Jul 2, 2014, 7:46 PM EDT
If you go back to 1914 — which is how far back Baseball Reference’s amazing Pitching Game Finder goes back — you will find that 67 different pitchers have thrown shutouts without walking or striking out a single batter. The list includes Hall of Famers like Christy Mathewson and Eppa Rixey and Jesse Haines along with a handful pitchers you probably do not know. It has always been a rare feat — the zero-walk, zero-strikeout shutout.
But these days it’s not rare. It’s all but impossible. In fact, if you had asked me I would have said it IS impossible in today’s game. But apparently it’s not. Detroit’s Rick Porcello pulled it off Tuesday night.
How crazy was Porcello’s game? Well … crazy. Let’s put it this way: Do you know how many pitchers last year threw a complete game without striking out anybody or walking anybody — I’m not talking shutouts here I’m just talking any game with zero walks, zero Ks. Answer: 0.
In fact, the only person since 2000 to throw a complete game without walking or striking out anybody was Seattle’s Joe Pineiro back in 2006. He gave up two runs. Before that, you have to go back to Pedro Astacio in 1994.
As mentioned, these zero-walk, zero-strikeout shutouts — let’s call them Porcellos to make it simple — these Porcellos used to be rare but they did happen. If you go back to 1969 — that expansion year championship series in each league — there have been nine Porcelllos pitched:
July 18, 1971: Cincinnati’s Ross Grimsley throws three-hit shutout against Padres.
June 4, 1974: Kansas City’s Al Fitzmorris throws three-hit shutout against Baltimore.
July 23, 1976: San Francisco’s Jim Barr throws four-hit shutout against Astros.
May 26, 1978: Cubs’ Dave Roberts throws seven-hit shutout against Cardinals.
June 4, 1979: Milwaukee’s Mike Caldwell scatters eight hits against White Sox.
July 20, 1986: White Sox Neil Allen throws two-hitter against Yankees.
July 21, 1987: Boston’s Roger Clemens pitches five-hit shutout against Angels.
August 21,1989: Baltimore’s Jeff Ballard gives up seven hits against Brewers.
July 1, 2014: Detroit’s Rick Porcello throws 95 pitches and gives up four hits to A’s.
Well, you can see that’s a 25-year gap between Ballard and Porcello. What did you expect? Shutouts are way down. Strikeouts are way up. Math is math. The only pitcher in the last decade to throw a shutout without a strikeout was Derek Lowe a couple of years ago — he walked four batters. You would never expect this Porcello thing to happen in today’s age.
Here’s why: If you let hitters put the ball in play in 2014, you are almost certainly going to get hurt. It’s really that simple. See, when players actually hit the ball, they are hitting it much harder than they ever have. You probably know about BABIP — Batting Average on Balls in Play — and that gets talked about a lot. It stays pretty constant. But what’s easy to forget is that BABIP does not include home runs. Home runs are not in play, so they are excluded from the average.
If you include home runs, batting averages DO NOT stay constant. The batting averages on balls hit has skyrocketed the last 20 or so years. In fact, 22 of the top 23 averages on balls hit have occurred since the 1994 strike year. The only other year to sneak on the list was 1930, which you might recall was this crazy offensive season where Bill Terry hit .400 and Hack Wilson drove in 191 RBIs and Chuck Klein hit 59 doubles and so on.
In 1989, the last time anyone threw a Porcello, batters hit .305 when they hit the ball. In 1978, when Dave Roberts had his Porcello, batters barely hit .300 when they hit the ball. My friend Al Fitzmorris, who threw a Porcello in 1974, has talked often about his approach as a pitcher which was basically: Keep the ball low and let them hit it. That year, 1974, was his best season: He struck out 53 batters ALL YEAR. Well, batters were hitting .301 when they hit the ball. You could get away with that back then.
In 2014, though — and remember, this is a year dominated by pitching — batters are hitting .324 when they hit the ball. And, of course, they are hitting with a lot more power too. So, as a pitcher, you really CAN’T let them put the ball in play. And that is a big factor in what the game has become.
Here’s a quick timeline of what I think has happened the last 20 or so years:
1. Batters started to get stronger — both through a new emphasis on working out and various performance enhancers both legal and illegal — and began swinging harder to take advantage of smaller strike zones, better bats, more home-run friendly ballparks.
2. Batters started hitting the ball much harder and setting all sorts of records.
3. Baseball began testing for PEDs, deadened the ball (I think) and expanded the strike zone through various means.
4. Pitchers (and managers) realized their one defense against these harder-swinging batters was to strike them out. So they began throwing much harder and in much shorter spurts.
5. Strikeouts went way, way up as hitters kept swinging hard and found themselves unable to adapt to the new environment.
6. Pitchers began blowing out their arms in greater numbers.
That seems to be where we are now. Strikeouts are at an all-time high. Tommy John surgeries seem to be a growth industry. And the whole “throw strikes and rely on your defense” strategy kind of went out the window.
Which brings us back to Porcello’s great shutout (his second in a row). It’s was a fascinating performance from another time — it began with four ground ball outs. He gave up a double to Jed Lowrie and a deep fly ball to Steven Vogt, but then the game settled down again. The Tigers shifted on John Jaso and that worked a couple of times. The A’s managed a couple of decently hit balls. But generally it was groundballs and pop-ups, groundballs and pop-ups. In the ninth, Jaso, Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss all got the ball into the air but not deep enough and that was that. It was like something out of the 1970s. And it was pretty great.
