Predicting Who Will Throw MLB's Next Perfect Game
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Baseball perfection is one of the most exciting, rare and unpredictable feats in all of sports. Yet here I am trying to predict who will hurl the next ultimate gem.
The last time we saw one, Roy Halladay pulled it off in a 1-0 victory over the then Florida Marlins in May of 2010. The fact that Halladay has done it so recently makes him an automatic candidate to pull it again, never mind the postseason no-no he threw that same year.
If Halladay does indeed throw another perfect game, he would make history in more than one way. He would become the only man in baseball history to be perfect more than once.
That puts into perspective just how rare this is. Since 1922, there have only been 15 thrown, and only 20 in the game's history.
I did some deep digging, because that is just what I love to do, and I found a few interesting trends. The average age of the past 15 pitchers to throw a perfect game is 30. They have had an average of nine years MLB experience and a WHIP of 1.272 the previous season.
The most common season for a pitcher to throw a perfect game has been a player's fourth season. Four players threw their masterpiece in their fourth year—most recently Dallas Braden of the Oakland A's.
Older pitchers haven't been shut out either, as four pitchers at 35 years old or older have accomplished the feat. Randy Johnson threw his at 40, in his 18th season.
While there aren't any players that hit each of those numbers and categories exactly, there are a few players that come fairly close.
In light of these findings, as well as a few other fruits of my research, I've compiled a list of 20 pitchers that have the best shot at throwing the next perfect game.
I've grouped the players into four different categories. Behold the slideshow:
Out of Nowhere Guys, 20-16: 20. Anibal Sanchez: Miami Marlins
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For some casual fans, this group of players may just need a name tag, but they are on this list for a reason.
Anibal Sanchez has actually thrown a no-hitter in his MLB career already. In September of 2006, Sanchez no-hit the Arizona Diamondbacks. Since then, much of his career has been marred by shoulder problems, but last year he was healthy.
In fact, he had two serious no-hit bids in 2011. One of them reached the ninth inning before Dexter Fowler broke it up for the Colorado Rockies.
Sanchez does issue a few too many walks (3.6 per nine innings over his career), but perfect games are about all things aligning correctly. We've already seen that he has no-hit stuff on multiple occasions.
19. Jason Vargas: Seattle Mariners
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Vargas is a good, young, left-handed pitcher. He was struck with something I call Mariner-itis in 2011. It is when a pitcher throws well all season, but his record looks much worse than he pitched because his offense provides little run support.
Five guys on the Mariner pitching staff caught it last year for a team that ranked 30th in runs, batting average, on-base and slugging percentages.
That is the beauty of a perfect game: All you need is one run.
Vargas had an ERA last year of 3.72 and a respectable WHIP of 1.31. He mixes his speeds very well to set up his quality changeup.
He issued only 59 walks in 205 innings in 2011. If he is on and changing speeds well, he is a handful.
Vargas threw three shutouts in 2011—a three-, four- and six-hitter. Vargas has the stuff to be perfect.
18. Justin Masterson: Cleveland Indians
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Masterson looks like a tight end, but he's all pitcher. At 6'6" and 250 pounds, he is an imposing figure on the mound. When he drops down three quarters with his delivery, he can be even more difficult to pick up.
This will be his sixth season, and his 97 mph fastball and hard sinker should develop even more. I expect this to be a breakout season for Masterson. The development of the sinker should render more ground balls.
That could make him a better candidate for perfection.
17. Luke Hochevar Kansas City Royals
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The first overall pick in 2006 finally looked like something less than a bust in 2011. Of course he has great stuff, but he had yet to put it together.
2011 was the first season he had allowed less hits than innings pitched, and he posted a solid WHIP of 1.283. Hochevar had a solid second half of the season in 2011. The Royals hope he can continue his momentum.
Even if Hochevar doesn't throw a perfect game in 2012, I predict it'll be his best season yet.
16. Brandon Morrow: Toronto Blue Jays
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Morrow is going into his seventh season, and he has yet to have a superlative season. This could very well be his best year. Morrow's WHIP was 1.288 last season, and his strikeout style enhances his ability for perfection.
When a pitcher can reach back and go for the K in tough situations, they have an advantage when pursuing perfection.
Morrow had his flirtation with a no-no in 2010 when he threw a one-hitter with 17 K's. Morrow has the ability to be untouchable when things are clicking,
Avoiding issuing walks is key for him in his long shot at a perfect game.
15. The Magical 4th Season, 15-11: 15. Jaime Garcia: St. Louis Cardinals
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Garcia is a 25-year-old lefty who has shown the flashes necessary to have his day of perfection. He is entering his fourth major league season and he has been solid for the Cardinals for two consecutive seasons.
Last year's WHIP was 1.320. The performance that Garcia showed the ability to put it all together was on May 6th, when he two-hit the Brewers on only 102 pitches. In that game, he struck out eight and walked only one.
Garcia is a ground-ball pitcher when he's on, and when he's spotting his pitches he can be awfully tough.
14. Madison Bumgarner: San Francisco Giants
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Bumgarner is only 22 years old and he's already entering his fourth season. He has awesome stuff, and he displayed it in the 2010 World Series when he threw eight scoreless frames against the Texas Rangers.
He had an impressive 1.21 WHIP in 2011, and his career is certainly on the upswing. He finished 11th in National League Cy Young totals with a 13-13 record with a 3.21 ERA.
Bumgarner's closest no-no was August when he four-hit the Cubs, striking out 11 in that game. When he's on and has the strikeout pitch going, his prospects for perfection are higher.
