faces with a deliberately provocative statement (“perfect games aren’t anything special”) and then gets pissed off when those other people respond in kind (“ad hominem attacks!!”, etc., etc.). As for the article itself: “missing the forest for the trees” is a good way to describe it. “Sucking all of the life out of human endeavor” is another. One of the pillars of your analysis is just flawed, in any case: “/If/ Blanco was standing a step closer to the plate . . . “, “/If/ Aubry Huff was playing right field that day . . .” Ifififififififif. As the old Red Sox manager Eddie Kasko once said: “If if’s and but’s were candied nuts, we’d all have a hell of a Christmas”. If I had wings I could fly. Because I don’t doesn’t mean that I’m less of a person, and is irrelevant for discussing what I do in life. Note to Shane T.: do not apologize for your fiction-writing background! As Dostoevsky’s Underground Man once declared: “2 + 2 = 4 is pure insolence. Sometimes 2 + 2 = 5 is a very lovely little thing, too.” (Dostoevsky is the “wacky lefty” on my all-Russian lit baseball team.)

  15. hopbiters said...

    I think there are two arguments here. One is that a perfect game isn’t necessarily the pinnacle of an individual pitching performance and I think Jesse presents a decent case for that. The other argument is that the feat is overvalued, which is pretty much subjective. I think most people that have more than a passing familiarity with baseball will recognize it as a team effort combined with a bit of luck. That said, the lion’s share of the burden is on the pitcher. Even in a game of circus catches, you need to keep the ball from leaving the park, have some degree of control, and stick around for nine innings.

    mando3b : I’d really love to hear the rest of that team, but I’m afraid we’d hijack the comments.

  16. Jesse Sakstrup said...

    I am not sure where I said that “perfect games aren’t anything special”. Special is sort of a subjective term, so I don’t know how to prove or disprove that statement. But, given the fact that there have been only 23, we can probably agree that they are rare.

    My argument is that perfect games aren’t automatically a special display of skill.

    And I don’t see how using an anti-analytical quote (ifs…) does anything to damage my viewpoint. People often use axioms as if they are facts or points of argument, but rarely are they born from objectivity.

    I mostly watch to observe skill, and in particular, to observe excellence—and to watch players that I have never seen before. Sure, Felix was probably excellent on Wednesday, but that doesn’t mean it was the best performance of the year, or second behind Matt Cain’s perfect game. I would rather watch the best process than the best outcome, regardless of whether or not the history books put emphasis on it or not.

  17. Will H. said...

    My favorite article on my favorite baseball feat also featured Felix. It was a GIF-filled re-telling of his nine pitch, three strikeout inning in both words and moving pictures. You could both love the feat and see all the pitch Fx numbers dance to life with each devastatingly different whiff.

  18. SonOfDaveRoberts said...

    That’s all lovely in theory – if you’re psychic and know ahead of time which game will feature the greatest display of skill.  But if someone who is in the discussion for best pitcher in baseball today and is in the midst of likely the best performance he will ever pitch in his career can’t meet your bar for “best process”, what do you need to make watching a game worth your while?  Ted William raised from the dead to face off against Pedro Martinez in a time warp from 2001?

  19. Dave said...

    In your perfect world then, pitching performances would be reducible to a value, a score based on event by event, objective analyses. The perfect game would be the ones that achieved the best possible score, a 27 strikeout game with minimum number of pitches? That would truly be a spectacle but not just because of it’s a reflection of the pitcher’s skill (and batters’ lack of skill).

    In team sports the random has a huge role to play. And rarity is something that is appreciated. We make note of the cycle even though 2 doubles, a triple, and home run would be better analytically. 

    the 56 game hit streak is amazing because it’s so dependent on luck as well. A walk-off home run isn’t objectively isn’t that much better than a home run earlier in a tie-game. But it’s special because of the context.

    A perfect game is rare and that is what makes it special. The pitcher’s skill is only a part of that.

  20. Mike S said...

    I enjoy sabermetrics, and started out all the way back at the old Abstracts.  But first and foremost, I enjoy the game of baseball.

    This writer clearly doesn’t, and I don’t want to read any more articles written by him.

  21. Raye said...

    Look, be bitter in your little room while not enjoying baseball all you want but please stop writing about it, you sound foolish.  If if if if if….is that all you have?  You’re trying to make this about Felix’s or Cain’s value when perfect games are and always have been about the team.  The pitcher gets the lion’s share of the credit but any one of them will tell you quick that it’s a team accomplishment.  So, yeah, Blanco being there isn’t a side point to help out your crusade here.  Maybe if you actually watched the games and took them for what they really are, you wouldnt be so bitter and your first thought wouldn’t be to diminish great things when they happen.