There is a theory I’ve heard from several people working in baseball that hitting — the actual talent of hitting line drives and ground balls to all fields — is the next big commodity in baseball. Power has been the hot market for a long time — and hitters took hold of the game with their free-swinging homers. But now pitchers have taken back the game with their swing-and-miss pitches and bullpens filled with 100-mph flamethrowers. The theory is that teams will start to place big value again on hitters who are smaller and quicker guys who can hit .300, who will not strike out, who cannot be shifted against.
I don’t know if that’s really where the game is going … but I hope it goes that way at least a little bit. The Porcello game was a reminder that baseball is pretty great when there’s action, when balls are in play and fielders are moving and base runners are in motion. The game lasted two hours and 13 minutes, and it was crisp baseball. Hey, strikeouts are great. And walks are a powerful offensive weapon. But I think most fans would be just fine with just a few less of each.
Jul 23, 2014, 9:44 PM EDT
As we covered earlier, St. Louis got a bonus pick for the 2015 First-Year Player Draft (just after the first round) in Wednesday’s Competitive Balance Lottery. And it’s not sitting too well with an executive of the Cardinals’ traditional rival — Cubs president Theo Epstein.
Jul 23, 2014, 8:58 PM EDT
Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, who’s currently rehabbing from thumb surgery, sent a couple packs of crackers to home plate Wednesday for his older brother Jose.
Jul 23, 2014, 8:05 PM EDT
CSNPhilly.com’s Jim Salisbury has heard from sources that the Phillies are considering cutting ties with struggling first baseman Ryan Howard after this season, despite the fact that he’s owed $60 million in guaranteed money.
Jul 23, 2014, 7:19 PM EDT
Pirates outfielder Starling Marte took a pitch off his helmet last Friday night. A concussion was initially ruled out — the Bucs were instead calling it “head trauma” — but now there’s this …
Jul 23, 2014, 6:24 PM EDT
As first reported by Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Cardinals have decided to move Shelby Miller back into the starting rotation and Carlos Martinez to the bullpen for their upcoming three-game series at Wrigley Field. Miller will start Saturday afternoon against the Cubs.
Jul 23, 2014, 5:33 PM EDT
Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic has some enlightening numbers about what’s gone wrong with the Diamondbacks.
Jul 23, 2014, 5:17 PM EDT
Springer got off to a slow start following his mid-April call-up and his strikeout total leads the league, but he’s smacked 20 homers with a .900 OPS in 61 games since early May to rank as one of the league’s better all-around players during that span.
Jul 23, 2014, 4:46 PM EDT
Matt Guerrier began this week with a nice-looking 2.67 ERA in 26 appearances for the Twins, but a 12/8 K/BB ratio in 27 innings showed that he was anything but impressive.
Jul 23, 2014, 4:16 PM EDT
Ruiz hit poorly on a minor-league rehab assignment at Single-A, going 3-for-17 (.176) with three strikeouts and one walk in five games, but he’s avoided any post-concussion symptoms and the Phillies are convinced he’s ready to return.
The poor, downtrodden Cardinals receive a bonus pick in next year’s draft thanks to the Competitive Balance Lottery
Jul 23, 2014, 4:01 PM EDT
Small market/small revenue teams get an extra pick. At least some of them.
Jul 23, 2014, 3:10 PM EDT
I’m guessing this is not a prank by the Padres minor leaguers.
Jul 23, 2014, 2:48 PM EDT
Don’t worry. He escaped through the ceiling.
Jul 23, 2014, 1:48 PM EDT
Kelly Johnson isn’t as needed in the Yankees’ lineup following the trade for Chase Headley and now he won’t be available at all for a while, as the utility man has been placed on the disabled list with a strained groin.
Jul 23, 2014, 1:35 PM EDT
From the “no duh” files
Jul 23, 2014, 1:23 PM EDT
As expected Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman has been placed on the disabled list after injuring his hamstring during last night’s game.
Jul 23, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
David Price? Cliff Lee? And to where?
Jul 23, 2014, 12:16 PM EDT
Tom Glavine crafted his Hall of Fame career with plenty of skill and wit.
Jul 23, 2014, 12:16 PM EDT
So when are Javier Baez and Kris Bryant getting here?
Jul 23, 2014, 11:51 AM EDT
After back-to-back terrible seasons Jeff Francoeur’s chances of returning to the majors looked so bleak that last month he decided to take up pitching at Triple-A for the Padres’ affiliate, but now San Diego is actually calling him up and presumably he’ll mostly serve as an outfielder.
Jul 23, 2014, 11:37 AM EDT
Remembering when the Avengers played baseball in the Astrodome
- Phillies officials “have contemplated the possibility of paying off” and releasing Ryan Howard 20
- The dizzying intellect of Tom Glavine 16
- Verducci: baseball should think about an “illegal defense” rule to combat shifts 158
- Chase Headley plays the hero in his first game in pinstripes 30
- And That Happened: Tuesday’s scores and highlights 29
- Rockies place Troy Tulowitzki on the disabled list 18
- Rob Manfred “heavily favored” to be Bud Selig’s replacement 29
- Yankees acquire Chase Headley from Padres 108
- Verducci: baseball should think about an “illegal defense” rule to combat shifts (158)
- Luke Scott released from Korean team after calling coach a “liar” and a “coward” (108)
- Yankees acquire Chase Headley from Padres (108)
- Who is the next Face of Baseball? (96)
- David Ortiz passes Carl Yastrzemski on the all-time home run list — is he a Hall of Famer? (92)