In the entire history of Major League Baseball, there have only been 23 perfect games.
And there could have been another perfect game on April 13th, 2022, if not for a certain World Series-winning manager.
Clayton Kershaw of the 2020 World Series champion LA Dodgers threw just 80 pitches going into the 8th inning. It didn’t matter though as he got the heave-ho from the boss. Mathematically speaking, Kershaw averaged less than 11-and-a-half pitches per inning. Also, most of his 21 outs were via the strikeout, as he notched 13Ks heading into the 8th.
And the crazy thing is….this certain World Series-winning skipper has chosen safety precautions over baseball history on several different occasions.
There’s something about the month of April when it comes to Dave Roberts going to his bullpen when history is still on the line.
In April of 2016, Roberts decided to relieve his starting pitcher, Ross Stripling, even though he was five outs away from a no-hitter. Granted, Stripling was just two years removed from Tommy John surgery and had already thrown pitch No. 100 by the time Out No. 1 was recorded in the Bottom of the 8th inning.
According to Scott Miller from The New York Times, even the Giants fans booed Roberts. Perhaps they were booing them because they felt that Stripling was showing signs of fatigue? Whatever the reason, put a checkmark on that game being another interesting tidbit in the awesome history of the Giants-Dodgers rivalry.
What’s even more interesting is Roberts controversially pulled his pitcher again later that season. At 35 years old, Rich Hill was six outs away from a no-no during a September regular season game against the Miami Marlins. However, even Hill admitted that he dealt with lingering blister issues earlier that season. Hill had already thrown 89 pitches going into the 8th inning. Incredibly, Hill is still pitching and cashing paychecks as a player. So maybe Hill should thank Roberts for preserving his career? I’m mostly kidding, but it’s very interesting how one managerial decision might be correlated to Hill still being a relevant man on the rubber in Major League Baseball.
And it doesn’t stop there for Roberts. In what could have been a memorable game in the entire history of MLB, Walker Buehler was throwing a 2018 no-no in Monterrey, Mexico. Going into the 7th inning, Buehler had already thrown 93 innings in awful weather. It was also just his third start ever in the Big Leagues. Wouldn’t that have been a great marketing event for Major League Baseball if a rookie in just his third start threw a no-hitter in Mexico? Roberts obviously doesn’t work in MLB’s marketing department, and he decided to let Buehler get dry earlier than expected. It was a rainy night in Monterrey, but that didn’t matter as the three Dodgers relievers post-Buehler maintained the no-hitter south of the border.
So why does Roberts like taking his pitchers out of games when they’re close to throwing the no-hitter or even a perfect game? Is it because he’s the all-time biggest party pooper? Far from it.
There’s no such thing as cause-and-effect data between pitch count and nagging injuries. That being said, Mark Prior averaged an absurd 113 pitches per start during the 2003 season, and Prior of course had major injury problems throughout his career following his stellar ‘03 campaign. He suffered from elbow soreness and a strained right shoulder, which led to his velocity dropping. He was out of the league by 2006.
But the major statistic to note is pitches per start, not pitches allowed during 1 start. Is there any stat that shows future arm problems if a pitcher throws over 120 pitches in a game?
To briefly explain in one word, No. However, Verlander threw 120 pitches during his third no-hitter. He then had to have Tommy John surgery on his right elbow nearly a year later.
If Roberts had let Kershaw pitch into the 8th and 9th innings, mathematically speaking, Kershaw would’ve most likely thrown under 120 pitches and quite possibly under 110.
But there are sabemetricians and other people who follow analytical data who want to disprove Roberts’ thinking that more pitches equate to future arm issues.
Think about this for a second. John C. Bradbury, a noted baseball analytics guy, posted these findings in his important study for the National Library of Medicine: Although the belief that overuse can harm pitchers is widespread, there exists little evidence to show that the number of pitches thrown and the days of rest affect future performance and injury among adults.
Even Ben Lindbergh of Baseball Prospectus was quoted as saying, “A pitcher doesn’t have a certain number of throws in his arm. That’s true because pitchers are living, breathing, and their arm is repairing. The arm is breaking down and repairing.”
Tim Keown of ESPN.com once wrote, “Most professional pitchers are not allowed to train their arms to throw 110 or more pitches in a game and be in a position to be strong five days later.” To summarize, Keown means that pitchers aren’t building up arm strength during spring training. Could this be happening to young pitchers as early as the minors or even college baseball? It’s hard to say, but the days of throwing 110+ pitch complete games are definitely over.
As such, counting pitches is not necessarily the solution. Rather, it’s all about getting better athletic trainers who can train pitchers how to develop enough arm strength that can withstand more than 100 pitches thrown per start.
