Ranking the 10 Hardest Feats to Accomplish in MLB
Even baseball players competing at their sport's highest level rarely accomplish these 10 famous feats.
They have been ranked by their likelihood of occurring in the 2013 MLB season.
For the most part, this article zeroes in on single-game accomplishments but includes one season-long goal as well.
You'll notice that gaining admittance into the following exclusive fraternities requires some good fortune.
Perfect games, for instance, never happen without stellar defense.
Regardless, the individuals who succeed with any of these feats ought to be respected.
10. Complete-Game Shutout
Managers have gradually grown more protective of their top starters; they will routinely make substitutions once their guys reach a particular pitch count.
So only a tiny fraction of team shutouts were started and finished with the same guy on the mound.
Since 2010, there has been an average of 51 different pitchers go the distance without surrendering a run (via MLB.com's sortable stats).
Even the league leader only throws a handful of these gems.
9. Inside-the-Park Home Run
Ballpark dimensions have shrunk over the past few generations—limiting the total of inside-the-park home runs.
In nearly every case, these feats are accomplished with the help of a poor defensive decision. Opposing outfielders, for example, will attempt to get in front of a line drive and fall down in the process, allowing the ball to continue rolling to the wall.
Though the majority of inside-the-park bombs come off the bats of speedy players, relatively heavy sluggers like Kyle Blanks, Prince Fielder and Jhonny Peralta have been credited with them in recent years.
There were seven no-hitters thrown during the 2012 regular season, not to mention dozens of near-misses.
Generally, an accomplished pitcher is responsible, though Philip Humber shut down the Seattle Mariners in only his 30th career start. His subsequent performances were far less remarkable, eventually leading to his removable from the rotation.
Combined no-hitters—those involving multiple pitchers—should become more commonplace in the future.
We've already touched on the growing trend among baseball managers to insert fresh arms out of the bullpen.
Hitting for the cycle is rarer than ever amid this current pitcher's era.
Totaling four plate appearances in a single game is practically guaranteed for batters who aren't taken out.
But, getting hits of a different variety each time can be a daunting task, especially, if you need to adjust to a new pitcher midway through.
No member of the Miami Marlins or San Diego Padres has ever hit for the cycle.
Only 13 players have achieved a "natural cycle," by recording the single, double, triple and home run in order (courtesy of Baseball Almanac).
6. Four Strikeouts in One Inning
Baseball Almanac has the full list of pitchers who needed four strikeouts to get through a single frame.
Off-speed pitches with late, downward movement thrown in two-strike situations generate foolish swings. When battery mates can't catch the ball in the air, embarrassed hitters get an opportunity to redeem themselves by sprinting to first base before the throw arrives.
Usually, their efforts are for naught.
However, there were eight instances last season in which a major league pitcher allowed someone to reach in this manner—then proceeding to punch out the remaining batters.
The 2013 total will almost certainly be lower.
5. Perfect Game
Including Don Larsen's gem in the 1956 World Series, we know of 23 total MLB perfect games.
Matt Cain, Felix Hernandez and Philip Humber all joined the club this past season.
These were performances in which the starting pitcher retired 27 straight batters—allowing no baserunners whatsoever.
By comparison, there have been 237 no-hitters in the modern era.
4. Unassisted Triple Play
A fielder needs to be perfectly positioned to turn a triple play by himself.
Wikipedia has a chronological table—with data gathered from Baseball-Reference.com—that includes descriptions of every unassisted beauty in the modern era. All of them were triggered by a line drive in the infield.
Rest assured, so long as the hit-and-run stays in existence, these will never go extinct. Actually, we can expect more triple plays as spray charts continue to influence defensive schemes.
Not one has been turned in the regular season since 2009, however.
3. Stealing Home
Ty Cobb and Jackie Robinson mastered the art of stealing home but the play is not attempted as frequently in the 21st century.
The most recent success in the majors came in September, when Pete Kozma dashed toward the catcher before the pitch was delivered.
In reality, it was an attempted squeeze bunt gone awry that would've resulted in an out—had the catcher received the ball cleanly.
We need to go back to April 2009 for an example of a "straight" steal of home.
Jacoby Ellsbury took advantage of Andy Pettitte's left-handedness and cheated down the third-base line while Pettitte focused on the batter at the plate.
2. Four-Homer Game
Josh Hamilton's big night ended a long drought.
Carlos Delgado, the second-most recent MLB player to launch four home runs in one game, joined the club in 2003...against the then-Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
With the sport moving toward increased specialization, any batter who gets within one of tying the record will certainly face a reliever. And if the score is reasonably close, the opposing manager will call upon a pitcher who has the platoon advantage (righty vs. righty or lefty vs. lefty).
It's never easy, so don't be surprised if the 17th instance of this individual brilliance is a multi-year wait away.
1. Triple Crown
Yes, that photo caption is accurate.
There wasn't a Triple Crown winner in either league between the Vietnam War Tet Offensive and Miguel Cabrera's 2012 campaign.
Major League Baseball has so much competitive balance today, making it nearly impossible for any American or National League position player to rank first in batting average, home runs and runs batted in.
But Cabrera (.330, 44 HR, 139 RBI) defied the odds...and benefited from a few good breaks.
Perhaps Jose Bautista could have topped him in homers had he not suffered a serious wrist injury. If active for the entire summer, Mike Trout's batting average might have been a few points higher.
Don't hold your breath—the likelihood of Cabrera repeating this feat is very slim.