The Best Pitching Performances in M’s History

marc w · January 23, 2012 at 11:59 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

The “Inside the Book” Blog had an interesting post up the other day riffing on an idea from an Athletics Nation blogger named Dave Wishinsky: FIP perfect games. The idea’s pretty simple: a traditional no-hitter/perfect game (and other stats that use hits allowed, like game scores) essentially give credit to the pitcher when balls in play are turned into outs. FIP ignores balls in play and focuses solely on HRs, BBs, Ks, and HBPs – events that the pitcher is more directly responsible for. Tango asked, how many starters have pitched a game that resulted in a FIP of 0 – the formula’s in his post, but essentially this means a game without any walks, hit batsmen or homers allowed, and at least 15 strikeouts (technically, 14Ks up until 1993, this was when the FIP constant moved from 3.0 to 3.2).
That’s a pretty high bar, so perhaps it shouldn’t come as any surprise that there’ve been fewer FIP perfect games than “real” perfect games. Here’s the list from 1919-1992, and here’s the list from 1993-2011 (using the 15K threshold). Given the restrictive criteria, I’m surprised to see the range of game scores/runs allowed; Urban Shocker gave up 8 hits and 4 runs in his game, whereas Luis Tiant K’d 19 and gave up no runs in a 10 inning complete game.
As you might expect, there are no Mariners hurlers on the list – Erik Bedard’s got the most recent FIP perfect game, but it came in 2007 as a member of the Orioles. Felix Hernandez posted a FIP of -0.05 last year in an 8IP drubbing of a feeble Padres squad, but it wasn’t a complete game. For 9-inning low-FIP complete games in M’s history, the top spot goes, perhaps unsurprisingly, to Randy Johnson. His 1 BB, 1 H, 15K no-decision against Mark Langston’s Angels was amazing (and it’s technically a FIP perfect game, or maybe a FIP no-hitter, if you allow no-decisions) but it came in a Mariner loss. RJ’s low-FIP complete game was a rather pedestrian (for him) win over the Indians in which he gave up 3 runs and 8 hits.
So if that game doesn’t feel “perfect” – what does? Randy Johnson’s no-hitter was dominant at times, but…six walks? Chris Bosio’s included 27 straight outs, but it also included 2 walks to the first two hitters and a great defensive play by Omar Vizquel to end it. By game score, the top Mariner pitching performance was turned in by Erik Hanson in 1990 with his 10 IP, 0R, 11K, 0BB no-decision against the Oakland A’s. Patrick Dubuque wrote about it not too long ago at Proball NW, noting that Hanson’s duel with Dave Stewart produced the highest combined game score in the past 40 years.

Walking through these approaches and these games, here’s what I found intriguing:
1) By two wholly different measures, the top pitching performances in M’s history both came in extra-inning losses. Mariners!
2) Erik Hanson was so much better than Randy Johnson in 1990 – he was worth 4.6 rWAR to Johnson’s 2.1, or 6.9 (!) fWAR to RJ’s 2.3, posted a better strikeout rate, a better walk rate and a FIP that was almost 1.5 runs better. Oh, he was also a year and a half younger. Mark Langston was the team’s first pitching phenom, but not even Langston had a season as good as Hanson’s 1990.
3) While on-base percentage has gained a great deal of acceptance both from teams and sportswriters, it’s instructive to see a box score like Hanson’s game to remind us all how alien the concept was in the early 90s. Noted free-swinger Greg Briley batted second, behind Harold Reynolds. Pete O’Brien’s death-rattling .551 OPS was slotted above Dave Valle, because O’Brien was the first baseman, and first baseman can hit. Jeffrey Leonard’s abysmal .295 wOBA batted fifth, because he used to hit the ball a country mile. Languishing in the 7th spot was a guy with a wOBA of .372, on his way to a 5.8 WAR season. Still, not a ton of power from 3B, and he hadn’t paid his dues. Gotta take the pressure off of him; have him learn by watching professional hitters grind out productive outs, etc.


13 Responses to “The Best Pitching Performances in M’s History”

  1. mrb on January 24th, 2012 2:35 am

    In interesting idea,
    but ultimately the Brian Holman game in 1989 will always be the one that gives me goosebumps. I didn’t realize that Bosio pitched a “reverse Holman”, and I’d content that Omar’s play was a little more dramatic than great.

  2. Johnny Slick on January 24th, 2012 7:00 am

    Hanson IIRC was looking like he was going to be a pretty awesome pitcher before Red Sox manager Kevin Kennedy left him out to dry in a game. IIRC he ended up throwing something like 180 pitches in that game alone, and while that may not have been the very large straw that broke the camel’s back it was pretty much the point where he stopped being good and possibly great and started being average.

