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MLB: 10 Guys Who Could Throw a Perfect Game in 2011

Andrew StewartContributor IMarch 1, 2011

MLB: 10 Guys Who Could Throw a Perfect Game in 2011

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    Oakland pitcher Dallas Braden celebrates with catcher Landon PowellJed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    The perfect game club has been one of Baseball’s most exclusive clubs. Since Cy Young threw the first modern-day perfect game in 1905, only 17 other men have done the same.

    Fresh off Mark Buehrle’s perfect game in 2009, Dallas Braden and Roy Halladay upped the ante in 2010. Braden joined the club May 9 , 2010, against the Tampa Bay Rays, while Halladay perfected a near-perfect season 20 days later against the Florida Marlins.  

    The feat marked the first time two perfect games were thrown in the same year, let alone the same month. It appeared that the list was going to have its third member in 2010, but THREE days later, Armando Galarraga’s bid with perfection was cut short after Jim Joyce blew the game-winning call.

    With a new season ahead of us, it is time to look at 10 guys who could join one of baseball’s most heralded lists. I’m not going to count Roy Halladay out from repeating after he followed up his perfect game with a no-hitter in the playoffs, but this list will focus on guys who have both won no-hitters or have come close in the past.

    Throwing a no-hitter takes a lot of luck and a bit of skill, and Armando Galarraga showed that you do not have to lead the league in hits and walks allowed to come close, but it sure does make it a lot easier.

10. Mat Latos

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    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    Mat Latos has become the Padres' ace and looks to carry over his success from 2010 into 2011.

    The 23-year-old pitcher joins the ranks of some of baseball’s elite pitchers on the West Coast. In just his second year, Latos dominated the National League posting a 14-10 record with a 2.92 ERA in 184.2 innings.

    However, just that line does not spell out Latos overall success in 2010.

    In just 184 innings, the starting pitcher racked up 189 strikeouts which was good for a 9.2 K/9 and an impressive 2.5 BB/9.  His success does not end there; Latos held opponents to a .217 average and a .272 OBP.

    Only 23 years old, Latos still has plenty to work on. If he can get his innings above 200 innings pitched, he could have an outside chance at competing towards a perfect game. Pitching in Petco Park doesn’t hurt either.

9. Matt Cain

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    H/9 7.3 BB/9 2.5 K/9 7.1

    Matt Cain sometimes gets lost in the San Francisco rotation with Tim Lincecum at the top. However, the right-hander has been a dominant pitcher in the National League and has been a go-to guy for the Giants.

    The Giants 25th pick in the 2002 first round possesses all the raw materials of a pitcher with perfect game “stuff.” The right-hander has seen his walks drop each year since 2008, going from 91 to 73 to 61 in 2010. Not to mention he has logged over 200 innings the past four seasons.

    Cain was also able to keep hitters honest at the plate, holding them to a .220 batting average and a 7.1 SO/9 in 2010. Whether or not these can translate into a possible perfect game is hard to tell, but with the Giants playing in close games consistently, Cain is always ready to keep games close

    Much like Dallas Braden did in 2010, Cain could be a surprise candidate, especially with so many other big names in the league.

    However, I am sure San Francisco fans would not be surprised at all.

8. Jon Lester

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    Chris McGrath/Getty Images

    Jon Lester might seem like an odd pick to throw a perfect game. However, given the fact that the guy not only defeated cancer but also threw a no-hitter against the Royals in 2008, makes Lester a worthy candidate.

    At 26 years old, the left-handed pitcher has enjoyed success in the American League East from the mound and won a career-best 19 games and recorded 225 stakeouts for the second straight year in 2010.

    Although, Lester has not compiled as many innings as other pitchers in the league, he has thrown over 200 innings the past three years.

    In 208 innings, Jon Lester had a league best 9.7 K/9

    As for Jon Lester’s weakness, it’s his ability to limit walks. Lester’s BB/9 swelled to 3.5 from 2.8 the previous two seasons. For Jon Lester to have any chance at throwing a perfect game he is going to need to throw strikes.