  22. Ted Baker said...

    If the goal of statistical analysis is to help us better understand and enjoy the game, this article fails dismally on both counts. If you had been sitting two feet to the left when you wrote it and the wind was blowing out, it wouldn’t have been such a waste of space.

  23. birdwatcher said...

    The problem, Jesse, is you consider your article to be “rational” analysis, so to demand only rational analysis in response sort of misses the point. What you have is an agenda combined with, as someone else noted earlier, an attitude – hardly the hallmarks of rational analysis. Indeed, I seriously wondered before seeing your responses whether this was a big put-on or practical joke. Apparently not.

  24. Paul E said...

      I kind of understand your “non-plussed” reaction. In 2010 Roy Halladay no-hit the Reds in a NLDS sweep by the Phillies. He was the greatest thing since women bought into the pill, sliced bread, etc… However, in Game 1 of the NLCS against the Giants he surrendered 4 runs in a loss. His Phillies watched the World Series on television that year.
      Hernanadez is a great pitcher – perfect game or not. Halladay, too.

  25. bucdaddy said...

    I do this everywhere else, might as well do it here:

    What are we talking about when we talk about luck? Because a screaming liner to short or a screaming shot to the gap that gets caught could just as easily get caught as a result of hours of video study and smart positioning. Which means luck had little or nothing to do with it.

    Otherwise, if you start down that rabbit hole, then you have to concede at some point that every damn thing that happens in a baseball game is the result of luck and that skill and talent have nothing to do with it. After all, if a ball drops between three fielders or a foot inside the foul line while your guy is pitching a perfect game, oh, that’s bad luck. But what about for the hitter? One man’s bad luck is another’s good luck, right?

    Why doesn’t anyone ever say a 500-foot home run was lucky? We all know that mere fractions of an inch on the bat make the difference between a popup to short and a liner in the gap or a ball over the wall. So why is the homer a result of skill and the popup with the bases loaded bad luck? (Or good luck for the pitcher, right?)

    How is it that you can buy good luck? Teams with money sure seem to have a lot more of it than teams that don’t. Or have the Yankees just been extraordinarily lucky all these years while if it weren’t for bad luck the Pirates would have no luck at all? If an owner could afford to buy up all the best players in MLB and said to hell with the luxury tax, just go ahead and pay it, and that team subsequently went 140-22 or 150-12 0r 160-2, would that team just be really really really lucky?

    I’m fascinated by the fact that seemingly rational people who wouldn’t for a moment believe in leprechauns or fairy dust believe in “luck.” It seems like superstition to me, or a fan’s excuse. I think what fans mean when they say “bad luck” is, “Our guys suck and there’s nothing I can do about it, but it’s easier to brush it off as bad luck than admit that to myself.”

  26. Tangotiger said...

    I don’t understand the backlash.

    Maybe because he said this:

    I proceeded to check the box scores of the early games. Hernandez went on to complete his historical feat, and I didn’t watch a single pitch and it didn’t bother me.

    Perfect game or not, if you have ten minutes to devote to baseball, how many people are going to choose a boxscore to watching Felix pitch in the 9th inning of a 1-0 game?

    Exactly what would it take for the writer to choose one inning of a baseball game to a boxscore?

  27. bucdaddy said...

    One more thing, Jesse: If you were in the ballpark watching a perfect game and feeling the tension build and the excitement and unity—what happens in any other sport that would make fans root for an opponent to embarrass their team?—of the fans build around you and the joyful release when it was over, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t shut up about it for the next 10 years. I know I wouldn’t.

    Two of the best pitching performances I’ve ever seen were reverse no-hitters (I’ve never seen the real deal in person), where a team led off the game with a hit or two and got nothing the rest of the way. I get your overall point, and it would be that I just made up an arbitrary name (reverse no hitter) for something that would otherwise be an ordinary one-hit (Zane Smith) or two-hit (Halladay/Papelbon) shutout, and I should really care. But they were special games to me and I remember them both pretty well, among hundreds of other games that I’ve long since forgotten. And I still bring them up when discussion turns to no-hitters.

    Because they were entrancing to see. The pitchers involved were dominant. And more or less dominant than anyone else’s one-hitter, well, I don’t know, I don’t see them all. All I know is, if you can’t appreciate and enjoy seeing that kind of performance, then you have something other than blood flowing in you.

    My $.02.

  28. Perfect game said...

    Awful article. If you are going to argue a perfect game it has to be about bad calls by the umpire. Calling a safe runner out, a clear ball 4 a strike, etc. Questioning a perfect game over good defense behind him is crazy and just looking to stir up an argument.

