Props to Matt Cain: But Are Perfect Games Starting to Lose Their Luster?

On Wednesday night, San Francisco Giants pitcher Matt Cain threw just the 22nd perfect game in the history of major league baseball.

Cain shut down the Houston Astros for nine innings, striking out 14 and registering a 101 Game Score, one of the highest marks in history.

Cain’s perfect game was the second this year. He joined Chicago White Sox pitcher Philip Humber, who tossed one on April 21st, making 2012 just the third year ever to feature two perfect games. Oh, and there are about 100 games left this season.

The last time there were two perfect games in one season before 2012? You’d have to go all the way back to 2010, when Dallas Braden of the Oakland Athletics and Roy Halladay of the Philadelphia Phillies pitched theirs in a three-week span in May 2010. Armando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers also came within a single out of a perfect game, and if not for a historic blown call by the first base umpire, Galarraga would have achieved history as well.

And then there was Chicago White Sox ace Mark Buehrle throwing one in July of 2009.

So that’s five perfect games in the last three calendar years, and realistically there should have been four.

How is this possible? How are there 17 perfect games in the first 138 years of baseball and then five (six) in the last three years? How were there none from 1922 to 1956 and then five (six) in the last three years?

Is pitching suddenly dominating the game? Is it just a coincidence? A combination of both?

I think the answer combines the above choices. Yes, pitching is definitely making its way back into baseball (although interestingly enough, perfect games were thrown four times in the Steroid Era: 1994, 1998, 1999, and 2004).

I think that you have bigger, stronger pitchers than you’re used to seeing throughout baseball history, even as most players aren’t on steroids anymore. Guys like Randy Johnson (6’10) who can throw 100 miles per hour didn’t exist half a century ago.

I think a lot of it just lies purely on coincidence. There have been 16 players to hit four homers in a game, and four have occurred in the last decade. You’ve had 15 players turn an unassisted triple play, and five have come since the turn of the millennium. Are those coincidences? I don’t know. It’s probably some coincidence, but players these days, as are pitchers, have reached never-seen-before levels of strength and speed and awareness.

That’s led to some pretty impressive perfect game saving catches, for example. Remember DeWayne Wise reaching over the center field fence to save Buehrle’s perfect game in 2009? How about Gregor Blanco laying out on a dive after a full sprint to save Cain’s perfecto?

The result of incredible athletes? Incredible occurrences.

One final explanation is that strikeouts continue to increase at a record-setting pace. The 2012 season is on par to shatter the single-season record for strikeouts, which was set last year. With more strikeouts, you have opportunities for pitchers to rack up 12, 13, or even 14 strikeouts on their way to perfection. That’s fewer balls in play, and obviously that’s going to lead to more outs.

Either way, I don’t think perfect games have lost their luster. Maybe a tiny bit. It’s hard to deny that when five (six) have happened in the last three years. But it’s still one of the greatest accomplishments imaginable.

And I predict that we’ll continue to see a trend of perfect games over the next few decades. It’s currently June of 2012, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see five more perfect games by the end of the decade. I can guarantee you one thing. Never again will the sport of baseball go 34 years without witnessing one.

This article was written by Bryn Swartz, the top writer for Eagles Central and a featured NFL columnist on Rant Sports. Bryn has written more than 1000 articles in less than two years as a member of Rant Sports. His blog, Eagles Central, was named the 2010 Ballhyped Sports Blog of the Year. To read a portfolio of Bryn’s best work, click here.

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