Armando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers came within one poor umpire’s call of the 21st perfect game in major league history Wednesday night. It’s hard to imagine that anyone — including the offending umpire, Jim Joyce — feels good about it. Moreover, it’s hard to believe that nothing — be it an overruling from the commissioner’s office or expansion of the league’s use of replay — will come from this unfortunate incident.
But Galarraga’s performance represents another, slightly less obvious accomplishment.
In an alternate baseball world, where pure evil does not momentarily possess Jim Joyce and force him to thwart all our hopes and dreams, Galarraga pitches a perfect game in a mere 83 pitches.
Though we don’t have pitch counts for the earliest three perfectionists — Lee Richmond (1880), John Montgomery Ward (also 1880), and Cy Young (1904) — the 17 most recent performances are accounted for via Baseball Reference (via Retrosheet). Of those, only Addie Joss‘ effort of 100-plus years ago was completed in fewer pitches (74) than Galarraga’s would-be perfecto Wednesday night.
Here’s the list of perfect games, from fewest to most pitches thrown:
In the majors this season, the average plate appearance lasts 3.85 pitches. Of 148 qualified pitchers, Anaheim Angels pitcher Jered Weaver throws the most per plate appearance (4.27); Minnesota Twins pitcher Nick Blackburn, the least (3.30).
The average plate appearance in Galarraga’s pseudo-perfecto? A mere 3.07.
Of course, much of Galarraga’s efficiency is attributable to his lack of strikeouts. Besides Joss’ performance — which, it needs to be said, occurred when the leaguewide strikeout rate was 3.7 K/9 (as opposed to 7.1 K/9 this year) — Galarraga’s three strikeouts is the lowest mark in perfect-game history.
It goes without saying that a perfect game requires a great deal of luck. The “average” perfect game still sees the pitcher allow about 18 balls in play. Considering that a ball in play generally has about a 30 percent chance of falling for a hit, the chances of 18 consecutive balls in play being fielded cleanly comes to 0.7^18, or 0.16 percent.
And that’s just for a pitcher striking out a full third of the batters he faces. For Galarraga and his three strikeouts, the odds were even lower: 0.7^24, or 0.02 percent. That’s 1 in 5000. And that figure still doesn’t account for the absence of walks, hit by pitches, errors, etc.
As for the odds that such an improbably efficient and lucky perfect-game bid would be ruined on the very last play of the game by a bad call?
Unfortunately for Armando Galarraga, they were 100 percent Wednesday night.
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