Weekly Hit Ground Ball: A pair of perfectos

WhgbHlSqIt’s the final day of May and all baseball fans will be sorry to see the month end.  After Ubaldo Jimenez gave us a no-hitter in April, Dallas Braden and Roy Halladay turned this month into one for the ages as both pitched perfect games.

Logging on to MLB.com on Sunday morning, I did a double-take when I saw the news of Halladay’s perfecto against the Marlins the night before.  Following Randy Johnson’s perfect game against the Braves in May 2004, we waited just over five years before Mark Buehrle pitched the eighteenth perfecto in MLB history last July.  Less than a year later and that number has gone up to twenty

Perfect games are so rare that there will always be an element of surprise and wonder about them, but Halladay’s effort was slightly more predictable than many others because his dominating stuff and tendency to pitch deep into games makes him a candidate to pitch a no-hitter most times he takes the ball. 

If you would have put good odds on Halladay to do it, Dallas Braden would have been the ultimate long shot.  The A’s starter is a battler compared to Halladay’s dominating presence; Braden is a scrappy battler, Halladay a Cy Young-winning All-Star.  That’s the beauty of baseball: every game is different and there is always another exciting story just around the corner.  We can enjoy seeing a great pitcher like Halladay adding a perfect game to his resume, while also getting a kick out of watching an unlikely hero such as Braden beating the odds. 

Comparing the two perfectos and the pitchers who pitched them

The Brooks Baseball website allows us to drill down into pitching performances via the MLB.com Gameday data.  Halladay worked with a boring fastball/cutter sitting around the 92 MPH mark, changing speeds with an 85 MPH change-up and a 78 MPH curve.  Braden doesn’t have the same quality fastball, in fact his 87 MPH average fastball is barely a Major League offering, but he made it work by mixing it with a 74 MPH breaking ball and a ridiculous 70 MPH change-up.  The speed differential is what allows Braden to fool hitters when he is pitching well, although his margin of error is much smaller than Halladay’s.

The numbers, captured in ESPN’s excellent boxscores, show various similarities and differences between the two starts.

  Pitches Strikes 1st pitch strikes
Halladay 115 72 14
Braden 109 77 17


The two pitchers were fairly similar in pitch total, while Braden actually threw a few more strikes and had a slightly better record in throwing his first pitch for a strike. How did they get their 27 outs?

Halladay 8 8 11
Braden 7 14 6


The big difference between the two starts, indeed between the two pitchers, stands out clearly from that table.  Halladay’s dominating stuff allowed him to rack up eleven strikeouts; Braden was much more reliant on his outfielders chasing down fly balls.  That doesn’t make Braden’s achievement any less notable, in fact in some ways it makes it all the more incredible, but it reinforces the idea that he lives on a knife edge in comparison to Halladay.

Braden’s greater tendency to rely on flyballs is revealed in stats on Fangraphs.com that show what sort of outs the pitchers have recorded throughout their careers when the ball is put in play against them.

  LD% GB% FB%
Halladay 19.0 56.1 24.9
Braden 19.2 37.8 42.9


They have almost identical line drive rates, but Halladay induces a greater percentage of ground balls and a lot less fly balls, a very good thing now that he is in the home run haven of Citizens Bank Park.

The opposing pitcher

While Braden received four runs in support of his perfect pitching (which must have felt like 8 considering the spluttering form of the A’s offence), Halladay was defending a solitary unearned run.  Marlins starter Josh Johnson took the hard-luck loss and, if history is an indicator, his role should not be overlooked.  Half of the twenty perfect games thrown in the Majors have come when the winning pitcher has been backed by two runs or less. 

The dramatic way of looking at it is that a pitcher raises his game knowing that he can’t afford to make a mistake.  Maybe that’s part of it sometimes or perhaps there are more direct factors involved?  Quick innings on both sides will allow a pitcher to stay in his rhythm rather than sitting around for 15 minutes as his teammates pile up the baserunners, something that would particuarly help a quick worker like Halladay. Looking back through some of the earlier perfect games, there may be an argument that the playing conditions were pitcher friendly, allowing both pitching staffs to handcuff the offences.

Who’s watching?

The only disappointing similarity between our two May perfectos is that they were pitched in two of the worst attended ballparks in the Majors.  Just 12,228 saw Braden’s perfect game live at Oakland Coliseum, while the Sun Life Stadium in Florida was only 65 per cent full (25,086) despite a sizeable contingent of Phillies fans being on hand.

At least thanks to the wonders of modern technology, millions of baseball fans around the world could follow the games live over the internet.  I listened to Braden’s perfect game, but was in the land of nod when Doc Halladay worked his magic.

I can only blame myself for forgetting one of the golden rules that UK-based baseball fans live by: sleep is overrated.


This week’s early MLB game schedule

We’ve got seventeen early games to enjoy this working week, with the schedule boosted by the batch of Memorial Day games today.  There are some good match-ups on all three days containing early starts, but one game stands out above all others.  Ubaldo Jimenez matching up against Tim Lincecum today should be an absolute classic: the perfect way to end the Bank Holiday weekend.  All times are in BST.

Monday 31 May

18.05. Oakland at Detroit (Cahill vs Verlander)
18.05. Cleveland at NY Yankees (Talbot vs Pettitte)
18.05. Philadelphia at Atlanta (Blanton vs Hanson)
18.10. Milwaukee at Florida (Narveson vs Robertson)
18.35. Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh (TBD vs Ohlendorf)
19.05. Washington at Houston (Atilano vs Oswalt)
19.10. LA Angels at Kansas City (Santana vs Hochevar)
21.05. Colorado at San Francisco (Jimenez vs Lincecum)
21.15. Cincinnati at St. Louis (Arroyo vs Garcia)

Tuesday 1 June

No early games

Wednesday 2 June

18.05. Philadelphia at Atlanta (Kendrick vs Lowe)
20.10. Arizona at LA Dodgers (Jackson vs Monasterios)
23.35. NY Mets at San Diego (Santana vs Richard)

Thursday 3 June

18.05. Cleveland at Detroit (TBD vs Porcello)
18.05. Baltimore at NY Yankees (Millwood vs Sabathia)
18.35. Oakland at Boston (Anderson vs Wakefield)
19.05. Washington at Houston (Martin vs Moehler
19.10. LA Angels at Kansas City (Weaver vs Greinke)

Friday 4 June

No early games

All the above games can be followed via various resources on MLB.com (Gameday, At Bat with Gameday Audio and MLB.tv), while ESPN America’s MLB schedule can be found here. A complete schedule of MLB games can be found on MLB.com.

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2 Responses to Weekly Hit Ground Ball: A pair of perfectos

  1. Thomas (Border Bats) June 3, 2010 at 8:24 pm #

    Show’s I need to keep up with my RSS Reader better. Three days ago and it already feels out of date. How about a side by side comparison of all three perfectos?

  2. Matt Smith June 3, 2010 at 9:44 pm #

    I may take a look at that over the weekend. It was a perfecto in all but name, so I think it just about counts!

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