13. Daniel Hudson: Arizona Diamondbacks
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Hudson hasn't quite found the strikeout pitch he had in the minors, but he was especially solid in his first full-time year as a starter.
Hudson is still improving entering his fourth season. This could be his breakout year. Hudson's 1.201 WHIP was definitely impressive. He went 16-12 in 2011 and could challenge for a Cy Young this year, as well as put it together for perfection.
12. Mat Latos: Cincinnati Reds
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Latos' chances of perfection are hurt by playing in the Great American Ballpark in Ohio. It's a notorious hitter's park, but when Latos is right, it may not matter.
He is 6'6", 235 pounds and has a solid fastball and slider that make him tough. Latos' ultra-impressive WHIP of 1.18 landed him on the list.
If his fourth season is his breakout season, there could be great things in store for Latos and the Reds. On the right night, that could be perfection.
11. Ricky Romero: Toronto Blue Jays
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"RR Cool Jay" has been one of the most underrated young pitchers in the majors. Through three seasons, he has already amassed 42 wins to only 29 losses. His WHIP has gone from 1.522 to 1.290, and last year it was 1.138.
Romero's biggest problem would be his BB. He has some issues with the free pass at times, but if he has his best command, he has a nice variety of pitches and movement to be very tough.
Romero is getting better and better; if he stays healthy, he is definitely a candidate.
Close to the Profile, 10-6: 10. Ervin Santana: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
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The profile of a perfect game pitcher on average is 30 years old, with nine years of experience and a WHIP of 1.272.
Ervin Santana and the next four pitchers are the closest to this profile.
Santana has already thrown a no-hitter, so we know he has the stuff to be unhittable.
Santana's drawback would be walks. He issues about three free passes per game, but on July 27 of 2011 when he threw his no-no, he walked only one. He did surrender an unearned run, but it is easy to see how those small instances could be erased for perfection.
9. Paul Maholm: Chicago Cubs
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You may call me crazy for having a pitcher with a 53-73 career record here, but Maholm is a much better pitcher than his record indicates.
Maholm is 29, he had a WHIP of 1.294 last season and he's entering his eighth season. Maholm is headed to the Cubs this season and he throws a ton of ground balls, which should help provide some success for him this year.
This will be Maholm's best season of his career. If he has good control on a day early in the season at Wrigley, he is a candidate.
8. Joe Saunders: Arizona Diamondbacks
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"Bazooka Joe" has been an All-Star. Entering his eighth season, the 30-year-old had a 1.301 WHIP in 2011. He finally seemed to be returning to the form he displayed in 2008 and 2009.
He has had some problems staying healthy, but if he's healthy, he's a grinder. In 2008 when he was an All-Star, he periodically displayed the command to dominate.
It only takes one game.
7. Matt Garza: Chicago Cubs
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Garza is 28 years old entering his seventh season, and he had a 1.258 WHIP last season. Garza also has thrown a no-no already in his career. In 2010, Garza faced the minimum after the only baserunner he allowed via second-inning walk was erased due to a double play.
Garza had the stuff that day. It isn't implausible that he could reach that level again.
6. Jon Lester: Boston Red Sox
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Lester is one of the game's best pitchers, but he is also close to the average profile of a perfect game pitcher. He is 28 years old, entering his seventh season and is coming off a season with a 1.256 WHIP in 2011.
Lester has already thrown a no-hitter in 2008, so he is certainly one of the strongest candidates considering the profile and no-hit history.
Superstars with the Stuff, 5-1: 5. C.C. Sabathia: New York Yankees
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Starting with C.C., the next five pitchers are among the league's elite who simply have the stuff to be perfect.
Sabathia has finished in the top five of the Cy Young voting for five years in a row. Sabathia had a no-hitter with two outs in the eighth April of 2010 against the Rays.
He is the type of pitcher that is good enough on most nights to shut teams down.
4. Roy Halladay: Philadelphia Phillies
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Halladay is the only player on this list that has ever thrown a perfect game. So why isn't he higher? Well, because no other player has ever thrown two.
Halladay could certainly be perfect again, but that would be predicting he will do something no other man has ever done.
I'm not prepared to do that, but I do acknowledge that perhaps the game's most dominant pitcher over the past four years is certainly capable.
He's won two Cy Young awards and been in the top five, seven times. In 14 seasons, he's only had a WHIP as high as 1.3 three times.
3. Cole Hamels: Philadelphia Phillies
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Hamels is only 28, but he has already won 74 games. Hamels put up a sick 0.981 WHIP in 2011 and when he's got solid command of his circle change, he can be devastating.
Hamels hasn't carried a no-hitter further than the seventh as of yet, but he certainly has the stuff to get it done. His career has been solid already, and it appears to be on the upswing.
2. Clayton Kershaw: Los Angeles Dodgers
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The 2011 NL Cy Young winner looks like he'll be dominant for awhile. His 21 wins to only five losses is only trumped by his league-low 6.7 hits per nine innings and 0.977 WHIP.
Kershaw is an absolute stud that could be perfect in any start and his best years are likely still to come.
1. Justin Verlander: Detroit Tigers
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Verlander is the type of pitcher you create when you're creating a super hurler on a video game. That is a suitable analogy since he is the cover athlete for MLB 2K12. The AL Cy Young winner and MVP in 2011, has a near-triple-digit fastball with ridiculous movement.
On some days, Verlander is simply untouchable. He was just that on May 6th when he tossed a no-hitter in 2011. One measly walk was all that separated him from a perfect game.
His day is coming for perfection.