    Dude had a wicked, Bert Blyleven-y curve too. I remember watching a game in ’90 where he made a couple guys hit the deck on strike calls with that pitch. One of them IIRC was Dave Winfield.

  3. rlharr on January 24th, 2012 8:34 am

    (I’m also posting this comment on The Book, as that’s where the idea came from.)

    A problem with this is that someone who gives up hits faces more batters, thus gets more chances to strike someone out. In a perfect game that was also an xFIP perfect game the pitcher would strikeout 14 (or 15) of 27 batters, or a little over half the batters. Thus for every two hits the pitcher should need an extra 1+ strikeouts – otherwise someone who pitched a perfect game with 13 strikeouts would have really pitched a much more perfect game (in terms of thing he could control) than someone who gave up 7 hits and struck out 14 (Hello Fergie Jenkins 1971-07-24).

    Looked at through this lens, most of the xFIP perfect games become less than perfect. The Koufax perfect game is still there, of course, but of the others only Van Mungo, Tiant, and Clemens’ last two still qualify. Tiant qualifies even if we include in the extra plate appearances for both the hits and the extra inning.

  4. noahnoah on January 24th, 2012 8:53 am

    It’s interesting to me that Randy’s came only 3 days after one by Roger Clemens.

  5. ryanandersonforever on January 24th, 2012 8:55 am

    When i read the headline I said to myself its gotta be the Hanson game vs the A’s – I see Erik Hanson around Sahalee and every time I see him I am reminded – Easily the best game I have ever watched. He had every pitch working that day including a ridiculous curve ball. Wish I could watch it again.

  6. Paul B on January 24th, 2012 8:58 am

    re #3, I just have to say, “some things never change”, although that was already implied in the snark.

  7. MarioMangler on January 24th, 2012 9:37 am

    Good to see Erik Hanson finally getting some retroactive love. He was by far my favorite Mariner when I was a kid.

    I practically grew up at the Kingdome in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and I had never seen anything like his curveball before. Like Johnny Slick said, he would strike guys out looking as they would fall backwards onto their butt. It was incredible.

    Like you said, Hanson was the exciting young dominant Mariner pitcher of the early 90’s. At the time so many of us thought he would become a superstar. Between him, Bankhead, Brian Holman, and Randy that was an exciting time to be a Mariners fan. Maybe the first exciting time ever.

  8. MarioMangler on January 24th, 2012 9:40 am

    I should add that it is because of Erik Hanson and Dave Neihaus that I now know a curveball is referred to as a “big yakker.”

  9. dingla on January 24th, 2012 10:11 am

    Good stuff. But what about the hitters that can hit it out regardless of a good pitch?

  10. MKT on January 24th, 2012 10:33 am

    “Between him, Bankhead, Brian Holman, and Randy that was an exciting time to be a Mariners fan. Maybe the first exciting time ever.”

    Yeah, good to see Hanson get his due respect. We could all see that RJ had big upside, but it took him years to get there whereas Hanson was already looking really good.

    I somewhat disagree with the “first exciting time ever” though. My first real optimistic time was around 1982: the Mariners came closer than they ever had before to reaching .500 (that’s how pathetic the Ms were in those days — are are again now — when just reaching .500 seems like a big accomplishment). They had some decent hitting with Cowens, Henderson, Bochte, and Zisk. The Cruz Brothers on defense. A decent starting rotation of Bannister, Beattie, Perry, Moore, and (Gene) Nelson. And I learned about using a bullpen by seeing how Lachemann got to his ace closer Bill Caudill by using set-up men Ed Vandeberg and Mike Stanton.

    It looked like the Mariners would finally have a decent team. But like most Mariner sunrises, it was a false dawn.

  11. MarioMangler on January 24th, 2012 11:13 am

    Yeah I can see the 82 argument too. What did they get, like within 4 game of first at one point? I was only 8 years old at the time but I remember that being a big deal. I also remember writing a story about Pat Putnam in my 3rd grade class pretty soon after that. That was probably the only Pat Putnam essay in the history of the history of the public school system.

  12. LanceWWU on January 24th, 2012 11:28 am

    Maybe not the best pitching performance of all time for the M’s but definitely the most important, was Randy Johnson’s performance in the one-game playoff vs the Angels (and ironically, the player he was traded for – Mark Langston) at the end of the 1995 regular season.

  13. miscreant on January 24th, 2012 1:39 pm

    The headline is misleading because I personally seen at least 10 pitching performances by Mariners pitchers that trumps your list.

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