Dissecting Philip Humber’s Wild Perfect Game

According to the raw neutrality of the win probability chart, the Seattle Mariners actually had a chance to win the game last Saturday:

Source: FanGraphs

But it did not know — nor did the players know — what day it was. A.J. Pierzynski did not realize the significance of that first pitch, sailing wide to his glove side. Philip Humber may have even felt a twinge of frustration as that first toss missed so poorly. And Paul Konerko had no way of knowing what he started when he took that first grounder and tossed it to Humber for out number one.

They were all witness to and participants of a rare and wild event.

There have been only 21 perfect games (including one in the postseason and not including one that didn’t count) in the 137 years of the MLB. In that span, as of this morning, there have been 201,366 regular season games. That’s 402,732 starts for pitchers on either side, not counting the playoffs. Humber’s perfect game was a 0.0052% event (or 0.01% if we round). And it is no wonder that even the away crowd was cheering Humber at the end:

For those watching Humber’s perfect game live, it was probably a little surprising. A look at the heat map from the game shows he was not always the zone:

I imagine many fans were shocked around the 5th inning when they realized Humber had a perfect game going. For those first several innings, the game appeared unspectacular. The Mariners had jumped out to an early deficit while effectively limiting their own base runners — business as per usual.

But Humber quietly managed to make pitches when needed and never fell behind for long. Specifically, he did not have to throw a three-ball pitch until the 9th inning — by far his toughest inning — and threw only an astonishing two pitches with a 2-0 hitter’s count.

Here’s a look at distribution of counts in which Humber threw (plus 27 counts of 0 balls, 0 strikes, obviously):

Count Um, Count?
0-1 13
0-2 6
1-0 10
1-1 13
1-2 8
2-0 2
2-1 4
2-2 8
3-0 1
3-1 1
3-2 3

A look at the zone getting called for Humber shows neither blatant favoritism or uncommon narrowness, but it certainly shows a wildness we might not expect from a 0.01% event:

NOTE: There is always a bit of leeway with the bottoms and tops of MLB zones given different hitters’ heights.

Does that look a little wild? Compare it to the heat map from Dallas Braden‘s perfect game in 2010:

That, my friends, is a big ball of strike.

And Braden’s perfecto took 13 more pitches than Humbers. Fault in any perfect game falls on both parties — the hitters and the pitcher and defenders — but not necessarily equally. Braden pumped strikes against a Tampa Bay Rays lineup that took a lot of pitches and relied on working counts. Humber threw filthy off-speed pitches (10.63 weighted run values per 100 pitches on his curve and slider combined that day) to get the team with the 2nd lowest BABIP over the last 3+ seasons to hit into some crazy weak contact.

And for that purpose, he didn’t even need the strike zone:

When his breaking stuff veered into the zone, he got weak contact and misses. Low breaking pitches — regardless of how low or far away — killed the Mariners hitters. The pitches must have looked so tasty for so long. Batters licked their proverbial lips, swinging away while expecting a clean liner to center field — until the pitch dropped like the wicked hammer of fate for a whiff or a grounder.

Was Humber wild in his start? Eh, not immensely wild, but seemingly pretty wild considering the result. Does that mean the Mariners are largely at fault here? Largely? No. Only partly. Humber’s slider and curve are legit pitches. Dave Cameron showed how Humber’s breaking stuff has evolved over the previous years and it makes sense that both his slider and curve have been worth over 5 runs per 100 pitches this season. They naturally will not stay that valuable (in fact, Humber’s career is downhill from here, but in a good way, sort of), but they are pitches to be known and feared.

Because FOX was broadcasting the game and they inexplicably elected to not show a replay of Brendan Ryan‘s check swing, we are left to speculate whether or not the shortstop actually did swing on the final 3-2 pitch that sealed the White Sox win, but that twinge of controversy cannot change the curiosities of the remainder of the game — and certainly cannot undo the epic and most rare accomplishment.

Congrats Philip Humber; you are a wild man.

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Bradley writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @BradleyWoodrum.

