The best overall single-game statistic out there is Bill James’ Game Score, which is available on Baseball Reference and ESPN. Since I like the big markets, I am using ESPN for this study. My goal here is to talk about the five best pitched games- according to Game Score- and list my own rankings for these five games. Instead of looking at no-hitters and big strikeout games, I want to look at a single statistic that can help us figure out which gems were truly the best.
Just in case you don’t know, the formula for Game Score is 50 + 1*Outs + 2*IP after the 4th + 1*K – 2*H – 4*ER – 2*UnearnedRuns – 1*BB.
1. Chris Capuano August 26th 6-0 Win Mets and Braves GSC 96
Chris Capuano’s career has been quite a tragic one, for he was once a good pitcher before he had to have Tommy John surgery. In what may be his last true gem, Capuano stymied Braves’ hitters to post the highest Game Score of 2011 so far. He gave up just two hits while striking out 13 baffled hitters in what is easily the best game of his entire career.
2. Ervin Santana No-hitter July 27th 3-1 Win Angels and Indians GSC 94
Three pitchers are tied for second with a GSC of 94, but the tiebreaker is given to Ervin Santana’s masterful no-hitter. If GSC didn’t account for unearned runs, then Santana would be tied with Capuano at the top. For this reason, as well as the fact that he pitched a no-hitter, I think that Ervin Santana had the best-pitched game of 2011. He walked just one batter, and he also managed to notch double-digit strikeouts (10). Not only that, but Santana was also extremely efficient, as he only threw 105 pitches.
3. Justin Verlander June 14th 4-0 Win Tigers and Indians GSC 94
The Indians have the dubious note of being the only team who have had a top five best-pitched game woven against them. On Flag Day, the AL Cy Young favorite enhanced his legend with a two-hitter. He also struck out 12 hitters and walked just one, and it is interesting to note that his no-hitter’s Game Score was 90. The reason for this is because he only struck out four hitters in his demolition of the Blue Jays, and thus the lack of hits can be attributed to luck.
4. Zach Stewart September 5th 4-0 Win White Sox and Twins GSC 94
Top prospect Zach Stewart has already paid dividends for the White Sox, and he has certainly shown that he is capable of pitching at the Major League level. The Twins were helpless in Stewart’s near no-no, as the young gun struck out nine hitters that day. Even though he was beating up on weak competition, it was still one of the top pitching performances of the year.
5. Clayton Kershaw June 20th 4-0 Win Dodgers and Tigers GSC 93
There are two other pitchers who have had a Game Score of 93 this season, but Kershaw played against the toughest team of the three of them. The NL Cy Young candidate really brought the heat in an interleague game at Dodger Stadium. Kershaw gave up just two hits and a walk, and he also managed to set down 11 opposing hitters on strikes. He also had a relatively efficient 112 pitches thrown, especially when you consider the 11 whiffs.
My personal top five rankings are below, and I have two no-hitters on my own list.
1. Ervin Santana No-hitter vs. Indians GSC 94
2. Chris Capuano vs. Braves GSC 96
3. Justin Verlander vs. Indians GSC 94
4. Justin Verlander vs. Blue Jays GSC 90
5. Zach Stewart vs. Twins GSC 94
So you can see that my evaluations do slightly differ from Game Score’s, but I do believe that Game Score is easily the best statistic out there to measure pitching performances. Nothing beats actually watching the game, but we can’t watch every single game that is played. It is even harder to actually remember every great pitching performance we have seen in a season and remember it in perfect detail. Game Score is a useful statistic for small debates about how well a pitcher pitched during a game, and I hope that a small debate will start in the comment section.