One-Hit Wonders

A “Perfect Game” is the pinnacle of all pinnacles for a starting pitcher.  Reaching this feat has been nothing short of rare as there have only been eleven Perfect Games since 1957 (not including two shortened perfect games).  These games are so special because the pitcher allows a total of zero baserunners. 
After that, we consider a “no-hitter” to be the most special game.  These occur, as the name suggests, when a pitcher does not allow a hit.  Runners can reach base via error, walk, hit-by-pitch, catcher’s interference, etc, but no batter safely reaches base via a hit.
What I began to wonder is why we consider a no-hitter to be so special.  Why are these games categorized in record books and in the minds of fans if they are potentially worse than other games?
On May 12th, 2001, A.J. Burnett tossed a no-hitter against the Padres.  He did not allow a hit however he walked nine batters.  Nine!  On September 28th, 1974, Nolan Ryan tossed a no-hitter against the Twins.  Though he struck out fifteen batters he also walked eight.  Sure, it is harder to prevent hits than walks, but since 1957 there have been 69 no-hitters wherein the pitcher allowed three or more baserunners.
If the key to a Perfect Game involves not allowing any baserunners, why are no-hitters like this broadly categorized if the pitchers give up anywhere from 3-11 baserunners?  Jim Maloney, in 1965, pitched a 10 inning no-hit shutout in which he struck out twelve, hit a batter, and walked ten
It seems as if we are leaping from Point A to Point E and skipping everything in between.
THE GAP GAMES
Since Perfect Games call for no baserunners, the next best games have to involve only one baserunner.  There are two types of these games and, to be fair, a no-hitter with one walk will be ranked higher than a one-hitter with no walks.  After that come the games with two baserunners.  There are three types of these games.  The rank of these games, in order, is below.

  1. PERFECT GAME:  0 R, 0 H, 0 BB, 0 Baserunners

  2. NO-HITTER A:      0 R, 0 H, 1 BB, 1 Baserunner

  3. ONE-HITTER A:    0 R, 1 H, 0 BB, 1 Baserunner

  4. ONE-HITTER B:    0 R, 1 H, 1 BB, 2 Baserunners

  5. NO-HITTER B:      0 R, 0 H, 2 BB, 2 Baserunners

  6. TWO-HITTER A:  0 R, 2 H, 0 BB, 2 Baserunners

Since hits are harder to prevent than walks, a No-Hitter with one walk should be considered the second best type of game, while two different types of One-Hitters are actually better than another type of a No-Hitter.  I only wanted to use games involving two or less baserunners so let’s look at some good ‘ole data.
PERFECT GAMES
First, we will look at the eleven legit perfect games. Nobody has more than one in their career.

NAME

DATE

Randy Johnson 5/18/04
David Cone 7/18/99
David Wells 5/17/98
Kenny Rogers 7/28/94
Dennis Martinez 7/28/91
Tom Browning 9/16/88
Mike Witt 9/30/84
Len Barker 5/15/81
Catfish Hunter 5/8/68
Sandy Koufax 9/9/65
Jim Bunning 6/21/64

NO-HITTER A
Next come the games in which a pitcher allows 0 hits, 0 runs, and only 1 baserunner. There have been 21 of these games and nobody has done it more than once. The recent no-hitters that qualify here include -

  • Mark Buehrle, 4/18/07
  • Derek Lowe, 4/27/02
  • Kevin Brown, 6/10/97
  • Ramon Martinez, 7/14/95

Looking a bit further, of those 21 No-Hitter A games, five of them involved an error accounting for the only baserunner.  Kevin Brown’s is the only one listed above that qualifies for that.
Additionally, there have been eight games where a pitcher has not allowed a hit or a walk, but allowed baserunners via errors.  Kevin Brown heads the club that includes – Terry Mulholland, Bob Forsch, Jerry Ruess, Dick Bosman, Bill Singer, Joe Horlan, and Lew Burdette.
ONE-HITTER A
After the first type of no-hitters comes the first type of one-hitters.  These games are ranked ahead of the next best no-hitter because they allow less baserunners.  There have been 49 of these games and only two players have recorded multiple ones – Mike Mussina and John Smiley have recorded two One-Hitter A games in their career.
ONE-HITTER B
The next best game involves a pitcher allowing only two baserunners, one via a hit and one via a walk.  Four players have recorded multiple One-Hitter B games.  Cory Lidle, Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton, and Ray Culp have each recorded Two One-Hitter B games.
NO-HITTER B
Moving back to the world of no-hitters, these next games involve no hits, no runs, and 2 walks.  There have been 13 of these games and only Nolan Ryan and Warren Spahn have recorded multiple ones.  Each recorded Two No-Hitter B games.
TWO-HITTER A
Lastly, we have games in which a pitcher allows two baserunners, both via a hit.  There have been 100 of these games and 10 pitchers have recorded multiple ones.  The ten pitchers who each have Two Two-Hitter A games in their career are:

  • Rick Wise
  • Bill Stafford
  • Curt Schilling
  • Bret Saberhagen
  • Jim Merritt
  • Jimmy Key
  • Catfish Hunter
  • Tommy John
  • Ron Guidry
  • John Candelaria

CONCLUSION
The point of this post was really just to shed some light on games that are technically better than others just generally classified as “no-hitters.”  I’m not really trying to debunk anything.  I was fooling around with the Baseball-Reference Play Index, which is probably the most amazing resource I have ever encountered, and I strongly suggest you pay the nominal subscription fee if you are a fan of stats.
Fun Fact – Nolan Ryan had seven No-Hitters in his career but only three of them involved three or less baserunners.
Just some updates from my end.  If you haven’t seen it yet I have been providing sabermetric previews for Tampa Bay Devil Rays players over at Rays Anatomy.
Additionally, I recently began a weekly column titled Nerd-onomics over at MLB Front Office wherein I apply my sabermetric knowledge to aid fantasy baseball enthusiasts.
Before I go I just want to leave you with a trivia question. I am going to add a trivia question at the end of all of my articles, from now on, and those who answer correctly will receive a hug from me.
TRIVIA – There is only one ACTIVE starting pitcher who has been around for 10+ years and has never had a losing W-L record. It is not Pedro Martinez, as he went 0-1 in his very first season and it is not Roy Oswalt as he has only been around for 8 seasons. Answers go in the comment box.

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2 Responses to One-Hit Wonders

  1. SirKodiak says:

    Andy Pettitte, 13 years, no losing record
    Guess it helps to have been a Yankee most of your career.

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