Thursday, June 14, 2012

Birds fly, Sun Rises, Pitcher throws perfect game

Before crawling into bed last night I pulled up ESPN on my phone. Upon seeing that Cain had thrown a perfect game (introduced by the inexcusably bad title "Perfectly Able") my initial thought was "Wow, good for him". I didn't have a second thought, I put my phone down and went to sleep.

No-hitters and perfect games are supposed to be rare unbelievable performances, games that you'll always remember exactly where you watched them. Given all the no-hitters lately it's getting hard to keep track. Cain's perfect game last night was the third no-hitter in two weeks. As baseball fans we've been spoiled by all the spectacular pitching performances lately. Before we've come down from the emotional high of one game, we're treated with another. Cain may have pitched the greatest game of all time, but the news just seems so ordinary.

We've called each of the last three seasons 'The Year of the Pitcher" but that might not be doing it justice. Pitchers' ERA has dropped by 0.58 runs just since 2006. But massive TV contracts have created tiers of have and have-not teams, and those have-not teams are trotting out lineups each game that would embarrass most AAA teams. Of the 5 no-hitters this season, three have been thrown against Seattle, Minnesota, and Houston, teams that score collectively 0.22 runs less per game than league average. This along with the end of the steroid era, better training, and better available information has made the frequency of historic pitching performances sky rocket.

1We've seen 5 no-hitters so far this season and it's only halfway through June. Previously, the most no-hitters through the first 64 games of a season was 3. Even if we ignore the combined no-hitter this season still breaks the record. Even having 3 no-hitters at this point has only happened 5 times previously and one of those occurrences was only two seasons ago in 2010. There have only been 3 seasons that have even had more no-hitters total. June isn't exactly known for it's no-hitters either, only the 1990 season had at least 3 no-hitters in it. Although it's not like any month is really known for having this many no-hitters. Outside of the Junes of 1990 and 2012, no other month since 1918 has seen 3 no-hitters in a single season. This shouldn't be that surprising, the 14 no-hitters we've had since 2010 (counting Halladay's playoff one) can be beaten only by the 15 from '67-'69, '68-'70, '88-'91, and '90-'922, and this season isn't even over yet. Plus the combined three perfect games from those two four-year stretches don't match the four we've already seen since 2010.

It isn't just the once elusive no-hitter that seems to be popping up every week though. There have been 66 one-hitters thrown since 2009 are matched only by the four year stretch from '85-'88, and as I continually mention, this current stretch is only counting 64 games from the fourth season. League-wide, the number of such high quality games has never been this good.

Let's not forget Matt Cain though. At this point already he's already having a historically great season. Only 68 other pitchers have thrown at least two one-or-less hitters in an entire season, but few have done it as well as Cain. Of those 68 players's seasons, only 23 had at least 1 no-hitter, and like Cain only Jim Bunning was able to do it without giving up a walk in either of those two starts. Of the 23 players with at least one no-hitter, only Koufax and Nolan Ryan were able to do it with more strikeouts. If we consider that Cain has also thrown a two-hitter, we can count only 6 other players that have thrown three two-hitters or less at this point in the season and Cain has struck out more, walked less, and given up less hits in those three games than any of them.

It truly says a lot of this era then that if the season were to end today that Cain might not even win the Cy Young. R.A. Dickey is just trailing Cain in ERA 2.20-2.18 and has 6 less strikeouts (Cain and Dickey are second and fourth respectively), but Dickey is also working on a 32.3 inning scoreless streak that he'll look to continue against the Orioles next week. Let's not forget about that kid up in Washington either.

There has been a lot to appreciate about pitchers lately, maybe a little too much. I don't want to go back to steroid era run levels but since 2000 we've lost over 1000 home runs per season. Watching a no-hitter or perfect game is always entertaining, and I loved seeing the recap and watching the full ninth inning of last night's game this morning, but at some point you want to see the pressure packed situations of seeing men on base. Plus, who doesn't love the long ball?

1All data presented from this point on is for seasons 1918-2012
2Note that these eras overlap

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