To relate it back to Roberts, the Dodgers skipper knows that Kershaw is coming off an injury-plagued 2021 season. In case baseball fans forgot, Kershaw had to miss the entire 2021 postseason, a playoffs where Max Scherzer suffered from arm fatigue because the Dodgers ran out of capable and healthy starting pitchers. Who knows what would’ve happened if Kershaw pitched in Game 6 against the eventual World Series champion Atlanta Braves?
But it didn’t happen, and Kershaw had to miss 10 weeks due to inflammation and soreness in his left elbow and forearm. Kershaw is obviously a southpaw flamethrower, so inflammation with any part of his left throwing motion is bad news for the Dodgers.
Roberts wants to win a normalized World Series ring, as does Kershaw and his teammates. Does the 2020 World Series still count as a title? Sure. But it was still a 60-day weird regular schedule where teams had to deal with COVID-19 health protocols, not every team got to have home playoff games, and the World Series itself wasn’t even played in Los Angeles. It’s obviously not a tainted World Series championship for Kershaw and company, but it certainly wasn’t the norm of baseball history, either.
If COVID-19 hadn’t occurred and the Dodgers won the 2020 Fall Classic by playing a full 162-game schedule, it’s possible that Roberts would’ve let Kershaw finish the immortal perfect game. Then again, do perfect games really matter? Is that a big deal that Philip Humber threw one and not Nolan Ryan? I don’t think that anyone remembers Philip Humber’s perfect game without having to Google it except for White Sox and Mariners fans.
But Kershaw’s circumstances are very interesting. Remember, Hanley Ramirez quite possibly blew the Claw’s shot at throwing a perfecto back in 2014. In case you forgot, Ramirez made a costly throwing error during Kershaw’s eventual no-no on that memorable night in 2014. Would Kershaw have maintained the perfect game if Ramirez had made the play? Meh, maybe not. It’s a lot of woulda-coulda-shoulda if Ramirez had made a good throw at first base to Adrian Gonzalez.
I’m sure that Kershaw remembers that night in 2014 and how he was so close to baseball legendary status if he had finished the perfecto earlier this month.
But he didn’t finish the perfect game. But then again, there’s no saying what would happen if Kershaw were allowed to finish the final 6 outs of the perfect complete game shutout. Remember when Max Scherzer was one strike away and then hit a batter? That happened to Carlos Rodon last season as well, although his hit-by-a-pitch happened with 1 out in the 9th.
There are still Cubs fans who believe that Milt Pappas got robbed of a perfect game because the home plate umpire, Bruce Froemming (FREMMING), infamously called ball four on an outside fastball on the 9-hole hitter instead of giving Papas a 27-up, 27-down no-hitter.
There are numerous almost-perfect-game heartbreakers, including the game where Harvey Haddix threw a 12-inning perfecto, but his darned teammates couldn’t score a single run for him during those 12 innings. Haddix pitched into the 13th and gave up just one hit, but it turned out to be the walk-off double. An incredible 1-nothing loss where Haddix only gave up 1 hit and walked no one except for an intentional walk to Henry Aaron.
And for Kershaw, all that remains is what if? What if Roberts had allowed Kershaw to pitch into the 8th and 9th. But of all people, famous FOX Sports radio analyst and LA native Colin Cowherd agreed with Roberts when it came to relieving the multiple Cy Young Award winner.
Regardless, Kershaw will go down in baseball history as the man with a 7-inning perfect game, not a 9-inning one. If he had thrown the perfect game, he would’ve joined just 7 other pitchers to throw a no-hitter and a perfect game in his career.
Do stats and accomplishments matter? Well, yes and no. And if Kershaw just wants to win another World Series title, perhaps he needs to exit games early during the 2022 regular season to ensure his health for the playoffs.
However, ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian’s well-documented hypothesis is, “The less they throw, the more they get hurt.”
As for me, I agree with Kurkjian. It’s not necessarily about how many pitches a pitcher throws. Rather, it’s about how many breaking balls a pitcher is throwing that forces him to crack the wrist and puts more pressure on that throwing shoulder. Also, how many pressure pitches is he throwing? Do pressure pitches impact a player more mentally or physically? A pressure pitch is pretty self-explanatory, but it basically means when a pitcher has to come back from a 2-0, 3-0, or 3-1 count. Also, runners in scoring position designate a pressure pitch.
It’s also about arm strength and making sure that a pitcher can consistently handle throwing 100 pitches every 5 days. If he throws 110 or more pitches because he’s line for the no-no or perfecto, it’s probably best to have him miss his following start.
Therefore, I disagree with Roberts’ decision to pull Kershaw, especially since there’s no empirical data to fully prove taking out Hill and Buehler led to postseason success for the Dodgers. Los Angeles fell in the NLCS to the Cubs in 2016 and lost 4 games to 1 to the Red Sox in 2018.
But what do you think? Should Dave Roberts be praised or booed for taking out Kershaw after the 7th inning? Make sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments below and subscribe to Sports Broadcast Solutions.