Yesterdays Perfect Game

As much as a like stats and baseball, I’m bothered by one thing. Everyone is talking about how Matt Cain’s perfect game is one of the top 5 games ever pitched. They’re referring to Bill Jame’s Game Score calculation which goes like this:

• Start with 50 points.
• Add one point for each out recorded, so three points for every complete inning pitched.
• Add two points for each inning completed after the fourth.
• Add one point for each strikeout.
• Subtract two points for each hit allowed.
• Subtract four points for each earned run allowed.
• Subtract two points for each unearned run allowed.
• Subtract one point for each walk.

Not a bad system but it seems a bit arbitrary. A perfect game nets a base 87 points (50+27+2*(innings 5,6,7,8,9))=87. After that, it’s all up to how many strikeouts a pitcher can get. Cain got fourteen so his total score is 101 (the highest on record is 105).

My issue is with the idea that we can take numbers like these and make definitive judgments without context. 101 tells how well the pitcher did.  But it doesn’t tell you anything about the game.  Was it played in a time when pitching was dominant? Was it in the playoffs? Did it feature historically great teams? Stripping numbers of context strips them of meaning. If everyone followed the numbers the baseball would be a pretty sterile game.  When we tell baseball stories, lead with numbers but always finish with expansive tales of homeruns hit, diving catches made, and bases stolen.  It’s as if we respect how ingrained numbers are to baseball but know the history and tradition of the game go beyond averages, counts, and metrics.

For my money, the best pitching performance only gets a game score of 94. According to the numbers, it’s not nearly as good as Matt Cain’s performance. It’s a perfect game so the difference is seven strikeouts. But my choice has two things going for it. First, it was played against a line up with multiple Hall of Famers. There may be future HoF’ers on the Astros but I kinda doubt it.  Better still, it was in the World Series.  It will be tough to top Don Larsen’s perfect game on October 8, 1956. Matt Cain has accomplished something that puts him in the record books.  But I wonder how many people will tell the story of this perfect game fifty years from now.

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