The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Grover Cleveland Alexander”

Phil Humber’s Perfect Game: How Perfectly Rare

Phil Humber of the Chicago White Sox has just tossed the 21st perfect game in Major League history, defeating the Seattle Mariners this afternoon, 4-0.

Philip Humber

Philip Humber (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

To put this extremely rare event into perspective, more people have orbited the moon than have thrown a complete perfect game, and no pitcher has ever thrown two of them.

Among the pitchers who never threw a perfect game are Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Lefty Grove, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Carl Hubbell, Bob Feller, Robin Roberts, Steve Carlton, Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Jim Palmer, Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, Dwight Gooden, Greg Maddux, and Pedro Martinez.

Twenty perfect games have been pitched during the regular season.  Two perfect games were pitched in the 19th century, 14 were tossed in the entire 20th century, and now five have already been hurled in the 21st century.

Six pitchers who pitched a perfect game are currently in the Hall of Fame:  Montgomery Ward, Cy Young, Addie Joss, Jim Bunning, Sandy Koufax and Catfish Hunter.  At least two more pitchers — Randy Johnson and Roy Halladay — will eventually be enshrined as well.

Mark Buehrle takes a sign during his 2009 perf...

Mark Buehrle takes a sign during his 2009 perfect game. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Eight of the 21 perfect pitchers were left-handed:  Lee Richmond, Tom Browning, Randy Johnson, Sandy Koufax, Dallas Braden, David Wells, Mark Buehrle, and Kenny Rogers.

The most common score of a perfect game has been 1-0.  This has happened six times.  The greatest amount of run support pitchers have received while tossing perfect games has been six runs.  David Cone won 6-0 in 1999 while pitching for the Yankees, and Jim Bunning received six runs of support in 1964 while pitching against the Mets.

May has been the most common month for perfect games (7), while none have ever been pitched in the month of August.

Thirteen perfect games have been thrown by A.L. pitchers, while only eight N.L. pitchers have ever pitched one.

Here is a complete list of pitchers who have tossed a perfect game prior to Humber’s masterpiece today, as well as the date on which it was thrown, and the score of the game:

Roy Halladay
Philadelphia Phillies at Florida Marlins, 1-0
May 29, 2010

Dallas Braden
Oakland A’s vs. Tampa Bay Rays, 4-0
May 9, 2010

Mark Buehrle
Chicago White Sox vs. Tampa Bay Rays, 5-0
July 23, 2009

Randy Johnson
Arizona Diamondbacks at Atlanta Braves, 2-0
May 18, 2004

David Cone
New York Yankees vs. Montreal Expos, 6-0
July 18, 1999

David Wells
New York Yankees vs. Minnesota Twins, 4-0
May 17, 1998

Kenny Rogers
Texas Rangers vs. California Angels, 4-0
July 28, 1994

Dennis Martinez
Montreal Expos at Los Angeles Dodgers, 2-0
July 28, 1991

Tom Browning
Cincinnati Reds vs. Los Angeles Dodgers, 1-0
Sept. 16, 1988

Mike Witt
California Angels at Texas Rangers, 1-0
Sept. 30, 1984

Len Barker
Cleveland Indians vs. Toronto Blue Jays, 3-0
May 15, 1981

Catfish Hunter
Oakland A’s vs. Minnesota Twins, 4-0
May 8, 1968

Sandy Koufax
Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Chicago Cubs, 1-0
Sept. 9, 1965

Jim Bunning
Philadelphia Phillies at New York Mets, 6-0
June 21, 1964

Don Larsen
New York Yankees vs. Brooklyn Dodgers, 2-0
Oct. 8, 1956
(World Series)

Charles Robertson
Chicago at Detroit (AL), 2-0
April 30, 1922

Addie Joss
Cleveland vs. Chicago (AL), 1-0
Oct. 2, 1908

Cy Young
Boston vs. Philadelphia (AL), 3-0
May 5, 1904

Prior to Modern Era

John Montgomery Ward
Providence vs. Buffalo (NL), 5-0
June 17, 1880

Lee Richmond
Worcester vs. Cleveland (NL), 1-0
June 12, 1880

They say nobody’s perfect, but 21 pitchers can say they have been perfect for a day.  And that’s something no one can ever take away from them.