  29. colbyrasmus said...

    I don’t understand the backlash.  The author is correct in saying that there is essentially no different between a perfect game and a 1 hitter.  It seems kind of silly to make such a big fuss over that one hit, especially when it could have easily been caused by a great defensive play or a shitty umpire call (like in the case of the Santana no-hitter). 

    If perfect games were something that literally never happened, I could see people getting very excited about them (that’s how I felt a few years ago).  But I would think recent perfect games by the likes of Dallas Braden and Phillip Humber would set to rest the notion that they are something magical.

  30. Ralph C. said...

    “He stayed near the edges pretty well, but there were plenty of pitches in the middle and near the middle that were likely mistakes and he was probably lucky to get away with every single one of them.”

    Perhaps he was able to get away with, at least, some of the pitches in the middle & near the middle because of the pitch selection & location of those prior pitches. I think an interpretation of the pitch location data could be that he was setting up his pitches very well, setting up the batter very well, so that he could get away with putting one down and near the middle on occasion, especially when he and the catcher though the batter would least expect it.  It would be difficult to dance around the strike zone all game.  Sometimes you need to put one as near to the middle as possible.  If a pitcher and catcher are on their game, they will know when the best time to do this is.  And, yes, some of them could be mistakes that were luckily mishandled by the batter.

    I was watching a replay of that game and from what I saw, he was delivering a great performance, almost effortless, at times.  What I derived from the pitch data represents the performance King Felix gave in his perfect game.  I do think the pitch location data from the perfect-o and his previous start is significant enough.  I think in his previous start on August 10, there were quite a few more pitches in the strike zone, and that he didn’t have command of his pitches.  There is less noise on the outside of the zone in the 8/10 start.  If you look at the perfect game data, there is more noise outside the strike zone and more variance in the type of pitches thrown.  So, I would conclude that there is a significant difference between the two starts.  I see why he was able to throw a perfect game, both in what I saw with my eyes through observation, and what was documented statistically. 

    Everyone should remember this: Each and everyone of us is allowed to enjoy the game in our own way.  Whether we enjoy the execution or the outcome, want to log and analyze numbers or be regaled by tales and stories and personalities, through the ambiance of the environment or with the rigidity of the box score, we should be allowed to enjoy baseball in the way we, ourselves, see fit.  Suppositions on how one should enjoy baseball, or cookies, for example, really shouldn’t be made.

  31. and statistics! said...

    Perfect Games are just like assigning win/loss to a pitcher.  Very few common stats in baseball have truw meaning, and that carries over into sabremetric concepts based on that weak underpinning.  Throw out the whole curent concept of stats (that which a newsman can understand after repeating it a thousand times) and get some decent ideas in place.  Starting with the play-by-play, noting that there are only 27 outs, toss out historical ideas created when the reserve clause was ironclad, in short, a whole new ballgame.

  32. Marc Schneider said...

    I thought the article was satirical.  Apparently it’s not.  However, ad hominem attacks are inappropriate regardless of how silly the article is. 

    We all know that no-hitters do not necessarily reflect the pinnacle of pitching.  But baseball is one of the few sports-bowling being the only other that I can think of-where there is such a thing as perfection.  That’s a cool concept regardless of how much luck is involved or whether the pitchers are even that good.  It’s about the game itself.

  33. volrath50 said...

    When people complain about “Baseball nerds” only caring about the numbers and not actually enjoying baseball, this is exactly the sort of thing they are thinking of.

    Honestly, who chooses to look at box scores instead of watch a perfect game live?

  34. Brian Standing said...

    What I love about baseball is that games and performances come down to equal parts of skill, luck and timing.

    Focusing on only one aspect of the game, as the author does, simply ignores the other aspects, which are part of what make the game enjoyable.  Luck is a huge part of the game, and sometimes it breaks for your team, and sometimes it breaks the other way.  Sometimes it breaks in favor of someone who richly deserves it, and sometimes it tragically robs someone of something they should have earned.

  35. Steve0 said...

    You make the argument that a perfect game is ‘shallow analysis’ as if people don’t realize that.  People realize that there is a component of luck or good fortune involved in a no hitter.  That easy grounder to the 2nd baseman could very easily have been hit right up the middle for a single.  The whole strike zone is a bit subjective, so that 3-2 pitch on the edge of the zone could be a walk instead of a K.  This is not news to people.