    He has the tools to strike out 15-plus and has thrown 13 games with 10-plus strikeouts.

7. Roy Oswalt

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    After being traded to the Phillies in 2010, Roy Oswalt returned to his old self and put together a 7-1 record and a 1.74 ERA in 12 starts for the Phillies. Oswalt was simply dominating for the Phillies, and with Roy Halladay also in the rotation, Oswalt’s success was sometimes overshadowed by “The Doc.”

    In 82 innings, Roy Oswalt managed to hold opposing hitters to a 5.8 H/9 and 2.3 BB/9. As for his ability to strikeout batters, Oswalt combined to throw 193 strikeouts in 2010, which was up from 138 in 2009.

    Although Oswalt’s closest thing to a no-hitter was a six-inning combined no-hitter back in 2003, Oswalt still has the tools to turn out a gem.

    With four other aces sitting in the Phillies rotation, Roy Oswalt will not feel the pressure others on this list must cope with. Although that does not translate into guaranteed success in 2011, after his strong finish with the Phillies Oswalt could possibly join “The Doc” in 2011.

6. Ubaldo Jimenez

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Ubaldo Jimenez enters 2011 as one of the top pitchers in the National League. The Dominican pitcher got off to a freakishly good start last year going 15-1 with a 2.20 ERA before succumbing to a 4-7 record in the second half.

    Making matters worse for Jimenez, he had a 1-7 records in games in which he had less than two runs of support, even though he had only a 2.62 ERA in those starts.

    Not only will Ubaldo Jimenez need to return to his first half pitching abilities for this to become a possibility, but he will also need to improve upon his control.

    In 2010, Jimenez gave up 92 walks, which was third worst in the majors. To make matters worse, even with his second half drop off, he issued 46 walks in both halves of the 2010 season. The Rockies' ace issued 61 walks between the second and fourth inning

    Even with his inability to throw strikes in games, Jimenez still remains a possible candidate while he pitches in the National League, especially with his .209 batting average against in 2010.  

5. Trevor Cahill

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Trevor Cahill, 22 years old, has done in the American League what his counterpart, Tim Lincecum, across the bay has done for the National League Giants. Cahill has emerged as Oakland’s ace of the future and has become one of baseball’s best young arms.

    The young pitcher had a remarkable 2010 season and improved in pretty much every category and even led the majors in some.

    In 196 innings, Cahill went 18-8 with a 2.97 ERA in one of baseballs weakest offensive divisions. However, that does not take away anything from his work in 2010.

    Cahill put together monster numbers from the mound and held opponents to a .220 average and a .224 average on balls in play, which led the majors. Cahill also plays in the third-friendliest pitcher park according to ESPN’s MLB Park Factors.

    As for his ability to strike batters out, Cahill is not an overpowering pitcher and had only a 5.4 SO/9 in 2010. However, he makes up for the strikeouts by limiting walks and held opponents to a 2.9 BB/9 which dropped from 3.6 his rookie season.

    Trevor Cahill held opponents to a .287 on-base percentage in 2010 and should be able to lower that average in 2011.

    If Cahill can get his innings up and work late into ball games in 2011, the 22-year-old could become one of the youngest pitchers to throw a perfect game.

4. Tim Lincecum

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    “The Freak” has become easily one of the National League’s most dominant pitchers since 2008, winning back-to-back Cy Young awards in 2008 and 2009 and guiding the San Francisco Giants through the playoffs and to a World Series win in 2010.

    Lincecum can be deceiving to the naked eye. His short, lanky frame does not scream perfection. However, when the ball leaves his hand it is obvious he is in a league of his own.

    The 2010 regular season was a bit of a down year going by Tim Lincecum standards compared to the previous two years.

    Tim Lincecum posted 16-10 record and a 3.43 ERA in 212 innings with 76 walks.

    His 3.2/9 BB rating could be the right hander’s biggest obstacle to keep a clean sheet. However, as is always the case, it is much easier for a pitcher to put together walk-less games than hit-less games.

