Are Pitchers Who Throw Perfect Games Really That Much Better?

As I’m sure you have probably heard by now, Dallas Braden of the Oakland Athletics threw the 19th perfect game in Major League Baseball history. Up until Sunday, Braden’s claim to fame was nearly getting into a fight with A-Rod over some prime real estate in the center of the diamond. As of today, Braden’s W/L is 18-23, his WHIP is 1.374 and he gives up nearly 10 hits per nine innings on average – far from mind blowing stats. So the question I researched is whether throwing a perfect game is really more likely for what are generally regarded as “good pitchers” people like Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Tim Lincecum or if it is just as likely that an average pitcher could toss his way into the history books by obtaining perfection.

First we need to take a look at the stats of pitchers who have thrown perfect games. More specifically, let’s just takes a look at the last 10 who have thrown perfect games. Now granted, I am still fairly young (25) and haven’t amassed the baseball knowledge that many others have, but this brings up a lot of question marks, mainly the “Who are you?” kind of question marks.

Pitcher’s Career Stats Whip H/9 BB/9 W L
Len Barker 1.361 8.8 3.5 74 76
Mike Witt 1.318 8.8 3 117 116
Tom Browning 1.271 9 2.4 123 90
Dennis Martínez 1.266 8.8 2.6 245 193
Kenny Rogers 1.403 9.4 3.2 219 156
David Wells 1.266 9.5 1.9 239 157
David Cone 1.256 7.8 3.5 194 126
Randy Johnson 1.171 7.3 3.3 303 166
Mark Buehrle 1.27 9.4 2.1 137 101
Dallas Braden 1.374 9.6 2.8 18 23
Totals 1.2956 8.84 2.83 166.9 120.4

From the list above, I see one, maybe two legitimate Hall Of Famer’s amongst a sea of no names. But what really jumps out to me is that only two pitchers on this list gave up less than 1 hit per inning during their careers (Randy Johnson & David Cone). The stats above (which were taken from www.baseball-reference.com) seem to indicate that tossing a perfect game is more about luck than actual talent. The numbers that follow will further prove this point.

Now that we’ve seen how the last 10 perfect game pitchers fared compared to each other, lets see how they compared to the league averages from 2009.

League Pitching Averages Whip H/9 BB/9
AL League Average 2009 1.403 9.2 3.4
NL League Average 2009 1.378 8.9 3.5
MLB Average 2009 1.39 9 3.5

The numbers are very similar, although statistically, there is a measurable distance. It would appear that the only thing that the last 10 perfect game winners were better at than the rest of the league was finding the strike zone. Perfect game pitchers gave up about 0.7 fewer walks per nine innings than the league average compared with just 0.16 hits per game fewer. The overall WHIP for perfect game pitchers was barely 0.1 lower than the league average. Individually, the average WHIP of a perfect game pitcher would have put them outside of the top 40 pitchers of 2009 for that category.

That logic tells you that based on WHIP alone, there were 40 pitchers in 2009 who had a better chance of throwing a perfect game than the 10 pitchers who actually accomplished that feat in the last 30 years.

Not wanting to take anything away from those who have thrown a perfect game, but not a single one of these feats was performed via 27 strikeouts. They all required a little bit of defense, a stiff breeze to keep some balls in the park, and just a little bit of finger crossing luck as Mark Buehrle is all too familiar with.

About Aaron Garcia

Aaron is an avid sports fan who passionately follows the NFL, NBA and MLB, in addition to NCAA Sports. He is an Arizona State University grad who loves the Dodgers and the Patriots.