  36. Marc Schneider said...

    “I’m fascinated by the fact that seemingly rational people who wouldn’t for a moment believe in leprechauns or fairy dust believe in “luck.” It seems like superstition to me, or a fan’s excuse. I think what fans mean when they say “bad luck” is, “Our guys suck and there’s nothing I can do about it, but it’s easier to brush it off as bad luck than admit that to myself.” “

    What we mean by “luck” is essentially randomness.  Film study or not, a certain number of well hit balls will be caught and soft hit balls will drop in. The whole argument about BABIP for pitchers is that a certain number of balls in play will be hits regardless of how good the pitcher is.  You can’t seriously argue that every line drive that is caught is simply a matter of preparation and design by the defense.  Or that every time a batter hits a ball off the end of his bat and it falls in, that’s skill. There is a lot of randomness in life in general; you can call it luck or anything else but denying that it exists is taking rationality to a silly degree. 

    Obviously, not everything that happens in a game is random.  Better players typically play better. But to deny that a lot of random things occur in a baseball game is, to me, ignoring reality.  This is why teams with better records often lose in the playoffs; things happen randomly.  Over the course of 162 games, the randomness will balance out so that talent and skill usually prevail.  But it’s silly to deny that a bad umpire’s call is not luck (bad for one side, good for the other).

  37. bucdaddy said...

    equal parts of skill, luck and timing.

    Luck is a huge part of the game

    First you assert it’s 1/3, and then you assert it’s “huge.” Which is it, and what do you mean by “luck”? What are you defining? And how do you tell the difference between skill, luck and timing? Shortstop gloves a ball deep in the hole and throws the runner out by an eyelash; shortstop fields a ball deep in the hole and the runner beats the throw by an eyelash. Skill, luck or timing: Which applies to which play?

    Yes, I’m baiting you, because I think you’re full of superstitious nonsense. You might as well try to tell me astrology decides ballgames. But I’m willing to change my mind if you can make a solidly reasoned argument.

  38. bucdaddy said...

    You can’t seriously argue that every line drive that is caught is simply a matter of preparation and design by the defense.  Or that every time a batter hits a ball off the end of his bat and it falls in, that’s skill.
    I’m asking: How do you know which is which?

  39. CraigM said...

    Speaking of reverse no hitters. In April, Matt Cain allowed only one baserunner, a single by the Pirates pitcher, a career .069 hitter, lol. Not quite the same thing, but interesting.
    And speaking of luck. Baseball, more than the other sports, is a nice combination of luck and skill. Poker is a lot like that too, a major reason it is so popular. I have a catch phrase I use around my house, “there’s a lot of luck in baseball”, which I often use to refer to non baseball events. It’s become an inside joke between my wife and I.

  40. Brian Standing said...

    As Marc says above, by “luck” I mean randomness, or stochastic variation.  Here’s the experiment: attempt to hit a small round object travelling at speeds of 80-95 mph with a tapered cylinder, aiming at a defined space of a particular size. To make things really interesting, fill that defined space with 9 independent actors of various speed and size, all of whom are deliberately trying to intercept the sphere. Repeat that experiment 500-700 times over the course of a few hours.  That’s a baseball game.

    Even if you could keep the teams, the personnel, the park and every other factor exactly identical, you would get a different result every time you ran that experiment.  That variation is what I will call “luck.”

    “Timing” can be a subset of luck.  An unusual thing can happen … a normally sure-handed fielder bobbles a ball, a .200 hitter hits a blazing line drive… but whether or not such an event is significant in the course of the game depends on when it occurs, and what events happen before or after that.

    I would argue that, over time, “skill” will reshape, but not fundamentally alter, the bell curve described by repeating that experiment over and over. 

    But on any given day, no matter how much skill is present, a very wide range of stochastic possibilites may occur.  Including, occasionally, such extreme oddities as a perfect game.  Even with exceptionally skilled players on the field, and even perhaps with exceptionally dismal hitters at the plate, your odds of seeing a perfect game are well… whatever 23 divided by all the baseball games ever played equals.  EVERYTHING has to go right (or wrong, depending on your poing of view) for a perfect game to occur.

    Those kind of extremely odd statistical outliers are interesting.  If you get an opportunity to witness one, you should never pass it up.  You might never see one again in your lifetime.  If you happened to be looking at the sky at the exact moment the light of a supernova 1,000 light years away reached the earth, would you say, “Well, it wasn’t really the most impressive supernova that ever occurred?”

  41. bucdaddy said...


    OK, you make a good argument, and I can buy luck/randomness as a mathematical concept. But I was (I admit) testing you out a bit because I don’t think that’s what most people mean when they use the word, and I wish they’d stop it. I wish they’d stop with the “curse” and “jinx” and “momentum” etc. talk, too. But I’m almost certainly pissing into the wind on that one.

    Best wishes.

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