In light of Roy Halladay's recent perfect game, I decided it would be interesting to rank the top five pitchers of all time. The catch: they must have breathed in the rarified air of the perfect game.
So Nolan Ryan out...uh, Dallas Braden in?
There have only been 20 perfect games in the history of Major League Baseball. This does limit my options for these rankings somewhat, but also should be an indication of how incredibly difficult it is to throw nine innings of perfection.
By definition, it is impossible to compare perfect items. Keep in mind that this is a ranking of the best pitchers of all-time who pitched a perfect game, not a ranking of the best perfect games.
The numbers and methodology behind these rankings are included on the appendix slide.
If I were attempting that, Braden's "Stick It, A-Rod" game may have made it. Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series would have easily topped the list.
Disclaimers: Credit goes to www.baseball-reference.com for the pitcher stats and www.wikipedia.com for the list of perfect game pitchers and backstories.
All photos used on this slideshow that weren't directly made available by Bleacher Report are not, to the best of my knowledge, subject to copyright restrictions.
Let's start here: every pitcher wants an award bearing this guy's name. You may have heard of him.
Cy Young's 511 career wins are considered one of the most untouchable records in sports. His 2.63 ERA and 1.130 WHIP are both second-best of anyone on this list. He won 61.8% of the games he started.
By the way, he also pitched more than anyone else in the history of the sport. He started 815 games. In 749 of those games, he pitched all nine innings.
This totaled to a major league record 7,356 IP. Young pitched for 22 seasons.
On the other hand, Young's 3.4 K/9 (2,803 strikeouts total) and 2.30 K/BB ratio are both among the lowest on this list.
So while Young was dominant from the standpoint of minimizing baserunners and runs scored, he didn't dominate hitters on the same level as others appearing on this list. In the scheme of things, it definitely should be a pitcher's goal to minimize baserunners and runs scored, but dominating hitters is what takes a pitcher to the next level of performance.
Interestingly enough, Young's perfect game was part of a hitless streak that went almost the length of two games.
His stamina was unparalleled in baseball history. In throwing a perfect game, he proved he was capable of being among MLB's most dominant as well.
Tied for No. 4 is John Montgomery Ward, better known as Monte Ward.
Especially for his era, he had a relatively small sample of starts. Though he started his career as a pitcher, Ward was able to pitch for only seven seasons before he transitioned into being an everyday position player due to injury.
His career K/9 of 3.64 is his only unimpressive stat. Otherwise, the numbers don't lie.
Ward posted a career ERA of 2.10. 245 of his starts were complete games (24 were shutouts, including his perfect game). He also had a career WHIP of 1.043 and a 3.64 K/BB ratio.
Ward's ERA, WHIP and K/BB ratio are the best (by a significant margin) of anyone else on this list. While more outings may have brought his numbers down to earth, the 293 games he started at pitcher in his career are hardly anything to scoff at in terms of sample size.
Ward was clearly a dominant player, regardless of era or starts.
Addie Joss was also one of the more dominant pitchers of his time. A contemporary of Cy Young, Joss had some eye-popping career numbers, which were very similar to Monte Ward, with whom he is tied at No. 4.
Joss had a career ERA under 2.00 (1.89) and a WHIP under 1.000 (.968). These are astounding career achievements. As with Ward, his pitching career was cut short. Unfortunately for Joss, this was due to terminal illness.
From a statistical standpoint, Joss' limited sample size, along with his career K/9 of 3.6 and his 2.53 K/BB ratio, would indicate that his numbers from the previous paragraph may be inflated or the product of weaker competition.
Joss' perfect game was among the best in history for two reasons. For one, he retired 27 batters with 74 pitches. That's less than 3 pitches per batter, for those of you scoring at home. He also managed this feat in a game with playoff implications (ultimately, the Naps failed to make the postseason).
Joss dominated from the mound in regards to preventing baserunners and runs from scoring, but his K/9 and K/BB numbers do raise some questions about his skill level, along with that of his opponents.
Even so, in contrast with the others on this list, Joss was clearly good enough to merit inclusion.
As a Phillies homer, it was difficult ranking Roy Halladay this low and leaving Jim Bunning out. But in the interests of creating an unbiased and statistically-backed ranking, Halladay comes in at No. 3.
Halladay is the only pitcher on this list who is still pitching. He is also in his prime as a pitcher, so it's entirely possible his stock will improve.
Because of this (and to adjust slightly for differences in pitching eras), I am using his career averages rather than totals.
Halladay's career win percent of .662 leads all players ranked here. He also had the second best strikeout-walk (K/BB) ratio at 3.35. He doesn't waste pitches and he doesn't waste outings.
Halladay's career ERA of 3.37 and WHIP of 1.190 were at the bottom of this group of pitchers, but hardly poor overall.. His 6.6 K/9 was solidly in the middle of the pack.
Halladay's career is still young. Of everyone listed, he is the only one with an opportunity to move up.
Something tells me he will do so.
In another life, and with perhaps some more body weight, Randy Johnson could have been a dominant power forward or center in the NBA.
Instead, he settled for being a darn good pitcher. Arguably one of the best of all time and good enough to make No. 3 on this list.
At 6'10", Johnson was quite physically imposing, especially throwing from a mound. With the capability of throwing a fastball at speeds exceeding 100 MPH, Johnson was imposing to hitters for an entirely different reason as well.
