Le match parfait de Dennis Martínez

Twenty two years ago today, Expos ace Dennis Martínez threw the 13th perfect game in Major League Baseball history, defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers 2-0 in LA. Here is the last half of the ninth, with Expos broadcasters Rodger Brulotte and Denis Casavant calling the play-by-play en français.

In a major league career that spanned 22 years, Martínez compiled a 245–193 record, and is one of a handful of pitchers to have won more than 100 games in both the American and National Leagues. There have been 10 perfect games since Martínez threw his, a statistical curiosity Contrarian has pondered herehere, and here.

H/T: David Horton

Still random after all these years?

When Philip Humber of the Chicago White Sox pitched a perfect game against the Seattle Mariners back in April, I wrote that the frequency of these exceedingly rare feats had ramped up dramatically over the last three decades.

Mathematicians argued that speedup was more apparent than real, a classic example of a Poisson distribution. This is the natural tendency for exceptionally rare but random events to bunch up in ways that appear non-random.

Humber’s flawless game was the 19th in modern baseball’s 112-year* history. Since April, there have been two more, including the 1-0 gem Félix Hernández of the Seattle Mariners pitched against the Tampa Bay Rays last night.

Here’s the latest chart:

True, there are more ballgames per year than there were 60 years ago—almost twice as many.

Still, from 1901 to 1960, there was only one perfect game every 15 years. From 1980 to Wednesday night, there was one every 2.36 years.

Random or not, there’s one thing I’m sure Félix Hernández can agree on:

Bayesian ball’s been bery bery good to me.

* Baseball is older than 112, but the rules were so different in the Nineteenth Century, most scholars date the modern era from 1900.

What’s up with all the perfect games lately?

Philip Humber of the Chicago White Sox pitched a perfect game against the Seattle Mariners yesterday. He faced only 27 batters, and got them all out. It’s an exceedingly rare feat—Humber’s was only the 19th in modern Major League Baseball history—but not as rare as it used to be. Or is it?

Click to view full-sized image.

(Click on the chart to view a full-sized version.)

In the first 60 years after the turn of the 20th Century, only four major-leaguers  managed to pitch perfect games; 15 have done it in the 62 years since. It sure looks as if pitching a perfect game got easier around 1980, but mathematicians argue that this is just an example of a Poisson distribution, which could be crudely stated as the tendency for rare events to appear non-random.

Writing in the Journal of Statistics Education, Michael Huber of Muhlenberg College and Andrew Glen of the United States Military Academy at West Point examined three other rare baseball feats: no-hitters; triple plays; and hitting for the cycle. None of these is nearly so unusual as a perfect game, but all three:

offer excellent examples of events whose occurrence may be modeled as Poisson processes. That is, the time of occurrence of one of these events doesn’t affect when we see the next occurrence of such.

When two perfect games occurred in 2010, statistician Martin Monkman of British Columbia took a similar view in his aptly named Bayes Blog.

As for Humber, his pristine performance at the Mariners’ Safeco Field took just two hours and 17 minutes.

“My wife is nine months pregnant,” he explained, “and I was making sure she didn’t give birth when I was pitching,”

Vin Scully – reader feedback – updated

Our post on Vin Scully, 81, who just wrapped up his 60th season calling play-by-play for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers (and plans to stay on through next season), elicited some wonderful reader comments.

First, Frank MacDonald (yes, that Frank MacDonald, the other Inverness County writer who deserves a Giller):

Enjoyed your reminder of the Koufax perfect game. In my own writing during the baseball season, the game plays the role for me that music plays for many others. Even when it is televised, as it mostly is in this house, it is two rooms away, and the sound of the game (changes in pitch tell me to go see) is soothing as a lullaby.

Unfortunately, current commentators seem more interested in sounding off as if their own opinions are more important than the game (a lot like newspaper columnists that way, I guess), but none of them tell stories any more, just data reports from fact sheets in front of them.

Anyway, it was a pleasure to read what I once listened to.

Frank also sent us the lyrics to a baseball song he wrote.

Contrarian friend Cliff White also likes the sound of a baseball game:

I love the piece on Vin Scully. I’m in no way a sports fan but I remember baseball on the radio from a very young age. There is something about the slow rhythms of game that radio captures and transmits perfectly, but that get completely lost on television.  It’s actually two entirely different games.

The record of the Koufax game took me back decades, to when baseball was a major part of Nova Scotia summer culture.  And this from a non fan, that’s real power.

It’s difficult if not impossible to catch major leage games on radio in most parts of Nova Scotia, but here’s a little secret to remember next March: $15 (US) will buy you a year’s subscription to the radio broadcasts every Major League baseball game, regular and post-season, with a few spring training games thrown in. Then you can listen on your computer or your iPhone, just like the good old days.

Hugh Fraser, the former press secretary to Premier John Hamm who now toils for Bristol Communications, sent kind comments about Contrarian, and a recommendation:

If you’re a baseball fan, I suspect you’ve already been reading Doug Glanville’s occasional columns in the NYTimes. They are great — insightful and addictive. I’m a big Roger Angell fan and I think Glanville’s baseball writing approaches his.

Anyhow, keep up the good work. Better luck with the Dodgers next year.

Ah, Hugh, Dem Bums left town in 1958. Contrarian roots for the Jays now, and sometimes the Sox, and he still hates the Yankess.

Miles Tompkins remembers how the World Series played out on his family’s Margaree farm in the 1950s:

My mom, who knew more about baseball then my father ever did, came to Margaree from Antigonish in the 1950s. We had a large farm and in the fall there were plenty of potatoes to pick. My mother had two jobs: feed the pickers, and come to the front step at the end of every half inning to give the lowdown on the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Yankees. More then once she saw a bucket of potatoes kicked over after a Yankee home run.

Contrarian reader Stan Jones points out that, with the $9.98 MLB app for the iPhone, you get to choose which team’s announcers you want to listen to. You also get one or two free telecasts every day. By contrast, Stan reports, the NBA app isn’t nearly as good, and the NHL has… nothing.