37 Responses to “Dissecting Philip Humber’s Wild Perfect Game”

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  1. Well-Beered Englishman says:

    When I watched the last pitch to Brendan Ryan, there was this half-second of total uncertainty and cliffhanger suspense – for a brief tiny molecule of a moment I had a thought which if it had lasted longer would’ve formed the words “oh my god ball four” – and then the umpire raised his arm. One of the most electrifying, alive-feeling seconds I’ve ever lived through in my years of watching baseball.

    That tiny moment is why baseball is great.

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    • MikeS says:

      As a White Sox fan, I had the exact same feeling in the sixth inning of game 3 of the ALDS when Orlando Hernandez barely got Johny Damon to go around on a 3-2 slider with 2 outs, the bases loaded and a one run lead.

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  2. jrdo410 says:

    Long time Mariners fan and I was at the game Sunday. It was AWESOME! If they are going to lose anyway, might as well be a perfect game.

    I want to see a chart of how many Americans have witnessed a perfect game live; likely most exclusive club I belong to.

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    • jrdo410 says:

      make that Saturday, got my days mixed up with the Saturday day game.

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    • Dean says:

      I kind of want to see that chart too, mostly because I was lucky to be at Buehrle’s perfect game in ’09.

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    • Dean says:

      OK, going off the combined announced attendance at every perfect game, 505,257 people in history have seen one live. The real number is surely smaller, as announced attendance is always less than actual butts in the seats.

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      • Yinka Double Dare says:

        There’s also likely some overlap as two of the perfect games (Wells and Cone) occurred in consecutive years in Yankee Stadium — there are bound to be a decent number of Yankee season ticket holders who saw both. Still love that Cone’s happened on Yogi Berra Day and they happened to have Don Larsen throwing out the first pitch to Yogi. How, um, perfect.

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    • sox2727 says:

      As a Sox fan who came out to Seattle for the series, it was truly unbelievable to have experienced this game. In the last 5 years, I’ve been to 2 no-hitters and now a perfect game…just so random, and at the same time so awesome.

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      • JimmyP says:

        I’m a Sox fan that drove up from Portland. I didn’t even realize he was doing it until the 6th. I don’t even bother looking for a no-hitter until then.

        The only time I felt he was really in danger was the catch by Viciedo. Always an adventure out there.

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  3. Demingas says:

    As someone who was at that game, the whole thing felt very surreal as it was happening. I personally rooted against him the whole time, hoping someone would drop a bunt in the 8th inning and leg out an infield hit.

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  4. Ian says:

    Why pick those colors for your heat maps and pitch charts? Light blue on a dark blue background is hard to read.

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  5. Geoff says:

    My immediate thought was he checked his swing and the home plate umpire just didn’t want to be another Jim Joyce.

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    • therood says:

      My immediate thought was, “[Ryan’s] going to be safe at first.”

      But then he stood there and argued like a moron while the ball rolled 50 feet away from Pierzynski. And got thrown out by 70 feet. If he’d have run like any good ballplayer, it might have “only” been a no-hitter.

      But, hey, that’s just, like, my opinion man. As a Sox fan, I was ecstatic to see it anyway. Strike or not, Humber looked filthy all game.

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      • Snowblind says:

        Arguing the call instead of running it out wasn’t a great choice. But even if he had tried to leg it out, I don’t think Ryan’s time to first base is shorter than AJ’s throw-to-first-base time.

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      • kozilla says:

        I agree with therood. Ryan should have run down the line. I really thought that he was gonna make it to first to break it up, instead he argued something that he had no chance of changing.

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      • monkey business says:

        In the history of baseball, has arguing a call like that ever worked?

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      • Geoff says:

        Agreed, if he took off right away he would have beaten the throw.

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      • Mo says:

        I understand that Ryan did not run to first base. But what had me dumbfounded was that it was a 3-2 count. Even if he thought he had a walk, he should’ve run to first base. Seeing him starting to argue at such an important time for his team (i.e. breaking up the perfect game) leads me to believe that he thought he went as well and just had to put up the tantrum in order to show up the ump (he is known for doing that quite a bit). Just my 2 cents. :)

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  6. ChuckR says:

    He definitely swung. The boxscore tells me (and all humanity forever more) so.

