Since 2007, I’ve stayed in a hotel eight or nine times. Three of those times, I’ve come back to my room just in time to watch the ninth inning of a no-hitter. When Clay Buchholz threw his no-no, I was at a friend’s wedding in Boulder, Colorado. Last May, I was at a conference in Orlando when Francisco Liriano pitched his. Wednesday night, I was at the same conference, this time in Nashville, when Jered Weaver struck out nine Twins in pitching his first no-hitter. For what it’s worth, I was in Atlanta when Edwin Jackson threw his no-hitter, although I stayed with family and didn’t watch the ninth inning.
With a perfect game and a no-hitter behind us, and Brandon Morrow and Joe Blanton adding gems last night (I wrote this post on 5/4, but posted it on 5/5 due to technical difficulties), it seems like a good time to compare the season’s best-pitched games using True Game Score.
1. Matt Cain, 4/13, 97
Bill James’s Game Score has Cain’s complete game, 11-K, one-hitter tied with Philip Humber’s perfect game as the season’s best-pitched. My True Season Score, which puts additional weight on the outcomes most within a pitcher’s control, sees Cain’s as a little better, and I believe this is true. Cain gave up one single (to opposing pitcher James McDonald) in a win over the Pirates, but he struck out 11, leaving fewer balls in the hands of his defense and random variation than Humber did in striking out nine.
2. Philip Humber, 4/21, 96
Humber thoroughly dominated the Mariners, striking out nine and never allowing a baserunner. The only difference between this and Cain’s game, besides the hit, is that Humber used a hair more luck and defensive support in allowing 18 balls in play, while Cain allowed 17. We could give Humber a bonus for using just 96 pitches, but that’s due in part to the same factors that kept those grounders and fly balls from becoming hits.
3. Jered Weaver, 5/2, 94
There’s really not much difference among these three games, but I do think it’s an important distinction that Weaver was more to blame for the one walk he issued than Cain was for the single he gave up.
4. Cliff Lee, 4/18, 92
Here’s the first pitcher on the list whose team didn’t win the game. Lee gets a five-point bonus for throwing ten innings. He gave up seven hits, but also struck out seven and walked none. His opponent that night, Matt Cain, earned a TGS of 87, the eleventh best game of the season.
4. Brandon Morrow, 5/3, 92
A night after Weaver no-hit the Twins, Morrow dominated Weaver’s Angels nearly as thoroughly, striking out eight and walking none in a complete-game three-hitter. Morrow’s game may have scored higher than Lee’s if his team needed more than nine innings out of him, as he threw just 102 pitches and may have had another inning in him.
6. Edwin Jackson, 4/14, 90
Jackson is the first pitcher on the list to have thrown the game in question against a decent offense, holding the Reds to one run and two hits in a complete game. Jackson struck out nine and walked just one.
6. Joe Blanton, 5/3, 90
Amazingly, Blanton threw just 88 pitches in dismissing the Braves last night, one game after the Braves tagged Roy Halladay and his relievers for 15 runs. That’s the fewest pitches any hurler has needed to complete a game in 2012. Eight Ks, no walks, three hits, and a shutout win.
8. Chad Billingsley, 4/6, 89
We’ll stop here, now that we’ve found the top TGS among pitchers who didn’t pitch at least nine innings. Dock Billingsley if you will for throwing this one in Petco Park, but the park didn’t contribute much to his 11 strikeouts or his one walk. Billingsley gave up three hits in 8 1/3 innings.
While it’s somewhat likely that we’ll see another no-hitter this year, and it’s possible we’ll see another perfect game, it’s even more likely that the season’s best-pitched game will be neither. There’s a lot of luck in baseball, but the pitchers most likely to have continued success are those who strike out more batters, walk fewer, and keep the ball in the park, as the eight pitchers above all did brilliantly.
If you’re wondering when the next no-hitter will be pitched, I’ll be in Las Vegas the first week in October.