While glancing around looking for the top WAR men on major league teams, I noticed Philip Humber through this writing has a -0.5 WAR. (He was due to return Tuesday night, after missing a month with an elbow strain.) Obviously, his perfect game in April didn’t exactly do him many favours; in fact, he may be on track to produce the weakest post-perfecto season’s performance among any pitcher who’s thrown a perfect game.
Up comes the curiosity. How did the men who’ve thrown perfect games in the modern era do to finish the seasons in which they pitched their masterpieces? Without counting Don Larsen, who pitched his in Game Five of the 1956 World Series and didn’t appear during the rest of that set, here’s how:
Cy Young—Perfect game: 5 May 1904. The rest of the way: We don’t have a game log for Young, but since he finished the season 26-16 with a 1.97 ERA and a 0.94 walks/hits per inning pitched rate, not to mention finishing 9.0 WAR, we can assume, pretty much, that he didn’t exactly struggle the rest of the season.
Addie Joss—Perfect game: 2 October 1908. The rest of the way: It was Joss’s last appearance of the season.
Charlie Robertson—Perfect game: 30 April 1922. The rest of the way: After the perfecto, which was Robertson’s second straight win following a season-opening pair of no-decisions, he went 12-15 and finished with a 3.64 ERA, still below the league average; he finished 3.9 WAR, further suggesting he pitched that season in volume enough of hard luck. Robertson finished his career with the lowest winning percentage among perfect game pitchers.
Jim Bunning—Perfect game: 21 June 1964. The rest of the way: He did go 12-6 (he finished 19-8), but he suffered three straight infamous losses during the equally infamous Phillie Phlop, the ten-game losing streak that cost the Phillies the pennant, when Bunning and Chris Short were wheeled out to start six of the ten and three each on two days’ rest. Bunning still ended the season with a 2.63 ERA; he led the National League in strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.76) and lowest walks per nine innings (1.5), helped perversely by Sandy Koufax going down for the season in August when a baserunning injury (of all things) exposed his arthritic pitching elbow. (Never a hitter, Koufax was scrambling back to second base and made an awkward four-point landing on his knees and elbows; the next morning, his left elbow looked like his knee.) Bunning’s 1964 WAR: 5.1. He also incurred seven no-decisions following the perfect game.
Sandy Koufax—Perfect game: 9 September 1965. The rest of the way: The perfecto was Koufax’s 22nd win of the season; it shrank his ERA to 2.14. He lost his next start (his opponent: the Cubs, whom he’d just perfected) but—after coming out of the bullpen two days later to pick up a save on two line outs and a pop out—he went 4-0 with one no-decision, including nailing the pennant clincher on two days’ rest and throwing three shutouts during that stretch. Then, after a Game Two start that was somewhat shaky (he lost, in fact) perhaps due to a little exhaustion, he secured the World Series with two shutouts, the second also on two days’ rest. This was the most sterling exhibition of overall pitching following a perfect game the Show had ever seen until Randy Johnson pitched his perfecto in 2004. Koufax, by the way, finished 1965 7.6 WAR—he was, almost literally, more than half the Dodgers’ pennant by himself—and earned the second of his three Cy Young Awards. And he did it with an arthritic elbow that would mean the end of his career after the following (and show-stopping) season.
Catfish Hunter—Perfect game: 8 May 1968. The rest of the way: Somebody may have forgotten to send the Hall of Famer the memo that this was the Year of the Pitcher. The perfecto was his third win against two losses thus far; he went 10-11 the rest of the way, finishing with a 3.35 ERA. Final WAR for the season: -0.1.
Len Barker—Perfect game: 15 May 1981. The rest of the way: In the strike-disrupted season, Barker went 4-6 the rest of the way with six no-decisions; in four of those, he pitched well enough to have won. He finished with a 3.91 ERA. Final WAR for the season: 2.3.
Mike Witt—Perfect game: 30 September 1984. The rest of the way: It was the Angels’ final game of the season and Witt’s 15th win against 11 losses. The perfecto shaved his final ERA to 3.47. Witt’s is still the only season-ending perfect game in Show history (Vida Blue, Glenn Abbott, Paul Lindblad, and Rollie Fingers had combined for a season-ending mere no-hitter in 1975) and the second beside Koufax’s to end in a 1-0 outcome. Final WAR for the season: 4.3.
Tom Browning—Perfect game: 16 September 1988. The rest of the way: After his perfecto against the Dodgers (he happened to wear the same uniform number as Koufax did: 32), Browning beat the Giants twice but took a no-decision against the Braves in a game he didn’t really pitch well enough to win, with six earned runs against him in eight innings’ work; the Reds managed to eke out an 8-7 win after he left the game. The following season, Browning took a perfect game bid against the Phillies to the ninth, where it was ruined by Dickie Thon’s leadoff single. Final WAR for 1988: 2.6.
