FanGraphs: Matt Cain's Place In History

Wednesday night, Matt Cain threw a perfect game against the Astros. Coming into the season, we expected dozens of guys to throw perfect games against the Astros, but they've been better than most people thought they'd be, and Cain didn't just shut down a Little League team. Kudos to the Astros for being okay, and anti-kudos to the Astros for being perfect game'd.

In a season that's already seen another perfect game, some no-hitters, and several close calls -- including one from Cain himself -- maybe this game doesn't stand out as much in your head as it should. Maybe you're growing weary of these spectacular achievements. Not because you want to, but because we've had so many of them. In that event, it's worth removing this start from a season context and placing it in a historical context.

Hello there, FanGraphs. Dave Cameron cites Game Score, a flawed but convenient statistic that measures single-game pitching performances. I'll quote:

Before tonight, only nine pitchers had ever racked up a game score of 100 or better in nine innings. It was more common back when starters kept going when a game went to extras, but we want to compare apples to apples, so those are out. Sorted by Game Score — an imperfect measure, for certain, but one that does okay for this purpose — here are the 10 best nine inning performances of all time.

In terms of raw performance, this matches Sandy Koufax’s perfect game from 1965 as the best perfecto ever, and matches one of Nolan’s Ryan no-hitters where he did most of the work himself. The only nine inning game in history with a higher game score was Kerry Wood’s 20 strikeout one-hitter. It’s pretty amazing that most of us were alive to see both.

Matt Cain finished with a Game Score of 101, thanks to his zero baserunners and 14 strikeouts. You can quibble with Game Score all you want, but even ignoring the formula, just based on results, Cain turned in one of the very best pitching performances in the history of baseball. We knew that, since he threw a perfect game, but this was better than most perfect games. This was practically approaching perfect-perfect, the impossible standard at which a pitcher strikes out everyone he sees. Cain didn't do that, but he did better than half of that.

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