    Plus Ed Farmer said he did.

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  7. adohaj says:

    and to think Humber went to a breaking ball in a 3/2 count with the perfect game on the line. Talk about confidence

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  8. DonChrysler says:

    99.99% vs. 0.01% pie chart. The least informative graphic ever published on this site. Genius.

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  9. killmak says:

    That image of him “going around” is not even close to conclusive. From the angle that picture is taken at you can not tell if he went around or not. It’s like concluding that when watching a game on tv the ball is a strike just because it looks like it was over the plate when in fact the angle of the camera just makes it look like it has gone over the plate even though it did not. I don’t know if he went around but it sure looked like it was close enought that he should have deferred to the first base ump.

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    • Yeah, I’m not entirely convinced of the image too. It’s very debatable in my humblest of humble opinions.

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    • Eminor3rd says:

      This is the best look I’ve seen: http://www.southsidesox.com/2012/4/22/2966315/ruminations-on-philip-humbers-perfect-game

      Looks like a definitive “yes” to me.

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    • Grant says:

      when watching live I felt 100 percent sure that he held up. after seeing those images I realize it was much closer than I initially perceived, but i still think he held up. the oblique angle gifs are deceiving because they always make it look like they went. look at the shadow of the bat on the ground for a better estimation. all the videos did for me is help me decide that it was close enough for that umpire to make that decision which i didn’t think when I saw it live.

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      • B N says:

        Seeing it live on TV, I didn’t think he didn’t went around, but it was close enough that I wouldn’t begrudge any ump for calling that a strike. Additionally, while he might not have broken the plane, I’m not sure if he held up the bat head.

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    • Flynn says:

      The point of the image isn’t that it’s an obvious strike. The point of the image is that it’s close enough to understand why the umpire would call it a strike.

      From the MLB rulebook, there is no clear definition of what constitutes a half swing, and it is very clear that if the pitch is ruled a strike by an umpire, the pitch is a strike. The umpires know this, and as I read in a discussion recently, on a dropped strike with a check swing, it behooves the home plate umpire to call a strike, because the appeal means it removes the opportunity for the runner to take first on the dropped strike (because it’s unclear whether or not to run).

      Anyway, the point is, it’s clearly arguable either way, and since there is no clear definition of a check swing, it’s kinda pointless to argue whether he went or not, as it’s purely a judgement call from the umpire.

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  10. pgrocard says:

    Not sure where you’re getting the figure of 93,077 games total in ML history. Maybe that’s AL games only? According to baseball ref, there have been a shade over 200k games played in major league history. That means there have been over 400k pitcher starts, meaning that it’s even less: .005% perfectos.

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  11. thalooch says:

    “And it is no wonder that even the away crowd was cheering Humber at the end:”

    seriously? It was a Mariners home game. Of course the away crowd is going to cheer!

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  12. MW says:

    “But it did not know — nor did the players know — what day it was…And Paul Konerko had know way of knowing what he started when he took that first grounder and tossed it to Humber for out number one.”

    I can’t figure out whether there was an attmepted pun there, or just some sloppy spelling and editing.

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  13. baka says:

    It’s hard to tell whether or not he went. The live broadcast made it look like he didn’t. The image linked above makes it look like he did. Honestly it probably comes down to a judgement call, one of the most important judgement calls the home plate umpire would probably have to make in his career.

    So all I can do is think of it this way: Imagine being the home plate umpire. You know a perfecto is in progress. There are two outs with a 3-2 count. If Ryan hadn’t moved, hadn’t offered at the pitch, there would be no argument that’s ball 4. The loss of the perfect game would be Humber’s fault. But Ryan did offer at the pitch. And in that situation, as the umpire, I imagine all I would think about is the constant criticism I would get if I called that a ball. It would be Jim Joyce/Armando Gallaraga all over again. No one would say a word to you for calling a strike on a pitch where the batter checked his swing in a game that was undoubtedly lost for the Mariners. But everyone would be up in arms if you called it a ball.

    Maybe I’m overthinking it. But I can never take out the human element of the game; it’s the complicated interplay between players, umpire and fans which makes the game great.

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