He is in the 300-win club and topped this list with a K/9 of 10.6. He is second all-time in strikeouts with 4,875.
Johnson's career 3.29 ERA and 1.171 WHIP kept him out of the top spot, but not by much.
The best perfect game pitcher of all-time is Sandy Koufax.
Koufax had a career ERA under 3 (2.76). He averaged 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings. His career winning percent was .655.
Like Ward, his career ended prematurely due to injury, reducing his numbers for career wins and strikeouts. However, it isn't difficult to imagine that he would easily have made it to above 300 wins and at least 3,000 strikeouts.
As it was, in his brief career, Koufax struck out 2,396 batters and pitched 100 complete games, 37 of which were shutouts. His 2.93 K/BB ratio is his only subpar statistic, in the context of the pitchers ranked here.
In his perfect game, Koufax struck out 14 batters, more than any other pitcher in a game of that type.
With a full career, Koufax would clearly have been one of the best pitchers of all-time. For our purposes, he was the best pitcher of all-time to throw a perfect game.
And with the line-up in these rankings, that's saying something.
So there was a bit of a statistical mix-up regarding my inclusion of Cy Young over Addie Joss.
I know, I was surprised too. There will be a full stats spreadsheet on the next slide showing how my rankings were determined. Additionally, after the addition of Addie Joss, here are the next five perfect game pitchers (Nos. 6-10).
10) David Wells
9) Catfish Hunter
8) Cy Young
7) David Cone
6) Jim Bunning
I am inclined to include Young anyway just based on who he is, but I based this on numbers and, for better or worse, I'm sticking to that.
Here is the breakdown of statistics used in determining these rankings.
Win percentage was used as an indicator of the pitcher's ability to outduel the opposing pitcher. ERA was chosen due to the implications of inhibiting runs. WHIP was chose for the same reasons, only pertaining to baserunners. K/9 was used as an alternative to have a standardized strikeout metric, rather than going off of the number of career strikeouts. I used the K/BB ratio as an indicator of control.
After listing these stats, I ranked the players relative to each other in each metric. So the top player (of the 20 who had perfect games) in a particular metric, gets 20 points, subtracting one point for each position away from the leader. I took the average of these points in all five categories and ranked from there.
My initial method was to look up the individual pitchers and use the "eyeball test' on their stats to create a top 10, but Addie Joss squeaked through the cracks as a result.
Below, you'll see the pitchers ranked from 1-20. The first line will be the actual stats. The second line will be their relative ranking, with their average score listed below their name. There's a significant talent drop after David Wells, so I stopped including relative rankings at that point.
Pitcher | Win % | ERA | WHIP | K/9 | K/BB |
| 1) Sandy Koufax | 0.655 | 2.76 | 1.106 | 9.3 | 2.93 |
| 17.8 | 19 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 16 |
| 2) Randy Johnson | 0.646 | 3.29 | 1.171 | 10.6 | 3.26 |
| 16.8 | 18 | 13 | 15 | 20 | 18|
| 3) Roy Halladay | 0.662 | 3.37 | 1.19 | 6.6 | 3.35 |
| 15.8 | 12 | 12 | 13 | 15 | 19 |
| 4) Monte Ward | 0.614 | 2.1 | 1.043 | 3.4 | 3.64 |
| 15.2 | 15 | 19 | 19 | 3 | 20 |
| 4) Addie Joss | 0.623 | 1.89 | 0.968 | 3.6 | 2.53 |
| 15.2 | 17 | 20 | 20 | 5 | 14 |
| 6) Jim Bunning | 0.549 | 3.27 | 1.179 | 6.8 | 2.86 |
| 13.4 | 7 | 14 | 14 | 17 | 15 |
| 6) David Cone | 0.606 3.46 1.256 8.3 2.35
| 13.4 | 14 | 11 | 12 | 18 | 12 |
| 8) Cy Young | 0.618 | 2.63 | 1.13 | 3.4 | 2.3 |
| 13.2 | 16 | 18 | 17 | 4 | 11 |
| 9) Catfish Hunter | 0.574 | 3.26 | 1.134 | 5.2 | 2.11 |
| 12 | 9 | 15 | 16 | 10 | 10 |
| 10) David Wells | 0.604 | 4.13 | 1.266 | 5.8 | 3.06 |
| 11.8 | 13 | 5 | 11 | 13 | 17 |
| 11) Mark Buehrle | 0.575 | 3.82 | 1.269 | 5.1 | 2.5 |
| 12) Mike Witt | 0.502 | 3.83 | 1.318 | 5.9 | 1.93 |
| 13) Dennis Martinez | 0.559 | 3.7 | 1.266 | 4.8 | 1.84 |
| 13) Tom Browning | 0.577 | 3.94 | 1.271 | 4.7 | 1.96 |
| 15) Lee Richmond | 0.429 | 3.06 | 1.284 | 3.1 | 2.05 |
| 16) Len Barker | 0.493 | 4.34 | 1.361 | 6.6 | 1.9 |
| 17) Kenny Rogers | 0.584 | 4.27 | 1.403 | 5.4 | 1.67 |
| 18) Dallas Braden | 0.409 | 4.47 | 1.372 | 5.7 | 2.1 |
| 19) Don Larsen | 0.471 | 3.78 | 1.4 | 4.9 | 1.17 |
| 20) Charlie Robertson | 0.38 | 4.44 | 1.518 | 2.8 | 0.82 |