The Best Pitching Performances in M’s History
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.