    Although his earned run average was nearly a thousand points higher from 2009 when he posted a 2.48 ERA, he still remained at the top in the NL in 2010

    Throw in the fact that Tim Lincecum has a career batting average against of .224, and you have the making of a potential perfect game winner in 2011.

3. C.C. Sabathia

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    A much lighter Sabathia in 2011Al Bello/Getty Images

    C.C. Sabathia is coming into the 2011 season hot after going 21-7 with a 3.18 ERA in 2010.

    The big guy has also trimmed down a bit since the end of last year.

    It was reported by ESPN that the hard-throwing lefty had lost 30 pounds and as a result feels that his stamina has gotten better, and he’s even logged over 230 innings the past two seasons.

    With possibly a healthier C.C. Sabathia in 2011, this now makes the possibilities of the already dominant lefty throwing a perfect game for the Yankees more of a reality.

    The Yankees have not had a pitcher throw a perfect game since David Cone threw one on July 18, 1999, against the Montreal Expos. Interestingly enough, the perfect game happened on Yogi Berra Day in which the Yankees were celebrating the 1956 World Series perfect game thrown by Don Larson, who threw the first pitch to Berra that day.

    With a rich Yankee history of three past perfect game winners including Don Larson, David Wells and David Cone, Sabathia could cement his place in Yankee history by becoming the fourth Yankee to throw a perfect game and only the 19th in major league history.

    Even though pitching in the American League could make it a bit of a difficulty to hold perfection throughout a single game, C.C. has all the makings.

    Sabathia’s frame gives him strength and add the possibility of improved endurance, and the Yankees have their own work horse in a much-depleted Yankees’ starting rotation.  

    The two main areas that have been a problems that have kept this from already happening have been his walks and hits allowed, which could improve after his recent weight-loss. However, his nearly 3-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio helps make his case.

    C.C. Sabathia is well on his way to becoming a Hall of Fame pitcher and a perfect game in 2011 would only help solidify his standing amongst Yankee greats.

2. Felix Hernandez

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    At only 24 years old, King Felix has already taken over the AL West and has dominated opposing hitters.

    In his last two years, Hernandez has posted two consecutive years with an earned run average under 2.50. The low earned average can be attributed to playing in the AL West and is a prime reason why Felix could become one of the newest members to one of baseball’s smallest fraternities.

    In 2010, Hernandez continued his reign and won the American League Cy Young with 13-12 with a 2.27 ERA.  Not to mention the 249 innings pitched which has become almost unheard of in the new-age of situational relief and five man rotations.

    Because of Seattle’s offensive struggles, the Mariners rely upon him to go late into games.  

    The area that could keep this from becoming a possibility is walks. As is the case with a lot of the guys on the list, walks can work against a pitcher just as easily as a late-inning hit.

    With Hernandez’s ability to go deep into games and keep opposition off the bases, King Felix could be the newest member to sit atop of baseball’s elite.

1. Cliff Lee

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    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    Cliff Lee had become a journey man against his will after being traded twice the past two years before the trade deadline. It was not until this past winter the starting pitcher hit the free agent market and was able to establish a home.

    The Phillies shocked the baseball world and signed Cliff Lee. Lee has become one of baseball’s more dominant pitchers, and if there is anyone in the league that could throw a perfect game in 2011, it’s Lee.

    2010 was another solid year for Cliff Lee and marked the second-straight year the starting pitcher was shipped off before the trade-deadline.

    In 212 innings, Lee went 12-9 posted a 3.18 earned run average in time split between Seattle and Texas. The former Cy Young winner continued his dominance throughout the American League and helped carry the Rangers to the playoffs.

    As for his ability to throw strikes, Lee walked only 18 batters and held hitters to an MLB best .255 OBP in 2010, making him a prime candidate to etch his name with his teammate Roy Halladay.

    Although, Cliff Lee has not been great in the playoffs, he has risen to be one of baseball's more consistent pitchers throughout the regular season. Lee’s ability to keep a calm head in tough situations makes him an even worthier choice to pitch towards perfection in 2011.

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