Visualization: How Matt Cain’s perfect game stands in baseball historyby Dan Lependorf
June 21, 2012
If a pitcher strikes out 14 batters in a single game, it'll be the lead story on every sports news program of the night. After all, it's only happened a few hundred times in baseball history. If a pitcher throws a perfect game, it's one of those landmark events that'll be sold on DVD in the MLB.com store. And people will buy it, because hey, it's a perfect game. Only 22 of those.
But both of them at the same time? Congratulations, Matt Cain. You just had one of the best nights from any pitcher in the history of Major League Baseball.
Baseball statistician Bill James created a statistic for measuring the strength of a starting pitcher's outing, called Game Score. It's a bit like a good version of football's Passer Rating. James set up the scale so that the average start generally sits around 50, and that zero and 100 correspond to awful and fantastic on a historic scale, respectively. To give an idea where those extremes lie, a Game Score of zero or less has been achieved by 277 lucky pitchers from the end of the deadball era of baseball (1919). A Game Score of 100 has only been achieved 10 times since 1919 in a regular nine-inning game. Clearly, it's easier to be bad than good.
With Matt Cain's perfect game last Wednesday, not only did he become the 10th pitcher ever to record a triple-digit Game Score in nine innings of work, he also tied the record for the highest mark in a no-hitter. That mark of 101 was previously set by Sandy Koufax in 1965, and matched by Nolan Ryan in 1991.
As a testament to how rare a game like Cain's really is, here's every no-hitter since 1919 by Game Score. Click to enlarge.
Congratulations again, Matt Cain. You've earned it.
References and Resources
- Fans of baseball in the late '90s should remember the start that registered the highest nine-inning Game Score in baseball history. That start came from the arm of none other than Kerry Wood in 1998. 20 strike outs, no walks, and one hit.
- If we allow extra inning games, the highest Game Score mark belongs to Joe Oeschger of the Boston Braves, who struck out seven, walked four, and allowed one run on nine hits. Doesn't sound fantastic, until you realize that he threw 26 innings that day.
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