Pitching WAR Analysis: The First Seven Years

Using my previous post about Roy Oswalt as a jumping off point, I decided to analyze forty semi-random pitchers’ cumulative WAR (Wins Above Replacement) for their first seven consecutive years in the Majors.  Working under the assumption that Roy Oswalt would rate higher than the average Dick Ruthven, Roger Pavlik or John Burkett, I didn’t hesitate to compare Oswalt’s WAR for Seasons 1-7 against many of the best pitchers in history.

In some cases, I decided to skip a particular season for a starting pitcher who made just a handful of starts in an injury abbreviated year, and move on to his next full season.  For a handful of these pitchers, seven consecutive full seasons of pitching was about all they could muster.

As with all lists, it begins with the caveat that we are looking at a snapshot of a player’s career, as measured by just one of many available statistics.  So don’t (and I don’t really think there was a chance that you might have) wave this around as either evidence of my ignorance (which it may very well be) or as proof that could win you a bet in a pub argument (and why wasn’t I invited?)

In order then, from highest WAR to lowest, first seven seasons as a starting pitcher, since 1900, (leaving out about a million relevant pitchers):

English: Portrait of baseball player Christy M...

Image via Wikipedia

1)  Walter Johnson (you were expecting maybe Buzz Capra?) – 57.0

2)  Grover Cleveland Alexander – 54.2

3)  Tom Seaver – 52.0

4)  Lefty Grove – 51.2

5)  Bob Feller – 49.5

6)  Roger Clemens – 46.9

7)  Robin Roberts – 46.3

8)  Ferguson Jenkins – 45.8

9)  Warren Spahn – 44.2

10) Pedro Martinez – 43.4

10) Christy Mathewson – 43.4

12) Rube Waddell – 41.9

13)  Johan Santana – 39.8

14)  Don Drysdale – 38.2

15)  Roy Halladay – 38.1

16) Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown – 37.6

17) Dave Stieb – (Yes, he really was this good) – 36.3

18) Steve Carlton – 36.0

19) Brett Saberhagen – 35.9

20) Dizzy Dean – 35.7

21) Phil Niekro – 35.4

22) Bob Gibson – 35.3

23) Nolan Ryan – 34.7

24) Randy Johnson – 34.6

25) Dwight Gooden – 34.4

26) Ron Guidry – 34.0

26) Sandy Koufax – 34.0

28) Mike Mussina – 32.9

29) Roy Oswalt – 32.7

30) Greg Maddux – 31.6

31) Curt Schilling – 29.2

32) Cliff Lee – 28.7

33) Jim Bunning – 28.4

34) Whitey Ford – 26.6

35) Don Sutton – 25.2

36) Jack Morris – 22.7

37) John Smoltz – 21.0

38) Kevin Brown – 20.8

38) Tom Glavine – 20.8

40) Catfish Hunter – 15.2

Keeping in mind that these numbers do not represent the final WAR totals of each of these pitchers’ respective careers, what does this data tell us?

For one thing, Oswalt’s first seven years measure up pretty well with pitchers like Greg Maddux and Mike Mussina, and are close on the heals of power pitchers like Gooden, Guidry and Koufax.*

*Incidentally, I love the synchronicity of those particular three pitchers, each of whom had a few great years, then burned out rather quickly.

It is also clear that if a pitcher is able to accumulate 40 WAR or better in his first seven years, he is very likely on his way to a Hall of Fame career.  On the other hand, if a pitcher accumulates 30-40 WAR in his first seven years, it is nearly impossible to predict if the rest of his career will buttress, or undermine, his HOF chances.

This list, which, let me remind you, is not meant to be comprehensive, also reminds us that our perceptions of baseball players are largely formed early in their careers, and that’s how we tend to remember them regardless of what they do for the rest of their careers.

Thus, some players like Kevin Brown never seem to get their due as excellent pitchers because the initial years of their careers were not terribly impressive.  Meanwhile, many, perhaps most baseball fans, are aware of the early greatness of Gooden, Guidry, Dizzy Dean, and others who didn’t last terribly long.

Finally, let this list be a cautionary tale that it is awfully difficult to accurately and objectively evaluate a pitcher’s career while it is still in progress.  It is not until he has tossed his final pitch and walked off the mound for the last time that we can begin to appreciate his contribution to baseball, and his place among the immortals.

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