Dennis Martinez—Perfect game: 28 July 1991. The rest of the way: El Presidente went 3-5 with a no-decision (he pitched well enough to have won the game; it was his first start after the perfecto), to finish the season 14-11 but with a 2.39 ERA. Martinez would eventually have the dubious distinction of throwing the last major league pitch to Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett—it was a wild pitch that broke Puckett’s jaw in late September, ending Puckett’s season, and may have contributed to the onset of the glaucoma that forced Puckett’s premature retirement the following year. Final WAR for 1991: 5.4.
Kenny Rogers—Perfect Game: 28 July 1994. The rest of the way: Rogers would have two more starts before the players’ strike ended the season in early August. He lost both, but he pitched well enough to win the first of those two starts. Final WAR: 2.6.
David Wells—Perfect Game: 17 May 1998. The rest of the way: Hailing from the same high school as World Series perfect gamer Don Larsen, Wells went from his perfect game to a 13-3 won-lost record the rest of the way. Which shouldn’t be surprising considering he had a season-average 6.78 runs to work with per game. He ended up leading the American League with a 1.05 WHIP, five shutouts, and a 5.62 K/BB rate, sterling pitching no matter how many runs you have to work with. 1998 WAR: 4.5.
David Cone—Perfect game: 18 July 1999, on a day when Yogi Berra (finally reconciling with George Steinbrenner) and Don Larsen—the battery for that World Series perfecto—were in the park, with Larsen throwing the ceremonial first pitch to Berra before the game. The rest of the way: Cone went 2-5 the rest of the way with six no-decision games in four of which he pitched well enough to win. (The first of those had to be a real heartbreaker: four of the six runs he surrendered were unearned.) He finished with a 3.44 ERA but a 1.31 WHIP and only a 1.97 K/BB rate. 1999 WAR: 4.8.
Randy Johnson—Perfect game: 18 May 2004. The rest of the way: The oldest pitcher ever to throw a perfect game (he was 40 when he turned the trick), the Big Unit went 12-10 the rest of the season, but in the same stretch he had four no-decisions . . . in every one of which he pitched well enough to win. His season ended with a 2.60 ERA, a league-leading 290 strikeouts, and a league-leading 0.90 WHIP, good enough to finish second in the Cy Young Award voting. It was probably the best season overall by a pitcher with a perfect game on that season since Koufax and before Roy Halladay. 2004 WAR: 8.1.
Mark Buehrle—Perfect game: 23 July 2009. The rest of the way: Buehrle went 2-7 until season’s end, including four no-decisions in all of which he pitched well enough to win. Before the perfecto, he was 10-3 and had thrown only two games overall in which he didn’t pitch well enough to win. But the perfecto put him into some elite company above and beyond the feat itself: he became only the third pitcher (joining Young and Koufax) to throw a no-hitter and a perfect game and also win a World Series ring with the same club. 2009 WAR: 5.0.
Dallas Braden—Perfect game: 9 May 2010; his game made Mother’s Day and Father’s Day (when Bunning turned his feat) days of perfect games, and for Braden the poignancy lie in his own mother’s death of breast cancer during his senior year in high school. The rest of the way: He went 7-11; he had four no-decisions in all of which he pitched well enough to have won. But his final totals included an 11-14 won-lost record, a 1.36 WHIP, and a 1.93 K/BB. He did end up leading the league in shutouts—with two. 2010 WAR: 2.2.
Roy Halladay—Perfect game: 29 May 2010, making for the first time perfect games have been thrown by two pitchers in the same season. The rest of the way: Partly by putting together winning streaks of six and five, respectively (the five finished his season), the Doc went 14-7 after that to finish at 21-11 with a 2.44 ERA, the league lead in shutouts and complete games, a league-leading 6.29 K/BB, and a 1.04 WHIP. Halladay became the first pitcher since Koufax to win a Cy Young Award in the same season in which he pitched his perfect game. He also became the first pitcher, period, to follow a perfect game by throwing a no-hitter in postseason play the same year, turning that trick against the Cincinnati Reds to open the division series. 2010 WAR: 8.3.
Philip Humber—Perfect game: 21 April 2012. Lots of ex-Mets have thrown no-hitters after leaving the team, before Johan Santana finally broke the 50-year0ld spell this year, but Humber is the second ex-Met (Cone was the first) to throw a perfecto. The rest of the way, thus far: He has two wins, four losses, and four no-decisions; in three of the no-decisions he’s pitched well enough to win. In only one of his losses on the season thus far did he pitch well enough to win. This is not good for a pitcher who’s been averaging 5.08 runs to work with per start. 2012 WAR through this writing: -0.2.
Matt Cain—Perfect game: 13 June 2012; he tied Koufax for the most punchouts (14) in a perfect game. The rest of the way, thus far: Cain took a 7-2 record with a 2.42 ERA to the mound when he started his perfect game; since then, he’s 2-1 with two no-decisions in both of which he pitched well enough to win. At 10-3 with a 2.56 ERA, Cain has a decent chance of at least matching Halladay’s performance following his perfecto. 2012 WAR through this writing: 2.4.