Apparently the M’s weren’t into things like “hitting” or “success” on Saturday. It was probably a genius move on my part to get out and enjoy the weather. But if we’re going to be a part of history, we might as well celebrate the rare and unexpected things like triple plays, cycles and perfect games, even when they’re at our expense.
Last season the average hitter reached base—whether by hit, error, walk or hit by pitch—about 33% of the time. This, of course, means that the average pitcher allowed that same 33% to reach base. A quick glance at OBPs throughout the years shows that the league hasn’t deviated too far from that figure very often. So the likelihood that an average pitcher, pitching against an average team on an average day, will pitch a perfect game is a little worse than 1 in 50,000.
Statistically, the 1 in 50,000 stat assumes that the pitcher is just as likely to get an out in the first inning as he is in the ninth inning. In general, pitchers become less effective as the game wears on and they begin to face guys for the third time.
For better pitchers, however, the chances of a perfect game improve dramatically. Each time Justin Verlander or Clayton Kershaw walked out to the mound in 2011, their theoretical chances of a perfect game jumped to 1 in 2000 or 2500 ish. In other words, they were at least 20 times more likely to achieve perfection than the average pitcher. But even 1 in 2000 isn’t all that great, and that’s why so many Cy Young-caliber pitchers never toss the big one.
Between 1900 and 2011, about 180,000 games were played at the major league level. If we assume there are a few really good starters every year, and a much larger percentage of Brad Pennys and Jake Westbrooks (each allowed baserunners in 2011 as though that was the goal), then we can at least estimate how many perfect games would be thrown randomly, as though each pitcher pitched exactly to his abilities each game. Side note: Assuming the 2011 version of Brad Penny continued allowing baserunners at his nearly 37% rate, he would average one perfect game every 200,000 games or so. In other words, it’s possible a perfect game would never have been thrown by 112 seasons of Penny clones.
It turns out that, if all the starters from 2011 replayed 112 seasons, we’d expect about 10 perfect games randomly—more than half the 19 we’ve seen in the modern era.
So as not to go crazy as a Mariners fan after Saturday’s performance, I am choosing to blame randomness for torturing us…that and the lack of the ever patient, left-handed, John Jaso until the ninth inning.